MITFORD, William (c.1369-1423), of Molesden in Mitford, Northumb.
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Family and Education
Commr. of inquiry, Northumb. May 1399 (murder in Tynedale), June 1399, July 1401 (lands of John del Chamber), Dec. 1409 (evasion of customs), Jan. 1412 (persons liable to pay taxes), Feb. 1423 (estates of John del Chamber); array Aug., Sept. 1403, July 1410, Apr. 1418.
Steward and bailiff of the abp. of York’s liberty of Hexhamshire, Northumb. 1 Dec. 1399-c. 1407, 10 May 1409-d.2
J.p. Northumb. 16 May 1401- d. , the bp. of Durham’s liberty of Norhamshire and Islandshire, Northumb. c.1421.3
Escheator, Northumb. 29 Nov. 1402-16 Aug. 1403, 27 July 1405-9 Nov. 1406, 30 Nov. 1417-4 Nov. 1418.
Keeper of the lesser piece of the seal for the recognizance of debts, Newcastle-upon-Tyne 16 Nov. 1405-d.
Steward of the prior of Tynemouth’s liberty of Tynemouth, Northumb. by 1421-d.5
Bailiff, Morpeth, Northumb. for Henry, earl of Northumberland, by May 1421.6
Almost certainly a lawyer like his father, William Mitford is first mentioned in November 1392 when he became a trustee of rents worth £30 p.a. from the Yorkshire estates of an old family friend, Sir Aymer Atholl, whose grand daughter he eventually married. In the following June, William and his father acquired property and rents in Newcastle-upon-Tyne for their own use from one John Drewes, who offered William securities of £40 as an earnest of his good faith. A few weeks later William negotiated with the Crown for the lease of certain holdings in the Northumbrian vills of Riplington and Whitley, which he retained until 1412 at an annual farm of 24s. As a close associate and advisor of one of his father’s most important clients, Sir John le Scrope, he was called upon to stand bail when the latter was sued, in April 1394, by a London draper; and shortly afterwards he performed a similar service for John Mitford himself during a dispute over the payment of customs upon a cargo of coal bound for Yarmouth from Newcastle. Not surprisingly, William shared his family’s attachment to the Percys, whose support and favour had done much to enhance their local influence. In January 1395, for example, he offered to act as an attorney for Sir Ralph Percy during his absence in Ireland with Richard II. Marriage also brought a marked improvement in William’s position, since his wife, Margery, was related to several of the leading members of the northern gentry, as well as to the earls of Atholl and Northumberland. Her grandfather, Sir Aymer, probably arranged the match, which had taken place by April 1398, the date of a conveyance of property in Callerton Vallence and Mersfen made upon the couple by John Mitford. Some six months later, William was able to buy another messuage in Newcastle for himself, so he had clearly achieved a marked degree of financial independence even though he continued to work under his father’s direction, sharing the same clients and connexions.7
Both John and William Mitford transferred their allegiance in 1399 to the triumphant Lancastrian regime, and both prospered accordingly. Their friend, Sir Gerard Heron*, also threw in his lot with the newly crowned Henry IV, and in October 1399 he named the Mitfords as mainpernors on assuming the office of collector of royal customs in Northumberland. William again went surety for Sir Gerard in the following year, this time when he was being sued for debt by Sir Nicholas Dagworth*. Marriage into the Atholl family had, meanwhile, strengthened his already close relationship with Sir John le Scrope, whose brother, Richard, was then archbishop of York; and it was almost certainly for this reason that William became both steward and bailiff of the archiepiscopal liberty of Hexhamshire (where his father had been briefly employed some while before). During the early years of the century, William was occupied with pressing legal business of his own as well as with the cases which he undertook for clients, since besides suing a local woman for debt in his capacity as an executor of Hugh Mitford (probably a relative), he was also involved in an attempt to recover £20 from a clerk at Balliol college, Oxford. The birth of his son, John, at Newcastle in April 1402, proved a welcome occasion for family celebrations, however, not least because it presented an opportunity for William’s father-in-law, Sir Robert Lisle, and the infant’s godfather, Sir John Widdrington*, to settle a longstanding dispute. We are even told that the earl of Northumberland’s son, Sir Henry Percy (‘Hotspur’), ‘rejoiced greatly’ on hearing of the birth, although in the event the long association between his family and the Mitfords was about to be severed. From 1401 onwards, William sat with his father as a j.p. and royal commissioner in Northumberland; and, despite their previous attachment to the Percys, both men were active with Sir Gerard Heron in helping to suppress the rebellion staged by the earl and his followers in the north two years later. As a reward for their loyalty to Henry IV, all three shared a grant of the estates of the late Thomas Heron, so there was little incentive for William to take up arms on behalf of Archbishop Scrope when he, too, turned traitor in 1405. On the contrary, on 11 June of that year, just three days after Scrope’s execution at York, William was entrusted by Henry IV with the keepership of the temporalities of the vacant archbishopric. Now well over 60, John Mitford was anxious to place his affairs in order; and in January 1406 he secured from the Yorkshire knight, Sir Henry Percy of Atholl, letters confirming William as next heir to the manor of Molesden in Mitford and all the other land in the Lincolnshire village of Gainsborough which had been given to him by David, earl of Atholl, many years before. Sir Henry (who was distantly related to William’s wife) also retained William Mitford as his counsel at a fee of ten marks p.a. payable from his manor of Hunmanby for life; and for a while, at least, they remained on the friendliest of terms.8
