HARPER, John (d.1464), of Rushall, Staffs.
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Family and Education
Steward and receiver of the lordship of Stafford for Anne, dowager countess of Stafford 15 July 1428-prob. Oct. 1438; steward of the Staffs., Glos. and Northants. estates held by the feoffees of Thomas, earl of Stafford (d.1392), 15 Mar. 1437-prob. Oct. 1438, of the manor of Tyseo, Warws. for Humphrey, earl of Stafford (later duke of Buckingham), 15 Nov. 1438-c. July 1460; auditor-general for the earl c.1439-c. July 1460.2
Escheator, Staffs. 4 Nov. 1428-12 Feb. 1430, 5 Nov. 1432-3, 5 Nov 1439-4 Nov. 1440.
J.p. Staffs. 24 Mar. 1430-d.
Commr. to raise royal loans, Staffs. Mar. 1431, Aug. 1442, Sept. 1449; array Aug. 1436, Sept. 1457, Dec. 1459; oyer and terminer Nov. 1436 (attack on Lichfield cathedral), Salop Jan. 1439 (enclosures); gaol delivery, Stafford Nov. 1439; inquiry, Warws. Nov. 1440 (ownership of the manor of Birmingham), Staffs. Feb. 1443 (rent strikes at Shenstone), Feb. 1448 (concealment of feudal dues), Herefs. July 1449 (estates of the duke of Warwick), Staffs., Salop, Worcs. June 1458 (murders and other crimes); kiddles, Mdx., London July 1448, Oct. 1455; to raise a subsidy, Staffs. Aug. 1450; assign payments for archers Dec. 1457; make an arrest Dec. 1461.
Justice itinerant (appointed by Humphrey, earl of Stafford) to hear the great sessions at Newport 12 Feb. 1432, Brecon 8 Jan. 1440, 13 Jan. 1443, 2 Jan. 1445, 28 Mar. 1446.3
Custodian of the estates of the abbey of Burton-upon-Trent, Staffs. 20 July 1433-40.
Auditor of the estates of John, earl of Shrewsbury by 1442-prob. July 1453.4
Steward of the manor of Weston-upon-Trent, Staffs. for the abbot of St. Werburgh, Chester by 1444.5
Auditor of the estates confiscated from Richard, earl of Warwick, 9 Dec. 1459-prob. July 1460, the estates of the duchy of Lancaster in S. Wales and Glos. 10 Dec. 1461-d.,6 the estates in Wales, Salop, Herefs. and Glos. held by the Crown during the minorities of Henry, duke of Buckingham, John, duke of Norfolk, and John, earl of Shrewsbury, and of all the ministers of the Crown in Wales, Chester, Flint and the forest of Dean 1 Jan. 1462-d.
Comparatively little evidence has survived about Harper’s early life. He is said to have been the son of one John le Harpur and Isabel, the daughter of Sir Robert Appleby, but this cannot now be proved. The earliest known reference to him occurs in August 1411, when he appeared as an attorney at the Stafford assizes.7 He must then have been a very young man, and it was probably because of the promise which he showed as a lawyer that the burgesses first chose him to represent them in Parliament. Harper sat almost continuously for the borough during the 1420s (he was absent from the Commons only in December 1421 and 1426), and first took part in the Staffordshire elections of 1423. He also witnessed the electoral returns for the county to the Parliaments of 1432 and 1441, being himself returned as a shire knight in later life.8 Indeed, by the end of this period he had become a figure of considerable importance in the north Midlands.
