HILTON, Sir Godfrey (d.1459), of Irnham, Lincs. and Hooton Pagnell, Yorks.
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Family and Education
yr. s. of Sir Robert Hilton (d.c.1400) of Swine and Winestead in Holderness, Yorks. by his 1st w. Isabel (d. by 1395); bro. of Sir Robert*. m. (1) by May 1416, Hawise (d. 24 Mar. 1422), da. of Sir Andrew Luttrell (d.1389/90) of Irnham and Hooton Paynell, sis. and h. of Sir Geoffrey Luttrell (d.s.p. 1419), wid. of Sir Thomas Beelsby (d. Sept. 1415) of Beelsby, Lincs., 1s. 1da.; (2) by June 1433, Eleanor, da. of John, 5th Lord Welles (1352-1421) by his 1st w. Eleanor, da. of John, 4th Lord Mowbray (1340-68), and wid. of Sir Hugh Poynings (d.v.p. 1426) of Chawton, Hants. Kntd. by 31 Mar. 1421.1
J.p. Hants 4 Jan. 1442-Dec. 1458, Lincs. (Kesteven) 3 Apr. 1446-Nov. 1458.
Commr. of array, Hants Oct. 1449, May 1454, Aug. 1456, Sept. 1457, Feb. 1459; inquiry May 1456 (evasions of customs); to assign archers Dec. 1457; make arrests Jan. 1458 (robbers).
Collector of a tax, Hants Aug. 1450.
Although as a younger son he had little to hope for by way of inheritance, Sir Godfrey Hilton became both rich and powerful thanks to two highly advantageous marriages, the first of which probably owed something to the influence of his elder brother, Sir Robert. The latter, who was heir to a sizeable estate in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, served as sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1414 and was thus well placed to further his sibling’s interests. Godfrey himself earned a considerable reputation as a soldier at this time, being present with a retinue of 40 men-at-arms and 120 archers on Henry V’s first expedition to Normandy in the summer of 1415. In March of the following year he indented to serve the King with a somewhat smaller force of 66 men for a period of six months; and it seems likely that he had by then already married the recently widowed Hawise Beelsby. Her dower properties comprised the manor of Beelsby and various appurtenances worth over £24 p.a., her late husband’s other manor of ‘Swynford’ in Harlaston being in royal custody because the next heir, Thomas, was still a minor. In May 1416, however, Hilton obtained the marriage and wardship of his young stepson, for which he agreed to pay 100 marks in instalments at the Exchequer. Even so, despite this mark of royal favour, he found it difficult to gain possession of the Beelsby estates because of the intransigence of the existing trustees (among whom was Hawise’s brother, Sir Geoffrey Luttrell), and he was obliged to bring an action against them in the court of Chancery.2 Meanwhile, in November 1417 he was himself bound over under pain of £100 to keep the peace towards Patrick Langdale, his mainpernors on this occasion being a group of four Yorkshire landowners who offered additional securities of £40 on his behalf. Six months later, royal letters of protection and general attorney were awarded to him pending yet another expedition to France, this time in the company of Thomas Beaufort, duke of Exeter. The duke and his men took part in the siege of Rouen, which fell in January 1419, and it may be that Hilton actually witnessed the death of his brother-in-law, who was killed before the city walls. Since Sir Geoffrey had no children, his estates passed immediately to his only sister, Hawise, and Hilton’s position as a landowner underwent yet another even more striking improvement. Altogether, Sir Geoffrey’s five manors of Gamston and Bridgford in Nottinghamshire, Corby and Irnham in Lincolnshire, and Hooton Paynell in Yorkshire produced at least £50 a year, although once again the feoffees were most reluctant to surrender the property, and Hawise (who acted for her husband while he was in Normandy) encountered nothing but hostility from the abbot of Croxton when she went to claim the title deeds and other muniments which Sir Geoffrey had deposited with him for safe-keeping. Hilton was obliged to file two more lawsuits in Chancery before the opposition could be overcome, which may explain why he came home suddenly from France in about 1420, having by then been knighted. Although he seized this opportunity to sit as MP for Lincolnshire (following the example of his brother, who had represented the county in 1416), he did not long remain in England, and on 24 May 1421, just one day after the session was dissolved, he obtained further letters of protection preparatory to his departure overseas. Once the necessary attorneys had been appointed to supervise his affairs, he returned to the theatre of war, and remained in France until the spring of 1422, when he escorted 12 prisoners from Paris to England. His expenses of £35, which had initially been met out of his own pocket, were assigned to him from the Exchequer in June of that year. He had by then already contracted to serve the King for another six months with a retinue of 30 mounted archers and ten men-at-arms.3
