PIERREPONT, Sir Henry (d.1452), of Holme Pierrepont, Notts.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of Sir Edmund Pierrepont of Holme Pierrepont by Frances, da. and coh. of Sir William Frank of Grimsby, Lincs. m. Ellen, da. of Sir Nicholas Longford (d.1401) of Withington, Lancs., at least 1s. 1da. Kntd. by Oct. 1417.1
Commr. of array, Derbys. Oct. 1417, Apr. 1418; inquiry, Notts. Nov. 1421 (holdings of Richard, Lord Scrope of Bolton), Jan. 1424 (liability to repair bridges); to make arrests June 1428.
J.p. Derbys. 13 July 1418-19, Notts. 20 July 1424-9.
Master forester of Duffield chase, Derbys. in the duchy of Lancaster 14 Feb. 1424-20 Feb. 1428.2
Alderman of the guild of the Holy Cross at All Saints’ church, Chesterfield, Derbys. by 14 Feb. 1444-aft. 25 Apr. 1445.3
The family of Pierrepont was of considerable antiquity and its members had long occupied an important place in Nottinghamshire society. They were also noted for their unruly—indeed often downright disruptive—behaviour, and it is significant that the first known reference to this MP occurs in November 1401 when royal commissioners were instructed to arrest him and his father after they had ignored a summons to present themselves before the King’s Council at Westminster. He next appears in 1408 as a witness to a conveyance of land in Derbyshire by the widowed Margery Longford, whose daughter, Ellen, was perhaps already his wife. Orders were again sent out for his arrest two years later, one of the commissioners on this occasion being his own brother-in-law, (Sir) Nicholas Strelley*, who had married his sister, Elizabeth. He cannot have spent much, if any, time in detention, for during this period he and a distinguished group of local landowners, including Sir Thomas Hercy*, Hugh Cressy* and his nephew, Sir Robert Strelley*, were parties to a collusive suit at the Nottingham assizes; and not long afterwards he joined with Strelley and Henry IV’s youngest son, Thomas of Lancaster, in acting as a feoffee of land in Little Markham, which had previously been the subject of a violent dispute. His circle of friends and acquaintances also included the eminent crown servant, (Sir) Roger Leche*, who shared his title to property in Chesterfield, and Richard, Lord Grey of Codnor, under whose banner he embarked for France in the summer of 1417. He did not remain for long with the royal army, however, returning to England by the following October in time to stand for Parliament. The presence of his father, the formidable Sir Edmund Pierrepont, and another of his kinsmen at the Nottinghamshire elections may well have helped his candidacy, although there can be little doubt that he was already by then a figure of some consequence in his own right.4
The next few years saw an even greater increase in Sir Henry’s influence, since his father’s death left him heir to estates at Holme Pierrepont, Stoke, Coddington, Weston, Newark and Balderton in Nottinghamshire (alone worth £80 p.a. in 1412), Claypole in Lincolnshire and Ashover and Crich in Derbyshire.5 He was in some demand as a mainpernor and witness to local property transactions; and in 1426, after his fourth and last appearance in the House of Commons, he attended the Nottinghamshire parliamentary elections. In fact, his connexions extended far further afield, however, for he was by then associated with the duchess of Norfolk as a trustee of the manor of Stretton in Derbyshire, besides offering guarantees for the payment of Sir John Popham’s† debts to John, Lord Talbot. Henry, earl of Northumberland, likewise named him as one of his sureties at the Exchequer during this period. Further evidence of Sir Henry’s status may be found in the award to him and his wife of a papal indult permitting the use of a portable altar, and his appointment as an arbitrator in a dispute between the prior of Blyth and his tenants in the Nottinghamshire village of Styrrup.6
Not content with the property which came to him by inheritance, Sir Henry sought to extend his holdings, establishing his title to rents in Newark at the Nottingham assizes of July 1428, and consolidating his position as a landowner in Chesterfield. His attempts to build up a power base in this Derbyshire town brought him into dramatic conflict with Thomas Foljambe the younger, whose resentment eventually gave rise to the vendetta for which both men are now chiefly remembered. In March 1429, Pierrepont leased the manor of Chesterfield from the countess of Kent, offering her securities of 200 marks as an earnest of his readiness to abide by their agreement. The countess evidently found him a model tenant, and four years later she permitted Sir Henry to farm the weekly markets together with the annual—and potentially most lucrative—fair which she customarily held in the town. This proved too much for Foljambe, who claimed already to have been the victim of a murderous assault launched upon him by Pierrepont and his men. His immediate response was to ride into Chesterfield ‘ove graunt nombre des gentes en le fourme de guerre araies’, disrupt the fair, terrorize Sir Henry’s agents and prevent the holding of any markets. The countess’s decision to begin a suit against him in the court of Chancery may well have driven Foljambe to adopt even more extreme measures, for on New Year’s Day 1434 he and a body of supporters (somewhat unreliably stated to have numbered almost 100) marched into Chesterfield parish church, where they maimed Sir Henry by cutting off the thumb and fingers of his right hand and murdered two of his companions, one of whom was his kinsman, Henry Longford. The commission of oyer and terminer which met in the following March to investigate the affray heard a variety of indictments presented by two grand juries. Sir Henry himself sat on the first, together with his friends, Sir Nicholas Montgomery II* (for whom he was then acting as a trustee), Sir John Zouche*, Sir Robert Strelley and Sir Hugh Willoughby. Not surprisingly, their presentments painted Foljambe and his friends in the darkest possible colours, but the second jury, which was composed of Derbyshire landowners who were themselves hostile towards Pierrepont, held the latter responsible for all the disturbances and, for good measure, accused him of a murder committed some 23 years before. Neither the royal commission nor the subsequent hearings in the court of King’s bench had any restraining effect upon the disputants, as virtually all those who had been indicted were acquitted. In August 1434, Sir Henry, balked of revenge by legal means, assaulted one of Foljambe’s men at Langley, but having thus satisfied his honour he finally agreed to submit his case to arbritration. By indentures of July 1435 he and Foljambe pledged mutual guarantees of £1,000 that they would accept the award of either Sir Gervase Clifton and Sir Thomas Gresley* or Archbishop Kemp of York. These undertakings were renewed in the following October, by which date the archbishop had been fixed upon as the most acceptable mediator.7
Although less violent in its consequences, another dispute proved even more damaging to Pierrepont, whose disappearance from local office in the 1420s and virtual eclipse as a political force from then onwards was almost certainly engineered by his bitter (and virtually unassailable) enemy, Ralph, Lord Cromwell. Their quarrel began in earnest on the death, in October 1429, of Sir John Gra’s† wife, Margaret Bellers, who was heiress to the Heriz family estates in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Some years earlier Margaret had settled a reversionary interest in the three Heriz manors of Gonalston, Widmerpool and Tibshelf upon Sir Edmund Pierrepont and his heirs, but Cromwell, whose title was far more tenuous, used his position to influence the findings of the jury at her inquisition post mortem, forced Gra to relinquish his life interest in the properties and took control of everything at once. By conveying the manors to a powerful group of feoffees, including Sir Thomas Chaworth* and Sir Richard Vernon*, he strengthened his hand even further, and it was not until 1440 that Pierrepont was able to capitalize upon Cromwell’s difficulties in the Midlands by going to law. Throughout this period Sir Henry’s financial position was growing increasingly desperate. His loss of influence, coupled with the cost of his feud with the Foljambes (who may have been actively encouraged by Cromwell to pursue their vendetta, and certainly exploited the situation to attack Pierrepont when he was at his most vulnerable), brought him heavily into debt. By 1434 he owed large sums of money, ranging from £23 to £500, to such creditors as the royal surgeon, Thomas Morstede; and it was, perhaps, to meet his obligations that he sold his lands in Rolleston to a local rentier. Early in the following year another of his neighbours, Sir Hugh Willoughby, bought his estates at Cotgrave and Tollerton. Both he and his son were among the Nottinghamshire gentry who were ordered to take the general oath of 1434 that they would not support anyone breaking the peace, but on this occasion they were powerless to act against Cromwell, who was now treasurer of England. Indeed, in 1435, Cromwell and his fellow commissioners of inquiry, including Sir Thomas Chaworth, encouraged vexatious presentments by a Nottinghamshire jury, in the hope that Sir Henry might be fined for concealing royal revenues. After a long delay, Pierrepont finally began litigation in October 1440, arraigning Cromwell’s feoffees on two assizes of novel disseisin. There is every likelihood that Cromwell himself brought pressure to bear on the juries, although Sir Henry’s decision to sue out writs of attaint against both panels of jurors may simply have been a delaying tactic. In the event, he agreed to settle out of court, receiving a somewhat derisory payment of 100 marks in return for a release of all claims to the Heriz estates.8
By 1446 Sir Henry was again in financial difficulties. Not only was he obliged to sell off property in Kirkby in Ashfield to one of Cromwell’s retainers, but in 1447 the issues of two more manors had to be diverted for the payment of £150 to the executors of the London fishmonger, John Mitchell*, from whom he had probably borrowed money. Three years later the net income from his remaining estates had fallen to no more than 80 marks a year, although by then he seems to have appeased his major creditors. Sir Henry’s last years brought him a measure of tranquility after almost a lifetime of litigation and struggle. The humiliation of appearing among the witnesses to Lord Cromwell’s conveyance, in January 1452, of the Heriz manors was in part offset