A Clergyman descended from a long line of horse riders and jousters
1668 - 1735
Nicholas Zinzano's AncestryThe Zinzanos (sometimes Zinzan or Zynzam), possibly came from Albania (Arberesh), via southern Italy, being refugees from the Ottoman invasion in the 15th century. Their later adoption of the surname Alexander might have been in retrospective honour of Skanderbeg (Alexander in Turkish), the heroic Albanian commander (1405-1468) who fought against the Ottoman invasions for over 20 years. He enjoyed strong connections with the Pope in Rome, being appointed the commander of the forces of Pope Pius II in 1463. In 1451 he formed a protective alliance with the Kingdom of Naples.
The Zinzanos were professional horse riders and jousters. Between about 1520 and 1643 at least twelve served English monarchs from Henry VIII to Charles I, holding various offices in the royal stables and performing at tournaments. They sometimes took part in the presentation of masques and equestrian pageants.
The Civil War, followed by the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell brought jousting to an end and, with the Restoration the Zinzanos went in different directions: the Church, Academia, Medicine and Diplomacy. It was a total break after a century of horse riding and jousting in the service of five monarchs.
In England the Zinzanos first established a home at St Albans, where they were long connected with the Church of St Stephens. In about 1570 a branch of the family settled in Aldenham, about six miles to the south of the city, following a brief stay at Ashampstead in Berkshire.
From the beginning of the 17th century the family are recorded in Reading as well as Tilehurst nearby. Their long presence in the area is acknowledged by Zinzan Street in the centre of the town. This street stands at the centre of what was previously an 8 acre estate known as the Zinzan estate, in the ownership of Sarah Zinzan who died in 1789. They were still here in the 19th century; a Mrs Zinzan was a subscriber to “The History and Antiquities of Reading” in 1802.
Zinzans came to Walton-on-Thames in about 1600 and are recorded here for much of the century. In 1604 marriage brought Sir Sigismund Zinzan to West Molesey Manor, a short way downstream and just opposite Hampton.
They are also noted at Easthampstead and Compton in West Berkshire during the 17th century.
What follows is a compilation from a number of different sources, some of which are unreliable. A particular challenge has been to place a number of the family with the Christian name Alexander into the correct generational sequence. For later Zinzanos this name was, for some reason, totemic and was adopted as an addition to their surname: Zinzan alias Alexander.HANNIBALL ZINZANOThe earliest reference to the family in England yet seen is for a Hanniball Zinzan (b 1500), from Modena, Emilio Romagna and described as a horse keeper and farrier. There are also references to Bologna (about 25 miles from Modena) and Lucca. It is noted in “The King's Book of Payments” for 15 August 1519 that Hanniball arrived at Greenwich with a troop of horses for Henry VIII. There appear to have been 18 Naples Coursers, in the care of riders and keepers: To Mons. Gregory, for 18 coursers of Naples, £500.
Reward to the riders and keepers, £20.
Their costs at Greenwich from their coming to 15 Aug., £72 19s 6d.
To Hanyball, a farrier who came with the said horses 66s 8d.
To Frauncis de Rege, Ambros de Milann, and Hanyball de Modena, horse keepers, diets, 20d a day.From the description and separate payments there could have been two Hannibals in the party, perhaps father and son. It has been stated that these horses were a gift from Charles V, but this must be questioned: Henry paid for everything. Naples Coursers were prized for jousting and it is possible that Charles, now the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Italy, was able to obtain them from Apulia. They didn't come cheap: £500 in today's currency approaches £200,000.
Henry may have sought them in preparation for celebrating The Field of the Cloth of Gold in France the following June, an event which nearly bankrupted both countries and which was probably attended by Hannibal. In May, Charles had made a state visit to England in an attempt to dissuade Henry from meeting Francis I, the French king. Maybe he saw the horses then.
A joust held at Greenwich on 28 October 1519 was among many held between 1510 and 1536, including jousts and a tourney on 4 & 5 June 1522 to entertain Charles V during his next visit. During his reign Henry also held jousts at the tiltyard at Whitehall and, occasionally, Richmond, in the Little Park. The tiltyard at Hampton Court Palace was only built by him in 1537 although jousts may well have been held here before this. Serious injury was a hazard and monarchs were not immune: Henry's jousting had ended with his serious injury at Greenwich on 24 January 1536 and in 1559 Henry II of France died from injuries sustained in a joust.. The first joust at Hampton Court yet recorded was in 1557 during Mary's reign, to celebrate Christmas, which sounds rather more peaceful.
