LANCASTER, John II (d.1424), of Bressingham, Norf.
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Family and Education
prob. s. of William Lancaster of Bressingham. m. (1) bef. Sept. 1398, Margery, da. and h. of Sir John Boyland of Boyland Hall in Bressingham, 1s.; (2) between Oct. 1417 and May 1421, Ellen, wid. of Gilbert Debenham* of Little Wenham, Suff.
Chamberlain of Berwick-upon-Tweed 14 Sept. 1389- 7 Oct. 1391, and chancellor there 14 Mar. 1390-7 Oct. 1391.
Capt. of Marck 10 Oct. 1391-c. Sept. 1399.
Constable of Framlingham castle, Suff. and keeper of the park, by appointment of Thomas Mowbray, Earl Marshal, c.1404-6 Oct. 1405.
Commr. of inquiry, Suff. July 1414 (wastes), Norf. Feb., July 1418, Mar., June 1421, Jan. 1423 (estates late of Sir John Oldcastle*), Suff. July 1421 (assault on a duchy of Lancaster bailiff); array May 1415, Norf. Apr. 1418, Mar. 1419, June 1421; to purvey victuals for shipment to Harfleur, Suff. May 1416; raise royal loans, Norf. Nov. 1419, Norf., Suff. May 1421.
Sheriff, Norf. and Suff. 1 Dec. 1415-20 Feb. 1416, 30 Nov. 1416-10 Nov. 1417, 13 Nov. 1423-22 May 1424.
J.p. Norf. 8 Apr. 1416-July 1423, Suff. 7 July 1423-d.
Escheator, Norf. and Suff. 4 Nov. 1418-23 Nov. 1419.
Steward of estates of John Mowbray, Earl Marshal, at Framlingham prob. bef. 1423-d.
John was probably the son of William Lancaster, who in 1378 was a tenant of property in Bressingham, on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk. He increased the family possessions in the parish by his marriage to Margery Boyland, who brought him Boyland Hall along with manors elsewhere in Norfolk, notably Heywood Hall in Diss and Brockdish Hall in Burston, and he also enlarged his landed holdings by the purchase of ‘Filby’s’ manor in Bressingham and the acquisition of lands at Shelfhanger and Fersfield. His second wife held for life the manor of ‘Vaux’ which had belonged to her former husband.1
Lancaster’s earliest military service all took place in the north of England, first, in the summer of 1385, as a member of the retinue of Robert, earl of Oxford, in the King’s expedition to Scotland, and then, from June 1388, as one of the garrison of Berwick-upon-Tweed under the command of Sir Henry Percy (Hotspur). Thereafter, his career is notable for his lifelong attachment to the house of Mowbray, from which he was to hold certain of the Boyland estates. He became a retainer of Thomas Mowbray, earl of Nottingham, before the spring of 1389, when the earl was appointed warden of the east march towards Scotland, and that autumn, through his lord’s influence, he obtained appointment as chamberlain of Berwick, an office which carried an annual fee of £40. In March 1390 he became chancellor of Berwick too, subsequently holding both posts until October 1391. It was then that he moved with Earl Thomas into a different sphere of military activity. Mowbray having been appointed captain of Calais, Lancaster now secured the keepership of the nearby castle of Marck. Furthermore, when, in the autumn of 1392, Mowbray was promoted as King’s lieutenant in Calais, Picardy, Flanders and Artois, the terms of Lancaster’s indenture as captain of Marck were revised so that the captaincy might be his for life.2 Lancaster’s place in the earl of Nottingham’s service led to his involvement in the events leading to the murder of Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester, at Calais castle in September 1397. Contained in the testimony made before the Parliament of 1399 by William Rickhill j.c.p. was the information that Lancaster and another esquire of Mowbray’s were ordered by the earl to be present as witnesses when Gloucester was interviewed by the judge, and that he was also present when, subsequently, Rickhill was handed the duke’s written ‘confession’. It was he, too, who told the judge that Mowbray had decided that he should have no further speech with the duke. Shortly afterwards Gloucester was murdered. According to the deposition of one of Nottingham’s servants, the chaplain who took oaths of secrecy from the murderers was Lancaster’s cousin.3 Within three weeks of Gloucester’s death Mowbray was elevated to the dukedom of Norfolk. Lancaster naturally continued in his service, receiving from his lord at this time a grant of the life tenancy of the manor of Diseworth (Leicestershire), worth as much as £36 a year. Furthermore, at Coventry on 14 Sept. 1398 (two days before the day fixed for the trial by battle between the new duke of Norfolk and Henry of Bolingbroke, duke of Hereford), the former granted Lancaster and his wife Margery for life a yearly rent of 20 marks from his manor of Willington (Bedfordshire). On 3 Oct. Lancaster was one of eight men appointed by royal licence to be ‘of the entire and continuous council’ of the duke of Norfolk, authorized to supervise all his affairs during his exile overseas. Norfolk sailed from Kirkley Road near Lowestoft on 19 Oct., and an indenture attesting his embarkation was subsequently delivered to the chancellor by Lancaster and another of the duke’s attorneys, Richard Burgh. It was no doubt acting in the interests of the duke and his heirs that on 22 Sept.1399 (the very day, as it happened, that Duke Thomas died in Venice) Lancaster, Burgh and other Mowbray retainers took possession of certain of the duke’s properties in Calais.4
