CHAWORTH, Sir Thomas (d.1459), of Wiverton, Notts. and Alfreton, Derbys.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of Sir William Chaworth (d.1398) of Wiverton and Alfreton by his w. Alice (1345-1400), da. and h. of Sir John Caltoft (d.1353) of East Bridgford, Notts. m. (1) by 1400, Nicola, 1da.; (2) by 1416, Isabel (1402-58), da. of Sir Thomas Aylesbury*, aunt and coh. of Hugh Aylesbury ( d.1423) of Milton Keynes, Bucks., at least 5s. 1da. Kntd. by June 1401.1
Commr. to make an arrest, Notts. Nov. 1401; of array, Notts., Derbys. May 1405, Notts. Oct. 1417, Mar. 1419, Mar. 1427, Aug. 1436; inquiry Mar. 1406 (desertions to the Welsh rebels), Jan. 1412 (persons liable to pay taxes), Apr. 1416 (illegal fishing on the Trent), Feb. 1426 (treasons), Apr. 1431 (persons liable to contribute to a royal loan), Mar. 1435 (concealments),2 Notts., Derbys. July 1454 (illegal fishing on the Trent); to raise royal loans, Notts. Nov. 1419, Mar. 1422, July 1426, May 1428, Mar. 1430, Notts., Derbys. Mar. 1431, Notts., Leics. Feb. 1434, Notts. Feb. 1436, Mar. 1439, Nov. 1440, Mar. 1442, Notts., Derbys. June 1446, Notts. Sept. 1449, Notts., Derbys., Rutland June 1453, Notts. May 1455;3 of gaol delivery, Nottingham castle June 1421, Nov. 1432; to distribute a tax rebate as a former shire knight, Notts. May 1437, June 1445, July 1446; of kiddles, Notts., Lancs., Yorks. c.1439, Notts. July 1454; oyer and terminer, Notts., Derbys. July 1440; to treat for payment of a subsidy Feb. 1441; assign archers Dec. 1457; of sewers, Notts., Leics. July 1458.
Sheriff, Notts. and Derbys. 5 Nov. 1403-22 Oct. 1404, 10 Nov. 1417-4 Nov. 1418, 13 Nov. 1423-6 Nov. 1424, Lincs. 15 Nov. 1408-4 Nov. 1409, 4 Nov. 1418-23 Nov. 1419.
J.p. Notts. 12 Nov. 1404-17, 14 July 1419-24, 16 July 1429-d., Derbys. 8 July 1444- d.
Collector of a royal loan, Notts. Sept. 1405, Jan. 1420; a tax, Notts., Derbys. Aug. 1450; assessor of taxes, Notts. Jan. 1436.
Jt. steward of the Leics. and Rutland estates of Henry, duke of Warwick, c.1445-d.4
Sir Thomas Chaworth’s ancestors are reputed to have arrived in England from Brittany during the reign of Henry I, when they began to accumulate extensive estates in Nottinghamshire, largely through marriage. Over the years they acquired the manors of Wiverton (the family seat), Osberton, Edwalton and High and Low Marnham; and before long the Derbyshire manors of Alfreton and Norton, together with widespread appurtenances, were in their hands as well. Their properties in these two counties alone produced over £135 p.a. by the early 15th century; and the family could also rely upon additional revenues from the manor of Wadsworth in Yorkshire and land in Wymeswold, Medbourn and Saxby (Leicestershire) and Easenhall (Warwickshire). These lucrative holdings descended to Thomas in 1398 on the death of his father, and were further augmented two years later when his mother died, leaving him her own not inconsiderable inheritance. This comprised the manor of East Bridgford in Nottinghamshire (worth about £15 p.a.) and land in the Lincolnshire villages of Thoresby, Toynton, Allington and Timberland. Alice Chaworth was, moreover, one of the coheirs of Ralph, Lord Basset of Drayton, who died without issue in 1390, and even though she appears to have disposed of her share of his estates to her distant kinsman, Thomas, earl of Stafford, the connexion alone proved of value to her son in later life.5
Although he must still have been quite young when his father lay dying in December 1398, Thomas was none the less appointed to execute his will. In the following November he became a trustee of part of the Longford estates, and he soon began to play an important part in the business of local government. Indeed, in June 1401 Henry IV considered it expedient to retain him as a knight of the royal body at a fee of 40 marks, charged upon the duchy of Lancaster lordship of Gunthorpe. In the summer of 1403 Sir Thomas was summoned to attend a great council at Westminster, and a few months later he began the first of three terms as sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. During this period he campaigned against both the Welsh and the Scots, being rewarded later with a royal gift of 100 marks and the promise of timber with which to enclose his deer park at Alfreton. According to a complaint made by Sir Thomas in January 1406 this park had been virtually devastated by Lord Darcy and his men; and it was perhaps in revenge that he launched a similar attack upon Darcy’s property at Eckington, allegedly carrying off chests of muniments as well as goods and £100 in cash. Both these raids were investigated by commissions of oyer and terminer, but neither of the chief protagonists was punished.6 Sir Thomas first sat in Parliament at this