CLIFFORD, Robert (d.1423), of Harnham, Northumb. and Well in Ickham, Kent.

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



Oct. 1382
Nov. 1414

Family and Education

?s. of Sir John Clifford of Ellingham, Northumb.; bro. of Richard Clifford (d.1421), successively bp. of Worcester (1401-7) and London (1407-d.). m. (1) bef. Aug. 1379, Jacqueline (Jacoba) (23 Mar. 1325-6 Feb. 1391), 3rd da. and coh. of Richard Emelden† of Newcastle-upon-Tyne by his 3rd w. Christine, da. of John, 2nd Lord Mowbray; wid. of Sir Alan Clavering and of John, Lord Stryvelyn (d.1378); (2) bef. Apr. 1418, Joan, s.p.

Offices Held

J.p. Northumb. 26 May 1380-Apr. 1381, Kent 12 June-Nov. 1399, 14 Feb. 1407-July 1420.

Tax surveyor, Northumb. Dec. 1380; collector, Kent Mar. 1404.

Sheriff, Northumb. 3 Nov. 1382-1 Dec. 1383, Kent 22 Aug. 1399-24 Nov. 1400, 12 Nov. 1414-1 Dec. 1415.

Commr. to put down rebellion, Northumb. Dec. 1382; of inquiry, Yorks. Jan. 1392 (wastes, Burstall priory), Kent, Suss., Cinque Ports June 1406 (concealments), Kent July 1408 (floods); array Sept., Nov. 1403, July 1405, May 1406, Mar. 1410, Apr. 1418; to raise royal loans June 1406; of oyer and terminer Jan. 1408; sewers, Nov. 1411.

Escheator, Kent 21 Apr.-30 Sept. 1399.


Robert’s brother, the bishop of London, is generally held to have been a member of the border family of the Lords Clifford of Skipton castle in Craven, or else to have been closely related to Sir Lewis Clifford KG, the prominent knight of Richard II’s chamber; but no positive proof of kinship with either has ever been produced.1 In view of the early association of both brothers with the county of Northumberland, it seems more likely that they belonged to the family settled at Murton in Islandshire since the early 13th century, which invariably bestowed the name Robert on the first-born son of each generation. However, it is not clear what befell these Cliffords of Ellingham in the wake of the disastrous consequences of the traitorous action of Sir John Clifford (former sheriff of Northumberland and constable of Berwick castle), in taking part in 1363 in the murder of John Coupland, one of the wardens of the marches, and then fleeing to join the Scots. The Clifford estates, confiscated and granted to Coupland’s widow, were apparently never recovered.2 Robert Clifford owed his standing in Northumberland entirely to the properties he acquired through marriage to the twice widowed Jacqueline, Lady Stryvelyn, a woman several years his senior. In 1379 he paid a fine of £20 to the Crown to receive a pardon for having married her without royal licence, but he could well afford it, for Jacqueline, the youngest of three daughters of a wealthy Newcastle merchant who had been killed at the battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, held as her substantial inheritance parts of the manors of Jesmond and Belsay, as well as Silksworth in Durham and considerable landed resources elsewhere in the region. Furthermore, as dower from her second husband, the Scottish-born John, Lord Stryvelyn, she had possession of a third part of Faxfleet (Yorkshire) and the stronghold of Bewcastle in Cumberland. Among Jacqueline’s holdings was a share in the advowson of the chapel of St. Mary, Jesmond, and it was doubtless on her recommendation that in July 1380 her brother-in-law Richard Clifford, already a King’s clerk, was made master of the chapel by Richard II’s presentation. In the four years immediately following his marriage, Robert Clifford was a prominent figure in Northumberland, as a j.p., twice knight of the shire and finally sheriff. But even before he was granted an exemption from further royal service, in September 1386, he ceased to participate in local affairs. His wife’s death in 1391 meant the loss to Clifford of all her estates, with the exception of the manor of Harnham and certain other lands, which continued to give him revenues said in 1412 to amount to 20 marks a year. Perhaps because of this, he never completely severed his connexion with the north of England, for in his will he was to refer to certain of his personal goods still in Northumberland.3

Clifford’s move south doubtless owed much to his brother Richard’s success in becoming an intimate of Richard II, as a clerk of the royal chapel. The Lords Appellant, mistrusting his influence on the young King, put him in the Tower of London in 1388, and Robert was among those who stood surety for his release on 4 June, on condition that he would appear before the next Parliament to stand trial. Soon restored by the King, from 1390 to 1398 Richard served as treasurer of the Household, and he made sure that his brother had a share in some of the bounty that came his own way. Early in 1392 Robert was placed on a commission of inquiry into the possessions of the alien priory of Burstall in Holderness, of which his brother had just been granted the farm, only to share the lease with him not long afterwards by a grant dated January 1393 but running from the previous Easter. (Five years later the Cliffords received a royal pardon of £92 6s.4d. demanded from them at the Exchequer for arrears of the farm.) Promoted to be keeper of the privy seal in November 1397, Richard was named as an executor of the King’s will made in April 1399. By that time his brother had settled in Kent, where he served as both escheator and j.p. in the last six months of the reign.4

