FIENNES, Sir Roger (1384-1449), of Herstmonceux, Suss.

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



Mar. 1416

Family and Education

b. Herstmonceux 14 Sept. 1384, s. and h. of Sir William Fiennes (1357-1402) by Elizabeth, da. and coh. of William Battisford of Wartling and Margery, da. and h. of Simon Peplesham of Pebsham; er. bro. of Sir James Fiennes† (later Lord Say and Sele). m. bef. May 1422, Elizabeth, sis. of Sir John Holand of Northants.,1 2s. inc. Robert†, 1da. Kntd. bef. Nov. 1412.

Offices Held

J.p. Suss. 8 Apr. 1416-Mar. 1419, 20 July 1424-d., Surr. 30 Oct. 1436-July 1437, Aug. 1448-d., as ex officio chief steward, duchy of Lancaster, Som. May 1442-d., Cambs. July 1442-d., Suff. Aug. 1442-May 1449, Cornw. July 1443-d., Herts. Dec. 1443-d., Kent Nov. 1443-d., Norf. Mar. 1444-d.

Commr. to take musters, Normandy Oct. 1417; of array Mar., July, Aug., Sept. 1419, July 1421,2 Suss. May 1435, Jan. 1436, Surr., Suss. Feb. 1437, Suss. Mar. 1443; inquiry Feb. 1424 (concealments), May 1426 (piracy), July 1439 (concealments) Eng. (nation-wide) Dec. 1439, Jan. 1440 (evasion of customs on wool); sewers, Suss. May 1428, Kent, Suss. May 1429, Suss. Dec. 1443; to muster forces going to France Dec. 1429, Apr. 1430, Apr. 1433, June, Dec. 1435, Feb., Mar., May 1436, Mar. 1441, July 1442; raise royal loans, Surr., Suss. Mar. 1430, Suss. Mar. 1439, Mar. 1442, Sept. 1449; assess a tax Jan. 1436; distribute tax allowances Apr. 1440, Mar. 1442, June 1445, July 1446; treat for payment of subsidies Feb. 1441.

Bailli of Caux 23 Jan. 1419-18 Jan. 1421.3

Capt. of Longueville from 14 Feb. 1419, of Piercourt from 28 Mar. 1420.4

Keeper, Portchester castle, Hants 3 Apr. 1421-d.

Sheriff, Surr. and Suss. 14 Feb.-13 Nov. 1423, 3 Nov. 1434-7 Nov. 1435.

Treasurer, Hen. VI’s household 9 Apr. 1439-12 Nov. 1446.5

Chief steward, duchy of Lancaster, south parts and Wales 12 June 1441-11 Dec. 1447.6


Members of the Fiennes family, descended from the Norman counts of Boulogne, had distinguished themselves in the reign of Edward I, whose second queen, Margaret of France, was their kinswoman. However, during the wars begun by Edward III their loyalties were split: the main branch of the family espoused the cause of the French king and those who supported King Edward witnessed the loss of their own substantial interests in France. In compensation, through a succession of lucrative marriages, notably to the heiresses of Filoll, Forester and Monceux, the Fiennes had come into possession of widespread estates in England. These included Ascot and Lyneham (Oxfordshire), the bailiwick of ‘Twicchene’ in Windsor forest, and Wolley in White Waltham (Berkshire), ‘Asshall’ in High Ongar (Essex), Compton (Hampshire) and Burham and Cudham (Kent). Most important was the property at Herstmonceux, worth as much as £40 a year even in 1375, when the land was for the most part waterlogged. Roger was 17 when he inherited the family estates following his father’s death in 1402. He was made a royal ward, and the influential King’s knight, (Sir) John Pelham*, constable of the nearby castle of Pevensey, paid the Crown 200 marks for his marriage.7

