FORTESCUE, Henry (d.c.1458), of Wood Barton in Woodleigh and Fallapit in East Allington, Devon.

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



Dec. 1421

Family and Education

1st. s. of Sir John Fortescue (d.c.1435) of Whympstone, Devon by Eleanor, da. and h. of William Norris; er. bro. of John*. m. (1) bef. 1421, Katherine—of Wood Barton, ?1s.; (2) bef. 1424, Joan, da. of Edmund Bosom of Bosomzeal, Devon; (3) by 1437, Margaret, da. and h. of Nicholas Fallapit of Fallapit.1 1s.

Offices Held

C.j. KB Ire. 25 June 1426-9.

Commr. of oyer and terminer, Devon July 1433, May 1434, July 1439; inquiry Nov. 1445 (Robert Hill’s will), Devon, Cornw. Dec. 1451, Devon Aug. 1455 (piracy); to survey mines, Devon, Cornw. Sept. 1451; of array, Devon June 1454; to assign archers Dec. 1457.

Sheriff, Devon 4 Nov. 1446-9 Nov. 1447, 8 Nov. 1452-5 Nov. 1453, Cornw. 9 Nov. 1447-8.

J.p. Devon 22 Nov. 1447-8.

Tax collector, Cornw. Aug. 1450.


Until the 15th century the Fortescues were an obscure family living in south Devon; they owed their rise largely to Henry and his younger brother, John, the sons of Sir John Fortescue, who, under Henry V, served as captain of Meaux. The two brothers both studied law, and although John far outshone Henry the latter’s career is still of interest. He must have been the ‘Fortescue, senior’ who was a member of Lincoln’s Inn by 1420, and was thus a qualified lawyer when he represented his county in 1421. (His brother sat in the same Parliament as a burgess for Tavistock.) Henry may have owed his election to his connexions with the Courtenays, which by then were very close. His father was employed by both Earl Edward and his son Earl Hugh as steward of their estates, and in 1420 he and Henry had been occupied as joint custodians of the late earl’s property. In May that same year Henry had enlisted under Earl Hugh as a man-at-arms on the Grace Dieu, flagship of a fleet engaged in defending the Channel, having been an esquire in Hugh’s service since before March 1419. At Midsummer 1421 the earl named both Henry and his father as lessees with others of three manors and the hundred of Colyton, Devon, and the manor of Crewkerne, Somerset. These properties they were later to assign to the earl’s widow as her dower, and after the countess’s death in 1441 Crewkerne passed to Henry alone as the sole surviving feoffee. He then transferred it to the rightful heir, Earl Thomas.2

Henry’s early promise as a lawyer, suggested by his appointment as c.j.KB in Ireland in 1426, when he was still a comparatively young man, was not to be fulfilled. His salary was fixed at £40 p.a., which he received only until 8 Nov. 1426 ‘quo die exoneratus fuit de officio predicto’. The next day, however, the office was regranted to him, during royal pleasure, at 3s.4d. per day, a considerable rise in remuneration. This was ratified in February 1429, but he seems to have resigned before the following June. Two Irish manors were committed to him during his term of office, and he established business connexions with James Butler, earl of Ormond, for whom he was later to act as a feoffee of estates in England. On two occasions Fortescue represented the Irish Parliament on missions to the King. In 1428 his petitions were unsuccessful, and he and his companion, Sir James Alleyn, were both unfortunate enough to be assaulted by their opponents. In the following year, accompanied by (Sir) Thomas Strange*, he complained of these assaults, of the frequent change of governors and justices in the province, of the debts of successive lords-lieutenant, of the exclusion of Irish law students from the inns of court in London, and of the treatment of Irishmen travelling in England.3

Not all of Fortescue’s contemporaries thought well of him. A few years after his return from Ireland, Richard Secheville* alleged that ‘the seide Herry with Irysshemen, Scottys and other, yn the manere of werre arraied’ had wrongfully evicted him from his property at Nethercombe in Holbeton, Devon, had obtained a judgement at the assizes ‘by grete sotolte and maintenance’, and had inflicted other wrongs on him and his relations. Henry inherited his own family estates in about 1435, some of which he afterwards transferred to his brother, John. By his first and third marriages he also increased his holdings to include Wood and Fallapit. Even so, Fortescue was not among the larger landowners in the county. After 1421 he was never again elected as a knight of the shire and, indeed, did little by way of public service until after his brother’s promotion as chief justice in 1442. It is noticeable that only after that date was Henry appointed to the commission of the peace and as sheriff, and that he rarely acted as a feoffee of local estates save in association with (Sir) John. However, he had attended the parliamentary elections held at Exeter castle in April 1421, 1425, 1432 and 1442. It was as sheriff of Devon that he presided over the hustings held in January 1447 and February 1453. In the meantime, on 9 Oct. 1448, during his shrievalty of Cornwall, he had been rewarded with £15 for arresting and bringing to the King’s Council one ‘Hankyn Zellander’.4

The date of Fortescue’s death is not known. He was not appointed as a j.p. after November 1458, and quite possibly died about that time. His widow, Margaret, married Richard Strode of Newnham-Strode, Devon, who died before 1465.5

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421