Court Books: Inheritance

When a resident of Winslow died, any land or buildings which he or she held automatically passed to the eldest son. Heriot (the deceased's most valuable possession) had to be paid out of the estate, and the heir had to pay gersum to take over the property. If someone died without a son, the eldest daughter inherited:

1334. The jurors reported that if any inheritance should fall to a female heir, that it should not be divided but will revert in entirety to the eldest daughter.

If the deceased had no children, the property would go to a brother, sister, or more distant relative:

1332. Likewise it was reported that Ralph of Wengrave has died, whose heriot is one tunic worth 2s. He held a half-acre of land. And William his brother is his nearest heir, of full age. And he gave for a fine 6d for holding the aforesaid land for himself and his heirs through services etc.

1374. Emma Thomes the wife of Robert Kyng and the heir of her uncle William of Shipton, of full age, came and paid gersum for a messuage, a virgate of land, a cottage and 1 acres of land with appurtenances in Wynselowe, to hold for herself and her heirs in villeinage at the lord's will, through the due and accustomed services. And she paid the lord as a fine and for licence to get married 20s.

1376. William Colyn the relative and heir of Emma Thomes (that is the son of Agnes Colyn the sister of John Thomes the father of Emma), of full age, came and paid gersum for a messuage and a virgate of land with appurtenances and a toft lying next to the holding of William Scolemaistre in Wynsel(owe), to hold for himself and his heirs in villeinage at the lord's will, through the due and accustomed services. And he paid the lord as a fine 33s 10d. And he did fealty.

After the Black Death, finding an heir willing to take over the deceased's property became a problem:

1359. A first proclamation was made according to the custom of the manor about the land and holdings of Agatha Cuteler in Shipton. And about the holdings of Thomas Broun in Shipton. And about the holdings of John Saleman. And about a virgate and a half of land, formerly the said John's. And about the holdings formerly William Kenes'. And about 1 virgate formerly the said William's. And about the holdings formerly Thomas'. And no heir came to claim them. Therefore the Beadle was ordered to be responsible for the proceeds until, etc.

A widow had an automatic right of dower, which meant that she could keep the use of 1/3 of her husband's property for the rest of her life. Sometimes she had to take legal action to claim this right:

1340. Ivetta Coleman recovered her dower from Roger atte Welle: a cottage with courtyard, formerly her husband Reginald Thomme's. Roger amerced 2d for holding it unjustly.

She retained the dower even if she got married again, but she might lose it if she failed to look after it properly:

1352. Walter Corset and Alice his wife forfeited their holdings which they held in Horewode as Alice's dower, which fell to her from the former holding of John Frensche in the same village, because of the damage done to them, as was set out in the preceding court. And John, son and heir of the late John le Frensche, paid gersum for the holdings, to hold for himself and his heirs, through due and accustomed services for them. The fine was waived. And he did fealty, etc.

When a woman died who held property in her own right, her husband could keep it for the rest of his life by "English courtesy":

1336. Likewise they reported Eve who was wife of Thomas Shepherd has died, who held a messuage with appurtenances. Her heriot (is) a bullock/heifer worth 3s. And Henry her son is her nearest heir, of full age. And the aforesaid Thomas Shepherd will hold the said holding to the end of his life through English courtesy, according to the custom of the manor, etc.

If the heir was under age, someone had to act as guardian:

1328. Geoffrey, son of Matilda, has died. His heriot (is) a cow. And Agnes, who was the wife of the said Geoffrey, came and paid gersum for all the land which the said Geoffrey held on the day he died, for the benefit of John, the son and heir of the said Geoffrey, on condition that the said Agnes should have custody of the land and the said heir until the coming of age of the said heir, performing for it due and accustomed services. And she gave to the lord for the gersum and for licence to marry off the said heir 40s.

If someone wanted to make provision for a younger child, or better provision for a widow, they could make a deathbed surrender of some of their property, usually noted with the phrase "of sound mind":

1360. Henry Smyth, of sound mind, surrendered into the lord's hands 6 acres of land. His heriot is 1 cow. And the lord granted the 6 acres of land with appurtenances to Alice Smyth, to hold for herself to the end of her life, in villeinage, at the lord's will, through services, etc. So that the 6 acres of land are to revert in entirety after Alice's death to Henry's rightful heirs, in villeinage, at the lord's will, through the due and accustomed services. And she paid the lord as a fine half a mark.

