A dispute between William Grigsby senior and junior


Amongst the Chancery Court cases in the National Archives is one between one William Grigsby, the plaintiff, and another William Grigsby, his father, and William senior’s wife Sibbell, the defendants. Both a bill and answer can be found together at TNA ref. C 6/148/62

Any decree and order issued is never with the bill and answer, neither is it in the online catalogue. I searched the indexes at my last visit to TNA in April. 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. As the order of complainants can vary that can add to the searching but of course here with the case just Grigsby vs Grigsby any decree would be under ‘G’. Luckily it’s not one of the commonest initial letters for surnames; I was looking for another decree where the complainants’ surname began with a ‘B’ – that took much longer. The C17th handwriting meant that not all names were immediately obvious to me; I didn’t try to read them all, just running my eye down the page deciding if the name could be Grigsby. It would have taken quite a time if I’d gone slowly but was I going too fast? I needn’t have worried, when I came to Grigsby vs. Grigsby the entry leapt out it me, in the way I guess we’ve all experienced hearing our name in a noisy environment when you don’t think you can hear a thing. That’s the good news. The bad news is that not only had searching the indexes taken longer than I’d anticipated, but so had the research I’d done earlier in the day. I ordered the document where I hoped to find the decree. It arrived in time for me to take a look, and since I was expecting to photograph it I should now be able to tell you more of this story. But this is where something went wrong. I looked at the page from the index. I scanned my eye down it. There was no reference to Grigsby. I checked the reference I had jotted down against the volume and page I was looking at. All looked right. I returned to the index and checked the volume reference. All seemed correct. What had I done wrong? Or was I unlucky and there was an error in the index? Probably the former, but as the Archives were about to close there was no time to seek assistance. Learning more about this case will have to wait till my next visit.

Maybe I hadn’t found the decree because I had done something stupid as it was the end of a tiring day. When I scanned my eye down the page in the volume of decrees I was disappointed to see it was in Latin. I took a photo just in case I’d missed a Grigsby mention and took a careful look at home. There was no Grigsby but a miracle appeared to have happened: the page was now in English. If I could mistake English for Latin who knows what other error I may have made?!

There is sometimes more than one decree and order; once I found a reference to one I did not look further in the indexes, I thought it made sense to look at that one first to see if it seemed to settle the matter. I have also looked in the Bernau index at the SOG library for Grigsby entries. I found a few worth looking at in case they relate to my relations, but none that right date to be related to this case. I have also not tried to find any other documentation at present. Seeking most of this looks a potentially time-consuming process, and I will probably not be doing this soon.

I transcribed the answer first of the older couple to William Grigsby junior. I believe I am descended from both Williams, and after reading this wasn’t too impressed with William junior. I would have preferred ancestors who showed a bit more love and compassion. However, after reading the bill I could sympathise a bit more with William junior.


William Grigsby senior was married to one Jane Burr. According to the Bill, before their marriage Jane had inherited property (a house and 6 acres) from her father. An agreement was reached that this should pass to her firstborn son (or second born if the firstborn died, etc.) in a marriage settlement. She did die young, leaving a son (William junior). However, it seems after being left a widower William senior had remarried, to one Sibbell Wood, and at the time of the bill William senior and Sibbell were living in the house.

In defence William senior does not deny that the property was inherited by Jane, although he estimates the land was only about 3 acres. He explained that prior to him marrying Jane she had entered into an arrangement with William Jewell, effectively like a mortgage whereby she received the value of the property, which Wm Jewell and his heirs etc had the right to, but she could get it back by paying interest and then a lump sum. She died with this not done and William senior was too poor to pay the necessary. However, he quickly remarried and the father of his new wife Sybill and other friends helped out because of their love of William and Sibbell and William got the property back. When the money was paid over it was the agreement was that the house was for the use of William and Sibbell in their life time, and then for legitimate children of Sibbell by William. After more than twenty years since the payment during which they had enjoyed the peaceful use of the house, scrapping by with what little income could be raised with the small acreage of land, William and Sibbell asked that in their old age the court protect them from being troubled or molested any more by William junior. In addition, the house had been very ruinous and the family of Sibbell had helped with repairs and improvements, and having already paid the value of the house they had paid a very dear price for it. Finally they knew of no marriage settlement such as referred to by William junior.

My interpretation of events

A family tree diagram showing the events described below can be seen here.

