CORBET, Sir Robert (c.1354-1417), of Hadley, Salop, Berkhampstead, Herts. and Assington, Suff.
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Family and Education
b.c.1354, s. and h. of Sir Robert Corbet (c.1330-1404) of Kings Bromley, Staffs. and Hadley, by his 1st w. m. (1) c.1364, Alice, da. and h. of Sir John Langton of Hoddesdon, Herts. ?1da.; (2) by June 1385, Joan, da. of Agnes, da. and coh. of Ralph Broc of ‘Maudeleyns’, in Northchurch, Herts., wid. of Sir Peter Scudamore of Upton Scudamore, Wilts., 1da.; (3) aft. 1415, Joan (d. Oct. 1418), da. of Sir John Thornbury*, wid. of William Peyto of Chesterton, Warws. and of John Knightley* of Gnosall, Staffs. Kntd. by July 1372.
Commr. of array, Wilts. Apr. 1385, Mar. 1392, July 1402, Suff. July 1405; oyer and terminer, Oxon., Berks. July 1386, Herts., Bucks. July 1403, Herts. Nov. 1409; inquiry Oct. 1387 (trespasses, Berkhampstead park), Hants Aug. 1409 (murder); to make proclamation of Henry IV’s intention to govern well, Herts. May 1402.
Constable, Berkhampstead castle 14 Oct. 1399-d.
J.p. Herts. 16 May 1401-Feb. 1407.
Sheriff, Oxon. and Berks. 22 Nov. 1406-23 Nov. 1407, 29 Nov. 1410-10 Dec. 1411, Wilts. 15 Nov. 1408-4 Nov. 1409, Salop 6 Nov. 1413-1 Dec. 1415.
Although Corbet’s father, Sir Robert senior, was the youngest of Sir Roger Corbet of Hadley’s three sons, he had nevertheless inherited the family’s widespread estates, which included Hadley and Hatton in Shropshire, Ebrington and Farmcote in Gloucestershire, Kings Bromley in Staffordshire, Standlake in Oxfordshire, Denchworth and Tubney in Berkshire and Assington in Suffolk.1 Most of these properties did not pass to the MP until his father’s death in 1404, at the late age of 74 or more, although in his father’s lifetime he and his first wife had taken possession of Kings Bromley (by a settlement made in 1372) and he had also obtained an interest in the estate at Hadley. The whole inheritance, excluding the dower portion held by his stepmother, had an estimated annual value at Sir Robert junior’s death of £74.2
For all but 12 years of his long life, however, Corbet relied almost entirely on income from estates acquired by marriage. His first wife, Alice Langton, brought him property in Hertfordshire at Hoddesdon, including the manor of Langtons, and in Leicestershire at East Langton, property which after his death was to pass to Alice’s daughter Agnes, widow of Sir Robert Sleyght. (Agnes may well have been Corbet’s step-daughter rather than daughter; certainly his own daughter, Sibyl, contested possession).3 Corbet’s second wife, Joan, was the heiress through her mother of the manors of ‘Maudeleyns’ in Northchurch and Brooks in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, and she also held as dower the manor of Upton Scudamore in Wiltshire and other properties in Hampshire. This marriage, which took place before June 1385, ensured that Sir Robert was in possession of lands in Wiltshire at the time of his first election to Parliament for that county in the following autumn. Corbet apparently retained these estates for life, and in 1412 they were estimated to be worth almost £50 a year. (The eventual heir was Joan’s daughter by Scudamore, namely Katherine, wife of Sir John Reynes.)4 Corbet’s third and last marriage took place after he had inherited the family estates, but it, too, added to his landed possessions, for Joan was the twice-widowed daughter of a wealthy mercenary captain. From her first marriage she held as dower Chesterton (Warwickshire), which was to descend after her death to her son, William Peyto*, and from her second she occupied a quarter of the manors of Wilbrighton (in Gnosall) and Shusions, Staffordshire, which were eventually to pass to her children George and Elizabeth Knightley. These dower portions had an estimated value of at least £19 a year.5 Towards the end of his life Corbet may therefore have enjoyed an annual income of as much as £143.
