Family Lessons 70: Uncle Robert's Will


Reading old wills is often interesting. The more possessions left by the dearly departed, the more we can imagine about the way they lived. The will below, from the Records Office, is dated 20 August 1624. 'Nuncupative' means it was given orally though legally witnessed, and the deceased’s eldest (or only) son had not yet reached his 21st birthday. Evidently, the dead man died young, not expecting to have his life cut short; here is a lesson worth learning.

This Robert Bankes is likely a relative of mine. He lived in the small hamlet of Feizor near Clapham, while my 11x great-grandfather William Bankes also lived there, and was probably his brother. He owes two William Bankes money, and one is likely my ancestor, the other a cousin or grandfather. You can read the whole below, but it is worth contrasting the list of his assets/possessions with that of his debts. His goods come to a value of £114, 4 shillings and sixpence; his debts come to £98, 5 shillings and ninepence, including either ten pounds or 31 shillings to my ancestor who outlived him. A pound then had the purchasing power of £131 now (according to the Bank of England), though in a pre-industrial age, money was harder to come by, so the real value would have been much higher. By subtracting the latter figure from the former, he leaves a total ‘profit’ of sixteen pounds. Had he lived longer (I suspect he was in his twenties), this figure would have grown.

Even today, people work hard, take risks, try their best and plan carefully, but a life’s work has little to show for it. Can you honestly look back on your life and say how well you have done? See what a difference you have made, or can be certain you made the world a better place? Probably not. Like Uncle Robert, you leave behind the equivalent of a few quid. Your memory will be preserved only in few dry records and clouded memories. If you are found in Christ, however, your life is utterly meaningful, no matter how dull or insignificant you were deemed on earth. He is the reason the universe was created, and He offers life and meaning to all who would approach Him.

Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun. For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil. For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun? For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.  Ecclesiastes 2:20-23


Nuncupative Will of Robert Bankes, 1624

Memorandum that upon the four and 20th day of August in the two and 20th year of

the reign of our sovereign Lord James by the grace of God King of England France

and Ireland defender of the faith etc. and of Scotland in the fifty-seven anno domini

1624 Robert Bankes of Feizor within the parish of Clapham and Archdeaconry of

Richmond did make his last will and testament nuncupative in manner and form

following. First he did commit his soul unto God and his body to the earth. Also he

did bequeath the benefit use and occupation of his tenement unto Elline his wife until

John Bankes his son has accomplished his age of 21 years. Also it was his mind and

will that after the said John has accomplished his said age of 21 years that he the said

John should have two third parts of his said tenement and that Elline his said wife

should have the other third part of the said tenement during her life and after her death

the said John Banks his said son to have the said tenement. Also it was his mind and

will that all his due debts and funeral expenses should be paid out of his whole goods

so far as his goods would extend and reach and if his goods would not extend and

reach to pay all his said debts it was his full mind and will that so much of his said

tenement should be let as should pay all the rest of his said debts that his said goods

would not extend and reach to pay. Also it was his will and mind that his said son

John Bankes should have one great ark, one cupboard or aumbry, and all his

husbandry gear if the same could be spared from the payment of his debts. And he

did name and appoint Elline his said wife to be sole executrix of this his will.

Witnesses hereof Robert Clapham of Feizor and John Burton of Giggleswick

The inventory of all the goods and chattels of Robert Bankes late of Feizor within the

parish of Clapham and Archdeaconry of Richmond deceased truly valued and

apprised the 27th day of August in the year of our Lord God 1624 by Robert Clapham

Thomas Hall Roger Armitsteade and John Burton as follows vizt:


Imprimis two mares, two foals and two colts (ap)prised £11-0-0

Item four oxen 13-6-8

Item 7 kine and whyes with two calves 16-0-0

Item four stirks (ap)prised 3-6-8

Item 40 only sheep and 14 lambs 12-12-0

Item barley and hemp on the fields 5-5-0

Item oats on the field 5-15-6

Item hay 12-0-0

Item meal, malt, groats dust(?) and salt 20-0

Item two brass pots 20-0

Item five pans 13-4

Item pewter and brass 20-0

Item wood vessels 20-0

Item sheets with two tablecloths 50-0

Item bedding 3-13-4

Item sacks(?) windowcloths pokes and cushions 3-0-0

Item woollen cloth yarn and wool 3-0-0

Item new boards and wheel timber 40-0

Item ploughs and plough gear with iron 40-0

Item carts and wheels 30-0

Item arks chests tables chairs stools

bedstocks with hustlement in the house 3-10-0

Item butter and cheese 20-0

Item pullen 20-0

Item turves 20-0

Item his apparel and riding gear 4-0-0

Sum totals 114-4-6


Debts which he did owe at the time of his death

Imprimis to Thomas Braishaie 13-0-0

Item to Christofer White 7-14-0

Item to Christofer Wyldman 11-0-0

Item to Elizabeth Frankland 15-0-0

Item to Anthonie Clapham 11-0-0

Item to Hugh Bawdewaine 8-6-8

Item to Roger Armitsteade 5-10-0

Item to Thomas Remington 4-8-0

Item to the town of Feizor 5-6-8

Item to William Bankes younger 31-11

Iterm to Marie Lupton 38-6

Item to William Bankes elder 10-0-0

Item to Thomas Browne 3-10-0

Sum debits 98-5-9

Sum bonor debita deduct 15-18-9