ANNESLEY, Sir John (d.1410), of Annesley, Notts.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of Sir John Annesley of Annesley. m. (1) by Mar. 1375, Isabel, da. of Sir Richard Damory of Headington and Bucknall, Oxon. by his w. Margaret, sis. and coh. of Sir John Chandos (d.s.p. 1369); sis. and coh. of Richard Damory (d.s.p. 1375), s.p.; (2) Margaret (fl. 1412), poss. 1s. Kntd. by Mar. 1373.1
Commr. of inquiry, Notts. 1375 (liability to repair roads), Feb. 1390 (blockage of the river Trent), Aug. 1390 (holdings of the late Lord Basset of Drayton), June 1391 (blockage of the Trent); array Mar. 1392.
Surveyor of a tax, Notts. Aug. 1379; collector Dec. 1384.
From the 12th century, if not before, Sir John’s forebears occupied land in Annesley (where Edward I granted them rights of free warren), gradually extending their territorial interests further afield into the Nottinghamshire villages of Ruddington, Bulcote, Bleasby, Gibsmere and Goverton. At least two of his ancestors (both also named John) had earlier represented the county in the House of Commons; and it seems likely that the Thomas Annesley who sat with him in April 1384 (having attended the previous Parliament as well) was either his cousin, or, more probably, his brother. He assumed the profession of arms at an early age, and by November 1371 appears to have joined the retinue of Godfrey Roos, captain of Audruick in the Pas-de-Calais. Roos intervened to secure a royal pardon for Annesley after the latter had been found guilty as an accessory to murder, although the incident had little effect on his career: indeed, at some point over the next two years he obtained a knighthood. A longstanding connexion existed between the Annesleys and the dukes of Lancaster, so Sir John was continuing a family tradition when, in March 1373, he enlisted in the force which John of Gaunt planned to lead against the French. He almost certainly took part in the ensuing chevauchée from Calais to Bordeaux, but was back in England by 1375 to serve on his first royal commission.2 He had, moreover, by then married Isabel Damory, whose mother, Margaret, was one of the three sisters and coheirs of the great military commander, Sir John Chandos. Margaret’s share of the Chandos estates comprised the manors of Headington and Bucknall together with other land in Oxfordshire farmed from the Crown at an annual rent of £81, and the barony of St. Sauveur on the French island of Constantin, where her brother had built a large and strategically important castle. On her death this inheritance passed to her only son, Richard, but he died without issue in March 1375, leaving Isabel and her two sisters to divide the estate between them. According to the terms of a pre-existing trust, Isabel did not actually gain possession of her purparty until one year later, by which date the French had occupied St. Sauveur.3
Annesley’s anger at the loss of this potentially valuable property was all the harder to bear because the commander of the English garrison, Thomas Caterton, who had reputedly been in a position to maintain a spirited defence, had instead struck a bargain with the besiegers, vacating the castle upon payment of 53,000 francs, a substantial part of which went into his own pocket. Caterton’s surrender did, in fact, follow after an initial period of resistance and could have been avoided had a relief force been at hand, but Annesley was in no mood to countenance any such excuses; and it was with the intent of exposing and punishing an overt act of betrayal that he appealed Caterton for treason before the Good Parliament of 1376. His intervention came as a godsend to those enemies of the court party who were then drawing up articles of impeachment against William, Lord Latimer, one of the most unpopular of Edward III’s favourites. Not only had Latimer himself once been captain of St. Sauveur, but Caterton was in fact one of his esquires, retained, as Thomas of Walsingham cynically remarked, ‘in pace et belle, in justis et injustis, in veris et falsis’. At some point between 19 and 24 May, Annesley presented his appeal before the royal council (which was then being remodelled along lines suggested by the reformers), and Caterton was promptly dispatched as a prisoner to Queenborough castle (Kent) to await further investigation. His attempts to transfer responsibility for the surrender of St. Sauveur to Latimer gave the latter’s enemies a valuable weapon, since, although serious, their existing charges against him did not extend to treason. Now that they were able to implicate him in the loss of a vital stronghold to the French, they felt more confident to proceed, and on 26 May his trial began. In the event, however, both Annesley and the reformers were doomed to disappointment. Although sentenced to imprisonment and forfeiture on account of his financial malpractices, Latimer soon recovered his former influence at Court and was able to help Caterton, who was released on bail on 19 July, examined in October, and finally allowed to go free. It was, moreover, widely believed that John of Gaunt had promised to secure Caterton’s complete immunity from legal process, and had personally intervened to halt Annesley’s appeal. His decision thus to oppose one who had in the past served loyally under his own banner was clearly dictated as much by political considerations as his own attachment to Latimer, although he cannot have been unaware that Annesley’s failure doubtless deterred those with similar grievances likely to embarrass the government.4
