NEVILLE, Sir Robert (d.1413), of Hornby, Lancs. and Farnley, Yorks.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of Sir Robert Neville (c.1312-c.1373) of Hornby and Farnley by his 1st w. Joan (d. bef. 1373), da. and h. of Henry Atherton (d. bef. 1343) of Aintree and Oldham, Lancs. m. by Sept. 1344, Margaret, da. of Sir William de la Pole† (d. 21 June 1366) of Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorks. by his w. Katherine (d. 28 Jan. 1382), and sis. of Michael de la Pole, 1st earl of Suffolk (c.1330-5 Sept. 1389), 1s. d.v.p. 3da. Kntd. by May 1362.1
Commr. of sewers, Yorks. Nov. 1377, June 1396, Feb. 1397; array Nov. 1377, Dec. 1383, Aug. 1384;2 Apr. 1385, Mar. 1386, Mar. 1388, Mar. 1392, July 1410; oyer and terminer Nov. 1377 (offences on property of the abp. of York), Oct. 1378 (wastes on manor of Newsome), Feb. 1379 (disorder at Frickley), May 1379 (survey weirs on the Ouse), Dec. 1384 (disorder at Scarborough), Notts. July 1391 (attacks by Sir Hugh Hussey* on the abp. of York’s ferry at Flintham), Yorks. June 1396 (attacks on the abbot of Fountains’ property and servants), Feb. 1397 (obstructions to the Ouse), Feb. 1397 (disorder at Hallikeld); to suppress the insurgents of 1381 Mar., Dec. 1382; of inquiry Nov. 1384 (assault at Oakwell), Nov. 1391 (obstructions to highways), Oct. 1393 (illicit salmon fishing), Feb. 1396 (murder at Gisburn), July 1396 (pollution of royal fishery at Foss), Feb. 1400 (withholding of dues from St. Leonard’s hospital, York); to make an arrest Oct. 1389, Jan. 1396; of gaol delivery Nov. 1390 (Ripon), Nov. 1391, Feb., Sept. 1392 (Beverley).3
Sheriff, Yorks. 25 Nov. 1378-5 Nov. 1379, 1 Dec. 1396-3 Nov. 1397.
J.p. Yorks. (E. Riding) 1 May 1383-Feb. 1386, (W. Riding) 24 July 1386-Nov. 1397, 18 Dec. 1405-d., Beverley 11 Mar. 1390-June 1397, 11 Ripon 1 Aug. 1398-c. Nov. 1399.
Constable of Pontefract castle, duchy of Lancaster, Yorks. bef. Feb. 1399.
From the middle of the 13th century onwards the Nevilles of Hornby played an important part in the society of the north, being related, albeit distantly, to the Lords Neville of Raby. Sir Robert Neville the elder served as a j.p. in both Lancashire and Yorkshire, where he enjoyed considerable influence by virtue of his prominent position among the region’s landowning gentry. His own inheritance comprised at least 14 Yorkshire manors with widespread appurtenances extending out from the Craven area throughout the West Riding and beyond, the castle and lordship of Hornby and the manors of Melling, Middleton, Croston and Mawdesley in Lancashire, and the manor of Appleby (together with the advowson of Thornholme priory) in Lincolnshire. Since he was reputedly able to muster ‘an immense multitude’ of armed men from among his tenantry and staff at Hornby alone, he was indeed a figure to be reckoned with in the community. Through his first wife, Joan Atherton, Sir Robert acquired other property in the Lancashire villages of Oldham, Standish and Aintree, so it is hardly surprising that the rich and powerful merchant, Sir William de la Pole, offered his daughter, Margaret, as a suitable bride for Sir Robert’s eldest son and heir, the subject of this biography. The pair were still children at the time of their marriage in, or just before, 1344, when de la Pole, who had temporarily been in disgrace after years as the government’s chief creditor and financial agent, was winning his way back into a (shortlived) period of royal favour. By organizing a syndicate of English merchants to farm the customs for Edward III, he briefly recovered his former position, and seized the opportunity to marry his daughters into leading northern families. Margaret’s sister, Blanche, became the wife of Richard, 1st Lord Scrope of Bolton, at this time, thus establishing an important connexion within the ranks of the baronage.
