Below is a transcription of the will of the author’s 10th great-grandfather Michael Sheard (1551-1632), Parish Clerk, who married Agnes Hepworth in 1580. Michael died in August 1632 and was buried at Mirfield on 19th August.
A number of the Sheard family served as Parish Clerk for the parish of Mirfield. The position of Parish Clerk was a religious office that often passed from father to son. This dated back to the early Christian Church in Saxon times and the 17th Century Parish Clerk would still be at the centre of village life. The clerk was paid a small wage but usually also had another occupation.
The Parish Clerk dressed in a surplice and sometimes also a cassock and served as clerk to the vicar. Although the vicar was supposed to keep the parish records of birth, marriage and death there were many instances of parishes where it was the clerk who recorded these events.
The Clerk attended all the church services, collecting pew rents and keeping accounts, so he had to be an educated and literate man. He might also collect tolls on sheep pastured on church land and from people who set up stalls on market day. The clerk also set up appeals in the parish to assist parishioners who had suffered loss of their home.
Under the Clerk, the sexton was responsible for maintaining the churchyard and digging the parish graves. In some parishes, the Clerk also served as Sexton so would also be responsible for the graveyard.
In the case of Michael Sheard, his will places him also as a tenant farmer. As farmer and Parish Clerk, he would be well known in the village and would be a person of some authority below the vicar. The appointment was open ended.
The parish clerk is so important a person that divers laws have been framed relating to his office. His appointment, his rights, his dismissal are so closely regulated by law that incumbents and churchwardens have to be very careful lest they in any way transgress the legal enactments and judgements of the courts. It is not an easy matter to dismiss an undesirable clerk: it is almost as difficult as to disturb the parson’s freehold; and unless the clerk be found guilty of grievous faults, he may laugh to scorn the malice of his enemies and retain his office while life lasts.Title: The Parish Clerk; Author: Peter Hampson Ditchfield
Last Will and Testament
This transcription © Christine Widdall and Kirklees Cousins
February 2021 All rights reserved.
In the name of God Amen the xxiii day of June AD 1632 seeing that nothing is more certain than death and nothing more .?. upon the ..?.. Therefore, I Michael Sheard of Mirfield in the Diocese of Yorke, Clerke, being sickly of body but of good and perfect memory praised be God for the same do ordain and make this my last will and testament in …?… in manner and form following.
First and principally I give and commend my soul into the hands of Almighty God my creator assuredly trusting and faithfully believing to have full and free remission of all my sins by the previous death and blood shedding of my saviour and redeemer Jesus Christ….and by him to have life everlasting among the blessed Saints of God. I commit my body to the earth from whence it came and the same to be buried in Christian burial in steadfast hope of joyful resurrection and as touching my worldly effects my will and mind is that all my true and lawful debts which I owe in….and also the charges of my funeral and other church duties to be paid and be discharged further of my estate and goods which being done my will and mind is that the rest of my goods be disposed in manner and form following:
- First I give and bequeath unto Michael Sheard, my youngest son, my best cloak.
- Item: I give devise and bequeath unto Thomas Sheard my eldest son, my worst cloak and my will and mind is that the said Thomas and Michael Sheard my sons shall have all the rest of my apparel to be between them equally divided after my death.
- Item: I give devise and bequeath unto Agnes my daughter, wife of Thomas Cockhill of Middlestown in the County of Yorke, Wright, five cows now in the hands of John Procter.
- Item: I give devise and bequeath unto Elizabeth, my daughter, late wife of Richard Freckleton deceased, one cow in the hands of Widow Wilson of Mirfield.
- Item: I give, devise and bequeath unto Agnes Hirst, being base begotten on the body of my daughter Alice by Edmund Hirst late of Mirfield in the diocese of Yorke, deceased, one cow in the hands of Widow Liversedge of Smythies in the parish of Birstall.
- Item: I give devise and bequeath unto the poor of the parish of Mirfield, 20 shillings to be divided at the discretion of the honest and discreet neighbours after my death.
- Item: I give devise and bequeath unto Thomas Sheard, Anthony Sheard and Michael Sheard, three of my sons, and unto Agnes my daughter, wife of Thomas Cockhill and unto Sibil my daughter , wife of Francis Ledgard and unto Elizabeth Freckleton, widow, one other of my daughters, and Alice my daughter Wife of Edward Jepson, all my goods, chattels etc not above herein bequested, to be equally divided amongst them after my death provided always that my will and mind is that Michael Sheard my youngest son shall have all my interest and rights in the farm and homestead wherein I now dwell and I humbly entreat the worshipful John Armytage of Kirklees in the diocese of Yorke, Esquire, my favourable and kind Lord and Master if he will admit of the said Michael my son for his tenant by and after my death paying for the premises as of the said Michael Sheard….have done in my lifetime.
- And I make and ordain Thomas Sheard, Anthony Sheard and Michael Sheard, my sons, and Thomas Cockhill, Francis Ledgard and Edward Jepson, my sons in law and Elizabeth Freckleton my daughter, late wife of Richard Freckleton deceased, all joint executors of this my present testament and last will nothing desiring but that they will faithfully execute the same according to my several trust in them provided always and further that my will and mind is that if any one of my executors do offer to quarrel or to trouble one another and do not faithfully and truly execute this my present testament then my will is that he or they which do go about to defame this my last will and testament, shall have 20 shillings of current English money in full satisfaction of all his or their filial position and child’s rights, and my will is that he or they shall have no right to any of my goods.
In testimony thereof unto this my present testament and last will I the said Michael Sheard have set my hand and seal the day and year first above expressed AD 1632.
Witnesses: Robert Ledgard and Thomas ??? (illegible)
A note under the will says that “Michael Sheard chose his name with his touch according to…..” which indicates that he was too unwell to write his name himself.