RAMSEY, Ralph (d.1419), of Great Yarmouth and West Somerton, Norf. and Kenton, Suff.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
Chief serjeant of Meath, Ire. 16 Feb. 1378-aft. Oct. 1380.
Dep. to Sir Simon Burley as constable of Windsor castle bef. Aug. 1380-?1388.
Controller of customs and subsidies, Great Yarmouth 29 May-10 Nov. 1384; collector of tunnage and poundage 28 Nov. 1386-June 1392, customs on wool 12 June-11 July 1388, 8 Dec. 1391-June 1392.
Bailiff, Great Yarmouth Mich. 1385-6, 1389-90, 1393-4, 1396-7, 1398-9; jurat 1386-7.2
Commr. to fortify Great Yarmouth against invasion Aug. 1386; of arrest, Norf. Dec. 1387; sewers Mar. 1403.
Sheriff, Norf. and Suff. 5 Nov. 1403-12 Nov. 1404, 10 Dec. 1408-4 Nov. 1409.
Controller of the accounts of William Loveney*, treasurer to Henry IV’s younger daughter, Philippa, 22 July 1406-1 May 1408.
J.p. Yarmouth 26 Nov. 1408-Feb. 1415.
Ramsey probably came of a burgess family of Great Yarmouth, though nothing certain is known of his ancestry. He was admitted to the freedom of the borough before 1384, and came to hold a number of properties there, including two ‘fish-houses’ and a mansion, to which last he built an extension in 1400. Late in life he occupied a small estate at West Somerton, a few miles to the north of the town, which may have been acquired by purchase. His properties in Suffolk, notably the manors of Kenton and ‘Kenton’s’ in Kettleburgh, came to him through marriage.3
Ramsey’s early career passed in the service of Sir Simon Burley, an important figure in the household of the young Richard II, and it may well have been to Burley’s influence that he owed his appointment to the office of the chief serjeanty of Meath eight months after Richard’s accession. He was given specific authority to execute the office by deputy should he choose to do so, and accordingly in October 1379 he nominated the archdeacon of Dublin to act as his attorney in Ireland for one year. Meanwhile, in the autumn of 1378, described as Burley’s esquire, he had received money at the Exchequer on his master’s behalf, a function he was to perform several more times before Burley’s fall; furthermore, by August 1380 he was officiating as Sir Simon’s deputy constable at Windsor castle. From 1386 Ramsey figured among Burley’s feoffees of the manor of Castle Frome (Herefordshire), holding it to Sir Simon’s use for what remained of the latter’s life. He clearly benefited from his master’s position at Court: in January 1383 he had been described as a ‘King’s esquire’ when making offerings on Richard II’s behalf in Westminster abbey,4 and on 26 May that same year he had obtained a lease at the Exchequer of the alien priory of Toft Monks, Norfolk, for an annual rent of 100 marks. Some time elapsed, however, before he really profited from this grant: his possession was much disturbed by a French monk called Clement Hugelyn, who, claiming to be prior, himself secured a royal patent of custody. Ramsey made complaint, submitting that Toft Monks was not a religious house at all, and that no French-born prior had ever held the manor; he reminded the Council, too, that he was paying 20 marks p.a. more than anyone else had ever paid for the lease and offered to pay a further 40 marks annually if the Council discharged him of any further obligations towards Hugelyn. Accordingly, in February 1385 the latter made a release of all actions against Ramsey and all claims regarding moveable goods within the priory. Even so, it was not until November 1388 that a compromise was reached whereby the parties secured joint tenure for a yearly rent of £80, it being also agreed that Ramsey should have possession of the priory, demesne lands, rents, services and profits, provided that he met the monk’s personal charges and allowed him to enjoy the spiritual tithes. Besides his connexion with Burley, Ramsey had also made the acquaintance of the Kentish knight Sir William Burcester*, whose wife, Margaret, was the widow of Bartholomew, Lord Burghersh, and in 1383 he took on the trusteeship of their property in the London parish of St. Martin in the Vintry.5
