SWINBURNE, Sir Thomas (c.1357-1412), of Gunnerton, Northumb. and Little Horkesley and East Mersea, Essex.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b.c.1357, 1st. s. of Sir Robert Swinburne* by his 1st w. Agnes Felton; nephew and coh. of Sir William Felton (d.1367); half-bro. of William*. m. bef. June 1391, Elizabeth (c.1358-2 Dec. 1433), da. of Sir Philip Limbury (d.1367), of Limbury, Beds. by his w. Joan, sis. and h. of Philip Limbury, wid. of Sir Walter Paveley (d.1379) of Boughton Aluph and Stowting, Kent, and of Sir Thomas Trivet (d.1388) of Otterhampton, Som., s.p. Kntd. by May 1380.

Offices Held

Jt. keeper of Roxburgh castle, Northumb. 28 Feb. 1385-c. Feb. 1386, keeper 24 Feb. 1386-12 July 1388.

Bailiff of the duke of York’s lordship of Tynedale bef. Feb. 1390.

Warden of Guînes castle, Pas de Calais 14 Oct. 1390-8 Nov. 1393.1

Capt. of Calais 26 Nov. 1394-10 Oct. 1395.2

Keeper of Hammes castle, Picardy 7 Mar. 1397-d.

J.p. Essex 22 July-Nov. 1397.

Constable and steward of the lordship of Clare, Suff. 27 Nov. 1401-July 1403.

Lt. of Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland, as constable of Eng. bef. July 1403.

Envoy to treat with France 26 Aug. 1403, Flanders 20 Dec. 1403, France 23 May 1409, Castile 14 Aug., 21 Dec. 1409, France 2 Aug. 1410, Castile 29 Nov. 1410.3

Sheriff, Essex and Herts. 5 Nov. 1403-18 Oct. 1404, Kent 22 Nov. 1404-5.

Commr. of inquiry, Calais Jan. 1405 (post mortem).

Mayor, Bordeaux 8 Mar. 1405-bef. Nov. 1411.

Capt. of Fronsac castle (dép. Gironde) 1 Mar. 1409-d.


In 1367, when his maternal uncle, Sir William Felton, was slain in Spain, Thomas Swinburne, then aged ten, became coheir with his cousin William, son of Robert, Lord Hilton, to certain of the Felton estates. Together he and William disputed the claims of Sir John Felton*, their uncle of the half-blood, but sir John as the heir male managed to secure the more important properties. Nevertheless, in 1368 Thomas’s father obtained custody of some lands at Stamfordham, Heugh, Ouston and South Milbourne (Northumberland), which formed part of the inheritance, while Lord Hilton procured from the bishop of Durham keeping of various holdings in Medomsley and Hamsterley, Durham. Thomas and his cousin both came of age before February 1379,4 and in the following year they reached an agreement whereby the former took possession of all of the Felton properties in London (most valuable among them being the ‘Coppidhalle’ with the shops annexed to it, in the parish of St. John Walbrooke). For the time being the retained his northern lands, of which he enfeoffed among others his uncle, Sir Thomas Cornard, and his brother-in-law, John Rookwood of Suffolk.5.

Swinburne was to become one of the foremost military captains of his day. His training took place in military captains of his day. His training took place in the north on the Scottish borders and, having been knighted by 1380, he rose rapidly to be appointed joint keeper with Sir Richard Tempest* of the strategically important castle of Roxburgh less than five years later. Both he and his father were connected with Sir Thomas Percy, and it was under the command of Percy’s brother Henry, earl of Northumberland, that he and Tempest served in 1385, providing substantial reinforcements for Richard II’s army intending to invade Scotland. Swinburne evidently made a favourable impression on that campaign, for from February 1386 onwards he was put in sole command at Roxburgh, and his contract was renewed for a further three years in May 1387. That November he made arrangements to ship from Essex and London cloth for the livery of his soldiers and equipment for the use of the garrison, but he was not to retain his post for long. In March 1388 the earl of Northumberland complained that, although he had paid the Scots compensation for breaches of the truce, he had been unable to obtain reimbursement from certain of the culprits, who included Swinburne; and that same month the latter was bound in obligations of 200 marks while the Council (now controlled by the Lords Appellant) considered whether he should be held responsible for payment of a fine of half that sum imposed on one of his men for slaying a Scot. In July, despite his indenture to serve at Roxburgh until 1390, he was removed from the keepership. For a while Swinburne was generally under a cloud: two years later he was required under pain of forfeiting 500 marks to answer Edward, duke of York, for any injuries he had done to the duke’s tenants during his term as York’s bailiff of the lorship of Tynedale.6

