my ancestors may have lived in one of those round houses during the
Bronze Age, perhaps even on a crannog, the earliest concrete
information about any of the houses the Lord family occupied dates to
the year 1610 AD. In that year, in the village of Towcester, England,
"Richard Lord" made out his Will, and in it he described the property
he was passing down to his surviving family. Among the items described
is the house itself - "the house wherein I now
dwell in Towcester".
From the fragmentary details preserved in that Will, we may assume a
typical 16th century middle class, or even upper middle class, house of
modest proportions, such as that shown below. From the meagre
details included in the Will, a sketch of this house, as it stood in
1610, may be recreated.
"I give &
bequeath to Joan my wife the one half of all my
goods and chattels whatsoever moveable except the long Table in my hall
seelinge and benches about my house and my will is that she shall have
enjoye During her natural lyfe (yf so long she keepe herself my
chamber over the kitchen where she and I due lodge and third pt of the
& fruits wch shall growe yearely in the orchard belonging to
wherein I now dwell in Towcester.."
From this we can see the house had a "hall"
and a "kitchen"
on the main floor, and above the kitchen a bed "chamber".
Since in 1610 Richard and Joane Lord had three unmarried children -
Elizabeth age 27, Thomas age 25 and Alice age 24 - it may be assumed
the children slept in a second bedchamber over, or adjacent to, the
form of 17th
century house is quite typical of the middle class in rural England.
||The framing of such a house in the period,
with a kitchen bay and hall down, and two chambers up, probably
resembled one of these from 14th century England. Either form could
accommodate a hall and kitchen on the ground floor and two chambers
The mention of a "hall"
and a "kitchen"
reveals the post-Medieval floor plan in which the single multi-purpose
ground floor great Hall, where the cooking and other family functions
were combined, had been subdivided to remove the cooking functions to a
separate area. And by placing the master bedroom over the kitchen ("the Chamber
over the Kitchen where she and I due lodge...") the heat
rising from the kitchen gave that chamber the advantage of the most
comfort, at least during winter.
But the question remains as to how grand, modest,
or even poor, this house would have been? For that we have two clues in
the documents; the Will of 1610 and the Parish record of "Buryalls" for
the year 1610. At the beginning of his Will, Richard states: "In
the name of God
Amen - 30th Daye of Maye in the Yeare of our Lord 1610 - I Richard
Lord of Towcester in Co. of Northton, husbandman of
whole mynde doe
make this my last will an d testament -- my soull unto Allmight God and
my bodie to be buried in the Churchyard of Towcester."
wills 2nd series Book V 38, dated 1610, permission granted for this use
the Northamptonshire Record Office.
The Parish record of "Buryalls" for the year 1610
has the entry for Richard's death on 16th December as follows: "Richard
Lorde, yeom." (see below). To what extent these
"husbandman" and "yeoman"
indicate the status, wealth and position in the community of
family in 1610, will be discussed. And to that extent, we may be able
to more closely reconstruct what the house in Towcester was like.
Note that in his own will
Richard's name is written "Lord", but in the Parish Records it
These status identifiers were not attached as an
afterthought in 1610. It was in the Reign of King Henry V (left) in
1413 that all
legal documents, such as wills, deeds, leases, Parish records and the
like, should include with the person's name an "Addition
descriptive of his Estate, Degree or Mystery." Rank and
status in 16th and 17th century England was a matter of great attention
and this requirement reflects the consciousness of division of position
and rank in that period. So it is not unexpected to see such attached
to Richard's name. But the puzzle is why two different words were used
diifferent times only a few months part?
debate about what the term "husbandman"
means in the 16th and 17th centuries is by far yet unresolved. Some
sources suggest it merely means "a farmer, or anyone occupied in
agricultural pursuits." Another source indicates it could be used
merely to mean "householder, or head of a family." One can see Richard
using it this way to identify himself as the head of the
household he was about to describe.
But there is also a body of data suggesting the
applies to a very specific rank or class; being lower than yeoman and
higher than labourer. And this brings us immediately to consider the
of the term "yeoman"
in the Parish records. Again, there is much
disagreement about the exact meaning or meanings of the term "yeoman".
