ILCOMBE, Sir Henry, of Kirland in Bodmin and Bodardle in Lanlivery, Cornw.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
m. by 1387, Isabel, wid. of John Moun.1 Kntd. c.1382.
Commr. of inquiry, Cornw. May 1388, July 1397 (acquisition of land by aliens), Dec. 1395 (shipwrecks); array Mar. 1392; to bring a royal ward to Chancery Dec. 1395.
Coroner, Cornw. by Sept. 1394-10 Dec. 1395.2
Escheator, Cornw. 18 Nov. 1395-26 Nov. 1399.
The antecedents of Ilcombe are unusually obscure though his career is of interest, not least because he is the first knight in England ever known to have represented a borough (having previously, moreover, sat as a knight of the shire). His first recorded appearance occurs in 1373 when, described as ‘of Cornwall’, he was granted royal letters of protection to cover his service in John of Gaunt’s then impending expedition to France, and he probably took part in the gruelling march from Calais to Bordeaux which decimated Gaunt’s army. After his return home to Cornwall, he committed a crime which was to alter his life: according to the indictments, he and his brother, William, at dusk on 26 Nov. 1376, rode to Bodinnick, near Fowey, where they abducted a widow called Isabel Moun and took her to Staverton, Devon. There, having raped her, Ilcombe kept her against her will for over a year. As soon as she regained her freedom Isabel started legal proceedings against him in the King’s bench. Although, in July 1379, Ilcombe gave himself up to the Marshalsea prison and was released on bail, when, in Easter term 1380, the case next came up for a hearing, he compounded the crime not only by assaulting Isabel on her arrival by boat at the palace of Westminster, but also, and in sight of such reliable witnesses as the justices of the court of common pleas, by setting upon Guy, Lord Bryan, and the others who came to her aid. In the following Michaelmas term a chaplain was brought to trial for proclaiming a papal bull relating to the affair in St. Paul’s churchyard. In this bull the Pope forbade Lord Bryan to take further proceedings against Ilcombe, which might lead to his being hanged, and stated that Isabel was Ilcombe’s wife and had lived with him as such for one year and 15 weeks.3
Soon afterwards, finding it expedient to make himself scarce, Ilcombe, together with his brothers, William and Baldwin, enlisted in the force which, in June 1381, sailed for Portugal under the leadership of Edmund, earl of Cambridge. It was probably shortly before or during this expedition that he was knighted. The whole enterprise itself, however, ended in a debacle, which the earl afterwards sought to explain by blaming everything on mutinies at his headquarters at Vila Vicosa, which were said to have been started by the brothers Ilcombe (among others). Not surprisingly, as soon as he reached England, Sir Henry hastened to Westminster in order to tell his version of events first; and it was expressly ‘for his good service in Portugal’ that, on 23 Oct. 1382, he was granted a pardon for the rape of Isabel Moun. Cambridge, however, on arrival at Court, laid hischarges and, indeed, produced a list of those ringleaders of the mutiny whom he held responsible for his failure, with the result that a royal commission was issued in November following for the arrest of Ilcombe and his brothers on charges of rebellion against their commander. The Ilcombes evaded the King’s officers and were still at large, probably in Wales, as late as June 1384. That summer, when English troops were again recruited for service in Portugal, Sir Henry enlisted once more, this time in the retinue of the chancellor of Portugal. But it was not until February 1385 that, through the auspices of the countess of Cambridge, he received a pardon for his previous rebelliousness.4 Moreover, despite his earlier pardon for the rape of Isabel Moun, Ilcombe was still being harassed by the courts to appear to answer the charges, and it would seem that he had not undergone a valid marriage ceremony with the lady as he had asserted. The solution to his problems was clearly to formalize the relationship, and accordingly, about two years later, the reconciled couple were married in St. Margaret’s church at Margaret Roding, Essex. In July 1387 he and Isabel were granted by Bishop Brantingham of Exeter a general licence to worship in chapels, oratories or any other suitable and proper places in the diocese. Ilcombe’s decision to marry, indeed, his motives throughout the affair, were evidently governed by his determination to gain control of the widow’s property: Isabel’s dower included the manors of Bodinnick and ‘Pennentyrgo’, holdings worthy of the attention of the earl of Devon himself, who ten years later laid claim to them.5
