BONVILLE, Sir William II (1392-1461), of Chewton-Mendip, Som. and Shute, Devon.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. and bap. Shute, 12 or 31 Aug. 1392,1 s. of John Bonville (d.v.p. 1396, 1st s. of Sir William Bonville I*) by Elizabeth, da. and h. of John Fitzroger of Chewton-Mendip. m. (1) c.1414, Margaret (d. aft. 1426), da. of Reynold, Lord Grey of Ruthin, 1s. 3da.; (2) bef. Oct. 1430, Elizabeth (d. 24 Oct. 1471), da. of Edward Courtenay, earl of Devon, by Maud, da. of Thomas, Lord Camoys, wid. of John, Lord Harington of Aldingham in Furness and Porlock, Som. 1s. illegit. suc. gdfa. Feb. 1408; mother Apr. 1414. Kntd. c.1416; cr. Lord Bonville of Chewton 10 Mar. 1449; KG 8 Feb. 1461.2
Commr. of array, Dorset Apr. 1418, Mar. 1419, Devon July 1433, May 1435, Jan. 1436, Devon, Cornw. June 1455, Sept. 1458, Devon Feb. 1459; inquiry, Som. Aug. 1426 (necromancy), Devon Aug., Dec. 1431, Aug. 1432, July 1433, Apr., Dec. 1434, July 1437, Devon, Dorset, Cornw. July 1432, Jan., Nov. 1439, Jan. 1440, Aug. 1441, Mar. 1442, Nov. 1444, Aug. 1447, May 1448, Dec. 1451, Feb., June 1453, Aug., Dec. 1455, Oct. 1460 (piracy), Devon Mar. 1434 (extortion), Devon, Cornw. Feb. 1438 (desertion from Warwick’s fleet), Cornw. Dec. 1438 (wastes), Apr. 1440 (manor of Bree), Som., Devon July 1440 (trespasses), Devon May 1444 (felonies), Devon, Bristol, Cornw. Feb. 1448 (concealments), Cornw. July 1448, Aug. 1451 (smuggling), Devon Aug. 1452 (lands of John Boyfield), Cornw. Feb. 1455 (wastes), Devon, Cornw. Aug. 1455 (breaches of truces), Devon, Cornw. Sept. 1456 (concealments), Cornw. Mar. 1460 (possessions of the attainted Yorkists), Som., Dorset, Devon, Cornw. Dec. 1460 (treasons and felonies), Jan. 1461 (arms and armour of the earl of Devon’s supporters); arrest, Devon Nov. 1428, Cornw. May 1450, Sept. 1453, Aug. 1455, Mar. 1460, Devon July 1460, Cornw. Sept. 1460, Som. Oct. 1460, Devon, Cornw. Nov. 1460, Hants, Oxon., Berks., Wilts., Som., Dorset, Devon, Cornw. Dec. 1460; to raise royal loans, Wilts., Som., Dorset, Mar. 1430, Devon, Cornw. Mar. 1431, Som., Dorset Feb. 1434, Cornw. Nov. 1440, Devon, Cornw. Sept. 1449, June 1453, Devon Apr. 1454; restore vessels taken at sea, Devon, Cornw. June 1431; assess liability to contribute to a parliamentary grant, Devon Apr. 1431; of oyer and terminer July 1433, May, July 1434, Som. June 1436, Devon July 1444, Devon, Cornw. Feb. 1448, W. Country and marches of Wales July 1452, Cornw. Dec. 1452, July 1455, July 1456; gaol delivery, Ilchester Sept. 1434, May 1435; to take musters, Plymouth May 1439, June 1451; treat for payment of subsidies, Cornw. Feb. 1441; put down rebellion, Som., Dorset, Devon, Cornw. Feb. 1452; distribute tax allowances, Cornw., Devon June 1453; requisition ships Sept. 1453; raise men against the Yorkist lords, Som., Devon, Cornw. Feb. 1460.
Sheriff, Devon 14 Feb.-13 Nov. 1423.
