PECKHAM, James (d.1400), of Yaldham in Wrotham and Hadlow, Kent.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of John Peckham of Yaldham by his w. Ellen. m. (1) Margery; (2) bef. Dec. 1376, Laura, da. and h. of Sir Thomas Morant of Morant’s Court in Chevening, wid. of Sir Thomas Couen† of Ightham, at least 4s. (at least 2 d.v.p.) 2da.; 1s. illegit.
Commr. of arrest, Kent June 1373, Dec. 1385; array Mar. 1380, Mar., May, July 1381, Jan., Apr. 1385, May 1386, Mar. 1392; to make a survey for the defence of the coast Oct. 1380, Feb. 1381; compel the rebel tenants of the abp. of Canterbury’s manor of Otford to perform their customary services Aug. 1381; put down revolt Sept., Dec. 1381, Mar., Dec. 1382; of inquiry Oct. 1381 (names of the principal insurgents); to examine Rochester bridge Sept. 1393; of sewers Dec. 1393.
[Poll tax collector, Kent Mar. 1377.]1
J.p. lathes of Aylesford and Sutton at Hone and the lowy of Tonbridge, Kent 1 Apr. 1378-c.1379, Kent 20 Dec. 1382-July 1389.
Tax surveyor, Kent Aug. 1379, Mar. 1381; collector Nov. 1382.
Sheriff, Kent 5 Nov. 1379-18 Oct. 1380, 1 Dec. 1388-15 Nov. 1389.
Coming from a family established in Kent by the late 12th century and possessed of property in Wrotham and Hadlow, by the time of his death Peckham ranked among the more substantial landowners of the shire. He owed his tenure of several manorial holdings to an opportune second marriage, to Laura Morant, not only heiress to her father’s estates at Chevening, Warehorne and elsewhere, but also a wealthy widow. The match had come about through Peckham’s friendship with Laura’s former husband, Sir Thomas Couen, a neighbour of his, who in his will instructed him as one of the trustees of his estates to make a settlement on Laura after his death of four manors she was to hold for her lifetime, and—but only if she remained chaste—to transfer to her the wardship of their two sons, together with the profits of the properties held in trust for them. Once widowed, Laura made sure of retaining the Couen inheritance by marrying one of the trustees—Peckham himself. Although no contemporary valuation of Peckham’s lands has survived, we may assume that they brought him a comfortable income, for during the minority of his grandson just part of them was to be assessed at over £56 p.a.2
In 1386, while giving evidence to the court of chivalry in the celebrated dispute between Richard, Lord Scrope, and Sir Robert Grosvenor as to the right to bear certain heraldic arms, Peckham began his deposition with a statement that he was then aged 40 and, having been ‘first armed’ in 1359, had crossed the Channel with Edward III’s army invading France. Possibly he was older than this, for he was recorded in 1354 as being owed separate debts of 200 marks and £10; in any case, he soon afterwards came to be regularly employed as a feoffee of lands and a witness to deeds in Kent. In certain circles, Peckham was a well respected figure: Thomas Trillek, bishop of Rochester, left him five marks in his will in 1372; Roger Digge† bequeathed to him a silver belt worth ten marks; and Sir Nicholas Lovein (d.1375) of Penshurst not only left him a covered cup of silver and £20 in cash, but also named him as an executor. From 1373 he served as a trustee of four manors in Kent which had once belonged to Humphrey de Bohun, the late earl of Hereford, retaining an interest therein until 1389 when one of the properties was conveyed to the King.3
Yet Peckham’s standing among the gentry excited envy on occasion, and his life was not entirely lacking in violent incident. At the end of 1376 he was the innocent victim of the greed and malice of one John Roos, esquire, who had forged a bond according to which Peckham’s wife acknowledged a debt of £1,200, contracted while she was single. On the strength of this document, Roos had Peckham arrested in July 1377 and imprisoned for three weeks in London. On his release, Peckham sued for damages of £1,000, and, although only £10 was awarded him, the forger was adjudged to be put in the pillory with the false bond tied about his neck, and to be kept in prison until he contented Peckham of this sum. The trial was taking place at the time of Peckham’s second Parliament. His official career had begun a few years earlier, and he served a term as sheriff in 1379-80. Through his connexion with the hated triple poll tax (as a surveyor in March 1381), he incurred the hostility of the insurgents during the Peasants’ Revolt, and was among the local notables captured by a band headed by Thomas atte Raven† of Rochester, one of the more notorious of the Kentish leaders. Atte Raven ordered his captives to take an oath to join the rebels’ assemblies as the price of purchasing their freedom, but this was more likely effected by rescue. As with others whom the rebels had singled out as enemies, Peckham lent a willing hand to the work of suppressing the rebellion, and he served on most of the commissions appointed in Kent for that purpose.4
