Robert Smyth of Wombourne

Robert Smyth of Wombourne is referred to as his father-in-law in the will of the young Thomas Shaw of Dudley in 1583. Thomas Shaw and his wife Katherine are the parents of Richard Shaw of Pinfolds in Dudley and the putative direct ancestor of Rev Thomas Shaw-Hellier, who inherited the Wodehouse Wombourne in 1786. Despite the difficulties of working with the name ‘Smith’ we can be fairly certain that several contemporary wills mentioning ‘Robert Smyth’ do actually refer to the same man.

Firstly there is the will of Robert Smyth himself of 1592. In this will he mentions the two children of Thomas Shaw (d 1583), Richard and John Shaw and their mother Katherine, who had remarried a John Hicmans in the intervening period. The will also mentions Robert’s wife Margaret and five other adult children.

In the will of Joan Wodehouse of 1562 she refers to a Robert Smyth her son-in-law and her daughter Margaret. Joan was the widow of Walter Wodehouse, who was the younger son of John Wodehouse of the Wodehouse in Wombourne. Further evidence makes it clear that Robert Smyth’s wife was indeed Margaret Wodehouse. This thus draws a genealogical line for the Shaws back to the Wodehouse family at a very early date.

In her will of 1562 Joan also refers to her sons Edward Woodhouse and Bennet (Benedict) Woodhouse. The will of a Benedict Wodehouse of 1572 is most likely the correct one for the brother-in-law of Robert Smyth. As a caveat, all the histories of the Wodehouse family tie this 1572 will to the main family and not the cadet branch. The fact that Bennet refers to not only Robert Smyth (snr)  but also Robert Smyth his godson strongly implies he is indeed a brother-in-law and uncle.

Robert Smyth is a witness to his brother-in-law Humphrey Wodehouse’s will of 1557.

There is a further complication that is difficult to explain. There is a marriage recorded in Sedgley on 22 Jan 1577 of Thomas Shaw and Katherine Bate which it is presumed to be that of Robert’s daughter, Katherine. There are two other entries in the Wombourne register where they use the phrase ‘Bate Alias Smyth’ . This either implies an adoption of another family or even some illegitimacy. It is probably explained by a first marriage of either Robert Smyth or more likely  Margaret Woodhouse in which young children were adopted on a second marriage. However there is no other evidence for this. Research of this subject leads to the connections between the Bate family of Wombourne and the Wollastons of nearby Tettenhall and is continuing.

Robert Smyth was clearly a well respected yeoman farmer in Wombourne well connected to one of the richer families in the village. He could have been born as early as 1520 especially if Margaret was already on her second marriage.

Robert Smyth was buried on 16 Feb 1592/93 in St Benedict’s, Wombourne. His wife Margaret was probably buried in the same church on 15 May 1594.


  • Will of Thomas Shaw, nailer, of Dudley, Probate 21 Jun 1583, Worcester Archives (Son-in-law)
  • Will of Robert Smyth of Wombourne, Probate 9 Apr 1593, Lichfield Record Office
  • Burke’s Commoners, Vol iii, p 613, London 1836
  • Will of Joan Wodehouse, Probate 30 Nov 1563, Lichfield Record Office (Mother-in-law)
  • Will of Humphrey Wodehouse, Probate 21 Aug 1557, Lichfield Record Office (Brother-in-Law)
  • Will of Benedict Wodehouse, Probate 28 May 1573, Lichfield Record Office (Brother-in-law)