AYSSHTON, Nicholas (d.1466), of Callington, Cornw.
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Family and Education
Commr. of inquiry, Devon and Cornw. 35 times July 1429-61, West Country July 1434 (concealed Crown income), Dorset Jan. 1444, Dec. 1452, s. of Eng. July 1448 (concealed Crown income), Essex Feb. 1450, Hants Mar. 1450, Kent Mar. 1451, Som. Dec. 1464; to distribute a tax allowance, Cornw. May 1437, Apr. 1440; treat for payment of a subsidy Feb. 1441; confiscate a ship, Plymouth Aug. 1442; of array, Cornw. Mar. 1443; oyer and terminer, various counties 45 times July 1444-Nov. 1465; gaol delivery, Newgate Mar. 1446, Oct. 1451; to examine proceedings of suits in the Guildhall, London Apr. 1451, July 1455, in Chancery Dec. 1460; of arrest, Cornw. Sept. 1451; to assign a force of archers, Surr. Dec. 1457.
J.p. Cornw. 7 July 1431-Nov 1439, May 1441-d., Devon 26 Mar. 1443-d., Wilts. 22 May 1443-d., Som. 1 June 1443-d., Dorset 12 July 1443-d., Hants 12 Nov. 1443-d., Surr. 9 Aug. 1448-June 1452, Dec. 1452-d.
Steward and receiver of Caliland, Cornw. for Humphrey, earl of Stafford, by Mich. 1438-bef. Mich. 1447.
Serjeant-at-law by Apr. 1443; justice of assize, s. w. circuit May 1443; j.c.p. by July 1444-d.
Trier of Gascon petitions in the Parliaments of 1445, 1447, 1455, 1461, 1463.5
In view of the fact that it was not until 23 years after his first election to Parliament as burgess for Liskeard in 1421 that Nicholas Aysshton began to function as a j.c.p., that election must have taken place at the very outset of his career and when he was most likely in his early twenties. Nothing is known of Aysshton’s family background, but from quite early on his home was at Callington, not far from two of the boroughs which he represented in Parliament: Liskeard and Launceston. At first his landed holdings were of little account, but his marriage to one of the daughters of Thomas Paderda gave him a share in a sizeable estate in Cornwall. It also brought him into contact with John Cork*, a successful Cornish lawyer who had married another of the Paderda girls; and it may well have been Cork who helped him to establish his practice in the central courts. An able advocate could make his fortune from the law, and Aysshton invested his earnings to good effect: by the 1430s he had become ‘lord of a part of the town of Callington’, and in that decade he purchased small landed estates and property in east Cornwall (in the parishes of Whitstone, St. Germans and Liskeard, and in the town of Launceston). He also acquired a reversionary interest in a part of the holdings of John Fursdon*, esquire. In later years Aysshton held land in the more westerly parts of Cornwall, but there is no evidence that he ever owned property in or near Helston, the borough which he most often represented in the Commons. It was probably the demands of his duties as a judge which prompted him to look for a residence situated nearer to Westminster: in 1446 he purchased some 900 acres in Godstone and Bletchingley, Surrey, which came to be known as the manor of Godstone.6
Like another rising West Country lawyer, John Fortescue*, Aysshton doubtless found service in the Lower House a useful adjunct to practice in the courts. About the time of his fifth election, to the Parliament which met in October 1427, he attested the indenture of return for the knights of the shire for Cornwall. He did likewise at Lostwithiel in 1435, and at the two subsequent elections was himself chosen to represent his home county in Parliament, a reflection not only of the standing which he had come to enjoy among the gentry of the shire, but also of the recognition of his abilities in official circles. He had already attracted some notice by 1428 when he had shared in the grant of a wardship of the dower lands of Sir Thomas Pomeroy’s* widow, and in the following year he was appointed to the first of upwards of 100 royal commissions. Then, during the session of the 1431 Parliament, he and Fortescue stood as mainpernors at the Exchequer for the farmers (who included another able lawyer, Nicholas Radford*) of the manor, hundred and borough of North Tawton, Devon, held by tenants of the young earl of Devon.7 In July that same year Aysshton had been appointed as a j.p. in Cornwall, and he continued to serve on that bench almost without a break until his death 35 years later. Aysshton’s earliest public assignments were for the most part concerned only with Cornish affairs, but in July 1434 he was appointed to a commission in the West Country as a whole, involving a thorough investigation into cases of fiscal maladministration over the past 20 years, and this led to further important assignments in other parts of the country.
