ENGLISH, Henry (d.1393), of Wood Ditton, Cambs.
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Family and Education
m. bef. Easter 1366, Margaret (d.25 Dec. 1391), wid. of Sir John Waweton of Steeple Bumpstead, Essex, 3da.
Commr. of inquiry, Cambs. Nov. 1364 (value of goods of a debtor to Queen Philippa), Cambs., Suff. July 1367 (concealments), Aug. 1367 (forfeited lands and goods), Beds., Bucks., Hunts. Apr. 1376 (illegal alienations, confederacies), Norf. Nov. 1377 (contributions to taxes at Bishop’s Lynn), Feb. 1384 (usurpation of market profits pertaining to the earl of March), Essex May 1389 (wastes, estates of Caen abbey), Essex, Herts., Norf., Suff. July 1391 (post mortem on Henry Helion); to raise a force of archers on the earl of March’s estates, Essex, Herts. Norf., Suff. Nov. 1373; examine forfeitures of rebels, Cambs., Hunts. Aug. 1381; of arrest Oct. 1381; to put down insurrections, Cambs. Mar., Dec. 1382; of gaol delivery, Colchester June 1386; to find a royal ward, Essex July 1391.
J.p. Essex 18 Nov. 1373-July 1374, Cambs. 18 Nov. 1373-Feb. 1375.
Sheriff, Cambs and Hunts. 18 Oct. 1380-15 Dec. 1381, 11 Nov. 1384-20 Oct. 1385, Essex and Herts. 30 Jan.-15 Nov. 1389.
Steward, lordship of Clare and other estates of Edmund, late earl of March 11 Mar. 1382-?d.
Tax collector, Cambs. Dec. 1384.
Escheator, Essex and Herts. 12 Dec. 1390-2 Jan. 1392.
Apparently a man of humble origins, English was first recorded as ‘of Budbrooke’ (perhaps Birdbrook in Essex where his future wife held property). It is not known how he came by sufficient resources to enable him to purchase in 1363 the Cambridgeshire manor of Ditton Valenz in Wood Ditton, along with its appurtenances in Cheveley, as well as property in Newmarket and Exning just over the Suffolk border. His marriage to Margaret Waweton brought him landed interests in Essex, for in 1366 by an agreement made with John, Lord Tybotot, and his wife, Elizabeth widow of the Sir John Waweton† (d.1346) who had once been Margaret’s father-in-law, she was allowed possession of certain of the former Waweton holdings, notably three messuages and some 560 acres of land as well as annual rents worth ten marks in Steeple Bumpstead, Helion Bumpstead and elsewhere. At Margaret’s death several years later these were to pass to her first husband’s grandsons.1 Over the years, English added to his Cambridgeshire holdings more land in the area to the south of Newmarket, at the same time acquiring property in the county town of Cambridge and at Trumpington, while in Suffolk he secured an interest in the manor of ‘Inghames’ in Cowlinge as well as in land at Withersfield. Such acquisitions made him a landowner of some substance.2
English’s frequent employment as a commissioner for the Crown over a period of nigh on 30 years, during which time he also served three terms as sheriff, suggests that it was soon recognized that he could be relied on to carry out his assignments with an acceptable degree of efficiency. Early on in his career he was probably also engaged in the administration of the estates of Edmund Mortimer, earl of March; certainly in 1373, not long before he was due to attend his first Parliament, he was appointed to conscript mounted archers on the Mortimer lordships in East Anglia for service in Ireland. Although he was sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire at the time of the Peasants’ Revolt of June 1381, English would appear to have taken no decisive military action against the rebels; on the contrary, he ignominiously suffered the theft of goods, chattels and livestock from his own close at Wood Ditton. Later that year the earl of March’s estates came into the Crown’s wardship when Earl Edmund died leaving his son and heir under age, so it was by royal appointment that in March 1382 English became steward of the honour of Clare for the duration of the minority. Among his other duties he was in charge of leasing out certain lands and tenements, but he subsequently complained to the King’s Council about the difficulty of finding people willing to take on such farms, perhaps that is why in November he himself provided securities at the Exchequer for the lessee of one of the Mortimer manors in Hertfordshire. Soon after taking office he nominated John Borle of Isleham to the Council as a suitable candidate for the post of receiver of Clare, a recommendation evidently based on personal acquaintance for he later made Borle a trustee of his own lands. In October 1383, shortly before his third Parliament assembled, English obtained at the Exchequer custody for a year of the lordship and honour of Babraham, Cambridgeshire, recently held by the duke of Brittany, for which he agreed to pay £36. A few months later he shared with John Fordham, bishop of Durham, keeping of the alien priory of Swavesey, having offered an annual farm of 80 marks, which was as much as £20 a year more than had been rendered previously. In 1389 the prior of Swavesey protested that this extortionate rate had resulted in wastes and delapidations on the priory estates and the withdrawal of religious services, although he himself was quite willing to take over the lease and pay £10 over the old rate.3
On the day before the opening of the Parliament of November 1384, English had been re-appointed sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, so he was in technical contravention of the ordinance forbidding the return of sheriffs when he took his place in the Commons. By that time he had established influential connexions at the centre of government and at Court. Sir Hugh Segrave, the treasurer, thought well enough of him to name him among the trustees of his manor in Kempston, Bedfordshire (a duty which English was to perform until Segrave’s death in 1387), and he had even entered the circle of the King’s favourite, Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford. When, in April 1385, English was granted a royal pardon for the escape of felons during his earlier shrievalty, it was obtained for him at the supplication of King Richard’s cousin, the countess of Oxford, and two months later the earl himself made him a feoffee of Hedingham castle and his many manors. As a consequence, from October 1386 English was responsible for receiving the profits of certain of the recently-created duke of Ireland’s properties on his, de Vere’s, behalf, and, together with other of the duke’s nominees, he held Colchester castle and the hundred of Tendring until March 1388, when all of the de Vere estates were forfeited by judgement of the Merciless Parliament. Meanwhile, in the spring of 1386 English had obtained letters patent of exemption from serving in royal offices against his will. However, his lack of employment between then and 1389 probably owed more to his association with the Appellants’ enemy, de Vere. Curiously enough, however, it was while the Appellants were still in power, and some four months before Richard II regained control of the government, that he was appointed sheriff of Essex