Note, 23 July 2018 – I have significantly updated my accounts of Sir Ralph Rochford I of Walpole and his descendants, since writing this blog post.
While researching an upcoming post, What Happened to the Walpole Rochfords?, I was able to track down the original manuscript of a final concord, or fine, that is very briefly indexed in Walter Rye’s A Short Calendar of the Feet of Fines for Norfolk:
“*Rad. fil’ Saieri de Rocheford, Knight, and Matilda his wife, v. Saier de Rocheford, Knight, Robt. de Stikenay, and Rad. de Bigeney, in Walpole, Hyndryngham, Barsham, Ketelston, Creyk, and Gayst.” 
This is an important record. This “Rad.” was Ralph de Rochford I of Walpole, the second son of Sir Sayer de Rochford of Fenne. Ralph was the progenitor of the Walpole branch of his family. He was the first to have extensive estates in the village, and the first to base himself there permanently. Why he chose Walpole, and how he acquired these estates, is a key outstanding mystery in the history of the family.
Walter Rye dated the above record to 27-28 Edward III, i.e. 1353-55, making it the earliest known record of Ralph’s property at Walpole. So, we might expect the original manuscript of it to provide some valuable clues. In fact, it turns out that it not only reveals much more than Rye’s brief abstract – it also throws in a few surprises.
Sir Sayer de Rochford’s associations with Walpole
Ralph’s father, Sir Sayer de Rochford, and step-mother, Joan Hillary, had already had property dealings in Walpole in 1348 and 1349. These appear to have been relatively small transactions. In 1348, Sir Sayer settled “22 and a half acres of land and 14 and a half acres of meadow in Walpol in the county of Norfolk”, as well as various other lands in Lincolnshire and Rutland, on himself and Joan and their heirs, in default to his own right heirs (i.e. his eldest son by his first marriage). This transaction is the first record of Joan as Sir Sayer’s (second) wife, and it probably formed part of their marriage agreement.
It is not known how Sir Sayer came to hold the Walpole property referred to in this record, or whether he had any other property there. There are no known earlier records of him or his family in connection with the place.
The 1349 transaction, meanwhile, was indexed by Walter Rye thus:
“Saier de Rocheford, Chivaler, and Johanna his wife, v. *Wm. Ivet of Walpol and Agnes his wife, in Walpol.”
The original manuscript for this can be found in the National Archives in CP25/1/166 no 809. It records that on 23 October 1349, William Ivet of Walpole and Agnes his wife conveyed three acres of land in Walpole to Sir Sayer and Joan and their heirs, in default to the right heirs of Sir Sayer, for ten marks of silver. In this case, the original manuscript reveals little more of interest than Rye’s abstract.
Early records of Ralph de Rochford of Walpole
Ralph de Rochford of Walpole was Sir Sayer’s second son by his first wife, Elizabeth. Ralph’s older brother was Sir John de Rochford II of Fenne, who would go on to inherit the family’s ancestral estates at Fenne and elsewhere, and also their mother’s family estates at Arley and Bascote in Warwickshire.
Ralph first appeared on record in 1350, alongside his older brother as an “assistant” to the Boston Guild of Corupus Christi. The next few records of Ralph, however, place him in Norfolk, where he would build his own base. On 20 November 1352, he was appointed as a royal commissioner de walliis et fossatis – of the walls and ditches – for Walpole and Walton in Norfolk. In that year or the next he issued a “general quitclaim” to Thomas de Oxwyk in Norfolk. And on 6 Februrary 1353, Ralph was again appointed to a Norfolk commission de walliis et fossatis.
It is worth noting that Ralph was not described as a knight in any of these records – that would come a few years down the line. Presumably he already had some property in Norfolk, and probably at Walpole, by this time, although how much is not known.
Ralph de Rochford and Matilda’s 1354 settlement
The fine referred to at the beginning of this article is the first record of any substantial estates to Ralph’s name. It is also the first record in which his wife Matilda is named. It has the ring of a marriage settlement. The wording of Rye’s abstract suggests that in this transaction, Ralph and Matilda acquired from his father Sir Sayer, Robert de Stikenay and Ralph de Bigeney property in the villages of Walpole, Hindringham, Barsham, Kettlestone, Creake and Guist, all in the north of Norfolk.
The original manuscript of this fine can be found in the National Archives at CP25/1/166 no 917. My translation of it shows that this reading is partially correct, but does not give the full picture and is also a little misleading. It is a good example of why original records are so valuable.
First, the transaction took place on 27 April 1354. Less than a month later, Sir Sayer concluded the sale of his interest in Budbrooke, Warwickshire, for £100. One has to wonder whether there was some financial connection between the two deals.
