Eternal Trusts: The Beauchamp Trusts 1425-87

Michael Hicks explores trusts or enfeoffments, which often escaped mention in the IPMs.

Enfeoffments to use or trusts become common in fifteenth century England. These involved the settlement (enfeoffment) of property by a landholder (feoffor) on a group of two or more individuals (feoffees) to hold to the use (at the direction) of the landholder (the cestuique use). Such trusts could be used to pay off mortgages, as the endowment for a married couple, to fund bequests under a will, and much else. They were a mechanism that postponed the inheritance of land from the heirs, temporarily or permanently, and enabled the landholder to keep spending after death. In theory, at least, such trusts could last indefinitely. The feoffees held in survivorship – as they died off, the property devolved on the survivors, and if only one was left, the trust devolved on his death on his heirs. This should never happen, however. The last survivors ought to transfer the estate to a new panel of feoffees – and they in turn to another, ad infinitum. Such lands were not held by the tenant-in-chief in person at death, were often omitted from IPMs, and therefore escaped royal wardship, often deliberately. Although strictly illegal, such eternal trusts were a common way of endowing chantries and other religious foundations, in preference to licences to alienate in mortmain.

The mechanism was always the same. The feudal tenant granted lands to others, either to re-convey them back to him (often jointly with his spouse, thus creating her jointure), or to hold them in trust for purposes directed by him. Most of the Beauchamp inheritance was entailed in the male line by Thomas Beauchamp I, earl of Warwick (d. 1369) in 1344, enabling the exclusion of  the daughters of his deceased eldest son Guy (d. 1360). The entailed lands passed to his next surviving son Thomas II, earl of Warwick (d. 1401), the latter's son Earl Richard (d. 1439), and his son Duke Henry (d. 1446). [1. K.B. McFarlane, The Nobility of Later Medieval England (Oxford, 1973), 72-3; Feet of Fines for Warwickshire 1345-1509, ed. L. Drucker, Dugdale Society xviii (1943), no.2539.] Thomas I also settled 400-marks worth of lands on his youngest son William, later Lord Abergavenny, again in tail male. [2. McFarlane, Nobility, 191-2; CIPM xii.326. It is confusing that two Richard Beauchamps were earls simultaneously, Abergavenny's son being earl of Worcester (d. 1421) and Thomas I's son being earl of Warwick (d. 1439).]  The death of William in 1411 and his son Richard Earl of Worcester at Baugé in 1421 made Earl Richard Beauchamp,  eldest son of Thomas II, heir to everything. That however is to oversimplify. Not all the family estates were entailed in 1369. Both Earl Thomas II and William settled some of this property jointly on themselves and their consorts and the heirs male of their bodies (tail male), giving the latter life estates in the property after their deaths. [3. CIPM xviii.498-502.] Not everything they possessed – or subsequently acquired – was included in these entails. The deeds stored in a pyx at Westminster Abbey were extremely complicated and a special roll was compiled to show the title to each property. [4. TNA SC 11/947; see also M. Hicks, ‘Between Majorities. The “Beauchamp Interregnum”  1439-49, Historical Research lxxii (1999), 40-1.] In the event, the juries deciding who was the heir to Duke Henry's infant daughter Anne Beauchamp in 1449 ignored all these complications, and awarded the inheritance to another Anne Beauchamp, youngest sister of Duke Henry, not to her elder half-sisters. [5. M. Hicks, ‘Descent, Partition and Extinction: the “Warwick Inheritance', Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research lii (1979), 117; Warwick the Kingmaker (Oxford, 1998),39.] They continued to contest the second Anne's titleuntil the mid 1460s and to the enfeoffed lands for a further two decades.

In his last will of 1437 Earl Richard (d. 1439) made elaborate provisions for the good of his soul to be performed after his death by his executors and funded by lands that he had earmarked for this purpose. This was the Beauchamp Trust. This was remarkable because of its duration (the 48 years from 1439-87), because of its remarkable achievements (notably the Beauchamp Chapel at Warwick College and the earl's own splendid effigy), and because it collapsed, as trusts were not meant to do. Beauchamp's active executors were John Throckmorton (d. 1445), Nicholas Rody (d. 1458), Dean William Berkeswell (d. 1469) and Thomas Hugford (d. 1469), the last survivor, whose son John Hugford was sole feoffee until his death in 1485, leaving as coheirs two daughters and the son of a third. What he should have done was convey his estate to another panel which might have continued the trust indefinitely. Well before 1485 all the earl's wishes had been executed. When the trust was fulfilled, the properties should have been held to the use of the earl's heirs or re-conveyed to them. Hugford interpreted this as obliging him to Anne and her husband Warwick the Kingmaker, her son-in-law George Duke of Clarence executed in 1478, and the latter's under-age son Edward Earl of Warwick. Edward IV took income in 1481-2, presumably as held to the use of a royal ward. Since however neither Duke Henry nor his daughter ever had seisin, there was a strong case for arguing that the heirs of Earl Richard's four daughters should inherit. Perhaps this dispute was why Hugford perpetuated the trust and could not transmit his title to another panel. It was Clarence's forfeiture and the minority of his son that allowed Edward IV to intervene and so did the Kingmaker's other daughter Queen Anne Neville. The confusion that Hugford left offered Henry VII the opportunity to end the trust, seize the estates, and secure the Countess Anne's title in 1487. [6. M. Hicks, ‘The Beauchamp Trust', Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research li (1981), 135-49.]