Besides such public services Aysshton was engaged in many legal transactions on behalf of several West Country landowners. On one occasion, for example, he acted as proctor for the prior and convent of Plympton, appearing before Bishop Lacy of Exeter to secure ratification of their deed of concord with Tavistock abbey, and it was as a trustee for other parties that at various times he presented to the churches of St. Stephen’s in Brannel, in Cornwall, Hittisleigh in Devon and Chesilburgh and Poynting-ton in Somerset. Among those for whom Aysshton acted was the steward of the duchy of Cornwall, (Sir) John Arundell I* of Lanherne, by whom in 1433 he was named as an executor of his will. As Arundell’s feoffee Aysshton made presentations to the churches of Phillack and Ideford, and on 18 Nov. 1435, during his eighth Parliament, he shared with Sir Walter (now Lord) Hungerford*, and two fellow Members of the Commons Lord) Hungerford and two fellow Members of the Commons ( John Copplestone* and Thomas Beret†), a grant of the wardship and marriage of Arundell’s grandson and heir, for which they paid 1,000 marks at the Exchequer. In the previous year Aysshton had been asked by Arundell’s kinsman, Sir John Arundell† of Trerice, to help settle his quarrel with Richard Maidstone* (previously knight of the shire for Middlesex). That he was similarly chosen as an arbitrator a few years later (in 1440) by Nicholas Fynderne, a Derbyshire gentleman contesting the ownership of an estate in the Midlands, is an indication that his reputation in legal matters had spread far beyond the confines of his own county.8
While preserving his connexions with his neighbours in Cornwall and Devon, such as Sir John Colshull† and John Cokeworthy II* of Yarnscombe, Aysshton began to devote more attention to the affairs of clients from other parts of England: for example to the executorship of the will of John Hatherley†, a former mayor of London, and to the trusteeship of the manor of Lyston Overhall in Essex. As his reputation grew, so rose the status of his clientele. In 1443 he was acting as a feoffee of estates in nine shires belonging to Sir William Bourgchier (afterwards Lord Fitzwaryn),and another prominent figure who made use of his legal expertise about this time was Sir Humphrey Stafford II* of Hooke.9 Both Bourgchier and Stafford were kinsmen of Humphrey, earl of Stafford, who held the lordship of Caliland close to Aysshton’s home at Callington, and it is not surprising to find that on 6 Nov. 1438 Aysshton had been retained by the earl to advise him on questions of law, for an annual fee of £2 paid from the issues of that lordship, or that since Michaelmas of the same year (and perhaps from even before then) he had been serving the earl as steward and receiver of the same. Aysshton ceased to collect his fee some time before Michaelmas 1447 and, no doubt because of the demands of his judicial duties, he also gave up the offices at Caliland, only for his son, Edward, to take them over. It is of interest to note that Earl Humphrey was also lord of Bletchingley, the place where in 1446 Aysshton had chosen to purchase an estate.10 Another client of Aysshton’s from among the nobility was Anne, third wife of John Holand, duke of Exeter, whom he served as a feoffee;and in December 1443 the duke’s stepfather, John Cornwall, Lord Fanhope, appointed him, along with the chancellor (Archbishop Stafford), and Ralph, Lord Cromwell, as an executor of his will. After the will had been proved on 6 Jan. following Aysshton found much to occupy him in winding up Fanhope’s affairs. He and his co-executors made two loans, each of 2,000 marks, to Henry VI ‘in his great necessity’, for which they were given, as security, certain