CARY, Robert (d.c.1431), of Cockington, 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



May 1413
Apr. 1414
Mar. 1416
May 1421

Family and Education

s. and h. of Sir John Cary† (d.1395), c. bar. Exch., of Cockington by Margaret, da. of Robert Holway of Holway, Devon. m. (1) Margaret, da. of Sir Philip Courtenay*, 1s. Philip†, 1da.; (2) Joan (d. 4 Dec. 1447), da. of Sir William Hankford c.j.KB, of Hankford in Bulkworthy, Devon.1

Offices Held

Commr. of inquiry, Devon Dec. 1407 (Sir Philip Courtenay’s estates), Jan. 1414 (lollardy), July 1416 (trespasses, Dartmoor), Aug. 1416 (estates of William, Lord Zouche), Feb. 1418 (seizure of an enemy ship), Aug. 1431 (piracy); to take musters July 1410, June 1421; of oyer and terminer July 1412; array Apr. 1418, June 1421, Apr. 1426, May 1427; to raise loans Jan. 1420.

J.p. Devon 14 Nov. 1408-Jan. 1414, 1 Oct. 1415-Nov. 1418, 16 Oct. 1420-Feb. 1422.

Escheator, Devon and Cornw. 10 Nov. 1413-14 Dec. 1415.


Robert’s father, Sir John Cary, having been appointed chief baron of the Exchequer in November 1386, was impeached in the Merciless Parliament of 1388 and sentenced to be executed for his part in the Nottingham judgements. Although the sentence was commuted to banishment to Ireland and he was allowed a pension of £20, his lands and goods were forfeited to the Crown. The recovery of this inheritance bulks large in the recorded activities of Robert, his eldest son and heir, during the remainder of Richard II’s reign and throughout that of Henry IV. Initially, there seemed good prospects that restitution would be soon: only four months after Sir John’s impeachment, Robert and his younger brother Thomas were allowed a ten-year lease of their father’s estates in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset (with the exception of the manors of Torrington and Cockington which had been granted to the King’s half-brother, John Holand, earl of Huntingdon, whose mesne tenants the Carys seem to have been); and shortly afterwards Robert shared with Thomas Raymond* a lease of other lands in Devon. A setback occurred in 1389, however, for when Robert offered £900 to the King’s Council for his father’s lands in Somerset, the offer was refused following the discovery that the money belonged to his father and, although forfeit, had been concealed by Robert and his mother from the Crown’s officers. Robert was, none the less, fortunate to win the support of both the King and the earl of Huntingdon. Before August 1391 he had become a ‘King’s esquire’, and within a few months he also established personal contacts with Huntingdon, which no doubt helped to alleviate the effects of his father’s forfeiture. In February 1392, as the earl’s esquire, he shared in a grant for life of 12 marks a year from lands in Yeovil and Henford (Somerset), and in the following year as well as other favours he was granted the farm of the manor of Puncknowle in Dorset. Sir John died in exile at Waterford in May 1395, and early in September Robert was awarded, for life and rent-free, the Cary manor of Puddington, three parts of that of Northlew, rents in Oakhampton and Sheepwash (Devon) and lands in Launceston (Cornwall) worth in all £15 7s.8d. a year. Three months later he and his mother, acting as Sir John’s executors, were granted at their petition all his personalty and debts not yet seized to the King’s use. In 1396 Cary shared with a fellow esquire of the earl of Huntingdon goods and chattels to the value of £40 forfeited in a case of outlawry. Although Cary was having little success in his suits for the recovery of a house in High Street, Exeter, from the dean and chapter, the King’s growing assertion of independence worked in his favour. In 1397 Cary petitioned successfully for the return of certain small properties with a rental of £10; in March he and another esquire in the King’s fee were granted over £18 in rents taken by the Crown from a tenant on the Cary manor of Torrington; and in September, on the day before the opening of Parliament, he and William Allington*, another of the royal esquires, were granted for life the Wiltshire manors of Woodrow and Calne and then, three weeks later, for life and in survivorship, the keeping of the alien priory of Ellingham (Hampshire). Finally, when Parliament re-assembled at Shrewsbury in January 1398, it annulled the acts of the Merciless Parliament, including the judgement by which forfeiture had been incurred. On 10 May some 30 messuages in Somerset and lands and rents at Chilton Cantelo and Hardington Mandeville near Yeovil were restored to Sir John Cary’s heir, along with his Devonshire manors of Cockington and Torrington. Altogether the estates were worth some £230 a year.2

