Before I started researching the 15th-16th century documents obtained from Toronto University pertaining to land transfers in the Manor of 'Maunsfelde Wodehus', I had to refresh my schoolboy knowledge of the post conquest Feudal System of government. Basically, the King owned all the land but created favoured Dukes who gave their allegiance in return for tenure of vast swathes of land. The Dukes were responsible for raising taxes for the Crown and providing trained and equipped armies. The Dukes carved up their land into fiefdoms/fiefs/fees and smaller manors and awarded them to favoured Barons & Lords whose principal purpose was to maintain food production, provide tax collection and military services. In turn, the Barons and Lords awarded income-bearing properties to knights or vassals for their military services who in turn would retain the services of serfs or peasant farmers.
By the end of the 15th century the feudal system had become very complexed and corrupt. Just like a slick modern day accountant would look for loopholes to avoid an ever increasing tax burden for his client, similar activity was abound in the reign of Henry VII and Henry VIII.
The first document of relevance is that of knight, Simon Dygby who obtained land in trust from Radulphus Stuffyn, son of John Stuffyn on 14th August 1480. This would be income bearing land given in return for military services. The Stuffyn's of Woodhouse were tax collectors whose forebears had made their fortune rearing sheep for wool. Simon Dygby was the first son of Lord Everard Dygby of Drystoke, Rutland who lost his life and most of the family’s lands & wealth fighting in the War of the Roses for Henry VI's House of Lancaster against the Yorkist, Edward IV in England’s bloodiest battle at Towton. This battle is reknown for the slaughter of the Lancastrian army by 'arrowstorm', the highly effective use of archers that rained down tens of thousands of arrows killing 28,000 men in ten hours. However, in 1485, Simon Digby and his brothers, Everard and John, fought victoriously with Henry VII against Richard III at the decisive battle of Bosworth Field, subsequently reversing the family's misfortune and becoming favoured by the Tudor family whose dynasty was to last for 118 years. John Dygby was knighted on the field at Bosworth and appointed Knight-Mareschal of the King's household. Simon was awarded a grant for life of all the lands, which had belonged to Yorkist, George, Duke of Clarence, in the county of Rutland, including the lost family seat at Drystoke. At the same time he was appointed receiver and steward of other manors in that shire and in the county of York. The following year he was victorious again for the Tudors at the battle of Stoke against an attempt on the throne supported by the Irish. Dygby was granted the manor of Ravensbury, Surrey for his services.
Between 1495-1499 Simon Dygby played a central part for Henry VII in Perkin Warbeck's claim to the throne. The ambitious French Duchess of Burgundy financed Flanders born Warbeck's (aka The Pretender) small army and circulated his false identity around the royal courts of Europe as the youngest son of Edward IV, the rightful King of England. Warbeck bore a strong resemblance to Edward IV, was the right age and had the confidence and charm to make others believe the deception. History now tells us that the children of Edward IV were murdered in the Tower of London by Richard III but the lack of evidence/bodies/witness statements, despite Henry VII's efforts to confirm their deaths, lent support to the exile theory, subsequently sympathises to the House of York were able to gain support. In 1495, Warbeck's small army were killed or captured on the Kent coast and prisoners delivered to the Tower for interrogation but Warbeck escaped by ship and found support in King James of Scotland who was completely taken in by his false identity and claim to the English throne. He later sailed to Ireland and Cornwall seeking more support for his second rebellion but the Irish had learnt their lesson after suffering heavy losses at the battle of Stoke in 1486.The impoverished Cornish tin miners had tax grievances as Henry VII had overturned a tax reduction deal made between the miners and Edward I. Henry VII had imposed higher taxes on the population to finance the defense of his crown against Warbeck.
In 1495, Sir John Dygby, held office of Lieutenant of the Tower of London, where the Earl of Warwick (last of the Yorkist Plantagenets) was imprisoned. Through interrogation of the Warbeck prisoners captured in Kent and other sources of intelligence, Sir John Dygby discovered the names of the English conspirators including that of Sir Simon Montfort of Coleshill Manor. Simon Dygby was actioned by his brother, Sir John, to capture Montfort and bring him to trial where the following year he was hung for treason. After Montfort's execution, the Coleshill Manor in Litchfield was granted to Simon Dygby along with the Lordship. In 1496 Sir Simon Dygby was commissioned by Henry VII to impose martial law in Devon and Cornwall due to the rising threat of Warbeck's supporters who were calling him the Duke of York, King Richard IV. The following year, Warbeck landed in Cornwall to a warm welcome after his promise to reduce their heavy taxes. He advanced on Taunton with 7000 men where Sir Simon Digby, Henry VII and his army quickly repelled the rebellion. Warbeck was captured and imprisoned in the Tower, where, after torture, revealed his true identity. In 1499, Sir John Digby was informed by his staff that the imprisoned Earl of Warwick was overheard plotting an escape with Warbeck. This gave King Henry VII a reason to finally execute the last of the Plantagenets along with the 'Pretender', Warbeck.
In 1505 Sir Simon Digby is recorded as the High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and the Royal Forests.
