PELHAM, John (d.1429), of Pevensey castle and Laughton, Suss.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of Thomas Pelham of Warbleton by Agnes, da. and coh. of Robert Gensing of Gensing, Suss. m. (1) c. Sept. 1387, Margaret (25 Sept. 1363-90), er. da. and coh. of Sir Roger Grey (d.1371) of Cavendish, Suff. and Merton, Norf., wid. of Sir Thomas Shardelowe of Fulbourn, Cambs., s.p.; (2) bef. May 1400, Joan (d.1439), da. of John Bramshott of Bramshott, Hants by Elizabeth, sis. and h. of John Lisle of Gatcombe, I.o.W., wid. of Sir Hugh Zouche (d.1399) of Ashby-de-la-Zouche, Leics. and Swavesey, Cambs. 1s. illegit. Kntd. 11 Oct. 1399.
Constable of the duchy of Lancaster castle of Pevensey 7 Dec. 1393-d.1
The abp. of Canterbury’s forester of Broyle, Suss. 6 Mar. 1394-d.
Commr. of inquiry, Surr., Suss. Apr. 1398 (goods of Thomas, duke of Norfolk), Suss. Oct. 1398 (lands of an idiot), Jan. 1400 (concealments), June 1400 (trespass), Kent, Suss. Apr. 1409 (piracy), Norf. Nov. 1408 (trespasses against the Crown), Suss. July 1417 (destruction of a bridge), May 1426 (piracy), Sept. 1428 (concealments); to confiscate goods of Richard, late earl of Arundel, Surr., Suss. Apr. 1398; bring a royal ward to Chancery May 1398; of array, Hants Dec. 1399, Suss. July 1402, Hants Sept. 1403, Suss. July 1405, May 1415, Surr., Suss. May 1416, Apr. 1418, Mar. 1419, Surr. July 1419, Suss. June 1421; of sewers Nov. 1401, June 1408, Kent, Suss. July 1414, Suss. Oct. 1415, Feb., Oct. 1422, May 1423, May 1428; to make proclamation of Henry IV’s intention to govern well May 1402; supervise musters of armies going overseas Apr., May 1405, July 1412, Feb. 1417, Mar., Apr. 1418; raise royal loans, Suss. Sept. 1405, Surr., Suss. Feb. 1417; determine an appeal from the admiral’s ct. Apr. 1412; take custody of the lands and goods of Thomas, late earl of Arundel, Surr., Suss. Oct. 1415, and bring his muniments to Chancery Jan. 1416.
Royal sword-bearer 24 Oct. 1399-d.
J.p. Suss. 3 Feb. 1400-d., Hants 27 Jan. 1406-Feb. 1407, Surr. 1 July 1411-Oct. 1417.
Sheriff, Surr. and Suss. 8 Nov. 1401-29 Nov. 1402.
Member of Henry IV’s council c. Apr. 1404-May 1406.
Steward of the duchy of Lancaster honour of the Eagle and lordship of Pevensey, 8 July 1404-d.2
Jt. keeper of the temporalities of the bpric. of Winchester Oct. 1404-Mar. 1405.
Jt. treasurer of war 11 Nov. 1404-19 June 1406.3
Keeper of the New Forest 5 Mar.-c. Dec. 1405.
Chief steward of the duchy of Lancaster south of the Trent 8 Dec. 1404-5 Apr. 1413.4
Parlty. cttee. to oversee the engrossment of the Parliament roll 22 Dec. 1406.5
Controller of customs and subsidies, Chichester 1 Mar.-3 Nov. 1407.
Lt. to Prince John, constable of England, in the ct. of chivalry May 1407.6
Dep. butler to Sir John Tiptoft*, Chichester 26 Nov. 1407-26 Jan. 1408.
Treasurer of the Exchequer 20 Dec. 1411-20 Mar. 1413.
Ambassador to France 10 July-3 Oct. 1414, to treat with Scottish envoys Dec. 1423.7
Member, Henry V’s council in England c. July 1417-Aug 1422.
