SKERNE, Robert (d.1437), of Kingston-upon-Thames, Surr.
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Family and Education
m. prob. by Aug. 1400, Joan, illegit. yr. da. of Alice Perrers (d.1400), mistress to Edw. III, poss. by William, Lord Windsor (d.1384), s.p.1
Commr. to audit the accounts of persons collecting pavage, London Oct. 1406; of sewers, Surr. Dec. 1417; to raise a royal loan Nov. 1419; of oyer and terminer July 1421; to assess a royal loan Apr. 1431.
J.p. Surr. 28 Oct. 1417-Dec. 1431.
Tax collector Surr. Jan. 1420.
It is now impossible to tell what relationship, if any, existed between this MP and the Robert Skerne of Yorkshire who served both Richard II and Henry IV as a royal clerk and often stood surety in Chancery for his friends during the two reigns. He was rewarded in 1389 with the keepership of St. Ellen’s hospital (called ‘Bracefordspittle’) in his native county, and in the same year he obtained, also from the Crown, the farm of the manor of Willoughton in Lincolnshire. Since he was still paying rent for it in November 1420, there are, perhaps, grounds for supposing that he and the subject of this biography were one and the same person, although there is no direct evidence to support such an argument, especially as it looks as if the Yorkshireman had taken holy orders.2 None the less, the MP’s marriage to Joan, the younger daughter of the notorious Alice Perrers, sometime mistress of the aged Edward III, suggests that he had some connexions at Court. Joan and her sister (who, confusingly, shared the same name) may possibly have been the children of William, Lord Windsor, born out of wedlock before he married their mother in about 1375. Neither of them possessed a secure title to any of his estates, however; and had the terms of Alice’s will of 1400 been strictly observed, Skerne’s wife would not even have been permitted to inherit the manor of Compton Murdak in Warwickshire, to which she advanced a less tenuous claim. Even so, in 1405 Skerne and Richard Metford, bishop of Salisbury, were confirmed in possession of the manor, a property bought several years before by Alice, and later granted by Richard II to his friend, Lord Windsor. Joan, whose inheritance demonstrably included some of her late mother’s least attractive characteristics, threw herself whole-heartedly into the struggle for possession of the lion’s share of her effects. From 1393, When she began a lawsuit for the recovery of goods worth £3,000 from her ‘cousin’, John Windsor, until 1418 when Skerne took seisin of her mother’s Berkshire manor of East Hanney, she had to fight a series of protracted legal battles, often against considerable odds. A compromise with her sister over the ownership of property in Upminster, Essex, effected in 1406, brought her an annuity of 4 marks payable for life, and she and Skerne (whose legal training must have proved invaluable) were eventually able to reassert her title to some of the holdings purchased by Alice Perrers in Oxford. After his wife’s death, which had taken place by January 1431, Skerne was admitted into the fraternity of Osney abbey in return for the gift of one of these messuages, and arrangements were made for prayers to be said in memory of his late wife.3
Skerne’s estates in Surrey, which were said to produce £10 a year in 1412, seem to have been his own rather than his wife’s. He held a capital messuage called ‘Downhall’ in Guildford which belonged to Merton college, Oxford, and he also possessed lands and rents in Kingston-upon-Thames and Thames Ditton, as well as the manor of Freemantles. His title to property in Windlesham and Bagshot is rather more ambiguous, since his interest may well have been merely that of a feoffee-to-uses for Robert Loxley’s* son, William. Skerne also enjoyed an annual income of £10 from land in Hampshire, but we do not know where this was situated.4
Most of the surviving evidence about Skerne concerns his property rather than his private affairs, and comparatively little is known about his other interests. His relative obscurity is all the more surprising in view of the fact that he was a lawyer practicing so near to Westminster, although he evidently enjoyed the esteem of his contemporaries. If, as has been assumed, he and Robert Skerne of Yorkshire were two different people, he first appears professionally in November 1401 as an attorney at the Guildford assizes. Six years later he and Thomas Charlton acted as trustees for property in London; and at a much later date Charlton’s son, Thomas* (his colleague in the Parliament of 1422) engaged his services in the same capacity, thus bringing him into contact with the influential Middlesex landowner, Thomas Frowyk* (who also sat on this occasion).5 Skerne often performed the duties of a feoffee, having interests in property as far afield as Somerset and Warickshire, as well as in the Sussex estates of Thomas Poynings, Lord St. John of Basing (a trust which he shared with Henry, earl of Northumberland) and various holdings in London and the home counties. In the summer of 1423 the affluent city merchant, Walter Gawtron*, and others arraigned Skerne on an assize of novel disseisin at Guildford, but the action was almost certainly collusive.6
Skerne evidently retired from public life in 1431 after his admission into the fraternity of Osney abbey and his removal from the local bench, on which he had served for over 14 years. He was among the gentry of Surrey who, in May 1434, were required to take the general oath not to maintain persons breaking the peace; and in June 1435 he witnessed deeds at Southwark.7 Skerne died on 9 Apr. 1437. He was buried beside his wife at All Saints’ church, Kingston-upon-Thames, and was commemorated by a memorial brass of particular distinction, which draws attention to his manifold qualities as a public figure. His nephew and heir, William Skerne, subsequently founded a chantry dedicated to him, his wife and other members of the Skerne family.8.
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Variants: Skiern, Skyerne.
- 1. VCH Berks. iii. 288; VCH Essex, vii. 149; VCH Warws. v. 58-59; W. Dugdale, Warws. i. 564-5; DNB, xv. 898-9; Surr. Arch. Colls. xxix. 104-5; Oxf. Hist. Soc. xc. 398-9; CCR, 1402-5, p. 486; 1405-9, pp.39, 168-9, 227. The problems of Joan Skerne’s parentage and the difficulties of distinguishing her from her elder sister and namesake are discussed in CP, xii (2), 879-80.
- 2. CCR, 1385-9, p. 102; 1389-92, p. 89; 1392-6, p. 131; 1396-9, p. 115; 1405-9, pp. 114, 291; CPR, 1388-92, pp. 19, 207; CFR, x. 138; PPC, i. 193; Yr. Bk. 1387-8 ed. Thornley, pp. xxxix-xl, 223-8; E401/647, 722.
- 3. VCH Berks. iii. 288; VCH Essex, vii. 149; VCH Warws. v. 58-59; Dugdale, i. 564-5; Surr. Arch. Colls. xxix. 104-5; Essex Feet of Fines, iii. 247; Oxf. Hist. Soc. xc. 234, 398-400; CCR, 1392-6, pp. 48-49; 1402-5, p. 486; 1405-9, pp. 39, 168-9, 227; CPR, 1436-41, p. 73.
- 4. Feudal Aids, vi. 518; CCR, 1409-13, p. 99; 1435-41, pp. 42, 123; VCH Surr. iii. 492; O. Manning and W. Bray, Surr. iii. pp. clxi, 83.
- 5. JUST 1/1512 rot. 64v; CCR, 1405-9, p. 268; 1422-9, p. 382; 1429-35, p. 124.
- 6. HMC Wells, i. 506; Suss. Rec. Soc. xxiii. 240; CCR, 1422-9, pp. 77, 258; CPR, 1405-8, p. 97; Cal. P. and M. London, 1413-37, p. 215; JUST 1/1534 rot. 3v, 1538 rot. 4v.
- 7. CPR, 1429-36, p. 380; CCR, 1409-13, pp. 344-5.
- 8. Surr. Arch. Colls. viii. 61-62; xxix. 103-4; CPR, 1452-61, p. 499.