To some extent fictitious? Eleanor Roos' two Proofs of Age, 1449 and 1499

Eleanor Roos, daughter of Sir Robert Roos of Gedney, Lincolnshire, was, unusually, the subject of two Proofs of Age taken fifty years apart, one when she was 16, the other when she was 66.  Only the later of the two has been calendared, and that only partially (as CIPM 1497-1504.254), but full calendar entries for both have recently been posted to the blog.[1. 1449:; 1499:]

The first Proof was taken in 1449, as the culmination of the usual IPM process.  That process had been initiated on 23 September 1441 when a writ of diem clausit extremum was issued for Eleanor's father, Sir Robert Roos of Gedney.  On the very same day custody of Sir Robert's lands and the wardship of his daughter Eleanor were granted to a prominent Lincolnshire landowner, John Tailboys, esquire, so it seems likely that it was he who had procured the issue of the writ.[2.  CFR 1427-45, 196, 198; CPR 1441-6, 2.  The Fine Roll records the issue of writs dce to the escheators in Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Cumberland, but no IPM for the last county is extant.]  He was premature in reporting Sir Robert's death, however, as it did not occur until a week after the writ was issued, on 30 September.  Tailboys was presumably John Tailboys of Stallingborough, Lincolnshire, a former escheator, sheriff and MP for that county and uncle of the notorious William Tailboys who feuded with lord Cromwell in the late 1440s and 1450s.[3.  For John Tailboys, see J. C. Wedgwood, History of Parliament, 1439-1509: Biographies (1936), 834, and A. Rogers, ‘Parliamentary electors in Lincolnshire in the Fifteenth Century', Lincolnshire History and Archaeology, no. 5 (1970), 47-58, at p. 54.  For his uncle William, see R. Virgoe, ‘William Tailboys and Lord Cromwell: Crime and Politics in Lancastrian England', Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, lv (1973), 459-82.]

In procuring these grants to himself Tailboys was probably not acting on behalf of the Roos family, who may even have contested the grants, as six months later his wardship of Eleanor was withdrawn (though his custody of the lands was confirmed).  A dispute between the family and Tailboys might also explain why the IPM was delayed for more than a year, not being taken until October 1442.[4.  CPR 1441-6, 51; CIPM xxv.590-1.] When eventually taken it reported that Sir Robert had held 1/3 of the manor of Hunmanby, Yorkshire, and, through feoffees, the manors of Breighton and Thorpe Garth in the same county.  He had two daughters and co-heirs, Margery, aged 28 and married to John Wittlebury, and Eleanor, aged 9.  In June 1443 the escheator was ordered to partition the Hunmanby lands between the daughters and to retain Eleanor's part in the king's hand until further orders.[5. CFR 1427-45, 272.]

Five years later, in November 1448, when Eleanor was coming up to the age of 16 and was to marry, a writ de etate probanda was issued, for proof of her age and recovery of her lands from John Tailboys.  On 14 February 1449 a Proof of Age confirmed that she was 16, having been born in London on 23 June 1432, and the following month the escheator in Yorkshire was ordered to give Eleanor and her husband Humphrey Dudley seisin of her half of Hunmanby, and to take Humphrey's fealty.[6.  TNA, C 139/136/50; CCR 1448-1449, 86.] Details of the writ and subsequent order to the escheator were included with the recently posted text of the Proof .

Eleanor's husband, Humphrey Dudley (either a son or brother of John, lord Dudley),[7.  Licence for the marriage to Humphrey Dudley (described as a son of John, lord Dudley) was granted on 8 December 1448; Testamenta Eboracensia: A Selection of Wills from the Registry at York, iii, Surtees Society 45 (1865), 330.  Eleanor is mentioned briefly in E. Seaton, Sir Richard Roos c. 1410-1482 Lancastrian Poet (London, 1961), at pp. 52 and 395, where she is identified as the author of an inscription on the flyleaf of MS. Royal, linking her name with Humphrey's (said there to be son of Sir John Sutton and brother of John Sutton, first lord Dudley).] must have died before 1 December 1458, as that is the date of a settlement made for her second marriage, to John Paulet esquire, sheriff of Hampshire.  John Paulet died in 1492, and Eleanor herself died on 2 August 1504.[8. The marriage settlement is recited in Eleanor's 1507 IPM, CIPM 1504-09.194, which relates only to the Hampshire lands covered by the settlement.  John Paulet's will, dated 1 December 1470, was proved in December 1494; TNA, PROB 11/10/313, transcribed in F. W. Weaver (ed.), Somerset Medieval Wills, 1383-1500, Somerset Record Society 16 (1901), 220.]