pieces of jewellery and assignments on the customs collected at Southampton; in 1445 they sold to the King Fanhope’s two ‘nouches’ (jewelled clasps) worth £540; and in furfilment of the will they made arrangements for ‘Cornewaylle is masse’ to be said in Tywardreath priory. But although these matters seem to have been effected smoothly, the way in which Aysshton and the other feoffees of Fanhope’s estates went about their task provoked severe criticism from another of the executors within days of Fanhope’s death. In January 1444 Lord Cromwell started an action in Chancery against the feoffees for refusing to sell him the manor of Ampthill and other lands in Bedfordshire in accordance with Fanhope’s wishes. (He said that Fanhope had asked them to give him first option to purchase these estates for £1,000.) Aysshton and his co-feoffees were evidently judged to be at fault, for in February they were required to transfer the disputed properties to Cromwell’s nominees, a transaction which ultimately gave rise to enmity between Cromwell and Henry Holand, duke of Exeter, which had far-reaching repercussions in the political upheavals of the 1450s.11
Meanwhile Aysshton had progressed from the status of apprentice-at-law (in which he had been retained by the duchy of Lancaster from 1439 to 1443), to that of serjeant-at-law, having been ordered to take the coif in February 1443. Shortly afterwards he was made a justice of assize on the south-western circuit, and this promotion coincided with his appointment as a j.p in five more counties besides Cornwall. Only a year later (in or before Trinity term 1444) he made his first appearance as a judge in the common bench, and it was as such that, by writ of assistance, he was summoned to attend Parliament in February 1445. He was named as a trier of petitions from Gascony and elsewhere overseas in this and four later Parliaments. Other tasks required his attention, too: in 1441, 1448 and 1455 he was instructed to hold assession courts to arrange leases of the Cornish estates of the duchy of Cornwall.12 Moreover, besides his normal judicial duties, he could on occasion be called on by the King to give advice on matters causing concern; and then there came a spate of oyer and terminer commissions arising out of the political troubles of the last decade of Henry VI’s reign. It is most unlikely that Aysshton acted on all the commissions to which he was appointed in the 1450s: the judges would be named on all important judicial commissions as a matter of course and not all of them could be away from Westminster in term time. There is evidence, however, that Aysshton held sessions at Canterbury and in Wiltshire in 1450, in Wales in 1451, at Hereford and other places in 1452, and in Wiltshire, Somerset and Devon in 1453, on each occasion receiving the normal fee of £1 per day;13 and it is likely that he also served, with the chief justice, John Prisot, on an oyer and terminer set up in February 1451 to investigate the wage-claims of soldiers back from Normandy made against Thomas, Lord Hoo, the late chancellor of the duchy. The temporary eclipse of the Yorkists in the summer of 1456 again brought oyer and terminer commissions regarding treason in the south-east and the West Country, and after the acts of attainder passed by the Coventry Parliament of 1459 Aysshton was kept busy on the Welsh borders. Nevertheless, he had formed no particularly personal attachment either to Henry VI or to his queen: like the other judges (with the exception of Fortescue), he retained his position after Edward IV took the throne and, indeed, even before then he served on an oyer and terminer directed against Lancastrian supporters in the midland and northern counties.
