RADCLIFFE, Thomas (d.1403), of Winmarleigh and Astley, Lancs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

3rd s. of Richard Radcliffe† (d.c.1375) of Astley and Radcliffe Tower by Isabel, da. and coh. of John Harcla. m. (1) 1s.; (2) c.1386, Joan (fl. 1417), wid. of Gilbert Southworth (d. by 1355) of Samlesbury and William Farington (fl. 1375).1

Offices Held

Steward of the wapentake of Blackburnshire in the duchy of Lancaster, Lancs. 7 Apr. 1383-c.1393, Feb. 1402-d.; master forester of Pendle, Lancs. 6 June 1401-d.2

Commr. of array, Lancs. Feb. 1384, Mar. 1400; inquiry Sept. 1385 (distraints at Chadderton),3 July 1397 (wastes at Lancaster priory); to select archers for John of Gaunt’s expedition to Spain Mar. 1386;4 make arrests Aug. 1396;5 prevent the spread of treasonous rumours May 1402.

J.p. Lancs. Mar. 1385, July 1394, Mar. 1400, Feb. 1402.

Constable of Lancaster castle by 1394.6


Richard Radcliffe’s principal seat lay at Radcliffe Tower, which had belonged to his father, but he also inherited estates at Astley, Clitheroe and Winmarleigh, acquired the manor and advowson of Prestwich, and leased additional property in Sabden from the duchy of Lancaster. For a brief period in the late 1360s he interested himself in the affairs of the local community, serving on two royal commissions and representing Lancashire in Parliament, but his career was not otherwise worthy of much remark. An element of notoriety did, none the less, attach itself to him and his younger son, Thomas, the subject of this biography, as a result of their involvement in various ‘trespasses, conspiracies, confederacies, extortions, oppressions, champerties, maintenances, damages, grievances, falsities and excesses’ committed by their kinsman, another Richard Radcliffe, while sheriff of Lancashire. Vociferous complaints by the abbot of Evesham and the prior of Petwortham (who seem to have been particularly victimized) led the government to hold a formal investigation, although nothing seems to have been done to discipline the offenders. No more is heard of Thomas for a while, perhaps because the survival of two elder brothers, who between them shared most of the Radcliffe inheritance, forced him into a rather subordinate position. In April 1383, however, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, made him steward of the wapentake of Blackburnshire; and on the death of his brother, Christopher, in the following year, he inherited the manors of Astley, Clitheroe and Winmarleigh. Now a landowner of some consequence, he was returned to Parliament almost at once, having also obtained a seat on the Lancashire bench. It was, moreover, at about this time that Thomas married, as his second wife, the twice-widowed Joan Farington, who brought him additional estates in Samlesbury. He was thus able to offer Gaunt an increased rent for the land in Sabden which both his father and elder brother had previously farmed; and in 1387 he became the new tenant.7 This was a busy period in his life, for he not only helped to execute the will of John Gaddesby but also, in March 1386, stood surety for his kinsman, James Radcliffe, as lessee of the herbage in Gaunt’s park at Musbury in Lancashire. One year later the duke employed Thomas to levy the arrears of rent owed by another of his many relatives, John Radcliffe of Chadderton. During this time he entered into two recognizances for debt, one of which was offered directly to Gaunt, while the second was taken by his chancellor, William Hornby. He may well have been acting on behalf of Sir Robert Urswyk* (another of the parties), who had previously settled upon him a reversionary interest in the manor of Bispham. He and John, Lord Lovell, also received securities at this time from a local man named Nicholas Orell.8

In about 1390, Thomas acquired a small estate in Ravensholme, perhaps as a trustee. Although still in office as steward of Blackburnshire, he evidently felt no compunction about poaching in Gaunt’s forests and chases, and in 1392 he and his son, Richard, obtained a formal pardon from the duke for their past offences in this respect. Gaunt did not take these trespasses too seriously, for Thomas remained his ‘tres cher esquier’, and was clearly regarded as a trustworthy and loyal servant. Whatever reasons the duke may have had for removing Radcliffe’s name from the return to the Parliament of 1393 and substituting that of his powerful supporter, Sir Ralph Ipres, it seems unlikely that any slight or censure was intended, especially as Thomas did indeed represent Lancashire two years later, by which time he was in office as constable of the royal castle of Lancaster, at a fee of 20 marks a year. He could almost certainly by then rely on the generous annuity of 100 marks settled upon him by Gaunt, whose confidence in him was such that, a year before his death, in February 1398, he made him a trustee of the manor of Barnoldswick in Yorkshire, a property set aside for the support of the duchess in her widowhood. The Lancastrian usurpation of 1399 naturally won Thomas’s firm support, and he was able, thanks to the patronage of Gaunt’s son, Henry IV, to end his days as the occupant of two important offices in the duchy of Lancaster. In 1401 he offered guarantees on behalf of two other farmers of duchy property; and he remained active as a j.p. and royal commissioner until his death. This occurred early in 1403, when he was succeeded by his son, Richard. His widow, Joan, survived for another 14 years, if not longer.9

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. VCH Lancs. vi. 305, 514; Chetham Soc. n.s. xcii. 81; DKR, xxxiii. 15. According to C.P. Hampson (Bk. of Radclyffes, 19), Richard Radcliffe’s wife was the da. and h. of Sir Robert Pleasington and coh. to Michael Harcla, but Pleasington left a son, Sir Robert*, to succeed him. In many instances, Hampson confuses this Member with his kinsman and namesake, who was sheriff of Lancashire and master forester of Blackburnshire. It is also hard to believe his suggestion that Thomas’s first wife was Ellen, da. and coh. of Hugh Tyldesley, largely on the implausibility of the chronological evidence.
  • 2. Somerville, Duchy, i. 373, 500, 507n.
  • 3. DKR, xl. 526, 528.
  • 4. Ibid. 525.
  • 5. Chetham Soc. n.s. xcvi. 73.
  • 6. Hampson, 120.
  • 7. Chetham Soc. n.s. xciii. 81; xcvi. 72; DKR, xxxiii. 32; VCH Lancs. vi. 395, 514; CPR, 1370-4, p. 100; CCR, 1369-74, p. 280.
  • 8. DKR, xxxii. 364-5; xl. 524-5; CPR, 1385-9, p. 31; Lancs. Feet of Fines, iii. 12-13.
  • 9. VCH Lancs. vi. 555; Bull. John Rylands Lib. xxii. 186; Chetham Soc. cxix. 34; Test. Vetusta ed Nicolas, 145; DKR, xxxiii. 4, 15; xl. 530; xliii. 4, 368; S.K. Walker, ‘John of Gaunt and his retainers, 1361-99’ (Oxf. Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1986), 283.