J.p. Devon 20 July 1431- d., Som. 8 Apr. 1435-June 1443, 17 Mar. 1447- d., Cornw. 19 Nov. 1438- d.
Tax assessor, Som. Jan. 1436; collector, Cornw., Devon, Som. Aug. 1450.
Steward of the duchy of Cornw. in Cornw. 8 Nov. 1437-7 May 1441, 8 Mar 1452- d.3
Member of the King’s Council Nov. 1437, Feb. 1455, great Council July, Oct. 1454, Jan. 1458.4
Seneschal of Guyenne 20 Oct. 1442-Nov. 1445, July 1449-Oct. 1450, 12 Sept. 1453.5
Constable, Exeter castle Apr. 1453-d.6
Trier of parliamentary petitions 1455, 1459, 1460.
Member of parliamentary committee for naval defence 1455.7
When Bonville’s grandfather heard the news of his birth in 1392 he ‘raised his hands to heaven and praised God’. The child’s godparents were his grandfather and the abbot of Newenham, and after his father’s death four years later he was probably kept in Sir William’s wardship at Shute. On 20 Feb. 1408, after the latter died, custody of his estates, of which young William was now the heir, was granted to Edward, duke of York. In October 1413 the young man offered proof of age and in June following he sued out livery of the Bonville and Fitzroger lands in Devon, Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire which had not been assigned in dower to his mother and to Alice Bonville (his maternal grandmother who was also the widow of his paternal grandfather). His mother had died two months earlier, but a few years before her death she had permitted her own inherited estates in Leicestershire (including the manor of Great Glen), Sussex (including Merston), Dorset and Kent to be settled for life on her second husband, Richard Styuecle*, with reversion to her issue by him. Accordingly, Styuecle took possession in 1414 not only of these properties but also of Chewton and land in Wiltshire, which he claimed to hold ‘by the courtesy’. Bonville, thus dispossessed of his maternal inheritance, was forced to bring lawsuits against his stepfather to recover his birthright, eventually obtaining satisfactory verdicts in 1421 and 1422. His grandmother Alice Bonville survived until 1426 and only then did her dower estates pass to him. In the previous autumn he had succeeded to the Somerset and Dorset properties of a cousin, John Bonville of Merriott, and he received seisin of yet another part of the Bonville estates after the death of his aunt Cecily in 1431, and, in Cornwall and Devon, more lands (once part of the Champernowne inheritance) on the death in 1436 of his kinsman Sir John Herle† of Tywardreath. These lucrative holdings apart, Bonville’s first marriage had brought him the manors of Yelverton and Sock in Somerset, and his second was to result in the acquisition of Puckington and Yard in the same county, as well as of his wife’s dower lands in Lincolnshire and elsewhere. Without doubt Bonville ranked among the very wealthiest landowners of the West Country.8
Bonville was still unmarried when he came of age. His younger brother, Thomas, had already taken to wife a grand daughter of Thomas, Lord Poynings (otherwise known as St. John of Basing), and it was decided that he himself should be linked with another noble house, that of Grey of Ruthin. On 12 Dec. 1414 he contracted to marry Lord Grey’s daughter Margaret, agreeing that Bonville lands worth £100 would be settled in jointure on Margaret and himself and their heirs, while Grey promised to pay 200 marks to him on the day of the wedding and a further 600 marks in instalments, the last falling due in March 1418.9 By that date Bonville was probably in Normandy, because on 23 Jan. 1418 he had taken out letters of attorney as a member of the retinue of Thomas, duke of Clarence. Evidently, he stood high in the duke’s regard, for before Clarence died at Bauge in March 1421 he named Sir William as one of his mortgagees in certain of his estates. Bonville was back in England for the Parliament of 1421 (May), but seems to have spent the period between then and his attendance in the Commons of 1422 on further military service in France. By virtue of his office as sheriff he held the Devon elections to the Parliament of 1423. Shortly after his term of office ended he served for one month, with a retinue of ten men-at-arms and 30 archers, in an expeditionary force dispatched under the command of the Protector, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, to recover the vital fortress of Le Crotoy.10
