VERNON, Sir Richard (1390-1451), of Harlaston, Staffs. and Haddon, Derbys.
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Family and Education
b.1390, s. and h. of Sir Richard Vernon (d.1400) of Harlaston and Haddon by Joan (d.1439), da. of Sir Rhys ap Gruffyd (d.1380) of Llansadwrn and Abermarlais, Carm. m. by Nov. 1410, Benedicta (d.1444), da. of Sir John Ludlow (d.1398) of Hodnet, Salop, and Isabel Lingen (d.1446), 4s. inc. Richard†, Fulk† (both d.v.p.) and Sir William†, 3da. Kntd. by Dec. 1417.1
Forester, Macclesfield forest Sept. 1411-d.2
Sheriff, Staffs. 30 Nov. 1416-10 Nov. 1417, 7 Nov. 1427-4 Nov. 1428, Notts. and Derbys. 6 Nov. 1424-15 June 1426.
J.p. Staffs. 4 Dec. 1417-Feb. 1422, 24 Mar. 1430-32, Derbys. 7 July 1423-d.
Commr. of array, Staffs. May 1418, Mar. 1419, Derbys. Mar. 1427; to raise loans, Staffs. Nov. 1419, Jan. 1420, Derbys., Notts. Mar. 1430, Mar. 1431, Feb. 1436, Derbys. Mar. 1439, Nov. 1440, Mar. 1442; of inquiry, Derbys., Notts. Dec. 1422 (illegal netting of salmon), Derbys., Leics., Lincs., Northants., Notts., Rutland, Warws. July 1434 (concealments), Derbys., Notts. July 1445 (alienation of land); to discover persons liable for taxation, Derbys. Apr. 1431; distribute a tax allowance Dec. 1433, Feb 1434; take oaths against the support of lawbreakers May 1434; restore the church of Beighton to its incumbent Feb. 1436; of oyer and terminer, Staffs. Nov. 1436 (attack on the dean and chapter of Lichfield), Derbys., Notts. July 1440, Calais Jan. 1450 (mercantile dispute); gaol delivery, Stafford Nov. 1439; to collect a tax, Derbys. Feb. 1441; make arrests, Derbys., Staffs. Mar., July 1449 (attacks on the abbot of Burton-upon-Trent).
Duchy of Lancaster steward of the High Peak, Derbys. 3 Mar. 1424-23 Oct. 1444; master forester 3 Mar. 1424-26 June 1425; bailiff by 1439-aft. 1441.3
Dep. justiciar, S. Wales 29 Apr. 1431-prob. June 1438.4
Assessor of a tax, Staffs. Jan. 1436, collector Aug. 1450.
Steward of John, duke of Norfolk’s estates, Derbys. 16 Dec. 1439.5
Knight steward of the ct. of the constable and marshal of England and dep. to Humphrey, duke of Buckingham, constable of England by 6 Apr. 1445-aft. 27 Nov. 1448.6
Treasurer of Calais 17 May 1445-24 May 1451; receiver and keeper of the Calais mint 1 Sept. 1446-prob. 24 May 1451.
Sheriff of Pembroke, constable of Pembroke and Tenby castles, master forester of Coedrath and steward of the lordships of Llanstephan, St. Clears and Usterlow 2 June 1450-25 June 1451.
Since Vernon was only ten when his father died, in July 1400, he had to wait another 11 years for livery of his inheritance. This comprised the forestership of Macclesfield forest, together with the manors of Marpie and Wibersley in Cheshire; and estates centred upon Draycott, Harlaston and Pipe Ridware in Staffordshire, and Bakewell, Baslow, Calver, Haddon, Netherseal and Rowsley in Derbyshire. The custody of the Cheshire properties was granted piecemeal to (Sir) Roger Leche*, a senior official of the duchy of Lancaster, who was clearly anxious to extend his interests in the palatinate having already acquired the marriage and wardship of Sir Richard Vernon of Shipbrook’s young son and heir, Richard, after his father’s death fighting on the rebel side at the battle of Shrewsbury.7. The MP’s family (who are not to be confused with the Shipbrook branch) also owned the manors of Stackpole Elidor, Bosherton and Rudbaxton in Pembrokeshire, Pendine and ‘Cantrewyn’ in Carmarthenshire, Pitchcott and Adstock (with the advowsons of both churches) in Buckinghamshire and Meaburn Maulds and Newby in Westmorland, along with scattered holdings in Cumberland, but these, like the rest of the family estates, had been divided up to provide Richard’s mother and paternal grandmother, Juliana Pembridge, with dowers.8 The latter’s death, in 1410, not only enabled him to recover a substantial share of his patrimony, but also brought him the extensive possessions of Juliana’s brother, Sir Fulk Pembridge*, who had died childless shortly before. Thus, on his coming of age, Richard Vernon also became owner of the castle and lordship of Tong in Shropshire and the manor of Aylestone in Leicestershire. By July 1416 he was, in addition, seised of Little Appleby in the latter county, as well as land in Seckington, Warwickshire; and he duly settled the greater part of his inheritance upon a panel of trustees, which included Sir Thomas Maureward* and Hugh Erdeswyk*.
