EUER, Sir Ralph (c.1350-1422), of Witton-le-Wear, co. Durham.
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Family and Education
b.c. 1350, yr. s. of John Euer (d. Mar. 1366) of Stokesley, Yorks. and Witton-le-Wear by his w. Margaret (d. 1378), bro. and h. of Robert Euer (d.s.p. 1369). m. (1) by c. 1371, Isabel, da. of Sir Aymer Atholl (d. 1403) of Felton, Northumb. by his w. Mary, 1s. d.v.p. 1da.; (2) by Nov. 1381, Katherine, yr. da. and h. of William, Lord Aton (c.1299-Aug. 1387), of Malton and West Ayton, Yorks. by his w. Isabel (d. May 1368), da. of Henry, 2nd Lord Percy (d.1352), at least 2s. inc. William†, 2da.; (3) Dec. 1400, Maud Greystoke, prob. da. of Ralph, Lord Greystoke (1353-1418). Kntd. by July 1374.1
Collector of a subsidy, liberty of the bp. of Durham, co. Durham Sept. 1372, Yorks. (N. Riding) Mar. 1404.
Commr. to survey the defences of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, May 1380; of array, co. Durham c.1381, c.1384 (bis),2 Northumb., Yorks. (N. Riding), Dec. 1399, Aug. Sept. 1403, co. Durham c.1408,3 Yorks. (N. Riding) 1410, co. Durham May 1414, Yorks. (N. Riding) May 1415, co. Durham c.1417; inquiry c.1382 (offences at Weardale), c. 1382 (villein services), c.1382 (flooding at Skerne), c. 1383 (villein services),4 Northumb. Mar. 1384 (wastes), co. Durham c. 1385 (accts. at Durham), c.1385 (bridge repairs at Shincliffe), c.1386 (wastes at Durham),5 Northumb. July 1387 (dispute at Eslington), May 1389 (damage by Scots), Dec. 1389 (defences at Newcastle-upon-Tyne), July 1391 (petition of Sir Michael de la Pole), Yorks. Nov. 1391 (John Lokton’s claim to land in Hutton), Dec. 1391 (goods of the same), Aug. 1392 (claim of Gregory Lokton to rents), Northumb. Mar. 1393 (goods of a suicide at Newcastle), Cumb. Sept. 1393, Aug. 1394 (claim of earl of Northumb. to land at Cockermouth), Northumb. Dec. 1395 (illicit coal mining), Yorks. Jan. 1396 (claim to the manor of Mikelfield), Feb. 1396 (a murder), Northumb. July 1400 (lands of Gilbert Middleton), Yorks. Nov. 1405 (claim to the manor of Sigglesthorne), Cumb., Northumb., Westmld., Yorks. Mar. 1406 (desertions to Welsh rebels), Yorks. (N. Riding) July 1406 (wastes), Lincs., Northumb., Yorks. June 1407 (possessions of earl of Northumb.), Yorks. (N. Riding) Jan. 1412 (liability to taxation), co. Durham c.1412 (poaching at Raby), c.1418 (property dispute);6 oyer and terminer c. 1382 (access to a mine at Morley),7 Northumb. Dec. 1384 (disorder at Wittonstall), co. Durham c.1386 (bp. of Durham’s rights at Hawthorn),8 c.1390 (disorder at Stranton),9 Northumb. Mar. 1403 (dispute over prisoners taken at Humbleton Hill), co. Durham Mar. 1404 (treasons), Cumb., Northumb., Westmld., Yorks. Aug. 1407 (treasons), Yorks. Apr. 1408 (murder of Sir Thomas Colville*), July 1408 (disorder at Beverley); gaol delivery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne Feb. 1383; to make arrests, Yorks. Nov. 1395, July 1398; survey and value the estates of the Lords Appellant of 1388, Cumb., Northumb., Westmld., Yorks. Oct. 1397; prevent the spread of treasonous rumours, Northumb., Yorks. May 1402; resist northern rebels July 1403; treat with rebels and arrange fines Apr. 1405, Apr. 1408; raise royal loans, Yorks. (N. Riding) June 1406; sequestrate prebends for the bp. of Durham, co. Durham June 1408, June 1414, Apr. 1415;10 enforce the Statute of Weirs, co. Durham c.1419.11
Ambassador to treat for truces and redress of grievances with the Scots, 8 Nov. 1380, 27 May 1390, 8 July 1400, 29 Sept. 1401, 26 Sept. 1403, 4 Mar., 6 July 1404, 27 Mar., 17 Aug 1407, 10 Dec. 1415.12
J.p. co. Durham and in the bp. of Durham’s liberty of Sedbergh c.1382, Northumb. 20 Dec. 1382-5, 23 Feb. 1392-May 1410, bp. of Durham’s liberty of Northallerton, Yorks. 20 July 1387, Yorks. (N. Riding) 12 Nov. 1397-July 1419, lordship of Alnwick, Northumb. 20 July 1405.13
Justice of assize, co. Durham c. 1382, c.1401, 1406-7, 1411, 1419-21.14
Steward of the vill of Durham for John Fordham, bp. of Durham, by c.1385, of the estates of Walter Skirlaw, bp. of Durham, co. Durham, Northumb. c. 1391-24 Mar. 1406; auditor of his ministers’ accts. c.1403-24 Mar. 1406; steward of the estates of Thomas Langley, bp. of Durham, 14 May 1406-d.; auditor of his ministers’ accts. 23 Sept. 1408-aft. 1410.15
