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The MAY Family of Sussex
An Introduction

For a short time at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries the family of May owned Mayfield Palace, which had been a residence of the great Elizabeth merchant prince, Sir Thomas Gresham, and once the palace of the Archbishops of Canterbury.

Here in 1595 was born Thomas May, a poet and historian, much in favour at the Court of King Charles I. He wrote three tragedies and two comedies, praised in his day, but now apparently forgotten. When the Civil War broke out he left Court and became secretary to parliament and wrote a History of the Long Parliament. He died in 1650 and was given a public funeral by parliament and burial in Westminster Abbey, where a monument was erected in his memory. After the Restoration, however, his body like many other parliamentarian, was dug up and thrown into a common grave in St. Margaret's churchyard, and his memorial destroyed.

Richard May of Wadhurst, who lived during the 15th century as near as I can estimate, had two grandsons, Thomas and William and with them the family split into two branches. Thomas's descendants continued to live in East Sussex at Ticehurst, Burwash, Mayfield and Pashley. Anthony May of the latter place was High Sheriff of Sussex in 1629.

William May's son, Richard, a citizen and merchant tailor of London, died in 1588. He had four sons, the third being Sir Humphrey May, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1618 and a Privy Councillor. He died in 1630. The fourth son, John, is shown in William Berry's Sussex Genealogies to have lived at Rawmere. This place is the present Raughmere, just south of the Lavants. John May's eldest son, Thomas, was captain of a troop of horse for the Rape of Chichester; the second was a Groom of the Chamber to King Charles I. One of John May's grandsons, Sir Thomas May, who died in 1718, was Recorder of Chichester, and a Baron of the Exchequer.

The arms of May are blazoned: Gules, a fess between eight billets or.

A billet is an oblong, usually shown with the two longer sides vertical. Arms strewn with a number of small billets are blazoned 'billetty'. John Guillim states that the shield should be so described if there are more than 10 billets, but there are examples of shields containing up to 20 billets before they are termed billetty.

Akin to billets are delves, gads, dice and blocks. Delves are sometimes defined as squares of turf, while blocks are said to be wider than billets. Gads are variously described as spikes, bosses on the knuckles of gauntlets, a wedge-shaped bar of steel or a steel plate.

from 'Arms of Sussex Families' by J.F. Huxford (1982)


    David Nash Ford 2001. All Rights Reserved.