BEDFORD, Thomas, of Bedford.
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Family and Education
Clerk of KB 1381-1413.1
Commr. of inquiry, Bedford Mar. 1386 (case of lunacy).
Clerk of the peace, Beds. 1390-1422, Bucks. 1390-7.2
Feodary of the duchy of Lancaster, Beds. and Bucks. Feb. 1400-8.3
One of the most interesting figures to represent Bedford during our period, Thomas was a lawyer of national as well as local repute. He had already been made a clerk of the King’s bench (with responsibility for the enrolment of the records of a group of counties including Bedfordshire) well before 1384, when he offered sureties for John Lydyngton on the latter’s election to the November Parliament as a Member for the borough. In May 1386 he was appointed to a commission of inquiry in Bedford; and four months later he appeared as an attorney for the townspeople of Turvey, Bedfordshire, in a case concerning the repair of Biddenham bridge. The advantages of choosing an attorney who was also officially charged with keeping the rolls of King’s bench (and who might, thus, be prevailed upon to ‘edit’ the finished record) were not lost upon John of Gaunt, who retained Thomas to plead for him there. It is, indeed, worth noting that throughout the late 14th and early 15th centuries numerous complaints were voiced in the House of Commons about the alteration of legal records by clerks who were notoriously ‘favorables en lour escrivre’; and it may be assumed that in the course of his seven Parliaments Thomas himself staunchly defended the freedom of clerks in the lawcourts to continue working for clients.4
Not surprisingly in view of his position, Thomas was often in demand as a mainpernor. In February 1397, for example, he performed this service for an excommunicate from Biddenham; and again, in January 1404, he acted as a surety at the Exchequer on behalf of a farmer living at Wilden, Bedfordshire. While discharging his duties in the King’s bench, he was also approached to stand bail for such persons as John Eydon (a chaplain who, in 1391, was appealing against a sentence of outlawry) and Thomas Longe (charged, in 1407, with forging a royal writ). Bedford’s long period of employment at Westminster, where he worked for over three decades, was matched by an equally impressive term of service in local government. Besides acting as clerk of the peace in Buckinghamshire for seven years and Bedfordshire for no less than 32 years, he was retained for a substantial part of Henry IV’s reign as feodary of the duchy of Lancaster estates in these two counties — a post which almost certainly came his way because of his earlier association with the King’s father, John of Gaunt. The profits of a flourishing legal practice made Thomas a man of substance: in 1390 he acquired a messuage and 20 acres of land in Wotton, Kempston and Houghton Conquest, having previously been a party to other property transactions in this area of Bedfordshire. The assessment of 3s.4d. entered against his name in the Bedford lay subsidy roll of 1417 places him among the richest residents; and it is evident from the litigation which he began on his own account (for sums as high as £40) that his financial dealings were on a comparatively large scale.