There are many unusual, one off documents within all three of the Society’s collections. For example, this eye witness account of the speech made by Sir Walter Ralegh prior to his execution in 1618. It is contained in a parchment letter from Edward Prue to a Mr Edwards.

According to the Dictionary of National Biography this moving speech lasted about three quarters of an hour. The lack of punctuation can make documents of this style difficult to comprehend. Geoff Swinfield who is a member of the SoG and also a professional genealogist has kindly taken the time to transcribe the letter (see below) for ease of understanding. The Society is very proud of this 400 year old letter.

clip image002 Rare Find: Eye witness account of the speech made by Sir Walter Ralegh prior to his 1618 execution.

Modern Transliteration

[reported by Edward Prue] this day for Mr Edwards at My Lord of Dorset

The speech of Sir Walter Ralegh who was beheaded at the old Palace of Westminster on the 29th October 1618 between 8 & 9 am. The [following]Lords were present

Earle of Arundell Lord Percye

Earle of Oxenford

Earle of Lincoln Lord Sheffeeld

Lo Viscount Doncaster Lord Windesor

along with many knights and gentlemen of rank and quality. Having ascended the scaffold he saluted those Lords who were present and said the following :

“If I appear to tremble, I beg that you don’t put it down to cowardice on my part but rather to a strong and violent fever that is hindering me in what I intend to say. This is the third fit that I have had and when I got up yesterday it was at its worse.

I pray that [this fever] doesn’t hinder my voice or the delivery of what I want to say, for I desire that your Lordships may witness it. I thank God that I have been delivered out of the darkness to die here in the light …”

The Lords, who had mostly been at the window overlooking the scaffold asked him to delay his speech so they could come down to him, which he did.

“As I said, thank God that I came out of the darkness of my imprisonment in the Tower to die in the light. As for the matter that caused the King to take so great offence against me, I must confess that there was probably some cause, yet it is far from the whole truth. The main material points are as follows:

Firstly, that I slandered the King concerning dealings with France. Secondly, that I used abusive language about the King.

With regard to the first matter with France I herby call eternal God to witness that I never directly or indirectly had any dealings, treaty, messages or business with the King or State of France or with anyone there. Neither did I have any dealings with the French agent. Indeed I had never ever seen him before until he came to my house. Oh Lord I call upon your all seeing majesty to witness that I am most clear and innocent in this matter. Alas, it would be foolish madness for me to lie in the presence of God as I will be going to him soon and before whom I am now making my account. How would it profit me to make light of such matters and hence risk my soul? It’s a fearful and terrible thing for a man to ask God to be his witness but to then lie and ask God to witness a falsehood. I now have no power in the world and am in no position to flatter Kings for I am now sentenced to death.

It is true that I intended to flee to La Rochelle and to stay there until I could make my peace. But I never intended to do anything [wrong] nor was I commissioned to do anything by France as has been strongly inferred against me. Oh Lord I will forsake your mercy if I evener intended such a thing.

As for the second point about words spoken against His Majesty I hereby solemnly protest and, oh Lord I beg you to throw my soul into the fiery flames of eternal damnation if I had ever spoken such words or had any such thoughts within me. It grieves me that a *renegade Frenchman, a kind of *cyncical, Chinese physician who caused me no end of irritation should be believed above me. For I have always loved the King and loved him when he was King of Scotland. However, I have forgiven him and Sir Lewis Stewkley also as Mr Dean can witness for me as he administered the sacrament to me this morning.