The next document is dated 3rd April, 4th year in the reign of Henry VIII' (1512) is a document by Ralph Stuffyn's widow, Anne stating that she has remised (released) the title rights held by Ralph to Simon Dygby and her son, Robert Stuffyn.
Followed by on the 25th April, 4th year in the reign of Henry VIII' (1512) a 'Feoffment' from Robert Stuffyn assigning 'peaceably' his 'seisin', (his legal inheritance of the fief) all his manors, lands, tenements, meadows, feedings & pasture rents in Mansfield Woodhouse, Warsop, Pleasley & Shirebrook in the counties of Nottingham & Derby to Simon Dygby, Chief Lord of the Fee (Fief). Feoffments were a legal loophole devised to avoid inheritance tax while still having benefit of the land without title and may have required the Lord of the Fief to have provided a service.
The service in this case was to provide an annuity for life to the widow of Ralph Stuffyn, Anne. The document dated 17th May, 1512 is an agreement for an annuity to be paid twice yearly on the feast of St Michael the Archangel (29th September) and on the feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (25th March) by Simon Dygby to Anne Stuffyn.
By 1515 documents reveal that Simon Dygby had settled his own death duty issues having transferred the Manor of Coleshill and the Lordship to his brother Everard, Simon reverted back to title of knight. Incidentally, Everard, Simon's brother's line gave rise to the infamous Everard Digby, Elizabeth 1st courtier and the financier of the Gunpowder plot who was hung in 1606.
Similarly, in April 1515 he transferred lands in Mansfield Woodhouse, Warsop, Pleasley and Shirebrook to members of his family including his brothers. The granting of one's landholdings to a group of trusted family members was called enfeoffing and was devised to avoid inheritance tax and seizure by the crown should no legal heir exist. It also prevented the crown seizing control of the lands should the heirs be under the age of 21. It would appear that Thomas, his son, was under the age of 21 as he is not listed among the list of feoffees.
In 1516 a document describes the Court Baron of Everard Dygby of Stoke Drye, Rowland Dygby, William Dygby and John Dygby - the feoffees (trustees of the feif) the use of the Mansfield Woodhoue Manor to Simon Dygby's wife, Alice, for the term of her life and thereafter for his youngest son, Thomas, and therafter his rightful heirs. Also at this hearing was heard John Stuffyn of Shirebrook who presented evidence that Simon Dygby had leased Longstone Wood (Stuffynwood) for the term of his life and thereafter to Thomas Dygby and his heirs. The rent was 2 capons to be paid on the Circumcision of the Lord on January 1st to Simon Dygby at the Manor of Mansfield Woodhouse Dated 9th July, 1516 in the reign of Henry VIII. The address of Simon Dygby was Clipston in the county of Nottingham, which was likely the 12th century ruin known as the King's Houses but lately known as King John's Palace, which has been recently surveyed to reveal stabling for 200 horses. Although once regarded as an overnight stop for the Royals whilst hunting in the Royal enclosures, it would seem likely that a knight in service for the King would be using such facilities. However, this record suggests that it was not suitable for Simon Digby's wife, Alice! .....In 1525 it was said of the King's Houses that "ther is great dekay & ruyne in stone-work tymber lede and plaster"...... I believe that the Manor House was built for Simon's wife, Alice and her young son Thomas. Burkes Peerage records the first occupant of the Manor House as Thomas but I think the assumption is that Alice was living with Simon who are recorded by Burke's as living at Coleshill Manor, however, I have a record having Simon's nephew, Everard Digby living there in 1515.
Also heard at this court was the claim of Thomas Southworth claiming to hold of the Lord at Mansfield Woodhouse the Chantry and 6 acres of land by Suit of Court for the yearly rent of six silver marks. Robert Stuffyn of Newark who held the Woodhouse Manor founded the chantry in 1344. He was a benefactor to the Austin Priory of Felley who undertook to find a chaplain, and to pay him and his successours six Marks of silver yearly, to pray for the said Robert and Alice his wife, whilst they should live, and for the souls of Richard Stuffyn, their Fathers, Mothers, and Ancestors, and for the Soul of John, son of Hugh de Portesmouth of London; and after the Death of the said Robert and Alice, for their Souls, and all the faithfull, at the altar of the blessed Mary, in the Church or Chapel of Mauunesfelld Wodhous; which said Robert Stuffyn during his life, in every vacancy was to present a fit Chaplain to the Archbishop of York, the See being full, or else to the Dean and Chapter of York; and after his decease his sons Richard, Robert, William, and James, which of them should survive him according to their seniorities, for their respective lives, within fifteen daies of the avoidance, afterwards the Prior of Felley, or if he slipt the fifteen daies, the Vicar of Maunsfeild, and if he did, the Archbishop or Dean and Chapter of York. Chaplains were appointed until the mid 18th Century.
The Stuffyn Chantry founded 1344. This shows a medieval carved stone impression Of Robert Stuffyn and his wife Alice, at St Edmunds Church, Mansfield Woodhouse, Nottinghamshire, England.