In 1427 Bonville’s activities at home were the subject of a royal commission of oyer and terminer. Complaints had been made that, with an armed company, he had broken into the close and park of his neighbour, (Sir) Thomas Brooke*, at Weycroft near Axminster, and had done likewise at the property of Roger Wyke*, esquire, at Axmouth. The point at issue with Brooke was the latter’s enclosure of a park and the consequent obstruction of three roads frequently used by Bonville and his tenants, and when the dispute was submitted to the arbitration of the abbot of Newenham it was established that Brooke was at fault; he was required to remove the obstructions and pay the legal costs.11 Bonville’s second marriage, which took place some time between then and October 1430, required the procurement of a papal dispensation, because his new wife, Elizabeth, was already a godmother of one of his daughters. The marriage was later to have important political consequences, but its immediate effect was Sir William’s acquisition of large dower estates and the increase of the range of his kinship among the nobility. He was now connected with William, Lord Harington (his wife’s brother-in-law), and with Thomas Courtenay, earl of Devon (her nephew). These ties were to be strengthened by the marriage of Bonville’s son and heir, William, to Lord Harington’s only child, and of two of his daughters, Philippa and Margaret, respectively to William Grenville (a grandson of Sir Hugh Courtenay* of Haccombe) and William Courtenay (son of Sir Philip Courtenay† of Powderham, Bonville’s friend and fellow MP of 1427, and grandson of Walter Hungerford*). Bonville’s third daughter, Elizabeth, married outside these related families, her husband being Sir William Tailboys† de jure Lord Kyme.12 From the time of his second marriage Bonville’s local prestige and influence was increasingly taken into account by the Crown as the multiplicity of his royal commissions attests. Evidently a capable and industrious man of affairs, he became one of the most active of the country gentlemen of the south-west, often being charged to investigate reports of lawless enterprises on land and sea. During the 1430s and 1440s in the two counties where his territorial interests were strongest, Somerset and Devon, his reputation grew so that he was often called upon to attest charters, assist at ‘love-days’ and act as a trustee. Although he entered into a contract to serve overseas for the six months beginning on 30 June 1431, he evidently returned home before the end of the term, for from 10 to 12 Dec. he was at Taunton assisting in the settlement of a dispute between Sir Hugh Luttrell’s* widow and her daughter-in-law.13
The year 1437 saw the beginning of a new phase in Bonville’s career with his appointment for life to the office of steward of the duchy of Cornwall (the first notice that he was now a ‘King’s knight’), and his appearance at meetings of the royal council on 5 and 9 Nov., only a few days before Henry VI, his minority officially ended, formally named his own ‘prive counseill’. Shortly after this Bonville began to take an active part in naval defence, a matter which was to be of interest to him for several years to come. In the summer of 1440 he and Sir Philip Courtenay were at sea in command of a fleet of 30 vessels, but with limited success in their endeavours, for one of his own ships Le Mary de Fowey was captured by the Portuguese and taken to Lisbon. Two years later Bonville’s balinger, Palmer, was employed in royal service. It was in 1440 that first reports were heard of bad relations between Sir William and his wife’s nephew, the earl of Devon, perhaps caused by the latter’s realization that the regional pre-eminence which he considered to be his birthright was being threatened by Bonville’s growing influence, exemplified by his tenure of the stewardship of the duchy of Cornwall. Two royal letters were sent to the earl in October calling him before the Council and requiring him to stop encouraging unlawful gatherings against his rival’s tenantry. In the following May the earl petitioned the King to have the office of steward for himself, and letters patent granting him the post were actually issued on the 7th. A week passed before the Council realized it had permitted an administrative blunder, causing ‘grete trouble’, and instructed the earl to make