In 1564 Alice, widow and executrix of Leonard Issell, was the plaintiff in a case in the Court of Requests, one of the equity courts, otherwise known as the ‘Court of Poor Men’s Causes’.

The case concerned timber on land in the park and chase in Dartington, the right to which Leonard had bought from John Wotton, gentleman. It transpired that Henry Peckham, who had sold both the land and timber rights to John, had not held the title to the land, and so the sales were void, leaving Leonard unable to benefit from the sale of the timber. When John pursued Leonard for the money he owed, Leonard had been outlawed, then arrested and imprisoned until able to provide sureties. According to Alice, John was acting unfairly as had known he had no right to the timber when he had sold it (something which, not surprisingly, he denied). Alice claimed Leonard had been impoverished, and forced to beg (though as she was his executrix clearly he left enough for it to be worth writing a will). It seems John Wotton also kept money for work done by Leonard and Leonard’s servants as tylers, laying stones (roofing or flooring? – I suspect the latter but I’m not certain), as part payment. This may (or may not) have been to the value of £20 and more.

The chase was part of the deer park next to Dartington Hall, the home of a branch of the Champernowne family. The deer park is now listed as a Scheduled Monument, and described and put in its historic context on the Historic England website.

It is understandable that Henry Peckham may not have been clear about what land was his; there was no simple registration of land ownership at the time, and in addition Henry was an absentee landlord, from Denham in Buckinghamshire, later living in Hertfordshire. He was an M.P. and his concerns matters of state and crown. This may have been unfortunate for and impacted on Leonard’s life and the prosperity of his family, but he would seem to have had a happier life than Henry Peckham. Henry’s father and brother clung to the ‘old faith’, but Henry had converted to the Protestant cause. Putting him at an advantage in Edward VI’s reign, this was no matter of convenience on Henry’s part. Under Mary he ‘stood for the true religion’ against the initial measures to restore Roman Catholicism, and then joined the doomed Dudley plot. One of the first arrested, he was hung in July 1556.

Alice and Leonard may be direct ancestors of mine; if they were not I suspect they were fairly closely related to my direct Issell ancestors alive at the time, as the surname is rare and the evidence suggests my Stokenham Issell ancestors can be traced back to the Totnes / Staverton area.

The documents can be found at the National Archives, the pleadings at ref. REQ 2/29/75. (At the time of writing these are not indexed on Discovery; there is an entry for REQ 2/29. I found this case through looking for references to Issell on the Bernau Index at the SOG; this index is also available on FamilySearch but only at FHCs etc.). My photos of the pleadings can be viewed by logged in users of this website via Alice’s page; images of the order can be viewed on the AALT website (links with the transcript below). 

The Bill

Summary of the Bill

Alice was taking action as the widow and executrix of Leonard ISELL, late of Dartington.

Harry Peckam, gentleman, believed he was the true owner of the park and chase in Dartington, along with the trees and woods there. About 12 years before (i.e. about 1552) he sold all the trees and woods to merchants Barnard Smyth of Totnes and to John Wotton of Harberton.

In fact Harry did not own the land and had no authority to sell the trees and woods. After the sale, when John Wotton new it to be void, he sold the trees and woods to Alice’s late husband, who being a simple man trusted that the sale was good. He paid £30 and above, how much more Alice did not know. For payment of the some Leonard, being a tyler (layer of stones) with his servants worked for a long time for John Wotton, so their wages amounted to £20 and above.

So as to take profit from the woods Leonard was about to fell them when the rightfull owner forbade him. Leonard then asked John Wotton either to satisfy (‘warrant and perform’) the bargain or else to discharge Leonard from owing him any money, according to ‘equity and conscience’.

John did not consider the whole circumstances and prevailed on John for payment, causing Leonard to be outlawed and then because he couldn’t pay arrested and imprisoned, until he had found collateral sureties. He at last found the means to pay, but it was to his ‘utter undoyinge and impoverishment’, forcing him to beg ‘for very thought [??]ed’. (I must take another look at this document – what is the partly hidden word? Is it ‘died’, was Alice alledging that it drove Leonard to his death?)

Leonard had no benefit from the wood, no amends was made, and no allowance was made for the lengthy work done by Leonard and his servants. Alice requested an order against John be made by the masters of the Court of Requests.

