The Woodforde Family

A History of the Woodforde Family from 1300


SIR RALPH WOODFORD (1430-1498) OF ASHBY FOLVILLE

 

The Tomb of Sir Ralph Woodford in Ashby Folville Church 

The tomb of Sir Ralph Woodford has survived in a remarkably good condition. It is one of the finest examples of its kind in Leicestershire and has the only shrouded figure on a Leicestershire or Rutland monumental slab.

The slab was engraved in about 1485. It is on a low tomb against the north wall of the chancel of the church and is an alabaster slab measuring 87” by 40.5” bearing an effigy of a nude man. The figure is clean shaven, in an open shroud knotted at the head, a fold drawn across his middle by the right hand. The right arm is hanging down with the palm extended, palm outwards, and the lower part of the shroud falling behind the figure but partly enveloping the left foot. The feet rest on a collared greyhound facing to sinister. Over the head of the effigy on another folded scroll is the Latin text of Job, Ch 19 v.25/26:

 


CREDO Q(UO)D REDEMPTOR ME(US)
VIVIT ET NOVI(SSI) MO DIE DE
TERRA SURRECTUR(US) SU(M). ET IN
CARNE MEA VIDEBO DEUM
SALVATORUM MEUM

Beneath the figure’s feet on a fourth scroll are the English verses:

OF ERTHE I AM FORMED & NAKED
TO ERTHE I AM TURNED ALL NAKED 

Nichols misses out the second sentence of the Latin text and the entire English couplet in his description of the  tomb.

 

   Tomb of Ralph Woodford

The marginal inscription begins in the top right-hand corner and reads outwards:

HIC IACENT RAD(ULPH)IUS WODFORD ARMIG(ER) CO(N) SANGUENI(US) / ET HERES ROB(ER)TI WODFORD MILIT(IS) VIDEL(I CE)T FILI(US) THOME FILII ET HEREDIS P(RE)DICTI ROB(ER)TO WODFORD & ELIZABETH UNA FILIA(RUM) WILL(IELM)I VILLIERS / ARMIG(ER)I UXOR P(RE)DIC(TI

The slab was obviously laid down during Ralph’s lifetime as the date of his death has been added in another smaller hand. The wording of his will rather suggests that the tomb was in existence prior to April 1485.The back slab of the tomb, which is of a yellowish coloured stone, is adorned at the top with a sculptured achievement, quarterly 1st and 4th (Sa) three leopard’s faces (or) jessant-de-lis (arg) (the arms of Woodford of Ashby Folville), a cross moline (gu) (the arms of Folville) with a helm and mantliong and crest, two lions gambs erased (or) (Woodford). Despite Nichol’s comments to the contrary, the nude body is clearly male. Nichols suggests that it is an effigy of a princess without a head! The head is now clearly engraved on the slab and cannot be a re-cutting of the original design as there are no signs of wear to have necessitated such a process. The treatment of the hair, whether it is meant to be short or long, would of itself establish that it must have been added since Ralph’s time. 

Woodford House farm

Woodford House, Ashby Folville

While instances do occur of figures entirely shrouded, there are no examples known where part of the body is left uncovered but the entire head is shrouded. It is unthinkable to argue that the monument could have been delivered with such a glaring error as the omission of the head of the subject.

What may have happened is that the design was set out on a slab in the first place in some form of black pigment. The design was then approved by Ralph and the engraver began his work but forgot to complete the head; but as all the lines were filled up level with pitch after engraving, the omission escaped detection at the time. By 1800 when Nichols was compiling his work, the original setting out of the head had worn off and at some date between then and the present day, another engraver completed the figure.

Excavations below the Woodford slab in 1871 revealed the remains of two skeletons.

 

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© Stephen Butt 2006-10 - rev 06/02/10 

The life of Sir Ralph Woodford (1430-1498)

Ashby Folville churchyard

Although there is little firm evidence of his personality and beliefs with the exception of his will, Sir Ralph Woodford appears as an enigmatic figure in the Woodford family saga. After suffering the death of his father at an early age and the subsequent antagonism of his grandfather, Ralph represented the sixth and last generation of the family to hold significant power and wealth in Leicestershire. After his death, the family was to disperse.

The dispute over Ralph’s inheritance lasted long after the death of his grandfather. The breach between Ralph and his uncle Walter was so complete that Walter apparently feared for his life at his nephew’s hands. The records indicate that Ralph was determined to seize Walter’s portion of Woodford lands, and if necessary to hold it by force. Walter was unable to defend his rights as he lived `far out’ of Leicestershire, so Ralph’s illegal entry onto the property endured for over ten years.

Ralph’s somewhat violent attitude to his uncles can be understood in the context of the family’s social standing in Leicestershire. Sir Robert’s attempts to disinherit his grandson threatened Ralph’s wealth and consequently the entire family’s status within county society. Despite his grandfather’s protestations, Ralph remained married to Elizabeth Villiers until her death on 9 August 1469, twenty-two years after their marriage. Elizabeth was buried in Ralph’s vault in the church at Ashby Folville. 

However, Ralph’s will, written in English and made on 15 April 1495 mentions two wives, Elizabeth and Margaret. William Villiers had four children from his first marriage (to Agnes Beler). Elizabeth was the eldest of these children. Harl.MS 7178 Fo 15 states that Elizabeth married Ralph Woodford in 1495 but this is the date of Ralph’s will. No document can be found to identify Ralph’s other wife except his will, proved on 29 May 1498.

Most pedigrees indicate that Ralph had four sons, the eldest being William II who died before his father. This William married Anne Norwich of Brampton, Co. Northants. Their only child, Margaret (born 1479/80), inherited much of Ralph’s lands and property. 

Ralph’s sons appear to be much younger than William and may therefore be the sons of Ralph’s second marriage. Almost ten years before writing his will, Ralph conveyed to the Augustinian Priory at Owston for eighty years, 2s in annual rent for a messuage and croft in Twyford in return for an annual requiem mass with placebo and dirige for the souls of Ralph and his wife Elizabeth

Ralph’s will states that he desires to be buried in the chancel of the parish church of Ashby Folville before the image of Our Lady where his wife lies. To the making of which chancel he has paid five marks and more. He left 4d to be paid to every priest who attended his funeral, 2d to every surpliced clerk and 1d to all clerks `without surplice’. To Ashby Folville church he leaves his mess booke, his portewes (portable breviary) with a new coupe, and two pounds to the `making of the stepill’, and there are many benefactions to other churches, including his private Chapel in the parish church at Sproxton. Ralph also gave (a modest) 13s 4d to the poor, but forgave his poorest tenants a quarter year’s rent. He ordered prayers for his cousin John Bellers, for all his ancestors in general and for his great-grandparents in particular.   

Sir Ralph died on 4 March 1498.

Ashby Folville church


Nichols notes that the East window in the South aisle bore a portrait of Ralph, his wife and all his children. This is no longer in place.  A modern window on the North side of the nave is in memory of Neville Woodford Smith Carrington, 1878-1933. 

A two-light window with an elongated quatrefoil was moved from a building in Ashby Folville by the architect Thomas Nevinson to the chapel of Trinity Hospital in the Newarke in Leicester.

The window is located in the vestry on the north side of the chancel. The building is now owned by De Montfort University and is known as Trinity House.

Ashby Folville manor was rebuilt following a serious fire. Only the North wing is old, dating from 1516. The contents of the building were auctioned, and the house sold, by Wing Commander John Smith-Carrington in 1984. The house was sold again 1992.  

Ashby Folville church

Ashby Folville Church precinct
June 2006

 

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