The Woodforde Family

A History of the Woodforde Family from 1300



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 land. 

As with 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 heir.

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 Woodford 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

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 Nevell

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 of Payters.

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 wrote: 

`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 Folville family: 

`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.

Comments and contributions to this site are welcome.
Please email us

© Stephen Butt 2004 - rev 27/06/06
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 there’.

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 William. 

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:

 `with Kyng 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. 

However, 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.


Brentingby Chapel by Kate Jewell

Brentingby Chapel 
© Kate Jewell

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 William.  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.


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
12 Edw III (1338).