MORESBY, Christopher (1380-1443), of Distington and Culgaith, Cumb. and Asby Winderwath, Westmld.
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Family and Education
b. Winderwarth Nov. 1380, s. and h. of Sir Christopher Moresby*. m. by 1422, Margaret (d. 5 Aug. 1459), da. of Sir Peter Tilliol*, sis. and coh. of Robert Tilliol (d.s.p. by 2 May 1436) of Scaleby, Cumb., at least 1s. Kntd. by Mar. 1422.1
Sheriff, Cumb. 6 Nov. 1424-15 Jan. 1426, 4 Nov. 1428-10 Feb. 1430, 3 Nov. 1438-5 Nov. 1439.2
Commr. of array, Westmld. Mar. 1427, Oct. 1429, Mar. 1430, July 1434, Cumb., Westmld. July 1437; inquiry, Westmld. Mar. 1439 (attacks on Elizabeth, widow of Robert Crackenthorpe*, at Ryedale).
Envoy to conserve and negotiate truces with Scotland 25 Oct. 1429, 28 Mar., 17 May 1438.3
J.p. Westmld. 8 July 1432-d.
Assessor of taxes, Cumb. Jan. 1436.
Born and baptized at Winderwath in November 1380, Christopher was about 11 years old when his father died, leaving him heir to the manors of Moresby, Distington and Culgaith in Cumberland, and of Winderwath and Winton in Westmorland. His mother, Joan, retained the manor of Asby Winderwath as a jointure, and also received the customary third of her late husband’s estates, while all the other properties, along with the wardship and marriage of the boy himself, passed into the hands of the Crown. On 27 Nov. 1391, Sir James Pickering* agreed to pay a rent of £16 p.a. for the Moresby estates, and a further £40 for rights of marriage. He died in 1399, but no other guardian seems to have been appointed for the last years of Christopher’s minority. Immediately after he had proved his age, in February 1402, Christopher obtained seisin of his inheritance in Westmorland and Cumberland, along with unspecified estates in Yorkshire, which may have belonged to his mother. By 1436 he ranked as the second wealthiest landowner in Westmorland, with an assessed income of £60 p.a. from property, although some of these revenues had probably only just come to him as a result of the death of his brother-in-law, Robert Tilliol.4
Christopher did not become involved in local government until comparatively late in life, and he still lacked any administrative experience at the time of his election to the House of Commons. He had, however, by then struck up a friendship with Ralph, earl of Westmorland, who named him in November 1408 as a surety at the Exchequer. Although he sat in the consecutive Parliaments of 1410 and 1411, being returned on the first occasion for Cumberland and on the second for Westmorland, he does not seem to have acquired any particular taste for public business, as he retired again immediately afterwards to live quietly on his estates. Before too long, however, he was approached by John, Lord Clifford, his feudal overlord at Asby Winderwath, to act as one of his principal trustees. In May 1415, Henry V permitted Clifford to settle his property in Westmorland and Yorkshire upon a group of leading local figures, who were then granted custodial powers in the event of a minority. Since Clifford did indeed die (in 1422) while his son and heir, Thomas, was still a child, Christopher and his associates duly assumed control of the boy’s inheritance for the specified period. By then the trusteeship extended to Clifford’s Inn in London and other holdings in Derbyshire as well, so their duties were quite taxing.5
By the time of Clifford’s death, Christopher had been knighted; and he gradually began to play a more active part in local affairs. He attended the elections for Westmorland to the Parliaments of 1422 and 1425, and those for Cumberland to the Parliament of 1426. It was during this period that he served his first term as sheriff of Cumberland, and also started to sit on royal commissions in the north-west. In the summer of 1428 he appeared on the jury at an inquiry into the ownership of land near Carlisle; and in the following November he received a papal licence permitting him to make use of a portable altar. The temptation to abuse his position evidently proved too strong, and while in office as sheriff of Cumberland for the second time, in 1429, he was accused of a flagrant breach of the