BONVILLE, Sir William I (c.1332-1408), of Shute, Devon.
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Family and Education
b.c.1332, s. and h. of Sir Nicholas Bonville of Shute by Joan, da. of Henry Champernowne†. m. (1) bef. 1365, Margaret (d. 25 May 1399), da. and coh. of Sir William d’Aumarle† of Woodbury, Devon, 5s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da.; (2) Alice (d. 27 Mar. 1426), wid. of John Fitzroger, Sir Edmund Clevedon†, Sir Ralph Carminowe* and Sir John Rodney*. Kntd. by 1372.2
Commr. of inquiry, Devon, Hants July 1364 (Carew estates), Devon, Dorset Mar. 1371 (shipwreck), Som. July 1374 (extortion), Devon July 1376 (Richard Lyons’s† extortions), Som., Dorset Mar. 1393 (concealments), Devon, Som., Dorset, Wilts., Bristol, Hants Dec. 1400 (concealment of the property of Richard II’s adherents), Devon July 1401 (concealment of alnage), Dorset Jan. 1405 (decay of Lyme), Devon, Cornw. June 1406 (concealments); array, Devon May 1375, Feb. 1379, Mar. 1380, Apr. 1385, Mar. 1392, Dec. 1399, July 1402, Som. Aug. 1402, Cornw., Devon, Som., Dorset Aug. 1403, Devon Oct. 1403, July 1405; oyer and terminer Feb. 1380, Som. July 1380, Devon Oct. 1380, Som. May 1381, Devon Nov. 1381, Oct. 1382; of sewers, Som. Apr. 1382, June 1387, Aug. 1401; arrest, Som., Dorset, Devon, Cornw. Feb. 1382, Som. Nov. 1386, Som., Dorset, Bristol Jan. 1387, Som. Nov. 1387; to resist the rebels, Som., Devon Mar., Dec. 1382; make proclamation against disturbers of the peace, Devon May, June 1384; survey rivers, Som. Mar. 1401; raise royal loans, Devon Sept. 1405, Devon, Cornw. June 1406.
J.p. Devon to May 1366-July 1368, 26 May 1380-Nov. 1383, 28 Nov. 1384-5, Som. 25 May 1376-80.
Surveyor of taxes, Devon Aug. 1379, Dec. 1380.
Sheriff, Som. and Dorset 1 Nov. 1381-24 Nov. 1382, Devon 15 Nov. 1389-7 Nov. 1390.
Tax collector, Som. Dec. 1384.
The Bonvilles, of French origin, established themselves in Devon shortly after the Conquest and by the end of the 14th century their wealth and standing in the county had become second only to that of the Courtenays. The antagonism between the heads of the respective families in the mid 15th century, which expressed itself on the battlefields of the Wars of the Roses and ended in the extinction of the main Bonville line, was exacerbated if not caused by jealousy of the material prosperity of the Bonvilles, for which Sir William himself was largely responsible. At his death in 1408 he was holding some 40 manors, and extensive lands and rents, in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire, providing his grandson and heir with an income sufficient to justify his elevation to the House of Lords. Such material assets led Sir William into wide fields of public service and military enterprise. In 1369 he served under the duke of Lancaster at Caux and later at Boulogne, and in October 1377 he was again absent overseas and unable to take his seat in Parliament. His military career, however, was only an interlude in a remarkably active political life: beginning in 1366, Bonville sat, either for Devon or Somerset, in 20 out of the 33 Parliaments convened in the next 36 years. His position in the West Country, if not already evident from this near monopoly, may be gauged by the frequency of his appointments to royal commissions, some of which were of major importance. Thus he served on bodies appointed to inquire into Richard Lyons’s extortions in 1376 and on those set up to deal with unlawful assemblies throughout the south-western counties in the aftermath of the Peasants’ Revolt; and he was among those chosen to deal with attacks on the bishop of Exeter’s property in 1380 and 1384. The burden of such work lightened in the last years of Richard II’s reign, and although Bonville made a loan of £100 to the King in October 1397, this may not have been an entirely voluntary move, given the prevailing political atmosphere. He took the precaution of obtaining two pardons in the following year. Of course, advancing age might well be the reason for his inactivity during this period, although two exemptions from public service, one of them granted by Henry IV in November 1399, were not enough to free him from all duties, and the new government leaned heavily on him. Beginning as a commissioner to inquire into the possessions of Richard II and his adherents in six counties, Bonville soon found himself involved again in public work. He was summoned as one of four knights from Somerset to attend the great council of 1401, made a loan of £200 to the Crown in 1403 and another of £40 later, and worked on commissions of array in the west to provide men to put down the Welsh rebellion. The payment of the duke of York’s retinue was a later concern, but in June 1407 he found that he could not complete this particular task, then being at home and too ill to ride. By this time Bonville had served the Crown for more than 40 of his 75 years.3
