William moved in exalted circles
DURING THE REIGN OF EDWARD IV (1461-1483), William Sheldon (1455-1517), the eldest son of Ralph and Joyce Sheldon (nee Rudding) of Abberton, purchased the Worcestershire manor of Beoley from Richard Neville, Lord Latimer.
The Neville family had acquired it through the marriage of Latimer’s grandfather, George Neville, also Lord Latimer, to Elizabeth Beauchamp.
William is throught to have been born around 1455 and, as the eldest son, in due course inherited his father’s manor at Abberton. By then he was clearly mixing in exalted circles because the Nevilles were probably the most powerful family in the realm at the time.
The Nevilles mostly championed the Yorkist cause during the Wars of the Roses, a series of wars fought for control of the throne of England between supporters of two rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: the House of Lancaster, associated with the red rose, and the House of York, whose symbol was a white rose, despite having family connections to both houses.
The conflict lasted mainly between 1455 and 1487, however, there was fighting both before and after this period between the two factions.
Among the many noble titles the Neville family held was that of Earl of Warwick, still one of the most prestigious in the peerages of the United Kingdom. And Richard Neville, recorded in history as ‘Warwick the Kingmaker’, is probably the best-known of all the illustrious holders of the earldom.
Anne and Isabel Neville, Richard’s daughters, both married into the Plantagenet family, Anne to Richard III and Isabel to Richard’s brother George, Duke of Clarence.
According to Sheldon historian E A B Barnard’s research in the 1930s, the Worcestershire historian Thomas Habington, writing in around 1643, said: “Coming to the mannors which weare purchased by the Earles of Warwicke, Beoley presentethe it sealfe as the fyrst and worthyest, a Lordshyp in former ages fortifyed with a castell, the Churche mounted on a hyll in the myddest of a large parcke replenyshed with deere, inryched and grand with tymber and woodes, and lastly the manor attended with tenants wanteth nothinge concurringe to greatenes.”
Or in plain English, “Of the manors purchased by the Earls of Warwick, Beoley presented itself as the first and most worthy, a lordship in former ages fortified with a castle, the church set on a hill in the midst of a large park well stocked with deer and further enriched by woodland for timber. Finally, the manor had tenants who had no ambitions for greatness.”
William Sheldon first took up residence in the parish of Beoley – pronounced Beeley and derived from ‘Bee Wood’ – at Balford Hall. He bought another Beoley property, Benyt’s Place, in 1488.
Royal devotion almost cost William everything
He was devoted to the House of York cause and consequently it is not surprising that his presence at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, fighting alongside Richard III, caused the victorious Henry VII to deprive him of all his estates, though they were restored to him before his death in 1517.
We don’t know a great deal about William’s life, though it is recorded that in 1486, when he was living at Beoley, he was admitted into the Guild of St Anne of Knowle, Warwickshire, an early form of friendly society providing aid in sickness, poverty and old age. William may not have been the first Sheldon to show concern for those less fortunate than himself, though he was most certainly not the last.
He died without issue and was buried in St Leonard’s Church, Beoley, which still houses his simple tomb, originally tinctured and still bearing traces of colour.
The tomb was created in 1600 by a descendant, Ralph Sheldon, together with an inscription in the Sheldon chapel then just completed.
William Sheldon’s Latin will, lodged at Somerset House, shows bequests to the churches at Beoley and Abberton, and to Pershore Abbey. He bequeathed all his lands to his next brother, Ralph, who greatly increased the estate and local connections of the family, quickly becoming one of the most important and affluent in a wide district.
Such was William’s status that an Inquisition Post Mortem, a locally-held legal inquiry to establish income and rights due to the crown, had to be held. Such inquiries usually only took place when the individuals concerned were of considerable wealth and status.
There it was said that William owned Balford Hall and seven other houses, together with 460 acres of land in Beoley, and property involving 20 houses in the city of Worcester plus a further 600 acres elsewhere in the county, including King’s Norton and Northfield in the Lordship of Birmingham, and Feckenham and Pershore in Worcestershire.
His brother Ralph was chief beneficiary but there were also bequests for the churches at Beoley and Abberton and to Pershore Abbey.
William Sheldon is a name we will become more familiar with as we pursue the Sheldons through the centuries. He was the first, but most definitely not the last to bring honour to the name.
Furthermore, in supporting the Yorkist cause, William, metaphorically speaking, backed the wrong horse, a concept we will become increasingly familiar with as we delve into the fortunes and favours of future Sheldon generations.
FOLLOW THE SAGA: Ralph Sheldon, the first coal king
For more information about the Neville family, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Neville
Historian Derek Winterbottom has produced an excellent and concise Short History of England and the British Isles, which will enable users of this site to place into context many of our articles. It can be either purchased in book form or freely downloaded as a PDF from http://derekwinterbottom.com/download.html
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- 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
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- The details of Ralph Sheldon’s will
- Ralph Sheldon (1468-1546) the first coal king