LISLE, Sir Robert (c.1355-1425), of Woodburn, Northumb.
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Family and Education
b.c.1355, s. and h. of Robert Lisle (d.v.p. c.1362) by Eleanor, da. of Sir Robert Felton, gds. and h. of Robert Lisle (d. 29 June 1367) of Woodburn. m. 26 June 1365, Mary, da. and coh. of Sir Aymer Atholl (d.1403) of Jesmond and Felton by his w. Mary, at least 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 1da. Kntd. by Dec. 1384.1
Collector of taxes, Northumb. Dec. 1384, Nov. 1388, Jan. 1392.
J.p. Northumb. 16 Nov 1403-Feb. 1407, 28 May 1410-Jan. 1418.
Sheriff, Northumb. 5 Nov. 1406-23 Nov. 1407, 1 Dec. 1415-30 Nov. 1416.
Escheator, Northumb. 7 Nov. 1409-29 Nov. 1410, 10 Nov. 1413-12 Nov. 1414.
Commr. of array, Northumb. Apr. 1418; inquiry Feb. 1419 (treasons and concealments).
The Lisles were an important landowning family in medieval Northumberland, having, from the late 12th century onwards, accumulated estates in and around at least 15 villages in the vicinity of Woodburn, where their principal residence lay. Over the years they also acquired property in Sawcliffe, Risby and Appleby in Lincolnshire, although this was settled, along with land in Gosforth, in 1362, by Robert Lisle upon his second son, Thomas, and thus temporarily alienated from the main line of the family. Thomas’s elder brother, Robert, had probably died by this time, leaving his young son and namesake, the subject of this biography, to the care of his elderly grandfather, whose heir apparent he then became. The boy was about ten years old when, in June 1365, he was married to Mary, one of the three daughters and coheirs of Sir Aymer Atholl, and cousin to David, earl of Atholl (d.1369). On the day of their wedding, Sir Aymer entailed his manor of Felton in Northumberland upon the couple, who were promised a reversionary title should Mary’s elder sister, Isabel, the wife of Sir Ralph Euer*, leave no issue. In the following April Robert Lisle the elder gave his grandson all his property in and around Kirk Hall. He died two months later, and since the boy was still only 11, the Crown intervened to assert its right of wardship. In May 1368 the Lisle estates were granted rent-free by Edward III to Sir Alan Buxhall (King’s chamberlain, 1369-70). Not much is heard about Robert until, in 1376, his father-in-law, Sir Aymer, paid a fine of £20 for failing to obtain the necessary royal licence with regard to his alienation of Felton, and Robert’s interest was duly confirmed by royal letters patent. He obtained formal seisin of his inheritance in November 1379, but did not at first choose to involve himself much in public life.2
During the next ten years Sir Robert (who had been knighted by December 1384) confined his work in local government to collecting taxes. That he had many influential connexions among the northern gentry is, however, evident from his appearance at the christenings of, respectively, Sir Thomas Clifford’s son, John, in April 1389, and Sir Thomas Umfraville’s* next heir, Gilbert, in the following year. He also witnessed a property transaction, in November 1394, for (Sir) William Carnaby*, and served as a juror at the inquisition post mortem held on the estates of Sir John Felton*. The death, in September 1391, of Sir Robert’s childless uncle, Thomas, meant, furthermore, that the abovementioned estates in Lincolnshire and Northumberland, which had been granted away in 1362, now reverted to Sir Robert and his heirs. In the event, he chose not to retain these holdings for long. When his elder son, John, married Sir William Swinburne’s* daughter, Joan, in January 1398, he conveyed the land to them, with a remainder to his second son, Robert, who was then just ten years old. The Swinburnes were evidently prepared to match his generosity with a handsome payment of cash, which he collected in instalments over a fairly protracted period. It was at about this time that his only daughter, Margery, became the wife of John Mitford’s* son, William*, obtaining for herself a jointure in the Northumbrian villages of Mersfen and Callerton Vallence.3 Sir Robert had, meanwhile, gained his first experience of the House of Commons. He was returned by the county electors to the September Parliament of 1397, in which Richard II secured the downfall of his former enemies. It is difficult to tell how far he sympathized with the court party, although we can be reasonably sure that the royal letters of pardon issued to him in April 1398 were little more than a formality. Perhaps they had some connexion with his struggle to prevent the bishop of Carlisle from presenting to the living at South Gosforth. The dispute (which had already dragged on for years) reached the courts in, or before, 1398, and was still in progress as late as July 1411, when Sir Robert was pardoned a sentence of outlawry incurred for failing to answer previous writs of summons.4
