DAGWORTH, Sir Nicholas (d.1402), of Blickling, Norf.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Sept. 1397

Family and Education

prob. yr. s. of Nicholas Dagworth (d.1351) of Dagworth, Suff. and Bradwell, Essex, and nephew of Thomas, Lord Dagworth.1 m. bef. July 1395, Eleanor (c.1377-28 Dec. 1432), er. da. of Sir Walter Rossall of Rossall nr. Shrewsbury, Salop, and Hunmanby, Yorks. by his w. Beatrice, and event. coh. of her bro. Sir John Rossall (d.1403), wid. of John Inglefield, s.p. Kntd. bef. Dec. 1365.

Offices Held

Capt. of Flavigny, Burgundy 1359-c. Mar. 1360.

Constable of Norham castle and steward, sheriff, escheator and c.j. of the episcopal liberty of Norhamshire and Islandshire, Northumb. by appointment of Bp. Hatfield of Durham, 1370-July 1373.2

Commr. of oyer and terminer, Ire. Nov. 1376, Oct. 1377; to survey castles and fortifications in the marches of Calais Nov. 1388;3 of inquiry, Norf. Dec. 1392, Feb. 1393 (homicide); to determine an appeal against a judgement in the constable’s ct. Dec. 1394.

Surveyor of crown lands, Ire. 22 Dec. 1376, 7 Oct. 377-Nov. 1378.

Ambassador to treat with Pope Urbam VI, with Wladislas, King of the Romans, and with rulers of Italian states 22 May 1381-5 Aug. 1382; with Charles of Durazzo, King of Naples 15 Apr. 1382; in Rome 7 May 1385-24 Mar. 1387; in France and Flanders 12 Dec. 1388-13 July 1389; in Scorland 14 July-12 Sept. 1389, 30 Dec. 1389-7 Feb. 1390.


The Dagworths of Suffolk and Essex held the office of usher of the Exchequer for three generations before they sold it in 1358. Besides Dagworth itself and lands at Thrandeston in Suffolk, they held manors at Bradwell and Elmdon in Essex and property at Gissing in Norfolk. It seems likely that the subject of this biography was the younger brother of Sir John Dagworth, who died in 1360 leaving as heir to these estates his infant daughter, Margaret. Several of the family holdings were retained by Sir John’s widow, Thomasina, who subsequently married William, Lord Furnival, and lived on until 1409; but as the male heir of the Dagworths, Sir Nicholas took possession of the property at Gissing and also of the manor of Bradwell, which last he was to sell in 1379 to Thomas Bataill* of Essex. There was evidently some question as to Dagworth’s title to Bradwell, for it was later seized by the royal escheator, and he himself was summoned to appear before the Parliament of 1382 (Oct.) to provide evidence so that Bataill might recover it from the Crown.4 Meanwhile, in 1368 Dagworth had purchased the reversion of a manor at Blickling in Norfolk, and it was there that he built himself a house and set up residence. He may also have acquired property in Billingford.5 But Dagworth’s standing in the community of the shire was founded less upon his landed acquisitions than on his reputation as a soldier and diplomat in the service of Edward III and Richard II, and, indeed, before 1390 he was more often overseas than at home.

Dagworth’s career probably began in the retinue of his presumed uncle Thomas, Lord Dagworth, one of the most famous military commanders of his day, who had exalted his family through marriage to a grand daughter of Edward I — Eleanor, daughter of Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Essex, and widow of James, earl of Ormond. Nicholas may well have been that nephew of Thomas who was serving with him in Brittany in 1346. If so, he probably took part in the pitched battles in which his uncle as lieutenant of Brittany twice defeated Charles de Blois, the pretender to the dukedom, and remained there until Thomas was treacherously slain in 1350. Dagworth went on to serve in Gascony under the Black Prince in the years 1355-7, and as a member of Edward III’s army in France in 1359-60. During the latter campaign and when captain of Flavigny in Burgundy, he, along with no more than 13 others, emerged victorious from a passage of arms with a greatly superior French force. Knighted not long afterwards, he returned to Gascony and in December 1365 he was associated with Sir William Elmham* and other leaders of English companies which joined the French-sponsored expedition into Spain to put Henry of Trastamara on the Castilian throne. In the following February letters of credence for the bishop of Chichester, who was sent as nuncio by Urban V to make peace between the kings of Aragon and Castile, were directed to Dagworth as one of three commanders of the English army there. Later that same year (1366) Dagworth led into battle a company which defeated the French forces led by the dukes of Orleans and Anjou, taking 500 of them captive. It is not known when he left France, but some time in 1370 he was given command of the garrison of Norham castle in the north of England, where he held several offices by appointment of the bishop of Durham.6