Lancaster now attached himself to the duke’s elder son Thomas, the Earl Marshal, whose wardship was soon to pass to Henry IV; and in May 1400 the new King confirmed his annuity from the Mowbray estate at Willington. In July 1402 and May 1403, doubtless in the capacity of the young earl’s agent, he joined other men attached to the Mowbray interest in negotiating leases at the Exchequer of substantial parts of the earl’s inheritance, situated in Northamptonshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, South Wales and London. On 30 May 1403 he is also recorded as standing surety for Earl Thomas, to whom had been committed the farm of the town of Dunwich, and on 1 Nov. following he was empowered, along with the earl and four other Mowbray retainers, to receive into the King’s grace any Welsh rebels in the Mowbray marcher lordships of Chepstow and Gower. The receiver-general’s accounts for the Mowbray estates drawn up between 1401 and 1404 reveal Lancaster as a leading member of Earl Thomas’s council during his minority: he had keeping of quantities of plate and gold to Mowbray’s use; he authorized gifts to be made to the earl’s sister on the occasion of her marriage to the earl of Suffolk’s son; he received loans on Mowbray’s behalf; he conducted his business in the courts at Westminster; and, most important, he acted as his personal messenger to the King and the prince of Wales. As reward for these services, he was given the farm of the Mowbray manor of ‘Merton’ in Westmorland, for £13 6s.8d. a year, and the offices of constable of Framlingham castle and keeper of the park there. The rebellion and subsequent execution of Earl Thomas in June 1405 must have been a severe blow to Lancaster. The consequences for himself, however, were less serious than might have been expected: admittedly he lost his offices at Framlingham, but only four months later he was at least to some extent compensated by a royal grant of £20 a year from the forfeited Mowbray manor of Willington in lieu of the smaller annuity he had previously enjoyed there.5 It was probably at Henry IV’s accession that Lancaster had lost the captaincy of Marck, but, having unfinished business there he now (late in 1405) took out royal letters of protection as a member of the retinue of the captain of Calais, John Beaufort, earl of Somerset (whose wife was related to the widowed countess of Norfolk). He may have been seeking an opportunity to pursue in the courts at Calais a suit over certain properties at Marck claimed by his immediate successor in the captaincy, Sir John Croft* of Dalton. This case initially went in Lancaster’s favour, though in June 1408 Croft was to appeal against the judgement.6
That from the major reversals suffered by his patrons, the Mowbrays, at this time Lancaster’s political credit in East Anglia emerged unscathed, is apparent from his successive elections as knight of the shire for Suffolk to the last three Parliaments of Henry IV’s reign. His survival appears all the more remarkable considering that he seems to have had little personal estate in the county, although he was to acquire, in 1413, an interest in a manor in Gosbeck. Lancaster attended the shire elections for Norfolk to the Parliaments of 1411 (a week before his own re-election for the adjacent county), 1414 (Nov.) and 1416 (Mar.), and the Suffolk elections of 1423.7 During the early years of the century he had established or strengthened important connexions among the gentry of East Anglia: Elizabeth, widow of Sir William Elmham* (who like him had been named on the duke of Norfolk’s council in 1398), made him a feoffee of her estates; John Wynter* asked for his assistance in a similar capacity; and Sir William Bardwell* sought his help when required to provide securities in Chancery. Later, he became closely acquainted with John Spencer*, the keeper of Henry V’s wardrobe, for whom he acted as a trustee of estates in Norfolk.8
