BLOUNT, Sir Walter (d.1403), of Barton Blount, Derbys.
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Family and Education
3rd s. of Sir John Blount (d.1358) of Sodington, Worcs. by his 1st w. Iseult, da. and h. of Thomas Mountjoy of Derbys.; yr. bro. of John Blount II*. m. by 1374, Sancha (d.1418/19), da. of Diego Gomez of Toledo, principal sec. of the province of Toledo, by his w. Ines de Ayala, 5s. inc. Thomas II* (1s. d.v.p.), 2da. Kntd. by Mar. 1372.1
Constable, Tutbury castle in the duchy of Lancaster, Staffs. 8 Jan. 1373-d.; master forester, Needwood Chase, Staffs. 9 Feb. 1380-31 July 1383, by 7 Apr. 1402-d.2
Ambassador to treat with the envoys of Henry II of Castile and Leon regarding John of Gaunt’s claim to the throne 31 July 1378-15 May 1379; to treat for peace with Henry III of Castile and Leon 17 Apr. 1393; to announce the accession of Henry IV of England at the courts of Portugal and Aragon 2 Feb. 1400.3
J.p. Staffs. 26 May 1380-July 1389, Derbys. 6 Dec. 1387-July 1389.
Commr. to make arrests, Derbys. July 1384 (raiders from Cheshire), Feb. 1388 (persons attacking the property of John of Gaunt); of inquiry, Staffs. Nov. 1384 (illicit market at Burton-upon-Trent); oyer and terminer Feb. 1385 (rape of Elizabeth Colmon); array Apr. 1385, Mar. 1392; to take oaths in support of the Lords Appellant Mar. 1388; repair Tutbury castle Jan. 1400.
Chamberlain of the household of John of Gaunt c. Mich. 1392-Feb. 1399.4
Immortalized by Shakespeare as one of the three loyal knights who gave their lives by impersonating Henry IV at the battle of Shrewsbury, Sir Walter Blount was indeed a devoted supporter of the house of Lancaster. In this he followed a well-established family tradition which was continued into the next generation. His early prospects were by no means promising, for although his parents owned extensive estates in Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Gloucestershire, he was only a third son, and thus not likely to inherit much in the way of property. He must have still been very young when his father died in 1358, since his eldest brother, Richard, was then only 13 years old. We first encounter him in 1367 on the expedition which the Black Prince and John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, led to Spain in an unsuccessful attempt to restore Peter IV (‘the Cruel’) to the throne of Leon and Castile. Two years later he conveyed his manor of Hazelwood in Derbyshire to his kinsman, Sir Godfrey Foljambe, in a charter witnessed by Gaunt, with whom he had by then become closely connected: he was, indeed, to take part in at least five more of the duke’s military ventures between 1369 and 1395. Richard Blount, too, was a soldier; and Sir Walter agreed to act as his attorney while he campaigned in Aquitaine with the Black Prince. He was evidently killed in action, for by 1374 John, the second of Sir John Blount’s three sons, had succeeded to the family estates. It was then that John reached an agreement with Sir Walter, whereby the latter was to receive their mother’s manor of Gayton in Staffordshire together with several Derbyshire properties in return for an assurance (made later in 1381) that he would advance no further title to any other part of the Mountjoy estates.5 Sir Walter had, meanwhile, become a member of Gaunt’s household, being in receipt from 1372 onwards of regular wages, as well as an annuity of 17 marks and occasional gifts. In the following year he was not only made constable of Gaunt’s castle of Tutbury but also awarded a second, larger, fee of 50 marks payable for life from the revenues of the High Peak in Derbyshire. Yet another grant of ten marks p.a., assigned upon the honour of Tutbury, came his way in January 1375, perhaps in consequence of his marriage to one of the ladies-in-waiting whom Gaunt’s second duchess, Constance, the elder daughter of King Peter the Cruel, had brought with her to England. Sancha de Ayala belonged to one of the oldest and most distinguished families of Spain, being the daughter of the principal secretary for the province of Toledo and the niece of the chancellor of Castile. The claim which Gaunt advanced through his wife to the throne of Castile and Leon thus became a matter of personal interest to Blount, who, as we shall see, was deeply involved in the venture. For a brief period, however, he left Gaunt’s service to fight in Brittany in 1375, under the banner of the duke’s younger brother, Edmund, earl of Cambridge. Yet he soon rejoined his patron; and in February 1378 he and Sancha were granted a joint pension of 100 marks, charged upon the manor of Hartington in Derbyshire, to be held in survivorship. (Sancha herself was a great favourite with the duchess, who gave her a number of valuable presents, including two silver cups.) A few weeks after receiving this, the fourth of his annuities, Sir Walter obtained royal letters of protection pending his departure overseas in the ducal retinue. Throughout the following summer he was busily engaged on an embassy to the king of Castile, whose envoys not surprisingly showed a marked disinclination to countenance Gaunt’s pretensions.6
