LEEK, Sir John (d.c.1415), of Leake and Cotham, Notts.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of Sir Simon Leek† (d.c.1383) of Leake by his w. Margaret Vaux; bro. of William Leek*. m. Isabel (d. by Sept. 1417), da. and coh. of John Towers of Somerby, Lincs., at least 1s. Simon*. Kntd. by May 1380.1
Sheriff, Notts. and Derbys. 24 Nov. 1382-1 Nov. 1383, 18 Nov. 1386-7, 18 Oct. 1392-7 Nov. 1393, 27 Aug. 1399- 24 Nov. 1400.
Commr. to suppress the insurgents of 1381, Notts. Dec. 1382; of array Oct. 1384,2 June 1386, Mar. 1392; to make an arrest Jan. 1387; confiscate lollard texts Mar. 1388 of inquiry Nov. 1388 (wastes at Blyth priory), Mar. 1389 (disorder at Lenton priory), Dec. 1391 (blockage of the river Trent), July 1393 (use of fraudulent weights by merchants), Notts., Yorks. Oct. 1393 (illicit salmon fishing), Notts., Lincs. June 1400 (goods of the late Sir John Bussy*), Derbys. July 1401 (possessions of the late earl of Kent), Notts. Mar. 1401 (infringement of franchises at Nottingham), Mar. 1406 (desertions to northern rebels), June 1406 (wastes and evasions); to take custody of a royal ward Nov. 1388; survey the possessions of the principal Lords Appellant of 1388, Notts., Derbys. Oct. 1397; enforce the statute of weirs, Notts. June 1398; of oyer and terminer Mar. 1401 (disorder at Dunham); to proclaim the King’s intention of ruling justly May 1402; of kiddles, Notts., Lincs. July 1403; to raise a royal loan, Notts., Derbys. June 1406.
J.p. Notts. 24 Dec. 1390-Nov. 1399, 16 May 1401-d.
Verderer, Sherwood forest, Notts. to 20 Nov. 1396.
Collector of an aid on the marriage of Princess Blanche Dec. 1401.
Keeper of temporalities of the abpric. of York 11 June-8 Aug. 1405.
Sir John’s ancestors are said to have settled on the manor of Leake (whence they took their name) during the mid 12th century, and eventually they came to occupy an important place in the local community. Sir Simon Leek, his father, represented Nottinghamshire in no less than ten Parliaments, as well as serving two terms as sheriff and sitting on a number of royal commissions. Although his marriage to his cousin, Margaret Vaux, was contracted ‘without bans, knowing they were related’, Sir Simon obtained a papal dispensation in June 1351 legitimating their offspring, who may already then have included Sir John, their eventual heir. The latter first comes to notice in August 1376, when he indented to serve in Ireland for a year in the retinue of the governor, James, earl of Ormond. Royal letters of protection were accorded to him (as a newly made knight) pending another sojourn overseas in May 1380, but he had returned to England by the autumn of 1382, as he and his father then obtained joint custody of the estates of the grandson and heir of the distinguished lawyer, Sir Godfrey Foljambe (d.1376), who was then about 15 years old. Sir Simon did not live much longer; and it seems to have been on Sir John’s initiative that a marriage contract was arranged between his sister, Margaret, and the young Godfrey Foljambe. When the latter died suddenly, in 1388, leaving a baby daughter, Sir John not only seized the welcome opportunity to resume his wardship of the Foljambe inheritance (for which he had been paying £30 p.a. to the Exchequer), but also purchased the marriage of his infant niece from the Crown for 50 marks. This he sold in 1392 for double the price to his neighbour, Sir William Plumpton, who wanted a suitable bride for his son, Robert*. The widowed Margaret Foljambe, meanwhile, became the wife of Sir Thomas Rempston I*, thus establishing a valuable connexion between Sir John and one of Henry of Bolingbroke’s most influential followers.3
By the date of his first return to Parliament, in 1386, Sir John had already served on three royal commissions; and while the Commons were still sitting he came to occupy the shrievalty of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire for the second time. Not surprisingly, in view of his social position, he was in great demand as a mainpernor, feoffee and witness to property transactions—services which he performed assiduously throughout his career for a wide variety of people. During the late 14th century, these activities show him to have been on friendly terms with such notable figures as Sir William Chaworth, Sir Edmund Pierrepont, William, Lord Roos, William, Lord Bardolf (d.1386), the latter’s son and heir, Thomas (d. 1406), and Sir Thomas Metham (for whom he went bail in 1387 as a prisoner in the Tower).4On many occasions his own son, Simon, shared these responsibilities with him, although he also reaped the benefits, as, for example, in 1394, when he and Sir John received a total of £8 6s.8d. by way of a reward for their ‘labours’ as trustees of land in the