Amongst the Chancery Court cases in the National Archives is one between one Elizabeth Halke (described as an infant, though actually aged sixteen; in this context ‘infant’ just meant she was not old enough to represent herself) represented John Hovenden (her guardian) and William Wood and Margaret, his wife. Both a bill and an answer can be found at TNA ref. C 2/JasI/H32/25. So far I have only transcribed the bill, though I do have photos of the answer. I have not yet looked for any decrees or orders or other documents concerning this case.

If you want to know more about these court cases and the documents they produced see the Chancery equity suits after 1558 page on the National Archives website.


Elizabeth’s grandfather, John Halke, was the grandson of one Christopher who was left lands in Petham by his father, thus establishing the Halke family in the parish. John himself and his wife Elizabeth led long lifes. While PRs recording some of their children’s baptisms do not survive, so they may have lost a child or children young, it is clear that seven children reached adulthood and married. After that things did not go so well for the family; maybe in superstitious days they even felt they had been cursed.

Oldest son Christopher predeceased both of his parents, dying in 1599, and by the time his mother died Christopher’s eldest son John had gone blind. John and Elizabeth’s youngest son Stephen married the year Christopher died. With his father still living Stephen had not inherited property in Petham at this time, and settled with his wife in Canterbury. Possibly it was this that was the real reason for his misfortune, for life expectancy in cities was generally far lower than in the country. His misfortune? At least two children died as babies before the birth of a daughter Elizabeth, his only living child to survive his death. His marriage was to a short one for he died, still living in Canterbury in 1607, the year after his father. He knew Thomasine his wife was pregnant when he wrote his will shortly before this death, but both mother and child followed him to the grave two months later. Thus aged just two Elizabeth was left without mother, father or siblings, though her Halke grandmother, an uncle and his family and other cousins were alive and living in Petham, and so it would be natural that that was where she should live. (I have not explored what became of her Halke aunts or her mother’s family). John, Stephen’s father, in his will left a share of his property to Stephen, who in turn in his will made his wife and following her death his child/children his beneficiaries. As Stephen’s sole remaining beneficiary she should have been well off. However …


To summarise when I have only read one side of the case is a little unfair on the defendants, and I know from experience how things can appear quite different after reading both sides. Nevertheless, here is a brief summary of the bill.

Instead of enjoying a comfortable upbringing and education it seems Elizabeth’s uncle, John Halke and his wife Margaret treated her as a servant. After John died (when Elizabeth was aged about 13) and Margaret remarried to William Wood they continued the use of Elizabeth as a servant.

Some details regarding the transcriptions

// indicates a line break
I have been deliberately inconsistent in my treatment of abbreviated words; some I have left abbreviated, but where I think it might help readability I have included the omitted letters in []. Other content in [] is also a comment / clarification by me.
Superscript words are shown in {}, with a ^ to indicate where they are shown to fit in, if one is shown in the original document. There is no underlining – what may look like such is actually overlining, one of several ways in which abbreviations were indicated.

I have tried to stick to the spelling as in the document, but occasionally this may be unclear, plus I may have accidentally introduced the odd typo.

The Bill of Complaint

Primo July 1622     To the Right Honorable & right Rev[er]end father in God John
Bishoppe of //
Nuelyn Lyncolne Lord keeper of the Greate Seale of England

Humbly Complaynenge sheweth unto yor good L[ordship]p yor daylie Orator Elizabeth Halke an infant of the age of Sixteene yeers & not above {&} by John Hovenden of Petham in the Cownty of Kent yeoma //

Gardyan ^ {in So ?? of} the sayd Elizabeth Halke wch Elizabeth is daughter & sole heire of Steephen Halke late of Petham aforesayd deceased, eldest sone of John Halke late of Petham aforesayd yeoma //

Deceased father of the sayd Stephen; That whereas the sayd John Halke was in his life tyme lawfully seised in his demeasne as of fee simple of & in div[er]se messwages loonds tenemts & hereditamts wth thap[ur]tenaces scyttuate lienge and //

beinge in the sayd p[ar]ishe of Petham in the sayd County of the cleere yeerely valewe of forty pownds by the yeere all holden in free & comon soccage and hee soe beinge thereof seised havynge issue twoe sones viz Stephen, & John //

did in & by his laste will & testamt in writynge bearyng date the five & twentyeth daye of Maye in the second yeere of the raignie of our Sov[er]aigne lord James the kyngs matie that now is ov[er] England Frawnce & Ireland and ov[er] //

