The Leicestershire Woodford family
The Woodford family thrived in Leicestershire for
seven generations between 1317 and 1498. The family was one of a
number of significant gentry families that formed a network of land
management and ownership in the county in the 15th
century. These families often inter-married, and as a
consequence frequently purchased, sold and transferred parcels of
many of the major landholding families of the period, the family’s wealth
derived from the wool trade centred on the
Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray. The family’s decline into
obscurity at the end of the 15th century was precipitated by a
period of family strife as well as the simple fact that there was no male
By 1400, the Woodford family had
built up a large estate in the north-east of Leicestershire
comprising seven manors acquired either by purchase or by marriage
to heiresses. John Woodford of Brentingby was the first member of
the family to purchase land and property in the county. Further
land was acquired by his son William de Woodford and his grandson
John Woodford. When
John, a former commissioner of array (1399) and JP in Leicestershire
(1401) died in 1401, his son Robert Woodford was a minor.
By the time Robert’s grandson Ralph
inherited the family’s lands, the Woodford family had become related
through marriage to a remarkable number of Leicestershire gentry
families – Palmer, Skeffington, Villiers, Berkeley, Sherards Neele,
Bellers, Assheby, Nevilles Pulteney and Malory.
Geographical proximity played a part in these associations, as, for
instance, the Berkeley, Woodford and Sherard families all held land in the
east of Leicestershire close to the border with Rutland.
Robert Woodford’s wife Mabel or Isabel
bore him seven children, but the eldest son Thomas died vita
patris. When Sir Robert died he was therefore succeeded by his
grandson Ralph who was appointed sheriff in November 1466 and
received two commissions of the peace in December 1470. Ralph
Woodford married Elizabeth Villiers, who bore him four sons and a daughter.
The eldest son, William, died in his father’s lifetime in 1487,
leaving a daughter, Margaret as his heir. Much of the family’s
property was inherited consequently by Margaret’s husband, Thomas Morton. The
descendants of Ralph’s sons – minus their lands -either remained in
Leicestershire or moved to Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire.
This synopsis is partly derived from material in E.Acheson, A Gentry
Community: Leicestershire in the 15th Century
c.1422-c.1484, Cambridge, 1992
Brentingby Chapel (19th Century)
John Woodford of Brentingby
The Woodford Cartulary’s entry for Brentingby begins as follows:
Here be-gynnyth a trewe Regist(re)
copyed out of ffynes And dedes selyd in wax. How that olde John off Wodford the age of that he
passed out Of this world was five score yere and
seven. And he Was a gentnlman son besyde Salesbury.
And Come unto Melton Mowbrey and weddyd a Merchant daughter there and his heyre.
And He purchased dyvers lysseholds in
Melton beforesayd And in Brentyngby. Burton Synt Lazar
Thorp Arnold and Wyverdeby. As (h)it
apperth and sheweth In this true Regyster that followeth.
Both the Purchase by fyne and be ded. First is
for to wytte Howe the foresayd John of Wodford
purchasd the Manor of Brentyngby of a knyght cald
Sir John Nevell. The which Sir John
And his anncetors were possessed in
the sayd Man(or) lynally be dissent of
heretage tyme Out of mynde. And of the armys that
longe To the sayd manor. That is to wytte
he bereth Sabull the felde and three fleures de
live sylv(er) Returnd into three lybberd heedys of
goules.And in this same cote armor was this
same John of Wodford with Kyng Edward at The getyng of Caleys. And at the
taking Of the Kyng of Ffrannce at the Batell
And the sayd John of Wodford was nine
yere Blynde or ever he passed out of this
world. And He lyggs byried at Thorp Arnold
besyde Melton On whose soule Almyghtygod have mercy And petee. Amen.
