Funerals and the Transmission of Wealth
'I must have you to know', wrote a merchant in 1703 to his factor in Danzig, 'that I did not spare for any thing that is in fashion at funerals but had all to the height of the mode and soe as he made a good exit.' In fact he spent £125, quite a modest sum for a merchant's funeral, making a good exit being just about the most expensive single item in the affairs of the middle station. It was an expense which humbler people could ill afford at such a difficult time, but both respect for the dead and the need to maintain status in the eyes of the neighbourhood ensured that there was normally 'a very good company along with the Corps'.
There was a standard form for a middling funeral which could be expanded or contracted to allow virtually any expenditure to be made, the funerals of our sample ranging in cost from £3 to £728. Generally speaking, the richer the deceased the more extravagant and lavish was the funeral, as can be seen in Table 11.1 overleaf, though there were many exceptions. The puritans had campaigned against the expense and secular pomp of funerals, and such attitudes are sometimes reflected in instructions given in wills. James Blatt, for instance, willed that he be 'decently buried but as frugally as may be'. The noncomformist threadman William Ambler, who was buried in Bunhill Fields, was more specific both as to cost and motive: 'My will is that not exceeding twelve persons be invited to my buriall because the most of what I have is in other men's handes and therefore I would not have the whole charge of my funerall exceeding tenn pounds', and that was exactly what was spent. However, modesty and frugality clearly meant different things to different people. Philip Scarth, a druggist, willed that his funeral be 'as private as conveniently may be'; the surgeon Richard Blundell wanted 'decently to be buryed without pomp and with as little charge as is consistent with that decency'; their funerals cost £200 and £176 respectively.
Really lavish funerals to which hundreds of people had been invited normally started in the hall of the deceased man's livery
company, from which a huge procession, sometimes with scores of coaches, would proceed to the church. Alderman James Birkin, for instance, a former master of the Clothworkers' Company, willed that his corpse be carried from the company hall to the church of St Dunstan's in the East, where he was to be buried in the chancel under the tombstone where his wife already lay. The master, wardens and assistants of the company were to be invited and 'also a considerable number of the Artillery Company of which I am a member', the poor children of Christ's Hospital and 'so many poor old men as I shall be years old . . . I being about the middle of April last at the age of fiftie and three years'.
Such funerals cost £400 or £500 or more. A typical middling funeral was more modest but still expensive, as can be seen from the table. Most would begin and end at home. After the corpse had been laid out and dressed in its burial clothes, it was normally left on view in an open coffin for several days 'to give the dead man an opportunity of coming to life again if his soul had not quite left his body' and to allow time for the executors to make arrangements. Invitations were sent out, often on printed tickets, black cloth, gloves, hatbands and rings were purchased for the mourners, refreshments bought, the church and preacher booked and the grave bespoke. On the
day, the mourners came to the house and 'sat down in the room where the coffin was, looking as grave and as sad as we could'. Such gravity did not prevent the consumption of a glass or two of wine before the coffin was nailed up and the company marshalled for the procession, each with a sprig of rosemary to throw into the grave.
The procession through the streets to the church was a man's last opportunity to impress his neighbours and even modest funerals would have coaches for the chief mourners and scores of people on foot following the hearse. These arrangements did not cost very much compared with the total expenditure on the funeral. There is, for instance, an undertaker's bill for the 1731 funeral of John Hatfield, a Westminster tobacconist. The total cost was £47, about average for the poorer members of the middle station. Just under £18 was spent on a very handsome gilt-handled elm coffin, upholstered in silk, and on fine linen funeral clothes, the latter costing an additional £2 10s. for an exemption from the law requiring people to be buried in woollen cloth. Another £16 went on gloves, cloaks, hatbands and rings for the mourners and nearly £8 on expenses at the church and the gravedigger's fees. Compared with this, the pomp in the street to ensure a good exit in the eyes of the world was cheap. 'A neat hears and paire of horsis' was only 10s., three coaches and pairs 7s.6d. each and then there were fairly small expenses for cloaks, gloves and scarves for coachmen, porters and the parish bearers.
