ASENHILL, alias HARPEDEN, William (d.1443), of Guilden Morden, Cambs. and Walton, Yorks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Family and Education

m. bef. Nov. 1404, Joan (d. bef. 1433), da. of Sir John Burgh (1328-93) of Burrough Green, Cambs. by his 2nd w. Katherine, da. of Sir John Dengaine† of Teversham, Cambs.; half-sis. and coh. of Thomas Burgh (d.1411), and wid. of Thomas Hasilden I* (d.c.1387) of Guilden Morden, 1da. Kntd. bef. May 1416.

Offices Held

Usher of the King’s chamber by Nov. 1404-c. Mar. 1413

J.p. Cambs. 27 Jan. 1406-Feb. 1407, 16 Jan. 1414-Feb. 1419, 8 July 1420-Feb. 1425, 12 Feb. 1429-d. , Cambridge 24 Nov. 1429-Feb. 1432.

Escheator, Cambs. and Hunts. 10 Nov. 1413-12 Nov. 1414.

Commr. of inquiry, Cambs. May 1415 (counterfeiting), Beds. Nov. 1423 (obstruction of highway), Cambs. Apr. 1431 (liability to contribute to an aid); array May 1418, Jan. 1436; to raise royal loans Nov. 1419, July 1426, May 1428, Cambs., Hunts. Mar. 1430, Mar. 1431, Cambs. Feb. 1434; of oyer and terminer Nov. 1429.

Sheriff, Cambs. and Hunts. 4 Nov. 1418-23 Nov. 1419.


Born William Harpeden, he was possibly the valet of the chamber of Henry of Bolingbroke of that name who accompanied his master on expeditions to Prussia and the Holy Land in 1390 and 1392, and may be identified with the William Harpeden esquire who witnessed the will made by Henry’s father, John of Gaunt, on 3 Feb. 1398. There is no doubt, however, that he was the ‘King’s esquire’ to whom in September 1397 Richard II granted for life the late earl of Arundel’s grange at Tyburn, Middlesex, ‘in aid of the maintenance of his estate’, and who, in April 1399, when preparing to embark with the royal army for Ireland, received a life annuity of £20 charged on the Exchequer.1 Whether or not the two Harpedens were one and the same person (and service to the house of Lancaster and King Richard could be combined without undue strain on the retainer’s loyalties in 1397, at least), Henry of Bolingbroke was prepared to accept Richard’s esquire into his own household not long after his accession to the throne, and to confirm his annuity in February 1400. Harpeden was among those selected to escort the King’s daughter Blanche to Germany for her marriage in the spring of 1402, and in the following year he was sent on royal business to Picardy. Before the autumn of 1404 he had been made an usher in the King’s chamber. It was then that, by reason of his marriage to Joan Hasilden, widow of the one-time controller of John of Gaunt’s household, the King granted him and his wife an annuity of £40 for life from the issues of the estates of the duchy of Lancaster in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. The alteration in Harpeden’s status as a consequence of this opportune match prompted him to change his name, and henceforth he is known as Asenhill. His appointment as a j.p. in Cambridgeshire in January 1406 followed hard upon his first election as shire knight for that county; the electors having no doubt taken into account his position in the royal household, which he may well have retained until Henry IV’s death. In the course of the reign the King occasionally made Asenhill gifts of timber from duchy parks for repairs to his houses, and an earlier grant of two tuns of wine a year made to Joan Hasilden was transferred to her new husband.2

As a consequence of his marriage Asenhill had become a landowner of substance in Cambridgeshire. Not only did Joan hold in dower the manor of Bondesbury in Guilden Morden (valued at £21 a year in 1412), but her position as a Hasilden dowager enabled him to take control over the principal estates of her former husband by obtaining at the Exchequer on 17 Dec. 1406 (shortly before the dissolution of his first Parliament) custody of the holdings of the late Richard Hasilden* (Joan’s stepson) in Essex, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Dorset, for the duration of the minority of the heir. Asenhill’s position was strengthened further in 1409 when the young man went mad, and, indeed, he proved able to retain possession of at least part of the estate — ‘Pichard’s’ in Guilden Morden — for the rest of his life. Furthermore, Asenhill’s wife had shared with her two sisters (Elizabeth, wife of Sir John Ingoldisthorpe* and Margaret, whose second husband was Sir John Zouche*) the extensive estates once held by their father Sir John Burgh. Joan’s portion included property in Yorkshire at Cawthorne, Heaton and Mirfield. Altogether, Asenhill’s marriage brought him landed holdings in Cambridgeshire and Yorkshire capable of providing him with annual revenues estimated in 1436 at £95, while other sources of income such as annuities added at least £45 more. Not surprisingly, his wife’s relations looked to him for support in their private transactions: he was made a trustee of the Ingoldisthorpe estates, and both Sir John and his widow named him as an executor of their wills.3