When Roger’s maternal grandmother died early in 1407 he added substantially to his holdings in the same area of east Sussex, notably with a second manor at Herstmonceux and property at Wartling adjacent to the Fiennes manor of ‘Old Court’. He had delayed making formal proof of age, but now did so in order to take possession of his father’s and grandmother’s legacies.8 Nor was this the full extent of the landed inheritance which he entered that year. His paternal grandmother, Joan (d.1378), had been the daughter of Geoffrey, 2nd Lord Say, and following the death without issue of her niece, Elizabeth, in 1399, and of the latter’s husband, William Heron†, jure uxoris Lord Say, in 1404, the Say estates had been partitioned between him, William, Lord Clinton, and the two daughters of Fiennes’s great-aunt. Fiennes’s share, a third part, had been awarded during his minority to Pelham. Soon after coming of age Roger became involved in two acrimonious disputes in the locality. In October 1408 he had to ask Pelham to furnish securities of £200 on his behalf, he himself being required to make a formal undertaking not to harass the canons of Michelham priory; and a month later he and Clinton found it necessary to seek a royal pardon for their trespasses in having entered into certain parts of the Say inheritance without due legal process. Not deterred, two years later the two kinsmen thrust out the vicar of Bourne from other Say properties, which Heron had settled by will on his second wife.9

In 1411 Fiennes placed his estates in the hands of a distinguished group of feoffees, headed by his former guardian Pelham, and including his kinsman, Sir Thomas Clinton*, and the Derbyshire landowner, Sir Thomas Gresley*. It was they who two years later were to apply for a royal licence to block off a road passing through Herstmonceux park, thus inaugurating the extensive building works which were to mark Roger’s ownership of Herstmonceux. His estates in Sussex were in the possession of these feoffees in 1412, when they were valued for the purposes of taxation at £100 a year. In the same assessments, his Hampshire lands were worth 20 marks p.a., and his Kentish holdings £52 p.a. Given that he also held manors in three other counties, as well as his share of the Say inheritance, it is clear that Fiennes could expect an annual income well in excess of the £165 here recorded.10

In 1412 Fiennes was most likely overseas in the duke of Clarence’s company; and his spurs were won before the end of the year. He provided seven men-at-arms and 24 archers for Henry V’s invasion of France three years later, there proving his worth as a soldier by taking a number of prisoners on the field at Agincourt. His acceptance into the ranks of ‘King’s knights’ may well have antedated his first return to Parliament in March 1416, although it was not until the following November that he received a generous retaining fee of £40 a year, half of which was to be derived from the fee farm of Cambridge and the remainder from the wool customs collected at Southampton. Emerging as a war-captain of some prominence, Sir Roger was contracted for the King’s second expedition to France in 1417 to supply nine lances and 30 archers, thereafter serving throughout the conquest of Normandy, including at the sieges of Louviers and Rouen. Following the fall of the Norman capital in January 1419, he was empowered to accept the surrender of Caudebec in Henry V’s name, awarded the posts of bailli of Caux and captain of Longueville, and, like other leaders, was granted a stake in the duchy in the form of a landed estate to hold in tail-male. He seems to have remained in France throughout 1419 and 1420, returning home with the King in February 1421. In April following, King Henry awarded him custody for life of Portchester castle, commanding the entrance to Portsmouth harbour. Having once more entrusted his estates to feoffees, Fiennes followed the King back across the Channel in June, and within a month he was serving in the Bastille at Paris. He was not to see England again until after Henry V’s death.11

Henry VI’s council confirmed Sir Roger’s annuities and his keepership of Portchester. At one point he was considered as a suitable candidate for the post of mayor of Bordeaux, but for the time being he stayed at home, acting for most of 1423 as sheriff of Surrey and Sussex. Then, in March 1425, he agreed to recruit 30 men-at-arms and go archers for service in France under the Regent, John, duke of Bedford, and to take command of the other forces which were to cross over to join the duke in June. He returned to England after six months. It was during his second Parliament that, in February 1430, Fiennes contracted to join the large entourage of the young King for his coronation as king of France. Once again he entrusted his estates to the care of friends, in whose keeping he also left his moveable goods. This, beginning an absence of two years, was probably his final journey overseas.12

