MELTON, Sir William (c.1340-1399), of Aston, Yorks.
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Family and Education
b.c.1340, s. and h. of Sir William Melton (d.1362) of Aston by his w. Joan (d. 4 July 1369), da. and in her issue h. of Anthony, 1st Lord Lucy (d.1343). m. by 1377, 1s. Kntd. by Nov. 1362.1
Commr. of oyer and terminer, Yorks. Feb. 1362 (disorder at Maltby), Feb. 1362 (poaching at Wath), Feb. 1365 (disorder at Wortley), Apr. 1388, May 1390 (obstruction of the river Ouse), May 1392 (theft of timber at Wakefield); array, (W. Riding) Feb. 1367, Apr., July 1377, Feb. 1379, Mar. 1380, Dec. 1383, Aug. 1384, June, Aug. 1388;2 inquiry May 1368 (disorder at Doncaster), Nov. 1375 (breach of sanctuary at Kilham), Notts. Nov. 1388 (wastes at the priory of Blyth), Yorks. Feb. 1391 (goods of John Lokton); to suppress the insurgents of 1381 Mar., Dec. 1382; hold a special assize June 1383 (property dispute at Reeth).3
Sheriff, Yorks. 4 Oct. 1375-26 Oct. 1376, 5 Nov. 1379-3 Mar. 1380, 7 Nov. 1390-21 Oct. 1391.
Collector of a tax, Yorks. (W. Riding) Mar. 1377; assessor May 1379.
Escheator, Yorks. 26 Nov. 1377-8.
J.p. Yorks. (W. Riding) 28 May 1381-Apr. 1385.
The Melton family rose dramatically from a position of relative obscurity to one of great wealth and influence during the first half of the 14th century as a result of the highly successful career of William Melton, who, having been keeper of the privy seal (1307-12), controller of the royal household (1307-14) and its treasurer (1314-16), held the archiepiscopal see of York from 1316 until his death in 1340 and, in the course of his pontificate, was twice treasurer of the Exchequer. Not surprisingly, the archbishop had accumulated a considerable fortune of his own, being rich enough to bequeath the impressive sum of £700 for building works at York Minister. His nephew and heir, Sir William Melton, was consequently well placed to make a socially advantageous marriage, taking as his wife Joan, the daughter of Anthony, Lord Lucy. Although neither he nor his son, the subject of this biography, were themselves able to lay claim to the barony of Lucy, the title and fee which helped to support it eventually descended to their heirs, so the match certainly marked another step upwards. Of more immediate value, however, was the lucrative inheritance which passed to Sir William from the archbishop. This comprised the two manors of Kingsclere and Bentworth in Hampshire, the manors of Kilham, Aston, Owstwick and Towton and land in North Milford and Sherburn, all in Yorkshire, and property in the Nottinghamshire village of Upton near Southwell. Sir William also acquired estates in Cotness, Fenton, Wilton, Whiston, Laughton and other parts of Yorkshire, as well as holdings in Willingham, Lincolnshire, the provenance of which is less easy to determine. When he died, in 1362, the manor of Kilham was claimed as dower by his widow, Joan, who survived him for a further seven years, but all the rest came directly into the hands of his son, Sir William Melton the younger.4 Although he was then only 22 years old, the latter had already spent some time campaigning in France under the command of Edward III, and had also gained useful experience of local government by serving on at least two royal commissions in Yorkshire. Yet, notwithstanding his work as an agent of law enforcement, he was himself responsible for an attack on Gilbert, earl of Angus’s property at Skillingthorpe in Lincolnshire, standing accused in February 1368 of various malicious acts of trespass there. Since the earl was then married to Melton’s cousin, Maud Lucy, it seems likely that some family quarrel had sparked off the incident, although matters were settled amicably enough a few months later when Sir William bound himself in 240 marks to behave well in future. In the following year he returned to France, on this occasion in the retinue of the King’s son, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster. He was abroad when his mother died, but Edward III none the less allowed him to take immediate possession of her estates, postponing the usual ceremony of homage because of his valuable contribution to the war-effort. It seems likely that Sir William also took part in Gaunt’s abortive expedition for the relief of La Rochelle, for in March 1372 the duke’s auditor was ordered to pay him wages of £20 15s., evidently as the first instalment of a larger sum exceeding £44.5
