BURTON, Sir Thomas (c.1369-1438), of Tolethorpe Hall and Little Casterton, Rutland.
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Family and Education
b. c.1369, 1st s. of of Sir Thomas Burton† (c.1345-1382) of Tolethorpe Hall and Titcomb, Berks., by his w. Margery, da. of Thomas Greenham (d.1376) of Ketton, Rutland, wid. of Robert Grim of Upton, Hunts. m. by c.1411, Margaret, prob. da. of Robert Louthe† (d.c.1391) of Hertingfordbury, Herts., at least 1s. Thomas†. Kntd. by Mar. 1397.1
Keeper of Cardigan and Aberystwyth castles by 31 Mar. 1404-aft. 1 July 1405.2
Sheriff, Rutland 20 Oct. 1411-3 Nov. 1412, 30 Nov. 1416-10 Nov. 1417, 7 Nov. 1427-2 Nov. 1428.
J.p. Rutland 21 Mar. 1413-12 Feb. 1422.
Launder of Plumpton in the King’s forest of Inglewood, Cumb. 19 Mar. 1416-d.
Keeper of Fotheringay castle, Northants. by 3 Nov. 1417-aft. 26 Feb. 1425.3
Commr. of array, Rutland Mar. 1419; to supervise the muster of the earl of Devon’s men at Southampton Apr. 1419; raise royal loans, Rutland Apr. 1421, July 1426, May 1428; convey Scottish prisoners of war from Fotheringay to Dover castle May 1424.
Mayor, Bayonne 4 Dec. 1428-1 Dec. 1435.4
Ambassador to treat for peace with Alfonso, king of Aragon, and John, king of Navarre 16 Nov. 1430, 16 Feb. 1432.5
Burton came from a family which had only recently established itself in the landowning class. Although noted during the late 14th century for their wealth and influence, his ancestors had before then lived as burgesses in Stamford, Lincolnshire, and it was because of a highly advantageous marriage that they were able to assume a dominant position in the county of Rutland. Burton’s paternal grandfather, Sir William† (d.1375), was a distinguished soldier and ambassador, who further consolidated the family estates and founded a college of priests at his home in Tolethorpe. His son, Thomas Burton the elder, represented Rutland in at least four Parliaments and played a prominent part in local affairs, serving as a j.p., sheriff and royal commissioner. He died in July 1382, when his eldest son, Thomas, the subject of this biography, was about 13 years old. Sir John Basings obtained custody of the boy almost immediately, agreeing to pay 100 marks p.a. for his wardship and marriage, even though a substantial part of his inheritance remained in the hands of his widowed mother, who lived on until 1414, if not longer. In addition to her jointure (which comprised the manors of Whitwell and Little Hambleton in Rutland), she received land in the three Berkshire villages of Titcomb, Hartridge and Haslewick as dower, together with rents in Belton (Rutland). Thomas’s two younger brothers also obtained gifts of property and rent at this time with the result that he eventually succeeded, in February 1391, to a somewhat depleted patrimony, possibly burdened with debt. Margery was, however, prepared to compromise, and in the following November she accepted a new dower settlement which gave her possession of the family seat at Tolethorp as well as a sizeable amount of farmland in the surrounding area. This left Thomas in control of his father’s estates in Berkshire, most of which were bought, in the spring of 1397, by the lawyer, William Coventre II*, who may have been foreclosing on a mortgage. Thomas also took seisin of property, rents and reversions in the area around both Great and Little Bowden, Leicestershire, but he eventually parted with most of these as well. His position was made much easier when, in July 1400, his mother allowed him to recover all the Burton estates which still remained in her hands, probably in return for a fixed annuity. An heiress in her own right, she left him on her death the Huntingdonshire manors of Upton, Sibthorpe and Denton, which had belonged to her father, Thomas Greenham. We do not know the size of Burton’s landed income at the time of his first return to Parliament in 1420, but even allowing for his previous sales of property it seems reasonable to assume that he could theoretically rely upon reserves of over £100 p.a., albeit while still bearing a heavy load of debts. Although he engaged in a number of minor transactions in Rutland, our Member made no substantial additions to his inheritance. On the contrary, in 1412 he actually sold some of his estates there, too, to Roger Flore*, an extremely shrewd and influential lawyer, who clearly drove a hard bargain for his 200 marks’ purchase price. In September of that year Burton assumed personal responsibility for the upkeep of his grandfather’s chantry in Tolethorpe, but this measure merely reflects the paucity of the original endowment, and marks the virtual end of the foundation. Perhaps because of these initial various financial problems, Burton had surprisingly little to do with the affairs of other landowners in the area. In May 1423, however, he and William Sheffield* offered joint securities of £200 that the latter’s father-in-law, Roland St. Liz, would accept the award of arbitrators in a property dispute.6
