BELNE, Thomas, of Worcester.
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Family and Education
?s. of Thomas Belne of Blackgrave, Worcs. m. Agnes, 1s.
Alderman, Worcester Mich. 1394-5; bailiff 1404-5, 1407-8, 1415-16.1
J.p. Worcs. 28 Nov. 1399-July 1401, 8 May 1404-6, 16 Feb. 1410-Jan. 1414.
Commr. of oyer and terminer, Worcs. Feb. 1401, Aug. 1405, Oct. 1411; inquiry July 1401 (forcible entry into the abbot of Westminster’s enclosures), Worcs., Glos. Feb. 1414 (evasion of subsidy on wine); to hold an assize of novel disseisin, Herefs. July 1402; raise royal loans, Worcs. Sept. 1405; of gaol delivery, Worcester July 1416.
Escheator, Worcs. 2 Nov. 1407-9 Dec. 1408.
Controller of a royal grant of murage, Worcester 5 Nov. 1411-15.
The Belnes were a Worcestershire family of long standing. Blackgrave in Kings Norton descended in the main line, along with other property in the county, from 1252 until on the death of Thomas Belne in 1362 these estates were inherited by his son William, then aged 12. The Worcester MP was probably the latter’s younger brother: his own son John was to be later described as of Birmingham, Kings Norton and Blackgrave.2
Thomas Belne was a successful lawyer whose public career, despite his representation of Worcester at every Parliament from 1391 to 1397, nevertheless failed to achieve recognition in the form of royal appointment until the accession of Henry IV. In the last two decades of the 14th century he did, however, establish some notable connexions, in particular among the parliamentary knights of the shire. Belne’s earliest known brief, in 1385, was that of defending William Baynard of Worcester at the suit of the Bristol merchant Elias Spelly*; and on several other later occasions he found mainprise both in Chancery, for local men involved in litigation, and in the Exchequer, for the lessees of the Worcestershire estates forfeited by Sir John Beauchamp† of Holt, who included, in 1389, Richard Thurgrim*, later a knight of the shire.3 In addition, from early on in his career Belne acted as legal adviser to the Cokesey family: in 1388 he stood surety for William Cokesey, another Exchequer lessee of Beauchamp’s property; ten years later he witnessed a conveyance made by Sir Walter Cokesey†; and before the latter’s death (in 1405) he became a trustee of the family holdings at Goldicote and Sapey Pritchard. Later, in November 1408, following the death of the heir, Walter, Belne obtained at the Exchequer a joint lease of the estates and the disposal of the new heir’s marriage.4 Before the end of Richard II’s reign Belne’s services had also been required by Sir John Herle†, who from November 1393 had entrusted him with the arrangements for entailing his Worcestershire lands. In the Parliament assembled at the beginning of that year he had acted as proxy for the prior of the cathedral of Worcester, and about this time his fellow representative, John Hereford, appointed him trustee of his property in Worcester. Of perhaps more significance than these local associates were two others nearer the King: Richard II’s archbishop of Canterbury and treasurer, Roger Walden, Belne’s co-feoffee in the Worcestershire estates of Sir John Russell* and his wife Elizabeth, widow of John, Lord Clinton; and another co-feoffee on this occasion, the royal almoner, Richard Field, for whom later, in 1397 and 1398, Belne provided securities when he was a lessee of the forfeited estates of Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, and on whose behalf he later acted as attorney in England when Field was in Ireland with Richard II and his army. These connexions came about through Russell, himself a prominent member of the King’s Council, to whom Belne offered his services not only as a feoffee but also as an executor. It seems likely that not only did Belne’s son cross to Ireland with the King, but that the young man continued to support Richard’s cause after his enforced abdication, for the royal pardon issued to him in June 1400 specifically referred to his having consorted with the Irish.5
But if so, this by no means affected his father’s career, for soon after sitting in Henry IV’s first Parliament, Thomas Belne was appointed j.p. in Worcestershire, thereafter remaining on the bench, although not without a break, until the end of the reign. In this period he regularly attended local sessions of the peace, receiving the customary wage of 4s. per day. With his new status in the county came several royal appointments to judicial commissions of oyer and terminer, and of inquiry there, and in 1402 Belne also acted as a justice of novel disseisin in Herefordshire. About the same time, however, he secured letters patent exempting him from holding office in the palatinate of Chester. Significantly, it was not until after this series of royal commissions had come his way that, in 1404, Belne was chosen as a bailiff of Worcester for the first of three terms of office. In May 1406 he was temporarily removed from the Worcestershire bench; and it was on 15 Dec. following, during the final session of the Parliament of that year, that he and other local men, including Richard Oseney*, the clerk of the peace and one of the city’s parliamentary representatives, were summoned to appear in Hilary term before the King’s Council to answer charges arising from matters discussed during the session. The charges could hardly have been serious, for Belne was appointed escheator for Worcestershire in November 1407. He was then himself MP for Worcester. Although not at the time a royal justice, Belne was asked in March 1409 to be one of the arbitrators in a dispute over the ownership of lands at Castlemorton, Worcestershire. After his reinstatement as a j.p. in the following year and during his tenth and final Parliament, on 11 Mar. 1410 he and his son John entered into recognizances with the chancellor, Sir Thomas Beaufort, for £100, which they later paid. The background to this transaction remains obscure. In 1411 Thomas Belne was appointed for four years as controller of a royal grant of murage to the city of Worcester, under the supervision of the bishop. His long connexion with the Cokeseys had brought him to the attention of (Sir) John Phelip*, who had married the widow of Walter Cokesey, and early in 1413 Phelip, shortly to rise to prominence as a friend of Henry of Monmouth, included him among the trustees for his purchase of the manor of West Greenwich in Kent. Belne attended the shire elections to the Parliaments of 1413 (May) and 1414 (Nov.).