Where there’s a will…

We are fortunate that sixteenth century wills for residents of Alwoodley still survive today at the Borthwick Institute, York, and give a fascinating insight into the life and loves of ordinary folk. On 13 June 1584 Francis Dove sat down with his friends Christopher Cawood, George Tailor, Richard Flockton and Robert Cawood, to make his last will and testament. His wife, Elizabeth, had been married twice before and he was clearly determined that his own children should benefit from his hard work. Francis was a yeoman farmer who leased a timber framed, thatched farmhouse and land at Alwoodley Gates from the Frank family. When he died in 1586 the whole of his ‘farmhold’ was divided into three parts. His wife and their two sons, William and Thomas, each received an equal share, but on her death, the brothers would divide her land between them. In addition both sons received ten sheep. He was a careful man and even divided the most valuable house contents equally between them. William was given one great ark, a cauldron and a brass pot ‘which be paid for changinge at Leeds’ whereas Thomas received a ‘great brass pott’ and a round table. Francis was also anxious to ensure that promises made to his daughter, Elizabeth, when she had married Richard Casson, were honoured and that his unmarried daughter, Agnes, should be given ‘suche part and parcel of my goods as by the lawe she ought have.’ His Casson grandchildren were each given one wether (a castrated ram!) whilst Robert Wynne was given six wethers and ‘one little Stithie.’ Francis was buried at Harewood.25

Because Elizabeth Dove had been married three times her will is quite complex! She obviously felt that her children by Francis had been more than generously treated. Her son-in-law, Richard Casson, took possession of ‘one white…stirk’ or young ox and each of her grandchildren – William, Henry, Robert, Edward and Elizabeth Casson – received 12d. John Stansfield, her son by a previous marriage, was given ‘one white garded wie with the half partwith what is owing of John Rushforth.’ A wie was the name given to a heifer of any age up to three years or until a beast had calved. These were expensive animals and so farmers sometimes shared the cost hence the amount owed. John's four children each received 12d and Agnes Stansfield was given one cow with calf. Elizabeth’s other son, Robert Skoltton (sic), was to receive anything that was left!26

Although the vast majority of people earned their living from the land there were a few craftsmen in the district. Such a man was William Woollard who made his will on 19 December 1591, being ‘sicke in bodie but whole in mind.’ He described himself as a clothier and was obviously manufacturing woollen cloth with his son, Anthony, who was to receive all the ‘tools of the trade’ including ‘all my lowmes and allthings thereunto belonginge.’ William’s other children were given varying amounts, Mary and Elizabeth were to receive 10s 8d, whereas Margaret and George were given less than half this amount. He clearly wished to emphasise his displeasure at the behaviour of his unmarried daughter, Anne, who received nothing, but his bastard grand children, John and Robert Woollard, each received ten shillings.27


25. Borthwick Institute, York, Vol.23 fol.312.
26. Borthwick Institute, York, Vol.24 fol.164.
27. Borthwick Institute, York, Vol.24 fol.784.

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