COBHAM, John (d.1399), of Hever, Kent and Devon.
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Family and Education
b. aft. 1343, yr. s. of Sir John Cobham (d.1361) of Randall and Hever; bro. of Sir Thomas*. m. ?(1) bef. 1363, Juliana, wid. of James Lapyn (d.1359) of Reculver and Sittingbourne, Kent;2 (2) c.1375, Joan (d.1393), da. of Sir John d’Oyley (d.c.1363) of Ronton, Staffs. by Margaret, da. of Thomas, 2nd Lord Tregoz of Goring, Suss., sis. and h. of Sir Thomas d’Oyley of Ronton and wid. of Sir Thomas Lewknor (d.1375) of Broadhurst, Suss., 1s. d.v.p. 1da.; (3) bef. June 1398, Margaret.
Tax collector, Suss. Dec. 1380, Surr. Dec. 1384.
Commr. of array, Suss. Apr. 1385, Mar. 1392; inquiry Jan. 1386 (lands of Wilmington priory), Feb. 1393 (homicide), Mar. 1393 (concealments).
?Lt. to Thomas, duke of Gloucester as constable of Eng. bef. Jan. 1392.
J.p. Surr. 12 Nov. 1397-d.
The family of Cobham with its numerous branches produced several members called John in the second half of the 14th century and it is often difficult to distinguish between them. Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that the John Cobham who represented three south-eastern counties as a knight of the shire was he who was usually described as ‘of Hever’ or ‘of Devon’, and that he was a sibling of Sir Thomas Cobham of Randall. Under the terms of an agreement made with his elder brother in 1362 as to the division of those properties held by gavelkind tenure which they had recently inherited from their father, John was to have the manor of Hever and land in the hundred of Hoo, presumably in return for giving up his rights at Randall. But how he came to have landed interests in Devon is something of a mystery, for the Cobhams of Randall were only distantly related to the branch of the family seated at Blackborough which possessed substantial estates in the West Country. Yet he was designated ‘of Devenchirch’ (sic) as early as 1369, being so called by his relation Joan, Lady Cobham of Sterborough, when she left him £5 in her will; he was described as ‘of Devon’ when dealing with land at Hever and Chiddingstone in 1383; and even the inscription on the monumental brass placed on his tomb in Hever church calls him ‘of Devonschir’.3
Cobham’s second marriage established him as a landowner in Sussex, where his wife Joan d’Oyley, as the widow of Sir Thomas Lewknor, held a number of properties in dower. An heiress in her own right, she had inherited, after the death of her brother in about 1370, Warnham (‘La Denne’) in the same county and, in the Midlands, the manors of Ronton (Staffordshire), Stoke Doyle (Northamptonshire) and Whatton (Leicestershire). She also owned Basted in Wrotham (Kent), but this was apparently disposed of soon after her marriage to Cobham. In 1391 the Cobhams made an entail of Stoke Doyle and Ronton which permitted Joan’s kinsman, John Knightley, to have tenure for the rest of his life; but the terms with regard to Ronton evidently soon proved unsatisfactory, for in the following year they began a lawsuit in the common pleas against him. The case had not come to judgement before both the defendant and Joan Cobham died, in 1393. Two years later the heir to the d’Oyley estates, Joan’s son (Sir) Roger Lewknor (d.1401/2) came to an agreement with his stepfather with regard to tenure of his inheritance during Cobham’s lifetime; it was decided that Cobham would relinquish the Lewknor property in the parish of St. Peter Cornhill and elsewhere in London, in return for the payment of £53 6s.8d. from the revenues of the Midlands estates to be made every year in Hever church.4 By virtue of his landed holdings in Sussex and Kent, Cobham was well qualified to represent those shires in Parliament. His eligibility to represent Surrey is less clear, although he is known to have held the manor of At Grove in Crowhurst together with land at Lingfield, which he had purchased (as John Cobham ‘of Devon’) in 1375; and he also received an annuity of £5 from the issues of Albury as demised to him by Sir William Croyser†.5