During the first year of Henry V’s reign Asenhill was appointed as escheator of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, and the letters patent granting him wine from the King’s prisage were confirmed even though he was no longer a member of the royal household. He entered a contract on 29 Apr. 1415 to serve on Henry’s first expedition to France with a band of two men-at-arms and six archers, but while fulfilling this undertaking he fell sick at the siege of Harfleur and returned to England on 7 Oct., leaving his archers to carry on to meet the French at Agincourt without benefit of his leadership. Nevertheless, it was probably on this campaign that he attained his knighthood. In May 1416 Sir William undertook to spend three months at sea in the force sent to relieve the garrison at Harfleur, and immediately after his discharge he secured election to Parliament for the second time. He was responsible for holding the parliamentary elections for Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire during his shrievalty of 1419, and at those held subsequently, for the two Parliaments of 1421, he headed the lists of electors present at the shire court at Cambridge. Evidently reluctant to undertake further military service in person, in March 1422 he supplied a man-at-arms to go in his place to join the royal armies in France. Henry V’s death had no noticeable effect on Asenhill’s role in local administration. He sat as a Member of the Commons in five of the first six Parliaments of the new reign, and while that of 1422 was in session he obtained formal confirmation that the casks of wine originally granted him by Henry IV would continue to be assigned every year. Furthermore, during that of 1425 he secured letters patent exempting him for 12 years from being made to hold royal office against his will. Even so, he continued as before to take on a variety of governmental duties in the localities. That he was occasionally described as ‘King’s knight’ may indicate no more than that he still received his duchy annuity.4 Frequently a member of committees to raise loans for the Crown, Asenhill himself made one such loan, of 40 marks, in 1430, and six years later he was asked by the Council for another, of £40, towards financing the duke of York’s army. He was on good terms with one of the most diligent councillors of Henry V’s minority, Sir John (now Lord) Tiptoft*, steward of the Household, who in 1431 named him as a trustee of his estates in Cambridgeshire and Middlesex. Naturally, he was listed among the Cambridgeshire gentry required in 1434 to take the oath against maintenance of those who broke the law.5

In about 1435 Asenhill’s only daughter, Constance, was married to Richard Waterton† (son of John Waterton* of Bramley, Surrey), an occasion marked by Sir William’s settlement on the couple of the property in Yorkshire which had belonged to Constance’s mother. Having founded a perpetual chantry in the house of the Carmelites at Cambridge with the intention that it should be his place of burial, in 1440 he obtained permission from Pope Eugenius IV to have his wife’s body exhumed from Guilden Morden parish church and re-interred in the friary. He himself died shortly before 22 Apr. 1443.6

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Authors: J. S. Roskell / L. S. Woodger


Variants: Asunhall, Essenhell, Hasehull.

  • 1. Derby’s Expeds. (Cam. Soc. n.s. lii), 8, 136, 258, 268, 270, 272; Test. Vetusta ed. Nicolas, 144; CPR, 1396-9, pp. 195, 518, 538.
  • 2. CPR, 1399-1401, p. 206; 1405-8, p. 434; Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ed. Carte, ii. 183, 185; E101/404/21, f. 45; DL28/27/10; DL42/16 (pt.3), ff. 43, 140.
  • 3. Yorks. Arch. Soc. xxx. 345-8; VCH Cambs. viii. 99; CIMisc. vii. 427; Feudal Aids, i. 190; vi. 409; CFR, xiii. 60; CPR, 1408-13, p. 52; CCR, 1429-35, p. 249; PCC Marche 48, 53; F. Blomefield, Norf. vii. 519; 15th Cent. Eng. ed. Chrimes, Ross and Griffiths, 98.
  • 4. CPR, 1413-16, p. 134; 1422-9, pp. 12, 287; E101/46/39, 69/4/407, 70/1/553; DKR, xliv. 568; C219/12/3, 5, 6; CCR, 1419-22, p. 228.
  • 5. CPR, 1429-36, pp. 61, 385; HMC Rutland, iv. 86; PPC, iv. 328.
  • 6. Yorks. Arch. Soc. xxx. 391; CPL, ix. 119; CPR, 1441-6, p. 159; CFR, xvii. 233.