At the time William junior brought the bill of complaint he was married with two children; the baptism of the third suggests he was on the way but if, as seems to have been the norm, the baptism followed shortly after the birth then it was probably too soon in the pregnancy for William to have been aware. So although trying to kick his ‘elderly’ father and step-mother out of their home may seem harsh, William had a family of his own to consider – perhaps things were difficult for him? If he really did believe he had a right to the house perhaps his action is understandable. William was only aged 4 when his mother died so it seems improbable that he could have believed from what she had told him that he was to inherit. What made him believe their was such a marriage settlement? Maybe rumours he heard from relations on his mother’s side. If so, were they true? I doubt if we can know for certain, but I think it unlikely. If William believed the property should have been his why did he leave it so long to act? As well as the needs of his growing family perhaps his father was ill and he thought the matter needed settling before his father’s death. Or maybe it was hearing of his struggles that a cousin commented ‘Wasn’t that house your mother’s? Surely she would have arranged for it to come to you?’.

William junior may well not have known what the family owed to Sibbell’s family; he was only five when his father remarried and the his father claimed a mortgage was paid off. Looking at the Burr genealogy and wills, in particular the will of Jane’s grandfather, William Burr, I find William senior’s account convincing. There is no sign of Jane’s father having left a will but when William Burr died it appeared he owned the house in which Jane was living with her siblings and mother, who had been widowed just seven months earlier. William made provision for his widowed daughter-in-law and his grandchildren, leaving the house to his grandson William, Jane’s brother, once he reached his twenty first birthday. (He was required to make an anuual payment to his younger brother John, but as he died a few months after his grandfather this would never have taken effect). With their mother having remarried maybe Jane’s brother William moved to the house once ready to work for himself, with Jane moving with him as his housekeeper, in which case it would have become her home. Brother William, though, did not reach his twenty fourth birthday, dying less than three years after inheriting the house and land.

It might therefore be supposed that with both of her brothers dying childless before Jane married that she would have brought the house with her to the marriage. However, grandfather William Burr did not leave the property in his grandson’s hands to deal with, but specified that if the younger William died without lawful issue that it should pass to Henry, the son of William Burr senior. So if it was Jane’s home and she was going to stay in her home she would need to pay for it. Without the resources to do so she may have arranged the mortgage mentioned in the Court of Chancery case with William Jewel. The date given for this arrangement was 20 January 1631/2, i.e. just under two years after Jane’s brother William died, a period which seems reasonable for affairs to be sorted and for Jane’s uncle Henry to demand that if she, Jane, wished to keep the property she must buy it off him.

Whilst the above account seems to offer a reasonable explanation it may of course be a fictitious creation of my mind. If, though, I had deliberately been writing a fictional account I would have not given the name of William to all five of the main men involved!

Further Comments

Despite referring to their ‘old age’ William Grigsby and his wife Sibbell weren’t exactly old, William was aged about 54 and Sibbell only 42. Although the average life expectancy at that time was far lower than now, much of that is accounted for by infant mortality, women dying in childbirth etc. Many people did live into their 70s, and some to their 80s or 90s. William senior did, though, die less than a year after this case started, so he may have been ill and feeling old. I hopes his death was not caused by the aggravtion of this case.

Since William junior’s claim seems to depend on the marriage settlement it seems a little strange that in his defence William senior leaves it until the end of his defence to deny its existence. I guess its absence may have been impossile to prove, though, so showing his and Sibbell’s right to the house regardless of whether there had been such a settlement may have seemed most important.

About seven months after the answer William senior wrote his will; the treatment of William junior suggests (not surprisingly) that things were still not good between them, though he was perhaps more generous to William junior than he might have been. He didn’t simply cut them off with a shilling, but left them some food as well. See the details in my transcription of William senior’s will.

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.

In the bill nearly every occurrence of Grigsby appears to have been altered – I think it must have been mis-spelt and then corrected. It appears it may have first been written as Grissbye. I started inserting a comment where there it is clear there had been a change, but when I found it was general and not just a single or few instances I removed them in favour of this comment and a more readable transcription.

