BUSSY, Sir John (exec.1399), of Hougham, Lincs. and Cottesmore, Rutland.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of Sir William Bussy† of Hougham and Thistleton, Rutland by Isabel, da. of John Paynell of Boothby, Lincs. m. (1) by Oct. 1382, Maud, da. and h. of Sir Philip Neville of Scotton and Grimsthorpe, Lincs., wid. of Sir William Cantilupe (d. 1375) of Greasley, Notts. and Knaresborough, Yorks., and Sir Thomas Kydale (d.1381) of South Ferriby, Lincs.; (2) by June 1386, Mary (d.c. July 1398), wid. of Sir Ralph Daubeney of South Ingoldsby, Lincs., at least 1s. Kntd. between Oct. 1382 and Nov. 1383.1
Commr. to enforce labour services, Lincs. June 1381; suppress the insurgents of 1381, June, July 1381, Dec. 1382; survey watercourses, Lincs., Notts. Nov. 1382; of sewers Feb. 1383, Lincs. June 1398; inquiry Nov. 1383 (a property dispute at Fillingham), July 1390 (wastes and concealments on crown property), June 1393 (embezzlement of pavage, Lincoln), July 1393 (merchants using excessive weights), Jan. 1394 (assault at Lincoln cathedral), Essex, Cambs. Nov. 1397 (dispute between Sir Robert Denny* and William Clipston), Lincs. Dec. 1397 (attack on servants of the bp. of Lincoln), July 1398 (illegal fishing in the river Trent); to arrest felons at large Jan. 1384, Oct. 1385; of oyer and terminer Jan. 1384 (rape of Isabel Waryn), July 1384 (trespass on Lord de la Pole’s land at Blyborough), Mar. 1385 (attack on the bp. of Lincoln’s tenants at Dunsby), June 1395 (a case in the ct. of chivalry); to administer the Augustinian monastery of Thornholm, Lincs. Feb. 1384; survey the monastery and audit its accounts July 1384; of array, Lincs. Apr. 1385, Mar. 1392; to make proclamation against the sale of armour at excessive prices Sept. 1386; of gaol delivery, Lincoln castle Nov. 1386, May 1387;2 to value property awarded to Michael de la Pole the younger, Notts., Lincs. Mar. 1389; settle a dispute over the election of civic officials, Lincoln Mar. 1393; take securities for good behaviour from persons causing disorder there Sept. 1393; attend and supervise the civic elections Sept. 1393; administer the priory of Sempringham, Lincs. Jan. 1394.
J.p. Kesteven (Lincs.) 20 Dec. 1382-d., Lindsey (Lincs.) 1 Feb. 1392-d., Cambs. 12 Nov. 1397-d., Suff. 12 Nov. 1397-d.
Sheriff, Lincs. 1 Nov. 1383-11 Nov. 1384, 20 Oct. 1385-11 Nov. 1386, 7 Nov. 1390-21 Oct. 1391.
Justice of assize, Billinghay, Lincs. c. Aug. 1392.3
Keeper of the King’s manor and castle of Somerton, Lincs. 25 Mar. 1393-d.
Speaker 1394, prob. 1395, 1397 (Jan.), 1397 (Sept.).
Chief steward of the duchy of Lancaster north parts c. June 1394-Mar. 1398.4
Under steward of the liberty of the abbot of Bury St. Edmunds, Suff. 26 Nov. 1397-prob. d.
Member of the cttee. assigned by Parliament to complete outstanding business 31 Jan. 1398-18 Mar. 1399.
Steward of the court of the honour of Clare for Edmund Mortimer, earl of March, prob. July 1398-d.
Keeper of the English and Welsh estates confiscated from Thomas Mowbray, duke of Norfolk, 16 Sept. 1398-d.
Ambassador to negotiate for a truce with the Scots, 3 Oct.-6 Nov. 1398, 22 Mar.-14 May 1399.5
Jt. keeper of the King’s castles of Rochester and Leeds, Kent 7 July 1399-d., of Wallingford, Berks. 12 July 1399-d.
