Smyth step family dispute in Charleton


Amongst the Chancery Court cases in the National Archives is one between one Margery Smith, a wife of John Smith of Charleton and their son Richard, the plaintiffs, and James, a son of John by a former marriage, the defendant. Only a bill is found at TNA ref. C2/JasI/S35/20

If there was an answer it is separate, and of course if the place name is not in the TNA catalogue entry then with a name like Smyth finding it could be very difficult!  Any decree and order issued is never with the bill and answer, neither is it in the online catalogue. The indexes to the decress and orders which can be searched at the TNA do not include place names, so finding the right Smyth vs Smyth case could be time-consuming and hence costly. I will try but don’t propose spending a great deal of time on this at present. There are 1 or 2 volumes of indexes for each year, with a separate index for each court session, and you don’t know when the decree would have been issued, so will probably have to search through a number of indexes to find the entry. They are hand written, in secretary hand, and in alphabetical order only by the initial letter of the first complainant. (I have looked at the indexes for 1618, vol. 1515, and looked at a few Smith con. Smith decrees and orders found – none with this case. I will try to look at a couple more years soon).

Sometimes these matters were settled out of court and so there may be no further documents to be found.


My understanding (so far) of what this document says:

The marriage between John Smith and his second wife Margery had been an advantageous one to him, with her providing a good dowry. In recognition of this an agreement was made that after John’s death Margery was to enjoy the property in dispute, two messuages and four acres of land in Lidstone, for the remainder of her life. There was a deed of 28 Feb 1577/78, but now forty years later in 1618 proof of the agreement regarding the property was not available.

John’s eldest son James (a son by his first marriage) was well aware of this but as it could not be proved he had entered the property and brought an action against Richard (James half brother, the son of John and Margery) for occupying it.

Also, James and Richard had been granted some land in Sherford for a few years; after James took all the profit in the first year Richard and James had agreed that James should pay Richard £4 yearly to have all the land for the remainder of the term, but now he was denying the agreement existed and had not paid Richard.

Lastly, some 6 years before James had sold ten sheep and some wool on Richard’s behalf, but though repeatedly asked had failed to pay the money over to Richard or give any account of the resulting sale.

Richard, though, was unable to prove that these agreements existed, hence the appeal to this equity court.

My Comments

In real life as in fairy tales family disputes seemed to arise disproportionately often where there was no blood relationship e.g. between a step-mother and step-child, as in this case. Richard and James might have been in dispute if they had been full brothers, but I doubt James would have been trying to get his mother out of the house in the way he was his step-mother.

This document not only tells us a bit about the family but is also useful in adding to the tree: I have not found the baptisms for either son James or Richard, nor could I be sure the two marriages were of the same John without this document.

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.

Some details regarding the transcriptions

I can’t guarantee that I have understood or transcribed every word correctly in the summary above or transcription below, and I also need to go through and check for any typos I may have introduced, but so as not to delay those interested in learning more about these documents I am putting my transcripts online before doing this.

// in the bill indicates a line break
I have been 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.

A link to a merge of 4 of my photos of the document is given – you will need a password to see these. If you are related or can otherwise convince me you have a good reason please contact me to request one. (The merge is not perfect but I hope good enough; I think it is clearer than my single photo of the whole document. I used the separate images when transcribing, and also one of the bottom right corner so could see words hidden by a fold in the image here).

The Bill of Complaint

10 Feb: 1618 [? name following date not clear]

To the Right honorable Franncys Lord Virulam [Francis Bacon – Lord Verulam]
Lorde Channcellor of England

