Friday, 24 June 2016

Law and property in the Essex Wills

Continuing my posts on the vocabulary of the Essex Wills and its place in English lexical history, an introduction to which can be found here.

The Essex Wills are naturally full of words for household and farm goods. The majority are words that are still used, though the things to which they are applied may now be different in design or appearance. A large majority are words, or meanings of words, that are no longer used, but are carefully recorded in dictionaries, and especially in the Oxford English Dictionary. But a significant number have escaped notice by lexicographers and yet can be found, often in large numbers, in wills, inventories, and other non-literary documents of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (and sometimes in earlier and later documents). Please note that I record the absence of terms from Early English Books Online not in order to criticize that inestimable resource but to highlight the gap between the language we find in non-literary texts and that of the printed book, especially the literary text.

These are some terms relating to legal documents, property, and institutions.

covent seal

This term appears twice in the Essex Wills: 1561 (II. 124) and 1575 (III. 358).

OED enters one example of covent seal under the undefined lemma convent-seal n.:

1538–9 Instruct. Hen. VIII Visit. Monast. (1886) 14   Whether the Covent-seal of this House be surely and safely kept.

This implicitly links the first element to the older form covent of the word convent. But our examples seem to have nothing to do with monastic institutions. They look as if they have to do with covenant, of which there is a rare Middle English variant covant; occasional Middle English examples of conaunt, etc., with this meaning, may also be transmission errors for couaunt.


1583 in F. G. Emmison Elizabethan Life: Essex Gentry’s Wills (1978) 289 by a Duchy [of Lancaster] lease which is 31 years to come after my convent seal.

1583 in F. G. Emmison Elizabethan Life: Essex Gentry’s Wills (1978) 289 my house wherein I dwell which I hold by convent seal of the manor of Much Coggeshall.

The compound is quite common and can be antedated and postdated, e.g. by:

1529 E. Herbert Life & Reign Henry Eighth (1683) 300 The said Lord Cardinal did call before him Sir John Stanley Knight, which had taken a Farm by Covent-Seal of the Abbot and Covent of Chester.

1540 Will of William Masson in C. R. Haines Dover Priory (1930) App. I 435 My Covent seal, which I have, of the late priory of my wife.

Whether the first element is convent or covenant, after the Reformation period, the sense of this term seems to have been broadened to refer (perhaps) to the seal of any ecclesiastical body:

1847 J. T. Law Eccl. Statutes at Large II. 371 The same election, under the common and covent seal of the electors.

There are six examples,1655–1687, on Early English Books Online.


This occurs once in the Essex Wills:

1568 (III. 176) certain writings fivepartite between one T. C...and me and others

OED implicitly covers this under partite adj. 1, with examples 1570 (uncompounded), 1680 (12-partite), then late twentieth century (uncompounded), and 2001 (three-partite).

Later example:

1572 Lease Steventon Rectory in C. S. Knighton Acts Dean & Chapter Westminster 1543–1609 Part Two (1999) 60 Yt was decreed by the deane and chapiter that one lease fivepartite of renovation of the parsonage of Stevington..shall passe under the common seale of this collegiate churche.

Compare also:

1649 J. Owen Ouranon Ourania [Wing O789] The ten-partite Empire of the West.

1688 R. Morden Geography Rectified [Wing M2620] Spain fell into a 12-partite division

guardianership, guardianing 

Examples in the Essex Wills:

1573 (II. I 84) to have the ‘garnership’ of the said children

[no date] (V. 153) gardnership

1562 (II. 139) he to have the ‘gardenynge’ of my children

OED has neither form, but does have guardianer n. ‘a guardian’: its only examples are 1595 gardeaner, a1627 Gardianer.

Essex Wills also has:

1558 (VIII. 51) My gossip..shall have the ‘garden’ and keeping of John my son

head house 

Examples in the Essex Wills:

1558 (VIII. 55) My headhouse in Colchester ‘Heth’ to sell

1560 (I. 208) the headhouse that I dwell in

1561 (II. 130) my head house that I dwell in

1591 (XI. 121) I will that my head house be sold by 6 of the headboroughs of the town


1583 in F. G. Emmison Elizabethan Life: Essex Gentry’s Wills (1978) 202 my pasture named Partridge Fen to go and continue with the head house in Trinity parish.

