ASSHETON, Sir John II (d.1428), of Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancs.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of Sir John Assheton I* by his 1st w. Margaret. m. (1) Isabel, gdda. and h. of Sir Richard Kirkby, prob. 2s.1da.; (2); (3) by 1420, Margaret (d. by Apr. 1434), at least 1s. Kntd. 11 Oct. 1399.1
Commr. of array, Lancs. Mar. 1400,2 Aug. 1402,3 July 1403, Avranches June 1418, St. Lô July 1418, Avranches Dec. 1418, Mar. 1419, Pont Orson June 1419,4 Lancs. Mar. 1427; to prevent the spread of treasonous rumours May 1402; make arrests Oct. 1404; ascertain the names of Normans owing homage to Hen. V, Côtentin Mar. 1419; receive homage Apr. 1419, Jan. 1420; suppress brigandage May 1419; levy a tax on sales of alcohol May 1419; repair the fortifications at Coutances Jan. 1421; destroy castles in Lower Normandy Sept. 1421.5
J.p. Lancs. 23 Feb. 1404, 17 Dec. 1411, 19 Aug. 1426, Yorks. 20 July 1424-d. 6
Capt. of Puits c.1417; seneschal of Bayeux 20 Sept. 1417-14 Mar. 1418; capt. of Coutances and Carentan and bailiff of the Côtentin 14 Mar. 1418-aft. Sept. 1421.7
Ambassador to redress infractions of the truce between England and John V, duke of Brittany 17 Apr.-7 Aug. 1418; treat with the Bretons 7 July 1420; conserve the truce with Brittany 10 Feb.-26 Mar. 1421.8
Chief steward of the duchy of Lancaster estates in Lancs. and Cheshire 9 July 1425-d. 9
Like his father before him, Assheton became a retainer of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, while still a comparatively young man, being retained by him during the 1380s at an annual fee of £20. He must also in his youth have been close to Philip, Lord Darcy, who named him, in April 1399, as one of his executors; but by this date his primary allegiance lay with Gaunt’s son and heir, Henry of Bolingbroke. On 27 Sept. following, just two days before Richard II finally renounced the throne, Bolingbroke awarded Assheton a second annuity of £10, which was to be doubled as soon as he became a knight. In the event, he had only to wait a few days until the eve of Bolingbroke’s coronation for this honour, although the necessary financial directives were not issued for another three years. Meanwhile, in March 1400, Sir John acted as a mainpernor for two men who took on the lease of crown property in the Lancashire village of Salford. He himself was granted the farm of far larger estates in the county six months later, when King Henry made him guardian of the inheritance and person of (Sir) John Byron*, a royal ward. Assheton agreed to pay a rent of 80 marks p.a. retrospectively from the previous August, the recipients being his three brothers, Robert, Piers and Nicholas, whom the King also sought to reward for their past loyalty. A further mark of favour came to him in November 1403, this time from Henry IV’s queen, Joan of Navarre. Part of her dower properties comprised extensive estates held by the Crown during the minority of Humphrey, earl of Stafford, and she allowed Sir John, whom she described as one of her household knights, to farm the young earl’s manor of Rothwell in Northamptonshire at a somewhat reduced yearly rent of £56. (Sir John’s keepership of Rothwell may well explain why Sir William Bourgchier*, husband to the countess of Stafford, later offered him a bond worth 200 marks.) Yet notwithstanding the influence which he enjoyed as a royal favourite, Sir John found himself powerless to resist the judgement passed against him in a lawsuit at the Lancaster assizes of 1401; and his refusal to pay the damages of 20 marks awarded to his adversary, Sir Nicholas Longford, led to the forfeiture of oxen and cattle worth that amount from his estates.10
Through his parents Sir John was related both to Sir Piers del Leigh (his great-uncle), sometime steward of Macclesfield, who was beheaded by Bolingbroke for his adherence to King Richard, and Sir Ralph Staveley* (his stepmother’s brother), a devoted supporter of the Lancastrian cause, to whom the vacant office fell. Staveley joined with Sir John, in February 1410, in pledging securities to the two prominent Lancastrian retainers, Robert and John Waterton, perhaps in connexion with a grant made soon afterwards to him of the farm of the town and manor of Wheatley. This arrangement must have proved most convenient, because part of his annuity was already derived from the manorial revenues. The temptation to exploit his position seems, however, to have proved too much for him; and in about 1415 he was bound over in sums totalling 100 marks to make good various acts of waste and destruction. In other respects, however, his career went from strength to strength with his appointment first to a number of royal commissions and then to the county bench. That the electors of Lancashire eventually chose him as their parliamentary representative is hardly surprising, although it is worth noting that the returns to his first two Parliaments were made by none other than Sir Ralph Staveley, the then sheriff, and that at least two of his other kinsmen were present on the first occasion. Although his attachment to Staveley was clearly far more useful from the political viewpoint, Sir John maintained friendly relations with the del Leighs, who began gradually to recover their fortunes. In April 1412 he was among the large company of gentry who travelled to Macclesfield church for the solemn settlement of a dispute between his kinsman, Robert del Leigh, and Sir Thomas Grosvenor.11