Although richly deserved, Sir John Bussy’s reputation as ‘vir crudelissimus, ambitiosus supra modum, atque rei alienae cupidas, et qui, pro terrena substantia vel consequendis honoribus, fidem et conscientiam deserere parripendit’ tends to obscure the fact that for the best part of his life the chief agent of Richard II’s tyranny pursued a distinguished and highly successful administrative career, in which his noted eloquence and organizational ability played as much part as driving ambition. Personal circumstances certainly made it easy for him to gain the experience of local government which provided a stepping-stone to higher things. Having reputedly settled in England at the time of the Conquest, the Bussys are known to have lived in Lincolnshire from the early 13th century onwards, acquiring a substantial estate in and around their residence at Hougham. They also owned part of the manor of Thistleton across the county border in Rutland, and were thus sure of a prominent place among the gentry of that area.6 From his father, Sir William, who served as both sheriff and escheator of Lincolnshire during the 1370s, Bussy inherited other holdings in central Kesteven, including land in Willoughby, Great Hale, Haceby, Ingoldsby, Silkeby and Dimbleby. His family also had property in the east Nottinghamshire villages of Balderton, Wigsley, Spalford, Farndon, Syerston and Elston, which seems, likewise, to have formed part of his extensive patrimony. Thanks to two lucrative marriages, both contracted while he was still a relatively young man, Bussy was not only able to consolidate his Lincolnshire estates, but also to extend his influence into Yorkshire, where some of his first wife’s holdings lay. The notorious Maud Neville was, in her own way, as colourful a character as Bussy himself, for, having almost certainly murdered her first husband, Sir William Cantilupe, with the assistance of a young lover and other members of her household, she charmed the sheriff of Lincolnshire first into helping her to obtain a royal pardon and then into actually marrying her. Whatever apprehensions Bussy may have felt in following the short-lived Sir Thomas Kydale as her third husband were clearly overcome by the prospect of a greatly increased rent-roll. Besides the manor of Scotton in Lincolnshire, which she had inherited from her father, Maud enjoyed an income of at least £10 a year from Sir William Cantilupe’s estates near the Yorkshire village of Ravensthorpe; and soon after their marriage, in October 1382, Bussy secured the transfer to her of other dower properties in Farnham, Lofthouse Hill, Staveley and Beechill in the same county. Although he had to surrender these holdings on Maud’s death, Bussy was able to recoup his losses almost immediately by marrying Sir Ralph Daubeney’s widow, Mary. She brought him rents worth £33 6s.8d. from the manor of South Ingoldsby, as well as a small estate in Hemingby, Lincolnshire.7 Mary died in the summer of 1398, not long after the award to her and Bussy of a papal indult allowing them to use a portable altar. The steady flow of royal grants and gifts which came his way in later life seems partly to have assuaged Bussy’s desire for property, although he did make two major purchases of land during the 1390s. His one and only return as a shire knight for Rutland took place in 1391, fairly soon after he bought the manor of Cottesmore and thus established himself more strongly in the county.8 Eight years later, the trustees of John, Lord de la Warr, sold him the manor of Dowdike together with land in five other Lincolnshire villages, but he did not live long enough to derive much benefit from this valuable acquisition. Just before mounting the block, Bussy confessed to having seized and unjustly retained certain land in Marton, Lincolnshire, which rightly belonged to John and Alice Ker. The Kers did, indeed, convey half the manor to him, in 1390; and there may well have been other occasions when he brought undue pressure to bear on his less powerful neighbours. It is now impossible to give even a rough estimate of Bussy’s annual landed income at any given time. His son, John, who eventually recovered most of the family estates, was sure of at least £100 p.a. in 1436, so we may assume that his own revenues were somewhat higher.9 To them must be added the not inconsiderable sums which he earned by selling wool to local merchants. In about 1396, for example, he contracted to provide two Lincolnshire woolmen with fleeces worth 400 marks, although only part of this sum had been repaid by the time of his death.
