ROKEBY, Sir Thomas, of Rokeby and Mortham, Yorks.
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Family and Education
prob. s. and h. of Sir Thomas Rokeby (fl. 1389), ‘le neveu’, of Rokeby and Mortham. m. poss. 2s. 1da. Kntd. by Jan. 1405.1
Collector of a tax, Yorks. (N. Riding) Mar. 1401.
Sheriff, Northumb. 21 Jan.-22 Nov. 1405, Yorks. 23 Nov. 1407-15 Nov. 1408, 10 Dec. 1411-3 Nov. 1412.
Commr. of oyer and terminer, Yorks., Northumb., Cumb., Westmld. Aug. 1407 (treason and insurrection), Normandy 1417 (breaches of the truce with France);2 to make an arrest, Yorks. July 1408; of array (N. Riding) July 1410, Louviers June 1418.3
The subject of this biography was a kinsman and namesake of Sir Thomas Rokeby (d.1356), who distinguished himself both as a commander during the wars against the Scots (winning the battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346) and in Ireland, where he served for some years as a justiciar for Edward III. His loyalty was rewarded with generous grants of land in Yorkshire, Westmorland and Ireland, most of which descended to his nephew, another Sir Thomas. The latter also fought in the royal army, taking part in various campaigns in France before returning home to live quietly on the estates at Rokeby and Mortham which had belonged to his ancestors for at least 200 years. Although no direct evidence of their relationship survives, we can be reasonably sure that Sir Thomas ‘le neveu’ was the father of this MP, who first comes to notice in February 1394, when he and others (including one Christopher Rokeby) stood indicted of murder before the sheriff of Westmorland. Acting on the incitement of Sir Thomas Musgrave*, they had evidently conspired to kill—or at least maim—William Soulby*, who then occupied the manor of Knock in Long Marton, Westmorland, a property once owned by Rokeby’s family. Nothing more is heard of the affair, which clearly had little, if any, long-term effect on Thomas’s career. By May 1400, he had established a connexion with Ralph, earl of Westmorland, for whom he offered sureties as the farmer of estates confiscated from the rebel earl of Huntingdon. He and his friend, Sir Edmund Hastings*, subsequently acted together as trustees of the Lincolnshire properties of Westmorland’s son-in-law and ward, Gilbert Umfraville, so there was clearly a strong bond between them. This may have influenced his choice of sides during the Percy rebellion of 1403, although his personal attachment to the Lancastrian regime was already beyond question. Indeed, he not only occupied the shrievalty of Northumberland throughout the turbulent early months of 1405 (which saw a full-scale insurrection by Henry, earl of Northumberland), but also then assumed the status of King’s knight. In August 1405 Henry IV showed his gratitude by awarding Sir Thomas the manor of Ryton in Ryedale, Yorkshire, together with other property in and around Wrawby in Lincolnshire, all of which had been forfeited by the traitor, Sir Robert Percy. The grant brought Sir Thomas additional revenues of £36 a year, some of which he may have set aside as bail for Sir John Hothom, another rebel, whom he and Sir Edmund Hastings agreed to help at about this date. Together with Peter, Lord Mauley, they advanced securities of at least £120 so that Hothom could obtain a royal pardon, although because of an administrative blunder the Exchequer attempted to charge them twice over.4
Sir Thomas first represented Yorkshire in the Parliament of 1406, being employed at the same time to act as a parliamentary proxy for the prior of Durham. In the following year he sat on a commission for the suppression of treason throughout the north; and shortly afterwards he began a term as sheriff of Yorkshire. He had been in office for about three months when the earl of Northumberland again rose up in open rebellion against the Crown, attempting to win local support through an appeal against oppressive taxation. He and his adherents marched south to Grimbald Bridge, near Knaresborough, but Sir Thomas successfully held the passage over the river Nidd, forcing the earl to retreat towards Tadcaster. Battle was finally joined on 20 Feb. 1408 at Bramham Moor, where Sir Thomas inflicted a crushing defeat upon the insurgents. The earl was killed in the fighting, and his head dispatched for public display on London Bridge. Needless to say, Sir Thomas’s victory was promptly rewarded by King Henry with the gift of Northumberland’s manor of Spofforth in Yorkshire, and the promise that he might keep all profits