The will of William Greene, chirurgeon

A few weeks ago I wrote about William Greene, a chirurgeon (surgeon) in the hamlet of Ratcliffe, Stepney, in the seventeenth century. I’m still not sure whether he was related to my 8 x great grandfather, another William Greene, who also lived in Ratcliffe at around the same time, and who was a mariner. However, in my continuing search for connections between the various Greenes of Ratcliffe, I’ve come across the will of William Greene, chirurgeon, composed on 25 August 1654, which confirms some of what I knew, and adds some new information about this branch of the Greene family.  A transcription follows:

In the name of God Amen. I William Greene of Ratcliffe in the parish of Stepney in the county of Middlesex chirurgeon being in health and perfect memorie praysed be god for the same doe make and ordaine these presents (?) to be and xxx my last will and testament in form followinge That is to say Imprimis I committ my soule into the hands of Almightie God my creator And my body to the earth from whence it was taken And xxx my worldly estate and meanes that it hath pleased God to make mee a Steward of in this present world To witt All manner of household stuffe whatsoever was properly mine before my marriage to my wife Anne Rhodes Together with all such debts at the tyme of my decease shall appeare to be due unto mee either by bond bill wages or other xxx howsoever I xxx and bequeath the sums to my foure youngest daughters To witt Mary Elizabeth Ellen and Abigaill to be equally divided betweene them And if it shall happen anie of the said sisters to depart this life unmarried before or after my decease Then the say portion of her soe deceased to be equally divided to the other three and soe in like manner for them all xxx unto my wife Anne Greene her thirds (?) of the aforesaid goods if she surviveth xxx Item I do make and ordain my loving cosin Thomas Cumberford of Ratcliffe aforesaid plattmaker (?) to be my executor of this my last will and testament Revoakeing all former wills by mee at anie time heretofore made In Witnes whereof I have hereunto Set my hand and Seale The five and twentieth day of August one thousand six hundred fifty and fower William Greene Signed Sealed published and xxx in the presence of John Gardiner Scrivener.

The fower and twentieth day of Aprill in the year of our Lord God one thousand six hundred fifty and six in Commission on Letters of Administration issued forth to Anne Greene the relict of the sayd deceased To Administer all and Singular the goods chattels and debts of the sayd deceased according to the tenor (?) and effect (?) of this last will and testament of the sayd deceased for that Thomas Cumberford the sole executor named in the sayd will have xxx(?) judicially renounced the operation thereof xxx by the Arts of court may approve xxxx the sayd Anne Greene being first xxx in due forme of lawe by nature of a commission will and truly (?) to administer ye same.

What can we learn from this will? Most obviously, it tells us when William Greene, chirurgeon of Ratcliffe, died – certainly between August 1654 when he made his will, and April 1656, when it was proven. It’s most likely that he died in the early months of 1656, though I’ve yet to find a record of his burial, which I assume was at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, where he was married and where all his children were christened.

Interior of St Dunstan's, Stepney

The will also confirms that the William Greene who married Anne Rhodes, a widow, in 1645 was the same William who had daughters Mary, Elizabeth, Ellen and Abigail by a previous wife, also named Anne. This was certainly William’s second and probably his third marriage.

It confirms that these four daughters, at least, survived, until 1654. By this date Mary would have been 23, Elizabeth 21, Ellen 18 and Abigail 15. Does the fact that William dscribes them as his four youngest daughters imply that other children, from his first marriage to Agnes, also survived? Of these, Margaret would have been 33, Sara 31, and son William 30. Their absence from their father’s will must mean either that they were no longer alive, or that they were already well provided for, or that William senior did not have sufficient resources to spread more widely in his will.

We also learn from the will the name of William’s cousin, Thomas Cumberford, whose surname is spelt variously in the parish records as Camberford, Comberford and Commerford. The fact that he does not share a surname with William means either that he is from William’s mother’s family, or that he is the son of one of William’s father’s sisters. I’m not sure whether ‘platt maker’ refers to straw plaiting, or perhaps to rope-making, which thrived in the riverside hamlets of Stepney. I’ve discovered that he was the son of another ‘platt maker’, Nicholas, and his wife Mary. Thomas Cumberford and his wife Elizabeth had a number of children, including Thomas, Elizabeth, Robert, Charles and Nicholas.

William Greene’s will is notable for something that’s missing from it, which is to be found in every other 17th and 18th century will that I’ve previously transcribed: the name of the reigning monarch. This is because William made his will in the fifth year of Cromwell’s republican Commonwealth, which would last until the Restoration of the monarchy under Charles II in 1660.

As a trivial aside, we also learn something of 17th century pronunciation from this will: the spelling (twice) of ‘four’ as ‘fower’ presumably reflects the way the word was spoken – as two syllables.

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