The Woodford Cartulary

The main original source of information about the ancient Leicestershire Woodford family is the family's cartulary.  This is a collection of copies of deeds, wills and other legal documents with a narrative in the form of explanatory comments setting out the family's land and property acquisitions from about the year 1317. 

The first folio page of the Woodford Cartulary
The first folio page of the Woodford Cartulary

It was composed, compiled or edited in about the middle of the 15th Century and the last contributor was Robert Woodford of Brightwell in Buckinghamshire who was born in 1460, and from whom it is believed the Northamptonshire and Ansford families are descended.

The cartulary is in the Cotton Library collection in the British Library (Cotton Claudius Xlll).  It is written in several 15th century hands and was composed from about 1449.   There are 282 pages, and the material is mainly 14th and 15th century.  The manuscript is in the form of a narrative in English linking copies of fines and deeds written in Latin and French. It is structured chronologically under the title of each manor held. 

The cover bears the title `The Register and Cartulary of all the manors and lands of John de Woodford, once of Ashby Folville in the County of Leicester.'

Sections of the cartulary, in particular abstracts of various deeds, were transcribed in Latin by Roger Dodsworth in 1638.  In Dodsworth's time, the cartulary was in the library of Charles Smith of Wotton, Co. Warks.  A note beneath the title on the cover indicates that by 1670 the manuscript was the property of Samuel Roper of Heanor, Co. Derbyshire.  In the 16th century, both the Smith and Roper families were related by marriage to the Woodford family of Leicestershire.

The cover page recording its donation o the Cotton library by Samuel Roper
The cover page recording its donation o the Cotton library by Samuel Roper

The Leicestershire historians George Farnham and A.Hamilton-Thompson doubted the reliability of the cartulary.  They referred to a mistake made by John Nichols in a pedigree of the Leicestershire Folville family, published in his History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester, with this comment:

`A foolish mistake of Nichols, taken from the Dodsworth MSS and also apparently from the compiler of that curious collection called the Woodford Cartulary. Such an error, whilst it illustrates the singularly uncritical habit of Nichol's mind, does not increase one's belief in the accuracy either of the Woodford Cartulary or of the Dodsworth MSS. Nichols is hopelessly inaccurate in his early pedigrees because he trusted to the stories of such compilations as the Woodford cartulary and to other abstractors' documents instead of going to the original and making abstracts of his own.'      

(Leics.Arch.Soc.Trans.Vol Xl Pts Vll,Vlll 19 19-20.  P 453ff).

It must be remembered that the cartulary was not intended to be an accurate or detailed history of the family but rather an explanation for why some members of the family held certain land and property.  Recent scholarship has shown that several Leicestershire families created similar cartularies.

A page from the cartulary describing how Sir Robert Woodford (1382-1455) was knighted on the field of Agincourt.
A page from the cartulary describing how Sir Robert Woodford (1382-1455) was knighted on the field of Agincourt.

The cartulary records that John Woodford was the first member of the family to live in Leicestershire, and that he first purchased the manor of Brentingby near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire in 1317/18. Other records indicate that John held some other property, possibly buildings, in Melton before 1317:

"Here be-gynnyth a trewe Regist(re) copyed out of ffynes and dedes selyd in wax. How that olde John off Wodford the age of that he passed out Of this world was five score yere and seven. And he Was a gentnlman son besyde Salesbury. And Come unto Melton Mowbrey and weddyd a Merchant daughter there and his heyre."