[* the direct transliteration of the terms Runnegate Frenchmen and Chinnincke phisicion would today be considered racist abuse and hence the above loses some of the colour and emphasis of the original]

[According to the Dictionary of National Biography Sir Lewis Stucley, cousin of Sir Walter Ralegh and Vice Admiral of Devon infamously betrayed Ralegh by arresting him after being firstly involved in aiding his attempt to escape to France]

And although I have forgiven Stewkeley, which I do with all my heart, I think it necessary to warn you to beware of such dangerous men as Stewkeley who is my kinsman and who above all others has betrayed me. For he is not ashamed to swear to my face, that I offered him a bribe on our way to London to let me escape in return for payment for £10,000. I call God as my witness that I never offered him any such money. However I did offer money that might be used to pay his debts if he could arrange for my escape order. For if I had had £10,000, I know well enough how I might have used it to achieve my safety and would never used such means to run away and save my life. Stewkeley also swore that I told him that My Lord Carew, my kinsman, advised me to flee and that my Lord Doncaster (who is also related to me by his first wife) had promised me that I would find assistance in France. Thus [Stewkeley] hoped to turn my good friends into my enemies. Oh Lord you are a witness that such thoughts were far from my mind. He [Stewkeley] also said I suggested that I was poisoned while at the house of Sir Edward Parrams (my wife’s near kinsman and who had once been my loyal follower). Stewkeley himself told me that he suspected some such thing. Rather than report such lies I said he should not think such a thing of Sir Edward Parram for I know him to be a noble and worthy gentlemen and the cook had even been my old servant. However I have forgiven him [Stewkeley].

It has been said that I never intended to undertake any voyage to Guiana but that it was only a trick to gain my liberty. I say I had no other intent or purpose than to go there, truly hoping and assuring myself that I would discover a gold mine that would enrich both the King and myself and the crew. It is generally well known how [that venture] failed for the man I depended on after the death of my son, was violent to me after I reproved him. And while it was said that I was forced back by my own crew, there are several worthy gentlemen in this town that went with me and who can testify that I was forced into my cabin by the uproar and seditious mutiny of my crew. The Gunner Room turned against me and took an oath not to return back to England but to turn pirate. But afterwards through gifts and fair promises I wormed my way back through the Master Gunner of my ship who was one of the leading men of his .. . And so at last I got him to land me in Ireland where he intended to put me ashore on the north part amongst the red shanks. But I persuaded him otherwise and promised to obtain a pardon for some of them accused of piracy. So I managed to land on the south part of Ireland by giving them £125 out of my own purse to relieve them. If I had had any intention of not returning to England I might easily have kept my liberty as I had it then in my own hands. After I came to Plymouth I walked wherever I wanted. Sir Lewis Stewkeley was my keeper but I could have escaped easily if I had feared such strict questioning.

My Lord of Arrundell can bear witness with me, as I now well remember that the last time he was aboard with me before my going away, he asked me to perform one request for him. Whether the voyage went well or ill I was to return again to England, which I promised accordingly and which solemn protestations bound me [to that promise] and which I have performed accordingly to finish my days here now in this place.

It has been rumoured that however the journey went that I had profited from my voyage before hand and that I received £16000 from it. But the mistake has grown out of this. The whole adventure was worth £30,000 and I myself was due £14000. But a search of the Scriveners Books showed it all in my name so it was concluded that I got that £16000. Indeed I paid the bills and ran it in my name but the other investors had the disposal of [the balance] as they themselves know. After I left I had but 160 pieces in all the world of which I left 25 with my wife.

It has also been said that I starved my men of fresh water and other things that could be sold, as anyone who is familiar with such voyages knows well. The rules of propriety must be observed otherwise all shall perish.

There is one thing above all that bothers me and that is a false scandalous report that has blemished my reputation and honour. It is said that when that noble and worthy Earle of Essex left this world I stood at a window drinking, [taking] tobacco, laughing and making merry at his downfall. The all judging God knows that I wept bitterly at that time and shed tears of heartfelt and true sorrow for his reign. For I well know his noble and worthy parts and that his fall would be my destruction. Indeed, I was in the armoury of the Tower at that time but too far away to be noticed. And I was told afterwards that he wanted to speak to me and to be reconciled with me, and I was sorrowful even if I was happy to have known that, for he was a person of contradictions.