We do not know how much military experience Sir John possessed before leaving England in the summer of 1415 on Henry V’s first expedition to Normandy. He had some three years previously been summoned as a member of Henry IV’s retinue, and may well have fought earlier in the royal army against the Scots and the Welsh. At all events, he was present with a personal following of 12 archers at the battle of Agincourt; and he later supervised the payment of arrears of wages due to soldiers from Wales. He was evidently on close terms with Sir William Boteler*, another of the captains from Lancashire, who had already employed him as one of his trustees. His relations with his former ward, Sir John Byron, also remained cordial, and at about this time he married his first son, Thomas, to one of Byron’s daughters. Sir John continued to enjoy the patronage of the Crown (his two annuities had been promptly confirmed by Henry V after his accession), and he thus once again proved a welcome choice to the electors of Lancashire when they met to decide upon their representatives for the March Parliament of 1416. That his standing went far beyond the county borders is, moreover, evident from his appearance not long afterwards with Sir Thomas Rempston II* as an arbitrator in an important dispute over property in the north Midlands, which involved (Sir) William Meryng*, and had probably been referred to them on the recommendation of the Commons.12 Henry V certainly placed great confidence in Sir John as both a soldier and an administrator: and during his second campaign against the French, which began in 1417, he bestowed a series of offices upon him. As bailiff of Cotentin, Sir John was closely involved in safeguarding the English line of defences and communication which ran through Lower Normandy from Cherbourg to Evreux; and he supplied the King with various items of military intelligence. Sir John evidently did not return to France with the main English army in June 1421, since he appears as a juror two months later at the Lancaster assizes. He and his third wife, Margaret, then spent some time on their estates at Morley in Yorkshire, where she gave birth to a child. According to a petition which Sir John later submitted to Parliament, her confinement was barely over when one John Mirfield of Pontefract arrived with a private army of 200 men, laid siege to the house and threatened to demolish it. Rather than subject his wife to such distress, Sir John agreed to be taken, as a prisoner, to Pontefract castle where he was allegedly forced to find heavy financial securities regarding some unspecified arbitration award. The truth of these charges cannot now be substantiated, although Sir John was later able to persuade the government to interrogate those concerned. His period of incarceration cannot have been too long, for by December 1421 he was back on active service in Normandy.13
The death of Henry V in 1422 seems to have marked the end of Sir John’s ventures overseas, although advancing years probably accounted for his decision to concentrate upon more local affairs. He continued to draw his two annuities; and, from 1426 onwards, he held a commission of the peace in Yorkshire as well as Lancashire. He attested the return for the latter county to the Parliament of 1427, and died almost one year later, on 3 Sept. 1428. His widow, Margaret, retained the manor of Alt as her jointure, while his other Lancashire estates in Ashton-under-Lyne, Manchester and Wardle passed to his eldest son, Thomas. The descent of his Yorkshire properties is not recorded, but these may have gone to Margaret and her issue. Thomas, who later acquired a reputation as an alchemist, evidently felt some rancour towards his stepmother, for not long after Sir John’s death he kidnapped his infant half-brother and refused to release him. The administration of Sir John’s estate also caused problems. Indeed, in 1434, one of his executors was outlawed for debt at the suit of William, Lord Lovell, and his own effects were confiscated to meet these demands.