CRACKENTHORPE, Robert (d.1438), of Howgill, Westmld. and Skirwith, Cumb.
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Family and Education
Escheator, Cumb. and Westmld. 29 Nov. 1410-10 Dec. 1411, 23 Nov. 1419-16 Nov. 1420.
Dep. sheriff, Westmld. 19 Feb. 1421-16 Oct. or 14 Nov. 1423.
Commr. of inquiry, Westmld. Feb. 1422 (counterfeiting), Cumb., Northumb., Westmld., Yorks. Feb. 1431, Mar. 1432, July 1434 (evasion of customs), Westmld. Apr. 1431 (persons liable for taxation).
J.p. Westmld. 20 July 1424-d.
Assessor of taxes, Westmld. Jan. 1436.
Keeper of the west march towards Scotland 24 Nov. 1436.2
Family influence undoubtedly helped the young Robert Crackenthorpe to obtain the escheatorship of Cumberland and Westmorland in 1410, since his father, John, his elder brother William II, and his uncle William Crackenthorpe I*, had already established themselves as leading figures in the local community, sitting regularly in Parliament and holding a variety of government offices. Robert’s own election as a shire knight to the first Parliament of Henry V’s reign, in May 1413, also owed something to his father-in-law, (Sir) John Lancaster I, who witnessed the return. Two years later Robert represented the borough of Appleby (which had previously sent both his uncle and his brother to Parliament), but his three subsequent appearances in the Lower House were once again as a Member for Westmorland. He also took part in the county elections to the Parliaments of 1415, 1419 and 1420, so his involvement in regional politics throughout this period remained constant. We can be reasonably certain that Robert was a lawyer; and he may well have been either the ‘Crackenthorpe senior’ or ‘Crackenthorpe junior’ who are both listed as members of Lincoln’s Inn at some point before 1420. One of his colleagues there would have been Nicholas Stanshawe, whom, as deputy sheriff of Westmorland, he returned to Parliament for Appleby in 1421 (May and December) and 1422, while another, John Forster, also sat for the borough in 1422. For many years Robert enjoyed an amicable relationship with his powerful father-in-law. In January 1416, for example, he offered securities of £100 in Chancery on behalf of the latter’s kinsman, John Lancaster of Brampton, who had become embroiled in a violent dispute with William Blenkinsop*. His most important connexion at this time was, however, with John, Lord Clifford, the hereditary sheriff of Westmorland, who made him his deputy, in 1421, and evidently held him in some regard. After Clifford’s death in battle in the following year, his mother and his widow, the Lady Elizabeth, together named Robert as a mainpernor at the Exchequer when they took on the farm of the family estates, having already enlisted the support of John Crackenthorpe, one of their most loyal retainers. The long minority of Thomas, the next Lord Clifford, probably led Robert to seek other patrons; and in 1426 we find him acting as a surety again, on this occasion for Humphrey, earl of Stafford, and his kinsman, John Stafford, bishop of Bath and Wells, as custodians of the inheritance of Ralph Neville, the young earl of Westmorland. The earl’s age was a matter of some dispute, and in 1427 he petitioned Parliament for permission to settle his property in trust during the rest of his minority. Crackenthorpe was himself present in the House of Commons to urge the acceptance of this request, which named him as one of the two potential trustees. Towards the close of the first session, Westmorland obtained royal letters patent allowing him to proceed, although his agents were to pay a farm of £200 at the Exchequer in return for this concession.3
The last years of Robert’s life were soured by a series of bitter feuds, which led eventually to his death. The first, with his own father-in-law and the latter’s second wife (who appears herself to have belonged to the prolific Crackenthorpe clan), may have resulted from a series of entails made by Lancaster after his remarriage and the death of his only son. The provision of an unusually handsome jointure for Katherine Lancaster, in 1425, seemed bad enough, but (Sir) John’s decision to settle the reversionary interest upon his more distant heirs male at the expense of his own daughters proved an even worse blow to Crackenthorpe, whose wife was thus deprived of an impressive inheritance in Westmorland and Cumberland. Although Lancaster seems to have earmarked two manors in Lancashire for his four daughters, a good deal of ill-feeling still remained; and in 1431 he agreed to settle his manor of Skirwith in Cumberland upon the Crackenthorpes alone. Far from bringing about a reconciliation, his gift appears to have precipitated a worse quarrel. At some point over the next three years, Crackenthorpe lodged an appeal in Chancery, complaining that various members of the Lancaster and Thornburgh families had disrupted a session of the peace which he and his fellow justices had been holding at Appleby, and had then attempted to murder him with a gang of armed men as he made his way home. Although he accused (Sir) John and his wife of planning the attack because they feared an official inquiry into their ‘graundes et outragiouses riotes, assembles, routes, debates et affraies’, the real cause of the feud may well have been far more personal. At all events, he was able to substantiate the charges with written depositions from two of his colleagues on the Westmorland bench, Sir Thomas Parr† and Ralph, earl of Westmorland, his patron. Powerless in the face of such influential opposition, Lancaster fell ill and died, leaving his widow and an unruly band of kinsmen to pursue the vendetta. Notwithstanding the arrangements made by her late father, Elizabeth Crackenthorpe then managed to gain possession of his manor of Howgill and other land at Milburn in Westmorland, which she promptly settled upon feoffees. She also entered some of the property which had belonged to him in Rydal and Deepdale, thus prompting two of his relatives to destroy crops and buildings worth an estimated £100. Perhaps in retaliation, Crackenthorpe confronted Roland Thornburgh, one of the ringleaders, in person at Brampton on 24 Aug. 1436, and was killed by him and his supporters. Although indicted for the murder and other crimes, Roland eventually obtained a royal pardon along with other members of his family, who had, meanwhile, kept up the offensive against Crackenthorpe’s widow. In March 1439 a royal commission (which included her brother-in-law, William Crackenthorpe II) was appointed to investigate her complaints of continuous harassment and intimidation.4
Robert Crackenthorpe left at least two sons, the elder of whom, John, was said to be about 18 years old when his father died. We do not know what land he inherited, since Crackenthorpe had taken the wise precaution of placing all his estates in trust. On his mother’s death, in 1462, John succeeded to the share of the Lancaster estates which had remained securely in her hands despite all attempts to evict her. Interestingly enough, John’s younger brother, Robert, himself took up arms against the Thornburgh clan, so the quarrel dragged on for another generation.5