DEATH Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval King's Lynn widows testaments bequests charity pious uses furnishings jewellery property holding memorial services quays personalia silverware heirs merchants careers
Subject: Last will and testament of a merchant's widow
Original source: Norfolk Record Office, King's Lynn borough records, Red Register, f.79
Transcription in: Holcombe Ingleby, ed., The Red Register of King's Lynn, vol.1 (1919), 159-61.
Original language: Latin
Location: King's Lynn
Date: 1341


In the name of God, Amen. I, Joan, the widow of John de Thornhegge, burgess of Lynn, on 24 February 1341 have set out my testament in the following manner. First, I commend my soul to God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the saints, and my body to be buried in St. Margaret's church, Lynn, on the north side of John's tomb. I bequeath 20s. to the high altar of that church, and 6s.8d to its fabric. I bequeath 13s.4d to the convent of the Friars Minor at Lynn. I bequeath 10s. to John de Cantbrigge, a lay brother of that order, for his necessaries. I bequeath 6s.8d to the convent of the Friars Preacher at Lynn. I bequeath 2s. to the Magdalene lepers next to the Lynn Causeway. To the lepers of Cowgate, 2s. To the lepers of Hardwick, 2s. To the lepers of Setchey, 2s. I bequeath £10 for my funeral expenses. I bequeath 20s. to my niece Margaret, a nun at Blackborough, for her necessaries. I bequeath 40d. to Alice Bataille, nun of the same house.

It is my wish that out of my goods my executors arrange for the celebration of four anniversaries for my soul and those to whom I am beholden, in St. Margaret's church by suitable chaplains chosen by them. I bequeath to my daughters Agnes and Margaret, and their daughters, to be divided among them in equal shares, the whole of my bedroom and its contents, viz. hangings, blankets, linens, quilt, of whatever type or colour, bed, pillows, table linen, and towels. I bequeath to my daughter Agnes a gilded silver cup with cover, a girdle [decorated] with pearls, a golden box, and 2 gold rings of which one has a sapphire embedded and the other a peridot.

I bequeath to John de Massingham, [his wife] Margaret my daughter, their daughters Joan and Agnes, and the legitimate heirs of Joan and Agnes, my capital tenement in the town of Bishop's Lynn, lying between the tenement formerly of Folkard le Estrish on the north and the tenement formerly of Katherine de Lyndiseye on the south, and extending in length from the public road called the Exchequer to the west as far as the tenement of Ralph de Brunham to the east; as well as all vessels and utensils of lead or wood belonging to the tenement. On condition that John pay my executors £40 for the fulfillment and performance of my testament, and that he, for as long as he lives (and after his death, his heirs), arrange for the celebration each year, at the convent of the Friars Minor in Lynn, of my anniversary and the anniversary of my late father and mother, Ralph Coc and his wife Agnes, and my brother Walter. It is my wish too that John, for as long as he lives (and after his death, his heirs) donate 13s.4d to the Friars Minor, as a pittance, on each anniversary day. I also bequeath to John de Massingham, my daughter Margaret, their daughters Joan and Agnes, and the legitimate heirs of Joan and Agnes, my quay with all buildings at the same site; which quay and buildings on that site in Bishop's Lynn lie between the tenement of Folkard le Estrish on the north side and the tenement of my sister Margaret on the south side, and extends in length from the public river on the west to the public street on the east. But if Joan and Agnes die without direct heirs, then I wish my capital tenement and my quay, and the buildings on the same, to revert in its entirety to and remain in future with the closest heirs of my daughter Margaret.

