WENLOCK, alias WYVELL, William, of Luton and Houghton Conquest, Beds. and Much Wenlock, Salop.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of Nicholas Wyvell by Joan, da. and h. of Richard Wenlock of Much Wenlock. m. prob. by Apr. 1384, Margaret (b.1362/3), sis. and h. of John Briton (d.s.p. Sept. 1390), of Britens in Houghton Conquest and Upper Stondon, at least 2s. Thomas† and John†.
Although his father’s family had for some years been living in Sheinton near Much Wenlock, and was not without influence in Shropshire, the subject of this biography owed his position in society almost entirely to his mother and her brother, William Wenlock (d.1391/2); and this explains why, quite early in life, he adopted their name instead of his father’s. His uncle was himself related to another William Wenlock (d.1361), sometime usher of the Exchequer and clerk of the privy seal to Edward III; and it seems to have been through this connexion that, in 1364, he obtained a clerkship in the Exchequer. He had already been made a canon of St. Paul’s, and further preferment followed in the form of the archdeaconry of Rochester. He evidently decided to settle in Bedfordshire in about 1377, for he then bought an estate in Luton worth £8 p.a. This move was preparatory to his acquisition, in the following year, of the mastership of the neighbouring hospital at Farley, which he exercised in person until his death. Within a matter of months of his kinsman’s installation as master, our Member left his home at Much Wenlock to live near him and perhaps help with his affairs. In February 1379 he completed negotiations for the purchase of land of his own in Luton, offering securities of 20 marks as a guarantee of his readiness to accept the vendor’s price. Ten years later his uncle named him as the next heir to the land which he had bought there in 1377, although since the younger William was by then married to a local heiress his financial needs were far less pressing. The marriage was probably arranged by William Wenlock the elder, who clearly regarded his nephew with considerable affection and, indeed, in April 1391, chose him as one of the executors of his will.1
We do not know exactly when Wenlock married Margaret Briton, but it seems likely that they were already husband and wife when, in April 1384, he obtained custody of all the Bedfordshire estates of her brother, John, who had been certified insane. These comprised the two manors of Britens in Houghton Conquest and Upper Stondon, which together with his own and his uncle’s land in Luton were valued at £24 p.a. by the tax assessors of 1412. John died without children of his own in 1390, leaving Margaret as his sole heir, and she gained seisin of his property almost at once. Meanwhile, in June 1384, Wenlock was also made farmer of certain land in Bedfordshire which had temporarily reverted to the Crown on the death of John, earl of Pembroke, but this was the only mark of royal favour to come his way.2
Curiously enough, in view of his useful personal connexions, Wenlock did not choose to involve himself in the business of local government either in Bedfordshire or his native Shropshire, where he eventually inherited his mother’s land in Much Wenlock. He was, however, active as a witness, mainpernor and feoffee. In April 1386, for example, he twice agreed to stand surety for persons then being examined before the court of Chancery; and in 1393 there began his long association with the Huntingdonshire landowner, John Styuecle*, who made him a trustee. Styuecle’s purchase of the estates forfeited by Chief Justice Sir Robert Bealknap, following his condemnation in the Merciless Parliament of 1388, proved in the long term to be a serious financial blunder, although Wenlock was prepared to underwrite a loan of £400 made to his friend in 1393 by a group of London mercers.3 Together with Styuecle and such other distinguished figures as Sir Henry Green* and Sir John Bagot*, Wenlock served on the body of trustees which administered the great complex of Welsh and English estates entailed by the last earl of Pembroke (d.1375) upon, inter alios, William Beauchamp, Lord Abergavenny. The entail, which was extremely complicated, came into effect on the death of Pembroke’s only son in 1389, although Wenlock and his associates first acquired their title much later, in 1391, when Reynold, Lord Grey of Ruthin, who was an heir-general to the earl, conveyed his interests in the property to them. In January 1392, the trustees joined with Beauchamp in offering securities of £60,000 to the bishop of Hereford and a group of royal clerks; and in the following May they surrendered further pledges of 500 marks to the bishop of London. As late as 1407, Wenlock was still acting on Beauchamp’s behalf, since he then held the lordship of Abergavenny in trust; and between these two dates he was continuously occupied with bonds and conveyances designed to secure his patron in possession of this rich inheritance.4
Wenlock sat for Bedfordshire in the second Parliament of 1404, which met at Coventry, but he does not appear to have performed any other public service. Two years later we find him acting as a feoffee of Sir Roger Trumpington’s manor of Berwick (or Aldmere) in Shropshire; and he had further dealings there in 1409, when he undertook, under pain of 600 marks, to allow the prior and convent of Wenlock to remain in peaceful possession of an estate which had been settled upon them by his late uncle. His duties as the latter’s executor must have involved him in the endowment of this important Cluniac monastery with which he none the less appears to have had some disagreement over the ownership of the land in question. He was still alive in 1412, and at some point before June 1415 he was again busy as a trustee, this time of land nearer home in Luton. Nothing more is heard of him after this date when he either died or went into complete retirement.5 In marked contrast to their father, each of his two sons were ambitious men who pursued far more active careers. Thomas, the elder, was a retainer of Sir John Cornwall, later Lord Fanhope, under whom he fought in the French wars of Henry V, although his later years were spent in Bedfordshire which he represented in four Parliaments. On his death in 1429, the family estates passed to his younger brother, John, who greatly advanced himself through two advantageous marriages, and became Speaker of the Commons in the 1455 Parliament. He was ennobled by Edward IV as a reward for his services to the house of York, but, despite the honours heaped upon him by a grateful King, he eventually joined forces with the rebel Lancastrians and died fighting for Henry VI at the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471.6
CP, xii (2), 479-80;VCH Beds. ii. 305, 352; iii. 292;CIPM, xiv. no. 957;CFR, x. 40;CCR, 1476-85, p. 65;Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. xxxviii. 14-16.
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. CP, xii (2), 479-80; PCC 6 Rous; T.F. Tout, Chapters, v. 112; VCH Beds. ii. 352, 372; CCR, 1377-81, pp. 228, 232; CPR, 1388-92, p. 151.
- 2. CFR, x. 40, 54; CCR, 1389-92, p. 240; CIPM, xvi. no. 957; VCH Beds. iii. 292, 305; Feudal Aids, vi. 396.
- 3. CPR, 1391-6, p. 48; CCR, 1389-92, pp. 126-7, 139; 1392-6, p. 144; Hunts. Feet of Fines (Cambridge Antiq. Soc. xxxvii), 95; Beds. RO, DD RO5/172.
- 4. CPR, 1388-92, p. 514; 1391-6, pp. 697-8; 1399-1401, pp. 207, 220, 440, 538; 1405-8, p. 320; CCR, 1389-92, pp. 539, 558; 1396-9, p. 83; 1399-1402, pp. 94, 116-18, 236-7.
- 5. CPR, 1405-8, p. 123; PCC 6 Rous; CCR, 1405-9, p. 527; 1413-19, p. 273.
- 6. CP, xii (2), 479-80; VCH Beds. ii. 352; J.S. Roskell, Commons of 1422, p. 235. For a detailed biography of John (later Lord) Wenlock see Roskell’s article in Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. xxxviii.