Examples outside the Essex Wills:

1527 Will of Robert Cole of Stratford, Suffolk 29 Jan. in New Eng. Hist. & Geneal. Reg. July (1896) 420 To my son Richard at twenty one all that moiety or half part of the lordship of Newhall in East Bargholt and my head house with the appurtenances in the ‘Valye’ in Bargholt which I purchased of the executors of Robert Florett.

1593 J. Norden Speculum Britanniae [STC 18535 ‘historicall and chorographicall description of Middlesex’] 26 But this word Court is hereunto added neither in regard of antiquitie, nor  head house of a mannor.

It is noteworthy that these come from Essex and Middlesex. Apart from these examples, there is a small amount of evidence for head house (hede house, etc.) in the sense ‘mother house of a monastic order’. The sense here, however, appears to be ‘principal dwelling’ (of a person who has several properties to live in), probably the same as the very common expression ‘capital messuage’. OED has this compound only in the senses ‘the main or principal house of an organization’ and ‘a structure containing the winding gear at the top of a mine shaft’.


Example in the Essex Wills:

1595 (VI. 220) for inventorying of my goods

Later examples suggest widespread use:

1643 Arthur Lord Capell Lieutenant Generall under the Prince His Highnesse of His Majesties forces, in the counties of Worcester, Salop, and Chester, and the sixt northern counties of Wales To all commanders, officers, and souldiers, and to all other His Majesties subjects whatsoever, whom these presents shall or may in anywise concern [Wing C470] (single page), And that due care shall be had and taken for the punctuall Inventorying and valuable Apprizing of such Moneys, Goods, Cattell, or other Estate which shall be so seized.

1643 Jrnls. House of Lords VI. 279/1 For the more speedy and effectual inventorying, securing, seizing, and obtaining Possessions, of all such Monies, Plate, Goods, and Estates.

1677 Z. Babington Advice to Grand Jurors in Cases of Blood [Wing B248] Otherwise there could be no  Inventorying of Goods.

1688 Some necessary disquisitions and close expostulations with the clergy and people of the Church of England [Wing S4528] 23 In his  Inventorying (as he calls it) of the several things he names.

1773 W. Beawes Lex Mercatoria Rediviva (ed. 6) 386/1 If, on inventorying, any Creditor claims the Merchandise that he should have sold to the Debtor.

1775 Ash New & Complete Dict. Eng. Lang., Inventorying, the act of putting into an inventory.

1789 G. Washington Let. 13 Sept. in Writings (1839) X. 32 If the ceremony of inventorying, appraising, &c. can be dispensed with.

part and part like 

This is a legal phrase indicating equal shares. It’s entered in the OED under like adj., adv., conj., and prep. Phrases 4, a sense which covers part and part like, portion and portion like, share and share like, and mixed phrases such as part and portion like. The entry illustrates part and part like with quotations from 1555, a1638, and 1707. The 1555 example is not in a legal (let alone specifically testamentary) context:

Thei..eate parte and parte like, the one with the other.

But the Essex Wills, where the phrase is very common, show that testamentary use was already established by the 1560s:

1561 (I. 57) My wife shall have her being..part and part like with my..sons

1562 (II. 131) to Edward’s children part and part like

1562 (II. 137) part and part like

1567 (II. 168) part and part like

1568 (II. 144) my brass and pewter to be divided part and part like

1573 (IX. 39) To my aunt and my dame S. all my linen part and part like

1582 (IV. 171)  the money to my children part and part like


1581 in F. G. Emmison Elizabethan Life: Essex Gentry’s Wills (1978) 312 Equally divided between Elizabeth my wife and my children part and part like.

It is by no means restricted to the Essex Wills, as these examples (none earlier, however) show:

1572 Will of John Parrott of London, 31 Oct. in Endowed Charities City of London (1829) 141/1 Unto and amongst the poorest people of the said parish of St. James aforesaid, unto and amongst the poorest people of the parish of Allhallows Stayning, in London, part and part like to either parish.