Once in England Hanniball seems to have remained because there is a note December 1520 of his quarter's wages for working in the Royal Stables: Hannibal de Modena, horsekeeper, 33s. 4d.
There is a later reference in the Privy Purse Expenses of Henry VIII, for March 1531: To Hanyball Zinzan, for drinks and other medicines for the King's horses, 8l. 18s. Hanniball may have returned to marry in 1529, in Modena, but he appears to have started a dynasty in England, establishing his family in St Albans.
According to Joan Thirsk, in “The Rural Economy of England: Collected Essays”, quoting William Cavendish, a Mr Hannibal from Naples worked for Lord Walden later in the 16th century. Cavendish (1592-1667) wrote his treatise, “A New Method and Extraordinary Invention to Dress Horses and Work them according to Nature” was first published, in French in 1658. Lord Walden has not been identified and Mr Hannibal from Naples is equally a puzzle for now.
ALEXANDER (sometimes Alessandro or Alexandri) ZINZAN (sometimes Zynzam)
There appear to have been four or five relatives and descendants of Hanniball, named Alexander. The first, perhaps a brother, described as “de Bologna” is first mentioned in 1526 working in the Royal Stable, with Jacques Granado. He was in a bit of trouble by 1540, married and living in St Albans:
... at Windsor the 24th of October  being present the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Privy Seal, the Comptroller of Household, the Master of the Horses, the Vice-chamberlain, Sir Ralf Sadler secretary.
Upon examination of a complaint put up to the Lord Privy Seal by James Joyner of Saint Albans against Alexander Zynzam & Jakes Granado esquiers desquyryes for breaking the peace & their answer against the said complaint, it was enjoined to Richard Rawnshaw sergeant at arms who was thought to be a great meddler in this matter that the said James Joyner of St Albans, that neither they nor their wives nor the son in law of the said Raynshaw should in any wise meddle or have to do with the body of one Katheryn Tattersall widow which is found by an inquest of office to be lunatic, and that also they should keep the peace against all the King's servants being abiders there in the town of Saint Albans. It was also enjoined to the said Alexander Zinzam & Jakes Granado that they should in no wise give occasion to any of the said James Joyner nor their wives or to any other to break the peace. (The Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council of England, volume VII: 32 Henry VIII, MDXL, p71)
Alexander is here described as a squire (of the stables), a rider, in company with Jacques Granado, a native of Brabant. Granado was knighted in 1547 for military service in Scotland. In December 1551 he took a troop of 16 horses to France as a present from Edward VI to Henry II the French King. Granado died jousting in 1557 and it seems likely that Alexander jousted with him.
This is perhaps the Alexander whose will, written in 1557, was proved on 13 December 1559 (Archdeaconry of St Albans, Finkilcaster 205). He was stated to have been of St Stephen's parish, St Albans, with a son, also Alexander, to whom he bequeathed a damask gown presented to him by the Earl of Warwick. Hanniball, possibly his father (or brother?), was still alive in 1557, described as “Overseer” of the will.
The next Alexander (Alessandro, b1530), perhaps this son, is noted in January 1564/5 living at Ashampstead in a property which, in 1555, had been settled on his wife, Ann Norres, by her father, John Norres (1490-1564). Ashampstead lies to the west of Reading, in Berkshire. It was only a short stay because they were settled at Aldenham, south of St Albans by 1570. A son, Andrew, was baptised there in that year, the son of Alessandro and Anne (Norres). There were further children: baptisms in the parish registers for St John the Baptist, for 7 September 1573 read: Septebr Jane & Jone Zynzam ye Childr' of Alexandr Zynzam gent ye 7 day. He may have been the father of a third Alexander Zynzam (sic) who was baptised at the church of St Stephen in St Albans on the 5th April 1562, dying in 1621. This was, perhaps, the Alexandrum Zinzan (Alexandri) who married Mirriam May on 06 September 1604 at Easthampstead, Berkshire. Their children, baptised there were: Maria (09 May 1605), Anne (30 Oct 1608-16 Dec 1608), Anna (24 March 1609), Maria (25 Apr 1619), Ignatius (12 Nov 1615).
