STAFFORD, Sir Nicholas (1331-94), of Throwley, Staffs.
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Family and Education
Sheriff, Staffs. 12 Dec. 1372-7 Nov. 1373, 4 Oct. 1375-26 Oct. 1376.
Commr. of inquiry, Salop Feb. 1376, Staffs. June, Nov. 1382, Feb., Mar. 1383, Staffs., Warws. Apr. 1391 (illegal trading practices); to make an arrest, Staffs. May 1376; put down the insurgents of 1381, Mar., Dec. 1382; of array Apr. 1385, Mar. 1392; oyer and terminer, Salop Mar., May 1386 (withdrawal of labour services), Staffs. July 1388 (disturbances at Lichfield), Worcs. May 1391, Mar. 1392 (attacks on the King’s tenants); gaol delivery, Staffs. Sept. 1392.
J.p. Staffs. 2 July 1377-May 1380, 20 Aug. 1380-d.
Assessor of a tax, Staffs. Aug. 1379; collector Dec. 1384.
Chief steward of the estates of the earls of Stafford by Mich. 1383-aft. Mich. 1391.2
As an illegitimate son of the influential soldier and administrator, Sir Richard (later Lord) Stafford, the subject of this biography was initially intended for the Church; and in October 1349, when he was but 18 years old, he received a papal dispensation to hold his first benefice, notwithstanding the circumstances of his birth. The prospect of an extremely lucrative marriage appears to have terminated his ecclesiastical career before it had fairly begun, since by Michaelmas 1353 he had taken possession of the extensive estates inherited by his young wife, Elizabeth, only daughter and heir of the late Thomas Meverel.3 The latter was lord of the Staffordshire manors of Throwley (where Sir Nicholas made his home and in 1360 obtained permission to set up a private oratory) and Fradswell, besides owning farmland in and around Ilam in the same county. Other property, centred largely upon Tideswell, Wormhill and Spondon in Derbyshire, as well as the bailiwick of the forestership of the High Peak, came to Elizabeth through her kinsmen, the Daniels, and in February 1378 she and Sir Nicholas had the early evidence concerning these manors inspected and confirmed in Chancery. It was to his half-brother, Edmund Stafford, the future bishop of Exeter and chancellor of England, that Sir Nicholas subsequently conveyed his wife’s principal estates as a means of securing their joint title. Over the years, the couple brought a number of lawsuits against persons who had either infringed their property rights or had retained muniments without just cause. Their litigation shows that they also held land in Sutton and Amberley, Herefordshire, and in various other parts of Staffordshire, such as Maer, Alstonfield, Tillington, Narrowdale and Norton-under-Cannock. How far the conveyances of 1389 by which they acquired the manor of Astwood in Worcestershire and land around Temple Grafton, Warwickshire, were collusive remains open to speculation, because they leased out the property at no more than a token rent as soon as they acquired it.4
Although a notable landowner in his own right, Sir Nicholas owed much of his success to powerful family connexions, which must certainly account, in part at least, for his unusually advantageous marriage. His father, one of the most eminent figures in 14th-century Staffordshire, was the younger brother of Ralph, Lord Stafford, who received an earldom in 1351 after many years of loyal service to the Crown at Court and on the battlefield. Like many other members of the house of Stafford, Sir Nicholas prospered as a captain in the Hundred Years’ War, and a good deal of his early life was spent abroad. In June 1355 he and his father obtained royal letters of protection pending their departure for France in the Black Prince’s retinue, and were again offered the same privilege in the following February. Sir Nicholas probably received his knighthood at this time, perhaps at the battle of Poitiers, where he is said to have fought. By February 1362 he had crossed to Ireland with the King’s son, Lionel, earl of Ulster, and on the re-opening of hostilities with France in 1369 he returned to campaign with the Black Prince in Aquitaine, this time in the service of John Hastings, the young earl of Pembroke. He could not have left England at a more convenient time, since the process of outlawry then being brought to bear against him and certain others charged with offences against the property and person of Sir Robert Staunton was suspended and eventually forgotten.5
