BENSTEDE, Sir Edward (1353/5-1432), of Bennington, Herts.
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Family and Education
b. either 18 Oct. 1353 or 25 Jan. 1355 at Bennington, 2nd s. and h. of Sir John Benstede (d.1358) of Bennington by his w. Petronilla (d.1378). m. (1) by Feb. 1384, Alice, 4s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da.; (2) by June 1402, Joan (d. 19 Aug. 1449), da. of Sir John Thornbury*, wid. of William Greville (d.1401) of Chipping Campden, Glos. Kntd. by Mar. 1382.1
Assessor of a tax, Herts. May 1379; collector of an aid on the marriage of Princess Blanche Dec. 1401, of a tax Mar. 1404, of a royal loan Jan. 1420.
Sheriff, Essex and Herts. 5 Nov. 1379-18 Oct. 1380, 3 Nov. 1398-24 Nov. 1400, 22 Nov. 1405-5 Nov. 1406.
J.p. Herts. 14 Dec. 1381-Nov. 1391, 16 May 1401-Mar. 1406.
Commr. to suppress the rebels of 1381, Herts. Mar., Dec. 1382; of array Apr. 1385, Mar. 1392, Mar. 1419; kiddles June 1398; to prevent the spread of treasonous rumours May 1402; of oyer and terminer, Essex Oct. 1410 (withdrawal of labour services on the Waltham abbey estates), Herts. Mar., Sept. 1417 (withdrawal of labour services on the St. Albans abbey estates); to arrest lollards Jan. 1414; of inquiry, Derbys., Herts., Lincs., Northumb., Notts., Yorks. Feb., May 1414 (estates of the Darcy family); to raise a royal loan, Herts. Nov. 1419.
The fortunes of the Benstede family were laid by our Member’s great-grandfather, Sir John Benstede† (d.1323), a prominent judge, who rose to hold office successively as keeper of the privy seal, chancellor of England and keeper of the royal wardrobe. During the course of his long and distinguished career, Sir John seized the opportunity to build up an impressive estate which descended to the subject of this biography while he was still a young man. Although the sources differ as to his exact age, Edward Benstede cannot have been more than six years old when his father died in 1359. The early death of his elder brother, John, in 1376, followed by that of his mother two years later, left him in undisputed possession of an inheritance comprising the Essex manors of Little Parndon, Great Stambridge and Higham, together with land in Walthamstow, Rochford, Rawreth, Rayleigh, East Wood, Hockley and Hawkwell in the same county. He owned the manor of Tuddenham as well as property in Cowlinge and Lidgate, Suffolk; his Cambridgeshire estates were scattered in and around the villages of Kirtling, Ditton Camois, Ditton Valence, Cheveley, Silverley, Saxton Hall and Ashley; and he also possessed substantial holdings in the Benstede area of Hampshire. His patrimony in West Grimstead, Wiltshire, was considerably increased on the death of his grandmother, Maud Benstede, in 1380, since dower had been assigned to her from that manor. The Benstedes’ main territorial interests — and influence — lay, however, in Hertfordshire, where they had settled during the late 13th century. Besides his seat at Bennington, Edward held extensive farmland in Kimpton, Crowbury, Woodhall, Hatfield, St. Albans and Harpsfield Hall.2 This accounted for a significant proportion of his income as a rentier, which was estimated at £112 p.a. in 1412, but which may well have been far higher. The valuation of £70 p.a. set upon the bulk of his estates in his inquisition post mortem clearly represents a major under-assessment of his landed wealth.3
Sir Edward’s first wife, Alice, was possibly the daughter of his former guardian, Richard Punchardoun, who in 1366 paid 100 marks to the Crown for the marriage of the young heir. During the early 1380s the couple settled most of their estates upon feoffees, perhaps as a result of the birth of their eldest son, Edmund. It was also at this time that Sir Edward obtained royal letters patent confirming a grant of certain commercial privileges at Bennington made originally to Sir John Benstede by Edward I.4Although he never achieved the eminence of his celebrated ancestor, our Member was not without distinction at a more local level, serving three terms as sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire and sitting for almost 15 years on the Hertfordshire bench. He first experienced the problems of law-enforcement during the early summer of 1381, when he accompanied Sir Walter Lee* on his mission to pacify the townspeople of St. Albans, who were then in a state of open rebellion against the abbey. Despite the total failure of their attempt, he was made a j.p. shortly afterwards, and played a prominent part in the suppression of those involved in the Peasants’ Revolt. Less than a year after his first return to Parliament in April 1384, Sir Edward was awarded royal letters of exemption from office-holding under the Crown, and this probably explains his general inactivity during the 1390s. Had his removal from the bench and his almost complete disappearance from royal commissions been a direct consequence of Richard II’s displeasure, his election to the two Parliaments of 1397 — both noted for their bias towards the court party — would be hard to understand. On the other hand, his appointment as sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire within weeks of Henry IV’s coronation, his inclusion among the j.p.s chosen in May 1401 and, above all, his rise to the position of ‘King’s knight’ by November of that year, may, perhaps, be accorded a more telling political significance in view of the period of retirement which preceded them. For very little is known about Sir Edward during the last years of Richard’s reign, and the evidence which does survive suggests that he was largely out of sympathy with the court party. In August 1397 he made a forced loan of 100 marks to the King, possibly as a means of purchasing the royal pardon which was accorded to him a few months later specifically because he had supported the Lords Appellant of 1388 in their attack upon Richard’s most unpopular favourites. It therefore looks as if he had already established a connexion with Henry of Bolingbroke, whose coup d’etat marked a turning point in his career.5
The years 1399 to 1406 witnessed Sir Edward’s ascent to an even more dominant position in county society, his wealth and influence as a landowner being augmented by the authority vested upon him by the new King. He was summoned to attend the great councils of August 1401 and 1403 as a representative for Hertfordshire, and in October 1402 he was one of the four residents of Essex and Hertfordshire to be approached on the subject of raising a royal loan. Benstede entered the Commons for the fifth and last time in 1402, and subsequently attended at least one parliamentary election (that was held at Cheshunt in 1411). Although his letters of exemption from public service were confirmed in September 1412, he continued to act as a commissioner of the Crown, albeit sporadically, for the next eight years.6 Benstede cannot but have been helped at this time by his alliance with Sir Philip Thornbury*, another leading Hertfordshire landowner, whose sister, Joan, he took as his second wife shortly before June 1401. Judging by their frequent appearances together as the witnesses to local deeds, Thornbury’s father, Sir John (d.1396), seems also to have been on close terms with our Member, although the marriage was not arranged during his lifetime. Joan, who was the widowed stepmother of John Greville*, brought with her the manor of Milcote in Warwickshire as dower, and she was also instrumental in cementing the friendship between Sir Edward and Sir Philip, who frequently acted as trustees for each other. Sir Edward in particular subjected his estates to a complicated series of entails, designed to protect the seven children of his first marriage; and he made Thornbury a party to many of the settlements. John Fray* was likewise involved in these property transactions. Benstede’s association with Sir Philip had other, less agreeable, consequences, since it led to their indictment, in 1403, upon a charge of conspiracy against one Thomas Molynton. Thanks to the intervention of Thornbury’s father-in-law, John Durham*, and his friend, John Ludwick*, who acted as mainpernors on their behalf, the accused obtained a writ of supersedeas, and were thus able to avoid any further legal action.