WAWETON, Thomas, of Great Staughton, Hunts. and Basmey, Beds.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of John Waweton*. m. (1) by June 1394, Elizabeth; (2) by Sept. 1422, Maud; (3) by Sept. 1431, Alana (d.1458), da. and coh. of Sir Simon Felbrigg (d.1443) of Felbrigg, Norf. by Margaret, cousin of Richard II’s queen, Anne of Bohemia, wid. of William Tyndale (d.1426/7) of Deene and Staniern, Northants., 2s. 2da. Kntd. by 18 Sept. 1419.1
Alnager, Beds. 3 Dec. 1395-17 Feb. 1397.
Collector of a tax, Hunts. Mar. 1404, Beds. Aug. 1450, a royal loan, Hunts. Sept. 1405; assessor of a tax, Beds. Jan. 1436.
J.p. Hunts. 8 Feb. 1405-7, Beds. 12 Feb. 1422-July 1423, 28 Jan 1435-Mar 1439, 10 Nov 1443-June 1448.
Sheriff, Beds. and Bucks. 1 Dec. 1415-30 Nov. 1416, Mich. 1422-13 Nov. 1423, 4 Nov. 1428-Mich. 1429, 5 Nov. 1432-5.
Commr. of oyer and terminer, Hunts. July 1425 (attack on the priory of Hinchingbrooke), Mar. 1450 (attack on the property of Ramsey abbey); to ascertain persons liable to pay taxes, Beds. Apr. 1431; raise royal loans, Beds., Bucks. Feb. 1434, Beds. Feb. 1436, Nov. 1440, June 1446; of inquiry Nov. 1435 (concealments); treat for payment of a tax Feb. 1441.
Although his family owned estates in Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire, it was in the latter county that our Member’s father enjoyed the most influence, being returned as its representative to at least ten Parliaments, and also serving for some years on the local bench. Even so, Thomas first appears as a plaintiff at the Bedford assizes of July 1388, when he arraigned one Richard Parker of Southoe, Huntingdonshire, on an assize of novel disseisin. He again took legal action there in about 1394, when he and his first wife, Elizabeth, were involved in two separate suits over property in Bedfordshire, neither of which appears to have reached a verdict. John Waweton entered the House of Commons for the tenth and last time in 1395, the year of his son’s appointment as alnager of Bedfordshire. The latter remained in office for just over a year, and was replaced when actually sitting as a Member of the first 1397 Parliament. His election, while he was still a young man with very little real administrative experience, must have owed a good deal either directly or indirectly to his father, although the voters of Huntingdonshire seem to have been quite happy to re-elect him a few months later. His longstanding friendship with Robert Scott probably dates from the very beginning of the 15th century, since the two men sat together in the Parliaments of 1401 and 1402, both being as yet relatively unknown outside their own locality. Waweton’s most important connexion was, even so, still his father, to whom he remained very close. In February 1400, for instance, they both witnessed deeds at Sawtry for Sir William Keighley, and four years later they were appointed together by the Crown to collect taxes in Huntingdonshire. It is interesting to note that John Waweton’s retirement as a j.p. was followed immediately by his son’s promotion to that office, even though he only served initially for a period of two years. Part of Thomas’s inheritance comprised the manor of Great Staughton, where he made his home during his father’s lifetime. Indeed, in 1406, the manor was actually conveyed to him and his wife by feoffees including his friend Robert Scott. Waweton was able to repay this favour six years later by becoming a trustee of the estates in London which Scott had acquired through marriage. Other parties to this transaction were Roger Hunt* and John Botiller*, both of whom had but recently joined with Scott in helping our Member to obtain a writ of supersedeas when being sued at common law by one Robert Reynham. The cause of this dispute is not now recorded, but it is evident that Waweton had by then established strong links with the leading figures in Huntingdonshire society. The once common belief that he was personally related to Sir John (later Lord) Tiptoft*, can now be convincingly disproved, yet they were, none the less, well known to each other, and in June 1410 Waweton offered securities on behalf of one of the King’s serjeants Thomas English, who, through Tiptoft’s patronage, had been made the lessee of certain land then in the hands of the Crown. It was, moreover, at this very date that he and English became sole trustees of the manor of Colesden, Bedfordshire, for the widowed Joan Botiller, so their association was clearly quite a close one.3
