MERBURY, John (d.1438), of Lyonshall and Weobley, Herefs.
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Family and Education
yr. bro. of Nicholas Merbury*. m. (1) by 1400, Alice (d.c. Apr. 1415), da. and h. of Sir John Pembridge of Pembridge, Herefs., wid. of Edmund de la Bere and Thomas Oldcastle*, 1 da.; (2) by 1417, Agnes (1371-3 Feb. 1436), da. and h. of Thomas Crophill, wid. of Sir Walter Devereux* of Weobley and John Parr of Kirkby Kendal, Westmld.,1 1da.
Chamberlain and receiver, S. Wales 18 Mar. 1400-10 June 1421.2
Commr. of array, Carm. June 1403, Herefs. Apr. 1418, Mar. 1419; inquiry Jan. 1414 (lollards), Feb. 1414 (armed raid on Eardisley), Dec. 1417 (the forfeited lands of Sir John Oldcastle*), Pemb. Oct. 1421 (theft of a cargo), Herefs. July 1426 (treasons and felonies), w. Midlands July 1427 (concealments), Herefs. July 1429 (rights of Henry Oldcastle† at Almeley), July 1434 (concealments); to raise royal loans Nov. 1419, Mar. 1422, July 1426, May 1428, Mar. 1430, May 1431, Feb. 1434, Feb. 1436; seize ships and bring them to Bristol May 1420; of arrest May 1423.
Tax collector, Herefs. Mar. 1404.
J.p. Herefs. 27 Apr. 1404-d.
Sheriff, Herefs. 22 Nov. 1405-5 Nov. 1406, 10 Nov. 1414-1 Dec. 1415, 23 Nov. 1419-7 Jan. 1421, 1 May 1422-14 Feb. 1423, 15 Jan.-12 Dec. 1426, 10 Feb.-5 Nov. 1430, 3 Nov. 1434-7 Nov. 1435.
Dep. justiciar S. Wales Mich. 1411-13; justiciar 10 June 1421-17 Nov. 1423.3
Steward of Brecon Feb. 1414-20, Kidwelly 15 Feb. 1417-June 1423.4
Escheator, Herefs. and adjacent march 8 Dec. 1416-30 Nov. 1417.
Forester of Cantrefselyf bef. July 1426.
John Merbury was a trusted Lancastrian retainer who, by means of long service to the Crown (mainly in South Wales) and two advantageous marriages, became one of the richest and most influential Herefordshire gentlemen of his day. Little is known of his parentage, but his arms indicate that he was related to the Marbury family of Marbury (on the Cheshire border with Shropshire) who also owned the castle and manor of Lyonshall, near Kington, Herefordshire, which eventually came into his possession. Two of his brothers made equally impressive careers for themselves, Sir Laurence Merbury as successively treasurer (in 1400) and chancellor (from 1406) of Ireland, and Nicholas Merbury as chief butler and master of the ordnance to Henry V. Marbury was a fief of the Talbots, by whom Sir Laurence was retained, but John himself apparently began his career as an archer serving from 1389 in the force recruited by Sir John Stanley. He then enlisted with John of Gaunt, who at Bordeaux in October 1395 granted him an annuity of ten marks from the issues of the lordship of Halton, Cheshire, thereby retaining him for life.5
Merbury’s early services to the house of Lancaster are unrecorded, but he was plainly a valued retainer, for at the beginning of Henry IV’s reign he became a ‘King’s esquire’ and was granted two annuities in quick succession. On 19 Jan. 1400 he shared one of £40 from the issues of Hereford with Roland Lenthall, and ten days later Prince Henry of Monmouth gave him another of 40 marks from Isleworth, Middlesex. In March following, moreover, he was appointed chamberlain and receiver in South Wales, the chief financial officer of that region of the principality: his fee was £20 p.a., and he was destined to hold office for the next 21 years. He clearly gave satisfaction, for on 17 Mar. 1402 he obtained, for life, a grant of the Cardiganshire lands of a rebel, worth £46 p.a., and the following day he had yet another annuity of ten marks at the Exchequer, again given him for life, bringing his annual income from royal grants and fees up to the very large sum of £126. By 1400, furthermore, he had increased his standing and landed interest in Herefordshire by his marriage to Alice, daughter of Sir John Pembridge (his neighbour at Lyonshall) and widow of Thomas Oldcastle; and during her lifetime he held her castle and manor of Boughrood, near Builth, Radnorshire, the manor of Eyton by Leominster, and an estate at Burghill, Herefordshire.6
Merbury’s office of chamberlain in South Wales naturally involved him in the resistance to Glendower’s rebellion. In September 1402, with John ap Harry*, he was ordered to take the muster of the forces of Richard, Lord Grey of Codnor, the King’s lieutenant in the region, and in June 1403, when the rebels were threatening Carmarthenshire, he served on a commission of array there. In 1403-4 he was nominal captain of Huntington castle, in the marches. During the period from 1404 until 1407, when much of South Wales was in rebel hands, he may have spent his time in Herefordshire, where he was appointed a j.p. in 1404 and served as sheriff a year later. By 1409, however, he was again accounting as chamberlain, and in that year he received a reward of £56 3s.4d. ‘for good service’. In 1411 (when he was appointed to the additional office of deputy justiciar in South Wales) he was engaged in collecting a royal ‘benevolence’ in Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire. In May 1412 Prince Henry rewarded him with yet another permanent annuity, one of 100 marks assigned on the fee farm of Builth.7
