ALDERFORD, John, of Norwich and Little Fransham, Norf.
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Family and Education
Attorney for the city of Norwich by Mich. 1406-c.1425.2
Commr. of inquiry, Norf. July 1410 (misprisions, extortions), Nov. 1415 (treasons and felonies), Mar., June 1421 (claim of Joan, Lady Cobham, to the manor of Burnham), Suff. July 1421 (assault on an official of the duchy of Lancaster); array, Norf. Apr. 1418, Norwich Mar. 1419; to raise royal loans, Norf. Nov. 1419; collect a subsidy, Norwich Apr. 1428; of gaol delivery Apr. 1428.3
Escheator, Norf. and Suff. 23 Nov. 1419-16 Nov. 1420.
Clerk of the statute merchant, Norwich 9 July 1423-?d.
Sheriff, Norwich Mich. 1428-9.
John came of a well-established Norwich family whose members had included Edmund Alderford (d.1379), the bailiff of 1355-6 and 1362-3, and Peter Alderford, the bailiff of 1376-7 and MP of 1377 (Oct.). From 1404 his brother, Master Edmund Alderford, enjoyed the living of the parish church of St. John Maddermarket by royal presentation.4 Alderford’s own career as a man of law began by 1397, and entailed his frequent employment as a feoffee of property in Norfolk and as a surety in the Exchequer and Chancery on behalf of many clients drawn from all regions of East Anglia. Throughout his career he played a part, albeit apparently only a small one, in the affairs of the house of Mowbray, starting in May 1399 when he shared custody at the Exchequer of estates in Norfolk and Suffolk formerly held by Edward Gerberge, a tenant of the recently deceased duchess of Norfolk, whose heir, her grandson Thomas Mowbray, duke of Norfolk, was then in exile. Alderford’s custodianship was later disputed, and it seems likely that he was made to relinquish it in 1405. That same year, shortly after the execution of the late duke’s son, Thomas Mowbray, Earl Marshal, Alderford provided securities not only for Sir Thomas Erpingham KG when he acquired a lease of certain of the Mowbray estates for the duration of the minority of the heir, Earl John, but also for William Rees* esquire, a Mowbray retainer of long standing, who obtained similar grants.5 Alderford’s friendship with Rees, perhaps arising from shared service with the same noble house, led to his being named as a trustee of Rees’s manors in Cambridgeshire and, in 1410, as an executor of his will, in the confident expectation that he would bring to fruition the testator’s plans for the foundation of a chantry in the college of St. Mary in the Fields, Norwich. To that end, in December 1413, Alderford and his fellow executors, who included Sir Simon Felbrigg KG, acquired the royal licence necessary for their purchase of a moiety of the advowson of Fressingfield, Suffolk, which they then granted seven years later to the college as part of the endowment. Alderford’s own association with St. Mary’s remained close throughout his life: in 1429 he and his wife made the college a donation of 220 marks along with the residue of a lease of property in St. Andrew’s parish, Norwich, on condition that the chaplains should provide in perpetuity at their own expense a cantarist to perform religious services daily for the souls of Rees and his wife, and for the welfare, while they were still living, of Felbrigg and the grantors themselves.6
By that time, Alderford had spent over 25 years in the service of the city of Norwich, a period noted for its constitutional difficulties and factious disputes connected with the change in the city’s status to that of a shire incorporate. It had been the elections to the Parliament of January 1404 which had first brought him into prominence in civic affairs. The writ instructed the citizens to elect four representatives, a privilege until then exclusively enjoyed by the City of London and no doubt regarded as an honour commensurate with the liberties contained in the new charter, shortly to come into force. Whereupon the citizens, dismayed at the prospect of the extra cost, sent Alderford post haste to Westminster to have the writ amended. In this he was successful, and received £3 as expenses. He then accompanied the city’s two Members to the Parliament concerned, there acting as proxy for the abbot of St. Benet of Hulme. It seems likely that he had already been retained as the official attorney for Norwich, a post he certainly held from the autumn of 1406 for upwards of 17 years, receiving as his fee two marks annually. His duties included acting as attorney at the Exchequer for the mayor