Bussy first comes to notice in 1378, when he served overseas under the command of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, probably during the latter’s unsuccessful attempt to seize St. Malo. Three years later he was sufficiently well established in county society to be appointed as a royal commissioner for the suppression of the Peasants’ Revolt in Lincolnshire. He soon began to play an even more active role in local government, so that by 1384 he had become a j.p., had sat in Parliament and had begun the first of three terms as sheriff (two of which were served within less than 12 months, in direct contravention of the statute of Edward III requiring three years to elapse before the re-appointment of sheriffs). The influence of the duchy of Lancaster was strongly felt in both Lincolnshire and Yorkshire — notably in the area around Knaresborough where some of the Cantilupe estates lay — and a man of Bussy’s calibre naturally found a welcome place in the permanent employment of John of Gaunt. Early in 1382 Bussy (who was soon to be knighted) joined the retinue of the young King’s senior uncle at the substantial fee of £40 p.a., thus establishing a connexion which brought him to the notice of Richard II himself.10 His attachment to the house of Lancaster is certainly one of the most striking features of his career before 1397, and it helps to explain his election as Speaker of the Commons in 1394, when his close relationship with both Gaunt and the King (as well as his impressive record of parliamentary experience) came to be regarded as a symbol of the internal peace and stability so ardently desired throughout the kingdom. Bussy’s association with Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, also proved crucial in this respect, for it was almost certainly through Bolingbroke that he became involved with the Lords Appellant of 1388, and (like his future colleague, Sir Henry Green*) found himself temporarily at odds with the King. Although he did not sit in the Merciless Parliament, Bussy took the oath of March 1388 in support of the Lords Appellant; and his decision, ten years later, to sue out a royal pardon for his activities at this time suggests that his sympathy for the Appellants’ cause may have taken a militant turn during the weeks before the Commons met.11 Richard, earl of Arundel, for one, regarded Bussy’s subsequent volte face as a gross act of betrayal, and took the opportunity offered by his own appeal for treason in 1397 to round upon his erstwhile friend and ally. ‘Et scio, qui tu semper falsus fuisti’, the earl cried, when Bussy, as Speaker, clamoured with his supporters for judgement upon the chief Appellants of 1388. Bussy’s willingness to act as one of the leading proponents of King Richard’s absolutist policy inevitably led to a dramatic break with his former patron, Henry of Bolingbroke. His appointment as chief steward of the duchy of Lancaster (north parts) in the summer of 1394 at first strengthened the close relationship which already existed between the two men, as Bolingbroke’s generosity in the matter of New Years’ gifts testifies. Bussy served regularly on the duchy council; he showed himself tireless in the discharge of routine estate business; and as late as February 1397 he was actively involved with Bolingbroke in effecting a settlement made upon the latter’s stepmother, Katherine Swynford, by John of Gaunt. Yet even if the future Henry IV found it possible to tolerate Bussy’s conduct towards the other Appellants, his anger and bitterness were clearly aroused by Sir John’s active participation in the events leading first to his own banishment and then, in March 1399, to the confiscation of his entire inheritance. Bussy’s behaviour towards those who had previously been his ‘good lords’ lends credence to the contemporary view of him as a self-seeking opportunist, ready to sacrifice old loyalties in the interests of expediency, and it certainly accounts for Bolingbroke’s uncharacteristic refusal to spare his life.
Although they were of rather less importance to him than his attachment to the house of Lancaster, Bussy derived considerable benefit from other useful connexions during the earlier part of his career. His appointment in 1384 as a commissioner to take custody of the monastery of Thornholm, of which Michael, Lord de la Pole, was patron, marks the beginning of an association between him and the then chancellor. Bussy witnessed at least one deed for de la Pole, and served on other commissions concerning his interests in Lincolnshire. He also helped to survey part of the de la Pole estates after their confiscation by the Merciless Parliament in 1388. As we have seen, Bussy purchased some of his own property from the feoffees of John, Lord de la Warr, in whose affairs he seems to have played a fairly prominent part. He and his second wife, Mary, were both beneficiaries of the will of de la Warr’s wife, Elizabeth (d.1393), and he was also involved in the elaborate provisions made shortly afterwards for the setting up of a family chantry at Edenham in Lincolnshire.12 In September 1394 Bussy and de la Warr agreed to act as attorneys in England for John, Lord Beaumont, a young kinsman of John of Gaunt. Bussy had already come into contact with Beaumont through his custodianship of Sempringham priory, and he was subsequently to join with the latter’s widow, Katherine, in farming out the Beaumont estates during the minority of the next heir.
