CONSTABLE, Sir Robert (c.1353-1400), of Flamborough, Yorks.
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Family and Education
b.c.1353, s. and h. of Sir Marmaduke Constable (d.1378) of Flamborough, prob. by his 1st w. Joan. m. by Jan. 1384, Margaret, da. of William Skipwith, wid. of Alexander Surteys (1355-80) of North Gosforth, Northumb., at least 3s. 2da. Kntd. by Feb. 1375.1
Commr. of array, Yorks. (E. Riding) c. May 1376,2 Apr. 1385, Mar. 1392; inquiry (W. Riding) Jan. 1379 (abuses by the bailiff of Harthill), (E. Riding) Feb. 1384 (extortions in the bp. of Durham’s liberty at Howden), Dec. 1395 (wreck at Bridlington); sewers Jan. 1383; oyer and terminer Apr. 1388, May 1390 (obstructions to the river Ouse).
Assessor of a tax, Yorks. (E. Riding) May 1379; collector Dec. 1384.
Sheriff, Yorks. 20 Oct. 1385-18 Nov. 1386, 11 Nov. 1394-9 Nov. 1395.
J.p. Yorks. (E. Riding) 15 July 1389-Aug. 1395.
The Constables of Flamborough played an important part in the society of the East Riding throughout the 14th century. Sir Robert Constable†, who may have sat in the Parliament of 1319 and was certainly summoned to attend a great council five years later, served on many royal commissions and helped to maintain the Yorkshire coast in a state of defence against pirates and the threat of foreign invasion. His son, Sir Marmaduke, likewise showed a lively interest in local affairs, discharging two terms as sheriff of Yorkshire during the 1360s and undertaking other administrative duties for the Crown. He had at least two sons, probably by his first wife, Joan, who was buried in the parish church of All Saints at Holme in Spaldingmore, where the family owned sizeable estates. Robert, the elder, must have been about 20 when he set off for France in the autumn of 1373 to campaign under the banner of Edward III’s son, John of Gaunt. He soon returned to England, however, having perhaps been knighted during the course of the expedition. He had definitely assumed the new rank by February 1375, when he joined with his father and Sir William Ergum (whose grand daughter was later to marry his son) in witnessing a conveyance of land near Bridlington. Just over one year later, Sir Marmaduke Constable drew up a will, naming Sir Robert Roos and William, 1st Lord Aldeburgh, as supervisors, and Sir Robert as the first of his four executors. In the event, their services were not required until May 1378, when Sir Marmaduke died, leaving the two valuable manors of Flamborough and Holme in Spaldingmore to his elder son. The latter had, meanwhile, been recommended by the Good Parliament of 1376 as a suitable person to serve on a commission of array for the protection of the coastline around Scarborough, and had also agreed to execute the will of another kinsman, John Constable of Holme.3
Sir Robert took formal seisin of his inheritance in July 1378, and, although he was subsequently chosen to assess taxes in the East Riding, he showed no intention of remaining at home for long. In May 1380 he sued out royal letters of protection preparatory to his departure for Brittany in the retinue of Gaunt’s brother, Thomas of Woodstock; and three years later he was back in the service of his former commander, this time for an expedition to Scotland. It was during this period that he married Margaret, the widow of Alexander Surteys, who had died young in 1380 barely a few months after succeeding to family property in North Gosforth. Surteys had, however, by then produced an infant son, who became a ward of Margaret’s father, William Skipwith. Since she herself had remarried without first obtaining the necessary royal licence, the Crown demanded a fine of 40s. before dower could be assigned, although in February 1384 Skipwith was ordered to be present when a suitable allocation of property was made to her out of the child’s patrimony. Sir Robert was naturally anxious to gain control of the rest of these estates as well, and in October 1385 he finally obtained a lease of the town of North Gosforth at an annual rent of eight marks payable at the Exchequer. Having just taken part in Richard II’s ill-fated attempt to subdue the Scots, during which he once again donned Gaunt’s livery, Sir Robert was assured of powerful support; and it is worth noting that on 20 Oct., just four days after the award was made in his favour, he began his first term as sheriff of Yorkshire. During this period he gave evidence in the celebrated dispute between Sir Robert Grosvenor and Richard, Lord Scrope, over the right to bear the same coat of arms, providing a testimony which (in common with others given by Gaunt and his men) came down unequivocally in support of Scrope.4