Nottinghamshire village of Sibthorpe.5 Notwithstanding his Membership of the Merciless Parliament of 1388, Sir John was appointed in October 1397 to survey the estates of the Lords Appellant against whom King Richard had at last taken his revenge. Yet despite the government’s readiness to retain his services as a commissioner and j.p. he still deemed it expedient to sue out a royal pardon in June 1398, thus protecting himself against any possible reprisals by the Crown. That he remained a firm supporter of the Lancastrian cause (influenced, no doubt, by his brother-in-law, Sir Thomas Rempston, not to mention his own brother, William, and their kinsman, John Leek*, who both later became esquires of the royal body) is evident from his appointment as sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire within a few days of Bolingbroke’s seizure of power in the summer of 1399. (He was thus responsible for holding the elections to the first Parliament of the new reign, using his position to secure the return of his brother.) On relinquishing office in the following year, he was, moreover, granted an allowance of 110 marks, because of the ‘divers great sums of money’ which he had spent on various special items of royal business, so he clearly occupied a position of trust. His attendance at great councils held at Westminster in August 1401 and 1403 provides further evidence of the value placed upon him at Court. It is also worth noting that from 1399 onwards Sir John’s dealings with such leading adherents of the new regime as Sir Thomas Chaworth*, Sir Thomas Rempston, Edmund, earl of Stafford, and Roger Leche* became far closer. This was notably the case with regard to Rempston, who was constantly associated with him as a trustee and mainpernor, besides relying upon his assistance in various matters concerning himself and his family.6
Sir John’s loyalty was recognized in October 1399, with the grant of certain confiscated land in Langford, Nottinghamshire; and two years later he obtained a royal licence permitting him to endow the church of St. Mary Magdalene in Newark with some of the property belonging to his nearby manor of Cotham. We know from a settlement drawn up by him for the benefit of his son, Simon, in 1405, that he also owned the manor of Kilvington with its extensive appurtenances, although a conveyance of holdings in the Saxondale area made to them both by their kinsman, Richard Leek, four years later (along with an entail of farmland and rents in Leake) is less easy to interpret. By 1412, Sir John’s Nottinghamshire estates were valued for taxation purposes at £60 a year, being probably worth considerably more. He and his wife had, in addition, once enjoyed an interest in the Yorkshire manors of Eske and Well, which must for a time have augmented their landed income even further. The Leeks were a prolific clan, and Sir John frequently acted in conjunction with other members of the family, thus making it difficult to ascertain exactly whose title was at stake. He and his younger brother, William, seem to have been particularly close, both being popular as trustees among the county gentry.7
Despite his advancing years, Sir John continued to play an active part in local government, and he attended the Nottinghamshire elections to the Parliament of 1407, as well as remaining on the bench. The year 1411 brought about a dramatic reversal in his fortunes, however, beginning, in August, with his involvement in a quarrel between two local gentlemen, both of whom were anxious to enlist the help of powerful supporters. One called upon his ‘good lord’, Sir Richard Stanhope*, to help him evict his opponent, whereupon the other invoked the protection of Sir John Leek and Sir John Zouche*, who together mobilized a large force of armed men. Violence was narrowly averted, although proceedings were eventually set in train against the leading protagonists. By then Leek and Zouche had survived a far more serious crisis, having been committed to the Tower of London on unspecified charges, in the following autumn, along with their friends, Sir Thomas Chaworth and (Sir) Roger Leche, and the latter’s sworn enemy, Sir John Cockayne*, each of whom were notorious breakers of the peace. It has been suggested that this small group of knights was implicated in a plan to persuade Henry IV to abdicate in favour of the prince of Wales, but whatever his offence Sir John was already too old to make much capital out of the political changes following the prince’s eventual accession to the throne. He died shortly before April 1415, leaving his son, Simon, to inherit his estates in Leake, Cotham and Kilvington. His widow, Margaret, survived him by about two years, in possession of other, unspecified property in Lincolnshire.8