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Appleby History > Alan Roberts > Community & Kinship

The Appleby Community, Family & Kinship

Using the evidence of probate wills and inventories

by Alan Roberts


Appleby Wills by Name: 1500 - 1750
Appleby Inventories Held at Leicester Record Office, By Name

The Debate on Kinship and Community

Pre-industrial Appleby fits the traditional idea of a community bound together by kinship, much like the loose confederation of "peasant dynasties" W.G. Hoskins described in his pioneering social history of the Leicestershire parish of Wigston Magna. These dynastic or hereditaryfamilies were the same sort of "antient families of good repute" described by Richard Gough, the seventeenth-century Shropshire chronicler, in his pew by pew survey of Myddle. Gough's intimate descriptions of each of the ancient families occupying the seats in his parish church in 1701, including those that had "decayed" for want of male heirs, echoes a common seventeenth-century preoccupation with family continuity and kinship. But there have been some recent challenges to these long-held assumptions about kinship, the extended family and English "peasant communities" in the early modern era. Close scrutiny of contemporary written evidence such as the distribution of legacies in probate wills (particularly by historians belonging to the Cambridge group) has cast doubt on the idea of strong kinship solidarity in rural areas. There is a suggestion that discrete studies of individual parishes may have exaggerated the bonds of kinship and community at village level.

Peter Laslett’s principal finding in The World We Have Lost was that sixteenth and seventeenth-century English villagers spent most of their lives in small, nuclear family groups. Like their modern counterparts, families underwent a "developmental cycle", expanding as children were born and contracting again as they grew up and left home - so there was always a mixture of household types with the nuclear family the most common form. Probate wills from rural villages reveal that husbandmen and yeomen frequently neglected to reward their friends and neighbours and kinsmen with legacies. While it is possible to argue that their presence was so pervasive that it was not considered necessary to reinforce the relationship, this also reflects a loosening of the bonds of interdependence. This is in contrast to the situation in urban settlements, as illustrated for example by Vivien Elliott’s analysis of the provisions made by widows in late Elizabethan London, which reveal a surprising largesse in the distribution of legacies to kinsmen and neighbours. As she pointed out, city life was more "precarious": crowded living conditions and the ever present threat of plague together with the relative anonymity of new arrivals gave added weight to relationships with neighbours and distant kinsmen who provided a source of support and reassurance and a lifeline to the provinces.

A.J. Macfarlane's analysis of family connections and landholdings in Earls Colne during Ralph Josselin’s incumbency (1641-83) further attests to comparatively "loose" kinship connections in rural areas.  In his Origins of English Individualism (1978) Macfarlane took the argument a step further to develop the idea that by the late medieval period the individual had supplanted the family as the "basic resource-owning unit" in rural areas, citing as evidence the widespread adoption of primogeniture, the rights of women to own property and the apparent ease with which English villagers alienated family land. This dramatic change in focus, from the idea of the monolithic "kinship community" overseeing every facet of rural life, to the isolated family, household and individual, causes us to re-appraise the importance of family and kinship in Appleby in the early modern period.

Appleby Kinship Connections

Although we can immediately recognise familiar, traditional patterns of kinship obligation and communal ties binding the Appleby inhabitants together, we should not assume that the sixteenth and seventeenth century villagers looked no further than their own parish. Rather than enclosing a discrete "community" in the old sense the parish formed in sociological jargon, "the local termini of a web of group relations" that extended well beyond its geographical boundaries. The focus, from Levine and Wrightson's analysis of Terling in Essex, is on the strength of the social connections between individual households: what was the extent of intermarriage. How important was kinship compared to other loyalties to friends, neighbours and trading associates, who "belonged" or mattered, and why?

For Terling the hearth tax assessments provide the earliest reliable means of measuring the householders' "interrelatedness". Here Levine and Wrightson discovered that somewhere between four or five out of every ten householders listed in the hearth tax returns were directly related. The composite hearth tax returns for Appleby (1663-70) - using evidence from the family reconstitutions, wills, inventories and marriage bonds - reveal that 77 out of 91 householders had family connections with at least one other householder in the parish. This conservative estimate that eight out of every ten Appleby householders were related to at least one other householder within the parish - nearly double the ratio than that for Terling - is quite surprising. However it does seem to accord with studies of other midland parishes revealing a high degree of interrelatedness among householders. In fact the figures for Appleby are as high as for the eighteenth-century French "peasant communities" of Longuenesse and Hallines where respectively 74 per cent and 82 per cent of "conjugal family units" were related. While some allowance should be made for householders who were related to only one other family, the overall impression is that Appleby had a comparatively dense kinship network. Almost everyone in the parish had close relatives living in the village.

The density of these kinship connections poses some further tantalising questions about the importance of kinship in everyday life. The Appleby probate wills help to throw some light on these questions by providing evidence of family survival strategies - the implicit concerns and assumptions about kinship and the village social order inthe legacies and provisions made for family members. 

Sources and Notes

For early community studies see W.G. Hoskins, The Midland Peasant (London, 1957), D. Hey, An English Rural Community, Myddle under the Tudors and Stuarts (Leicester, 1974). D. Hey (ed.), "Observations Concerning the Seates in Myddle and the familyes to which they belong",c.1701 in Richard Gough's History of Myddle (Bungay, 1981). R. Laslett, The World We Have Lost (London, 1965), and Household and Family in Past Time (Cambridge, 1972). For kinship terminology see Eric Wolf in A.J. Macfarlane, Reconstructing Historical  Communities, pg 16. For methodology used in the Terling analysis see R. Levine and Keith Wrightson, Poverty and Piety in an Essex Village, Terling 1525-1700 (New York, 1979) pp. 84-5. In Terling according to Levine and Wrightson, a minimum of 48 householders (39.3%) and a maximum of 64 householders (52.5%) were related.

