SPERNORE, alias DURVASSALL, William (d.1401), of Spernall, Warws. and Frankley, Worcs.
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Family and Education
?yr. s. of John Durvassall (d. bef. 1349), of Spernall. m. (1) ?Alison, 2da; (2) between 1394 and 1399, Alice (d.1423), da. of Sir Alfred Sulney† of Normanton, Derbys., sis. and coh. of Sir John Sulney, wid. of Sir Robert Pipe of Seile, Leics. and of Sir Thomas Stafford†; 1s. ?illegit.
Commr. of inquiry, Staffs. Mar. 1384 (murder), Worcs., Warws., Herefs. July, Dec. 1390 (concealment of possessions of Sir John Beauchamp† of Holt), Staffs. July 1394 (wastes Kinver forest); array, Warws. Apr. 1385.
Chief steward of the estates of Thomas, earl of Warwick, by Mich. 1392-aft. Mich. 1393.1
Verderer of Feckenham forest, Worcs. bef. June 1393, c.1399-d.
The family of Durvassall had held Spernall (then known as Spernore) since the 12th century. It seems likely that William was a younger brother of Nicholas Durvassall, who was slain in 1362 leaving two daughters as his heirs. In 1378 he disputed with Nicholas’s widow, Rose, then married to Richard Montfort†, the title of the two girls to the manor, Rose alleging that the jurors at an assize of novel disseisin had been so intimidated by him that they dared not give a verdict, and that when she had afterwards petitioned Parliament about the affair and obtained a royal writ commanding her adversary to present himself before the King’s Council, he had utterly refused to obey it. Whatever the rights in the case, William managed to obtain a life interest in the manor, and from then on he adopted the surname of Spernore. His other landed holdings were somewhat limited in extent: in 1384 he purchased from Sir Richard Fitton’s† widow the manor of Frankley in Worcestershire, which her late husband had bought from Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick; and in 1392 he acquired Binton in Warwickshire.2
Spernore’s career was spent almost entirely in the employment of the earl of Warwick, from whom he held Spernall, and there can be little doubt that he owed his election to seven Parliaments to his patron’s influence in the region. In June 1373 he was mustered as one of the earl’s esquires in the contingent about to leave Sandwich under the command of John of Gaunt, for a campaign which ended in April 1374 after a gruelling march across France from Calais to Bordeaux. Three years later he was a witness at Warwick when Earl Thomas made a grant to John Daniel, another of his esquires and later his chamberlain, as a reward for good service; and when the earl was admitted to the fraternity of St. Albans abbey shortly afterwards, he and Daniel were too. In March 1383 Spernore was named with other of Warwick’s retainers as a feoffee of several of his manors in Worcestershire, in the same month obtaining at the Exchequer a lease for 45 marks a year of property previously belonging to one of the earl’s tenants. He was soon accorded a place on Earl Thomas’s council, dealing with many matters of concern to his lord. For instance, in May following he and Guy Spyne*, another of Warwick’s esquires, were involved as arbiters in the protracted dispute about ownership of the manor of Ladbroke in Tanworth, of which the earl was overlord and John Catesby*, their fellow retainer, was a principal claimant; and over the years he came to be closely associated with Sir Nicholas Lilling*, Warwick’s most trusted advisor. Both he and Lilling were mentioned, along with the ‘very honoured lord of Warwick’ in the will made in 1387 by Margaret, widow of Sir John Wiltshire, they and other Beauchamp retainers being left the remainder of her lease in Bradenham, Buckinghamshire. (Incidentally, Margaret Wiltshire also made a small bequest to one Alison Spernore, probably William’s wife.) Spernore acted on behalf of the earl as trustee of the lordship of Barcheston, and as patron of the church there in 1388 and 1390. There is no evidence that he himself profited from government patronage when Warwick, as one of the Lords Appellant, came to power in 1388, although he was able to support Catesby in his claim that the manor of Barnacle should not be forfeited as the possession of Sir John Beauchamp† of Holt, but rather should fall to him as Beauchamp’s kinsman. In 1389 he was party to transactions involving property in London, in which Alexander Besford*, one of the earl’s legal advisors, had an interest. In fact, few of Spernore’s activities at this time were not connected with Warwick or members of his circle. However, it 1391 he was present at Bredon at an affair in which Earl Thomas apparently had no concern: discussions to settle the dispute between Bishop Wakefield of Worcester and the prior of Worcester over the latter’s use of episcopal insignia.3
