COVENTRE, William II, of Denford, Berks.
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Family and Education
m. bef. Nov. 1410, Margaret, 1s. prob. 2da.1
Keeper of the rolls, KB by Nov. 1395-bef. 1402.
Escheator, Hants and Wilts. 1 Dec. 1405-9 Nov. 1406, Oxon. and Berks. 10 Dec. 1411-3 Nov. 1412.
Commr. of inquiry, Wilts. Nov. 1406 (wastes, Dauntsey estates), general Mar. 1408 (concealments).
Coventre may have been a native of Dorset; at any rate in the early years of his career he was occasionally described as being of that county. When first recorded, in November 1395, he was already holding the office of keeper of the rolls of the King’s bench, as such being then directed to requisition carts for the carriage of the rolls from Westminster to the places where the court intended to sit. Presumably, he travelled with the judges to Nottingham in the Hilary term of 1396, and then on to Lincoln. The precise duration of his term as keeper is not recorded, since no special fee was attached to the office, but it seems very likely that he was the immediate successor of the Dorset lawyer Robert Veel*; and he also followed Veel’s precedent by representing in Parliament the impoverished borough of Melcombe Regis (Veel having done so while keeper of the rolls in 1393 and 1394). While attending on the King’s bench, Coventre forged (and was afterwards to maintain) close links both with another of his predecessors as keeper — William Ekerdon — and with the then chief justice, Sir Walter Clopton. Indeed, the latter was later to name him as his executor.2
A few months before Coventre’s only election to Parliament, in 1397, Chief Justice Clopton had assisted him to complete the purchase of the manor of Titcomb in Kintbury, Berkshire, together with the reversion of that of nearby Hartridge, and it was in this locality that Coventre subsequently built up his landed possessions. He lived mainly at Denford (probably holding the manor there as a tenant of the Lords Lovell), and in 1404 he purchased the manor of Avington from Richard, Lord Strange of Knockin, thereafter often being the patron of Avington church. Close to Denford, yet across the county boundary in Wiltshire, he bought ‘Dun Mill’ by Hungerford in 1406; and two years later he made a settlement of a number of other properties also straddling the border, at Shalbourne, Bagshot and Charlton. It seems likely that he owned the manor in Shalbourne afterwards known as ‘Coventries’. In 1412 Coventre’s holdings at Titcomb and Avington were said to be worth 20 marks a year, but no record survives of the value of his possessions in Wiltshire, which by then included property at Salisbury (a house bought in 1403 from Thomas Cole II* of Melcombe Regis, and 12 other messuages held jointly with his wife), and the manor of Salterton, acquired from Sir Edward Butler.3
During Henry IV’s reign Coventre ran a busy and evidently successful legal practice. Described either as ‘of Dorset’ or ‘of Berkshire’ he is recorded as acting for members of the gentry of both counties, and for those of Wiltshire as well, the most important of his clients being the wealthy Sir Humphrey Stafford I* of Southwick (whom he assisted from 1402 as a feoffee of estates in Somerset), and Thomas, Lord Berkeley (whom he helped in 1404 to conduct the sale to William Loveney* of the manor of Great Wenden, Essex). Also in 1404 Coventre took possession from (Sir) Thomas Stawell* of the manor of Shaw-cum-Donnington, Berkshire, only to transfer it almost immediately to Winchester college; and for several years from 1405 he served as a trustee of the estates of Thomas Calston* of Littlecote. In 1406 he was called upon by John Roger I* of Bridport, a prosperous merchant, to advise in his purchase of a number of properties in Somerset and Dorset, including Bryanston, which was to become Roger’s seat; indeed, the acquisition of Bryanston involved Coventre in complicated financial dealings with the vendors: Maud, dowager countess of Salisbury, and her son, Sir Alan Buxhall.4
