STOURTON, William (d.1413), of Stourton, Wilts.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of John Stourton of Stourton, prob. by his 1st w. Lettice; half-bro. of John I*. m. by 1398, Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Sir John Moigne* of Owermoigne, Dorset, by Joan, da. and h. of John Belvale, 1s. John Stourton II*, 1da.
Commr. of oyer and terminer, Wilts. Mar., Dec. 1382, Bristol May 1400, Som. Apr. 1401, Hants, Wilts., Som., Dorset July 1401, Som. Nov. 1401, Wilts. June 1409, Som. Feb. 1410, an appeal against a judgement in the ct. of chivalry, Apr. 1412; inquiry, Hants Feb. 1392 (title to property at Nether Burgate), Som. Mar. 1393 (lands of Peter Bratton), June 1397 (lands of John Payn), Wilts. Nov. 1399 (wastes at Old Sarum castle), Bristol, Som., Devon, Cornw. Dec. 1399, May 1400 (smuggling and concealments), Som. Nov. 1400 (assaults), Bristol July 1401 (treasons), Som. Nov. 1401 (forgery), I.o.W. Feb. 1402 (concealments), Bristol Aug. 1402 (treasons), Wilts. Apr. 1403 (wastes at Marlborough castle), Som. Apr. 1403 (poaching), Wilts. May 1403 (rights of Sir John Cornwall and Elizabeth of Lancaster), Dorset, Oct. 1404 (ambush), Cornw. Jan. 1406 (riots), Som. June 1406 (concealments), Marlborough Feb. 1407 (breaches of statutes regarding wine), Cornw. May 1407 (tenants of Beaulieu abbey), Bristol Feb. 1408 (wastes at hospital of St. John the Baptist), Som. Mar. 1408 (concealments), Wilts. Nov. 1408 (illegal entry), May 1409 (lands of William Worfton*), Hants Aug. 1409 (murder), Berks. Oct. 1409 (lands Of Simon Haselton); to hold assizes, Devon Mar., July 1396, July 1397; survey Amesbury priory May 1398; of weirs, Wilts. June 1398, river Avon Feb. 1404; array, Wilts. Dec. 1399, July 1402, Som. Aug., Sept. 1403; gaol delivery, Bristol June 1401, July, Oct. 1404; to make a proclamation, Som., Wilts. May 1402; supervise repairs to lodges in Gillingham forest, Dorset Dec. 1402; raise loans, Wilts., Som., Dorset June 1406.
Keeper of the castle and bailiff of the hundred of Mere, Wilts. 8 Mar. 1386-d.
J.p. Dorset 10 Nov. 1389-97, 16 May 1401-Nov. 1404, Wilts. 1 July 1394-d., Som. 2 Feb. 1404-d., Cornw. 18 Dec. 1405-Mar. 1410, July 1410-d.
Steward of the principality of Wales c.1402-aft. June 1406.1
Recorder of Bristol by Mar. 1407-d.
Speaker 16 May-3 June 1413.
