CUMBERWORTH, Thomas (d.1451), of Somerby and Stain, Lincs. and Argam, Yorks.
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Family and Education
J.p. Lincs. (Lindsey) 16 Jan. 1414-Feb. 1416, 27 Feb. 1419-d.
Sheriff, Lincs. 1 Dec. 1415-30 Nov. 1416, 5 Nov. 1430-26 Nov. 1431.
Commr. of inquiry, Lincs. Feb. 1416 (concealments),2 Northants., Leics., Warws., Notts., Derbys., Lincs., Rutland July 1434 (concealments), Lincs. Feb. 1438 (customs evasions), Feb. 1448 (concealments); to make arrests Sept. 1416, Aug. 1433; of array (Lindsey and Kesteven) Apr. 1418, (Lindsey) Mar. 1419, Jan. 1436; sewers June 1418, Nov. 1432, Nov. 1441, Mar. 1446, July 1448; to raise royal loans Nov. 1419, May 1428, Mar. 1430, Mar. 1431, Feb. 1436, Mar. 1439, Nov. 1440, Mar. 1442, Sept. 1449; confiscate grain intended for export July 1429; muster men at Sandwich July 1436; distribute a tax rebate, Lincs. (as a recently elected shire knight) May 1437; treat for the payment of a subsidy Feb. 1441; of oyer and terminer May 1448 (crimes of Walter Tailboys†).
Collector of a royal loan, Lincs. (Lindsey) Jan. 1420; assessor of a tax Jan. 1436; collector of a tax Aug. 1450.
Cumberworth succeeded to the family estates at Theddlethorpe, Stain and Somerby in or just before July 1405, being then preoccupied with the task of executing his father’s will. In it, he had been offered preference over any other persons wishing to purchase Robert’s effects, but we do not know if he took advantage of this opportunity. He certainly spent some time dealing with the Exchequer officials who were concerned about his father’s failure to appear on a royal commission, and was duly awarded a writ of supersedeas to halt their proceedings. Not much is known about him before this date, although he had by then twice acted as a mainpernor in Chancery, once in August 1401 and again in February 1405. He must, however, have still been comparatively young, for his involvement in the county community remained limited for several years. In the autumn of 1406 he was made a trustee of land in Beesby and two years later he witnessed a local property transaction, but otherwise he had little to do with the affairs of his neighbours. Yet he was not without influential friends, as can be seen from a settlement made by him of the manor of Somerby in April 1410, when he called upon Robert, Lord Willoughby of Eresby, and Sir Robert Hilton* (to whom he was related by marriage) to be his feoffees.3 His appointment as a j.p. in Lindsey was followed, three months later, by his return to the first Parliament of 1414, and from this date onwards his administrative career flourished. At some point before December 1422, he became custodian of Charles, duke of Orléans, who, having been captured at the battle of Agincourt, was still a prisoner of war in England. He had by then been made a knight of the body to the King, an honour probably conferred upon him at the time of Henry VI’s accession. His duties as the French prince’s gaoler were largely discharged at Bolingbroke castle in Lincolnshire, but from time to time Orleans was summoned to appear before the royal council, and the responsibility of conveying him to and from London also fell upon Cumberworth’s shoulders. His expenses of 400 marks a year together with an additional allowance for travel often lapsed into arrears; and when Sir John Cornwall replaced him as the duke’s custodian in December 1429, he was still owed at least £306. Not long afterwards, in the summer of 1430, he became guardian of another French prisoner, John, duke of Bourbon, who remained in his custody until the following May. Although orders were issued almost immediately for the payment of costs of £263 sustained by Sir Thomas during this period, he had recovered only £100 by 1435, when the deficit was allocated to him in instalments from crown rents due at the Exchequer. Of these, £16 a year was to come in the form of a reduction of the rent he paid for the manor of Bonby in Lincolnshire (which had been farmed out to him in July 1432 for an initial period of five years, but which he eventually held for life), so we may assume that he was at least able to recover part of the sum. Meanwhile, in February 1434, shortly after Bourbon’s death, Cumberworth was chosen to distribute his effects among the servants he had brought to England, which suggests that he had kept up a connexion with the ducal establishment after his official duties ceased.4
