LEWKNOR, Robert, of Heythrop, Oxon. and Pulborough, Suss.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of Sir John Lewknor (d.c.1381) of Heythrop by his w. Elizabeth. m. bef. Feb. 1373, Joan, da. of Walter Bachelor, citizen and clothier of London, 1s.
Robert did not come from that important branch of the Lewknor family with large estates in Sussex and Middlesex to which belonged Roger Lewknor, the shire knight of 1335-51, and Sir Thomas Lewknor, the MP of 1422 and 1425, although he was distantly related to them both.1 His line had originated at Lewknor in Oxfordshire in the 12th century and had since become wealthy through the acquisition of a considerable number of properties in the region, including two manors in Northamptonshire at Great and Little Harrowden. Robert’s grandfather had represented Oxfordshire in Parliament on several occasions, but following his death in about 1356 the family fortunes went rapidly into decline. Indeed, a substantial portion of the Lewknor holdings was to be lost during Robert’s own lifetime, evidently as a result of financial mismanagement for which he was partly, if not entirely, responsible.
The first recorded incident of Lewknor’s career sets the tone for his future behaviour. In 1367, as ‘of Harrowden’, he failed to appear in court to answer the suit of the parson of Ardingley (Sussex) for a debt of 45 marks, and ended up in the Fleet prison. It was his father, however, who began the dispersal of their landed resources with the sale of property at Thame and Lewknor and, more important, of the principal properties at Harrowden, although when he died in about 1381 at least six other manors were still in his possession.2 Robert made an agreement with his mother enabling him to have tenure of Heythrop, Lidstone and Wormsley, together with pasture for 250 sheep at Chalford, during her lifetime; and, as executor of his father’s will, he attempted to pursue the testator’s debtors in the lawcourts. However, his tenure of Wormsley did not long remain secure: Edmund Brudenell*, clerk of the Crown in Chancery, somehow managed to obtain possession, and in July 1384, shortly after an armed band had entered the property and assaulted Brudenell’s servants (quite likely at Lewknor’s instigation), the dispute between them was put to arbitration, subject to the award of the future chief justice, Sir Robert Tresilian†. Despite the arbiters’ decision that Wormsley should be divided between the protagonists, Lewknor was required to pay Brudenell £6 and, shortly afterwards, he lost even his half share to his adversary. Another blow came in 1391 when his mother’s third husband was outlawed and his property seized by the Crown. The Lewknor lands in Shirburn, forfeited on that occasion, were eventually recovered, only to be later sold with Robert’s assent. In 1398 he made a vain attempt to recover the family manors at Harrowden by bringing a suit in the common pleas against John, Lord de la Warre.3
Lewknor had also been less than fortunate in his marriage, to the daughter of a London clothier, for it brought him little material advantage. His father-in-law, in the will he made in 1373, had left him a single silver cup and to his wife a few household goods together with the sum of ten marks; the property in the City which Lewknor may have hoped to acquire was all designated for the recently founded Charterhouse. No assessments for the value of Lewknor’s Oxfordshire holdings have survived, although those in Northamptonshire at Greatworth were estimated at 20 marks a year in 1412, when he was also holding lands at Pulborough in Sussex worth £20 annually.4 It may be assumed that these last were family possessions, for Lewknor’s own connexion with Sussex dated from before 1367. The tenure of land situated in the bailiwick of Richard, earl of Arundel, perhaps prompted his early attachment to this magnate, for whom he twice (in 1384 and 1388) provided securities at the Exchequer, having in the meantime served as a member of his personal retinue in the naval expedition