In the 1380s Ramsey began to take an interest in East Anglian affairs. In May 1384 he received a royal grant of the office of controller of customs at Great Yarmouth for term of his life, only voluntarily to surrender it a few months later so that it might be given to another. In February 1385 he stood surety for Robert Waleys*, the collector of customs at Ipswich, who was prosecuting a suit in the Crown’s interest. Then, in August that year, he was elected as one of the four bailiffs of Great Yarmouth who were to take up office at Michaelmas, and in the course of this bailiffship he was elected to represent the borough in the House of Commons for the first time. He went on to serve as bailiff five more terms, and to sit for this constituency in seven more Parliaments. Ramsey was commissioned in August 1386 to examine the fortifications of Great Yarmouth in preparation for an anticipated French invasion from Flanders; and at the end of the session of the Parliament of that year he secured appointment as customer in the port. He was still in Sir Simon Burley’s service and enjoying some influence at Court: indeed, in December 1386 a royal pardon for homicide was issued at his personal supplication. In October 1387 he and Hugh Scogan, another of Burley’s esquires, were involved in a dispute with Hugh Fastolf*, formerly Sir Simon’s lieutenant at Dover castle and as warden of the Cinque Ports, but the cause of their quarrel is not revealed.6 Having been elected for the second consecutive time as burgess for Great Yarmouth to the Parliament of February 1388, Ramsey witnessed the trial of Burley, who as one of Richard II’s favourites was among those impeached of treason by the Commons and condemned to death and forfeiture. But the fate of his master did not noticeably affect his local standing, and he retained his post as collector of tunnage and poundage. During the session of the second Parliament of 1388 he stood surety for the lessees of a manor forfeited by Sir Robert Bealknap, c.j.c.p., who had also been penalized by the Lords Appellant earlier in the year. In October 1389 an order was sent out by the King’s Council for Ramsey’s arrest, but the nature of his misdemeanours is not known. He retained some connexions with those in favour at Richard II’s court after the King regained the initiative, for instance, in October 1397 he provided securities at the Exchequer on behalf of Sir Thomas Swinburne*.7
Nevertheless, in the last years of the reign, and probably at the time of the Parliament of 1397-8, Ramsey formed an attachment to Henry of Bolingbroke, heir to the duchy of Lancaster, who before going into exile in the autumn of 1398 retained him with an annual fee of £10. Consequently, when Henry returned to England Ramsey was ready to support him. He was probably with his lord’s forces at Bristol in August 1399, for on 8 Sept. by Henry’s authority he removed from the custody of the mayor and sheriffs there all the goods which had belonged to Richard II and his immediate supporters. Then, on 28 Nov., already made a ‘King’s esquire’ to Henry, who had meantime seized the throne, he received a grant of a substantial annuity of £40 from the fee farm of Great Yarmouth. In the following February he was given the short ‘hanselyn’ with silver-gilt ‘spanges’, which had belonged to the traitor Thomas, Lord Despenser; and in March he was awarded the reversion, expectant on the death of Sir George Felbrigg, of St. Olave’s ferry over the river Waveney between the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, which produced revenues of £20 a year. Furthermore, that September he and his wife received a grant of two tuns of Gascon wine yearly for life from the royal prise of wines in Great Yarmouth. Felbrigg died before November 1401 when all these gifts were confirmed. Ramsey was thus now assured of royal annuities worth £70, and as a member of the Household he was also allocated liveries of cloth for summer and winter use.8
