DEATH Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval London gentry widows testaments bequests debt heirs furniture furnishings linen silverware property holding funerals memorial services chantries careers lawyers royal service parliamentary representatives
Subject: Testament of a city-dwelling knight's widow
Original source: Corporation of London Records Office, Plea and Memoranda Roll A99, m.3
Transcription in: Philip Jones, ed. Calendar of Plea and Memoranda Rolls of the City of London, A.D. 1458-1482, Cambridge: University Press, 1961, 136-139.
Original language: Middle English
Location: London
Date: 1478


In the name of God, Amen. On 11 June 1478, in the 18th year of the reign of King Edward IV, I Lady Agnes Say, widow, being of sound mind, make and set out this my testament in the following manner. That is to say, first I bequeath and commend my soul to almighty God, my creator and maker, and to his blessed mother Mary the Virgin, and to all the saints, and my body to be buried within the parish church of St. Bartholomew the Less of London, near the tomb where my late husband, Sir John Fray, is now buried. I bequeath 6s.8d to the high altar of that church. I bequeath 40s. towards the church-works of that church. I bequeath 6s.8d to the high altar of the church of St. Benet Fink, London. I bequeath 20s. towards the church-works of that church of St. Benet. I bequeath 6s.8d to the high altar of the church of St. Christopher near the London stocks. I bequeath 20s. towards the church-works of that church of St. Christopher.

I bequeath £10 to a respectable priest to sing and recite for my soul, the souls of my husbands Lord Wenlock, Sir John Fray, and Sir John Say, the Gregorian trental in such a place as designated by my daughter Lady Margaret Leynham, the wife of Sir John Leynham.

I pardon and forgive my brothers, Thomas Danvers and William Danvers, of all sums of money in which they are indebted to me. On condition they discharge me and my executors of all sums of money in which I was bound, on their behalf, to anyone. I pardon and forgive Agnes Hill, Katherine Humfrey, John Childe, Thomas Wrongey, Agnes Holgill, and Margery Banastre of all sums of money in which they are indebted to me or owe me. I pardon and forgive John Dryland, my former servant, of all sums of money in which he is indebted to me. I pardon and forgive all persons who are indebted to me, if they do not have the means to pay such sums of money as they owe me, at the determination of my executors.

I bequeath to Henry Parson, to pray for my soul, a bed; that is, a mattress, 2 blankets, a coverlet, and two pairs of sheets. I bequeath and wish that John Dye have every year for as long as he lives 20s., to say special prayers for my soul. I bequeath 20s. to Robert Abell to pray for my soul. I bequeath to William Walgrave my best bed; that is, a feather bed, a bolster, a piece of fustian, 2 pairs of sheets, a coverlet, the celour and tester, and 3 curtains.

I bequeath 13s.4d to the 4 orders of friars at Cambridge, to pray for my soul; that is, 3s.4d to each order. It is my wish that, whereas I have advised Master Thomas Asheby and my daughter Lady Margaret Leynham of a matter concerning the sum of £10, if in their opinion it represents a burden on my conscience then it should be given to the church of Syon, or wherever it is best disposed out of conscience, as they think best. I bequeath a gown to each of the wife of John Priour sherman and his daughter Agnes. I bequeath to Emlyn Wellys a gown.

I instruct and require all my feofees who are enfeoffed to my use in all the lands that were Brodgore's in Wenden, in the county of Essex, that immediately following my death they transfer ownership of the same to Lady Elizabeth Walgrave, she and her direct legimate heirs to have and to hold in perpetuity. In default of such heirs, the remainder to go to the heirs of myself, Lady Agnes Say, in perpetuity.

I give and bequeath, by this my present testament, to Constance Browne, spinster, all my lands and tenements with their appurtenances located in the alleyway called the George Alley in Secol Lane, in the parish of St. Sepulchre outside Newgate, in the suburbs of London in the ward of Faringdon Without; which I recently purchased from Henry Ive. Constance to have and to hold for her lifetime. After her death I wish those lands and tenements to remain to Lady Agnes Gate, widow. Lady Agnes to have and to hold for her lifetime, on condition that Lady Agnes pays and satisfies Constance for £100 within 2 years following my death. After the death of Lady Agnes, or if the £100 is not paid, I wish the lands and tenements to remain to Robert Browne gentleman of Oxfordshire. Robert and his direct legitimate heirs to have and hold in perpetuity. In default of such heirs, the remainder goes to the proper heirs of Lady Agnes Gate in perpetuity.