Whether as a reaction to his dismissal or as a development of earlier inclinations, Swinburne now expressed overt sympathy for the victims of the Appellants. In November 1388 he had stood surety at the Exchequer for Sir Michael and Sir Edmund de la Pole*, respectively son and brother of the King’s favourite, the exiled earl of Suffolk, and in the following February he offered similar support to Sir Roger Fulthorpe’s son.7 The marriage he contracted a year or so later further strengthened his connexions with the court of Richard II, for his wife, Elizabeth, was the widow of Sir Thomas Trivet, a former knight of the Chamber and a soldier and admiral of distinction, who had been arrested by the Appellants and had died when facing charges in the Parliament of 1388 (Sept.). Elizabeth herself was much in favour with the King, who in the 1390s granted several pardons at her request and marked her out for special attention with the award of robes of the Order of the Garter. The marriage had the additional advantage of bringing Swinburne substantial landed holdings. Following the deaths of her father, Sir Philip Limbury, and her mother, Joan (wife of John, Lord Clinton), Elizabeth had inherited the manors of Limbury in Luton (Bedfordshire), Ickleton and Hinxton (Cambridgeshire) and Scott Willoughby and a moiety of Nocton (Lincolnshire), as well as property in Suffolk and Kent. From her first marriage, to Sir Walter Paveley (son of the former Garter knight of the same name) she had a life interest in Boughton Aluph, Stowting and Ditton, Kent, and from her second, to Trivet, she held as jointure and dower four manors and several other properties in Somerset and another manor in Oxfordshire.8 These estates, not including those in Suffolk and Oxfordshire, were given an estimated annual value of over £148 in 1412, so Swinburne’s total income from land must have well exceeded £190.9

After Richard II had regained control of the government, Swinburne was appointed warden of Guînes castle, thus being removed to a very different sphere of military activity. As an outcome, he gradually cut off his ties with the north of England and took up more permanent residence in Essex, where for the previous few years he had been landlord of a manor in East Mersea, settled on him by his father, Sir Robert. The latter died in 1391, whereupon Sir Thomas attempted to wrest seisin of other Swinburne estates from his stepmother, Joan, and from his father’s feoffees. Hauled before the courts, he was required to furnish securities of £1,000 that he would not harm the widow, her children, servants and tenants; while bonds in even greater sums sealed at that time were probably intended to ensure that he would keep the peace. The family lands at Gunnerton and elsewhere in Northumberland, which he had secured without difficulty, he now put into the hands of trustees to supervise during his absence abroad.10

In the summer of 1392 Swinburne, having decided to go on a pilgrimage, appointed his friend and distant kinsman, Sir William Swinburne* of Capheaton, as his attorney to receive all debts owing to him in the north of England, and at the same time he sold to Sir William all the northern lands of his Felton inheritance. He left his post as Guines on 6 Aug. and travelling via Venice, Alexandria, Cairo, Mount Sinai and Bethlehem, reached Jerusalem in time for Christmas. After visiting Damascus he crossed Lebanon to Beirut, sailing from there to Rhodes and thence home to England. It is clear from the fact that he did not leave Beirut until 15 Jan. 1393 that he must have been elected to the Parliament due to assemble five days later in his absence. Furthermore, it seems most unlikely that he reached Westminster before the dissolution on 10 Feb. Nevertheless, writs were issued for the payments of his expenses in attending the Commons. In October Swinburne was summoned before the Council ‘concerning certain matters to be objected against him’, and he was removed from command at Guines within a month. Whatever his misdemeanours they cannot have been too serious, or else were quickly forgotten, for he was given the prestigious post of captain of Calais a year later. When he surrendered that captaincy in October 1395 it was in return for a grant of the reversion, after the death of Richard Holme, of the lordship of Hammes and custody of the castle there, and until this fell to him he was to enjoy a handsome annuity of 100 marks at the Exchequer as retained by the King. In the event he and Holme agreed that the latter would relinquish his patent in exchange for Swinburne’s annuity, and in March 1397 Sir Thomas was granted Hammes for life. He spent most of 1397 at home in Essex, putting his own affairs in order and coming to amicable terms with his father’s feoffees, and from July to November he served on the local bench. A deputy officiated in his place at Hammes, although in May 1398 he himself was actively involved in the victualling of the stronghold, and he may have spent most of that year in the march of Calais. Swinburne evidently remained close to Richard II: on 20 Feb. 1399 when he was given leave to go to ‘divers parts of the world, for urgent causes’, he was described as a knight of the King’s chamber.11

