True Love as Revealed in a Will

It is unusual that we get to see inside the marriages of our ancestors, especially those who died over 400 years ago. But I was afforded just such a glimpse as I laboured at transcribing some of the many Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) wills belonging to my Norwich ancestors that are now readily available on Ancestry.

One of these is the will of Thomas Sotherton, my nine times great uncle. A grocer and politician and a man of considerable wealth, as the will makes quite clear, he was born about 1555 and married Frances Cheke after the death of her first husband, John Foxe.

Typically in these early wills the most one sees is the formulaic phrase: “well-beloved wife.” But Thomas made his love for Frances quite clear as he wrote his will while approaching death in 1608. (He signed the will on March 31st and was dead in May). I have updated the archaic spelling to make his declaration more readable.

And for as much as my dear and most loving wife hath in the time of my health and now more especially in this my troublesome and great sickness showed herself most loving and dutiful and with great respect hath tenderly and carefully regarded me and that as all times heretofore she hath most lovingly and tenderly nourished our children. And that she may the better be enabled to educate them and be mindful of me and the mutual love long continued between us and the memory of me dead and our children living charging her by all that love and the tokens and pledges of our love which shall remain to have a special care for the good of our children and their well training up in godly and virtuous exercises hoping that no second love or means shall cause her to remove that unfeigned most earnest promised love and remembrances vowed and professed as well to me in private as in the presence of some of our friends. Therefore the better to make my love more apparent even at this my last days which I expect to be but few I give unto my said loving wife…

 Thomas was buried in the church of St. John Maddermarket in Norwich. A wonderful monument, which still can be seen on the wall of the church, shows—in typical Jacobean fashion—the husband and wife kneeling on either side of a prayer desk with the sons behind the father and the daughters behind the mother. They had two sons and six daughters (although only five are depicted). Two daughters and one son carry skulls, indicating that they predeceased their parents.

One of the commentaries on the church gives the following amusing aside: “Thomas’s side of the monument carries his coat of arms—interestingly Frances’ side is blank. Suggesting (not too subtly) that her family was not the equal of her husband’s.” (

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