POLE, Sir Edmund de la (c.1337-1419), of Boarstall castle, Bucks. and Dernford in Sawston, Cambs.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b.c.1337, 3rd s. of Sir William de la Pole† (d.1366), of Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorks. by his w. Katherine (d.1382); yr. bro. of Michael de la Pole and 1st earl of Suffolk (c.1330-1389). m. (1) bef. Feb. 1358, Elizabeth (5 June 1339-c.1369), 2nd da. of Sir Richard Handlo (d.1343) of Hadlow, Kent, and Boarstall castle by Isabel, da. of Amauri, Lord St. Amand, and sis. and coh. of Edmund Handlo (d.1355), 2da.; (2) between July 1369 and Jan. 1371, Maud (d. 9 May 1393), da. of John Lovet of Liscombe, Bucks., wid. of Sir Andrew Sackville† (d.1369) of Emmington, Oxon. and Buckhurst, Suss., 1s. Sir Walter*, 1da. Kntd. bef. Feb. 1358.
Commr. of array, Beds. Apr., July 1377, Cambs. Dec. 1399, Sept. 1403; inquiry, Oxon. Feb. 1380 (possessions of St. Frideswide’s priory), Cambs. Apr. 1383, Feb. 1398 (repairs to the great bridge at Cambridge), May 1392, Jan. 1393 (de Vere estates), Cambs., Essex, Norf., Suff. Sept. 1397 (forfeited goods), Cambs. Mar. 1401 (poaching on Crown lands); to put down rebellion Dec. 1381, Mar., Dec. 1382; survey Calais Mar. 1386; muster garrisons Apr. 1386;1 make proclamation of Henry IV’s intention to govern well, Cambs. May 1402.
Tax surveyor, Bucks. Aug. 1379; collector, Cambs. Mar. 1404.
Capt. of Calais castle and controller of the town 23 Jan. 1384-c. May 1388.2
Envoy to treat for peace with France 4 Mar. 1385, to negotiate a truce with Duke Philip of Burgundy and the Flemish towns 20 May 1388.3
Sheriff, Cambs. and Hunts. 15 Nov. 1389-7 Nov. 1390.
J.p. Cambs. 24 Dec. 1390-Nov. 1417.
A younger son of the famous Sir William de la Pole of Hull, judged by his contemporaries as ‘second to no merchant in England’, and on whom Edward III relied heavily for financial support in the early years of his reign, Edmund is first recorded aged about two years old, when King Edward at Antwerp in May 1339, ‘in consideration of the timely aid’ rendered by Sir William, granted the child and his elder brother, Thomas, the manor of Keyingham in Holderness to hold in tail. This impressive gift from the Crown’s resources was confirmed by Parliament in 1340. Some time before 1354, young Edmund and his brothers, Michael and Thomas, joined together in acquiring, on a lease for 1,000 years, the English estates of the Benedictine abbey of Grestain (Eure), and in May 1355 the King, ‘for the affection he bears them’, allowed them a full quittance of all liability for the abbey’s outstanding debts. The brothers de la Pole divided the Grestain property between them, Edmund’s share being the manors of Dernford in Cambridgeshire and Creeting and Mickfield in Suffolk. However, in the previous year there had been some changes in the family fortunes connected with the King’s financial needs: Sir William had been required to surrender the letters patent by which he had obtained such handsome gifts as the manor of Burstwick (Yorkshire) and an annual rent of 260 marks, and his two younger sons, Thomas and Edmund, had to relinquish Keyingham, although in return Sir William and his eldest son, Michael, received a grant in tail of 400 marks a year from the wool customs collected at Hull. Edmund’s lack of years created difficulties when it came to the surrender of Keyingham: on 18 Mar. 1355 when he and his brother (now Sir Thomas) came before the Council in the Star Chamber of the palace of Westminster to hand over their charter, he was made to swear on the gospels to abide by an indenture sealed between the King and his father, in which it was agreed that he would make a full release of the manor to the Crown within three years of attaining his majority, while in the meantime Sir William had to pay King Edward an annual rent of as much as £200 as a guarantee of good intent. Edmund made the required release on 25 Oct. 1358.4
The de la Poles were always a closely knit family, and Edmund never failed to show a well-developed sense of responsibility for its weaker members. Following his father’s death in 1366, he assisted his mother, with whom he jointly held property at Cringleford in Norfolk, to conduct her affairs satisfactorily, and eventually he took on the executorship of the will she made in 1381.5 Sir William’s wealth had ensured that all his children would marry into knightly families of good standing: thus, of his daughters, Blanche was married to Richard, 1st Lord Scrope of Bolton (always thereafter a staunch friend to the de la Poles), Margaret to Sir Robert Neville* of Hornby, and Katherine to Constantine Clifton of Buckenham castle.6 Edmund himself won the hand of Elizabeth Handlo, coheir of widespread estates in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Kent, and niece of the half-blood to Nicholas, Lord Burnell. The match had been agreed by February 1358 when Burnell concluded financial arrangements with de la Pole and Sir Gilbert Chasteleyn (the husband of Elizabeth’s sister). Elizabeth made proof of age a month later, and in May the Handlo acres were partitioned in such a way as to allot