As for my “counterfeit sickness” and those matters of my escape, I trust God will not judge it as a sin against me, for the holy prophet David did feign his own madness and let spittle run down his beard to save his life when he was in danger. I’ll let pass and not speak of the thundering reports that came to me of my having got into the habit of “blistering” myself to escape and save my life. I give them no weight, but most heartily desire almighty God and Jesus Christ his son, who opened the gates of salvation to all mankind, to forgive all my sins. For I confess myself to be a most wicked, sinful and wretched man; a poor worm of the earth; one who has delighted and trod in all ways of vanity. For my whole life has been bred up to that, having been a courtier, a captain and soldier – professions in which vices have their best nourishment.

Oh my blessed Saviour, let my merits and passion wash this scarlet off my soul that I may leave the pollution and filth of it behind me. I beg your Christian and charitable payers to God for me and this is all I have to say.”

Then he bowed to all the Lords and gentlemen and embraced them and then took his leave and prepared to pray.

Yo(u)r ever poore loving friend

Edward Prue

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Personal Papers, Ration Books and Identity Cards

image thumb5 Personal Papers, Ration Books and Identity Cards Ration Books along with the National Identity cards are typical of the documents that can be found amongst our collections. Most Collections contain some kind of war memorabilia.

Owing to shortages during the war many items were rationed so that everyone could get their fair share. Before the war many of the everyday goods in British shops were imported. The outbreak of war and the dangers to ships from enemy U-boats meant that many goods were in short supply; even goods which were made in Britain were no longer available, as the factories stopped making them. This was because many of the raw materials had to be imported, and the men who worked in the factories were called up to serve in the military. In addition, many factories were converted to make items to help the war effort, such as ammunition, guns, aeroplanes, tanks and uniforms.

Everyone was issued with a food ration card and had to register to buy their food from specific shops. The shop was then issued with the relevant amount of food for the number of registered customers. However, as food was in short supply the shops often did not receive enough for all their customers. News that a delivery had arrived at the shop spread fast and long queues soon formed as everyone was keen to get their share before it was all sold.

Suggested lecture:

Wed 19th May 2010 at 2pm Child Evacuees of World War II. Book early to avoid disappointment.

Diaries and Personal Papers

Many of the Special and Document Collections contain personal papers and diaries such as the 1788 diary and letters of Englishman Thomas Ridout who was captured by Indians on the Ohio river, U.S.A.  Seven men were captured but only Thomas Ridout and one other were lucky enough to live to tell the tale. His story is backed up by newspaper articles informing readers of their capture.

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It was very common for combatants and civilians of the First and second World War to record the daily events of their experiences in the form of a diary.

This is the diary of Ellen Lister. It shows that on the day before the First World War broke out in the hot Summer of August 1914 the Lister family went to see the popular New York comedy play Potash and Perlmutter which had crossed the Atlantic to rave reviews. This comedy was probably touring in repertory theatre. A production was very well reviewed in the Reading Eagle in September 1914 thus showing, like this diary, that the general population had little inkling of the forthcoming horrors of the Great War.

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Photographs

Many of the Society’s collections contain fascinating and insightful photographs. Most photographs are of family members, military personnel, pets, locations etc but some collections contain more unusual photographs i.e. bombed London locations.

Suggested lecture:

Sat 16th October 2010 at 2pm Learn about your Ancestors from Old Photographs. Book early to avoid disappointment.

Here are just a few examples:

The Seear family were particularly connected with confectionery and tea selling, their Special Collection contains many fascinating pictures and information on the shopkeepers in S.E. London.

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The extensive Lister Collection contains many beautiful family photographs from the 19th century such as this one of mother and daughter.

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The photograph on the left is of ‘Gwen Harold’ and can be found in an album from the Baxter-Holl Special Collection along with the photograph on the right which was taken in Haslemere, Surrey.  The Baxter-Holl album contains many stunning pictures, few of  which have been dated which should be a reminder to us all to name and date all of our photographs.