Sir Walter’s position in Gaunt’s entourage gave him considerable influence at Court, where he was able to obtain such favours for his friends as an exemption from office-holding (granted on his request to Nicholas Kniveton in 1378) and a royal pardon for murder (which he secured for William Lyntyn soon afterwards). Moreover, thanks to the duke’s patronage, he was accumulating a substantial fortune, and could thus raise the necessary capital to purchase, in the early 1380s, most of the extensive estates then owned by Nicholas Bakepus, who offered securities of £1,000 as an earnest of his readiness to complete the transaction. As well as the Derbyshire manors of Barton Bakepus (which lay only a few miles from Tutbury and, appropriately renamed as Barton Blount, became his principal residence), Bentley, Dalbury, Sapperton and Hollington and the advowson of the hospital of Alkmonton, Sir Walter also bought the manor of Allexton in Leicestershire. These acquisitions were initially entailed upon his eldest son, Walter, but the latter died shortly after 1383, and new provisions had to be made in favour of his younger brother, (Sir) John. Meanwhile, in 1385, Sir Walter obtained a royal charter of free warren on all his new Derbyshire estates. He had by then already been obliged to bring at least one action of trespass against poachers at Allexton, but for a while his personal status and powerful connexions protected him from troublesome neighbours. The prospect of further valuable additions to his rent-roll occurred in 1393, when his kinsman, Sir Richard Stury, confirmed his reversionary interest in the two Blount manors of Hampton Lovett, Worcestershire, and Belton, Rutland, together with widespread appurtenances in both counties. Although he himself did not live to implement this title, his descendants were able to benefit from it. They likewise came to occupy Fauld in Staffordshire, the reversion of which was purchased by him in 1396 as another long-term investment.7
Throughout this period Sir Walter remained active in the service of John of Gaunt, whose plans for a campaign in Castile were temporarily postponed because of pressing affairs at home. In July 1383, for example, the duke was called upon to negotiate a truce with the Scots, using Blount as a personal envoy for the delivery of letters to leading Scottish noblemen. At last, in the spring of 1386, he prepared to sail for Spain. Just before their departure from Plymouth Blount and several other leading members of the ducal retinue gave evidence on behalf of Richard, Lord Scrope, in his celebrated dispute with Sir Robert Grosvenor over their respective rights to the same coat of arms. The expedition itself aroused considerable alarm on the part of Gaunt’s son-in-law, Joao I of Portugal, and in March 1386 the duke and his wife reassured him by making a formal renunciation of whatever claims they might have to his kingdom. This document was witnessed at Babe by Sir Walter, who also appears to have escorted Gaunt’s daughter, Katherine, to Fontarrabia for her betrothal to the heir apparent of Castile in the following year. Despite all his efforts, this marriage alliance (negotiated by Sancha’s eminent uncle, Pedro Lopez de Ayala) was the best Gaunt could do in the face of intractable and overwhelming opposition to his claims, although he clearly hoped it would lead to a rapprochement through which further diplomatic overtures might be possible. Sir Walter could at least derive some personal satisfaction from the venture, for in February 1390, a few months after his return to England, the duke increased his various allowances by a further £30 p.a., and two years later made him chamberlain of his household. A royal grant of the wardship and marriage of the young Robert Moulton (for which he undertook to pay 200 marks) proved less permanent, however, since the trustees of the boy’s father were soon able to prove their superior title. Notwithstanding his marriage to Gaunt’s daughter, the newly crowned Henry III of Castile showed a marked preference for the French, and it was with the specific purpose of preventing such a potentially dangerous friendship that an English embassy was sent to Castile in April 1393. Sir Walter was, naturally enough, an ideal choice as envoy, not least from Gaunt’s point of view, since besides his interest in the political aspects of the mission he was also anxious to recover the unpaid arrears of his pension from the Castilian government. Yet, once again, no real advances were made, and Blount returned home without having achieved his purpose.8
Between these bursts of military and diplomatic activity, Blount was obliged to tackle a variety of pressing local problems. His position as Gaunt’s leading retainer in the north Midlands was no sinecure, as many challenges were made to his patron’s political hegemony in the area; and the ducal affinity there was beset by faction. During a dispute between Sir William Chetwynd and Gaunt’s client, Sir Roger Strange*, for example, he was instructed to support Strange in court with a body of the duke’s henchmen in order to intimidate the opposition. A more serious threat to Blount’s authority was posed at this time by Sir John Ipstones*, a violent and hot-headed man, who himself commanded a sizeable following. Ipstones was retained by Gaunt in 1387, but had no intention of submitting to Sir Walter; and when the latter, as a j.p. for Derbyshire, attempted to restrain one of his servants, he actually launched a raid on the manor of Barton Blount. Sir Walter had no alternative but to surrender the bonds for good behaviour which he had previously taken from the miscreant, thus incurring considerable loss of face.9