To the Quenes moste excellent Matie

In moste hum[m]ble wyse comp[l]ayninge sheweth to yor highnes yor poore subjecte Alyce Isell of Dartington in yor County of Devon wydowe the late wyfe and executrix of the last
will and testamente of Leonard Isell late of Dartington in yor graces sayd county That whereas one harry Peckam gentleman decessed supposinge hem selffe to be laufully seysed
in fee simple of the parke and chace in Dartington aforesayd late in the tenure of one Nicholas Adams and therby to be the trew and verye owner of the trees and woodes in the same
parke and chace growinge the sayd harry for a certen some of mony betwene them agreed uppon aboute xii yeres now laste paste dyd bargayne and sell all the sayd woodes and trees wthin
the sayd parke and chace growen Joyntly to one Barnard Smyth of Totnes and John Wotton of harberton in the sayd county of Devon marchauntes where in very dead the sayd harry was not
owner nor seysed of the said landes as aforesayd nor had therof any lawfull power or authorytie to bargayne and sell the same woodes wch the sayd John woton afterwardes
knowinge and p[er]ceyvinge that the sale so made of the sayd woodes was utterly voyde and of none effecte in lawe dyd practyse wth yor sayd subjectes late husband to by the
same of hem p[re]tendinge to yor sayd subjectes husband beinge a simple man of ^ {that the sale} therof to hem made by the sayd Henry ^ {was good and} that he had by vertue therof a good and lawfull
intereste in the on[e?] moyty of the sayd woodes and trees wch yor subjectes husband trustinge and belevinge was content and ^ {did} bye of the sayd John wotton all his parte moyt[y?]
and halffe deale of the sayd woodes and trees and for the same dyd compound and agree to paye to the sayd John wotton the some of thirtye poundes and above but the
certenty how my[ch?]e ^ {more} yor subjecte knoweth not for payment and satysfactyon of wch some yor subjectes sayd husband beinge a tyler or layer of stones and his servauntes
dyd of a longe tyme worke wth the sayd John wotton so as his wayges for hem and his sayd servauntes and other thinges therto belongynge dyd amount to the value of
xx li and above and after yor subjectes sayd husband thinkinge to have taken the p[ro]fytt and com[m]odyte of the moyty of the sayd woodes accordingly and beinge aboute to
have felled and cu[t?]downe the same was forbydden by the true and rightfull owner to medell any farder therin wch yor subjectes sayd husband declaringe to the
sayd John wotton prayed hem ether to warraunt and p[er]forme to yor subjectes sayd husband the bargayne aforesayd or els that accordinge to equy[tie?] and consiens he
myght stand free and dyscharged agaynste the sayde John wotton for ^ {suche} somes of mony as he had p[ro]mysed to paye In consideracon wherof so it ys yt ^ {if} hit maye
please yor highnes that the sayd John wotton not weyinge the honesty trueth and circon[n]stans of the hole matter aforesayd dyd prevylie sue [yo]r sayd subjectes
husband then w[??]inge wth the sayd John wotton for the sayd mony p[ro]mysed for the sayd woodes and his sayd suyt p[ro]cecuted untill yor subjectes sayd husband was outlawed
and ther uppon the sayd John wotton sued out p[ro]cees and caused hem to be arrested and imprysoned untill he had found collaterall suertyes to be bounde to [p?]aye to the sayd John
wotton xviiili wch yor subjectes sayd husband at laste founde meanes to paye to his utter undoyinge and impov[er]yshment so as by reason therof he was last forced to begg and
for very thought [??]ed And for as mych as yor subjectes sayd husband whose executrix she is dyd paye the sayd some wthout any juste cause or matter n[ev?]er enjoyinge any p[ar][ce]ll
of the sayd woode nor havinge any amendes for the same nether havinge allowannce for the longe labor of hem and his servauntes in the worke of the sayd John wotton
accordinge to eq[uy?]tie and consyens and yor sayd subjecte hath not any remedy by horder of the comen lawe and ys a very poore woman she ys verly wthout all remedy
in this behalffe tender consideracon wherof yt maye please yor moste excellent matie to graunt unto yor maties sayd subjecte yor gracyous wryte of privie Seale to be
dyrected to the [say?]d John wotton com[m]aundinge ^ {hem} therby at a certen daye and uppon certen payne therin to be lymited parsonally to appeare befor[e?] yor highnes maisters
of requestes in the highe courte of requestes then and ther to answer unto the p[ro]myses and farder to stande and abyde to suche order and direction [th?]erin as to yor ma[jes]ties
sayd maisters a[s?] counsaile of the sayd courte shall seme to stand wth equitie and good consiens and yor sayd subjecte shall be moste bounden to praye for the longe
contynuans of yor royall astate &c

[there are a few words on the back in Latin, including the date on back: “xviio Die Junii Anno Regine Elizabeth &c Sexto” – 17 June 1564]

(The writing is generally clear – most queries (‘?’) are due to creases with some words partly hidden)

The Answer of John Wotton

Summary of the answer

Naturally John Wotton saw things differently, and said the Bill was brought out of malice.