I bequeath to John de Massingham one gold brooch, one set of coral beads, and 6 gilded silver crosses. I bequeath to Joan, daughter of my daughter Agnes, and her heirs and assigns, half of a certain tenement of mine in the town of Bishop's Lynn which lies opposite St. James' chapel (to the north). I bequeath to my sister Margaret a large set of silver beads, with a gold brooch and ring belonging to the same. I bequeath 13s.4d to Richard de Sutton, canon of Pentney. I bequeath to mag. Thomas Beek, my kinsman, my best altar-cloth, a chalice, a missal, a large portable altar, a portable breviary, and a maple-wood cup which dom. Richard de Creyk gave me. I bequeath to dom. William Baret of Sculthorpe my other altar-cloth and a maple-wood cup. I bequeath to Peter de Hidyngham one piece of silver [plate] and six silver spoons. I bequeath to Agnes de Elmham a silk girdle with embroidered images and a silk bag. I bequeath Margaret, my sister's daughter, a green silk girdle adorned with animals. I bequeath to Margaret, daughter of Thomas Shillyng, 12 sheep and forty shillings that her father owes me. I bequeath 13s.4d to dom. William de Erpyngham chaplain. I bequeath to Margaret, daughter of my niece Matilda, a mazer.

The residue of all my goods, once my debts are paid and this testament is fulfilled, I wish to be sold and the money received from the same distributed faithfully by my executors to poor people in the town of Lynn for [the benefit of] my soul and the souls of all the faithful deceased. To carry out and fulfill this testament, I make, designate and appoint as my executors mag. Thomas de Lenna my kinsman, Thomas Shillyng, and John atte Hirne de Massingham. Written at Lynn on the above date. In addition to those things arranged and disposed of by my testament, I wish that my executors pay all my debts out of my goods; and if my goods do not suffice to pay the remaining legacies in my testament, then I wish that the omissions be decided by my executors. I bequeath to my daughter Agnes a silver cup, other than that left her in my testament, and a silk girdle.


[I have divided the documents into paragraphs to make for easier reading.]

A good deal of what we know about specific individual lay women living in towns comes from their wills; because of their low involvement in politics or large-scale business, and lesser involvement than men in acquiring and managing property, they inevitably make less of a mark on majority of the types of records that have survived to us from medieval England. As with the men, it is the women of the urban upper crust who are most in evidence through wills.

It is unfortunate that we must largely identify townswomen by their relationships to men. Joan de Thornegge was the daughter of Ralph le Keu (or Cook), a man in evidence around the turn of the century; in 1297/98 he travelled to St. Albans and Norwich on community business, and three years worth of tax assessments (1299-1301) were remitted, in consideration of his work on behalf of the community. He is not known to have held a borough office, although his brother Richard served as chamberlain and jurat, but he was a scabin of the merchant gild from 1295 to 1299. Ralph was also a customs collector at Lynn 1298-1303. So the family was of some account in the town. Joan was also the widow of one of Lynn's most prominent townsmen of the early fourteenth century. John de Thornegge had probably died about five years before Joan drew up her will, although he had drawn up his own will in 1330. When Joan actually died we are not certain, but the wills of both her and John did not receive probate before the mayor until March 1345.

Before he died, John de Thornegge had served his community as mayor for five terms between 1315/16 and 1330/31, and may have served in that capacity in 1313/14 as well. In other years during the same period he is found in the posts of jurat and ward constable, and twice represented Lynn at parliament (1321 and 1324). He was also very active in the royal customs service, in the posts of collector of wool custom from 1318 to 1320 and again from 1322 to 1334, as collector of prisage (1322-27, and from 1328 possibly until his death), and as a searcher for counterfeit or smuggled coin (1324-35).

John first appears in the local records in 1303, when his goods were valued, for taxation purposes, at £26.13s.4d, well above the average. The surname does appear in Lynn earlier in the reign of Edward I, but John or his family may have been relatively recent arrivals from Thornage, Norfolk (some 25 miles west-north-west of Lynn), for John's will shows continued connections: he bequeathed 20s. to the fabric of the village church at Thornage, provided for an anniversary service for his soul in that church, and made a charitable donation to poor people there. John had married Joan before 1309, when the pair made an agreement with Joan's sister Margaret and her husband John de Frenge about the division of the women's inheritance from their father, Ralph Cok. Joan and her husband received the northern part of a tenement in Wingate and a half share in a riverside quay associated; this is evidently one of the properties bequeathed in Joan's will (the distinction between Wingate and the Chequer sometimes being blurred).