Swinburne may well have been overseas when Richard was deposed, but he showed no reluctance to accept the new regime, and on 30 Oct. 1399 Henry IV, who was fully aware of the need to conciliate men of military calibre, confirmed him in his post at Hammes. Subsequently, Sir Thomas became a ‘King’s knight’ and obtained appointment as constable of Clare for the duration of the earl of March’s minority. The premature loss of this particular post, in July 1403, may be attributed to his connexions with the earl of Northumberland, whom he had recently been serving as lieutenant in his capacity as constable of England. Even so, there is no evidence to implicate him in the Percy rebellion. Indeed, that autumn he served under the earl of Somerset in the campaign directed against the Welsh rebels, and it was at this time, too, that Henry IV began to employ him for diplomatic missions using Calais as a base. Although he was appointed to treat for truces with the French and Flemings in the autumn and winter of 1403, negotiations were not effectively opened until the following summer, when Swinburne was involved in correspondence with the Four Members of Flanders regarding the restitution of goods stolen from English merchants, piracy, various acts of hostility and reprisal, and the capture of the bishop of Hereford. In September 1404 communication with the French was broken off when news reached the envoys that a naval force was being assembled to assist the Welsh, and Swinburne went home with little achieved.12

In the meantime, during his earlier stay in England, from 1400 to 1403, Swinburne had performed various services for his associates. For instance, he had stood surety for William, Lord Clinton (who had married his stepdaughter, Anne Trivet), acted as a feoffee of the estates of Sir Andrew Butler*, and taken on the executorship of the will of Robert Bassingbourne of Cambridgeshire. Subsequently he assisted his cousin Joyce Vyne (daughter of Sir Thomas Cornard) in various property transactions, and he became a trustee of the manorial holdings of his nephew, William Rookwood*, and of the King’s councillor, John Doreward*.13 Although appointed successively sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire and then of Kent, Swinburne could not have attended to his duties continuously, for he spent long periods in those years (1403-5) at Calais and Hammes. Furthermore, in March 1405 it was decided that his wide military experience should be brought to bear on the problems of Guyenne, and he was then retained as mayor of Bordeaux with a force of 50 men-at-arms and 100 archers. Having been granted licence to appoint a lieutenant at Hammes, in July he was exonerated from his duties as sheriff of Kent and pardoned as much as £200 owing from his earlier shrievalty in recompense for his ‘grandes travailles’. A month later, taking ship for Bordeaux, he joined the admiral, Thomas, Lord Berkeley, in a combined attack on the French fleet sailing to aid Owen Glendower, during which engagement they captured 14 enemy vessels and took prisoner several captains of note. The defence of Gascony turned out to be Swinburne’s most challenging assignment, especially when, in the autumn and winter of 1406-7, the duke of Orleans launched a powerful offensive. At the same time Swinburne took his duties as mayor of Bordeaux seriously, by frequently attending meetings of the local council. Nevertheless, he visited England in April 1408, then staying away from Bordeaux for about a year, during which period he was commissioned with (Sir) John Pelham* to make a special survey of Calais and all other castles and forts in the nearby marches. While at home he petitioned Henry IV’s Council about the parlous state of Gascony and, in particular, the urgent need to prevent the loss to the French of the great fortress at Fronsac, where the garrison, for lack of wages and supplies, had taken to pillaging the countryside. It was decided that he himself should be appointed captain of Fronsac for the next five years, and should take with him to France up to £1,330 to distribute among the soldiers. His indenture, dated 1 Mar. 1409, promised him a personal reward of 100 marks a year and stipulated that the garrison should number 30 men-at-arms and 60 archers in peacetime and 50 and 100, respectively, in war. On 4 Jan. he had obtained from Charles VI of France letters of safe conduct to return to Bordeaux overland and from there to go on a pilgrimage to St. James of Compostella, although whether he ever made use of them is not known. He did not reach Bordeaux until 1 Aug., and his troops were mustered on the 9th. Subsequently, he was involved in negotiations with both France and Castile for prolongation of the truce, but hostilities broke out once more in the summer of 1410. In April 1411 as a reward for his services he was granted Condac near Libourne and Barbane in Perigord, but these estates brought only meagre revenues. Furthermore, payments for the garrison at Fronsac were falling seriously in arrear, so much so that they amounted to nearly £523 at the time of Swinburne’s death.14