Merbury did not, however, neglect Herefordshire during the later years of Henry IV’s reign. On the contrary, in June 1409 Bishop Mascall of Hereford made him steward of the episcopal lands and temporalities in that county and Gloucestershire. In December of the same year, together with John Russell III*, he stood surety when his brother, Nicholas, procured a royal lease of the Radnorshire lands of Thomas Dounton, a minor. Shortly afterwards, on 14 Jan. 1410, Merbury attended the Herefordshire elections to Parliament, and on 20 Mar. two of the MPs then sitting, Thomas Holgot (returned for the shire) and Edmund Morris (representing Leominster) acted as mainpernors when John and Nicholas Merbury were granted custody of the same ward’s manor of Clapham, Sussex. During that year John was offered the honour of knighthood, but declined it, paying the resultant fine.8
All Merbury’s grants (now totalling nearly £200 a year) were confirmed to him soon after the beginning of Henry V’s reign, and by February 1414 he was occupying an additional office, that of steward of the duchy of Lancaster lordship of Brecon. In August 1415 he was also appointed steward of the episcopal lands of the bishop of St. David’s. As chamberlain of South Wales he was much concerned with preparations for the King’s first invasion of France, including the mustering during June 1415 of a large contingent for the expedition (20 men-at-arms and 500 archers) at Carmarthen and Brecon. He himself did not go to France, but instead assumed joint command of a force of up to 60 men-at-arms and 120 archers for the defence of South Wales against any act of rebellion during the King’s absence; his fellow captains were Thomas Strange*, Richard Oldcastle (his stepson) and Sir Robert Whitney II* (husband of his stepdaughter, Wintelan Oldcastle). His contributions to the war-effort continued in January 1416, when he sent 200 oxen by sea from Haverford for the victualling of Harfleur, and in March 1417, along with John Russell, he was in Monmouthshire negotiating a donation towards the cost of the King’s second French expedition. In the previous month, his influence in South Wales was still further consolidated by the grant of yet another office, that of steward of the duchy lordship of Kidwelly. During this period Merbury was equally busy in Herefordshire, where he witnessed the county elections to the Parliaments of May 1413 and 1417, acting in the meantime for a second term as sheriff.9
Merbury’s first wife had died in 1415, but by March 1417 he had made a still more advantageous marriage, namely, to the twice-widowed Agnes Crophill. The lands she brought him consisted not only of her dower from John Parr (including the manor of Kirkby Kendal), but also of the very considerable estates of her grandfather, Sir John Crophill. These last included the manors of Market Rasen (Lincolnshire), Cotesbach, Newbold Verdon, Hemmington and Braunston (Leicestershire), Tiercewell and Arnold (Nottinghamshire), Hyde (Hertfordshire), lands in Shropshire and Bedfordshire, and the castle and manor of Weobley.10
Weobley immediately became Merbury’s home, and during 1417 several messengers were paid for taking to him there letters from the King. Some of these may have concerned the fugitive lollard, Sir John Oldcastle. Certainly, on 27 Aug. one of the latter’s tenants came to Weobley with the news that Oldcastle was hiding at his nearby manor of Almeley, but despite an offer of £100 from Merbury, the man could not or would not reveal his exact whereabouts. This offer of reward would seem to repudiate any suggestion that Merbury’s failure to capture his first wife’s cousin was deliberate, although it is remarkable that Oldcastle was able to stay untroubled at Almeley until October, when he was taken on his way to North Wales. However this may be, Merbury clearly remained in favour with Henry V, and his prestige, and also wealth from government grants, continued to grow. In May 1418 he shared a royal lease of the temporalities of the diocese of St. David’s with his deputy chamberlain, Thomas Walter, and in the following December he and John Brugge* (a Talbot retainer) were appointed custodians of all the lands of the late Gilbert, Lord Talbot, during the minority of his heir. In 1419 he had charge, by order of the royal council, of the manor of Longford, Herefordshire, pending the settlement of a dispute over it between (Sir) John Skydemore* and the executors of Thomas Walwyn II*; and in 1422 he took custody, under similar circumstances, of certain lands disputed between Skydemore and Robert Brut.11
Surprisingly, so far as is known, it was not until 1419 that Merbury was first elected to Parliament, for Herefordshire, of which county he was appointed sheriff for the third time ten days after the end of the session. He was returned again in May 1421, and not long afterwards, on 10 June, his labours in South Wales were crowned with his promotion from chamberlain to justiciar, an office previously held by the late duke of York. He was now the principal royal official in the region, with an annual fee of £40 and a reward of as much as £100 a year. A month after his appointment he and the new chamberlain, William Botiller, were given charge for two years of Bronllys castle and other Brecon estates, which were then in dispute between the King and Anne, countess of Stafford, and in 1423 the grant was extended for a further three years. Meanwhile, in December 1421, he had again been elected to Parliament, the last of Henry V’s reign.12