in the latter’s capacity as escheator of Norwich. Alderford represented the city in Parliament on the first of four occasions in 1406, and at some unknown date while that unusually long Parliament was in session he and his colleague Walter Eaton exhibited the new charter before the justices of the common pleas, a task for which they were paid £5. In 1408-9 Alderford received 10s. for ‘examining the evidences of the city in the book called Domesday and for writing down the same’; and suchlike business took him to Westminster again two years later. Besides his tasks on behalf of the civic authorities, on occasion he acted for individual citizens in their property dealings both within and without the city walls.7
Alderford’s experience of parliamentary affairs was not limited to the four occasions when he represented Norwich, for he appeared as proxy for the abbot of St. Benet of Hulme three more times — in the Parliaments of 1410, 1417 and 1421 (Dec.). Sometimes sheriffs of Norfolk and Suffolk employed him to summon defendants to the local assizes, or to appear as their attorney at the Exchequer. And several members of the gentry of East Anglia required his services, too, the most important of these being the above-mentioned Sir Thomas Erpingham, friend of Henry IV and patron of the city of Norwich. From 1410 he acted as a feoffee of lands in Suffolk belonging to the heiress Joan Walton (widowed daughter-in-law of Sir John Howard*), who was shortly to become Erpingham’s wife, and in 1419 he was associated with Sir Thomas and the latter’s nephew, Sir William Phelip* KG, the constable of Norwich castle, in transactions relating to a manor in Scoulton, Norfolk. Two years later he stood surety on Phelip’s behalf at the Exchequer.8 In 1417 this hardworking lawyer was named by Archbishop Chichele as an administrator of the estate of Thomas, Lord Morley, who had died intestate in the previous year. Alderford was party to the Norfolk electoral indenture for the Parliament of 1421 (May), and at the shire elections of 1422 he appeared as mainpernor for Edmund Wynter*. Both he and Wynter were currently retained by John Mowbray, Earl Marshal — Alderford as an ‘apprentice at law’ and member of his council, receiving from the earl an annual fee of 20s. In February 1424 the two men shared custody of the manor of Stow Bedon, Norfolk, during the minority of the heir of Lord Camoys. A year earlier, by royal appointment, Alderford had been made clerk of the statute merchant of Norwich, a post he possibly went on to hold until his death. It was by election of the citizens of Norwich that he served as their sheriff from Michaelmas 1428, and as such he conducted the city’s parliamentary elections of the following year.9
Alderford possessed a number of properties in Norwich, for the most part situated in the parishes of St. Mary and St. Martin Coselany, and including a house known as ‘le Stonhalle’. Some of these holdings he had probably inherited from his citizen forebears. His entry into the ranks of the gentry as a landed ‘esquire’ was facilitated by his marriage into the well-to-do family of Shelton, a match possibly made before the death of his wife’s father, Sir Ralph Shelton, in 1414. He became a landowner of some consequence: by 1421 he had acquired property in Fransham, about 20 miles west of Norwich; and the subsidy returns of 1428 and 1431 record him holding half a knight’s fee in Norwich as of the manor of Tolthorp in St. Clement’s parish, together with lands pertaining to the same manor at Felthorpe, four miles east of Alderford, whence his family had doubtless originally sprung. In 1432 he and his wife Alice put their manors of ‘Kirkham’ and ‘Wilcokes’ in Little Fransham, along with several other properties in the same neighbourhood, into the hands of trustees, so as to furnish themselves with an annuity of £10 for life. One of these trustees was Sir William Oldhall†, who had once petitioned Parliament to complain of Alderford’s part in the plots of the latter’s brother-in-law, William Shelton, to dispossess him of his inheritance; but clearly no acrimony remained.10 John Alderford is not recorded alive thereafter. It was as his widow that, in 1442, Alice Alderford acted as patron of the Shelton living at Scole. Alice made her will on 10 Feb. 1445 and, in a codicil dated nine days later, authorized the sale of a messuage in the parish of St. Mary Coselany which had belonged to her late husband. She was buried beside him in St. Mary’s church.11