V.B. Elliott, ‘Widows in Late Elizabethan London: remarriage, economic opportunity and family orientations’, paper presented to the Australian Historical Association, Melbourne, 1984.

The figures for 18th century French villages are from an unpublished dissertation by Emmanuel Todd, ‘Seven Peasant Communities in Pre-Industrial Europe’, cited in Poverty and Piety, pp. 85-6. cf. probate wills in W.M. Williams, A West Country Village, Ashworthy (London, 1963)

Property Bequests in Wills

The act of drawing up a will was a critical event for sixteenth and seventeenth-century villagers, in sociological terms "a moment of intergenerational exchange" which prepared the way for the transfer of property and its attached social responsibilities from one generation to the next. Wills have an especial relevance to kinship as bridging documents tidying up the loose ends of property for the coming generation, They also reveal the will writer's perception of family priorities as the testator's choice of legatees, executors and overseers provides important information about social links both within and outside the family circle.  The extent to which testator’s adhered to the customary formula for the disposal of property gives valuable insights into the strength of family ties and the conflicting demands of family, friends and neighbours.

The weighting of bequests between various occupational and status groups from 125 Appleby wills over a hundred and fifty year interval clearly shows the importance of the nuclear family. In most cases neither the wills nor the Appleby parish registers provide sufficient information to calculate the age of the decedent at the time of drawing up the will. Nor is it possible to ascertain with any degree of accuracy, despite the use of family reconstitutions, the number of potential legatees (or the kinship universe) for individual testators.  But the bequests of individual householders do provide evidence of the general direction of testamentary concern. Probate wills have to be used with caution. They can be misleading when used in isolation. One common cause of confusion is the transfers made by testators during their lifetime. A comparative study of wills and court rolls in the parish of Preston in Sussex between 1562-1702, for example, reveals that somewhere around a half of the landowners who made wills had already settled land on their children before death.  Testators sometimes used wills to circumvent or ratify existing inheritance customs; they were "only one stage in the intricate process" of devolution.  In essence, a will was more concerned with the transfer of property rather than providing "a roll call" of kinship.

Even so the legacies in wills provide prima facie evidence of the donor's elementary attachment to, sense of responsibility towards or concern for the legatee.  The aggregative patterns of bequests in is useful insofar as they tend to confirm the findings of a number of local and regional surveys which emphasise the "shallowness" of kinship connections in rural areas, while at the same time discounting the importance of friends and neighbours in the final stage of property transfer. In Appleby the comparatively high frequency of bequests to wives and children (accounting for between a quarter and a half of all bequests among the male householders) shows a substantial commitment to the nuclear family.  Testators had an obvious bias towards male blood relatives (particularly nephews), who were given on average three or four times as many bequests as affines, or maternal relatives. This is only to be expected in a "patriarchal" society.  More intriguing perhaps is the comparative lack of bequests and recognition of siblings.  Family rivalries and the competition of siblings for scarce resources are two of the factors which might help to explain this apparent absence of close ties between brothers and sisters once they were married with families of their own to support. 

The distribution of legacies clearly varied according to the testator’s social status.  Gentlemen - admittedly a small and possibly unrepresentative sample – were much like their tenants in apportioning goods between friends, neighbours and kinsmen.  A clearer demarcation in leaving legacies was between yeomen and husbandmen. Yeomen were generous to relatives and friends outside the immediate family group while husbandmen were noticeably more cautious.  This tendency probably reflects different patterns of family responsibility insofar as yeomen were usually older than husbandmen with fewer under-age children to support. They were generally wealthier, and so had more property to distribute.

A testator’s wealth and social position had an important influence upon decisions relating to the division of resources between family and kin. The decisive factor, however, was his or her family responsibilities at the time of drawing up the will.  The diversity of inheritance strategies devised to reconcile the conflicting demands of family and kinsmen shows how personal, cultural and genetic factors all combined to influence the decision-making process.

The copyholders and leasehold tenants leaving wills between 1550-1700 can been grouped into three broad categories:

The number of dependants corresponded to the testator's marital status and/or stage in the life cycle, with age and family responsibilities closely related.  Widows, spinsters and clergy fell into special categories.  Widow had special obligations to perform in carrying out the provisions of their husband’s will.  Spinsters rarely had heirs.  Clergymen usually had a wider circle of friends and acquaintances and fewer kinsmen living close by, unless they came from well-established local families like the Appleby Moulds.  We need to be examined each of these groups in turn to see who they regarded as kinsmen and why.

Making a Will Without Dependants

Testators who had no immediate family responsibilities were the most generous benefactors to the extended kinship network.  They include bachelors, retired farmers and those whose children had either died or been permanently cast out.   The fact that a majority of these testators were the sole surviving representatives of families soon to become extinct helps to explain their decision to spread their wealth.  In contrast to what might be assumed from reading the innumerable references to kinsmen in Ralph Josselin’s diary, the actual number of kinship bequests in Appleby was comparatively small, and the legacies themselves often meagre in the extreme. This may reflect that many were old enough to have retired and to have already disposed of their property.

