BURLESTONE (BORLESTON), William (d.1406), of Harberton, Devon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Jan. 1377
Oct. 1377
Jan. 1380
Oct. 1382
Feb. 1383
Feb. 1383
Nov. 1384
Feb. 1388

Family and Education

m. by 1387, Elizabeth, 2s. 1da.

Offices Held

Steward of the Devonshire estates of John, earl of Huntingdon, c.1394-d.1

J.p. Devon 18 June 1394-Feb. 1400, 22 Feb. 1405-d.

Escheator, Devon and Cornw. 24 Nov. 1394-18 Nov. 1395.

Commr. of oyer and terminer, Devon July 1396, Dec. 1397, Sept. 1401, Sept. 1402, Feb. 1403, Dec. 1404; inquiry, Devon, Cornw. Mar. 1397 (concealments), Apr. 1398 (piracy), Mar. 1401 (ownership of lands in Harberton), July 1401 (concealment of alnage), May 1402 (conspiracies), Mar. 1403 (concealment of the possessions of John, late earl of Huntingdon), Aug. 1404 (prisoners taken at Black Pool, Devon); assize, Devon Nov. 1398; gaol delivery, Exeter July 1399; array, Devon Aug. 1403.

Tax controller, Devon Mar. 1404.


Nothing has been discovered about Burlestone’s parents and antecedents, but it seems clear that he owed his acquisition of substantial estates in Devon to his own abilities as a lawyer and to his marriage, rather than to inheritance. In the course of his career he obtained various small parcels of land in south Devon, at ‘Bisshopslegh’ (for which he did homage to Bishop Stafford in London in 1396), ‘Southlegh’, Blackawton, North Allington, Wooley in Bovey Tracey and Burlestone, although he mainly lived on the manor of ‘Hingston’ in Harberton, about two miles from Totnes.2 Altogether his holdings were worth some £13 a year.

Early in his career Burlestone sat in the Commons for no fewer than three Devon boroughs: Totnes, Plympton Erle and Dartmouth. This may suggest not so much that the burgesses recognized his legal skills and chose him because of them, as that he was prepared to travel to Westminster for a low fee. (His expenses in attending the Parliaments of 1381 and 1383 may well, indeed, have been shared by the two boroughs for which he was elected.) Meanwhile, in February 1380, during his third Parliament, he had stood surety at the Exchequer for the Cluniac prior of St. James near Exeter, and he later acted similarly for the prior of Modbury. In the course of many other appearances in the central courts he is found in association with such leading members of his profession as Sir John Hill†, j.KB, and Sir John Wadham*, j.c.p., acting with the latter as feoffee of the manor of Lustleigh and co-patron of the church at Aveton Gifford. In 1384 he provided securities at the Exchequer for Richard Bosom* of Exeter, as farmer of the customs’ revenue in Devon, and together with him stood bail for John Sampson of Plymouth, a prisoner in the Tower. Four years later he acted as mainpernor for the earl of Devon’s attorney, Thomas Raymond* of Holsworthy, when along with Robert Cary*, esquire, he was granted custody of lands at Sheepwash; and on another occasion he himself was given a brief in the King’s bench by the widow of the former earl, Hugh.3 Burlestone also came to the attention of the then earl, Edward Courtenay, in a more direct way, but not one that earned him Courtenay’s good will. In 1392 one of the earl’s retainers was indicted for homicide and brought for trial before the j.p.s, headed by Sir William Sturmy*, whom Courtenay later accused of partiality and treason. Burlestone’s role at the inquest is not clear, but when examined later by the King’s Council about the quarrel ‘(il) dist qe le dit counte luy reproua et dist qil fuist fauxement perjurs’. The murdered man had been a tenant of John Holand, earl of Huntingdon, and it may not be coincidental that Burlestone offered his services to Holand soon afterwards, or perhaps had already done so. The exact term of his stewardship of the earl’s stewardship of the earl’s estates in Devon is not known, but certainly in January 1394 he witnessed a conveyance to Holand of rents from lands in the shire, and two years later joined with him in witnessing a grant made by the mayor of Dartmouth. Burlestone also became a feoffee of this nobleman’s manor of Fleet ‘Daumarle’ and a third part of the manor of Holbeton. Moreover, the earl was the overlord of certain of Burlestone’s own lands. Possibly his position in the administration of the estates of a half-brother of Richard II affected his appointment in 1394 first as a j.p. and then as royal escheator in Devon. After Holand’s violent death in January 1400 (following the discovery of his part in the Epiphany plot to kill Henry IV), local juries were empanelled to provide information as to whether Burlestone still had possession of muniments relating to the earl’s estates and whether he or his servants had themselves taken part in the rebellion against the King.4 Presumably as a result of the inquiries, Burlestone was immediately dropped from the local bench, and four years elapsed before he was reinstated. Nevertheless, his interim appointments to other royal commissions suggest that it was not long before his earlier attachments were disregarded, perhaps because Holand’s widow, whom Burlestone continued to serve as steward, was Henry IV’s sister.

In April 1402 Burlestone obtained a licence from Bishop Stafford of Exeter to have mass celebrated in his oratory at Harberton. Four years later, on 11 Sept. 1406, he died, leaving two sons, William (aged 19) and John, and a daughter, Margaret, who was already married to John Chudleigh, a kinsman of Sir James Chudleigh* of Shirwell. His widow survived him by at least 30 years.5

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. CIMisc. vii. 88, 89; HMC 9th Rep. i. 212.
  • 2. CP25(1)44/65/90, 67/130, 69/200; Reg. Stafford (Exeter) ed. Hingeston-Randolph, 44.
  • 3. CFR, ix. 177; x. 54, 257, 358; xi. 176; CCR, 1381-5, pp. 129, 462; 1409-13, p. 290; Reg. Stafford, 143; KB27/500 rot. attorneys.
  • 4. Sel. Cases before King’s Council (Selden Soc. xxxv), 79-80; H.R. Watkin, Dartmouth, 289, 371; CCR, 1405-9, p. 301; CIMisc, vii. 88, 89.
  • 5. Reg. Stafford, 272; C137/65/6; Feudal Aids, i. 491; Reg. Lacy (Canterbury and York Soc. lx), 77, 268; ibid. (lxi), 73; CP25(1)46/81/71.