Pelham, who through opportune service to the house of Lancaster became one of the leading figures in the government of Henry IV, came from comparatively humble origins, as the son of a sometime coroner of Sussex. His father’s smallholding at Warbleton and his mother’s part of the manor of Gensing were the only properties he inherited. Nor was his earliest recorded activity worthy of one destined to be a King’s friend: in 1376 he was brought to trial for an alleged trespass on the land of a royal clerk at Brede and for assaulting a carpenter. However, he had gained respectability by 1385 when the prior of Michelham asked him to act as his surety.8 Pelham’s family relations in Cambridgeshire had important connexions which he was able to put to his advantage: his namesake, the vicar of West Wickham, had long been closely attached to the de Vere earls of Oxford, and while acting as an executor and trustee of their estates had acquired an interest in the valuable Sussex manor at Laughton which, along with the hundred of Shiplake and the manor of West Dean, the Countess Maud was to offer to our Pelham after his rise to prominence on a lease worth as much as £70 a year.9 Men from Cambridgeshire also supported Pelham in September 1387 when he laid siege by night to the house of Sir John Shardelowe† at Fulbourn, gained entry by placing ladders against the walls, and abducted Shardelowe’s stepdaughter (and son’s widow) Margaret. He was able to obtain a royal pardon for his crime two years later, thanks to the intercession of Henry of Bolingbroke. He had in the meantime married his captive, who was the principal heir of the estates of her late father, Sir Roger Grey. The Pelhams transferred Margaret’s share in Merton, Norfolk, to her sister, Joan Pynchebeck, but retained the whole of ‘Greys’ in Cavendish, Suffolk, which, following Margaret’s death in 1390, Pelham conveyed to the duke of Gloucester.10 His second marriage, contracted in late 1399 or early 1400 was to the wealthy widow of yet another Cambridgeshire landowner, Sir Hugh Zouche: Joan retained for life Sir Hugh’s estates at Swavesey and elsewhere in the county as well as the manors of River, Nutbourn and Chiltington in Sussex, which altogether brought in annual profits of at least £122 13s.4d.11
Even before Richard II’s deposition Pelham had made a mark in Sussex, having caught the attention not only of Henry of Bolingbroke but also of his father, John of Gaunt. Perhaps he excelled in a military capacity while campaigning in the duke’s army in Spain in 1386, for a few years later Gaunt appointed him constable of Pevensey castle. Then, Archbishop Courtenay conferred on him for life the posts of forester of Broyle, master of his hunt in Sussex and surveyor of the fishery at South Malling. He served on royal commissions in the spring of 1398, but since he is not recorded in England following the departure into exile of Bolingbroke later that year, it may be surmised that he accompanied him overseas. Pevensey came into Richard I I’s possession along with the other Lancastrian estates early in 1399, and Henry is said to have put in there in the summer while searching for a suitable place to land his small force. It was Pelham who then took the stronghold on his behalf, doing so before 3 July—the day that Richard II’s council vainly ordered the Sussex gentry to raise the posse comitatus to recover it. On the 25th Pelham wrote to Bolingbroke at Pontefract in response to the heartening letter he had just received from his ‘dere Lorde’, whose landing had by then been successfully accomplished. He rejoiced in the news that Henry was now ‘stronge ynogh ... for to kepe yow fro the malyce of your ennemys’, although had to report that Pevensey was under heavy siege from the shire levies. Pelham’s devotion to Henry, his ‘derest and best yloved off all erthlyche Lordes’ was palpably strong and continued unshaken until his master’s death. The rewards for his gamble in supporting Lancaster were to prove very substantial indeed, commencing on 20 Sept. with a grant from Henry to his ‘dear esquire’ of an annuity of 100 marks for life. Having been returned to the Parliament which deposed King Richard just a few days later, he was knighted on the eve of Henry’s coronation, and later in October received from him the privilege of bearing the King’s sword on ceremonial occasions. Then, in December, he was awarded keeping of the lordship of Bosham, Sussex, during the minority of the duke of Norfolk’s heir. For a while he was personally entrusted with custody of King Richard himself, either at Pevensey castle or, perhaps more likely, at Archbishop Arundel’s castle of Leeds in Kent. Probably already numbered among the dozen knights of the new King’s chamber and hall, it was as his ‘bachelor’ that in February 1400 Pelham was specifically rewarded for his services in recovering Pevensey castle, with a grant of the constableship of the same to hold in tail-male, coupled with a gift of land in the locality worth £25 10s. a year, which he had previously held of the duchy of Lancaster at farm.12