Perceptions of kinship obligation varied greatly from person to person.  The distribution of legacies in Appleby  wills tends to comply with the general conclusions of A.J. Macfarlane and C.A.H. Howell that the kinship system was neither patrilineal nor matrilineal, but bilateral (both sets of in-laws) and ego-centred (or personal). The number of potential legatees (i.e. the number of relatives and friends still alive at the time the will was made) was a critical variable. Most of the householders with large families to provide for confined their bequests to close relatives in the parish, drawing upon the services of friends and neighbours as witnesses rather than as overseers and executors.

Testators with Only One Heir

The provisions made by householders with only one heir were relatively straightforward since they had merely to divest themselves of their lands and property in the heir’s favour.  Only one in every fifteen of the will makers was in this position.  Usually they sought to protect younger children who had not reached their majority. Male heirs were invariably given all the tenements, lands, goods and chattels (if they did not have them already) except the widow’s jointure, while the widow or a close relative was appointed as guardian.  Female heirs had to allow their mother or a kinsman to choose their marriage partner on penalty of forfeiting all or part of the legacy

Testators with Under-Age Dependants

The great majority of testators among the farming population had to provide for children who were not old enough to fend for themselves.  Provisions dealing with the division of resources between younger offspring after the eldest son had come into his inheritance were often quite complex.  Despite occasional hints of property partition, where there was no male heir, primogeniture was the rule.  It was common practice for householders to set up their children as they came of age, so those who drew up a will were primarily concerned with the completion rather than initiation of the process of property devolution, with the emphasis on legacies rather than lands or livestock. The evidence of prior inheritance in the wills is fragmentary and inconclusive.  This is hardly surprising since householders sought to ensure an orderly transfer of property from one generation to the next before drawing up their wills and it was not necessary to refer to earlier bequests.  Nevertheless, there are occasional references to property ‘before bequeathed’ suggesting that decedents had already set up their heirs prior to writing the will.  For example, after the Civil War, Thomas Hartell of Appleby, a yeoman, refers to lands which he had already passed on to his eldest son John on condition that he paid his sister a legacy on the day of her marriage.

Testators who ignore the eldest son or who mention him only in a supervisory role as executor or overseer had probably already divested themselves of their holdings.  Wills that fail to mention the farm or lease, and inventories which appear unusually depleted in view of the decedent’s social status, also suggest prior inheritance. William Spencer was probably typical of many in this position. A yeoman who had been married for thirty-four years, William was succeeded in 1633 by one son and four daughters whose ages ranged from sixteen to thirty four. William left legacies of £45 to each of his two eldest daughters and £35 to the two youngest girls, to be paid on consecutive years after his death. The omission of any mention of Thomas, the son and natural heir, suggests that he was already well established. This is supported by the fact that Thomas was thirty one when the will was made and had married a local yeoman’s daughter two years before. Primogeniture ensured that the eldest son stepped straight into his father’s shoes while unmarried younger sons had the choice of leaving the parish or working the family holding in return for their keep. This system often put the younger sons in a supportive role

Householders with More than One Child

Householders with more than one offspring, having made certain of the heir's inheritance, concerned themselves with two crucial issues: the custodianship of their holdings during the heir's minority and the maintenance and support of the widow and the younger children.  Although there is no evidence of shared decision-making, the testator’s choice of her as executrix and his careful concern for her well-being reveals the extent of affection and trust between husband and wife. This trust was well placed for the widows often played a vital part in the process of transferring the living.  Among the wealthier sort, the widow was frequently given a lifetime’s half interest or moiety in the living alongside her eldest son.  Testators who appointed the two as joint executors saw them as capable co-workers who would manage the farm together and settle legacies upon the younger children as they reached their majority. The Appleby yeoman, Thomas Houlden gave his son, William, joint occupancy with his mother to help bring up the children, ‘but yf he go about to depart with the goods ... and so from her [he] shall have but £7 for his part’. It was further anticipated that the widow in turn would see to her successor and not dispose of any property ‘further than hir one use and necessitie shall require’ as in the case of Charles Walker when he disposed of his estate in 1663.

Precautions were also taken to ensure that the heir did not neglect his obligations to his father’s widow, a balance of responsibilities undoubtedly designed to prevent family friction, which was not unknown judging from the references to mothers and sons living ‘peaceably’ together.  Where the heir was given sole occupancy of the living, provisions were invariably made to guarantee the widow’s support within the household.  Appleby wills often contain references to the widow being given ‘tableing’ or for the provision of ‘meat, drink and lodgings’ in the family home.  William Mould’s widow was to have ‘tableing’ with her eldest son John until she had sufficient rents from another holding to ‘make herself a stock’. Concern for the widow’s support was not only confined to the wealthier testators although poorer households appear to have had greater difficulties finding houseroom.  In 1597 for example William Petcher of Appleby, who described himself as a ‘cottier’ promised his wife Isabell, ‘an abiding in some convenient place’ along with her furniture, and a land in every field during her lifetime.

Preserving the Male Line

The concern of smallholders to preserve their lands in the male line is demonstrated in the provisions relating to the widow's remarriage.  In a time of rising population remarriage was a likely option for widows with under-age children to support.  Many of the testators anticipated that their wives might remarry after their death and took steps to prevent alienation of the family holding.  The usual remedy was to insert a clause in the will which caused the land to revert to the male heir or a trustee in this eventuality. There were variations upon this formula.  Testators who showed a particularly strong concern for their wife’s future welfare like Thomas Wright who permitted his wife to retain half his lands if she remarried were presumably acting out of kindness rather than strictly adhering to custom.  Testators with both mature and under-age children faced a difficult dilemma: how to ensure that the younger children received their portions without overburdening the heir.  Examples have already been found in which the provision of cash legacies for younger siblings were made a condition of the heir’s receiving his inheritance.  The size of the younger son’s portion was critical because if it wasn't sufficient for him to set up within the parish he would be forced to migrate.  While the plight of daughters was not quite so critical - they could always marry local landholders - it was still necessary to provide dowries.