John was a merchant, apparently specializing in victualling: in 1314 he received a royal safeconduct to take victuals throughout England for trading purposes, and another safeconduct in 1322 to acquire grain and other victuals for the use of the king's army in the north – later that year he is seen as co-owner of the vessel Margaret bound for Norway to bring back victuals. His one-year protection from the king may also have been for trading purposes. The Margaret was not the only ship in which he had an interest, for in 1319 he and Thomas Melchburne, who would become one of the most active Lynn merchants of that generation, complained that their ship the Godyer, carrying a cargo worth £200 – wheat, worsted, and other cloth – to Gascony had been captured by Flemish pirates. That same year he had been sent by Lynn as one of its representatives to a national Merchant Assembly, to discuss the stabilization of the wool trade. He is also seen at that time or slightly later selling timber to the borough, for work needed on the guildhall. Two years earlier he had been given £20 worth of the goods of the merchant gild, to trade with on the gild's behalf; although no record of his membership in the gild has survived, we can take it as a given, and in 1321/22 he served as one of the gild scabins.

Although Joan was named one of the executors of her husband, his will bequeaths her nothing; doubtless he considered her widow's dower, along with what she held in her own right, would suffice to support her in the style to which she was accustomed. John's will refers to his daughter Margaret, to whom he left one property (on condition she used the income from the same to support anniversary celebrations for him for ten years), some cash, and some precious household items. There is no mention of Joan's other daughter Agnes; possibly she was the offspring of an earlier marriage. Despite the lack of attention paid Joan in her husband's will, the close bond between the pair may be suggested by the fact also among his executor's was Joan's sister Margaret Frenge, while the couple's son-in-law John de Massingham was another executor. Massingham himself was a good match for Thornegge's daughter; he was himself a prospering merchant and served two mayoral terms at Lynn – in fact was in that capacity and heading proceedings when the Thornegge's wills were together brought in for probate. After he succumbed to the plague in 1349, his widow Agnes married Ancelm Braunch.

The roster of executors was completed by Thomas Shillyng. Shillyng and his wife were remembered in the will with bequests of small valuables, but their daughter Joan received a property on Stonegate with a staith, while her sister Margaret received an associated property comprising three shops with upper rooms (both on condition of applying the income from the same to anniversaries for Thornhegge's soul). Clearly the Shillyng and Thornegge families were close, but whether it was a matter of kinship or friendship is unknown; possibly Thomas' wife Agnes may have been Joan's other daughter. The Shillyngs were from the wealthy urban upper crust, although not so politically prominent as Thornegge, and Thomas acted as the community attorney from 1331 to 1344.

It is notable that Joan's bequests focus on female members of the family. She and her husband are not known to have had any male heirs, but their daughter Margaret had a son by John de Massingham, and Joan's sister Margaret also had two sons; if they were still living in 1341, then they are ignored by Joan's will. On the other hand, John's will had ignored those of Joan's nieces to whom she made bequests, so perhaps she was just redressing a perceived imbalance.



"lay brother"
For communities of monks or friars to dedicate themselves primarily to spiritual matters, they needed help to take care of worldly concerns. Some communities therefore instituted lay brotherhoods, whose members took vows of obedience and observed the rules of the order, but spent their time dealing with matters such as property management and looking after fields or livestock.

The hospital of St. Mary Magdalene was on the road (raised, because of marshy ground) to Gaywood.

A stretch of road just south of the Tuesday Market running between Briggate and the Chequer; it had been reduced to no more than a lane by the close of the Middle Ages.

"Hardwick" "Setchey"
Villages to the south of South Lynn, originally on the bank of the Ouse estuary, when the upper part of the Little Ouse was in effect a lake.

"Blackborough" "Pentney"
A few miles southeast of Lynn, Pentney laying a little beyond Blackborough.

A gemstone of green colour (lighter and more yellow than emerald).

A pious gift.

This must have lay between the Chequer and the Ouse bank.

Northwest of Lynn, near Fakenham.

"silk bag"
A small bag, possibly a reliquary.

A wide cup made of maple-wood; there appears to be a difference between this and the maple-wood cups (chiphum de murno) bequeathed earlier.

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Created: February 29, 2004 © Stephen Alsford, 2004