The death of his father, in or just after 1412, made it possible for Waweton to take possession of the manor of Basmey in Bedfordshire which formed the other part of his inheritance. Thus qualified, he was able to represent this county in Parliament as well, which he did on at least five occasions from May 1413 onwards. He also took part in the Huntingdonshire elections to this, the first Parliament of Henry V’s reign, but although present at Westminster when stricter regulations concerning the residence of electors as well as elected then passed into law, he showed little regard for either the spirit or the letter of the new statute. While sheriff of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and therefore technically resident in one or the other county, he attended the county court at Huntingdon for the elections of shire knights to the Parliament of March 1416. Likewise, his own return as MP for Bedfordshire in 1419 did not prevent him from taking part in the elections then being held across the border in Huntingdonshire, and in the following year this situation occurred in reverse, his appearance at the Bedfordshire elections coinciding with his successful candidature of one of the Huntingdonshire seats. Although he did not evidently stand for either of the 1421 Parliaments, his name is listed on both the Bedfordshire and the Huntingdonshire returns made in the spring of that year. He once again infringed the statute of residence in 1422, when for the second time he took part in the Bedfordshire elections while standing elsewhere. His friends, Scott and Hunt, both of whom also owned estates in the two counties, were equally contemptuous of the law in this respect, and it is clear that in marked contrast to his subsequent attempts at electoral management Waweton’s conduct was not considered so unusual as to be worthy of censure. He was, after all, known and respected in both counties, being named in 1419 as one of the Bedfordshire gentry best qualified to perform military service in defence of the realm.4
Not much more evidence has survived about Waweton’s private affairs at this time, although he remarried at some point before September 1422, the date of a papal indult permitting him and his second wife, Maud, to make use of a portable altar. It was in the same year that he joined with Robert Scott, Sir John Cornwall (later Lord Fanhope) and others in standing bail for Sir John Beaufo*, who then faced an action for assault. As we shall see, his relations with Cornwall deteriorated considerably after this date, largely as a result of his growing attachment to the latter’s enemy, Reynold, Lord Grey of Ruthin. Scott and Waweton again joined forces in March 1423, when, together with Roger Hunt and other local notables, they became co-trustees of the Cambridgeshire estates which Sir John Tiptoft had bought from Walter Reynell*. It is now impossible to tell exactly when Waweton’s lawsuit with Katherine, the widow of Sir Thomas Aylesbury*, over the right to present to a chantry at St. Mary’s church in Eton, actually began; but by 1425 the bishop of Lincoln had placed an inhibition on any admissions to the chantry until the matter was settled.5
Waweton must then have seemed a formidable opponent at law, as in May of that year he was elected Speaker of the House of Commons. During the session, two petitions of a distinctly lollard flavour were presented by the Lower House, one complaining about absentee clergy and the holding of livings in plurality, and the other drawing attention to the plight of suspect heretics who had been kept in prison for long periods without trial. Waweton may have had some smypathies with the lollard movement, although we have no means of discovering if he himself was responsible for bringing these documents before Parliament. He was certainly prepared to use his position as Speaker for his own personal advantage, since another item of Commons’ business concerned his request for the payment of part of an annuity awarded to him by the recently deceased earl of March. At some unknown date the earl had granted him a fee of 40 marks payable for life from the manor of Ryhall in Rutland, but the crown agents who took over the Mortimer estates had failed to honour this commitment. Waweton’s hand was also almost certainly behind another Commons’ petition for the livery of dower to the earl’s widow, who duly obtained an assignment of property which included the manor of Ryhall. Waweton may have originally become connected with March because of the latter’s relationship with Sir John Tiptoft, who was married to the earl’s half-sister. Tiptoft’s interest in the affairs of the house of Mortimer certainly did not cease on his kinsman’s death, for within a matter of weeks he secured for himself the chief stewardship of the family’s estates in Wales and the marches. Long experience of the parliamentary scene would alone account for Waweton’s election to the Speakership, although his previous association with the earl, no less than his friendship with such respected figures as Hunt and Tiptoft must also have weighed heavily in his favour. A few weeks after the dissolution of Parliament he was present at Higham Ferrers in Northamptonshire to witness the endowment by Archbishop Chichele of his new college there, a fact which suggests that he may also have numbered the primate among his well-wishers. The 1425 Parliament certainly showed itself hostile to the ambitions of Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester, who then posed something of a threat to Chichele’s metropolitan authority, although Waweton’s apparent friendship with the notorious heretic, Sir John Cheyne II* can hardly have met with the archbishop’s approval.6