Here mayst thow trewely understand
and knowe Howe that the forsayd John of Wodford
purchest To hym and to his heyres in fee
sympull of The forsayd Sir John Nevell the
man(or) of BrentYngby. And eight mese and two
tofttes and wynde-Mills two plowland and five
yardelands and syx And thirty acre meddowes, four-pence
halfpenny of free rent And a farthing of free rent. And a
payre of Gloves with a pownd of comyn, homage
and Fealte ward and marriage when it
happenyth By deth after any of the sayd
freeholders. And Also the sayd freeholders shall after
thayr dissesse Paye to the heirs of the manor of
Brentyngby the Best beese that they have in the name
of a harycote. And that shall be chosen by
the heirs of the manor of Brentyngby forsayd
before theyr pryncypall or any other bequest.
Brother William of Woodford
Several Leicestershire historians
including Burton have introduced a further possible family
association in the form of Brother William of Woodford
(fl.1380-1411) who was an opponent of John Wycliffe and who has been
described as a `kinsman’ of John Woodford of Brentingby. Fuller
`William de Folville was born at
Ashby Folville in this county and therefore when Bale called him
Lincolniemsem ... understand him not by county but by diocese.. I
cannot fix his nativity with any certainty because his surname in
this age flourished with great eminence in this county…’
Burton was convinced that this
William Woodford was a member of the Woodford family and not the
`Of this family (ie: Woodford) was
William de Folville whom Bale … will have to be a Lincolnshire man.’
However, Francis Peck,
the Stamford antiquarian, refers to William Folville as “a friar
minor of the order of St Francis, was a Lincolnshire man, D.D of
Cambridge, a person of a religious life.….”
The Woodford family
held the manor of Ashby Folville during the lifetime of this William
de Woodford, but only acquired the manor long after the death of
John of Brentingby, through the marriage of his great-grandson.
There is no evidence of his association with either the area or the
family. P.Conrad Walmsley in discussing a manuscript of this
William Woodford is reminded of the manner of writing the names of
English Franciscan friars, the custom being to omit the family name
after the friar’s clothing, adopting instead the name of the village
or town from which he came.
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Colour image of Brentingby Chapel © Kate Jewell
John Woodford of Brentingby
The story of the Woodford family of
Leicestershire begins with John de Woodford, the `gentleman’s son
from besyde Salesbury’ – in the words of the cartulary - who
travelled to Melton Mowbray and `weddyd a merchant daughter
John’s first major acquisition was
the purchase of land in Brentingby from John Neville of Stoke, Co.Notts. This was the first of a number of associations between the
Woodford family and the significant Neville family through which the
Woodford family can claim a descent from Alfred the Great. John
Neville was a descendant of the Neville family of Rolleston, Co.
Notts. which had descended from John de Neville (fl.1269/70), the
third son of Geoffrey de Neville. The Woodford family was later to
acquire land in both Rolleston and Stoke through the marriage of
Robert de Woodford to Isabel (or Mabel) Neville in 1402.
John married Alice Prest some time
after his arrival in Leicestershire. Some pedigrees of the Prest or
Preston family substitute a William Woodford as the husband of Alice
(Nichols quoting material from Frances Peck), but Alice Prest, in
her will, clearly mentions her husband John and her sons Walter and
The source of this error appears to
be two manuscripts from the Le Neve library which were listed in
that library’s catalogue at the time of its auction in
February/March 1731 as Lot 268: Woodford’s (family) lands and
pedigrees and Lot 802: Coat of Arms of Woodford’s Pedigree painted.
A marked-up catalogue indicates that the Suffolk antiquary Thomas
Martin purchased both manuscripts. Martin’s collection was dispersed
at auction in 1773/4 but it is not possible to identify either of
these manuscripts in the sale catalogue. However, other pedigrees
reproduced by Nichols support the cartulary’s claim that John de
Woodford married Alice Prest. (Nichols ii.p.376).
The confusion between John and
William Woodford may have occurred simply because both names appear
very frequently in the family pedigree. John ’s second son and heir
was William, and William’s son was also named John.
John of Brentingby made many
purchases of land and property in Melton Mowbray and the surrounding
area. The latest date attributable to him is 1362 when he `sold and
alienated the manor of Brentingby and all his lands in Thorpe
Arnold, Wyfordby and Stapulforth’ to his son, William. (Cartulary
f.4).The cartulary provides little further
information about John apart from noting that he was:
Edward at the getyng of Caleys’ and `at the taking of the Kyng of
Ffrance at the Batell of Payters (Poitiers)’. T
This would mean that
John was of fighting age in 1347 and 1356 respectively.
