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