Somewhat surprisingly, in view of his influential position in the county community, Sir Robert represented Yorkshire only once in the House of Commons. His return to the Merciless Parliament of 1388, in which the Lords Appellant removed King Richard’s most unpopular favourites and asserted control over the government, does, however, underline the strength of his connexions in the upper ranks of the nobility, for both Thomas of Woodstock and Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, were active as Appellants, and clearly relied upon the support of friends like Constable among the shire knights. Sir Robert may have been discouraged from seeking election again as a result of the difficulties which he experienced in recovering his parliamentary expenses from the sheriff. He and his colleague, Sir William Melton, were each entitled to £23 (calculated on a daily basis during their absence at Westminster), although the sheriff, Sir John Saville*, refused to pay him on the ground that they had already made a private agreement whereby the farm of North Gosforth and various other sums charged to Sir Robert’s account were to be discounted in lieu of a cash sum. By November 1388 the dispute had come before the barons of the Exchequer, whose verdict is not recorded. It seems unlikely, however, that the court was prepared to countenance Sir Robert’s claim for an additional £40 in damages, and he may well have departed empty-handed. The following year saw Constable’s appointment as a j.p. in the East Riding, where he had resumed his former interest in administrative affairs. He remained close to the second Lord Aldeburgh (the son of his father’s old friend), whose continued childlessness made necessary a careful settlement of the extensive family estates in and around Harewood in Yorkshire. In May 1391, just a few months before his death, Aldeburgh obtained a royal licence permitting him to convey the property to a small group of trustees, including Sir Robert. The latter assumed particular responsibility for a partition of the property between the deceased’s two sisters, the success of this complex and potentially fraught transaction being due in no small measure to his intervention.5
So far as we know, Sir Robert made no substantial additions to the estates which he inherited from his father, although in 1395 (while he was again in office as sheriff) he acquired land and tenements in Butterwick in Ryedale, obtaining securities worth ten marks p.a. from the vendor that his title would not be disturbed. His last years were spent in comparative retirement, partly, no doubt, because of changing political circumstances which brought King Richard and the court party back into power, determined to revenge themselves on the Lords Appellant of 1388 and their supporters. Sir Robert did, however, live to see Henry of Bolingbroke’s triumphant return to England and his seizure of the throne, for it was not until November 1400 that he made a nuncupative will. He then gave instructions for the division of his effects into three equal parts, the first of which was intended for his widow, Joan, while the second was to support those of his sons who had not already found preferment. Part of the remaining third was set aside to pay for his funeral at St. Oswald’s church in Flamborough, but he anticipated that at least £40 would be left to finance a new pier in the harbour, and that other sums could be found for charitable and pious bequests. He probably died quite soon afterwards, since on 7 Jan. 1401 probate was granted to his widow and his eldest son, Sir Marmaduke, who undertook to act jointly as executors. Sir Marmaduke died young, in 1404, and was buried beside his father. He married Katherine, daughter of the Lincolnshire landowner, Robert Cumberworth*, and left four sons. One of his sisters, named Elizabeth, took orders at the Cistercian house of Swine in Yorkshire, while the other became the wife of the influential northern landowner, Sir Robert Hilton*, lord of the nearby manor of Swine. An alliance between these two families had already been forged on the marriage of Hilton’s sister with Sir Marmaduke’s younger brother, but he did not survive for very long either.6
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. CIPM, xv. nos. 34, 271, 411-12; Test. Ebor. i. 97-98, 264-5, 337-8; ii. 23-25; Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 135-6; ii. 339-40; CPR, 1381-5, p. 381; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. l. 65.
- 2. RP, ii. 349.
- 3. Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. l. 65; xci. 50-51; Test. Ebor. i. 97-98, 99-100; CIPM, xv. no. 34; Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 135-6; ii. 339-40.
- 4. Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 135-6; ii. 339-40; CIPM, xv. nos. 271, 411-12; CFR, x. 104, 106; CPR, 1381-5, p. 381; CCR, 1381-5, pp. 362-3; Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ed. Carte, ii. 132; Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. ii. 228.
- 5. Bull. IHR, viii. 86-87; CP25(1)278/146/13; JUST 1/1500 rot. 18; CPR, 1388-92, pp. 405-6; 1391-6, p. 214.
- 6. Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. lxxxiii. 149; Test Ebor. i. 264-5, 337-8; ii. 23-25; Clay, ii. 228.