Posted by: Christine | April 13, 2012

A Problem with Wills

Having blogged about the death of John Madder a few days ago, I thought I would continue with a problem I am having with his Will (or Wills).

Wills for sailors are fairly easy to find as most were proved in the PCC (Prerogative Court of Canterbury). These wills, from 1384 – 1858, are available from the TNA DocumentsOnline and I have found 25 wills of Madder/Mather mariners there. The Discovery Catalogue replaces DocumentsOnline search at the end of the month, so to find them in that, use Advanced search and “Search within” PROB 11.

Among the 25 wills were two possibilities for John Madder:

PROB 11/495, dated 12th June 1707, Will of John Madder, Mariner of Saint Paul Shadwell, Middlesex (transcription)

PROB 11/505, dated 3rd November 1708, Will of John Madder, Mariner being now bound forth on a Voyage to Sea of Saint Paul Shadwell, Middlesex (transcription)  

The dates refer to the date of probate, so both were proved after his death. He was a mariner and I knew that he lived in Shadwell. Looking at the details, I decided that the first will was his.

In this he left everything to his daughter Isabella and the executors were to be Isabella and his sister Susanna (in fact sister-in law, wife of John’s brother George). The witnesses were all on board the Worcester and it was written on 11th February 1702. From other sources I know that on this date the Worcester was in the Downs off Deal, waiting to sail and that John Madder had received a letter that day. What was in the letter was unknown, but it must have contained some news that caused him to write a new will (Most sailors would have written a will before they sailed)

The other will (PROB 11/505) was written on 16th October 1699 and the writer bequeathed his estate to his sister Euphen Madder, spinster, who was also executor. This suggests he was unmarried and I knew “my” John Madder was married, with children, so discounted this will.

It was when I stared looking at the dates of probate and putting these together with other information that I started to wonder what was going on.

John Madder died a convicted criminal in 1705 and therefore all his property would be confiscated – no reason to prove any will. However in August 1707 the Treasury awarded compensation to members of the Worcester’s crew – the relatives of John Madder were to receive £460. I can find no evidence that the money was ever paid (Petitions requesting it were still being made to the Treasury in 1711) However exactly two months before the award, on 12th June 1707, the first will was proved, by Isabella and Susanna.

So far, all very straightforward. The following year Isabella became ill and she wrote a will on 9th October 1708. She was buried on 18th November – she was only 16. She made bequests to George and Susanna Madder, among other friends and relatives, but everything else went to “my loving friend Daniel Shank of London, Citizen and Draper”. He was named as Executor, but was not a very good one, as in 1711 he was taken to court by George Madder for not having administered the will. For more about this see my previous post “Horrid Murder !!”

All very interesting, but now remember the date  that the other John Madder will was proved, 3rd November 1708, less than two weeks before Isabella was buried. Now bearing in mind that I have found nothing whatsoever about another John Madder, mariner of Shadwell, is this coincidence?

My theory is this: John Madder is executed, there is nothing to inherit, so nothing is done about any will. When there is money to be had, his latest will is proved, but then his daughter is going to leave everything to someone outside the family. The Madder family digs out an older will, made before a previous voyage, in order to keep their hands on the money (or expectation of money).

So much information, but so much is missing.

What was in the letter to John Madder to cause him to change his will?

Had his wife died? Or his son? The burial registers for Shadwell at this period are too fragile to read.

Why were his wife and children not mentioned in the earlier will? Perhaps he didn’t trust his wife.

That’s the problem with Genealogy, one new fact can change the whole story. Perhaps the second will was written by a completely different John Madder and it’s all a coincidence, they do happen! You can only keep on looking for more information.

And if it is the same person, perhaps some lawyer out there can tell me how a will can be proved twice in the same court.


  1. […] Accordingly, I started with Parish Registers. We looked at pages from Harborough Magna, stating in 1900 and working  backwards in 50 year jumps. I explained changes in the handwriting and a bit about how the registers were written. I also got the class to transcribe a few lines – I find the only way to learn something is have a go at doing it yourself. This exercise was an expansion of my blog Transcription Tips 2. […]

  2. […] Shanke to court because he hadn’t proved the will of Isabella. See Horrid Murder ! , A Problem with Wills and Wapping to Bethlehem . I thought I had found all there was to find. I was wrong. Daniel […]

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