From 1372 onwards, Sir Nicholas spent most of his time in England, concerning himself increasingly with the administration of the estates of Hugh, earl of Stafford (who succeeded to the title in that year), and with the business of local government. The 1370s proved to be a period of great significance in his life, for within less than a decade he served twice as sheriff of Staffordshire, began a term of almost 17 years’ service on the local bench, was appointed to the first of several important royal commissions and sat in at least three Parliaments. Whether or not his return as a shire knight was initially effected through family influence cannot now be determined; but both his cousin, Hugh, second earl of Stafford, and his father (who was himself a parliamentary peer from 1371 onwards) were members of Richard II’s council, and would certainly have welcomed support when the Commons as a whole was voicing such stringent criticisms of government policy. Sir Nicholas’s association with the earl was, moreover, so close that his standing in the local community cannot but have risen accordingly. In 1373 and 1386 Hugh gave his cousin power of attorney to act for him in England while he was abroad; and in 1374 and again in 1378, Sir Nicholas assumed similar responsibilities regarding his kinsman’s interests in Ireland. He was rewarded by him in May 1376 with a grant of land in the Staffordshire villages of Tillington, Norton in the Moors and Gretton, to be held for life at a very low rent.6 Having thus established himself in a position of trust, Sir Nicholas was called upon by the earl to act not only as a councillor and feoffee-to-uses, but also as his chief executor, a task of great importance and responsibility in view of the fact that the next heir, who succeeded in 1386, was still a minor.7 The earl’s choice could hardly have fallen upon a more suitable person, since from 1383, if not before, Sir Nicholas had held office as chief steward of the Stafford estates at an annual fee of £26 13s.4d. Over the years he played a leading part in many important items of family business, as in June 1383 when he was instrumental in obtaining a papal dispensation for the marriage within the three prohibited degrees of one of the earl’s daughters. By this date Sir Nicholas had taken his cousin’s young sons into his own household as boarders, and it is interesting to note that although he does not himself appear to have been returned to the Parliament which met at Salisbury in April 1384, he was then present in the city with his charges. In January 1386 and again in February 1387 he stood surety for the farmers to whom the keeping of the Stafford estates was entrusted. The marriage between the earl of Kent’s son and Earl Hugh’s other daughter, Joan, was understandably a matter of great concern to Sir Nicholas, who had by February 1393 given and received joint recognizances in massive sums totalling 11,000 marks as a guarantee that both parties would abide by the settlement, and thus, it was hoped, terminate a longstanding feud between their two families. The death of Thomas, 3rd earl of Stafford, in 1392, brought Sir Nicholas further responsibilities, not least being the allocation of dower properties to his widow, Anne. Throughout this period he was also involved in the day-to-day administration of estates worth an estimated £3,000 a year, having access in his capacity as chief steward to considerable reserves of patronage, particularly in the north Midlands.8
Comparatively little is known of Sir Nicholas’s more personal affairs, perhaps because his preoccupation with local politics and the running of the Stafford estates gave him so little time to pursue his own interests. The surviving evidence underlines the importance, from an early date, of his position in county society. Between 1375 and 1378, for example, he was chosen to arbitrate in two property disputes between his fellow shire knight, Sir Adam Peshale*, and his neighbours, besides being made proctor of the churches of the High Peak, an office held during the 14th century by the most prominent landowners in the area.9 In November 