Not content with such an impressive rent-roll, Vernon went on to press a claim for the estates of Sir Fulk’s first wife, Margaret Trussell. By an agreement forced upon Margaret’s kinsman and heir (Sir) William Trussell*, a life interest in these lucrative and widespread Shropshire, Staffordshire and Berkshire holdings had been secured upon Sir Fulk’s second wife, Isabel Lingen, whose longevity must have proved a sore trial to both men. First the reversion and then, after her death in 1446, the actual ownership of the properties was hotly contested by Vernon and the Trussells, whose dispute dragged on for the best part of a quarter of a century. Although he initially failed to establish his title, Vernon refused to accept defeat, and employed every tactic at his disposal, from champerty to blatant intimidation, in an attempt to evict his rival. Against his early reversals in this quarter, however, must be set the fact that Isabel was prepared to settle her own manor of Haselbeech in Northamptonshire on Vernon, perhaps as part of the settlement drawn up on his marriage, in or just before 1410, to her daughter Benedicta.9
As a dynastic move, intended to consolidate his family’s links with the Pembridges, a double contract was arranged whereby Vernon married Benedicta (the child of her mother’s first marriage, to Sir John Ludlow of Hodnet), while one of his sisters became the wife of Benedicta’s brother, William. Unfortunately for the Vernons, (Sir) William Trussell’s guardians conceived the very same idea, and by marrying him to another of Isabel’s offspring, Margery, they sowed the seeds of later conflict. It looks very much as if Isabel herself favoured the Vernons, for having obtained permission to found a college of priests at Tong parish church, she granted the advowson to them, thus helping Richard to establish a connexion with Henry IV’s half-brother, Thomas Beaufort, the future duke of Exeter, who had been close to Sir Fulk Pembridge and whose name appeared among those for whom the priests at Tong were to pray. After a further endowment had been made to the church, in 1414, Thomas’s brother, Henry, bishop of Winchester, was included on the bede roll. Whether or not this early association with the Beauforts led to Vernon’s election as Speaker of the Commons in 1426 cannot now be proved, but he was not otherwise drawn into their circle.10
At the time of his death, Vernon was said to enjoy an annual landed income of approximately £130, although this figure accounts for only part of his revenues. While still a minor, for example, he had surrendered his claim to property in the Haunton area of Staffordshire in return for Bishop Stafford’s manor of Great Bridgford in the same county: this he leased out at first to the lawyer, Robert Whitgreve*, who eventually bought it from him outright. He also acquired land in Stanton, in the same area, which was confirmed to him by an arbitration award of 1422, and further secured by the offer of pledges worth £100 by the other claimant. An additional £17 a year at least came from his various Cheshire estates, while those in Wales (also omitted from his inquisition post mortem) produced £24 or more, and Roland Thornburgh* paid him 50 marks in annual rent for his two Westmorland manors. He could rely on £4 p.a. from land in the Derbyshire villages of Allestree and Willington, over and above whatever revenues derived from his purchases in Glossop and Croxall. Nor do we know the value of the knight’s fee in Herefordshire which he held as a feudal tenant of the dukes of Norfolk. In all, Vernon’s receipts from property must have exceeded £210 a year, and were, moreover, augmented by his highly profitable activities as a stock-farmer. His widespread upland estates in west Derbyshire were well suited for the rearing of sheep and cattle; and he invested heavily in the pastoral economy. Some of his produce was used to supply his two principal residences at Haddon and Harlaston, any surplus being dispatched to markets as far afield as Coventry. A flock of 1,071 sheep (1473/4) and a herd of 222 cattle (1428/9) marked him out as one of the richest and most successful gentry landowners in the north Midlands.11