1630 Will of John Heminge of London in J. P. Collier Lives Orig. Actors Shakespeare’s Plays (1853) 77 Part and part like.

1634 Will of William Browne (St James Clerkenwell) in E. A. J. Honigmann & S. Brock Playhouse Wills, 1558–1642 (1993) 180 The summe of Ten Powndes of lawfull money of England to be shared amongest them part and part like.

1640 Will of Henry Webb of Boston in New Eng. Hist. & Geneal. Reg. (1856) X. 182 all my other estate, goods, debts, merchandises, Shipps, Chattles, not formerly given, to be devided Amongst them, part and part like.

1675 Will of John Thruston, Chamberlain of Bristol, 25 Mar. in Geneal. Virginia Families 143 To be divided betweene them part and part like.

1707 A General Discourse of Commerce 71 The Commissioners may assign and divide this (viz) to every Creditor a portion, part and part-like.

There are also examples on Early English Books Online from 1597, 1606, 1635, 1651, 1653, 1655, 1665, 1683, and 1695.


There are several examples of this in the Essex Wills, apparently describing some kind of real estate, probably synonymous with tenement. Most examples are plural. There is no trace of this in the OED.

1559 (VIII. 119) my renters [rentaries] with Burds garden and my ground that lieth above the pond

1560 (I. 207) his deed of ‘rentre’

1571 (IX. 145)  the letting of my head house that I dwell in, with the rentary or tenement and ground belonging

1573 (IX. 41) the 2 rentaries or houses near Head Gate which he hath mortgaged

1577 (IV. 161) my capital messuage wherein I dwell and my rentary with 2 gardens in St. Martin’s parish

1579 (IV. 174)  my house wherein I dwell called 2 tenements or rentaries

1589 (XI. 274)  I will that all those my houses, rentaries and stalls in the borough of Colchester be sold

1592 (VI. 138) With these 5 tenements or rentaries near or adjoining


1579 in F. G. Emmison Elizabethan Life: Essex Gentry’s Wills (1978) 281 a rentary adjoining and now taken into the tenement on the west part

1579 in F. G. Emmison Elizabethan Life: Essex Gentry’s Wills (1978) 281 the four rentaries adjoining my head tenement

1583 in F. G. Emmison Elizabethan Life: Essex Gentry’s Wills (1978) 201 my capital messuage and head house in Trinity parish with the rentaries, gardens and orchards belonging.

1583 in F. G. Emmison Elizabethan Life: Essex Gentry’s Wills (1978) 201 To her my messuages, rentaries and lands in St Botolph’s Street.

This earlier example is also from the Essex area (Harwich).

1467 in Manners & Household Expenses Eng. Thirteenth & Fifteenth Cent. (1841) 454 Wetenes that I John Howard have bowte of dame An Morpathe here plase lyhen in Herwesche, wethe the ij. renteres and wethe gardenes, and al hoder a portenanse that sche hathe lyhenge in the same towene.

No evidence is forthcoming from Early English Books Online.


An untraced word that is not uncommon in the Essex Wills. There seems to be nothing like it in the OED.

1568 (VIII. 190) I have delivered ‘selender’ to the hands of John Sewall the elder

1571 (IX. 218) delivered the ‘solender’ to R— F—..according to the custom of the manor

1575 (II. I 177) all these to be ‘standers’ [standards] to the house according to my ‘solendar’

1559 (I. 132) deliver a ‘selender’..of the two fields

1560 (II.  118) The ‘selender’ given of my house and land..into the hands of W. H.

1561 (II.  122) I have delivered my ‘selender’ to William Crabe, constable


1568 in F. G. Emmison Elizabethan Wills of South-west Essex (1983) 32 The residue of my goods to Agnes my wife, on condition that she perform my ‘selender’ [surrender] that I delivered to John Grene and William Harryson [tenants of the manor]. 

sellender also occurs in the Essex Wills.

This looks (as Emmison suggests) like surrender n. 1a; examples of deliver as verb, with surrender, in regard to property, can be found. However, OED seems not to record spellings of this word with –l-; and in any case, such a sound change seems surprising and unprecedented.

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