Links to my photos of the documents are 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 Bill of Complaint

27° May 1661 Longville To the right honorable Edward Earle of Clarenden
Lord High Channcellor of England

Humbly complaineinge Sheweth unto your good Lordshipp your dayly Orator William Griggsby the younger of Maidstone in the County of Kent Yeomon that whereas Jane Burre late of //

Marden in the County of Kent Spinster afterwards the naturall mother of your Orator beeing whilest shee was sole and before her marriage seized in her deameasne as of fee by way of //

[? I think there is just a word crossed out – with squiggles I was trying to read as a word!] discent from [blank space] Burr her father) of and in one Messuage or Tenement with the appurtenances in [I think – blot over] Marden aforesaid together with six acres of land thereunto belonging also //

Scituate in Marden did about the yeare one Thousand Six hundred and [blank space] enter into a treaty of Marriage with William Grisbye the Defdt. Naturall father of your said Orator  //

the which was seene after included and agreed uppon but before the execuc[i]on of the said Marriage shee the said Jane Burr in pursuance of certaine Articles of agreement made //

Concluded and agreed uppon by and betweene him the said William Grigsby of the one p[ar]te and shee the said Jane Burr of the other parte did by good and sufficient Conveyance //

in the lawe sette and asure the said Messuage Lands and P[re]misses in manner following (vizt to and for the only use and behoofe of her the said Jane Burre for and dureing the //

terme of her naturall life and imediately after her decease thento and for the only use and be hoofe of the first yssue male lawfully to bee begotton of the body of her the said Jane by //

the said William Grigsbye & the heires of the body of such yssue male lawfully begotten and for default of such yssue then to the use of the ^ {second} yssue male begotton as aforesaid in like manner //

with severall remainders over as by the said deed if it could bee had and produced more plainely it might and would appeare after which, vizt uppon the twentith day of //

[blank space] in the yeare one Thousand six hundred & [blank space] the said Marriage was accordingly solempnized betweene the said William Grigsby and Jane Burre after which marriage //

the said Jane dyed bearing yssue William Grigsbye your Orators eldest sonne and yssue male of her body begotten by the said William Grigsby the said Defdt. by whose death the whole //

interest and estate taile aforesaid in the said Messuage Lands tenements hereditaments did rest – in your said Orator but yett Notwithstanding soe it is may it please your good //

Lordshipp That her the said William Grigsby the def. hath not only  continued the possession and taken the profitts of the said Messuage Lands and pr[e]misses to his owne use and doth still keep //

conceale and defeyne from your Orator the aforesaid deed of Settlement together with all other deeds writeings minmuts [squiggle above] and evidences that concerne the said pr[e]misses and of right belong //

to your said Orator but by colour of having the said deeds and evidences uppon his second  Marriage with Sibbell his now wife the other Defdt. and by Combinacon betweene them //

hath contenied and made other Setlements and secret estates of the p[re]misses to the manifest disherison [dis-inheritance?] of your said Orator and his heires unless some speedy releife bee unto him //

afforded and extended by your Lordshipps favour in that behalfe and for that your Orator knoweth not the certaine date of the aforesaid deed of Setlement nor the certaine //

number or dates of the other deeds evidences minumts. and writeings which concerne the pr[e]misses aforesaid nor wherein the same nor any of them bee conteyned whether in by //

bagg or chest lockt sealed or open by meanes wheareof hee is wholy disabled and incapeable of any remedy by the strict rules and course of the Com[m]on Lawe of this //

Realme for the Recovery as well of the said deeds & evidences minnmts and writeings as of the posession of the said Messuage Lands and pr[e]misses and therefore most //

property to bee releived in equity [start correction] To the end therefore that the said William Grig[end correction]sby the elder and Sibbel his wife may answere the pr[e]misses uppon theire Corporall Oathes & may //

set forth and discover aswell theire title to the said Messuage Lands and pr[e]misses as also the true dates and Contents of all such deeds evidences minnmts and writeings that doo any //

wayes relate to or concerne the same and which are now in either of theire Custodies or posession or which have act any tyme come to theire hands and that the said William //

Grigsby [no correction!] the elder and Sibill~ may make a full perfect and direct answere to all and every the pr[e]misses and that your Orator may bee releived therin may it please your //

Lordshippe to grant unto your said Orator his majesties most gratious writt of Subpena to bee directed to the said William Grigsbye the elder and Sibbel his wife com[m]anding //

them and either of them at a certaine day and under a certaine payne the therein limited to bee and p[er]sonally appeare before your Lordshippx in the kings high Court //

of Chancery att Westm[inster] then and there to answere the pr[e]misses uppon theire Corporall oathes and to stand to and abide such order therein as to your Lordshipp shall seem //

agreeable with equity and good conscience and your Orator shall pray &c./  //

Geo: Baker.

