ROUCLIFFE, Sir David (d.1406), of Pickering, Yorks.

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



Sept. 1397

Family and Education

s. and h. of Sir Richard Roucliffe (c.1321-1393) of Pickering by Elizabeth, da. of Sir Adam Everingham of Laxton. m. by Mar. 1393, Margery Hesill (fl. 1409), s.p. Kntd. by 1382.1

Offices Held

Commr. of inquiry, Yorks. Feb., Dec. 1391 (goods of John Lokton), Aug. 1406 (wastes at Whitby hospital); to make arrests Dec. 1392, July 1403 (rebels and traitors); of array (N. Riding) Dec. 1399, (W. Riding) Aug. 1403.

Constable, steward and master forester of Pickering in the duchy of Lancaster 1393-d.; rider and porter of Pickering castle c.1400-d.2

J.p. Yorks. (E. Riding) 18 Dec. 1405-d.


Sir David and his brother, Sir Richard, were, like their father before them, loyal and committed servants of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster. Sir Richard Roucliffe the elder had gained valuable military experience fighting against the Scots and the French; and from 1374 onwards he was employed by Gaunt first as master forester and then also as constable and steward of the important duchy of Lancaster honour of Pickering. The Roucliffes’ own estates lay in this part of Yorkshire, so their connexions with the duchy were indeed strong. Besides the land and tenements which they occupied in Pickering itself, they could also rely on about £10 p.a. in rents from Thornthorpe, but their landed income was fairly modest, and they were thus all the more reliant on Gaunt’s patronage. By 1382, if not before, ‘Monsire David Rocclif’ had joined his father and brother as a member of the ducal retinue; and two years later he and the elder Sir Richard together marched north on Richard II’s ill-fated expedition against the Scots, probably serving directly under Gaunt’s command. Both men gave evidence in June 1386 on behalf of Richard, Lord Scrope, in his celebrated dispute with Sir Robert Grosvenor over the right to bear the same coat of arms, but whereas Sir Richard remained in Pickering to perform his official duties, his son was then preparing to sail from Plymouth to Spain with the duke. Gaunt’s attempt to secure for himself the throne of Castile ended in failure, although Sir David was duly rewarded for his part in the venture. He initially drew a fee of £20 p.a., conveniently charged upon the revenues of Pickering; and on his marriage, in March 1393, to Margery Hesill, one of the duchess’s ladies-in-waiting, the sum was doubled. Margery already received a more modest annuity of £3 6s.8d., which she continued to enjoy for the rest of her married life, along with the promise of a pension worth £10 p.a. should she be left a widow.

The elder Sir Richard’s death, shortly before the following December, led to a further improvement in our Member’s material circumstances, for he not only inherited the family estates, but also succeeded to his father’s three duchy offices, which now lay vacant. Besides greatly increasing the influence which he was able to exercise in the local community, this appointment brought him additional wages of almost £14 p.a., over and above the other gifts and perquisites which he could confidently expect to enjoy. Sir David owed his promotion to Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, who had by then been allocated the honour of Pickering to support his own household, although he still remained close to the duke, as can be seen by the grant of yet another annuity, this time to the value of 40 marks, which Lancaster made to him not long afterwards.3

It was in September 1397, when Richard II stood poised to take his revenge upon the chief Lords Appellant of 1388, that Sir David served for the first and only time as a shire knight. Bolingbroke, who had himself been one of the junior Appellants, supported the King, as did his father. Both of them had recently been granted a special royal licence to assemble large retinues in anticipation of the Parliament; and it is quite possible that Roucliffe joined one or other of them on the way to Westminster. Bolingbroke was rewarded for his loyal support with the dukedom of Hereford at the end of the first session of Parliament. In the second, at Shrewsbury, in January 1398, however, he found himself in serious trouble as a result of his decision to reveal certain treasonable remarks made to him in confidence by Thomas Mowbray, another of the junior Lords Appellant (recently promoted duke of Norfolk). In a remarkable volte face, Richard II decided to seize this opportunity of ruining both men. He contrived to have the affair settled by the court of chivalry; and in the upshot Bolingbroke as well as Mowbray was sentenced to exile. Moreover, when Gaunt died, in February 1399, the King not only extended Bolingbroke’s term of banishment from ten years to life, but deprived him of his right to inherit the duchy of Lancaster (a right previously safeguarded by legal guarantees). This confiscation now made Sir David himself directly vulnerable to any further political repercussions, so it must have been with considerable relief that, on 2 Apr. 1399, he obtained royal letters patent confirming him in all his many Lancastrian fees and offices. King Richard’s efforts to win over Bolingbroke’s supporters may have succeeded in the short term, yet when Henry landed at Ravenspur, in July, he received an enthusiastic welcome from his old retainers, and soon found himself in a strong position not merely to recover his inheritance, but to seize the throne itself.

