HALES, Sir Stephen (bef.1331-1394/5), of Testerton, Norf.

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



Jan. 1377
Jan. 1380
May 1382
Oct. 1382
Feb. 1383
Oct. 1383
Nov. 1384

Family and Education

b. bef. 1331, s. and h. of William Hales of Testerton by Katherine, da. of William Jordan of Letheringsett, Norf. m. bef. Jan. 1376, Joan ?da. of John Novers of Swanton Novers, Norf., s.p. Kntd. bef. Nov. 1372.

Offices Held

Commr. of oyer and terminer, Cambs. Mar. 1371, Norf. Feb. 1376, Feb. 1384, Nov. 1385, Jan. 1386; inquiry July 1376 (maintenance), Oct., Nov. 1377 (goods of Scottish merchants), Apr. 1380 (assaults on royal serjeants-at-arms), Norf., Suff. Sept. 1381 (damage done by rebels on estates of the countess of Norfolk), Feb., Mar. 1384 (acts prejudicial to the interests of the earl of March), July 1384 (murder), July 1384 (contributions to the fortification of Bishop’s Lynn), May 1387 (murder), Jan. 1388 (breach of truce with Scotland); array Apr., July 1377, Feb. 1379, Mar. 1380, Apr. 1385, Mar. 1392; to examine goods forfeited by rebels, Norf., Suff. Aug. 1381; put down rebellion, Norf. Dec. 1381, Mar., Dec. 1382; fortify Great Yarmouth May, Sept. 1386; make proclamation against unlawful assemblies, Norf., Suff. Sept. 1387; administer oaths acknowledging loyal support for the Lords Appellant, Norf. Mar. 1388.

Sheriff, Norf. and Suff. 25 Nov. 1378-5 Nov. 1379.

J.p. Norf. 26 May 1380-d.

Tax surveyor, Norf. Dec. 1380, Mar. 1381; collector Dec. 1384.


Stephen Hales inherited from his parents a moiety of the lordship of Testerton, manors in Wicklewood, Warham and Holt, and lands at Kelling, his holdings being therefore for the most part concentrated in north Norfolk. His wife Joan would appear to have been the heiress of manors in Swanton Novers and Wiveton.1

In his early life Hales saw much active service in the wars with France. He was ‘first armed’ in a sea-fight with Spaniards off Winchelsea in 1350, campaigned in the army of the Black Prince in Gascony from 1355 to 1357, was present when Edward III’s forces menaced Paris in the spring of 1360, and, once more under the prince’s command, fought at the battle of Najera in 1367. He attained a prominent position either in Prince Edward’s household or as one of his military commanders, being rewarded on 13 Nov. 1372 with the large annuity of 100 marks for life, charged on the revenues of the stannaries of Cornwall. During the session of the Parliament of January 1377, in which Hales represented his home county on the first of nine occasions, he obtained from young Richard of Bordeaux confirmation of this grant.2 In the early years of his reign, Richard relied heavily on his late father’s retainers, and although Hales was not among those who became members of the Household, he was constantly employed in local administration in East Anglia. Towards the end of his term as sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk (1378-9), he was instructed to go to Bury St. Edmunds ‘for urgent reasons’—no doubt to quell the disturbances arising from the disputed election to the abbacy. As sheriff, he was responsible for making the return recording his own election to the Parliament of 1380 (Jan.), although he had relinquished office before the Commons actually assembled. In the meantime, in December 1379, he had obtained formal confirmation of his annuity from Richard as King.

A man of Hales’s military background might expect to be kept busy in the early 1380s, a time of considerable unrest in East Anglia. Indeed, he had already proved useful in restoring order at Bury. When, in the spring of 1380, a band of men resisted serjeants-at-arms in their attempts to requisition vessels and conscript mariners for royal service and had besieged them in a barn at Wells (Norfolk), it was Hales who rode to their rescue, putting the assailants to flight. But his task was not always so easy. As he was among those appointed as commissioners in March 1381 to put an end to evasion of the poll tax, the insurgents of June had a particular grievance against him. On this occasion he and other ‘honourable knights’ (including the Lords Scales and Morley) were ignominiously overwhelmed by the rebels led by Geoffrey Lister, a dyer from Norwich, who compelled them to join their company and murdered Sir Robert Salle when he resisted. Hales complied when Lister, acting out the role of ‘Rex Communium’, made him carve his meat and taste the food before he ate, though, understandably, following this humiliation he took a prominent part in the suppression of the revolt in East Anglia. Then named on a number of royal commissions, he zealously seized goods stolen by the rebels, assessed the damage done by them, and in the course of the next 18 months served on military bodies appointed for the maintenance of order. Hales almost certainly offered staunch opposition to any appeals for leniency put forward in the next Parliament to meet after the uprising, although there is no evidence that he exacted any personal revenge. Perhaps as a reward for his efforts in the King’s service, in December 1382 it was ordered that from then on his annuity was to be paid out of the revenues of Norfolk, a more convenient arrangement from his own point of view.3