The Answer

17 Juny 1661
The joynt and severall Answers of William Grigsby the Elder and Sybill
his wife defend:ts to the Bill of Comp.lt of William Grigsby the younger Comp:lt

A(?)ll Advantages of Excextion to the manyfold errors incertainties and other inp[er]ferctions of the np:lts said Bill of Comp:lt to these Defend:ts or either of them nowe and att all tymes hereafter saved and reserve & for a

true and p[er]fect Answer thereto for soe much thereof as materially concerneth them or either of tm to make Answer unto say, That true it is that Jane Burrr in the said Bill of Comp:lt menconed and Mother of the Comp:lt was

in her lifetyme, and before her Intermarriage with the Defend:t William Grigsby Seised in the Demeasne as of fee of and in one little Tenement and Three peices or p[ar]cells of land to the said Tenement belonging with

thapp[ur]tenances containing by estimacon Three Acres more or lesse; situate lying and beeig in the?? parrish of Marden in the county of Kent, and beeing soe seized by Indenture beareing date the Twentieth day of

January in the seaventh yeare of King Charles the First of ever Blessed memory Between her the said Jane Burr of the one p[ar]te, and William Jewell of Marden aforesaid Mercer of the other p[ar]te, for and in Consideracon

of the summe of Forty pounds of good and lawfull money of England to her in hand paid by hm the said William Jewell, did give grant Bargaine and sell All the aforesaid Tenement lands and p[ro]mises with the

app[ur]tenances unto the said William Jewell his heires and assignes to the onely use and behoafe of hm the said William his heires and assignes for ever with a proviso that if the said Jane Burr her heires executors or

administrators should well and truly pay or cause to bee paid unto the said William Jewell his executors Administrators or assignes on the second day of February, which  should bee in the yeare of our Lord God

one Thousand Six hundred Thirtie Two, att the dwelling house of the said William Jewell in Marden aforesaid the summe of Three pounds and Fower shillings of Lawfull money of England att one whole

and Intire payment, And on the Second day of February which should bee in the yeare if our Lord God, one Thousand Six hundred Thirtie Three the like summe of Three pounds Fower Shillings of like lawfull money

of England And on the second day of February which should bee in the year of our Lord God one Thousand Six hundred Thirte Fower the summe of Fortie Three pounds fower shillings of like lawfull money of

England without fraud or further delay, that then it should bee lawfull for her the said Jane Burr her heires and assignes into all and singular the p[re]mises with thapp[ur]tenances to reenter But if default should bee

made of anyone payment contrary to the forme afore specified, that then it should bee lawfull for him the said William Jewell his heires and assignes peaceably and quiettly to have hold and enjoy the said Tenement

lands and p[re]mises, and the said Indenture to remaine in full force and virtue, as in and by the said Indenture with Livery of seisin thereuppon menconed to bee dely Executed and with a Clause of generall Warranty

unto the said William Jewell and his heires, Relacon beeing there unto had more p[ar]ticularly and att large it doth and may appeare And not long after the execucon of the said deed she the said Jane Burr Intermarrye

with this defendt William Grigsby, and neither the said Principall money nor Intrest beeing paid and satisfied unto the said William Jewell according to the said Proviso, the said Tenement lands and p[re]mises became

forfeited in the life tyme of her the said Jane, who having Issue by this defend:t William Grigsby the now Comp:lt she the said Jane not long after that is to say on or about the yeare of our Lord one Thousand Six hundred

Thirty and seaven dyed after whose decease, that is to say on or about the yeare of our Lord one Thousand Six hundred Thirtie & Eight this defent William Grigsby did take to wife the other defend:t Sybell, after which

intermarryage the said Mortgage continuing still forfeited and the said William Jewell earnestly pressing for his moneys thereuppon lent and this defendt Grigsby beeing destitue and not in a Capacitie to redeeme

the same, was constrained to take upp and borrowe moneys of the Father and other friends of the said Sybell his wife who in consideracon of the said Marryage and out of the Love and affection which they did

beare unto the said Sybill weare ready to accommodate him, and thereuppon this defend:t beeing supplyed with moneys did pay and satisfie unto the said William Jewell all the Interest due uppon the said Mortgage

amounting to Thirtie pounds ~ att the least and afterwards hee the said William Jewell by his deed poll beareing date the sixteenth day of January in the yeare of our Lord one Thousand Six hundred and Forty

with Livery of seisin in thereuppon duely executes for and in consideracon of Forty Three pounds more of good and lawfull money of England, by this defend:t William Grigsby to him in hand well and truely

paid and contented did absolutly Grant Bargaine sell Infeosse and Confirme unto both these defend:ts All the aforemenconed Tenement lands and p[re]mises with thapp[ur]tenances To have and to hold to them

theire heires and assignes to the use of them Two for and dureing the terme of theire naturall lifes and from and ~ Imediately after theire decease then to the use of the heires of the body of her the said