It is not surprising that Pelham, now established as the most influential figure from Sussex in the private counsels of Henry IV, and already enjoying an annual income of at least £225, which made him one of the wealthiest men in the county, was elected to five of the six subsequent Parliaments. (The exception was that of 1402 which assembled during his shrievalty.)13 He was formally summoned to attend great councils in 1401 and 1403, even though as a member of the Household he was normally in attendance on the King, as, for instance, in September 1403 when on campaign in the marches of Wales. Later that year Henry considered him to be the best person to go to Calais to avert a mutiny in the garrison. Pelham’s local prestige was further enhanced in July 1404 with his receipt for life of the stewardship of the duchy of Lancaster honour of the Eagle. At Coventry, when attending Parliament that October, he was given shared custody of the temporalities of the bishopric of Winchester vacated by the death of William of Wykeham, and, more important, on the eve of the dissolution, he was appointed joint treasurer for the King’s wars, along with Thomas Neville, Lord Furnival, who was soon to be made treasurer of the Exchequer. Neville and Pelham were authorized to receive all the issues of the wool customs and the subsidies of tunnage and poundage as well as the proceeds from the tenths and fifteenths granted during the session. However, they are seldom recorded acting either in their official capacity or in the treasurership of Calais which sometimes fell under their control; and their unwillingness to operate was expressed by frequent requests for discharge, which were finally granted in June 1406, after a petition put on behalf of the Commons by the Speaker, Sir John Tiptoft.14 Both before and during the period of his treasurership, Pelham made a number of appearances as a member of the King’s Council, but changes in the composition of the Council effected in the course of the same Parliament of 1406 resulted in his exclusion, along with all other commoners.15
Meanwhile, at Pevensey castle in 1405, Sir John had received into his custody Edward, duke of York, imprisoned after the discovery of his knowledge of the Mortimer plot. He took the opportunity to befriend the prisoner, who entrusted him with personal letters for the King. The duke was restored to his estates in December, but Pelham was more than compensated for his consequent loss of the keepership of the New Forest (which he had held while York was a prisoner), for it was then that he was appointed as chief steward of the southern estates of the duchy of Lancaster, which carried an annual fee of £100. Two months later he became custodian at Pevensey of the Mortimer boys, Edmund, earl of March, and his brother, Roger, being allowed as much as 500 marks a year from the earl’s estates for their maintenance.16 Over the years from 1399 to 1409 Henry IV showed Sir John many marks of personal favour. Besides the offices and grants already mentioned, he enjoyed several profitable wardships in the Crown’s gift. Thus, in 1402 he was allowed to purchase the marriage of (Sir) Roger Fiennes*, to which, three years afterwards, was added custody of Fiennes’s inherited share of the Say estates; and he enjoyed the guardianship of the lands late of Thomas, Lord West, for nearly a year, as well as of those once belonging to Robert Tauk*, for a longer period. In 1403 he received a grant in tail of the same manor in Cavendish which had formerly pertained to his first wife, and was now valued as highly as 100 marks p.a., while among a number of lesser awards, made in that and the following year, which he shared with his fellow chamber knight, Sir John Tiptoft, was the custody of another manor in Suffolk owned by a kinsman by marriage.17 In 1408 Pelham paid 1,000 marks to secure the keeping of the widespread estates of Sir Philip St. Cler during the minority of his heir, although he doubtless made a substantial profit over the next ten years, for the annual revenues exceeded £100. That same year he acquired a lease of certain lands which the late Lord Lovell had held of the young earl of March, another royal wardship in Hampshire, and, most important of all, the keeping of the castle and lordship of Bramber during the minority of John Mowbray, brother and heir of the late Earl Marshal. The Mowbray lands in his custody were to be later assessed as worth £138 a year. Before long Henry IV’s queen, Joan of Navarre, gave her husband’s friend the Sussex manor of Birling, worth another £12 p.a. Finally, in February 1409 the King made him a grant for life quite remarkable in its magnitude for one who was not a member of the royal family: he bestowed on him the lordship of Pevensey, together with all other duchy of Lancaster estates in Sussex, the annual revenues from which are known to have sometimes amounted to £270. From then on, Pelham may even have taken the place of Thomas, earl of Arundel, as the greatest landowner in the shire.18