As an infant, in 1337, Robert Neville the younger had been confirmed by his father as next heir to Middleton; and he and his young wife now secured a reversionary interest in the Yorkshire manors of Great Hutton, Farnley and Kirkby Wharfe. Probably as part of the marriage contract, Sir Robert conveyed his property in Appleby to de la Pole in 1346 for a term of eight years, rent-free, while at about the same time making provision from his wife’s estates for his five younger sons.4 For the next ten years he spent long periods overseas, fighting with the Black Prince in France as one of his knights bachelor. He took part in the battles of Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356); and was rewarded by the prince with an annuity of 100 marks a year. From about 1351 onwards he assumed the responsible—and often demanding—post of overseer of the prince’s horses, providing mounts, harness and fodder for arduous campaigning seasons abroad. It is perhaps no coincidence that the first evidence of his growing indebtedness survives from this date, for the prince’s household was notoriously costly, and Sir Robert ran up heavy expenses. He may, on the other hand, have been taken prisoner in France, and thus obliged to raise a substantial ransom on the security of his future landed income. Whatever the reason, in the summer of 1351 he mortgaged his estates in Hornby and Melling to Henry, duke of Lancaster, in return for a loan of £140 with which to pay certain unspecified debts. The duke later arranged for settlement to be made with a group of nominees, effectively securing for himself a life interest in these valuable properties. He drove a hard bargain indeed, for Sir Robert was also to meet whatever ‘running costs’ might arise during Lancaster’s tenancy. From this point onwards matters went from bad to worse. By 1355 Sir Robert had been outlawed for failing to appear in court when sued for debt, although a royal pardon was subsequently issued to him on the ground that he had been a prisoner in Newgate at the time, and thus obviously unable to attend the proceedings. One of his creditors was the London merchant, Nicholas Pecche, to whom he made over his annuity from the Black Prince, but others proved harder to placate.5 Much of Sir William de la Pole’s early wealth had been made by lending money, and it seems that Sir Robert now approached him in desperation for help. Notwithstanding their family relationship, de la Pole felt no compunction in having Sir Robert committed to gaol early in 1362 for reneguing on a bond for £2,000, although his son, Sir Michael de la Pole, got him released in May of that year by claiming that the debt had at last been paid. This is most unlikely, as just three days later Sir Robert entered into another obligation in the same amount, while also persuading Sir Michael to settle his account with the duke of Lancaster’s executors.
The arrangements regarding this particular debt were made by Sir Robert Neville the younger, whose military exploits had recently earned him a knighthood. He personally undertook either to pay Sir Michael £420 spread over three annual instalments or else to let him occupy the property in Hornby and Melling previously mortgaged to the late duke. Having no more faith in his father’s financial reliability than any of the other creditors, he first obtained from Sir Robert the elder a quitclaim of the manor of Farnley, which produced about £50 p.a. and would thus provide a degree of security. Six months later Sir Robert Swillington, counsellor to John of Gaunt, the newly created duke of Lancaster, took over Hornby and Melling on a life tenancy so that a new mortgage could be raised. By June 1364 Sir Robert Neville the elder recognized a debt to him of £2,000, although Swillington himself was bound in even heavier securities to his son. Sir Robert Neville the younger and his wife were to inherit the estate, free of further charges, when Swillington died, and his pledge was presumably intended to underwrite their title. Perhaps, too, negotiations were already under way for a marriage between Swillington’s son, Roger, and Neville’s baby daughter, Joan, although the wedding itself clearly took place much later. It was in Sir Robert’s interest to foster this connexion, since he badly needed powerful friends. Henceforward, thanks largely to his shrewd handling of these complex transactions, the Nevilles’ pressing burden of debt appears to have been eased. During the late 1360s Sir Robert the elder was pardoned yet another sentence of outlawry (again imposed because he could not satisfy his creditors), and the Kent estates of his second wife, Katherine St. Lawrence, which had previously been confiscated, were restored to him. Katherine’s property lay near Dartford, bringing welcome additional revenues for the family.6