Not much evidence has survived to illuminate the very early stages of Burton’s career. In February 1394 he and Sir John Calveley* stood surety at the Exchequer for John, Lord Beaumont, as farmer of the estates of the late Nicholas Styuecle. His longstanding and important connexion with Edward, 2nd duke of York, dates from the last years of the century. It was in the autumn of 1397 that he received an annuity of 40 marks, payable to him for life from the lordship of Oakham, in Rutland, as one of the then newly-created duke of Aumale’s knights bachelor. Five years later, York gave him a second, larger fee, this time of £40 p.a. charged upon the revenues of Stamford and Grantham, Lincolnshire; and in October 1404 a third grant of 100 marks p.a. was made to him out of the duke’s own pension from the London customs. This award seems to have replaced the two previous ones, since it alone was confirmed by royal letters patent in February 1416, four months after York’s death at the battle of Agincourt, and again at the beginning of Henry VI’s reign. On his coming of age in 1433, Richard, duke of York, offered securities of £2,000 as a guarantee that he, too, would continue to pay all his late kinsman’s retainers, including Sir Thomas. Meanwhile, Burton had long followed the example of his ‘good lord’, and thrown in his lot with the house of Lancaster. Duke Edward’s appointment by Henry IV as lieutenant of South Wales led to his own involvement in the struggle against Owen Glendower. He first took up arms on behalf of Henry IV in March 1404, when, together with a band of 12 men-at-arms (including his brother, Robert) and 45 archers, he undertook to defend the castles of Cardigan and Aberystwyth against the Welsh rebels. His task was not made any easier by the government’s failure to meet his expenses, and by the following November he had received only £50 towards a total wage bill of almost £390, a shortfall which can only have compounded his existing financial problems. His force was gradually reduced over the next few months although the question of payment still dragged on as he petitioned for redress.7 After a period of relative obscurity, during which he appears to have concentrated on the management of his estates, Burton started to take an interest in local government, and in October 1411 he began the first of three terms as sheriff of Rutland. By the time of his election to the 1420 Parliament he had thus acquired an impressive amount of administrative as well as military experience, gained partly on the local bench, but also through his appointment, at some point before November 1417, to the keepership of Fotheringay castle. Despite these growing commitments, he served on at least two foreign expeditions, the first of which left England in July 1412 under the command of Thomas, duke of Clarence, Henry IV’s second son. He was then doubtless a member of the retinue of the duke of York who accompanied Clarence, and it was in the same capacity that in 1415 he took part in the Agincourt campaign. By then York had implemented his impressive annuity with an award of the hundred of Little Casterton in Rutland. By a ducal charter of January 1414 (confirmed by royal letters patent three months later), Burton received this valuable franchise to hold in perpetuity as a reward for his loyal service.8 York’s death at Agincourt deprived him and his family of a much-needed patron, although he already stood high in Henry V’s regard, and was thus easily able to advance his career by serving the Crown. The post of launder of Plumpton, awarded to him in 1416, was no more than a sinecure, unlike his office at Fotheringay, which brought with it the heavy responsibility of safeguarding some of the distinguished French prisoners taken by Henry V at Harfleur and Agincourt. Between June 1417 and February 1420, for example, he was guardian of Charles, count of Eu, Arthur, the duke of Brittany’s brother, and Marshal Boucicault, whom he also escorted across the Channel in the summer of 1419 for a meeting with Henry V. Needless to say, he did not recover all the money due to him for some years, and as late as 1425 he was still petitioning for certain unpaid expenses incurred at this time. His other captives included Charles, duke of Orleans, who was transferred to him from Tutbury at the beginning of 1420, and whom he later produced before the privy council in London. He also acted as gaoler to Robert de Gaucourt, one of the defenders of Harfleur, whose sojourn at Fotheringay caused further financial difficulties. Shortly before May 1424, when he delivered them to the constable of Dover castle, Burton held the six hostages taken by the English on the release of James I of Scotland, but their stay in his custody was evidently a short one. Notwithstanding his activities in this quarter, Burton was also named, in January 1420, as one of the four ‘lances’ chosen from Rutland to appear before the royal council at Westminster, ready to do service for the defence of the realm.9
Burton’s difficulty in obtaining a settlement of these accounts at the Exchequer may well explain his continuing inability to satisfy his own creditors, some of whom had been unpaid for years. In May 1422 he secured royal letters of pardon for an outlawry incurred during the previous reign, when he had refused to appear in court to answer four actions for debt. He then seems to have owed at least £155, of which £100 was claimed by the executors of one John Braundyssh, a ‘ffyschere’ from Berkshire, and the rest by an assortment of city merchants. It is tempting to see in Burton’s early land sales an attempt to deal with an inherited burden of debt, later made worse by the demands of royal office, but not enough is known about his affairs to be certain on this point. He may have been partly assuaged by a grant, bestowed upon him in about 1420, of property in Caen, Normandy; and it was, no doubt, the prospect of further acquisitions abroad which finally led him to settle in France, where fortunes were still to be made through speculation in confiscated property. Burton became mayor of Bayonne in December 1428, exactly one month after his third and last term as sheriff of Rutland came to an end, although he did not take up his duties until the following year. He had already settled his manor of Tolethorpe upon a new group of feoffees, among whom were his neighbours, Robert Browe* and John Culpepper*; and on 28 Jan. he received permission from the Crown to appoint attorneys in England.10 During his seven years as mayo