STURMY (ESTURMY), Sir William (c.1356-1427), of Wolf Hall in Great Bedwyn, Wilts. and Elvetham, Hants.
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Family and Education
b.c.1356, s. of Geoffrey Sturmy and nephew and h. of Sir Henry Sturmy† of Wolf Hall. m. 1382, Joan Crawthorne (d. 20 Feb. 1429), wid. of Sir John Beaumont† of Saunton and Sherwell, Devon, 2da.; 1s. John Sturmy† illegit.1 Kntd. by Oct. 1388.
Warden of Savernake forest 28 June 1381-1417, Oct. 1420-d.2
Commr. to inspect Marlborough castle Sept. 1386, May 1390; of arrest, Hants, Wilts., Surr., Berks. June 1387, Wilts. May 1402; inquiry, Devon Nov. 1389 (salmon fishing), Berks. Feb. 1390 (wastes at Stratfield Saye priory), Lundy Island Feb. 1392 (poaching), Devon Jan. 1393 (illegal seizure of manor of Bigley),3 Feb. 1394 (bribery of a jury), Wilts. Mar. 1400 (maladministration of Amesbury priory), Berks. Aug. 1401 (murder and assaults), Wilts. Nov. 1402 (lands of St. Thomas’s hospital, Marlborough), May 1409 (lands of William Worfton*), Oct. 1410 (lands of John Dun), Oxon. July 1412 (wastes in the queen’s forest of Wychwood), Hants Oct. 1412 (bounds of Frinkley wood), Glos. June 1414 (concealments), Wilts. July 1418 (lands of Sir John Oldcastle*), Devizes park July 1421 (wastes of vert and venison); array, Wilts. Mar. 1392, Dec. 1399, Wilts., Hants July 1402, Hants Aug. 1403, Wilts. Sept. 1403, May 1415, Wilts., Hants June 1421; to receive recognizances, Salisbury July 1395; of weirs, Hants June 1398; oyer and terminer, Devon Sept. 1398; to determine appeals in the constable’s ct. Feb. 1401, Nov. 1403, May 1411, in the admiral’s ct. Aug. 1402, Apr. 1412; raise royal loans, Wilts. Nov. 1419.
Ambassador to Avignon and Rome 11 Apr.-8 Nov. 1397, the duke of Guelders 12 May-9 Aug. 1401, the Emperor 12 Sept.-5 Dec. 1401, 16 Feb.-23 July 1402, Flanders 1404, Prussia and the Hanseatic towns 13 May 1405-Feb. 1406, 24 Feb.-July, Aug.-Oct. 1407, Holland 3 Mar. 1418.
J.p. Wilts. 28 Nov. 1399-May 1404, Feb. 1405-7, 1412-Nov. 1415, Feb. 1422-July 1425, Hants 16 May 1401-4.
Member of the King’s Council 12 Mar. 1401-July 1402.
Steward of the household of Princess Blanche 1401-2.4
Speaker 1404 (Oct.).
Chief steward of the estates of Queen Joan by Mich. 1409-d.5
Forester of Pewsham, Melksham and Chippenham 1416-17.
Sheriff, Wilts. 4 Nov. 1418-24 Nov. 1419.
Ambassador, courtier, Speaker of the Commons and at least 12 times knight of the shire for one or other of the counties of Devon, Hampshire and Wiltshire, Sturmy clearly wielded great influence and considerable power in these counties, and particularly in the last, where the bulk of his landed property lay. Much of this is likely to have been the product of his close connexions with the Court under Richard II and the first two Lancastrian kings.
