A dispute between the Becon family and Margaret Steed

Introduction

After the death of William Becon, an 8 x great uncle of mine, in 1661 there was a dispute between his brother Thomas and Margaret Steed, probably William’s fiancee, about some land in Mersham which William had inherited from his grandfather, Basil Becon.

The Bill for this Court of Chancery case is in the National Archives at TNA ref. C 6/585/23, with no answers or reply; there is an entry in a Decrees and Orders index but I couldn’t find the entry!

Date?

The top corner of the bill is missing, which would probably have had a date. In the absence of this we can get an idea of the date from who was the Chancellor named and the date of death of William Becon, as a result of whose death the complaint arose. The date must be between death of William and of his brother Thomas i.e. between May 1661 and 1686; the reference to ‘Edward Earle Channcellor of England’ must be to the Earl of Clarendon, Edward Hyde, who was Chancellor from 1658 – 1667, so this bill must have been brought between May 1661 and 1667. The bill refers to William entering into an agreement at ‘Michaelmas last past’; the last Michaelmas William was alive was Michaelmas 1660, and so it seems this bill must have been brought between May and Michaelmas 1661.
The entry in the Decrees and Orders should add weight to this – but the index entry for Becon con. Steede is in the section for Michaelmas 1660! Perhaps this is why, when I looked at the book of decrees and orders, I couldn’t find it. Most entries have pages numbers which follow in order, but at the end of the entries for each letter are one or two entries which appear to have been added later and have numbers which don’t follow in order. This index entry is one of 2 such in the ‘B’ section of Michaelmas 1660. Maybe it should have been added to Michaelmas 1661. (Just to make it worse, the first digit is unclear – or crossed out, the next two are ’91’, but I couldn’t see the entry on any folio with a number ending ’91’ in the volume for the year from Michaelmas 1660. I think I need to look at the decrees and orders for the following year.

Background

Basil Becon died in 1638, leaving a will. Unfortunately it is in Latin, limiting my ability to understand it. A summary of what I believe it says can be found on his page on this website.
Thomas, Basil’s eldest son, had had 8 children by the time of Basil wrote his (last) will, a couple of months before his death. Two daughters and a son had died in infancy, of the other 5, a daughter and 4 sons, all the sons are mentioned. Two, Thomas, the eldest, and Basil, the third, were left bequets directly while Basil specified that his lands in Mersham should go to his son Thomas, but then after Thomas’ death to his sons, Theodore and William. Thomas senior died in 1659, which I guess is why it was only in 1660 (judging by the bill) that an agreement was made about dividing this lands, and why a dispute could then arise when William’s death followed shortly after, in May 1661.

Summary

(I need to spend a bit of time getting my head around the legal and / or archaic phraseology in the bill, so this is what I think it is saying).

Basil Becon passed on 22 acres of land to grandsons Theodore and William Becon. The previous Michaelmas they, Theodore and William, had come to an agreement to split the land between them, 11 acres each to them and their heires. William then settled his part for him in his life and after his decease to his brother Thomas and his heires for ever. [I don’t understand why William would do this, rather than keep it to be inherited by any children he might have – I guess Thomas paid him for this, and that he needed the money]. However, there was one Margaret Steed with whom William enjoyed ‘great familiarity’, who got hold of the deeds, possibly through a treaty of marriage. She wouldn’t let Thomas see the papers, and was preventing him from occupying the land. She and William hadn’t actually married, and if the land was for her it was only in trust.
Those who could witness Thomas’s claims were dead or overseas.

Comment

I find the reference to potential witnesses being overseas interesting. Although Thomas’s great grandfather, the ‘theologian’ Thomas was quite extremely protestant in some of his views, he was very much for remaining within the Church of England, headed by the monarch. Some of descendants may have shared his keen protestantism but without the same allegiance to church and monarch.

This is more apparent in his son Theodore’s family than in Basil’s. Not only is it possible that Theodore worked as a doctor because his views were too extreme for him to find a living at that time, but his son Anthony left bequests of books by protestant prechers, and quite a few members of the family Theodore’s daughter Sybilla married into were amongst those the early emigrants to America to enjoy religious freedom there.

Were there others more closely related to the Thomas who brought the bill who also sought religious freedom in a new world?

Transcript

As I’ve mentioned, the top left corner is missing; probably 2 or 3 words are missing from each of the first 7 lines of the document. // indicates a line break (included to make it easy for me – or anyone else who wishes to compare the transcript with the document).