Merbury’s private transactions during the preceding period were manifold, and need only summarizing here. By 1415 he had been made a trustee of the late Richard Ruyhale’s* manors of Birtsmorton, Ryhall and Queenhill (Worcestershire) and Dymock (Gloucestershire), and he continued to act when these estates passed to Ruyhale’s widow, Elizabeth, and her new husband, Richard Oldcastle, the son of Merbury’s first wife. After this couple’s death the estates reverted to Merbury, who sold them. He was also a feoffee for Sir William ap Thomas, Sir John Chandos* and Elizabeth Devereux (his second wife’s daughter). In many of the transactions involved he was linked with John Brugge, who seems to have been a close associate, and with whom he several times acted as surety: Merbury’s services in this particular regard were much in demand during Henry V’s reign, especially where matters relating to Wales and the marches were concerned. Further afield, he received a legacy of 20 marks by the will of Robert Hallum, bishop of Salisbury, who died at the General Council of Constance in 1417; and in May 1421 he acted as supervisor of the testament of John Botiller, of which his brother Nicholas was an executor. (Botiller, an usher of the chamber to Henry V, was also an old Cheshire neighbour of the Merburys).13
At the beginning of Henry VI’s reign all Merbury’s annuities were confirmed (with the exception of the 40 marks from Isleworth, which manor had been granted by Henry V to his own monastic foundation at Sheen). Also, he was re-appointed as justiciar. In the previous year, 1421, his brother Nicholas had died, and by the terms of his will his manor and castle of Braybrooke, Northamptonshire, passed (just for one year after his death) to his trustees, who included Merbury and two senior duchy of Lancaster officials, John Wodehouse* and William Troutbeck. It was in 1423 that, with his removal from the justiciar’s office, Merbury’s long period of public employment in South Wales virtually came to an end. His service had not been entirely above reproach, for in 1424 the English tenants of Llanstephan and Penrhyn complained that he had wrongfully amerced them, employing for the purpose Welsh jurors who dared not contradict him.14
Merbury remained, however, both active and influential in Herefordshire, serving on three further occasions as sheriff, heading royal loan commissions and witnessing the indentures of return at the county elections in 1429 and 1431. He was himself returned to Parliament again in 1425 and 1427, and it was during the latter session that the Commons supported his petition for the restoration of his lost annuity, and its re-assignment as a charge upon the issues of Gloucestershire. It is also clear that he maintained contacts with some of the most influential in the land. In 1427 he witnessed the confirmation by Humphrey, earl of Stafford, of the Newport borough charter, and he was possibly one of the earl’s councillors. In July 1429 he put his family manor of Lyonshall into the hands of trustees headed by Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, and including John Russell and Lewis John*; and by 1434 he was himself a feoffee of Thomas Chaucer* (a cousin of Cardinal Beaufort), for the manor of Grovebury, Bedfordshire. In 1435 he shared a royal lease of the lordship of Abergavenny with Sir John (now Lord) Tiptoft*; and in the following year he was made a trustee of all the extensive estates which Richard, duke of York, had inherited from the Mortimers.15
Merbury’s wife, Agnes, died in 1436, having appointed him her sole executor and left him a life interest in all her (Crophill) family lands. The extent of his wealth by this time is demonstrated by his assessed contribution of £100 towards a royal loan for the equipment of York’s expedition to France, this being by far the largest sum paid by anyone in Herefordshire, not excluding the bishop. His own life was, however, now drawing to a close: he made his will at Weobley on 23 Aug. 1437, and on 29 Jan. following he died. His heir was Elizabeth (b.1412), his elder daughter by his first wife, who had married Walter Devereux† (1411-59), his second wife’s grandson and heir. The combined Devereux, Merbury and Crophill lands therefore passed to them, and eventually to their son, Walter Devereux†, Lord Ferrers of Chartley (1432-85), a leading Yorkist. Merbury’s testament requested burial with his second wife at Weobley, where their fine alabaster tomb remains, and to which church he left plate, vestments and hangings. Monetary bequests, totalling more than £367, including 100 marks for requiem masses and a similar sum for the poor, while his Cheshire origins were recalled by a gift of £20 to the abbot of Vale Royal. His grand daughter, Anne Devereux, was to have £100, and his younger daughter, Marion, £20, for their marriages. All his furnishings, including the decoration of the ‘Kynges Chaumber’ (perhaps an echo of a royal visit to Weobley), went to Walter and Elizabeth Devereux, of whom the former was an executor.16
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: Charles Kightly
- 1. CPR, 1381-5, p. 184; 1413-16, pp. 163, 321; 1429-36, p. 145; Herefs. RO, B56/2 f. 79; CCR, 1381-5, p. 324; 1401-5, p. 306; CFR, xii. 86; xiii. 111; xiv. 103; Reg. Gilbert (Canterbury and York Soc. xviii), 72; Reg. Spofford (ibid. xxiii), 225-6; Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. x. 189; C139/75/32, 87/43; CIPM, xv. 958-63.