He agreed that Henry Peckham had owned the park and chase of Dartington, and had taken rents, but he did not know if his title was justly held.

When Henry had sold the land he had reserved to himself the wood growing on it. Most he had sold to others, but he had then sold to John Wotton and Barnard Smyth the unsold timber and trees.

Leonard, who was then in the service and livery of Henry Peckham, persuaded John to sell his interest in the wood to him. He had had plenty of time to benefit from the wood before another man claimed title of the property to the hinderance of the bargain between John and Leonard. John had given him no warranty, only the same rights as he, John, had had from Henry Peckham. It was not true that he, John, knew the sale to be void. Finally, Leonard and his servants had not done work amounting to the value of £20 and more.

The aunswere of John Wotton to the bill
of Complainte of Alice Issell

The saide def[endant] saieth that the bill of complainte comp[r]iseth matter more malicious then juste wholie exhibited for
vexacon againste him Nevertheles for aunswere wt the treuth wch in everie Triall is the beste p[er]swasion this
def saieth that true it is that the saide Henrie peckham mentioned in the saide bill of complainte was seised of [the?]
saide p[ar]ke and chace of Dartington mencioned in the saide bill of complainte in his demezne as of Fee And
thereof toke the rentes but whether the same were by juste tytle or disseysyn this def certainlie knoweth not
But he saieth that after the saide Peckham had bargained and solde the saide Land of the p[ar]ke and Chace and
res[er]ved unto him selffe the woodes growinge upon the same the greter p[ar]te whereof he had solde to others, the
saide peckham for good consideracons betwene him and this def & the saide Barnard Smyth well and trulie
accomplished did bargaine and sell unto the saide def and the saide Barnard Smyth all tymber and trees
then unsolde standinge upon the saide land of the p[ar]ke and chace as in the saide bill of complainte is alledged
After wch bargaine and sale of the woodes aforesaide this def and the saide Barnard Smythe peceablie
enjoyenge the same and takeng many and diverse trees thereof accordinge to the saide bargaine the saide
Leonarde Issell husband of the saide complaynante beinge then in s[er]vice and lyverie of the saide Peckham
made greate and diveste sute unto this def for the obteyninge of his intereste in the bargaine and woodes
aforesaide wch after longe sute he for a som[m]e of monye the certeintie whereof this def nowe remembreth not
obteined at thandes of this def and enjoyed som[m]e of the saide woodes thereby And had longe and sufficient time
afterwarde to have enjoyed the whole bargaine if his diligence ^ {hadd} folowed the same [???]tinces [possibly ‘instincts’?] mete and convenient
longe before anye man recovered the same by anye other tytle to the p[re]judice or hinderaunce of the saide b[ar]gaine
to the knowledge of this def nether had the saide Issell anye warrantyze thereof from this def but
to enjoye the same by suche ryghte as this def had by and from the saide Pekham wtoute that that
this def knowinge and p[er]ceivinge that the sale of the saide woodes was utterlie voide and of none effecte
in lawe did practise wt the saide husband of this complaynante to bye the same of him as in the saide
bill of complainte is untruelie alledged wtoute that the saide Issell beinge a Tyler and laier of
stones did wt his s[er]vantes for paymt and satisfaccon of the som[m]e betwene them Agreed for the woodes
aforesaide a longe time worke wt this def So as his wages for him and his s[er]vantes and other thinges
thereto belonginge did Amounte to the value of xx li and above as in the saide bill is untruelie alledged
And [?]tacute that that any other thinge materiallie alledged in the saide bill and in this aunswere
is trav[er]sed and denyed or confessed and Avoided is true all wch matters this def is redie to Avere
as this Honorable Courte shall Awarde And praieth to be dismissed the same wt his costes for the
[trouble &?] vexacon by hem in this behalfe susteyned

The Replication

As was the norm with replies, it maintains that the Bill was true, and goes through the answer, denying the truth of each claim.

