The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names




by Lynne Burlingham


 This article was originally published in the December 2007 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society


One of my ambitions is to find the ancestors of my 3xgreat-grandfather Thomas Solley of Richborough (c1772-1845), which has been something of a brick wall for many years. 


Recently I been following up one possibility which, if correct and it seems the most likely possibility to date, would  take the family line back to one Stephen Solley and his wife Elizabeth Swafford, who married at St Mary Magdalene, Canterbury on 22 January 1633/34, by Licence. However, that is another story! This is about some intriguing information about Stephen Solley and his wife Elizabeth that I came across in the course of my searches.


Browsing through the Kent Archive Service online catalogue, I came across a series of Ecclesiastical Cause papers for 1633 which mentioned the names Stephen Solley, Thomas Swafford and Elizabeth Swafford amongst others. About the same time, I suddenly remembered some photocopies of old documents amongst my late father's family history papers which related to a Stephen Solley. He must have acquired them on a visit to Canterbury some time back in the 1970s or 1980s. After I inherited them I had looked at them and then put them aside and largely forgotten them, mainly because they were in Latin, which I couldn't cope with, and the hand-writing which I found illegible. Also, I had no idea who this Stephen might be or where he might fit into the family.


Spurred on by the information from the KAS online catalogue, I looked out these documents and had another look at them. The handwriting was still pretty illegible but more experience of looking at old documents meant that this time I was able to decipher a few more words including the names Thomas Swafford and Elizabeth Swafford, but the Latin still defeated me. This looked promising! It seemed that these might be copies of some of the Ecclesiastical Cause papers I had come across.


There were three documents in all, each several pages long, so it was obviously going to be expensive to get all the documents transcribed. To start with, I decided to get just one done, hopefully to give me some idea of what it was all about.  The result when I finally got the transcription is fascinating, although it raises many questions.


The following is an extract from document 1 with the names Stephen Solley, Elizabeth Swafford & Thomas Swafford

 an extract from document 1 with the names Stephen Solley, Elizabeth Swafford & Thomas Swafford


It seems that Thomas Swafford was a strict father with definite views on the behaviour of his various children. The documents relate to a dispute over his Will, which centres around his daughter Elizabeth Swafford and Stephen Solley. I subsequently obtained a copy of Thomas's Will, which was in English making it easier for me to transcribe myself. The Will was made on the 20 April 1633. In it Thomas says 'I give unto Elizabeth Swafford my daughter four score and ten pounds of good and lawful money of England to be paid to her at the age of 19 years if she obey my will as follows... Also my will and meaning is that if Elizabeth my daughter shall ever be married unto Stephen Solley, son of Richard Solly whom I have vowed she shall never marry with my good will that then she shall have but ten pounds of that four score and ten pounds I have formerly given her and her four score pounds too I give to be equally divided betwixt my other three children that is to say John Swafford, Josias Swafford, Eaffery Swafford' (there is also another, married daughter Ann Carlton mentioned in the Will). He appoints as overseers of his Will 'Daniel Raffe [or Ralfe?] of Ashe and John Bax of Ashe my loving friends...' . The Will is full of injunctions relating to the behaviour of his children and what should happen to his bequests if they do not 'toe the line' and behave as he would wish them to behave. It makes fascinating reading but my main concern here is with Elizabeth Swafford and Stephen Solley.


There are five Ecclesiastical Cause papers listed in the KAS online Catalogue of which I probably have three. According to the person who did the transcription of the first document for me, documents one and two of the three which I have are virtually identical and appear to be items CCA-Dcb-J/J/53/73 and 33 from the KAS list dated respectively 26 September and 24 October 1633. Document three I have yet to have transcribed.  Thomas Swafford is now dead and Stephen Solley as the plaintiff in the document is claiming payment of the 'four score and ten pounds' promised to Thomas's daughter Elizabeth in his Will, payment of which seems to be being withheld by Daniel Raffe [or Ralfe] and John Bax. To us 90 may not seem a lot of money but back then it seems it would have been worth about the equivalent in 2006 of a sum more like 11,275, definitely not an inheritance to be ignored.


Interestingly at this point Stephen Solley is Elizabeth Swafford's guardian or tutor. According to the document 'Item...the aforesaid Elizabeth Swafford was and at present is a maiden or unmarried woman...the natural and legitimate daughter of Thomas Swafford deceased and one and the same person to whom the aforesaid legacy of 90 was and is left and given in the aforesaid will of the aforesaid deceased... Item...the aforesaid Elizabeth Swafford attained her full age of 19 years and moreover was and at present is constituted in her minor age that is: she is not of the age of 20 years and for that cause and reason the aforesaid Stephen Solly guardian concerned in this hearing and person acting in this cause was and is by custom and law assigned by judiciary competent in that regard in the guardianship at law of the aforesaid Elizabeth Swafford, that the said Stephen Solly in that way accepted for himself the burden of the care or guardianship...Item that the aforesaid John Bax and Daniel Ralfe administrators concerned in this hearing....were...lawfully requested frequently and repeatedly or at the least once, they refused and they are refusing at present to pay, hand over and deliver to the said Stephen Solly the use of the aforesaid legatee...Elizabeth Swafford her aforesaid legacy of 90 of lawful money of England...'.


The documents raise some interesting questions the answers to which one can only speculate about. Thomas Swafford obviously knew Stephen Solley and, for whatever reason, objected strongly to him marrying his daughter Elizabeth. Did he see him as a fortune hunter only after Elizabeth's inheritance? Was there already some romantic connection between Stephen and Elizabeth, which Thomas was trying to put a stop to? If Thomas so obviously had such strong objections to Stephen, how on earth did Stephen come to be appointed Elizabeth's lawful guardian, by whom and was this before or after Thomas's death? There is no mention in the Will of Thomas Swafford's wife so I can only assume that she was already dead. Stephen was baptised in January 1607/8, so would have been in his early twenties at the time of Thomas's death and a few years older than Elizabeth. I now need to get the third document transcribed to see if it provides an answer to the outcome of the case. As with the other documents I cannot make out any date on it and the same names are repeated over and over again but two phrases, if I am reading them correctly, seem to indicate that Elizabeth and Stephen are now married '...Elizabeth Swafford (modo(?) uxorum Stephen Solley).........Elizabeth Swafford als [also? or alias?] Solley...', so it is probably later than the others.


One final discovery on the internet relates to the death of Thomas Swafford. It comes from 'A Directory of Medical Personnel Qualified and Practising in the Diocese of Canterbury, circal 1560-1730' by Ian Mortimer, Paper No.021, Kent Archaeology, under the entry for Alexander Devison (d1674):-


1638: Thomas Swafford of Ash, yeoman (833) 'Item paid to Mr Devison of Staple phisician for physicke ministred to the said deceased in his life tyme which was unpaid for at his death' (CKS PRC20/11/298)


So, if Elizabeth's inheritance was a sizeable sum of money, her father's medical debts were astronomical.  Again according to, in 2006 833 was worth nearly 105,000. Thomas Swafford must have been a very sick, as well as a very wealthy man, to have been able to afford those sort of costs for medical care! Somehow it puts a new perspective on the NHS and private medicine today   


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