In October 1420, Harper joined with Joan, the widow of Sir Thomas Harcourt, and others in acquiring the wardship and marriage of Sir Thomas’s young heir from the Crown, although the award was subsequently revoked on the ground that Sir John Wilcotes had already received custody of the boy. The estates of the late Thomas Bromley, esquire, were also awarded to Harper at this time, again on what proved to be little more than a temporary basis.9 The grant to him and his friend, William Leventhorpe, of the inheritance of Sir Richard Mytton’s infant son was even more short lived, since Joan, Lady Abergavenny, gained control of the property within a matter of days. The two men did, however, succeed in retaining part of the manor of Darlaston which had temporarily escheated to the Crown during the minority of Humphrey, earl of Stafford. Despite an apparently successful challenge to his title, Harper was still farming land there in 1434, some 12 years after the date of the original grant, so he must have come to some private agreement with the earl. A further mark of royal favour, in the form of a lease of confiscated property in the Staffordshire village of Little Haywood, was also shown to, him by Henry V.10
Harper’s early success clearly owed much to his influential connexions. In July 1422 and February 1426 he stood surety at the Exchequer for, respectively, the above-mentioned Lady Abergavenny and Henry Bourgchier, count of Eu (later earl of Essex).11 Together with the powerful royal officials Roger Flore* and Henry Somer*, he was a party to the settlement of certain Staffordshire estates; and from 1423 onwards his name is often to be found in conjunction with that of his parliamentary colleague, Robert Whitgreve (who sat for Stafford with him on at least seven occasions) among the feoffees-to-uses and mainpernors of neighbouring landowners. Like Whitgreve, Harper prospered in the service of Humphrey, earl of Stafford. The three men were chosen by Sir Philip Chetwynd to act as his trustees in February 1427, when Harper’s long association with the baronial house was already well established.12 During the same year the MP witnessed Earl Humphrey’s confirmation of the Newport borough charter, and was involved in the first of a protracted series of enfeoffments which, by the early 1450s, had given him the trusteeship of almost all his patron’s vast inheritance.13 At first, Harper was technically an employee of the earl’s mother, Anne, dowager countess of Stafford, who not only made him steward and receiver of her property in Staffordshire, but also appointed him to act as her attorney. His interest in Earl Humphrey’s affairs none the less continued to grow. It was almost certainly as one of his councillors that he was chosen to preside over the Newport sessions in February 1432, and later required to stand surety for him at the Exchequer. Moreover, when the countess died in 1438, an honorary stewardship was immediately bestowed upon Harper by the earl to retain his services. Within a year he had assumed office as auditor-general of all the Stafford estates, an extremely demanding and onerous post which he probably filled until his employer’s death (as duke of Buckingham) in 1460. At some point before 1441 he was further rewarded with an annuity of ten marks, and not long afterwards he appears among a group of senior councillors who met at Maxstoke castle in Warwickshire to discuss matters of policy with the earl. Harper’s duties as a commissioner and j.p. also brought him into close personal contact with Earl Humphrey, who sat beside him on the Staffordshire bench and occasionally acted with him as a feoffee-to-uses.14
By the date of his election as a shire knight, if not well before, Harper had acquired a considerable amount of property. Besides the scattered and mostly short-term grants of land made to him in the early 1420s, he either bought or inherited a fishery at Ashley in Staffordshire while still a young man. According to a series of transactions begun in November 1422, Harper seems over the years to have gained possession of the manors of West Tilbury in Essex, Henhurst in Kent and Pontefract (‘Pountfreit’) in Middlesex. These had previously belonged to John* and Katherine Falk, whose son, Nicholas, later made a conveyance of his Shropshire estates to Harper, almost certainly as a feoffee-to-uses. Perhaps the Falks had initially intended to mortgage rather than sell their holdings in the south-east, but whatever their motives at least one of the three manors was still in the hands of Harper’s descendants in 1471.15 Meanwhile, in July 1428, Harper took on a 20-year lease of the Staffordshire manor of Arley from the Crown at an annual rent of £12 15s. This time he managed successfully to defend his title, but not without fighting an action in Chancery which was determined in his favour in January 1432. Seven years later Richard, duke of York, sued Harper for ownership of the manor, being confirmed in possession by Parliament in 1450. The exact nature of Harper’s claim to certain farmland and messuages in Theddingworth and Carlton Curlieu in Leicestershire now remains unknown: he was, however, engaged in litigation over the property as late as 1454.16