Sybill, by him the said William Grigsby, lawfully begotten, and to bee begotten with Remainders over, as in and by the said deed poll, in the Custody of these defend:ts and to which for more certainty therein

they referr themselves Relacon beeing thereunto had more plainely and p[ar]ticularly it doth and may appeare by virtue of which Assurance, this defend:t [changed from ‘these defend:ts’] William became seised of the said lands and

p[re]misses in his demeasne as of Frank?? tenement for and dureing the Terme of his naturall life, and the said Sybill of an estate in speciall Tayle according to the limitacon aforesaid, and the said

William Grigsby having verry many Children on the body of the said Sybill lawfully begotten, and noe other meanes or subsistance to maintaine or support them, but onely the Issues and proffitts

of the p[r]emisses which in truth are small and Inconsiderable, These defend:t have, that after Twenty ^ {on} yeares Purchase & peaceable injoyment ^ {Twenty seaven yeares forfeiture} and a valuable Consideracon paid they shall not, now in

theire old age bee any further troubled or molested by the Comp:lt but Protected and secured by the Equitie and Justice of this hono[re]able Court from his vexatious and unnaturall Prosecucon and

theire estate and Intrest in the p[re]misses, absolutely ratified and confirmed, without any power or possibilitie of Redemption and soe much the rather for that these defend:ts have not onely paid the full

value of the said Tenements lands and p[re]misses as they were really worth att the tyme of the said Purchase the same being then verry ruinus and runn to decay, but have disbursed and expented the

summe of Thirtie pounds more ~~ att the least in repaireing amending and Inproveing the p[re]misses, all which beeing duely consideres these defend:ts have paid a verry deare rate and

price as any Purchaser bona fide would have given for the same, And these defend:ts doe severally deny that the said Jane Burr to theire  knowledge before her Intermaryage with the defendant

William Grigsby or at any other tyme, did make any such settlement or Assurance of the said Tenement and p[re]mises in p[ur]suance of Articles or otherwise, to the use of the said Jane Burr for her life, with

Remainders to the first or second issue Male on the body of the said Jane by the said William to be begotten with Remainders over as in and by the said Bill of Comp:lt is surmised neither have these def:ts or a

either of them, or any other p[er]son or p[er]sons by and with theire knowledge privitie delivery any such deed or deeds in theire hands [or?] Custody nor any other deeds Evidences miniment?? or writtings

belonging to the Comp:lt but onely the deeds and evidences before menconed, manifesting and asserting these defend:ts Tytle in and to the p[re]mises and to witt one deed of Release of the said William Jewell of ??

right and Interest in and to the same unto these defend:ts and beareing date the eighteenth day of January in the yeare of our Lord one Thousand Six hundred and Forty and one Bond for p[er]formance of

Covenants and certaine Articles p[re]paratory or ~~ relateing to the Purchase of these defend:ts all which these defendts have it is just and lawfull for them to detaine and keep for the defence of theire

Tytle and p[re]servacon of theire most just right & Intrest in and to the  p[re]mises And these defend:ts doe deny all Combinacon & confederacie to wrong or defeate the Comp:lt on that they have contrived

or made betweene themselves or others any secrett or fraudulent Settlement Estate or Estates of the p[re]mises, without that, that any other matter or thing in the Comp:lts said Bill of Comp:lt containes

materiall or effectuall in the same?? for these defend:ts or either of them to make Answer unto, and not herein and hereby sufficiently Answeres unto confesses and avoided traversed or denyed is true

all which matters and things these defend:ts and either of them shall bee ready to justifie mainetaine and prove as this hono[re]able Court shall Award and humbly pray to bee hence dismissed with theire

reasonable Costs and Charges in this behalfe most wrongfully sustained  ·|· –

Tho: Brewer

Livery of seisin – see Wikipedia entry and this legal dictionary entry.

“speciall Tayle” = ‘special tail’ – see Baker (An Intro. to English Legal History, 3rd edn) – entails in index has entry for special tail on p.312 though the term seems not to be used on that page.
An entailed interest was one under which only the descendants of the first tenant in tail and a specified spouse can succeed to the land (from the Oxford Dictionary of Law)

These documents are Crown copyright, and the content is shared here openly and the images (my photos, restricted access) made available according to the permission given for sharing such documents.

The summary / interpretation / speculation 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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