JAMES, Robert (bef.1366-1432), of Wallingford, Berks. and Boarstall, Bucks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Jan. 1397
Oct. 1404

Family and Education

b. bef. 1366, s. and h. of John James (d.1396) of Wallingford by Christine (d.1409), da. and h. of John Anesty (d.c.1361) of Clapcot. m. (1) by Nov. 1385, Katherine (9 Mar. 1369-bef. 1415), yr. da. of Sir Edmund de la Pole* by his 1st w. Elizabeth Handlo, 1s. d.v.p. 1da.; (2) bef. Feb. 1424, Maud (d. 5 Aug. 1437), sis. of John Fitzellis of Oakley, Bucks.1

Offices Held

Commr. of weirs, Berks., Bucks. June 1398, Berks. Oct. 1404; gaol delivery, Oxford castle July 1399; to collect an aid, Oxon. Dec. 1401; suppress sedition May 1402; raise royal loans Sept. 1405, Nov. 1419; of inquiry Oct. 1408 (Bardolf estates), Oxon., Berks. Jan. 1414 (lollards), Bucks. Sept. 1429 (breach of statute during recent elections to Parliament); oyer and terminer, Oxon. Apr. 1410; array May 1415, May 1418.

Escheator, Oxon. 24 Nov. 1400-8 Nov. 1401, Oxon. and Berks. 30 Nov. 1407-9 Dec. 1408, 10 Nov. 1413-12 Nov. 1414, Beds. and Bucks. 14 Dec. 1415-8 Dec. 1416.

Sheriff, Oxon. and Berks. 29 Nov. 1402-5 Nov. 1403, 30 Nov. 1416-10 Nov. 1417, 4 Nov. 1428-10 Feb. 1430.

Tax controller, Berks. Mar. 1404.

J.p. Oxon. 13 Feb. 1407-July 1423.


Robert’s father, John James, who sat in seven Parliaments, either for Wallingford or for one or other of the counties of Oxfordshire and Berkshire, established strong connexions with members of the royal family: most notably with Isabel, daughter of Edward III, and her husband, Enguerrand de Coucy, earl of Bedford (for whom he acted as receiver-general of their estates in England), and with her brother Edward, prince of Wales, of whose honour of Wallingford he held several of his properties. It was Prince Edward’s widow, Joan, who, in 1382, obtained from her son, Richard II, on John James’s behalf, letters patent of exemption from official duties, and James witnessed the will she made at Wallingford castle three years later. By that time he had become a person of considerable importance in the middle Thames valley, where over the years he had carefully consolidated and extended his landed holdings, accumulating much property in Wallingford and nearby Clapcot, including the manors of Rush Court (Berkshire) and Adwell and Fyfield (Oxfordshire).2 In 1378 the bulk of John James’s property was settled in jointure on himself and his wife and their son, Robert, and the rest on the couple and their other son, Arnold. The latter’s premature death enabled Robert, after his father’s demise in October 1396, to share ownership of the whole estate with his mother alone, and to gain sole possession in 1409. The lands of his inheritance in Berkshire were to have an estimated annual value of £25 a year in 1412, and no doubt those in Oxfordshire, whose worth is not recorded, gave him as much or more again.3

Nor was this by any means the full extent of James’s income from land, for, several years before he entered his patrimony, he had made a lucrative marriage to one of the nieces of Michael de la Pole, 1st earl of Suffolk, at that time chancellor of England and high in the favour of Richard II. The families of James and de la Pole were connected as early as August 1383, when Robert joined Sir Edmund de la Pole in offering securities at the Exchequer for John James’s wardship of certain lands belonging to the recently deceased John Huntercombe. (Robert had acted on Huntercombe’s behalf just a few months earlier, as an attorney for the delivery of a seisin of the same property to Huntercombe’s feoffees, who included his father.) Katherine de la Pole, as one of two daughters of Sir Edmund, stood to inherit a half-share in the substantial estates of her late mother, Elizabeth Handlo; indeed, the match was destined to augment James’s wealth and standing to an even more considerable degree, for in 1394 his sister-in-law, Elizabeth, wife of Sir Ingram Bruyn, agreed to sell him her reversionary interest in the former Handlo estates (which her father Sir Edmund held for life ‘by the courtesy’). The inheritance thus secured included, in Buckinghamshire, the manors of Boarstall, Addingrove and Oakley, the bailiwick of the forestership of Bernwood, some 400 acres in the forest, and more than 600 acres and £12 in rents elsewhere; and, in Oxfordshire, the manor of Muswell, the forestership of Shotover and Stowood, and an estate in Headington. The reversion which James and his wife held in the two moieties was not to fall in until de la Pole’s death in 1419, but long before then James held a large part of the estate as his father-in-law’s tenant; accordingly, he was called ‘lord of Boarstall’ as early as 1400.4

