NEVILLE, Sir William (b.c.1338), of Rolleston, Notts. and Pickhill, Leics.
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Family and Education
b.c.1338, s. and h. of Sir Thomas Neville (d. by 1368) of Rolleston and Pickhill by his 1st w. Cecily, da. and h. in her issue of Ralph Blankminster, lord of the Scilly Isles. m. prob. by Apr. 1371, Elizabeth Fencote of Fencote, Yorks., at least 1s. Kntd. by July 1372.1
Commr. to suppress the insurgents of 1381, Notts. Mar., Dec. 1382; of array Oct. 1384,2 June 1386, Aug. 1388;3 inquiry, Notts., Derbys. May 1390 (estates of the late earl of Pembroke), Notts. bef. Oct. 1399 (obstructions to the river Trent), Feb. 1400, Feb. 1401 (illicit fishing in the Trent); oyer and terminer July 1391 (attacks on the abp. of York’s ferry over the Trent by Sir Hugh Hussey*); sewers Apr. 1395; to obtain payment of royal debts Apr. 1398.
Collector of a tax, Notts. Nov. 1382, Dec. 1385; of royal loans Sept. 1405.
Sir William was a descendant of Henry Neville, chamberlain to Henry II, and a member of one of the oldest families in England. Over the years his ancestors acquired the manors of Holt (Leicestershire), Pickhill and Rolleston; and although he himself never obtained possession of the extensive property in Cornwall and the Scilly Isles which was settled upon him in reversion in 1377 as the son and heir of Cecily Blankminster, his grandson did eventually make good the title. According to his own testimony, William was born about 1338, yet it was not until he had reached the comparatively late age of 33 that his military career first began. His father, Sir Thomas, had died not long before, leaving him, his brother, Ralph, and their widowed stepmother, Sibyl, to execute his will.4 In April 1371 William received royal letters of protection pending his departure overseas in the company of the admiral of the northern fleet, John, Lord Neville; and since he is then described as living at Fencote, it seems likely that he had already married, because his wife brought him estates there. His primary allegiance lay, however, with John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, who made him a gift of game in the following year, and later retained him to campaign in Normandy and Scotland. Meanwhile, in February 1377, Neville and one of his neighbours offered a bond worth 200 marks to the royal clerk, Richard Ravenser. The reason for this undertaking is not recorded, but in the following July Sir William was himself the recipient of recognizances worth 84 marks. He was at this time involved in property transactions in the Yorkshire village of Chevet, which may have given rise to his other financial activities.5
By the time of his first return to Parliament in 1378, Sir William had thus acquired both valuable connexions and useful experience of service in the field, although it was not for another four years that he began to play any part in local government as a commissioner of the Crown. In the spring of 1382 he agreed to stand bail for a friend who was being sued for trespass in the court of Chancery; and, of far more importance in terms of his career, he subsequently acted as a guarantor for the payment of money by the earl of Suffolk to John of Gaunt. Together with his patron, Neville took part in the expedition which Richard II led personally to Scotland in the summer of 1385, providing a small force of four esquires and six archers of his own. The planned ‘invasion’ proved a complete failure, although Sir William was at least able to renew his acquaintanceship with Richard, Lord Scrope of Bolton, whose quarrel with Sir Robert Grosvenor over the right to bear the same coat of arms came to a head in the following year. Neville was one of the distinguished group of witnesses who travelled to Nottingham castle in October 1386 to give evidence on Scrope’s behalf, claiming that he had often seen the contested arms displayed by Scrope on the battlefield. A more immediate, if less colourful, dispute preoccupied Sir William and his wife during this period, since they had evidently been evicted from land at Rolleston, Coddington and Barnby by a group of local men. The latter stood little chance against so powerful an adversary, however, and in July 1387 they were arraigned of an assize of novel disseisin at Nottingham and obliged to surrender the property as well as meeting damages of 20 marks. This was not the only lawsuit in which Neville became involved, since as the owner of extensive estates he had inevitably to defend himself against rival claims and disputed titles. In 1393, for example, he and Bishop Buckingham of Lincoln found themselves at odds over the right to occupy holdings in Newark and Farndon; and some years later, in 1401, he returned to the Nottingham assizes to contest two cases over property, one of which brought him into conflict with his influential neighbour, Sir Edmund Pierrepont. He was also obliged to sue one of his estate staff for failing to render proper accounts, so his legal costs must have been quite considerable.6
The political upheavals of 1399, culminating in Henry of Bolingbroke’s seizure of the throne, came rather too late in Sir William’s life for him to derive much practical benefit in terms of offices or gifts, although it was no doubt in recognition of his earlier services to the house of Lancaster that he received a royal grant in May 1400 of property in Rolleston. His son, Robert, got married two years later, obtaining the manors of Sutton in Lincolnshire and Yarnwick in Yorkshire (which may, perhaps, have belonged to his mother) by way of settlement. This event marked Neville’s virtual retirement from public life, although he did act as a mainpernor when, in 1406, two of his friends obtained the farm of confiscated property from the Crown. He was still active in the autumn of 1409, at which date he brought another successful suit at the Nottingham assizes in order to confirm his ownership of lands and rents in and around Osmanthorpe. These and his other properties in the county were assessed for taxation purposes at £20 p.a. some three years later, after which date Sir William disappears from the records.7
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Care must be taken to distinguish this MP from his more celebrated namesake, Sir William Neville, knight of the chamber to Richard II, especially as the latter’s impressive collection of posts included that of constable of Nottingham castle. This Sir William, who was a younger son of Ralph, 2nd Lord Neville of Raby, died in Greece in 1391 with his close friend, Sir John Clanvowe, both of whom were noted for their lollard sympathies (K.B. McFarlane, Lancastrian Kings, 197-9).
- 1. Quorndon Recs. ed. Farnham, supp. 84; Leics. Med. Peds. ed Farnham, 36; Peds. Plea Rolls ed. Wrottesley, 364; Scrope v. Grosvenor, ii. 154-5; CPR, 1370-4, p. 66; Reg. Gaunt 1371-5, no. 980.
- 2. Rot. Scot. ed. Macpherson etc. ii. 68.
- 3. Ibid. 95.
- 4. Quorndon Recs. supp. 84; Leics. Med. Peds. 34, 36; Peds. Plea Rolls, 364.
- 5. CPR, 1370-4, p. 66; 1374-7, p. 518; 1377-81, p. 78; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. cii. 30; Scrope v. Grosvenor, ii. 154-5.
- 6. C66/336 m. 7v; JUST 1/1496 rot. 27, 1514 rot. 74; Reg. Gaunt 1379-83, nos. 950-1; EHR, lxxiii. 18; Scrope v. Grosvenor, ii. 154-5; CCR, 1381-5, p. 207; CPR, 1396-9, p. 399.
- 7. CPR, 1405-8, p. 264; CP25(1)186/37/34; E179/159/48; Quorndon Recs. supp. 84.