MORTON, Robert (d.1424), of Harworth, Notts. and Bawtry, Yorks.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of Robert Morton† (d.1396) of Harworth and Bawtry by his w. Joan. m. (1) prob. May 1396, Ofka (d. by Apr. 1402), lady-in-waiting to Richard II’s queen, Anne of Bohemia, 3s. (1 d.v.p.); (2) by Oct. 1411, Katherine, da. of Walter Frost† of Beverley, Yorks., wid. of Thomas Holme* (d.1406), of York, merchant.1
Commr. of inquiry, Yorks., Notts. Apr. 1396 (obstructions of the river Idle); to audit the accounts of Thomas Arundel, the former abp. of York, Glos., Lincs., Northumb., Notts., Yorks. Feb. 1398; of array, Notts. Dec. 1399, Sept. 1403; oyer and terminer June 1401 (attacks on the abp. of York’s ferry over the Trent); sewers, Lincs., Yorks. June 1413; to deliver land to the abbot of Chertsey, Surrey May 1415; make arrests, Notts. Sept. 1415, Lincs. Sept. 1416.
Sheriff, Notts. and Derbys. 3 Nov. 1397-27 Aug. 1399.
Bailiff and master forester of the manor and lordship of Hatfield, Herts. for Edward, duke of York (d.1415), then the Crown 12 May 1403-d.
Escheator, Yorks. 10 Nov. 1412-13.
Keeper of the royal falcons by 10 Oct. 1413.2
Keeper of Isleworth park, Mdx. 1 May 1417-d.
Master of the ordnance for Henry V by 1 Oct. 1418-bef. 15 Dec. 1423.3
Feodary of the Notts. estates of the duchy of Lancaster, and constable of Castle Donnington, Leics. 13 Mar. 1419-d.4
Steward of the royal lordship of Kirton, Lincs. c.1420-d.5
The Morton family is known to have lived on the borders of Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire from the mid 13th century onwards, owning estates at Bawtry, Morton, Harworth, Limpole and Tickhill. Robert Morton the elder played a prominent part in local society, representing Nottinghamshire in the Parliament of 1361, and later serving a term as sheriff. His chief claim to distinction was, however, as one of John of Gaunt’s most trusted retainers. He occupied a number of important posts in the duchy of Lancaster, and thanks to his patron’s influence at Court he managed to secure a life annuity of £23 charged upon the revenues of the royal manors of Arnold and Edwinstone in Sherwood forest, where he also held office as verderer. In May 1396, just a few months before his death, the annuity was settled in reversion upon his son, Robert, the subject of this biography, who had already, in the previous April, been chosen to sit with him on a royal commission of inquiry. At an earlier date, in February 1390, the young man had shared with his parents a bequest of gold jewellery left by his cousin, Agnes Harwood, but although he was associated with his father in this and various other capacities, there is reason to believe that relations between the two were somewhat strained. Certainly, on drawing up his will in August 1396, Robert Morton the elder instructed his executors that the legacy of 100 marks which he had set aside for his son was only to be paid ‘si bene se gesserit, fideliter et natualiter erga me in vita mea et uxorem me post decessum meum’. Nor did he consider it prudent to involve Robert in any aspects of the administration of his effects, which, in view of his great wealth and generosity to the Church, was to prove an onerous task.6
Robert’s return to the second Parliament of 1397, which met within a year of his entry into the family estates, may be seen simply as a mark of recognition of his new status as one of the leading members of the Nottinghamshire gentry, but there is reason to suppose that he also owed his election to royal influence. Among the retinue which accompanied Richard II’s first queen, Anne of Bohemia, to England was a lady-in-waiting named Ofka, who remained at Court after her mistress’s death. In August 1394, a few days after the funeral, Richard granted her a pension of 40 marks p.a. until her marriage; and two years later (when she had evidently found a husband) he confirmed the grant for life. We know that she was Morton’s wife by October 1399, when the newly crowned Henry IV permitted them to keep the annuity, and it seems likely that they were already married by the time that Morton took his seat in the House of Commons. King Richard’s desire to pack the Parliament of September 1397 with Members who could be relied upon to support repressive measures against his former enemies, the Lords Appellant of 1388, must have been evident to the electors of Nottinghamshire, whose choice may well have been influenced by Morton’s links with the royal household. His appointment as sheriff during the parliamentary recess seems to bear out such a supposition, since it was through the manipulation of such local offices that King Richard hoped to strengthen his hand in the counties.