More coaches or coaches with four or six horses cost more money, but the real expense of funerals was laid out on cloth for mourning, broadcloth for men and silk for ladies, and on such customary presents as rings. Dudley Ryder bought 5 1/4 yards of black cloth at 18s. per yard for his grandmother's funeral in 1716 and many people provided mourning cloth for twenty or thirty people, the price per yard often being specified in the will to suit the dignity of the recipient. Rings might add up to even more. The merchant John Barkstead willed that 'every of my kindred and relations and those also of my wife who shall be invited to my funeral' should be given a ring worth £1. Most people gave rings to friends and neighbours as well and this could soon mount up. William Paggen's executors, for instance, paid the banker Thomas Williams for 143 gold rings.
They also paid £11 15s. to a herald for painting escutcheons—armorial shields which were hung over the windows and later fixed on the hearse—and these claims to gentility seem to have been quite commonly used in the middle station, sufficiently so for some people to make a point of saying in their wills that they did not want them, such as the skinner William Sawyer, who wanted 'noe heraldry att my funeral'.
After the burial, the procession made its way back to the deceased man's house and here there would be a second 'drinking'. These usually seem to have been fairly modest affairs. The 20 guests at the funeral of Pepys's brother Tom, a tailor, were served with 'six biscuits a-piece and what they pleased of burnt [i.e. mulled] claret'. Some people provided even less. Samuel Chambers, another tailor, willed that his widow 'shall give only a glasse of wine', while William Mackley wanted 'only gloves and rosemary but not a drop of wine' to be given at his funeral, a dry farewell for a man who had been a brewer.
The drinking was often the occasion for the reading of the will to assembled relatives and friends, and so can fittingly lead into a discussion of the ways in which the fortunes of middling people were distributed after their deaths. In the majority of cases, this was governed by the Custom of London, which provided detailed rules for the division of the personal estates of freemen and could override the provisions of a will. The first charges on the estate after it had been inventoried and valued were the deceased man's debts and the cost of his funeral. Then a deduction was made for the 'widow's chamber', which usually worked out at some £20 to £30 and represented the value of her clothing, jewellery and the furniture of her bed-chamber. What remained, if anything, was then available for division.
The rules for this were simple enough. One-third of the net estate went to the widow; one-third was divided equally between the children and one-third, 'the dead man's share', could be bequeathed by will. If the man died intestate, as 40 per cent of our sample did, then this residual share was divided half to the widow and half equally between the children. A complicated formula, known as 'hotchpotch', was used to calculate a fair division between the children when one or more
of them had been 'advanced' by the payment of a portion or dowry during their father's lifetime.
This equitable system, fair to widow and children alike, also governed the wishes of the majority of those who died testate, being either reflected in the distribution of the 'dead man's share' or of the whole personal estate in those cases where the will did not follow the Custom of London. Widows had sometimes been provided for by jointure or other prior contract but, where this was not the case, over 40 per cent received half or more of the dead man's share and another 20 per cent received a third. The children, too, were normally treated as equally by will as they were by custom. If one ignores only children and the small number of testators who left nothing from their dead man's share to the children (mostly those with very young children who left it all to the widow), then two-thirds of the remainder divided the estate equally amongst all the children. In the distribution of real estate, on the other hand, one can see a tendency to discriminate both by age and sex. Where there were both sons and daughters, in three-quarters of the cases the daughters got nothing and in nearly 40 per cent of cases all the real estate eventually went to the eldest son, often as a reversion from the widow. Middling people therefore believed in partible inheritance for their personal estate but had a strong tendency towards the gentry preference for primogeniture in the disposition of their real estate.
Wills also provide an opportunity for insights into the ways in which testators viewed their friends and relations. One can start by looking at who was appointed as executor, as is set out in Table 11.2 overleaf. Here it can be seen that, even if wives did not play a very important role in their husbands' businesses, they were sufficiently trusted to be appointed as executrix in the majority of cases, less then a quarter of testators who left a widow not naming her at all. However, nearly three-quarters who named their widows did so as either one of two or more joint-executors or provided for overseers to assist her, suggesting that most middling people did not believe their wives capable of handling the business on their own.