Thus far Eleanor's story is little different from those of many other gentry heiresses.  What makes her less typical is that in February 1499 another writ de etate probanda was issued, identical to the 1449 one in almost every respect except that it specified a different place of birth - Breighton in Yorkshire, instead of London.  In particular it repeated the 1449 statement that her lands were in the possession of John Tailboys under Henry VI's grant.  The subsequent Proof of Age, taken on 28 October 1499, confirmed the new place of birth, and gave a new date for it - 30 September 1433, making Eleanor 66, though the jury erroneously stated her age as only 55.  In February 1500 the Proof was followed by an order to the escheator, which recited the findings of the original 1441 IPM and required him to assign Eleanor's half share in the Hunmanby lands to her and to take her fealty.[9. CIPM 1497-1504.254 (the original Proof is TNA, C 142/14/11); CCR 1485-1500, 345.] The Proof was partially calendared in 1915 as CIPM 1497-1504.254, but a fuller abstract has recently been posted to the blog, along with details of the writ which triggered it and the subsequent order to the escheator.

Nothing about Eleanor's second Proof of Age makes sense.  Why was it necessary that a process satisfactorily concluded in 1449 should be repeated fifty years later?  Why did the 1499 writ and the consequent order to the escheator ignore the events of the previous half century, referring to Eleanor's lands as in Tailboys' keeping, when he had died in 1467,[10.  J. C. Wedgwood, History of Parliament, 1439-1509: Biographies (1936), 834;  DNB, sub ‘Tailboys, Sir William'.] and requiring that they be assigned to her, when that had been done in 1449?

And which Proof was correct about Eleanor's age and birthplace?  One might wonder whether the 1499 Proof had been produced because the 1449 one was incorrect - perhaps a false birthdate and birthplace had been returned in order to procure a premature livery of Eleanor's lands?  The memorable facts recounted by its twelve jurors do look rather like the generic events typically found in fabricated proofs.[11.  M. Holford, ‘Testimony (to some extent fictitious)': proofs of age in the first half of the fifteenth century', Historical Research, vol. 82, no. 218 (November 2009), 635-54.]  But if either of the Proofs is obviously fraudulent, it is the 1499 one.  The 1499 writ recited that Tailboys still had custody of the lands, when he was long dead, and the Proof itself also contains obviously fictitious evidence - two of the jurors who claimed to remember Eleanor's birth and baptism in 1433, 66 years previously, were themselves aged only 66, and three others were only 69, 70 and 71.  One of the 66-year-olds claimed to have been inspired by devotion to St Thomas to go on pilgrimage to Canterbury in the year of his own birth; the 71-year-old recounted how he had a hall built when aged 4!  The Proof also mis-stated Eleanor's own age in 1499 as 55, arithmetically impossible if she had been born in 1433, presumably in a clumsy attempt to fudge these chronological difficulties.

Of course, even if the second writ and Proof were largely fraudulent, the basic facts of Eleanor's place and date of birth might still have been true; the Proof might have been fabricated because 66 years later it was difficult to find twelve genuine jurors who remembered Eleanor's birth.  But whether the details are true or false, it is difficult to imagine any legal purpose which could have been achieved by a second Proof at the age of 66 - a fraudulent proof hardly needed correction 50 years later.  Perhaps it was not the Proof itself which was useful, but the subsequent order for livery of seisin which it triggered - but that was an order that Eleanor be given her half of the manor of Hunmanby, which she had already received half a century before.

Or had she?  Could it be that the 1449 order for delivery of Eleanor's half of Hunmanby had in fact never been implemented, and that the purpose of the 1499 Proof was to recover lands which had been retained by Tailboys in defiance of the escheator?  John Tailboys of Stallingborough was the uncle of Sir William Tailboys of Kyme and is known to have been involved in his nephew's notorious gangsterism in Lincolnshire, at its peak in 1449-50, so he was undoubtedly the type of man who might have retained a ward's lands in disregard of the law.  It has not been possible to discover who was in possession of the Hunmanby purparty between 1449 and 1499, so this possibility cannot be entirely discounted.  However John Tailboys had died in 1467, so it seems more likely that the reference to him in the 1499 writ was no more genuine than the memories of the jurors recorded in the Proof.

The answer may lie in the descent of the other half of Sir Robert Roos' lands which had passed to Eleanor's sister Margery (called Margaret in all subsequent records).  Could the 1499 Proof have been somehow triggered by a dispute with Margaret's side of the family over the inheritance?  It was not uncommon for divided inheritances to be re-partitioned after deaths or marriages among the heirs or their descendants.  Margaret's marriages and children are shown in the chart below.[12.  The working out of this pedigree has been much assisted by posts made to the on-line discussion list soc.genealogy.medieval, in particular by Paul Reed on 16 May 2002, Hal Bradley on 19 September 2005, and Bevan Shortridge on 26 September 2005.  The last points out that Margaret may have had another husband before John Wittlebury, one Thomas Pinchbeck; VCH Warwickshire, v, 154.]

