BYRON, Sir John (1386-1450), of Clayton, Lancs. and South Stoke, Lincs.
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Family and Education
b.c.1386, s. and h. of Sir Richard Byron (d. 7 June 1397) of Clayton by his w. Joan Colwick (d. 8 Oct. 1426) of Colwick, Notts. and South Stoke. m. Margery (d.c.1460), da. of John Booth I*, at least 5s. (1 d.v.p.), 5da. Kntd. by 1415.1
Commr. of array, Lancs. Apr. 1418.2
Collector of a tax, Lancs. Nov. 1419, Jan. 1436.
Sheriff, Lancs. 16 Feb. 1439-d.3
Steward of the collegiate church of St. Mary, Manchester-d.4
At the time of his death, in June 1397, Sir Richard Byron owned land in the Lancashire villages of Butterworth, Royton and Ashton-under-Lyne, as well as the ancestral manor of Clayton which (with its extensive appurtenances in and around Manchester) had belonged to the family for at least three centuries. Through his wife, Joan, he had moreover gained possession of widespread estates in Lincolnshire centred upon the manors of Gedney, South Stoke, Croxton and Obthorpe, some of which he had previously, in 1383, settled upon trustees. Joan retained these properties, together with her own family seat at Colwick, until her death many years later, leaving her young son, John, to inherit whatever holdings in Lancashire had not already been assigned to her as dower. The wardship and marriage of the boy were given by Richard II to Sir Ralph Radcliffe*, but in September 1400 Henry IV rescinded the grant in favour of his ‘trescher et foial chevalier’, Sir John Assheton II*, who agreed to pay an annual farm of 80 marks to the Crown. We do not know when Byron married Margaret, the daughter of John Booth I, but the couple’s own child, Elizabeth, was betrothed in 1415 to Assheton’s son, Thomas (‘the Alchemist’), thus strengthening further the connexions between these three powerful Lancashire families.5
Meanwhile, in October 1412, Byron was retained by Henry IV at an annual fee of £10 payable for life from the revenues of Cheshire. This annuity was later charged to the account of the receiver of Lancashire; and both Henry V and his son confirmed it in return for Byron’s subsequent ‘good service’. By the time of his next appearance, in 1415, as an executor of the will of Sir William Boteler*, Byron had also been rewarded with a knighthood, although there is no evidence to suggest that he had, like Boteler, taken part in Henry V’s first invasion of Normandy. On the contrary, his attention was fixed far nearer home as a result of a quarrel with his mother, who claimed to have been kidnapped by him in March 1415, abducted to Lancashire, and forced, in the presence of the mayor of Wigan, to promise that she would not alienate any of her estates. She seems, however, to have been convinced that he was acting on the ‘excitation’ of his father-in-law, John Booth, whom she believed had encouraged him to rob her of valuable muniments and goods worth over 400 marks. The outcome of this dispute (which reached the court of Chancery) is not recorded, but on Joan’s death, in 1426, all of her property did, in fact, descend to Sir John as he had hoped. He also acquired holdings in Alton (Staffordshire) and Huddersfield (Yorkshire), although their provenance is now hard to determine. Throughout this period Byron successfully established himself as a leading figure in the Lancashire community. In 1416, for example, he acted as a juror at the Lancaster assizes; and three years later he was chosen as one of the county representatives to perform military service in the national defence. He and his wife were, furthermore, able to secure a licence from the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield permitting them to maintain portable oratories at Clayton and Begerworth.6 There can be little doubt that Sir John owed much of his success to the support of his father-in-law, in whose affairs he was closely involved as both a mainpernor and feoffee. Booth likewise held in trust the estates which were settled in reversion upon Byron’s second daughter, Margaret, on her marriage, in 1418, to a local man; and three years later he offered substantial securities when Byron was bound over to keep the peace towards one Ralph Cotton. Although not without drama, this particular incident was somewhat overshadowed by a far more serious quarrel between the Booths and a Lancashire landowner named Geoffrey Bulde, whose confiscated estates they occupied. In February 1421, and again in the following December, Byron joined in standing bail of 1,000 marks in Chancery for his brother-in-law, John Booth the younger, one of the chief protagonists in the affair. The latter’s father had already used his influence to get himself and his friend, Richard Shirburne, returned for Lancashire to the 1420 Parliament so they could present their case in person; and it was evidently with the same purpose in mind that Byron and Shirburne were sent up to Westminster together in December 1421. Certainly, the sheriff, Sir Richard Radcliffe, had previously shown himself a firm supporter of the Booths, and he must have been further swayed by the presence at the election not only of John Booth the elder and several of his kinsmen and neighbours, but also of Sir William Atherton, by then the husband of Byron’s third daughter.7