The table also shows the importance of brothers, brothers-in-law and 'friends' in the lives of the middle station and these relationships are well reflected in Table 11.3 (p. 317) which
analyses the recipients of legacies, most of which appear as deductions from the dead man's third of the estate before the main division between widow and children. This analysis throws some interesting light on middling society and makes clear the effects of the high mortality of the period. The very small percentage of wills which mention parents, parents-in-law, uncles, aunts or grandchildren clearly reflects the fact that such relations were rarely alive at the time of the death of adults. The middle-class world was thus largely a two-generation one, consisting of young and middle-aged adults and their children. Such conditions highlighted the importance of other young and middle-aged adults on whom one had some claim, such as brothers and sisters, cousins, brothers-in-law and, perhaps most important of all, 'friends'. Such people were remembered with gratitude and affection in wills, though they rarely received so valuable a legacy as those bequeathed to those felt to be more in need, such as nephews, grandchildren and close female relations.
One surprise in this analysis of wills was the relatively small
amount left by this class to charity, since historians have been led to believe from the work of W. K. Jordan that middling Londoners were very charitable indeed. In fact, less than a third of testators made any charitable bequests at all and the majority of these were fairly trivial relative to the value of their estates, as can be seen from Table 11.4 (p. 317). Nearly half the charitable left £10 or less, the £5 left by James Blatt to the poor of his London parish and £5 to the poor of Sudbury in Suffolk, where he did much of his business, being typical bequests. On the other hand, twenty people left over £100 and a handful of these left very large sums indeed.
Alderman Sir Jonathan Dawes left £500 'towards the relief of the poor children in Christ's Hospital' and £1000 to set up a trust to provide £50 per annum 'to be distributed amongst the poor people of Wootton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, where he was borne', large sums but still worth less than 4 per cent of his personal estate. Such a contribution pales beside the bequests of the former sugar refiner and alderman John Hobby, who died in 1675 aged sixty-three. He left £3000 to set up a charitable trust to provide £40 per annum towards apprenticing four 'blew coat boys', £20 per annum towards setting them up when they had finished their time, £60 per annum to provide clothing for 'thirty poor ancient persons' and £50 per annum 'to be used for the discharge of 25 poor prisoners for debt'. He also left £500 'to be distributed amongst such of my poorest and nearest kindred to be chosen by my executors' and willed that the residue of his estate 'be paid by my executors to such pious and charitable acts as to them shall seem most meete and just'. In a codicil made shortly before his death, he thought of a mass of other people whom he could help, 'to the blind woman in Coleman Street—£3', 'to the filecutter's wife with five children—40s.' and so on.
However, as has been seen, Alderman Hobby was very much an exception. The wills of our sample do not reflect the charity discovered by Jordan for the period before 1660. Several reasons can be suggested for this. Our sample by definition were men who died with children under the age of twenty-one and it seems certain that it was the childless or those who had already advanced all their children who would be most likely to be charitable on a really large scale, a hypothesis supported by the fact that several men willed that legacies should go to charity at the discretion of executors if all their children died before
they were of age. Our period is also one when the nature of charity was changing. Now that the poor law was well established and was operating fairly efficiently in London, there must have seemed less need for testamentary charity towards the poor. Meanwhile, charity for educational purposes, which had been an important feature of the period before the Civil War, took on a new form with the establishment of charity schools which were largely financed by subscription inter vivos rather than by charitable bequest. These were often said to have been supported mainly by middling people and many of our apparently non-caring sample may well have given considerable sums in this way during their lifetimes. Nevertheless, one does have to consider one last possibility, that the London middle class of our period was simply less charitable than their ancestors, a view certainly held by many.
