WHITGREVE, Robert (1380-1453), of Burton-near-Stafford.
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Family and Education
Teller of the Exchequer 31 Oct. 1415-16 July 1453.2
Commr. to take musters, Normandy June, Aug 1418,3 Chester Mar. 1428, Dover, Sandwich Apr. 1430, Winchelsea Apr. 1433, June 1435, Dover, Sandwich July 1435, Winchelsea May 1436 (bis), Chester Apr. 1438 (bis), Portsmouth June 1443; of inquiry, Staffs., Herefs., Worcs., Salop, Glos. July 1427 (concealments), Staffs. Feb. 1448 (same); to raise royal loans Mar. 1431, Feb. 1436, Nov. 1440, June 1446, Sept. 1449; make an arrest bef. July 1431;4 repay a royal loan (generally) July 1435; supply bows and arrows to local archers, Yorks., Lincs., Notts., Derbys. Dec. 1435, July 1436; of array, Staffs. Aug. 1436; to treat for a subsidy Feb. 1441; distribute a tax allowance June 1445, July 1446.
Escheator, Staffs. 12 Nov. 1427-4 Nov. 1428, 26 Nov. 1431-5 Nov. 1432, 3 Nov. 1434-7 Nov. 1435, 6 Nov. 1438-5 Nov. 1439, 4 Nov. 1441-6 Nov. 1442.
Bailiff, Stafford 1 Nov. 1428-9.5
Justice itinerant (appointed by Humphrey, earl of Stafford) to hold the great sessions at Newport 12 Feb. 1432.6
Receiver of the duchy of Lancaster honour of Tutbury, Staffs. II July 1432-d.; duchy steward and constable of Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffs. 24 Aug. 1437-d.7
Parker of Stafford for Humphrey, earl of Stafford c. Mich. 1432-d.8
Custodian of the estates of the abbey of Burton-upon-Trent, Staffs. 20 July 1433-40.
Assessor of a tax, Salop, Derbys., Staffs. Jan. 1436.
J.p. Staffs. 21 Feb. 1439-d.
Although he is chiefly remembered for his unprecedented record of almost 40 years of near continuous parliamentary service, Whitgreve also provides us with an unusually striking example of a lawyer-bureaucrat who commanded considerable influence as a crown servant while at the same time devoting much of his energy to the business of local government and the affairs of a noble patron (in this case Humphrey, earl of Stafford and later duke of Buckingham). Throughout his long and distinguished career Whitgreve maintained a strong personal connexion with Stafford, his birthplace. He was on close terms with his parliamentary colleague, John Harper*, and appears with great regularity among the witnesses to property transactions in the borough. According to the 17th-century antiquary, Waiter Chetwynd, he was ‘bred up in ye study of ye municipall laws’, being the son of William Whitgreve, who, as bailiff of Stafford, paid him expenses of 6s.8d. for delivering certain royal letters in 1411, probably on his return from his first Parliament.9 His appointment four years later as one of the four tellers of the Exchequer explains in part, at least, his frequent re-election to the House of Commons, since the burgesses of Stafford were clearly anxious to be represented by such an important and potentially useful official. That Whitgreve spent over half the year at Westminster, and was perhaps therefore ready to waive his claim for parliamentary expenses, may well have disposed the electoral body even more in his favour. His legal and financial expertise was certainly recognized and rewarded by those who engaged his services, and it was an employee of the Crown that Whitgreve scored his first notable success. In December 1415 he obtained a grant of the estates of the late Nicholas Bradshaw, which were in Henry V’s hands during the minority of the young earl of Stafford (who later confirmed Whitgreve as tenant). Seven years later, in June 1423, he was made a royal serjeant-at-arms, with an annuity of £10 assigned to him for life from the revenues of Worcester, and allocated a grant of herbage and pannage in the royal forest of Cannock for a period of ten years. He received a second fee of £20 p.a. at this time, and continued to enjoy his impressive pension until 1443, when, for some unknown reason, the first annuity was cancelled. Another of equivalent value was, however, granted to him in 1445, ostensibly as a reward for his work at the Exchequer. Not long afterwards his post there was confirmed to him for life, and indeed he continued to combine the office of teller with that of King’s serjeant until his death. It was, no doubt, in the latter capacity that he attended the coronation of Queen Margaret of Anjou in 1445.10