Vernon exploited his wealth and influence to the full, obtaining for himself a prominent, indeed dominant, position in local society. His public career began in June 1416, when he was advanced £45 10s. by assignment from the Exchequer as wages for a forthcoming period of service in France. Letters of protection were accorded to him one month later, although he must have returned to England by the date of his appointment as sheriff of Staffordshire in the following November. A few days after the end of his term of office he received a knighthood, and took his seat on the county bench. Together with his fellow j.p., Richard Lane*, he was chosen as an arbitrator, in March 1418, to settle a dispute between the abbot of Burton-upon-Trent and Thomas Okeover*.12 Vernon was first returned to Parliament in 1419, and used the opportunity presented by his visit to London to stand surety in Chancery for Eleanor, the widow of Sir Nicholas Dagworth*. Predictably, he was included among the leading residents of Derbyshire who were summoned to meet at Westminster during the Hilary term of 1420 to discuss measures for the defence of Normandy. Not long afterwards he made a grant to the church of Vernon in Derbyshire, where one of his ancestors lay buried. His connexions extended far further afield, however, for in June 1420 he joined with the Essex landowners, Sir William Coggeshall* and Richard Baynard* in lending £52 10s. to the Crown. He was at this time involved in litigation arising from an alleged attack on one of his servants; and he subsequently began an action against a Staffordshire man for rescuing cattle which he had impounded.13 Meanwhile, he attended both the Staffordshire and the Derbyshire elections to the Parliament of May 1421; he was again present to witness the Derbyshire returns in 1423, 1432 (when his eldest son, Richard, was elected) and 1437 (when the latter’s younger brother, Fulk, occupied one of the county seats).
The tide of preferment was now beginning to flow in Vernon’s direction. In November 1423, he obtained custody of the manor of Ashford-in-Bakewell, Derbyshire, at a farm of £42, during the minority of the earl of Westmorland. He already owned land in the vill of Bakewell, where he appears to have been a member of the guild of the Blessed Virgin, so the grant helped to reinforce his influence there. Within a few months the stewardship of the duchy of Lancaster estates in the High Peak was in his hands, together with other subsidiary offices, which initially brought him over £31 a year and greatly strengthened his authority throughout north-west Derbyshire. How far these marks of royal favour (and even his election to the Speakership of the Commons in February 1426) were due to his family’s links with Bishop Beaufort, the then chancellor, must remain a matter of speculation. At all events, the Parliament of 1426 showed little inclination to side with Beaufort against his enemy, the duke of Gloucester, and he was forced to surrender the great seal during the first session. Vernon used his influence as Speaker to better effect on behalf of the young earl of Westmorland, whose petition for an increased allowance passed successfully through the House. As a mesne tenant of the Nevilles and farmer of one of their more profitable manors, Vernon had a direct interest in this item of parliamentary business, and he was in fact delegated to provide the earl with some of the revenues assigned to him.14
Vernon’s relations with other members of the nobility were largely dictated by his need to maintain and protect his own near-baronial position in Derbyshire and Staffordshire. Although he received a fee from Henry, Lord Grey of Codnor, and usually saw eye to eye with him over such matters of local importance as the choice of parliamentary representatives, the two fell out at the time of the Derbyshire elections of 1433 and found themselves in opposite camps. Determined to impose his choice of candidates on the electors, Grey arrived at Derby on 24 June with a force of 200 men, but on the following day Vernon and his friend, Sir John Cockayne*, who between them had managed to mobilize a far larger band of adherents, got themselves returned as shire knights in open defiance of his wishes. This breach was probably exacerbated by the rapidly worsening feud between Sir Henry Pierrepont* and the Foljambes, in which Vernon, who had himself retained Thomas Foljambe, in 1429, naturally took the side of his fee’d man. Even by the standards of the age, the Foljambes’ vicious attack on Pierrepont and his friends at Chesterfield parish church was outstanding in its brutality; and in April 1434 special sessions of oyer and terminer were held at Derby to investigate the affair. Cockayne and Vernon were empanelled on the second of the two grand juries, and used their influence to assist Foljambe and his accomplices. At some unknown date, Cockayne’s son and heir, John, had married Vernon’s daughter, Anne, thereby cementing an already close bond between the two families and intensifying their community of interest. Lord Grey, on the other hand, was fairly sympathetic to Pierrepont, who headed the first jury himself. Indictments of a more general nature, most notably