Scotland the Seaven & thirtyeth devise all his sayd messuages lands tenemts & hereditamts in maner & forme followinge viz one tenemt called Brooks p[ar]cell of the p[re]myses wth the loonds thereunto belonginge, unto Elizabeth //

Halke then the wyfe of the sayd Testator & unto her heires towards the paymt of his the sayd testators detts: and the residue of all his lands tenemts & hereditamts, hee the sayd testator did by his sayd laste will devise unto the sayd Elizabeth //

his wyfe duryng her naturall life: and after her decease unto the sayd Stephen his sone and unto John another sone of the sayd testators and unto theire heires & assign in fee simple in equall p[ar]tes; And shortly after the makyng of his //

sayd laste will died; After whose death the sayd Elizabeth the grandmother entred into the sayd messuages lands tenemts & hereditamts and had & hold the same duryng her naturall lyfe and contynued the possession thereof by //

vertue of the sayd laste will & testamt of the sayd John Halke her husband: And the sayd Stephen Halke father of the sayd Elizabeth yor oratrix dyed before his sayd mother Elizabeth by reason whereof hee the sayd Steephen was nev[er] //

in possession of the sayd lands, nor of any parte thereof att the tyme of his death and lefte the sayd Elizabeth his daughter yor oratrix (beinge very yownge) under the tuiton & gov[er]mt of his sayd mother ^ {who shortly after alsoe died} After whose death & decease the //

Rev[er]sion of all & ev[er]ye the p[re]myses descended & came (as of right the same ought to descend & come unto the sayd Elizabeth yor oratrix as onely daughter & sole heire of the sayd Stephen Halke her father. And shortly after the decease //

of the sayd Stephen Elizebth Halke the grandmother aboute tene or eleven yeeres since died allsoe: After whose death the sayd John Halke (brother of the sayd Stephen) takyng advantage of the mynoritye & nonage of the sayd Elizabeth yor //

oratrix entred into all & ev[er]y the sayd messwages lands tenemts & hereditamts and received all the rents issues revenues & proffitts thereof duryng the space of seaven or eight yeeres, and nev[er] yelded any accowmpt thereof unto the sayd //

Elizabeth yor oratrix nor ymployed any p[ar]te of the p[ro]fitts of the p[re]myses towards the mayntenance or educacon of the sayd Elizabeth butt kept her as a servant & imployed her in all servill works, as allsoe he the sayd John Halke //

her unkle did in his life tyme comytt div[er]se & sondrye wastes stripps & spoyles in & upon the p[re]myses and thereby made greate somes of mony of wood & tymber growing thereupon, by meanse whereof hee the sayd John Halke her //

unkle had gotten & reteined into his hands the some of An hondred powndes p(?) & uppwards wch ought ^ {in law payed and did} to belonge unto her the sayd Elizabeth yor oratrix And now sithence wch tyme aboute three + + + yeeres laste paste //

the sayd John Halke her unkle allsoe died makyng Margarett his wyfe his sole executrix died possessed of goods chattles & readye monye amowntyng in all to the valewe of three hondred poowndes, a greate //

parte whereof he the sayd John Halke had raysed owt of the rents issues proffitts & revenewes of the sayd messwages lands & tenemts of the wood & tymber growinge & increasinge upon the lands aswell belonginge to the //

sayd Elizabeth yor oratrix as unto him the sayd John Halke wch sayd Margarett entred into the sayd messwages lands & heredytamts and tooke the rents issues & proffitts thereof by the space of Three + + yeeres and allsoe //

kept the sayd Elizabeth as a servant and ymployed her aboute all servill buysinesses as she did other servants wthowt any respect or difference and allsoe deteyned & wth helde and still deteynets from the sayd Elizabeth all the sayd //

issues rents and proffitts of the sayd messwages lands tenemts & heredytamts by coulloure of havinge the possession from her late husband John Halke aforesayd: And then she the sayd Margarett entermaryed whome //