I give and bequeath to Lady Elizabeth Walgrave and Lady Margaret Leynham all my rights and the remaining term of my lease in the house in which I live at present. It is my wish that all my share in stocked goods worth £400, for which my servant Robert Galyon can account, be evenly divided into 6 parts. Of which I give and bequeath 5 parts of the same to Agnes, Katherine, and Margaret my daughters, to Richard my brother, and to the aforementioned Constance; each of them to have an equal share of the 5 parts. I wish and specify that if Constance dies while her mother, my daughter, is yet alive her mother is to have her share, on condition that Lady Agnes Gate pays and satisfied Constance the £100 already mentioned within 2 years following my death. Similar, if my daughter, the mother of Constance, dies while Constance is yet alive, then I wish Constance to have her mother's share.

I bequeath to Lady Elizabeth Walgrave a standing cup of gilded silver with a cover and a silver basin and ewer, whichever she chooses from among mine. I bequeath to Lady Margaret Leynham another standing cup of gilded silver with a cover and a silver basin and ewer, chosen from mine after Lady Elizabeth has made her choice. In addition, I wish Lady Margaret to have another cup, which was given her by her father, my late husband Sir John Fray. I bequeath to my daughter Katherine Stafford another standing cup of gilded silver with a cover and a silver basin and ewer, chosen from mine after Lady Margaret Leynham has made her choice. I bequeath to my daughter Lady Agnes Gate a standing cup of gilded silver with a cover and a silver basin and ewer, chosen from mine after Katherine Stafford has made her choice. I bequeath to Alice Tracy another of my standing cups of gilded silver with a cover, chosen from mine after Lady Agnes Gate has made her choice.

I wish that the costs and fees related to my burial and month's mind be paid honestly by my executors, without any pomp or display, or putting on any feasts or dinners, but giving food and drink and other charitable hand-outs to poor people, to pray for my soul.

The residue of all my goods, chattels, and debts [due me], whatsoever they be, after my debts are paid and the costs and fees of my burial and month's mind are expended, and my present testament is in all regards fulfilled, I give and bequeath to my executors named below. With the intent that they, using wise judgement, use the same to provide and arrange for the foundation of a perpetual chantry, with a priest singing and praying in the parish church of St. Bartholomew for my soul and for the souls of my late husbands, Lord Wenlock, Sir John Fray, and Sir John Say, for our friends and benefactors, for those for whom I am specially bound to pray, and for all Christian souls. Once that perpetual chantry has been arranged, established, and securely founded, I wish that Lady Elizabeth Walgrave and Lady Margaret Leynham dispose of all remaining unexpended goods and debts for my soul and the other souls mentioned, by distributing them in charitable works, acts of mercy, and other good deeds, as according to their best judgement they consider best pleasing to God and most profitable for my soul and the other souls mentioned. I wish my daughters to have preference, before any others, when it comes to buying any of my possessions, paying for them whatever they have been appraised at.

Of this my present testament I make and appoint as my executors my daughter Lady Elizabeth Walgrave, Henry Danvers, and John Clopton esquire. As their supervisor I make and appoint my especial good lord, William Lord Hastings, the king's chamberlain; and I bequeath to the Lord Chamberlain for his labour £20 and a pyx of gold. I bequeath £20 to each of the Lady Elizabeth and Henry Danvers for their labour, and I bequeath £6.13.4d to John Clopton for his labour. In witness to this my present testament, I have set my seal; drawn up on the date above.


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

Agnes Say cannot really be considered a townswoman, but at the close of her life she was evidently living there and desired burial there, and her three principal husbands all had London interests.

Agnes was the daughter of John Danvers of Banbury, a member of the minor gentry in Oxfordshire, who represented his shire in several parliaments between 1420 and 1435, and served as the county escheator 1424-26. His own inherited properties were modest, but he was able to build up a large estate in the northern part of the county. He married first Alice, daughter and heir of a Northamptonshire gentleman,William Verney; Agnes was the result of this union, as were three sons: Thomas, Robert and Richard Danvers. Robert studied law at Lincoln's Inn and went on to serve as a lawyer to the London Corporation, first as Common Pleader (1441/42) and then as Recorder (1442-48), before becoming a Justice of Common Pleas (1450-58); after being knighted, he died in 1467. Richard also entered the legal profession, dying in 1489. Alice having died by circa 1420, John Danvers married Joan, the daughter and heir of John Bruley, another Oxfordshire man. By her he had five sons and four daughters. The sons included another Thomas, who also became a lawyer and parliamentarian, and was knighted, dying 1502; and William, yet another lawyer and parliamentarian, who would also serve as Justice of Common Pleas from 1488 until his death in 1504. When John Danvers died in 1449, his property was divided between the several sons.

Agnes had first married Thomas Baldington of Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire, in 1427. Although we hear of both a senior and a junior of that name, he was most likely the Thomas Baldington who, the heir of William Baldington esquire, was a minor in 1420, but in 1425 proved himself of the age of majority and was allowed to come into his inheritance. Perhaps the marriage was no great success, for his name is conspicuously absent from her testament; yet they had three daughters. He died in August 1435, and in the following year Agnes remarried.