The size of the younger child’s legacy was determined primarily by the wealth and social position of the householder.  Some of the wealthy gentry like David Walker gave cash settlements as high as £200, in addition to lands and tenements specifically bought for that purpose. Wealthy landholders could afford to balance the eldest son’s acquisitions with compensatory bequests to his younger siblings.  In 1611 for example William Mould, who was patron of the church in Appleby, promised his younger son Thomas the gift of the living while his eldest son, John, inherited a farm in Ansley and provided tabling for his mother.  In 1642 Thomas himself enjoined his own son to ‘always behave himself and not at any time lay any clayme to the rectory, advowson or patronage’  in Appleby. Family pride in the case of Hugh Stanton, ensured that the younger children were provided with ‘sufficient and convenient meate, drinke, lodgeing and apparell meet and decent for their estate and calling during their minority’.  The poorer husbandmen, craftsmen and labourers promised portions commensurate with their means with husbandmen’s legacies seldom exceeding £20 or £30.

The efforts made to provide each child with a legacy usually meant that the actual amounts were fairly meagre.  John Mould was one of the Appleby smallholders who had to sell his lands to settle his debts and pay legacies for each of his children.  In 1618, when he drew up his will, he had six young children to provide for and the eldest boy, Henry, was only ten years old.  Even after selling his land John could spare only £5 for each child. Others had even less.  On the bottom rungs of the economic ladder legacies were no more than token gifts of furniture or clothing.

The Appleby evidence suggests a gradual replacement of the traditional portions of livestock and fixed assets by cash legacies in the latter half of the seventeenth century so that by 1660 cash legacies were the rule rather than the exception.  Although the individual householder’s concern for family continuity and the bringing up of the younger children cushioned the change, it did tend to consolidate holdings even more into the hands of the eldest son and to increase the number of landless younger sons forced to leave the parish.

Sources and Notes

In Appleby 24% of yeomen and husbandmen's legacies went to blood relatives, less than 6% to affines. Cf. C.A.H. Howell, Land, Family and Inheritance, pg. 255.

For Ralph Josselin see A.J. Macfarlane, Family Life of Ralph Josselin, pp 132, 149.

For Appleby wills see P.R.O. will, Thomas Hartell, PROB 11/278/66 (1658);

L.R.O. wills, William Spencer, 1633/141; William's goods in his inventory were valued at £161.13.4, barely enough to cover the legacies: PR/I/35/104.

For provisions made for widow see K. Wrightson, English Society, pp. 101-3.

L.R.O. wills, Thomas Houlden, 1556; William Petcher, 1597/107; Elizabeth Mould, 1611; Thomas Wright, 1634/146; Charles Walker 1663/C.89; Richard Wathew, 1665/118.

Remarriage of widows in M. Spufford, Contrasting Communities, pg 116.

David Walker gave his daughter Alice £200, a cottage and furniture.

Rectory provisions in L.R.O. wills, William Mould, 1611/107; Thomas Mould, 1666/9.

Provisions made for each child ‘according to his degree’ in will of Hugh Stanton of Appleby: L.R.O. wills, 1682/144.cf. meagre amounts in will of John Mould, 1619/42.

Landless sons in C.A.H. Howell, in Goody et al, Family and Inheritance, pg 152;

A 'Successful' Family: The Moores of Appleby Parva

The Appleby Moores are typical of the successful gentry families who maintained their social position by careful marriage alliances and strict primogeniture.  Over four generations from 1599, when Charles Moore became resident lord of the manor of Little Appleby, to around 1725 when the estate passed to George, his great grandson, in an unbroken male line, the family grew and prospered.  Mention has already been made of the way in which the Moores used their family connections in the City to apprentice younger sons in trade and to place daughters in service with influential households.  Sir John Moore, Charles' second son, the later alderman and Lord Mayor of London, played a key part in the family's subsequent rise in status and prosperity.

The Moore’s family tree is from John Nichols’ county history.  Despite the eighteenth-century biographer, James Granger’s assertion that Sir John was the son of a husbandman from Norton, there seems no good reason to doubt Sir John Moore’s own claim to have descended from the Moores of Bank Hall, in Liverpool. Charles Moore, who purchased the Appleby manor around 1600, is clearly identified as a gentleman from Stretton.  The first generation settled in Appleby saw the marriage of Charles, the eldest son and heir, to the rector’s daughter while his brother John went to London to start his career as a merchant in the East India Company.  The youngest brother George stayed in the parish to marry into the yeomanry.  His sister Joan made an advantageous match and moved to Long Whatton, fourteen miles away.  Little is known of Sarah, the eldest daughter baptised in Appleby in 1626 however it seems likely that she either died young or left the parish.  A similar pattern of lineal descent with younger sons being sent to London was repeated in the second generation.  Thomas, the eldest son and heir, succeeded to the lordship while his younger brothers either moved to London to enter trades or remained in Appleby.  John became a City fishmonger, Charles married a London dyer’s daughter and became rector of Worplesdon in Surrey and George ended up as a merchant in Lambeth. The three youngest sons, William, Daniel and Jonathon never married while Charles’ two daughters, Rebecca and Mary both married and left the parish.