Sheriff, Northumb. 15 Nov. 1385-7 Nov. 1390, 3 Nov. 1397-10 Feb. 1399, Yorks. 21 Oct. 1391-18 Oct. 1392, 9 Nov. 1395-1 Dec. 1396.
Keeper of the temporalities of the see of Durham for Thomas Langley until his investiture 24 Mar.-8 Aug. 1406.16
Lt. to John, duke of Bedford, as constable of England by 26 May 1411.
One of the richest and most powerful members of the northern gentry during our period, Sir Ralph Euer pursued a long and successful career as a crown servant for four decades, while also distinguishing himself in the service of three successive bishops of Durham. He was born in about 1350, the second son of John Euer, a wealthy landowner whose holdings in Yorkshire were centred upon the two manors of Easby and Stokesley. He had also acquired the vills of Berwick-on-the-Hill and Callerton and the manors of Kirkley and Darreshall in Northumberland, which together produced at least £31 a year, although other revenues from elsewhere in the same county may have more than doubled his income there. The Euers’ main territorial base lay, however, in the palatinate of Durham. From their ancestral seat at Witton-le-Wear they dominated the countryside as far as Bishop Auckland to the south-east and Stanhope to the north-west, being lords of the manors of Bradley, Kimblesworth, Hamsterley, ‘Bermetonhall’, Redford, Hoppyland and Langley, as well as the owners of extensive properties in the surrounding area. On John Euer’s death, in 1366, one third of his possessions went to his widow, Margaret, while the rest descended to his eldest son, Robert, to whom he had already conveyed his Yorkshire manors. Ralph was still a minor when his brother died without issue three years later, leaving him heir to this impressive patrimony.17 The Euers held their Northumberland estates as feudal tenants of the Strathbogies, earls of Atholl, whose title fell into abeyance in 1369 on the death of David, the last earl. It was no doubt through this connexion that Ralph obtained the hand of Isabel, the daughter of Sir Aymer Atholl, the earl’s younger brother. She and her two sisters, one of whom was betrothed to (Sir) Robert Lisle* while they were still both children, were then heirs presumptive to Sir Aymer’s estates, and thus appeared all the more valuable as brides. Ralph’s marriage also seems to have been contracted while he was under age, as much later, in about 1379, Bishop Hatfield of Durham restored to him, on payment of a fine of 100 marks, the land which had been confiscated because he had failed to sue out the necessary licence from his overlord in the palatinate. Sir Aymer and his wife had previously been granted the manor of Felton by the earl of Atholl, and in 1373 they petitioned Edward III for permission to take seisin. The terms of the ensuing settlement, made one year later, gave Ralph and Isabel a reversionary interest in the manor, which was then entailed on their heirs male. We know from the will of the widowed Margaret Euer, dated April 1378, that the couple had at least one son and a daughter (both of whom received silver plate from their grandmother), although the boy died young, and Ralph, who did not succeed to Felton until 1403, was prevented by the entail from handing on the manor to any of his other offspring. Margaret, the only surviving child of his first marriage, became the wife of the Yorkshire landowner, Sir John Pudsay of Bolton, but her hopes of inheriting Sir Aymer’s other estates around Beverley were dashed by new conveyances of 1392 made in favour of her half-brothers.18
