The Will of Hugh atte Fenne, 1476
Norwich, Norfolk Record Society
Edited By Roger Virgoe
Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah
FHL Book 942.61 B4rs
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Hugh atte Fenne so styled himself in his will and the family normally used that form of the name, but he was quite frequently called simply 'Fenne' and both forms have been used in this introduction. The Fennes were a quite prolific Yarmouth and East Norfolk family, with, as was normal in the fifteenth century, a restricted number of Christian names and Hugh is not, therefore, easy to place precisely in the family pedigree: it seems probable, however, that he was the Hugh, son of Thomas atte Fenne, who was appointed her executor by his grandmother, Christian Savage, in 1442. Christian's first husband had been Hugh atte Fenne, many times bailiff and three times parliamentary burgess of Great Yarmouth, who in his will, made in 1409, appointed as one of his executors Edmund Wyth, thus providing a link between the two wills printed in this volume. Hugh refers in the will to three sons, Thomas, Hugh and Miles. Miles disappears without trace and Hugh may have been the London fishmonger who made his will (with references to Yarmouth and to his mother, Christian, in 1420, but Thomas atte Fenne was a man of importance in Yarmouth, serving as troner and peser there from 1427 and as bailiff of the town in 1432 and 1440. Either he or a son and namesake was bailiff again in 1447, 1453 and 1457 and collector of customs there between 1451 and 1460. The will of Christian, who had remarried Peter Savage, refers to Hugh as the son of Thomas, and the identity of this Hugh with the exchequer official and the testator of 1476 is confirmed by the grant made by Thomas in 1438 of lands in Herringby and elsewhere, formerly of his father, Hugh, to Sir John Fastolf and others: these lands came to Hugh Fenne after Fastolf's death and formed part of the endowment of his alms-house.
In 1431 Hugh, son of Thomas atte Fenne, was fined at Yarmouth for not being in a tithing; possible this implies that he had recently reached the age of twelve and therefore was born about 1418. It is possible that he was educated at Cambridge and Gray's Inn but the evidence for this is largely inference drawn from clauses in his will, and the first certain reference to him, in 1447, is as 'Hugh atte Fenne of London' acting as mainpernor for Richard Gegh of Saham Tony. He was certainly an Exchequer official by this time and in 1450, when he was sent to Parliament to report on the state of Exchequer finances, he held office as clerk to John Somer, one of the auditors of the Exchequer.
In May 1450 Fenne was granted with Sir Thomas Stanley the keeping of Swaffham Manor in Norfolk and in July the keeping of Wratting Manor, Suffolk; he lost these by the Act of Resumption but was regranted Swaffham for 12 years in July 1451. The political upheavals of 1450 improved Fenne's position as his kinsman, Sir Jon Fastolf, increased his influence, and may have been responsible for his election to the parliament of November 1450 as burgess for Yarmouth. Fenne was in Norfok in May 1451 when the case brought by Fastolf and John Paston against Lord Moleyns was heard at Walsingham. In the following year he and Robert Gegh were granted goods of Richard Gegh which had been forfeited to the Crown as a result of Gegh's suicide. By the late 1450s Fenne held Gegh's former manor of Ickburgh and in a letter to John Paston appears to allude to Gegh as his uncle.
Early in 1453, on John Somer's death, Fenne was appointed by the treasurer, John, Earl of Worcester, to succeed him as auditor of the Exchequer. This was a big step forward, as the auditors were among the senior Exchequer officials, and Fenne was now in a good position to assist his friends and relations in their incessant legal and administrative business in London. He was to be particularly active on behalf of Sir John Fastolf and John Paston, shrugging away offers of reward, though Fastolf's servant, John Bocking, thought that 'he farith as a man wole sey he wold noo silvere and lokith awaywardes and takith a noble'. But this may have been over-cynical; Fenne was acting within the context of family and neighbourhood connections, and, as Margaret Paston wrote, 'he is called right feythfull and trosty to his frendes that trost hym'. His reward would come from reciprocal favours and assistance from these friends and there are several letters among the Paston correspondence in which Fenne sought aid from Norfolk gentlemen; as will be shown below he also relied upon neighbours in East Anglia as feoffees and executors, they similarly fulfilling the obligations of kinship and neighbourliness. Although Fenne was increasingly busy in the affairs of the Crown, his contacts and interest in East Anglia remained strong. He was appointed escheator of Norfolk and Suffolk for 1456-7 and was a J.P. in Norfolk from 1457 to March 1460, as well as sitting on other Norfolk commissions.