Sir John had other important petitions to present to the House of Commons, joining with his two brothers-in-law in an attempt to gain redress for their wives as the nieces and coheirs of Sir John Chandos. In addition to the problems created by the surrender of St. Sauveur, the three sisters faced demands in excess of £1,540 for prests advanced to Chandos at the Exchequer, and for a further 500 marks p.a. due for the defence of the French castles temporarily in his custody. They also stood to lose at least one of the ransoms claimed by their uncle, as a new treaty with France threatened to deprive them of any financial claims in this quarter. It is thus hardly surprising that Annesley put himself forward for election to the Lower House in the hope of being better able to argue his case, which he undoubtedly did in the four consecutive Parliaments summoned between January 1377 and 1379. His main preoccupation throughout this period was, however, that of forcing Caterton to submit to a wager by battle; and at last, in March 1380, after innumerable delays and evasions engineered by the latter’s influential patrons, he obtained permission to begin proceedings in the court of chivalry. Although he lacked friends in high places, Annesley clearly had many supporters among his own knightly class; and Thomas of Woodstock, the then constable of England, admitted the justice of his appeal. The duel took place at Smithfield on 7 June 1380, before a crowd of spectators larger than that which had watched the coronation of Richard II. After a long and brutal fight, in which the combatants engaged successively with lances, swords and knives, Annesley felled his opponent. Already almost dead from exhaustion, Caterton spent the night in delirium and expired the following morning.5
Victory in single combat was followed by more material gains, since the court had no alternative but to recognize Annesley’s triumph. Five months later he was assigned £100 out of a forthcoming parliamentary subsidy, and in 1384 (by which time he had become a knight of the King’s body) he and his wife received a joint pension of £40 p.a. to compensate them for the loss of St. Sauveur. Sir John was soon to take part in Richard II’s unsuccessful expedition to Scotland, serving with a small personal bodyguard; and in March 1387 he was present at the earl of Arundel’s spectacular defeat of a combined force of enemy ships just off Margate. This marked the end of his military activities, and henceforward he lived quietly on his estates.6 He was, even so, still prepared to represent Nottinghamshire in Parliament, sitting nine times altogether and acquiring considerable experience of Commons’ procedure. During this period he became involved in a number of local property transactions, notably in Derbyshire, where his wife may have acquired a further share of the Chandos estates. In 1392 he was a party to the endowment of St. Mary’s abbey, Derby; and it was also at this time that he sued out royal letters of pardon, which can have been little more than a formality. Annesley’s career is, understandably, dominated by his dispute with Thomas Caterton, and we know little about the more personal aspects of his life. He occasionally acted as a mainpernor, performing this service for both Sir Walter Urswick† and his neighbour, Thomas Staunton, when the first Parliament of 1377 brought him to Westminster, but on the whole he seems to have avoided commitments of this kind.7
Despite the rather shabby treatment which he received from John of Gaunt, Annesley threw in his lot with the Lancastrian cause in 1399 and shortly after the coronation of Henry IV he was confirmed in his position as a King’s knight at a greatly increased fee of 100 marks p.a. He played little, if any, part in either national or regional affairs, however, and save for a lawsuit over property which he fought at the Nottingham assizes in 1407 he lived uneventfully until his death three years later. His marriage to Isabel Damory appears to have been childless, although a local antiquary has suggested that he left at least one son, presumably by his second wife, Margaret, who survived him. His estates at Annesley seem to have remained in the family, as one of his kinsmen was living there in 1428.8