Sir Robert’s relations with the new Lancastrian regime appear to have been cordial from the start, and his life continued very much as before. At Easter 1400 and in July 1401, for instance, he gave evidence at inquisitions post mortem held to determine the holdings of, respectively, Sir Henry Heton and Sir Thomas Gray*. Soon afterwards he was invited as a guest of honour to the christening of his first grandchild, John Mitford, at the church of St. Nicholas in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The ceremony was marked by a formal reconciliation between himself and the boy’s godfather, Sir John Widdrington, with whom he had previously been at odds. Satisfaction at the outcome of their meeting led him to spend £5 on a fur wrap for the baby, lest it catch cold in the chill northern wind. Although they were both related by marriage to the earl of Northumberland, Sir Robert followed the example of his distinguished brother-in-law, Sir Ralph Euer, in remaining loyal to Henry IV during the upheavals which beset the north during the early 15th century. After the defeat of the rebel army and the death of his own son, ‘Hotspur’, at the battle of Shrewsbury in July 1403, the earl had little alternative but to surrender his strongholds to the King, and in the following September a council meeting was held at Durham priory to discuss the strategy involved. Sir Robert, who was himself present among the various government officials and supporters of the Crown, was given temporary custody of Prudhoe castle in Northumberland, with orders to obtain the earl’s great seal as soon as possible. Two months later Sir Robert took a seat on the county bench, so he was quite clearly regarded with trust. He served in the consecutive Parliaments of 1404 (Oct.) and 1406, being appointed on the second occasion to act as a proxy for the prior of Durham, with whom he had evidently struck up a friendship.5
In July 1408, by which date he had discharged his first term as sheriff of Northumberland, Sir Robert offered sureties of 100 marks in Chancery on behalf of William Daventry. As we have already seen, he often sat as a juror at inquisitions of various kinds; and in 1412 he gave evidence concerning both the value of the Carnaby estates and the age of Gilbert Umfraville (whose baptism he had attended 21 years previously). His second grandchild and eventual heir, Thomas Lisle, was born on 11 June 1413, when he himself appears to have been preoccupied with business in London. His son-in-law, William Mitford, whom he had personally helped to elect, may still have been in the City after attending Henry V’s first Parliament, since messengers were then travelling between them. Sir Robert himself represented Northumberland again in the next Parliament which met at Leicester in April 1414 (while he was serving a second term as escheator), and sat for the last time in 1417, possibly so that he could assist Mitford in his rapidly escalating quarrel with John Belasise. He subsequently attested the returns to the Parliaments of 1419 and 1423, although he had by then effectively retired from public life. Being well advanced in years, he was fortunate enough to survive his brother-in-law and thus profit from the entail made so long ago upon the manor of Felton.6 Sir Ralph Euer’s death without issue, in March 1422, left him heir, in the right of his late wife, to the manor and its various appurtenances, which produced at least £13 p.a. net. The recognizance for 40 marks offered to him by William Mitford in the following August may, possibly, have concerned transactions involving Felton or the setting up of other trusts from family property. Such arrangements proved particularly important after the death of his elder son, John, a few months later. Once again the heir apparent to the Lisle estates was a mere child, and it became necessary to take immediate action to avoid the worst consequences of a long minority. Motivated, no doubt, by his own experiences as a royal ward and aware of his imminent mortality, Sir Robert managed to convey all his possessions except Felton to feoffees, so that when he did die, on 19 Mar. 1425, the Crown’s freedom of action was fairly limited. Thomas Lisle proved his age ten years later, and then took formal seisin of his inheritance.7