William Rydeowte of Chettle – a 16th century gentleman!

An English gentleman of the mid-16thC

Family historians tend to consider themselves lucky if they have traced their ancestors back through the centuries but many of us hit a ‘brick wall’ even within the period of civil registration, so I am very fortunate to have a story to tell as far back as the Tudor times, which is almost certainly when William Rydeowte ‘of Chettle’ was born. From a document dated 1613, which I will describe later, William’s next of kin, brother Thomas, was said to be “fifty years of age or more” when William died (in 1603). If William was a similar age to Thomas, then he was born in ~1553 or before, but then he may have been much older, or indeed younger, than his brother! According to genealogist Arthur Ridout, William’s wife was Alice, sister of William Hynton; unfortunately, Arthur didn’t give a source for this information but I did find a burial at Sherborne on the 30th April 1611: ‘Alicia Rideowte widow generosa’, meaning that she was the widow of a gentleman. Wikipedia defines a gentleman as ‘a man of the lowest rank of the English gentry, standing below an esquire and above a yeoman’. William was likely to have been either the younger son of a younger son of a peer or the younger son of a knight or an esquire.

Of course, I can’t be sure that every 16th century record I have found of a man named William Rydeowte in Sherborne alludes to the same individual as the documents bear a wide range of dates. However, during that period, and for a long time thereafter, governance of St John’s Almshouse and King Edward VI Free Grammar School in the town generally fell to the same group of gentlemen and hence the mention of William Rydeowte in both contexts probably does refer to one man. Here follows a short list of documents, most of which I recently examined at Dorset Family History Centre:

[1] 1555/6: Lease between the warden of Sherborne School and William Rydeowte concerning the Great Garden (Litten) on the north side of the schoolhouse and the Plumbhouse, for 13s 4d per annum. [Ref: S235/D1/1/1].

Wax seal of Sherborne School

Wax seal of Sherborne School 16thC

In the 4th year of his reign, King Edward VI endowed a grammar school in Sherborne to replace the old school which had fallen into disuse at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Here is part part of the Charter, dated 29th March 1550:

“29 die Marcii, Anno Regni Regis Edwardi VI quarto. The kinges maiestie by thadvise of his prevy Counsaill is pleased and contented that a free grammar Scholle shall be erected and established in Shirborne in the Countie of Dorset and Landes to the yerely valueof £20 to be geven and assured by his highness to the mayntenaunce thereof…

And that there shall be a Corporacion of 20 of the Inhabytauntes of the Towne and parishe of Shirborne aforesaid to be enabled to have properties [in] succession as governors of the possessions, revenues and goodes of the same Scole, And to have power to Receyve the landes to be appointed for the said Scole, and to have thorder and governance thereof” 

In 1554-5, a 99-year building lease was granted to the new governors for:

“Two houses known as the School House and the Plumbe House with their gardens, a garden called the Abbey Lytten, a garden on the south side of the School House called the School Barton and all the ‘voide’ land between the east end of the parish church and the School Barton where the chapel of Our Lady the Bowe and the Ankres House were built”

This lease allowed renovation, or rebuilding, of the Old Schoolhouse (a small building within the grounds of the old monastery), the Plumbhouse (a building where the lead work of the monastery was carried out), Barton (back yard, of a building), Litten (monks’ burial ground) and land formerly occupied by two chapels that had been partly demolished. All of these parcels of land, granted by Henry VIII to Sir John Horsey, were leased by him to the school governors on the 25th March 1555 for a fine (fee) of £13 6s 8d and at an annual rent of 13s 4d. Subsequent school accounts show several payments for work involved in re-building and expanding the school.

As no tuition fees were charged, renting out lands and buildings in Sherborne and elsewhere provided a much needed income for the new school; as outlined in the charter these properties were gifted to the school by the crown and other benefactors. This document shows that in 1555/6 the governors leased the Great Garden (the Litten) and Plumbhouse to William Rydeowte at a rent of 13s 4d per annum; presumably this building did not form part of the new school but a few years later, the tenement became the schoolmaster’s house.

[2] 1558/79: Chancery Proceedings. Series II bundle 15 of 29. William Rydeowte v Wase & others. [National Archives ref: C3/150/29]


Sir Nicholas Bacon

During this period of history an individual wishing to make a legal case against another, for which common law was thought to be insufficient to mete out justice, employed a lawyer to draw up a bill of complaint setting out the alleged offences and asking the Lord Chancellor to deal with the case.  The Rydeowte v Wase documents (the complaint and defence statement) are undated but were addressed to Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England between 1558 and 1579. As William had said that he purchased land from Wase “four years past” the transaction could have occurred at any point between 1554 and 1575. Interestingly, Robert Wase was a governor of Sherborne School in 1560 and 1564-1565 and may have been well known to William. This is the first documentary reference to a member of the Ridout family in connection with any part of the Hyle estate.