Not all Sir Walter’s affairs went so badly, however: in 1394 he and his wife obtained papal indults for the use of a portable altar, the private celebration of mass and the celebration of mass before daybreak. Three years later their third son, Thomas II*, who was just 14, received a dispensation to hold any benefice with cure of souls, although the death of his two elder brothers eventually led him to abandon holy orders, so that he might enter his inheritance. Not too long afterwards Gaunt drew up his will, appointing Sir Walter, still his chamberlain, as one of his executors, and promising him a personal bequest of 100 marks. The latter still showed every sign of wishing to extend his territorial possessions, taking on the lease, at £44 a year, of the manors of Fenwick and Norton in Yorkshire, which were temporarily held by the Crown. The exile of Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, in September 1398, followed by the death of Gaunt himself in the following February upset this state of equilibrium, for although all Blount’s fees and annuities were confirmed by Richard II when he confiscated the duchy of Lancaster, his own best interests and those of the family which he had loyally served for over 27 years clearly demanded that Bolingbroke should be restored. News that the latter was indeed ready to fight for his inheritance led Sir Walter to mobilize a large force of his own retainers, whom he led to Ravenspur in July 1399 as a bodyguard for his new patron. The expenses of £233 6s.8d. later awarded to him for providing an escort then and at the Parliament held afterwards at Westminster suggest that his was, in fact, one of the largest private followings raised at that time. Bolingbroke’s seizure of the throne greatly strengthened Sir Walter’s already powerful position, and it is thus hardly surprising that the electors of Derbyshire (who were all strong supporters of the house of Lancaster) chose him and Sir John Curson, another long-term retainer of the duchy, to represent them in the first Parliament of the new reign. His elder brother, John, who shared his Lancastrian sympathies, also attended this assembly as Member for Worcestershire.10
Sir Walter was promptly rewarded with an additional annuity of 56 marks, as well as an inn and other property in London to the value of 16 marks p.a. confiscated from the rebel, Thomas, Lord Despenser. He and his wife also secured grazing rights on the duchy manors of Colebrook, Duffield and Shottle in Derbyshire; and although they were theoretically supposed to pay an annual rent of £4 for this, the payments were soon allowed to lapse and were eventually excused altogether. In February 1400 Blount was despatched by Henry IV to make a formal announcement of his accession at the courts of Portugal and Aragon; and on his return he appears to have taken part in the Scottish campaign fought in the late summer of that year. In the following August he was summoned to attend a great council held at Westminster. King Henry felt that a man of such wide experience and proven loyalty would be of particular use to his second son, Thomas of Lancaster, recently appointed lieutenant of Ireland; and in April 1402 Blount received letters of protection for one year’s absence in Thomas’s service. He returned to England at the end of this term, but was once again preparing to leave for Ireland in early July 1403 (a bond of £100 offered to him at this time may well have been security for the payment of his wages), when Owen Glendower’s rebellion in Wales and another in the north led him to enlist instead in the royal army which defeated the northern insurgents at the battle of Shrewsbury. Sir Walter was fatally wounded; and, in accordance with the terms of his will, made at Liverpool on 16 Dec. 1401, he was buried at the collegiate church of St. Mary ‘de Newark’ in Leicester (a Lancastrian foundation). His executors included his brother Sir John, and his kinsman, Thomas Foljambe*, who had previously acted as his counsel at law, most notably in a case of trespass involving Sir Alfred Lathbury and others. The will was supervised by Thomas Langley, the then keeper of the privy seal, who later became bishop of Durham and chancellor of England. Sir Walter’s executors were obliged to bring a number of lawsuits for the recovery of various outstanding debts, some of which were still unpaid as late as 1411.11
Sir Walter’s widow, Sancha, lived on until about 1418, and was buried beside her husband at St. Mary’s Leicester. She retained dower properties worth £20 p.a. in Derbyshire alone, and also enjoyed the annuity of 100 marks which John of Gaunt had settled upon her and Blount many years before. Henry IV continued to regard her with favour; and in November 1406 she obtained the wardship and marriage of her young grandson, John Sutton, the future Lord Dudley (cr. 1439), whose late father had married her daughter, Constance, at some point before 1399. At about this date she refounded a hospital at Alkmonton, dedicated to Sir Walter and their children, of whom the most distinguished was Sir John Blount, one of the leading soldiers of his day. Sir John succeeded his father as constable of Tutbury castle, and thus soon became embroiled in the private war waged by Hugh Erdeswyk* and his supporters against the officers and tenants of the duchy. Sancha was herself threatened by her son’s enemies in 1409, although their plans to destroy her manor house at Barton Blount and murder Sir John before her eyes came to nothing. Sir John was in fact killed at the siege of Rouen in 1418, when his estates passed to his younger brother, Thomas II. In recognition of the service done to him both by Sir Walter and his second son, Thomas of Lancaster (who had by then become duke of Clarence) donated 1,000 marks for the foundation of a chantry dedicated to their memory at St. Mary’s.12
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. A. Croke, Fam. Croke, ii. 170-81, 189, 193-4; CIPM, x. no. 431; JUST 1/1488, rot. 43v, 63; CP, ix. 329-34; Reg. Gaunt 1371-5, no. 913.
