DENNY, Sir Robert (d.1419), of London and Barham in Linton, Cambs.
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Family and Education
s. of Geoffrey Denny (d.1375), citizen and fishmonger of London by his 1st w. Cecily, da. of Hugh Waltham (d.1334/5) of London and Juliana, da. of Nicholas Pycot, citizen and mercer; nephew and event. h. of Walter Waltham (d.1349), fishmonger. m. by Mich. 1384, Amy or Anne (d.c.1423),1 wid. of John Furneaux of Middle Harling, Norf. and Barham, 1s. Kntd. bef. Mar. 1387.
Commr. of arrest, Cambs. Sept. 1397; inquiry, Cambs., Essex, Norf., Suff. Sept., Dec. 1397 (whereabouts of forfeited goods); to determine an appeal from the admiral’s ct. Apr. 1403.
Lt. of John, duke of Bedford, constable of England bef. Feb. 1418.
Denny came from a family of London fishmongers of comparatively modest means. He may have been of age by July 1375 when named as co-executor with his stepmother of his father’s will and as heir to certain properties situated for the most part in the parish of St. Andrew Undershaft. However, it was the deaths of a number of relations on his mother’s side which enabled him to acquire more substantial holdings in the City. Thus, in 1381, the property which had once belonged to his uncle, Walter Waltham, including shops and tenements in the parishes of St. Magnus the Martyr, St. Dionisius Backchurch and All Hallows Staining, came into his possession, while in 1396 and 1397 he acquired even more of the estate built up long before by his maternal grandfather, Hugh Waltham, sometime town clerk of London, situated in the parishes of St. James Garlickhithe and St. Katherine. Certain of Denny’s tenements were held on leases from St. Mary Graces abbey or from the priory of St. John Baptist, Haliwell, and he himself rented them out to sub-tenants. A dispute with one of the latter, a chandler named Thomas Beaumond, over the annual payment of a pottle of oil and a bushel of peas, was to come before the court of the mayor and aldermen in 1414, judgement being given in the landlord’s favour. Two years earlier the income which Denny derived from his city holdings had been estimated at £24 4s.7½d. a year, for the purposes of taxation.2
Denny’s marriage to the widow of a country gentleman enabled him to break away from the family background in trade and himself join the ranks of landed knights and esquires. Amy Furneaux held for life the Cambridgeshire manor of Barham as her jointure by settlement made by her former husband, as well as a third part of the manor and advowson of Middle Harling in Norfolk as her dower portion. Denny seems to have taken a personal interest in the Cambridgeshire property only until about 1399; by that date he and his wife had transferred their life tenancy of Barham to John Fordham, bishop of Ely.3Meanwhile, Denny had embarked on a career as a soldier and attained knighthood before March 1387, when he enlisted, as one of a contingent from East Anglia, in the naval force commanded by the admiral, Richard, earl of Arundel. By 1389 he had formed a friendship with Sir Thomas Gerberge*, steward of the estates of Edmund of Langley, duke of York, and both of them provided bail set at £200 for the release from the Tower of London of one Adam Friday, esquire, charged with misprisions in connexion with the church at Walsoken, Norfolk. This was but one of the connexions which linked Denny more closely to the gentry of Norfolk and Suffolk than to his fellow knights of Cambridgeshire, yet it was the latter county, with whose community he had fewer dealings, which twice returned him to Parliament. Denny seems to have been a man of aggressive disposition, prone to violent outbursts on occasion. In March 1392 Bishop Fordham granted him absolution for having assaulted a priest, though he required him to undertake a suitable penance. Having been retained by Richard II for service in Ireland on the King’s first expedition to the province, he was absent from home from September 1394 until April 1395.4 Yet although he established good relations with Richard’s chief butler, Thomas Brounflete, whom he named among the trustees of his London property a year later, his spell in royal service did not lead to a particularly close attachment to the Court.
Indeed, Denny’s quarrel with the Clipstons of Bartlow very nearly landed him in serious trouble with Richard II’s council during the months of political crisis in 1397. It all began quite innocuously in September when Sir Robert was appointed to royal commissions to arrest William and Thomas Clipston and their accomplice, John Faunesson, ‘clerk of the Wolde’, and to find by local inquiry the whereabouts of their goods and chattels, which were then to be confiscated. But the zeal with which he carried out the charge, threatening the lives of the accused men ‘pour auncien ire et malice quil a eux avoit’ and wantonly destroying some of their property, allegedly led to ‘insurrections and unlawful confederacies’ in both Cambridgeshire and Essex. The outraged William Clipston and his followers presented a number of bills against Denny before the King, and in November none other than Richard’s trusted councillor, Sir John Bussy*, was appointed to investigate the affair. In the event Bussy discovered no evidence of rioting, and even though Denny’s culpability on other counts as alleged in the bills was found proven, he was nevertheless named on another commission set up a month later to seize the Clipstons’ possessions. It was doubtless as a response to these local troubles, rather than because his loyalty to King Richard was suspect, that Denny saw fit to purchase a royal pardon in June 1398. His feud with William Clipston was by no means at an end: in 1404 he was to bring a suit against the 12 members of the jury which had given a verdict for Clipston in a cause of trespass heard in the King’s bench, alleging that they had taken bribes from his opponent; and three years later his son, Thomas, was to lay in ambush for Clipston and kill him by striking him on the head with his sword. (The young man obtained a pardon in 1409.)5
Denny had continued his association with the duke of York’s retainers, Sir Thomas Gerberge and Sir Thomas Genney: all three provided securities in May 1398 on behalf of certain men required to appear before the Council, and two months later Denny and Gerberge appeared together as mainpernors in Chancery for a man from Surrey being sued by the prior of Bermondsey. From that time onwards Denny gradually switched his interests to the south-east, and came to be increasingly associated with men of those parts, such as Sir William Burcester* (for whom he stood surety in 1400). Thus, in 1401 he offered support to two chaplains engaged in a dispute with the master of the hospital of St. Thomas the Martyr in Southwark, and in later years he was occasionally described as being ‘of Surrey’.6 Denny’s move was evidently prompted by the death in 1401 of a London fishmonger named Thomas Stanmere alias Denny, who would seem to have been his half-brother. At all events, he acquired Stanmere’s manor of Stockwell in Lambeth and his other properties at Camberwell and Dulwich, which he placed in the hands of trustees, including friends from Suffolk like Gerberge and Sir William Bardwell*. Later, Denny failed to honour a bond in 200 marks payable at the Staple of Westminster to William Weston IV*, the London draper, and it was no doubt for this reason that he subsequently transferred possession of certain of his holdings to his creditor.7 On one occasion during Henry IV’s reign Denny was employed b