STAPLETON, William (d.1432), of Edenhall, Cumb.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
s. and h. of William Stapleton† (c.1336-1 Mar. 1380) of Edenhall by Mary (d. 25 Jan. 1406), da. and h. of William Ritson of Thurstonfield, wid. of Thomas Allonby (d. by Aug. 1362) of Gamelsby and Wiggonby. m. (1) a gdda. of Nicholas Vipont (d. by 1362) of Alston, 1s. William Vipont†; (2) by Oct. 1414, Mary (fl. 1443), wid. of Nicholas Vipont the younger of Alston.1
J.p. Cumb. 12 Nov. 1397-Feb. 1422.
Alnager, Cumb. 17 Oct. 1399-9 Feb. 1401.
Commr. of array, Cumb. Dec. 1399, Sept. 1403, Westmld. Apr. 1418, Cumb. Mar. 1427, Oct. 1429; to prevent the spread of treasonous rumours May 1402; of inquiry, Cumb., Lancs., Westmld., Yorks. July 1421, July 1428 (failure to render dues to St. Leonard’s hospital, York); to survey the defences of Carlisle Dec. 1421.
Collector of customs, Cumb. 16 Mar. 1401-29 Mar. 1410, Carlisle 24 Dec. 1402-1 Oct. 1405.
Escheator, Cumb. and Westmld. 8 Nov. 1401-29 Nov. 1402, Westmld. 29 Nov. 1402-12 Nov. 1403, Cumb. and Westmld. 3 Nov. 1412-10 Nov. 1413.
Collector of an aid for the marriage of Princess Philippa, Cumb. Dec. 1406.
Sheriff, Cumb. 10 Nov. 1414-1 Dec. 1415, 16 Nov. 1420-1 May 1422.
Verderer, Inglewood forest, Cumb.-d.
The Stapletons were landowners on a fairly large scale, having accumulated most of their estates by marriage from the early 14th century onwards. William’s father and namesake inherited the manor of Edenhall from his mother, Juliana Turp, and himself gained possession of the manor of Thurstonfield as well as other holdings in Stapleton, Burgh by Sands, and Longburgh, through his wife, Mary Ritson. Mary also had a life interest in her first husband’s properties in Carlisle, Gamelsby and Wiggonby, but these reverted to his descendant when she died. In addition, William Stapleton the elder owned the manor of Cargo and received rents from a number of messuages with farmland scattered over at least ten other Cumbrian villages. Understandably, in view of his widespread territorial influence, this William came to play a prominent part in local affairs. He represented Cumberland in three Parliaments, served a term as sheriff there, and from 1370 to 1376 was warden of Lochmaben castle, an important border stronghold. He also held office as King’s forester in the forest of Inglewood, which placed him in a strong position to negotiate preferential leases for himself and his family, and no doubt explains why his son and widow were subsequently favoured in this respect. He died in March 1380, having made a will in which he asked to be buried without pomp in Edenhall church. His elder son, William, the subject of this biography, seems already to have been of age, and received a bequest of armour and weapons from him.2
The widowed Mary Stapleton not only obtained the customary third of her late husband’s estates, but was also permitted by the Crown to farm the inheritance in Carlisle and elsewhere of John Levington, her young grandson by her first marriage. She was thus a woman of some consequence in her own right, and in 1387 she secured a lease of certain pasture land in Inglewood forest, together with three other closes there, all of which she and William were to occupy together at a rent of £6 14s. a year, payable at the Exchequer. Devastation by the Scots led the government to reduce this sum considerably, and Mary was also allowed to pay less for her grandson’s property in Carlisle. William Stapleton had, meanwhile, acted twice as a mainpernor for friends with their own business at the Exchequer, on the first occasion, in October 1383, being named by Richard Restwold I* as a surety for his tenancy of family estates in the south. It looks as if William was one of Restwold’s feoffees, since much later, in 1412, he released to him certain land in Kirklinton and Ivegall in Cumberland which he had previously held in trust, while at the same time receiving from him a conveyance of rents to the long-term value of £120.3 William first entered Parliament in November 1390 and was returned again five years later, once more with the same colleague, Thomas Sands. During this period he offered securities on behalf of Sir Henry Percy (‘Hotspur’) as the keeper of a lawn in Inglewood forest; and he was also confirmed by the Crown in the reversion of the tenements in Carlisle then leased by his mother. This grant was intended to compensate him for the loss of houses of his own, worth ten marks a year, which had been destroyed because of the rebuilding of the city walls. In 1396, William went bail for a local chaplain then accused of harbouring felons. One year later he himself had begun to enforce the law as a member of the Cumberland bench, although he still deemed it expedient to sue out a royal pardon in February 1398, to cover him for any past offences. Further evidence of his standing in the north-west may be found in his appointment as a ‘borgh’ or guarantor of the truce recently negotiated between England and Scotland, and in the grant to him by Richard II, in February 1399, of a licence for the enclosure of pasture land in Inglewood forest, where he may already have been employed as a verderer.4
Henry IV’s seizure of the throne in September 1399 clearly worked to William’s advantage, since within a month he was nominated to the post of alnager of Cumberland, and he soon began serving on a variety of royal commissions. He was, moreover, made farmer of four other closes in Inglewood forest, although some confusion later arose as to the validity of his title to one of them, and in 1407 he was replaced as tenant by (Sir) John Skelton*. By then the remaining three had been let out to Thomas Strickland II*, but there is no reason to suppose that William had ceased to be regarded with favour at Court. On the contrary, he attended the Parliament of January 1401, and in August of that year he was personally summoned to a great council at Westminster as one of the representatives for Cumberland. His appointment as escheator of Cumberland and Westmorland soon afterwards likewise reflects the confidence placed in him by the Lancastrian regime.5