Meanwhile, in September 1372, Ralph received the first of many crown appointments — on this occasion as a tax collector in the palatinate of Durham. He was knighted at some point over the next two years, during which he also agreed to act with his neighbour, John, Lord Neville of Raby, as a trustee of the manor of Rudchester in Northumberland. His services in this capacity were already much in demand, and not long afterwards he appeared among the feoffees of an estate at Evenwood in Durham. Continuous outbreaks of unrest along the Scottish border generally kept Sir Ralph at home, although in 1378 he saw service abroad in the retinue of Thomas, earl of Warwick. The electors of Northumberland were naturally anxious to be represented in the House of Commons by such a prominent and well-connected figure; and Sir Ralph was duly returned by them to the second Parliament of 1380. The session began at Northampton on 5 Nov., the very day on which John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, chose Sir Ralph as a commissioner to negotiate a ‘jour de redress’ with the Scots.19 This did not, however, interfere with his parliamentary duties, and he was once again available to sit in the Commons in the following year. He had by then married for the second time, being already sufficiently influential to choose a wife whose social status and financial prospects far outmatched those of her predecessor. Katherine Aton was the second daughter and coheir (with her two sisters) of William, Lord Aton, himself a direct descendant of the Lords Vescy. Her maternal grandfather was Henry, 2nd Lord Percy; and among her great-grandparents she numbered Robert, 1st Lord Clifford. The match thus brought Sir Ralph more valuable connexions among the northern baronage, while at the same time offering him the chance to extend and consolidate his holdings in Yorkshire. In November 1381, Sir Ralph and Katherine joined with her two sisters and their husbands in confirming Margaret, the widow of their only brother (who, luckily for them, had died childless), in possession of the manor of Barlby, while agreeing to share the reversion among themselves. This fell in some four years later, although the profits were as nothing compared with the general division of spoils which took place in 1387, after Lord Aton’s death. Most of his estates lay in Ryedale and the vale of Pickering, some being conveniently close to Sir Ralph’s manor of Stokesley, and thus easily absorbed into his great network of properties. Between them Aton’s three daughters succeeded to the manors of Ayton and Malton as well as sizeable holdings in at least 26 neighbouring villages. These were valued at £66 p.a. net at the end of the century, although they probably produced almost twice as much. Katherine and her sisters partitioned the inheritance amicably enough, their main problem being a dispute with the feudal overlord, Thomas, earl of Nottingham (later duke of Norfolk), who contested their title to some of the richest farmland. Sir Ralph proved a formidable opponent, however, and in 1394 the earl conceded defeat.20
An immediate consequence of Sir Ralph’s second marriage was to bring him into closer contact with his wife’s kinsman, Henry, earl of Northumberland. In December 1381, for example, he joined with the earl, his retainer, Sir William Swinburne*, and Sir Thomas Blenkinsop* in guaranteeing the return of a valuable consignment of wool to the widowed Margaret Strother. Ten years later he and Northumberland were assigned custody of Thomas, Lord Fauconberg, on his release from a long term of imprisonment in Gloucester castle, promising to ‘keep and govern’ the suspect traitor as they thought best for his ‘safety and honour’. During this period Sir Ralph twice took the field against the Scots, once in 1383, when he fought under the banner of John of Gaunt, and again in 1385, as a member of Richard II’s ill-fated expedition across the border. Of more lasting importance was Sir Ralph’s association with successive bishops of Durham, who employed him continuously from about 1382 onwards, first as a commissioner and j.p., and then in a variety of more senior posts as well. Although time-consuming, such work could be rewarding. In 1384 Bishop Fordham gave him land and a stretch of water on the river Wear to make a fishery; and he subsequently leased a group of coal mines worth over £100 a year from the episcopal estates. Meanwhile, in 1386, Sir Ralph travelled to York to give evidence on behalf of Richard, Lord Scrope, who was then