BELLERS, James (d.1421), of Melton Mowbray and Somerby, Leics.
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Family and Education
s. of Sir James Bellers† of Ab Kettleby by his 1st w. Lettice, da. and h. of Walter Prest† of Melton Mowbray; half-bro. of John*. m. bef. 1411, Margery (bef. 1392-aft. 1445), da. and event. h. of Theobald Ward of Harpole, Northants. by Amy, da. and h. of Sir William Burgh†, j.c.p., of Braunston, Rutland, s.p.
Escheator, Warws. and Leics. 9 Dec. 1408-7 Nov. 1409, 3 Nov. 1412-10 Nov 1413
J.p. Rutland 28 Jan. 1412-d., Leics. 8 Feb. 1412-Dec. 1414, 18 Feb. 1415-June 1418, 3 July 1420-d.
Sheriff, Rutland 12 Nov. 1414-11 Feb. 1416, 16 Nov. 1420-d.
Commr. of inquiry, Leics. Mar. 1417 (complaint made by the prior of Ulverscroft); array May 1418; to raise royal loans Nov. 1419.
The Bellers family, which may be traced back to the early 12th century, had by our period formed two branches: the senior one retaining the original estate at Ab Kettleby, to which line Sir James and his sons James and John belonged, and a much wealthier cadet branch seated at Kirby Bellars, represented by Sir Roger Bellers† (d.1380), whose only child Margaret married Sir Robert Swillington.1 Sir James Bellers’s first wife, Lettice Prest, died before 1377, when custody of certain properties at Melton Mowbray, seised by royal officials to cover her late father’s debts, was granted to her daughter, Elizabeth Talbot. Yet there had evidently been seven sons (including James the future shire knight) born of that marriage, for all seven were named in an entail made in 1381 after Sir James had remarried, it being settled that the family manor of ‘Sixtenby’ (?Sysonby), along with 50 messuages and other properties at Dalby, Somerby, and elsewhere in the same area of Leicestershire, should pass to Sir James’s male issue by his second wife, with successive remainders to his older offspring. Thus excluded from inheriting those particular family holdings, James may nevertheless have acquired others, not governed by entail, after his father’s death. However, this event did not occur until some 30 years later, for Sir James, who had represented Leicestershire in four Parliaments between 1376 and 1383, probably lived on until 1411.2
Although James Bellers trained to be a lawyer, two cases from his early career relate to lawless behaviour on his own part, on both occasions his accomplice being his half-brother, John. First, in the Michaelmas term of 1402 both brothers were summoned to the King’s bench on charges of mayhem and breach of the peace. More serious incidents followed: on 5 Feb. 1406 John Bellers led an armed gang to the house at Snibston belonging to the octogenarian Roger Walron (who had presumed to issue a writ against his father Sir James for a debt of £200), seized the ailing old man, threw him over his horse and carried him naked through the night to ‘Sixtenby’, he and his men all the way ‘chivachant en sez ditz nudez gaumbes, ove rowelx de lour espores prixeront et ove les poyntz de lour arkes butteront’. Walron was kept a prisoner until, alternatively threatened and cajoled by James Bellers, he agreed to acquit Sir James of the debt and to sign a bond undertaking not to prosecute the brothers for their assualt. Nevertheless, he petitioned Parliament when it assembled shortly afterwards, with the consequence that the Bellers brothers were sent writs to appear before the King’s Council in Parliament on 22 Mar., each under penalty of a £100 fine. When the sheriff returned that he was unable to trace the culprits anywhere in his bailiwick, a commission of oyer and terminer was set up for a full investigation, orders went out for the brothers’ arrest and the sheriff was instructed to levy to the King’s use £200 from their lands and goods.3 Whether they were ever brought to justice is unclear. James underwent a marked transformation not long afterwards, becoming a respectable member of the community considered suitable for the royal office of escheator, for a place on the benches of both Rutland and Leicestershire and even for appointment as sheriff. He attended the shire elections held at Leicester for the Parliaments of 1410 and 1411, and when elected to his own first Parliament in 1413 it was while serving as escheator