[missing word(s)- probably: Humbly compl]yneing sheweth unto yo[u]r lo[rdshi]pp yo[u]r daiely Orator Thomas Becon of the Citty of Canterbury yeoman That whereas Theodore Becon and Willm Becon //
[missing word(s)] Oraror being about one yeare since Lawfully seised in there demesne as of Fee of and in two and twenty acres of Land more or lesse arrable meadow and //
[missing word(s)] being in the parish of Mersham in the County of Kent of the yearely value of thirty pounds and upwards wch was by ^ {good} suffycyent conveyances and assurances in the law //
[missing word(s)] and seised upon the said Theodar and Willm by Bazell Becon there grandfather in his life tyme to hold to them and there heires in Joyntenancy who by virtue of [the?] //
[missing word(s)] conveyances after the death of the said Bazell entred into the said Lands and pr[e]misses and became there of seised in Fee to them and there heirs And being //
[missing word(s)] Theodar and Willm. about Micha[elma]s last past came to an agreem[en]t and by good and suffycyent conveyances and assurances in the law equally //
[missing word(s)] devided the said lands and pr[e]misses betweene them and there heires that is to say eleaven acres parte thereof wth its appurtences to the said //
Theodar and his heires in severalty and the other eleaven acres w[i]th the app[u]rtences to the said Willm. Becon and his heirs in severalty (?as &) by the said deed, and //
Conveyance had your Orator the same to produce more at large it might appeare And your said Orator farther sheweth unto your lo[rdshi]pp that shortely //
after(?) such p[or]ticon or division made betweene the said Theodar and William Becon as aforesaid he the said William Becon. by his deed indented or by some //
other good and suffycyent Conveyance and assurance in the law duely executed did setle and assure the said moyety to him allotted to and upon him the said William //
for life and after his decease to your Orator and his heires for ever as in and by the said last recyted deeds and conveyances alsoe had your Orator the same to //
produce would more at large appeare and shortely after such seisemp(?) soe made he the said Willm. dyed By virtue whereof and of the said Conveyance, //
and assurances aforesaid and your said Orator ought to hold and enjoy the said moyety or one halfe of the said lands and pr[e]m[i]sses to him and his heires //
But soe it so may it please your good lo[rdshi]pp that one Margarett Steed of Kennington in the said County of Kent wth whom the said Willm. in his life //
tyme had greate familiarity haveing upon a treaty of marriage heretofor had betweene him the said Willm and her the said Margarett Steed or upon //
some other occasion gotten the said deed or deeds of p[or]ticon and all other the deeds and conveyances aforesaid wch concerne and would evidence yor Orato[r]s //
title and interst in and unto the pr[e]misses aforesaid shee the said Margarett Steed not onely conceales the same from your Orator and interupts your //
Orator in the poss[e]con of the said lands and pr[e]misses but alsoe by colour thereof pr[e]tends and settson foote severall tytles to her selfe or to some other //
p[er]son or persons unknowne unto your orator in trust for her whereas if any such estate or interst of or in the said pr[e]misses or any parte thereof //
is or ever was in her the said Margarett it was but in trust and w[i]thout any consideracon or onely upon the consideracon of marriage betweene the //
said Willm. in his life tyme and the said Margarett Steed wch was never had or solempnized and your Orator ought not in equity or conseyence to be //
concluded thereby And yett the said Margarett Steed takes advantage that your Orator wittnesses are some of them dead and others in remote places //
beyound the seas and that your Orator is ignorant wherein the said deeds evidences or writinge are conteyned whether in Bag box or Chest and //
soe is without remydy for recovery thereof at or by the Com[m]on lawes of the Kingdome but is prop[er]ly releivable there in before your lo[rdshi]pp in a course of //
equity In tender Consideracon whereof and to the end that shee the said Margarett Steed may true annser & are make to all and singuler the pr[e]misses //
aforesaid and upon here Corporall oath discover and sett foorth wherether shee ever had any such deed or writing of p[or]ticon in her hands or //
custody or in the hands and custody of any other p[er]son or p[er]sons by or wth her privity or consent and who now hath the same And what other deeds evidences //
or writinge touching or Concerneing the pr[e]misses or any parte thereof shee or any other p[er]son or p[er]sons hath or [word struck out] ^ {have} had in her or theire custody and //
on what occasion they have or had them or any of them and that they may be delivered up unto your Orator whole and uncancelled and that //
shee may settforth what estate or estates shee or any other p[er]son or p[er]sons to her use hath or claymeth of in or to the said lands and pr[e]misses //
or any parte thereof and by from or unde[r] whom shee or they clayme the same or any parte thereof and what parte thereof shee or they //
soe clayme and and for what Consideracon And that your Orator may bequieted in the poss[e]con of the said lands and pr[e]misses in question and be //
releived for and touching the matters aforesaid May it please your lo[rdshi]pp the pr[e]misses considered to grannt unto yor Orator his Ma[jes]ties most //
gratious writt of Su[b]p[oena] to be directed unto the said Margarett Steed thereby Comanding her at a certaine day and unde[r] a certaine //
paine therein to be lymitted p[er]sonally to be and appear before your lo[rdshi]pp in his Ma[jes]ties high Court of Channcery then and there //
so annsweare the pr[e]misses and further to stand to and abide such further order and decree therein as to your l[ordshi]pp shall seeme //
agreeable to equity and good Conseyence And your Orator as bound shall ever pray for your lo[rdshi]pp                                                       Thomas Rayman

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