So just what is a recovery and why are there four people involved? And what has this got to do with Hester Harington and the Manor of Watchfield?
This document is related to research into my family tree, in particular the pedigree of Anne Stubbes, who married Robert Codrington in 1595. For background information please read An Heiress and of a Norfolk Family otherwise things may seem a bit confusing.
After much searching I have finally found an clear explanation – once I knew what I was looking for.
A Recovery or “Common Recovery” is simply a way of transferring property without having to go through a long and expensive court process – it is a fake legal document which allows restrictions on a property’s ownership to be broken.
Common recoveries were used to break entails (conditions stipulated in wills or settlements which limited the descent of freehold land to certain individuals) and transfer land.
[More information from the University of Nottingham]
How the procedure works
There are four players involved:
- The owner of the property often called the vouchee.
- The purchaser.
- The tenant, a trusted friend of the owner.
- The common vouchee who’s job is simply not to appear at court.
If I have understood correctly then this is how it works.
1. The owner conveys the property to the tenant.
2. The purchaser then sues the tenant claiming that he owns the property.
3. The tenant calls the owner to court to prove his entitlement.
4. The owner claims that he acquired the land from a third-party – the common vouchee.
5. The common vouchee appears in court but then leaves and the claim of the purchaser is upheld due to the contempt of court by the common vouchee.
Effectively the purchaser has “recovered” the property that he claimed was his originally.
Quite often the property was simply conveyed back to the original owner, but without the previous restrictions applied by entailment, thus making it easier to sell or pass to another person – or, perhaps more importantly if you are short of money, mortgaged.
I had been confused about Hester’s involvement with Watchfield, but it now seems clear she is not the recipient of the property in 1568 but the owner, and this means that she is much more likely to be the daughter of Awdrey Malte and John Harrington than I previously thought.
Recov. R. Mich. 10 & 11 Eliz. m. 656. Hester (Hesterus) Harrington is the vouchee in this recovery.
Many of the properties owned by John Malte, were left to his bastard daughter Awdrey and the “heirs of her body” so it seems clear why John Harrington would want to break these terms – he would inherit practically nothing from his marriage to Awdrey, and a recovery action was a simple way of achieving this.
So this is how it worked, after Hester had conveyed the manor to her father …
Thomas Markham and Nicholas Blimston claim against John Harrington the manor of Watchfield.
Thomas is likely to be related to John’s second wife Isabella and a trusted participant in this action.
John Harrington [the tenant] vouched to warrant Hester [the owner] and she vouched John Howell [the common vouchee] who failed to appear.
The property was transferred this way to avoid any problems with the ownership of the Manor due to the will of John Malte, but there were other consequences.
Therefore Judgment was given that Markham and Blimston should recover against John H., who should receive of the lands of Hester in recompense, and Hester should receive of the lands of Howell [the man of straw]. 
Hester would have originally conveyed Watchfield to her father [as the tenant] against the terms of her grandfather’s will, but this doesn’t seem to matter.
MISCELLANEA GENEALOGICA ET HERALDICA. New Edition Vol 4 1884
The important thing here is not so much the sale of Watchfield but the compensation given to John Harrington, as this allows the transfer of other properties that were tied to the will of John Malte and for the entailment on them to be removed.
What happens to the Manor after this is unclear, but it would almost certainly have been transferred back to Hester, having been used only as a means to transferring other property and removing the inheritance restrictions.
And it also means that the property could be transferred to her husband, William Stubbes, as part of a dowry.
In 1556, when she was perhaps quite ill, Awdrey had transferred most of her property to her husband “and his heirs” despite some properties being left specifically to Hester, her only child and heir.
Feet of Fines, Michaelmas, 2 and 3 Philip and Mary, [1555/6] Berkshire. Fine between Thomas Harryngton and Thomas Thurgood, Plaintiffs, and John Harryngton, Esq., and Etheldreda, his wife, Deforciants, touching the manor of Watchyngfelde alias Wachenfelde alias Watchfelde, and lands, messuages, etc., there. To hold to Etheldreda for one month, and after that to John Harryngton and his heirs, [Precisely similar to a Fine in Somerset of the same date, affecting the Somersetshire estates derived from Etheldreda.]
Perhaps John had to wait until Hester was old enough to sell her property in order to get his hands on the rest of the property he was expecting from the marriage.
Hester, although giving up the manor in the recovery, must have retained substantial property in Watchfield and may have regained the manor later.
I almost feel sorry for Watchfield having been used and abused this way.
In 1630 a case between Hester and Richard Tomlyns – regarding a missing document following the death of her husband, William Stubbes – identified her property as being worth £200 a year and the missing document related to her ownership of land in Watchfield.
[See More about Hester]
 A straw man is a figure not intended to have a genuine beneficial interest in a property, to whom such property is nevertheless conveyed in order to facilitate a transaction.
This new information – to me anyway – regarding Watchfield has meant me having to (once again) reassess my relationship with the Stubbes and Harrington family.
From the documents in Miscellanea it seems clear that Hester is the owner of Watchfield and must be the daughter of John and Awdrey – but whether Awdrey is also the daughter of Henry VIII is still conjecture.
Hester is said to have been alive in 1568 – because of the recovery document – but is generally thought to have died some time after because there are no further records of her.
But there are several documents regarding Hester Stubbes, including the one relating to the missing document, that says she inherited her property in Watchfield from her ancestors.
I don’t believe in coincidences and I am convinced that the same Hester Harrington who was involved in the recovery was the same Hester who married William Stubbes and lived happily ever after in Watchfield, Berkshire.
Chris Sidney 2015