no attempt to perform his official duties, but Courtenay chose to ignore this command, and as a consequence widespread disorder broke out in Devon and Cornwall, in which ‘divers and many men [were] hurte and slawe’. In November the Council insisted that Devon and Bonville should both, taking the chancellor by the hand, promise to keep the peace and, pending arbitration, agree to the stewardship being put in the hands of a third party and to a final settlement of all disputes between them ‘from the beginning of the world until now’. But notwithstanding his oath the earl continued to style himself steward and it was he who received the official fees until 1452.14
The quarrel lapsed while Bonville was engaged abroad as seneschal of Guyenne, an appointment discussed by the Council on 27 Aug. 1442 and conferred in October. (No doubt it was deemed politic for one of the antagonists to be sent overseas.) Bonville’s indentures committed him to serve abroad for one year as from 7 Jan. following with a retinue of 20 men-at-arms and 600 archers, and on 20 Dec. he received a personal gift of £100 from the King for his future services. Bonville made provision for his absence by suing out a general pardon of all past offences and by placing certain of his estates in the hands of feoffees. (These included the chancellor, Bishop Stafford, the treasurer, Lord Cromwell, and both chief justices, as well as the clerk to the Council, Master Adam Moleyns.) But the enterprise was doomed to failure, for there was some delay over Bonville’s departure, his force was depleted by the loss of one of his ships, and during a military engagement in Gascony he received serious injuries. He was probably away from England until replaced as seneschal in November 1445.15
On his return Bonville became active once more in local affairs, notably as an arbiter in the dispute between the civic and cathedral authorities of Exeter over jurisdictional rights.16 On 10 Mar. 1449 he received a writ of summons to Parliament as Lord Bonville of Chewton. His services both at home and abroad fully merited this distinction, but his elevation to the peerage at this particular time also suggests that the duke of Suffolk regarded him as a useful supporter who might strengthen his party, and in this context it should be recalled that Suffolk’s henchman, Sir William Tailboys, was Bonville’s son-in-law. On 3 Apr. following Bonville was in receipt of two royal letters, both requiring his assistance in matters of naval defence, and before the end of the Parliament he was reappointed as seneschal of Guyenne. On 21 Jan. 1450 with other west country magnates he was asked for material aid for the recovery of upper Normandy, since Harfleur and Dieppe had recently been captured by the French. But matters at home also needed his attention: during an outbreak of popular risings in Somerset he had to come in from Chewton to defend Wells cathedral ‘because of insurgents against the peace of the Church and the King’. Suffolk’s fall deprived him of an influential patron, but he soon attached himself to another leading figure in the royal circle: James Butler, recently created earl of Wiltshire. At this time Earl Thomas of Devon made common cause with the duke of York, the natural focus for men with enemies in favour at Court. In August 1451 he mobilized his retainers against Bonville and Wiltshire, and on 22 Sept., with a large concentration of followers of his own and of Edward Brooke†, Lord Cobham (son of the Sir Thomas Brooke with whom Bonville had quarrelled in 1427), laid siege to Bonville in Taunton castle. York brought the confrontation to a close, inducing the combatants to depart in peace, and Devon ‘as if he were enjoying the King’s good will’ made terms with his adversary. However, the duke’s intervention aroused the King’s displeasure, and all the parties were summoned to Court. Admittedly, Bonville and Wiltshire were imprisoned in Berkhamstead castle, but when their noble enemies, having ignored repeated summonses, commenced preparations for an armed attack on London, these two were granted royal pardons for their part in the riots, having already been ordered to raise all possible force in the West Country to combat the rebels amassing under York’s banner. Bonville took advantage of the duke’s subsequent arrest at Dartford and Devon’s discomfiture to get his original patent of the duchy stewardship confirmed to him for life, and on the following 7 Sept. (1452) he also received a royal grant, at a yearly farm of 100 marks, of the duchy properties at Lydford and South Teign, together with Dartmoor forest. His new ascendancy was also marked by awards made to him in April 1453, once more for life, of the conservancy of the River Exe (formerly held by the earl of Devon) and the office of constable of Exeter castle.17
