LAURENCE, Robert (c.1371-1439), of Dillicar, Westmld. and Ashton, Lancs.
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Family and Education
b.c.1371, 1st s. of Edmund Laurence† (d.c.1382) of Ashton by his 2nd w. Agnes, da. of Robert Washington (fl. 1388) of Carnforth and Bolton-le-Sands, bro. of John*. m. by 1399, Elizabeth, 4s. inc. Robert† and Thomas†, 2da. Kntd. c.1415.1
Coroner, Lancs. by Jan. 1400-aft. Mar. 1402.2
Commr. of array, Lancs. May 1400, Aug. 1402, Apr. 1418,3 Mar. 1430, July 1431; to prevent the spread of treasonous rumours May 1402; raise and lead men against the northern rebels July 1403; of inquiry June 1418 (lands of John, Lord Harington);4 to treat for a royal loan Nov. 1419; recruit archers to serve in France May 1421.
Collector of a tax, Lancs. c. Nov. 1402;5 assessor May 1436.
Escheator, Lancs. 26 Nov. 1402-bef. 20 July 1410.6
J.p. Lancs. Mar. 1418.7
Sheriff, Lancs. by 2 Dec. 1425-5 Nov. 1437.8
Constable of Lancaster castle by 1436-d.9
In addition to the manor of Ashton, which, from the mid 13th century was their home, the Laurence family owned property in Lancaster, Skerton, Poulton, Carleton, Scotforth, Heysham and Ellel. Edmund Laurence was able further to extend his inheritance by marrying, as his second wife, Agnes, the daughter of Robert Washington, through whom he acquired land and reversions in Bolton-le-Sands and Carnforth. Thanks to his increased prosperity, which was in part due to his work as a royal servant, he also bought an estate at Overton, although his title was challenged by successive dukes of Lancaster, who refused for many years to relinquish their claim. Edmund spent much of his life in Ireland, where he was employed first as a receiver by Edward III’s queen, Philippa of Hainault (d.1369), and then as escheator and keeper of weights and measures by the King. He did, however, find time to discharge a number of administrative offices in Lancashire, notwithstanding an early scandal in 1361, when, as deputy sheriff, he not only returned himself to Parliament but also fraudulently diverted the expenses for his own use.10 He died in the early 1380s, leaving his young son and heir, Robert, as a ward of John of Gaunt, his feudal overlord and sometime adversary for control of the Overton properties. The boy came of age in about 1393, and two years later he agreed to stand surety for the farmer of land belonging to Gaunt in Crompton. No more is heard of Laurence until, in 1398, one David Walsman was bound over in £40 to do no harm either to him or to Christine Routh. Given his earlier connexion with Gaunt, it is not surprising to find him among the supporters of the latter’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, who retained him with an annuity of ten marks in November 1399, just a few weeks after mounting the throne. In 1403 this grant was increased, retrospectively, to 40 marks, although the payments sometimes fell into arrears. Laurence’s appointment as coroner of Lancashire probably also dated from the beginning of the new reign. In August 1401 it was claimed that, as a kinsman of both the sheriff, Sir John Boteler, and Sir Robert Urswyk*, a defendant at the Lancaster assizes, he had shown bias in the selection of jurors, but otherwise his term of office passed without incident. He also acted as a royal commissioner and tax collector at this time, being rewarded in November 1402 with a gift of £12 4s.2d. in recognition of the work undertaken by him and his colleagues in levying a parliamentary subsidy. King Henry was, moreover, prepared to sanction an inquiry into the seizure by officials of the duchy of Lancaster of the land which Robert’s father had purchased in Overton, but even though investigations were begun fairly quickly, matters were still awaiting settlement 14 years later.11
Laurence was first elected to Parliament in January 1404, while serving as escheator of Lancashire. In the following year, he and his wife obtained an indult from the archbishop of York for the plenary remission of sins at the hour of death. During this period he also became involved in the affairs of such Lancashire notables as John, Lord Harington (who employed his services as a mainpernor), and Sir Robert Rokley (whom he assisted in the endowment of two chantry chapels). Laurence attended the Lancashire elections to Henry V’s first Parliament in the spring of 1413, and shortly afterwards the King confirmed him in his annuity. Another archiepiscopal licence, this time permitting the appointment of a personal confessor, was issued to him in the following year, which also saw his third and last appearance in the House of Commons. His colleague on this occasion was John Stanley, with whom he joined in December 1414, just after the session ended, in offering bonds worth £100 to Sir William Fulthorpe. Together with Stanley and many other Lancashire gentlemen, Laurence took part in Henry V’s first invasion of France, serving with a modest private retinue of two men-at-arms and six foot archers. He was evidently knighted during the campaign, as his account for the wages of £113 5s. which he paid to the 50 Lancashire archers placed under his command refers to him as ‘lately an esquire’.12
Royal patronage may well have helped Laurence to secure for himself the wardship and marriage of the young Thomas Hesketh, whose father had held his estates in Rufford and Harwood of the duchy of Lancaster. In August 1417 he and the boy’s current guardian, Gilbert Hesketh, offered mutual securities of £500 as an earnest of their willingness to observe an undertaking whereby Laurence agreed to buy Thomas’s marriage for £100, and pay an annual rent of 40 marks for his inheritance. The boy was duly betrothed to one of Laurence’s daughters, while her sister married Sir Richard Kirkby’s son, Roger. This second contract, drawn up at Furness abbey in 1418, cost Laurence an even larger sum of £200, so he was clearly a man of considerable wealth. His friend, Lord Harington, died at this time, and besides sitting as a juror at his inquisition post mortem he was also commissioned by the Crown to survey the Harington estates. On both occasions he was accompanied by his younger brother, John, whom he subsequently helped elect to the Parliament of 1419, being probably assisted by their kinsman, the sheriff. He was later, when himself in office as sheriff, to return his two sons, Robert and Thomas, to the Parliaments of 1429 and 1435, respectively.13
Meanwhile, in 1423, Laurence not only received further royal letters confirming his annuity, but was also licensed to hunt freely once every year in various parks and chases belonging to the duchy of Lancaster in Yorkshire and Lancashire. He was anxious to consolidate his hold on his mother’s estates in Bolton-le-Sands, and three years later he came to an arrangement with one of her relatives over the leasing out of property there. Not all his neighbours proved friendly, however, and in 1429 he complained that ‘the men of Bolton’ were poaching on his closes nearby at Carnforth. Yet he himself had but recently been indicted for trespass before the master forester of Quernmore, albeit without due process being made. Laurence’s last years were as busy as ever, not least because his duties as sheriff of Lancashire dragged on for 12 years and proved so financially burdensome. While in office he was required to take the general oath of May 1434 that he would not support persons disturbing the peace, although in the event it was debt rather than maintenance which led to his committal, two years later, to Liverpool castle. A combination of outstanding arrears and advancing years probably forced retirement upon him in November 1437, and he began to give some thought to the settlement of his affairs. By a series of deeds, drawn up in December 1438, he made provision for his three younger sons by giving each a life interest in the manors of Dillicar and Routhworth, together with other property, worth 30 marks in all, which had come to him in Westmorland. He must have been at least 70 years old when he died on 8 Sept. 1439, leaving his eldest son, Robert, to succeed to the rest of his estates.14