MANNERS, John (d.1438), of Etal, Northumb.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of Robert Manners of Etal. m. 5 Feb. 1403, Agnes, da. of Sir John Middleton (d. 9 Aug. 1396) of East Swinburn by his w. Christine (d. 10 Apr. 1422), at least 2s. (1 d.v.p.), 2da. Kntd. by 1434.1
Sheriff, Northumb. 6 Nov. 1413-10 Nov. 1414.
Commr. of array, Northumb. Mar. 1427, Oct. 1429, July 1434.
Envoy to Scotland on diplomatic missions c. Nov. 1427, 4 Mar 1434.2
The Manners family settled at Etal in, or before, the early 13th century, and were able over the years to consolidate their holdings on the Scottish border. When John Manners, the subject of this biography, married, in February 1403, his father conveyed to him and his wife the manor of Humbleton, land in Wooler and Coupland, and a fortalice at Lanton. The English, led by the Percys, had but recently inflicted a crushing defeat upon the Scots at Humbleton, and although the Manners estates were fairly extensive, the effects of repeated raids, arson and military engagements had greatly reduced their value. The more productive inheritance of John’s paternal grandmother, Alice (d.1402), the sister and sole heir of Sir Henry de la Val of Seaton was, moreover, entailed upon William Whitchester, the son of her first marriage, so John’s prospects were less hopeful than they might at first have appeared. On the other hand, his brother-in-law, (Sir) John Middleton*, a wealthy landowner with considerable influence in the north, provided a valuable connexion which enhanced the family’s standing among the Northumbrian gentry.3 John began to play a more active part in society in August 1408, when he went surety for his friend, Robert Tempest, a farmer of some of the late Sir William Carnaby’s* estates in Great Whittington. A few days later, Tempest performed a similar service for him, John being then granted the keepership of his grandfather’s castle and manor of Etal, pending the outcome of a government inquiry. The property remained in his hands for the rest of his life, and Etal soon became his principal residence. Much of John’s time over the next few years was taken up by lawsuits. In 1411, for example, he appeared as plaintiff in a case concerning the theft of goods from Humbleton; and not long afterwards he himself was being sued for two debts of 18 marks and £4 11s.4d., the latter of which he allegedly owed to a London draper. In November 1412, Sir Richard Arundel took from him securities totalling 2,000 marks, possibly in connexion with transactions regarding the manor of Newton in Northumberland. Although not much in evidence as a trustee or witness to local conveyances of property, John did agree to execute the will of Thomas Cheshire, and was thus caught up in another round of litigation for the recovery of money due to the deceased.4
By the date of his one and only return to Parliament, in May 1421, John Manners had discharged a term as sheriff of Northumberland, although his experience of local government was otherwise rather limited. It was later that he began to serve on royal commissions of array and also to act as an envoy of the Crown in Scotland. In the autumn of 1427, for example, he and the two colleagues who had accompanied him on an embassy to discuss the exchange of hostages were rewarded for their efforts with a gift of £5 each.5 The next four years were, however, given over to more personal affairs, largely because of a violent quarrel between John and his neighbours, the Herons, who lived to the south of Etal at Ford. Perhaps in the course of some boundary dispute, William Heron assembled a body of armed men, on 20 Jan. 1428, and led them into the village of Etal, where they began ‘shotyng of arrowes and strykyng with swerds’. In the ensuing fracas, both Heron and one of his servants were ‘maliciously slayne’, although John strenuously denied the charge that he had personally set about them with a ‘Scotte ax’ and a sword. A royal commission was appointed three weeks later to investigate the affair, but the task of reconciling both parties was left to a group of leading local figures. Heron’s widow made an initial demand for £666 to cover her late husband’s debts and a further £137 in damages, while also insisting that the wardship of her young son should remain in her hands. Possibly, as she asserted, John and his friends had indeed urged the authorities to take the boy into royal custody, although their ‘procuryng and steryng’ was probably a response to her outright rejection of a compensatory offer of £80 for masses to be said on behalf of the two victims, and her unwillingness to countenance John’s own claim for certain legal costs. By now both parties had begun to attract powerful supporters, John being helped by his brother-in-law, Sir John Middleton, and their kinsman by marriage, Sir Robert Ogle*. The possibility of further outbreaks of disorder led both the prior of Durham and Thomas Langley, the bishop, to press for a settlement, and when Cardinal Beaufort visited the north early in 1429, he, too, urged the two antagonists to come to terms. Now under considerable pressure to compromise, John reluctantly agreed, in April 1429, that he would pay Heron’s debts and also endow certain chantries for the good of his soul. Even then, Elizabeth Heron proved dissatisfied, and in September 1430 John submitted himself to the award of the priors of Tynemouth and Durham, who charged him a further 250 marks in damages, ordered him to have 500 additional masses said for the deceased within the next year, and obliged him to attend a humiliating ceremony of reconciliation. This was held on 24 May 1431 in the presence of the earl of Northumberland, although by then John had come bitterly to resent his earlier compliance, considering himself—with some justice—to have been exploited by his enemies and mulcted by the Church. In 1432, however, he was acquitted on the charge of murdering Heron’s servant, and he also had the belated satisfaction of frustrating all Elizabeth Heron’s attempts to gain custody of her son.6
Not surprisingly, John was among the Northumbrian gentry who, in May 1434, were required to take the general oath that they would not support anyone who broke the peace. By then a knight, he was busy suing the widow of John Beer of Berrington in Northumberland for unspecified debts, although he probably never managed to collect the money, despite the desperate state of his own finances. He died shortly before October 1438 and was succeeded by his second son, Robert, who was married to Sir Robert Ogle’s daughter, Jenetta. His elder son, John, evidently died shortly after the fight at Etal, for he, too, had been involved in the dispute with the Herons.7
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. Hist. Northumb. xi. 444, 449-50; HMC Rutland, iv. 74; Arch. Aeliana (ser. 3), vi. 75.
- 2. E404/44/162; Rot. Scot. ed. Macpherson etc. ii. 286.
- 3. HMC Rutland, iv. 74; Hist. Northumb. ix. 145, 168; xi. 140-1, 227, 328, 444; xiv. 168.
- 4. CFR, xiii. 115; CPR, 1408-13, p. 440; CCR, 1409-13, p. 398; Arch. Aeliana (ser. 3), vi. 69-70, 72.
- 5. E404/44/162; Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. no. 1013; PPC, iii. 356-9.
- 6. Hist. Northumb. xi. 328, 380-1; Arch. Aeliana, n.s. xxii. 122; R.L. Storey, Thomas Langley, 142-3.
- 7. CPR, 1429-36, p. 396; C139/91/28; Hist. Northumb. xi. 444, 449-50; Arch. Aeliana (ser. 3), vi. 75.