to the value of £80 p.a. for the rest of his life. Two years later, in April 1410, Sir Thomas obtained permission from the King to settle the manor on trustees, so his title was effectively confirmed. He was also allowed a reduction of almost £10 in the fee farm still outstanding from his term as sheriff, ‘par consideracion des grandz labours et costages qu’il avoit sustenuz entour la resistance de la malice du conte de Northumbr’ qui mort est’. The remainder of Henry IV’s reign passed more quietly for Sir Thomas, whose attention seems to have been occupied by a series of lawsuits. He failed to recover a debt of £10 owed to him by a local man, but was, on the other hand, himself able to avoid far larger demands then being pressed by his own creditors. In November 1413 Henry V agreed to pardon a sentence of outlawry previously pronounced against him for his failure to appear in court when being sued for sums totalling £108, part of which was claimed by a London jeweller.5
In keeping with the military tradition of his family, Sir Thomas threw his full support behind Henry V’s plans for the conquest of France. He served in the retinue of John Mowbray, the Earl Marshal, who sent a special messenger to Yorkshire with orders to attend him, on 1 July 1415, at his manor of Bosham in Sussex, ready for the general muster at Southampton. Mowbray fell ill during the course of the campaign, so Sir Thomas probably fought under the royal banner at the battle of Agincourt. Attacks by French pirates on the south coast and the need to relieve Harfleur in the following year led to a retaliatory raid by the English, who managed to disperse the enemy fleet at the mouth of the Seine. Sir Thomas was reputedly one of the commanders during this exercise, which helped to free the Channel of hostile shipping. He certainly showed great enthusiasm for plans for a second expedition to France, contracting in March 1417 to serve the King for 12 months with a private retinue, which, at the time of embarkation in the following July, comprised 12 archers, three crossbowmen, three lances and a man-at-arms. In the event, he spent at least four years in the field: he was present throughout most of the siege of Rouen, which dragged on from July 1418 to January 1419; a contingent of his men were on hand at the capture of Gisors in September 1419; and in December 1420, he marched in triumph through Paris with the victorious Henry V. Some time later, in May 1423, Sir Thomas complained bitterly to the royal council that large arrears of pay still remained due to him ‘to [his] gret hynderyng and annentisyng’; and the surviving Exchequer records do, in fact, suggest that no assignments were made in his name for quite long periods. The authorities agreed to examine his accounts and settle any outstanding balance, although further delays may well have arisen. Sir Thomas’s decision to stand for Parliament again in the autumn of 1423 was probably influenced, in part at least, by his desire to gain redress. On a wider political level, however, the electors of Yorkshire were undoubtedly anxious to return a man whose military and administrative experience could prove so useful in the deliberations of the Lower House. On 21 Nov., Sir Thomas took his place on a delegation sent by the Commons to the protector, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, to express their approval of the way in which negotiations with Scotland were progressing; and it seems likely that his opinion was generally sought in matters of this kind.6
Once back in England, Sir Thomas seems to have become fairly close to Thomas Langley, bishop of Durham, one of his neighbours in the north. In November 1425, for example, he was present at Bishop Auckland when Langley granted probate of the will of Ralph, earl of Westmorland, his sometime friend and associate. Sir Thomas may also have struck up a connexion with the bishop’s chancellor and receiver-general, the influential cleric, Robert Wycliffe, since his daughter, Agnes, married the son of Wycliffe’s next heir, John Ellerton. By 1428 Sir Thomas himself held part of the Wycliffe estates in trust, perhaps on behalf of the young couple. The date of his death is not recorded, but he evidently survived to witness deeds at Newsome in 1427 and Great Burton nine years later. A Sir Thomas Rokeby is mentioned in Yorkshire as late as May 1440, so he may well have lived to enjoy a ripe old age.7
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Variants: Rokby, Rookby, Rukeby.
- 1. VCH Yorks. (N. Riding)