BEAUCHAMP, Sir Thomas (d.1444), of Whitelackington, Som.
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Family and Education
? yr. s. of John Beauchamp of Lillesdon, Som. by his w. Joan. m. (1) bef. 1390, Elizabeth (b.1365/6), da. and coh. of Sir John Stretch of Pinhoe and Hempston Arundel, Devon, 1s. d.v.p.; (2) bef. 1422, Eleanor, da. and h. of Roger Silveyn of South Bradon, Som., 1da. Kntd. 11 Oct. 1399.1
Tax collector, Som. Mar. 1404.
Commr. to raise royal loans, Som. Sept. 1405, Nov. 1419, Som., Dorset Mar. 1431; of inquiry, Som. Dec. 1407 (extortion by the King’s ministers), Dorset Feb. 1410 (trespass), Devon Apr. 1410 (unlicensed market at Forde), Som. Nov. 1411 (Cary estates), May 1428 (concealed crown income), July 1443 (insurrection); array June 1421, Jan. 1436; arrest, Som., Devon July 1426.
The pedigree of the cadet branch of the Beauchamp family of Hatch, to which Thomas belonged, is confused, but there can be no doubt that he, a younger son, owed his prominence in Somerset more to his political sympathies than to his family connexions. He was an early supporter and probably retainer of Henry of Bolingbroke, who on the eve of his coronation made him a knight and a month later, on 16 Nov. 1399, granted him jointly with Sir Walter Hungerford* £200 from the estates of Margaret, late duchess of Norfolk, ‘in recompense of their great expense in the King’s service after his last advent into England’. Thereafter Beauchamp received other marks of royal favour: in March 1401 he secured a grant for life of six bucks and six does each year from Neroche forest, which he continued to enjoy regularly until 1440; and, described as ‘King’s knight’, he was granted in December 1412 a licence to enclose and empark 250 acres of land in ‘le Shawe’ within his manor of Ashill.2
The gap between Beauchamp’s first and second elections to Parliament, one of nearly 25 years, may be partially explained by his behaviour in the meantime. On 18 Feb. 1407 the constable of the Tower of London was instructed to take him into custody. The nature of his offence on this occasion is unknown, but only a few years later he again earned the government’s displeasure, this time by his involvement with the lollards, which had probably come about as a consequence of his close association with his neighbours, the Brookes of Holditch. Early in 1412 Bishop Bubwith of Bath and Wells placed an interdict on certain parishes in Somerset on the ground that they or their incumbents had admitted a certain unlicensed preacher to give sermons in their churches. This preacher was a lollard named John Bacon, a chaplain of Stoke-sub-Hamdon and quite possibly a priest of the chantry there which had been founded by the Beauchamps and was by this time under Sir Thomas’s control. We have no records of Beauchamp’s movements during the first two weeks of January 1414 and there is nothing to indicate that he was present with the lollards in the rising at St. Giles’ Fields. However, his complicity soon became known to the Council, and by 23 Jan., less than a fortnight after the dispersal of the rebels, he had been arrested and was being kept in irons at the Tower, shortly to be joined there by Thomas Brooke*. On 8 Feb. Richard Whittington*, the wealthy London merchant, and three other influential friends stood surety for him in 1,000 marks that he would be a ‘true prisoner’ and would make no attempt to escape. Accordingly, he was no longer kept in chains, but allowed to ‘go at large within the Tower’. Beauchamp spent some months in custody, remaining confined until 13 Sept., when he was released on giving security to present himself for trial on receipt of orders to do so. On or about 29 Sept. he and Brooke came before the King at Westminster, where they were accused both of stirring up rebellion and of holding heretical opinions: they pleaded not guilty, and were ordered to appear again on 26 Oct., when they were acquitted of both charges by a jury. Despite this verdict, there can be no doubt that Beauchamp was implicated in the revolt, though possibly not to any great extent. After this he is not known to have been again accused of lollardy and, though he seems to have been dropped from government service between 1414 and 1419, after the latter date he resumed his place in the administration of Somerset. When, in December 1419, the King’s Council required to know who of the knights and esquires of the county were best able to defend the realm, the list returned by the local j.p.s was headed by Sir Thomas Beauchamp.3
