MORDAUNT, Robert (d.1449), of Turvey, Beds.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of Robert Mordaunt (c. 1355-by 1396) of Turvey by Agnes, da. and h. of John Lestraunge of Walden, Essex and Timworth, Suff. m. by Sept. 1421, Elizabeth, da. of Robert Holdenby of Holdenby, Northants., at least 1s. 2da.1
One of the oldest and most distinguished families in Bedfordshire, the Mordaunts traced their descent from Robert St. Giles, a follower of William the Conqueror, who had been rewarded with land in the county at the time of the Norman Conquest. Their chief residence at Turvey was acquired by marriage at the beginning of the 13th century; and over the next five generations a steady expansion occurred during which estates in Yardley (Northamptonshire), Hinton, Fulbourn, Teversham and ‘Mallots’ (Cambridgeshire), Ardres in Turvey and Knotting (Bedfordshire) and Amersham, Brayfield, Burston, Chesham, Chicheley, Clifton, Ellesborough, Hardwick, Newton Blossomville, Weedon and other parts of Buckinghamshire were added to the existing nucleus. On the death of his father, in, or just before, 1396, one third of these properties was assigned as dower to Robert Mordaunt’s mother, Agnes, but he was, none the less, sure of a substantial income from land. Robert Mordaunt the elder had, moreover, followed the established family custom of marrying a wealthy heiress, whose brother and sister both died without children, leaving her in sole possession of extensive holdings in Walden, Essex, and the three Suffolk villages of Ampton, Brockley and Timworth. Although for most of his life the MP was merely heir presumptive to these estates, he and his mother remained on close terms and he was thus able to benefit from her influence as a landowner.2 Mordaunt was heir not only to land, but also to a longstanding tradition of service in local government. His great-grandfather, Sir Robert Mordaunt†, held office as coroner of Bedfordshire for several years and subsequently represented the county in the Parliament of 1341. Of Sir Robert’s two sons, William†, the younger, proved far more distinguished, since, like his father, he spent a long period as coroner and also sat in the House of Commons. Edmund, the elder, our Member’s grandfather, is now chiefly remembered for the bout of insanity which led him to murder his wife and immediately afterwards drown himself at his manor of Turvey. Perhaps as a reaction to these tragic events, his son, who was then under age, passed the rest of his life quietly, out of the public eye. He made a general settlement of his property upon feoffees in 1391; and it seems likely that when he died shortly afterwards his heir, the subject of this biography, was still quite young. The widowed Agnes Mordaunt remarried almost immediately. In November 1397 she and her second husband, Thomas Fotheringay, were involved in litigation for the recovery of land in Buckinghamshire which she claimed as dower, but little else is known about them for the next 15 Years.3
Relations between Fotheringay and his stepson were evidently fairly cordial throughout this period, as at the beginning of June 1412 Mordaunt chose him to be a feoffee of some of his Buckinghamshire estates. He was then anxious to set his affairs in order before taking part in the duke of Clarence’s expedition to France as a retainer of one of the captains, Edward, duke of York, with whom he entered formal indentures of service a few days later. He and another esquire named Thomas Mirfield contracted to provide York with a combined force of 24 archers for an initial period of half a year beginning on 6 July. Before setting off to join the army at Southampton, Mordaunt made yet another enfeoffment of his estates, choosing his stepfather to be a trustee as before, together with his neighbour, William Bosom*. The attempted invasion proved a dismal failure, and Mordaunt soon returned to England where he spent the next few years in virtual retirement. In March 1417 he completed an exchange of land in Turvey with a local man named John Bagge, but otherwise he then had little to do with the property market. His marriage to Elizabeth Holdenby, the daughter of a Northamptonshire landowner, took place in or before September 1421, when John Ardres agreed to lease his manor of Ardres in Turvey to the couple for an annual rent of ten marks. (This transaction seems rather puzzling, since Mordaunt’s father had already acquired the manor in 1375 from another member of the Ardres family, although we may perhaps be dealing either with two distinct properties or arrangements for a mortgage.)4