Throughout this period, Lancaster was also in close touch with the civic authorities at Norwich: in 1411 he was one of a company of Norfolk gentry who, engaged as counsel to the city, were entertained at The Ram’s Head in Cheapside, London; and when, in 1413, the city was disturbed by disputes between the commons and the mayor and the 24 over the interpretation of Henry IV’s charter, he was one of those called in to mediate, although two years were to elapse before he received 20s. for his trouble.9 In 1416 Lancaster was named as an executor of the will of Isabel Ufford, dowager countess of Suffolk; in March 1417 he was entrusted with the administration of the goods of Thomas, Lord Morley, who had died intestate; and a few months later he was appointed as overseer of the will of Sir Edmund Thorpe* of Ashwellthorpe. Subsequently, he acted as patron of a number of East Anglian churches in the gift of Morley and Thorpe. On occasion, Lancaster also witnessed deeds for Robert, Lord Willoughby.10
But all this activity as a feoffee, executor and counsellor should be seen against the background of Lancaster’s continuing identification with the house of Mowbray. In March 1413 he and two other members of the council of John Mowbray, the late Earl Marshal’s brother and heir, were authorized to confer with the representatives of Sir John Grey, son of Reynold, Lord Grey of Ruthin, who had recently contracted to marry Earl Thomas’s widow, over the amendment of covenants regarding her dower estates. Earl John was summoned to Parliament for the first time in May 1413 (when Lancaster was elected once more for Suffolk), and he received livery of his estates a few months later. In March 1415 Lancaster was appointed by the earl as a justice to take assizes in the lordship of Chepstow, and later that spring he was named among the trustees of the Mowbray estates pending the earl’s absence overseas on Henry V’s first expedition to France. Lancaster’s identification with Mowbray is also illustrated by the request made to him in 1416 by the citizens of Norwich, that on their behalf he would confer with the earl concerning the amount of the loan which the city should make to the King. During Earl John’s absence in France from 1417 until after the end of the reign, Lancaster acted as one of his attorneys-general at home, his responsibilities in this regard including the exercise of the earl’s rights of advowson. More important, in February 1421 he represented Mowbray at the coronation of Katherine de Valois, supervising on his behalf the office of marshal. Then, in May following, when the countess of Norfolk set off on a visit to France, the guardianship of the earl’s son and heir, young Lord John, was entrusted to him. At some unknown date during this period Lancaster was made steward of the Mowbray lordship of Framlingham. The earl’s receiver-general’s accounts of 1422-3 reveal Lancaster as the most highly paid of his councillors, for he was still in receipt of £36 a year from Diseworth, as well as his annuities at Willington. In the early months of 1423 Lancaster travelled from his home at Bressingham to attend to the earl’s business in the royal courts at Westminster, and later that year, no doubt because of his position as Mowbray’s principal councillor, he was given custody of James, earl of Ormond, who had been placed under arrest by the King’s Council after Lord Talbot had accused him of treason. Lancaster’s son and namesake enlisted in the large force then about to set out to join the duke of Bedford in France under the joint command of the Earl Marshal. The financial negotiations for this major expedition took up much of Lancaster senior’s time.11 It was no doubt because of his attachment to the house of Mowbray that in 1416 Lancaster had been asked to serve as a feoffee by the Earl Marshal’s sister Elizabeth, widow of Michael, 3rd earl of Suffolk, and that in the following year he had been formally appointed by the Crown to act as attorney in the lawcourts in defence of all suits touching Elizabeth’s brother-in-law, William de la Pole, the 4th earl, who, still under age, was then serving with Henry V in France.12
Since the beginning of Henry V’s reign and the rehabilitation of the Mowbrays Lancaster had been appointed to several royal commissions, had served on the bench in Norfolk and had occupied the post of sheriff of the two East Anglian shires (as such holding the parliamentary elections of 1417). He was reappointed sheriff in November 1423 and probably died in office, shortly before 22 May 1424. Among the trustees of his property was his wife’s stepson, Gilbert Debenham†, to whose sister he had married his ward, William Lawney. Lancaster was succeeded by his son, John junior, who died in the winter of 1469-70.13