From 1375 onwards, when he began his first term as sheriff of Yorkshire, Sir William devoted far more time and energy to local affairs. That he was held in a position of trust by the authorities is evident from his appointment first in June 1377, and again one year later, as a courier for the transport from York to Westminster of at least 8,000 marks in ransom money surrendered by the Scots to the English government. His appearance in March 1380 among the mainpernors of Thomas Caterton (who had been appealed of treason in the Good Parliament of 1376 by Sir John Annesley*) also suggests that he had influential friends at Court, since Caterton was closely connected with King Edward’s unpopular favourite, William, Lord Latimer, and had for some time enjoyed the protection of Melton’s old commander, John of Gaunt. Sir William certainly maintained his association with the duke, serving with him in Scotland, in 1383, and probably enlisting under his banner in the royal army which Richard II led northwards two years later. Military service, as well as connexions with the royal council, brought Melton into contact with another important figure—William, Lord Windsor, the husband of Edward III’s former mistress, Alice Perrers (towards whom the Good Parliament had likewise proved particularly hostile). In March 1384 he became a trustee of Windsor’s manor of Poorstock in Dorset, and a few months later he agreed to act as one of his friend’s executors. This turned out to be a daunting task, for Windsor died on 15 Sept. owing large sums of money to the Crown. A dispute also ensued between his notoriously rapacious widow, Alice, and his nephew and heir, John Windsor, who used his position as an executor to seize most of the deceased’s estates. Melton seems to have given him his support, for in October and November 1384 he witnessed releases made in John’s favour by the trustees. His main problem, however, lay in persuading the Crown to drop the various actions of account then being filed against him and his fellow executors (among whom were Sir Walter Strickland* and the former Speaker, Sir James Pickering*); and it may have been with this purpose in mind that he stood for Parliament in the autumn of 1385. He had by then obtained a full royal pardon regarding his own part in Windsor’s financial affairs, although the barons of the Exchequer were still pressing for settlement.6
Naturally enough, in view of his involvement in Gaunt’s earlier ventures overseas, Sir William was anxious to join the expeditionary force with which the duke planned to gain the throne of Castile. In January 1386 he obtained letters of protection from Richard II pending his departure for Spain, although in the event he remained at home. Indeed, in the following July he gave evidence at York on behalf of Richard, Lord Scrope of Bolton, who was then engaged in a protracted dispute with Sir Robert Grosvenor over the right to bear the same coat of arms. Despite the award, some two years earlier, of royal letters patent exempting him from holding local office or serving on juries, Sir William showed as much enthusiasm as ever for government service. He took his seat in the House of Commons for the second time in February 1388, but whereas his colleague, Sir Robert Constable, experienced some difficulty in obtaining his expenses for attendance at the Merciless Parliament, he himself was apparently reimbursed almost at once. His last years were marked by a series of lawsuits, some of which may well have been fought simply to establish his title to land in Whiston, Milford and Stockbridge. At least one, however, resulted in the outlawry of one of his neighbours for trespass, whereas another cost Sir William himself damages of £10 for making fraudulent claims.7
Melton drew up his will in early January 1398 ‘michi videns mortem iminere et finem vitae appropinquare’. He made provision for a fairly elaborate funeral at the parish church of All Saints, Aston, and died on 7 Mar. following. His chief beneficiary was his sister, Katherine, who not only received 40 marks in cash but also inherited his estates in Cotness and Whistan. Other legacies together accounted for over £37, while the rest of his goods and chattels were consigned to a group of trustees, including the influential Lancastrian retainer, Robert Waterton. Just five days after Sir William’s death, the wardship of his estates