Marie, daughter of Alexader Zinzan was baptised at St Albans Cathedral on 16 September 1571, and Jane on 18 April 1574, daughter of Alexander Zinzan.
One of the Alexanders was described as an “Albanian rider of the stables in the 1550s and 1560s.”
ROBERT ZINZAN alias ALEXANDERThe second Alexander had another son, Robert (c1545-1607), who was employed in the royal stables by Queen Elizabeth. Between 1565 and 1591 Robert took part in tournaments for the Queen. It was he who adopted the alias Alexander, his father's Christian name and, on 23 July 1603, was knighted as Sir Robert Zinzan alias Alexander by King James I. He had five sons: Henry (2 Sep 1571-1607), Robert (b1599) who died young, Sigismund (1580-1663), Alexander (of course), and John and three daughters. His youngest, Dulcibella, was born at St Albans in 1602. Thirty one years between his first and last born suggests two marriages. By 1603 he had moved from St Albans (or Aldenham) to live at Walton-on-Thames. It may have been a grandson, Robert, buried in 1675 at Walton, who was the father of Charles, born in 1660 and perhaps, for this Royalist family so named to celebrate the Restoration. Charles went to live in Scotland and was, briefly, Acting Governor of Bombay in 1684/5
In 1585 Robert took a present of horses from Queen Elizabeth to her nephew James VI of Scotland. She had not yet had her sister Mary, James' mother, executed:“In May 1585, a warrant was directed by Queen Eliza-
beth to the officers of Exchequer, authorising a grant
of 50l to Robert Alexander, styled "one of the Quirries (Equerries)
of the stable, to defray his charges
in conveying certain horses from the Queen to the King of Scotts, also for the charges of such as should accompany him " (Docquet Book of Exchequer)
He made his Will, verbally, recorded as a Memorandum written probably on his deathbed and partly in the third person, on 20 September 1607, leaving all his possessions to his wife, Dame Margaret (nee Westcott), and in the event of her death to his two sons, Henry and Sigismund. In 1594 he had, with Richard Mompessons (both described as equerries of her Majesty's stable), obtained a royal licence to import aniseed and sumacke (sic). Still current, the licence was mentioned in his will (Proved 27 June 1608 PCC,Windebanck)
He had a brother, Andrew, described as the younger, living in Reading whose will was proved in February 1626. In 1607 Andrew featured as an “ordinary ryder” in the royal service. He was apparently without children and may never have married. His principal legacies were to his nephews Henry (the older), Sigismund, and Robert (the second). He also mentions Richard Zinzan son of Henry the elder, and Henry's brother, Alexander Zinzan (the third), described in 1607 as an “ordinary ryder of his Majesty's stable”. When Andrew fell ill his post was taken by Richard in July 1624: “Richard Zinzan, alias Alexander, received an annuity of £66. 13s. 4d., and yearly livery, for riding the king's great horses in reversion after Andrew Zinzan, alias Alexander”. (Record of the Sign Manual, vol. xvi., No. 10).HENRY ZINZAN alias ALEXANDER (the elder)Sir Robert's eldest son, Henry (2 Sep 1571-c1640) was appointed to the office of brigandery (supplier of body armour) in succession to his father. He and his younger brother Sigismund, are recorded as professional jousters in the employ of James I throughout his reign. Indeed their first employment was by Elizabeth in 1598. Living nearby, it seems likely that the brothers took part in jousting in the Tiltyard at Hampton Court Palace, now in use.
On 27 June 1603 the brothers performed at one of the tournaments celebrating the accession of James, an event which took place at Grafton. This event is recorded by Lady Anne Clifford: “From thence (Althorp) the Court removed, and were banquetted with great Royaltie, by my Father, at Grafton, wher the King and Queene wear entertained with Speeches and delicat presents, at which tyme my lord and the Alexanders did run and course at ye field, wher he hurt Henry Alexander verie dangerouslie.”
