Any Medieval Scholars out there?

+13 votes
I am working on some ancestors from the 14th and 15th century and have a question about illegitimate children and inheritance. In about 1425 Peter Bessils died and according to his IPM he had no heirs of his body. He was married to Margaret Hannay who had a son Thomas. In his will Peter left Margaret a life interest in several manors. The bulk of his estate was to be sold to pay for prayers for his soul. An heir was named but he seemed to have been some distant relative. Peter also left a life interest in a manor for Margaret's son Thomas. On his death the land was to be sold. Some people say that Thomas was actually Peter and Margaret's child born prior to their marriage.

How likely would it be for a man to basically give his estate away to the church rather than to his own son? If he married the boy's mother wouldn't he have been able to get the son 'legitimized' by the church since the parents were then married?

Margery outlived her husband by almost 50 years. Her son Thomas or another man named Thomas Bessels eventually managed to get some of the Manors and hang on to them. Some British websites dispute that Thomas was the son of Peter and believe that he was a cousin. This makes more sense to me, but hoping someone with some knowledge of medieval customs can help me out.
WikiTree profile: Peter de Bessiles
in The Tree House by Jeanie Roberts G2G6 Pilot (145k points)
edited by Ellen Smith

3 Answers

+4 votes

That profile could use a bio - if you know the manors, I just look it up in British History Online.

For example: Parishes: Bessels Leigh

"By the marriage of Katharine, daughter and heir of this John de Leigh, with Thomas Bessels the manor passed into the Bessels family. ... They had at that date a son John, who was his father's heir at the latter's death in or about 1378. He predeceased his mother, however, as did his son John, who died a minor, so that at Katharine's death in 1405 her heir was her second son Peter. Probably the manor of Leigh had already been granted to Peter, for it does not appear among her estates. It was conveyed to him and to various other persons for his use in 1412. He was then a knight. Sir Peter was noted for his deeds of charity and his gifts to religious houses, and by his will he directed that all his manors should be sold by his co-feoffees in alms for his soul. He died childless in 1424, and Robert Cramford, a distant cousin on his mother's side, was returned as his heir". So no son Thomas, matches your story.

A bunch of strange things happened for the next 50 years but by 1487 William, the son and heir of someone named Thomas Bessels who was related to Sir Peter but wasn't his son had possession of the manor, along with Grafton and Radcot in Oxfordshire. 

Langford Parish: Grafton

"John was succeeded by Sir Thomas's younger son Peter de Besyles (d. 1425), whose widow Margery (d. 1484) held the manor with her second husband William Warbelton (d. 1469) of Sherfield (Hants). Margery was succeeded, in contravention of Peter de Besyles's will, by her grandson William de Besyles (d. 1515), son of her and Peter's illegitimate son Thomas. "

You can cite both manors, mark Thomas as uncertain, and remove Margery as his mother. Hope that helps!


by Kirk Hess G2G6 Mach 7 (74.0k points)
I am working on a bio for him, just trying to sort of if Thomas is really his son or not. In one of the IPM's a Thomas Bessels claim he was Peter's son, but that may be a translation error.

In this book which has all the IPM's Thomas eventually claims that he is the son of Peter.

but this is many years after Peter had died. 

I think a little bio and sources go a long way - I wouldn't work too hard on him, Peter/Thomas/William don't seem notable enough we'd find a definitive answer..
+7 votes
I’ll see if I can answer some of these.  It is important to distinguish between a will and an Inquisition Post Mortem.  An IPM was held to determine if a deceased held land of the king, who the rightful heir was, and if the heir was of age to hold the land.  Land could not be willed because it was after all owned by the king and not by the tenant.

The IPMs of Peter Besiles, knt. clearly show that he died without legitimate children.  But, this does not mean he did not have illegitimate children.  Illegitimate children could not inherit under the rules of common law inheritance, or primogeniture – nor would they even be mentioned in an IPM.  They were irrelevant to the task of finding the rightful heir.  The answer to your other question is, no – a bastard son would not be ‘legitimized’ by the church by marrying the mother.

It was possible to get around the king’s prerogative, however, by handing your land over to trustees who then granted the land back to the original owner for his uses (a feoffee to uses).  This essentially allowed someone to give land to whoever he wished.  This is what Peter Besiles did.  All of his land was given over to trustees (or feoffees), who apparently had been directed to on his death sell the land for the benefit of his wife Margery and his illegitimate son Thomas.  He did not actually give any land to the church, the clerks were just serving as trustees.  The chancery suits concern the failure of the trustees to carry out their duties (i.e. sell the land and give the money to Thomas and Margery).

No where do I find it directly said that Thomas was a son of Peter (it is likely in the suits if we had a full transcript).  However, in multiple places it is said that Margery Warbelton was formerly the wife of Peter Besile.  And then it is directly stated that Thomas Besile was the son of Margery.  It then says Thomas Besile was not inheritable to any lands but held only at the pleasure of William Warbelton and Margery his wife.  We know that Thomas Besile was the son of Margery, yet her IPM also says she had no legitimate children.  In multiple places, Thomas Besile, William Warbelton and Margery Warbelton were jointly enfoeffed by trustees; Thomas Besile placed his own son William into the custody of William Warbelton.

The clear implication or conclusion to all this is Thomas Besile was the illegitimate son of Peter Besile and Margery Hanney.
by Joe Cochoit G2G6 Pilot (265k points)

This is your reference, it is a very good one:  Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica, Fifth series vol. 5 (London, 1923-1925):63-82.  ‘’Pedigree of the Besils Family of Gloucester, Wiltshire, Berkshire and Somersetshire’’, by J. Renton Dunlop.  LINK

IPMs of Peter Besile from the Mapping the Medieval Countryside IPM project.

Using the British History Online site to tract the descent of manors as suggested by Kirk Hess is a very good one.  You should also then try to find references used in those articles to get to the primary sources.

A writ was issued to take his Proof of Age.  The Proof of Age is itself missing but the writ states "The said Peter is said to have been born at Rotcote and baptised in the church of Langford."  From the IPM of his nephew we know he was age 21 on the Feast of St John the Baptists last - so born 24 June 1363.

The current marriage date is incorrect and should be blank.

His place of death is not stated anywhere and should be blank.


(Edit:  I have updated the profile to match dates from primary references)

Thank you Joe for this great explanation. It makes much more sense to now that you have laid it out. I appreciate your help!
+1 vote

Have you tried Burke's extinct and dormant peerage? It is the final word on titled ancestry, my own ancestor lost the Earldom when he refused to wed his mistress but they got the consolation prize of a barony which remained in the family for many generations. Another group of ancestors specialized in marrying wealthy heiresses. But try Burke both modern and extinct. There is also a Descendents of Charlesmagne Society if you are in his line.

Good hunting,

Paul Evans
by Paul Evans G2G3 (3.0k points)

Sorry Paul, but Burke's should never be the final word, particularly for medieval families (and probably for any families).

There is a brief description of the problems with Burkes here

The best sources for medieval families are often the legal documents that were written at the time, such as inquistions post mortem, proof of age, land holdings etc that Joe has cited above.

Agreed John, from my own  research experiences of pre-16th century families I have little faith in the genealogies produced by Burke's. It bothers me to see far too much reliance on imported genealogies in WikiTree which clearly have been based not on primary research but on copying from Burke's and other lightweight "genealogies." on the web.

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