Grizel Sweet: Victim or Villain?

Grizel Sweet: “Victim or Villain?”


On 27 November 1758 William Sweet prepared a Disposition to leave houses and yard (converted to a garden) to George Sweet, his youngest son. (George was at this time a gardener at Swinton). In addition this Disposition allowed for his daughter Jean (wife of Frances Wilkinson, weaver in Wooler) to receive £6. William Turner, second son of Robert Turner tailor in Town Yetholm from the marriage between Robert Turner and Grizel Sweet, his daughter. William and Robert Sweet, his eldest and second sons, each to receive the sum of five shillings. He reserved life rent for himself and his wife, Jean Tully. Jean and Grizel were to share in his moveable estate. It would have been customary in those days to leave the house and yard to the eldest son, William.

William Sweet died in July 1766 and his widow, Jean Tully, died some time after this before 1771. Prior to the deaths of her parents, Grizel looked after them and in recognition of the fact that she was not provided for in the Disposition, William had an account drawn up by the local schoolmaster to compensate for the value of her care. This was set at £34 and accepted and signed by William. Grizel was unable to write and her hand was led by the schoolmaster to trace out Grizel Turner on the face of the bill.

Following the deaths of her parents, Grizel attempted to collect the £34 from George whose inheritance of the property also contained a clause to settle all lawful debts; he refused to pay. In 1771 Grizel raised an action to recover the debt and there ensued a family squabble through the Courts of Session with Grizel trying to establish her rights to the sum and George disputing this. The documents are useful as they provide further information about the family. George was summoned to appear before the Lords in Court of Session in Edinburgh to present his defence.

Below is a summary of the arguments put by each in defence of their positions.


  • William Sweet and his wife lived for many years after granting this disposition and Grizel Sweet resided in the same town along with them where she carried on business by keeping a little shop and had to bring up a numerous family of children but as the old people became very infirm their daughter Grizel performed the part of a daughter child and faithful servant, she took all the care possible of her aged parents and for that purpose was often obliged to neglect her own family and little affairs. [William] knew well that the poor woman had enough to do with her utmost industry to provide bread for a numerous family of orphans whose whole dependence was upon her, he therefore often promised that [Grizel] should be no loser and that he would reward her for all her services. [Grizel was a widow with six surviving children aged between 3 and 13 years at the time of the Disposition, they were not orphans though.]
  • [Grizel was a] widow with a large family and was altogether unprovided by her father or her deceased husband
  • Grizel having during her parents’ lives acted a most pious and most dutiful part towards them, and her brother, George Sweet, having succeeded his father by virtue of the disposition – whereby he got a clear subject worth at least £600 sterling
  • Upon the whole it is submitted to your Lordship if [George Sweet], who for one in his sphere of life derived such a lucrative Succession from his father in preference to his two elder brothers, does with a good grace refuse to pay this most onerous debt to his poor Sister with a most numerous family of children and considering that she never got any thing in the way of portion and that her services to her parents in their decline of life saved at least three times this Sum which a common Servant would have drawn and would have been a burden upon the Subjects which the Defender now succeeds to. [Grizel drawing attention to the fact that normally the oldest brother would inherit and George has been “lucky”]
  • she declared [her father] was an old man upward of eighty and disabled from working