Lady Anne's father was the 3rd Earl of Cumberland and a noted jouster. His tournament armour, originally made at Henry VIII's Greenwich workshop has survived and is held by the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
In 1624 Henry retired from jousting. He had suffered many injuries in the tiltyards from Prince Henry and his monarch, James I. He was appointed Harness Maker to the Ordnance, a post he held at least until 1638:….. in regard of his long services and the extreme hurts he has received by Prince Henry & His Majesty, which now bear grievous upon him, and being frustrate of a pension given him by Prince Henry prevented by his death, and of a gift from Queen Elizabeth for keeping the Little Park at Windsor, desireth something for his future relief.(the Little Park has been renamed Home Park. It lies to the north of the castle)
SIR SIGISMUND ZINZAN alias ALEXANDER
Sigismund (1580-1663) was the third son of Sir Robert. Born at St Albans, he spent much of his working life as a jouster with his brother Henry. He was appointed Master of the Royal Sports by James I in 1603.
Sometime before this he was elevated to the rank of knighthood. He was not a knight bachelor of England, so he may have been knighted by James VI in Scotland before his accession, having performed a service to warrant the honour. There is, perhaps, a hint in his unusual Christian name of some family connection outside England. He gave his first born son the same name.
In 1604 he married Margaret Brend, the widow of Nicholas (1561-1601). Born Margaret Strelley she bore Nicholas a son, John, and three daughters. Then in 1600, another son, Matthew. John died, so Matthew, aged less than two years, inherited his father's estate. The Brends had lived at Apps Manor, and West Molesey Manor since 1570 when it was granted, by Queen Elizabeth, to Thomas, the grandfather of Nicholas. Thus, Mathew became lord of the manor in 1601 when his father died. Sir Sigismund went to live there with his wife and his four step-children. Margaret bore him five sons and three daughters. His first born, Henry (1605-1676), was made the subject of a present to Sigismund from James's elder son, Prince Henry, aged 10, on the occasion of the christening:
Given by the Prince's Highness to Sir Sigismund Zinzan, Knight, at the christening of his child, one cup and cover of silver guilt (sic) bought of John Williams. 32oz di di qv
Matthew's father Nicholas had bequeathed him ownership of some vacant land in Southwark. In 1599 Nicholas had granted a 31 year lease of this land to a group, including William Shakespeare, for the building of the Globe Theatre. Matthew attained his majority in 1621. He was knighted in the following year at Hampton Court by King James. For some reason, in 1624 he transferred the lease to his mother and so, as Margaret's husband, Sigismund became the leaseholder until she died in 1627. It does not seem likely that he took any part in the management of the theatre.
According to Charles Rodgers in “Memorials of the House of Sterling”, Sigismund “went for a soldier” in 1617, holding a command in the Low Countries. Rodgers states that “Among the undated State Papers of the reign of Charles I, there is a list of captains recommended for service in the Palatinate. Among the lieutenants is named Sir Sigismund Alexander; he afterwards appears as a petitioner for a company under the name of Sir Sigismund Zinzan, specially recommended (by the Prince and Queen of Bohemia). In a document containing a list of colonels and lieutenant-colonels connected with Ireland, he is named in a roll of captains.”
HENRY ZINZAN alias ALEXANDER(the younger)
Sigismund had five sons and three daughters. One of his sons, Henry (1605-1676), was the father of Peter (3 Jan 1638/9), the father of Nicholas. Henry married Jacoba (d1677), eldest daughter of Sir Peter Vanlore (1547-1627) who, in 1604 bought the manor of Tilehurst, centered on Calcot Park. They came to live at Tilehurst, though perhaps not in the Manor House. They are both buried in the parish church of St Michael. A ledgerstone recording their burials has recently been uncovered in the chancel of the church. It is the only known memorial to members of this remarkable family. The ledgerstone also mentions Sir Sigismund who, according to his son Henry, died in 1663. At 83 He was of a good age; his first appearance at jousting was in 1598, aged 18, with his brother Henry.
In 1621 Vanlore lent a third of the £30,000 needed for a proposed expedition to restore the King's son-in-law, Frederick V (the Winter King of Bohemia, 1619-20) as ruler of the Palatinate. It did not succeed, the 30 Years War was now in full swing. It is possible that Sigismund was connected with this project.
Where Sigismund later lived and died is, at present unknown. His last recorded appearance to date is a visit to the House of Lords with his daughter in 1640, to assist her with a petition in respect of the validity of her marriage.