time, and while the session was still in progress he entered a complex series of recognizances involving several members of the nobility and Thomas Langley, bishop of Durham, the then chancellor, probably in order to raise money for the government. In about 1409 he settled most of his inheritance upon feoffees, among whom was the influential lawyer, William Babington of Chilwell, Nottinghamshire, who had previously offered guarantees on his behalf when he obtained the wardship of a small estate in Medbourn from the Crown, and whose Derbyshire property Sir Thomas later held in trust. He was then serving as sheriff of Lincolnshire, and it was probably in this capacity that he incurred the enmity of Sir Walter Tailboys*, a local landowner, who subsequently tried to murder him at Lincoln. In May 1411, Tailboys was bound over in the unusually large securities of £3,000 to keep the peace, and he had to abandon his vendetta. Chaworth himself fell out of favour in the following autumn and was, indeed, incarcerated for a brief period in the Tower of London together with five other knights, including his friends, (Sir) Roger Leche* (who had just appeared with him as plaintiff in a lawsuit over the ownership of the manor of Hopewell in Derbyshire), Sir John Leek* (with whom he often acted as a trustee) and Sir John Zouche (his colleague in the Parliament of May 1413). It has been suggested that their imprisonment followed an unsuccessful attempt by Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester, to persuade Henry IV to abdicate in favour of the prince of Wales, and Chaworth may well by then have become a firm supporter of the prince. The electors of Derbyshire certainly regarded him in this light, for in May 1413 he and Leche were returned together to the first Parliament of the new reign. On the other hand, there is good reason to suppose that the six knights, all of whom had recently posed a serious threat to public order, were then simply being called to account for their various misdeeds.7
Notwithstanding his evident attachment to Henry V, Chaworth was prepared to throw in his lot with the lollard leader, Sir John Oldcastle*, whose plans for a rising in early January 1414 were promptly and efficiently quashed by the King. Sympathy for the lollards was strong in Derbyshire, and it is worth noting that another of Oldcastle’s leading supporters, the lawyer, Henry Booth*, also had estates there. Orders for Chaworth’s arrest were issued on 8 Jan., and he once again found himself a captive in the Tower. He was at first kept in chains, but at the beginning of February bonds worth 1,000 marks were offered by William Babington and his other friends as security that he would not attempt to escape if his conditions were ameliorated. Throughout this period he and his fellow captives remained under sentence of death, but in May they were pardoned and allowed to go free. It is now impossible to tell how far Sir Thomas shared Oldcastle’s heretical beliefs. His later life was given over to works of conventional piety, most notably with regard to the endowment and assistance of Launde priory in Leicestershire, although the evidence of his will shows him to have possessed a large number of devotional works (some of which were in English), including ‘a graile (gradual) manuell and a litel portose (breviary) the whiche the saide Sir Thomas toke with hym alway when he rode’, so he may well have continued the lollard practice of placing particular emphasis on private prayer. The inclusion of his distant kinsman, William Booth, archbishop of York, among the three supervisors of his will and his appointment, in 1423, of the bishops of Durham and Worcester as his trustees would, however, confirm that, in public at least, he eschewed any suspect doctrines. Once released from prison, Sir Thomas understandably made every effort to re-establish himself in King Henry’s good graces; and he seized the opportunity offered in 1415 by the latter’s invasion of France to prove his loyalty. He indented to serve in the royal army with a personal retinue of eight men-at-arms and 24 archers, and was duly accorded the necessary letters of protection.8
