MORESBY, Sir Christopher (c.1357-1391), of Distington and Culgaith, Cumb. and Asby Winderwath, Westmld.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
Commr. of inquiry, Cumb., Westmld. May 1389 (devastation by Scots).
Sheriff, Cumb. 7 Nov. 1390-21 Oct. 1391.
J.p. Westmld. 24 Dec. 1390-d.
The Moresbys were a family of considerable antiquity and influence, having from the 13th century onwards acquired the manors of Moresby, Distington and Culgaith in Cumberland, and Asb Winderwath, Winderwath, and Winton in Westmorland. Not only had Christopher’s father and grandfather both served as sheriffs of Cumberland, but they had also between the represented Westmorland and Cumberland in at least seven Parliaments—so the young man was heir to an established tradition of involvement in local government. He was about 12 years old when his father, Christopher Moresby the elder, died in 1369, leaving an estate which was already somewhat depleted by the assignment of an unusually generous dower to his widowed grandmother, Margaret. In addition, a second dowry had to be found for his mother, Isabel, who, moreover, held Asby Winderwath as her jointure. The wardship of Christopher’s inheritance was thus worth far less to Edward III as feudal overlord than had been originally anticipated, although the King was able to recoup some of his lost revenues by selling the boy’s marriage for £40 to Sir James Pickering* and renting out part of the demesnes at Culgaith to Isabel. Margaret Moresby’s death, in June 1374, provided the Crown with an eagerly awaited opportunity to exploit its rights more fully.2 Within a matter of days her dower properties had been leased out to Roger, Lord Clifford, while Christopher himself stood liable for a fine of 40s. once he came of age because of certain unlicenced alienations made to the old dowager years before in Distington. Isabel also experienced some problems at this time, since she and her second husband, Sir Gilbert Curwen, had to wait over a year before her claim to one third of these particular estates was formally recognized. Having sworn an oath, in May 1370, that she would not remarry without royal permission, Isabel had, in fact, broken her word, and she, too, was fined for her offence.3
Christopher performed homage for his patrimony in May 1379, although it was not until the following February that orders were issued for the restoration to him of his grandmother’s share of the family property. Another year passed before the contested holdings in Distington were released by the Crown, his homage on this occasion being respited because he was then on garrison duty at the royal castle of Roxburgh. The death of his mother, in February 1382, removed the last obstacle to his ownership of all the Moresby estates; and for once no administrative difficulties or delays occurred to prevent him from implementing his title. On 24 May he sued out a full royal pardon to cover any potential breaches of the law; and just two days later the escheator of Cumberland and Westmorland was ordered to put him in possession of all his late mother’s property. By coincidence, the escheatorship was then occupied by his former stepfather, Sir Gilbert Curwen, who evidently resented the loss of so much valuable farmland. By 1390, if not before, a full-scale feud had broken out between Christopher and the Curwens, led by Sir Gilbert’s son and heir, Sir William*. In August of that year, at about the same time as a collusive action at the Penrith assizes brought to secure Moresby’s title, Sir William led an armed raid on Distington, causing a great deal of damage, intimidating the tenants and carrying off various items of property. Christopher’s response was to begin a lawsuit in the court of common pleas, and also, perhaps, to seek election to the House of Commons so that he could more effectively pursue his case. At all events, he was returned for Westmorland almost at once, taking his seat in the second Parliament of 1390, a mere five days after his appointment as sheriff of Cumberland. He had by then been knighted; and iust after the close of the session he was appointed to the Westmorland bench.4
Sir Christopher’s promising career came to a suspiciously abrupt end on his death at some point over the next year; and the Crown promptly intervened again to assert its rights of wardship. On 27 Nov. 1391 his former guardian, Sir James Pickering (who had but recently served with him at Westminster), contracted at the Exchequer to pay £40 for the custody and marriage of his young son, Christopher, and £16 p.a. for the keepership of his estates. Dower was subsequently assigned to Sir Chrostopher’s widow, Joan, who also retained Asby Winderwath as her jointure.5