Hilton’s decision to remain in the royal army followed closely upon the death of his wife, which occurred in March 1422. He had by then fortunately acquired a life interest in her share of the Lutterell estates, and this was confirmed to him in the following December. Moreover, in February 1423, he was able to negotiate a new lease of his young stepson’s inheritance, for which he agreed to pay a farm of £28 p.a., and which he retained for the next six years. The bond worth 22 marks surrendered by him to one Richard Sturgeon in December 1422 probably had something to do with the transactions concerning Hawise’s property. Once he was sure of his title, Hilton felt able to resume his military career. He appears to have spent some time in France in both 1423 and 1424; and we know that in March 1425 he again indented to serve, along with an armed force of 66 men. His contingent evidently grew in size, for on his arrival at Dover in the following May, he was in command of at least 180 soldiers, all of whom sailed under his banner to Calais. Hilton’s preoccupation with the French wars, which continued on and off until 1434, no doubt accounts for his lack of interest in the business of local government. In October 1426 he offered a recognizance worth £10 to Sir William Cheyne, c.j.KB, but otherwise he then had little to do with affairs in England.4
On the death of Sir Robert Hilton in, or shortly before, 1431, Sir Godfrey obtained a life tenancy of the manor of Swine, which was conveyed to him by Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, one of the principal trustees, in the following year. Relations between him and his late brother’s kinsmen by marriage, the influential Constables of Flamborough and Halsham, deteriorated dramatically after his entry into the manor, to which they may well have advanced a title themselves as neighbouring landowners. In December 1432, a commission of oyer and terminer was set up to examine his accusations that they and another relative, (Sir) Thomas Cumberworth*, had mobilized a force of 140 men to assault and rob him and his servants, and destroy his property. The outcome of the inquiry is not recorded, but this was not the only occasion on which Hilton was attacked by hostile neighbours. At some earlier date, for instance, a group of men had set upon him at the manor of Beelsby, allegedly driving away his tenants and causing him considerable loss of revenue. In the summer of 1433, Hilton became involved in yet another dispute as a result of his second wife’s dealings with two London merchants from whom she had previously borrowed £12 on the security of plate, jewellery and furs worth £74 5s. His attempts to recover these valuables gave rise to yet more litigation, which dragged on for several years.5 Notwithstanding her attempts to raise cash by pledging his most treasured possessions, Sir Godfrey’s new wife, Eleanor, was an extremely rich and influential woman, whose family connexions included the Mowbrays, dukes of Norfolk, and the Lords Welles. Her first husband, from whom she received an impressive jointure, was the son and heir presumptive of Thomas, Lord St. John of Basing; and on the latter’s death, in 1429, she duly secured a life interest in the manors and advowsons of Chawton, Sherbourne St. John and Abbotstone, in Hampshire, and of Barnham, Birdham and Middleton, in Sussex, together with their extensive appurtenances. Although in January 1436 she and Hilton agreed to settle an annuity of 16 marks a year upon Lord St. John’s widow, Maud, their joint income (including revenues from the Luttrell estates) was still in excess of £133 a year.6
Meanwhile, in May 1434, Sir Godfrey was required to take the general oath that he would not support anyone who disturbed the peace. He became caught up in three more lawsuits after this date, being sued in Chancery by John Chaworth the younger for refusing to perform the terms of an enfeoffment-to-uses of land in Irnham. The other two cases involved the detinue of jewellery and plate by persons to whom he had entrusted his goods, and if the evidence presented by him is to be believed, it is clear that he enjoyed a particularly high standard of affluence. From about 1442 onwards, when he was appointed to the Hampshire bench, Sir Godfrey spent a considerable amount of time in the south; and it was here that most of his administrative duties were discharged. He may well have been encouraged (if not promoted) by Cardinal Beaufort, from whom he received an annual fee of 20 marks, first awarded in September 1440, in return for past and continuing good service. At all events, the last part of his life saw a notable shift in his sphere of interest: in 1441 he settled his wife’s Sussex estates upon a distinguished group of trustees, including the chancellor, John Stafford, bishop of Bath and Wells; and from then onwards he became more active as a member of the local community, witnessing deeds and going surety for his friends. Thus, in June 1448, he offered bail of 200 marks for Walter Tailboys of Lincolnshire, who was then a prisoner in the Marshalsea. His own son, Godfrey, was brought before the King in Chancery a few weeks later to ‘answer certain charges and receive the court’s award’, and there is a strong possibility that the bond worth 100 marks which Hilton then offered to John Chevercourt of Lincolnshire was connected with the affair.7
Sir Godfrey lived on until 5 Aug. 1459, by which date his son and heir was well over 40 years old. He retained the family estates until his own death, in May 1472, when the property passed into the wardship of the Crown because his successor was under age.8
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. C1/10/1; C138/31/14, 63/25B; C139/7/57, 45/35; Lincs. AO, Reg. Buckingham, xii. f. 374; CPR, 1391-5, pp. 654-5; CFR, xiv. 156, 202; CCR, 1454-61, pp. 374-5; A.C. Sinclair, Beelsby, ped. facing p. 26;