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This photograph is from the Cartland Special Collection and shows the Suhum and District Scout Council in Ghana with Rev A Cofie, taken in 1936.

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Marriage Settlements

When a man and woman married, the law considered the wife’s legal identity to be absorbed into her husband’s, this meant that everything a woman owned before her marriage became the property of her husband, to dispose of as he pleased. This did not change until the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882 that married women were given the same property rights as single women.

Marriage settlements, which were essentially prenuptial agreements, were the means that parents and guardians used to circumvent this problem. The settlement would set up a separate trust for the wife and guarantee her access to certain amounts of funds during her husband’s life and after his death. Exact terms would be negotiated and contracted out by the parties involved and could include other provisions as well. This way a father could prevent a profligate son-in-law from spending all his money and leaving his daughter destitute.

The below settlement outlines a form of pre nuptial agreement between the families Batson and Smart in August 1781.

There is no place where marriage settlements or other such original and personal family documents might be deposited and this item has come to the Society of Genealogists from family papers or perhaps even from the office of the solicitors involved and has been placed in the document collection of miscellaneous family papers and research notes.

This settlement outlines a form of pre nuptial agreement between the families. The IGI and Ancestry shows the marriage by licence of Robert Batson (widower of “St Annes Middlesex”) and Mary Smart at St Dunstans and All Saints, Stepney on 16 August 1781. There is a Faculty Office Marriage Licence for this marriage issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury on 14th August and indexed by the Society on the online British Origins website. Altogether these documents shed light on the practice of marriage in the mid 18th century.

Marriage Settlements can be found in both the Special and Document Collections.

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Suggested lectures:

Saturday 8th May 2010 at 2pm: Marriage Law and Practice in the Long Eighteenth Century. Book early to avoid disappointment.

Wednesday 5th May 2010 at 2pm: Tracing Female Ancestors. Book early to avoid disappointment.

Wills

The Society hold thousands of both original and copied, abstracts and transcripts of probates and wills dating as far back as the 1400’s. Many of the wills are unprobated, which means County record offices would not be aware of their existence. Over the years, the Society has collected copies and abstracts of Irish wills, the originals of which were destroyed in the Irish Civil War of 1922. These include, for example, the volumes known as Welpley’s Irish wills and pleadings which contain some 20 volumes of abstracts from Irish wills, Chancery & Exchequer cases, Guardianships, Deeds, Marriage Settlements, etc which are all prior to the 1922 fire at the Irish record offices.

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The Bank of England Will Extracts

The Society is very proud of rescuing the Bank of England Will extracts that were due to be destroyed in 1985. These large volumes date from 1717 – 1845 and list the details of burials and those that were declared ‘lunatic’. These fascinating documents contain the will extracts of many well known and influential people such as Lord Nelson, Duke of Wellington and Charles Dickens.

This extract is from the will of Lawrence Spencer senior who was clerk of works to the building of St Paul’s Cathedral by Sir Christopher Wren. He inherited the Lottery annuity stock mentioned in the abstract after administering the estate of his son Lawrence junior. Other records show that he also invested in South Sea Stock using capital from the Cathedral building fund but sold his investment at a profit before the bubble burst. Lawrence Spencer senior outlived two of his three wives and his children and died not knowing whether his youngest son was alive or dead as he had last been heard of in St Kitts. Lawrence was buried within the Cathedral along with his first wife Dorothy Bradshaw and an unidentified infant child.

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Suggested lecture, leaflet and visit:

Sat 31st July 2010 at 10.30am Finding and Understanding Wills. Book early to avoid disappointment.

The Society have put together a free information leaflet called ‘Probate Records’ click here to download.

Wed 18th Aug 2010 at 2pm visit: Bank of England Museum & Talk. Book early to avoid disappointment.

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