  • [Grizel Sweet…] has all along endeavoured to impress the mind of the Lord Ordinary with a clamorous story about the poverty of her circumstances, her Piety towards her parents and the injustice with which [George Sweet] treats her in refusing to pay the Bill in question.
  • The falsehood of [Grizel Sweet’s allegations] that [George Sweet] had got £600 by his Father, […] it appears to be no more than a small House of three Quarters of an Acre of Land purchased by his Father for £15 Sterling and after being [e]nclosed and converted into Garden Ground, the most profitable of any kind of Cultivation not now worth £50 burdened with his fathers liferent and his Debts and funeral Charges [So George disputes Grizel’s perception of the value of his inheritance]
  • [Grizel] will not pretend that she acted as a menial Servant to her father and mother, She knows very well that her own Daughter Margaret [aged 5 in 1758] lived with them in that Character and that tho’ very young they gave her no less wages than £4..2.. per annum; and as to those more tender offices of care and attention which duty and Affection prompt Children to pay to their parents in old age, [Grizel’s] father and Mother stood little in need of them- they were stout healthy people, in easy Circumstances for their rank, and always able to go about and work. So small a dependence indeed had the mother upon [Grizel’s] dutiful attendance, that as soon as her husband died she left Yetholm and went to Newcastle to live with her other Daughter. [This helps to confirm an element of the Northern Forester article].
  • [Grizel’s] attention to her father and mother would always be an excuse for her Children being fed about their Board, and her family being upheld by their County; and She herself acknowledges that her father used frequently to give her a guinea and Twenty Shillings to buy provisions, a far more natural and proper reward of her Services, than a Bill which was not to be paid during his life. [this may be suggesting that Grizel relied on financial help from the county to feed her children, this may be money from the church]
  • After her father, who was so scrupulously exact as to estimate her bygone piety as an annual pecuniary value, makes no allowance for time to come, when it was to be expected from his increasing old age and infirmity, her Services would become doubly laborious and of double worth. This is a striking defect in [Grizel’s] tale, which had she been sensible of it, she would have certainly supplied.
  • [Grizel] has not even ventured to take the assistance of the testimony of the Schoolmaster, who was so principal an operator in fabricating it.
  • [Grizel] accounts for, by telling us, that her father was an old man, disabled from working and not in ability to pay the Bill, but said his Son would be very able to pay it after he was gone, out of what he left him. [George Sweet] would be glade to know how She reconciles this with her other allegation, that her father was worth £600 Sterling beside an annuity of £40 per annum that had been left to him by his eldest Son; a fortune which would have afforded a degree of affluence far beyond the taste of any person who had been accustomed to his simple and frugal life. [Grizel] in order to support her plea has been obliged to depart from truth, and like every one who does so, has involved herself on all hands in absurdity and contradictions. [This suggests that William, Grizel’s brother, has been particularly successful to be able to afford to provide an annuity for his father. I don’t think William will have died before his father or this would have been referred to in the papers.]
  • that [Grizel’s] hand was led by the Schoolmaster of Wooler, a short while after delivery of the Bill; In her Memorial she says that her hand was led by the Schoolmaster of Town Yetholm, at the time the Bill was granted. Upon Comparing the Subscription of William Sweet [on the face of] the Bill, with that of the deposition in process in favour of [George Sweet], they do not altogether agree. So that taking all these Circumstances together, this Bill has a very suspicious Appearance. [the distinction between Town Yetholm in Scotland and Wooler in England is used as the latter aided Grizel’s argument using English legal precedents versus Scottish precedents. Note that the suggestion is also that William’s signature does not look authentic.]
  • Had [Grizel’s] father intended her a Gratuity, he was in the use of Employing a man of Business and therefore would likely have executed his Intention in a legal manner; he left her the half of the movables by testament; He was in the practice of giving her a Guinea and twenty shillings now and then, by her own Confession, which is a more probable way of rewarding her services, the reward of which, according to her own account, she could not well want, than that of granting her a bill payable after his death.
  • So far from getting from his father a Succession of £600, he got no more than the House & yard mentioned in the disposition, what fell to him beside that, came from an Elder brother of his & of [Grizel’s] so that while she cannot plead far upon his having got a lucrative Inheritance. [Reference again to brother William this time providing for his siblings]
  • [Grizel] further says the Subscription was [added to the bill] in presence of two persons now both dead The purpose of saying it was subscribed before such witnesses is Evident they are now no more and cannot declare the [contrary]

The Lord ordinary having again considered this Representation with the answers thereto Refuses the desire thereof and adheres to the former Interlocution.

Signed July 13, 1773 James Ferguson, Lord Pitfour

It appears that Grizel lost her case on the evidence that it was not her signature on the document. She was ordered to pay George’s costs of £1:4:0

How exaggerated the claims made by either sibling is impossible to say. There are elements of the full text that unlock further family history information.

March 2018