Sir David naturally benefited from the Lancastrian coup d’état, for as well as allowing him to enjoy all the grants he and his wife had previously received, Henry IV also made him a King’s knight with additional fees from the occupation of two other offices at Pickering castle. Furthermore, in the spring of 1403, his wages there were increased as a special mark of royal favour.4 Sir David could, of course, be relied upon to take up arms against the rebellious Percys shortly afterwards (even though he had acted some years before as a mainpernor for Sir Henry Percy, ‘Hotspur’, who now met his death at the battle of Shrewsbury). But he had no scruples about exploiting his authority as a royal commissioner for the arrest of suspects by paying off old scores and commandeering property for his own use. A sternly worded royal letter of August 1403, for example, took him to task for fabricating charges of treason against a local man, so that he might make off with a flock of 250 sheep; and he was threatened with judicial proceedings in the event of further misdemeanours. Even so, his services to the Lancastrian cause were considerable, and in August 1405 King Henry once again rewarded him, this time with rents of £23 p.a. from the Yorkshire manor of Levisham which had been forfeited by the traitor, Thomas Percy, earl of Worcester, brother of the earl of Northumberland. This was followed soon after by the gift of a fishery in Pickering forest, although in both cases Sir David found it difficult to make good his title. Levisham, being over-valued, had failed to produce the anticipated amount, while the fishery was claimed by Sir Edmund Hastings*, who alleged that the King had awarded it to him first. Henry IV was prepared to make Sir David a grant for life of the manor itself in compensation for his losses, but the ownership of the fishery proved a more difficult problem, and judicial proceedings were still in progress when Sir David died, suddenly, on 20 June 1406.5

Sir David was buried in a splendid alabaster tomb in the south chapel of Pickering church. His widow, Margery, who lived on until 1409, at least, was eventually buried beside him; and both are represented in effigy as wearing the ‘SS’ collar of the Lancastrian livery. The couple left no children, so the Roucliffe estates passed to Sir David’s sister and next heir, Maud, the wife of William Lascelles.6

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


Variants: Rawcliffe, Roclyf, Rowclyf.

  • 1. Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 65; ii. 215; VCH Yorks. (N. Riding), ii. 465; CPR, 1396-9, pp. 500-1; DL28/27/3; Reg. Gaunt 1379-83, p. 9.
  • 2. Somerville, Duchy, i. 378, 533.
  • 3. Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 65; ii. 215; Reg. Gaunt 1379-83, p. 9; DL42/15, ff. 101-101v; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. lix. 59; CPR, 1396-9, pp. 500-1.
  • 4. CPR, 1396-9, pp. 500-1; 1399-1401, pp. 45, 61; 1401-5, p. 15; CCR, 1396-9, pp. 443-4; 1399-1402, p. 9; 1402-5, pp. 65-66; VCH Yorks. (N. Riding), ii. 465; DL42/15, ff. 27v, 101-101v, 169v.
  • 5. CFR, xi. 5; CCR, 1402-5, p. 106; 1405-9, pp. 297-8; CPR, 1405-8, p. 50; DL42/16(3), f. 31.
  • 6. Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. lix. 59; VCH Yorks. (N. Riding), ii. 473; DL28/27/3; DL42/16 (3), f. 98.