Generally the term derives from the former "free tenant" or "freeman of
the Manor" in feudal society. It was clearly used to describe rank and
status in rural society by the latter half of the 15th century, and by
the 16th century it had come to mean a man holding free land
to a certain value.
But even that is debatable, for some farmers who
merely rented their lands and owned little or none of their own were
often recorded as "yeoman".
In records pertaining to legal matters in
the time of James I, the term "yeoman"
was sometimes crossed out and changed to "husbandman"
when it was found the man had no freehold property, and in
another instance "husbandman"
was changed to "yeoman"
when it was shown
he did have
such property. And statements like that below strongly suggest a clear
heirarchy separating the two.
"The honourable will abhor them;
the worshipful will reject them; the yeoman will sharply taunt them;
the husbandman will utterly defy them; the labouring man
bluntly chide them." 1567
In the most general terms, "yeomen"
were part of the
rural agricultural heirarchy in Elizabethan times. At the top of the
scale were the "gentry";
below them the "yeomen",
below them the "husbandmen"
and, at the bottom of the scale, the "laborer"
only for wages and owned no land. At minimum, "yeomen"
may be defined as "independent
landowners living on their own property."
was a substantial rural middle class whose chief concern was with the
land and agricultural interests.. in condition between the gentry and
the peasantry. They had existed for
centuries and were, like the gentry,
peculiar to England. They had no counterparts in Europe,
great nobles, poor peasants, and little in between. The yeomen were
prosperous, and their wealth could exceed
that of some of the gentry. The
difference was how they spent their wealth.
The gentry lived like lords, building great
houses. The yeoman was
content to live more simply, using his wealth to improve his land and
Even though James I placed "yeomen servants"
above"husbandmen servants", there is some evidence that these were not
two totally separate classes of rural freemen. Husbandmen appear to be
with less "substance and standing in the community" than
"Every Yeoman or chief Farmer
shall pay seven Shillings; Every Husbandmen or petty Farmer , three
Could it be Richard's self-identification as
"husbandman" was out of modesty, and the Parish's identification of him
after his death as "yeoman" was out of respect? In any case, there is
little risk in assuming Richard was, or had been through his later
life, a farmer. But within that range of yeoman-husbandman, the actual
wealth of this family remains somewhat illusive. A clue may be the
almost 100 Pounds in cash disbursements cited in the Will, which,
according to one historian, is a considerable sum, and does not even
into account the value of properties owned by the family. One study
of Wills in several counties in England between 1556 and 1650
suggests the average yeoman's estate in that period was 160 Pounds.
study focused on 1669 concludes: "wealth of
the yeomen of 40-50 Pounds was very ordinary and of 100-200
Pounds not rare..."
"Although they be but farmers,
they live better than many of higher estate in other nations." 1656
In fact the hard division between the yeomanry and
gentry that one might assume, did not always exist. Yeomen and gentry
associated with each other. "Members of the minor gentry and yeomen
sat together on juries, served together as churchwardens... and yeomen
frequently named gentlemen as exectors of their wills..." Evidence of
this very fact is found in Richard's Will, where two "gent's" from a
nearby village are named supervisors.
fynally Doe earnestlie Desyre my wellbelowed friends Mr Henry Peddler
and Thomas Pedder of East Purye in the Counte of Northton gent's and
Paul Boughton of the same Toune clerk to be my supervisors of this my
last will and testament..."
can be seen (left) that the three witnesses - Thomas Pedder, Paul
Boughton and Richard Abbot (?) - all could write their names, as would
be expected of "Gentlemen". From comparing the handwriting, it
appears Richard Lord's will was written out by Paul Boughton, and we
note that Paul Boughton is described as "clerk",
the type of person to whom Richard would have turned, being unable to
write himself (see below).
wills 2nd series Book V 38, dated 1610, permission granted for this use
the Northamptonshire Record Office.
