A millionaire many times over
Ralph Sheldon of Abberton was a wealthy man; by values that apply in today’s world he would undoubtedly have been a millionaire many times over.
Much of his wealth was inherited from his older brother, William, but rather than sit back and enjoy his good fortune he set his mind to increasing the family land holdings and building the family reputation and standing in county society.
He was aided in his endeavours by a wise and fruitful marriage to Philippa, the eldest daughter and co-heiress of Baldwin Heath of Forde Hall, Tamworth in Arden, Warwickshire.
Philippa was well connected, with her brother Nicholas becoming Archbishop of York and later Lord Chancellor of England during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots, though, refusing to compromise his Catholic beliefs, he was soon deprived of his title on Elizabeth I’s succession.
There must have been a strong connection between the two families even before the marriage of Ralph and Philippa since Baldwin Heath named Ralph, his older brother Richard and Ralph’s son William as overseers of his will, dated 4 April 1526.
Ralph made his will on 28 March 1545, and Barnard notes that despite comments he is supposed to have made against the Catholic Church, he bequeathed his soul “unto Almighty God and to our Lady Saint Mary and to all the Holy Company”, and he directed that “every priest that shall be at my dirge and mass to have 12d, And every clerk that can sing to have 4d, and to other that cannot sing 2d. I will that a priest shall sing for me, my father and mother, my brother William and Baldwin Heath and Agnes Heath’s souls and all expired souls, Immediately after my decease five years in our Lady Chapel at Beoley or Abberton at the discretion of my wife and William Sheldon my son”.
The formulaic phrases and the references to “our Lady Mary” continue the medieval form in use before the English church’s split from Rome. They are typically Catholic, not Protestant, implying that, despite the alleged comments to the Abbot of Pershore, he remained Catholic to the end.
Ralph’s long will tells us much about his wealth, and his desire to provide estates for his younger sons in addition to his heir.
He had bought the manor of Abberton in 1544 for his sons William and Francis but, at William’s request, it was settled on Francis. Nonetheless, Ralph stipulated that his wife Philippa should be allowed to take the profits of the manor and to continue to live rent-free in the manor house during her lifetime.
Fishing pools granted to his wife ‘to fish at her pleasure’
She was also to have two leases and 100 marks (about £67), in addition to her jointure of lands to the clear value of £40. In an amusing aside Ralph further declared: “I will that my said wife shall have during her life my pools at Broadway without any rent paying for the same, to fish at her pleasure and liberty.”
This little codocil gives us an interesting insight into the close nature of the relationship the couple enjoyed. It also suggests that Ralph was possessed of a well-developed sense of humour and a caring nature. Clearly, he was very much the family man.
The eldest son William was bequeathed “all such coals as be gotten at Coleorton”, some 50 miles away in Leicestershire. This was an interesting investment, as coal was not in common use until the next century.
Few other bequests were made to William, because he inherited the Beoley property as the eldest son and heir. His wife Mary was bequeathed £20 for their daughters.
Ralph had many other properties to bequeath. His second son Baldwin was granted the property at Broadway, and he was bequeathed the substantial lease within the manor that had been obtained from the Abbot of Pershore in 1538. He was also to receive £100, and lands to the clear value of 10 marks for his son William Baldwin’s daughter Christian and sons Ralph, Anthony and William were each bequeathed £10.
To his son Thomas, Ralph bequeathed all his lands in the city of Worcester and in widely scattered places, some near Pershore, in Upton upon Severn to the south west, near Beoley, and near Bridgnorth in Shropshire, 30 miles north west of Abberton.
Thomas was also bequeathed the lease of the parsonage of Wickwar in Gloucestershire, about 45 miles to the south west, and he was not to sell any of his inheritance.
He was given £200 provided he left Worcester and repaid his debts, and it is possible that these debts resulted from business relating to Pershore Abbey that he had conducted in that city in 1541. He had been MP for Worcester in 1542 and in 1545 but he did leave, settling in Childswickham near Broadway, where his descendants continued to live.
Ralph’s son Francis was bequeathed 100 marks, a lease from Tewkesbury Abbey, and a croft and pasture for 500 sheep in Broadway, for which he was to pay Baldwin £7 a year rent. Francis’s descendants continued at Abberton until the early 19th century.
Ralph’s son Henry was not mentioned in the will, possibly because he had recently been granted a manor near Abberton. Henry died in 1558, and his young heir John died soon afterwards.
Thomas’s daughter Mary was to have £6 13s 4d when she married, and leases from Lord Windsor were to be sold to provide money for William’s son Ralph, Baldwin’s son Ralph, and Thomas’s sons Ralph and Thomas.
Ralph’s daughter Mary was to have 400 marks “for the preferment of her marriage”, his daughters Alice and Joyce were each bequeathed £20, and his daughter Elizabeth was to have the lease of land near Droitwich.
Joyce’s husband John Rugeley was excused the repayment of a loan, and Elizabeth’s husband William Lench was forgiven rent that he owed.
John Fulwood, a son of Philippa’s sister Joan, was bequeathed the lease of half the manor of Aspley near where he lived at Ford Hall.
Bequests of £4 were made to Ralph’s brother John, £1 to his brother Richard’s son-in-law, £6.13.4 to poor tenants, and a similar sum for mending highways near Abberton and Beoley, 5 shillings to his women servants, and 6 shillings and 8 pence and coals to his ‘waiting men’.
NEXT UP: Philippa’s will
All posts in this category
- Born to a golden age but dogged by ill fortune
- The Mystery of the Missing Passport
- The Sheldon Tapestries
- Sheldon fortunes take a downwards turn
- A life blighted by the march of religious change
- The complexities of Leicestershire mining
- William Sheldon (1500-1575) Part Two
- Philippa’s will that of a wealthy woman
- The details of Ralph Sheldon’s will
- Ralph Sheldon (1468-1546) the first coal king