CHEYNE, Sir John II (c.1390-1468), of Drayton Beauchamp, Bucks.
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Family and Education
b.c.1390, s. and h. of Roger Cheyne*. m. (1) bef. Nov. 1445, Joan ?da. of Sir Robert Fitzmarmaduke, ?1s. d.v.p. ; (2) bef. Feb. 1466, Agnes ( d. 1494), da. of William Lexham, s.p.1 Kntd. bef. Oct. 1420.
J.p. Bucks. 12 Feb. 1422-July 1424, 8 Feb. 1457-July 1459, Herts. 1 Dec. 1455-c.1459.
Sheriff, Beds. and Bucks. 13 Nov. 1423-6 Nov. 1424.
Escheator, Beds. and Bucks. 6 Nov. 1424-26 Jan. 1426.
Commr. to distribute tax rebates, Bucks. Jan. 1436, June 1445, July 1446; of inquiry, Herts. Nov. 1449 (forcible disseisin); array, Bucks. Sept. 1457, Herts. Dec. 1459; to assign contingents of archers, Dec. 1457; of gaol delivery, Aylesbury Oct. 1467.
As a young man John Cheyne was implicated with his father Roger and younger brother Thomas in the lollard rising instigated by Sir John Oldcastle* in the winter of 1413-14. On 18 Jan. 1414, a week after the collapse of the revolt, he was sent to the Tower with his father, but Thomas managed to stay at large and was specifically excluded from the amnesty offered to the lollards that March. Following the death of Roger Cheyne two months later, John, still a prisoner, remained in the Tower until 2 Nov., and only then did he receive a royal pardon for his ‘treasons, felonies and insurrections’. Five days later, he was allowed to take possession of his paternal inheritance, which, for reasons unknown, had previously escaped the penalty of confiscation. His brother was admitted to pardon two months afterwards.2
According to his epitaph, composed more than half a century later, John Cheyne, a man of exceptional strength and animated by ardent faith, travelled to the Holy Land where he endured great hardships among the Saracens. Among his deeds was the conquest of a hugh savage giant (‘immanissimum Gigantem’) whom he slew and beheaded near the sepulchre of Christ, and it was on account of this feat that he was made a knight. No documentary evidence of such adventures survives, yet a long journey of this kind might well account for Cheyne’s complete absence from the records between 1414 and October 1420, by which latter date he had indeed been knighted. Cheyne then appeared in Chancery as surety for Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester, and Cecily, widow of Sir William Cheyne*, who were (with others) granted custody of the late Sir William’s estates on payment of £400. (Sir William Cheyne may have been a distant kinsman of his, but his involvement in this transaction is more likely to have come about through his friendship with Cecily’s brother-in-law, Sir Thomas Beauchamp*, a fellow lollard with whom he had shared months of imprisonment in the Tower.) In the following year Sir John was elected to Parliament for the first time, an event that preceded a period of concentrated public service during which, in the years 1422-6, he served as a j.p., sheriff, and escheator. On 4 Dec. 1423 he acted as a mainpernor for Sir Edward Stradling (probably already the husband of Bishop Beaufort’s bastard daughter), when Stradling undertook, under pain of 500 marks, to serve the King faithfully in the offices of chamberlain and receiver of South Wales; and he stood surety for Stradling once more, in May 1425, when he was granted custody of the Welsh lordship of Narberth. Along with Sir Thomas Beauchamp, Cheyne provided securities in May 1426 on behalf of John Stourton I* and his nephew John Stourton II*.3
Cheyne had served in Parliament again in 1425 (when escheator) and 1426, and he attended the Buckinghamshire elections of 1427. It was during the 1425 session that two petitions of a distinctly lollard flavour were presented by the Lower House: one complaining about absentee clergy and the holding of livings in plurality, and the other drawing attention to the plight of suspect heretics who had been kept in prison for long periods without trial. Doubtless Cheyne sympathized with both causes, and possibly had a hand in their promotion. It may have been then, too, that he made the acquaintance of (Sir) Thomas Waweton*, Speaker of the Parliament and Member for the neighbouring county of Bedfordshire. In 1429 Waweton made a bid to influence the outcome of two shire elections — for Huntingdonshire and Buckinghamshire — and in the latter, where he was sheriff, he flouted the law by making a false return in Cheyne’s favour. Having held an election on 31 Aug. at which John Hampden† of Great Hampden and Andrew Sperlyng* were chosen, he switched the indenture of return (on which, incidentally, Cheyne appeared as a witness) for another recording the election of Cheyne and Walter Strickland. Complaints were made; and a commission of inquiry was hastily appointed on 24 Sept. (two days after the opening of Parliament). It was not, however, until the justices of assize looked into the matter on 1 Mar. 1430 (a week after Parliament had been dissolved) that Cheyne and Strickland were formally declared illegally returned. By then, Cheyne’s activities elsewhere were also causing considerable concern. Four months later, in July, a commission of oyer and terminer was set up (headed by Chief Justice Babington) to investigate widespread complaints from Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire of ‘oppressions, extortions, assaults and injuries’ committed there by Cheyne and his brother Thomas and their chief accomplices, namely, John Watkins† of Stoke Hammond and Hugh Billingdon. It was said that they had driven people from their land by force, and ‘some they have beaten, imprisoned and tortured, refusing to release them until they made fine at the will of their oppressors’, and that they had broken into houses, seized goods, and beaten and ill-treated women and servants. In September local juries indicted the Cheynes for robbery, embracery and perverting the course of justice by threatening defendants. These alleged crimes all took place in and around the manor of ‘Maudeleyns’ in Northchurch, which bordered the Cheynes’ own property at Chesham, and included the accusation that in November 1426 they had made an armed raid on ‘Maudeleyns’ with over 40 men, ejecting tenants and plundering their possessions. As a consequence of this array of charges, the Cheynes were arrested, but during the Michaelmas term they and their associates were found not guilty by the court of King’s bench and acquitted. So far, they had not been subjected to renewed accusations of lollardy or of supporting heretics. However, on 19 June following (1431), a few weeks after ‘Jack Sharpe’s’ abortive lollard rising in Berkshire, the Buckinghamshire authorities were ordered to arrest Sir John Cheyne, to seize his manors of Drayton Beauchamp and Grove, confiscate all books, rolls, schedules, bills and any suspicious memoranda found there, and to certify the details of his armoury and library to the King’s Council. Cheyne’s brother Thomas was arrested at the same time, and both men were imprisoned in the Tower until the following 4 Aug., when they were allowed to go free. Their release from prison after less than two months can only mean that, on this occasion, their complicity in the rising had not been very serious.4
That Henry VI’s government had very good reason to suspect Sir John Cheyne seems to be indicated by his omission from all royal commissions for ten years after 1426. Nevertheless, he was elected to the very next Parliament summoned after his release from the Tower, albeit, as the unusually large numbers of participants named on the indenture of return might suggest, possibly only after another contested election. On 20 July 1432, a few days after the Commons were dismissed, Cheyne was able to secure at the Exchequer a lease of the disputed manor of ‘Maudeleyns’, but seemingly did not keep it for long, since the grant was cancelled before being made fully effective. Cheyne put in an appearance at the local elections of 1433, 1437, 1447, 1449 (Feb.) and 1449 (Nov.), on three of these occasions being named first on the list of electors. Meanwhile, in May 1434, he had, not surprisingly in view of his past record, been among those Buckinghamshire notables required to take the generally adminstered oath against the maintenance of malefactors.5
