SHELLEY, Thomas (exec.1400), of Aylesbury and Great Missenden, Bucks.
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Family and Education
m. bef. Feb. 1396, Juliana (d. 25 Aug. 1407), wid. of Sir Edmund Missenden* of Great Missenden, s.p. Kntd. between Apr. and Dec. 1399.
Warden of the stannaries, Cornw. 10 Dec. 1397-d.1
Commr. of weirs, Bucks. June 1398.
Duchy steward in Cornw. 23 Aug. 1398-29 Sept. 1399.
Nothing is known about Shelley’s family background, but it seems likely that he was of humble origin, for none of his landed holdings were acquired by inheritance. Undoubtedly, he mostly owed the spectacular rise in his fortunes (on which the St. Albans’ chronicler Thomas Walsingham was afterwards to comment), to John Holand, earl of Huntingdon, the younger of the two half-brothers of Richard II. He was retained by the earl before February 1395, when he took out royal letters of protection as about to join the King in Ireland as a member of Holand’s company; and, thereafter, he is nearly always recorded in association with his patron. Before long, he became steward of Holand’s household, a post which gave him a prominent place in his closest counsels. In December following he had to find sureties in Chancery in a suit for debt brought against him by a London grocer, and it is of interest to note that one of his mainpernors came from the West Country, where Huntingdon had considerable interests.2 Two others came from Buckinghamshire, so it may well be that Shelley had already contracted marriage with the widowed Juliana Missenden. Certainly, only three months later, in February 1396, two London fishmongers, William Brampton I* and William Askham*, joined with John Pasford* (a Devonshire lawyer retained by the earl of Huntingdon) and Richard Shelley, clerk (probably Thomas’s brother of this name) in entering into a bond in £200 serving as a guarantee that he and his wife would acquit and discharge Sir Bernard Brocas’s* executors and heirs of any claim to 200 marks—the sum in which Brocas and Juliana had been bound in the Exchequer for the wardship of the Missenden manor of Farley Chamberlayne (Hampshire) and the marriage of her son Bernard, the heir to the Missenden estates. It took Shelley and his wife nearly two years, however, to establish in the courts her right to legal possession of all her late husband’s estates; but the effort was clearly worthwhile, for the lands in Buckinghamshire and Lincolnshire alone were estimated to be worth £100 a year. Nor did Shelley hesitate to exploit the property to the utmost: for instance, he promptly sold off timber worth £42 13s.4d.3
During the same year as he made this lucrative match, Shelley became one of the King’s esquires, being described as such when, in October 1396, he was granted up to £40 from the forfeited goods and chattels of a man from Topsham, Devon, after Robert Cary* and John Verdon (fellows of his in the earl of Huntingdon’s retinue) had first taken £20 each. His two elections to Parliament for Buckinghamshire in 1397 probably owed a great deal to his connexion with Holand, for as yet his tenure of the Missenden estates in the county, destined to provide him with a territorial stake there, was still subject to judicial review. During the first session of the Parliament summoned for September 1397, the earl was created duke of Exeter in acknowledegment of his role as one of the noblemen who then helped the King secure judgement against the principal Lords Appellant of 1387-8. A reward for Shelley’s support in the Commons came in December following, during the parliamentary recess, with his appointment as warden of the stannaries in Cornwall. According to later accounts, he was also put in charge of Thomas Fitzalan, the son and heir of Richard, earl of Arundel, when, following the latter’s execution, Thomas was kept first in Holand’s own house, and then in the forfeited Fitzalan castle at Reigate (Surrey) after the duke had secured it for himself. There is ample evidence to show that Shelley was in close contact with the newly created duke at all times. Earlier on, he had been Holand’s co-feoffee of an estate in Wiltshire; and he was now (in December 1397) linked with him and Thomas Percy (created earl of Worcester during the same first session of the Parliament) as plaintiffs in a special assize regarding property in Suffolk. Furthermore, Shelley now made his lord a feoffee-to-uses of the Missenden estates in Lincolnshire.
