HOTOFT, John (d.1443), of Knebworth, Herts.
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Family and Education
m. (1) by 1412, Idonea, ?2da.; (2) by Oct. 1438, Joan (d. Dec. 1445), da. and h. of John Olney of Holt, Leics. by Isabel, da. and h. of Robert Petham, and wid. of Sir George Nowers and Richard Fox* (d.1435), of Thonglands, Salop.2
Controller of the household of Henry, prince of Wales, by 13 Apr. 1411-prob. 20 Mar. 1413.
J.p. Mdx. 12 July 1411-Nov. 1413, Herts. 16 Jan. 1414-d.
Clerk of the ct. of c.p. 23 Mar. 1413-Jan. 1423.3
Commr. of inquiry, Herts. Jan. 1414 (lollards at large), Essex, Herts. Jan. 1416 (concealments), Herts. June 1417 (wastes), Apr. 1431 (persons liable to contribute to a royal grant), Feb., July 1436 (ownership of land in Thele), Nov. 1442 (escape of felons from Hertford gaol); oyer and terminer Mar., Sept. 1417 (withdrawal of labour services by tenants of St. Albans abbey); array, Normandy Mar. 1419; to raise royal loans, Herts. Nov. 1419, May 1421, Mar. 1422, July 1426, May 1428, Feb. 1434, Mar. 1439, Nov. 1440, Mar. 1442; repay loans made for national defence, generally July 1435; of kiddles, Essex, Herts., Mdx. July 1440; to raise a parliamentary subsidy, Herts. Feb. 1441.
Escheator, Essex and Herts. 23 Nov. 1419-26 Nov. 1420.
Collector of a loan, Herts. Jan. 1420, Jan. 1436.
Treasurer of the Household 8 Feb. 1423-24 May 1431.4
Sheriff, Essex and Herts. 4 Nov. 1428-Mich. 1429.
Treasurer of the King’s wars by Mich. 1429-c. Dec. 1430.5
Chamberlain of the receipt of the Exchequer 1 Feb. 1431-d.
Steward of the Essex and Herts. estates of Katherine, queen of Henry V, by 4 July 1436-3 Jan. 1437.6
The power and influence enjoyed by Hotoft in the service of both Henry V and his son appear all the more impressive in view of the obscurity of his early life. It is now impossible to speak with any degree of certainty about his family or background, although he was perhaps the son of Nicholas Hotoft, who served as a tax collector in Hertfordshire during the late 14th century. Nicholas became involved in a dispute over market rights at Buntingford during this period, and since John left his second wife certain property in the same area we may reasonably assume that some ties of kinship existed between the two men. Other members of the family also had connexions with Hertfordshire, most notably William and Robert Hotoft, who were both present at the county elections of 1411. Significantly enough, William headed the list of electors when John was returned to Parliament in the autumn of 1414, and he evidently again supported him in 1417. From 1402 onwards, if not before, William received a substantial annuity from the duchy of Lancaster estates in Hertfordshire, thus establishing a tradition of service which the subject of this biography was himself eager to follow.7
The first evidence of Hotoft’s longstanding association with the royal house of Lancaster occurs in November 1402, when he left England with Henry IV’s half-brother, Henry Beaufort, bishop of Lincoln, who had been chosen by the King to escort his new queen, Joan of Navarre, from Brittany. By the following summer he had come to the notice of Prince Henry, with whom he spent 35 days campaigning in Wales. In October 1407 he joined with Hugh Mortimer* and other members of the prince’s circle in acquiring the lease of land in Hampshire, Wiltshire and Leicestershire confiscated from the French abbey of Lire. They retained the property for six years at a farm of £100 p.a., and in May 1415 were excused whatever wastes had been committed during their tenancy. Meanwhile, in about 1408, Hotoft was received into the Trinity guild of the church of St. Botolph without Aldersgate in London, his position as one of the prince of Wales’s servants (‘cum domino principe’) being entered against his name in the list of admissions. Perhaps he had already become controller of the prince’s household, a post which brought him an annuity of £20 for life, assigned (from April 1411 onwards) out of the fee farm paid by the prior of Coventry.8 The death of Henry IV on 20 Mar. 1413 marked a predictable improvement in Hotoft’s prospects, and within three days of his royal master’s accession to the throne he was appointed, as an esquire of the body, to a clerkship of the court of common pleas. Despite the protests of the previous incumbent, Robert Darcy*, he retained the post until 1423; and a second grant, made in July 1413, of the profits of certain royal franchises in Leicestershire proved of even longer duration.9 Although nowhere described as a lawyer, it seems more than likely that Hotoft belonged to the legal profession. As these two awards make clear, he was not, at any rate, without some training in the law.