Wills are sometimes seen as windows on the soul of the past, providing an insight into the nature and strength of the religious belief of the testator, but this is in fact rarely the case. Some wills certainly do contain a statement of faith, sometimes at great length, as in that of the Huguenot merchant John Dubois. Most wills, however, merely reflect the scrivener's formula book, with a short stylized spiritual introduction before getting down to business, 'and as to my worldly goods', while a surprisingly large number are totally secular in character. Wills sometimes give other hints as to piety or belief, such as bequests to a minister, specification of the text for the funeral sermon, bequests of bibles and other religious works, sometimes with manuscript annotations made by the deceased, and quite often admonitions to widows and particularly to children as to how to live in future, such as that of William Mackley who prayed 'his deare children to observe and follow the directions given them in a paper some time ago'. Such last wishes can be a guide to attitudes but, since the great majority of wills do not contain such material, a serious analysis would have to conclude that on the evidence of this source most middling people were neither pious nor particularly interested in religion, which is almost certainly not true.
One would have to come to a similar conclusion with regard to much other interesting information that one finds in wills, since one of the penalties of the quantitative bias of recent
scholarship has been to force historians to appreciate that they cannot generalize about a class on the basis of two or three literary references, however striking they may be. The dying wish of the jeweller Nathaniel Ragdale 'that no Jew or Papist shall inheritt or enjoy any part of my estate whatsoever' is not sufficient evidence to state that middling Londoners were an extremely prejudiced and intolerant lot, though there is in fact much other evidence which could be adduced to support such a statement. Similarly, the fact that William Waldron left all his Hebrew, Greek and Latin books to his son William does not allow one to make general statements about the education and scholarship of cheesemongers, let alone of middling people as a whole. Neither does his desire to be buried 'soe neare my late deceased wife as conveniently can be' mean that he had preferred his first wife Mary to his current wife Judith, though it might do, and one can find plenty of other evidence in wills hinting at the stresses caused by the early deaths of spouses and subsequent remarriages of middling men and women.
Wills are certainly interesting and useful sources in this respect, reflecting as they often do the multiple dangers, problems and anxieties of the lives of the middle station and their fears of what might happen to their loved ones in a world in which they were no longer present. The physical danger of the otherwise comfortable life of the merchant can be seen in the will of Samuel Tomlins, who left £100 towards the redemption from the corsairs of Algiers of his brother-in-law John Coleborn, 'a slave beyond sea'. Its commercial dangers are reflected in the will of the goldsmith-banker Thomas Williams, whose trade obliged him 'to great dealings with merchants and others, men of trade and adventure, some of which have or may meet with losses and misfortunes' and who instructed his executor and overseers 'to make such reasonable composition with such debtors as to them shall seem meet'. The collection of postmortem debts was never an easy task and several testators made arrangements to assist the widow in this respect, such as Richard Darnelly, who appointed Mr Reynolds, a merchant, as debt-collector at £10 a quarter, 'hee being a fitt man to that purpose', or Edward Treherne, looking-glass manufacturer to the Queen and two of the King's mistresses, who provided £10 for getting in debts incurred by Nell Gwynne.
Wills also provided an opportunity for reward and punishment. Only about one in six or seven testators left legacies to servants, a reflection no doubt of the high turnover, which was discussed in an earlier chapter. However, long service was noted and sometimes generously rewarded. The apothecary Peter Cully left his 'truly honest and faithful servant' Thomas Aungier 'my case of instruments that I use to carry in my pocket and also my other case of instruments in the drawer in the shoppe', together with all his medical and pharmaceutical books and manuscripts, his wearing apparel, a legacy of £10 and £5 to buy mourning. The merchant John Brookes left £30 to his nursemaid Frances Fairfield 'as an acknowledgement of her care and love to my children'. However, it has to be admitted that such generosity was very unusual. The majority of testators, as has been seen, left their servants nothing, while some of those who did remember servants and apprentices used the legacy as a means of ensuring that they would not immediately desert the widow. The builder John Wildgos, for instance, left his apprentice Thomas Thornton £10 on condition that he serve out the remainder of his time with his wife Elizabeth or if he left that it should be with her consent.