Corbet’s career is sometimes difficult to disentangle from his father’s, especially in its earlier stages, but it was undoubtedly the father who, knighted by 1359, saw service abroad under Ralph, earl of Stafford, and served his successor, Earl Hugh, as chamberlain. It was he, too, who was appointed to royal commissions in Gloucestershire between 1359 and 1367 and in Suffolk between 1377 and 1398.6 Robert junior was knighted before July 1372, when he enlisted in the retinue of William de Ufford, earl of Suffolk, for military action overseas, and it was he who served in France under the command of Thomas of Woodstock from June to September 1378. (This connexion with Woodstock was evidently long maintained: in 1394 Woodstock’s wife, Eleanor de Bohun, duchess of Gloucester, sought and obtained from Richard II a pardon for Corbet’s part in causing the death of a man in Shropshire.) Corbet took out letters of attorney in October 1383 preparatory to a voyage to Calais.7 His public service began in Wiltshire in 1385, but during Richard II’s reign his appointments to commissions remained intermittent. Several of the family estates were held of the duchy of Lancaster, and this, coupled with Corbet’s connexion with Henry of Bolingbroke’s sister-in-law (Eleanor de Bohun), may have predisposed him to support Bolingbroke’s bid for the throne. Henry’s accession brought considerable changes to Corbet’s life. As early in the reign as 14 Oct. 1399 he was granted custody of Berkhampstead castle for life, with an annuity of 40 marks over and above the usual fees. He became a ‘King’s knight’, and among those who provided securities on his behalf that November were such prominent figures as Sir Humphrey Stafford I*, Sir William Sturmy* and the brothers William* and John Stourton I*. Corbet was summoned to the great council of August 1401 as one of the representatives from Oxfordshire. When the King and the leading members of his family and court met at Berkhampstead on 14 May 1402 to discuss arrangements for the marriage of Princess Philippa, Sir Robert, the constable of the castle, was naturally in attendance, and the household accounts of 1402-3 mention gifts of wine made to him by the King. Corbet’s new-found influence in Hertfordshire led to his election to two Parliaments for that county, in 1402 and 1404, although it was again as a representative of Oxfordshire that, in the meantime, he was summoned to another great council.8
Under Henry IV Corbet was twice made sheriff of Oxfordshire and Berkshire and once of Wiltshire. During his shrievalty of the former bailiwick in 1411 he was required, on pain of 200 marks, to keep the peace towards Sir Peter Bessels* (for reasons not known). Corbet continued to be a ‘King’s knight’ under Henry V. Since his father’s death his chief place of residence had been Assington in Suffolk, and he was a frequent guest at the house of another local landowner, Alice, widow of Sir Guy Bryan (son of Lord Bryan). In 1414, however, he spent long periods of time in Shropshire, where, as sheriff, he held the elections to the Parliament summoned to Leicester in April, a Parliament in which (despite the ordinance which prohibited the return of sheriffs) he himself represented Suffolk. It was during this assembly that the attention of the King and council was drawn to the excessive lawlessness and violence endemic in Shropshire and the marches, and when as a result the King’s bench held sessions at Shrewsbury that summer, Corbet, as sheriff, was responsible for arraying juries and obtaining indictments of such alleged miscreants as his namesake, Robert Corbet* of Moreton Corbet. Because of his high costs and expenses at Shrewsbury at this time he was awarded £50 9s.7d., and furthermore discharged £40 owing on his account. Corbet again conducted the elections at Shrewsbury in the autumn of 1414, he himself once more being returned for Suffolk.9
Corbet did not often act as a feoffee-to-uses, but those whom he did serve in this capacity were mostly men of influence in the government, such as Henry IV’s chamberlain and the steward of Henry V’s household, Sir Thomas Erpingham, or of high rank, such as Edward, earl of March. Indeed, in 1415 he acted for the latter as trustee of estates in 13 counties and the marches of Wales.10
Corbet died on 5 July 1417, leaving as heir to the family estates his daughter (probably by his second wife), Sibyl, wife of John Greville* of Sezincote, Gloucestershire. After Greville’s death without issue in 1444, they were to pass to the son of Sir Robert’s half-brother, Sir Guy Corbet.