ETTON, Sir John (d.1433), of Gilling, Yorks.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of Thomas Etton (d. by July 1404) of Gilling by his w. Isabel, sis. and h. of John Dayvell and wid. of Richard Wilsthorp. m. (1) by Feb. 1388, Katherine (b.1365), yr. da. and coh. of Sir William Everingham (d. Aug. 1369) of Skinningrove by his w. Alice, da. of John, Lord Grey of Codnor (d.1392), 4s. (1 d.v.p.); (2) by June 1412, Elizabeth Pigot (fl. 1436). Kntd. by June 1390.1
Steward of the royal forest of Galtres, Yorks. 1 June 1405-3 Nov. 1431.
Sheriff, Yorks. 22 Nov. 1406-23 Nov. 1407, 3 Nov. 1412-6 Nov. 1413.
Commr. to levy money owing to Hanse merchants, Yorks. May 1407; of array (N. Riding) July 1410, (E. Riding) May 1415, Apr. 1418, (N. Riding) Mar., Aug. 1419, Mar. 1430; inquiry July 1410 (embezzlement of funds by John Mosdale* as keeper of Scarborough castle), Mar. 1411 (illicit alienations), July 1425 (lands of Sir William Fulthorpe), Apr. 1431 (persons liable for taxation); oyer and terminer Dec. 1411 (kidnapping at York); to take musters of the royal army July 1417; make arrests May 1421.
Jt. keeper of Roxburgh castle 9 Dec. 1415-bef. 1 Feb. 1418.2
J.p. Yorks. (N. Riding) 8 July 1420-d.
Thomas Etton was a figure of some consequence in north Yorkshire, not least because of his impressive record of military service. He had campaigned regularly in France from the late 1360s onwards, and was, indeed, still owed almost £130 in unpaid wages by the Crown when he died. For part of the time he fought under the banner of Edward III’s son, John of Gaunt, but his strongest attachment was to the Nevilles, who held him in considerable esteem. He and his uncle, John Fairfax, rector of Prescote, were both executors of John, Lord Neville of Raby (d.1388), whose will included a generous bequest to him of 50 marks in cash and a gold cup. Almost immediately after her husband’s death, the widowed Lady Neville made Thomas master forester of Danby at a fee of ten marks p.a.; and he continued to serve her and her family loyally for the rest of his life. Such an important connexion may have helped Etton to arrange a lucrative and prestigious marriage for his eldest son, John, the subject of this biography. At some point before February 1388, the young man took to wife Katherine, the second daughter and coheir of Sir William Everingham, who had died several years before, in 1369, when she was an infant. Since their young brother, Robert, had survived their father by only a few months, she and her sister, Joan, the wife of Sir William Elys*, thus stood to inherit all the extensive estates of their grandfather, Adam, Lord Everingham. On the latter’s death, in 1388, a partition was duly made between the two sisters, leaving Katherine and John Etton in possession of the Yorkshire manors of Kirkburn and Kiplingcotes with extensive appurtenances in the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately for them, however, Katherine’s uncle, Reynold Everingham, managed to assert a superior title to other, more valuable property in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire; and despite their strenuous efforts to evict him it was not until he died, in August 1398, that they and Joan were able to share this part of the inheritance. The Ettons’ half comprised the manors of Laxton and Egmanton as well as land in North Leverton and Shelford, Nottinghamshire, worth an estimated £20 a year, while the manor of North Leverton itself and all the holdings in Lincolnshire went to Joan and her new husband, Robert Waterton, who enjoyed the particular favour of Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke. One of the latter’s first acts on reaching London after his coup d’état in the summer of I399 was to pardon the two couples for entering Reynold’s estates without the necessary royal licence, and to confirm them in their joint ownership.3 Although Etton never came to exercise his brother-in-law’s influence at Court, he, too, had established important links with the new regime, which help to explain his later success as a crown servant.