Conditions were also sometimes tied to family legacies in an attempt to control the future. Some legacies to widows were to be reduced or made void if they remarried, though this was unusual, and in most cases the testator was mainly interested in protecting his children rather than punishing their mother for doing what was normal in this class. Widows who remarried might be required to give good security for the payment of legacies to the children or to deposit those legacies in the hands of overseers or trustees. Attempts were also made to control the children through threats or promises in a will. In three cases, as has been mentioned earlier, this went as far as disinheriting the eldest son, a very sad breakdown in family relations, as can be seen from the words of Richard Darnelly whose son Daniel 'doth still continue his exorbitant and evil courses and wicked company . . . with griefe of heart I speake it and I beseech the Lord to forgive him'.
Most fathers did not go so far but several had serious doubts about their sons. George Carew had his portion docked by £200 because of his 'extravagant expenses' while up at Wadham
College, Oxford. George Phinnes was left some property but only 'on condition . . . he doe peaceably and quietly permitt and suffer his sister my daughter Sarah to have and enjoy her legacies', a question here of sibling rivalry between the children of two different mothers. Joseph How was only to inherit his father's distillery in White Cross Street at the age of twenty-three 'if he behaves himself', while Edward Osborne's ten-year-old son was made joint residual legatee with his mother but only 'if he be dutyfull and obedient to his mother and doe take virtuous and good courses. But if he shall happen to be disobedient to his said mother and grow idle and extravagant then I will and devise his parte . . . unto my said wife.'
Once again, such comments and conditions in wills are unusual. They catch the eye, but they are not typical and it would be wrong to draw the conclusion that the men of the middle station were engaged in some generation-gap struggle with their children or that they disapproved of their wives remarrying. The fact is that most wills reflect a world of harmony in which everybody is 'deare and loving' and there seem to be no doubts in the testator's mind about the rationality, good sense and equity of the various members of his family. Some wills are so full of names and descriptions that one can get a real picture of the people who made up this harmonious middling world. The widowed apothecary, Peter Cully, for instance, mentioned over 150 people in his will, ranging out from his two 'deare' sons John and Abraham to his brothers and sisters and other relations in London and his native Berkshire, to the ministers, lecturers, clerks and sextons of the churches he attended, to thirty-three 'very loveing friends and neighbours', all named, to the eleven other 'loveing brethren' in an apothecaries' club, to herbarists and medical colleagues, to the masters of the physic gardens in Westminster and Oxford. He was quick to note the social eminence of some of his relatives, 'my much esteemed cousin the Lady Cullen', but he did not forget or despise the humble, the poor of Wantage where he was born or of St Andrew Undershaft where he plied his trade, 'my man Theophilus Davis', 'my man George Ward', his maids, his butcher, 'the porters that ply at my dore', 'Jane the herbwoman', 'my new cookmaid', 'old Henry Knox', 'Gammer Bess, Gammer Alice and Nurse Blake'.
Cully's world was the world which this book has tried to describe, the world of middle-class Londoners. The method of analysis and description employed has allowed some fairly concrete statements to be made about their social and economic behaviour and to give some idea of their material existence. However, there are large areas of human behaviour where the sources available do not enable one to speak with confidence, such as was found in the discussion of relations between the sexes or between parents and children. Religion is another problem area. One could make a pretty good prima facie case that this class was very religious and that this would have been likely to affect their attitude to everything else, including the making of money. However, this would be virtually impossible to prove conclusively. It is easy enough to find evidence that this person or that was pious or religious, whatever such adjectives may mean, but how does one establish the intensity of religious belief of a whole class? On the other hand, there is no doubt that middle-class people were materialistic and acquisitive and that, for the most part, they behaved with the economic rationality which theorists assume, rather optimistically, to be typical of the human race. However, let us be charitable and assume that their outward piety and respectability reflected an inner faith and that they lived, as the merchant Mun Browne hoped that his family would live after his death, 'in love, peace and charity and in the feare of the Lord, Amen'.