WHITHORNE, John, of Wilton, Wilts.
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Family and Education
Mayor, Wilton Mich 1420-1, 1429-30.2
Coroner, Wilts. bef. Feb. 1424-aft. Feb. 1428.
Receiver of the estates of John, duke of Bedford, in Hants, Wilts., Som. and Dorset bef. 1434-aft. Mich. 1437.
Escheator, Hants and Wilts. 7 Nov. 1435-22 Nov. 1436.
Probably the most important Wilton burgess of his day, Whithorne nevertheless came from some distance away, having been born at Bowcombe on the Isle of Wight. When he settled in Wilton is not known, but at some stage he acquired a house in South Street, and the borough first returned him to Parliament in 1414. Thereafter he sat on at least ten more occasions, being elected to all Parliaments summoned between 1417 and 1426, nearly always in partnership with John Harleston. It was also with the latter that, in April 1415, he and other fellow burgesses shared in a grant of lands and tenements in the town. During Whithorne’s first term as mayor, in the year 1420-1, he twice journeyed to Westminster to represent Wilton in the Commons, and shortly afterwards he was present at the election of the knights of the shire (held at Wilton) to the last Parliament of Henry V’s reign. By then he had been enfeoffed by Nicholas Baynton in the nearby manor of Compton Chamberlain, which he and his co-feoffees subsequently conveyed to Nicholas’s son, John†.3
While a Member of the Commons in 1422, the first meeting of Parliament in Henry VI’s reign, Whithorne was evidently entrusted with arrangements for securing royal confirmation of the borough’s charter, but although this was done and the confirmation was duly given parliamentary approval, the actual patent of inspeximus did not pass the great seal until July 1433, just before his final appearance in the House. By 1422 he may have already been one of the county coroners in Wiltshire, and although on 24 Feb. 1424 the sheriff was instructed to dismiss him as insufficiently qualified, he was still in office four years later, when another such order was issued. In 1429, 1431 and 1432 he again attended the elections held at Wilton of the knights of the shire. Meanwhile, in May 1430, he had made a personal loan of 20 marks to the Crown, towards the conduct of the war in France. In June following he became a trustee for Thomas Freeman†, touching the purchase of a small estate at Great Durnford.4
Whithorne’s last election to Parliament occurred in 1433, and it was during this session that, in November, he agreed to assist a Dorset esquire, Thomas Hussey II*, in transactions for the latter’s acquisition of two houses in Wilton. Following this Parliament’s provision for an oath to be taken by its Members, that they would not support anyone who broke the peace, arrangements were made for the oath to be taken also by the gentry and notables of every county, and by May 1434 Whithorne’s name figured on the Wiltshire list, too. By this time (although the date of his original appointment is unknown) he was serving as receiver of the estates of John, duke of Bedford, in Wiltshire and three other counties, estates which ever since 1415 had included the borough of Wilton. Following Bedford’s death in France in September 1435, he continued to act as receiver after the duke’s lands were taken into the King’s custody, and he was confirmed in office by a royal patent, thereafter remaining at his post quite likely until the transfer of Wilton to Cardinal Beaufort in May 1439.5 Meanwhile, he had witnessed the county elections to the Parliament of 1435, to which Richard Whithorne (perhaps his son) was returned for Wilton, and it was during this session that he himself was appointed escheator of Hampshire and Wiltshire, no doubt to facilitate the Crown’s take-over of Bedford’s estates. In 1437 (when he again participated in the shire elections) he stood surety for the attendance in the Commons of John Brown, burgess-elect for Wilton. Some two year later, in April 1439, he acquired land in Wilton and nearby from John Rous III* of Baynton and his wife.6
It was in 1440 that Whithorne suffered a major personal set-back, after he fell foul of Humphrey, duke of Gloucester. Acting on allegedly ‘undue and false information’, the duke claimed him as a villein from his manor of Bowcombe, and confiscated all his lands and property, which by then had reached sizeable proportions, including some 60 messuages and 636 acres of land in Salisbury, Wilton, Winterslow, Bower Chalke, Barford St. Martin, Fonthill Gifford, Wylye, Alderbury and other places in south Wiltshire. Whithome himself was arrested and imprisoned in the duke’s castle at Pembroke in South Wales, where he remained ‘in so dark a dungeon and in such misery and lack of food and clothing for seven years and more, so that he lost the sight of his eyes and suffered other incurable ills’. It might be speculated that Duke Humphrey’s severe attitude was prompted by his feud with Cardinal Beaufort, the overlord of Wilton, but if so, the latter did nothing to help the prisoner, for it was not until after Gloucester’s death in February 1447 that Whithorne (or more likely someone acting for him) was able to petition Parliament for his release and the restoration of his lands. Both requests were granted by letters patent dated the following 16 July, which stated that he