ASTON, Sir Thomas (d.1412/13), of Haywood, Staffs.
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Family and Education
s. of Sir Roger Aston† (d.c.1362), of Haywood by his w. Isabel. m. by Oct. 1385, Elizabeth Cloddeshall, wid. of Sir William Devereux† (d.c.1384) of Bodenham, Herefs., at least 1s. Sir Roger†. Kntd. by July 1380.1
Assessor of a tax, Staffs. May 1379.
Commr. to arrest malefactors, Staffs. June 1380; put down the rebels of 1381, Mar. 1382; of inquiry Nov. 1382, Mar. 1383 (illegal sale of wine, Stafford), Nov. 1383, Apr. 1388, Nov., Dec. 1390 (murder), Staffs., Warws. Apr. 1391 (regrating and forestalling), Calais temp. Ric. II (delapidations),2 Staffs., Salop. June 1406 (concealment of royal revenues), Cheshire, Feb., Sept., Nov. 1411 (abuses at the King’s chapel at Tattenhall); to suppress treasonous rumours, Staffs. May 1402; raise a royal loan, Staffs., Salop. June 1406.
Forester of Cannock Chase, Staffs. by 16 June 1385.
J.p. Staffs. 28 May 1386-Nov. 1389, 28 June 1390-Nov. 1397, 28 Nov. 1399-Feb. 1406.
Collector of a royal aid, Staffs. Dec. 1401; taxes Mar. 1404.
Treasurer of the household of Edmund, earl of Stafford, by Mich. 1402-bef. Mich. 1405.3
Sheriff, Staffs. Mich. 1409-29 Nov. 1410.
Aston was still a minor on the death of his father, Sir Roger, a local landowner and commissioner, who represented Staffordshire in the Parliaments of 1344 and 1358. By 1364 his mother had remarried, and it was as the ward of his stepfather, Sir William Chetwynd of Ingestre, that he was then called upon to give warranty of her title to dower properties in Kempley, Shropshire. He came of age in, or before, the Michaelmas term of 1370 when he began a lawsuit against Walter Stafford for causing waste and destruction to his houses at Wollaston in Shropshire.4 Together with Chetwynd, he joined the retinue of Hugh, 2nd earl of Stafford (probably for the expedition to Brittany of 1375), and thus formed a connexion of lasting importance to his career. The Staffords were not, however, his only patrons, for in the summer of 1380 Ralph, Lord Basset of Drayton, retained him as a knight to campaign with him in France. One of the attorneys appointed by Aston at this time was his parliamentary colleague, Sir Nicholas Stafford*, Earl Hugh’s kinsman and chief steward, so it is unlikely that any serious breach had occurred between Aston and the Staffords. His presence among the jurors who gave evidence at the inquisition post mortem held on the Staffordshire estates of the 4th earl in February 1399 seems likewise to support this view.5 Yet during the intervening years he continued his association with Lord Basset, becoming one of his chief feoffees, and playing a not inconsiderable part in the administration of his estate when he died in 1390. By then, Aston had acquired a life interest in Basset’s manor of Packington, Staffordshire, which he occupied as a lessee.6
Aston’s marriage to Elizabeth Cloddeshale, the widow of Sir William Devereux, sometime sheriff and subsequently coroner of Herefordshire,7 took place shortly before Michaelmas 1385 and led to his indictment on a charge of accessory to murder. He and his wife were accused of complicity in the death of Thomas Yeddefen, an esquire of the King, who was killed by Elizabeth’s two stepsons, William and John Devereux. All four were eventually pardoned in 1388, thanks to the intercession of Sir John Lakyngheth and Sir William Bagot*, although Elizabeth had by then lost revenues in the order of 100 marks as a result of the confiscation of her manor of Castle Frome in Herefordshire. This was restored to her in June 1388 on the ground that process of outlawry had not been fully implemented against her and her husband.8 Several years later, in the autumn of 1410, the Astons began a lawsuit for the recovery of Elizabeth’s share of the Shropshire manor of Upper Hayton, which had been settled upon her by Devereux, but the full extent of her dower now remains unknown.9 Aston’s own estates were considerable, comprising the manors of Haywood and Brocton and numerous rural holdings scattered between Stafford and Walsall. From time to time these were the subject of litigation in the court of common pleas — as, for example, in 1390, when Aston claimed damages of £39 from a local man for laying waste to his land at Longdon, and in the following year when he began a similar suit against his neighbours at King’s Bromley.10
