Thomasine was born in Week St Mary in north Cornwall around the year 1450. Her family were farmers and she cared for their sheep. One day, a wealthy merchant from London named Richard Barnaby was travelling through Week St Mary. He may have been buying wool to sell in London. Richard met Thomasine and asked her parents if he could take her to London to work as a maid for his wife.
A move to London
Thomasine’s parents agreed and she left Cornwall for London. When Richard’s wife died, he married Thomasine. Sometime after, Richard also died and left Thomasine a lot of money. She married again, to another wealthy London merchant called Henry Gale. He died not long after their wedding, also leaving his money to Thomasine.
From shepherdess to Dame
When Thomasine was married for a third time, to Sir John Percyvale, she was a rich woman. Because her husband was a knight, Thomasine became Dame Thomasine Percyvale. Sir John was a very wealthy man and Lord Mayor of London. He too died, leaving Dame Thomasine even more money.
Sharing her wealth in Cornwall
Dame Thomasine moved back to Cornwall and began to use her money to help the people of north Cornwall.
Davies Gilbert – The Parochial History of Cornwall (1838)Dame Thomasine, having no child by either of her three husbands, spent the remainder of her days […] in works of piety and charity; as repairing highways, building bridges, endowing or providing funds for poor maids, relieving prisoners, feeding and appareling poor people.
She also used her money to build a school for Week St Mary and a tower for the parish church.