The Yorkist victory of 1460-1 brought him further influence. 'It is reportyed that he may do myche with the King and the lordes', wrote Margaret Paston in December 1461, and twice during the following decade he was appointed to the influential position of under-treasurer of England. He did not receive major grants from the Crown, though he and his kinsmen, William Jenney and William Essex, purchased valuable wardships-no doubt at a bargain price. Although he was not re-appointed to the peace commission, his Norfolk connections remained important and he still could be relied upon to assist kinsmen and friends in their search for patronage and victory in litigation. Relations with the Pastiness became a little more uncertain with the dispute over Sir John Fastolf's will. Fenne had been appointed one of the overseers of Fastolf's will and his own interests were involved, for Fastolf had not only owed him 200 marks but had apparently recognised that he had a claim to the Herringby lands conveyed away by his father. The manors of Herringby Spensers and Fennes were held by Fastolf at his death but both seem to have been acquired by Fenne during the following decade. He was also acquiring other lands in East Anglia as well as in Sussex, London and Middlesex, most of which he mentions in his will. It was normal practice for a successful royal official to use some of the profits of office to build up a landed estate, and it may be that Fenne had the intention of founding a substantial landed family in East Anglia. But if so he was disappointed; any son he had died young and the only child who survived him was a daughter, Margaret, for whom he found a prestigious match with Sir George, the son and heir of George Neville, Lord Abergavenny. But, as the will shows, she was to inherit only a part of his lands. He had destined his Herringby and associated lands for the endowment of a religious and charitable foundation, which will be described below.
Hugh Fenne was still active in the 1470s; indeed he was appointed to a commission to survey royal property at Windsor on 24 February 1476, the day on which his will is dated. According to the inquisition post mortem on his Norfolk lands taken two years alter, Fenne died on 23 February 1476, but the lengthy delay probably accounts for the error-not infrequent in the findings of juries. He certainly died before 30 April 1476, when his exchequer office was filled, and it is highly likely that he died during the last week of February.
Extract of Will:
Body to be buried in the chancel of Herringby Church, Norfolk, next my mother's tomb.
Up to 50L worth of blackwoollen clothes for my master, Sir George Neville, his wife and children, for my wife, my household servants, my executors and their wives, my kinsmen in London and some of their servants and for other friends riding with my body.
To my wife-200 marks in instalments over five years, on condition that she release her dower-rights in my lands and acquit my executors for all my goods in the manner specified below. And to her also 100s.p.a. for five years to be distributed in alms for the souls of me and our children and friends, apart from what she will do for my soul from her own goods.
Life annuities of 5 marks p.a. to Elena Chamber of Hingham and 20s p.a. to John Palmer of Costessey which they now have from my manor of Scoulton-which will thus be relieved of them.
I will that my executors pay 26s. 8d. p.a. for life to George Chamber, in consideration that I bought from him at the instance of George and his friends my manor in Scoulton for 165L, with costs of the court and fine-which is of greater value when his mother's reversion and John Palmer's annuity fall in. This is by my good will, since he is poor, so that he may live better, on condition that he be of good and honest disposition in word and deed-for I offered him the manor for the said sum of 165L but he and his friends could not find the sum.