involved in a protracted dispute with Sir Robert Grosvenor over the right to bear the same coat of arms. In the long term, the acquisition of the Aton properties led Sir Ralph to play a greater part in the affairs of the Yorkshire community. In October 1391, less than a year after relinquishing the shrievalty of Northumberland, he began a term as sheriff there, being allowed a reduction of £45 in the usual farm because he had sustained ‘greater costs and travail than others who held the office heretofore’. Yet, although he also sat on numerous commissions in the North Riding and was returned to at least three Parliaments as a representative for Yorkshire, Sir Ralph’s interests and influence were still centred upon Witton, not least because from about 1391 onwards he occupied a leading place on the council of Bishop Skirlaw of Durham as steward of the episcopal estates in both Northumberland and the palatinate. He was, moreover, still popular in the area as a mainpernor and feoffee, largely on account of his dominant position among the local gentry. This was further consolidated during the 1390s through his purchase of the marriage and wardship of the young William Claxton of Dilston in Northumberland. Sir Ralph promptly married the youth to his infant daughter, Elizabeth, thus securing for her the promise of estates at Fairhill and Wittonstall, as well as an immediate claim to the manors of Dilston and Kirkhaugh. William had to fight hard to assert his title in the face of opposition from other members of his family; and in 1398 Sir Ralph was named as one of four arbitrators in the dispute. Under the guidance of Ralph, earl of Westmorland, a compromise was reached whereby William agreed to surrender one of the two manors in return for a cash payment of 170 marks. Although the earls of Westmorland and Northumberland were already locked in a power struggle for hegemony in the north, Sir Ralph was far too shrewd to side unequivocally with his wife’s kinsmen, the Percys, not least because Earl Ralph’s seat at Raby lay near to Witton, and the two men were frequently brought together as neighbours. Indeed, it was this connexion, coupled with his attachment to the Lancastrian regime, which was, in the long run, to command Sir Ralph’s unshaken loyalty. That he was recognized and respected as an independent figure with considerable authority in his own right is evident from the grant of an annuity of 20 marks made to him before this date by Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick. As the owners of sizeable estates around Barnard Castle, the Beauchamps needed to retain a leading member of local society to protect their interests, and Sir Ralph enjoyed the fee without interruption until his death, over two decades later.21
Although he continued to receive every mark of favour from Richard II, being even appointed sheriff of Northumberland in November 1397, when the King was able, unchallenged, to implement his absolutist policies, Sir Ralph clearly felt great sympathy for the exiled Henry of Bolingbroke. In June 1399 he deemed it expedient to sue out royal letters of pardon; and it may well be that, like the Percys, he offered practical support to Bolingbroke after his landing at Ravenspur in the following July. His return for Yorkshire to the Parliament which met on 30 Sept. to ratify Henry’s claim to the throne certainly bears out such an assumption, for he and his colleague, Sir Robert Neville of Hornby, a prominent adherent of the Lancastrian cause, seem to have been chosen because of their acceptability to the new regime. Not only was Sir Ralph allowed to keep his seat on the bench in at least two counties, but he also received from the newly-crowned Henry IV an annuity of £50 payable at the Exchequer, together with a licence excusing him henceforth from all official administrative responsibilities at a local level. No doubt thanks to these unmistakable signs of trust, Sir Ralph was able to strengthen even further his widespread connexions among the nobility. In December 1400 he obtained a papal indult permitting his marriage to Maud Greystoke, even