Though the Stourtons had been established at Stourton since the 12th century, it was William who (by a successful career as an administrator and apprentice-at-law, as well as by his profitable marriage and accumulation of lands) laid the foundations of his family’s aggrandisement. He is first mentioned in 1380, when his father, John (a former j.p. and escheator of Somerset) settled on him the reversion of a small estate at Preston Plucknett. By this time he may have already been launched on his career as a lawyer. Certainly, in 1381 he appeared in Chancery as attorney for one of the executors of Sir Nicholas Bonde, only to fail to convince the judges that the manor of Mere (near Stourton) should not revert to Princess Joan, widow of the Black Prince (who had originally granted it to his client). Even so, after the princess’s death, in 1386 he himself obtained a grant for life of the custody of the castle and park of Mere, together with the office of bailiff of the hundred. He was later described as constable of the castle, although this cannot have been an office of any importance, as the building was in poor repair. Indeed, in 1391 he was ordered to strip the lead off the towers and roofs, to be melted down and, eventually, used for works at Portchester.2
Meanwhile, Stourton had entered the service of William Montagu, earl of Salisbury, for in 1384 and 1385 sums of money due to the earl at the Exchequer were handed over to him, presumably in the capacity of Salisbury’s agent. In 1388, he agreed to look after the affairs of Thomas Strete, who was about to embark for the Isle of Man, which was in the earl’s lordship; and in December that year he, Strete and Richard Horne*, all probably acting on the earl’s behalf, purchased from the Crown a messuage and shops in Castle Baynard Ward, London, recently forfeited by John, Lord Beauchamp of Kidderminster, following his condemnation for treason. It is clear from a letter of Salisbury’s dated 21 Nov. 1389, that Stourton was then a member of his council and in receipt of an annual fee of £2 by his grant. Without doubt he occupied this position for several years.3 In 1394 Stourton and Strete acquired land from the earl in Berkshire, and by the time of their lord’s death in 1397, Stourton was his tenant of a knight’s fee at Selton-by-Gillingham, Dorset, and joint holder of land in Othery, Somerset, by his gift. Nevertheless, Stourton’s services were also in demand elsewhere, and by 1392-3 he was acting as counsel to the dean and chapter of Wells, with an annual retainder of £1 which he continued to receive for at least 15 years. In 1393 he became a feoffee for Margaret, widow of Sir John de la Mere, of a moiety of the manor of Nunney, Somerset, and a year later he was made a trustee of estates in Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire and Northamptonshire, belonging to John Lisle* of Wootton. On occasion he appeared as an agent for the abbot of Glastonbury, as such receiving at the Exchequer on the latter’s behalf in 1395 assignments of 500 marks as repayment of a loan he had advanced to the King. In 1397 he offered sureties for Elizabeth, Lady Botreaux. Then, in April 1399, he agreed to serve as an attorney for John Boor, canon of Salisbury and dean of the King’s chapel, who was leaving for Ireland in the royal entourage.
Some evidence remains of Stourton’s personal interests at this time. He had inherited his father’s estates shortly after 1380, and had begun to enlarge them. In 1382 he acquired the advowson of Fonthill Gifford near Mere, together with certain tenements, to which in 1391 he added several acres of land, only in the following year to alienate these properties (worth £10 a year in all) to the Carthusian priory of Witham, Somerset, where he was eventually to be buried. He also granted the priory the reversion of a house and shop in Bristol. In 1395 he received a royal licence to enclose part of ‘Bygoteswode’ (in the forest of Selwood) and to cut down timber there for sale. Then, in (or shortly before) 1398, Stourton’s potential fortunes must have been greatly improved when he married Elizabeth, the daughter and coheir of Sir John Moigne, for the latter’s estates, situated in eight counties, had an estimated value of more than £154 p.a. However, Sir John was not to die until 1429, long after his son-in-law, and during his lifetime Stourton took possession only of Moigne’s manor of Great Easton in Essex, which, settled on him and his wife at the time of their marriage, was encumbered by an annual rent of 40 marks, payable to his father-in-law.4
With the accession of Henry IV, Stourton’s political standing greatly improved. From then on he was to serve on very many royal commissions, and to sit as knight of the shire in at least six of the ten Parliaments which met between 1399 and his death in 1413. At first, however, he had some difficulty in retaining his custodianship of Mere, which in October 1399 had been granted to Thomas Bolour, but on 20 Feb. 1401 (during the Parliament in which Stourton sat for the first time) Bolour’s letters patent were finally revoked, and Klere was returned to him. It is difficult to discern precisely what offices Stourton was then holding. By May 1400, when he was appointed to the first of nine royal commissions relating to Bristol, he may well have already been recorder there; he was certainly occupying that position six years later. Then again, and more important, he is said to have been promoted steward of the principality of Wales by 1402, and had clearly taken up this post by 1405, when he was appointed as a j.p. in Cornwall, the duchy of Cornwall now being subject to the prince of Wales, Henry of Monmouth.