I will that my wife have to her own use all my plate, jewels and stuff of household being in London and Hakeney in her keeping, except all such as I beaqueth hereafter. So that she by writing sufficient in the law to be made under her seal release her dower she would claim in all my manors lands and tenements with the appurtentenances if she were so disposed and also that she acquitance sufficiently to my executors all the right title and claim that she may make to my goodes, chattles and deeds by the law or by custom of the City of London. And if she will not release her said dower and acquitance to my said executors in the said form but so break my will, then she may have of my lands and goods as law will and I will she have no more thereof than but as law will, the which I know for truth shall not be so much to her profit by a good portion in good and land. And if she release and acquitance in the form aforesaid and take the whole of my said plate, jewels and stuff in London and Hakeney afroesaid, then I will and pray her heartly that if Margaret Nevill, my daughter, over live her so that my master, her husband, and she be to my wife always loving and kind, that it will like my wife at her decease to give to my said daughter as much of my said plate as is worth cc marcs, upon condition that my said master trouble not with with my executors nor let the execution of this my testament and last will to the intent that it may please my said master Sir George Nevill and my said daughter, his wife, at her decease to leave all the same plate to my master and godson, George Nevill, their son, at his lawfull age. And if he be not then on live, as I pray God grant he be, than to such other heir male to my said master, Sir George, as God will shall be. And if my said master, Sir George, decease without heir male, as God defend, then to his daughter or daughters evenly to be departed. And if it fortune my daughter not be a live at my said wives decease, then I will my wife departe to my daughter's children at their ages in the form abovesaid as my said master and daughter should do. And if my wife decease before their lawfull age then that it may please her to put it in sure keeping to the same intent.
I will that my wife have during her life my book of saints lives and after her decease to my daughter during her life and after her decease to her daughter Elizabeth, my wives goddaughter.
I will that when Master George, my godson, come to the age of xiiii years that he have my primer of my own hand, my 'sauter', my book De Regimine Principum of my own hand and my chain of gold. And if he be not then on live, as God defend else, then I will that he have them that shall be next heir male to my said Master Sir George.
I will that my brother, Edmond Wydwell, have my best ii gowns such as he will chose or my wife to chose them for him if he come not there. John Fenne my iiird gowne; Elizabeth Fenne my iiiith gown; William Eton my v gown; Richard Hert my sixth gown; Robert Forde my viith gown; John Gray my viii gown; Thomas my ix gown and Elizabeth my x gown; John Cryer my xi gown. Every person to chose one after another as I have set them in row, the gowns whole as they are furred and lined.
And whereas that I have ordained in my will for my part of the ward and marriage of Carew and his lands, which William Essex and I have jointly of the kings grants as it appearith by the same will which I have due to be cancelled in that part, I will that if my said cousin Essex overlive me that he do therein after his discretion and consience.
Also I will that all my servants of my household have long livery gowns at Easter and their wages and all that shall ride with my body to my burying short black gowns and their costs. And if Robert Fenne will ride with them I will he shall have v marks, a gown and his costs.
I will that Stephen, the son of John Somer, have v marks in x years if he live so long.
I will that if John, the son of my master, Sir George Nevill, live to the age of xxi years, then I will he shall have vi 'parys' cups gilt with a covering if he be not his fathers heir. And if he be then his fathers heir I will that William, his brother, have them if he live to like age. And this to be done upon condition that my Master, Sir George, be loving to my wife and interupt not my will.
The residue of my goods and 'catalx' I give and bequeath unto my executors undernamed that they do and dispose for my soul after their good consicence and discretions and as they would be done for in like case and according to my said will. Of this my testament and last will I make William Essex, Harry Heydon, Edmond Jenny and Edmond Wydwell my executors, and Elianore, my wife, and William Jenney,Sergant of law surveyors of the same.
Mentions his cousin William Allington in conjunction with the granting of lands to the Universities of Oxenford and Cambridge.
And I will that as well my said manors, lands and tenements in Mekyll Walsingham, Scoriston, Wyndham and Swaffeham, with their appurtentances and my said tenements and chambers in Holborn at the end of the terme of the said xii years after my decease, as my place called the Boote in Smithfield, ii closes in Kentishton and my house and lands in Hakeney after my wifes decease if she be not married and find a good priest in form abovesaid or after the term of the said xii years if she be married and find no priest, be severally sold by my executoors for as much money as they shall mowe be sold for, and of the money coming of the same sales I will by the hands of my executors that my Master George Nevill, my godson, have when he come to his full age of xxi years cc marcs and Master John, his brother, when he come to his full age of xxi years cc marcs and master William, his brother, at his full age of xxi years cli., and Mistress Elizabeth, their sister, at the time of her marriage cli.
Mentions cousin Henry Bonds in conjuntion with the selling of the patronage of the church of Henstede in the county of Suffolk.
will proved at Lambeth