Sir Robert Woodford (1383-1455)

The life and acquisitions of Sir Robert Woodford possibly represent the peak of the family's prosperity in Leicestershire.   It is likely that his home manor was the Leicestershire village of Sproxton, but he spent time away from Leicestershire supporting the king's military campaigns.

The Woodford cartulary concludes with a detailed fine drawn up by Robert to dispose of his land in the event of his death in battle.  He fought at Agincourt and was knighted on the field of battle by Henry V `on St Crispin's Day in the morn.' 

The cartulary portrays Robert as a powerful manorial lord, a man proud of his ancestry and who enjoyed the heat of battle.  He married Mabel (or Isabel) Neville in 1402.  They had six sons and five daughters. 

Extract from Woodford cartulary describing Sir Robert Woodford at the Battle of Agincourt.
Extract from Woodford cartulary describing Sir Robert Woodford at the Battle of Agincourt.

One of the distinguishing features of late medieval society was its increasing concern about status and the livelihood that maintained it.  It is hardly surprising, therefore, that most family disputes revolved around the estate.  It seems likely that Robert's attempts to disinherit his grandson, Ralph, eventually signalled the irreversible decline in the family's wealth. 

Sir Robert's standing in Leicestershire was in part due to the marriage of his father, John, to the the wealthy heiress Mabel Folville - and in part his own marriage into the Neville family.  Robert married Isabel Neville, a descendant of the Nevilles of Rolleston, Co.Warks.    A pedigree of Neville is included in the cartulary, giving Isabel's parents as Sir Thomas Nevill (known as the `good knight and lord of Rolleston') and Dame Celia Blanckminster, daughter of Sir Guy Blanckminster of Cornwall, Lord of the Isle of Scilly.

Nichols states that Isabel (or Mabel) was the daughter of John Neville of Rolleston, a mistake that G.Farnham and A.Hamilton-Thompson comment upon, pointing out that no owner of Rolleston at that time was called John. They state that:

`Thomas Neville died in 1365 succeeded by his son William who may be Mabel's father.'

Robert appears to have worked closely with his mother Mabel.  They jointly farmed tenements in the Melton area and, later in her life, Mabel made Robert her attorney whilst Robert made his mother one of his feoffees for his manors and lands before departing for the wars in France in 1409.

It was at this time that Mabel's reputation as the `matriach' of the family was created.  Her fame was such that her great-grandson Ralph remembered her name in his will, leaving money to provide for prayers to be said for her soul.

`Laurence Berkely of Wymonham, Robert Woodeford of Ashby Folville, John Bellers of Kettelby and William Vyllers of Brooksby'

- are some of the witnesses to a marriage settlement dated 13 April 1440. In 1421 a De Banco roll entry records a plea by:

`Robert Woodford chivalier against John Tales of Melton Mowbray yoman (sic) in a plea of assault on John Hewit the servant of Robert Woodford at Melton.'

St Bartholomew's Parish Church, Sproxton
St Bartholomew's Parish Church, Sproxton

Sir Robert Wodeford `of Leicester' is a signatory to a bargain and sale relating to material in the manor of Sproxton within the same Gretton (Sherard) manuscripts dated 10 September 1454.  A Ralph Wodeford is a witness.  Sir Robert is also one of many witnesses to a declaration dated 1 May 1446 in the same manuscript collection.   He died in 1455.