STRETCH, Sir John (1341-90), of Pinhoe and Hempston Arundel (Little Hempston), Devon.
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Family and Education
b. Wambrook, Dorset (now Som.), 23 Aug. 1341, s. and h. of Sir John Stretch (d. 29 Sept. 1355), of Wambrook by Elizabeth (d. 27 Nov. 1355), da. and h. of Roger Crispyn of Sampford Arundel, Som. and Margaret, da. of Roger Fitzpayn. m. (1) bef. 1365, Maud, da. of Sir John Molton of Pinhoe, 1s. d.v.p. 2da.; (2) bef. 1378, Katherine (d. 1 Dec. 1422), wid. of —, and of Sir Edmund Cheyne† of Poyntington, Som. Kntd. by 1370.1
Tax collector, Som. Mar., Nov. 1377.
Commr. to assess subsidies, Som. Aug. 1379; of oyer and terminer, Dorset Nov. 1379, Devon July 1384; to hear an appeal from the ct. of chivalry Feb. 1385; of array, Devon Apr. 1385.
Sheriff, Devon 5 Nov. 1379-18 Oct. 1380, Som. and Dorset 1 Nov. 1383-11 Nov. 1384.
J.p. Devon July-Nov. 1389, June 1390-d.
At Stretch’s proof of age, given at Wambrook in December 1362, the date of his birth was remembered, so it was said, because his father had given one man a cartload of wood so that, if necessary, he would be a witness when John attained his majority, and another a white greyhound when they were out hunting shortly after the event. Two more witnesses stated that they recalled the date because on returning from the baptism they had been wounded by robbers.2 Stretch had succeeded to his parent’s lands in 1355 when left an orphan at the age of 14. The Crown gave the property in wardship to Matthew Crispyn, a maternal kinsman of the boy, in return for an annual payment of £25 3s.11d., at which sum it had been extended. To Robert Stratford, bishop of Chichester, however, was granted the heir’s marriage, on payment of £50. A few years before, there had been disputes over his mother’s inheritance because her parents had been divorced, but her legitimacy had been finally established before her marriage to Stretch’s father in about 1335. A descendant of Sir John Arundel and heir to the Crispyn estates, she had, therefore, brought to her husband the manors of Atherstone, Sampford Arundel and East Runnington and lands at Huish Champflower, in Somerset, along with the manors of Hempston Arundel and Woolston, as well as other properties, in Devon. Stretch added to his estates by his own marriages. The first gave him possession of the manors of Pinhoe, near Exeter, and Ashill and Seavington St. Michael in Somerset, these last two being regarded as comprising ten knights’ fees all of them held of the earl of Devon. His second wife, the twice-widowed Katherine Cheyne, brought him the Cheyne manors of Up Ottery, Rawridge and Fairoak, Devon, and Poyntington, Somerset, two advowsons, and holdings in Cambridgeshire. Stretch’s father had also held the chief bailiwick and certain bedelries of eight hundreds in Dorset, but as he had granted them to Roger Manningford† to hold for life, they never came into Sir John’s possession.3
The key to Stretch’s activities is his connexion with the earls of Devon. As early as 1373 he appeared as a witness for Earl Hugh at Tiverton, and he remained closely associated with Hugh’s grandson and successor, Earl Edward, both as an important tenant and as an advisor. In a roll recording liveries granted by the latter in 1384-5, he was listed immediately after the earl’s relatives, receiving two-and-three-quarter lengths of ‘playn’ cloth and three lengths of ‘ray’. It seems unlikely, however, that this connexion with the Courtenays had anything to do with Stretch’s reprehensible behaviour at the elections to the Salisbury Parliament of April 1384, following which the mayor and burgesses of Shaftesbury alleged that he, as sheriff of Dorset, had falsified the return by naming Thomas Cammell* in the place of one of their duly elected members, Thomas Seward*. They claimed that he had interfered ‘de son autority demesne’ in the belief that Seward would act in the Commons ‘pour le profit et avantage nostre dit seigneur le Roy’, but there is nothing to suggest why, if this was indeed the reason, Stretch thought that someone in the Crown’s employment should be excluded from the House. His own service in three later Parliaments passed without recorded incident.4
Apart from two earlier periods of military service abroad, for which he received royal letters of protection, the first in 1370, the next (in the earl of Salisbury’s retinue) in 1378, other traces of Stretch’s movements are for the most part his appearances as witness for his neighbours, who included at least two who also wore Courtenay’s livery (Sir Walter Clopton, c.j.KB, and Sir John d’Aumarle†). He married his daughters into prominent local families: Elizabeth to Sir Thomas Beauchamp* of Whitelackington, Somerset, and Cecily first to Thomas Bonville, one of the sons of his wealthy neighbour, Sir William Bonville I* of Shute, and later to Sir William Cheyne* of Brooke, Wiltshire. As lord of Seavington, he came to an agreement by arbitration with the prior and canons of Bruton in 1389 that some ground around the chapel there should be hedged and ditched at his and the villeins’ expense, and, after consecration, used as a burial ground.5
Stretch died on 6 Aug. 1390, and shortly afterwards his executors (his widow and two clerks), appeared before Bishop Brantingham at Crediton where they were ordered to compile an inventory of his goods before 13 Oct. After presenting herself before the bishop’s commisary on this date, the widow was then given a few more weeks to complete the task. The inventory eventually produced valued the deceased’s goods at £296 13s.8½d. There seems to have followed some difficulty over the succession, the rural dean of Aylesbeare and his fellow clergy being required three months later to denounce as excommunicate all those who had seized charters and muniments touching the inheritance. Stretch’s only son, John, had predeceased him, leaving a widow, Katherine, who by this time was married to Sir Hugh Luttrell*, and it was she who retained possession of the manor