WELE, John (d.1420), of Oswestry, Salop.
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Family and Education
?2nd. s. of Edmund Wele of Cotes, Salop.1 m. —.
J.p. Salop 1 Mar. 1413-Feb. 1416.
For most of his career Wele served as a retainer of Thomas Fitzalan, earl of Arundel. He was, indeed, a leading officer for the defence of the earl’s estates in the marches of Wales: by April 1405 he had been appointed captain and steward of the earl’s town of Oswestry, keeping both posts until Arundel’s death in October 1415; he was steward of the lordship of Oswestry for roughly the same period, as well as holding the stewardships of Shrawardine by 1413 and of Bromfield and Yale by early the following year; and, most important, he was ‘lieutenant of the lordships of the earl of Arundel in Shropshire and the marches’ from before the spring of 1413 until the earl’s death. At the beginning of his career, Wele’s activities centred on Oswestry: he witnessed Arundel’s charter to the borough in 1407; on 8 May that year, as the earl’s ‘beloved squire’, he received from him a grant of land in the neighbourhood forfeited by one Egnon Gethin; and in September 1410 he joined with the fraternity associated with a chantry in St. Oswald’s church in the town in raising the sum of £6 8s. to obtain the earl’s licence for their corporate acquisition of certain rents. In the meantime, on 31 Jan. 1408, he and Richard Lacon*, the constable of the castle of Oswestry, had both been made honorary members of the guild merchant of Shrewsbury, and in the course of that year the borough paid for gifts of wine to these two (and to Wele’s wife), fodder and stabling for Wele’s horses, and his expenses for supervising a ‘love-day’ between William Horde* and Thomas Willaboy, the sub-bailiff of Shrewsbury. In the borough accounts Wele was always called ‘captain of Oswestry’, and perhaps Shrewsbury’s generous hospitality was given in return for his defence of the region against the Welsh rebels. Certainly, there would appear to be errors in the indictments brought against him later, which alleged that on 17 June 1409 he, as constable of Shrewsbury and supported by Lacon, refused entry to the town to John Talbot, Lord Furnival, on his way to Carnarvon with a force of 200 men after the fall of Harlech, for the constable of Shrewsbury at that time was Nicholas Gerard*. (Probably Oswestry and not Shrewsbury was meant.) There were later allegations, too, that in the years between 1409 and 1414 Wele and other officers of the earl of Arundel entered into unauthorized negotiations with certain Welsh rebels and granted them safe conducts, under cover of which they committed several felonies in Shropshire. There was perhaps an element of truth in these charges, although clearly Wele’s motives in treating with the rebels were never because he sympathized with their cause. One summer before the end of Henry IV’s reign Gruffudd ap Dafydd ap Gruffudd, a former supporter of Owen Glendower, wrote to Reynold, Lord Grey of Ruthin, recounting how he had been ‘begyllyd and descyved of that false Wele’, who had, he claimed, lured him to Oswestry (where he had no safe conduct) with promises of pardon, reward in the form of offices on the Fitzalan estates and a place in his retinue to go overseas, and then sent him to Lacon, whom he had privately advised to put Gruffudd under arrest. The Welshman met with no sympathy, however, from Lord Grey, who left no doubt of his approval of Wele’s ploy.2
Wele’s close connexion with the earl of Arundel is revealed in many other aspects of his career, and it is interesting to note that he headed the list of witnesses to the electoral indenture for the Parliament of 1410 at Shrewsbury when two lawyers of the earl’s affinity (David Holbache and John Burley I) were returned for Shropshire. Apart from his participation, in October 1412, in a royal grant of pontage for five years for the repair of ‘Mountfort’ bridge at Shrewsbury, there is no sign that the government employed Wele until three weeks before Henry IV’s death, when he was appointed as a j.p., his commission being confirmed on the very first day of Henry V’s reign, at the same time that Arundel was made treasurer of the Exchequer. Indeed, the earl’s influence with the new King led to Wele’s acquisition of positions of greater responsibility. Arundel was given custody in London of Owen Glendower’s wife, daughters (one of whom was Sir Edmund Mortimer’s widow) and grandchildren, and it was to Wele, his squire, that he entrusted them for safe-keeping at some point before the following 27 June, and for the next eight months at least. Early in 1414 Wele was engaged in the recruitment and payment of soldiers serving under the earl as King’s lieutenant in North Wales, and he was paid £2 at the Exchequer for a horse used by messengers sent to raise money from the merchants of Kingston-upon-Hull, Ipswich and Bishop’s Lynn. In January that year he shared in an Exchequer lease (dispensed by Arundel as treasurer) of the estates of the alien priory of Alberbury, backdated to the previous Michaelmas.3