The first generation branch of the family started by Charles' youngest son, George and Sarah Hartill, followed closely in the family tradition. When George drew up his will in the winter of 1684 be promised his two younger sons £100 apiece together with clothes and schooling until they were ready to be put forth as apprentices.  His three daughters were promised the same amount at twenty-three or twenty-five, provided they consented to be ‘ruled and governed’ by their mother, a precaution presumably made to secure suitable matches.  The surviving younger sons, John and Thomas, later moved to London, where they appear to have made use of the family's City connections as shown, for example, by a letter written in 1686 by Charles and Barbara Moore of Appleby to their son George, a merchant at Porters’ Key, asking whether Sir John had done anything for George’s sister, Mary.

The pattern was again repeated in the third and forth generations when the migration of younger sons and daughters helped to preserve the parochial holdings intact.  Valuable acquisitions and connections were also made through trade and marriage alliances, although the family's wealth and position by this time dispensed with any need to sacrifice the daughters' interests to benefit younger sons. After the death of in 1725 of Thomas Moore, the third to inherit the title of lord of the manor, his eldest surviving son George who succeeded him, became high sheriff of Leicestershire. John, the second eldest son, moved to London while Thomas, the youngest, married his first wife and thereby acquired the manor of Bentley in Warwickshire.  By then three of the four surviving daughters had left the parish.  Sarah, had moved to Long Whatton, Elizabeth to nearby Twycross and Rebecca, her twin sister, to Witherley.  Only Mary, who married a local yeoman, remained in Appleby.

The fortunes of the cadet branches of the family were also founded on agriculture.  Some evidence of their wealth is contained in the will and inventory of the elder George Moore who died in 1718 leaving goods appraised at a substantial £822.16.10, including ploughs, harrows, carts and wagons in a barn next to the main house. George had inherited or acquired four farms, with a substantial capital investment in brewing and dairy production, which he leased to local yeomen, while he retired to a house at ‘Barnsheath’ [perhaps later renamed 'Morebarne' in Orton parish].  Testamentary bequests, to his brother-in-law Peter Wright of Nottingham, to his cousins George Moore of Dunton and Thomas Hartill of Donisthorpe, and to his friends the Piddocks and Falkinghams of Ashby, George Nurse of Measham and Francis Dicken of Walton-on-Trent, indicate that he had a large network of useful connections.  As George had no surviving heirs, his daughter Mary having died in infancy, he left the bulk of his lands in Appleby and Norton to his ‘loving friend’ Leonard Piddock on condition that he raised sufficient money to pay his debts and legacies, leaving his wife and godson only the residue of goods and chattels.  All this is consistent with the family tradition of careful management of resources.

Sources and Notes

Moore pedigree in John Nichols, Antiquities of Leicestershire,  IV, pg. 443. cf. another claim by ‘Whistow’ (perhaps Josiah Wistow, rector of the adjacent parish of Norton from 1661-85?) in J. Grainger, Biographical History of England from Egbert the Great to the Revolution, 3 vols. (London, 1769-74)

L.R.O. will George Moore, 1686/136; will and inventory, George Moore, gent, 1718; The 4 ploughs, 7 barrows, 6 carts and 8 wagons listed in Moore’s inventory suggest that he had an extensive investment in arable farming.

Some Tentative Conclusions about Kinship

The investigation so far has established that perceptions of kinship obligations in Appleby varied according to the age, marital status and social category of the decedent.  Although there was a distinct preference towards the male line and primogeniture was well entrenched, testators were not solely preoccupied with settling all their possessions upon their heirs.  Once the eldest son was secure in his inheritance their concern invariably devolves upon the support of the widow and the younger children, extending occasionally to servants, fictional kin (godchildren) and the poor.  Clearly kin played a valuable supervisory role in family matters, in the delicate matter of finding suitable marriage partners for daughters and in settling legacies upon the younger children.  However, the fact that the weight of responsibility in carrying out the provisions of the wills was thrown upon the widow underlines the importance of the nuclear family.  These findings generally support Keith Wrightson’s theory that the social order in the countryside was comparatively unstructured by kinship.

A Note on the Sources: Appleby Probate Wills and Inventories

The 182 Appleby wills and 147 inventories which form the major source for this investigation were found among the surviving probate records of the Leicester Archdeaconry Court, now kept in the Leicestershire Record Office, and in the records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury  (P.C.C.) in London. A stray inventory for Thomas Pearcher was found in the Lincoln Record Office. The Prerogative Court was commonly used by the more substantial landholders, gentry and clergymen who had lands in several counties. The wills from 1505 to 1750 have been grouped chronologically by status or occupation while the inventories from c.1530 - some of which lack wills - have been listed  alphabetically. Wills dealt with the disposal of real property, i.e. land and the rights attached to it, and of personalty, or moveable personal possessions - as legacies - while the inventories list the household possessions and farming gear, often room by room. Cromwell is alleged to have described the English law of real property as "a torturous and ungodly jumble" (Megary & Wade, The Law of Real Property, pg.1). Tudor legislators made some attempts to sort out the anomalies through the 1535 Statute of Uses and the 1540 Statute of Wills which required wills of realty to be made in writing, while still allowing wills of personalty to be made orally. Reforms to probate continued under the Cromwellian Protectorate (1653-60) when it was enacted that wills had to be proved by a Civil Commission (or Commissary) while in 1660 the Tenures Abolition Act confirmed a resolution of the Long Parliament of 1646 whereby all tenures were converted into free and common socage with the exception of frankalmoign and copyhold, abolishing many feudal "incidents" or special cases. Finally in 1677 under the Statute of Frauds all wills of realty had to be signed by at least three credible witnesses, providing a very useful guide to literacy and association. There were such stringent requirements for nuncupative (oral) wills of personalty over £30 that after this date they were usually made in writing.