Her new husband, who was clearly to her the most significant of her four spouses, was John Fray; he too had been married before and was about 40 years old when he married Agnes. It may have been no coincidence that he, like some of Agnes' brothers and half-brothers, was a lawyer. He has been described as "a particularly striking example of the 'self-made man' whose success was achieved through a combination of talent, hard work and personal ambition" [Carole Rawcliffe, History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1386-1421, III, 124]. Much of that hard work was related to service to the Crown; between 1408 and 1457 he is known to have served on at least 59 royal commissions. Most of that work came after he had established a clientele for his legal practice in London. He was appointed to the legal staff of the city, as Common Sergeant (1421), but in that year or the next was promoted to the important office of Recorder. In 1426 he quit that office, to move into the royal bureaucracy, as a Baron of the Exchequer, becoming Chief Baron in the same year that he married Agnes. During the Exchequer tenure, which lasted to 1448, he served in various other capacities, such as Justice of the Peace in various counties, Deputy Treasurer of England, and a member of Henry VI's council. Not only did he have the gratitude of the king, which resulted in Fray being knighted prior to 1459, his legal clients included many members of the nobility. Like Baldington he had an estate in Hertfordshire; he had served as the county's parliamentary representative in 1419 and 1420; he also had lesser landed interests in several other counties, as well as in London – at some point prior to 1458 he had lived in a house called "Parker's Place" in the parish of St. Benet Fink, but he had also invested in various other houses and shops in London, which provided him with a source of annual income. Despite his service to the House of Lancaster, towards the end of his life he loaned money to support the Yorkist cause (perhaps no more than political astuteness); it was soon after recouping this from Edward IV that Fray died, in July 1461. It was thanks to Fray's influence and wealth that the daughters Agnes bore him – there being no sons – made good marriages into the gentry: Margaret to Sir John Leynham, Elizabeth to Sir Thomas Walgrave, Katherine to Sir Humphrey Stafford, and Alice to Henry Tracy esquire (although this Alice may have been one of Agnes' daughters by Baldington).

In 1467 Agnes married for a third time; her dower rights in Fray's property must have made her an attractive partner. Her choice on this occasion was Sir John Wenlock, whose own wife (a Bedfordshire heiress) of over thirty years had died in the early 1460s, without leaving any surviving children. Both Agnes and Wenlock would have been in their late 60s when they married, so there was no question of further children from this alliance. The son of a Bedfordshire gentleman, Wenlock was also active in county affairs, representing it in five parliaments between 1433 and 1455, serving a term as escheator of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and later one as sheriff of the latter county. Wenlock's seat was at Luton, in Bedfordshire, his property there coming through inheritance; in 1462 he acquired Hertfordshire property forfeited by the former Chief Justice, Sir John Fortescue. In his youth he had participated in Henry V's invasion of France, and he later entered the service of Margaret of Anjou, eventually becoming her chamberlain. His service to the Crown is also reflected in his employment as a member of some 18 embassies in the '40s and '50s. He was knighted in 1449. It appears to have been on one such embassy that he came into contact with the Duke of York and Earl of Warwick, and he became a supporter of the latter. Initially fighting on the Lancastrian side in the civil war, his relationship with Warwick led him to change sides, and it was as a Yorkist that he served as Speaker of the House of Commons in the parliament of 1455. Having successfully besieged the Tower of London for Edward of York, he was part of the latter's triumphal entry into London in 1461 and was elected a knight of the garter a few days after. Later in the year he received appointment as Chief Butler of England and was made Baron Wenlock. In 1463 he helped Lord Hastings capture Bamburgh castle. He continued to undertake diplomatic missions for Edward IV, and had command of Calais for him (possibly as deputy of Warwick). Although he did not immediately follow Warwick into the Lancastrian camp, his sympathies clearly remained with his friend, and by 1471 he too had switched sides, accompanying Margaret of Anjou back to England, only to meet his end in the Battle of Tewkesbury that same year. Agnes' association with the Browne family could have come through Fray, who had been friends with John Browne, one of Henry V's esquires of the body, or through Wenlock, who had in 1466 been a trustee of the lands of Sir Thomas Browne. However, the implication from the will points more towards the fact that one of her daughters (Agnes) by Baldington had taken as her first husband a Thomas Browne, and as her second Sir Geoffrey Gate.