In 1434 Fiennes was listed among the gentry of Sussex who took the oath not to maintain those who broke the peace. He had already begun to put the substantial profits of his military exploits to use for the further aggrandizement of his family in south-east England, namely by purchasing in conjunction with his brother, James, two manors at Hever in Kent, as well as other property in Surrey. To a certain extent Sir Roger now usurped the place once held in Sussex by Sir John Pelham. A year after Pelham’s death in 1429 he had obtained from his illegitimate son a release from suit of court, castle guard and all other services owed to the honour of Hastings, and confirmation of this privilege was received subsequently from one of Pelham’s heirs and from Sir Thomas Hoo after his acquisition of the honour. Fiennes also secured from the Pelhams the hundred of Foxearle.13 By 1436 Fiennes had sufficient influence at Court to obtain an Exchequer lease of two manors belonging to Ogbourne priory, and in the following year he was able to persuade the King’s Council to issue letters under the privy seal authorizing him to seize the goods of the prior of Michelham (thus renewing his old feud with the priory), only for these to be hastily rescinded when the councillors discovered they had been given false information. This misdemeanour may have been a factor which prompted Fiennes to take out a general pardon in April 1438 for all offences committed before the previous October, although payments due to the Crown, such as the King’s share of ransoms from prisoners of war, were specifically mentioned. At the same time he was formally exempted from taking up royal office against his will. But clearly his reluctance to undertake the duties of administration did not extend to the prestigious post of treasurer of the Household. This he readily accepted a year later, and was to retain for more than seven years. He had already established important connexions in the Household, for he could number among his friends Sir Ralph Butler and Sir John Beauchamp of Powick (afterwards Lords Sudeley and Beauchamp), while his brother James was well placed as a highly favoured ‘esquire of the body’ in enjoyment of an annuity of £100. It was his brother who, as sheriff of Sussex, returned Sir Roger to the Parliament of 1439-40, to which he accompanied him as knight of the shire for Kent. The Commons expressed strong criticism of the deplorable state of the finances of the Household, and while Parliament was in session the treasurer received special commissions to make extensive inquiries throughout the country, though particularly in London, touching the secret export of wool in evasion of customs and subsidies. By contrast, Fiennes’s personal finances were in excellent shape. In January 1440 his lease of the Ogbourne priory estates was extended for seven years at a reduced farm, and then, two months later, awarded to him for life. Shortly before Parliament had assembled he had purchased from the duke of Gloucester the wardship and marriage of the Malefaunt heir for £100, only to re-sell at a profit of £40. Then, having obtained the King’s licence in February 1441 to ‘furnish with towers and battlements’ his manor-house at Herstmonceux, and to enclose 600 acres of land to enlarge the park there, he resolved to build himself a castle on a new site. He is reputed to have spent the enormous sum of £3,800 in creating a sumptuous residence. That June he was awarded the lucrative post of chief steward of the duchy of Lancaster in the south to hold for the rest of his life. The treasurer of the Household was re-elected to the Parliaments of 1442 and 1445-6 (his brother James being a Member for Kent on both occasions) although while the Parliament of 1445-6 was in session he was probably kept busy outside the Commons, making arrangements for the coronation of Margaret of Anjou. Fiennes’s influence with the King ensured a place in the royal chamber for his younger son, Robert, who received assurances of having the keepership of Portchester and £20 a year from the customs at Southampton after his father’s death. He resigned from the treasurership at the end of 1446 and, a year later, when aged 63, retired also from the office of chief steward of the duchy of Lancaster. As a special mark of royal favour, he was permitted to continue to receive the salary for the stewardship for the rest of his life. Moreover, in March 1448, he was granted a pardon as late treasurer for all offences, including negligence and concealment, as well as for all issues, penalities, debts and accounts due to the Crown.14