But Robert Cary was not destined to rest undisturbed in his patrimony for long: Henry IV’s first Parliament quashed the enactments of 1398 and reaffirmed those of ten years earlier; and in October 1399 Sir Robert Chalons*, a member of the new King’s household, was granted all the estates formerly held by Sir John Cary. It is not surprising that Chalons encountered resistance to his attempts to take possession, and four months later he complained of assaults on his servants and damage to his property. Given these circumstances, Cary was naturally eager to come to the aid of his patron, the earl of Huntingdon, when he rose in rebellion against the new regime: in January 1400, after this revolt had failed, juries in Devon alleged that he had been ‘confortyng and adriant on to the forseid Erl ... and alle redy for to have ryden to the forseid Erl ... zif he mygh have hadde his purpos’. Cary’s position now was more precarious than ever before. Nevertheless, he escaped severe penalty and, as determined as ever, renewed his efforts to recover possession of his estates. He petitioned the Lords in the Parliament of 1402, and three years later was enabled to start proceedings in the court of common pleas. The verdict would appear to have been favourable, judging from the fact that Chalons subsequently purchased from him two-fifths of the manor of Torrington along with the advowsons of the parish church and the chapel in the castle.3

Although only partially restored to his inheritance (in 1412 his property in the county was estimated at only £20 a year), Cary was returned as knight of the shire for Devon in the Parliament of 1407. He continued to be re-elected to all Parliaments between then and 1426 for which the Devon returns are extant, except those of 1414 (Nov.), 1420, 1421 (Dec.) and 1423. The reasons for this political rehabilitation are to be sought in his relationship with the cadet branch of the Courtenay family, resident at Powderham, through his marriage to Sir Philip Courtenay’s daughter, a grand daughter of Hugh, earl of Devon. The marriage probably took place before 1402 and certainly did so before Sir Philip’s death four years later. At that time Courtenay’s eldest son, Richard, was about to emerge into the forefront of political affairs as the close friend and ally of the ambitious young prince of Wales, Henry of Monmouth. Perhaps Richard may have secured a place for him on the royal commission, set up soon after the dissolution of his first Parliament, to inquire into his late father-in-law’s estates. When, in 1413, Prince Henry succeeded to the throne, Cary returned to a position of royal favour. The story that this came about through his feat of arms in a joust at Smithfield which caught the King’s attention, may well be apocryphal; undoubtedly more significant was his brother-in-law’s prompt appointment as receiver of the new King’s chamber and his early promotion to the see of Norwich. It is clear that Cary’s relations with the bishop were intimate: as the tenant of Courtenay’s manors of Powderham and Chivelstone, his annual rent of nearly £25 was remitted in September 1413 when Richard confirmed his estate for life. Two months later he was appointed as escheator in Devon and Cornwall, and served in the office for two whole years. Possibly because of this position he was not re-elected to the second Parliament of 1414, but he did attend the shire elections held at Exeter on 23 Oct., being the first to attest the indenture of return.4

In the summer of 1415 Cary made a loan of 100 marks to the Crown for the expedition to Normandy, for which he and others received as security from Bishop Courtenay, who as ex officio keeper of the King’s jewels was partly responsible for the financing of the expedition, ‘the duke of Burgundy’s great tabernacle’. In December, after the bishop’s death during the siege of Harfleur, Cary shared in grants of the wardship of 16 Courtenay manors in Devon and Somerset during the minority of the heir, at a farm of 410 marks a year payable at the Exchequer. His connexions with his first wife’s family continued to be close: it was he who in April 1416 collected from the Exchequer £1,447 for Edward Courtenay, son of the earl of Devon, as an advance payment for his service at sea with a force of 1048 men. The tie of marriage no longer linked them, however, for at some time during Henry V’s reign Cary married the daughter of the chief justice, Sir William Hankford. Cary served on several royal commissions during the reign, of which the most important were those to array the men of Devon, to raise the royal loans authorized by the Parliament of 1419, and to take the musters of the army of the seneschal of Aquitaine. He again attended the parliamentary elections in November 1421.5

The date of Cary’s death is not known, but there is no mention of him after August 1431 and it seems likely that he died before 1433, when his son, Philip, was elected a knight of the shire for Devon. Philip himself died in September 1437, but Robert Cary’s widow lived on until 1447.6

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Authors: J. S. Roskell / L. S. Woodger


  • 1. Vivian; Vis. Devon, 150; C139/134/23.
  • 2. RP, iii. 233-44; CFR, x. 244, 257; xi. 69; CPR, 1388-92, pp. 134, 474; 1391-6, pp. 46, 261, 613, 657, 696; 1396-9, pp. 100, 102, 191, 212; 1446-52, pp. 512-13; CIMisc. v. 249; vi. 104, 150; CCR, 1396-9, pp. 23-24, 266-8; Trans. Devon Assoc. xcii. 142-3.
  • 3. CIMisc. vii. 88; CPR, 1399-1401, pp. 153, 267, 395; 1405-8, p. 333; RP, iii. 484; CCR, 1402-5, p. 451.
  • 4. CCR, 1402-5, p. 133; 1413-19, pp. 72, 233; CPR, 1405-8, p. 419; CFR, xiii. 45; Feudal Aids, vi. 417; R. Izacke, Antiqs. Exeter, 71-72; C219/11/4.
  • 5. CPR, 1413-16, pp. 354, 418; Foedera ed. Rymer (orig. edn.), x. 285; CFR, xiv. 104, 115, 124; CCR, 1413-19, p. 233; C219/12/6; E403/624, 30 Apr.
  • 6. C139/88/53, 134/23.