The ‘fifth son’ and the Shebbear line

On page 834 of the 1895 edition of the Visitations of Devon – edited by J.L. Vivian and based on information gathered in 1620 – a fifth son is included for William Yeo and Leva Grenville, and he is identified as Robert Yeo of Shebbear. Despite its frequent repetition elsewhere, this link is clearly incorrect, not least because there is evidence that Robert Yeo of Shebbear was born about 1485, some four years after William had died and when Leva would have been almost sixty years old.

Research by Bert Street drew attention to this anomaly – he suggested that the inclusion of a fifth son might have been a typesetting error in the 1895 edition of the Visitations. Jim Fairweather also commented and gave evidence for up his view. A hand-drawn pedigree from the papers of Humphrey Toms excludes a fifth son.

As no other evidence of a fifth son or a line of descent from him has been found, it therefore appears that other researchers’ trees that do show a fifth son called Robert have taken this information directly or indirectly from the 1895 Visitations.

If William Yeo and Leva Grenville had a fifth son, it was unlikely that he was called Robert, as they already had a son by that name. There is a possibility of a fifth son called Edward.

The line of Yeos of Shebbear has been extensively researched by others, and traced back to the marriage of a Robert Yeo to a daughter of Faulke Prideaux of Thuborough, Sutcombe and his second wife Jane Edgcombe. It has been suggested by Sheila Yeo and by Tristram Smith that this Robert was a son of Robert Yeo and Alice Walrond (and therefore a grandson of William Yeo and Leva Grenville) – a viewpoint pursued by Humphrey Toms and Reg Walter in the 1960s. They enlisted the help of experienced genealogist James Bastin.

In a letter to Toms in 1966, Bastin comments in detail on the copy of 1895 Visitations held by the Devon and Cornwall Record Society and the annotations made on it by Sir Oswyn Murray. The printed pedigree lists the children of Robert Yeo and Alice Walrond as Nicholas, Robert, Elizabeth and William; no other publication includes Robert, although he is included in pedigrees by Tristram Smyth and Bert Street.

William Yeo died in 1481 and his inquisition post mortem records the age of Robert Yeo senior as 26, implying that he was born about 1455; his wife Alice was born in 1453 so it is reasonable to expect that they would be having children in the 1480s. This in turn would make their son Robert the right age to be the Robert Yeo who married Elizabeth Prideaux and who heads the Shebbear line.

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