MARNEY, Sir Robert (c 1319-1400), of Layer Marney, Essex, and Kingsey, Bucks.
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Family and Education
b.c.1319, s. of Robert Marney1 of Layer Marney. m. (1) 1s. d.v.p.2, ?1da; (2) between Feb. 1362 and Mar. 1365, Alice (d.c.1391), da. of Richard Lacer† (d.1361) of London and Bromley, Kent, by his 1st w. Juliana, sis. and coh. of Richard Lacer and wid. of Sir William Bruyn (d.1362) of South Ockendon, Essex, and Beckenham, Kent, 1s. Sir William*. Kntd. by Sept. 1341.
Commr. of sewers, Thames estuary Feb. 1370, Nov. 1375; to collect the subsidy levied on parishes, Essex June 1371; of inquiry July 1376 (extortions by Richard Lyons†), Jan. 1380 ( post mortem), Aug. 1381 (revolt of tenants of Stratford abbey), Apr.-Nov. 1382 (seisin of Bradwell), Oct. 1382 (crimes committed during Peasants’ Revolt), Dec. 1384 (disseisin); oyer and terminer Mar., Nov. 1377; array Apr., July 1377, Mar., Sept. 1380, Apr. 1385, May 1386, Mar. 1392; to supervise the escheator’s inquests following the Peasants’ Revolt July 1381; put down rebellion Mar., Dec. 1382.
Tax surveyor, Essex Aug. 1379; collector Dec. 1384.
J.p. Essex 12 Nov. 1380-Dec. 1381, 20 Dec. 1382-July 1387.
Descended from Norman forebears, the Marney family had held Layer Marney for at least two centuries. Robert’s grandfather, William, was still alive in 1331, but within four years he himself had inherited the family estates and obtained confirmation of grants (originally made by Henry III) permitting the enclosure of a park at Layer Marney. The property thus inherited was of some value, and it included the manor of Totham and land in Great Wigborough.3 Marney was substantially to increase his landed holdings by any available means, including marriage, purchase and unlawful seizure. His career as a soldier began in 1336 when he was ‘first armed’ at the relief of Stirling, then being a member of the retinue of Sir William de Bohun (afterwards earl of Northampton). In the following year he sailed to Gascony with de Bohun, and in 1340 he took part in the siege of Tournay, being knighted shortly afterwards. At home in Essex, he soon put the lessons he had learned on campaign to his own use, but there they were not welcome. In 1342 Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford (brother of Marney’s former commander) complained that Sir Robert had led a gang of men into his closes and parks where they had foraged and poached game. Marney fought at CrÃ©cy in 1346 as a member of Edward III’s division.4The spoils of war enabled him to purchase the valuable manor of Kingsey in Buckinghamshire, where he allowed the previous owner, Eleanor de Ewelme, to remain in residence for the rest of her life provided she paid him an annual rent of as much as 100 marks. But Marney was always greedy for more: not long afterwards he abducted the young heir of one of his tenants at Kingsey, whose wardship pertained to the Crown.5
Marney’s violent behaviour led to his indictment for several felonies and trespasses committed in association with John, Lord Fitzwalter, and in November 1351 his lands and goods were confiscated. He may have been kept in the Tower (along with Fitzwalter) until, in the following June, he paid a fine of £116 10s. to obtain a full pardon for his crimes and the restitution of his property.6 But it was not long before he was in trouble again, this time over his attempts to enlarge his estates by taking over the extensive properties at Hatfield Peverel, Faulkbourn, Great Totham and elsewhere which had previously belonged to Thomas Fabel (d.1349). He was involved in several transactions with members of the Fabel family, including Mary, the widow, and her second husband, Ralph Pigot, and at first there seemed to be good relations between them: Mary was willing to meet Marney’s terms, and the heir, young John Fabel, was reported to be ‘in Marney’s company’. But matters became acrimonious in 1353 when John alleged that Sir Robert had taken him by force and kept him prisoner, compelling him not only to grant away his inheritance but also to sign bonds for £1,000. Lawsuits with the Fabels dragged on until 1368, although in 1365 it was agreed that Marney might keep the manor of Arden Hall in Horndon so long as he relinquished the other properties in dispute.7 The threat of litigation and the prospect of being outlawed again had prompted Marney in 1353, in the midst of the Fabel quarrel, to put all his goods and chattels into the safe-keeping of friends, and also to obtain a renewal of his general pardon. And, faced with severe financial difficulties, he had sought his fortune in France once more. In 1355 he took part in the Black Prince’s expedition to Gascony, a campaign which culminated at the battle of Poitiers, and early in 1360 he was with Edward III’s army which camped outside Paris pending negotiations for the treaty of Brétigny. It is interesting to note that when, that October, the King granted Marney yet another pardon, it was at the personal request of John II of France, then a hostage in England. The cycle of lawsuits at home (marked by timely ‘gifts’ by Marney of his goods and chattels to his friends, as in 1361 and 1363) followed by military campaigns (notably in Brittany and Scotland), long continued to be the pattern of his life.8