to her and her husband a number of manors in Kent and Oxfordshire. However, different arrangements had to be made in 1366, when the Crown recovered certain of the Kentish properties, and it was then decided that Sir Edmund and his wife should have the impressive house at Boarstall as well as two other manors in Buckinghamshire and three in Oxfordshire, holdings which included the royal foresterships in fee of Shotover, Stowood and Bernwood.7 De la Pole had been made a wealthy man. He was to retain possession of his wife’s estates, to which were later added her sister’s, for the rest of his life, holding them ‘by the courtesy’ after Elizabeth’s death in about 1369. He devoted some attention to finding suitable husbands for their two daughters, now heiresses of a sizeable fortune: first, in 1374 he agreed with Sir Robert Marney* of Layer Marney that the elder girl, Elizabeth (b.1362), should be wed to Marney’s stepson (Sir) Ingram Bruyn, himself a notable heir, and then, in about 1383, the younger, Katherine (b.1369), was married to Robert James*, esquire, of Wallingford. De la Pole was naturally party to documents signed in the 1390s by the Bruyns and Jameses, whereby it was agreed between them that Robert and Katherine James would inherit the whole of the former Handlo estate after his death.8
De la Pole’s second wife, Maud, widow of Sir Andrew Sackville, brought him her dower in the Sackville manors of Bergholt and Mount Bures in Essex and Emmington in Oxfordshire, which he held for her lifetime—up to 1393.9 Meanwhile, in the knowledge that he could pass on neither the Handlo nor the Sackville estates to his son Walter, born in 1371, Sir Edmund had invested in more land in Cambridgeshire to serve as a legacy for the boy. In 1376 he purchased another manor near his home at Dernford in Sawston, which he immediately settled on his wife and son in jointure; and he subsequently bought manors in Trumpington (where he had a private oratory) and Meldreth, as well as a number of other properties. As befitted a person of his standing, by 1392 he had also acquired a house in London, situated in the parish of St. Dunstan in the East, which with his other holdings in the City was to be subsequently valued at £4 8s.10d. a year. It is not now possible to estimate de la Pole’s worth in terms of his income from land, but there can be no doubt that he ranked among the wealthiest Cambridgeshire landowners of his day.10
Much of the early part of de la Pole’s career had been spent engaged in military service overseas. He was knighted about the same time as he came of age, and having left England late in 1364 he remained absent from home, probably on campaign in Gascony, for two years or longer. Subsequent employment, during the summer of 1367, was as one of the retinue of John, Lord Cobham. An ever-present influence on Sir Edmund’s career in this period was that of his older brother, Michael, now risen to be Lord de la Pole. The two of them took out royal letters of protection in March 1373 in preparation for joining the army about to leave for France under the command of John of Gaunt, and before their departure Sir Edmund and his brother-in-law, Lord Scrope (then treasurer of England), helped complete arrangements for the marriage of Lord Michael’s daughter, Anne. Elected to Parliament for the first time in 1376 (the assembly known to contemporaries as the Good Parliament), Sir Edmund, taking his place in the Commons, would have been very much aware of the part that his brother, a member of the Lords, played in securing the impeachment of John, Lord Neville of Raby, by providing information about Neville’s alleged brokerage of royal debts, but whether he himself raised his voice in support of the motion is not recorded. In accordance with their father’s wishes, in 1378 Lord de la Pole founded a Carthusian priory near Hull where prayers would be offered for various members of the family including his younger brother, Sir Edmund. Both de la Poles served on the duke of Lancaster’s expedition to St. Mâlo that same year, and in 1379 Sir Edmund assisted Lord Michael in the complicated transactions necessary for his acquisition of the estates of Alice, Lady Neville of Essex. Naturally when, in the winter of 1379-80, Lord Michael was taken prisoner while returning from an embassy to Wladislas, King of the Romans, intended to arrange a marriage between the latter’s sister, Anne, and Richard II, Sir Edmund was intimately involved in raising the high ransom demanded for his and his fellow envoys’ release. John of Gaunt put up 7,000 gold florins to be sent to Albert, duke of Bavaria, on condition that Sir Edmund and other friends of the prisoners would promptly reimburse ham.11