Second, the propery in question was “three messuages, one mill, 230 acres of land, 42 acres of meadow, 10 acres of pasture, and 100s of rent, with appurtenances, in Walpole, Hyndryngham, Barsham, Ketelston, Creyk and Gayst”. This was a decent patch, but probably not enough to sustain a knight or to justify the Walpole Rochfords’ standing as leading county players. Ralph must have had, or acquired, some other property or source of income.
Third, Matilda was the heiress of all this property, although it not specified how or who her family was. The property was held direct of the chief lords, but again these are not named. These two facts provide a starting point for identifying who the previous owners were, and therefore who Matilda’s family could have been.
Fourth, Ralph and Matilda were already married. Given that this agreement appears to be part of a wider marriage agreement, it seems likely that these events were close together in time. It is also likely that there were multiple other elements to the wider agreement – as for example when Sir Sayer arranged the marriage of his eldest son John to Sir Hugh Hastings’ daughter Isabella. Unfortunately, no further documentation has been found.
Fifth, the nature of actual agreement was that Ralph and Matilda released the property from themselves and her heirs to Sir Sayer and his heirs, in return for which Sir Sayer granted it back to the couple with specific conditions as to what would happen to it after their deaths. This was a classic form of settlement: a legal mechanism to create a binding agreement to vary the descent of the property. In this case, after Ralph and Matilda died, the property was to pass to “the male heirs of their bodies”. If there were no such male heirs, the property was to pass to “John son of the same Ralph son of Saier, and the heirs of his body”. If that line failed, the property was to pass to “Petronilla, sister of the same John, and the heirs of her body”. And if that line failed, then the property would revert to the next “right heirs of Matilda” – for example, any daughters she and Ralph had, any children she had by other fathers, or her sisters, or her cousins.
It appears from this that Ralph had already been married and had a son, John, and a daughter, Petronilla, by this former wife, and that she (the wife) had died by 1354. Similarly, John did not survive. In 1400, and probably already by 1388, Ralph’s eldest son and heir was another son called Henry, who would continue the line of the Rochfords of Walpole. It is not known what happened to Petronilla. No other record has been found of Ralph’s first wife or his children by her; whether or not it was she who brought Ralph to Walpole in the first place, one can only guess.
Who was Matilda?
It is likely that Matilda was the mother of Ralph’s heir, Henry, and therefore the progenitrix of the Walpole Rochfords. Henry appears to have been born by about 1368, since he joined his father and uncles in swearing allegiance to the Lords Appellant in 1388, when he must have been of age. Matilda, meanwhile, died in 1369, according to fragments of a transcription that could still be read in Walpole St Peter’s in the late 1700s.
Ralph himself was born by about 1332, and died not long after 1391, when he was in his 60s. So Matilda was probably still young when she died – perhaps only 30 or 40 years old.
As mentioned above, the landholding that Matilda brought to her marriage to Ralph should provide a clue as to who her family were.
In later years, the Rochford family properties at Walpole and East Barsham were described as manors (although whether these were the same properties Matilda brought to the family is not certain). Thus one starting point is to see if they were recorded in feudal surveys, and if so, explore whether, and how, Matilda was related to their previous owners.
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not at all clear from the surveys, and must be a topic for another article.
 A Short Calendar of the Feet of Fines for Norfolk, part 2, p328, no 917, https://archive.org/stream/ashortcalendarf00ryegoog#page/n124/mode/2up
 Abstracts of Feet of Fines, http://www.medievalgenealogy.org.uk/fines/abstracts/CP_25_1_287_43.shtml#418
 A Short Calendar of the Feet of Fines for Norfolk, part 2, p322, no 809, https://archive.org/stream/ashortcalendarf00ryegoog#page/n118/mode/2up
 CP25/1/166 no 809, http://aalt.law.uh.edu/AALT6/CP25_1/Norf/CP25_1_166/IMG_0012.htm
 Register of the Guild of Corpus Christi, BM Harley 4795
 Norfolk Record Office, MS 1378, 4D7, http://nrocat.norfolk.gov.uk/DServe/public/searches/nroquick.htm
 CP25/1/166 no 917 , http://aalt.law.uh.edu/AALT6/CP25_1/Norf/CP25_1_166/IMG_0140.htm
 CCR, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=107808; Rotuli Parliamentorum, v3, pp400-403, http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=8DBDAAAAcAAJ&q=rocheford
 Rotuli Parliamentorum, v3, pp400-403, http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=8DBDAAAAcAAJ&q=rocheford
 See my account of Sir Ralph de Rochford of Walpole; also Blomefield, Norfolk, v9, Walpole, pp99-121, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/topographical-hist-norfolk/vol9/pp99-121; John Weever, Antient Funeral Monuments, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Um0DAAAAYAAJ&q=Rochford