We do not know exactly when Bussy was first received at Court, although he enjoyed the benefits of royal patronage from 1390 onwards. In that year he obtained a reversionary interest in the keepership of the manor and castle of Somerton, which actually came into his hands three years later on the death of the previous occupant. He had originally undertaken to pay a rent of 50 marks p.a. for this important post, but it was then determined that the annuity of 40 marks awarded to him for life in December 1391 from the fee farm of Lincoln would henceforward be met out of the rent, thus avoiding the usual administrative problems and delays attendant upon assignment through the Exchequer. During the spring and summer of 1393, Bussy was entrusted by the King with the delicate mission of ending a bitter civic dispute which had arisen over the election of municipal officers at Lincoln. His task was made all the more difficult by Richard’s expectation that a mayor and bailiffs ‘pleasing to God and good for the King’ would be chosen under his direction: yet in the end his eloquence and skill as a manager of men prevailed. His success at Lincoln may in part explain why he was chosen as Speaker in the next Parliament, although it is important to remember that he was then entering the Commons for the seventh time and could boast an impressive range of connexions among the leading members of the baronage.13 Then, as in later Parliaments, Bussy demonstrated his command of the techniques of persuasion and organization, although the obsequiousness which later characterized his dealings with the throne appears only to have developed as Richard himself moved towards a more absolutist theory of kingship.
Meanwhile, in August 1394, Bussy was one of the group of prominent Lancastrian retainers to stand bail in Chancery for their colleague, Sir Hugh Shirley*, who was then involved in a dispute with Sir Thomas Erdington†. We do not know who occupied the Speakership in the next Parliament (which met at the end of January 1395, while Richard II was still in Ireland), but it is more than likely that Bussy resumed this office for the second time in succession. The Commons were preoccupied with the dual problem of heresy and national defence; and the task of presenting their proposals to the King fell to a select body of six men, including Bussy and his fellow courtier, Sir William Bagot*. On 25 Feb. 1395, a few days after the end of the session, a payment of £20 was made to each member of this deputation by way of travelling expenses, and within a matter of days they were at Denwall on the Dee estuary, awaiting passage to join Richard in Ireland. In all probability, Bussy returned to England with the royal entourage two months later. He was again Speaker in January 1397, when he represented Lincolnshire for the ninth time in Parliament. The session was marked by King Richard’s attempt to win financial support from a recalcitrant House of Commons for a French campaign against the Visconti of Milan. Help from the Lower House was all the more important in view of the stubborn resistance which Richard encountered among the peers, and although he was unable to generate much enthusiasm for the plan, Bussy at least achieved a modest success in the matter of money supply. He had every reason to congratulate himself upon his skilful handling of the brief crisis which arose from Thomas Haxey’s attack upon the King’s extravagant domestic expenditure, since it was largely through his efforts that the Commons were forced to abandon their plans for reform, accepting that interference of any kind in the organization of the royal household constituted an attack on Richard’s ‘regality, royal estate and liberty’.14
Whatever his position in previous Parliaments, Bussy was by now an uncompromising member of the court party, dedicated to the establishment of the royal prerogative in its extreme form and ruthless in his conduct towards the King’s enemies. Whether or not Bussy felt any real intellectual or emotional commitment to the idea of absolute monarchy we shall never know. Most contemporary and near-contemporary commentators regarded him as little more than a calculating opportunist, and it cannot be denied that his subservience brought him many rewards. In March 1397 he received a second annuity of 20 marks, which was followed five months later with a promise of £100 a year payable while he remained a member of the royal council. Only two other councillors — the equally unpopular Sir William Bagot and Sir Henry Green — were offered such high salaries, and only they were permitted to attend the secret meetings held in the autumn of 1397 when the King, the treasurer, the chancellor and the keeper of the privy seal met to determine what ‘loans’ should be paid by the 50 eminent (but unnamed) persons who had yet to be pardoned for their part in the events of 1388.15 Bussy, Bagot and Green had wisely secured the enrolment of their own pardons on the patent roll, and it was thus without any fear for the consequences of his past actions that Bussy, again as Speaker, was able to stage-manage the trials of the chief Appellants of 1388 in the Parliament of September 1397. The arrest of the duke of Gloucester (who was murdered at Calais) and the earls of Arundel and Warwick in the previous July marked