Although he never quite managed to recover the position of trust which he had previously enjoyed, Sir Thomas was in a sense able to compensate for this by making a remarkably lucrative second marriage. By his first wife, Nicola, he had only one child, a daughter named Elizabeth, who married John, Lord Scrope of Masham (d.1455) before 1418, and seems to have become her father’s favourite. Whereas Nicola brought little in the way of property or advancement to the Chaworths, Sir Thomas’s new bride, the daughter of Sir Thomas Aylesbury, added greatly to their territorial possessions. We do not know exactly what Isabel received at the time of her marriage, but her father was extremely rich, and in May 1416 he made his new son-in-law one of his principal trustees. The latter was thus singularly well placed to advance his own interests when Aylesbury died, two years later, and promptly obtained control of the manors of Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire and Abinger in Surrey during the minority of his young brother-in-law, John. The successive deaths within the next five years of both John and his baby son caused a dramatic change in Chaworth’s circumstances, for his wife thus became coheir with her sister, Eleanor, of all her late father’s property. Her share comprised the manors of Albury, Wilstone and Tiscott in Hertfordshire, Rousham in Oxfordshire, Sells Green in Wiltshire, Bradwell, Broughton and Drayton Beauchamp in Buckinghamshire, Oxhill in Warwickshire, and Dodford, Blatherwycke, Pytchley and Weston in Northamptonshire. She also inherited various tenements in Cripplegate, London. Altogether, these properties were worth a bare minimum of £93 p.a.; and although part of them remained in the hands of Isabel’s widowed mother until 1436, the improvement in Chaworth’s status and finances was still remarkable.9
In the meantime, Sir Thomas had sufficiently overcome the stigma of past treason to be made sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire for the second time. He actually assumed office just before taking his seat in the Parliament of 1417, and thus technically contravened the statute forbidding the return of sheriffs. Despite his many commitments, Sir Thomas maintained a keen interest in the administration of his estates, and at this time he actually entered an arrangement for the mining of coal on his Derbyshire property. He also kept up a wide and influential range of social connexions. In February 1419, for instance, he stood bail for (Sir) John Pelham* (an executor of Henry IV), and a few weeks later he joined with Sir Ralph Shirley* in offering recognizances worth 200 marks to Sir Richard Stanhope*. His relations with Shirley did not remain cordial for long, since, as one of the heirs of Lord Basset of Drayton, he found himself drawn into an alliance with Humphrey, earl of Stafford, who was determined to secure the entire Basset inheritance for himself. Whereas Chaworth’s mother had been prepared to relinquish her title to the Staffords, Shirley clung on grimly to what was legally his, and thus met with the full force of Earl Humphrey’s displeasure. Shirley was eventually driven out of the property by force majeur, claiming that his eviction had been effected ‘be the procurement and instance of Sir Thomas Chaworth’.10 As we have already seen, another prominent member of Chaworth’s circle was Sir John Zouche, who conveyed his Yorkshire manor of Bolton-upon-Dearne to him, in 1422, as a trustee, and later made him a feoffee-to-uses of other property as well. Zouche’s daughter, Elizabeth, married Sir Nicholas Bowet, a kinsman of Henry Bowet, archbishop of York, and on the latter’s death, in the following year, Chaworth proceeded to exploit this connexion so that he could obtain custody of the temporalities of the archbishopric until the consecration of the next incumbent. He went on, some time later, to consolidate the relationship by arranging a marriage between his eldest son, William, and Sir Nicholas’s daughter. Chaworth’s young ward, William Fitzwilliam of Sprotborough in Yorkshire, meanwhile proved a more than suitable husband for his younger daughter (another Elizabeth), to whom he was betrothed while still a minor. An interesting list of Chaworth’s other intimates is furnished by an enfeoffment of 1423, whereby he conveyed the bulk of his estates to a new body of trustees. As noted above, he probably chose the bishops of Durham and Worcester in order to demonstrate his return to orthodoxy, but his appointment of Thomas, Lord Roos of Helmsley, and Ralph, Lord Cromwell, provides a clear indication of where his temporal loyalties lay. He acted for a long time as Roos’s feoffee-to-uses; and in 1434, some four years after the latter’s death, he was permitted to farm the manor of Orston in Nottinghamshire during the minority of Roos’s next heir.11