Whitgreve’s duties as a teller went far beyond the minutiae of finance administration, especially during wartime, when he was closely involved in the payment of English troops in France. In the spring of 1422, for instance, he delivered £9,393 to Henry V at Meaux and a further £8,836 to the use of the King’s chamber at Bois de Vincennes (where Henry V died). Besides handing over large sums of money to captains in the field, he was expected to deal with such problems as the escort of prisoners and, on certain occasions, to stand surety for government borrowing.11 Because of his influence at the Exchequer, Whitgreve was in great demand as a mainpernor for persons who had property transactions with the Crown. John Hampton†, William Lee II* and the dowager countess of Stafford’s son, Henry Bourgchier, count of Eu (and later Viscount Bourgchier), were among the friends and associates whom he helped in this way, as was his own son, Humphrey. He also offered personal guarantees on behalf of his chief patron, the earl of Stafford, when the latter became farmer of Atherstone in 1437.12
Whitgreve’s connexion with the house of Stafford was probably well established when, in February 1427, he and Earl Humphrey acted as feoffees-to-uses for Sir Philip Chetwynd. About II years later Chetwynd retained the MP ‘for his good counsel’ at a fee of £2 a year payable for life from the Staffordshire manor of Great Barr, although by then Whitgreve was so preoccupied with the earl’s affairs that he had little time to spare for his other clients, such as William, Lord Ferrers, who paid him a somewhat larger annuity of 66s.8d.13 From 1427 onwards he was a party to successive settlements made by the earl to free his estates from previous entails; and by Michaelmas 1430 an annuity of ten marks had been assigned to him from the lordship of Newport in return for his loyal service to the Stafford family. The Thomas Whitgreve who at that time held office as receiver of Newport was almost certainly his kinsman—perhaps even his brother—and could therefore be relied upon to pay the fee in regular instalments. The two men sat together at the Newport sessions of 1432, which would suggest that both were by then members of Earl Humphrey’s council. Robert Whitgreve was rewarded in the same year with a grant of the parkership of the manor of Stafford for which he was paid another annual fee of 60s.8d. He was also permitted to lease part of the earl’s demesne land there, at what appears to have been an unusually low rent.14 These marks of favour were well deserved, for it was largely thanks to Whitgreve and his fellow councillor, Nicholas Poyntz†, that the Staffords were able to make good their claim to the lordship of Holderness. In a letter addressed to Earl Humphrey in the summer of 1439 the two lawyers described how they had managed to increase his revenues by over £700 a year:
sythens we wrytten last to your l[ordship], your matter of Holldernes bath bene full busyle laborud as well before my lord the Chauncelor and other lordes of the counsaill in the Checker Chamber as before the Kynge’s owne person at Chene [Sheen] where your tytle and right of your sayd lordship was reported before the Kynge and the lordes of his councell ... In so much if ye had been here present you wold not have desyryd my lord the Chancellor to have said so muche and so well as he bath sayd. My lord of Suffolk hath aquite as your trewe cosyn; my l(ord) of Northumberland also, and you be specially holden to thank the lord Tipptoft. ... For there was never a sorer labored matter in England afore this tyme. ...15
In August 1442 the earl made a personal grant of arms to Whitgreve, which, with its crest, was based upon that of the Stafford family. None of his other retainers is known to have been honoured in this way, a fact which underlines the value placed by him upon Whitgreve’s services as a councillor. These were indeed remarkable, especially in view of our Member’s other commitments in local as well as central government. Between 1443 and 1446, for example, he directed the earl’s suit for the manor of Bosley in Cheshire, which was being heard at the Chester assizes, and which involved him in such delicate matters as the distribution of bribes among leading witnesses. He also took an active part in the administration of the Stafford estates, being present at Maxstoke castle in 1443 when the earl’s senior advisors met to discuss business of this kind. It is now impossible to tell how far the MP was able to gain any preferential treatment for his patron at the Exchequer, although Earl Humphrey must have relied quite heavily upon Whitgreve’s influence there when he was trying to recover the substantial arrears owed to him as constable of Calais (from 1442 to 1450, by which date he had been created duke of Buckingham).16