with regard to the illegal distribution of liveries, were heard during the sessions, and Vernon (who was temporarily removed from the jury) faced a number of charges on this count. In the event, however, the proceedings proved completely ineffective, both as a means of punishing the offenders and of containing any of the gentry vendettas: the protagonists were left to reach a modus vivendi as best they could out of court. Grey, Vernon and Cockayne had evidently patched up their private quarrel by 1437, when the two knights acted together as feoffees of Grey’s land in Aldwark, Derbyshire. It is now impossible to tell how far Vernon’s antagonism towards Sir Henry Pierrepont was fuelled by another of his attachments, to Ralph, Lord Cromwell, whose acquisition of the Heriz estates, in 1431, had been achieved in highly dubious circumstances, at Sir Henry’s expense. Vernon was one of the trustees to whom Cromwell then conveyed the property for greater security of title; and in 1440 Pierrepont actually began litigation against him in an unsuccessful attempt to recover what was rightfully his.15
Of even greater importance to Vernon were his dealings with the most powerful of his neighbours, the Staffords, from whom his ancestors had held their Buckinghamshire estates for generations. His first personal contact with the family came through his transactions with Edmund Stafford (d.1419), bishop of Exeter; not until 1430 did he enter the circle of Humphrey, earl of Stafford (cr. duke of Buckingham in 1444), who settled certain land upon him in trust. A further ten years elapsed before he sealed a formal contract with the earl, agreeing to serve him in peace and war with a retinue of six mounted men, in return for the sizeable annuity of £20, payable for life from the manor of Rugby in Warwickshire. His decision to accept the Stafford livery probably reflects his need for support in the face of growing complaints about his conduct as steward of the High Peak. He may also have schemed to undermine Sir William Trussell’s standing with the earl, thus ensuring the latter’s neutrality, at the very least, in the event of an outbreak of hostilities. Stafford, on his part, was only too anxious to extend his power base into Derbyshire by recruiting such an influential local figure. As events at the 1433 Derbyshire elections proved, Vernon was capable of raising a substantial force of armed men when the occasion demanded. His retainers and estate staff included such notable figures as John de la Pole*, John Mynors* and the redoubtable brothers Hugh and Sampson Erdeswyk*, each of whom had become involved in violent feuds of one kind or another, and could themselves command significant reserves of manpower. The earl also came to rely upon Vernon’s administrative and judicial expertise: between 1440 and 1445, for instance, Sir Richard toured his marcher lordship of Brecon as a justice itinerant, and it was almost certainly on the recommendation of his new patron (who became constable of Calais in 1442) that he was later chosen to be treasurer and warden of the mint there. The relationship grew somewhat less cordial during the late 1440s, largely because of Vernon’s reluctance to become too dependent upon the protection of any individual nobleman, and his machiavellian practice of safeguarding his own interests by playing off one ‘good lord’ against another. The vendetta with Sir William Trussell must also have soured his dealings with the earl, who failed to provide the unequivocal support he so much desired. On the contrary, Stafford (in association with many of his senior employees) held Sir William’s manor of Kibblestone as a feoffee, and consequently suffered a direct challenge to his authority when, in 1450, Vernon took the law into his own hands and seized the property by force. Nor can he have looked too kindly on Vernon’s growing rapprochement with William, Lord Ferrers of Chartley, one of his rivals for local hegemony. Sir Richard drew an annuity of 40s. from Lord Ferrers’s estates in Staffordshire, and remained on friendly terms with him for several years until a dispute arose between them over the ownership of the manor of Tong. This was settled in February 1450, by the arbitration of the earl of Shrewsbury’s son, Sir John Talbot, and Ralph, Lord Sudeley, who allowed Vernon to remain in possession, but instructed him to pay out £60 in compensation.16