The next four years of Waweton’s life passed quietly enough, being marked only by his activities as a feoffee-to-uses of an extensive estate in Rutland for John Bayhous, lord of the manor of Conington. This peaceful state of affairs ended dramatically, however, in the summer of 1429, when, within the space of less than a fortnight, Waweton was involved in attempts to influence the outcome of two county elections, both of which generated a good deal of ill-feeling among his neighbours. His conduct in Huntingdonshire has been seen as an outcome of the worsening rivalry between John Mowbray, duke of Norfolk, and John Holand, earl of Huntingdon, whose adherents had actually come to blows (according to one chronicle source) in Bedfordshire in the previous year. The earl certainly had many contacts among the county gentry, and his recent marriage to the widowed countess of March, with whom Waweton had long been associated, may possibly have forged a link between them. A deed of March 1429 records the appointment of the two men, along with Sir John Cornwall and other prominent landowners, as trustees of William Waweton†, our MP’s kinsman, whose candidature in the forthcoming elections (at which time the trust was still in operation) was to prove such a bone of contention. It does not, however, follow that either Sir Thomas or William were actively supported by Huntingdon at this time; nor is there any evidence at all of direct (or indirect) intervention by the duke of Norfolk, who owned only two manors in the county.
A more plausible explanation is to be found in a disagreement over representation in the ranks of the gentry themselves, which caused a temporary rift between Waweton and his friend, Roger Hunt. At all events, on 20 Aug. 1429, he and a group of ‘visitors’ from Bedfordshire forced their way into the town hall at Huntingdon and obliged the sheriff to return two candidates of their own choosing. One of these was Robert Stonham*, a local man, but the other was William Waweton, who then appears to have been regarded as a complete outsider. Although the latter eventually sat for Huntingdonshire in the Parliament of 1433, the electors refused to accept him on this occasion, and at the next meeting of the county court they succeeded in their demand that Roger Hunt and (Sir) Nicholas Styuecle*, their original choice as candidates, should represent them at Westminster.
Emboldened by his initial, albeit short-lived, success, Sir Thomas Waweton meanwhile flouted the law in an even more outrageous manner by making a false return for Buckinghamshire. His duties as sheriff required him to hold the parliamentary elections there; and it was thus that he contrived to substitute the names of Walter Strickland† and his old friend, Sir John Cheyne II, in the place of the two men who had actually been chosen on 31 Aug. at the county court. Vociferous protests by the electors led to the issue of a royal commission of inquiry almost immediately after Parliament met, authorizing the justices of assize to hold a sworn inquest into the affair. Unfortunately, the last of the two parliamentary sessions had already ended when a judicial hearing, held at Aylesbury on 1 Mar. 1430, announced that John Hampden† and Andrew Sperlyng* had been freely and fairly elected by a total of 129 named individuals. In accordance with the statutes of both 1406 and 1410 Waweton incurred a fine of £100, part of which went to Hampden and Sperlyng by way of reward for their ‘labour, costs and expenses’ in extracting the money. Strickland was connected, somewhat tenuously, with the earl of Huntingdon through his immediate patron, John, earl of Arundel, but it is again difficult to explain Waweton’s high-handed behaviour simply in terms of baronial politics. His support of Cheyne certainly owed more to personal or even religious factors. Cheyne’s part in Sir John Oldcastle’s* rebellion of 1414 had marked him out as a dangerous heretic, and he was again to be arrested in 1431 for his suspected involvement in a lollard rising based on the south Midlands. Not long before this rising, Waweton and