Friday, 21 February 2020

The wills of William Brandon, a Yorkist whose sons supported Henry Tudor

Chris Reay Connor shared details of one of the testators of the Society's Milles Wills Project at last year's study day: Sir William Brandon, grandfather of one Henry VIII's most famous courtiers.

(Charles Brandon - source Wikimedia Commons)


There are two wills of Sir William Brandon of Wangford (Suffolk) recorded in the registers of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. The first was written on 9 June 1475 and originally recorded in the register ‘Milles’ as being granted probate on 13 July 1491 but this grant was subsequently invalidated (TNA, PROB 11/8/629); the second, recorded in register ‘Dogget’, was written on 4 March and 9 April 1491 and was granted probate on 17 November 1491 (TNA,  PROB 11/9/49).

William Brandon, born before 1430, had been  in the service of the Yorkist kings through his association with the dukes of Norfolk, rising to be a senior member of the council of John Mowbray, fourth duke of Norfolk.  Brandon was knighted at Tewkesbury by a grateful Edward IV and swore allegiance to young Prince Edward, the future Edward V, in 1471.  In 1475 he was contracted to travel to France with the royal forces, hence he wrote a will in June of that year.   This document is not a rushed affair. It is a long and considered listing of his lands and of his children and their bequests.  His sons are named as William, Robert and Thomas, and his daughters are Mary, Anne, Margaret the elder, Margaret the younger and Kateryne.  His wife, Elizabeth  née  Wingfield, is given  overall control and the bequests are fairly standard.   The English army returned safely and William returned to royal service.  The will was not needed at that time.  The second will, partly written in April 1491, is shorter, not least because his daughters are now married (or dead) and are not dependent (and indeed are not mentioned at all).  Only his son Robert receives anything; he is the principal legatee, with reversion to William’s wife, Elizabeth.  In fact three-quarters of the will is nuncupative (i.e. dictated), with an earlier date of 4 March 1491.  This portion has a detailed list of lands, all bequeathed to his wife. 

Their eldest son William Brandon, had been Henry Tudor’s standard bearer, and had died at Bosworth.  If he left a will, it has not been found yet.  He is recorded as being buried in the grave pits at Dadlington.  In July 1483 William senior had been present at the coronation of Richard III, but, despite marks of royal favour, his loyalty became suspect when two of his sons, William and Thomas, joined the rebellion of Henry Stafford, duke of Buckingham, in October that year. When the rising failed, William junior and Thomas fled to Brittany, where Henry Tudor was.   Some of William senior’s lands were seized on the king’s orders, but he secured a free pardon in March 1484.  By the end of that year he was out of favour again and sought sanctuary in the city of Gloucester, where he remained until Tudor became king.  He regained his lands and petitioned for the return of the office of Knight Marshall of the Marshalsea court, which he passed to his son Thomas, who was also at Bosworth with his brother but had survived. Thomas became a trusted and noted diplomat under the Tudors, dying in 1510.  He married but had no surviving children.  His brother Robert appears to have remained in Norfolk, married twice, but had no surviving children; he requested to be buried with his first wife, whilst his second wife was his executrix.  

William, the standard bearer, had married Elizabeth Bruyn, widow of Thomas Tyrrell of Heron (grandfather of James Tyrell).  William and Elizabeth had four sons and one daughter: William, Thomas, Robert and Charles, later duke of Suffolk, and Anne, who married twice.  Elizabeth Bruyn married for a third time, to William Mallory.  The children of the standard bearer were brought up within the Tudor household, and Charles became the most famous, passing down the Brandon blood through a Tudor alliance to Lady Jane Grey.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Beeswax: Lighting the Medieval Church


Tacuinum Sanitatis, Lombardy, 
late 14th century (Biblioteca Casanatense, Rome)


Alexandra Sapoznik has recently published an article in the Economic History Review entitled ‘Bees in the medieval economy: Religious observance and the production, trade, and consumption of wax in England, c.1300–1555’. [EcHR November 2019]   As Sapoznik notes, in addition to lighting candles to mark each stage of the church’s year, and in particular during the celebrations of Christmas, the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (2 February) and Easter, candles were used to mark every stage of life. ‘Candles were placed in infants’ hands when they were baptised, held by women when they were churched and when they married, carried before the Host when it was taken to visit the sick, placed around the body after death, taken with the body as it was carried to the grave.’  This made me think about one particular aspect of the Milles wills: many testators made bequests of lights (candles) in their parish church, or for torches or wax to ‘burn about their corpse’ at their funeral and subsequent commemorative services.  The candles would not burn down completely during these services and so what was left was often bequeathed for other purposes. 

The more expensive candles, tapers or torches were made of beeswax but torches in particular were often made of a cheaper mixture of tallow, wax and resin; however, some  testators specified wax to be used. For example, Isabel Stephens of the parish of St Michael Queenhithe (London) asked her executors purchase four new torches of wax to burn around her coffin during her funeral services; afterwards one torch was to placed on the high altar of St Michael’s church to burn at the elevation of the blessed Sacrament (that is, at the high point of the mass), two more on the altars of Jesus and of Our Lady in the same church, and the fourth was to go to the parish church of St Dunstan, Cheam (Surrey) where she was born. 

Sometimes the testator asked that the funeral torches or tapers were held by poor men, who were usually given some clothing, money or food in return.  John Mountfort, a priest in the Hereford area, was very specific: six tapers, each of 5 lbs of wax, and six torches, priced 6s each, were to be held by poor men. The six poor men holding the torches were to each have a black gown and hood and each of the poor men were to have 4d. 

Medieval churches had numerous statues of saints. Some testators might simply bequeath wax for various candles (lights) in their parish church. Margaret Brown of Stamford bequeathed 20 lbs of wax for the two lights in the choir, two lights in the chapel, one before the statue of St Anne, one before St Margaret and one before St Erasmus.

Sometimes burning candles were requested for a number of years, so they would need renewing. Seeing the candles burning would remind parishioners to pray for the soul of the person who had originally provided them. Usually executors were expected to pay for the candles out of the estate of the deceased; occasionally the source of funding was clearly stated.  Robert Hervy of Colchester bequeathed a light made of a pound of wax to burn before the image of Jesus in St Peter’s church, Colchester, for 7 years during divine service; furthermore four times a year the candle was to be made back up to one pound in weight.  The money for the wax was to be taken out of the rent paid for the house in North Street, inside the North Gate of Colchester, in which Thomas Slatoure was living, which Hervy had bought from John Clerke, the weaver. 

Interestingly there was also an element of recycling. New wax was often added to ‘old’ wax reused from candle ends held over from the churches’ own stock, or purchased from wax chandlers who were paid by the pound to make candles. One Milles will sheds light on this. John Meryk of Southwark had requested twelve torches to be used during his funeral and commemorations; afterwards six were to be used in the parish church of St Thomas; the other six were to be taken back to to the wax-chandler they were bought from, and he would pay for the waste a sum agreed between himself and Meryk’s executors.


Heather Falvey