The court sometimes had to deal with complex inheritance disputes. Land was in short supply before the Black Death, so it was worthwhile making a claim to the court if you thought you had a chance of acquiring more land from a deceased relative:

1337. John Colet and Agnes his wife, plaintiffs, appeared against Roger son of John Chonnesone and Christina his wife, on a plea of land. And they claimed from them a messuage and a half-virgate of land with appurtenances in Wynselow as Agnes' right and inheritance after the death of her kinsman John Maggeson, whose heir she was. He was in possession of the aforesaid holdings in his dominion on the day he died, etc., because from the aforesaid John Mageson the fief, etc., descended to his son and heir Ralph. And whereas the aforesaid Ralph died without direct heir, so the aforesaid holdings should revert to Agnes, sister of the said John Mageson father of the said Ralph, whose heir she is, as she said. And the said Roger son of John Chonneson and Christina his wife defended, etc. And they well granted that the said John Maggeson was in possession of it as of a fief when he died, but said that the same Agnes was not his nearest heir, because the same Agnes was not John Maggeson's own elder sister, but rather one Alice, to whom the aforesaid holdings should rightfully descend. And because from the said Alice, the right, etc., should descend to her daughter Anabilia, mother of the said Christina, whose heir she is, who now rightfully holds the aforesaid holdings with her husband Roger. And concerning this they(?) put themselves on the first (court/enquiry). And the aforesaid John and Agnes likewise. And on this the jurors said that the above-mentioned Alice, sister of the aforesaid John Maggeson, was the aforesaid John's elder sister and his nearest heir. Therefore it was decided that the aforesaid John Colet and Agnes should be amerced for a false claim, 3d. And the aforesaid Christina and Roger should go without a day [i.e. they did not need to return to court].

For a brief period in the 15th century, the full text of some wills was included in the Court Books. Most follow a standard pattern, probably because the same person (the Vicar?) drew them up. Only personal property could normally be bequeathed by will:

1427. The will of John [sic] Wattes was proved before Br. Robert Ounesby, Cellarer and Commissary in this office, whose tenor follows in these words: "In the name of God amen. I Joan Wattes, of sound mind, in the year 1427 make my will in this way. First I bequeath my soul to God and my body to be buried in the graveyard of St John the Baptist of Greneburgh. Likewise to the Monastery of St Albans 12d. Likewise to the Vicar of Greneburgh 12d. Likewise to the clerk of the same place 4d. Likewise to the 4 lights of the same church a half-quarter of malt. Likewise to the Church of Wynge 12d. Likewise to Agnes Lary a brass pot, bottle, chest, and a coverlet, and a pair of sheets. Likewise to Marjory Lary a brass pot, bottle and chest. Likewise to the friars of Aylesbury 12d. Likewise to William Childe my godson 1 bushel of malt. And of the residue of my goods not bequeathed, I appoint John Geffes my executor, to dispose of my goods with the help of John Boveton in the way they think most pleasing to God for my soul." And the oath was taken for it in form of law.

1427. The will of John Pyconde was proved, etc., on the Feast of St Faith [6 October]. "In the name of God amen. On the Feast of St Faith in the year 1426. I John Pyconde make my will in this way. First I bequeath my soul to God, etc., and my body to be buried in the graveyard of St Nicholas. Likewise I bequeath to the Church of Horrewode 6s 8d. Likewise I bequeath for candles 6s 8d. Likewise to the Vicar 6s 8d. Likewise to the Monastery of St Albans 12d. Likewise to the friars of Dunstaple 12d. Likewise to the friars of Aylesbury 12d. Likewise to the Augustinian friars of Oxford 12d. Likewise to the Carmelite friars of Northampton 12d. Likewise to each of my grandchildren 4d. Likewise the residue of my goods not bequeathed I give and bequeath to John my son, and I make the said John my executor." And the oath was taken for it in form of law.

1429. The will of John Thomelyn was proved before Br. William Alnewyke, Cellarer and Commissary in this office, whose tenor follows in these words: "In the name of God Amen. I, John Thomlyn, being of sound mind, make my will in this way. First I bequeath my soul to almighty God, etc., and my body to be buried in the Graveyard of St. Laurence of Wynslow. Likewise I bequeath to the church 6s 8d. And to the light of the Holy Cross 12d. Likewise to each light of the church 1 bushel of barley. Likewise to the Convent of St Albans 2s. Likewise to each one lifted by my hands from the holy font 1 bushel of barley. Likewise to the Friars of Dunstaple 12d. Likewise to the Friars of Aylesbury 12d. Likewise to the Augustinian Friars of Oxford 12d. Likewise to the Carmelites of Oxford 12d. Likewise to the sons of my son Thomas 2 bushels of dredge. Likewise to John Coton and his wife 12d. Likewise to John Hosteler and Emma his wife 8d. Likewise for repairing a lane 12d. Likewise for repairing the northern road 12d. Likewise for repairing the road next to the Cross 12d. Likewise to Alice my daughter 6s 8d. Likewise to John [Childe] the son of my daughter, my grandson, 1 bushel of corn. Likewise to John Hogges a half-acre to sow with barley. Likewise to the same John a half-acre of land to sow with beans. Likewise to Agnes my daughter for her marriage 40s. Likewise I wish that William the elder son will give her 20s. I ordain and appoint Juliana my wife and William, Thomas and Stephen my sons as executors, that they may dispose in the best way they think most pleasing to God for my soul. The residue of my goods I leave to my wife." And administration of this will was granted to them and the oath was taken, etc.

Copyright 1 August, 2015