The ability of Robert Clifford’s brother to survive his master and to prosper under a newcomer worked to his own advantage. While the one was retained as keeper of the privy seal under the Lancastrian regime, the other secured appointment as sheriff of Kent as early as August 1399, within days of Henry of Bolingbroke taking the King captive. Clifford’s first election to Parliament for Kent (in 1401), after an absence from the Commons of more than 18 years, may have been carried through in the knowledge of his brother’s influential position in the government. Even so, by that time he had established himself as a landowner in the county, with property at Well and at ‘Lukedale’ in Littlebourne, and before long he had also acquired four Kentish manors and a moiety of another, as well as property in Canterbury. The assessors of the subsidy of 1412 estimated his lands in Kent to be worth £54 6s.8d. a year. For the most part these possessions seem to have been acquired by purchase; his second wife, Joan, held for life other landed holdings in Chislet, Herne and Reculver.5

On 15 May 1406, during the second session of Clifford’s second Parliament as a shire knight for Kent, it was agreed by the King that he might act as proxy for his companion, Richard Clitheroe I, whose recent appointment as one of the admirals necessitated his absence from the House. He attended the elections at Rochester in 1407, when Clitheroe was returned to Parliament again, and was later to become his feoffee of estates in Kent and Hertfordshire. (The two men had something in common, both coming from the north of England and being to that extent outsiders to the community of the shire.) Clifford’s further attendance at parliamentary elections held at Canterbury was recorded in October 1411 and February 1416. In the meantime, a week before the assembly of the Parliament of 1414 (Nov.), to which he himself had been returned, he was appointed sheriff of Kent for the second time. Thus, when he took his seat in the Commons, he was effectively contravening the statute which prohibited the election of sheriffs. It was not unusual for sheriffs of the time to be exonerated from making payment at the Exchequer of sums which it was no longer possible to levy from the old farms of the county, and Clifford was so pardoned at the end of his term, for £60 charged on his account. Nevertheless, he was to note in a will he made three years later, in 1418, that various bailiffs of Kent still owed him £74. In the years 1414 to 1419 he acted as a trustee of property in Newchurch which was eventually to pass to All Souls College, Oxford, founded by Archbishop Chichele.6

Like Chichele, Clifford’s brother Richard, the bishop of London, also had plans for founding a college in Oxford; and in the will he made at Dover in 1416, prior to his embarkation as an ambassador to the General Council at Constance, he left 1,000 marks to the poor scholars living in ‘Burnell’s inn’, which sum his brother Robert was required to administer as one of his executors. Robert himself was bequeathed a great silver-gilt cup with a cover surmounted by a white falcon, a silver basin bearing the bishop’s arms, a silver ewer and a complete bed. Furthermore, two months after the bishop’s death in August 1421, Archbishop Chichele granted him a dispensation from the statute which forbade an executor to retain any of the goods of the deceased, allowing him permission to buy, at their market price, other possessions of his late brother.7

Clifford himself did not survive for much longer. On 18 July 1418 he had expressed his last wishes with regard to his landed property and moveable goods (the latter including an unusual tapestry depicting an elephant). The chief beneficiary was his wife Joan for her lifetime, but in the long term the provisions of the deed were most favourable to Christ Church cathedral priory, Canterbury. The monastery was, indeed, to have all his plate, silver and jewels, wheresoever they were in the kingdom, as well as the sum of 200 marks owed him by the abbot of St. Augustine’s, Canterbury, and the proceeds of the sale of certain properties. Clifford died on 9 Mar. 1423 and was buried in the nave of the cathedral, where an epitaph later recorded his relationship to Bishop Clifford. The monks remembered him as their brother and benefactor, and in thanks for his gifts, which eventually amounted to 400 marks ‘and more’, besides silver and jewels worth £30, offered prayers for the welfare of his soul at the altar of St. John the Evangelist for 20 years after his death.8

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. CP, iii. 291-3; Biog. Reg. Univ. Oxf. ed. Emden, i. 440-2. Sir Lewis was a cadet of the Cliffords of Devon. His heir was his nephew William Clifford (d.1436), who by marriage to Elizabeth, da. and event. h. of Sir Arnold Savage I* of Bobbing (the Speaker), and wid. of Sir Reynold Cobham of Randall, started the Kent branch of the family: K.B. McFarlane, Lancastrian Kings, 162; Scrope v. Grosvenor, ii. 432-3; Peds. Plea Rolls ed. Wrottesley, 390. Confusingly, William Clifford’s shrievalty of Kent in 1413-14 was followed immediately by Robert Clifford’s, but even though both of them were comparative newcomers to the county, their backgrounds were completely dissimilar.
  • 2. CFR, vii. 83; CIPM, x. 430; CIMisc. iii. 343; Hist. Northumb. ii. 229, 235-43.
  • 3. CPR, 1377-81, p. 381; 1385-9, p. 212; CIPM, vii. 536; viii. 282; xi. 598; xv. 142-6; xvi. 1037-8; Hist. Northumb. xiii. 299-301, 313-14, 320, 327-8; CIMisc. vii. 439; CP, xii (1), 407-8.
  • 4. CCR, 1385-9, p. 414; CFR, xi. 34, 69, 108; CPR, 1396-9, p. 431.
  • 5. Kent Chantries (Kent Rec. Ser. xii), 175; CCR, 1402-5, p. 231; Feudal Aids, vi. 466; CP25(1)113/289/254.
  • 6. RP, iii. 572; C219/10/4, 6, 11/8; CPR, 1413-16, p. 374; Cat. Archs. All Souls Coll. ed. Martin, 48; CCR, 1441-7, pp. 141-2.
  • 7. Reg. Chichele, ii. 224-6; iv. 219-21.
  • 8. Canterbury Cathedral City and Diocesan RO, Ch. Antiqua W. 212; W. Somner, Antiqs. Canterbury, app. 33; BL, Arundel 68, f. 64.