No doubt because of his preoccupation with these two distinguished captives, Cumberworth does not seem to have been particularly active in local government during the 1420s. He did, however, witness the electoral return for Lincolnshire to the Parliament of 1423; and he also attested a considerable number of local deeds, notably for Sir John Keighley and Lord Willoughby. His relations with Keighley were, however, somewhat strained as a result of a dispute between the knight and Walter Tailboys (another of his trustees) over land in Theddlethorpe. The quarrel went before arbitrators in February 1427, Sir Thomas offering joint securities of 1,000 marks as an earnest of Tailboy’s readiness to accept the award, and later being present when Keighley solemnly repudiated certain slanders of which he was found guilty. He had previously been involved in litigation of his own for the recovery of a debt of £10 13s.4d. from the vicar of Winksley in Yorkshire, but the case was abandoned because of the defendant’s failure to appear in court. The same fate overtook another lawsuit brought by him in about 1430 against a Yorkshire gentleman who owed him £10, and who likewise refused to answer successive writs of summons.5
Fortunately, in view of these unpaid debts and expenses, Cumberworth was a wealthy man with a landed income assessed in 1436 at £160 a year. Some of these revenues derived from the manor of Argam and its extensive appurtenances in the East Riding, which, on the death of his maternal grandfather, Sir William Ergum, in about 1403, had gone to his aunt, Gillian Aske. She evidently died without issue, since by 1432, at the latest, this property, together with the advowson of the local church, was in his hands. It was also from Sir William that Cumberworth inherited the Lincolnshire manor of Searby-cum-Owmby. Moreover, in addition to the land left to him by his father at the beginning of the century, he also owned estates at Burgh, Normanby, Scremby, Wainfleet, Clixby and Howsham, some of which may have come to him through marriage. All these properties were well stocked with swine and cattle, but it appears that Cumberworth derived most of his income from sheep farming. His will of 1451 contains bequests of well over 330 ewes and wethers, which represented the pick of his flock. This document also refers to a ‘place’ in London as well, but nothing more is known about his interests in the City.6 That Sir Thomas commanded an important position in Lincolnshire society is clear from the evidence which survives about him from his middle years. In March 1431, for example, while he was serving his second term as sheriff, he and others stood bail of £400 for the Lincoln merchant, Hamon Sutton*, who was then being sued for debt in the court of Chancery. Although he and his influential kinsmen, the Constables of Flamborough and Halsham were reputedly involved in a violent attack upon the late Sir Robert Hilton’s half-brother, Sir Godfrey*, in about 1432, and were even examined before royal commissioners of oyer and terminer, the incident in no way adversely affected his career. Two years later he became one of the custodians of the priory of Newstead on Ancholme which had been taken into the King’s hands because of its debts; and shortly afterwards the keepership of the alien priory of Winghale in Lincolnshire was awarded him for life by the Crown. In the spring of 1434 he was summoned to attend a meeting of the great council held in the Parliament chamber at Westminster. For some time he had been involved in the raising of royal loans in Lindsey, and it is thus hardly surprising that in February 1436 the government approached him personally for a contribution of 100 marks. Notwithstanding a grant just one year later of exemption from office-holding ‘in consideration of his weakness and great age’, he continued to serve as a j.p. and crown commissioner (not least to hold an inquiry into the misdeeds of his old friend, Walter Tailboys); and he even sat in one more Parliament.7
Cumberworth’s attention was, however, increasingly given over to works of piety, of which the most notable was the foundation of a chantry at Somerby church where he had already decided to be buried. The endowment was part of a wider scheme for improving the finances of the three churches of Somerby, Argam and Stain, upon which by royal letters patent of 1437 and 1438 he was permitted to settle revenues worth six marks a year. A chantry priest took up residence in the autumn of 1439, and five years later Sir Thomas obtained a licence enabling him to set aside another sum of six marks to support both the cantarist and a chaplain there. For the rest of his life he proved a more than generous patron, providing books, vestments, plate and other lavish gifts, which must have involved a considerable financial outlay.8Meanwhile, his connexion with Lord Willoughby remained as strong as ever: he still witnessed the latter’s deeds, and, in October 1439, he became