Willam Wood of Petham aforesayd yeoma and they the sayd Willam Wood & Margarett his wyfe have allsoe ev[er]y since theire intermarriage had received & taken moste wrongfully & unjustely and still doe keepe receive //

and take all the issues rents p[ro]ffitts & revenewes of the p[re]myses to theire owne use & benefitt and doe allsoe wthhold and keepe backe all the evydences deeds charters munymts & escripts belonginge or concernyng the //

messwages lands tements & heredytamts foresd from yor oratrix And the sayd Margarett aswell before marryage wth the sayd Willam Wood as since as allsoe the sayd Willam Wood since theire sayd marryage have made //

greate stripp waste & spoyle of the woods & tymber thereof and ymployed the same to theire uses to the valew of fortye poundes ~ or there abouts; Butt now soe it is right honorable that the sayd Margarett before the sayd //

marryage and the sayd Wm Wood since the sayd marriage having gotten into theire hands all the deeds evydences escripts wrytyngs & munymts wch mencyon or concerne the p[re]myses, and ev[er]ye or some p[ar]te thereof they the said Margarett //

or Willam or one of them have contrived div[er]se & sondrye secrett estates & conveyances of the p[re]myses unto them solues or unto one of them and unto other p[er]sons unknowne unto yor oratrix and have given owt & often reported //

that yor oratrix hath not any p[ar]te therein nor shall have nothing to doe there wth wch doth tend to the utter undoinge & disherison of yor sayd oratrix: Albeit yor oratrix by att sondrye tymes aswell by her gardyan the sayd //

John Hovenden as allsoe by div[er]se others have often demanded & requested the sd Willam Wood & Margarett his wyfe to yeld upp the quiett possession of the p[re]myses & to deliv[er] upp unto the use of yor sayd oratrix the writyngs //

deeds Charters escripts & mimymts concernyng the p[re]myses: yett they & ev[er]y of them soe to doe have utterly refuted & denyed soe to doe and still doe denye & refuse contrary to all equitye & good conscyence //

In tender Consyderacon of all wch p[re]myses for that the tytle of the inheritance of yor sayd oratrix by these indirect practyses is in very greate dawnger and for that yor oratrix knoweth not the certenty of the //

somes of monye that have been yeerely re??red & received of the sayd messwages lands & tenemts of right belonging unto yor sayd oratrix, nor the p[ar]ticuler somes of monye had & taken for the wood & tymber from //

thence had cutt downe & felled since the tyme that the p[re]myses did in right & equitye belonge unto yor sayd oratrix and for that yor orators {or any of them} knoweth not the contents & certen dates of the deeds Charters munymts //

& writyngs or any of them nor the certen bownders nor quantytie & nomber of acres of the sayd lands nor whether the sd deeds charters & evidences concernynge any the p[re]mises bee conteyned in bagge //

chest or box locked or sealed nor to whose hands & possession theye have conveyed the p[re]myses and therefore att & by the strict cowrse of the Comon lawes of this Realme is {are} alltogether remedylesse for the obteynenge //

of the same and for that the sd Elizabeth Halke the grandmother did not paye the detts of the sd John Halke her husband May it therefore please yor good L[ordship]p of yor accustomed goodnes to grante unto yor oratrix //

his Maties moste gratious writte of Subpena to bee directed to the sayd Willam Wood & Margarett his wyfe & to either of them comanding them & either of them thereby p[er]sonally to appeere ni his Matis highe //

Court of Chancery att Westm[inster] att a certen daye & under a certen payne therein to be lymitted before yor L[ordship]p then & there to awnswere p[ar]tyculerly to the p[re]myses upon theire corporall oathes and to abyde & //

stande to sutch futher order & direccon therein as to yor honor shall seeme to stand wth justice equity & good conscyence, And yor oratrix shall daylie praye unto Almightye god (according to there bownden //

Dutye) for the contynuance of yor honor in health & prosperitye //

The Defendants’ Answer

to be added


Elizabeth Halke’s inheritance — No Comments

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