though they were already related within the prohibited degrees. Maud, the last of his three wives, was probably the daughter of Ralph, Lord Greystoke, a former warden of both the east and west marches, who had for some years been a prisoner of the Scots. Sir Ralph also welcomed the opportunity to forge closer links with the earl of Westmorland by marrying his daughter, Katherine, to Alexander†, the son and heir of Sir Alexander Neville, one of the earl’s kinsmen. Katherine’s jointure comprised the manors of Thornton Bridge and Milby in Yorkshire, although Sir Ralph, in turn, had to make a handsome settlement of £200 upon the couple. Notwithstanding his exemption from office-holding, he still served assiduously as a commissioner, j.p. and assize judge in the north, attending a great council in August 1401 as a representative for both Durham and Yorkshire.22 In view of his long experience of affairs on the Scottish border, Sir Ralph also proved a useful ambassador for the negotiation of love-days and truces, although by the summer of 1400 attempts at peace had failed, and Henry IV decided to invade Scotland. Sir Ralph may well have taken part in the campaign: at all events, he was actively employed in defending the north against a major retaliatory expedition launched by the earl of Douglas two years later. The marauding army was intercepted by the English, under the command of the earl of Northumberland and his son, ‘Hotspur’, at Humbleton Hill on 14 Sept. 1402, and in the ensuing rout a large number of captives were taken. King Henry promptly ordered the leading English captains, including Sir Ralph, to refrain from ransoming their prisoners, many of whom were far too politically important to be released even under heavy sureties. The Percys were further discomforted by rival claims to booty advanced by their enemies, the Nevilles, and it is interesting to note that Sir Ralph had by then sufficiently distanced himself from his kinsmen to be appointed by the King, in March 1403, as an independent arbitrator in the quarrel. Financial grievances, jealousy of the growing power of the earl of Westmorland and his family, and resentment at King Henry’s failure to accord them proper recognition led the Percys to rise in open rebellion during the following summer. Realizing that the insurrection was doomed, Sir Ralph immediately gave every possible assistance to the government, and is even said to have been considered by the royal council at this time for the post of steward of Henry IV’s household. Hotspur was killed at the battle of Shrewsbury on 21 July, and a few days later Northumberland surrendered himself as a prisoner. Sir Ralph’s part in these events is not recorded, but we know that he was present on 25 Sept. at a meeting of the King’s advisors at Durham priory where measures were discussed for the confiscation of the earl’s three great castles of Berwick, Warkworth and Alnwick. He also negotiated fines and terms of pardon with other, less influential rebels, as well as investigating the spread of treason generally throughout the north. Northumberland did not remain quiescent for long. Although he had sworn a solemn oath of loyalty before the first Parliament of 1404, he again began plotting with the Welsh; and by April of the following year his duplicity became known to Henry IV. News that his arch enemy, Westmorland (who had replaced him as warden of the west march), was then staying with Sir Ralph Euer at Witton led the earl to mobilize a large force of men in the hope of mounting a surprise attack, but his quarry escaped him, and after a futile attempt at rebellion he fled to Scotland. Sir Ralph evidently remained at Westmorland’s side during this eventful period, for he is said to have been present at Shipton Moor in late May 1405 when Archbishop Scrope and Thomas Mowbray, the Earl Marshal, were tricked into surrendering after they had risen in support of Northumberland. Thomas of Otterburne’s chronicle (which, alone among contemporary sources, clears Westmorland of deceit) actually names Euer as one of the chief protagonists in the affair, which, interestingly enough, spelt the downfall of the son of his old adversary, the earl of Nottingham. He certainly derived personal benefit as well as satisfaction from Mowbray’s capture and subsequent execution for treason, being promised the reversion of his manor of Newsome in Yorkshire, to the value of 100 marks p.a., by the grateful King Henry.23