The death of John Mitford, on 16 July 1409, left William heir to a sizeable estate comprising the manors of Molesden in Mitford, Newsham and Espley, as well as extensive holdings in Newcastle and at least 13 Northumbrian villages, almost all of which had been accumulated piecemeal from the 1370s onwards out of the profits of government office and a lucrative legal practice. William obtained formal custody of his patrimony in the following November, and although less active in the property market than his father, he still continued the latter’s policy of buying up any available tenements and plots in and around Mitford.9 His affairs progressed fairly smoothly until 1411, when he was briefly consigned to the Marshalsea prison for failing to pay a debt of £40 (together with damages of ten marks) to a clerk named William Shirburne. A protracted and bitter feud between William Mitford and his father’s former ward, John Belasise, may also have begun by this date, although the first clear reference to this particular dispute occurs in 1413, when Belasise was bound over in 200 marks to abide by the terms of a private arbitration. The initial cause of this disagreement is now hard to determine, but just before his father’s death, in 1409, William had made over to John, as kinsman of the late John Drewes, the reversion of the property which he had bought in Newcastle some 15 years previously. Perhaps Belasise expected to receive more immediate gains, or even felt that he had been cheated of his inheritance: at all events, by 1418 he had not only challenged William’s title to various holdings in Mitford, but had also enlisted the help of (Sir) John Bertram* and William’s own erstwhile employer, Sir Henry Percy of Atholl, in forcibly evicting him from the land in question. In about 1419, William brought an action in the court of Chancery against his adversaries, claiming damages of £200 in compensation for the disseisin. He may well have been successful, for two years later, in May 1421, Percy and Belasise were bound over in several recognizances of £100 to keep the peace towards him; and not long afterwards Percy offered him a similar bond in the same sum as a further guarantee of his good intentions. The affair clearly caused a lasting rift between William and Sir Henry, since by this date the latter had begun a quite separate lawsuit in the court of common pleas for the recovery of a chest of muniments which he alleged to have been unjustly detained by the lawyer. These legal battles were being fought throughout the same period which saw William’s return to four Parliaments as representative for Northumberland. Whereas on the first occasion (May 1413) he served along with his future adversary, (Sir) John Bertram, his colleague in 1416 (Mar.), 1419 and 1421 (Dec.) was the latter’s own brother and sworn enemy, Sir Robert Ogle, who may well have helped him to win support for his case in the Lower House. Moreover, William probably used his influence as one of the county electors in the autumn of 1414 to secure the return of his father-in-law, Sir Robert Lisle, although he was unable then and later, in May 1421 (when he again witnessed the return of Members), to prevent the selection of Bertram’s friend, Sampson Hardyng, as well. Whatever the state of these various coalitions and alliances, which provided the local gentry with a splendid opportunity for settling old scores, it seems likely that, with pressing private business of his own to deal with at Westminster, William would not only have been ready to undertake the long and arduous journey from Northumberland to London, but might even have been prepared to forgo all, or part of his expenses.10
Despite his preoccupation with these urgent personal matters, William still found time to pursue an active career in local government, while also holding stewardships on the estates of both Sir John le Scrope’s widow, Elizabeth, and the prior of Tynemouth. He was evidently on fairly close terms with Nicholas Turpin*, who faced charges of being an accessory to murder in June 1421 and named William as one of his mainpernors. Although temporarily disrupted during the early years of the 15th century, his relations with the Percys resumed their former amicable state at about this date, when the young earl of Northumberland made him bailiff of Morpeth. We do not know why William offered his father-in-law a bond of 40 marks during the summer of 1422, but there is no reason to believe that any family quarrel occurred to cloud his last few months. He died on 7 Mar. 1423, a mere four weeks before his son and heir, John, came of age. The Crown quickly intervened to assert its rights of wardship; and on 1 Apr. Thomas Holden, steward of Thomas Langley, bishop of Durham, paid £20 for the young man’s marriage. John Mitford eventually took as his wife Constance, the daughter of Sir Robert Ogle, thus continuing the alliance forged by his father some while before. The widowed Margery Mitford obtained the customary third of her late husband’s estate, which she occupied for another 29 years, if not longer. She was still alive in April 1452, when she settled land in Hexhamshire upon her ‘beloved friend’, Gerard Widdrington.11
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. C139/5/40; J. Hodgson, Hist. Northumb. ii (2), 45; Arch. Aeliana, n.s. xxii. 122-3.
- 2. Hist. Northumb. iii. 65.
- 3. DKR, xxxiii. 169.
- 4. Hodgson, ii (2), 536.
- 5. Hist. Northumb. viii. 215.
- 6. Hodgson, ii (2), 498.
- 7. CPR, 1391-6, p. 533; CCR, 1392-6, pp. 76-77, 101, 143, 276, 305-6; 1399-1402, p. 526; CFR, xi. 90-91; xiii. 233; C139/5/40; CP25(1)181/14/27, 30.
- 8. CFR, xii. 7-8, 235-6; CCR, 1399-1402, p. 291; 1405-9, p. 224; CPR, 1405-8, p. 24; Arch. Aeliana, n.s. xxii. 122-3; (ser. 3), vi. 66; Cal. Scots Docs. iv. no. 717.