Sturmy held property in the north of Hampshire, including the manors of Belney, Polling and Liss Turney, and at Hartley Whitney and Elvetham (where, in 1403, he obtained a royal licence to impark 300 acres). In 1412 these estates were assessed at £37 a year, and Sturmy also drew £40 p.a. from lands he occupied in Devon in right of his wife. His biggest estates, however, lay in east Wiltshire, between Marlborough and Ludgershall, and were assessed at £91 6s.8d. p.a. These comprised the family seat at Wolf Hall and II other manors. He also held the hereditary wardenship of the royal forest of Savernake, an office his family had enjoyed with few interruptions since the time of William the Conqueror. In this office, as well as in the succession to the family estates, William had followed his father’s elder brother, Sir Henry Sturmy, who died childless in 1381 when he himself was about 25.6
Not long after his succession to the family estates, Sturmy’s new-won importance was recognized by his return to Parliament for Hampshire. Later events indicate his close links with the royal court, and certain commissions on which he served in the troubled period of the middle years of Richard II’s reign suggest that his political sympathies were already with the King. Just before the Wonderful Parliament of 1386, for instance, when Richard was probably already expecting trouble, he was ordered to examine the royal castle of Marlborough and the arms and equipment it contained. Sturmy’s elections to the four successive Parliaments between January 1390 and 1393 in which he sat for three different counties, and the tasks in local government which he undertook in these years, reflected his widely scattered territorial interests. He was clearly a man of strong and independent spirit, for in 1392 he successfully instigated a suit before the King’s Council charging no less a person than Edward Courtenay, earl of Devon, with maintenance. In the course of the trial evidence was given that the earl had called Sturmy a ‘false traitor’ and had threatened his life; indeed, Courtenay admitted ‘qil vorroit avoir debruse sa teste’. Nor was this Sturmy’s only brush with the powerful Courtenays: during the session of the Winchester Parliament of 1393 he was commissioned to investigate the unlawful activities of the earl’s uncle, Sir Philip Courtenay* of Powderham. In 1392 and 1393 Sturmy was able to procure for himself pardons for all indictments of felony and trespass, and that he was on good terms with the government is further evident from his ability to secure an Exchequer lease of two-thirds of the Fitzwaryn manor of Tawstock (Devon). He was retained for life as a knight of the Household in October 1392, for an annual fee of 40 marks. He is recorded dining in the company of the former chancellor, William of Wykeham, bishop of Winchester, on various occasions in the summer of 1393, and clearly enjoyed close relations with the bishop, for one of his daughters married Wykeham’s kinsman, William Ringbourne. In September 1394, with a retinue of an esquire and six mounted archers, Sturmy accompanied Richard II on his first expedition to Ireland, returning in May 1395.7
In April 1397 Sturmy was granted letters of protection in anticipation of his first diplomatic mission, and he was then absent from England for the next seven months, proceeding by way of Paris and Avignon to Rome and assisting in negotiations with the rival Popes (Boniface IX and Benedict XIII), in an attempt to end the schism in the Church. While on this mission he secured papal indults allowing him a confessor of his choice and to have private chapels on his manors. In spite of the close attachment to the Ricardian court suggested by this diplomatic employment, Sturmy’s career received no setback from Richard’s deposition. He was a Member of the Commons in the Parliament which acclaimed the new regime; and nine days after the session ended he was appointed as a j.p. in Wiltshire. Even so, it was not until 20 Mar. 1401 that his royal annuity was confirmed, this being a week after he had been appointed as a member of Henry IV’s council. As a councillor he was to receive an annual fee of 100 marks, but in fact he remained as such only 16 months, having limited his service in the meantime to the sphere of diplomacy. For the greater part of that period he was absent in Germany on missions, notably to the duke of Guelders and the Emperor, his general brief being to secure foreign recognition for the house of Lancaster. The negotiations resulted in the marriage of Henry IV’s elder daughter, Blanche, to the Emperor’s heir presumptive, and in the months leading up to the nuptials at Heidelberg Sturmy acted as steward of the princess’s household.8
