Ludovic Greville’s Dark Deeds

Throwing an unexpected light on a notorious story

What a splendid signature! Ludovic Greville.
Warwickshire County Record Office reference CR 2028/45/3/3

I volunteer at Warwickshire County Record Office and my current volunteer project, which I have now been working on for about a year, involves CR2028, a collection received in 1980. Bundles of deeds appear only occasionally, though they are generally earlier than the bundles for individuals. One of these found very recently is particularly intriguing.

Throwing an unexpected light

It is described as ‘Deeds for Welford’, and the contents date from 1577 to 1745 (CR2028/45/3/1-3). Though they do mostly relate to Welford, they also include deeds for Binton and for Shottery. It looks as if they had been removed from the deed bundles for a Welford property, since they couldn’t easily be related to the recent deeds that were needed to establish its ownership. The earliest in the group are particularly intriguing and throw an unexpected light on what was thought to be a well-understood scandalous episode in Warwickshire history.

Ludovic Greville

In 1577, Lodovic [Lewis] Grevill [Grevyll] of Milcote was lord of the manor of Welford; he was a member of an important Warwickshire family, cousins of the Grevilles of Beauchamp Court, Alcester (the ancestors of the Earls of Warwick). He seems to have agreed on a partial enclosure of open field land at Welford, in which a number of villagers resigned their rights over ‘enclosures of Grevyll lately digged’, in exchange for purchasing their own copyhold lands; this is significant as evidence for an early enclosure by agreement. The particular deeds in the bundle relate to the house and lands sold to one William Roberts, but they include information about several other villagers as well.

The deeds say nothing directly about the shocking doings of Ludovic Greville. According to Dugdale (1728 edition, Vol II, 705f), he coveted the property of a former servant, Richard Webb, and had forged a will in his own favour, and then had Webb murdered. Later ‘one of the assassinates, being in his cups at Stratford, dropped out some words amongst his pot companions that it lay within his power to hang his master’.

Pressed to death

He, in turn, was hastily despatched but the crimes were discovered and Greville was tried on 6 Nov. 1589. To prevent the loss of his estates he remained mute, was pressed to death, and ‘lands of great worth in both Gloucestershire and Warwickshire devolved upon Edward Greville.’ However, the next deed in the sequence (CR2028/45/3/1/4) shows that this story can’t be precisely correct, since it shows that in 1591, the Welford estate was in the hands of Queen Elizabeth. Thus, it must have been forfeited to the Crown, although presumably later restored to Ludovic’s son Edward. This deed follows the death of William Roberts and is the grant of general livery to his son Thomas, signed by William Cecil, Lord Burley and Richard Kingsmyll, as supervisors of Crown lands, on behalf of the queen. Thus it shows that William Roberts – an ordinary villager in Welford – had become a ‘tenant in chief’ of the Crown, legally on a level with the greatest in the land.

Edward Greville was a cousin of Fulke Greville and it appears that the family status was sufficient to effect his return as knight of the shire despite his father’s infamy and the hatred with which he himself was regarded by 1593. He is not mentioned by name in the journals of the House, but as knight of the shire he may have attended the subsidy committee (26 Feb.) and a legal committee (9 Mar.) in 1593.

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