a former parliamentary colleague, John Enderby*, acted together as witnesses of a conveyance of the estates of Cheyne’s kinsman, John Cheyne* of Chenies, so their association must have continued for a while, at least. As we have already seen, Waweton was not without sympathy for the lollard movement, and it is perhaps worth pointing out that he was for some years the retainer of a lord whose cousin, the traitor, Sir John Mortimer, had also been attacked for his unorthodox views. Whatever his motives, Waweton may certainly be regarded as one of the men whose flagrant disregard of the existing law on electoral procedure led the Parliament of 1429 to introduce far stricter penalties for offences of this kind. Such was the tide of feeling against him in Huntingdonshire that he never again represented that county in Parliament. Indeed, he sat only once more in the House of Commons as MP for Bedfordshire, although he did attest the return of its shire knights to the Parliament of 1437.7
Despite the disapproval which they aroused at the time, Waweton’s machinations did not lead to permanent disgrace, and in 1432 he was again made sheriff of Bedfordshire. His personal fortunes had by then, moreover, undergone a striking improvement as a result of his marriage to Alana, the daughter and coheir of Sir Simon Felbrigg, sometime standard-bearer to Richard II. Alana was the widow of William Tyndale, who had settled upon her an estate in Northamptonshire, while by the terms of her father’s will she stood to inherit the manors of Brisworth in Norfolk and Sharpenhow and Strutley in Bedfordshire. Although Waweton had to wait until 1443 before gaining control of the latter properties, the marriage added appreciably to his standing in local society, especially as Alana could claim among her relatives Anne of Bohemia, Richard II’s first queen. It is hardly surprising, therefore, to discover Waweton’s name among those summoned to attend a great council at Westminster in the spring of 1434, nor to find him prominent on the list of Bedfordshire gentry who were then required to take the oath that they would not assist persons disturbing the peace. Two years later he was approached by the Crown for a loan of £50, which may be taken as a measure of his growing influence. He was also able to add to his list of patrons at this time, for by the autumn of 1435 he had been retained by Robert, Lord Willoughby, at an annual fee of £6 13s.4d.8
Waweton is, none the less, chiefly remembered for his connexion with Reynold, Lord Grey of Ruthin, whose struggle for political supremacy in Bedfordshire provoked yet another outbreak of violence in the late 1430s. As early as 1427 Waweton had attested a grant made by Reynold to his younger son; and together with John Enderby, one of the family’s leading supporters in Bedfordshire, he seems to have been regarded as representative of the Grey ‘faction’ on the local bench. The rapid rise of the parvenu, Sir John Cornwall (who was elevated to the peerage as Lord Fanhope in 1432) to the position of second greatest landowner in the county was a source of mounting anxiety to Lord Grey, who rightly feared a challenge to his hitherto uncontested authority. The appointment of a royal commission of inquiry into felonies in the spring of 1437 seemed demonstrably partial to his adversary, and when the commissioners arrived at his manor of Silsoe to pursue their investigations, he determined to confront them with a body of armed men. Enderby, who had himself equipped over 100 of his own followers (or so it was said), proved no less critical of the commissioners’ bias, although Lord Fanhope managed to counter these allegations with charges of intimidation. Since he, too, had seen fit to provide himself with an ‘escort’, a riot was narrowly averted by the prompt intervention of our Member, who was present in his capacity as a j.p. His efforts at mediation earned him few thanks from Fanhope, who used his influence at Court to have both him and Enderby excluded from the county bench.
Waweton’s relations with Grey, on the other hand, grew even closer, and in 1438 he became a feoffee of the manor of Baldswell in Norfolk on behalf of the latter’s son, John. He also acted with Enderby as a witness to local deeds, and was prepared to stand with him against Fanhope in an act of defiance which, once again, brought matters to a head. Despite efforts to prevent them from sitting as j.p.s, the two men obtained a special commission, and on 12 Jan. 1439 they and the others named in this document held court at the town hall in Bedford, much to the annoyance of the justices already in session. The ensuing allegations that they had mobilized a retinue of 800 men, ‘for the most part girt with swords’ may perhaps be dismissed as