MERBURY, Nicholas (d 1421), of Braybrooke, Northants.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
J.p. Northants. 18 Feb. 1412-Oct. 1417.
Commr. of inquiry, Northants. Feb., May 1413 (assaults on the men of Great Bowden); to make arrests Jan. 1414 (lollards still at large), Feb. 1414; recruit workmen to prepare the royal ordnance for war Sept. 1414; take ships for the passage of the royal artillery to Normandy Nov. 1417; take musters, Normandy Jan., Aug. 1418, July, Aug., Oct. 1419, June 1420, Paris Dec. 1420; raise a royal loan, Northants. Apr. 1421.2
Master of the royal ordnance by 22 Sept. 1414-d.3
Usher of the King’s chamber by 24 July 1415.4
Keeper of the royal park and warren at Moulton, Northants. 8 Mar. 1417-d.
Chief butler of England 16 Mar. 1418-d.5
Chirographer of the common pleas 7 Nov. 1420-d.6
Keeper of the King’s jewels and privy purse 11 May 1421-d.
Bailiff of the royal forest of Cliffe, Northants. by d.
Merbury was one of three brothers, each of whom distinguished himself through a long and loyal devotion to the house of Lancaster. Sir Laurence was employed successively as treasurer and chancellor of Ireland, while John became chamberlain and receiver of South Wales, an office which he held for over 20 years. Unlike them, Nicholas did not begin his career in the service of the newly-crowned Henry IV, but chose instead to take the livery of Henry Percy, 1st earl of Northumberland, being present, in September 1402, when the earl inflicted a crushing defeat upon the Scots at the battle of Humbleton Hill in Northumberland. This politically important victory marked a crucial turning point in Percy’s relations with the King, which deteriorated rapidly from then onwards and led eventually, following revolts in 1403, 1405 and 1408, to his death at the battle of Bramham Moor. Merbury’s career also underwent a dramatic change as a result of the engagement at Humbleton Hill, but in an entirely different way. It was from him that Henry IV first learnt of the downfall of his enemies, and in his delight at receiving such welcome news he promptly granted the messenger an annuity of £40 payable for life from the Exchequer. By 1405 the terms of this award also included a reference to ‘good services by him performed and thereafter to be performed’, which suggests that Merbury had by then disassociated himself from the rebel earl and become an esquire of the Crown. Perhaps his protracted (and profitable) connexion with the future Henry V had already begun by this date, for the latter’s confirmation of his pension, in June 1413, also mentions a previous and evidently longstanding attachment between them. Our Member was probably helped in this quarter by his brother, John, who had already achieved high office in Wales. The two men certainly appear to have been quite close: in February 1404, for example, Nicholas offered joint sureties of 400 marks as a guarantee that John would honour the terms of the will drawn up by his wife’s previous husband, Thomas Oldcastle*; and in December 1409 both brothers acted together as the trustees of land in Warwickshire. At about this time Nicholas obtained the farm of some of the Herefordshire estates of the late Roger Dounton to hold until the latter’s young son came of age, with John going surety on his behalf at the Exchequer. Shortly afterwards, in March 1410, the two of them took on a shared tenancy of the manor of Clapham in Sussex, again during the minority of the same royal ward.7
Merbury’s prospects improved even further in September 1411, when he obtained a licence from Henry IV to marry Margaret, the widow of Edward, Lord Latimer. Before his death, in the previous January, Latimer had settled upon her a sizeable jointure comprising the manor and hundred of Chipping Warden, the castle and manor of Braybrooke, and land in Rothwell. All this Northamptonshire property, together with certain unspecified holdings in Leicestershire, was valued at £47 a year in 1412, although it may well have produced rather more. Lord Latimer’s next heir was then his nephew, Richard Griffin, whose reversionary interest in the estates around Braybrooke was confirmed by Merbury and his wife in 1417. It is interesting to note the appearance of John Merbury’s name among the list of feoffees who were to hold the property temporarily after Margaret’s death. Nicholas, in turn, was a trustee of his brother’s lordship of Talgarth in Wales, which had been conveyed to him and others by November 1420. He appears also to have had interests in and around Coventry. At some unknown date, he became a member of the influential guild of the Holy Trinity there, and the papal letters of May 1414 granting him the right of appoint his own confessor refer to him as a resident of the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield (although this did extend into five English counties).8