Stourton was by this time a man of both wealth and standing. In July 1401 he was one of five Wiltshire notables summoned to attend a great council, and two years later he was called to another such assembly. In April 1403, furthermore, his contribution towards a royal loan for defence was assessed at £200, a sum which was also demanded from such wealthy individuals as Sir William Bonville I* and Sir Thomas Brooke*. The latter, incidentally, served as Stourton’s fellow knight of the shire for Somerset in the first Parliament of 1404, in the course of which his stepson, Richard Cheddar*, suffered a much-bruited assault at the hands of John Savage. However, in October that year, Stourton was appointed to a royal commission set up to investigate whether, as was reported, Cheddar and his friend Edmund Pyne*, in seeking revenge, had plotted to kill Savage and had laid an ambush for him. In 1405 Stourton was made a member of a committee (which also included Edmund Holand, earl of Kent) set up to administer the lands of Beaulieu abbey, a royal foundation the temporalities of which had been taken over by the Crown following maladministration by past abbots, and he was still serving in this capacity three years later. Also in 1405, he was one of the Somerset notables called upon to contribute towards a royal loan to help pay Edward, duke of York, for the costs of his army in Wales. York arrived at Glastonbury on 22 June, but many of the more important local gentry (like Brooke) were absent, while those who came, including Stourton, declined to contribute, on the ground that they had not been repaid their earlier loans to the King. It was perhaps to be expected that in the following year Stourton was himself among those charged with collecting a royal loan, not only in Somerset but in Dorset and Wiltshire as well.
All this while, Stourton’s legal services were still greatly sought after. For instance, he was retained as counsel for the city of Salisbury (in 1401-2 the town clerk had visited him at his house at Devizes on civic business); and between then and 1405 he was employed as an apprentice-at-law, too, by the duchy of Lancaster. In 1403 he was chosen to be an arbiter in the longstanding dispute between Thomas Calston* and Nicholas Woodhulle. Early in 1411 Stourton acted as one of the attorneys for the borough of Southampton, which was defending itself in Chancery against the claims of a Hanseatic merchant in a suit over customs’ duties. Later that year, however, when Southampton was engaged in another dispute, over tolls, this time with the merchants of Salisbury and Winchester, he appeared on the opposing side, and received from the former city a fee of 40s. and a robe.5 Throughout Henry IV’s reign, Stourton was also much in request as a feoffee and trustee of land, and in this he was frequently associated with men of considerable distinction. In 1408, for example, he was acting as a feoffee for Sir William Hankford, j.KB, of an estate in Berkshire, and was similarly involved on behalf of John Arundel, Lord Mautravers, with regard to lands in Dorset. He and Mautravers were also now discharging the functions of trustees for Stourton’s brother-in-law, Sir John Beauchamp of Bletsoe, and in the same year he became one of Sir Walter Hungerford* feoffees at Rushall, Wiltshire. In 1411 he was a party to the transactions when Thomas Montagu, earl of Salisbury, settled manors in Wiltshire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight on his mother, and he also accepted similar employment from Sir John Berkeley I*.
