MACKERELL, Ralph (d.1436), of Wilsthorpe, Derbys. and Clifton, Notts.
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Family and Education
m. (1) by Nov. 1408, Katherine, da. of Sir John Cressy (d. Aug. 1383) of Hodsock, Notts. and Melton near Barnbrough, Yorks., sis. and coh. of Sir Hugh Cressy (c.1375-1408), wid. of Sir John Clifton* (d.1403) of Clifton, 1 ch. d.v.p.; (2) by c. 1420, Margery (fl. 1436), prob. da. and coh. of John Tansley*, 3s.2
Collector of taxes, Notts. Nov. 1404, Dec. 1406.
Commr. of oyer and terminer, Notts. Apr. 1410 (withdrawal of labour services at Walkeringham); inquiry, Notts., Derbys. Jan. 1414 (lollards at large), Notts. Nov. 1421 (estates of Lord Scrope of Bolton), Feb. 1425 (estates of Robert Waterton); array Apr. 1418, Mar. 1419, Mar. 1427; to raise a royal loan Nov. 1419, Jan. 1420; convey French prisoners from London to Nottingham and back July, Nov. 1422; of sewers, Notts., Lincs., Yorks. July 1433.
Sheriff, Notts. and Derbys. 10 Dec. 1411-3 Nov. 1412, 23 Nov. 1419-16 Nov. 1420, 1 May 1422-14 Feb. 1423.
Escheator, Notts. and Derbys. 8 Dec. 1416-30 Nov. 1417, 24 Jan.-17 Dec. 1426.
Dep. keeper of Nottingham castle by 8 Feb. 1421-aft. Nov. 1422.3
J.p. Notts. 12 Feb. 1422-July 1423.
Although it is possible that they were one and the same person, circumstantial and chronological evidence suggests that the subject of this biography was either the son or kinsman of the Ralph Mackerell who served as a tax collector in Derbyshire over the decade ending in 1393. Not much information has survived about his early life, but he apparently inherited property in and around Breaston, in the same county, which had been in the hands of the Mackerell family for some years. When he died, Mackerell was also seised in his own right of the neighbouring manor of Wilsthorpe as well as land in the environs of Sandiacre; and this, together with his extensive holdings at Carlton in Lindrick, Blyth, Clipston, Fenton, Stretton, Hayton Muskham and elsewhere in Nottinghamshire, may likewise have come to him, in part at least, by inheritance.4 His marriage to Katherine, the widow of Sir John Clifton, enabled him to consolidate his territorial interests even further, and may already have taken place when, in November 1404, he was appointed to collect local taxes. Although then possessed of no more than the dower lands at Clifton to which she was customarily entitled, Katherine was potentially a woman of some wealth, as in 1400, once it became clear that he would have no issue of his own, her brother, Sir Hugh Cressy, had settled upon her and her younger sister, Elizabeth (d. by 1408), the wife of Judge Markham, shares in the reversion of all his estates. These comprised the manors of Risegate, Claypole and Braytoft in Lincolnshire, Melton near Barnbrough in Yorkshire and Hodsock in Nottinghamshire, which, on his death in 1408, were duly partitioned. The division of the property was not effected without a degree of rancour, as the Markhams contested the initial arrangement, and a panel of arbitrators, including Sir Richard Stanhope*, was called into settle the matter in collaboration with the relatives and friends of the two parties. An unusual award, involving the allocation of land by lots concealed in wax balls did, however, prove acceptable, largely because of pressure exerted by the various mediators. The total value of Katherine’s purparty cannot now be established, but by 1412 the land which she brought Mackerell in Claypole was alone worth £20 p.a., while his estates in Nottinghamshire bore a valuation of at least £40 a year for tax purposes.5
Meanwhile, in the early spring of 1408, Mackerell appeared as defendant at an assize of novel disseisin arraigned against him at Nottingham by (Sir) Nicholas Strelley* and others, probably as a collusive suit designed to secure their title to property. His involvement in the business of local government began in earnest two years later; and in 1414. not long before the start of his first term as sheriff, he attended the Nottinghamshire parliamentary elections. A mark of his standing at this time may be found in the award to him and his wife of a papal indult permitting the use of a portable altar; and it is thus hardly surprising that the local gentry chose to return him as their representative to the second Parliament of 1414. In the following year Mackerell and his wife leased out part of their estates at Hodsock to a neighbouring farmer, and subsequently made a release of all legal actions to the Staffordshire landowner, Sir Robert Francis*, whose daughter had by then married Mackerell’s stepson, Gervase Clifton. By the time of his second appearance in the House of Commons, in December 1420, Mackerell had gone surety at the Exchequer for one of his neighbours, and had also discharged a period of garrison duty at Berwick-upon-Tweed, under the command of Richard, Lord Grey of Codnor. His experiences on the Scottish border more than qualified him for his next appointment, as deputy keeper of Nottingham castle. He had probably been in office for quite a while, when, in February 1421, an assignment of £40 was made to him by the government for necessary repairs. A number of important prisoners captured by Henry V in France were housed in the castle, and Mackerell spent some time during this period escorting them to and from London for examination before the royal council, incurring expenses of over £64 for their transport and lodging.6
