MOREWELL, Sir Thomas (d.1395/6), of Little Hadham and Bishop's Stortford, Herts.
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Family and Education
Commr. of oyer and terminet, Herts. May 1379 (disorder at John, duke of Brittany’s manor of Cheshunt); to suppress the rebels of 1381, Mar., Dec. 1382; of array Apr. 1385, Mar. 1392; to arrest persons attempting to impugn the King’s right to present to the treasurership of St. Paul’s cathedral Sept. 1388, Jan. 1391.
Surveyor of a tax, Herts. Dec. 1380.
J.p. Herts. 14 Dec. 1381-July 1389, 28 June-Dec. 1390, 27 Nov. 1391-Mar. 1397.
Chamberlain to Richard II’s mother, Joan of Kent, by 16 Oct. 1383-Aug. 1385.
The most striking feature of Morewell’s career is his long and loyal service to several members of the royal family, beginning with Edward III’s mother, Queen Isabella (d.1358), whom he attended in some unrecorded capacity. We know no more about him until November 1364, when King Edward sent him as a messenger to John Montfort, duke of Brittany. The two young men (who were probably near-contemporaries) may well have become connected before this date, since the duke grew up at the English court and did not recover his inheritance until 1361. Morewell’s mission, which followed the crushing defeat inflicted by Duke John upon a rival claimant to the duchy, was perhaps concerned with negotiations for the marriage, solemnized two years later, between John and the earl of Kent’s eldest daughter, Joan Holand. Although unforeseen at the time, the match had momentous consequences for the house of Montfort, since in 1377 Joan’s young half-brother, Richard, ascended the throne of England. Morewell himself benefited from this chain of events, being able to retain, indeed, even improve, his position in the royal household after Edward III’s death. His early years as a courtier were, meanwhile, crowned with success. He returned to England in March 1365, and in the following year received two annuities, both of which describe him as an esquire of the body. The first, of £20, was awarded in September 1366 and makes specific reference to his previous employment by Queen Isabella; and the second, which he received in the following December, gave him a further £15 p.a., payable from Calne in Wiltshire for life in return for the ground that his services to the King and Queen Philippa. Morewell seems to have been particularly close to the latter, who made him one of her personal attendants, and in February 1367 gave him certain property in Bristol to hold rent-free until his death. This grant, together with the annuity of £15, was confirmed by Richard II in May 1378, but some problem seems to have arisen over the regular payment of the fee by the farmers of Calne, who received royal letters close reminding them of their obligation on at least two occasions after this date.2
Queen Philippa’s death in 1369 may have led Morewell to withdraw temporarily from the royal household, although the return to England in 1373 of John, duke of Brittany (who had been expelled from his duchy by the French), brought him back to the Court. On 1 July of that year, the duke, as recently created earl of Richmond, granted his ‘cher et bien ame bacheller’ an annuity of ioo marks from his lordship of Hastingrope (this pension was also to be confirmed later by King Richard, and, like the others, was awarded for life). Within three days of being formally retained by the duke, Morewell joined with him in offering securities of £9,000 for a loan of the same amount which Edward III had agreed to make to his kinsman—a loan which was still unpaid in 1386, when our Member and his associates were finally excused any liability for their part in the transaction. Over the years, Morewell came to play a prominent part in Duke John’s affairs: at some point before June 1377, for example, he acted as a messenger between the duke and Edward III during their rather tense exchanges over the fate of Charles of Blois’s two sons, who were then hostages in England; and in the following year he was commissioned to investigate a complaint by his patron about disorder at the manor of Cheshunt. It is also worth noting that in the summer of 1380 his appointment as a surveyor of the subsidy in Hertfordshire was revoked because he was ‘abiding continually in the house of the King’s sister, the duchess of Brittany, as one of her household’. The confiscation of the earldom of Richmond as a direct consquence of Duke John’s unpaid debts to the Crown was somewhat mitigated by the decision, made in November 1381, to place Morewell in control of all the revenues assigned partly to the use of the duchess while she remained in England and partly for the payment of such standing charges as his own annuity.3 The year 1381 proved a significant landmark in Morewell’s career, for, having already been knighted, he now found himself free to participate actively in local government. Not long after his election to Parliament in the summer of 1381, he became a j.p. for Hertfordshire. He sat almost continuously on the local bench over the next 16 years, despite the award of royal letters patent in October 1382 and May 1395 exempting him from most official duties of this kind.4
There is no means of telling if Morewell was a native of Hertfordshire. He had certainly established connexions there by 1376, when he began to appear as a witness to various property transactions, most notably for the Baud family, whose estates in Hertfordshire and Essex were entrusted to him on his marriage to Alice, the widow of William Baud, at some point over the next ten years. By 1386, Morewell had assumed control of land in and around the manors of Little Hadham, Bishop’s Stortford and Upwick in his capacity as guardian of Baud’s three young sons; the manor of Corringham must also have come into his hands at this time as he subsequently presented to the living.5 Alice Baud was, moreover, the daughter and eventual coheiress of Sir John Lee, a prominent local landowner and courtier, who probably first got to know our Member while he was serving as steward of Edward III’s household in the 1360s. On the death of her brother, Sir Walter, in 1395, Alice received one third of the Lee inheritance, comprising property in Albury, Farnham and Bishop’s Stortford. She and Morewell sold some of these holdings to her sister soon afterwards, but they retained enough land to provide Alice with a more than comfortable income during her second widowhood.6 Morewell’s undoubted stature in county society none the less owed as much to his position at Court as to his relationship with the Bauds and the Lees. The abbot of St. Albans unashamedly sought his help and that of his fellow j.p.s ‘come a ses amys en queux il ad graunt affiaunce, et en ses deseases espoir de socour’, while the gentry of Hertfordshire were happy to return him to three of King Richard’s Parliaments, secure in the knowledge that he had friends in high places. Morewell’s second election, in the autumn of 1383, was in fact overruled by the King on the ground that his services as retainer and chamberlain of Joan of Kent were indispensable. The date of his entry into the establishment of Richard II’s mother is not recorded, although the award of such a rare privilege as exemption from attendance at Parliament would suggest that he had by then come to enjoy her especial favour. This is borne out by other letters patent of June 1385 excusing him from joining the royal army in the north, so that he might ‘assist continually about the person of the King’s mother for her comfort and security ... rendering other services befitting the estate of so great a lady’.7 Joan’s death in the following August must have led to a decline in Morewell’s influence, and no more evidence of his activities at Westminster has survived. Perhaps his growing commitments as a landowner led him to abandon the Court for the life of a country gentleman. Whatever the reason, the last 12 years of his life seem a shadowy and uneventful period in comparison with what had gone before. He did, however, sit once more for Hertfordshire, and we may be sure that he entered the Parliament of 1395 as a staunch supporter of the Crown. Morewell was dead by August 1396. He and his widow, who lived on into the following century, are not known to have had any children; but John Morewell, a serjeant-at-arms to Richard II, could possibly have been his son by a previous marriage. The Hertfordshire landowner, Sir William Morewell, may also be numbered among his kinsmen, especially as he became involved in the affairs of the Baud family at a somewhat later date.8