exaggeration, but there can be little doubt that they were quite prepared to meet force with force. The dramatic—but not entirely unexpected—arrival of Lord Fanhope, who burst into the hall with a bodyguard of about so men, led to an unseemly brawl, in which Waweton displayed considerably less restraint than on the previous occasion. First he, then Fanhope, complained to the royal council, which took up the matter in the following February. Besides the customary range of wild accusations, the examination of witnesses revealed striking discrepancies in the deposition given by Waweton and Enderby, but although great care was taken in the collection of evidence, the Council temporized badly, proving itself too weak to deal authoritatively with the situation. Despite the fact that nobody had been killed or badly hurt in the affray, strange rumours about events at the town hall soon spread around the country, assuming almost epic proportions as they passed from town to town. A London chronicler later recorded that ‘at Bedford on the shire day were xviij atte ones murdered myschevously withoute ony stroke in fallyng doune hedeling atte steyer of here shirehouse and mony moo foule hurte’; and it was generally regarded as yet another sign of governmental inadequacy that nothing was really done to discipline the offenders. Fanhope and his men probably came best out of the affair, since they were pardoned first, on 7 Mar. 1439, and also succeeded in having Waweton and Enderby removed from the Bedfordshire commission of the peace. Lord Grey’s partisans had to wait another month for their pardons, although they must have derived some satisfaction from seeing Fanhope’s charges dismissed as ‘mere malice’.9
Although Lord Grey died in the following year, Waweton remained friendly with his grandson and heir, Edmund (the future earl of Kent), to whom, in about 1447, he made a present of a bay horse. The rest of his life seems uneventful in the light of what had gone before: he continued to play an active part in the local property market, witnessing deeds and occasionally serving as a trustee, and in 1443 he regained his seat on the bench. Even so, he never again became drawn into the more violent aspects of local politics, perhaps because of advancing years. He must, indeed, have been quite old, when, in May 1448, he obtained royal letters patent exempting him from holding any office of the Crown or serving on royal commissions, although this did not prevent his appointment first, in March 1450, as a commissioner of oyer and terminer in Huntingdonshire, and then, in the following August, as a tax collector in Bedfordshire.10 We do not know the date of his death, which probably came about not long afterwards. He was survived by his third wife, Alana, who died in February 1458 and was buried in the parish church of Eaton Socon, Bedfordshire. He apparently left four children and was succeeded by his elder son, Thomas, who married Elizabeth Beconsaw. Alana’s dower properties descended to William Tyndale, her grandson by her first marriage, who was then 40 years old.11
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. C139/167/4; JUST 1/1506 rot. 30, 30v; VCH Hunts. ii. 357; Hunts. Feet of Fines (Cambridge Antiq. Soc. xxxvii), 98; CPL, vii. 324; J. Bridges, Northants. ii. 338; F. Blomefield, Norf. viii. 108-10; OR, i. 291; Vis. Beds. (Harl. Soc. xix), 198.
- 2. RP, iv. 262.
- 3. JUST 1/1499 rot. 3v, 1506 rot. 30, 30v; CP25(1)6/75/19; CFR, xii. 255; xiii. 184; CCR, 1399-1402, pp. 111-12; 1409-13, p. 398; VCH Hunts. ii. 357; Hunts. Feet of Fines, 98; Corporation of London RO, hr 141/88, 143/60.
- 4. C219/11/1, 8, 12/3-5, 13/1; E28/97/2.
- 5. CPL, vii. 324; CCR, 1419-22, p. 260; 1422-9, pp. 69-71; VCH Bucks. ii. 149; iii. 274.
- 6. RP, iv. 290-1; v. 339; J.S. Roskell, Speakers, 90-91, 184-5; CPR, 1422-9, pp. 473-4.
- 7. Belvoir Castle deeds, 5405-7; Beds. RO, DD W21-22; CPR, 1429-36, p. 39; Issues ed. Devon, 416; C219/14/1, 15/1; E403/700 m. 12. Roskell, Commons of 1422, pp. 17-21 argues that there was a rift between Norfolk and Huntingdon, but see R.E. Archer, ‘The Mowbrays’ (Oxf. Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1984), 258-62.
- 8. Bridges, ii. 338; Blomefield, viii. 108-10; PPC, iv. 212, 329; CPR, 1429-36, pp. 373-4; E163/7/31(2), f. 33.
- 9. R.I. Jack, ‘Greys of Ruthin’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1961), 332-3; Blomefield, viii. 185; Sel Cases before King’s Council (Selden Soc. xxxv), pp. cxi-cxiv, 104-7; CPR, 1436-41, pp. 246-7, 282, 578; Gt. Chron. London ed. Thomas and Thornley, 174.
- 10. SC6/1119/5 m. 7d; CCR, 1435-41, p. 242; 1441-7, pp. 54, 56, 58, 223, 437, 489; Hunts. Feet of Fines, 107; CPR, 1446-52, p. 167.
- 11. C139/167/4; Mon. Brasses ed. Mill Stephenson, 5; Vis. Beds. 198.