BENEFELD, Simon, of Shoreham, Suss.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
Collector of customs and subsidies, Chichester 8 Dec. 1391-31 July 1396.
Commr. of inquiry, Suss. Feb. 1393 (property of the late keeper of Sele priory).2
Reeve of the duchy of Cornw. manor of Old Shoreham Mich. 1406-7.3
The Benefelds had long lived at Twineham, in Sussex, and it was there that Simon’s kinsman John (probably his elder brother) continued to dwell, while Simon himself set up residence at Shoreham, some ten miles away. The two of them were among the many local people accused by Richard, earl of Arundel, of hunting illegally on his estates in the county, which accusations were made the object of a commission of oyer and terminer set up in May 1377. By then, Simon had begun to establish a better reputation for himself in the community of Shoreham, such that enabled him to secure election to nine Parliaments for the borough. In August 1382 he witnessed a deed there on behalf of John Skully*, and through marriage he acquired property nearby at Southwick, while retaining land at Slaugham, close to the Benefelds’ family home. In May 1391 Ralph Double, fishmonger of London, lying on his deathbed at Shoreham, left Benefeld £3 on condition that he acted as one of his executors. He also requested Benefeld, as a feoffee of his property, to make settlements for the benefit of his widow and son. Whether Benefeld, like Double, made his living from trade in uncertain, although his appointment as customer at Chichester later that same year suggests that he had mercantile interests. He held the office for four and a half years, in the course of which he was elected to the Parliament of 1395. The royal pardon issued to him in June 1398 perhaps related to misdemeanours committed during his term, or else reflected on his membership of the Merciless Parliament of ten years earlier.4 In the previous year, on 4 Nov. 1397, he had undertaken to farm the duchy of Cornwall manor of Old Shoreham from the earl of Huntingdon, to whom Richard II had granted it, paying 20 marks a year for a period of four years. His continued involvement in the administration of the manor in Henry IV’s reign is evident from his appointment as reeve in 1406, then being made accountable for manorial revenues to the prince of Wales. Meanwhile, in May 1401, Robert Rede, bishop of Chichester, had commissioned Benefeld and others, including the rector of Southwick and Roger Farncombe*, to collect and sequestrate the obventions and oblations accruing to the church of New Shoreham, pending arbitration of a dispute between the vicar and Sele priory.5
Before 1398 Benefeld acted as a trustee for his presumed brother John in the manor of Ewelme in Steyning, which John had purchased for £200. But when John, seized with his fatal sickness, requested Simon to re-enfeoff him and his wife Cecily, to enable her to pay his debts and provide for their children after his death, Simon refused, allegedly scheming to keep the manor for himself. Although John took the precaution of declaring his last wishes about it before his neighbours, gathered in Twineham church, Simon still declined to restore the property to the widowed Cecily, who was obliged to sue him for it before the King’s Council. Together with John and Cecily, Simon had acquired a number of holdings in Sussex, but the insecure nature of their title to the same caused him and the widow to be involved in considerable litigation at the assizes after John’s death. First, at Easter 1398, they brought a suit against William Holt for disseising them of property at Chichester and Hunston, successfully proving their case at Lewes after a body of jurors had been committed to prison for accepting Holt’s bribes; and then, in 1401, they claimed that Holt and others had wrongfully taken possession of land at Cliffe and South Malling, near Lewes. On the latter occasion the Benefelds produced deeds of purchase dated 1383, and managed to refute allegations that they had held one William Moreys captive at Twineham until he had relinquished his rights to his estate. The Benefelds were awarded damages in separate sums of 20 marks and £5, but the suits dragged on at least until the end of 1404.6
On two occasions Benefeld was recorded as being in wrongful posse