It was, however, Chaworth’s association with Lord Cromwell which proved of particular consequence, since through it he became drawn into Cromwell’s longstanding and bitter feud with Sir Henry Pierrepont* (his colleague in the Parliament of 1423). Having wrested the Heriz family inheritance from Pierrepont by highly dubious means, Cromwell secured his title, in 1431, by conveying the property to a panel of influential feoffees, including Chaworth and his friend, Sir Richard Vernon*. Not surprisingly, then, when violence erupted between Pierrepont and his other enemies, the Foljambes, Chaworth threw his not inconsiderable weight behind the Foljambes, and as head of the second jury at the Derby sessions of oyer and terminer, in 1434, he did everything he could to support their allegations. He even offered bail for Richard Brown* of Repton, who stood accused of attempting to procure Thomas Foljambe’s acquittal; and in the following year he and Cromwell capitalized upon their position as royal commissioners of inquiry in Nottinghamshire to question Pierrepont’s title to the manor of Sneinton. Later, in 1440, Sir Henry tried to recover some of his losses by suing Chaworth and Lord Cromwell’s other trustees, but pressure was brought upon him to settle out of court. Chaworth remained close to Cromwell until the latter’s death, for the two men acted together, on New Year’s Day 1448, as witnesses to an oath made by Richard Willoughby, renouncing his inheritance. In later life he was recruited into the service of Henry, duke of Warwick, who made him and one of his sons joint stewards of his property in Leicestershire and Rutland.12
In view of his eminent position and important connexions with the nobility, it is hardly surprising to find Sir Thomas named first among the electors who attested the Nottinghamshire returns to the Parliaments of 1425, 1426, 1429, 1432 and 1433. He also headed the list of local gentry who were to take the general oath of May 1434 that they would not assist persons disturbing the peace. Frequently chosen as a royal commissioner for the raising of government loans, he himself contributed £40 to the cost of national defence in the following year. He was at this time preoccupied with arrangements for the release of Sir Thomas Rempston II* from captivity in France; and in 1447 he and William Babington (who often acted with him in such matters) assisted Rempston’s widowed mother to found a chantry dedicated to the memory of his late father. As a man of considerable wealth and widespread possessions, Chaworth inevitably became involved in numerous lawsuits, the majority of which were for the recovery of debts (such as £106 owed to him by two merchants from Banbury), although some concerned acts of trespass and disputes over property. At some unknown date, Chaworth lodged a petition in the court of Chancery against the feoffees of Sir Richard Goldesburgh, whose son was then his ward, claiming that by ‘covyn and confetrecy’ with Sir Richard’s widow they had withheld valuable documents concerning the boy’s estates. In May 1449 he and his sister-in-law (who had married Sir Humphrey Stafford† of Grafton) complained to the King about the damage done by deer from the forest of Rockingham to crops growing on their Northamptonshire estates, and were permitted to enclose the land in question. Sir Thomas was able to consolidate his holdings even further as a result of the death, in about 1457, of John Cressy, whose next heirs were his wife and her sister. In the event, however, he did not enjoy the profits of these new acquisitions for very long, since his own death occurred, shortly after that of his wife, on 10 Feb. 1459. The couple were buried together at the priory of Launde, where they had founded a chantry some seven years before.13
Although he must have been well over 80 when he died, Chaworth remained active in local government until the very end. His will, which is a long and fascinating document, lists many handsome bequests to friends and relatives, among whom he disposed of an impressive library containing psalters, mass books, antiphoners and such works as The Polychronicon of Ralph Higden (in both English and Latin), an ‘English booke called Orilogium Sapienciae’, an ‘Englisse boke called Grace Dieu’, ‘another boke of Notes of Fynes’ and The Lives of the Saints. To Launde priory he left all the contents of his richly furnished chapel at Wiverton, as well as the altar hangings, devotional works and plate which he had acquired from his elder daughter when she took holy orders in 1455. The six executors and three supervisors of his will shared £92 in cash together with a sizeable quantity of plate; and over £266 was set aside for the marriage of his younger children. His eldest son, William, who was then about 28 years old, succeeded to the bulk of the family fortunes. He had already served as sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire during his father’s lifetime, but did not achieve the same distinction as the late Sir Thomas.14
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. C138/33/35; C139/10/21, 173/25; Test Ebor. i. 247-8; ii. 220-9; iii. 212; Mon. Brasses ed. Mill Stephenson, 275; CFR , xv. 71; CIPM, x. no. 71; CP, v. 80; DL42/16, f. 34. According to Vis. Notts.