Meanwhile, such expectations as James might justifiably have entertained that his marriage would lead through his wife’s uncle to preferment at Court, had been dashed by Suffolk’s impeachment in 1386. Nevertheless, he soon joined his father-in-law in offering assistance to the earl’s heir, Sir Michael de la Pole, in what proved to be a lengthy task of regaining the estates of his patrimony after their forfeiture by judgement of the Merciless Parliament. From 1391 onwards he acted as a feoffee of Sir Michael’s manor of Cowthorpe (Yorkshire); in 1393 not only was he party with Sir Michael and Sir Edmund to recognizances guaranteeing payment of large sums of money to the keeper of the hanaper, but he also supported them in negotiations with Alice, widow of John, Lord Neville, to finalize the late earl’s purchase of the estates in Essex she held for life; in 1394 he was among the friends of Sir Michael to whom, for 550 marks, the Crown sold Suffolk’s confiscated lands in Yorkshire; and in 1396 he was made a trustee of the principal de la Pole holdings in four other shires. Sir Michael expressed his gratitude for James’s help by granting him for life a moiety of the manor of Syleham in Suffolk. Such were James’s close links with his wife’s family that in 1394 and again in 1399 he agreed to act as attorney in England during the absence in Ireland of his wife’s half-brother, Sir Walter de la Pole*; and his father-in-law headed the body of trustees of the James estates as nominated by Robert in January 1397, on the eve of his first Parliament.5

Although James took out a royal pardon in May 1398, there is no reason to believe that he had incurred Richard II’s displeasure. The signs are to the contrary, for he was appointed as a royal commissioner in the following month, and in November he stood surety at the Exchequer for William Wilcotes*, a lawyer retained by Richard as chief steward of the estates of the late Queen Anne. Furthermore, his appointment as a commissioner of gaol delivery at Oxford castle on 16 July 1399 is proof enough that the caretaker government, headed by the duke of York during the King’s absence in Ireland, regarded him as politically sound. The restoration of Sir Michael de la Pole to the earldom of Suffolk in the course of Henry IV’s first Parliament (of which James was a Member) no doubt encouraged him to respond favourably to the change of regime, and in January following he served as a juror at Oxford castle at the trial of Sir Thomas Blount* and other rebels who had plotted the new King’s death. The transition was probably made easier by his friendship with a near-neighbour, Thomas Chaucer* of Ewelme—a connexion which predated by at least two years Henry of Bolngbroke’s usurpation of the throne and Chaucer’s subsequent appointment as constable of Wallingford castle, and one which was to last until the end of James’s parliamentary career. Symbolic of James’s absorption into Chaucer’s circle, was his presence at Oxford in January 1402 as a witness to a charter issued by his friend’s cousin, the King’s half-brother, Henry Beaufort, bishop of Lincoln.6

On 24 Oct. 1402, during his third Parliament, James took out royal letters of protection as a member of the retinue of Thomas Percy, earl of Worcester, who was preparing to accompany Bishop Beaufort to Brittany to escort over to England the King’s consort, Joan of Navarre. However, it is uncertain whether when the time came (in January following) he proved able to leave his shrievalty of Oxfordshire and Berkshire, to which he had been appointed a few days after Parliament was dissolved. At the Oxfordshire elections to the Parliament of 1407 he attested indentures recording Thomas Chaucer’s return. By then James had also struck up a friendship with John Golafre* (probably cemented during the couple of years Golafre had been married to his wife’s sister), and in July 1408 he, along with Chaucer and Thomas Edward*, was made a trustee of Golafre’s manor at Tidmarsh. All four men were returned to the Parliament of 1410 (Edward replacing James’s feoffee, William Motte, as one of the Members for Taunton, where Chaucer exerted considerable influence as constable of the castle). Then, a fortnight before the session opened, James enfeoffed Chaucer and Golafre, among others of his associates, in the part of his patrimony which he had recently acquired following the death of his mother. He and Golafre were already acting as trustees of various of Chaucer’s landed holdings. There can therefore be little doubt that when Parliament met both Berkshire knights of the shire were predisposed to support Chaucer, who, as Speaker in the Commons and cousin of the Beauforts, had an important role to play in establishing Henry of Monmouth, prince of Wales, as acting head of the government. Certainly, James did everything to promote the association. Private transactions relating to his house, ‘Anastyesplace’ in Wallingford, and to his islands, weirs and fishery in the Thames, were witnessed by Chaucer in September that same year; and he later assisted the former Speaker in his acquisition of the manors of Kidlington and Hook Norton (Oxfordshire) and Buckland (Berkshire). He attested the parliamentary indentures recording Golafre’s election for Berkshire in April 1414 and Chaucer’s for Oxfordshire in May 1421, on the latter occasion securing election for himself for Buckinghamshire.7