Beauchamp’s property was not extensive, for as a younger son he could expect to receive little from the family estates. Through his first marriage, to one of Sir John Stretch’s daughters, he had acquired at Stretch’s death in 1390 the manors of Ashill and East Runnington, together with the reversion of that of Alstone (which was to remain in the hands of Sir John’s widow until she died in 1422), and other lands came through his second marriage. In 1412 he was enjoying an annual income of eight marks from Marnhull and ‘Byre’ in Dorset, while his property in Somerset was said to be worth £60 6s.8d. a year. In 1419 Beauchamp made an attempt to take over certain of his own family’s estates, notably those in Lillesdon and Stathe which had been held by William Beauchamp, esquire (possibly his elder brother), who died on 7 July that year. Only four days after his kinsman’s death Sir Thomas, ousting William’s widow, entered the lands by force, cut down corn, collected rents and stole livestock and other goods worth £100. He acted similarly at Chaffcombe, where William had held a moiety of the manor, on 20 Aug. ‘in warlike array’ seizing property there which belonged to John Denbaud, esquire, who was then abroad serving as constable of Cherbourg. When inquiries were made about the Chaffcombe incident, Sir Thomas claimed that he had been acting in the interests of William’s son and heir, John, who was also overseas, though admittedly with an eye to his own interests since if John had no children he himself stood to inherit the property. He explained his actions by alleging that Denbaud had illegally enclosed part of the Beauchamp holding. There is no evidence that Sir Thomas ever gained permanent control of his kinsman’s estates. He was, however, consolidating his position in other ways: from 1422 to 1425 he farmed the prebend of Whitelackington for £6 16s.4d. a year; in 1425 he acquired premises including the advowson of the chapel of East Lambrook; and by 1427 he had a joint interest in the advowson of Trent. The full extent of his landed holdings (with the exception of the properties held ‘by the courtesy’ after the death of his first wife) is seen in a series of transactions made between 1426 and 1429, which dealt with the manors of Whitelackington and ‘Holewalerewe’ and over 64 messuages and 1,000 acres of land in Somerset, besides property in Dorset, Devon and Oxfordshire. As well as these permanent acquisitions, over the years Beauchamp had obtained temporary custody of various estates from the Crown. During the minority of the earl of March, he had custody of the earl’s lodge in North Petherton park, which, however, in 1406 was burnt down, leaving Beauchamp’s silk-covered bed and silk curtains, two worsted beds and various pewter vessels destroyed in the blaze. Beauchamp also procured from the Crown two properties in wardship, including (in 1422) the estates belonging to his son-in-law, John Kendale, but in 1426 his claim to one of these grants were declared null and void by the justices in Exchequer chamber because he had failed to answer in court. Beauchamp was evidently a man of some standing with connexions with most of the prominent figures in the area, notably (Sir) Thomas Brooke (whose friendship he retained after their spell in the Tower together), Sir Humphrey Stafford II*, Sir Thomas Stawell* and Ralph Bush*, esquire.4 Beauchamp attended the parliamentary elections held in Somerset in 1407, 1413, 1421, 1423 and 1429. Yet the air of respectability suggested by such contacts and such appearances on public occasions could not entirely mask the side of Sir Thomas’s character suggested by the incidents at Lillesdon and Chaffcombe, and it was not long before he broke the law again. In October 1427 he and three of his tenants were forced to purge themselves before Bishop Lacy of Exeter of the crime of forging and publishing fictitious charters in order to oust the owners of two Somerset manors, Ninehead Flory and Withiel Flory. Beauchamp attributed the charges to the malice of his enemies and swore his innocence on the Holy Sacrament.5
Beauchamp died on 2 Feb. 1444. As his son, John, had predeceased him, his heir was his grand daughter Alice, the wife of John Speke. A year later his widow became involved in a dispute over Whitelackington, in which Sir Thomas’s last wishes were called into question, but she proved able to retain the manor at least until 1462.6