Whitgreve was no less assiduous in discharging his duties as an employee of the duchy of Lancaster. In 1442, ten years after being made receiver of the honour of Tutbury, he obtained an annual allowance of £12 13s.4d. ‘because of his great labours’ over the collection of revenues. The stewardship of Newcastle-under-Lyme, an office which was held in reversion by his son, Humphrey, enabled him further to consolidate his influence in Staffordshire, especially as it gave him the opportunity to exercise parliamentary patronage on behalf of the Crown. Indeed, by the mid 1430s, if not before, Whitgreve had established himself as a prominent figure in the north Midlands. He was appointed to many commissions there, served four terms as escheator of Staffordshire and from 1439 until his death was a member of the local bench. Although he did not sit as a shire knight until 1445, Whitgreve attested the county returns to the Parliaments of May 1421, 1423 and 1427, and was to do so again in 1447. He was, moreover, included among the Staffordshire notables who, in May 1434, were ordered to take an oath not to assist persons disturbing the peace.17
Whitgreve’s dual association with the Crown and the earl of Stafford undoubtedly enhanced his social position, but he was himself a landowner of consequence in Staffordshire. Some of the property which he occupied in and around Stafford probably constituted his inheritance; the rest was held by him as a tenant of the earl or, in one case at least, of the town corporation itself.18 Chetwynd states that Whitgreve also owned the manor of Burton-near-Stafford (where he lived), together with farmland in the villages of Rule, Ronton, Gnosall and Haughton. In March 1426, Sir Richard Vernon* leased him the neighbouring manor of Great Bridgford, which he eventually bought. Another of his purchases was the Shropshire manor of Longford which, acquired by him in reversion in November 1443, became the property of his son at some point over the next 13 years. Whitgreve was, moreover, the holder of land at ‘Le Rugge’ in Worcestershire, but not, apparently, on a very large scale.19
Whitgreve was aged 68 when, in December 1448, he and his son, Humphrey, obtained royal letters patent exempting them both from holding office of the Crown or serving on commissions. Both men were, however, returned to the second Parliament of 1449 (Robert as a shire knight and Humphrey as Member for Stafford), and although he did not sit again as a commissioner, Robert retained his posts on the duchy of Lancaster estates and at the Exchequer until 16 July 1453, which may mark the date of his death. He was certainly dead by 13 Aug. following; and it was no doubt because of an administrative oversight that a new commission of the peace for Staffordshire was issued in his name three months later. Since he died intestate, the task of administering his estate fell upon his sons, the second of whom—a clerk named Thomas—was still attempting to recover debts owed to the deceased as late as 1456. Humphrey Whitgreve probably became one of Henry VI’s yeomen through his father’s influence, although his subsequent attachment to the house of Lancaster proved sufficiently strong to take him into exile in Scotland with Margaret of Anjou in 1460/1.20
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Variants: Qwytgreve, Whytgreve.
- 1. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. n.s. x (1), 78-80; (1914), 98.
- 2. PRO List ‘Exchequer Offs.’ 227.
- 3. DKR, xli. 711, 715.
- 4. Issues ed. Devon, 413.
- 5. J.W. Bradley, Stafford Chs. 203; Wm. Salt Lib. Stafford. Chetwynd mss, bdle. 7, no. 27.
- 6. T.B. Pugh, Marcher Ldships. S. Wales, 18, 299.
- 7. Somerville, Duchy, i. 543, 550.
- 8. Staffs. RO, D641/1/2/59 m. 1.
- 9. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. n.s. (1914), 98; Staffs. RO, D641/1/2/50.