While serving as chief steward of the Beauchamp estates, Spernore was elected to the Winchester Parliament of 1393. He was accompanied by Sir Nicholas Lilling, whose disputes with Sir John Russell* of Strensham and John Blount II* of Sodington reached a climax during the session, leading to his arrest and imprisonment. Spernore evidently became party to the affair, for on 11 Feb., the day after the dissolution, he entered into recognizances with Sir Walter Blount*, John’s brother; and it seems likely that at the root of the trouble was a personal quarrel between the earl of Warwick and the duke of Lancaster, with the earl’s men, headed by Lilling, ranging themselves against the duke’s, of whom Sir Walter was the most prominent. Clearly, Earl Thomas now lacked influence at Court: in June Spernore, Besford and Thomas Hodyngton* (yet another of Warwick’s followers) were all removed from their posts as verderers of Feckenham forest ‘for special causes moving the King and Council’. None of this made any difference to Spernore’s loyal commitment to the earl: in 1395 he became a feoffee to Warwick’s use in the manors of Olney (Buckinghamshire) and Pattingham (Staffordshire), which Joan, widow of Ralph, Lord Basset of Drayton, had granted him in return for a payment of 200 marks a year; and he had probably already received from him for his good service a grant for life of two-thirds of the manor of Perry Barr. The accounts for 1396-7 drawn up by Warwick’s receiver-general show Spernore actively engaged in the earl’s business: receiving loans on his behalf, making journeys (for instance to Henley-in-Arden) to see to his affairs, and completing the purchase of a bay horse for his carriage. Immediately after the earl was arrested for treason, in July 1397, the goods of his principal followers (Lilling, Catesby, Spernore and Robert Walden* of Warwick), were confiscated by the Crown. Spernore was subsequently found to have in his possession at Salwarpe (Worcestershire) eight of the earl’s horses. It is likely that he was constrained for a while, at least until after sentence of imprisonment had been passed on his lord in the Parliament of September that year, and he hastened to purchase a royal pardon in the following spring.4 Warwick himself was released from captivity at Richard II’s deposition, but did not survive for long afterwards. When making settlements of his estates in February 1400 he named Spernore as one of the trustees, and in his will made on 1 Apr. following he bequeathed to him a horse.5
A few years earlier Spernore had married the wealthy widow of Sir Robert Pipe and of Sir Thomas Stafford (brother of Bishop Edmund Stafford of Exeter and of Sir Nicholas*, and father of Thomas*), thereby acquiring the manor of Seile in Leicestershire which she held for life as dower. He did not live much longer than the earl of Warwick, for he died on 10 Oct. 1401, whereupon Spernall reverted to Nicholas Durvassall’s grandson, Walter Holt, and Perry Barr was placed in the keeping of Beauchamp retainers during the minority of Earl Richard. Four years later the latter granted licence to Sir Thomas Aston* to further endow his chantry in Walsall parish church in order that prayers might be said for Spernore’s soul, in conjunction with those of Earl Thomas and his countess. Spernore’s heirs were his daughters Margaret (who married, firstly, Henry Hervyle and, secondly, William Wybbe), and Joyce (who married William Swinfen). His widow, who took as her fourth husband John, son of John Mulsho* of Northamptonshire, sought to retain Frankley for life in the face of protracted litigation. She died in 1423.6
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: L. S. Woodger
Variants: Dernassall, Dirnassall.
- 1. Egerton Roll 8470.
- 2. W. Dugdale, Warws. ii. 757, 783; Peds. Plea Rolls ed. Wrottesley, 56; VCH Warws. iii. 172-3; CPR, 1377-81, p. 131; CAD, iv. A8487; VCH Worcs. iii. 121; CCR, 1377-81, p. 117.
- 3. E101/32/39; CCR, 1381-5, pp. 409-10; CFR, ix. 357; x. 270; Med. Legal Recs. ed. Hunnisett and Post, 313, 315, 318-19; Reg. Wakefield (Worcs. Hist. Soc. n.s. vii), nos. 119, 440, 552, 680; Corporation of London RO, hr 118/50; Cott. Nero DVII, f. 129d.
- 4. CCR, 1392-6, pp. 71, 113; 1396-9, pp. 157, 162, 346, 360; CPR, 1391-6, p. 556; CIMisc. vi. 232, 298, 302; Egerton Roll 8769; CFR, xi. 227; VCH Warws. vii. 70; C67/30 m. 2.
- 5. CCR, 1399-1402, p. 113; Lambeth Pal. Lib. Reg. Arundel, i. f. 180.
- 6. J. Nichols, Leics. iii. 983-5; C137/30/3; CFR, xii. 146, 152; xv. 3; VCH Worcs. iii. 121; CPR, 1401-5, pp. 35, 89; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xvi. 46-47; Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd ms 1050. William Spernore, junior, with whom the elder William was associated in 1401, was his son (probably illegitimate). He became a retainer of Henry of Monmouth: JUST 1/1035 m. 2; CPR, 1399-1401, p. 226; 1405-8, p. 294; CCR, 1405-9, pp. 364, 367; Cat. Lyttelton Chs. ed. Jeayes, 64.