Descent from Leicestershire after 1455

William Burton in The Description of Leicestershire (1622) states that Sir Robert Woodford attempted to disinherit his grandson, Ralph Woodford, by making his five younger sons, Ralph's uncles, his joint heirs.  Ralph's father, Thomas, had died young.

Burton suggests that because there were no male heirs of any of these five sons, the Woodford lands and estates were inherited by their wives.   However, the cartulary indicates that on the death of any of Sir Robert's sons, the land would pass to the eldest surviving brother. 

Furthermore, when Ralph's grand daughter Margaret married, it is clear that she was still the heir of all the manors and estates that had earlier belonged to Sir Robert.

A record of the allocation of Woodford manors to the sons of Robert Woodford in his great-grandson's hand (manuscript in the Goldsmith Library, London)
A record of the allocation of Woodford manors to the sons of Robert Woodford in his great-grandson's hand (manuscript in the Goldsmith Library, London)

Certainly, a bitter rift did occur between Robert and his grandson as early as 1447 when Ralph was just seventeen years old.  A De Banco Roll entry records the following claim:

Robert Wodeford against William Yvllers of Brokesby Esq. In a plea wherefore William abducted from Melton
Mowbray, Ralph Wodeford, kinsman and heir of Robert Wodeford whose messuage belongs to the said Robert.This claim is expanded upon in a later roll wherein John Milner, a yeoman of Brokesby, William Chaplyn, the parson of the church at Brokesby, Robert Clay, a husbandsman of Melton, and others are implicated in the abduction of Ralph who was allegedly found at the Villier's house in Brooksby.

John Nichols in his History & Antiquities of the County of Leicester quotes a comment from a later Robert Woodford (probably Ralph's eldest son), from a transcript by Francis Peck:

Sir Robert Woodford gauffe by syne to hys younger Sones the manours of Wyffurby, Brentingby, Sproxton,
Thorp Arnold, Burton S.Lazurs and Knypeton, to Diserytt Raufe hys eldysde (son's) sone, bycause
Of a grouge that he had agenste the said Rauffe; And that was bycause the Villyers had marryd hym
Agenste the said Robert's mynde...

It is not known why Robert disapproved of this marriage to Elizabeth Villiers, daughter of William Villiers.

The first fine assigned the manors of Sproxton, Newbold Folville, Wyfordby, Knipton and Garthorpe to his five sons in that order. The manor of Ashby Folville, already in the inheritance of his eldest and now deceased son Thomas, remained the property of his son Ralph.  The fine stated that on the death of any of the five sons their land would pass to the eldest surviving brother.

A further fine disposed of other Woodford manors into the hands of the five sons including Thorpe Arnold, Burton St Lazars, Brentingby and possibly Ashby Folville.  A manuscript quoted by Nichols records that Robert `by council with his younger sons' burned documents that provided evidence of Ralph's right to inherit Ashby Folville:

As oulde men could testyfye: and then the said Raufe, after hys (grandfather's) dyssese, enteryd yn The manour of Ascheby; and founde a ded, by the which The vycar of Asscheby was ynsessed: ... and (he) Enteryd yn the said manor, and so did voyd the fyne.

I, Robert Woodford, do affirm that my father Ralph Woodford Shewed me the deed in his closet by the great chamber, and Said that by that deed he held all his lands, and which deed Is in the possession of my brother Matthew Woodford or else My brother John's.

It would seem likely that the young Ralph was barred from all the Woodford manors until after his grandfather's death.

Little is known of Robert's younger sons.  Humphrey is mentioned in a Close Roll entry for 1433:

`Roberta late the wife of John Mayll of Leycester, in her widowhood to Humphrey Wodford (sic) of Wyfordby, his heirs and assyns. Quit claim with warranty for all lands, rents and services in the towns and fields of Wyfordby, Brentyngby, Thorpe Ernold, Melton Mowbray, Burton St Lazarus and Stapulford, sometime of Robert Wodford Kt. Her brother.'

Robert's Inquisition Post Mortem is dated 18th March 1456.  The jury noted that:

`Robert Wodeford died seised of the manor of Brentingby, Wivordby, and half the manor of Knypton etc. and of twelve messuages, six tofts, three hundred acres of land and three hundred acres of pasture in Melton Mowbray. Robert de Wodeford died on the Wednesday before St. Peter in Cathedra (22 February) last past and the messuages and lands in Melton Mowbray are held of the Duke of Norfolk.'

After the death of Ralph Woodford at Ashby Folville in 1498 and the loss of much of the family's land through his sister-in-law Margaret Woodford's marriages, the Woodford family's strength and prosperity in Leicestershire waned.

Ralph's second son, Matthew, married Lucy Brooksby but there is no evidence that he had any children.  Ralph's fourth son, Robert, married Alice Gates and moved to his wife's home in Buckinghamshire.  The youngest son, Thomas, married Jane Neville and is also said to have died without issue.

It is likely that John, Ralph's son, was the same John Woodford who was `of Ashby' and taxed on goods worth £46 in the Lay Subsidy of 1524 and came to the Babington's manorial court at Rothley in 1526 having purchased a messuage and 20 acres of land in Barsby, begging leave to be admitted as a tenant.

It is important to note from Ralph's will that by the time of his death, Ralph had given lands to all three of his younger sons. E.Acheson in A Gentry Community: Leicestershire in the 15th century, 1992. p142 suggests that this would indicate that each of these sons therefore possessed independent establishments.

David Baldwin, in his research into the Hastings family in the Midlands, has found references to a William Woodford who died in 1487 as a retainer of William Hastings and to a John Woodford who was a feed man of his son Edward Hastings.  William Hastings retainers also include John Turvill of Thurlaston (d.1506). 

This William Woodford's inquisition post mortem (Calendar Henry VII, col.1.p.147) shows that he died seised of the manors of `Brantyngby, Wyfordby, Frethby, and Garthorp' worth £20 per annum on 28 July 1487. This William could be one of the sons of the John who was the son of Ralph Woodford.

Nichols states that of Ralph's five sons, Matthew and Thomas died without issue and only William and John had issue in Leicestershire, as Robert had moved to Brightwell (Britwell) in Buckinghamshire.

John was first married to Millicent Markham, who died childless, and secondly to Mary Jerningham from which marriage there were three sons and two daughters.  The family moved to the Muston area of Leicestershire where their descendants are still living today.   According to Ian Payne in  A Leicestershire Royal Descent: The Woodfords of Ashby Folville and Muston in The Genealogists' Magazine, Ed: F.L.Leeson, Vol 24, No.4. , at least one Woodford family remained in Ashby Folville and existed from the early 16th century, later as tenants of the Babingtons at their manor of Rothley.