Henry V was understandably anxious to secure the return to his first Parliament of men sympathetic to the Court, and Hotoft may well have been urged to put himself forward for election. Significantly enough, his colleague on this occasion was the equally distinguished crown servant, John Leventhorpe, who again sat with him in 1416 (Mar.) and 1422. Hotoft was certainly well qualified to represent Hertfordshire, not only because of his family’s links with the area but also by virtue of his own position as a local landowner. In addition to the property in Ware and Buntingford which produced about £12 p.a. and may well have formed part of his inheritance, he owned the manor of Knebworth together with holdings in Langley, Hitchin, Balkemore and Stevenage. He purchased Knebworth, his future home, in October 1411, settling it upon the royal esquires, John Durham* and John Ludwick*, as well as Thomas Knolles* and other trustees from the City, where he had many friends. Indeed, it is interesting to note that his own rents and tenements in London were then said to be worth almost £8 a year. He and his first wife, Idonea, also acquired a modest estate in the Middlesex villages of Heston and Harefield, part of which was held to their use by a group of distinguished London mercers, including William Marchford*. Hotoft’s annual income from land was assessed at £100 in 1436, although part of this figure may have taken the form of annuities from the Crown.10 Despite his commitments at Court, Hotoft played a full and active part in local affairs, sitting on first the Middlesex and then the Hertfordshire benches, and serving on a number of royal commissions in the home counties. He was, moreover, closely involved in the property transactions of neighbouring landlords, among whom were John Walden*, William Flete*, John Gedney*, Thomas Charlton* and his particular friend, John Fray*.11 Hotoft and Fray often acted together as feoffees, and, in May 1419, they became joint farmers of the Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire estates of the late Sir William Argentine* during the minority of his young heir. One year later, Hotoft stood surety for Fray as the custodian of other land then in the control of the Crown, and at a much later date, in 1431, he agreed to arbitrate in a boundary dispute between the judge and Abbot Whethamstead of St. Albans.12 His own relations with St. Albans abbey remained cordial throughout his life, partly because of Whethamstead’s desire to cultivate influential friends. Generous gifts of silver plate were made to his wife and one of his daughters, while he himself was received into the fraternity of the chapter of St. Albans at a ceremony held in June 1428. In return for all these favours, Hotoft proved a generous benefactor of the abbey and witnessed several grants of property made in its favour; he also sat as a commissioner to inquire into disturbances by the local tenantry; and he was one of the leading figures summoned by Whethamstead to St. Albans in 1431 to discuss the problem of heresy. Through his position at Court, Hotoft established a connexion with a number of the retainers of Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, governor to Henry VI. It was thus that he became caught up in the affairs of such Warwickshire landowners as (Sir) William Mountfort I* and Sir John Cressy†. He also numbered Sir William Moleyns* and John, earl of Oxford, among his circle of acquaintances.13
We do not know if Hotoft fought in France with Henry V, although he was concerned with the arrangements made for keeping French prisoners in England, and, in February 1421, he attended the coronation of Henry’s queen, Katherine of Valois. The King’s sudden death in 1422 made little practical difference to his position at Court. On the contrary, his experience of the royal household, coupled with his proven ability as an administrator, soon earned him promotion to higher office. His preoccupation with affairs at Westminster and, from 1429, with the financing of the war with France, may perhaps explain why his parliamentary career came to an abrupt end in 1422, although he none the less found time to serve as sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire and was, if anything, even more active in the field of local government. In 1430, while he was employed as treasurer of both the royal household and the King’s wars, Hotoft accompanied the young Henry VI to France, and helped to arrange his coronation in Paris. He had already served overseas in the retinue of John, duke of Bedford, and was again to do so during the royal visit, his efforts being rewarded in November of that year with an annuity of no less than 100 marks. Barely three months later he exchanged this award (which made specific reference to his past loyalty as a crown servant) for the office of chamberlain of the receipt of the Exchequer, perhaps because his retirement from the household had by then left him free to take on other, extremely lucrative, official commitments. The post was subsequently confirmed to him for life, and to it he added the stewardship of Queen Katherine’s dower properties in Hertfordshire and Essex, at an additional fee of £20 p.a.14
Hotoft’s involvement in public affairs continued until his death. He was frequently employed as a commissioner for raising royal loans, and in 1436 the government approached him personally for a contribution towards the cost of the French war. He and his friend, John Fray, had just been given custody of the estates of the late Lord Morley in Essex and Hertfordshire, so the Crown was, perhaps, justified in making such a demand. We are told that in May 1438 the royal council granted ‘Hotoft’s Bille’, but the subject of his petition is not recorded. It may have concerned his second marriage, which took place at about this time, to Joan, the widow of both Sir George Nowers and Richard Fox, and brought him additional revenues of at least £24 a year from the Bygood inheritance in Hertfordshire.15 He made his will in the following October, showing the same meticulous care in the ordering of his estate as he had previously given to the administration of the royal household. The chief beneficiary was his daughter and sole surviving heir, Idonea, the wife of Sir John de la Barre†, although according to at least one other source he had a second daughter named Agnes, who eventually married Sir Robert Lytton†, under treasurer to Henry VII. Possibly the ‘Hotoft’ who entered Lincoln’s Inn towards the beginning of the century and died in 1428 was his son, but we cannot be certain on this point. He himself died at Easter 1443, and was buried, with some splendour, at Knebworth parish church—to which he had long been a generous patron.16
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, 115.
- 2. London and Mdx. Feet of Fines, i. 175-6; PCC 15 Rous; C139/112/65, 122/31; R. Clutterbuck, Herts. ii. 377; CFR, xvi. 215; xviii. 2; CCR, 1441-7, pp. 337-8.
- 3. PPC, ii. 169-70. See the biography of Robert Darcy for the chronology of this appointment.
- 4. PPC, iii. 25, 286; iv. 29.
- 5. E101/52/33-35, 408/9; E404/47/123, 148; PPC