The Will of the Distinguished Lawyer Reginald de Eccles

Norfolk Record Office holds the will of Reginald de Eccles [1] written in August 1380, an extensive document in Latin comprising two parts and entirely consistent with his position as a wealthy 14th century lawyer. Reflecting the beliefs of the testator in the pre-Reformation church, the first part of the document, the testament, deals exclusively with Reginald’s desire to ensure his celestial future with a wide range of intercessory bequests. Having first committed his soul to Almighty God, Reginald then requests to be buried in the chancel of the parish church of All Saints, Billockby, leaving one marke [13s4d] to the high altar there, and a further marke for the reparations of the church.

IMG_5940 cropped

Extract from the will of Reginald de Eccles (Norfolk Record Office, Heydon 186/9)

A New Bell for Eccles Church

As his family name suggests Reginald also held land and property at Eccles juxta Mare, accordingly he bequeaths one marke to the high altar of the church of Eccles St. Mary next the Sea, and ten markes [£6:13s:4d] for a new bell to be purchased for the church, where he says,

‘Item pro una nova campania emenda in ecclesia de Eccles x markes’

The word ‘emenda’, meaning ‘to improve’ is consistent with the fact that a new octagonal belfry in the architectural style of the late 14th century was added to the tower of Eccles St. Mary next the Sea, so perhaps this new bell was to celebrate the completion of this belfry? [2] Many of the other round tower churches in this part of east Norfolk were being similarly adapted, [3] in some cases with a complete rebuild to both tower and belfry.

Further bequests, suggesting that Reginald’s property extended to other east Norfolk villages include half a marke to the high altar of the church of Hempstead St. Andrew and a further marke for the reparations of that church; with similar bequests to both Rollesby and Palling churches. The second part of Reginald’s will deals with bequests to his family, notably his wife Agnes and son John, with the will subsequently being proved on July 7th 1381.

A Wealthy Self-Made Man Attracts Resentment

The names of Reginald de Eccles and his son John were cited in 1444 in a complex legal dispute over rent charges between Sir John Fastolf and Hickling Priory. One of Fastolf’s servants, his chaplain Thomas Howes who lived at Caister, investigated the two men and their heirs and wrote to Fastolf on October 26th 1447 with his findings. He revealed that Reginald de Eccles was a distinguished lawyer, ‘a sergeaunt of lawe or a prentys of court’ and was a self-made man who had ‘com up in poverte’. [4]

However, Reginald’s wealth was not gained without some resentment from the local population, particularly when he was appointed by the Crown as one of the peace commissioners to mediate in the uprising. [5] On June 17th 1381 he was attacked by rebels [6] and seized at his lodgings at the Bishop’s Palace of the Manor of St Benet de Hulm at Heigham in Norwich. [7] The rebels then moved on to Gt. Yarmouth, stopping at Billockby on the way to ransack Reginald’s property there.

In his letter recording the events Thomas Howes somewhat gruesomely gives the enigmatic title for this piece, that Reginald had been ‘hefded in the Ryfying tyme’. [8]  In other words he was beheaded during the Peasants’ Revolt, with his head being put on display at Norwich.

Both Reginald and his son John were buried in Billockby church, [9] confirming that Reginald’s request for his body to be buried in the chancel there was indeed carried out, but presumably without his head?

David Stannard, October 2018


[1] Norfolk Record Office  NCC Heydon 186/9

[2] Dominic Summers [2011] Norfolk Church Towers of the Later Middles Ages Vol 1 of 2   pg 64  PhD Thesis  UEA

[3] Stephen Hart (2003) The Round Church Towers of England Lucas Books

[4] Cited by Anthony Smith ‘My Confessors have extorted me gretely ther too…’: Sir John Fastolf’s dispute with Hickling Priory.’ E. Scarff and C.Richmond editors [Windsor 2001] ‘St. George’s Chapel Windsor Castle in the Later Middle Ages’. The letter of 26 October 1447 is Magdalen College, Hickling 140

[5] Calendar of Patent Rolls    4 Richard II    April 8th Westminster Volume 1 pg581

[6] Barbara Cornford et al [1984] ‘Studies Towards a History of the Rising of 1381 in Norfolk’ Norfolk Research Committee

[7] Edgar Powell [1853] The Rising in East Anglia in 1381. Published 1896 University Press

[8] Anthony Smith [2001] pg 61 quoting the letter by Howes from K B McFarlane Letters to Friends 1940-1966 ed. G L Harriss, Magdalen College, Oxford 1997 pp75-76

[9] Today much of the church is in ruins with only the chancel and porch used for services.

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