BEETHAM, Sir John (d.c.1415), of Beetham, Westmld.
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Family and Education
Collector of taxes, Westmld. Nov. 1377, Mar., Dec. 1380, Dec. 1385, Nov. 1388, Jan. 1392, Mar., Oct. 1393, Dec. 1402.
Commr. of array, Westmld. Feb. 1379, May 1415.
J.p Westmld. 15 July 1389-June 1390.
Sir John’s ancestors acquired the manor of Beetham during the reign of Richard I, and subsequently became lords of the manors of Meathop and Farleton as well, holding most of their property as feudal tenants of the earls of Oxford. Little is known about Sir John’s father, but his grandfather, Sir Ralph Beetham, was an extremely influential figure in the north west, where he served on various royal commissions and also took an active part in punitive raids across the border against the Scots. The young John Beetham is first mentioned in September 1373, when Henry Threlkeld, a local landowner, granted him a small estate at Kirkby in Kendale. Four years later John received his first official appointment as a tax collector in Westmorland, having been perhaps already involved in litigation over the ownership of the manor of West Harlsey in Yorkshire. Certainly, in 1379, he and John Berwick, who together advanced a claim to the property as right heirs of the late Anthony Burton, had appeared in court as plaintiffs in the case. The outcome is not recorded, but by 1390 the two men enjoyed joint possession of the manor of Burton in Kendal (just a few miles south of Beetham), so they may well have carried the day. At all events, some three years later, Sir Alan Pennington* began what looks like a collusive action against Beetham for the same property, leading to the confirmation of his title in court. A disagreement with Sir James Pickering*, who in 1380 accused John and one of his kinsmen of stealing three valuable goshawks, led to another lawsuit, which seems eventually to have been settled out of court. It was at this time that John, as ‘lord of Beetham’, obtained ratification of his tenure of certain holdings in the manor. The precise date of his knighthood is unclear, but by the spring of 1388 he had assumed this rank.2
The early 1390s proved a fairly quiet period in Sir John’s life, marked only by a short term of service on the Westmorland bench, attendance as a juror at sessions of gaol delivery in Appleby and a limited amount of work collecting royal taxes. Several members of the Beetham family, including Sir John’s son, Thomas, were bound over in 1395 to keep the peace towards the abbot of Shap in Westmorland, against whom they had been waging a relentless vendetta; and in 1398 the same group of young men became involved in a violent feud with Richard Duckett*, John Lancaster I* and other members of the county gentry. Sir John himself was not directly implicated in these ‘murders, insurrections and riots’, although it is unlikely that he remained aloof from a quarrel which concerned at least five of his kinsmen. All but one (his namesake, John Beetham, who may, indeed, have been another of his sons) were eventually pardoned by Henry IV in May 1407, but only after repeated commissions of oyer and terminer had been set up to interrogate the miscreants. Sir John, meanwhile, struck up an alliance with the powerful landowner, Sir Walter Strickland*, who lived near Shap, and whose son, Thomas II*, was betrothed in 1405 to Beetham’s daughter, Mabel. In return for the promise of land worth £100 to be settled by Sir Walter on the couple, Sir John agreed to deliver £93 6s.8d. to the Stricklands in five regular instalments. The following year saw his only known appearance in the House of Commons as representative for Westmorland, his colleague on this occasion being his son’s former adversary, John Lancaster I, who had evidently agreed to settle their differences.3
Although he conveyed his share of the manor of Burton to his son in 1407, Sir John remained active for several more years. In 1411, for example, he and his son-in-law, Thomas Strickland II, attested a conveyance of land in Strickland Ketel; and in the spring of 1413 he headed the list of witnesses present at the Westmorland elections to the first Parliament of Henry V’s reign. He is last mentioned in May 1415, as a royal commissioner of array; and he probably died before the end of the year. His son and heir, Thomas, soon faced actions for debts of over £166 brought by the executors of John Appilton, sometime parson of Beetham, who were presumably attempting to recover money owed by Sir John at the time of his death. Thomas was, in fact, outlawed for failing to appear in court when summoned, although he secured two royal pardons, in February 1419 and May 1425 respectively. The second of these was actually issued while Thomas was representing Westmorland in Parliament: like his father, he sat only once in the Lower House.4