In September 1453 Bonville was re-appointed seneschal of Guyenne and told to embark at once for the succour of the beleaguered English garrisons. Payment of 3,500 marks was immediately authorized to cover his costs, and, indeed, some of this money had been put at his disposal as early as July. Having been ordered to requisition vessels in Devon and Cornwall both for this expedition and for the safeguard of the Channel, he wrote to the mayor of Dartmouth asking for his assistance in this regard. But Gascony had already been lost at the battle of Castillon, Bonville’s expeditionary force never sailed, and his unemployed sailors captured vessels belonging to subjects of the duke of Burgundy thus earning him the enmity of influential merchants of London and Calais who suffered as a result of the reprisals. Furthermore, Bonville’s standing in the West Country was challenged once more, when the earl of Devon recovered his freedom of action under York’s first Protectorate. Bonville made some attempt to forestall this reversal: on 19 Jan. 1454 he and the earl of Wiltshire were said to ‘have done to be cryed at Taunton in Somersetshire that every man that is likely and wole go with theym and serve theym shalle have vjd. every day as long as he abideth with theym’. They and other lords were also reported to be ‘maken all the puissance they kan and may to come hider with theym’ to the forthcoming session of Parliament due to be held at Reading. However, Devon, acquitted on charges of treason on 14 Mar., promptly began a series of depredations against Bonville’s tenants, while his sons brought several hundred armed men into Exeter on 30 Apr. to lie in wait for Bonville himself, thus preventing him from carrying out his duties as a commissioner for royal loans. Although in July the earl and Bonville were required to undertake, each by a bond for 4,000 marks, to keep the peace in future, they evidently continued to transgress and in February 1455 they were both summoned to appear in Chancery. Bonville is not himself recorded as taking part in the battle of St. Albans in the following May, but the employment of his pursuivant by the King’s advisers clearly indicates where his sympathies lay at that time. However, with his particular champion, Wiltshire, now in the descendant, his interests dictated that he should come to terms with the victors, who alone were in a position to defend him against any fresh violence instigated by Devon. The latter, by an even more remarkable volte face, had changed his allegiance, and had actually supported his brother-in-law, the duke of Somerset, in the battle. Bonville already maintained links with William Bourgchier, Lord Fitzwaryn, brother of the chancellor and the new treasurer, and another connexion with the Yorkist party was soon to be provided by the marriage of Bonville’s grandson to one of the earl of Salisbury’s daughters. Not surprisingly, as a result of these complex political manoeuvres, during the autumn recess of the Parliament of 1455-6 open warfare broke out in Devon, where the earl and his men proceeded to terrorize the neighbourhood of Exeter from their castle at Tiverton. The Michaelmas term sessions could not be held in the city owing to this anarchic state of affairs, and in October the recorder, Nicholas Radford*, one of Bonville’s closest advisors, was brutally murdered by the earl’s sons in person. The Courtenays, who held Exeter by force until 23 Dec., ransacked the town houses of Bonville and Fitzwaryn, and then laid siege to Powderham castle, seat of Bonville’s friend and their own distant kinsman, Sir Philip Courtenay. In retaliation Bonville sent a party of armed men to the earl’s fortified house at Colcomb, which they looted on 15 Nov., and then tried to reach Powderham to raise the siege by crossing the estuary of the Exe. Pitched battle was joined on Clyst Heath, ‘moche people wer slayn’, and two days later the earl’s