In all humblenes sheweth & complaineth to your good Lordship your dayly Orators [1] Margery Smyth Widow late the wife of John Smyth late of Charleton in the Countie of Devon //
deceassed & Richard Smyth sonne of the said Margery that whereas the said John Smyth was in his life tyme lawfully seased in his demeane as of Fee of & in two messuags and //
Fower acres of Land or thereabouts scytuatt [situate] lyinge & beinge in Lidston [2] within the p[ar]ish of Charleton aforesaid & beinge so seased & havinge receaved great advancement in //
Mariage with the said Margery did by his deed bearinge date the last day of February in the Twentyeth yere of the Raigne of our late soveraigne Ladye Queene //
Elizabeth [28 Feb 1577/78] in consideracon of the intermaryage betwixt him & the said Margery infeoffe one John Erell thelder & John Erell the younger [3] of the said messuage and Land To //
have and to hold to them & there heires to the use of the said John Smyth for terme of his life without impeachment of or for any mannor of wast and after his //
decease to the use of the said Margery for terme of her life & in the name of her Jointure & in Recompence of her Dower of the lands of the said John Smyth and //
after their deceasses to the use of the right heires of the said John Smyth by force whereof & of the Statute for tr[a]msfering of uses into possessions the said John Smyth //
was seased of the said Messuages and Lands for terme of his life the Remainder to the said Margery for terme of her life the Rev[er]con thereof to the said John Smyth & //
his heires belonginge and the said John Smyth beinge seased for terme of his life the Remainder thereof to yo[u]r said Orator Margery for terme of her life as aforesaid //
the said John Smyth about five yeres sythens [since] dyed thereof so seased after whose death the said Margery entered in the said Messuage & Lands & was thereof lawfully seased for //
terme of her life she beinge thereof seased did lease the same to the foresaid Richard Smyth for a yerely Rent by force whereof the said Richard Smyth was thereof //
possessed But so ytt is if itt may please yo[u]r good Lordshipp that one James Smyth the eldest sonne & heire of the said John Smyth well knowing the said Convayance made //
by his said Father and by his leases & other acts that he had convayed the same to her in Jointure as aforesaid and havinge div[er]s tymes heard the said John Smyth his //
Father to acknowledge and Confesse the same & yett the said James the sonne p[ro]posinge to defeat the seid estate of the seid Margery & well knowinge that by reason itt ys //
now full fortye yeares sythens the said Convayance was made she ys not able to make such due proofe of the makinge sealinge & executing of the said Convayance as //
by the Course & Rules of the Comon lawes of this Realme ys required hath of late entered into the said house and lands & brought an accon.[action] of the trespas against the seid //
Richard Smyth for the holdinge & occupyinge of the said Howse and Garden ^ {and Lands} & doth p[ro]secute the same & giveth out in speeches that he will avoyd the state of the said //
Margery therein [? – originally ‘thereto’, changed, but not clear to what] she beinge of the age of Fower score yeres or thereabouts And where as also one Willoughby was seased in his demeane as of Fee of one Messuage & Certayne Lands //
thereunto belonginge scytuate lyinge and beinge in the p[ar]ish of Sherford in the Countie aforesaid & beinge thereof so seased gr[a]nnted the same to one Willm.Giles for terme of his //
life who leased one close p[ar]cell of the said Tenem[en]t to Edmond Reynell gentleman for the terme of Seven yeres by force of which gr[a]nnte the said Edmond Reynell was thereof //
possessed & beinge so possessed shortly after gr[a]nnted the said Close for all the terme that he had then to come of & in the said Close to the said James Smyth & Richard Smyth //
att which tyme there was then to come of the said terme sixe yeres or thereabouts & the said James Smyth held the said Close & tooke the whole p[ro]fitt thereof from the tyme of the //
said gr[a]nnte so made by the said Edmond Reynell for the space of one whole yeare & after that he had so taken the p[ro]fitts ^ {of the [said?] Close} the said James Smyth & Richard Smyth did agree //
that the said James Smyth should have the p[ar]te of the said Richard for the whole terme then to come which was five yeares or thereabouts for w[hi]ch the said James Smyth did agree //