JOSEPH ZINZAN alias ALEXANDER
Joseph, a son of Henry the elder and nephew of Sigismund was perhaps the last of the Zinzanos to work with horses. He married, on 6 February, 1637, Grace Scocroft at Waltham Abbey in Essex.
The Civil War was looming and, in 1643 he was called to London to train horses for the Parliamentary cavalry, as described by Isaac Greenwood in his history “The Circus” of 1909:
the commanders hurry Joseph Zinzan from his country residence to town, give him the use of the stables and yard at Winchester House, and set him up as a riding- master for the very people themselves, where lords and gentry and they ride with the orange flag, may practise, too, if they like. This was early in the fall of 1642, and Winchester House, near the Southwark end of the London Bridge, sequestered the preceding year, when the bishops were impeached, was henceforth, in these dangerous and troublesome times, to become a place for the keeping of prisoners, and its gardens to serve as a cavalry menage.
Accordingly, in 1643 he presented a petition to the House of Lords (Journal of the House of Lords, vol 6, 11 December 1643) seeking to construct a Riding School at Winchester House:
Upon reading the Petition of Joseph Zinzan, alias Alexander; shewing, That he was bred up under his Father, who was One of His Majesty's Equerries, which Place your Petitioner had in Reversion by His Majesty's Grant; but because the Petitioner doth (as his Conscience leads him) adhere to the Parliament, he hath lost the Benefit of that Grant.
That, the Petitioner's Skill in Horsemanship being approved by divers Nobles and Commanders, your Petitioner was earnestly desired to leave his Habitation in the Country, to come to this City, to do the State Service in that Way wherein he was bred; and, for his better Encouragement, they did procure him the Use of the Stables and Yard at Winchester House, being sequestered.
That, at Midsummer last, the Petitioner came thither; and hath since taken constant daily Pains in managing the Horses of divers Nobles and Commanders, and fitting them for Service, and instructing divers Gentlemen in the Way of Horsemanship.
That there is great Want of a Riding-house for this Winter Season, which may with great Conveniency be built there in the said Yard; and the said Commanders and Gentlemen have willed your Petitioner to sue to this Honourable House for the same, for his Use, and the Benefit and Good of the Commonwealth.
Wherefore the Petitioner humbly prays he may have Leave and Power, from this House, to enjoy the said Stables and Yard, and to build a Riding-house, and to have the Use of the Room adjoining to his Chamber there, for his better Conveniency and Encouragement; the same being all without the said House, and not any whit prejudicial or disadvantageous to any Man.
Ordered, That this House grants the Desires of this Petition.
Winchester House , on the Soutwark side of London Bridge had been sequestered. Joseph professed his loyalty to Parliament, though previously he had been supported by Charles I.
This is work in progress, the account is incomplete in a number of respects and awaits further research or perhaps contribution from readers. One would like to know just what impelled Sir Robert to adopt his alias, something followed by later generations. However, perhaps the most enigmatic figure is Sir Sigismund. Something remains to be unearthed about him: why he was christened Sigismund (he gave this name to one of his sons), how he acquired the knighthood and from where. It has been suggested that, a Venetian merchant or diplomat, he came to England with a gift of horses for Queen Elizabeth, but there does not seem to be room in his early career for this.
Alan Young, Tudor and Jacobean Tournaments, George Philip, 1987
The Four Visitations of Berkshire, 1664-1666, Harleian Society, 1907 (unreliable)
Charles Rodgers: Memorials of the Earl of Sterling and of the house of Alexander, Edinburgh, W Paterson, 1877, vol II chapter XXXIV Family of Zinzan or Alexander
The Household Accounts and Disbursement Books of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, 1558-61
Docquet Book of Exchequer
John Nichols FSA, The Progresses, Processions and magnificent Festivities of King James the first, his Royal Consort, Family and Court, 1828, vol I, Oct 7 1605, p602
Charles Coates, The History and Antiquities of Reading, 1802
The New England and genealogical Register / New England Historic Genealogical Society, vol lxxviii, 272
Irene R Sandells, the Church of Saint Mary, Walton-on-Thames, 1992
Malcolm Redfellows World Service, January 2010 (a very useful blogspot)
Isaac J Greenwood, THE CIRCUS, its Origin and Growth prior to 1835, 1909