for the second term. For some time Bellers had been engaged in lawsuits with his wife’s stepfather Robert Chiselden*, chiefly concerning certain sums of money due to him as executor of his young brother-in-law William Ward, whose estates in Rutland had been entrusted to Chiselden’s care. In November 1411 he and Chiselden entered mutual recognizances in 1,000 marks, perhaps to ensure that both would keep to an agreement about the division of the Ward inheritance in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. This apparently permitted Chiselden’s wife to retain as dower a substantial part of the property including the manor of Harpole, although her daughter, Bellers’s wife Margery, was allowed to hold for life certain premises at Somerby and Thorpe Satchville. It would seem that Bellers’s marriage had also brought him the manor of Hill in Cottingham and a fourth part of West Hall in Carlton, Northamptonshire, both of which were in his wife’s possession subsequently.4
On 16 June 1413 when returning home after representing his native county in Parliament, Bellers was assaulted and left for dead in the fields of Thorpe Langton by a gang led by the notorious Perwych brothers. Even though he recovered, the matter caused serious concern in official circles, touching as it did the protection offered to MPs on their journeys to and from the Commons, and not only was a commission of oyer and terminer set up to investigate, but orders were sent out for the immediate arrest of the assailants for trial before the King’s Council. Three of those who had allegedly supported the Perwychs were later indicted before Bellers himself, presiding over sessions of the peace, only to be acquitted when their case came to the King’s bench. Bellers was present at the Leicestershire elections of November 1414 when his half-brother John was one of those returned. He himself was re-elected in 1420 during his second term as sheriff of Rutland, thus being in breach of the statute prohibiting the election of sheriffs.5
Bellers’s standing as a landowner and j.p. had led naturally enough to his being asked to act as a trustee of estates in Leicestershire and neighbouring counties, and on one occasion he had been associated with the Lancastrian retainer, Sir Thomas Erpingham KG, as co-patron of the Seyton living at Maidwell (Northamptonshire). More unexpected was his appearance in 1415 as a feoffee of property as far away as Stepney in Essex, sharing his duties with none other than the King’s brother, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester.6 Among his colleagues on the bench were two lawyers of a high calibre — Roger Flore* of Oakham (the Speaker) and Bartholomew Brokesby* of Frisby. He named them both as overseers of the will he made at Somerby on 12 Mar. 1421. Having requested burial in the local chapel of St. James, he donated sums of money amounting to £13 to the churches of Somerby and Melton Mowbray, the prior of Kirby Bellars, the friars of Leicester and the poor at Somerby, Little Dalby and Ab Kettleby. He died shortly before 24 Apr., when his executors were ordered to hand over to his successor as sheriff of Rutland all documents relating to the office, but his will was not cleared for probate until 19 Jan. 1422.7 Not long afterwards his widow Margery married John Dansey, and together they conveyed to Bartholomew Brokesby her property at Cottingham and Carlton. She lived on after the death of her mother, Amy Chiselden, in 1445, then finally coming into full possession of her Ward patrimony.8
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. CIPM, xv. 319-26; J. Nichols, Leics. ii. 277-8.
- 2. Leics. Village Notes ed. Farnham, vi. 311-12; CFR, viii. 380.
- 3. Leics. Med. Peds. ed. Farnham, 130; RP, iii. 564 (wrongly placed among petitions of 1404); SC8/23/1107; CPR, 1405-8, pp. 230, 234; CCR, 1405-9, p. 33.
- 4. CCR, 1409-13, pp. 122, 298-9; C219/10/5, 6; Peds. Plea Rolls ed. Wrottesley, 258; VCH Rutland, ii. 33.
- 5. CPR, 1413-16, p. 114; Leics. Med. Peds. 50-51; KB27/612 rex rot. 10; C219/11/5.
- 6. Add. Chs. 21186, 21819, 21822; Reg. Chichele, i. 182; CCR, 1413-19, pp. 284, 511, 523; 1419-22, p. 106.
- 7. Lincs. AO, Reg. Flemyng, f. 230v; CFR, xiv. 383.
- 8. Leics. Village Notes, iv. 113-14; C139/118/14.