law regarding his conduct of the elections to the September Parliament. Although originally fixed for 13 Oct., the start of the session had been put forward three weeks to late September, with the result that each sheriff received a second writ of summons notifying him of the change of date. Sir William Leigh† and Thomas More II* had already been chosen to serve as shire knights for Cumberland at a full session of the county court on 3 Aug., but the arrival of the second writ presented Moresby with an ideal opportunity to falsify the return in favour of his own candidate, Thomas Parr†. Since the county court was not due to meet again before Parliament assembled, the way was clear for him to make out a new return, substituting Parr’s name for that of Sir William on what otherwise appeared to be a normally attested indenture. Naturally enough, his ruse met with a storm of protest, and on 28 Sept., just six days after the opening of Parliament, a royal commission was set up to investigate the whole affair. But after this point the inquiry lost momentum, leaving matters to drag on inconclusively for almost a year, while further information was still being sought. Sir Christopher’s appointment to the Westmorland bench in 1423, no less than the government’s readiness to allow him a third term as sheriff of Cumberland a few years later, certainly suggests that he escaped lightly with little more than a warning.6
We do not know exactly when Sir Christopher married Margaret, the daughter of Sir Peter Tilliol, but their son, another Christopher, was probably about nine years old when, in May 1436, she and her sister succeeded to the manor of Scaleby and other property in Cumberland. Tilliol’s estates had been occupied by the Crown since his death nearly two years before (Sir Christopher having attended his inquisition post mortem at Carlisle) because his only son, Robert, was both under age and insane, but the latter’s early demise now led to a partition. As an increasingly prominent local rentier, Sir Christopher now found himself much in demand when his neighbours were looking for reliable mainpernors and trustees. At about this time, for example, he became a feoffee-to-uses of holdings in Penrith; and he also offered sureties at the Exchequer on behalf of Sir Thomas Radcliffe* and Thomas Haryngton† as farmers of the royal manor of Nether Wyresdale in Lancashire. In 1439 he witnessed a series of deeds for Thomas, Lord Dacre, but retirement was fast approaching, and little more is heard of him.7
Sir Christopher died early in 1443, when his son was still under age. He had previously conveyed his manor of Culgaith to a circle of friends, including Hugh Salkeld II*, so the Crown did not gain control of all the boy’s inheritance. His widow, Margaret, married Thomas†, son of John Crackenthorpe*, as her second husband. She lived on until 1459, just two years before the death of Christopher Moresby the younger.8
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. C137/33/56; C139/112/61; CFR, xvi. 277-8; Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. viii. 308; xxxiii. 53. According to Harl. 782, Christopher Moresby was made a knight on the eve of the battle of Agincourt (24 Oct. 1415), but other evidence suggests that Robert Moresby was the one to be knighted (N.H. Nicolas, Agincourt, 102n, 369).
- 2. PRO List ‘Sheriffs’, 27. Although a Thomas Moresby is named as sheriff in 1428-30, it was (Sir) Christopher who accounted.
- 3. Rot. Scot. ed. Macpherson etc. ii. 268, 303, 310.
- 4. C137/33/56; CCR, 1392-6, pp. 22, 26; 1399-1402, p. 454; CFR, xi. 21, 60; Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. viii. 329.
- 5. CFR, xiii. 131; xv. 29-30; CPR, 1413-16, p. 320; 1422-9, p. 68; CCR, 1422-9, pp. 1-2, 5, 7, 26; Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. viii. 308.
- 6. C219/13/1, 3, 4; J.S. Roskell, Commons of 1422, pp. 16-17; Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xiii. 224; CPL, viii. 126; CPR, 1429-36, pp. 40-41.
- 7. CFR, xvi. 276-8; CAD, ii. B2897; CCR, 1435-41, pp. 263, 340-1; C139/69/24.
- 8. C139/112/61; Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xxxiii. 53; CPR, 1429-36, p. 116.