Sir Ralph’s dealings with Bishop Skirlaw of Durham remained cordial until the latter died in March 1406, leaving him a bed with embroidered hangings and some silver plate. While the see lay vacant he assumed control of the temporalities which he had for so long helped to administer. He was so successful that Thomas Langley, the next incumbent, recognized his talents and kept him on as auditor and steward, while also employing him from time to time on the assize circuit and also according him a prominent place on his council. But Sir Ralph, in turn, was obliged to lend money to Langley, who borrowed heavily from him during the early years of his episcopate. In 1408, for instance, Euer recovered a debt of £133 from his employer, possibly as part of a larger sum. These loans did, however, serve to place the bishop under an even greater sense of personal obligation, which the Euers did not hesitate to exploit. In response to the turbulent events in the north, Sir Ralph had begun to fortify his manor-house at Witton long before the bishop formally licensed him, in 1410, to complete the work of crenellation. His eldest son, William, had probably by then entered the episcopal household, where he received his early training. In January 1411, Langley gave his approval to the young man’s marriage with one of the daughters of Henry, Lord Fitzhugh (Henry V’s chamberlain and, later on, treasurer of England), a union which the bishop may well have helped to arrange. Sir Ralph’s last years thus saw him firmly established as one of the most powerful figures in the north, who had through marriage built up a network of close family links with almost all the leading local baronial houses. His association with the Nevilles remained particularly strong, for besides acting as a witness and feoffee with the earl of Westmorland, he also shared with Sir John Etton* and others the trusteeship of the Yorkshire estates of John Neville, Lord Latimer. Towards the end of his life Sir Ralph frequently assisted neighbouring landowners by attesting deeds, arbitrating in quarrels and participating in the conveyance of property. He was also conscientious in his work for Bishop Langley, being largely responsible for a comprehensive review, made in 1418, of the financial resources of the see of Durham. His task as steward of the episcopal estates was, however, made difficult by a serious quarrel with his son-in-law, William Claxton, another of Langley’s employees, who abandoned his wife and children, thus bringing down on himself the collective wrath of the entire family. Claxton’s complaints regarding Sir Ralph’s partiality in office may have influenced Langley when he came to appoint a less domineering and independent figure as the knight’s successor, although he was quite happy to confirm his heirs in possession of the manor and vill of Langley and all the other estates which Euer had bought from the bishop’s tenants at various times. Sir Ralph must have been well over 70 years old when he died on 12 Mar. 1422, leaving at least two sons, to whom fell the task of executing his will. William Euer, who represented Yorkshire in four Parliaments and also occupied the shrievalty of Northumberland, inherited almost all his father’s great complex of estates, although he never came to rival Sir Ralph’s authority in the north.24
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Variants: Dever, Evere, Iuere, Ivere, Yver(e).
- 1. DKR, xlv. 187-8; Surtees Soc. ii. 35-36; clxix. no. 580; CP, i. 325-6; vi. 195-6; Hist. Northumb. vii. 193, 237-44; xii. 202; CIPM, xii. no. 138; xvi. no. 6; CP25(1)278/142/3, 146/12; CPL, v. 378.
- 2. DKR, xxxii. 309.
- 3. Ibid. xxxiii. 91.
- 4. Ibid. xxxii. 308-9, 312.
- 5. Ibid. 310-11.
- 6. Ibid. xxxiii. 91, 113.
- 7. Ibid. xxxii. 312.