Yet this does not complete the story. In his last will Earl Richard had instructed his existing feoffees to convey their estates to his executors. Altogether the executors (now also feoffees)  held 31 properties, three of which were alienated in 1469 to endow the Beauchamp Chapel. [7. These were Preston Capes (Northants.), Baginton and Wolverton, ibid. 141.] It is not quite clear how or when some joined the trust in the absence of IPMs for Anne's husband in 1471. [8. Richard Neville, earl of Warwick and Salisbury(d. 1471).] Whilst most of these came from the Beauchamps, mixed up with them were West Farndon, a Lisle estate that belonged properly to Earl Richard's elder daughters, and two Despenser properties of his second countess Isabel. [9. Hicks, ‘Beauchamp Trust', 139-40; CIPM xxv.271 (pp.204-5), 323.] It is apparent that many of these properties were enfeoffed for much more than 48 years.What follows sets out the principal components of the Beauchamp Trust:

(1)    It was probably with a view to his last will that in 1425 Earl Richard had settled by fine 15Beauchamp manors on a panel of thirteen feoffees headed by four bishops. These were later conveyed to his executors and joined the Beauchamp Trust. Verney, last survivor of another enfeoffment, granted other lands to the Beauchamp Trust by 1446. [10. CIPM xxvi.592 (p.381).Verney had also enfeoffed other properties in 1438 on the earl and his future executors, ibid. xxvi. 592 (p.375). On at least four different panels, with property from different estates and with different end dates, Verney had grounds to be feel confused.]

(2)    Also included was the reversion of Spelsbury (Oxon.), Snitterfield (Warw.), ChaddesleyCorbet, Harvington, Naunton Beauchamp, Pirton Power, and Sheriffs Lench (Worcs.). These were the properties settled by Earl Thomas I on William Lord Abergavennywith reversion to the earls. William had resettled them on himself and his wife Joan in jointure and the heirs male of their bodies. This had the effect with doubtful legality of guaranteeing Joan a life estate, postponing the succession of their son Richard  until after her death – she outlived him - and restricting it to any son of this marriage (though actually William did not remarry).  When Richard Earl of Worcester died in 1421without male issue – he had a daughter Elizabeth - making Earl Richard the residual heir on Joan's death in 1435. [11. Under Thomas I's entail, these properties (less Joan's dower) should have passed to Warwick in 1421. Perhaps kinship prevented the earl from contesting his aunt's right: he conceded her a life estate, CIPM xxiv. 511.] She conveyed the manors to her own feoffees, 12. CIPM xxiv.511.] who attorned to Earl Richard's feoffees on Joan's death in 1435. [13. Hicks, ‘Beauchamp Trust', 139.] These seven manors were held in trust by her feoffees, his feoffees, and his executors from 1425 -87 – a total of  62 years.

(3)    Another manor, Kemerton in Gloucestershire, granted by Earl Richard to his aunt Joan, [14. CIPM xxiv.503.] was included. This was held in trust for a further 23 years, 71 in all.

(4)    The manor of Shenstone in Staffordshire enfeoffed to John Verney, dean of Lichfield cathedral (d. 1457), John Throckmorton (d. 1445), Robert Andrew (d. 1437) and William Wollashull. Evidently Verney remitted his rights toWollashull, the last survivor, who conveyed them by 1446 to the trust. [15. CIPM xxvi.457.] It was enfeoffed for another 41 years.

(5)    The reversion of two Despenser manors in Suffolk, Blaxhall and Ash in Witnesham, held by Margaret Duchess of Clarence (d. 1439), had been settled in 1433 on Andrew, Throckmorton and Verney for the life of the Countess Isabel, [16. CIPM xxv.323, 454.] yet despite Isabel's death in 1446 they remained in the hands of Verney, the survivor, and subsequently joined the Beauchamp Trust. These properties were enfeoffed for 54 years.


Some of these properties are recorded in the IPMs of Earl Thomas II, William Lord Abergavenny, his widow Joan, Earl Richard Beauchamp and his countess Isabel Neville, and Henry Duke of Warwick. [17. CIPM xviii.499-500;, xxiv. 511, 517; xxv.284, 323; xxvi.592.] There was no obligation to do this, as these lands were not held by the landholder at death, but it was prudent to track their tenure. None of these were calendared in the 1970s, when the present author first researched this topic. It is much easier now all are calendared. It will be even easier when all are on line. Undoubtedly it was Beauchamp administrators who informed the jurors with the data for these long IPMs. Unfortunately there is no IPM for Warwick the Kingmaker in 1471 and the enfeoffed properties are omitted from those of George Duke of Clarence in 1478 when, perhaps, concealment was necessary to prevent royal wardship.

Seventy-one years is considerably longer than the 48 years traditionally ascribed to the Beauchamp Trust. The trust outlived Earl Richard, four of his five offspring, and all his grandchildren. From their points of view it went on forever. Had John Hugford re-enfeoffed them, it could have persisted for ever.

Often such enfeoffments are temporary devices to change the title by which estates were held, but often they served longer purposes – enfeoffments to perform wills – and often enough were enfeoffed well before the trust was declared. IPMs are the best sources for enfeoffments but do not mentioned them all. There are plenty of deeds scattered about but few records to reveal how enduring such enfeoffments were. The hypothesis of this study is that such trusts could be prolonged indefinitely, passed from panel to panel of feoffees. The duration of the Beauchamp Trust is unlikely to be a record.