By the time of his father’s death, in, or just after, 1373, Sir Robert Neville the younger had not only come to grips with some tortuous financial problems, but had also gained a good deal of valuable military experience. He probably first saw action at the siege of Paris in 1360, going on to fight in Spain and France with John of Gaunt. He also campaigned under the banner of the earl of Hereford (both on land and sea); and early in 1370 he began a spell of garrison duty at Guanes. Four years later he joined Lord Despenser’s expedition to Brittany, so that by the time he first entered Parliament in 1377, he was indeed something of an authority on foreign policy and the war-effort.7 Sir Robert had, moreover, become embroiled in various local disputes over the enforcement of his feudal and territorial rights. As well as having to deal with the incompetent estate staff, poachers, thieves and intransigent neighbours who inevitably made life difficult for any major landowner, he found himself at odds with the influential Lancashire knight, Sir Adam Hoghton†, whom he accused, in 1375, of abducting one of his wards. The quarrel may have been settled by John of Gaunt, with whom both Hoghton and Sir Robert were then both closely connected. We do not know exactly when Gaunt awarded Sir Robert an annual fee of £20 from his Lancashire estates, nor at what date the latter became constable of Pontefract castle for the duke, but their association almost certainly dated back to the time when Sir Robert Swillington took over the mortgage of Hornby, if not before. Certainly, in November 1377, Sir Robert offered securities on behalf of Sir Robert Urswyk*, one of Gaunt’s leading supporters in Lancashire; and he was later made a trustee of the manor of Barnoldswick in Yorkshire, with the task of implementing his patron’s will.8
Meanwhile, in June 1377, Sir Robert sued out royal letters of pardon, which were renewed five years later and probably concerned the management of his late father’s estate. It was no doubt in accordance with the deceased’s wishes that he conveyed the advowson of Penistone church to the dean of St. Stephen’s, Westminster in May 1381, guaranteeing his title with the promise of rents and land in the nearby village of Brierly should any litigation ensue. Since his personal affairs now began to run more smoothly, Sir Robert was at last able to devote himself to the business of local government, for which he showed both aptitude and enthusiasm. Notwithstanding the award of no less than three royal letters patent (in 1383, 1394 and December 1399) excusing him from office-holding and other routine duties, he represented Yorkshire in at least 12 Parliaments, served two terms as sheriff, worked tirelessly as a crown commissioner, and also sat regularly on the local bench. Family connexions certainly proved useful to Sir Robert although he himself came to the assistance of his influential relatives from time to time. In September 1386, for example, he gave evidence on behalf of his brother-in-law, Lord Scrope of Bolton, during his dispute with Sir Robert Grosvenor over the right to the same coat of arms; and a few years later he stood bail of £1,000 for his kinsman, Thomas Neville, Lord Furnival, who had come to blows with retainers of the dowager Lady Furnival. The fall from power of his other brother-in-law, Michael de la Pole (whom Richard II had created earl of Suffolk in 1385, but who soon incurred the wrath of the Lords Appellant and was condemned for treason in the Merciless Parliament three years later), made little appreciable difference to Sir Robert’s career, although it did enable him to recover the manor of Appleby, which the de la Poles had retained long after the original lease of 1346 expired. In October 1388, while he was attending the Parliament at Cambridge, Sir Robert undertook to farm the property from the Crown for 12 years at an annual rent of £26, hoping during this period to establish his ownership beyond question. It seems more than likely that a new lease made two years later by King Richard to Sir Robert’s younger brother and a group of family friends was intended to facilitate such a move. At all events, Sir Robert was firmly in possession by 1395, when he began a collusive suit against the tenants, thus gaining recognition of his hereditary title at law. Eventually, in February 1401, Henry IV formally confirmed him and his heirs as lords of Appleby, so, although protracted, the plan proved entirely successful.9
The exile of Henry of Bolingbroke in September 1398, the death of his father, John of Gaunt, in the following February and the subsequent confiscation of the duchy of Lancaster by Richard II placed Sir Robert in a vulnerable position. His motives in seeking election to the first Parliament of Henry IV’s reign in September 1399, some five years after he had last taken a seat in the House of Commons and when his political career was already nearing a close, quite possibly sprang from a desire to be revenged on King Richard’s favourite, Edward, earl of Rutland and duke of Aumâle, whom he accused of depriving him of the constableship of Pontefract. Aumâle was indeed then indicted on a variety of charges, and although he denied having removed Gaunt’s followers en masse from their