In October 1402 writs were circulated requesting financial contributions in aid of the royal garrisons in South Wales, copies of which were sent to Sturmy enlisting his help. After the unsuccessful Percy rebellion in the following summer, he acted as a commissioner of array and on 12 Sept. he was ordered to ‘hasten well-armed’ to Hereford where the King was gathering an army for an incursion into Wales in pursuit of Owen Glendower. In the course of 1404 Sturmy travelled to Rotterdam to help the King’s envoys rebut Flemish demands for compensation for shipping losses due to piracy, and it was no doubt because of his experience in diplomacy and knowledge of civil law that he was elected Speaker in the Parliament which met that October. It was with the advice of the Parliament that at the end of the session the Speaker was authorized to negotiate with the High Master of the Order of the Teutonic Knights for the removal of the embargo placed on imports of English cloth. He left for Prussia in May 1405, there successfully concluding a treaty which was signed five months later. On the journey back via the Hanseatic ports he engaged in talks with their burgomasters, arranging a truce in the conflict between them and the English. A slight hitch after the voyage home from Dordrecht to Orwell formed the subject of a petition presented by Sturmy and his fellow ambassadors to the Parliament of 1406. The master of the ship chartered to bring them home had been arrested in London. This not only broke the truce, but infringed the letters of protection which extended—as the emissaries successfully pleaded—to their servants as well as to themselves. Sturmy was abroad on diplomatic missions for most of 1407 but returned home in October to appear before the Parliament at Gloucester to report the outcome. Two years later he claimed that £108 was still owed to him as his wages for journeys overseas under Henry IV and, by patent dated 3 Oct. 1409, he secured that the fee farm of over £53 a year at which he leased Tawstock should be remitted as compensation.9
By then Sturmy was acting as chief steward of the extensive dower lands of Henry IV’s queen, Joan of Navarre, an office he may well have held since 1404, when he had leased from the queen the liberty of Kinwardeston and Bedwyn. Indeed, in 1405 he had received a grant of a suit of armour in part-payment of expenses incurred in her service. (It is possible that Sturmy owed his appointment to his stepdaughter’s husband, Sir Hugh Luttrell* of Dunster, who was steward of the queen’s household.) By 1409 he was also farming Joan’s manor of Corsham; by 1411 he had a joint lease of the estate at Ludgershall; and between 1413 and 1417 he rented her manor and castle of Devizes. His duties were onerous, but any expenses were covered in full: £10 13s.10d. for a breakfast given in London for lawyers consulting on the queen’s business, £4 for attending an assize at Devizes and £6 13s.4d. for supervising repairs and visiting manorial estates in Devon. Sturmy rode far and wide on his mistress’s errands: in 1416-17, for example, making journeys to London, Langley (Buckinghamshire), Reading, Hungerford, Winchester, Devizes and Woodstock. When, in 1419, the queen so fell into disgrace (allegedly for plotting against Henry V’s life by necromancy), that she incurred imprisonment, Sturmy seems not to have been greatly affected, although he was required to renew his leases of Corsham, Ludgershall and the alien priory of Clatford, from then on paying the fee farm into the Exchequer instead of to the queen’s receivers.10
Indeed, Henry V had no reason to doubt Sir William’s loyalty. The knight had his annuity of 40 marks renewed in 1413 and in May 1415 he and (Sir) John Pelham* were the bearers of a proclamation for, and authorized to receive, sums of money offered in aid of the King’s impending invasion of France. Henry is known to have sent a personal letter to Sturmy from Normandy soon after his second landing there in the summer of 1417. This letter probably had to do with diplomatic matters, for in March 1418 Sturmy was appointed as an ambassador to treat for the marriage of the King’s brother, John, duke of Bedford, with Jacqueline of Hainault. Nothing was to come of the proposal, and in fact Jacqueline eventually married the King’s youngest brother, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, with whom our MP was not on amicable terms. This was because the duke, acting in his capacity as warden of the royal forests south of Trent and on the strength of a grant by Henry IV of the revenues of Savernake forest, had dispossessed him of his hereditary wardenship of Savernake, in 1417, and three years elapsed before he was compelled to reinstate him. In the meantime Sturmy had been appointed to the shrievalty of Wiltshire and it was in this capacity that he officiated at the elections to the Parliament of 1419. In February 1420 he appeared as one of the guarantors for Sir John Mortimer’s good behaviour in the Tower, but he subsequently forfeited £40 when the alleged traitor escaped. In May of the same year he was granted lands in Caux (Normandy), but there is no evidence that he ever visited the duchy himself.11
Sturmy’s position as Queen Joan’s chief steward, combined with his wardenship of Savernake forest and his ownership of substantial estates, made him perhaps the most important commoner in Wiltshire, certainly in the eastern parts of the county, where were situated the parliamentary boroughs of Marlborough, Great Bedwyn and Ludgershall. A number of his associates were elected to Parliament in the course of our period, all of them (with one exception: John Benger, a kinsman by marriage, who sat for Great Bedwyn) being elected for Marlborough. They included John Wyly, Sturmy’s deputy warden of Savernake, Richard Collingbourne, his attorney, John Bird, a feoffee of his estates, Thomas Newman, another of his attorneys, and Nicholas Swan, his servant. It does not, of course, follow that Sturmy was himself directly responsible for their election, but the respect in which he was held locally may well have helped, especially in the case of Benger at Great Bedwyn, a borough which he himself leased from Queen Joan.
