lthough 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 and the 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 widdowe) the chamber over the kitchen where she and I due lodge and third pt of the apples & fruits wch shall growe yearely in the orchard belonging to the house 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 hall. This form of 17th century house is quite typical of the middle class in rural England.

tudorframeone.jpg 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 above.  tudroframetwo.jpg

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."


Copyrighted image. Northampton wills 2nd series Book V 38, dated 1610, permission granted for this use only by 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 two identifiers - "husbandman" and "yeoman" indicate the status, wealth and position in the community of the Lord 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 is"Lorde".

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 tudorhenryv.jpgperson'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 at diifferent times only a few months part?

The 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 term "husbandman" applies to a very specific rank or class; being lower than yeoman and higher than labourer. And this brings us immediately to consider the use 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" who worked only for wages and owned no land. At minimum, "yeomen" may be defined as "independent landowners living on their own property."

tudoryeomen.jpg "The yeomanry 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, which had 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 to expand it."

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 farmers with less "substance and standing in the community" than yeomen. 

"Every Yeoman or chief Farmer shall pay seven Shillings; Every Husbandmen or petty Farmer , three shillings."       1661

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 take 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. Another 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 the gentry that one might assume, did not always exist. Yeomen and gentry often 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.

"And 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..."

willwitness.jpg It 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", (above) the type of person to whom Richard would have turned, being unable to write himself (see below).

Copyrighted image. Northampton wills 2nd series Book V 38, dated 1610, permission granted for this use only by the Northamptonshire Record Office.

But was the Lord property just a simple farm? The mention of "..the orchard belonging to the house..." 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.

"Item 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 Towcester..."

tudororchard.jpg "Fruit 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 area. 


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 concludes: "The 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.

tudorclerke.jpg "Now 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.."       Elizabethan saying

Of note here is the fact that in his Will Richard lists "... Paul Boughton of the same Toune clerk" 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 the 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.

Another indicator 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 Richard states:

"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 England.."

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:

"Item 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 hereditenaments."

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.

tudorwomanwork.jpg "There 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 caring for 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 farmer" to the Lord family, and from that assume at least an approximate image of their house.


This Tudor-era house structure could well duplicate the one occupied by the Lord Family in Towcester prior to 1611.The "hall" (center) is pictured as going to the roof, as most did, a ground floor kitchen wing to 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 some life.

tudorkitchen.jpg Since 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.

The "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. A salient feature of either hall was the large table which was probably the major piece 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 hall."

tudorcupboard.jpg A 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.

"In 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 long table, with perhaps a smaller one; one or two forms of benches with numerous chairs and stools; a cupboard and perhaps a chest..."

An example of 17th century wainscot.

Richard also exempted two other items of portable furnishings from the "moveable" property his wife would receive:

"one half of all my goods and chattels whatsoever moveable except the long Table in my hall and the seelinge and benches about my house .."

The impulse is to first translate this as "ceiling" and then ponder how it was "moveable". The opinion predominates that it means "wainscoting" and is panelling. while others suggest tapestry screens or even cloth wall hangings.

"Wainscoting, like window glass, was considered part of the moveable house furnishings."
In several 16th century documents the word "seelinge" is used in the same sense as "sealing", including caulking ships, a wax seal on a document, and cloths used to cover walls, and could mean any device to keep drafts away.

The "benches" mentioned could have been simple trestle benches, but likely included "settle" benches with high backs to protect also from drafts.

tudorupperchamber.jpg The "chamber over the kitchen" mentioned in the Will could very well have looked like this.

"Four 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..."

tudorchest.jpg While not 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.

"Chests 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 developed."


tudorsocialclassesyeomen.jpg tudorbestlordhouse.jpg

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..."


tudoryeomancut.jpg "Although 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

Much 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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