men pillaged Bonville’s house at Shute, securing a great booty. Meanwhile, reports of the events had been successfully used by the duke of York’s friends in the Commons to secure his renomination as Protector. Contemporary reports agree that Bonville took flight, but whether he went running to the King at Greenwich, to York at Westminster or to the chancellor, Archbishop Bourgchier, is unclear. One account has it that he was then imprisoned in the Fleet. The earl himself was put temporarily in the Tower, only to be set at liberty when York was relieved of the protectorate on 25 Feb., and his forces continued to dominate the Exe valley unchecked. Parliament had demanded that both protagonists be kept incarcerated and also that the sheriff of Devon (Andrew Hillersdon), who was thought to favour Bonville, should be suspended from his functions; but this petition was refused by the King, and Hillersdon was able to empanel a grand jury, dominated by Bonville’s supporters, which eventually managed to bring serious indictments against the earl and his followers.18 Even so, in 1457 Devon and his sons were formally pardoned all charges against them. Earl Thomas died in 1458, and his successor, Radford’s murderer, was an active supporter of the queen’s party. Bonville remained outwardly loyal to Henry VI: he swore allegiance to the King at the Coventry Parliament of 1459, and in the following February he was appointed to a commission to raise the shires of Somerset, Cornwall and Devon against the attainted Yorkists. Yet he finally revealed his true colours by appearing on the Yorkist side at the battle of Northampton in July 1460. After witnessing the deaths of both his son and grandson at the débâcle at Wakefield on 30 Dec. (when York, too, was killed) he joined the earl of Warwick in London, where, in a chapter held on 8 Feb. 1461, the two of them were elected Knights of the Garter. The futility of their elevation to the ranks of the military élite was soon made evident: nine days later they were defeated by the queen’s forces in the second battle of St. Albans. Like Sir Thomas Kyriel†, Bonville did not flee after the engagement because the King promised that their lives would be spared, but both men were none the less executed on Queen Margaret’s orders on 18 Feb. Bonville, described by Bishop Neville, Warwick’s brother, as a ‘strenuous cavalier’, was then 68 years old. His widow was assigned a large dower by Edward IV and survived until 1471.19
Bonville’s heir was his great grand daughter Cecily, not yet one year old, who was later to be married to the King’s stepson, Thomas Grey, marquess of Dorset, and, after his death, to Henry Stafford, earl of Wiltshire. Certain of the Bonville estates had been entailed by the deceased’s grandfather on the male line, and passed accordingly to his brother Thomas and then to the latter’s son John, on whose death in 1494 the legitimate male line of the family became extinct. Lord Bonville’s liaison with one Isabel Kirkby had resulted in the issue of an illegitimate son, John (d.1499) on whom he had settled quite substantial properties.20
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Authors: J. S. Roskell / L. S. Woodger
- 1. CP, ii. 218-19 is incorrect in giving Bonville’s date of birth as 30 Aug. 1393 and the date of the papal dispensation for his second marriage as 9 Oct. 1427. The correct dates are to be found in C138/5/58 and Reg. Lacy (Canterbury and York Soc. lxii), 396, respectively.
- 2. N. and Q. (5th ser.) viii. 430; Reg. Lacy (Canterbury and York Soc. lx), 29; CPL, vii. 428-9; CCR, 1413-19, p. 199.
- 3. CPR, 1436-41, p. 133; 1446-52, p. 526.
- 4. PPC, v. 70; vi. 186, 216, 241, 292.
- 5. C61/132 m. 15, 140 m. 9; CPR, 1441-6, pp. 154, 424.
- 6. CPR, 1452-61, p. 91.
- 7. RP, v. 279, 352, 373.
- 8. C138/5/58, 7/18; C139/22/19, 23/28, 24/34; Devon RO, Petre (Bonville) mss, TB 488, 489, 496; CPR, 1405-8, pp. 393, 454; 1429-36, p. 130; CCR, 1409-13, p. 379; 1413-19, pp. 132-3, 136, 145-6; 1422-9, pp. 245-6; 1435-41, pp. 18-19; CFR, xv. 110, 121; xvi. 32-33; DKR, xxxiii. 13-17; Peds. Plea Rolls ed. Wrottesley, 304, 307.
- 9. Suss. Arch. Colls. xv. 10, 57-66; CP, x. 668; CCR, 1413-19, p. 199.
- 10. DKR, xliv. 601; PPC, iii. 31-33; C219/13/2; E404/40/148.
- 11. CPR, 1422-9, p. 403; Petre (Bonville) mss, TB 470.
- 12. J. Maclean, Trigg Minor, i. 394, 459; CP, vii. 359-61.