There can be little doubt that Harper’s real influence as a landowner was due to his marriage to Eleanor, the daughter and heir of William Grobbere. This brought him a substantial estate in the Rushall area, although it also involved him in yet more lawsuits, some of which may have been collusive. From 1430 onwards Harper and his wife consolidated their holdings in this part of Staffordshire. In 1438 they obtained a royal charter of free warren on their demesnes there, and soon afterwards they were awarded royal letters patent permitting them to endow a perpetual chaplaincy which was to be held by their own nominee. Harper had previously been at odds with the abbot of Halesowen over the right of presentation, but their dispute was settled amicably enough, and the MP even donated a composite volume of religious texts to the abbey. In July 1446 Harper secured confirmation from Henry VI of all the franchises in Rushall which he and his wife had fought so hard to recover.17 Through their ownership of the two Staffordshire manors of Hanbury and Houndhill the couple came into conflict with the duchy of Lancaster officers responsible for the deer on Needwood chase. They were at first denied compensation for the damage done by the animals to their crops, and some of their tenants even faced imprisonment for taking the law into their own hands. Yet thanks to his patron, the duke of Buckingham, who was constable of Needwood and head of a commission appointed to examine his complaint, Harper obtained a ruling which exempted him from the authority of the duchy. Eleanor also possessed a title to the manor of Rowley in Staffordshire, which Harper brought before the Parliament of 1431. That he managed to secure the inclusion of a clause of non-prejudice regarding her claim in a Commons’ petition requesting that all judgements given in the courts before Henry IV’s accession should hold good must have owed much to his presence in the Lower House, although in the event the entire petition was rejected. Harper was still fighting a legal action over the manor in 1435, when he questioned an earlier judgement made against one of his wife’s ancestors.18 During this period he and Eleanor began an equally unsuccessful attempt to obtain a second manor in the same county. King’s Bromley was then occupied by John Greville*, as a result of a settlement permitting him to retain for life the estates of his late wife, the daughter and heir of Sir Robert Corbet*. On his death, some 12 years later, the property reverted to John Corbet, who promptly offered Harper an annuity of £5 in return for his legal services, and, perhaps, as a means of settling the dispute for good.19
Although his chief allegiance lay with the Staffords, Harper also became associated with other members of the English baronage. In February 1434, for instance, he acted as a mainpernor with the earl of Suffolk for his friend, Thomas Mulsho*, while at the same time attempting to recover a debt of £20 owed jointly to him and William, Lord Zouche. Four years later he stood surety at the Exchequer for John Sutton, Lord Dudley. By 1442, the earl of Shrewsbury had engaged him as an auditor, and in 1453 he was one of the trustees of Richard, earl of Warwick.20 During his later years Harper’s financial expertise was so great that, despite the royal letters patent of 1446 which exempted him from holding any office of the Crown, he was prevailed upon to assume responsibility as one of the King’s senior auditors in Wales and the marches. It would appear, moreover, that he discharged his duties without the aid of a deputy, remaining active until his death.21
Harper died on 3 July 1464 and was buried in the church of the Grey Friars at Lichfield. He left two sons, William and Richard, both of whom maintained their father’s connexion with the house of Stafford. Richard possessed a similar aptitude for law and finance, rising to become an official at the receipt of the Exchequer, and eventually receiver-general of the duchy of Lancaster. In May 1474 he obtained permission from Edward IV to endow a chantry at Swinford in Leicestershire in memory of his parents.22
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Variants: Harpour, Harpur. This MP is not to be confused with the John Harper who became royal forester of Galtres in Yorkshire in 1438 and was dead by 1453 (CPR, 1436-41, p. 252; 1452-61, p. 37). Two adjacent entries in the close roll of 1420 distinguish clearly between our Member and another John Harper of Herefs. The latter appears among the list of Herefordshire gentry who, in 1434, were required to take the oath not to maintain persons disturbing the peace (CCR, 1419-22, p. 65 (bis); CPR, 1429-36, p. 376).