Wenlock having died, in essence, a traitor, the marriage probably did not leave Agnes materially better off. It may have been advisable in those uncertain times for her to form another alliance, or perhaps it was just a matter of preference. At some point between September 1473 and October 1474 she married Sir John Say, another Hertfordshire man, whose seat was the manor of Hoddesdon (Broxbourne), although he also held other estates in the county. Say's parentage is uncertain. It has been suggested that his original name was John Fiennes, with the adoption of "Say" explained as a means to reinforce his claim to descent (via a female line) from Geoffrey, Baron de Say (d.1359); but this too is far from certain. His first wife, Elizabeth Cheyne, was the daughter of a Cambridgeshire gentleman, and it was likely this family connection that led to him being chosen to represent the borough of Cambridge at parliament in 1447. Two years later he represented the shire itself, and was chosen Speaker of the House of Commons for that parliament. He represented Hertfordshire in at least five parliaments between 1453 and 1478, serving twice again as Speaker, in 1463 and 1467. Much of his energy was expended in the service of the Crown: in numerous commissions, as Justice of the Peace for Cambridgeshire (1448-58) and Hertfordshire (1454 until his death), as Chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster (1449-62, 1466-71, 1477-78), Under Treasurer of England (sporadically from 1455 until his death), and Keeper of the Great Wardrobe (1476-78). As a servant of the house of Lancaster and an associate of Lord Say, he was a target of the rebels during Cade's insurrection; and in the parliament of 1451 a request was made to banish him from the court (because of misconduct), but ignored. He transferred his loyalty to the Yorkists in 1460, and continued to find employment in royal service; one of his roles was, in conjunction with Lord Wenlock and others, to act as custodian of the forfeited estates of the Earl of Oxford. He was made a knight of the Bath in 1465, upon the occasion of Edward IV's marriage. He was able to switch loyalties back to Henry VI at the Readeption, and back again to Edward IV soon after, without apparent adverse effect on his reputation or employability.

Say died on 12 April 1478, requesting burial at Broxbourne beside his first wife, who had given him three sons, the eldest of whom married the widowed Elizabeth Walgrave, daughter of Agnes and John Fray, and produced daughters who would marry Lord Mountjoy and the Earl of Essex. Agnes was acknowledged in Say's will only insofar as he specified that she should retain the possessions she had brought into the marriage, and she was not designated one of his executors; however, these things do not necessarily reflect an unsuccessful marriage, or even constitute a snub – a woman of Agnes' age would not have been a sensible choice as executor. Say's judgement there was sound, for Agnes did not long survive him. Her testament received probate in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury on 16 July 1478, when her daughter Elizabeth was granted administration of Agnes' goods. However, Elizabeth died that same year and in May 1480 it was Robert Browne and Thomas Gate who presented the document before the mayor's court for enrolment in the above form.

Agnes was presumably buried as she requested in St. Bartholomew the Less, London, beside the husband who had meant the most to her, just as Say had sought burial beside the wife with whom he had spent the greater part of his married life. Fray's tomb still survives in that church. Agnes is further commemorated, along with two of her daughters, in the stained glass of a window at the famous Holy Trinity church in Long Melford (Suffolk), whose benefactors were the Cloptons, a family seated in the neighbourhood. One of Agnes' executors was a leading member of the family. Agnes' associations were clearly more with the lesser nobility than with an urban community, yet in some regards she exemplifies the connections that the gentry had with urban society, particularly that of the capital.



"trental" "month's mind"
Both terms were applied to a commemorative service held thirty days after the funeral. The term "trental" was also applied to dirges generally, and in the case of the Gregorian trental referred to 30 masses celebrated over the course of the 30 days following the funeral.

"Margery Banastre"
In 1450, London fishmonger Christopher Banastre granted all his possessions to John Fray, Robert Danvers, Richard Danvers et al.

I.e. bedspread.

A long flat cushion placed at the head of the bed, across its width, to support the head or a pillow and to serve as a backrest when sitting up in bed.

A heavy-woven fabric of linen warp and cotton weft, likely used as a blanket.

"celour and tester"
Parts of the canopy over the bed. The terms seem sometimes to have been used interchangeably. Where both were used together, one likely refers to the canopy itself and the other to additional cloth hung at the head of the bed.

"church of Syon"
Syon Abbey, originally founded on the Middlesex bank of the Thames near Richmond, but soon after relocated to the site now occupied by Syon House. It became the wealthiest nunnery in England.

Presumably the modern Wendens Ambo.

A small box.

"far from certain"
I am grateful to Hal Bradley [Personal communication, 22 April 2006] for pointing this out to me, as well as for providing information on Agnes' daughters by Thomas Baldington.

"association with the Browne family"
I am grateful to Richard Hodgson [Personal communication, 19 March 2007] for further information on this point. An ancestor of the Frays and Baldingtons, Mr. Hodgson has concluded from his research that "Agnes Danver's daughter and coheiress Agnes Baldington married William Brome (died 1461) of Holton, Oxfordshire. His son Robert Brome (d 1486) of Holton and Headington was his heir, and I would guess that he was the 'Robert Browne' with Thomas Gate presented the document before the mayor's court in 1480." In medieval script the letters n, m, and w are often difficult to distinguish from one another.

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Created: February 29, 2004. Last update: March 11, 2007. © Stephen Alsford, 2004-2007