a trustee of his estates in Suffolk. Another of his associates at this time was William, Lord Zouche, who likewise called upon him to witness property transactions. He was also friendly with Lionel, Lord Welles, and his son, Richard, who were both beneficiaries of his will and to whom he evidently lent money from time to time. Although comparatively little is known about their mutual relations, it seems likely that Cumberworth remained on close terms with the Constables throughout his life. Certainly, his nephew, Sir Robert Constable of Flamborough (who had also taken part in the attack on Sir Godfrey Hilton) held him in sufficient regard to make him supervisor of his will, which was proved in June 1441. Two actions for debt were brought by Cumberworth during his last years, but he was no more successful than he had been before, and sums totalling £24 were lost to him through the inefficiency of the royal courts. These cases, heard in about 1440 and 1447 respectively, disturbed what was otherwise a largely uneventful period in his life. A disagreement with his neighbour, (Sir) William Tirwhit* (whom he had previously assisted as a trustee, and who had performed a similar service for him) over rival claims to a watercourse at Bigby seems to have been settled fairly amicably at this time by John, Viscount Beaumont, whose interim award lasted until 1450, when Bishop Lumley of Lincoln helped them to achieve a permanent solution. Cumberworth must by then have been considerably advanced in years, although he was active enough to discharge the duties of a tax collector as late as August 1450, and it was not until the following February that, as his health began to fail, he finally drew up his will.9 This curious and revealing document required his executors to bury his ‘wrechid body ... in a chitte with-owte any kyste’ in the north aisle of Somerby church next to the tomb of his wife; and it went on to stipulate:
I will that my body ly still, my mowth opyn, vnhild, xxiiij oywrs, and after laid on bere with owtyn anything theropon to couer it bot a sheit and a black cloth with a white cross of cloth of gold: bot I wyl my kyste be made and stande by; and at my bereall gift it to hym that fillis my graue.10
Cumberworth’s contempt for funerary pomp was but one aspect of a deeply religious nature, which went far beyond the conventional piety of many of his contemporaries. As his will shows, he possessed a notable collection of relics (including ‘a peis of the peler that owere lorde was skowrged on’ and ‘a pais of the Roche that ouere lady mylk es in’) and devotional literature, although he was also the owner of a copy of The Canterbury Tales, which passed to Elizabeth Constable, the wife of his great-nephew. In addition to legacies of money well in excess of £300, he left munificient gifts to religious houses and churches throughout Lincolnshire. In keeping with his somewhat austere piety, the most favoured recipients were Carthusian monks both there and in London, but his largesse was widely distributed. Since he left no children he could afford to be particularly generous in this regard, yet his kinsfolk, the Constables, were certainly not forgotten, receiving quantities of jewellery, plate and other luxury goods, as well as the utensils and livestock from his various farms. He died on 22 Mar. 1451, leaving as his next heir his great-nephew, Sir Robert Constable† of Flamborough, whom he had previously made supervisor of his will.11
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. Lincoln Diocese Docs. (EETS, cxlix), 45-57; PRO List ‘Sheriffs’, 79.
- 2. CIMisc. vii. no. 518.
- 3. C139/143/29; CP25(1)144/152/25; Lincs. AO, 2ANC 3/13; CCR, 1399-1401, p. 415; 1401-5, p. 488; 1405-9, pp. 97-98; Reg. Repingdon (Lincoln Rec. Soc. lvii), 34-36.
- 4. E404/39/96, 310, 362, 40/152, 47/319; PPC, iii. 10, 79, 134; iv. 44, 51, 201; Add. Ch. 311; CFR, xvi. 93; CPR, 1429-36, p. 461; 1446-52, p. 86.
- 5. C219/13/2; CCR, 1419-22, p. 198; 1422-9, pp. 72, 267, 329; 1429-35, p. 110; 1435-41, p. 241; 1447-54, p. 44; CPR, 1422-9, p. 248; 1429-36, p. 92; Harl. Ch. 52 G8.
- 6. VCH Yorks. (E. Riding ), ii. 68; EHR, xlix. 635; Feudal Aids, iii. 257, 271, 284, 291, 303, 305, 344, 349, 350, 356; CCR, 1422-9, p. 376; CPR, 1422-9, pp. 456, 461; Lincoln Diocese Docs. 45-57.
- 7. CCR, 1429-35, pp. 112-13; CPR, 1429-36, pp. 275, 333; 1436-41, pp. 39, 557; PPC, iv. 212, 323, 327.
- 8. C143/148/15/16, 450/9; CPR, 1436-41, pp. 17, 18, 195, 231; 1441-6, pp. 227, 325; Lincs. AO, FL 3318.
- 9. CPR, 1436-41, pp. 327, 358; 1446-52, p. 94; CCR, 1435-41, pp. 191, 353; 1441-7, p. 475; Test. Ebor. ii. 80-81; Belvoir Castle deeds 1758-9, 3137.
- 10. Lincoln Diocese Docs. 45.
- 11. Ibid.; C139/143/29.