It is quite likely that Cobham first went to Devon as a retainer of the Courtenays. His kinsman, John, Lord Cobham of Cobham, was married to Margaret, daughter of Hugh, 2nd earl of Devon, and it was her brother, the distinguished soldier Sir Peter Courtenay†, who in November 1383 successfully petitioned Richard II for a licence for our John Cobham to crenellate his manor-house at Hever. Furthermore, in October 1386 Cobham went surety at the Exchequer for Earl Hugh’s widow, Margaret, grand daughter to Edward I. It may be surmised that the Courtenays, as kinsmen to the King, were instrumental in introducing Cobham to the royal court, where he was ensconced as a ‘King’s esquire’ by August 1388. (As such he obtained a formal exemption from holding office against his will.) He wore the livery of a member of the Household until Michaelmas 1396 and perhaps later. In April 1394 he took out a second exemption from onerous service, but nevertheless showed no reluctance to accompany the royal army to Ireland, receiving wages as one of Richard’s retinue there from September following until April 1395. His performance having met with satisfaction, on 8 May, shortly after their return home, he was granted for life an annuity of £20 from the issues of the estates of Lewisham priory, a retaining fee which was to be replaced just a year later with another of twice that amount, charged on the Exchequer.6
Besides his connexions with the Courtenays (which led to transactions in 1390 whereby William Burlestone* of Devon, a lawyer in the employ of the dowager countess, entered into recognizances with him in 100 marks), Cobham also had dealings with the Greys of Ruthin. This came about through his friendship with Sir William Croyser’s widow Elizabeth, on whose behalf he acted as a feoffee of estates in Surrey and Kent, both in 1390 following her marriage to Sir John Grey, and subsequently after Grey’s death. Together with Elizabeth, he was party to bonds in £400 made by Reynold, Lord Grey, in 1391; and a few years later her son, William Croyser*, had business dealings with him, probably in connexion with the annuity he still received from the Crosyer estates. Throughout the political crises of Richard II’s reign, Cobham remained on good terms with his relative, John, Lord Cobham, for whom he acted as a trustee of land in Elmley (Kent) and of the reversion of property in London, with which his noble kinsman wished to endow the chapel he had founded next to Rochester bridge. The endowment was allowed to be completed in February 1399, even though Lord John was at that time in exile, having been banished by judgement of the Parliament of 1397-8 for his treasonable activities as a member of the parliamentary commission of 1386. Our John Cobham, knight of the shire for Kent when his kinsman was brought for trial, considered it prudent to sue out a royal pardon both for himself and his wife Margaret, which he obtained in June 1398.7
Despite Richard II’s increasingly autocratic behaviour, Cobham remained loyal to him to the end; in March 1399 he made preparations to embark for Ireland once more with the royal army. Before his previous departure for the province, five years earlier, he had drawn up a will dated 23 July 1394 in which he named as an executor Guy Mone (receiver of the King’s chamber [1391-8], keeper of the privy seal [1396-7] and treasurer of the Exchequer ). (He must have altered the document in 1398 for Mone is there referred to as bishop of St. David’s and treasurer of England.) Cobham asked to be buried in the bell tower of St. Peter’s church at Hever, next to his deceased wife Joan and their son Reynold, and made provision for his chantry there to be served by two chaplains. Concern for his soul’s welfare is revealed by directions to his executors to spend as much as £30 on funeral expenses and £20 to provide 10,000 masses and 30 trentals of St. Gregory; while each of 20 poor men required to stand vigil by his tomb for 40 days was to receive a white robe. Cobham’s daughter Elizabeth was to have 200 marks and half of all his silver vessels and the contents of his chamber as her marriage portion, provided that she chose a husband with the advice of his executors. These included, besides Mone, the testator’s brother, Ralph Cobham of Devon (the recipient of 100 marks) and Ralph Cobham of Chafford, who was left a gold ring shaped like a leopard. To his stepchildren, John and Katherine Lewknor, Cobham bequeathed beds with lavishly embroidered covers, together with a mazer bearing the Tregoz arms of their maternal grandmother. He instructed his executors to sell his manor of Hever and property in Surrey. Cobham died on 12 Nov. 1399, presumably after returning to England in King Richard’s train. In the following year his widow leased out certain lands at Hever which she held for life.8