In February 1385 Hales was discharged from a commission to collect subsidies in Norfolk, the reason being that ‘he is kept in the city of London by weakness of his eye and, under care of physicians, is busied with the healing thereof’. After emerging from this spell of treatment, he took part in Richard II’s expedition to Scotland that summer, with a small personal following consisting of an esquire and three archers. Hales’s activity in local administration was to continue unaffected by the political upheavals of the years between 1386 and 1389; and, even though he was the person selected by the Lords Appellant in March 1388 to administer in Norfolk oaths of loyalty to their regime, he was nevertheless retained as a j.p. after the King re-asserted control over the government a year or so later. Indeed, he served throughout this period as a member of the Norfolk bench.4

In his youth, Hales had established a friendship with Sir Thomas Felton KG, the Black Prince’s seneschal of Aquitaine, whose manors of Great and Little Ryburgh bordered on his own at Testerton. It was on Felton’s behalf that in 1379 he had acted as patron of the rectory of Litcham, and following his friend’s death two years later he had offered his widow, Joan, assistance in many of the transactions necessary for the settlement of her property. Thus, he was party to the arrangements made to provide an income for Joan and her daughters Mary (afterwards wife of Sir John Curson*) and Sibyl (who apparently married Sir Thomas Morley, before retiring to Barking abbey as a nun); and in 1385 he and his fellow trustees of the Felton estates obtained a royal licence to make a substantial grant to Walsingham priory, where a chantry was to be built in memory of Felton and his former lord the Black Prince. This business brought Hales into close contact with Thomas, Lord Morley, and five years later when the latter married Anne Hastings, he was asked to serve as their feoffee in the making of an entail of the manor of Great Hallingbury (Essex).5 Hales also established links with other members of the lesser nobility who held estates in East Anglia. He acted as a feoffee-to-uses for John, Lord Plaiz (who in his will in 1385 left him sufficient silver to make a new cup with a cover), and it was on this lord’s behalf that he arranged grants in mortmain to Bromehill priory. And on occasion he witnessed deeds for John, Lord Clifton and Walter, Lord Fitzwalter. Yet it would seem to have been on his own account that in 1392 he applied for licences both from the King and from Richard, earl of Arundel, to convey certain properties in Quarles and elsewhere to North Creake abbey, then in the process of restoration.6

Hales is last recorded on the occasion of his reappointment as a j.p. in June 1394, and he died within a year. His heir was his brother Thomas, whose daughter later brought the Hales estates to the Rookwood family of Suffolk. In May 1406 Sir Stephen’s widow arranged that after her death her manors at Swanton Novers and Wiveton should be granted to Walsingham priory to provide for spiritual services for her late husband and herself, and to ensure their remembrance in perpetuity. It may well be that Hales had been interred there.7

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. F. Blomefield, Norf. i. 317-18, 325; vii. 198, 200; ix. 264, 397, 443; CP25(1)167/175/1600.
  • 2. Scrope v. Grosvenor i. 163; H.J. Hewitt, Black Prince’s Exped. 204; CPR, 1377-81, p. 413.
  • 3. CPR, 1377-81, pp. 391, 475, 510; 1381-5, p. 210; C219/8/4; T. Walsingham, Hist. Ang. ed. Riley, ii. 5-6.
  • 4. CCR, 1381-5, p. 532; E403/508 m. 21.
  • 5. Blomefield, x. 13; CPR, 1381-5, pp. 335, 557; 1388-92, pp. 261, 337; CCR, 1381-5, pp. 422, 563-4; 1389-92, p. 319; HMC 13th Rep. iv. 424-6.
  • 6. CCR, 1381-5, pp. 202, 302, 401; Blomefield, ii. 161; C143/409/3, 413/1; CAD, iii. C3731.
  • 7. Blomefield, vii. 200; CPR, 1405-8, p. 181.