[3] 1570: William Rydowte, governor of Sherborne School. This was recorded by Arthur Ridout, genealogist with the source as the ‘Sherborne Register 1823-1900’, published in 1900 by House, H.H. & Rogerson, T.C. Additonally, William was shown as being the warden of the school in 1574.

[4] 1574-1575: Accounts roll for William Rydowte, Warden (& Receiver) Sherborne School [Ref: S235/B1/15].

William Rydeowte's account roll for Sherborne School 1574-5

William Rydeowte’s account roll for Sherborne School 1574-5

Each year, the gentleman appointed as warden of the school kept the accounts on a roll of parchment, recording the various expenses relating to the running of the school and income from leases and grants. The script on this document, although lovely in appearance, is very hard to read; this is probably written in William’s own hand.

[5] 1575: 26th September – Lease between “William Rydeowte and other people of Sherborne and governors” (of Sherborne School) and Lawrence Bishop. [Ref: S235/D1/1/2].

This lease concerned various shops that Bishop had built (and which were physically attached to the schoolhouse). William was named at the head of a wider group of people from Sherborne, perhaps in his capacity as the warden of Sherborne School that year. Lawrence Bishop had been a master of the almshouse in 1560-61, 1562-63 and 1571-72.

[6] 1578-1579: Sherborne Almshouse accounts; William Ridout, Almshouse Master. [Ref: D/SHA/A119].

William Rydeowte's account roll for Sherborne Almshouse 1578

William Rydeowte’s account roll for Sherborne Almshouse 1578

This is almost certainly the same William Rydowte as the school warden in the year 1574-75 (see above); the writing is very similar. Sherborne Almshouse was first established in the fifteenth century, or maybe even before according to some accounts, providing a home to a small number of poor, elderly Sherborne residents. As with the grammar school, upstanding men of the town took it in turns to take charge of the house; some men held the post for two or three years or repeated a year’s term at different times. The role of the Almshouse Master included drawing up an account roll, reflecting the year’s expenses and the income from a considerable number of local properties owned by the almshouse, the largest of which was Hyle Farm, acquired in ~1440.

[7] 1603: William Rydeowte writes his will on the 1st October:

“The first day of October 1603 I William Rideowte of Chettle in the Countie of Dorset gentleman sick of bodie but of good and pfecte memorie (god be praised) doe make and ordaine this my last will and Testament in manner and forme following That is to say first I commend my Soule into the handes of my maker, hoping assuredly through the merrite of Jesus Christe my saviour to be made partaker of life everlasting And I commend my body to the earth whereof it was made And to be buried in the parish church of Chettle. Item I give to the repairacon of the said church six shillings eight pence Item I give the church of Sherborne ten shillings Item I give to the Almes house men and women of Sherborne aforesaid four pence apice to every one of them Item I give to Dorothy Rydeowt my servant fourtie shillings [£2.0s.0d] Item I give to William Rydeowte her brother five marks of lawfull English money [£3.6s.8d] Item I give to my wife Alice oute of my lande at Sherborne Thirtie pounds a yeare quarterly to be payed during her naturall life, And conveniente howseroome And the Parlor to her own use in my dwelling house in Chettle, as longe as she liveth Condicionally That upon reasonable request she doe release and relinquish her Dower and all her right and Tytle which she may have or claime of in and to my landes and tenements in Sherborne aforesaide or in any part thereof, or otherwise the said Annuity of Thirtie pounds a yeare to surcease and to be of no force to all intente and purpose Item I give and bequeath to William Rydeowte sonne of Walter Rydeowte my nephew and to the heires male of his body lawfully begotten and to be begotten, All my landes and tenements Rente reversions Service and hereditamentes whatsoever in Sherborne aforesaid or else where unconveyed and not assured unto the said Walter Rydeowte his ffather And for default of such issue, To the said Walter Rydeowte and his heires males of his bodye lawfully begotten and to be begotten And for default of such issue to William Rydeowt sonne of George Rydeowt of Bayford in the County of Somerset [nr. Wincanton, ~17 miles from Sherborne] and to the heires male of his bodye lawfully begotten and to be begotten And for default of such issue to the right heires of William Rydeowt for ever, Provided always that my intent and meaning is That the said Walter Rydeowte shall have the benefit sole and imployment of the saide landes and tenements with their appurtenances untill the saide William Rydeowte his sonne accomplish the age of twenty and fower yeares, And that the said Walter shall keep the said William his Sonne to Schoole, and give him sufficient maintenance to keepe him at Oxforde, and the Innes of Courte, Item I give to William Rydeowte Sonne of Walter Rydeowte my best silver Saltcellar, duble guilt, And my Silver cup of the newe fashion [Jacobean rather than Elizabethan] p..ll Gilt. Item I give to the said William Rideout sonne of the said Walter Rydeowt the Lease of my ffarme in Chettle and all my right and interest thereof withal the terme of yeares thereof yet to come and unexpired Conditionally that the said Walter Rydeowt shall have the use and benefit of the said farme until the said William his sonne shall accomplish the age of twentie foure yeares, And upon Condicion that the said William be ruled by his parents and friendes in all things that shall be for his good otherwise my meaning is That the said Walter Rideout his father shall enjoy it during my whole terme yet to come, And if the said William happen to die before the said Walter his ffather Then the said ffarme to remaine wholie to the said Walter Rydeowte. The residue of all my landes goodes and chattels nott herein before given and bequeathed I doe give and bequeath the same and every of them to the said Walter Rydeowt my nephew whom I make my full and whole Executor of this my last Will and testament and of all my goodes moveable and unmoveable, And I do hereby revoke all former and other will and wills whatsoever by me made, And I doe give to the Preacher that shall speake at my ffunerall six shillings eight pense, And doe constitute and appoint my loving friends George W..dale and Henry Lye gentlemen to be the Overseers of this my last will and testament, praying them to be ayding and assisting to my said Executor, And I doe give them for their paines tenn Shilling apiece.”

