Why did Joseph Howcutt die in Germany?


Few people born in Northamptonshire in the 18th century had an opportunity to go overseas. It is therefore surprising that Jackson’s index to the Brixworth parish register states that Joseph Howcutt died in Germany. [1]


Joseph was christened at Brixworth on 6 June 1731, a son of James and Mary (Ward) Howcutt. There is no other record of Joseph in the parish register and Jackson’s index does not record any marriage or offspring for him. Rev James Jackson was vicar of Brixworth from 1735 until his death 35 years later. His index includes much information about Brixworth people in addition to that appearing in the register itself. Therefore, it is probable that Joseph was still single when he died. Also, it is likely that Joseph’s death took place some time before Jackson himself died in 1770, as it would be unusual in that era for a man to remain a bachelor until after the age of 30.


Battle of Minden

One of the most likely reasons for an Englishman to die in Germany in the middle of the 18th century was as a soldier in the Seven Years War (1756-1763). Joseph would have been between 25 and 32 years old at that time. The only pitched battle in which British troops fought during that conflict was the battle of Minden, which took place at a heath outside the town of that name on 1 August 1759. In this, the French Army and their Saxon allies were defeated by a combined force of British, Hanoverian, Hessian and Prussian soldiers. The fight was remarkable as it included a successful attack by the British infantry on some 7,000 French horsemen. Despite heavy losses, the infantry forced the French to retreat and ultimately to flee from the field. As the French commander, Marshal Contades, is said to have remarked afterwards: “I never thought to see a single line of infantry break through three lines of cavalry ranked in order of battle and tumble them to ruin.” [2]


Soldier of the

37th regiment

None of the British regiments that fought at Minden have titles obviously connected with Northamptonshire. However, circumstantial evidence suggests a particular regiment that Joseph may have belonged to and how he could have been recruited.


James Money (1724-1785) was a landowner who lived at Pitsford and later in his life built Pitsford Hall. He became a Captain in Colonel Stuart's Regiment (the 37th Regiment of Foot) in 1754 and was promoted to the rank of Major in 1759, the year in which his regiment fought at Minden. [3] It is quite feasible that Major Money recruited some of his troops from close to his home and that these may have included Joseph Howcutt, Brixworth being only two miles north of Pitsford.


Moreover, the Howcutt family had significant connections with Pitsford. Joseph’s grandmother, Elizabeth (Laundon) Ward (1670-1753) came from that parish. Joseph’s uncle Thomas Ward (1703-1765) lived at Pitsford and acted as “manager” for Joseph and his siblings after their widowed father died in 1742/3. [4] Joseph was only 11 years old when he was orphaned, so it is likely that he spent some of his formative years living at Pitsford.


The surviving muster rolls for the 37th Regiment of Foot start on 25 December 1759. [5] They do not include Joseph Howcutt, indicating that if he did serve in the regiment he had ceased to do so by that date. The 37th was the centre regiment of the first line of infantry at Minden, where its casualties included three officers, one sergeant and 69 men who were killed. [6] It is probable that Joseph was one of those 69 or that he was another soldier who died in the course of the Seven Years’ War.




[1]      Northamptonshire Record Office: ML380

[2]      Battle of Minden. http://www.britishbattles.com/seven-years/minden.htm (accessed 11 August 2016) gives a very detailed account of the battle and the associated campaign.

[3]      “Early History of Pitsford Hall” by William Millar http://www.northantsweather.org.uk/history.htm (accessed 11 August 2016)

[4]     James Howcutt made his will on 21 October 1741 and appointed Anne, who was his second wife, as sole executrix. However, Anne died before James did and the will is endorsed with these words: “Mr. Thos. Ward of Pisford Manager for the Children”.

[5]      The National Archives: WO12/5100/1

[6]      The Royal Hampshire Regiment – Meredith’s 37th Regiment of Foot.

          http://1rhamps.com/37th/37thfoot.html# (accessed 11 August 2016)