The lordship of the De Mowbray
estates had been confiscated by Edward ll and was given to the
Despencers in 1322. As a result, John de Mowbray was arrested and
later beheaded, and his wife and son were imprisoned. These lands
were restored to his son, John de Mowbray, by Edward lll. This John
de Mowbray was a prominent figure in the battles of Crecy and
Poitiers and it is therefore possible that John Woodford fought
alongside him.John de Mowbray died - of the plague - in York
in 1362, the same year in which John de Woodford transferred his
lands and property to his son.
We do not know why John of Brentingby
left his Wiltshire home or why he chose Leicestershire as his new
home, so far away from Old Sarum. He may have had distant relatives
in the area, but the cartulary clearly states that John was the
first member of the family to own land in Leicestershire. It may
have been the contact with the Mowbray family that provided John
with his new home in the Melton area, but this is only conjecture. Alice Prest’s father
and grandfather were both extremely wealthy Melton sheep merchants.
It seems that they were both victims of the Black Death that reached
Melton in the early summer of 1349 because all records relating to
the Prest’s numerous transactions pre-date that year.
John’s presence in the Melton area at this time is further confirmed
by a record of a demand by a Nicholas Charnell against `John de
Woodford and Alice his wife’ which is dated 1329.
In the same year, the cartulary records that Walter Prest made over
to John `a messuage with the appurtenances’ in Melton. Also, in his
introduction to `Leicestershire Wills and Administrations
1496-1649’, W.Hartopp singles out the will of Alice Woodford of
Brentingby, proved before the official of the Archdeacon of
Leicester in the church of Melton Mowbray, 13 Kal Jan 1333. He
records that probate of Sir John de Woodford of Brentingby was
granted by the same authority in St Martin’s, Leicester on 27 August
1401. This latter John Woodford was the son of William I.
For more images of
Leicestershire by Kate Jewell visit Geograph
The De Banco Rolls
include a demand dated 1338 from Henry Erneys of Great Paunton
against `John. Son of Walter Prest of Melton Mowbray’ of a messuage
and land in Brentingby.
It is noted that this John responds by claiming he does not hold so
much as requested. There is a later claim from `John, son of Walter
Prest of Melton Mowbray’ against Thomas de Newell relating to this
land, requesting that Newell warrants John this same land. There is
no other reference to a John Prest, so this may be directed at John
Woodford as son-in-law of Walter Prest.In 1349, again according to the
cartulary, John Woodford is a witness to a deed in which Walter Prest made over all his arable lands in Melton and all his property
in Scalford to a John Walker and a John de Conbrigge of Melton.
In 1350 the cartulary records that
John gave his son William the reversion of a messuage and an oxgang
of land in Melton, and released to William all the right and title
he had in a messuage and four acres of land in Melton.
There is the
possibility that John married secondly a woman called Agnes. There
is a De Banco roll record dated 1362 in which Agnes `who was the
wife of John de Woodford’ demands against William de Woodford a
third part of the manor of Brentingby and twenty messuages, ten
virgates of land, twenty acres of meadow and 60s rent in Brentingby,
Thorpe juxta Melton, Burton St Lazarus and Melton `as dower of the
gift of John de Woodford formerly her husband.’ This is clearly a
settlement sought upon the death of John.
Thus the Woodford story begins with
John arriving in Melton Mowbray from Wiltshire sometime before 1317
and marrying Alice Prest. They had two sons, Walter and
Walter died before his younger brother. Walter was alive in 1357
but had died by 1362 when William inherited his parents’ wealth and
lands. William is described as John’s eldest son, but this is
probably because that part of the cartulary was written after the
death of Walter.
12 Edw III
Francis Peck, The Antiquarian Annals of Stanford, Lib XII,p10
P.C.Walmsley, Two long lost works of William Woodford and Robert of Leicester. Arch.Franc.Hist 1953. Vol 46, p 458-462
De Banco Roll 311 Trinity II Edw III m 75 Leyc.
De Banco Rolls, 315, Trinity