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Appleby Wills, 1500-1750


Edmund Appleby, gent., 1505

P.C.C. 1 Adeane

Andrew Meverell, gent., 1570

PROB 11/53/7

Richard Dixie, gent., 1627.

PROB 11/153/54

George Moore, Little Appleby (Elder), 1684


George Ball, Little Appleby, 1685


John Ball, Little Appleby, gent.,1694


Thomas Brown, 1701


George Moore, Little Appleby (Elder), 1717

1718 V.G.

George Wayt, Little Appleby, schoolmaster, 1725


Mathew White, (Elder), 1729



Wylliam Mold, yeoman 1557


George Willson, Little Appleby, 1568


Edwarde More, 1576


Richard Moulde, yeoman, 1581


Charles Walker, Little Appleby, yeoman 1600


William Moulde, yeoman, 1611


John Mould, yeoman, 1618


William Spenser, yeoman, 1633


Thomas Wright, Little Appleby, yeoman, 1634


Thomas Sherwood, Little Appleby, yeoman, 1639


Edward Parker, Little Appleby, batchelor, 1639


Thomas Hartell, Little Appleby, 1658

PROB 11/278/66

John Hunt, yeoman, 1658 (oral)

PROB 11/268/391

William Houlden, yeoman, 1660

1661/ C 102

David Walker, yeoman, 1663

1663/ C 89

Richard Erpe, yeoman, 1665


Richard Wathew, yeoman, (Elder), 1665


John Proudman, yeoman, 1666


Ralph Swinfield, yeoman, 1669

PROB 11/336/69

William Wilson, bachelor, 1671


Richard Wathew, yeoman, 1671

1671/ V.G. 6

John Mould, 1672


Roger White, 1676


John Erpe, 1679


George Swinfeild, yeoman, 1680

PROB 11/365/34

Richard Wright, Little Appleby, yeoman, 1681


John Petcher, (Elder), yeoman, 1684


Abraham Mould, yeoman, 1689

PROB 11/397/160

Joseph Mould, yeoman, 1692


Richard Petcher, yeoman, 1695


Charls Wright, bachelor, 1708


John Heifield, yeoman, 1709


William Spencer, yeoman, 1713


Hugh Stanton, Little Appleby, yeoman, 1716

[gent. in Inventory]

Thomas Parker, yeoman, 1721


Edward Litherland, 1722


John Heiffield, yeoman, 1723


Florence Carter, yeoman, 1725


Richard Wathew, yeoman, 1727


Thomas Taverner, 1728


Thomas Petcher, Little Appleby, yeoman, 1730



William Brown, Little Appleby, servant, 1712

John Hines of Little Appleby, servant, 1728

Spinsters and Widows

Elizabeth Molde, widow, 1564 [MS damaged]


Alice Bates, 1578


Elizabeth Walker, spinster, 1588


Joyce Choyse, 1588


Alice Blith, 1621


Benedict Wilkinson, spinster [widow], 1627 


Elizabeth Pegg, widow, 1655


Ann Teiler [Taylor], Little Appleby. widow, 1654


Elizabeth Pegg, Little Appleby, widow, 1655


Alice Bratford, Little Appleby, 1665 (oral)


Francis Martin, Little Appleby, widow, 1666


Ellen Swinfeild, widow, 1680


Eliseabeth Mould [dau. of] clerk, 1684


Elizabeth Feilding, Little Appleby, widow, 1684


Eliseabeth Mould, L.A. widow of parson, 1686


Ann Stretton, widow, 1709


Mary Veal, widow, 1724


Mary Woolferston, Little Appleby, widow


Sarah Grundy, 1731



Geoffrey Page, clerk, parson of Appleby, 1552

P.C.C. 10 Taske

Roger Bayster, clerk and parson of Appleby, 1572

PROB 11/54/29

Hugh Blythe, pastor of Appleby, 1608

PROB 11/116/206

Thomas Mould, clerk, parson of the rectory, 1642


Abraham Mould, rector, 1684

PROB 11/376/60

George Gell, rector of Appleby, 1743


James Gresley, Batchelor of Arts, 1745



Richard Watha [Wathew?], blacksmith, 1586


William Frisby, Great Appleby, baker, 1665


Thomas Wilson, tailor, 1653/4


Isaac Shilton, tailor, 1659


John Ashmore, husbandman/weaver, 1657

PROB 11/268/391

Henry Eirpe, husbandman/weaver, 1622


William Foster, weaver, 1592


John Wathew, blacksmith, 1681


William Flavell, weaver (?)


Abraham Crossland, tailor, 1686


John Parker, carpenter, 1684


George Shillton, L.A., tailor, 1614



Ryc[hard] Tayler, husbandman, 1524


Thomas Baker, 1541


Jhon Moole [Mould?], 1545


Wylliam Walker, 1547


Robertt Wylson, 1548


Roger Waren, [Warehorne?] 1553


John Walker, 1556


Thomes Holden, 1556


William Wright, 1558


Laures Parsones, 1564


John Hyrpe [Erpe]


John Heare, 1566


John Cotterell, 1572


Edward Bylson, Little Appleby, 1576


Humffreye Gent, 1585


Thomas Butler, 1588


John Pratt, 1588


John Heiffield, 1588


Richard Wright, 1588


Robart Gilbart, 1588


Thomas Wright, the Elder, 1588


Richard Taylor, 1591


Richard Hackett, 1598


Richard Aldred, 1600


Richard Baker, Little Appleby, 1601


John Wryght, Little Appleby, 1602


Richard Erpe, 1603


Thomas Crose, 1603 


John Wilson, 1606


William Taylor, 1609


William Wright, Little Appleby, 1609


John Wright, Little Appleby, 1609


Thomas Wrighte, Little Appleby, 1610,


John Pratt, 1612


William Houlden, 1613


Thomas Mould, [1613?]


