Edward and Elizabeth Winslow – Mayflower Survivors

Edward and Elizabeth Winslow, two of the eighteen couples aboard the 1620 Mayflower voyage, most likely met in Leiden, in the Netherlands. A few hundred English Separatists lived in exile there before a small group of them crossed the Atlantic to establish a new English colony. They grew up in a tumultuous time in England’s history and left England for Holland as young adults. They married in Leiden in 1618.

Elizabeth, acting on her own accord, was apparently deeply involved in non-conformist activities near Ipswich, England. Ipswich is about 50 miles southeast of Cambridge and 85 miles northeast of London. Shortly after she married Edward, the couple returned to England to tend to details regarding her inheritance and liquidate the assets she’d inherited. English law stipulated that once a woman married all of her property became her husband’s property.

Elizabeth’s Will Recorded in Leiden

Laws in Holland were more liberal than in England. The couple returned to Leiden where Elizabeth wrote a will in 1619. By then members of Separatist Pastor John Robinson’s congregation were making arrangements for several families to establish an extension of the Leiden church in North America. The Winslows were among that group. Others planned to join them once the colony was established.

Elizabeth may have emigrated on her own as a young single woman. That would have been highly unusual for the times, however, her family had numerous friends and relatives engaged in non-conformist activities. Other English non-conformists had already established a congregation in Amsterdam. Elizabeth would have been warmly embraced at the Church of the Ancient Separatist Brethren in Amsterdam. We don’t know if she went there first or not. We do know she ended up in the Leiden congregation led by Pastor John Robinson.

Impact of Religious Turmoil

She was born in Chattisham around 1593 to Samuel and Sarah Barker. Groups of non-conformists challenging the Established Church of England influenced the Barker family. During the political and religious turmoil of the 1500s hundreds of people were tortured and burned at the stake. Which religious group dominated vacillated according to who was the reigning monarch. I’m working on a resource of the monarchs and time line that influenced the Separatists’ decision to emigrate.

When the Pope denied King Henry VIII’s request for an annulment from his first wife Catherine of Aragon, he dismissed her anyway and established the Church of England in 1634. The new church body turned England Protestant, but it remained similar to the Roman Catholic Church. He implemented the doctrine of a Supreme Governor as the head of the church, replacing the papacy with the reigning monarch. Catherine had six children, but only daughter Mary survived.

All in the Royal Family

Wife number two, Anne Boleyn gave birth to Elizabeth and later delivered a baby boy, but the infant was still born. Henry expressed his disappointment by beheading Anne. Wife number three, Jane Seymour, gave Henry what he wanted, a male heir. King Edward VI was crowned in 1547 when King Henry VIII died. The boy was nine-years-old and only lived five years, not long enough to change England’s official religion as the Established Church.

Henry’s daughter, Mary, succeeded her half-brother in 1553. A devoted Catholic, she fought to return England to the Catholicism. From 1553, until she died in 1558, she added some three hundred new Christians to the list of martyrs. Thus, she earned the label ‘Bloody Mary.’ Her half-sister, Elizabeth was then crowned Monarch. She retained the Established Church of England as the state religion.

Family Religious Feud

That would have settled the matter except for Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Elizabeth’s cousin. Mary had briefly been the Queen of France, a staunchly Catholic country. When the French king died a year after they were married, this Mary returned to Scotland, but maintained her Catholic French connections. Until Queen Elizabeth signed the warrant for her execution in 1587, Mary Queen of Scots tried valiantly to deliver England back to the Catholic Church.

The Separatists had had enough and wanted to completely sever ties with both the Catholics and Established Church to live in a simpler, first-century style faith community. They moved to Holland, and from there across the ocean. Edward and Elizabeth no doubt shared many of the same religious beliefs and possessed equal quantities of determination, courage, and hope.

Diplomat Edward Winslow

Edward hailed from the Worcester area England, about 130 miles northwest of England. He was a printer, working in London, but traveling to Leiden. He moved to Leiden in 1617 and helped William Brewster publish and smuggle religious books back to England. These publications criticized the Established Church of England. King James succeeded Queen Elizabeth in 1603. He knew about the anti-Established Church publications coming out of Leiden and wanted them stopped.

By 1619 it appeared Leiden was not far enough removed from England. It was time to move on. Edward quickly earned a reputation as a diplomat. He led a number of expeditions to meet, trade, and negotiate with the area Pokanoket. He wrote several first-hand accounts of the early Plymouth years and served as assistant to Governor Bradford on several occasions. He returned to England several times to address their investors’ concerns about slow and low rates of return on their investment in the new colony.

A Short Life Well Lived

Elizabeth died the first spring in the new colony, on March 24. She never had children. Widowed Edward married Widow Susanna White in May. I’ll write about her and her first husband in another blog.


Thank you for taking time to read about the Winslows of Mayflower fame. Why not share it with a friend or sign up for your own free subscription at HowWiseThen?

If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy reading an earlier one about Edward Winslow.

 Some of the information for this article came from the Mayflower History website and Author Sue Allan’s new book, In the Shadow of Men: The Lives of Separatist Women. 
My historical novel  Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures  tells a compelling story about the Winslows and the other hundred passengers, based on real people, real events, and realistic conversations.

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