BENTLEY, John, of Cheam, Surr.
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Family and Education
Clerk of the Exchequer by 1377-Nov. 1389; dep. chamberlain of the Exchequer by 29 July 1385-6 Mar. 1388.2
Commr. to take musters, Kingston-upon-Hull Apr., July 1386;3 of inquiry May 1386 (forgery by the pesager of wool); oyer and terminer, Surr., Suss. Apr. 1392 (treasure trove); array, Surr. Dec. 1399, Jan. 1400.
Chamberlain and King’s receiver of Chester 20 Mar. 1387-1 Jan. 1389.
Nothing is known of Bentley’s career before his appointment in 1377 as a clerk of the Exchequer. The next few years appear to have passed without incident until February 1384, when Richard II granted him the fee of 8d. per day for life which had previously been paid to Thomas Eltham, the King’s smith, and which Eltham wished to award to the young man. One month later Bentley and Eltham made a joint loan to the Crown of £100 perhaps in recompense for the letters patent sanctioning the transfer.4 Bentley was on close terms with many royal officials, most notably John Bacon, one of the chamberlains of the Exchequer, on whose behalf he was receiving money as early as 1382, and for whom he and other clerks of the Exchequer acted as feoffees-to-uses in March 1385. It was at this time that, along with Bacon and other colleagues, he became a trustee of the Welsh estates of Nicholas Parys. The years 1385 to 1388, during which he served as a deputy chamberlain of the Exchequer, were a particularly busy period in Bentley’s life, as he played an active part in organizing measures for defence against the French. During the spring and summer of 1386 alone he took musters at Hull, received instructions from the royal council to help collect taxes in the south east, and was also involved in the payment of considerable sums of money to mariners at various ports along the coast from Yorkshire to Kent. His work as a royal paymaster continued well after this date: in March 1387, for example, he rode to Sandwich with 1,000 marks in wages for the earl of Arundel’s men, having previously delivered sums of up to £2,407 in a single day to commanders and masters of ships in the London area.5 His efforts were rewarded that same March by his appointment as chamberlain of Chester, and then in June with a grant of the keepership of the King’s manors of Mansfield and Linby (Nottinghamshire) which he was to hold for the next three years at a farm of 100 marks p.a. The second reward proved less than generous, since the revenues of the property were diverted five months later for repairs to Nottingham castle, and our Member lost the opportunity of making any profit. Bentley’s name figures prominently in the context of current government borrowing, although there is nothing to suggest that any of these transactions were more than formalities arising from his post at the Exchequer. He was still engaged in military preparations in August 1389 (when he and other crown servants were arresting ships for the war effort), but he evidently resigned his clerkship soon afterwards. No further references to him as a salaried official survive after November of that year, yet his connexion with the government remained close. His pension of 8d. a day was still paid to him; and in March 1391, as ‘John Bentley, esquire, of Surrey’, he received a gift of 40s. from the Exchequer. In December 1398 he began to assist in preparations for King Richard’s second Irish expedition. He spent the next six months in the West Country, paying soldiers and helping to assemble a fleet for the crossing to Ireland. The Exchequer records again describe him as an esquire, not a clerk, so we may assume that he was not reappointed to either of his former posts there.6
Bentley’s resignation probably coincided with his marriage, which proved to be a turning point in his career. At some date not long before June 1389 he married Joan, the widow of the Surrey landowner, John Newdigate, and thus acquired an interest in a fairly substantial estate there and in the neighbouring county of Sussex. He lost little time in securing his title to Newdigate’s property in and around the Surrey village of Leigh; and in July 1390 he entered into recognizances of £100 payable to his wife’s mother-in-law, who still retained some of the deceased’s inheritance. It was thus, thanks to his recent entry into county society, that he was returned to Parliament by the Surrey electors in the following November.7 Henceforward, Bentley lived the life of a country gentleman, and despite his previous attachment to Richard II, he suffered no reversal of fortune as a result of the Lancastrian usurpation. On the contrary, Henry IV confirmed him in his pension (which none the less fell into arrears until he finally surrendered it in August 1417) and chose him to serve on two local commissions of array. By 1403 he was tenant of the duchy of Lancaster manor of Bridesgrave in Surrey; and in August of that year he and one William Bentley esquire, who may have been his son, obtained royal letters of protection pending their departure overseas in the King’s service. Meanwhile, in December 1401, Bentley stood surety in Chancery for two men who were being sued by Nicholas Carew*. Just over two years later he joined with William Hampton of Hertfordshire in pledging joint bonds in £40 to William Flete*, but his reasons for so doing are not stated. Nor do we know why he subsequently offered recognizances of 56s.8d. to the Buckinghamshire MP, Andrew Sperlyng*.8
Bentley was often involved in litigation: in February 1391, for instance, he brought a suit for debt against a Hereford man, and although he was then acting as an executor of Thomas Orgrave, several other cases appear to have affected him more personally. During the early years of the 15th century he faced at least four actions for the recovery of debts totalling over £152 (£40 of which was claimed by the Crown), and he was also arraigned with his wife on an assize of novel disseisin concerning the ownership of rents in Cheam. Most of these cases ended with the issue of royal pardons for outlawry incurred by his failure to appear in court, although the dispute over rents, which dragged on for almost seven years, came to an abrupt end in December 1423. Bentley must have been well over 60 by then, and it seems likely that he died at about this time. He had already either sold his wife’s estates in and around Leigh, or else, more probably, settled them upon feoffees. He is last known to have been active in the autumn of 1423, when he surrendered his trusteeship of the Middlesex estates of Elena Hull.9
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Variants: Bentele, Bentlee.