WHITNEY, Sir Robert I (d.1402), of Whitney-on-Wye and Pencombe, Herefs.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
Sheriff, Herefs. 25 Nov. 1377-8.
Commr. to assess a tax, Herefs. Aug. 1379; put down rebellion Dec. 1381, Mar., Dec. 1382; of inquiry, Ireland July 1394 (concealments); array, Herefs. Dec. 1399.
J.p. Herefs. 26 May 1380-c.1383, 27 July 1397-Nov. 1399.
Harbinger of the Household by Oct. 1393-aft. Mar. 1399.2
Ambassador to Aragon and Foix 21 Aug. 1397-3 Mar. 1398.
Sir Robert came of an old-established Herefordshire family, whose chief manor (held of the de Bohuns) was Whitney-on-Wye near the county boundary with Breconshire. He had presumably inherited the family estates by February 1361 (the date of his first mention) when he presented to the living at Pencombe near Bromyard.3 Seven years later Whitney obtained royal letters of protection as going abroad in the large retinue of Lionel, duke of Clarence, who was then ready to travel to Italy for his marriage to Violanta, niece of the duke of Milan, but whether he was a permanent member of Clarence’s household at this time is not revealed. Subsequently, he served in the company of Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford (d.1373), his feudal lord. After Richard II’s accession, he was appointed sheriff of Herefordshire, and it was in this capacity that (along with Sir Walter Devereux* and Sir John Eynesford, the then shire knights) he petitioned the Parliament at Gloucester in 1378, asking for government action against the companies of Welsh raiders which were plundering and terrorizing the shire. In 1385 he accompanied Richard II’s expedition to Scotland.4
Some five years later Sir Robert apparently became involved in the activities of William Swynderby, the lollard who was then preaching in Herefordshire in defiance of the diocesan, Bishop Trefnant. Swynderby was brought to trial before the bishop in June 1391, when (among other things) he was accused of delivering an heretical sermon at Whitney-on-Wye two years previously. The lollard admitted preaching the sermon, but denied that it contained heresy, ‘and that wil witnesse the lord of the toun that has the same sermon writen, and mony gentiles and other that herden me that day’. The ‘lord of the toun’ was certainly Sir Robert, and the fact that he possessed a written copy of the suspect tract suggests that, apart from allowing Swynderby to preach in the church of his manor, he was interested in his teachings. He may, indeed, have been among those ‘certain nobles’ who procured the safe conduct which enabled the lollard to withdraw from the bishop’s court after presenting his defence. It is additionally significant that Whitney-on-Wye was one of the places to which (in July and September following) the bishop sent citations ordering Swynderby to re-appear before him. In October Swynderby was finally convicted of heresy, but he refused to accept the verdict of the bishop’s tribunal, publishing instead two written defences in English, one of which ends by appealing to the anonymous addressee, ‘that ye woln vouchesauf this thinges that I sende yow writen ... to late them be schewet in the parlement as your wyttes can best conceyve’. It is at least possible, therefore, that the appeal was addressed to Sir Robert, who was then about to attend the Parliament of November 1391 but there is no evidence that the lollard’s views were ever laid before the Commons. All things considered, it appears likely that Whitney (like several others of the Herefordshire gentry) had heretical sympathies, if only for a limited period; and this impression is borne out by the lollard connexions of his son, Sir Robert the younger, his daughter, Perryne, and his son-in-law, Thomas Clanvowe*.5
Any such sympathies did not, however, affect Sir Robert’s public career adversely, and during the latter part of his life he was closely connected with the household of Richard II. When this association began is not known, but by 1390 his daughter had been retained as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne, and on 14 Oct. 1393, when he was granted a life annuity of 40 marks, he himself was referred to as a ‘King’s knight’. Indeed, he was already holding office as harbinger of the Household. It was then that he was authorized to restore the town and castle of Cherbourg to Charles III of Navarre, following the death of the latter’s father, who in 1378 had relinquished the place to the English for the duration of his own lifetime. So, on 29 Oct. Whitney sailed for the Côtentin with nine ships, and during the following two months was engaged in transferring part of the castle’s stores to Calais or London and in selling the rest to the Navarrese.6 In July 1394, this time in his official capacity, Sir Robert was preparing to go to Ireland in advance of Richard II’s expedition. On the 8th he appointed his neighbour, Thomas Oldcastle*, as one of his attorneys to look after his affairs at home; two days later he received a royal writ of aid ordering him to purchase provisions against the arrival of the royal army; and at the end of the month, by which time he had presumably made the crossing, he was appointed to investigate, in Irish ports, arrears of customs and alleged frauds by the collectors. He evidently performed his duties satisfactorily, for two years later, in May 1396, he received a royal reward of two tuns of wine a year for life.7
Sir Robert was apparently something of a diplomat, for he was engaged for six months from August 1397, along with Master Henry Bowet (later archbishop of York), in an embassy to Aragon, Foix and Aquitaine. The party carried letters of credence addressed to King Martin of Aragon, its task being to mediate (on behalf of Richard II) in the dispute between him and the count of Foix. He was still a harbinger of the Household, and a year after his return from Spain he once again made preparations to go to Ireland in advance of the King’s second expedition. On 4 Mar. 1399 he was granted royal letters of protection and authorized to appoint his son-in-law, Thomas Clanvowe, as his attorney. Then, during the same week, he was ordered not only to store food and fuel in readiness for the King’s arrival, but also to requisition enough fishing boats to supply the Household with fish during its stay in Ireland.8
Despite his close associations with the court of Richard II, Sir Robert apparently had no great difficulty in adapting to the changes consequent upon the accession of Henry IV, within a month of which his royal annuity and other grants were confirmed to him. He was not, however, re-appointed to his office of harbinger and he was also dropped from the county commission of the peace. In any case, he must now have been well on in years. All the same, he turned. out to fight against Owen Glendower at the battle of Pilleth on 22 June 1402, there (together with his brother and other kinsmen) being slain.9
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: Charles Kightly
Variants: Whetteneye, Witteneye, Wytteney.
- 1. According to OR (i. 195), Sir John Eynesford and John Loverans represented Herefs. in this Parliament, but writs de expensis were made out to Eynesford and Robert Whitney.
- 2. E101/41/24.
- 3. CCR, 1381-5, p. 512; Reg. Charlton (Canterbury and York Soc. xiv), 64, 70; Reg. Courtenay (ibid. xv), 12; Reg. Trefnant (ibid. xx), 178; UCNW, Whitney and Clifford ms 2.
- 4. Foedera ed. Rymer (Hague edn.), iii. 842; SC8/107/5303; PPC, i. 88; E101/32/20.
- 5. Reg. Trefnant, 235-7, 245, 252-3, 256-7, 271-5; K.B. McFarlane, Wycliffe, 130; C. Kightly, ‘Early Lollards’ (York Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1975), chap. 3.
- 6. C