During a respite from military service, the rapacious Sir Robert set his sights on the extensive Bruyn estates. In 1360 he had obtained from Sir Maurice Bruyn and his wife, Alice, an annual rent of £40 from their manor of South Ockendon, Essex, having already acquired all their interests there and at Beckenham in Kent for a period of 15 years. Bruyn died two years later, and in 1363 Marney joined the widow in purchasing, for £200, the wardship and marriage of her son Ingram Bruyn, heir not only to the estates in Essex and Kent but also to Ranston (Dorset) and Rowner (Hampshire). He then married Alice and persuaded Ingram when he came of age in 1375 to confer on them the whole of his inheritance for term of their lives. Meanwhile, Marney had negotiated Ingram’s marriage to the elder daughter of Sir Edmund de la Pole*, brother of the future earl of Suffolk.9 Marney’s alliance with Alice Bruyn had also brought him very substantial properties in London and Kent which she inherited after the death of her father, Richard Lacer, a wealthy mercer and former mayor of the City. Even before her marriage to Marney, Alice had entrusted her property to his feoffees, who in 1365 assisted him to negotiate with her sister Katherine, widow of John atte Pole of Shoreditch, a partition of the Lacer estate in his favour. The Marneys sold some of these holdings in 1374 and settled a few others on Ingram Bruyn in the following year.10
When first returned to Parliament in 1369 Marney, although a seasoned veteran of the French wars and aged about 50 years old, lacked experience of local government at home — perhaps because of the formal exemption from such service which he had obtained 11 years before. He may have intended to join John of Gaunt’s army in France in 1373, but evidently did not do so, for his butler, Philip atte Bridge, was reported to be with his retinue in Essex and London when they were supposed to be overseas. In 1377 Marney obtained further letters patent of exemption from royal office, but nevertheless he was subsequently appointed to several commissions in Essex, including those of the peace. He was especially active in the suppression of the Peasants’ Revolt, during which his military background no doubt proved to be of use. Marney’s aggressive disposition next led to lawsuits with Sir John Neyrnut† (Eleanor de Ewelme’s heir) who challenged his title to Kingsey, but Neyrnut was obliged to retract in 1383. Whether a man of Marney’s temperament could be expected to offer loyal support to any single lord to the exclusion of others seems doubtful, and indeed Sir Robert appears to have avoided any definite alignment in the factions of the 1380s. He was connected, through his stepson’s marriage, with Richard II’s chancellor, the earl of Suffolk; he had dealings with Sir Thomas Swinburne*, who was of the court party; and when, in 1392, he obtained yet another royal pardon (specifically for theft and the manslaughter of the vicar’s servant at Kingsey), it was at the request of Edward, earl of Rutland, the King’s cousin. On the other hand, some consideration should be given to his association with Joan de Bohun, countess of Hereford, who, as sister to the earl of Arundel and mother-in-law to the duke of Gloucester, was no friend to Richard II. In 1387, as an amicable gesture, Marney had allowed an escaped bondman of his, who had joined the countess’s household, to have his freedom; and in July 1388 his son, William, married into the dowager’s family when Sir Robert secured for him the hand of her great-niece, Elizabeth Cergeaux.11
Over the years Marney’s fluctuating fortunes and his scrapes with the law had prompted him to make many enfeoffments of his estates. Among these transactions had been a settlement on his son, William, of the manor of Gibcrack in Great Totham, a grant to his daughter-in-law of an annual rent of 20 marks, and the handing out of generous rewards to certain old retainers. After the death of his second wife, in about 1391, he retained the Bruyn estates and most of the Lacer properties for life.12 In his later years (and he lived to be 80 or so) he was troubled by the enmity of Margery, Lady Moleyns, who, having been banished from the court of Richard II by the Lords Appellant, had now returned to enjoy some influence there. Their quarrel was probably over land, for Margery, the widow of William, Lord Moleyns†, was heir to certain of Eleanor de Ewelme’s properties (those once pertaining to the Bacon inheritance). Marney took his usual precautions to protect his interests: in March 1393 he transferred all his moveable belongings to the keeping of his son and other well-wishers such as Robert Tey*, and in May 1397 with the help of Sir William Elmham* (probably his former son-in-law) he made another such ‘gift’ of his goods, entered bonds for £3,000 and granted out 20-year leases of his estates for an annual rent of £100. But he was not immune from the effects of Lady Moleyns’s machinations: one of her supporters allegedly forged an obligation for 600 marks, sealing it with a counterfeit seal of Marney’s, and as a result of judicial proceedings initiated by Lady Moleyns it was certified to the Exchequer that this sum was owed to the King. After Sir Robert’s death (which occurred early in 1400) the escheator of Essex was ordered to levy 200 marks from his goods to pay off this debt, though in November following the 100 marks still owing was granted to the deceased’s daughter-in-law.13