The Woodforde Family

A History of the Woodforde Family from 1300



The Good Knight

There is no obvious explanation or qualification offered for the cartulary’s description of William Neville, Mabel Neville’s father as the `good knight’ of Rolleston. 

However, a William Neville is listed as one of the ten knights who had followed the teachings of John Wycliffe and who were therefore later described as being guilty of heresy. 

Sir Thomas Latimer is also named as one of the ten, and the only one for whose lollardy there is written evidence. He was brought before the king’s council in 1388 charged with possessing books of an heretical nature. Later, Latimer’s manor of Braybrooke in Northamptonshire became known as a centre for Lollard teaching and possibly a safe haven for those of a similar mind.  The Nevilles and the Latimers were related. Perhaps the Woodford family at that time held similar theological views so William was regarded by them as a good or `godly’ man.

In 1355, an award made as arbitration in a dispute involving the Latimer family over ownership of Braybrooke cites two chaplains, one of whom is named as John de Woodford.

Thomas Woodford of Sproxton

Thomas Woodford, the eldest son of Sir Robert Woodford, married his cousin Alice Berkeley who was the daughter of Sir Lawrence Berkeley of Wymondham and Joan Woodford, sister to Sir Robert Woodford.  Their son, Ralph was born in 1430.  Thomas died before his father, and hence Ralph became the heir to his grandfather’s estates.  

Alice’s father, Sir Lawrence Berkeley (d.c.1413) was a descendant of a cadet branch of the Berkeley family from Thomas, 1st Lord Berkeley (d.1321) through his son Sir Thomas Berkeley, Lord of Coston, Leics., a younger brother of Maurice, 2nd Lord Berkeley. (d.1326).  Thomas, 1st Lord Berkeley was in turn the great-grandson of King John of England (d.1216) through Richard Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of King John and Ela de Warenne, sister of the 6th Earl of Warenne, and Fitzroy’s daughter, Isabel (d.1276/7).

From Joan (d.1309), the wife of Thomas, 1st Lord Berkeley, can also be traced a descent from Henry I of England.

Hence Ralph Woodford would have been able to claim through his mother to be descended from both Henry I and John, and through his grandmother Isabel Neville, from Alfred the Great. 


























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© Stephen Butt 2004 - rev 31/05/06



The Leicestershire Descent after Sir Robert Woodford

Burton states that Sir Robert Woodford attempted to disinherit his grandson by making his five younger sons, Ralph’s uncles, his joint heirs. Burton then suggests that because there were no male heirs of any of these five sons, the Woodford lands and estates were actually inherited by their wives.  However, the cartulary indicates that on the death of any of Sir Robert’s sons, the land would pass to the eldest surviving brother. Furthermore, when Ralph’s grand daughter Margaret married, it is clear that she was still the heir of all the manors and estates that had earlier belonged to Sir Robert. 

Certainly a bitter rift did occur between Robert and his grandson as early as 1447 when Ralph was just seventeen years old.  A De Banco Roll entry records the following claim:

Robert Wodeford against William Yvllers of Brokesby
Esq. In a plea wherefore William abducted from Melton
Mowbray, Ralph Wodeford, kinsman and heir of Robert

Wodeford whose messuage belongs to the said Robert.This claim is expanded upon in a later roll wherein John Milner, a yeoman of Brokesby, William Chaplyn, the parson of the church at Brokesby, Robert Clay, a husbandsman of Melton, and others are implicated in the abduction of Ralph who was allegedly found at the Villier’s house in Brooksby.

Nichols quotes a comment from a later Robert Woodford (probably Ralph's eldest son), from a transcript by Francis Peck:

Sir Robert Woodford gauffe by syne to hys younger
Sones the manours of Wyffurby, Brentingby, Sproxton,
Thorp Arnold, Burton S.Lazurs and Knypeton, to
Diserytt Raufe hys eldysde (son’s) sone, bycause
Of a grouge that he had agenste the said Rauffe;
And that was bycause the Villyers had marryd hym
Agenste the said Robert’s mynde…

It is not known why Robert disapproved of this marriage to Elizabeth Villiers, daughter of William Villiers.

The first fine assigned the manors of Sproxton, Newbold Folville, Wyfordby, Knipton and Garthorpe to his five sons in that order. The manor of Ashby Folville, already in the inheritance of his eldest and now deceased son Thomas I, remained the property of his son Ralph II.  The fine stated that on the death of any of the five sons their land would pass to the eldest surviving brother. 

A further fine disposed of other Woodford manors into the hands of the five sons including Thorpe Arnold, Burton St Lazars, Brentingby and possibly Ashby Folville.  A manuscript quoted by Nichols records that Robert `by council with his younger sons’ burned various documents that would have provided evidence of Ralph's right to inherit Ashby Folville:

As oulde men could testyfye: and then the said
Raufe, after hys (grandfather’s) dyssese, enteryd yn
The manour of Ascheby; and founde a ded, by the which
The vycar of Asscheby was ynsessed: … and (he)
Enteryd yn the said manor, and so did voyd the fyne

I, Robert Woodford, do affirm that my father Ralph Woodford Shewed me the deed in his closet by the great chamber, and Said that by that deed he held all his lands, and which deed Is in the possession of my brother Matthew Woodford or else My brother John’s.

It would seem likely that the young Ralph was barred from all the Woodford manors until after his grandfather’s death.

R.J.W Davison wrote seventeen volumes devoted to the history of the Villiers family. These volumes are now in Birmingham Public Library. William Villiers was the great-great-great-grandfather of the 1st Duke of Buckingham. 

Little is known of Robert’s younger sons.  Humphrey is mentioned in a Close Roll entry for 1433 in which `Roberta late the wife of John Mayll of Leycester, in her widowhood to Humphrey Wodford (sic) of Wyfordby, his heirs and assyns. Quit claim with warranty for all lands, rents and services in the towns and fields of Wyfordby, Brentyngby, Thorpe Ernold, Melton Mowbray, Burton St Lazarus and Stapulford, sometime of Robert Wodford Kt. Her brother.’

Robert’s Inquisition Post Mortem is dated 18th March 1456. The jury noted that `Robert Wodeford died seised of the manor of Brentingby, Wivordby, and half the manor of Knypton etc. and of twelve messuages, six tofts, three hundred acres of land and three hundred acres of pasture in Melton Mowbray. Robert de Wodeford died on the Wednesday before St. Peter in Cathedra (22 February) last past and the messuages and lands in Melton Mowbray are held of the Duke of Norfolk.’


De Banco R. 743 Michaelmass m.555d. Leyc.25 Hen VI.

De Banco R. 743 Michaelmas m.555d. Leyc. 25 Hen VI.

Vernon MS (in the keeping of Francis Peck in 1739 according to Nichols).

Close Rolls, Jan 4th 31 Henry VI (1433), Westminster.

33 Henry VI Inquisitions Post Mortem. File 162-20.