Within a few months of his marriage Merbury began to take an active interest in local government, and was soon appointed to the Northamptonshire bench. The accession of Henry V, whom he had served dutifully for some years, made an appreciable difference to his standing in the county, which returned him to the first Parliament of the new reign. His rapid — indeed almost immediate — rise to a prominent position at Court clearly reflects the value placed upon him by King Henry. Just after the coronation he received an allowance from the treasurer of the royal household for a new summer livery, and by September 1414 he had assumed office as master of the ordnance. He was then already engaged in preparations for Henry V’s invasion of Normandy: in October 1414, for instance, an assignment of £66 13s.4d. was made to him from the Exchequer to cover part of his expenditure on ammunition. Over the years, Merbury became friendly with the Lancastrian retainer, Hugh Mortimer*, who appointed him in March 1415 to act as one of his six executors. Merbury had little time to spare for personal commitments of this kind, however: barely a few days after Mortimer had drawn up his will, he indented to serve the King in France with a retinue of 18 archers, and one month later royal letters of protection were issued to him pending his departure overseas. The expedition actually set sail in early August, Henry V having made a will in which he left £100 to Merbury, who had by then become an usher of his chamber. Before leaving England, the latter also received a second annuity of £40, charged upon the revenues of the abbey of St. Peter in Gloucestershire as a guarantee of more regular payment. King Henry’s confidence in his servant was rightly placed, for Merbury distinguished himself during the Agincourt campaign and took at least two French prisoners.9
Intent on the permanent annexation of French territory, Henry V embarked in July 1417 upon a second invasion of Normandy. Merbury seems to have remained behind to supervise arrangements for the transport of vital siege artillery, for although he made a brief visit to the theatre of war in early October, to deliver 1,000 marks to the newly-captured town of Caen, it was not until the end of the month that he received royal letters patent permitting him to entrust his affairs in England to attorneys. Finally, on 10 Nov., he began preparations for the shipment of the royal ordnance across the Channel, and by the end of the year he and his men had joined forces with the main army. His itinerary between then and February 1421, when he returned to England to attend the coronation of Queen Katherine, shows that he remained constantly at the centre of operations, often under the immediate command of the King himself. His loyal and able service was rewarded with many grants of offices, including that of chief butler of England, which he understandably exercised through a series of deputies. Another lucrative sinecure was the post of chirographer of the court of common pleas, since this carried with it an enviable variety of perquisites. Yet Merbury did not live long enough to enjoy his impressive new salary of £50 as keeper of the royal jewels, nor to receive the legacy which Henry V confirmed to him in his second will of June 1421. He died on 24 Nov. of that year, having just been assigned £32 15s. towards the overdue wages of his men-at-arms. We do not know if he had by then returned to France with the King, but we may be fairly sure that his earlier exploits there had already made him an extremely wealthy man.10
Merbury’s wife, Margaret, predeceased him by some five months. The bulk of her jointure reverted first to a group of feoffees and then, after the prescribed interval, to Richard Griffin’s son, John, de jure 7th Lord Latimer. The MP left no children himself, and on his death his next heir was found to be his brother, Sir Laurence.11
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. CPR, 1408-13, pp. 308, 371; J. Bridges, Northants. ii. 12; CP, ii. 454-7; CCR, 1402-5, p. 306; CFR, xv. 10; C139/63/28.
- 2. Rot. Normanniae ed. Hardy, 359; DKR, xli. 715; xlii. 322, 324, 328, 389, 393.
- 3. E101/407/1; E404/40/186.
- 4. Foedera ed. Rymer (Hague edn.), iv (2), 139.
- 5. Rot. Normanniae, 284.
- 6. DKR, xlii. 381.
- 7. CPR, 1401-5, p. 121; Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. nos. 147