- 2. R.A. Griffiths, Principality of Wales, i. 181.
- 3. Ibid. 132-4, 137.
- 4. DL42/17/77, 90, 96, 157, 203, 18/194; Somerville, Duchy, i. 639, 646.
- 5. Vis. Cheshire (Harl. Soc. lix), 166-7; G. Ormerod, Palatine and City of Chester ed. Helsby, i. 470, 542; J. Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, ii. 69; Feudal Aids, ii. 412; CPR, 1401-5, p. 116; 1422-9, p. 99; Rot. Pat. et Claus Hib. ed. Tresham, i. 220; DL42/15, f. 46d; E101/41/18.
- 6. CPR, 1399-1401, p. 187; 1401-5, pp. 51, 116; 1413-16, p. 321; CCR, 1399-1401, p. 68; 1401-5, p. 306; CFR, xii. 86.
- 7. CPR, 1401-5, pp. 122, 280; 1413-16, p. 320; 1416-22, p. 180; E364/45 m. 5; SC6/1222/10, 13; C81/666/887.
- 8. Reg. Mascall (Canterbury and York Soc. xxi), 70; CFR, xiii. 170, 173, 177; C219/10/5; CCR, 1409-13, p. 332; J.H. Wylie, Hen. IV, iii. 322.
- 9. CPR, 1413-16, pp. 42, 44, 320, 321, 412; 1416-22, p. 253; Griffiths, 133; E101/46/20; Wylie, Hen. V, i. 114; PPC, ii. 179, 207; SC6/1222/14; DL29/615/9845; C219/11/1, 12/2.
- 10. CFR, xiii. 111; xvii. 31-33; CPR, 1416-22, p. 88; 1429-36, p. 145; CCR, 1435-41, pp. 12-13; C139/75/32.
- 11. SC6/1223/1; Wylie, Hen. V, iii. 92; EHR, lv. 433; KB27/634 m. 11; CFR, xiv. 244, 265; CPR, 1416-22, p. 218; PPC, ii. 321-2.
- 12. SC6/1223/4, 6; CFR, xiv. 391, 400; xv. 33; PPC, ii. 294, 304; DL29/615/9847; Griffiths, 33; Somerville, 181-2.
- 13. VCH Worcs. iii. 489; iv. 31; Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. x. 189; CCR, 1419-22, pp. 69, 192; 1422-9, pp. 91, 416-17, 427; 1435-41, p. 75; CPR, 1416-22, pp. 306-7, 440; 1422-9, pp. 17-18; 1429-36, p. 141; 1436-41, p. 74; CFR, xiv. 132, 233, 295, 353; Reg. Chichele, ii. 121-2, 127, 642; Somerville, 510, 643.
- 14. CPR, 1422-9, pp. 3, 77, 104; SC8/302/15060; CCR, 1419-22, p. 244; CFR, xv. 10; E28/44/6.
- 15. C219/14/1, 2; RP, iv. 322-3; v. 78; CPR, 1422-9, pp. 376, 461, 539-40; 1429-36, pp. 514-15; CCR, 1422-9, p. 449; Som. Feet of Fines (Som. Rec. Soc. xxii), 193; CFR, xvi. 254; C. Rawcliffe, Staffords, 224.
- 16. C139/75/32, 87/43; Reg. Spofford, 225-7; CFR, xvi. 245; xvii. 2-3, 31-33; CCR, 1435-41, pp. 12-13; PPC, iv. 323-8; RCHM Herefs. iii. 195.