Sir John Etton’s own connexion with Bolingbroke dated back to the summer of 1390, when, having but recently been knighted, he took ship for Danzig as a member of the crusading force which Henry planned to lead in support of the Teutonic Knights against the Lithuanians. No further references occur to him during the expedition, which returned to England in the following spring. By June 1391, however, he had joined the retinue of Ralph, Lord Neville of Raby (later to be created earl of Westmorland) on the Scottish border, where he appeared in a series of tournaments or ‘feats of arms’ staged by Neville against the Scots. The ritualistic trappings of the joust did not serve to contain a more serious private quarrel which brought him into conflict with the powerful Yorkshire landowner Sir Robert Hilton. The cause of their dispute is not known, but in June 1394 a commission of oyer and terminer was set up to investigate Hilton’s complaint that Sir John and his brother George had led an attack on his property and tenants at Bainton, causing damage (somewhat implausibly) assessed at £200. This incident seems to have done no lasting harm to Sir John’s career, although it was not until the deposition of Richard II and the triumph of the house of Lancaster, in 1399, that real patronage and preferment came his way. Mindful of Sir John’s earlier services in Prussia, and no doubt also aware of the prominent position which he commanded among the Yorkshire gentry, Henry IV retained him as a King’s knight at a fee of £40 p.a., charged upon the nearby lordship of Pickering in the duchy of Lancaster. A few days later, on 6 Nov. 1399, Sir John was permitted to share the keepership of the estates of John Quatremayne, a royal ward, although it was not until 1405 that he obtained his first royal office, as steward of the forest of Galtres, which from 1412 onwards he shared in survivorship with his eldest son, Miles.4
The death of Thomas Etton, in, or just before, July 1404, left Sir John in possession of yet more estates in Yorkshire. His patrimony comprised the manor of Gilling in Ryedale, as well as other lands in Cawton, Yearsley and Kirkby Moorside, which were said to produce about £11 p.a. when he himself died, but were probably worth considerably more. Because of longstanding uncertainty over the state of Thomas’s accounts as a captain in France, the Exchequer initially attempted to recover money from his estate. In 1404 Sir John was pardoned a sum of almost £50 which his father was said to have owed the Crown, but four years later he managed to prove that, far from being in debt to the authorities, Thomas had still to collect over £127 in wages outstanding from the early years of Richard II’s reign. In February 1408 Henry IV ordered the treasurer to make good this deficit, while at the same time excusing Sir John £20 from his farm as sheriff of Yorkshire, on account of the ‘graundz coustages et expenses queux il avoit et sustenoit entour le chastisement de noz rebeaux deinz le countee’. Sir John’s attachment to the Nevilles, no less than his loyalty to King Henry himself, made him a bitter enemy of the rebel earl of Northumberland and his followers, who had long been engaged in a power struggle with Ralph, earl of Westmorland, and his kinsmen in the north. Indeed, by this date, Sir John had become intimate with another member of this great baronial family, since he held in trust a substantial part of the estates of John, Lord Latimer, the son of his late father’s great patrons, Lord and Lady Neville, and Westmorland’s half-brother. From 1407 onwards, Sir John and his friend, Sir Edmund Hastings*, were involved in conveyances of Latimer’s extensive possessions, thus strengthening even further their association with Earl Ralph, their co-feoffee.5
Surprisingly, in view of his wealth and social position, Sir John did not enter Parliament until 1411, although he was to represent Yorkshire four times in all over the next ten years. During the course of the session, King Henry pardoned a sentence of outlawry passed against him because of his refusal to appear in court when being sued for a debt of 20 marks by a local tradesman. This was certainly not the first time he had escaped the force of the law, since he had previously employed similar tactics to avoid settling his account with a London draper. Financial problems of a more serious kind occurred during Sir John’s second term as sheriff of Yorkshire, but he was once again able to secure a reduction of his farm, being excused the far higher sum of £80, which was deducted from his account in December 1413, one month after he left office. Sir John had, meanwhile, lost his first wife Katherine, who left him with a life interest in the Everingham estates. As we have seen, these included the manor of Kirkburn, which he decided to settle as a jointure upon his second wife, Elizabeth Pigot, even though he did not, technically, have the right to do so. In May 1412, just a few days before their marriage, Sir John made the necessary arrangements with the help of the Nottinghamshire landowner, Sir John Leek* and his son, Simon*, who acted as trustees. His own sons, Miles and Ivo, were party to the transaction, having presumably been offered suitable compensation for any potential losses they might sustain as next heirs to the property. Sir John’s friendship with Simon Leek continued for many years, partly, no doubt, because of the work which they undertook, together with Thomas Langley, bishop of Durham, as feoffees of the Lords Roos of Helmsley, whose manor of Ravensthorpe they held in trust from 1412 until 1428, if not later.6
Sir John’s earlier experience of warfare in the north made him an ideal choice as keeper of the English stronghold of Roxburgh; and in December 1415 he agreed to assume joint command (with (Sir) John Bertram*) for an initial period of two years. The allocation of £1,000, which Henry V promised the two men for their expenses in peacetime, was to be doubled should there be an outbreak of hostilities with the Scots, but save for an enemy raid during the summer of 1417 and the need to maintain a constant state of alert, Sir John’s stay on the border proved fairly uneventful. He left office just before February 1418, and was thus once again free to involve himself in the affairs of the Yorkshire community. Two years later he obtained a seat on the county bench, which he retained until his death, maintaining an active interest in loca