[2nd page down]
& p[ro]mise to pay to the said Richard the son[n]e of Fower pounds yearly during all the Resydue of the said terme & after the like rate for the tyme that he had so held the said Close and //
taken the p[ro]fitts thereof as aforesaid but so ytt ys also ?? itt may please yo[u]r good Lordshipp that although the said James Smyth did hold & enjoy all the said Close of Land duringe //
all the terme therein then to come yett hath he not paid to yo[u]r said Orator the said Fower pound yerely or any p[ar]te thereof nor for the said yere that he so held the same //
before their said agreem[en]t but doth refuse to pay the same And Denyeth his said p[ro]mise & agreement made with yo[u]r said Orator And whereas also the said James Smyth about //
sixe ~ ~ yeares did sell Tenne sheepe & certayne Wooll for yo[u]r said Orator Richard Smyth beinge trusted by him to sell the same to his use which Sheepe & Wooll he sold //
to div[er]s p[er]sons & receaved for the same so sold sixe pound thirteene shillings & Fower pence & upward w[hi]ch mony or any p[ar]te thereof he hath not paid or satisfyed to yo[u]r said //
Orator though he hath beene thereunto often tymes required but doth deny to satisfye or pay to yo[u]r Orator or to give him any accompt for the said Sheepe or Wooll //
so sold And forasmuch as the said James Smyth doth well know that the foresaid two Messuages & Foure acres of Land were lawfully convayed to the said Margery in Jointure //
as aforesaid And that the same was duly & lawfully executed & yett by reason that she cannot now make such due p[ro]ffe of the sealinge deliv[er]y & executinge of the said deed //
whereby the same was so convayed to her as aforesaid as by the Common lawes of this Realme is required she ys like to be defeated of her said estate she beinge now //
Fower score yeares of age & upward and the said Richard Smyth is also like to be vexed & troubled for holdinge & occupyinge the same under the said estate of the said //
Margery Smyth And for that also the said Richard Smyth ys not able so sufficiently to p[ro]ve the said agreement made betwixt him & the said James Smyth for the //
payment of the said Foure pounds yerely for his p[ar]te of the foresaid Close so leased to him & the said James as aforesaid duringe the Residue of the said terme therein then to come //
nor for holdinge & takinge the p[ro]fitts of the said Close for the yere that he so hold the same as before ys shewed And for that also the said Richard Smyth knoweth not to //
what p[er]son or p[er]sons the said James Smyth sold the said Tenne Sheepe & Wooll nor ~ how or for what prizes he sold the same or any p[ar]te thereof for all which causes yo[u]r //
said ^ {Orator} Richard Smyth is remediles [remedy less] for the Recov[er]y of the said Foure pounds yerely for his p[ar]te of the foresaid Close of Land & for the Residue of the mony for the said //
Sheepe & Wooll sold by the said John ^ {James} Smyth as aforesaid or to compell him to yeld accompt thereof may itt therefore please yo[u]r good Lordshipp the p[ro or re?]misses considered //
to gr[a]nnte to yo[u]r said Orators the Kings Ma[jes]ts most gratyous Wryte of Subpena out of ^ {his} highnes Court of Chancery to be directed to the said James Smyth com[m]andinge him //
thereby att some Day certaine & under a certayne payne therein to be lymitted p[er]sonally to appeare before yo[u]r good Lordshipp in his highnes said Court of Chancery then and //
there to answeare the pr[e]misses & Farder to stand to and abide such order herein as to yo[u]r good Lordshipp shalbe thought fitt And yo[u]r said Orators as his therebe(?) bounden //
Duty is shall Dayly pray to god to send yo[u]r good Lordshipp longe life with encrease of honour. //

[1] Dayly [Daily] Orators – the usual term for a petitioner in a Court of Chancery case
[2] Lidstone – now Ledstone, in what was a detached part of Charleton Parish
[3] Erells – Margery’s surname was given as Earle at the time of her marriage, so these were probably close relations – maybe her father and brother, or brother and nephew

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The transcription is © me, Teresa Goatham. If you want to associate this with your family tree please do so by linking to this page and don’t just copy it en bloc. If for some reason this is not practical please contact me.

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