the final stage of King Richard’s long-cherished plan for revenge, and some chroniclers believed that it was Bussy himself who suggested that the earls’ own weapon, the bill of appeal, should be used to destroy them. Whatever the truth of these assertions, his first task after being elected to the Speakership on 18 Sept. was to move the Commons to petition for the repeal of the royal pardons previously granted to the Appellants. Acting more as the King’s representative in the Lower House than its with the King, Bussy then persuaded his fellow Members to insist that the clergy should appoint a proctor authorized to give their assent to a judgement resulting in the death penalty. Having thus removed the two remaining obstacles to success, he was free on 20 Sept. to begin the process of appeal. Such was Bussy’s influence over an admittedly quiescent House of Commons that he was also able to secure the impeachment of the earl of Arundel’s brother, the archbishop of Canterbury, who was condemned to forfeiture and exile. Throughout the session, which lasted a mere 12 days, Bussy is said to have shown the King ‘non humanos honores, sed divinos, adinveniens verba adultoria et insueta mortalibus minime congruentia ...’, although in so doing he may fairly be said to have reflected the general mood of the House. From Richard’s point of view his achievement was none the less considerable, and the grateful monarch lost no time in sharing out the spoils of victory among his supporters. Parliament was still sitting when Bussy and Green were granted all the utensils in the earl of Arundel’s London home, together with a barge confiscated from Thomas, earl of Warwick. On 28 Sept. Bussy obtained a grant in tail male of the latter’s manor of Kirtling in Cambridgeshire, as well as of three Suffolk manors which had belonged to Sir Thomas Mortimer (a supporter of the Appellants) and which were given to him in lieu of his second royal annuity. A few days later he and Green became joint owners for life of John, Lord Cobham’s inn in the City, and towards the end of October Green stood surety for him as keeper of the estates of the alien priory of Houghton on the Hill in Lincolnshire.
Bussy seems to have spent the parliamentary recess in London, where he occupied himself with a variety of conciliar business. The two Houses reassembled at Shrewsbury on 27 Jan. 1398, already cowed by a practical demonstration of the King’s autocratic tendencies. Utilizing his powers as Speaker to the full, Bussy needed no more than four days to carry through the Commons a series of measures which included the annulment of all the proceedings of the Merciless Parliament and a ratification of the pronouncements of the judges who had met at Nottingham in 1387 to define the limits of royal prerogative with regard to Parliament. The House also moved for the conclusion of the trial of Lord Cobham and Sir Thomas Mortimer (in whose fate Bussy by then possessed a vested interest), and, in an unprecedented act of generosity, which reflects the extent of the Speaker’s influence, it made King Richard a grant for life of the wool subsidy. Bussy’s hand may likewise be detected in the last item of business completed before the Parliament was dissolved on 31 Jan. On that day, at the formal request of the Commons, a commission of 18 lords and commoners (including Bussy) was empowered to deal with any petitions left unanswered during the session and also to settle the quarrel which had broken out between Bolingbroke and Thomas, duke of Norfolk, the only Lords Appellant who had so far escaped the King’s wrath. Bussy seems constantly to have acted as one of the quorum of knights on this commission; and according to the Chronique de la Traison et Mort de Richard II it was he who announced the verdict of banishment which was finally passed on Bolingbroke and Norfolk at Coventry in September 1398. This was a period of intense activity on his part, for the next few weeks were spent by him on the Scottish border negotiating for an extension of the truce and arranging terms for the return of prisoners. On 5 Mar. 1399, he was again appointed to treat with the Scots, although his departure was delayed by a meeting of the parliamentary committee held two weeks later to authorize Richard’s seizure of the duchy of Lancaster. In revoking the concession made to Bolingbroke and Norfolk at the time of their banishment that they could appoint attorneys to hold for them any inheritances which might fall to them while they were abroad, the commission went far beyond the powers originally conferred upon it by Parliament, and thus precipitated the overthrow of the regime in the following summer. His desire for revenge fully satisfied, Richard brought the committee’s proceedings to a close, and on 5 Apr. Bussy was instructed to return to Scotland. There he remained until the end of May, being rewarded meanwhile with the keepership of Norfolk’s English and Welsh estates, which he shared with Sir Henry Green and other leading adherents of the Crown. He then moved south to attend a convocation of clergy in the province of York, where the death of Archbishop Waldby had given rise to a debate over the King’s right to intervene in episcopal translations. Bussy, needless to say, was deputed to argue Richard’s case before the assembly.