How far Byron was actually able to assist his father-in-law in the House of Commons remains a matter of conjecture, but relations between the two men and their families seem, if anything, to have grown even more cordial than before. In March 1422 they both undertook to guarantee the readiness of one of Booth’s relatives to join Henry V’s retinue in France; and towards the end of the decade Byron and two of his brothers-in-law, Robert and William (the future archbishop of York), together devoted a considerable amount of time to their duties as trustees of the late Thomas de la Warre, rector of St. Mary’s, Manchester. A man in Byron’s position naturally had other important connexions (such as Ralph, Lord Cromwell, and William Gray, bishop of London, both of whom employed his services as a mainpernor), but on the whole he was chiefly reliant upon his close-knit family circle. Notwithstanding a dispute over boundaries which caused a temporary rift between them, Byron could count upon the support of his son-in-law, Thomas Assheton, who was present in 1429, along with Sir William Atherton, Sir Thomas Booth and other well-wishers to return him to his second Parliament.8 During the next 20 years Byron was a party to several major property transactions, which included settlements of his own estates as well as those of his children, friends and relatives. Once again, the Booths figure prominently in these arrangements, since their interests were so intimately bound up together. Through their work as de la Warre’s trustees, Byron and his brothers-in-law became increasingly involved in the affairs of the collegiate church of St. Mary, where Byron eventually assumed office as steward. At some unknown date one of the clerks offended the Booths, whose attempt to have him arrested unleashed a wave of popular protest. Nothing daunted, they called on Byron, who reputedly arrived ‘en force de guerre’, with a retinue of 500 armed men, besieged the home of the warden, and caused great damage to the church.9 Nor was this the only occasion on which Sir John found himself at odds with the law as a result of his attachment to his kinsmen. Although he and Sir Thomas Booth had both taken the oath of 1434 that they would not support anyone who disturbed the peace, they were themselves quite prepared to pervert the course of justice. In 1446 a commission of inquiry was set up by the council of the duchy of Lancaster to examine charges of malfeasance laid against Byron as sheriff of Lancashire (a post which had been bestowed on him for life in 1437, and which from 1444 he held jointly with his younger son, Nicholas, in survivorship). Despite his stubborn refusal to part with any of the documentary evidence, the commissioners finally confirmed that Byron had knowingly helped Sir Thomas to procure false indictments against several of his enemies at a sheriff’s tourn held by him at Liverpool some months before. Legal proceedings were begun immediately, and although Byron managed to retain the shrievalty, it is worth noting that henceforward Nicholas alone discharged such official duties as the holding of parliamentary elections. The need to win influential support for his case probably explains why, in 1447, Byron once again entered the House of Commons after so long an interval. A genuine fear of further allegations of malpractice led him to seek election for Lincolnshire (where he was, after all, a landowner of some consequence) rather than Lancashire, especially as the Stanleys and Haryngtons had already earmarked the two local seats for their own men, and he was, moreover, ineligible at law to stand for Parliament while serving as sheriff.10
In comparison with what had gone before, Byron’s last years proved comparatively tranquil. Already, in 1442, after the death of his eldest son, Richard, he had assumed custody of his grand daughters; and at the end of the decade he married one of the girls on very advantageous terms to the son of a neighbouring landowner. He had by then become involved as plaintiff in two lawsuits (one for debt and the other for trespass) fought before the court of common pleas, but neither case reached a verdict, and he was obliged to admit defeat. The success of his two brothers-in-law, Laurence and William Booth must, however, have more than compensated for this reversal. William (the then bishop of Coventry and Lichfield) had already permitted Byron to make use of a portable altar; and in January 1450 the two kinsmen joined with Laurence (who was, like his brother, later to become archbishop of York) in the endowment of a chantry at Eccles parish church, where John Booth the elder lay buried. Byron himself died at some point over the next two years. In June 1452 William Bassett of Staffordshire offered guarantees of 1,000 marks that he would not challenge the title of two of Byron’s four surviving sons, Nicholas and Ralph, in their inheritance. Although he was, in fact, one of Byron’s younger children, it was to Nicholas that most of the family property descended, and his own son, John, subsequently fell heir to the entire estate.