In 1415, as a trustee of the James estates, Chaucer had helped to complete a settlement on Robert, his son, John, and the latter’s wife, but John’s death before the autumn of 1427 caused Robert to make other arrangements in favour of his daughter, Christine, who since 1412 had been married to Edmund Rede, the son and heir of the lawyer, John Rede* (d.1404); and 18 months later he handed over to his daughter and her husband his estate at Clapcot and Rush Court in return for an annual pension of 50 marks.8 In his will, made on 13 Nov. 1430, he noted that his son-in-law (who had died earlier that year) had received 160 marks from him at the time of his marriage, and so asked his daughter to be content with that sum, and expect no more from his goods. However, he did leave £20 to his grand daughter, Alice, then living in his house, as well as two marks to his sister, Maud James, and one mark to his aged aunt, Alice Anesty, both of whom were nuns at Goring priory. James’s executors were to be his widow and his kinsman, Master Thomas Brouns (son of William Brouns*), at that time archdeacon of Berkshire, though afterwards successively bishop of Rochester and Norwich. They were to parcel out the sum of £40 for his soul’s salvation: one part was to go to the Church, another to James’s poor tenants, and a third to other poor men and for the mending of roads. James died on 16 Feb. 1432, having completed final transactions with regard to his landed property six days earlier. He was buried in St. James’s chapel at Boarstall, next to his first wife.9

James’s widow, Maud, who survived him by five years, was stated in the assessments on landed income made in 1436 to be in possession of property worth £100 a year. This figure provides some idea of the extent of James’s holdings, although at least some of them had by then passed to his grandson, Edmund Rede†. In 1438 the latter paid £20 to have the names of his maternal grandparents (among others) recited at the mass for the departed held regularly in Dorchester abbey.10

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Authors: J. S. Roskell / L. S. Woodger


  • 1. In 1413 Fitzellis’s manor in Oakley was entailed on his issue with remainder to his sister, Maud, and her issue and ultimately to Robert James and his heirs. It seems likely that James (who was already holding his first wife’s manor in Oakley as Fitzellis’s tenant by knight service), married Maud soon afterwards, though the earliest record of their being man and wife dates from 1424; Boarstall Cart. (Oxf. Hist. Soc. lxxxviii), 122-3; VCH Bucks. iv. 81-82; v. 298; CP25(1)13/82/4.
  • 2. Boarstall Cart. 231-3, 261; CPR, 1381-5, p. 155; CChR, v. 349; VCH Berks. iii. 547-8.
  • 3. CCR, 1377-81, pp. 327-8; 1385-9, p. 93; 1396-9, pp. 17-18; C136/93/32; Feudal Aids, vi. 401.
  • 4. H.A. Napier, Swyncombe and Ewelme, 290-2; CFR, x. 3; CCR, 1381-5, p. 299; 1419-22, pp. 20-21; Boarstall Cart. nos. 204-644, pp. 120-1, 132.
  • 5. CCR, 1389-92, p. 501; 1392-6, pp. 111, 130, 150, 221-2, 225, 243, 357, 359, 502-3; 1396-9, pp. 125-6; CPR, 1391-6, p. 472.
  • 6. C67/30 m. 9; CFR, xi. 287; E37/28; Boarstall Cart. 262; CPR, 1401-5, p. 232.
  • 7. Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ed. Carte, ii. 184; CCR, 1405-9, p. 400; Boarstall Cart. 266, 271; CAD, iii. D1328; CPR, 1413-16, p. 169; 1429-36, pp. 448, 451; C219/10/4, 11/3, 12/5; Archaeologia, xxxiv. 43-44.
  • 8. Boarstall Cart. pp. viii-ix, 49, 63, 122, 167, 263-4, 285; CCR, 1429-35, p. 26; CPR, 1422-9, p. 458.
  • 9. Reg. Chichele, ii. 451-3; Boarstall Cart. 37, 133, 164-5; C139/54/23.
  • 10. C139/86/38; EHR, xlix. 636; Boarstall Cart. 221.