BITTERLEY, Richard (d.c.1456), of Harting, Suss.
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Family and Education
m. between Oct. 1410 and 1412, Margaret (d. bef. 1430), wid. of Sir Henry Hussey* of Harting.
Keeper of the manor of King’s Langley, Herts. 7 June 1416-d., of the warren there 18 Oct. 1419-20.
Surveyor of the royal manor and park of Havering atte Bower, Essex bef. July 1437, jt. surveyor (with Thomas Est*) 14 July 1437- d.
A Sussex man of small means, Bitterley was employed in December 1409 by Bishop Rede of Chichester to hold inquiries at Selsey as to recent shipwrecks.1 Not long afterwards, through marriage to the wealthy widow of Sir Henry Hussey, he became a landowner of some substance in the shire. By 1412 he had taken possession of his wife’s dower portion of the manors of Harting, Wenham and Iping, which, together with an annuity from other of the Hussey estates, provided them with an annual income in excess of £59.2
Another consequence of Bitterley’s marriage was to be his long involvement in the affairs of the Hussey family, which he served for some 40 years as a trustee. His stepson Sir Henry (d. 1450) was the first to call on his assistance, not only in this capacity but also as a member of the retinue he took to France in 1415 in the company recruited by Humphrey, duke of Gloucester. They probably fought at Agincourt.3 It seems likely that Bitterley was already wearing the livery of Gloucester’s stepmother, Joan of Navarre (Henry IV’s widow), for on 7 June 1416, as her esquire and usher of the chamber, he received from her an annuity of £5 and the keepership of the manorial houses at King’s Langley, with wages of 4d. a day and a pension of 2d. a day besides. The grant was made for Queen Joan’s lifetime, but when Henry V confirmed it a few weeks later he conceded that Bitterley might hold the office for the rest of his (Bitterley’s) life and that after the queen’s death he would be retained as a ‘King’s esquire’. It might be expected that following the queen’s arrest on 27 Sept. 1419 under suspicion of witchcraft and treason, Bitterley would be ousted from his post. On the contrary, a week earlier he had been elected as knight of the shire for Sussex, and just two days after the Parliament assembled on 16 Oct. to learn of the confiscation of the queen’s estates, he secured the post of warrener at King’s Langley to hold in conjunction with the keepership.4
Earlier, Bitterley had been present at the county court at Chichester for the parliamentary elections of 1417, and he again attended in 1420 and 1422. In the meantime he represented the shire for the second time, in Henry V’s last Parliament. As ‘donsel of the diocese of Chichester’ he obtained a papal indult for a portable altar in 1426.5 But after his wife’s death he lived mainly at King’s Langley, where Queen Joan often resided following her release from prison. His keepership of the manor had been confirmed by Henry VI’s council in 1424, and, having been authorized in 1426 to conscript workmen and materials to repair the mansion, he spent almost £95 on works over the next three years’ - only for the property to be seriously damaged by fire in 1431.6 Some time before her death in 1437 Queen Joan appointed Bitterley as surveyor of the buildings at Havering atte Bower, her other principal residence, and he was retained in this post subsequently as a reward ‘for his good service to Henry IV and Henry V’, although he had to share it with a yeoman of the Crown. In November 1437 he was given a seven-year lease of the estates in Sussex pertaining to the Norman priory of La Luzerne, which the queen had held previously; and it was in February following that he stood surety at the Exchequer for the lessee of other property once in her custody.7
In 1443 Bitterley was party to a settlement of land in Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire on Margaret, wife of Richard de la Haye, a member of the Hussey family. He had continued to act as a trustee of the widespread estates of his stepson, Sir Henry Hussey, and late in life he became involved in conveyances for the execution of a will made in favour of Sir Henry’s son and namesake.