Ramsey never again sat in Parliament for Great Yarmouth, nor accepted election as a bailiff, but in 1401 he was asked to act as a mediator in the burgesses’ longstanding dispute with the men of Lowestoft concerning their respective rights in the herring trade at Kirkley Road. From April to July 1402 he was attached to the retinue of Henry IV’s elder daughter, Blanche, on her journey to Germany for her marriage to Louis, duke of Bavaria. Shortly after his return home he was elected to represent Suffolk in the Parliament which met on 30 Sept., during the session obtaining a patent which bestowed St. Olave’s ferry after his death on his sons, Ralph and William, for term of their lives.9 Subsequently, Ramsey served as sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk in 1403-4. During his term of office he was somewhat ignominiously outlawed on a plea of debt, but he obtained a pardon and successfully contrived to have all his forfeited goods granted to his friend, Hugh atte Fenn*. In February 1405 he was pardoned as much as £160 arrears on his account as sheriff, in consideration of the substantial losses and expenses he had incurred. There was evidently no question of his ability to handle complicated financial matters, for in 1406 he was appointed controller of the accounts of William Loveney, the treasurer to the King’s younger daughter Philippa, then travelling to Denmark to marry Eric IX. Ramsey was named as a j.p. in Yarmouth in November 1408, and in the following month when the King learned that John Gurney*, the sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk, had died suddenly, he personally recommended to the chancellor that his esquire should fill the vacant position. Ramsey’s second term as sheriff was no less beset with difficulties than the first, but he was once more able to obtain a royal pardon of £160 owing from the bailiwick, and in addition the King made him a gift of £40 in the form of a tally assigned on its revenues. Ramsey is known to have drawn wages in Henry IV’s household as late in the reign as December 1410, and he probably remained a member of it up to the King’s death.10
Ramsey’s annuities were confirmed by Henry V. In the course of the next few years he obtained two more pardons of outlawry for failing to appear in the lawcourts to answer charges of debt brought by Robert Luton, a London draper, and Mark le Faire*, the prominent merchant of Winchester. He was now gradually retiring from participation in local government, and it was his son and namesake who entered a contract in April 1415 to serve Henry V in France, and who subsequently fought at Agincourt.11 In July 1411 Ramsey and his wife, Alice, had obtained a papal indult permitting them to have a portable altar, but Alice probably died before November 1412, when Ramsey was party to a settlement on their daughter, another Alice, and her husband, Sir Thomas Charles, of the manor and advowson of Kettleburgh. The Kenton estate subsequently passed to Alice Ramsey’s other daughter Anne, who married into the family of Garneys.12
Ramsey died on 22 Jan. 1419, leaving as his heirs his sons Ralph, who died in 1421, and William, who was retained by Sir Thomas Erpingham with an annuity of 20 marks.13
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. A. Suckling, Suff. i. 64; J. Copinger, Suff. Manors, iv. 295. Copinger makes Ramsey’s wife Alice the da. and h. of Sir Roger Welsham by Alice, da. and h. of Sir Robert Kenton (d.1382) and his w. Alice, but the number of Alices and generations renders this account implausible.
- 2. Norf. Official Lists ed. Le Strange, 154; H. Swinden, Yarmouth, 135, 927.
- 3. Norf. RO, Gt. Yarmouth ct. rolls, C4/95, 111, 124; CP25(1)223/107/24, 108/17; CCR, 1413-19, p. 264; CPR, 1413-16, p. 247.
- 4. CPR, 1377-81, pp. 113, 392; 1385-9, p. 543; E403/471 m. 8, 493 m. 12, 517 m. 18; CCR, 1377-81, p. 398; 1385-9, p. 568; CIMisc. v. 124.
- 5. CFR, ix. 368; x. 263; SC8/264/13167; CCR, 1381-5, p. 611; 1385-9, p. 641; Corporation of London RO, hr 112/75, 103, 105.
- 6. CPR, 1381-5, pp. 399, 479; 1385-9, p. 266; CCR, 1381-5, p. 614; 1385-9, p. 443.
- 7. CFR, x. 255; CPR, 1388-92, p. 141; CCR, 1396-9, p. 219.
- 8. CPR, 1399-1401, pp. 151, 188, 232, 336; 1401-5, p. 21; CIMisc. vii. 139, 152-4; E101/404/21, f. 45; Harl. 319, f. 46.
- 9. CPR, 1399-1401, p. 428; 1401-5, p. 159; E101/404/11.
- 10. CPR, 1401-5, pp. 340, 355, 483; 1405-8, p. 206; Cal. Signet Letters ed. Kirby, n