- 1. S. Shaw, Staffs. ii. 63-64; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. iii. 105; xvii. 129; n.s. (1913), 334; Staffs. Parl. Hist. i (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc.), 194.
- 2. Add. Chs. 19858-9; SC6/1040/15 m. 5d; Staffs. RO, D641/1/2/254 m. 6, 274 m. 4; NLW, Peniarth ms 280, f. 3.
- 3. NLW, Peniarth ms 280, ff. 3, 24, 34, 40; T.B. Pugh, Marcher Ldships S. Wales, 18, 291.
- 4. A.J. Pollard, ‘The Talbots’ (Bristol Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1968), 309-10, app. iii. 417-20.
- 5. Shaw, ii. 63.
- 6. Somerville, Duchy, i. 445.
- 7. Staffs. Parl. Hist. i (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc.), 193; JUST 1/1515 rot. 15.
- 8. C219/13/2, 14/3, 15/2.
- 9. CFR, xiv. 341, 355, 439; CPR, 1416-22, p. 362; CCR, 1419-22, p. 148.
- 10. Staffs. RO, D641/1/2/53 m. 4, 54 m. 7; D1721/1/1, ff. 222-4, 8, ff. 211, 216; CFR, xiv. 356, 382, 423; CPR, 1416-22, p. 306; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xvii. 131-4.
- 11. CFR, xiv. 440; xv. 159-60.
- 12. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xi. 228; E132/3/29 ff. 3-3v, 4v, 5v; E315/62 ff. 18-18v; CFR, xv. 224; CCR, 1429-35, p. 359; CPR, 1441-6, p. 229; Wm. Salt Lib. Stafford, Chetwynd mss, bdle. 7, nos. 22-26, 32.
- 13. Pugh, 18; Staffs. RO, D1721/1/1, ff. 46-47; Westminster Abbey mun. 15195; CCR, 1422-9, pp. 318-19, 321-2, 344; 1429-35, pp. 357-8; CPR, 1429-36, p. 466; 1436-41, pp. 527-8, 1441-6, p. 133; 1446-52, p. 78; Surr. Arch. Colls. extra vol. i. 182.
- 14. Staffs. RO, D641/1/2/12 m. 1, 14 m. 2, 17 m. 2d, 54 m. 2; CFR, xvii. 19; CCR, 1441-7, pp. 270-1; CPR, 1446-52, p. 127; Wm. Salt Lib. Stafford, D1790/A/3/99, 7/15, 13/56.
- 15. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xvii. 80; Essex Feet of Fines, iv. 3, 23, 40, 53, 68; CCR, 1422-9, p. 51; 1435-41, pp. 120, 123-4, 128, 130.
- 16. CFR, xv. 221-2; CCR, 1422-9, p. 374; 1429-35, p. 47; CPR, 1429-36, pp. 186-7; Shaw, ii. 257; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. iii n.s. 218.
- 17. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xi. 230; xvii. 136, 141, 148, 151-2; n.s. iii. 135, 166, 215, 216; CPR, 1436-41, p. 396; 1441-6, pp. 175, 447; Cambridge Antiq. Soc. xi. 75; CChR, vi. 2.
- 18. Shaw, i. 72; RP, iv. 380; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. n.s. iii. 130.
- 19. CCR, 1429-35, p. 224; 1441-7, p. 271; CPR, 1429-36, p. 246; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xi. 231; xvii. 137.
- 20. CCR, 1429-35, p. 300; 1454-61, p. 56; CPR, 1429-36, p. 313; 1452-61, p. 49; CFR, xvii. 42.
- 21. SC8/248/12368; CPR, 1446-52, p. 18.
- 22. Staffs. Parl. Hist. i (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc.), 193-4, 250-1; CPR, 1467-77, p. 443; C. Rawcliffe, Staffords, 201, 205, 215-16; Somerville, i. 401.