posts, he did admit to victimizing Sir Robert. Personal animosity towards the court party as well as loyalty to the house of Lancaster together explain why Sir Robert had been present at Ravenspur in July 1399 with a sizeable retinue of men to welcome Bolingbroke on his return from exile, and why he also provided Henry with an armed bodyguard during the October Parliament. His services to the new regime were amply rewarded. Besides confirming Sir Robert in the old fee of £20 p.a. which he had received from Gaunt, Henry IV also granted him a second annuity of 40 marks for life, assigned upon the revenues of Pontefract. Sir Robert was, moreover, summoned to attend a great council which met in August 1401; and despite his advancing years he continued to receive commissions of the peace in the West Riding. Most important of all, King Henry was prepared to allow Sir Robert’s grand daughter and heir, Margaret, to marry his own half-brother, Thomas Beaufort, the youngest of Gaunt’s three sons by his mistress, Katherine Swynford. To be sure, this was an easy and inexpensive way of providing for a young relative, but it still bestowed a tremendous social cachet upon Sir Robert and his family. Although too old to fight the rebels who threatened to depose Henry IV during the early years of his reign, Sir Robert showed his gratitude by advancing substantial loans towards the government. One, made in August 1404, amounted to £100, and there were, no doubt, others during this troubled period.10
By the date of his death on 4 Apr. 1413, Sir Robert had not only restored the fortunes of his family after years of financial difficulty caused by oppressive loans and heavy mortgages, but had actually increased the power and privilege of the Nevilles through their attachment to the house of Lancaster. The bulk of his property descended at once to Margaret, the then countess of Dorset, although she did not live long enough to enjoy her rich inheritance. She died, childless, at some point before April 1424, when her husband (created duke of Exeter in 1416) conveyed his interest in the Neville estates to trustees in return for a fixed annual income of £280 p.a. On his death, in December 1426, the land in question was divided between Sir Robert’s only surviving daughter, Margaret (who was then married to the Lancashire knight, Sir William Haryngton), and his grandson, Sir John Langton*. Sir Robert appears to have had two other daughters, both named Joan, one of whom was Langton’s mother, while the other married into the Swillington family, as we have seen, and predeceased her husband.11
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
It is important not to confuse this MP with Robert Neville (d.1374), the son of Ralph, Lord Neville (d.1367) and brother of John, Lord Neville (d.1388) and of Alexander Neville, abp. of York (d.1392). This Robert took part in the expedition which his brother, John, then steward of the royal household, led to Brittany in 1372, having previously been involved in negotiations with the duke of Brittany (CP, ix. 501; DKR, xlv. 244; EHR, lxxix. 726; Foedera ed. Rymer (Hague edn.) iii (2), 187).
- 1. CP, ix. 487-91; xi. 541; xii (1), 436-7; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. xlii. 175, 183-4; lix. 98-99, 138-9, 140-1; VCH Lancs. iii. 101; viii. 186, 193; CCR, 1360-4, pp. 390-1. R. Horrox, De la Poles of Hull (E. Yorks. Local Hist. Ser. xxxviii), 28, misdates Sir Robert’s marriage, but provides useful background information none the less.
- 2. Rot. Scot. ed. Macpherson etc. ii. 58, 67.
- 3. C66/331 m. 5v, 333 m. 6v, 334 m. 24v, 335 m. 7v.
- 4. CP, ix. 487-91; xi. 541; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. xlii. 175, 183-4; Feudal Aids, vi. 599; Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. xlvi. 104-5; VCH Lancs. iii. 101; vi. 91, 201; viii. 193; CPR, 1348-50, p. 214; 1429-36, pp. 257-8; CCR, 1364-8, p. 361.
- 5. Reg. Black Prince, iii. 306, 334; iv. 219, 252-3, 323, 376, 389, 478; CCR, 1349-54, p. 372; CPR, 1354-8, p. 177.
- 6. CPR, 1360-4, pp. 390-1, 398, 403, 427; 1364-7, pp. 385, 394; CCR, 1360-4, p. 523; 1364-8, pp. 66, 358; VCH Lancs. viii. 193; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. cxx. 61; CP25(1)107/196/1968.
- 7. Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 106; ii. 293-4; CP, ix. 490-1; E101/29/24, 31/15, 32/20, 34/5.
- 8. VCH Lancs. vi. 93; CFR, ix. 47; DL42/14, ff. 16v, 17v, 103, 105; Somerville, Duchy, i. 172n; CPR, 1405-8, pp. 73, 74.
- 9. C67/28B m. 12, 29 m. 7; CP25(1)278/145/8; CCR, 1377-81, pp. 460, 512, 520-1; 1392-6, p. 76; CPR, 1381-5, p. 322; 1388-92, p. 242; 1391-6, p. 385; 1399-1401, p. 154; CFR, x. 255; HMC 8th Rep. 627; Genealogist, n.s. xv. 22; CChR, v. 407-8; Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 106; ii. 293-4.
- 10. RP, iii. 449; DL28/27/3; DL29/738/12100; DL42/15, ff. 16v, 70v, 161v, 191v; PPC, i. 157, 159.
- 11. DKR, xxxiii. 10; CFR, xiv. 22-23, 256-7; Chetham Soc. xcv. 99-101; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. lix. 98-99; CAD, iii. C3563; CFR, xiv. 256-7.