The Woodforde Family

A History of the Woodforde Family from 1300



Folville of Leicestershire

Mabel Folville, the wife of John Woodford, was the heiress of a notorious Leicestershire family.  John de Folville died in 1310 leaving seven sons: John, Eustace, Laurence, Richard, Robert, Thomas and Walter. The manor of Ashby Folville passed to the younger John, and it appears that he was the only brother not to participate in a life of crime.  The worst of the brothers, judged by the number of crimes alleged against him was Eustace Folville, with five murders and many other felonies; the next was Robert and then Richard, who in 1321 became Rector of Teigh in Rutland.

The Folvilles were first heard of as criminals when three of them were indicted for participating in the murder of Roger Bellers in January 1326.  This took place on 19 January 1326 on the road between Melton Mowbray and Leicester near Kirby Bellars.  The Woodford family was distantly related to the de Bellers: Lettice Prest, the sister of Alice Prest who married John of Brentingby, married James de Bellers.

Eustace Folville was later charged with three or more further murders, a rape and three robberies.

It appears that much of the Folvilles’ criminal activities were directed against the supporters of the Despensers.  On almost every occasion they avoided punishment and were pardoned for their alleged crimes. Eustace Folville lies buried at Ashby Folville.  His figure on his tomb is much defaced.

The lordship of Ashby Folville passed from John de Folville to his second son Geoffrey de Folville who married Mabel Tilney.  He died before 1370 and it was his daughter Mabel who married John Woodford, and through whom the Woodford family gained the manors of Ashby Folville and Newbold Folville.


Woodford Cartulary page

The page of the Woodford Cartulary detailing the knighting of Robert Woodford on the field of Agincourt


Folville pedigrees in Nichols are inaccurate. VCH Rutland, 11.151 ff contains some erroneous information.  Reliable relevant deeds appear in the Woodford Cartulary, Brit.Mus. Cotton Claudius A xiii.

 Henry of Knighton was interested in the Folville family’s activities. See Chronicon Knighton (Rolls Series),i.432.




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

© Stephen Butt 2004 - rev 31/10/05


Sir Robert Woodford (1383-1455)

Sir Robert Woodford represents the peak of the family’s power and prosperity in Leicestershire. One of the distinguishing features of late medieval society was its increasing concern about status and about the livelihood that maintained it.  It is hardly surprising, therefore, that most family disputes of that time revolved around the estate.   It seems likely that Robert’s attempts to disinherit his grandson, Ralph, eventually signalled the irreversible decline in the family’s wealth.  Sir Robert’s standing in Leicestershire was in part the result of the judicious marriage of his father, John, to the the wealthy heiress Mabel Folville – and in part his own marriage into the Neville family.

Robert married Isabel Neville, a descendant of the Nevilles of Rolleston, Co.Warks. A pedigree of Neville is included in the cartulary, giving Isabel’s parents as Sir Thomas Nevill (known as the `good knight and lord of Rolleston’) and Dame Celia Blanckminster, daughter of Sir Guy Blanckminster of Cornwall, Lord of the Isle of Scilly.  Nichols states that Isabel (or Mabel) was the daughter of John Neville of Rolleston, a mistake that G.Farnham and A.Hamilton-Thompson comment upon, pointing out that no owner of Rolleston at that time was called John. They state that `Thomas Neville died in 1365 succeeded by his son William who may be Mabel’s father.’

Whereas the previous three generations of the family appear to have been literate and numerate men, Robert appears more of a soldier and warrior. It seems likely that his home was the Leicestershire village of Sproxton but that he spent much time away from Leicestershire supporting the king’s military campaigns. The cartulary ends with a detailed fine drawn up by Robert to dispose of his land in the event of his death in battle. He fought at Agincourt and was knighted on the field of battle by Henry V `on St Crispin’s Day in the morn.’  The cartulary portrays Robert as a powerful manorial lord, a man proud of his ancestry and who enjoyed the heat of battle.  He married Mabel (or Isabel) Neville in 1402. They had six sons and five daughters.  

Robert appears to have worked closely with his mother Mabel.  They jointly farmed out tenements in the Melton area and later in her life Mabel made Robert her attorney whilst Robert made his mother one of his feoffees for his manors and lands before departing for the wars in France in 1409.  It was no doubt during this time that Mabel’s reputation as the `matriach’ of the family was created. Her fame was such that her great-grandson Ralph remembered her name in his will, leaving money to provide for prayers to be said for her soul.

`Laurence Berkely of Wymonham, Robert Woodeford of Ashby Folville, John Bellers of Kettelby and William Vyllers of Brooksby’ are some of the witnesses to a marriage settlement dated 13 April 1440. In 1421 a De Banco roll entry records a plea by `Robert Woodford chivalier against John Tales of Melton Mowbray yoman (sic) in a plea of assault on John Hewit the servant of Robert Woodford at Melton.’  Sir Robert Wodeford `of Leicester’ is a signatory to a bargain and sale relating to material in the manor of Sproxton within the same Gretton (Sherard) manuscripts dated 10 September 1454.  A Ralph Wodeford is a witness.  Sir Robert is also one of many witnesses to a declaration dated 1 May 1446 in the same manuscript collection. 

Sir Robert Woodford died in 1455.


E.Acheson, A Gentry Community: Leicestershire in the 15th century, 1992. P152ff.

The cartulary has extensive references to these financial and legal processes.