HETHE, Robert (d.1396), of Little Saxham, Suff.
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Family and Education
1st. s. of John Hethe of Little Saxham by Amy, wid. of Philip Risby of Risby, Suff. m. c.1381, Margery (d.c.1410), ?da. and coh. of Edward Doreward of Bures, Suff., wid. of Thomas Bergham† alias atte Oke of Orford, Suff., 1s. Thomas*, 1da.
Commr. of arrest, Norf. Feb. 1378; weirs, river Thames Apr. 1382; inquiry, Suff. Mar. 1383 (concealments); gaol delivery, Melton, Norf. Nov. 1383, Bury St. Edmunds, Suff. July 1384, Feb. 1388, Eye castle, Suff. Nov. 1385; to hold special assizes, Suff. Aug. 1384; make distraint on the property of John of Northampton†, Essex June 1385; of oyer and terminer, Norf. Nov. 1385, Jan. 1386.
Hethe came from a Suffolk family of considerable antiquity, which by the mid 14th century had acquired the manor of Little Saxham, a township lying three miles to the west of Bury St. Edmunds. The Hethes were tenants of the great abbey but relations between them and successive abbots varied, ranging from cordiality to outright hostility. Robert’s father, John Hethe, who was escheator of Norfolk and Suffolk from 1376 to 1378, wore the livery of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, being made steward of the duke’s estates in Suffolk in 1380; furthermore, six years later he was serving as deputy to Sir Thomas Morieux (husband of the duke’s illegitimate daughter) in the office of steward of the liberties of St. Edmunds abbey. John’s landed holdings were situated in Risby, Barrow, Lackford, Felmpton, West Stow, Ickworth and Fornham All Saints, all in the same area of Suffolk, and in addition he leased ‘Leo’s Hall’ in Westley from the Hengraves. Robert was the eldest of John’s five sons and, although not all of his father’s properties passed to him, he did have possession of some family lands in the 1380s and inherited more at his father’s death in about 1392. Furthermore, he had received by settlement certain properties belonging to his half-brother, Thomas Risby (d.1383/4), the parson of Little Wratting.1
Hethe’s wife, Margery, held for life of the inheritance of her stepson, John atte Oke, a manor in Orford and property at Sudbourne and Gedgrave.2 These, situated a few miles up the coast from Ipswich, provided Hethe with an interest in premises somewhat nearer to the borough he represented in the House of Commons than were the family estates. Although returned to Parliament in February 1383, he was not formally admitted to the freedom of Ipswich until 8 Sept. 1384, and he is not known to have owned property in the town until June 1385, when he and his wife acquired a holding in the suburb of Stoke.3
It seems likely that Hethe had been selected as a parliamentary representative for Ipswich because of his training as a lawyer. This had been completed by 1377 when he witnessed a conveyance for Sir Richard Waldegrave*, already one of the leading figures of Suffolk, and in the course of the following 20 or so years he was engaged in many lawsuits on behalf of a wide variety of clients from East Anglia as a whole, his most regular associate in the 1380s being a Suffolk gentleman named Edmund Lakenheath, for whom he acted not only in suits at special assizes but also in various land transactions including the purchase of the manor of ‘Blountes’. In 1378 he provided securities in Chancery to guarantee, under a penalty of £200, that the parson of Soham would keep the peace, but he may have forfeited the money, for two years later there were reports that the parson had trespassed against crown tenants.4 In 1381 Hethe witnessed the sale of the local manor of Denham by John Bacon, the King’s secretary, but he had an even more important contact at Richard II’s court in the person of Sir Thomas Morieux, his father’s patron, who was constable of the Tower. It was probably Morieux who secured Hethe’s appointment with him in 1382 on a royal commission to examine weirs along the Thames, and it may be that Hethe had some official employment under Sir Thomas at the Tower. That the families were very close is clear from the nomination of Morieux and Hethe together as executors of the will of Hethe’s half-brother, the parson of Wratting, in November 1383, and two years later both men were serving as feoffees of the Norfolk manor of ‘Soham hall’ in Barford. Whether Hethe was ever actually retained by Morieux’s father-in-law, John of Gaunt, is not known, but he was certainly associated with the duke’s chamberlain, Sir Robert Swillington, to whom in 1384 he conveyed the manor of Wissett and on whose behalf he acted as steward of Southwold. In March 1388, following Morieux’s death on campaign with Lancaster’s army in Spain, the feoffees of his estates leased to Hethe and his brother Thomas for six years the deceased’s manors of Thorpe Morieux and Felsham as well as an inn at Bury St. Edmunds. It would appear that Elizabeth, the wife of Hethe’s brother Richard (d.1427), was related to Morieux, for in later years she held moieties of these manors; but Sir Thomas’s principal heir was his niece Eleanor, the wife of Sir John Strange* of Hunstanton, a prominent Norfolk knight with whom the Hethes were always on good terms.5