The open rebellion of Art McMurrough and his followers in Ireland led the King to push ahead with plans for a second Irish expedition; and despite the obvious dangers of leaving England at so crucial a point in his reign he landed at Waterford with a considerable following at the beginning of June. Edmund, duke of York, remained behind as keeper of the realm, acting in conjunction with the three principal officers of state and a council in which the by then notorious triumvirate of Bussy, Bagot and Green figured prominently. Bussy and Green were understandably much sought after as attorneys by members of Richard’s expeditionary force, and they both agreed to supervise the affairs of John, Lord Lovell of Titchmarsh, and York’s son, Edward, while they were in Ireland. The King’s departure could hardly have occurred at a worse time: alarmist rumours spread like wildfire through the country, and at the beginning of July Bolingbroke, who was quick to seize such a heaven-sent opportunity, landed in the north, ostensibly with the sole purpose of reclaiming his inheritance. York proved totally incapable of meeting this sudden crisis, and it was probably on the suggestion of Bussy and his other advisers that the administration moved to St. Albans in a somewhat belated attempt to raise support. Having first been granted the joint keepership of the two castles of Leeds and Rochester in a vain attempt to check Bolingbroke should he land in Kent, Bussy and his chief associates were placed in charge of Wallingford castle, where the queen had taken refuge. On 12 July, the date of the second appointment, he also received an assignment of £130 8s.4d. from the Exchequer with which to pay his personal retinue of men-at-arms and archers. As Bolingbroke crossed the Midlands, Bussy, Green and the earl of Wiltshire retreated to Bristol, although their hopes of putting up a fight were dashed by the defection of York and the other councillors, who surrendered to Bolingbroke at Berkeley castle. The keeper of Bristol castle proved equally unreliable, for on 28 July he took advantage of Bolingbroke’s offer of a general amnesty to the garrison and opened the gates to the Lancastrian forces. Neither Bussy nor his two companions could expect any mercy from the man they had conspired to ruin, and on the following day they were beheaded. Their deaths gave rise to widespread rejoicing, and Henry IV’s first Parliament hastened to approve the sentence of forfeiture passed on them. The rhymesters of the period made the most of this welcome turn of events, gloating over the downfall of such an unpopular figure as Bussy, who had come to represent the worst aspects of Richard’s tyranny:
The busch is bare and waxus sere;
Hit may no lengur leves beret.
Now stont hit in no styde.
Ywys I con no nodur bote
But hewe hit downe crop and rote,
And to the town hit lede.16
As late as June 1402, royal commissions were being issued for the confiscation of Bussy’s personal effects, which appear to have been both extensive and valuable. His son, John, was none the less able to re-establish the family as a political force in Lincolnshire, partly through his marriage to Katherine Cumberworth, a local heiress, and partly through his systematic attempts to recover the fortune he had lost. He eventually became a j.p. in Kesteven, but wisely never tried to emulate his father, whose fate was held up to contemporaries as a dire warning against the consequences of blind ambition.
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Variants: Bossy, Busche, Bushi, Bushy. Unless otherwise stated, all references are to be found in J.S. Roskell’s article on Sir John in Lincs. Architectural and Arch. Reps. and Pprs. vii (1).