In his capacity as sheriff of Nottinghamshire, Mackerell was responsible for holding the elections to the Parliament of 1422, during which his close friend, John Allestre, was chosen as one of the Members for the borough of Nottingham. Allestre had just named him as the supervisor of his will (the monetary provisions of which came to almost £500), although he can hardly have required much outside help to obtain a seat at Westminster. Mackerell attested the writ of return for Nottinghamshire to the Leicester Parliament of 1426, putting himself forward as a candidate in the following year. The circumstances of his election, on 25 Aug. 1427, raise some interesting questions, for although he was clearly a popular and influential figure in the county community, which he had, indeed, represented twice before, his conduct on this occasion was manifestly unconstitutional. Not only did the sheriff, Sir Thomas Gresley*, choose him and his colleague, Hugh Willoughby, without having first received the necessary writ of summons, but he also refused to hold any form of election and compounded his offence by making the return under his own seal, rather than in the form of the indenture required by law. In accordance with the statute of 1410 (which clearly laid down the procedure to be followed in cases of electoral malpractice), an inquest was taken at Nottingham on 27 Feb. 1428 before specially commissioned justices of assize, but since Parliament was then well into its second session, the verdict of the court had little practical effect other than to deprive Mackerell and Willoughby of their expenses and cause Gresley to forfeit the statutory fine of £100. The presentation of a parliamentary petition at this time designed to safeguard the legal position of both sheriffs and shire knights whose conduct gave rise to such inquiries (and also attempting, unsuccessfully, to have the findings of any such investigations set aside) was clearly prompted by this case, and must have owed a good deal to the efforts of the two Members for Nottinghamshire and their friends.7 This was not the only item of Commons’ business to command Mackerell’s personal attention, for he and his second wife, Margery, were by then involved in an appeal for redress against none other than Sir Thomas Gresley, whose behaviour towards them had changed dramatically within the space of a few months. Although prepared to engineer Mackerell’s return to Parliament in August 1427, Gresley showed his former friend nothing but hostility when, shortly afterwards, he and Margery faced an action for waste brought by Sir Thomas Rempston I’s* widow, the redoubtable Lady Margaret. Not surprisingly, the Mackerells refused to accept a staggering claim on her part for damages of £2,000, but they were frustrated at every turn by Gresley, who used his influence as sheriff to prevent the taking of evidence or the holding of a proper inquiry. The outcome of this dispute is not recorded, since it probably resulted in a settlement out of court. Neither Mackerell nor the electors of Nottinghamshire seem to have set much store by the dramatic events of this period, for he once again attested the return of Members to Parliament in 1432, and was also listed among the leading local gentry who were to take the general oath of May 1434 that they would not support anyone who disturbed the peace. Nor was he without powerful connexions of his own, as is revealed by a series of complex enfeoffments of his estates designed to settle a jointure on his second wife. The trustees to whom he conveyed his Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire property included Henry, Cardinal Beaufort, Henry Chichele, archbishop of Canterbury, and Thomas Langley, bishop of Durham, although he also engaged the services of other, less distinguished figures closer to home.8
When he died, in January 1436, Mackerell was able to leave his widow securely in possession of almost all his own extensive holdings. He thus prevented the Crown from asserting its claim to wardship during the minority of his eldest son, Hugh, who was then 16 years old, and presumably the child of his second marriage. The boy had at least two younger brothers, both of whom were named as beneficiaries of the will of their grandmother, Alice (d.1439), the widow of the Nottingham merchant, John Tansley. The estates which Mackerell had retained in the right of his first wife, Katherine, reverted to his middle-aged stepson, Sir Gervase Clifton.9