A man of Bonville’s standing required few tangible rewards for his services. Nevertheless, he held the hundred of Stone (Somerset) from 1378 to 1386 and again after 1388, and also the custody of the hundred of Winfrith Newburgh (Dorset), both by royal grant. But clearly the steady and rapid growth of his landed holdings and wealth owed more to personal initiative, as revealed by innumerable transactions to which he was party between 1360 and his death, than to trifling marks of royal favour. Accretions by marriage and purchase made him one of the most prominent landowners in the west. The core of his estates were those he inherited from his father, some time before his first return to Parliament in 1366, and his sister, Margery, gave up her interest in them to him later. They comprised several properties in east Devon (notably Shute itself, the family seat) and Somerset (including the manor and advowson of Sock Dennis), as well as half the manor of ‘Geffreyston’ in Pembrokeshire. Through his first wife, Margaret d’Aumarle, Bonville obtained Woodbury and two other manors and an advowson in Devon. Stapleton-by-Martok and lands in Somerton (Somerset) were inherited in the 1360s from his kinsmen the St. Clares (one of whom he was accused of murdering in 1365). He also acquired Thurlbear and Tatworth in the same county, the latter perhaps by purchase from Sir John Chideock†. Bonville’s first wife was the cousin of Sir John Merriott† of Merriott, Somerset, and it was from him that he acquired in 1372 the manor of Bradford by Wellington as well as lands in Devon. After Merriott’s death in 1391 Bonville obtained a royal grant of the lands and marriage of his only daughter, but she died in 1394 whereupon Bonville’s wife and her sister Elizabeth, wife of Sir Humphrey Stafford I*, inherited the Merriott estates, which included the manors of Merriott, Great Lopen and Great Stratton. The growth of Bonville’s estates may be charted from the numerous settlements which he made on his children, while something of his rise in status is suggested by the differences between two early wills. Bonville was already a rich man by the time he made his first surviving testament on 11 Aug. 1369, before going abroad with John of Gaunt; he mentioned a ‘hamper of silver’ kept at Woodbury and required that his children be advanced ‘according to their estate’, which meant that his two eldest daughters should be married to men with land worth not less than £40 a year. Yet in another will, made just six years later, Bonville insisted that these two girls should take husbands worth 100 marks p.a., leaving their younger sisters to marry into the ranks of the £40 landowner. Bonville made elaborate arrangements for the marriages of his children: one of them, Elizabeth, was wedded to Thomas Carew, heir to the extensive Carew estates in Devon, a match which involved Bonville in several transactions with Carew’s stepfather, Sir John Merriott; Thomas married Sir John Stretch’s* daughter, Cecily, and John gained the hand of Elizabeth, daughter of John Fitzroger of Chewton, the heiress of substantial properties including half of the manor of Selling in Kent, which inheritance was committed to Bonville in 1382. It was this last daughter-in-law’s mother, Alice, whom Bonville took as his second wife not long before his death. She, who had already outlived four husbands, brought him all his Cornish property as well as more land in Somerset. Besides forming useful connexions with Merriott, Stafford and Stretch, Bonville struck up friendships with Guy, Lord Bryan (whom he asked in one of his early wills to be the guardian of his daughters), and Bishop Brantingham of Exeter. Unlike his grandson in later times he also appears to have been on convivial terms with the Courtenays, and, indeed, he even received livery from the earl of Devon, in 1384-5. No reliable contemporary valuation of Bonville’s estates has survived, but the estimates given at his inquisition post mortem suggest an income of well over £300 a year. That his lands and heir were committed after his death to Edward, duke of York, for the payment of not less than £1,000, is an indication of Bonville’s importance and wealth.4
Of even greater significance is Bonville’s last will, dated 13 Aug. 1407, in which bequests in money alone amounted to over £1,230. The Bonvilles had been benefactors of the Cistercian abbey of Newenham near their home at Shute ever since it had been founded in Henry III’s reign, and it was naturally there that Sir William wished to be buried, before the High Cross in the monastic church. He left £40 to the abbey, and another £40 was assigned to the rebuilding of the frater in the abbey at Glastonbury. His bequests to the friars in six west country towns totalled £35, while the nuns of the priory of White Hall in Ilchester profited by a gift of £10. Over £54 was set aside for the provision of requiem masses immediately following Sir William’s death and a further £40 for the saying of prayers during the ensuing two years in the churches on his manors of Shute, Merriott and Woodbury, besides the £110 assigned to the poor who came to his funeral or prayed for his soul. The sum of £85 and 62 quarters of wheat were to be doled out to his poor tenantry, and 100 marks expended on the upkeep of roads and bridges in his lordships in Devon and Somerset. Bonville’s executors were to retain £200 for the purchase of a royal licence to amortize land of the annual value of 50 marks for the foundation of a hospital for the poor in Comb Street, Exeter, to the maintenance of which all his rents in the city were to be applied. Personal bequests to members of his family, his executors and servants came to about £530. Bonville was well enough to make the journey to Wells for the parliamentary elections held in October that year, but died on 14 Feb. 1408. His neighbours, Sir Thomas Brooke* and John Stretch*, acted as supervisors of his will, which was proved by Bishop Stafford at Crediton on 24 Mar. Bonville’s heir was his grandson, (Sir) William II*, who was to be summoned to Parliament as Lord Bonville in 1449.5
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. Although elected to this Parliament Bonville was on active service overseas, and his seat was taken by Thomas Pomeroy† (OR, i. 197).
- 2. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 101; J. Maclean, Trigg Minor, i. 394; iii. 160-1; CCR, 1374-7, p. 87; Peds. Plea Rolls ed. Wrottesley, 199, 356; N. and Q. (ser. 5), viii. 430-1; CIPM, xiii. 209.