When the prince of Wales and his supporters took over control of the government at the end of 1409, this flow of royal bounty ceased abruptly. Pelham was relegated to the background; the Mortimers were removed from his custody to that of the prince; and he was even to be excluded from local commissions for the next two years. This is scarcely surprising, for Sir John’s friendship with the King had led to a personal attachment to Henry’s second son, Thomas of Lancaster, and to his trusted councillor, Archbishop Arundel, now removed from the chancellorship. Prince Thomas’s regard for Pelham is made clear both by his addressing him as ‘dearly beloved friend’ and by later requests that he should act as his attorney while he was overseas (in 1412) and as an executor of his will (1417). That the archbishop held him in esteem is evidenced by the inclusion of Sir John and his wife among those for whom prayers were to be said in the chantry in Canterbury cathedral which Arundel founded in December 1411. That same month, coinciding with the archbishop’s resumption of the chancellorship, Pelham replaced the prince of Wales’s nominee as treasurer of the Exchequer. The King’s friends had returned to power. Sir John began his term of office with a clean slate, being formally pardoned any debts due to the Crown, and was to remain treasurer until Henry IV’s death. In a final act of favour in November 1412, Henry granted his trusted retainer in tail the Crown’s reversionary interest in the rape of Hastings and the valuable manors of Crowhurst, Burwash and Bibleham (all in Sussex), to fall to him on the death of Ralph, earl of Westmorland.19
On his deathbed Henry IV named Pelham as one of just five executors of his will. It was quickly discovered that the King’s moveable goods were insufficient to cover payment of his debts and testamentary depositions, but during Henry V’s first Parliament it was decided that the King should retain his father’s possessions, paying for them to the executors within four years the sum of 25,000 marks with which they might settle accounts with the royal creditors. Parliament authorized the quittance of the executors from all legal actions by reason of their administration of the will—a task which was to preoccupy Pelham himself until his own death. Meanwhile, Sir John had been succeeded in the treasurership by the earl of Arundel, his rival for influence in Sussex, and at the same time he was removed from the chief stewardship of the duchy of Lancaster. He could never regain his former place as a King’s friend, for Henry of Monmouth was already surrounded by a preferred circle of adherents, yet he was able to gain Henry’s confidence to the extent of being employed as an ambassador to France (he was absent with an excessively large entourage of 47 persons in the summer of 1414), and it speaks well for his integrity that Pevensey castle was seldom for long without a political prisoner entrusted to his keeping. The most important of these was James I of Scotland, who spent nearly a year from February 1415 in Sir John’s custody. Pelham took no active part in Henry V’s expeditions to France, sending in his place his only (though illegitimate) son John, who was knighted on the Agincourt campaign. He spent some of the time at home engaged with Sir William Sturmy* in raising loans for the invasion of Normandy in 1417, and from the day that the King embarked for France for the second time he resumed his place on the Council, being present at Wickham on 23 July when the new chancellor, Bishop Langley of Durham, first used the great seal. In the winter of 1419-20 he took charge at Pevensey of Henry IV’s widow, Joan of Navarre, accused of plotting by necromancy the death of the King, while at various times before the end of the reign he also had the guardianship of Joan’s son, Arthur of Brittany, the traitor, Sir John Mortimer, and the ‘bastard of Bourbon’. Both he and his son, Sir John, were present at the coronation of Katherine de Valois early in 1421, the younger man having already been made chamberlain of the household of the new queen, to one of whose ladies-in-waiting he was married.20
Thomas, earl of Arundel, had died in 1415, leaving Pelham undisputed in his dominance over the gentry of Sussex. Nevertheless, his influence had waned to a certain extent, and more than once in this period he met with local challenge. In 1416 he had been asked by Robert, Lord Poynings, to act as a trustee of his estates, but three years later the two men quarrelled, Pelham being required to provide securities amounting to £1,000 not to molest his adversary. It is worthy of remark that none of his mainpernors (who included Henry, earl of Northumberland, Sir Thomas Chaworth* and John Wilcotes*) were involved in local affairs. The King’s bench subsequently found him guilty of a breach of the peace and ordered execution of the bond, but Sir John was able to secure a special pardon from the duke of Bedford, as the King’s lieutenant, in February 1422. At the same time he was also pardoned for having married off the royal ward, Thomas St. Cler, whose inheritance he was found to have seriously depleted during the long period of his keepership.21