Quinto Die Novembr Anno          The Replicacon of Alice Isell wydowe Complaynnte
Rne Elizabeth Sexto [5 Nov 1564]  to the Answere of John Wotton Defendaunte

The said Compalynnte for and by waye of replicacon av[er]reth and maynetayneth [t]he said bill of Complaynte and ev[er]y clause article & sentens
& matter therin contaigned to be just and trewe accordinge to the trew effecte and purporte of the same in all & ev[er]y such man[er] and forme
as in the same hit is allged and declared, not fayned nor Imagyned of malice or for any such unlawfull cause as in the said answere
ys untruly surmysed wthout that the said Defendaunte sold to the said Complaynantes husband only his Right title or interest of
and in the same woodes and trees as in the said answer is untruly alleged And wthout that the said Complaynantes
late husband made great and earnest suyt unto the said Defendaunte for the obtaynynge of his interest in the bargayne ^ {of the trees}
and woodes aforesaid, as in his said answere ys untruly surmysed, But the same was done by the practice and p[ro]curement of the
said defend[ent] to such purpose and intente as in the said bill of Complaynte ys justly and truly alleged And wthout
that the said Complaynantes husband had suffycyent tyme to cary and have away the said woodes before any man Recovered the
same as in his said answere ys untrylye surmysed And beinge not materyall for the consciens and equytye of the matter whether
he had any such ^ {sufficient} tyme or not for that the said Bargayne was voyd and nawght in lawe and the mony payd for the same &
was by Con[n]ynge had and gotten from the said Complaynntes husbande wthout anye recompence or consideracon &
for the same / And wthout that this Defendaunte did not knowe and p[er]ceave ^ {that} the sale of the said woodes was utterlye
voyde and of none effecte in lawe, Or did not practise wth the said Complaynantes husbande to by the same of hym as
in his said Answere ys untrulye alleged And wthout that the said Complaynantes husband did not wth his s[er]vantes
for paymente and satisfaccon of the same betwene them agreed for the woodes aforesaid alonge tyme worke wth the
sayd Defendaunte so as his wages for him and his Servauntes and other thinges therto belonginge did not amounte
to the valuye of Twenty poundes or neare ther aboutes as in his said answere ys untrulye surmysed / And wthout
that any other matter or thinge in the said answere conteyned ^ {nor being by this replycacon replied unto} ys trewe All wch matters the sayd Complaynante
ys redy to aver and prove as this Honorable Courte shall awarde and prayeth as before she hath prayed &c

Decrees and orders

I am well through looking for any decrees or orders (in the book with ref. REQ 1/11). As there are c. 600 double sided folios to look through this is not a quick task (they can be seen on the AALT website here). There seems to be no index or alphabet list. Other documents, such as interrogatories and depositions, do not seem to exist for this date (or have not yet been sorted / identified). So far I have found just one entry related to this case, and suspect I will find no more.

[folio 354verso – image on AALT here]


[Page headed] Die mercurij vijo Feburarij’ [Wednesday 7th February [1] ]

[in margin] Isell vs Wootton Def.

Whereas in the cause at the sute
of Alice Isell widowe complayn[a]nt
against John Wotton Def, yt was
shewed to the courte by
Roger Prediaux esquier one of the
comission[er]s chosen in the same matter
that the comission[er]s for the Def
were not readye to sytt upon the
com[m]ission at the Dayes appoynted
but made defalte whereby the
same com[m]ission was not executed
Therefore yt ys by the counsaill
of this saide courte nowe orderid

[folio 355recto – image on AALT here]
that the same com[m]ission shalbe
revued[?] to the saide com[m]ission[er]s before
in the same com[m]ission named to three
or twoo of them and the same to be
returnable xv a pasthe[2] next / And
that the complayn[a]nt shall gyve
tenne Dayes warning to the Def
before the and his com[m]ission[er]s
before the syting upon the same
where and what Daye the same
shalbe syt upon.


[1] Looking back a few pages we find ‘Februarij’ followed by ‘Ao vijo‘, which must mean the regnal year 7 Elizabeth, i.e. Feb 1564/5.

[2] What does this mean? I think maybe “15 [days] a[fter] Easter [‘pasthe’ = ‘pasche’] next”. If I am correct I think this would mean after Easter Day, but as I am not used to how dates were referred to in these documents it seems to me it could mean after the start of the Easter term, one of the four law terms of the year. (It certainly was common at this period to refer to dates as a certain length of time after a Christian feast day, instead of by month and date).


Alice Issell disputes ‘Dartington Chace’ (1564) — No Comments

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