But was the Lord property just a simple farm? The
mention of "..the
orchard belonging to the
suggests this was an income-producing enterprise. It hardly seems
probable that Richard would bother mentioning setting aside a third of
the crop to his widow if it were just a few bushels of apples for house
use. One reference to a man in similar status says: "His
business as a watchmaker brought a modest living; but the family's
capital was in the house with its orchards that he had inherited."
One can to interpret from the actual text of the Will that
this was more than just an apple orchard, as the term "orchard" applied
then to any fruit, nut or berry producing plants.
I give & bequeath to Joan my wife...and
third pt of the apples & fruits wch shall growe yearely in the
orchard belonging to the house wherein I now dwell in
trees were common throughout England
by the late sixteenth century, and many yeomen added a neat surplus to
the family income
by the cherries, damsons, pears and apples that they carried to market."
Another possible indicator of wealth would be the
fact that at the end of his life, Richard Lord was not literate. As
can be seen in the image below, he signed his Will with a "mark", the
person making out the document entering his name across the
But he also impressed the document with a seal.
What either of these bits of evidence suggest can be understood better
in the context of other studies of early-17th century English yeomanry.
One study focused on the early-17th century
signatures of some 2,500 to 3,000 yeomen, attached to wills, leases,
bonds and the like, show that between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of
those involved could write their own names; the remaining number made
their marks, usually a small cross." It
carries one across the centures looking at that "signature" and
recognizing that the very hand of the man whose life I am trying to
reconstruct made those two simple strokes of the quill almost exactly
400 years ago.
if we cannot write, we have the Clerke of the Church, or the
Schoolmaster of the Towne to helpe us, who for our plaine matters will
serve our turnes well enough.."
Of note here is
the fact that in his Will Richard
Paul Boughton of the same Toune
as one of the
supervisors of his Will, and likely (see above) the man who wrote down
Richard's wishes as they were dictated. Being unable to write his own
name, if the
study cited above is any indication, puts Richard Lord in the minority
of yeomen of the period, and might suggest a lower than normal status
for his family. But that is a very thin thread indeed, especially when
we see his seal impressed on the very same document as his "mark". A
seal normally would be needed for a person engaged in significant
commercial or legal affairs. Normally a personal seal or signet bore
coat of arms of the man who used it, and this right was restricted to
the gentry. As a yeoman or husbandman, Richard had no right to use an
armorial seal, but the use of a personal emblem on a signet ring or
seal suggests a man who has needed to be accurately identified with
documents he signed, even if he only signed them with a mark.
of wealth is of course how much land a person owned or leased, and of
this there is no mention in the Will. One part of the text suggests
there may be more to Richard's estate than just the parcel on which his
house stands, and often yeomen held many scattered parcels that came to
market cheaply and could be used for agricultural production in that
period. In describing the property his son, Thomas, will inherit
"Item I give and
bequeath to Thomas my sonne and to his heires and assignes forever all
my Lands ten'ts & hereditaments whatwoever in Towcester and within this Realm of
Does this suggest
properties beyond that on which the house stands?
Perhaps it is just some legal jargon mean to be inclusive, and not to
indicate other property, for in describing his bequest of an annuity to
his wife, it sounds like the totality of his property is, at minimum,
in Towcester. Richard states:
I give & bequeath moreovr to my said wife during her natural
lyfe (& yf so longe she keepe herself my widowe) out of my Land &
tenemts & hereditamts in Towcester aforesaid the
Yearlie sume and annuitie of fyve pounds of currant money of England to
be paide unto her by my Executor hereafter named his heires or Assignes
yearly quarterlie by equall and even porcons Provided allwaies that she my said wife shall
not claym any Dower or thirde out of my said lands ten'ts or
Yet another indicator of wealth would be the
number, if any, of servants or laborers that the household employed,
and again there is no mention of that in the Will. It would not be
expected that such wage laborers would be mentioned unless they were
to receive some benefit from the estate. And given that Richard had
five adult persons living in his house - his wife, his son, and three
grown daughters - that would represent a considerable workforce in
itself. Of course daughters were not always the asset they might seem
(see following). But then Thomas was there to pitch in, if even the
Lord "farm" had such a range of chores.
were some types of
work that a yeoman's wife or daughter might not do. She could work from
dawn till dark
in her kitchen, garden, or poultry yard; but labor in the fields or
swine or other livestock was beneath her station."