After an absence from the House of Commons lasting 15 years, Pelham was elected to the first Parliament summoned in Henry VI’s name, in 1422. This may have been because an important matter to be discussed concerned him personally, for he and his fellow executors of Henry IV’s will had received no more than £4,000 of the sum promised them by Henry V, whose own testamentary provisions had now also to be met. Then, in December 1423, he was nominated by the Council to treat with envoys from Scotland for the liberation of King James I (his former prisoner). His last Parliament, that of 1427, dealt further with the vexed problem of the administration of the royal wills.22 If his executorship of the wills of Henry IV and Thomas, duke of Clarence, were not enough, there is ample additional evidence that Pelham was well regarded by many other distinguished individuals with whom he was acquainted. Sir Roger Fiennes, his former ward, made him a trustee of his estates, as also did two of his sometime prisoners at Pevensey, namely Edward, duke of York, and Edmund, earl of March. He was clearly on friendly terms with York, who had entrusted him in 1412 with part of the lordship of Tyndale and Wark as security for loans, enfeoffed him three years later with his London residence, and taken his son into his company for the 1415 campaign in France. Following York’s death at Agincourt, Sir John had to bring an action against the duke’s executors for payment of £63 8s.6d. owed him for various services, although he eventually accepted a gold cross encrusted with precious stones as recompense. The earl of March gave him his Sussex properties at Drayton and Chichester for life in lieu of an annuity.23 A number of widows looked to Pelham for assistance when in difficulty. In 1417, in compliance with an earlier request from King João I of Portugal that he would continue to show favour and affection to his daughter Beatrice, the widowed countess of Arundel, Pelham provided securities that she would keep the peace. At the same time he made a formal undertaking that Sir John Oldcastle’s* widow, Joan, Lady Cobham, would appear before the Council (of which he was a member); and in 1419 he was to act similarly on behalf of Sir Nicholas Dagworth’s* relict. In the last year of Pelham’s life, Sir Thomas Erpingham KG, like him a staunch supporter of Henry of Bolingbroke from the very beginning, asked that the administration of his will should be performed by Sir John, who headed the list of executors.24
Pelham’s attitude to the Church seems to have been somewhat ambivalent. In 1409 Bishop Rede of Chichester had referred to the ‘devotion and fervour towards the worship of God’ shown by him and his wife, when granting them leave to choose a confessor and to hear services in private chapels at Pevensey castle and Laughton. Yet in his will, made in 1414, the bishop expressed his severe displeasure with Pelham for his retention of a silver cup matching a great ewer he wished to bequeath to Chichester cathedral. Pelham had provided land at Warbleton where the Augustinian canons of Holy Trinity priory, Hastings, could rebuild their house following its destruction by storms, and in 1417 he chose his friend, Bishop Langley, rather than the diocesan, to dedicate it.25
In his later years Pelham could with ease have supported the estate of a baron, for after his acquisition of Crowhurst and the other manors granted him in reversion by Henry IV, his income from land alone exceeded £870 p.a.26 Since he had no legitimate children to inherit these estates, he had made a number of settlements in favour of his bastard son, to the exclusion of his right heirs (the children of his two sisters). Furthermore, shortly before his death, he placed all his moveable goods in the keeping of his wife, Joan, his son and Bishop Langley. On 8 Feb. 1429 he made a brief will in which he requested burial in the Cistercian abbey at Robertsbridge, and died four days later.27 Pelham’s widow survived him by ten years, and was buried in accordance with her will in London in the parish church of St. Olave in Hart Street.28
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Authors: L. S. Woodger / J. S. Roskell
- 1. Somerville, Duchy, i. 380, 615.
- 2. Ibid. 616.
- 3. RP, iii. 546, 577, 584-5.
- 4. Somerville, 427-8.
- 5. RP, iii. 585.
- 6. Grey v. Hastings, 5-6.
- 7. Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ed. Carte, ii. 214-15; RP iv. 211-12.
- 8. VCH Suss. ix. 19; Peds. Plea Rolls ed. Wrottesley, 281; Suss. Feet of Fines (Suss. Rec. Soc. xxiii), no. 2545; CPR, 1374-7, pp. 410, 413; 1385-9, p. 72.
- 9. CIPM, x. 638; xii. 81; xiii. 125; CCR, 1360-4, p. 64; Add. Chs. 30362, 30374-5; Feudal Aids, vi. 521.
- 10. CPR, 1385-9, p. 393; 1388-92, pp. 150, 319; CIPM, xv. 794-5, 906, 983; F. Blomefield, Norf. ii. 303; CP25(1)168/179/197; CCR, 1389-92, pp. 550.
- 11. CP, xii (2), 961-2; Genealogist, n.s. xxxiv. 32-34; CPR, 1399-1401, p. 287; Feudal Aids, vi. 410, 521; VCH Suss. iv. 158, 171; E101/514/15; Add. Chs. 31066-7.
- 12. CPR, 1396-9, p. 249; 1399-1401, pp. 45, 143; Somerville, 137; DL42/15, ff. 21d, 107, 123d, 152; Chrons. London ed. Kingsford, 48; Chron. Traison et Mort Ric. II ed. Williams, 296; E101/404/21, f. 44d; EHR, cvi. 75-79.
- 13. He was present at this Parliament, however, as parliamentary proxy for the abbot of Battle: SC10/41/24.
- 14. PPC, i. 161; ii. 87; CPR, 1401-5, pp. 286, 451, 458; 1405-8, p. 351; Cal. Signet Letters ed. Kirby, nos. 167, 517; J.H. Wylie, Hen. IV, ii. 111-14.
- 15. Cal. Signet Letters, nos. 382, 398; CIMisc. vii. 287; EHR, lxxix. 24, 30; PPC, ii. 99.