ARTHUR, Sir Thomas (d.c.1404), of Clapton-in-Gordano, Som.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of Richard Arthur of Clapton in Gordano by Isabel, da. and h. of Roger Turtle† of Bristol. m. bef. 1381, Isabel, da. of John Stoke† of Bristol, by his 3rd w. Joan, 3s.1da. Kntd. bef. July 1373.1
Commr. to determine an appeal from the ct. of admiralty, Bristol Dec. 1385; of inquiry, Glos. July 1396 (assaults), Som. May 1399 (Derley lands), Bristol, Som., Devon, Cornw. May 1400 (concealments of property of Richard II and his adherents); array, Som. Dec. 1399.
Sheriff, Som. and Dorset 3 Nov. 1397-22 Dec. 1398, 3 Nov. 1399-24 Nov. 1400.
Arthur’s inheritance of lands which had belonged to his family since the 12th century was concentrated in north Somerset at Clapton in Gordano, Weston-super-Mare, Ashcombe, Oldmixon and elsewhere. His father had also held a small amount of property in Bristol, but it was from his mother, the daughter of a Bristol merchant, that he inherited the bulk of his holdings in that town. A part of this maternal inheritance was settled on Thomas’s brother Edmund, but in 1387 Thomas was assured of the reversion of certain tenements in Bristol and also of lands in Aust, Stapleton and Horfield on the Gloucestershire side of the town and in Redcliffe and Long Ashton on the Somerset side, after the death of his mother.2 Arthur’s connexion with Bristol was strengthened by his marriage to the daughter of a leading burgess. Shortly before his death in 1381 Arthur’s father-in-law, John Stoke, a former mayor and MP, had required that certain of his properties be sold and the proceeds divided between his widow and his grandchildren (Arthur’s children), and he had bequeathed to Arthur himself a black horse. In 1393 his mother-in-law left to Arthur’s wife, her daughter, her best cup with a cover called ‘chalice coppe’, but at the same time directed her executors to collect 55 marks due from Arthur as rent for the manor of ‘Nyee’, unpaid for the previous 11 years. It seems likely that the arrears were never paid off, for when John Stoke’s son, Henry Spicer of London, refused to act as executor, Arthur himself was appointed to administer the will.3
Some of the Arthur lands in Somerset were held of the Despensers, and earlier on in life Thomas had offered his services to them. On 16 Nov. 1372 an indenture of retainer made between Edward, Lord Despenser, and Thomas Arthur gave the latter a substantial annuity of £20 for life from the Despensers’ exchequer at Cardiff, in return for his promise to stand at the lord’s command in peace and war. This he evidently did: he was knighted early in the following year and on 23 July was mustered with other members of Despenser’s retinue in preparation for the expedition to France led by John of Gaunt. He was again with Despenser’s contingent which assembled at Plympton in March 1375 before sailing to Brittany. Despenser died later that year and it is unclear whether Arthur’s annuity continued to be paid during the minority of the new lord, Thomas, which lasted until 1394. It was not until 1397 that Arthur was returned to Parliament, and he held office as sheriff of Somerset and Dorset for the first time later that year. His second shrievalty followed immediately on Henry IV’s accession and must have given rise to a conflict of loyalties. The new Lord Despenser had actively supported Richard II and after the deposition was accused of complicity in the duke of Gloucester’s death. Joining the earls of Kent, Salisbury and Huntingdon in a plot to overthrow the new King, he was summarily executed by the mob at Bristol in January 1400, having escaped from Cirencester, where he, Kent and Salisbury had been taken and held in the abbey. The movements of Arthur, at that time sheriff of the neighbouring county, are unclear, but the evidence suggests that he was prudent enough not to lend Despenser assistance. On 23 Feb. he stood surety with Thomas Beaupyne*, the constable of Bristol castle, for John Leckhampton, abbot of Cirencester, who was engaged in a dispute with certain townsmen there. Led by their bailiff a crowd of them had been responsible for the capture of Despenser and the other rebels fleeing from the King, and it had been they who had lodged them i