On the death of his mother, Mary, in January 1406, William inherited the rest of the family estates, and was thus even richer when he came to represent Cumberland for the fourth time in the Parliament of 1407. We do not know the name of his first wife, or when he married her, but she must have been a grand daughter of Nicholas Vipont, an influential local landowner who had died in, or before, 1362, leaving his estates to be divided between his two daughters. She brought him land in Johnby as well as other property across the county border in the Westmorland villages of Yanwath and Kellsyke. The Viponts had at one time owned the manors of Meaburn and Newby in Westmorland, which passed into the hands of the Derbyshire landowner, Sir Richard Vernon*. On the strength of this connexion, Vernon agreed to lease the manors for ten years to Stapleton, although at some point before 1419 Roland Thornburgh* outbid him by offering 50 marks p.a. with increments. Of far more lasting importance was the fact that Stapleton could claim through his wife and their son a reversionary interest in the manors of Alston, Ellrington and Garrigill, which the Viponts held as feudal tenants of the Cliffords. For over half a century William and his ancestors had leased a coalmine at Alston from the Crown, but it had long ceased to be profitable, and the chance of building up new interests in this area was clearly not to be missed. On the death of Nicholas Vipont the younger in, or before, 1414, John, Lord Clifford, assumed control of the three manors, but when he, too, died eight years later, William immediately put forward his own title to the property. Although his claim was contested at law, he finally managed to prove that the land in question was, in fact, part of the barony of Tynedale, and thus subject to his own independent jurisdiction. He won his case in November 1424, by which time he had also gained control of the three Cumbrian manors of Blackhill, Stainton and Botcherby. These may also have come to him through his first wife, although it is possible that they belonged to Mary, the widow of Nicholas Vipont the younger, whom he married shortly before October 1414 as part of his single-minded campaign to consolidate even further his hold over the Vipont estates. It was then that Henry V granted Mary a reversionary interest in the land which William, her new husband, still rented from the Crown in Inglewood forest; and in the following year the couple were confirmed in possession of Blackhill, Stainton, and Botcherby, by Thomas Bowet’s widow, Margaret. They were subsequently pardoned for acquiring the manors without the necessary royal licence, but, notwithstanding these clear proofs of title, Margaret went back on her word, and, aided and abetted by her powerful kinsman, Thomas, Lord Dacre, attempted to disclaim her earlier release on the ground that she had been coerced. A local jury, summoned in August 1428, finally found in favour of William and Mary, so they remained securely in possession. William was less fortunate in another lawsuit brought by him during this period for the recovery of debts totalling at least 40 marks from a group of local men. He conceded defeat in 1421, when two of the defendants were pardoned the sentences of outlawry they had incurred for failing to appear in court.6
Despite all these problems, William continued to shoulder a heavy burden of administrative duties, serving twice more as escheator of Cumberland and Westmorland, and also discharging two terms as sheriff of Cumberland. He last sat in the House of Commons in March 1416, but he was later present at Carlisle for the elections to the Parliaments of 1417 and 1420 (Dec.). On the first of these occasions his son, William, was also named among the witnesses to the return; and from this point onwards he, too, became involved in local affairs. In May 1430, for example, the two men gave evidence together at the inquisition post mortem held at Penrith on the estates of (Sir) Robert Lowther*. In order to retain his hold over the hard-won Vipont inheritance and ensure that it passed intact to his descendants, Stapleton actually arranged for William to marry Nicholas Vipont’s daughter and sole heir, Margaret, who was by this point his own stepdaughter. By so doing, however, he sowed the seeds of a bitter dispute between his son and his widow, Mary, each of whom was determined to control all these estates after his death to the exclusion of the other.7
William Stapleton died on 1 July 1432, and in the following November his son took livery of his inheritance. Dower was assigned to Mary some six months later, and it was evidently at this point that the quarrel began in earnest. Matters were further complicated by the incomplete returns made by the jurors at the two inquisitions post mortem held to determine the amount of property involved. The claims of the two disputants to land not even mentioned in these documents alerted the suspicions of the authorities, who believed there had been an attempt at concealment. Two royal commissions were set up in May and June 1434 to evaluate the Stapleton estates, but both supported the original findings, and Mary was now driven to seek redress at law. In 1438 she and her third husband, Thomas Beetham, began proceedings in Chancery against William Stapleton the younger. Even allowing for exaggeration, her petition shows the deceased to have been a man of considerable wealth, with estates worth an estimated 200 marks a year and moveables to the value of at least 1,000 marks as well. Whether or not (as she claimed) he had himself shared all his lands and goods equally between her and his son on his deathbed in the hope of avoiding future discord we shall never know, but his fears that the parties would soon fall out over the division of spoils proved amply justified. William Stapleton the younger persistently refused to accept any form of arbitration, and even began harassing his stepmother with an action of waste. He may, indeed, as she alleged, have enlisted the support of the earls of Stafford and Northumberland, although in the end he was obliged to accept the award of Richard, earl of Salisbury, in the matter. In November 1438 both parties offered sureties of 1,000 marks as an earnest of their good faith. There seems to have been some delay over the final partition, as another five years passed before Mary obtained a firm and final allocation of her dower, which comprised a mere eight of the 36 properties mentioned in the late William Stapleton’s inquisition post mortem. She had, however, by then obtained permission from the Crown to settle her leases in Inglewood forest upon Thomas Beetham’s son, Roger, for life, so the Beethams did at least derive some small benefit from this difficult and troublesome alliance.8