HILL, Robert (c.1361-1423), of Spaxton, Som.
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Family and Education
b.c.1361, s. and h. of Sir John Hill†, j.KB of Kytton Barton (in Holcombe Rogus) and Hill’s Court in Exeter, Devon by his 1st w. Denise, da. of Sir John Durburgh, wid. of Martin Langedon of Exeter. m. 1394 at Kytton, Isabel (1383-c.1419), da. and event. h. of Sir Thomas Fichet† of Spaxton by Ricarda, da. and h. of John Inkpen of Inkpen, Berks., 1s. John†, 1da.1
Commr. to assign dower, Som., Dorset Oct. 1397 (Gorges estates); of inquiry, Som. July 1398 (wastes), Nov. 1401 (counterfeiting), Dorset Oct. 1404 (assaults), Devon, Cornw., Som., Dorset, Suss., Hants, Bristol, Glos., Worcs., Oxon. Warws., Mdx. Mar. 1408 (concealments), Som. Jan. 1412 (contributors to a subsidy), May 1415 (matters relating to a Chancery suit), Som., Dorset Feb. 1419 (c oncealments), Wilts. July 1421 (wastes); to evaluate the Botreaux estates, Devon, Cornw. Dec. 1398; of gaol delivery, Bath June 1399;2 oyer and terminer, Som. Nov. 1400, Devon Sept. 1401, Som. Nov. 1401, Devon Sept. 1402; array, Som. Aug., Sept. 1403, July 1405, May 1415, May 1418; weirs Feb. 1404; arrest, Hants June 1409, Som., Devon July 1409; to treat for royal loans, Som. Nov. 1419.
J.p. Som. 18 June 1399-May 1410, 4 June 1410-d.
Sheriff, Som. and Dorset 15 Nov. 1408-4 Nov. 1409, 3 Nov. 1412-6 Nov. 1413, 23 Nov. 1419-16 Nov. 1420, 1 May 1422-d.
Bailiff of Bp. Bubwith’s hundred of Winterstock, Som. by Oct. 1410.5
Escheator, Devon and Cornw. 14 Dec. 1415-8 Dec. 1416, Som. and Dorset 8 Dec. 1416-30 Nov. 1417.
Like many families which owed their rise to proficiency in the law, the Hills were obscure in origin. Nevertheless, they produced at least three very competent men within two generations. Doubts about their ancestry shroud the actual relationship between the several branches of the family established in Devon well before the end of the 14th century. But Sir John Hill, Robert’s father, sat in 11 Parliaments between 1360 and 1380 for various of the boroughs of the county, acted as recorder of Exeter and became a j.KB in 1389, holding that post until his death in 1408; and Robert Hill of Shilston, his kinsman of the same generation, was a j.c.p. from then until 1425. Robert Hill the shire knight was, therefore, brought up in the atmosphere of the law, and it is very likely that he too trained to be a lawyer. Certainly the cartulary he compiled abundantly attests his intimate knowledge of legal matters as they applied to men of property.6
It is difficult to distinguish in detail the public activities of Robert Hill because of the existence of two other men of the same name (both his kinsmen) who were active in the West Country in his lifetime. The first definite reference to him was as a participant in transactions relating to certain estates forfeited by Sir John Cary†, the chief baron of the Exchequer, which, having been purchased from the Crown, were settled in July 1389 on Hill’s father and his second wife and their children. Five years later Robert was nominated as an attorney for Sir William Sturmy*, and from then on the outline of his offices and commissions is quite clear. And, however Hill’s career began, it was shaped after 1394 by his opportune marriage, the circumstances of which he described afterwards in his cartulary. Sir Thomas Fichet, owner of substantial estates, died in Spain in 1386, leaving as his son and heir Thomas, only ten years old. Fichet’s widow, Ricarda, having then married Sir William Coggeshall*, retained his property for her lifetime, but she herself died in 1390 leaving her son still under age. This gave rise to prolonged litigation and confusion, especially when the heir was hidden in Essex, and a dispute over the wardship between Lady Audley of Heleigh, Lady Mohun of Dunster and the Crown was only ended by the boy’s death. Before that event, Hill had paid ‘great sums’ to the Crown to be permitted to marry young Fichet’s sister, Isabel, having contracted the alliance in 1394, when she was aged 11 years. Her brother died in July 1395 without reaching his majority, leaving her as the sole heir to their family lands, of which Hill and his father were then granted custody. But not only was Isabel young, she was also ‘weak and retarded by much faintness, so that it was commonly said ... that she could not live long and suffer such infirmities’, and so in 1397 Hill, who had already ‘incurred many ... costs and expenses to save the inheritance’, fearing that he would lose the prospect of sharing Isabel’s estates when she came of age, made an agreement with the next heir, Sir John Devereux*. For a consideration of £50 (and possibly also a loan of £1,000 to alleviate Devereux’s financial difficulties, although the details of this transaction are not clear), Hill was permitted to retain the property for life in the event of Isabel’s early death without children. However, within four years Isabel recovered and gave birth to a son. Hill’s joy (‘God be praised’ he wrote) was tempered only by the consciousness that he had wasted his £50, for now, even if his wife should predecease him he would, in consequence of the birth of a child, become tenant of her patrimony for life ‘by the courtesy’.7
