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Where there's a Will ...



Local historian Ian Spensley's latest article in Richmondshire Today is about Wills left by residents of Brompton on Swale in the 16th, 17th & 18th Century. You can also read about some of them here in his latest blog post "Brompton-on-Swale in the 15th and 16th Centuries".

With Ian's very kind permission, you can find a complete transcription of these wills on our Publications page. Just scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the link.


There are over 50 transcriptions of the wills of village residents from 1549 to 1710, many with complete inventories of bequests.


This period of British history was a turbulent one, with huge political and social upheaval.

Elizabeth I died in 1603 after 45 years on the throne and was succeeded by James VI of Scotland, uniting the two Kingdoms. Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up Parliament in 1605. The King James Bible is published in 1611. Shakespeare dies in 1616. The Thirty Years War begins in 1618 and rages across Europe until 1648. The Mayflower sets sail with the Pilgrim Fathers aboard in 1620. Charles I is crowned in 1626. The English Civil War breaks out in 1642. Oliver Crowmell comes to power in 1649 and Charles I is executed. Charles II is restored to the crown in 1660. Bubonic Plague broke out in London and the Great Fire destroyed two-thirds of the city in 1666. The Test Act barred Catholics from public office in 1673. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 saw William of Orange become William III ruling with his Queen Mary. The Bank of England is established in 1694. The 18th Century kicks off with yet another war ... The War of the Spanish Succession (1701 to 1714), the Duke of Marlbrough's victory at the Battle of Blenheim (1704) helping Britain start out on a path to Empire.


Village life clearly went on, but one has to wonder how all of this impacted our little village and those that lived through these times. I suspect it was much like today, with most people far more concerned with day to day affairs, work, their families and putting food on the table.


In the document containing the wills I've included some hints and tips on reading them because the wills themselves are sometimes a little hard to decipher - even after Ian's painstaking transcriptions.


You will certainly need to appreciate the significantly different spellings and words that we are unfamiliar with today. The letter “y” was used instead of the letter “i” for example and double letters were more common - so we see “wyffe” for “wife”, and an extra letter “e” is common on the ende of words.


Numbers were typically written in something closer to Roman numerals.

for example the number "1" was written as the letter "i", the number "2" as "ij" and "4" as "iiij" (and not iv as you might have expected).

There is a useful guide to reading older scripts and transcriptions here


Finally some words have just fallen our of use and few people today would recognize them. I certainly did not know that "gardnapys" were table napkins or that a "kyne" was a cow or that "hangles" were chains you hung pots from over a fire. Fear not, there is a handy reference table included as well.

This is a list of the wills included;













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