In April Wele was elected as shire knight for Shropshire to the Parliament which met at Leicester. But reports of excessive lawlessness and violence in Shropshire made during this Parliament led to sessions of the King’s bench being convened at Shrewsbury itself in the Trinity term. There, local juries brought many indictments, principally against the earl of Arundel’s most prominent adherents: Wele, Lacon, the Corbets* of Moreton and John Wynnesbury*. Among the charges specifically levied against Wele (besides his alleged refusal to supply Lord Furnival’s men and his issuing of safe conducts to Welshmen) were that he had distributed liveries illegally, that with a band of 800 men he had stolen victuals on Lord Burnell’s manor of Pitchford, and that he was one of the leaders of the gang, reputed to be some 2,000 strong, which had raided Wenlock in the previous year. With regard to the last affair Wele’s defence was that he had been acting in his capacity as a j.p., his intention being to arrest offenders, one of whom was Lord Furnival; and it is apparent that much of the unrest in Shropshire had arisen out of the personal quarrel between Arundel and Talbot. Wele furthered his lord’s territorial ambitions in other ways, too: in November that same year a petition was sent to the chancellor by William, Lord Clinton, and his wife, Anne, alleging that Wele, ‘by force of the lordship’ of the earl, had entered their castle and manorial estates at Whittington at the head of a small army, rustled 3,000 cattle, felled trees, stolen charcoal and assaulted their servants. Nevertheless, Arundel’s influence with the King prevailed: Wele and his fellows all obtained royal pardons and none suffered any serious penalty for their misdemeanours. Throughout the summer of 1414 (while awaiting trial in the King’s bench) Wele had been serving, along with Thomas Strange*, as the earl’s lieutenant in North Wales, as such receiving from Arundel at the Exchequer large sums of money (amounting to nearly £2,000 before May 1415) for the payment of the men under their command.4
In May 1415, when Arundel decided to entail his estates in Surrey and Sussex, he named Wele as one of his feoffees, and in his will made at Chichester on 10 Aug., just before embarkation for Normandy, he not only bequeathed as much as 200 marks to him, but also instructed his executors to recompense him should he ever be evicted from the properties he held for life by the earl’s grant. (Here he was no doubt referring to the manor of Woolston by Chigwell in Essex, worth some £10 a year, which he had earlier granted to his squire.) Wele himself apparently remained at his post in the marches of Wales during the earl’s absence. When the latter, lying gravely ill with dysentery, made a codicil to his will on 10 Oct., he promised Wele the manors of Bouldon and Middlehope (Shropshire) for life.5 Arundel’s death relegated Wele to comparative obscurity, and he was removed from the Shropshire bench. He retained his friendship with (Sir) Richard Lacon, however, and like him later acted as surety for Sir John Mortimer, a prisoner in the Tower facing charges of treason, and also formed connexions with other suspect lollards (Richard Colfox and Walter Harald, chaplain). Wele’s association with Thomas Strange led to his appearance in 1418 as mainpernor for the latter’s kinswoman, Constance, Lady Strange of Knockin, with whom Lacon was also connected. In February 1419 both Wele and Lacon enlisted in the King’s retinue for service in France, beginning that summer, and after returning briefly a few months later, in February 1420, both sealed indentures to supply five men-at-arms and 45 mounted archers for a further year’s service.6
Wele died, probably in France, on 30 Oct. 1420. The jury in Essex, giving evidence about his tenure of Woolston, had no knowledge about the identity of his heirs.7
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: L. S. Woodger
Variants: Weele, Weole.
- 1. Vis. Salop (Harl. Soc. xviii), 493.