Apart from the property acquired by marriage, Ilcombe does not appear to have held extensive lands in Cornwall. Only the manors of Kirland and Bodardle have been traced, together with small holdings in Bodmin and Roscassa. It was as lord of Kirland that he complained against the burgesses of Bodmin who owed suit to his mills. Objecting to this, in 1395, so he alleged, they dismantled enclosures on his land, felled £100 worth of trees and then burned them, besieged him in his house at Bodardle, lying in wait to kill him, refused to let his servants work, broke into his pound and took cattle and other goods to the value of £200.6 Ilcombe enjoyed the profits of two wardships in Cornwall, though in the first instance not without extended litigation. The Fitzwalter estates came into his hands soon after the death of William Fitzwalter† in 1385, but in 1387 the latter’s widow brought a suit against him in the common pleas for her rightful dower, and after her remarriage, to John Denys of Gidcot, Ilcombe was faced with further litigation over the wardship of the heir and his right to property in Penrose Burdon. In addition, a dispute arose over the marriage of the ward, which Ilcombe claimed to have lost because of a ‘grande tort per iugement erroynous’ made by Sir Robert Bealknap c.j.c.p. before he was condemned to exile by the Merciless Parliament; and the royal grantee of the wardship, William Corby, also staked a claim. Legal proceedings were still going on in 1397. Meanwhile, in July 1396, Ilcombe had received custody of the estates of Isabel Cornewaill, for which, however, he was to pay an annual render at the Exchequer.7
Exactly how long Ilcombe served as a coroner in Cornwall cannot yet be stated, but the election of his successor was ordered in December 1395, on the ground that since he had recently been appointed escheator he might not ‘conveniently busy himself with both offices’. His long (four years’) term as escheator possibly resulted from administrative efficiency, but also reflects his loyalty to Richard II; and it was for ‘good service’ in the office, as well as because he had in the course of his duties ‘by divine visitation become blind’, that in January 1399 he was granted the Cornewaill lands for the remainder of the minority of the heir and free of rent payable at the Exchequer. But the less reliable side to Ilcombe’s character was never suppressed for long: there survives evidence of several large debts incurred between 1386 and 1401 and of no fewer than six lawsuits brought by creditors, who included two London merchants, Henry Vanner* and John Colshull I*, and an Oxfordshire knight, Sir John Drayton*.8
It is surprising that Ilcombe was kept on as escheator for ten months after his blindness is first mentioned, and curious that in July 1399 he was preparing to serve abroad in Ireland in the retinue of Richard II’s half-brother, John Holand, duke of Exeter.9 If his loss of sight persisted, which seems highly unlikely, he can have attended the duke in no more than an honorary capacity. The abrupt termination of his public service in Cornwall after 1399 must be regarded as a result of his temporary physical disability rather than because of any lack of political sympathy with the new regime: Henry IV confirmed the grant of the Cornewaill wardship in November 1399, and there is no suggestion that Ilcombe played any part in the duke of Exeter’s rebellion in January following. His two subsequent elections as burgess for the borough of Lostwithiel, not far from his manor of Bodardle, are hard to explain, given that very little is known about his concerns in the early years of the century.
There is no indication of the date of Ilcombe’s death, and it is unlikely that he had children.
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Variants: Evelcombe, Ivelcombe, Yevelcombe, Ylcombe.
- 1. Peds. Plea Rolls ed. Wrottesley, 208, 220.
- 2. KB27/538 m. 25; CCR, 1392-6, p. 445.
- 3. Reg. Gaunt 1371-5, i. 33; KB27/471 rex m. 1d, 473 m. 57d, 514 rex mm. 1, 32; C88/51/8; Sel. Cases Kings Bench (Selden Soc. lxxxviii), 21-22.
- 4. P.E.L. Russell, Eng. Intervention in Spain and Portugal, 303, 343, 372; CPR, 1381-5, pp. 179, 256, 349, 494, 534; CCR, 1381-5, p. 610; C76/69 m. 11.
- 5. Reg. Brantingham ed. Hingeston-Randolph, 641; SC8/118/5858; Cornw. Feet of Fines (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. 1950), 778; Peds. Plea Rolls, 208, 220.
- 6. Cornw. Feet of Fines, 769, 773, 794; CPR, 1391-6, p. 651.
- 7. J. Maclean, Trigg Minor, iii. 128, 425; CCR, 1389-92, p. 418, 1396-9, pp. 162-3; CFR, xi. 182; CPR, 1396-9, p. 479; 1399-1401, p. 65; SC8/222/11094.
- 8. CCR, 1385-9, p. 488; 1392-6, p. 445; 1396-9, pp. 414, 433; 1399-1401, p. 397; C241/175/37, 184/144; CPR, 1396-9, p. 479.
- 9. CPR, 1396-9, pp. 540, 573.