On 29 Sept. 1373 Edward III granted Dagworth a life annuity of 100 marks, backdated two years. In the following February he was sent overseas on ‘secret business’ of the King — the first of a number of diplomatic missions on which he was to be employed. Initially, Dagworth’s sphere of interest was Ireland: on 23 July 1375 he left London for a five-month visit to the province, his brief being to act as the King’s representative in discussions with the clergy, nobles and commons assembled at a Parliament at Kilkenny as to how they might bear a reasonable share of the expenses of the government and defence of their country. After his departure in December a crisis was precipitated when the governor, Sir William Windsor, issued writs requiring the Irish to send representatives to appear before Edward III in England with power to grant taxation, and many communities refused to comply. The situation in Ireland became one of the subjects for debate in the Good Parliament of 1376. Dagworth was at Westminster at that time; he stood bail for the release from the Tower of the merchants John Pecche† of London and William Ellis† of Great Yarmouth, both of whom had been impeached by the Commons. In December it was decided that Dagworth should return to Ireland with special judicial powers to bring to trial all rebels there; he was to take with him a ‘long roll’ containing articles of grievance of the Irish and records of the indictments of Sir William Windsor. At the same time he was appointed as sole surveyor of crown lands in the province for the purpose of discovering concealments of the King’s rights and profits. Although Dagworth received an advance at the Exchequer for this important mission, it was never accomplished, for Alice Perrers (mistress of Edward III and possibly already the wife of Windsor) believing him to be Windsor’s enemy and unfit to be his judge, obtained his recall. This intrigue was one of the two counts for which Alice was to be impeached in Richard II’s first Parliament, that of October 1377.7

Dagworth himself was not present in Parliament to give evidence against Alice Perrers, for the new government had already re-appointed him as surveyor of crown estates in Ireland and instructed him to hold sessions of oyer and terminer there, similar in scope to those of the previous year. He had special authority to inquire into all aspects of the administration of the province and into the conduct and condition of the English army. Absent from England from 1 Dec. 1377 until 24 Nov. 1378, during that period he exercised wide powers and exerted a decisive influence in the King’s Council in Ireland.8 The annuity granted to Dagworth by Edward III was confirmed by the latter’s successor in August 1379. Three months later he was instructed to organize shipping for the passage of Lord Arundel’s army to Brittany, but if he himself took part in that ill-fated expedition it was to be his last military service. From then on his assignments were all in the sphere of diplomacy. In May 1381 he was appointed to treat with Urban VI at Rome, specifically with regard to the policy to be adopted against schismatics, and also, on his way through Germany and Italy, to negotiate for treaties of friendship with King Wladislas and the rulers of the Italian states. His main task was to secure a papal blessing for the Anglo-Imperial alliance, thereby turning the full force of Urban’s supporters against France. During his stay overseas, which lasted until August 1382, Dagworth also entered into negotiations with the King of Naples.9 In January 1384 responsibility for payment of Dagworth’s annuity was transferred from the Exchequer to the bailiffs of Cambridge, as charged on the fee farm of their town, a change no doubt made for his own convenience. On 20 Feb. he again left England, this time to visit Aquitaine in order to proclaim and enforce the truce recently concluded with France; he returned on 16 June. Shortly afterwards he was sent to Bury St. Edmunds to receive from the townsmen, in the King’s name, recognizances in £10,000 as guarantee against any recurrence of the insurrection of 1381. But Dagworth was never at home for long: he departed for Rome once more in May 1385 and in effect became permanent English ambassador at the Roman Curia, with powers to negotiate on the King’s behalf with the Pope, the Italian cities and the king of Naples. His presence in Italy coincided with a critical period in Italian affairs, for Pope Urban had alienated nearly all of his secular supporters, and his long employment at Rome (he did not return home until March 1387) suggests that he was a diplomat of considerable perseverance and tact. One of the tasks assigned to him by Richard II was to set in motion the process for the canonization of Edward II. Dagworth had undergone a rise in status, for whereas hitherto he had been paid at the rate of 20s. per day when on missions overseas, during this second embassy to Rome he received 25s.daily.10

Unfortunately for Dagworth, his next sojourn at home coincided with the moves of the Lords Appellant against Richard II’s favourites. As a knight of the King’s chamber, he was among those arrested early in 1388 and, after confinement in Rochester castle from 4 Jan., he was moved to the Tower on 24 Feb. to await trial before the Merciless Parliament. In the event, the Appellants decided that they could not dispense with the professional skill of such an experienced diplomat: on 30 May Dagworth was released on bail, subject to an appearance before the next Parliament; and in November he was named among the ambassadors who were to treat for a final peace with France. While overseas on this particular mission (which lasted until July 1389) Dagworth also conducted a survey of the fortifications at Calais. From these negotiations emerged the truce of Leulinghen, and having been instructed to obtain the oath of Robert II of Scotland for its observance, Dagworth then escorted the French ambassadors there. This task took from then until September, although on his return to London he was given by the Council, which was now back under the King’s control, a special reward of £100 over and above the customary allowances. Dagworth was to ride back to Scotland in December following, at the head of a commission authorized to treat for compensation for violations of an earlier truce and to receive an instalment of the long outstanding ransom of David II (who had died in 1370).11