Others for whom Robert Hethe acted in a legal capacity included the bastard-born William Argentine*, who needed the help of lawyers in 1383 when he made his bid to secure possession of his late father’s estates. Hethe’s contacts at Westminster obtained for him in February 1385 a royal grant of the reversion of certain lands in Mildenhall, Suffolk, made at the request of a ‘King’s esquire’ named William Takel. Two months later he was associated with Sir John Gildesburgh*, the former Speaker and a leading retainer of the duke of Gloucester, in a settlement for the marriage of John atte Oke (his wife’s stepson).6 Subsequently, he stood surety at the Exchequer for the lessees of the Loudham estates (1386), of the alien priory of Chepstow (1389) and of the holdings of Lire abbey (1391). He was sometimes asked to arbitrate in local disputes when a settlement was sought out of court, and on occasion he provided bail for miscreants required to keep the peace.7
Yet the Hethes themselves were not always on the right side of the law: at the time of Robert’s second return to Parliament in 1390, along with his father and brother he became involved in a major dispute with several leading Suffolk knights, including the Cloptons, Sir Thomas Hengrave and Sir William Bardwell*. On 9 Feb. while he was still attending Parliament, sureties were provided in Chancery on the Hethes’ behalf, binding them to keep the peace, each under a penalty of 1,000 marks, and Robert himself was deputied to appear in court to plead their case. (Sir John Strange was among those who came to their support.) The origins of this evidently serious rift between sections of the community of the shire is unclear. Robert Hethe remained on good terms with other local landowners: for instance, on 2 Mar., towards the close of the Parliament, he acted as mainpernor for Sir John Braham*, then being sued for debt. In the previous few years he had served on several royal commissions, mostly of a judicial nature, and it was perhaps in recognition of his service that he was granted in July 1390 the wardship of property at Fordham in Norfolk, and, in March 1392, the keeping of a manor in Westley said to have belonged to the late earl of Pembroke.8
In the summer of 1391 the local disturbances which had earlier brought the Hethes before the royal courts erupted into an open quarrel between them and the abbot of St. Edmunds. It was alleged that Robert himself had assembled a body of archers to intimidate jurors at sessions held at Bury, and he was now required to make a formal submission to the earl of Rutland, appearing on the abbot’s behalf, and to be bound in the sum of £2,000 for his future good behaviour towards the abbot, William, Lord Zouche, and others. Yet the underlying grievances still festered: late in the same year Hethe joined Sir Robert Carbonel† in an armed attack at Bury, in which they seized and imprisoned three of the abbot’s servants and held them to ransom; furthermore, after the abbot obtained a royal commission of oyer and terminer to investigate the affair, Hethe and his associates somehow managed to get the commission revoked.9
After the death of Sir Thomas Morieux, Hethe had found another influential patron in the person of Sir Thomas Mortimer, uncle of the young earl of March. In 1387 he had been Mortimer’s co-feoffee in a manor in Norfolk, and when, in the following year, Sir Thomas secured custody of certain of the Bardolf estates both Robert and his brother, Richard, stood surety for him at the Exchequer. Hethe subsequently acted for Mortimer in a number of financial transactions, the most important taking place in 1391 when both men were party to recognizances in huge sums of money with Sir Thomas Swinburne*. In March 1392 he was associated with Mortimer as co-trustee of the manor of Cavendish, which John Pelham* was in the process of selling to Thomas, duke of Gloucester; and three months later Mortimer, preparing to travel to Ireland, where Gloucester was lieutenant, nominated him as his attorney. Hethe’s service to the house of Mortimer led indirectly to his securing perquisites at the Exchequer: in 1393 he obtained a share in the wardship of lands at Withersfield, Suffolk, belonging to a tenant of the earl of March, and a year later he was permitted to purchase for 50 marks the marriages of the heirs to these properties. In August 1394 both Sir Thomas and his nephew the earl, on their way to Ireland in the royal entourage, appointed him among their attorneys for the supervision of their affairs at home. Earl Roger called on Hethe’s services in a similar way in August and again in December 1395; and in the same period he also took on responsibility for the legal business of Sir Robert Mounteney and Thomas Astley, who were travelling in the earl’s company.