Although the Lancastrian usurpation of 1399 led to Morton’s immediate removal, he soon reconciled himself to the new regime, and was duly confirmed in the annuity of £23 assigned upon Arnold and Edwinstone, as well as the fee which he and Ofka now shared jointly in survivorship.7 By the time of her death, which occurred shortly before April 1402, he was, moreover, drawing another pension of 40 marks, payable from the Exchequer in his new capacity as an esquire of the royal body. This change of allegiance seems, however, to have been more a matter of expediency than conviction, even though his late father had been a committed supporter of the house of Lancaster. He remained close to King Richard’s former favourite, Edward, duke of York, who made him bailiff and master forester of Hatfield in 1403, granting him an additional ten marks p.a. over and above the usual wages of office. York’s involvement in the Mortimer Plot, organized by his sister, Constance, Lady Despenser, early in 1405, earned him a spell of imprisonment and temporary forfeiture—a fate shared at this time by Morton, whose participation in the ill-fated affair seems almost certain. Between August of that year and January 1406 his confiscated estates and annuities were shared among four loyal servants of the Crown; and although a few weeks afterwards the King relented sufficiently to issue a full pardon covering all Morton’s ‘treasons, insurrections, rebellions, felonies and misprisions’ his long-term financial losses proved considerable. Somewhat surprisingly, he was deprived of only the smallest of his three fees, but the award to John Peryent of land worth 40 marks p.a. from his inheritance remained in effect; and in 1414, when his star was again in the ascendant, he was obliged to offer total securities of £1,066 13s.4d. as a guarantee that he would not challenge Peryent’s title in any way.8
Not until 1412, when he began a term as escheator of Yorkshire, did Morton again occupy any official position of responsibility, his standing in the county being greatly helped by his recent marriage to the widow of the affluent wool merchant, Thomas Holme, through whom he acquired a substantial estate in the city and suburbs of York. The real improvement in his fortunes came, however, on the accession of Henry V, who was godfather to his son, Henry, and must therefore have known him for some years. The new King was certainly prepared to forgive and forget, confirming Morton’s annuity from the Exchequer, and, in May 1413, granting him the marriage, lands and wardship of Ellen, daughter and heir of the wealthy Londoner, Thomas Dyster. By the following October Morton held office as keeper of the royal falcons, and over the next year further preferment came his way in the form of a gift of £50 and the award of a new pension worth £10 p.a. from Nottinghamshire. He was, moreover, chosen by the King to act as a trustee of land set aside for the endowment of a monastery of Bridgettines at Syon in Middlesex, and it was no doubt as a result of his interest in the foundation that he later became bailiff of the royal manor of Isleworth. Neither the failure of the Mortimer Plot nor his return to popularity at Court had in any way shaken his loyalty to the duke of York, and when Henry V mounted his first invasion of Normandy in the summer of 1415 he naturally enough enlisted in the ducal retinue. Both men had by now outlived the stigma of treason, but whereas York fell at the battle of Agincourt, Morton returned to enjoy further honours, including an increase of £20 p.a. in his various annuities and the award of a corrody at St. Osyth’s abbey in Essex to his son, Henry, who had by then also obtained a place in the royal household.9
Having spent a brief period in France in the summer of 1416, Morton returned one year later in the retinue of the King for a major campaign leading to the conquest of Normandy. He was rewarded with the grant of a fishery at Misson in Nottinghamshire; and he later took command of the royal ordnance, an important post in view of the amount of siege warfare—and consequent deployment of artillery—which the operations involved. A share of the spoils naturally came his way, and on the fall of Rouen (in which he must have played a major part) in 1419 he secured the lands and tenements of one of its leading citizens. After a few months in England for the coronation of Henry V’s queen, Katherine de Valois, Morton again took to the field, but his military career seems to have ended with the death of the King at Bois de Vincennes in 1422; and the remaining two years of his own life were spent exercising in person the offices in the duchy of Lancaster and at Kirton in Lincolnshire which constituted additional rewards for his loyal service.10
In marked contrast to his busy public career, comparatively little is known about Morton’s personal affairs. At the very beginning of the 15th century he was being sued for a fairly substantial debt by Henry of Monmouth’s surgeon, William Bradwardyne (which suggests another early connexion between Morton and the prince); and in 1402 a special commission was set up to examine indictments for felony then levelled against him. Otherwise, however, he seems to have avoided the kind of legal disputes which beset so many of the landowning gentry, although an exchange of bonds worth £200 between him, Sir Richard Stanhope* and the latter’s son-in-law, Sir Robert Strelley*, in December 1411, provides evidence of his involvement, perhaps as an arbitrator or feoffee, in a particularly acrimonious quarrel over the manor of Little Markham, then being claimed by (Sir) William Meryng*. During the reign of Henry V, when he had recovered his influence at Court, he was in some demand as a mainpernor in Chancery and the Exchequer, but he seems generally to have avoided the commitments of an executor or trustee.