Turned 60 years of age by 1422, the year of his last return to Parliament, Sturmy extended his already wide range of acquaintance in the Commons by securing the election for Ludgershall (another borough which he himself leased) of his illegitimate son, John, and his grandson, John Seymour†, and, for Great Bedwyn, of his cousin, Robert Erle†. The latter was one of the shire knight’s feoffees-to-uses, who also included Chief Justice Sir William Hankford and Justice Robert Hill. After the Parliament Sturmy entered upon a period of virtual retirement from public affairs. The royal annuity he had enjoyed for the last 30 years was confirmed ten days after the close of the session, but apart from his continuation as a j.p. (until 1425) he served on no more royal commissions before his death. Sir William made his will on 19 Mar. 1427 at his inn in the parish of St. Bridget in London. To his servants, the pages of his chamber and his head gardener went various gifts of clothing, tapestry, pieces of plate and sums of money amounting to nearly £50. He left no more than 6s.8d. to the fabric fund of Salisbury cathedral, but ordered the bells of Elvetham church to be repaired at his expense. He was to be buried near Wolf Hall at the Trinitarian priory of Easton Royal, which his ancestors had founded and of which he himself had been a benefactor, and he bequeathed to the priory 50 sheep, the vestments of his chapel and his books. The latter included three psalters, a great missal, a book of decretals, the Pupilla Oculi and two volumes of Higden’s Polychronicon. Among the more personal of his gifts were bequests of plate and a sword to Sir Robert Shotesbrooke†, of a sword to his wife’s son-in-law, Sir Hugh Luttrell, and of more plate to another of his feoffees, Bishop Stafford of Bath and Wells, and to the overseer of the will, Bishop Polton of Worcester. Sturmy died at Elvetham at about eight o’clock on the evening of 21 Mar. in the arms of his chaplain. The will was proved only three days later. Sturmy’s heirs were his daughter Agnes (once wife of William Ringbourne, a son of a kinsman and former steward of Bishop Wykeham, and now wife of John Holcombe) and John Seymour (the son of his elder daughter, Maud, by Roger Seymour of Hatch Beauchamp, holder of the barony of Beauchamp of Somerset). The circumstances of his death gave rise to a serious family dispute over possession of the manors of Wolf Hall and Crofton, the quarrel centring on a supposed deathbed enfeoffment and an alleged fraud by Sturmy’s illegitimate son and Robert Erle. Chancery was not to take final cognizance of the dispute until 1451.12
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Authors: J. S. Roskell / Charles Kightly
Date of Birth/Date of Death: For fuller accounts of Sturmy's career see Trans. Devon Assoc. lxxxix. 78-92, and Wilts. Arch. Mag. li. 328-38.
- 1. CIPM, xv. 492, 998; Trans. Devon Assoc. xlv. 265; CCR, 1422-9, pp. 349, 362, 414; C139/40/44.
- 2. VCH Wilts. iv. 439.
- 3. RP, iii. 302.
- 4. J.H. Wylie, Hen. IV, i. 166, 253.
- 5. SC6/1051/16-18, 1062/26, 1295/1, 2.
- 6. CPR, 1401-5, p. 220; 1446-52, pp. 555-6; CCR, 1402-5, pp. 498, 511; 1413-19, p. 457; CFR, ix. 257, 266; Feudal Aids, v. 226, 227; vi. 416, 450, 530.
- 7. CFR, xi. 45; xii. 209; CPR, 1391-6, pp. 39, 186, 220, 487; Sel. Cases before King’s Council (Selden Soc. xxxv), 77-81.
- 8. CPR, 1399-1401, p. 453; Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ed. Carte, ii. 173, 181, 183; CPL, v. 45, 68; PPC, i. 126; Wylie, ii. 70; E364/36 m. A; Letters Hen. IV ed. Hingeston, i. 99; Kalendars and Inventories ed. Palgrave, ii. 68; CCR, 1399-1402, p. 463.
- 9. PPC, ii. 73, 75; CPR, 1401-5, p. 295; 1408-13, p. 113; SC8/109/5406; Wylie, ii. 71-78; iv. 1-7; RP, iii. 546, 568, 574; Letters Hen. IV, ii. p. lii; Literae Cantuariensis ed. Sheppard, iii. 78, 90, 94, 101, 104.
- 10. SC6/1051/16-18, 1052/25, 1062/26, 27, 1092/16, 1295/1; CFR, xiv. 321-2; H.C. Maxwell-Lyte, Hist. Dunster, i. 104.
- 11. CPR, 1413-16, p. 160; Foedera ed. Rymer (orig. edn.), ix. 241; Wylie, Hen. V, i. 468; PPC, ii. 241, 343; DKR, xliv. 599; xli. 783; Wilts. Arch. Mag. li. 332-4, C219/12/3; CCR, 1419-22, p. 63.
- 12. CPR, 1388-92, p. 306; 1422-9, pp. 449-50, 1446-52, pp. 555-6; C1/18/45, 46, 19/112, 360; CCR, 1389-92, p. 82; 1422-9, pp. 349, 362; PCC 7 Luffenham; C139/28/22; CP, ii. 50.