There is no evidence to suggest that Sir Roger was ever so closely attached to William de la Pole, marquess of Suffolk, as were his brother, Sir James, and his own two sons. Sir James’s rapid emergence as second only to Suffolk as the most influential and detested of the King’s lay advisors occurred soon after his brother’s retirement from Court, that is, when, in February 1447, he took the place of the duke of Gloucester (in whose death he was suspected of complicity) as constable of Dover and warden of the Cinque Ports. Created Lord Say and Sele at the close of the Parliament of that year, James rose to be treasurer of the Exchequer in September 1449.15 Sir Roger lived to see his sibling’s promotion, but not to hear of Suffolk’s impeachment, for his will, made at Buxted on 29 Oct., was proved on 18 Nov. He may well have shared his brother’s unpopularity, for his own Sussex lands were to form one of the chief centres of the rising led by Jack Cade, which resulted in Lord Say’s murder by the mob in the following July. Sir Roger was survived by his wife and his sons, Sir Richard and Sir Robert. In 1446 he had arranged his sons’ marriages to the two grand daughters and heirs-general of Thomas, Lord Dacre of Gilsland, following whose death, in 1458, Sir Richard was to be accepted as Lord Dacre.16

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


Variants: Fenys, Fienles, Fyenles, Fynys.

  • 1. CPL, vii. 320, 323. Elizabeth’s family background is obscure. She is unlikely on chronological grounds to have been a gdda. of the Thomas Holand who died in 1329, as suggested in Suss. Arch. Colls. lviii. 199. Her brother, Sir John, was associated with Fiennes as a trustee of the Carew estates, following the marriage of Fiennes’s da. Margaret to Nicholas Carew† of Beddington: CCR, 1435-41, p. 45; 1447-54, p. 100.
  • 2. DKR, xlii. 314, 322, 324, 427.
  • 3. Ibid. xli. 707; xlii. 397.
  • 4. Ibid. xli. 730; xlii. 369.
  • 5. HP ed. Wedgwood 1439-1509, Reg. p. xlii.
  • 6. Somerville, Duchy, i. 428; CPR, 1446-52, p. 123.
  • 7. Suss. Arch. Colls. iv. 136, 143-9; lviii. 64; CIPM, xv. 108-12; VCH Suss. ix. 139; C137/30/5; CPR, 1401-5, p. 49.
  • 8. C137/58/24, 64/88; Arch. Cant. xxviii. 228; CCR, 1405-9, pp. 176, 187.
  • 9. CP, iii. 314-18; xi. 477; Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 5), ix. 233, 235-9, 247; CFR, xii. 314-15; CCR, 1405-9, pp. 163-4, 193-4, 332-3, 464; 1409-13, p. 189; 1429-35, p. 226; CPR, 1408-13, p. 25.
  • 10. CPR, 1408-13, pp. 284, 454; 1413-16, p. 133; Feudal Aids, vi. 453, 470; E179/189/64.
  • 11. E101/51/2, 69/6/454; Suss. Arch. Colls. xv. 126; CPR, 1416-22, p. 54; 1422-9, p. 5; DKR, xli. 685, 708, 711, 715, 719, 779; xlii. 427; xliv. 620, 628, 636; CCR, 1429-35, pp. 45-46.
  • 12. CPR, 1422-9, pp. 10, 299, 302; 1429-36, p. 56; PPC, iii. 52; CCR, 1429-35, pp. 45-46, 63-64, 69; DKR, xlviii. 237; E101/71/2/817; E404/46/237.
  • 13. CAD, i. C676, 787; ii. C2544; vi. 5965; CCR, 1429-35, p. 364; 1435-41, pp. 192, 266-7, 282-3, 377-8; C. Dawson, Hastings Castle, i. 251, 267; VCH Suss. ix. 125; HMC Hastings, i. 216.
  • 14. CFR, xvi. 296; xvii. 132-3; CCR, 1435-41, pp. 123, 468, 478-9; PPC, v. 59-60; VCH Suss. ii. 78; CPR, 1429-36, p. 372; 1436-41, pp. 160, 385, 419; 1441-6, p. 417; 1446-52, pp. 111, 146; CChR, vi. 13; VCH Suss. ix. 131-6; Suss. Arch. Colls. iv. 149-50; E404/61/192-3.
  • 15. CPR, 1441-6, p. 279; CP, xi. 477-81; J. E. Powell and K. Wallis, House of Lords, 481-4.
  • 16. Lambeth Pal. Lib. Reg. Stafford, f. 178; CP, iv. 7-9.