Meanwhile, in March 1387, Aston and two others were granted the farm of pontage at Wolseley in Staffordshire for one year. No further items of royal patronage appear to have come his way, and save for the lease of property in Lichfield, which he acquired in about 1394, he showed little inclination to extend his patrimony.11 On the contrary, in December 1390, he obtained a royal licence to endow a chantry for the guild of John the Baptist at Walsall parish church with lands and rents worth up to ten marks a year. His involvement in this project, which was initiated by Thomas, earl of Warwick (d.1401), suggests a fairly strong connexion between him and the Beauchamps. Not only did the earl issue a private licence to him, in April 1391, to facilitate the endowment; but some years later, in April 1404, his son, Richard, the next earl, permitted him to alienate land to the additional value of £5, so that prayers could be said for his ancestors. The original conveyances were completed by September 1391, when William Walsall, Aston’s colleague in the Parliament of 1393, held office as the first master. By this time Aston and his wife had obtained papal indults allowing them to choose their own confessor, make use of a portable altar and receive plenary remission of sins at the hour of death.12
Aston’s stipulation that masses should be said at his chantry for the souls of guild brethren who had died at the battle of Shrewsbury in July 1403 may well have been occasioned by his own presence on the battlefield, for he was then employed as treasurer of the household of Edmund, earl of Stafford, one of the chief casualties among Henry IV’s supporters. How far Aston’s personal attachment to the house of Lancaster predated his decision to join Henry of Bolingbroke when he landed at Ravenspur in July 1399 remains open to speculation, although his removal from the Staffordshire bench in November 1397 suggests that his loyalty to Richard II was already suspect. There is, however, no reason to regard the royal pardon accorded to him in the following May as anything more than a formality.13 His election to the Parliament of October 1399 and his subsequent reappointment as a j.p. clearly reflects the confidence placed in him by Henry IV, as indeed does his appearance on several royal commissions during the early years of the new reign. Like many of Earl Edmund’s former retainers, including his own son, Sir Roger†, Aston did not seek out another baronial patron, but confined his activities to the service of the Crown. His relations with John Burghill, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, seem to have been cordial, for the latter chose Aston to act as one of his proxies in the Parliaments of October 1404 and 1406.14
Surprisingly for so influential a figure, Aston had little to do with the transactions of other landowners: he was a feoffee-to-uses of the Arderne family estates and evidently acted in the same capacity for one Thomas Rugeley, yet these instances alone survive to illustrate his involvement in the Staffordshire property market.15 His appearances as a surety were equally rare: he is known to have performed this service on only three occasions over almost 30 years.16 Despite the paucity of evidence about his personal affairs, we know that Aston was not without enemies. During the course of a lawsuit heard in the Easter term of 1407, for instance, Roger Burton alleged that Aston, Sir Baldwin Freville (whose daughter, Joyce, married Aston’s son), Freville’s stepfather, Sir Adam Peshale*, and others had imprisoned him in Stafford castle until he acknowledged a debt to them of £20; and at a somewhat later date Aston alone was bound over to keep the peace towards Agnes Welley, who had sued him for menaces. From time to time he was involved in litigation at the local assizes where he seems to have been successful in the enforcement of his property rights.17 The circumstances which led Philip Butler of Woodhall, Hertfordshire, to offer Aston and three others sureties of £100 on 20 Nov. 1412 remain unknown. As nothing more is heard of Aston after this date, it may reasonably be assumed that he died at about this time.18 His son, Sir Roger, rose to become constable of the Tower of London, combining his duties, as was the family tradition, with those of a shire knight, local administrator and servant of the house of Stafford.