Cheyne was involved in a number of property dealings at this stage of his career. For instance, in 1433 he sold his manor in Leicestershire to Sir John Popham†. Then, in the 1440s, he took advantage of his kinsman John Cheyne’s* financial difficulties: when John sold off the bulk of his estates — including his family seat at Chenies, and the manor of Cogenhoe in Northamptonshire — to Sir John’s brother Thomas, Sir John persuaded the latter, who owed him £400, to transfer ownership to him. Some time before November 1446, he also acquired from John Cheyne the manor of Ellesborough, only to enter into negotiations for its sale, for 530 marks, to John Brecknock†, the clerk of controlment of Henry VI’s household. However, the deal misfired through Brecknock’s failure to make payment on the appointed day, and when the trustees of the manor — John Hampden* of Great Kimble and Edmund Brudenell — refused to reinstate Sir John, he was forced to petition the chancellor for redress. Later on, despite their earlier problems, he and his brother Thomas were prepared to sell Brecknock their manor of Saunderton — a sale involving complicated transactions which were in progress in 1459.6
It was not until the 1450s that Sir John Cheyne returned to the political arena. If, as seems likely, it was he who acted as mainpernor in the Exchequer for Edmund, duke of Somerset, in June 1453, then he had evidently renewed his earlier association with the Beauforts. Nevertheless, it was during the protectorate of Somerset’s enemy, Richard, duke of York, in 1455, that Cheyne was appointed to the Hertfordshire bench after an absence from such service of more than 30 years. Finally, in March 1459, he joined with Thomas, Lord Roos of Helmsley, in making a formal undertaking that, on pain of 6,000 marks, Henry Holand, duke of Exeter, would keep the King’s peace. The duke, as Henry VI’s close kinsman, had a few years back (in 1454) asserted his claim to be protector of England during the King’s incapacity to rule, but his irresponsible behaviour and want of intelligence since then had resulted in at least three spells of imprisonment. Why Cheyne should have decided to lend his support to this untrustworthy nobleman, and at this juncture of the political crisis, is hard to fathom, but he was not alone in so doing: John Watkins, his erstwhile accomplice and feoffee, also entered the duke’s service — in his, case by accepting appointment as receiver of Holand’s estates in Devon.7
Cheyne lived to an advanced age — if not to the century ascribed to him by antiquarians. Aged about 78, he died on 15 Aug. 1468, and was buried in the chancel of Drayton Beauchamp church by the side of his first wife, under a large slab bearing brasses engraved with their effigies. By settlements arranged in 1466 and completed only a short while before his death, his second wife, Agnes Lexham, had secured as her jointure the valuable manors of Chenies and Cogenhoe, worth about £60 a year, the heir to these and to Cheyne’s own patrimony being his three-year-old great-great-nephew, John Cheyne. The widowed Agnes then married Edmund Molyneux (d.1485), next to whom she was eventually to be interred in the church at Chenies. By her will made on 20 Nov. 1494 she conveyed Chenies to her own niece, Anne, wife of David Philip. Whether Sir John Cheyne had remained a lollard to the very end is impossible to say, especially as his will has not survived. However, his widow’s last testament mentioned a bequest he had apparently wished to make, which seems conventional enough: namely, one of an annuity of 50s. to be paid to the house of Dominican friars at King’s Langley.8
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. The only documentary source for the name of his first wife is Add. 5840, f. 40, compiled by Browne Willis†, who, however, was wrong about the name of his second wife. For the latter see C140/30/51.
- 2. CCR, 1413-19, pp. 54, 176-7; CPR, 1413-16, p. 244; CFR, xiv. 70; C138/7/19; C. Kightly, ‘Early Lollards’ (York Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1975), 388-94.
- 3. Bucks. Rec. Soc. i. 298-9; CPR, 1416-22, p. 310; CCR, 1422-9, p. 133; CFR, xv. 100, 129.
- 4. C219/13/5, 14/1; CPR, 1429-36, pp. 75, 153; KB9/225 mm. 41-73; KB27/681 rex mm. 19-23, 682 rex mm. 3-8; Kightly, 425-8; CCR, 1429-35, p. 89.
- 5. C219/14/3, 4, 15/1, 4, 6, 7; CFR, xvi. 97; CPR, 1429-36, p. 397.
- 6. VCH Leics. v. 20; VCH Bucks. iii. 94, 200; VCH Northants. iv. 237; CCR, 1341-7, p. 195; 1447-54, p. 333; CP25(1)22/122/21; CPR, 1467-71, pp. 471-2; CAD, i. B1452; C1/17/151.
- 7. CFR, xix. 34; CCR, 1454-61, p. 350; Speculum, xliii. 613-32.
- 8. C140/30/51; G. Lipscomb, Bucks. iii. 255; Bucks. Rec. Soc. i. 298-9; Add. 5840, ff. 40, 42.