In April 1380 Sir Edmund secured letters patent of exemption from holding royal office against his will, but he nevertheless continued to appear on commissions when asked to do so. His brother’s rise to power as a trusted councillor of the young King, culminating in his appointment as chancellor in March 1383, resulted in some personal benefits for Sir Edmund, too. That July he was granted a charter of free warren on his demesne lands at Sawston, and six months later he was appointed to the prestigious post of captain of Calais castle. Initially under contract to serve for one year, renewals of his indenture ensured that he would continue in office until 1388. Additional responsibilities were assigned to him: while at Calais in March 1385 he was named among the envoys who were to treat for peace with France; and a year later he and his brother, recently created earl of Suffolk, were given special authority to make a survey of the town and fortresses at Calais and its marches, studying the administration, security and state of repair of the English possessions. Sir Edmund was evidently still on the best of terms with his brother, for whom he was currently acting as a feoffee-to-uses, but the events of the next 18 months were to put a severe strain on their relationship, and he may not have entirely agreed with some of the policies pursued by Suffolk as chancellor. The earl’s influence over the King making him increasingly unpopular, he was successfully impeached by the Commons in the Parliament of October 1386, and even though the judges summoned by Richard to Nottingham in August 1387 declared the parliamentary proceedings void, fresh accusations of treason levelled against him by his enemies, the Lords Appellant, forced him that December to flee the realm and to seek refuge with his brother at Calais. He appeared before the castle gates ‘mutato habitu et rasa barba’, whereupon Sir Edmund, at first purporting to find it difficult to recognize him, refused him admission without leave of his superior officer, the governor of Calais, William, Lord Beauchamp. He is reported to have said ‘frater meus es, sed noveris, quod pro ulla consanguinitate nolo deprehendi falsus regno Angliae’. Indeed, Suffolk was allowed no more than a temporary respite before being sent back to England. (Later escaping to Paris, he was to die in exile in 1389.) Sir Edmund’s reluctance to aid an alleged traitor, albeit his own brother, proved to be in the best interests of the de la Pole family in the long run. Certainly, the triumphant Appellants took no action against him personally, and, indeed, even kept him on at Calais, at least until May 1388, when they empowered him to negotiate for a truce with the Flemings.12
Suffolk’s condemnation for treason in the Merciless Parliament in February 1388 and the consequent forfeiture of his estates, had placed a heavy burden on Sir Edmund de la Pole. His strong sense of duty to the family led him to offer substantial assistance to his nephew, Sir Michael, in the long and complicated process of regaining possession of his patrimony, a process which was to be barely completed by the time of the younger man’s death 27 years later. Sir Edmund’s first move, made in November 1388, was to help his nephew to acquire an Exchequer lease of his mother’s family seat at Wingfield (Suffolk) and of six other manors; then, in 1390 and 1391, he and certain friends spent over £110 in purchasing from the Crown various other properties once belonging to his late brother. Meanwhile, his action at Calais in 1387 had not entirely lost him Richard II’s goodwill, for soon after the King regained control of the government he appointed him sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire. On the other hand, Sir Edmund had never been particularly favoured by Richard, and the rehabilitation of the family was only to be effected at high cost in money and effort. For instance, the de la Poles had to pay £200 in 1393 for royal permission to set up a trust for the completion of their monastic foundation at Hull. Moreover, although Sir Edmund’s brother-in-law, Lord Scrope, was always ready to help, Scrope’s son, William (King Richard’s henchman, afterwards earl of Wiltshire), appears to have been indifferent to the plight of his de la Pole cousins. Even so, the task was made somewhat easier when the Parliament of 1397-8 reversed the judgements of the Merciless Parliament, providing for the legal restitution of the estates and the restoration of the earldom of Suffolk. In the early years of the 15th century Sir Edmund joined with his nephew, Earl Michael, in making further benefactions to the Carthusian priory of Mount Grace near Hull and to the hospital annexed to it. Continuing to show a deep concern for the interests of his nephew, in July 1415, although nearly 80 years old, he was prepared to take on the executorship of the will which the earl made on the eve of his departure for France (whence he did not return alive).13
In 1400 Sir Edmund de la Pole, then aged 63, and ‘so languid that he cannot labour’, had obtained another exemption from holding royal office. Yet the government still expected him to serve on the Cambridgeshire bench for many years more, and also sent him summonses to attend great councils in 1401 and 1403. It was at a very advanced age that he died on 31 July or 3 Aug. 1419, whereupon the estates of his first wife finally passed to his son-in-law, Robert James. Those he had accumulated himself had been to a large extent already transferred to his son, Sir Walter.14