Blog Eleanor Roos tree

It can be seen that between 1449 and 1499 there were a number of events which might have prompted attempts to rework the partition of Sir Robert Roos' lands; Margaret's first husband had died, her son by him had married, Margaret had remarried, her second husband had died, her daughter by him had married, lost her husband and died, Margaret herself had died, and her grandson by her second marriage had died, leaving her son by the first marriage, Robert Wittlebury, her sole heir.  That the last of that chain of events - the death of Margaret's grandson, Edward Stafford, earl of Wiltshire - occurred in 1499, the year in which Eleanor's second Proof was held, seems suggestive.  Unfortunately he died on 24 March 1499, after the writ for the Proof had been issued, so a connection seems unlikely.[13.  G.E. Cokayne, The Complete Peerage edited by Geoffrey H. White. XII (Part II), (London, 1959), 737.]

But it does seem likely that some redistribution of the inheritance had taken place at some point, perhaps exchanges of moieties to give each side entire undivided manors, or grants to one side of a life interest and the reversion to the other.  Hunmanby had been partitioned between Eleanor and Margaret in 1443 and 1449, but was not mentioned by Margaret's son and heir Robert Wittlebury in his 1506 will, and by the sixteenth century was entirely in the hands of Eleanor's son John Paulet.[14.  TNA, PROB 11/15/295, VCH York s East Riding, iii (London, 1976), 184.]  It is not known whether every parcel of Sir Robert Roos' estate had been partitioned between Eleanor and Margaret in 1443 and 1449, as Hunmanby had been, but certainly by various later dates most of them were entirely in the hands of one side or the other: Breighton and Thorpe Garth in Yorkshire and Hungerton and Wyville in Lincolnshire held by Eleanor and the Paulets; Gedney and other estates in Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire by Margaret and her son Robert Wittlebury.[15.  VCH Yorks East Riding, ii (London, 1974), 233, Lincolnshire Archives, 1 PG/1/34; TNA, PROB 11/15/29.]

Robert Wittlebury's will, dated 22 July 1506 and proved on 5 November 1506,[16.  TNA, PROB 11/15/295.] provides evidence both of a re-partitioning of the inheritance, and of ill-feeling over it, enabling us to venture a theory as to why the 1499 Proof of Age might have been held.  In his will Wittlebury left Gedney and two other Lincolnshire manors to his wife Ann for life, with reversion to ‘my cousyn Pallet', on condition that he should pay Ann all sums specified in an indenture between ‘the said Pallet and me and Ann my wif'.  All of the references in the will to this cousin Pallet (who must be Eleanor's son John Paulet) are in this curiously frosty style, which seems to hint at tension between the two branches of the family.

Confirmation that there had been a falling-out over the inheritance can be found in a case brought in the court of Chancery shortly after Robert Wittlebury's death, in which John Paulet, knight (‘cousyn Pallet') sued Richard Clement, second husband of Robert's widow Ann, for having sold the woods of the manor of Gedney, ‘the reversion whereof for lack of issue of the said Richard belonged in right unto the said John Powlet by reason of divers old entails upon him descended'.  The plaint further alleged that ‘the said Wyttilbery in his life by sinister counsel was minded to sell the said manor and to disherit thereof your said supplicant forever contrary to right and good conscience, Whereupon your said orators were driven by force for saving of their inheritance therein to purchase the reversion thereof after the decease of the said Wyttulbery and Anne, then his wife, and for the same have paid to the said Richard in his life and to the said Anne since the decease of the said Richard 700 marks of lawful money'.[17. TNA, C 1/349/42.  It is undated, but is addressed to ‘William, archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor of England', so must date from between Robert Wittlebury's death in 1506 and archbishop William Warham's resignation from the chancellorship  in 1515.  An image of the original plaint can be seen here:]

The plaint went on to refer to various matters agreed between the two sides as part of the consideration for the payment, which must surely have been among the matters embodied in the indenture referred to in the will.  It does not specify exactly when the dispute had occurred, but it may be significant that on 12 April 1499 Robert Wittlebury thought it worth procuring letters patent confirming the manor of Gedney to him - could this have been done in the course of the dispute with his cousin Paulet, perhaps to disprove Paulet's claim that the manor was anciently entailed?[18.  CPR 1494-1509, 173.]  If so, then it must be likely that the 1499 Proof and its subsequent order for half of Hunmanby to be assigned to Eleanor were also procured to gain advantage in the same dispute.  It is difficult to see exactly how they could have assisted either side - perhaps Eleanor wanted to bolster her entitlement to Hunmanby, or perhaps Robert Wittelbury hoped to emphasize that Eleanor was entitled to only half the manor - but the minds of lawyers are devious, and no doubt it made sense at the time.