Although Peckham was recruited for the army which Richard II led into Scotland in 1385, there is no evidence of any personal connexion with the royal court. On the contrary, he is known to have quarrelled with certain of the King’s friends; for example, at the end of the following year he was involved in a serious dispute with Sir William Bryan, younger son of the courtier Guy, Lord Bryan, in the course of which the two men were each bound under pain of £1,000 not to molest one another and to submit to legal proceedings. However, it remains unclear whether or not their quarrel had anything to do with the political upheavals of the time. Nevertheless, Peckham’s appointment as sheriff for a second term, in 1388, at the end of a year in which he had sat in two Parliaments dominated by the Lords Appellant, suggests that he had been noted as a supporter of these opponents of the King. Perhaps he owed his nomination to the Appellants’ friend, John, Lord Cobham, with whom he himself was on such amicable terms as to witness deeds on Cobham’s behalf on a number of occasions and, more important, to be a trustee of his estates later on. The next few years were not without difficulties for Peckham. In 1391 he again had to find sureties in £1,000 for his good behaviour, and two years later he was much troubled by ‘great injuries, trespasses, debts and accounts’ of his onetime bailiff, William Panter of Sevenoaks. Panter, having been outlawed at Peckham’s suit, and resenting the loss of his annual stipend of ten marks, threatened the lives of his former employer and his tenants, so continuing his harassment night and day that Peckham had to resort to petitioning the chancellor to have him arrested. It is uncertain what interpretation should be placed on Peckham’s disappearance from royal commissions after the end of 1393—whether the government of Richard II considered him politically unsound, or whether he himself had decided to retire.5
Over the years, Peckham had always taken a paternalistic attitude to the children of his wife, Laura, by her first husband. In 1392 he stood bail for the release from the Tower of London of his stepson, Robert Couen, esquire, on condition that the young man would do no harm to his estranged wife; and since 1379 he had taken a close interest in the affairs of his stepdaughter, Alice, wife first of Richard Charles (d.1387), and then of Sir Nicholas Haute*. This concern had led him to act on Charles’s behalf as a mainpernor for the farmers of his landed inheritance, as a trustee of his estates, and as his fellow suitor in the lawcourts for recovery of a debt. Thus it came about that from 1396 Peckham acted as a feoffee of the manor of Nashenden and other former Charles properties in which Alice retained a life interest, and which, after her death and his own in 1400, came to be granted by the surviving feoffees to the wardens of the newly built bridge at Rochester as a perpetual endowment for its maintenance. (In later times this benefaction was erroneously remembered as being Peckham’s own gift to the bridge.)6
Peckham made his will on 12 May 1400, added codicils in the early autumn and died before 18 Nov., the date of probate. He did not choose to be buried in the graveyard of Cobham church near his previously deceased sons (for whose gravestones he now made provision), but rather in St. George’s chapel in Wrotham parish church, where a chaplain was to pray for five years for the souls of his two wives, his parents and other kinsfolk. A number of religious houses of the region, including the priories of Rochester, Tonbridge and Higham (where his daughter, Alice, was a nun), Cobham college and friaries at Canterbury and London, all received bequests. Legacies to his children (among them a bastard son, John Wrotham), of bedding, furnishings, silver plate, furs and livestock, were only characteristic of a well-to-do esquire; more out of the ordinary was his mention of ‘omnes libros meos gallicos’, which is perhaps suggestive of a genuine interest in literature. Six years’ profits from his estates were to be set aside to fulfil his legacies (which amounted to over £120), before the lands were parcelled out between his sons, Reynold and James, as he had stipulated.7