Swinburne was succeeded as mayor of Bordeaux before November 1411, although he remained in command at Fronsac until February following. He then returned to England, where he successfully secured the sum of £2,300 to pay his men. While engaged in preparations to sail back to his post, he fell ill in London, made his will on 9 Aug. and died the same day. He was buried next to his father in Little Horkesley priory in an altar tomb with magnificent brasses built on the instructions of his half-brother, William. Sir Thomas left 600 marks to be distributed for the souls of his father and progenitors and the residue of his goods to his executors (his nephew William Rookwood and Thomas Barton alias Hammes) to spend on pious uses. His consort, Elizabeth Trivet, and Sir Thomas Erpingham (former chamberlain to the King) were named as overseers of the will. Although Barton promptly sailed for France with money for the garrison of Fronsac, Swinburne’s affairs abroad were not to be finally wound up for at least 15 years.15 Sir Thomas left no issue. In 1413 Gunnerton was conveyed by his feoffees to John Fenwick, probably a relative; his lands in France were sold by his executors, and the Swinburne estates in Essex and elsewhere remained in part in the possession of his stepmother or else passed to his half-brother, William. Swinburne’s widow made her will on 28 July 1421 and after her death years later she was buried in the crypt of Canterbury cathedral.16

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. C76/75 m. 8.
  • 2. C76/79 m. 8.
  • 3. Foedera ed. Rymer (orig. edn.), viii. 324, 344, 588, 593, 617, 650, 657.
  • 4. CP, v. 294; vii. 24-26; CIPM, xii. 200; CFR, vii. 387; Peds. Plea Rolls ed. Wrottesley, 100; DKR, xxxii. 281; CCR, 1377-81, p. 178.
  • 5. CCR, 1377-81, pp. 385, 462; 1381-5, p. 137; 1389-92, p. 298; Northumb. and Durham Deeds (Newcastle-upon-Tyne Recs. Cttee. vii), 216, 291; Corporation of London RO, hr 108/130, 144.
  • 6. Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. 335, 340, 352, 528; CCR, 1385-9, pp. 99, 349, 473; Rot. Scot. ed. Macpherson etc. ii. 79, 80, 90; CPR, 1385-9, p. 412; E364/32 m. E; Northumb. RO, Swinburne (Capheaton) ms 1/81.
  • 7. CFR, x. 261-2, 276.
  • 8. Reign Ric. II ed. Du Boulay and Barron, 13; CPR, 1391-6, pp. 286, 288, 369, 387; CP, iii. 314; G.F. Beltz, Mems. Order of the Garter, 95, 252; CIPM, xii. 152; xiv. 183-4; xv. 407-8; xvi. 534-7, 764-70; VCH Cambs. vi. 223, 235; VCH Beds. ii. 360; CP25(1)289/56/222; C139/64/35; Lambeth Pal. Lib. Reg. Sudbury, ff. 104-5.
  • 9. Feudal Aids, vi. 395, 406, 438, 470, 479, 514.
  • 10. Colchester Oath Bk. ed. Benham, 218-20; CCR, 1389-92, pp. 508, 517, 525, 533; Arch. Aeliana (ser. 2), xxv. 107-8.
  • 11. Caius Coll. Cambridge, ms 449 (printed in Archives de l’orient Latin, ii (pt. 2), 378-88); Swinburne mss 1/83, 4/26, 59; Issues ed. Devon, 253; CPR, 1391-6, p. 668; 1396-9, pp. 85, 166; CCR, 1392-6, p. 507; 1396-9, pp. 75, 155, 202, 229, 256, 491; C76/82 m. 4, 83 m. 6; SC8/222/11059.
  • 12. CPR, 1399-1401, p. 59; 1401-5, pp. 16, 315; J.H. Wylie, Hen. IV, iv. 252; Letters Hen. IV ed. Hingeston, i. 231, 294-8, 303-8, 312-40, 350-67, 374-6, 385-401; E404/15/93; CCR, 1402-5, p. 183.
  • 13. CCR, 1399-1402, pp. 280, 392; 1419-22, pp. 121-3; 1422-9, pp. 141, 160; CPR, 1401-5, p. 149; CFR, xii. 202.
  • 14. CPR, 1405-8, pp. 60, 448; 1408-13, p. 82; T. Walsingham, Hist. Ang. ed. Riley, ii. 272; M.G.A. Vale, Eng. Gascony, 50-51, 183; CCR, 1405-9, p. 491; C76/88 m. 9; Reg. Jurade Bordeaux (Archs. Muncipales Bordeaux, iii), 170, 225, 283, 298, 300; E28/22 no. 147; E101/69/2/313, 326, 184/17; E404/23/502, 24/300, 25/392, 27/392; PCC, iii. 46-48 (wrongly dated 1423).
  • 15. Lambeth Pal. Lib. Reg. Arundel, ii. f. 157; CCR, 1409-13, p. 366; 1422-9, p. 273; Archaeologia, xlvi. 272.
  • 16. Arch. Aeliana, ser. 2, xxv. 107-8; Reg. Chichele, ii. 495-7; Arch. Cant. xxvii. 209-12; C139/64/35; Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ed. Carte, i. 199.