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Caithness Field Club Bulletin
AN ELIZABETHAN WILL
I first became interested in Probate Records when trying to trace the birth of my 2nd great grandfather. He was too early for Civil Registration which began in 1837 and I couldn't find him in the Parish Registers. I picked him up as executor in his father's will. The will gave a great deal of insight into the life of farming and silk weaving families in the 18th and early 19th century.
I set about finding all the family as far back as I could search. Wills were extremely uncommon in 1550 but become more common after 1600. I had no idea quite what I would find as I worked backward into history. The Research Room has always seemed to be a magical place where real history lurks in contemporary documents. I couldn't find all the ancestral wills. Some wills had been lost, some died intestate, in some cases there was only the Inventory. In the case of intestacy, I was able to find the letters of administration (Admons) in some cases.
Putting your order in to view a particular document is always exciting. It is even more so when a rolled or folded parchment appears at your desk and your fingers fumble with the dusty document wondering what information it may reveal. Eventually I arrived at the earliest date of all: 1594! Of course you have to learn how to read the document; fortunately there are many books on the subject but practice is necessary before you come to study the real thing.
When I unfastened this particular bundle it was clear that I was looking at the work of a very able scribe on the very finest of parchment, probably from the skin of an unborn calf. This is the heading of the first page.
The transcription reads as follows -
LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF NYCHOLAS SAXON OF AUDENSHAW 1594
IN THE NAME of god amen the ixth daye of Januarye/1594/Anno Regni Regine Elizabeth etcr. xxvij-. I Nycholas Saxon wthin the paryshe of Ashton under Lyne in the Counttye of Lancaster husbandman being in good and pfect Remembrance and consideringe the frayltye of this transitorye lyfe doe make and ordayne this my last will and testament in maner under. First I give and commend my soule into the hands of the Allmighty god my creatour trustinge by the death and passion of Jesus Christ my Redeener to recyve remission of all my synnes and to be ptaker of everlasting lyf: Itm is my will that my bodye be in the parysh churche of Ashton under Lyne. Itm by lycense of my worshipfull ladye dame Elizabeth Bouthe and her sonn George Bouthe esquyer I give the good will of this my farine and tenement to Nycholas Saxon my sonne, my wiefe having the use of the Lordshippe. Itm it is my will that Willlm Fawkner of Tabley shall deliver and paye to Nycholas Saxon my sonne aforesaid such debts as he oweth onto mee. And it is my will that my Sonne Nycholas shall give the said xxs to three of my servants whom I shall name unto him, to wytte to each of them three vjs viijd. Itm I give onto the said Willm Fawkner release of all other debts hee oweth mee, condytionally that hee paye the said xxs and one halfe of debts hee oweth mee to my said sonne wthout sute of lawe, and also deliver to my said sonne suche cattell of myne as he hath in his keping as they shall be due to mee or myne Assignes: Itm I forgive Rodger Bayle all suche debts as he oweth unto mee and I give to the said Rodger and to his sonne Bryan to either of them xijs Itm it is my wyll that Henrye Shaw of Hyde give to the hands of Nycholas my sonne such debts as hee oweth unto mee, and it is my will that my saide sonne shall distribute the saide debt when he shall receive the same, equallie among the saide Henrye Shawe, John Shawe his brother and Alys Smythes sonnes the said Henry and John. Itm I forgive to Ellyne Shawe my sister such debt as she oweth unto mee. Itm I give to Robart Ashton of Shepley gentleman all such debts as are due to mee from Thomas Ashton of Sheply gentleman father to the said Roberte. Itm I give to Emlyne Platte weife of Edward Platte xs. Itm I give unto the children of Richarde Hygsonne iijs ivp. Itm I give to the children of John Hylle my pte of all the land situate at the howse of the said John Hylle. Itm I give to Thomas Holt and Edmunde Hobkyne and John Hobkyne sonnes of Robarte Hobkyne two swarmes of bees standing at the howse of Lawrance Whitaker to be devided equallie betweene the said Thomas Holte and the said sonnes of the said Robarte Hobkyne: Also it is my wyll that my sonne Nycholas shall take the stocke of bees beinge myne whollye from the howse of the said Lawrance when my said sonne shall think good. Itm it is my wyll that the rest of the bees at the howse of the said Lawrance shall remayne meane still: Itm I give to Jane weife of John Ellor and to her children xxxs. Itm I give to the weife of John Dewsnapp all such debts as she oweth unto mee (the corn and the barley only excepted). Itm I give to the weife of John Taylier of Oldame paryshe iijs ivd. Itm I give to John Saxon the one halfe of such debts as hee oweth mee. Itm I give to Nycholas Fydlar and his brethren and three systers xs to be devided equallie amonge them. Itm I give to such of my godchildren upon whom I have not bestowed some legacye before xijs. Itm I give to the poore xxs such to be bestowed upon the poore at the discretion of my saide sonne: Itm I give to everye servant eyther man or woman that hath dwelled wth me one halfe yeare xijs. Itm I give to Alys Burton xij viijd. Itm I give to the reparacon of the paryshe churche of Ashton ? Itm it is my will that my debts legacyes and funeral expences shall be discharged out of my whole goods such to be discharged it is my wyll that all my goods within or about this howse or upon this farme shall be devyded between Katheryne my weife and Nycholas my sonne and by the consent of the saide Katheryne saide weife all other goods debts and tacks of grounde whatsoever to mee belonginge to the saide Nycholas. Itm I hereby do ordayne and make the saide Katheryne my weife and Nycholas my sonne executors of this my last will and testament. And I desire my trustye frends and neighbours Robart Ashton of Sheply Robart Sondiforthe and John Ellor to be Overseers herof to this my last will and testament executed as my trust is in them these beinge witnesses. Thomas Walker, John Saxon, Robart Ashton, Thomas Ogden, Charles Davenport.