All this legal business hardly stood in the way of Stourton’s efforts to further his own interests. In February 1400 he had obtained an Exchequer lease of the lands of John Montagu, late earl of Salisbury (the nephew of his former lord), during the minority of the heir. On his own account, in 1403 he purchased the manor of Little Marston and property at Frome, Somerset; and on 18 May 1409 he received (this time jointly with Sir Walter Hungerford) a royal grant of the temporalities of the Cluniac priory of Monkton Farleigh, Wiltshire, pending settlement of a dispute between the Crown and the prior of Lewes over the right to collate to the priorate. The matter was settled within four months and on 1 Feb. following Stourton and Hungerford were ordered to meddle no further with the priory lands, both being granted, 12 days later, a royal pardon, following their protest that they had received none of the priory’s revenues, and so should not be called to account in the Exchequer. This was in direct response to a royal commission set up on 10 Feb. expressly to investigate allegations of waste and damage at Farleigh during their custody. All this business was going on during the first session of the Parliament of 1410, to which Stourton had been elected for Dorset, and Hungerford for Somerset. Indeed, Stourton had been present at the Ilchester elections to lend his colleague his support. By 1412 Stourton’s estates in Wiltshire were worth over £70 a year, those in Dorset £64, those in Somerset £40, and those in Hampshire and Essex £20 in each case. His total annual income from land, then, was well over £200, a considerable sum in itself, quite apart from his legal fees and income from offices.6
This was Stourton’s position in material terms when, sitting in the House of Commons for his sixth Parliament, on 16 May 1413, he was chosen by his fellows as their Speaker. He had, of course, provided useful service to the new King as prince of Wales, and his re-appointment at the beginning of the reign as a j.p. in Wiltshire, Somerset and Cornwall suggests that he still enjoyed Henry’s full confidence. He also had influential friends at Court, namely, Hungerford (now promoted to the chief stewardship of the duchy of Lancaster south of the Trent) and Sir William Hankford (newly appointed c.j.KB). For good measure, he may also have been connected with Archbishop Arundel, who, however, in the previous reign had been opposed to Prince Henry and his party. This combination of circumstances perhaps carried weight with the Commons when they made their choice. Two days later Stourton was presented to the King for acceptance, and despite his disclaimer (‘a cause de son petit estat, noun sufficientie de science, et infirmitee de corps’), he assumed office. It appears, nevertheless, that he proved to be a disappointment, at least to his electors. On 22 May he presented the Commons’ requests for good government and, when the King demanded that their complaints should be set down in writing, he readily agreed. Three days later, however, a deputation from the Lower House led by John Doreward* informed the King that Stourton had agreed to his demand ‘sanz advys et assent de ses ditz compaignons’, and asked that a brief schedule of their complaints might suffice. Perhaps the Commons were more generally dissatisfied with Stourton’s performance, but when, on 3 June, it presented Doreward as a replacement as Speaker, its formal reason was that Stourton himself was too ill to do his duty.
Stourton’s sickness may well have been genuine, since he only survived for another three months, dying on 18 Sept. In his will, made on 20 July 1410, he had asked to be buried in the cloister of Witham priory. His body was to be wrapped only in a linen cloth: ‘corpusque mourn putridum, nudum sicut deus me projecit in mundo, ita nudum sepeliendum’. Nothing ceremonious was to be done, save that alms were to be distributed among poor men, and no provision for masses of requiem was to be made. To his son, John, he left two missals, a psalter, a gradual, a portiforium, a book of legends of English saints, and a book of physic, and to his daughter, Margaret (later the wife of William Carent* of Toomer) he bequeathed £200 for her dowry. Finally, to Thomas Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury (reverendo Domino meo et patri), he left a covered cup of gold.7 That Stourton’s will vilified his body and also prohibited requiem masses, seems to place it among the small series of so-called ‘lollard wills’. Stourton had been associated with lollard sympathizers and, indeed, had once had in his possession (on loan) a copy of an illicit translation of the Bible. However, his support for Witham priory, and for the abbeys of Glastonbury and Shaftesbury, not to mention his bequest to Archbishop Arundel (whom he evidently held in esteem), would seem to mitigate against any idea that he was of doubtful orthodoxy.8
William’s heir, John, proved a greater man than his father: in 1448 he was to join the peerage as the 1st Lord Stourton.
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Authors: J. S. Roskell / Charles Kightly
Unless otherwise noted this biography is derived from J.S. Roskell, ‘William Stourton’, Dorset Nat. Hist. and Arch. Soc. lxxxii. 155-66, and CP, xii. 296-300.