Witness hereunto Nicholas West and Thomas West Junior. Proved 9th February 1603/4

St Mary's, Chettle. Photo © Nigel Freeman

St Mary’s, Chettle. Photo © Nigel Freeman

William Ridowte, gent, was buried on the 14th December 1603 in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Chettle. I found the following were the only other entries for Ridowte or any name variant in the Chettle parish registers: Thomas Ridowte the sonne of Thomas Ridowte was christened the 14th March 1598, Thomas Ridoute, son of Thomas was buried 21st November 1603 and Robert Wattes married Dorothie Ridowte the 19th day of September 1603

What is very interesting here is that in his will William mentioned his servant Dorothy and her brother William and gave each of them a quite generous amount of money. Since I have seen similar examples, I wondered if this wealthy man had employed a less well off member of his family. It is just possible that Dorothy’s brother William was ‘my’ ancestor, William Ridout of Hyle and Sherborne (1554-1620) and there is one good reason why this might be so. The parish records for Chettle show that Dorothy Rideowt married Robert Wattes a few days before William wrote his will – although he calls her ‘Rydeowte’ could this be William’s now married servant? What is the likelihood of there being two women of this name in a small village at the same time? Seventy-four years later, in the 1677 Sherborne Manor Survey, 58yr old Robert Watts is the copyhold tenant of ‘a cottage barne and backside containing halfe an acre formerly Ridouts’. The plot has one and a half acres of pasture at a rent of 2s 4d. In 1614, William Ridout ‘of Hyle’ and his two sons William and Thomas occupied a copyhold tenement in Nethercombe comprising ‘one cottage, a barne, garden & backside containing one acre at a rent of 2s 4d.  Was Robert Watts (b. ~1619) related to Robert Watts and Dorothy Ridout, or is this just a coincidence? It is an intriguing hypothesis but one which I might never prove.

Ten years after his death, in 1613, an Inquisition Post Mortem (InqPM) was held regarding William Rydeowte and his estate. An InqPM was an inquiry, undertaken after the death of a feudal tenant-in-chief (a direct tenant of the crown), to establish what lands he held and who should succeed to them. If more than a year had passed since the death of the subject, a writ of mandamus was issued to the local escheator, an official responsible for looking after the crown’s interests, who would then convene a local jury and conduct the inquiry. If any of the tenant-in-chief’s real estate was not settled on friends or family members then it could be taken back by the crown. To avoid this, most tenants-in-chief, perhaps with the help of a good attorney, would convey lands and tenements to trustees so that all the loose ends were tied up and the estate would pass to the subject’s chosen benefactors, not to the crown!

So, William Rydeowte was probably a wealthy gentleman; he held the leases of several properties and lands in Sherborne, Oborne and Chettle (a village six miles NE of Blandford Forum and about twenty miles east of Sherborne). Whilst at his death in 1603 he probably lived on his farm in the village, it is apparent from his numerous appearances in the Sherborne records that, earlier in his life, William was closely involved with the town as it emerged from the turbulent times under Henry VIII.