The Fichet holdings thus acquired were nine manors (including Spaxton) and property at Bridgwater in Somerset, the manor of King’s Tamerton and lands at Trill near Axminster and around Dittisham and Modbury in south Devon, the manor of Westcourt in Inkpen in Berkshire, and that of Halton Barton and premises elsewhere in Cornwall. After his father’s death in 1408, Hill added to these the manors of Heath St. Mary and Halscombe and property in and near Exeter, in Devon, and the manors of Houndstone, Kingston Pitney and Yeovil, in Somerset. He himself had purchased in 1397 the manor of Hemborough in Dittisham, Devon. The estate as a whole was valuable if scattered and spread between Cornwall and Berkshire. Its centre was the compact group of properties in Somerset between the Parrett and the foothills of the Quantocks. In 1406 Hill was said, somewhat vaguely, to have an income from land of at least 100 marks, and in 1412, for the purposes of taxation, it was assessed at just over £140. Both estimates are likely to be too low. The real value of the whole estate was probably much nearer £200 p.a.8
The concentration of his newly acquired possessions in Somerset accounts for Hill’s move from his family home. in Devon. In the county of his adoption he became something of a professional land agent, acting as steward for two of Somerset’s most prominent landowners, the bishop of Bath and Wells and the lady of Dunster. Although he did not remain in office at Dunster after Lady Mohun’s death, he did retain close connexions with the new lord, Sir Hugh Luttrell*. It is possible that he may also be identified with the man of his name who was steward of the Devon lands of Thomas, Lord Despenser, shortly before their forfeiture in 1400. Hill’s knowledge of land law and administration gained in these posts found expression in the compilation of his cartulary, an exacting task which he had started by 1409 and was still engaged in at his death. During his comparatively short tenure of property Hill had experienced a number of legal battles to defend his rights and he evidently anticipated more. Thus he arranged his muniments for ease of reference should further claims arise in the future. Four annual terms as sheriff and two as escheator, together with nearly a quarter of a century on the peace commission, give some idea of the status of the man who was also at least four times Member of Parliament for Somerset. Hill attended the parliamentary elections held at Ilchester in 1410 and 1421, and by virtue of his office as sheriff presided over the hustings at Ilchester and Dorchester before the Parliaments of 1413 (May), 1420 and 1422. His social standing in the area was high, and he was evidently concerned to show how his wife was connected by blood with the earl of Devon. Sir John Hill, his father, had been a member of the earl’s household in the 1370s and 1380s, and steward of his estates for a number of years, and although there is no evidence of any such direct connexion between the earl and Robert Hill, he considered the rather distant relationship to be worth noting in case the earl’s support should ever become necessary. He had been associated with Sir Peter Courtenay†, the earl’s uncle, in October 1403 when they were ordered to retain 20 men-at-arms and 50 archers from Somerset and Dorset to be assembled at Dunster for the defence of Carmarthen castle; and one of his sisters, Margaret, married William, Lord Harington, brother-in-law of the earl’s daughter, Elizabeth. Feoffeeships with or on behalf of Bishop Bubwith, William, Lord Botreaux, Sir Humphrey Stafford I*, Sir William Sturmy and Sir Walter Hungerford* are further reflections of Hill’s position among the gentry of the region. He nevertheless chose not to improve his own status and in 1415 was fined £3 at the Exchequer for having refused to take knighthood.9
Hill made his will in the octave of Easter (early April) 1423. Apart from the conventional bequests to friends and local religious houses, he left to his son, John, the white silk hangings in his oratory, together with six books and a Bible, and he gave a further five books to Spaxton church. To his son he also bequeathed his furniture and effects at Spaxton, and to his daughter, Elizabeth, a marriage portion of 200 marks which was to be kept in a chest at the convent of Minchin Buckland until she found a husband. Jewellery and cash were generously distributed to Hill’s brothers and sisters, to a number of clerks and servants, and to his executors, the latter headed by Sir Hugh Luttrell and Sir Thomas Stawell*. The cash bequests amounted to over £200, and there was much else in jewellery and plate—a goblet and ewer of ‘berell’, a girdle studded with pure gold, rosaries made of coral with gauds of silver gilt, a gold ring with a diamond, a brooch and several other goblets. Twenty pounds was left to the prioress and convent of Buckland, ‘to provide a certain jewel for the body of Christ to be placed in’, and more money so that his name and that of his wife should be entered in their martyrology. One thousand masses were to be celebrated within three or four days of his death, and three priests were to say a great trental of St. Gregory at regular intervals for a year for all those whom he had wronged. Hill died on 25 Apr. and was buried in the conventual church at Buckland, ‘before and under the high altar near the middle of it, near the place where my wife was buried’.10 He was succeeded by his only son, John, who married Cecily, daughter of John Stourton I* of Preston Plucknett, and died in 1434. The estate which Hill had been obviously so careful to secure for his descendants was to remain in the family for little more than a century.11
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Variants: Hulle, Hylle.