Meanwhile, in November 1420, Mordaunt took part in the Bedfordshire parliamentary elections. He was himself returned to the next Parliament, which met in the following May; and, although he does not appear to have sat more than once in the House of Commons, he again witnessed the return of Members in 1421 (Dec.), 1425, 1426, 1429, 1432, 1433, 1437 and 1442.5 Somewhat surprisingly in view of his prominence as a landowner, he never held any kind of administrative post, nor is he much in evidence as a party to the property transactions of friends or neighbours. As far as we know, he only once acted as a feoffee, being appointed, in August 1428, to hold land in the Hinxworth area of Hertfordshire. There is some reason to believe that for part of his life, at least, he faced serious financial problems, and was, as a consequence, obliged to sell off part of his estates. This is certainly the view adopted by Halstead, who describes him as ‘a great alienator of many noble Lordships and possessions that descended to him from his ancestors’. We may safely dismiss the antiquary’s suggestion that his impecuniosity was the result of participation ‘in the civil broils of his own country as an asserter of the claim and interest of the House of York’ (a mistake possibly arising from his earlier association with Duke Edward), although he must have had very pressing needs to dispose of so much valuable farmland. The sales began in February 1428, when he and his mother put the manor of Timworth on the market. About four years later his land in Ellesborough was sold, and shortly afterwards Edmund Brudenell acquired his manor of Chesham. Two more purchasers came forward in 1439 to buy, respectively, certain tenements in Buckinghamshire and all his possessions in Cambridgeshire.6
So little is known about Mordaunt’s private affairs that the cause of his apparent indebtedness must remain a matter of conjecture. He may even have been captured during the course of the wars with France, since the problem of raising ransom money led many Englishmen to resort to such extreme measures. No such speculation arises from his association with Reynold, Lord Grey of Ruthin, one of the most important landowners in Bedfordshire and the feudal overlord of some of his property in Turvey. Although Mordaunt was among the local gentry who were required, in May 1434, to take the general oath that they would not assist persons breaking the peace, this did not prevent him from becoming involved, as one of Grey’s most prominent adherents, in the riots which broke out at Bedford some five years later. The escalating rivalry between Grey and the parvenu John, Lord Fanhope, was already a cause of concern to the government when, on 12 Feb. 1439, a violent confrontation took place in the court house at Bedford before the local bench, which was then actually in session and itself split into opposing factions. Together with John Enderby*, (Sir) Thomas Waweton* and many others, Mordaunt was said ‘to have appeared ... with a multitude assembled from divers counties to the number of 800 and more, for the most part girt with swords’, but despite its evident concern at the collapse of law and order the royal council proved too weak to discipline either party. On 30 May 1439, some weeks after the award of royal pardons to their rivals, the supporters of Lord Grey were also excused their part in the fracas. Mordaunt evidently remained close to the Greys, for in February 1444 he and Edmund, Lord Grey (Reynold’s grandson and heir), witnessed a conveyance of land in Bedfordshire which had, paradoxically, belonged to their enemy, the late Lord Fanhope.7
One of Mordaunt’s last acts was to arrange the marriage of his only surviving son, William, to Margaret, the daughter of John Peake of Cople, Bedfordshire, upon whom, in April 1449, he settled an annual rent of £10 from land in Turvey and Brayfield. He was dead by 30 July following, when his widow agreed to let the arrangement stand. We are told that William Mordaunt strove ‘by a provident and frugal proceeding to repair those breaches the over-liberal ways of his father had made in the Fortunes of his Family’; and he did, indeed, die a wealthy man, leaving a son, Sir John (d.1504), who became Speaker of the 1487 Parliament and sometime chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. Later generations of the Mordaunt family did even better for themselves, so that by the 18th century they had acquired an impressive range of titles, including the earldoms of Peterborough and Monmouth, and the viscountcy of Avalon.8
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. G. Lipscomb, Bucks. iv. 110-14; R. Halstead, Succinct Gens. 485-8; VCH Beds. iii. 110; CIPM, xiii. no. 270.
- 2. Lipscomb, iv. 110-14; J. Copinger, Suff. Manors, vi. 345; VCH Beds. iii. 112; VCH Bucks. iii. 333; Feudal Aids, i. 40.
- 3. Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. xxix. 63-65; Halstead, 475-7; CCR, 1396-9, p. 187; CIPM, xiii. no. 270.
- 4. Halstead, 477-86.
- 5. C219/12/4, 6, 13/3, 4, 14/1, 3, 4, 15/1, 2.
- 6. Halstead, 486; VCH Bucks. iii. 212; Lipscomb, iv. 114; CCR, 1422-9, p. 454.
- 7. R.I. Jack, ‘Greys of Ruthin’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1961), 339; CPR, 1429-36, pp. 373-4; 1436-41, p. 282; CCR, 1441-7, p. 223.
- 8. Halstead, 487-91; VCH Beds. iii. 110.