Here follows a transcript of part of the InqPM (translated from the Latin). I have added comments in square brackets in an attempt to explain the complex content:

Chancery series 10 James I (1613) PRO pt 2 114 William Rydowt, Dorset

“Inquisition indented taken at Shaston [Shaftesbury] in county Dorset in 2nd September 10 James D G of England, France & Ireland & 46 of Scotland Before William Swanston junior Eschoetor on oath of John Boden of the said Lord the King by virtue of a writ of mandamus of the said Lord King that the Eschoetor should make the enquiry.

To enquire after the death of William Ridout gent deceased by the Oath of John Davidge Gent., Walter Ridout, Richard Coombe, Ambrose Burlton, Richard Rives, William Stile, William Cooke, William Swetman, Nicholas Aprichard, Robert Seymer, Thomas Haswell, William Muncton, John Williams, Robert Evered, gent, George Cross, John Hirden honest & lawful men; who say that William Ridout at the time of his death was seized in his demesne in fee tail [William died possessing freehold property that had been granted to him by the sovereign and which was only heritable by William’s own descendants, of which there were none] of & in 19 messuages one garden & 19 yards in Sherborne & Castleton in tenure & occupation of Richard Orreng, Richard Paynter, William Ridout, John Lambert, Thomas Glune, Robert Bradford, Marjerie Bushrode, Robert Roe, George Garrett, Henry Barnard, John Moone, Henry Bawler, Tristram Turk, William Sampson, Christopher Richman, Paul Hityard [?Hilyard], Bartholomew Ould, David Easterman and Richard Donham…

Either assigned [transferred] or to be assigned divers lands tenements & heriditaments situated in Sherborne Newland & Castleton [Newland and Castletown are both now suburbs of Sherborne] messuages or respective belonging or pertaining & of & in one pasture in Castleton called Magdalen Acre in occupation of [possessed by] Richard Masters or his assigns [persons to whom Masters was free to pass on the property] one other pasture situated in Castleton called Elexarer Close and of & in on other pasture in Sherborne called Outhill containing by estimation 2 acres more or less in the tenure and occupation of Lawrence Mitchell & his assigns and of & in 5 acres of Arable land called Mousehill in fields of Sherborne in manner of tenure & occupation of Robert Foster or his assigns and of & in one close and pasture called Hammonde Meade in Sherborne ffour Yeare tenure and occupation of John Lambert or his assigns and of & in one other pasture called Fower pitts in Sherborne by estimation 4 acres in tenure and occupation of Adam Taylor or his assigns and of & in one pasture called Great Hile containing by estimation XII acres and in one called Hile Mead in Sherborne for William Ridout in Com’n [‘in commission’, meaning William Rydeowte, subject of this InqPM] or his assigns and of & in one pasture called Hile in Sherborne lying in Westbridge [Westbury] in tenure & occupation of William Ridout in Com’n and of & in one other Pasture in Sherborne in tenure & occupation of William Ridout in Com’n and of & in other pasture called Vertnam in Oborne County Dorset.

On 18th October 43 year of Elizabeth [1601] he settled [splitting the legal and beneficiary aspects of property such that legally William’s lands were held in trust but he was still the beneficiary i.e. ‘user’ of them] above lands on William Swanston of Wincanton, John Boden, Thomas Swetman, John Ffowell gent for William Ridouts own use and to the use of Walter Ridout his nephew failing him for the use of Thomazine his wife & heir male Walter aforesaid & Thomazine and to the use of Grace Ridout the eldest daughter of Walter & Thomazine Ridout and after Graces death to the use of the second daughter Ffrancisca & then to Barbara Ridout the third daughter & then to Magdalene the fourth daughter & after her death to heirs male of Walter & Thomazine & failing heirs male to heirs female of the said Walter & Thomazine Ridout failing whom to William son of Robert Ridout of Fontmell & his heirs male born or to be born failing him to Richard another son of aforesaid Robert & his heirs failing him to William son of George Ridout of Wincanton county Somerset lately deceased and his heirs male born or to be born, failing him to aforesaid Robert and his heirs of William aforesaid.

This document shows that William Rydeowte ‘of Chettle’ held tenure of three pieces of land relating to the Hyle estate (presumably owned by the Almshouse) described as Great Hyle, Hyle Mead and Hyle. In 1620, William Ridout ‘of Hyle’ bequeathed his ‘lease of Hyle’ to his son William but with no details of quite how much land was involved; hard to imagine that there was no connection between these two men.

It seem most likely that William and Alice had no surviving children and hence William left his estate to his nephew Walter and Walter’s son William who was probably a child and had to ‘achieve’ the age of twenty-four before he came into his inheritance. Further study of the Sherborne records show that Walter Rydeowte was quite a colourful character – more of him in the next post.

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2 Responses to William Rydeowte of Chettle – a 16th century gentleman!

  1. Fascinating stuff. Many thanks for posting. Eugene Rideout (Windsor, Ontario, Canada)

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