Our MP was, indeed, assiduous in the cultivation of baronial support, another of his patrons being John Mowbray, duke of Norfolk. The stewardship of the Mowbrays’ Derbyshire estates, which lay very near his own, was entrusted to him in 1439, and he also farmed some of their property in Herefordshire. There can be little doubt that Mowbray, as marshal of England, had a hand in securing his appointment as knight steward of the court of chivalry, although Stafford (who was constable) must also have been helpful to him here. It was through the good offices of James, Lord Audley, his neighbour in Staffordshire, that Vernon became deputy justiciar of South Wales, but other evidence of a long-term connexion between them remains wanting. Not much is known about Vernon’s more private activities. From time to time he stood surety for friends or colleagues, such as the abbot of Burton-upon-Trent, Sir Thomas Tyrell† and Robert Manfield (the master of the Calais mint); and he was requested at least twice in later life to act as an arbitrator in property disputes. He was also a party to certain recognizances entered into by Cardinal Kemp at an unspecified date, but in view of his official position these may have been a mere formality.17
Despite the heavy demands of public office, Vernon continued to play a prominent part in local government. He served on many royal commissions in the Midlands, where his name carried great authority. This was due to his wealth as much as his social position: in February 1436, for example, he was approached by the Crown for a loan of 100 marks, and at various times over the next 11 years he entered into bonds in sums of up to 1,000 marks. On one occasion Vernon had to stand bail for his son, Richard, who, like his younger brother, Fulk, sometimes found himself on the wrong side of the law. As we have already seen, Vernon was equally capable of highhanded behaviour: in 1440 some tenants and employees of the duchy of Lancaster estates in the High Peak complained to the royal council about the illegal imprisonments and amercements of which he was guilty as steward, and one year later he and a small group of Staffordshire notables were solemnly warned by the Crown against causing riots or illicit assemblies in that part of the country. These disturbances may well have arisen from his long-standing feud with Sir William Trussell, which engendered a great deal of unrest.18 Yet, as his later career shows, Henry VI continued to think well of him, and he enjoyed several marks of royal favour, being granted part of the manor of Repton in Derbyshire in 1440, the wardship and marriage of the young Richard Longville in 1445, and a charter of rights and privileges pertaining to the collegiate foundation at Tong in 1448.19
As his influence increased, Vernon was, moreover, able to fulfil many dynastic ambitions by providing his children not only with lucrative marriages and handsome settlements of land, but also, in the case of his sons, with important offices. Thus, Fulk Vernon became joint steward of the High Peak with him from 1438 onwards and subsequently held the captaincy of Hammes castle while his father was treasurer of Calais. The post of sheriff of Pembroke, which Vernon resigned shortly before his death, went to his youngest son, John, the only one of the four who is not known to have sat as a shire knight in Parliament. His daughter Benedicta had, meanwhile, married (Sir) Thomas Charlton (Speaker of the Commons in 1454), taking with her a dowry of £320 and property worth 20 marks a year, while marriage alliances with the Vampages of Worcester and the Cockaynes of Ashbourne were arranged for her two sisters.20
Vernon died in August 1451, having survived his eldest son, Richard, whose widow retained a sizeable share of the Vernon estates for life. He was succeeded by his younger son, Sir William, upon whom the heavy burden of paying off his debts as treasurer of Calais immediately fell. It is unlikely that Sir William ever managed to settle his father’s account, although he had every incentive to do so, since his manor of Harlaston was seized by the Crown as security.21
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. CFR, xi. 273; xvii. 276; CPR, 1416-22, p. 459; 1446-52, p. 463; CCR, 1441-7, pp. 42-43, 493; J.P. Earwaker, E. Cheshire, ii. 50-51; HMC Rutland, iv. 28; R.A. Griffiths, Principality of Wales, i. 138-9; Staffs. Parl Hist. i. (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc.), 193; C139/145/8; CP25(1)39/43/13; Genealogist, n.s. vii. 70.
- 2. Earwaker, ii. 50-51.
- 3. Somerville, Duchy, i. 551-3.
- 4. Griffiths, i. 138-9; James, Ld. Audley, whose dep. Vernon was, relinquished office in 1438, so Vernon may well have been replaced at this time.
- 5. HMC Rutland, iv. 29.
- 6. E403/773 m. 6; E404/64/158; CPL, x. 15-16.
- 7. J.S. Roskell, ‘Sir Richard Vernon’, Derbys. Arch. Jnl. lxxxii. 43-44; Earwaker, ii. 50-51; DL28/4/2; HMC Rutland, iv. 28; CPR, 1401-5, p. 257; DKR, xxxvi. 284, 326, 499; Feudal Aids, v. 2