Following this final mission Dagworth retired to Blickling, and during the last years of his life his only royal service of note was as a member of a tribunal to determine an appeal in the court of chivalry. It was not until the 1390s that he married, his choice falling on Eleanor Rossall, a lady of the royal household many years younger than himself, to whom in July 1395 the King granted an annuity of £40 for life. Dagworth was in London on 6 Dec. 1396 when, believing himself to be at the point of death, he drew up his will. He asked to be buried in St. Benet’s church, Paul’s wharf, and left a third part of his goods to his wife and the remainder to be distributed among his servants and in works of charity. In the event, he was to live on for five more years, yet clearly it was an aged, and probably an infirm, man who was elected to Parliament for the first and only time in the autumn of 1397. Every aspect of Dagworth’s career suggests that in the Commons he would have sympathized with Richard II in his acts of vengeance against the Appellants of 1388, especially as he himself had suffered imprisonment and a possible threat of execution at their hands. Richard’s appreciation of his support was perhaps demonstrated between the two sessions of the Parliament, when orders were directed to the bailiffs of Cambridge to pay arrears of his annuity. Furthermore, on 21 Mar. 1399, Dagworth, then described as a ‘King’s knight’, was granted a tun of wine to be taken annually from the prise of wines at Bishop’s Lynn.12

Henry IV must have considered Dagworth to be worth conciliating, for on 23 Oct. 1399 he confirmed his annuity. This may have been because Sir Nicholas’s wife had kept her position at Court, and, indeed, had found favour with the new King: her annuity, too, was confirmed, and in addition on 15 Nov. she was granted for life the manors of Mansfield and Linby (Nottinghamshire), which were worth as much as 90 marks a year. Dagworth was among the knights and esquires of Norfolk summoned to attend the great council of August 1401, but this was his last official appearance. He died on 2 Jan. 1402 and was buried in the church at Blickling, where a fine brass to his memory still remains. The will he had made five years earlier was proved on 13 Feb.13Dagworth left no issue. His widow Eleanor sold his manors in Norfolk, only to inherit, after her brother’s death at the battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, a half-share in the Rossall estates. In about 1409 she married (Sir) John Mortimer of Hatfield (Hertfordshire), who was to be executed for treason in 1424. She outlived Dagworth by more than 30 years, eventually dying in 1432.14

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. In some accounts (e.g. CP, iv. 27-31; Norf. Arch. xxxiv. 111-18), he is given as s. of Thomas, Lord Dagworth, by a marriage supposedly contracted before Dagworth’s match with the countess of Ormond, but there is no evidence to support this assumption.
  • 2. DKR, xxxii. 273; CPR, 1381-5, p. 12; Arch. Aeliana (ser. 4), xxi. 81.
  • 3. C76/73 m. 7.
  • 4. CP, v. 479, 588-9; CIPM, ix. 638; xi. 493; xii. 350; CCR, 1389-92, p. 533; RP, iii. 134; P. Morant, Essex, ii. 155; F. Blomefield, Norf. i. 175.
  • 5. Blomefield, v. 320; vi. 384-5.
  • 6. CPR, 1345-8, p. 59; H.J. Hewitt, Black Prince’s Exped. 201; C76/48 m. 3; CPL, iv. 21; H. Knighton, Chron. ed. Lumby, ii. 121.
  • 7. CPR, 1370-4, p. 374; 1374-7, pp. 117, 120, 125, 388, 394; C76/57 m. 22; E101/317/3; G.A. Holmes, Good Parliament, 96-97; CCR, 1374-7, pp. 368, 437-8, 469; E403/461 m. 22; RP, iii. 12-14. For Dagworth’s activities in Ireland see M.V. Clarke, ‘William of Windsor in Ireland’, 14th Century Studies ed. Sutherland and McKisack.
  • 8. Issues ed. Devon, 205; CCR, 1377-81, p. 26; E364/13 m. D.
  • 9. CPR, 1377-81, p. 384; Foedera ed. Rymer (Hague edn.), iv. 73; Dip. Corresp. Ric. II (Cam. Soc. ser. 3, xlviii), 16; C76/65 mm. 2, 4, 8, 66 m. 5; E101/318/39.
  • 10. CPR, 1381-5, pp. 370, 498; C76/68 m. 7, 69 mm. 5, 6, 8; E101/319/10; Dip. Corresp. 48, 203, 210; E364/21 m. F.
  • 11. CCR, 1385-9, pp. 382, 394-5, 398; C76/73 mm. 2, 9, 10; E101/319/38; Rot. Scot ed. Macpherson etc. ii. 98-99, 101-2; PPC, i. 12a; E364/25 m. B.
  • 12. CPR, 1391-6, p. 593; 1396-9, p. 492; Lambeth Pal. Lib. Reg. Arundel, i. f. 189; CCR, 1396-9, p. 190.
  • 13. CPR, 1399-1401, pp. 35, 47, 116, 393, 479, 537; PPC, i. 163; Mon. Brasses ed. Mill Stephenson, 323.
  • 14. CCR, 1405-9, pp. 279, 387; 1413-19, p. 356; C139/58/25.