MUNCASTER, Sir Robert (d.c.1409), of Torpenhow and Hayton, Cumb.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of William Muncaster (d. by 22 July 1388) of Torpenhow and Hayton. m. Joan, poss. 1da. Kntd. by Dec. 1385.1
Collector of taxes, Cumb. Dec. 1385, Mar. 1388, Jan. 1392, Mar. 1395.
Collector of customs, Cumb. and Westmld. 18 Dec. 1394-4 Oct. 1397.
Escheator, Cumb. 8 Feb. 1401-9 Nov. 1402.
The Muncaster family had been established in Cumberland since the early 13th century, if not before, acquiring over the years the manors of Torpenhow, Hayton, Whitehall, Blennerhasset, Upmanby, Bothland and Bewaldeth, along with land and tenements in Lowcray, Scales, Threapland, Alderscough and ‘Belysis’. Not surprisingly, Sir Robert’s forebears played a fairly prominent part in the local community; and at least three of them, including his grandfather and namesake, represented the county in Parliament.2 He himself is first mentioned in 1374 when he served as a juror at an inquisition following the death of John Tollesland. No more is heard of him until, as a recently created knight, he was appointed by the government to collect taxes in 1385, a task which he was to perform on four occasions in all over the next ten years. Following the death of his father, William Muncaster, in, or shortly before, July 1388, he inherited the family estates, and was duly returned to Parliament two months later. Despite his influential social position he did not sit again in the Commons, although he continued to act in various administrative capacities in the north-west until 1402, when he more or less retired from public life. He did, however, serve on two local juries, at Penrith in August 1394 and at Carlisle in March 1395, and he subsequently attended the inquisition post mortem held in March 1406 on the death of William Stapleton’s* mother.3
At first his personal affairs seem to have gone fairly well. In 1392 he conveyed his property in Threapland, Alderscough and Blennerhasset to a group of trustees, including Sir Clement Skelton*, Thomas Sands* and William Osmundlaw*, who were subsequently confirmed in possession by a rival claimant. Only later did he begin to sell off and mortgage more and more of his holdings, clearly as a result of pressing financial problems. The local antiquary who described, in 1623, how ‘Sir Robert ... became an unthrift, and, for very small sums of present money sold his lands to his uncle, Ralph, earl of Westmorland (sic), who, knowing the title to be weak by reason of the entail, did straightaway alien the said lands by parcels, Robert presently after the sale dying’, was obviously mistaken on several points of fact, although there can be little doubt that from 1400 onwards Sir Robert was in urgent need of money, perhaps to pay off a ransom or debts to the Crown. In August of that year he mortgaged all his estates in and around Torpenhow to his kinsman, (Sir) Geoffrey Tilliol*, for 250 marks repayable over the next 40 years. Tilliol’s death and the remarriage of his widow, Alice, to (Sir) John Skelton*, seems to have placed Sir Robert in such a difficult position that before long he had disposed of a sizeable amount of property in Bewaldeth, and in June 1404 Skelton himself witnessed the sale of his holdings in Lowcray and Scales. By the following January he was under pressure to renegotiate the terms of his mortgage by entering an agreement with Sir William Clifford, who und