HELTON, John, of Burton near Appleby, Westmld.

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. 1397
Jan. 1397

Family and Education

Offices Held


The Heltons were an influential local family whose seat lay at Burton near Appleby. John may well have been the son or nephew of the William Helton who represented Appleby in the Parliament of 1377 (Jan.), and who later served as a j.p. and crown commissioner in Westmorland. Certainly, in about 1389, the two men joined together to act as feoffees of Hugh Salkeld I’s* property in Newbiggin, Cumberland; and it looks as if the hamlet of Burton, which William still occupied ten years later, descended on his death directly to John. The latter can, unfortunately, be easily confused with his contemporary and namesake, John Helton of Helton Bacon, who also lived near Appleby. This John Helton first appears in about 1409, and although less active than his neighbour he was sometimes associated with him. For example, both of them witnessed the return for the county of Westmorland made at Appleby to the second Parliament of 1414; and they also attested a conveyance of land in the Westmorland village of Little Strickland shortly afterwards. John Helton of Helton actually owned property in this area, and died well before 1452, leaving two sons, one of whom became coroner of Westmorland. There can be little doubt, however, that John Helton of Burton, a busy and successful lawyer, represented both Carlisle and Appleby in Parliament.1

By August 1394, when he acted as an attorney for Sir Nicholas Haryngton at the Penrith assizes, Helton had begun to accumulate an impressive number of clients. He sometimes worked with John Sowerby, his colleague in the first Parliament of 1397, which saw his return to the Commons as Member for the two constituences of Appleby and Carlisle, a move on the part of the electors clearly intended to save expenses, and no doubt capitalize upon the fact that he probably had business of his own to discharge in the lawcourts at Westminster. That he had strong connexions with Carlisle is evident from his appearance at the local assizes, in 1398, as one of the prior of Carlisle’s attorneys. On this occasion he had been retained to plead against Robert Carlisle I*, in a case which dragged on until 1406, if not later. By then he was sharing his duties with John Sowerby, who also appeared with him in 1408 as an attorney for William Strickland, bishop of Carlisle. Throughout this period John was frequently to be seen in court at Penrith and Appleby as well, having been retained by a number of landowners in the north-west. He also served at least twice as a juror at sessions of gaol delivery in Appleby, sitting alongside some of the leading members of county society.2 Meanwhile, in 1399, he attended his second Parliament, this time as one of the representatives for Carlisle alone. He had many friends among the local gentry, including William Lowther I*, for whom he offered securities at the Exchequer, in 1406, as a farmer of land in the royal forest of Inglewood. Lowther was related by marriage to Bishop Strickland, with whom John maintained close ties. Thus, when Strickland, in turn, took on the lease of property in the forest, in 1410, the lawyer agreed to act as his mainpernor, other guarantees being provided by his long-term associate, John Sowerby. Not surprisingly, in view of the circle in which he moved, he was often present at the parliamentary elections for Westmorland, helping to choose the shire knights in 1407, 1411, 1414 (Nov.), 1420, 1421 (Dec.) and 1425. He himself was again returned for Appleby in both 1411 and 1425, and must have been present in the county court when his name was put forward by the burgesses.3

Helton’s relations with his neighbours were not always so amicable, however, and during the early years of Henry V’s reign he became involved in a particularly bitter and violent feud with a group of influential northern landowners. According to two petitions submitted by him to the court of Chancery, Richard Wharton* and Thomas Warcop II*, together with other ‘graundez meyntenours et maleffessours del counte de Westmorland’ to the number of 100, not only tried to murder him, but also launched an armed attack on his home at Burton, attempting, unsuccessfully, to burn it to the ground. The cause of the affray is not now known, but it is interesting to note that earlier, in 1408, John had assisted Gilbert Gerburn in arraigning an assize of novel disseisin against Warcop, a belligerent individual who may possibly have borne a grudge against him. John showed considerable courage in persisting with his appeal, not least because Wharton and the Warcops used all their influence to maintain a strong family presence in Parliament, where they clearly intended to defend themselves against further accusations. Wharton sat for Westmorland in 1414 (Apr.) and Appleby in 1419, while the Warcops and their friends were returned regularly for the county throughout this period. In the end a settlement was reached, although Helton may have been forced to come to terms with his more powerful adversaries.4

The date of John Helton’s death is not recorded, but he seems to have retired from public life after his brush with the Warcops. He was survived by his friend and namesake, John Helton of Helton, to whom all subsequent evidence refers.

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. vii. 243; lv. 173; J. Nicolson and R. Burn, Westmld. and Cumb. i. 353; Recs. Kendale ed. Farrer and Curwen, i. 37; CPR, 1429-36, pp. 6, 485; C219/11/5, 13/5.
  • 2. JUST 1/1500 rot. 37v, 1509 rot. 14, 1517 rot. 28, 61, 63v, 65; JUST 3/70/1.
  • 3. CFR, xiii. 51, 173; C219/10/4, 6, 11/5, 12/4, 6, 13/3.
  • 4. C1/6/196, 282; JUST 1/1517 rot. 65.