So although much remains ambiguous, we can
probably assign a basic socio-economic status of "upper middle class
to the Lord family, and from that assume at least an approximate image
of their house.
house structure could well duplicate the one occupied by the Lord
Family in Towcester prior to 1611.The "hall" (center) is
as going to the roof, as most did, a ground floor kitchen
the left with the master bedchamber over it; and to the right, a second
upstairs bedchamber for the children, with storage or multi-use area
below. One source suggests that "the poorest members of the group"
(yeomen) had 2-3 room houses, while the majority had houses with 3 to 6
rooms. A 5 room house (above) would fit our assumption that the Lord
family was upper middle class.
From surviving and reconstructed Elizabethan houses in England we may
obtain some pictures that further give the bare bones of this house
Richard indicates there
is a "kitchen" in his house, over which is the "chamber" he shares with
his wife, it may have resembled
this reconstructed kitchen of a modest house of the same period.
"Hall" mentioned in the 1610 Will
may have been as modest as the one shown above, or as grand as the
one below. Most likely it was somewhere in between. A charateristic of
the Hall in either case was that it ran to the top of the upper story.
feature of either hall was the large table which was probably the major
of furniture for the middle class Tudor family. Being the gathering
point, it represented the heritage of the family, and may have been
used and passed down for generations. This may explain why Richard
exempted this table from his wife's share of the estate, reserving it
for his son, Thomas.. "to
Joan my wife
the one half of all my
goods and chattels whatsoever moveable except the long Table in my
mainstay of every yeoman's Hall would have been a large cupboard as
storage for the plates - pewter and silver - other silverware, and
cups. Being a major, and often elaborate piece if furniture, indicative
of the status and wealth of the owner, these cupboards (like the one of
the period at left) might have been handed down for generations.
Richard, however, does not mention or exempt his from his wife's share
of the "moveable" goods she will inherit.
every yeoman's house...the hall still remained the living-room for the
family. Here they also dined.. and their guests were entertained.
Certain articles were practically always to be found here; a
table, with perhaps a smaller one; one or two forms of benches with
numerous chairs and stools; a cupboard and perhaps a chest..."
"chamber over the kitchen" mentioned in the Will could very well have
looked like this.
or five beds were the rule in the homes of those of merely
ordinary means... the other bedrooms frequently had two or three beds
to a room, with possibly a chair or two and a chest..."
mentioned, as no inventory of furnishings is attached to the Will,
undoubtedly every room had one or more great chests, which served then
for what closets and bureaus do today.
were the accepted repositories
for everything that must be kept free from dust, or out of reach of
hungry mice or prying eyes... The Hall or Chamber would have a 'Greate
Chiste' to hold all the documents proving title to the property of the
yeoman since the centralized recording of deeds had yet to be
So can we put a
shape to the house described in
Richard Lord's Will in 1610 from such a few fragments?And can we,
having put a frame around the family that lived there, perhaps put some
essence of humanity to the names that to date have been but items in an
ancient record? How close do we come, in posting this image of a 16th
century yeoman family and of a 16th century yeoman's house, to "seeing"
what Richard would have seen in 1590, when his son Thomas was just a
boy, and perhaps when the family first arrived at "the
house wherein I now dwell in Towcester..."
our progenytors and forefathers were at the begynnynge but plene and
sympell men and wemen and of smalle possessyon... yt I do wysshe and
exhort you that you sholde not be asshamed of them... for I am sure the
gretes oxse was fyrste a lytell calfe. Consider wythe yourselves what
ys wryten in the Liij Chaptyer of the profytte Esays which sayithe,
Remember of what stones ye are hewen out of and of what graves you were
dugged owte of."
The Diary and Family Book of
Robert Furse, yeoman, 1593
of the content and many of the quotes for this webpage were taken from:
Mildred Campbell, THE
ENGLISH YEOMAN, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1942.
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