Debts owing to the testator
The somme lxxxix£ xijs ixd
(Note: in Bulletin page, £,s,d appear as superscripts after figures.)
Owing to the testator
* This part of the manuscript is missing or illegible but a doole appears to have been worth about 2s.
Owing for beefe
xxxs vid The whole somme xcij£ xiijs
* This part of the manuscript is missing but seems to refer to about 12 dooles of land.
Oates barley meale and malt lent or sold by the testator
Imprimis George Ashton xxj houpes of oates ......
Ux Gregorye Andrew twoo bushel of oates and fyve houpes of barley..
Itm James Wylde one houpe of barlye ......
Itm Thomas Cocke twoo bushel of oates at xijd the bushel ......
Itm Rychard Ashton five houpes of oats and half a houpe of meale ......
Itm John Turner twoo houpes of oates ......
Itm James Wood xvij houpes of oates ......
Itm Elys Cooke fyv houpes of oates ......
Itm Nycholas Hyde five houpes of oates ......
Itm John Saxon one houpe of barlye ......
ItmWillm Groushowe one houpe of barlye one houpe of meale & half houpe of malte ......
Itm ux Raufe Hyde halfe houpe of meale ......
Itm ux John Hollande one houpe of barlye and half houpe of meale ......
Itm John Taylier two houpes and half of barlye ......
Itm Henry Ashton one houpe of meale ......
The right hand side of the manuscript is missing and, since there is no 'somme' at the bottom of the inventory it can be suspected that it continued on another page. It shouldn't be assumed that the quantities were exact by later standards: e.g. it was necessary about 50 years after this time to define oatmeal at 40lb to the Winchester hoope.
A true and pfect Inventorye of the goods and cattell of Nycholas Saxon late of Awdenshaw wthin the paryshe of Ashton under Lyne in the Countye of Lancaster husbandman deceased pced the xvijth daye of Januarye Anno Regni Regine Elizabeth etc xxxijo Anno dni / 1594 / by the honest men Robarte Ashton gentleman, Robarte Ashton elder, Reginalde Tetlowe, Roberte Hobkyne, Robarte Sondiforthe and Thomas Walker
The whole some ccxcv£ cijs /
The will and Inventory throw considerable light on the daily life of an Elizabethan husbandman. No mention is made of household furniture, this is all covered under "husbandry gear and hussulments of howseholde". It is to be supposed, that the furniture consisted of "arkes ganers and chests", and tressles and boards. Beds are not listed but "beddinge brass and pewtar" must cover that item. "Sylver spounes" is an item of luxury you wouldn't have expected but those were the days before knives and forks were invented.
Land was enclosed only for growing crops and husbandmen would rent a certain number of acres and sub-let the strips into "dooles". After the harvest was gathered in the "yetts" (gates) were opened and the "kyne" were allowed to graze over the stubble and, of course, manure the ground. The sheep were "putt in for the countrey" very much as hill sheep are today but no doubt, shepherds would still be needed to keep an eye on rustlers and to mark the sheep at counting time with ruddle.
Pigs (only two per household) were penned in until the autumn when they were allowed a brief period to feed on acorns and beech nuts in the woodlands. In their absence officers of the Crown would remove the top few inches from the pig pens for the manufacture of gunpowder.
Nycholas named all the neighbours whose land abutted his own to be overseers of his will. It is interesting to see that, on 12 November 1595, the Parish Registers record the marriage of Nicholas Saxon and Jane Ashetonne, the eldest daughter of Robart Ashton of Shepley Hall, gentleman. This was actually in the same year as Nycholas the elder's death. The old New Year began in those days on Lady Day, not 1 January.
One way of looking at this early will is that we are now celebrating the quatercentenary of this fragment of our family history.