- 2. Somerville, Duchy, i. 381, 382, 541, 546.
- 3. E101/318/15; Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ed. Carte, ii. 167; PPC, i. 111; J.H. Wylie, Hen. IV, i. 90.
- 4. Somerville, 364; Test. Vetusta ed. Nicholas, i. 142-3; S.K. Walker, ‘John of Gaunt and his retainers, 1361-99’ (Oxf. Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1986), 290.
- 5. CIPM, x. no. 431; DNB, ii. 719; Croke, ii. 170-1, 173, 182-3; E.P. Shirley, Stemmata Shirleiana, 34-35; Derbys. Chs. ed. Jeayes, no. 1376; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. viii. 112; Walker, 268.
- 6. E101/34/5; Reg. Gaunt 1371-5, p. 78, nos. 684, 685, 692, 693, 855, 913, 969, 1179, 1251, 1257, 1660, 1670; 1379-83, p. 7, nos. 327, 557; P.E.L. Russell, Eng. Intervention in Spain and Portugal, 178-9; Croke, ii. 173-81; Foedera ed. Rymer (Hague edn.), iii (3), 73-74.
- 7. CP25(1)289/56/250; JUST 1/1488, rot. 43v, 63; J. Nichols, Leics. iii (1), 6; Croke, ii. 171, 183, 795; Derbys. Chs. no. 344; CChR, v. 300; CPR, 1377-81, pp. 282, 344; CCR, 1381-5, p. 117; VCH Rutland, ii. 28; Peds. Plea Rolls ed. Wrottesley, 438; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xi. 202.
- 8. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xiv. 243, 245; Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 58; Reg. Gaunt 1379-83, no. 905; Russell, 456-7, 538-9, 573; Dip. Corresp. Ric. II (Cam. Soc. ser. 3, xlviii), nos. 181-2; CPR, 1391-6, p. 98; CCR, 1392-6, pp. 201-2; Croke, ii. 186-7.
- 9. Walker, 238, 245-6; KB9/989 rot. 3.
- 10. CCR, 1396-9, pp. 463, 475; CPR, 1396-9, pp. 547-8; 1399-1401, p. 175; 1401-5, pp. 210, 214; Croke, ii. 188; Test. Vetusta i. 142-3; CPL, iv. 495, 498, 499; vi. 66-67; DL42/15, f. 70.
- 11. DL42/16 (pt. 2), f. 37; Wylie, iv. 249; PPC, i. 159, 162; CPR, 1399-1401, pp. 185, 463; 1401-5, pp. 106, 244; 1408-13, p. 326; Croke, ii. 189, 797; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xvi. 50; CCR, 1402-5, p. 176; T. Walsingham, Hist. Ang. ed. Riley, ii. 258; Sel. Cases King’s Bench (Selden Soc. lxxxviii), 190.
- 12. Croke, ii. 193-4, 795, 798, 803; Feudal Aids, vi. 413; DL28/27/3; DL29/738/12100; DL42/16, f. 15v, 17, f. 17v; CPR, 1405-8, p. 273; CCR, 1405-9, pp. 166-7; Wm. Salt Arch Soc. xvi. 50, 84-85; xvii. 10, 22; CP, ix. 333-4; Somerville, i. 541, 546, 550, 647.