1381 he became keeper of the Staffordshire manor of Wrottesley during the minority of the young heir, whose wardship had been under dispute for some time. Two years later, Sir Nicholas and other influential local figures, such as Thomas Foljambe*, obtained confirmation of a royal licence, granted some 18 years before, for the foundation of a chantry at Tideswell parish church, and part of his wife’s estates were used to finance the undertaking. The Staffords retained a close interest in this part of Elizabeth’s inheritance, being granted permission by the Crown, in July 1393, to hold a weekly market and an annual fair at Tideswell. We do not know precisely when the couple were admitted to the Holy Trinity guild at Coventry, but their acceptance as members of this powerful fraternity shows how highly they were regarded by the merchant community.10 Sir Nicholas occasionally acted as a mainpernor for friends and associates, such as Sir William Bagot*, Sir Thomas Arden, his kinsman by marriage, John Mawbrede, the prior of Wotton, and Margaret, the widow of Sir Rhys ap Gruffyd (and wife of William Walsall*, another of his parliamentary colleagues), in whose financial dealings he played a more protracted and significant part. At various other times Sir Nicholas was caught up in the transactions of the Ferrers family; and he was also empowered to act as an attorney for Sir Thomas Aston* (with whom he was returned in January 1380), and one Master Richard Tyseo.11
Sir Nicholas received a general pardon from the Crown in June 1393, although the suggestion that this was issued to him because of the Staffords’ feud with the earl of Kent and his family (the Holands) seems unlikely in view of their somewhat earlier rapprochement. He died in, or just after, the spring of 1394, since his name disappears from the Staffordshire bench in the following June, and no more is heard of him after this date. He left no children, being survived only by his widow, Elizabeth, who lived on for another ten years at least.12
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xi. 189; xii. 123-4, 167; xiii. 176; Staffs. Parl. Hist. i (Wm. Salt. Arch. Soc.), 82-85, 118-19.
- 2. Staffs. RO, D641/1/2/1 m. 4d, 4 m. 3.
- 3. CPL, iii. 352; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xii. 123-4.
- 4. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xi. 189, 207; xii. 123-4, 138-9; xiii. 13, 19, 65, 67 (bis ), 93, 116, 166, 176, 189, 193; xv. 10, 18, 48, 60, 63; n.s. viii. 8, 33, 65; Derbys. Chs. ed. Jeayes, nos. 2184-5, 2355; CPR, 1377-81, p. 109; Warws. Feet of Fines (Dugdale Soc. xviii), 2317-18.
- 5. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. viii. 99, 104, 111; n.s. vi (pt. 2), pp. 177-8; Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ed. Carte, i. 136, 156; CPR, 1367-70, p. 204; CCR, 1369-74, pp. 78-79.
- 6. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. viii. 116; xiv. 244; CPR, 1370-4, pp. 273, 454-5; 1377-81, p. 141; Staffs. RO, D1721/1/1 ff. 68-69, 289.
- 7. CIPM, xv. nos. 451, 453; VCH Staffs. v. 139; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xiii. 203; xv. 9, 17, 27; n.s. viii. 144; Peds. Plea Rolls ed. Wrottesley, 176; CPR, 1377-81, p. 219; Staffs. RO, D1721/1/1 ff. 85-90, 93, 104, 268-9.
- 8. Staffs. RO, D641/1/2/1 m. 4d, 4 mm. 3, 5, 5 m. 2; CCR, 1389-92, p. 563; 1392-6, pp. 39, 111, 272; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. x. 167-8, 173.
- 9. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. n.s. ii. 58, 88, vi (pt. 2), p. 148; VCH Staffs. iii. 155.
- 10. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. n.s. vi (pt. 2), pp. 177, 180-1; CPR, 1364-7, p. 126; 1381-5, p. 338; Derbys. Chs. nos. 2354, 2357; CChR, v. 337; Reg. Holy Trinity Guild Coventry (Dugdale Soc. xiii), 52.
- 11. CCR, 1374-7, p. 526; 1381-5, p. 112; 1389-92, p. 515; CFR, ix. 29, 78; x. 110, 315; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xiv. 149, 151, 229.
- 12. CPR, 1391-6, pp. 297, 437; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xv. 77, 92; xvi. 44; Staffs Parl. Hist. 119. The Great Cartulary of the Stafford family, compiled in the mid 16th century, contains a copy of his monumental inscription, which gives his death date as 1394 (Staffs. RO, D1721/1/1 f. 140).