The year 1408 found Coventre greatly in demand. In February he provided guarantees that Sir Humphrey Stafford II* (son of the older Sir Humphrey) would make due payment to the Crown of 400 marks for custody of the Hugford estates, and a few months later he took on the trusteeship of certain of Stafford’s manors in Somerset; in July he was associated with Lord Berkeley and Sir Walter Hungerford* in transactions concerning certain estates in Berkshire, apparently being acquired for Sir William Hankford, c.j.c.p.; and in November he stood surety at the Exchequer for Maud, Lady Lovell.5 The same year also saw Coventre appointed to a royal commission of especial importance: headed by Sir Humphrey Stafford I, it was intended to make a thorough investigation in 11 southern counties into concealments of royal revenues. Coventre had earlier served as escheator of Hampshire and Wiltshire, and before the end of Henry IV’s reign was to be appointed to the same office in Oxfordshire and Berkshire. There are also indications of direct royal favour. Before 1406 he had formed a syndicate, including Simon Haselton of Newbury, to purchase for his own use the manor of Haslewick (adjoining Titcomb); and although Haselton was hanged for clipping coin, and the property declared forfeit to the Crown as a consequence, the King on 18 May 1409, in consideration of Coventre’s right to Haslewick (and — it must be said — ‘for a certain sum of gold paid in his chamber’), granted the manor to him and his heirs. Furthermore, on the very same day Coventre and Laurence Hampton were assigned at the Exchequer custody of the estates in Middlesex and London lately held by James Northampton*, together with the marriage of Northampton’s young heir (for which latter they paid 200 marks).6
The close of Henry IV’s reign coincided with a sharp decline in Coventre’s fortunes, and seemingly also with the collapse of his legal practice. He received no further appointments to royal commissions or offices; his association with the Staffords came to an abrupt end; and no work of any significance in the way of enfeoffments-to-uses was offered to him for many years. As a consequence of severe financial difficulties, he was forced to sell Titcomb and Haslewick to John Ontylis in May 1413, entering into recognizances in £240 as a guarantee that Ontylis would not be troubled in his possession. The following winter he faced excommunication for failing to pay to the papal collector the procurations due from him as farmer of the alien priory of Ogbourne St. George; and, heavily in debt, on several subsequent occasions he was outlawed for non-appearance in the lawcourts to answer his creditors. Royal pardons were issued to him in February 1421, July 1422 and July 1428 for outlawries arising from suits for debts amounting to £142.7 Coventre did not recover from these difficulties until 1429. But then, and most surprisingly, he was recorded in association with two of the most important figures in the country: he was made a feoffee for the settlement of property in Hungerford on Walter, Lord Hungerford, then treasurer of the Exchequer; and in July 1430, when making a final appearance in the Exchequer as a mainpernor, it was for none other than John, duke of Bedford, securing in the latter’s absence custody of an estate in Dorset. It may be that Coventre’s connexion with Bedford was of long standing, for the duke had taken possession of the estates of Ogbourne St. George priory in 1404 and had presumably been responsible for Coventre’s appointment as farmer there before 1413.8
Not recorded after 1430, Coventre was succeeded in his Berkshire properties by his son, Robert, in about 1450.9
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. Wilts. Feet of Fines (Wilts. Rec. Soc. xli), 312; CCR, 1447-54, pp. 511-12.
- 2. CPR, 1391-6, p. 642; Sel. Cases King’s Bench (Selden Soc. lxxxviii), p. xviii; CCR, 1405-9, p. 252.
- 3. VCH Berks. iv. 159, 209, 213, 232; Wilts. Feet of Fines, 235, 255, 286, 312; CPR, 1396-9, pp. 106, 163; CCR, 1402-5, pp. 473, 482, 487, 493; 1405-9, p. 118; Feudal Aids, vi. 401; Reg. Hallum (Canterbury and York Soc. lxxii), 91, 125, 146, 678.
- 4. CFR, xii. 105; CCR, 1399-1402, p. 486; 1402-5, pp. 308, 311, 314; 1405-9, pp. 90, 153, 243-4, 247; 1413-19, p. 291; CPR, 1401-5, pp. 35, 345, 473; Som. Feet of Fines (Som. Rec. Soc. xxii), 20, 167; CAD, i. C1228; ii. C2492.
- 5. CPR, 1405-8, p. 471; 1408-13, p. 52; CAD, i. B1259; ii. B3783; Som. Feet of Fines, 30; CCR, 1405-9, p. 492; 1422-9, pp. 110-11; CFR, xiii. 130.
- 6. CPR, 1405-8, p. 306; 1408-13, pp. 89, 107; CFR, xiii. 149.
- 7. CCR, 1413-19, pp. 69, 72; CPR, 1416-22, pp. 294, 433; 1422-9, p. 443; Reg. Hallum, 1021.
- 8. CCR, 1429-35, p. 51; CFR, xv. 326.
- 9. CCR, 1447-54, pp. 511-12; CAD, vi. C6091; C1/24/153-5.