Thomas Choise, 1616


Walter Backehouse, Little Appleby, 1618


Matthew Petcher, 1618


John Wilkinson, 1620


John Petcher, 1620


Thomas Mould, sen.,1621


Richard Aldrett, 1625

1628/16 Reg.

Charles Houlden, 1628

iv/1628/428 Reg.

Thomas Parker, Little Appleby, 1634


Charles Heyfield, Little Appleby, 1638


George Pecher, 1640


Humphery Lytherland, 1654


Thomas Petcher, 1660


Thomas Taverner, the Elder, 1664


John Wright, Little Appleby, 1671


Peter Wright, 1675 [oral will]


Richard Mould, 1678


Francis Berry, 1680


Thomas Taylor, the Elder, 1681


Neckles Sharp, 1682


Hugh Stanton, Little Appleby, 1682 [Yeoman?]


John Willson, Little Appleby, 1684 [Yeoman?] 


Thomas Leese, Little Appleby, 1699

1700/V.G. 68

Thomas Taylor, Little Appleby, 1702


John Pettcher, 1703


John Stretton, 1713


John Smith, 1714


Henry Baker, 1719


Thomas Foster, 1720


James How, 1721


John Goddard, 1729


Thomas Sheldon, 1745



Thomas Swayne, 1559


William Proudman, 1621


Richard Tompson, Little Appleby, 1653

1661/C 76

Henry Durden, 1658


John Michell, labourer, 1665


Thomas Moseley, daylabourer, 1670


Richard Moseley, labourer, 1686


Richard Moseley, 1686


John Corke, 1704


Richard Oldakers, 1728


John Tafte, 1729


Samuel Heywood, 1737


* denotes that an accompanying inventory listed below

All wills in Leicestershire R.O. except those marked PROB, which from P.C.C. means heard before Commissary
Reg. means Register Book

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Appleby Inventories in the Leicester Record Office, 1530-1750

Aldrett, Richard,

1628  husbandman

PR I/32C/112

Backhouse, Walter,

1618  husbandman

PR I/28/132

Ball, George,

1685  gentleman 

PR I/88/52

Ball, John,

1694  gentleman

PR I/99/134

Ball, Richard*

1724  shopkeeper?

PR I/120/4

Bates, Alice

1579  spinster?


Berry, Francis

1680  husbandman 

PR I/83/63

Bilson, Edward

1576  husbandman

WI 1576/43

Blith, Alice

1621  widow of parson

PR I/29/37

Brown, Thomas

1705  gentleman 

PR I/112/75

Butler, Thomas

1588  husbandman 

PR I/9/117

Choyce, Joyce

1588  spinster

PR I/9/71

Couper, Hendry

1650  shopkeeper or husb.

PR I/55/155 (C)

Cooper, William 

1734  yeoman


Corke, John

1704  labourer  

PR I/111/45

Cotterell, John

1572  servant

Wills 1576

Crosland, Abraham

1686  tailor

PR I/90/4

Crossland, James

1715  tailor

PR I/119/21

Cuthbert, Edward

1732  blacksmith


Durden, Henery

1658  labourer

PR I/64/26

Hyrpe [Erpe?], John

1564  husbandman

PR I/7/124

Erpe, Richard 

1666  yeoman


Erpe, Mary 

1672  widow

PR I/74/135

Erpe, John 

1679  yeoman 

PR I/81/163

Fealdinge, Elisabeath

1685  widow

PR 1/87/167

Flavell, William

1655  shopkeeper?

PR I/55/122 (C)

Foster, Thomas 

1720  husbandman 


Frisbee, Thomas*

1618  husbandman

PR I/28/77

Frisby, William

1655  baker

PR I/66/61

Frissbey, William

1680  baker

PR I/82/151

Faux, William

1749  collarmaker

Wills 1750

Gent, Humphrye

1586  husbandman 

PR I/8/45

Gilbart, Robert* 

1588  husbandman

PR I/9/72

Gilbart, Margery*  

1588  spinster

PR I/9/133

Grundy, Sarah

1731  spinster or widow

Wills 1732

Hackett, Richard

1598  husbandman

PR I/14/104 (A108)

Hacket, Joyce

1661  spinster

PR I/55/98 (C)

Hacket, John 

1686  labourer

PR I/88/97

Heiffield, John

1588  husbandman

PR I/9/118

Heafeild, Ralph

1655  husbandman 

PR I/55/123 (C)

Heayfield, Edward

1657  labourer

PR I/55/120 (C)

Heyfield, Thomas

1661  retired husbandman? 

PR I/62/85

Heafield, An

1663  widow

PR I/61/121

Heafeild, John

1679  yeoman

PR I/82/35

Heafield, John

1709  yeoman

PR I/116/105

Heyrye, Thomas

1530  labourer?

PR I/7/43

Holden, Thomes

1556  husbandman


Houlden, William

1660  yeoman

PR I/55/119 (C)

How, James

1721  husbandman?