Aysshton acted as a trier of petitions in both of Edward IV’s Parliaments which met before his death, and continued to pass judgement in the common pleas until February 1466. Having made his will at Callington on 10 Mar. that year, he died on the same day. It was his wish to be buried next to his wife in the local church of St. Mary, of which he had been a noted benefactor. In the 1430s at his own cost he had rebuilt an old ruined chapel there, which in 1438 he had arranged to be consecrated. Now, in his will, he left for the further maintenance of the new chapel the sum of £20, to be spent under the supervision of his son. Otherwise, for a man who had been receiving a judge’s salary for over 20 years, the monetary bequests were surprisingly small: no more than a noble was left to each of the Carmelite and Franciscan houses at Plymouth, the Franciscan house at Bodmin, and the Dominican priory at Truro; the rector of South Hill was to receive small sums for forgotten tithes and the fabric of his church, and four of Aysshton’s servants were to share the sum of £5. The residue of Aysshton’s possessions was to go to his son Edward, whom he appointed as one of his three executors. The other two were John Knoll, clerk, and Robert Clay†, while Sir John Colshull was asked to supervise. The monumental brass placed on Aysshton’s tomb represents him as clothed in a judge’s long fur-trimmed robe, with a close-fitting wig on his head. His wife is at his side. Below the figures is a 12-line Latin eulogy in hexameters praising Aysshton’s character as a sympathetic judge (‘nam cum lex stricta saeviit hic doluit’), claiming that the common people deemed him just, compassionate and kind, extolling his good works and generosity and ending with a prayer for mercy from Him who judges those who are ‘Regis et legis et legum irt arte periti’.14
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. The burgesses of Launceston paid Aysshton 1d. in earnest money to secure his services as an MP in this Parliament. Bread and ale given him at the same time cost 3d., and he and his fellow MP, John Palmer III, later shared one mark for their expenses (R. and O.B. Peter, Hist. Launceston, 124-5, 129).
- 2. Aysshton is named on the electoral indenture as a representative for Helston, but on the schedule attached to the return he is listed as a representative for Truro, changing places with Thomas Bere.
- 3. J. Maclean, Trigg Minor, i. 311; JUST 1/1531 m. 46d. There is no evidence to support the theory (E. Foss, Judges, iv. 409) that Aysshton belonged to the Lancashire family of Assheton, nor that his wife was a member of the family of Robert, Lord Willoughby de Broke (d. 1502), who, like the Aysshtons, was buried at Callington (A.B. Hutchinson, Parish Church Callington ). Aysshton had about 11 children, but all but two predeceased him (C.S. Gilbert, Surv. Cornw. ii. 10. 470).
- 4. CPR, 1461-7, p. 573.
- 5. RP, v. 67, 129, 279, 462, 496.
- 6. Feudal Aids, i. 234, 235; Cornw. Feet of Fines (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. 1950), 1018, 1019, 1042, 1079, 1099; CCR, 1435-41, p. 49; 1441-7, pp. 282, 290; C140/84/34; Peter, 139; CPL, viii. 573, VCH Surr. iv. 287; CP25(1)232/73/18.
- 7. C219/13/5, 14/5; CFR, xv. 248; xvi. 25, 95.
- 8. Reg. Lacy (Exeter) ed. Hingeston-Randolph, i. 149, 161, 272; ibid. (Canterbury and York Soc. lx), 258, 278; (lxi), 206, 210, 227, 264; (lxii), 71; (lxiii), 20, 22, 277; CPR, 1429-36, p. 497; CCR, 1429-35, p. 349; 1435-41, p. 383; Cornw. Feet of Fines, 1027; Reg. Bekynton (Som. Rec. Soc. xlix), 160, 167.
- 9. C1/29/259-62; CCR, 1476-85, pp. 102, 142, 372; Cornw. Feet of Fines 1038, 1135, 1140; CPR, 1441-6, p. 345; 1461-7; p. 228; Som. of Feet of Fines (Som. Rec. Soc. xxii), 196; CFR, xxi. 543; Surr. Arch. Colls. vii. 40.
- 10. Staffs. RO, D641/1/2/15 mm. 5, 6, 17m. 2d; Longleat House, Bath ms, 6410 m. 2d.
- 11. E404/60/123, 232, 265, 61/222, 66/213; CPR, 1441-6, pp. 230, 268, 273; C1/13/129; CCR, 1441-7, pp. 218, 222; Reg. Lacy ed. Hingeston-Randolph, i. 309; ibid. (Canterbury and York Soc. lxi), 356; Speculum, xliii. 606-8; G. Oliver, Monasticon Dioecesis Exoniensis, 44; Early Lincoln Wills ed. Gibbons, 166.
- 12. Duchy of Cornw. RO, assession roll 477; CPR, 1446-52, p. 190; 1452-61, p. 255; E306/2/11.
- 13. E404/60/82, 65/201, 66/107,