A Treasure Trove of Family Wills

Category: women’s history

Sometimes the handwriting is almost illegible, the archaic language difficult to interpret, but I do love grappling with a last Will and Testament.

I recently came across a treasure trove of family wills which helped me identify titles and properties and make some important family links.

The four Bulkeley sisters died within an eight year period – Bridget in 1775, Anne and Elizabeth in 1778 and Eleanora in 1782. Bridget was a spinster, the other three all married but only Anne had children.

Bridget, the eldest sister, was baptised on July 18, 1705 at St Martin in the Fields and at the end of her life was living in Highgate.  In the 18th century Highgate was a small, country town some five miles away from London. Set high above its neighbouring parishes Highgate offered a healthy environment in which to live for those wealthy enough to afford the property prices, much like today really.

Views of Highgate

When Bridget wrote her will on April 30, 1761 she had no need to identify her address, ‘I Bridget Bulkeley of Highgate’ sufficed. Today it is difficult to identify where she might have lived, if the property still survives.

Bridget’s will was my first find and was the key that unlocked the family relationships. After the usual preamble, Bridget announces bequests to her sisters.

‘I give to my sister Ellinora Maria Hervey wife of George Hervey of Tiddington in the County of Oxford Esq and to the said George Hervey one hundred pounds between them I give to my sister Ann Bertie widow of the late Reverend Dr William Bertie of Allbury in the County of Oxford the sum of one hundred pounds Item I give to my sister Elizabeth Price wife of William Price of Rhiwlas in the County of Flintshire Esq and to the said William Price the sum of one hundred pounds between them.’

Then comes a generous bequest to her nieces.

‘Item I give to my three nieces Fanny Bertie Sophia Bertie and Ann Bertie the daughters of the said late Dr William Bertie and his wife to each of them the sum of one thousand pounds to be paid to them respectively at their respective ages of twenty one years…’

To her nephews James and Richard Bertie she gives the sum of £100 when they reach the age of 21 and arrangements are made should any of the nephews and nieces ‘dye.’

Bridget leaves bequests to her three servants. Mary Parott receives £100 plus an additional £10 to spend on mourning attire. Ann Howard and Catherine Pinock receive £10 and £5 respectively for ‘mourning.’

Bridget appoints her brother in law George Hervey and John Jones, an ironmonger from the Parish of St Martins, to be executors of her Will but by the time of her death in 1775 both had also died. Administration of her will, therefore, went to her sister Anne.

Bridget was buried on November 20, 1775 in the vault beneath the Church of St Michael, Highgate – not the present church but the old Highgate Chapel, originally a hermitage chapel.

the Old Chapel Highgate

The Old Chapel, Highgate

For all her married life Anne lived in the Oxfordshire parish of Albury where her husband William Bertie was Rector at the parish church. The baptisms of their children appear in the parish registers and when her sister Eleanora married George Hervey on September 19, 1749 the service was conducted by William. In 1767, several years after William’s death, Anne moved to Wales where she lived with her sister Elizabeth at Daynol in the County of Flintshire.

In her will Anne makes reference to several large sums of money – £2,000 from her marriage settlement, £1,500 left to her by her ‘Uncle Abingdon’ and a further sum of £1, 438 0s 7d, totalling £4,938 0s 7d. Her three daughters were bequeathed varying amounts of money. Frances receives £775 (£100 of which was left to her by her ‘Grandmother Bulkeley.’) Sophia receives £375 while Anne is bequeathed £775. Sophia was married so possibly received an endowment at the time of her wedding, while Anne and Frances remained spinsters. Everything else went to her son Richard who she appointed as her executor.

Elizabeth’s will made on July 6, 1778, less than six months after Anne’s death, is the briefest of all four documents. Her first instruction is that she wishes to be buried with her late husband in the parish church of Llanfawr in Merioneth. Next she leaves £20 to Hester Bridge, who is one of the witnesses on both Anne and her own will, and then £20 to her ‘servant maid Catherine Humphrey.’ Everything else she wraps up very neatly leaving the ‘rest residue and remainder of my personal estate and effects of what nature or kind soever’ to her nephew Richard Bertie and unmarried nieces Frances Eleanor and Anne Bertie.

What is noteworthy about Bridget, Anne and Elizabeth’s wills is the absence of any personal bits and pieces, jewellery, paintings, books. it’s all about the money.

Eleanora Maria was living at Rivers Street in the City of Bath at the time she made her will and at last there are some personal items. She also begins with instructions as to her burial. She wants a private funeral and to be buried with her late husband George in the vault at Chilton parish church. The three Bertie nieces are left £50 each as is their brother Richard, who this time dodges the burden of being made executor. She leaves mourning rings to the Earl of Abingdon and several friends, and small cash bequest to her servants, Samuel and Elizabeth Badrick and Fanny Stone on condition they are still in her employ at the time of her death.



Rivers Street, Bath


Eleanora later added a codicil to her will with a bequest of £50 made to William Montague, a family friend.

Why doesn’t Eleanora have the same disposable income enjoyed by her sisters? Eleanora was the second wife of George Hervey in a marriage that had not produced any children. The Hervey estate went, therefore, to his daughter from his first marriage, Barbara Hervey.

The four sisters along with two brothers were the children of Richard Bulkeley, 4th Viscount Bulkeley of Cashel and his wife Lady Bridget Bertie. The Bulkeley family hailed from Anglesey and was one of the most powerful families in North Wales. Richard Bulkeley, 4th Viscount Bulkeley, a staunch Tory and Jacobite sympathiser, was described as a ‘vigorous personality, but such was the cumulation of offices in his own person that the squires of the western commotes broke out in revolt.’ *

Beaumaris Castle

Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey

The girls mother Lady Bridget Bertie, also came from a wealthy influential family.  The Bulkeley/Bertie parents were therefore keen to maintain family connections when it came to the marriage of their daughters. Anne married the Rev William Bertie, the brother of Willoughby Bertie, 3rd Earl of Abingdon.  Elizabeth was married to William Price, the son of Martha Bulkeley. Martha was the sister of Richard Bulkeley, 3rd Viscount Bulkeley who was Elizabeth’s grandfather.

Bridget, Viscountess Bulkeley

But how do the four Bulkeley sisters figure in the St John family history and Lydiard Park. The Bertie name may give you a clue. This was the family who fought hard to get their hands on Eleanor Lee’s fortune, much to the chagrin of her grandmother, Anne, Countess of Rochester, formerly Anne St. John.

Anne St John was born at Lydiard Park, the daughter of Sir John St John 1st Baronet and his wife Anne Leighton Ta dah!


*Thomas Richards, D.Litt;, (1878-1962) Bangor published 1959