Jordan, John

1693  labourer

PR I/97/19

Jordan, John 

1727  labourer


Lakin, George

1715  yeoman


Lees, Thomas

1700  husbandman

PR I/105/178

Martin, Frances 

1666  widow 

PR I/66/59

Mitchell, John 

1665  labourer

PR I/62/124

Molde, William

1558  yeoman?


Mold, Harry*

1561  yeoman?


Molde, Elizabeth

1564  widow

PR           /50

Mould, John

1572  yeoman?

PR I/73/131

Molde, John

1579  yeoman

PR I/5A/49

Mold, Richard 

1581  husbandman?


Moulde, Thomas

1628  husbandman?

PR I/32C/25

John Mould

1672  yeoman

PR I/73/131

Mould, Richard

1681  husbandman

PR I/83/85

Mould, Eliseabeath

1684  spinster 

PR I/86/21

Mould, Elizabeth

1686  widow

PR I/88/109

Mould, Joseph

1694  yeoman

PR I/99/121

Mould, William

1698  yeoman

PR I/103/21

More, Edward 

1576  yeoman?


Moore, George

1685  gentleman

PR I/87/169

Moore, George

1718  the Elder, gentleman


Mosely, Thomas

1670  labourer

PR I/73/117

Moseley, Richard

1686  husbandman

PR I/88/61

Oldakers, Richard 

1728  labourer


Parker, Thomas

1634  husbandman

PR I/36/50

Parker, Thomas

1670  husbandman

PR I/73/114

Parker, John

1684  carpenter

PR I/86/279

Parker, Thomas 

1724  yeoman


Peatts, John*

1612  husbandman

PR I/24/212

Pecher, William

1597  cottier/weaver

PR I/16/115

Pearcher, Thomas

1604  husbandman?

B.I. 80 [Lincoln R.O.]

Pecher, John

1621  husbandman

PR I/29/54

Pecher, George

1640  husbandman 

PR I/42/122

Petcher, John

1685  yeoman

PR I/87/168

Petcher, Richard

1695  yeoman

PR I/100/48

Pecher, John

1704  retired yeoman?

PR I/111/33

Pratt, John

1591  husbandman 

PR I/12/142

Proudman, William

1621  husbandman

PR I/29/110

Proudman, John

1666  yeoman

PR I/66/60

Proudman, William

1692  yeoman?

PR I/97/26

Proudman, Daniell

1729  yeoman?


Parker, Thomas

1735  husbandman

PR I/121/7

Robinson, William*

1594  husbandman

PR I/13/79

Robinson, Isabell*

1599  widow

PR I/14/76

Sharpe, Nicholas

1682  yeoman

PR I/84/150

Sheldon, Thomas 

1746  husbandman


Shilton, George

1614  tailor

PR I/25/65

Smith, John 

1714  husbandman


Spenser, William

1633  yeoman

PR I/35/104

Spenser, William

1732  wheelwright


Stanton, Hugh

1682  yeoman

PR I/84/177

Stanton, Hugh

1717  gentleman 


Stanton, Joseph*

1727  ret. gent or labourer

PR I/119/101

Stanton, Mary

1743  widow


Stretton, Rowland*

1634  husbandman

PR I/36/117

Stretton, Rowland*

1636  the Elder [oral]

PR I/38/58

Stretton, Hugh

1704  yeoman

PR I/111/9

Stretton, John

1713  husbandman


Stretton, Nathaniel 

1739  schoolmaster


Swayne, Thomas 

1599  labourer

PR I/17/44

Swinefeild, Ellen

1680  widow

PR I/83/53

Taverner, Thomas 

1674  husbandman

PR I/77/135

Taverner, Thomas

1728  yeoman


Taylor, Richard

1592  husbandman 

PR I/12/91

Taylor, Thomas

1681  husbandman

PR I/83/177

Taylor, Thomas*

1694  yeoman

PR I/99/91

Taylor, Thomas

1704  husbandman

PR I/111/43

Veale, Mary

1724  widow


Wainwright, William*

1699  schoolmaster

PR I/104/163

Walker, Wylliam*

1548  labourer?


Walker, John

1572  husbandman?


Walker, Elizabeth

1588  spinster or widow

PR I/9/65

Walker, Charles 

1600  yeoman

PR I/18/33

Walker, David

1663  yeoman

PR I/61/122

Waren, Roger

1553  husbandman

alehouse keeper?

Wathew, Richard

1665  yeoman

PR I/64/155

Wathew, Richard

1671  yeoman?

PR I/71/11

Wathew, John

1724  blacksmith


Wayte, George

1725  gentleman


White, Roger

1677  yeoman

PR I/79/34

Wilkinson, Benedict

1627  husbandman

PR I/32A/177

Wylson, Robertt

1548  labourer?


Wilson, John* 

1606  husbandman

PR I/21/96

Wilson, William

1682  yeoman

PR I/84/46

Willson, John

1685  yeoman

PR I/87/35

Woolferston, Mary

1727  widow


Wryght, William

1558  husbandman

WI 1558

Wright, Richard

1588  husbandman

PR I/9/81

Wright, John 

1606  husbandman?

PR I/21/97

Wright, Thomas

1614  husbandman

PR I/25/49

Wright, Thomas

1634  husbandman

PR I/36/240

Wright, Peter*

1664  yeoman 

PR I/64/51

Wright, John

1671  husbandman

PR I/73/107

Wright, Peter

1675  husbandman?

PR I/77/45

Wright, Richard 

1681  yeoman

PR I/84/149

Wright, Charles

1708  bachelor, yeoman

PR I/115/19

Wright, John

1733  yeoman


*  inventories without wills

 ©  Alan Roberts, 2000

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