Evidently, Holand’s retainers formed a close-knit group: in May 1398 Shelley joined with Robert Cary in providing pledges for the good behaviour of Sir Henry Hussey*, a new recruit to the ducal retinue from the Fitzalan lordships in Sussex; in March 1399 he appeared as a surety for John Pasford’s release from imprisonment by the civic authorities in London; and, at some unknown date, Richard Spicer* alias Newport of Plymouth, a fellow member of Holand’s council, had him join the duke as a co-trustee of all his lands and goods. It may well have been on Exeter’s recommendation that in the meantime, in August 1398, Shelley was granted by the King for life the important office of steward of Cornwall. A further sign of his enhanced status was his inclusion, probably towards the end of the same year, among the feoffees of the estates of Richard Basset, alleged heir of Sir Ralph Basset of Weldon, one of his colleagues being Edward, duke of Aumâle, another of the appellants of 1397. Not surprisingly, Shelley was in Holand’s retinue when the latter accompanied his royal half-brother on his second expedition to Ireland, in the spring of 1399. At embarkation he was still an esquire, but apparently won his spurs while in the province.4
Shelley was highly acquisitive of property, and completely unscrupulous as to the means he employed to achieve his ends. Often he made use of Holand’s influence, as when they acted in conjunction to obtain certain lands and tenements in Barford St. Martin, Wiltshire, or when Holand, having wrongfully intruded his retainer into the manor of Westbury in Shenley (Buckinghamshire), unlawfully maintained him in possession. It would appear that Shelley was acting on his own when he persuaded Anne, wife of James Butler, earl of Ormond, to grant him the manor of Aylesbury for three years from February 1397, without her husband’s consent and during his absence in Ireland. But when, using devious means, he acquired the Cornish manor of Trelaske, it was yet again with his patron’s support that he did so (the earl being powerful in that region). Altogether Shelley amassed, in quite a short period in the 1390s, estates worth at least £50 a year. These also included a ‘great messuage’ with a garden near Charing Cross (Middlesex), together with a number of properties in London; and in Kent, he possessed ‘of his own perquisition’ (although it was later alleged that he had ejected the rightful owner), the manors of Capel, Mardol and Maplehurst. Further evidence of shady dealings on his part is revealed by a report made after his death that, instigated by certain enemies of William Wimbledon of Surrey, he had caused the latter to be arrested in London, impleaded for a debt of £100, and falsely condemned. Admittedly, when on passage to Ireland in 1399, Shelley remembered this act of oppression and sealed a deed of quitclaim of all personal actions against the man he had so wronged. Even so, it was only when he was about to be condemned to death for treason that, for the relief of his conscience, he gave instructions for the deed to be delivered to William Wimbledon, at the same time notifying the treasurer of the Exchequer that the charges he had made against him were false.5
For Shelley, the deposition of Richard II was an unmitigated disaster. His fortunes, accumulated so recently and often by illegal means, he could hardly hope to preserve. At Michaelmas 1399, no longer ‘set full hye in pride’, he was replaced as steward of Cornwall by one of Henry of Bolingbroke’s supporters, and ousted from Aylesbury by the newly returned earl of Ormond. His master, the duke of Exeter, was imprisoned for a while, and then, during Henry IV’s first Parliament, demoted to his former status as earl. Heavily aggrieved, Holand and the earls of Kent (his nephew) and Salisbury, together with Lord Despenser, plotted to seize the King at Windsor during a Twelfth Night mumming and to restore Richard II, who ever since his abdication had been kept in close confinement. The details of the plot and its consequences—how the King was warned in time, how the forces of Kent, Salisbury and Despenser were scattered and driven into the West Country with their leaders, who were lynched by the mobs of Cirencester and Bristol—are all well known. On the collapse of the conspiracy, Huntingdon, who had remained in London with Shelley and Hugh Cade, his butler, deemed it prudent to leave the capital with all speed. Intending to get away to France, they took ship in the Thames, but luck was against them, and the January storms drove their vessel on to the Essex shore of the estuary. There, the fugitives sought help from the earl of Oxford at Hadleigh castle, but finding themselves unwelcome, were forced to hide in a mill and were finally discovered at Prittlewell, while at dinner, and at once (probably on 9 Jan.) taken to Pleshey castle, the seat of Joan de Bohun, countess of Hereford. The countess, as sister of Richard, earl of Arundel, in whose execution Huntingdon had connived, and of whose forfeited estates he had been principal beneficiary, and as mother-in-law of Thomas, duke of Gloucester, whose murder by his nephew Richard II had been allegedly counselled by the earl, had little reason to show mercy to him. She gave way to the demands of the local people—until recently Gloucester’s tenants—that he should be executed; and while kneeling at prayer with Shelley he was suddenly ordered to prepare himself for death, led out, and clumsily beheaded on the very spot where Gloucester had been arrested in July 1397. His henchman, Shelley, was taken bound on a horse to London on 19 Jan., in a procession headed by minstrels and trumpeters employed by the countess’s nephew, Thomas, the restored earl of Arundel (he whom Shelley had badly treated in his custody at Reigate). Brought to trial for treason at Newgate on the 27th, he was forthwith drawn and hanged at Tyburn on the very same day, along with the rebellious priests, Richard Maudeleyn and William Ferriby.6
Forfeiture of Shelley’s lands and goods automatically followed. Even before his death, a man had been pardoned for having, on 12 Jan., broken into his closes at Aylesbury and stolen six of his oxen. Distribution of his property among the new King’s followers went on until the end of 1403, but so late as 1434 inquiries were still being held into concealment and waste of his Kentish lands. The lists of his goods reveal Shelley to have been a man who dressed ostentatiously, and spent extravagantly on clothes and jewellery: one item alone—an ornamented glove embroidered with precious stones—was worth £20, and besides there were robes trimmed with fur, gowns made from expensive green fabric and a doublet of red velvet. Among his possessions were bowls of silver gilt engraved with his shield of arms (‘argent a less and three scallops sable’), solid silver pieces together weighing more than 29 pounds 4 ounces, and a gold chalice weighing 23 ounces—items considered worthy to grace the table of the King’s son, Henry, prince of Wales.7
Within nine months of his death Shelley’s widow had successfully petitioned for recovery of the Missenden estates in Buckinghamshire and Lincolnshire, which she held as jointure and in dower. Shelley left no issue, his nearest relation being his brother Richard, a clergyman, who, perhaps not surprisingly in the circumstances, made no attempt to take possession of those properties Sir Thomas had acquired at the peak of his career.