WILCOTES, John (d.1422), of Great Tew, Oxon.
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Family and Education
prob. yr. bro. of William Wilcotes*. m. (1) c.1396, Alice (d.1410), prob. h. of Chelmscote of Great Tew, wid. of — , s.p.; (2) Elizabeth (d.aft. May 1450), da. of Richard Cheyne of Shurland, I. of Sheppey, Kent, by Margery, da. and event. coh. of Robert Cralle of Cralle, Suss., sis. of William Cheyne* and wid. of Sir William Septvance (d.1407) of Milton near Canterbury, 2da.; 1s. Thomas†, illegit.
Commr. of gaol delivery, Oxford June 1396; array, Oxon. Dec. 1399, Sept. 1403, May 1415, May 1418, Mar. 1419; to proceed against seditious and rebellious persons, May 1402; supervise levies, Oxon., Berks. going with the earl of Stafford to Wales, Aug. 1402; of inquiry, Oxon. Feb. 1404 (escape of prisoners), Berks., Oxon. June 1406 (concealments), July 1412 (wastes in the queen’s forest of Wychwood), Berks., Oxon. Jan. 1414 (lollards), Kent Mar. 1416 (title to land), Devon July 1416 (trespasses in Dartmoor forest), Oxon. Mar. 1418 (concealments), Devon July 1418 (trespasses in Dartmoor chase), Oxon. July 1418 (escapes of felons), Berks., Oxon. May 1419 (concealments); to raise royal loans June 1406, Oxon. Nov. 1419, Jan. 1420, Berks., Oxon. Apr. 1421; lease out duchy of Cornw. lands May 1420.
Sheriff, Oxon. and Berks. 8 Nov. 1401-29 Nov. 1402, 23 Nov. 1407-15 Nov. 1408, 1 Dec. 1415-30 Nov. 1416, 23 Nov. 1419-16 Nov. 1420, 1 May 14221-d., Glos. 16 Nov. 1420-1 May 1472.
J.p. Oxon. 18 May 1403-Mar. 1410, 6 Feb. 1412-Jan. 1420, 12 Feb. 1422-d.
Escheator, Oxon. and Berks. 12 Nov. 1403-22 Oct. 1404, 9 Dec. 1408-7 Nov. 1409, 30 Nov. 1417-4 Nov. 1418.
[Tax collector, Oxon. Mar. 1404.]2
Parlty. cttee. to supervise the engrossment of the Parliament roll 22 Dec. 1406.3
Receiver-general, duchy of Cornw., steward of the duchy in Devon, and warden of the stannaries, Devon 2 Apr. 1413-d.
Member of Hen. V’s council in Eng. by Oct. 1417.
John Wilcotes, most likely the younger brother of William (a competent lawyer originating from Gloucestershire who became prominent in the service of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia, his first queen), established himself as a landowner in Oxfordshire in much the same way as his kinsman, that is, mainly by making a satisfactory marriage. Alice, his first wife, with whom he was to obtain a papal indult for plenary remission in August 1399, was in all probability the heir to the family of Chelmscote, whose manor of Great Tew she possessed, together with the Chelmscote properties at Brailes in Warwickshire. A settlement of Great Tew had been made in Wilcotes’s favour a year earlier.4
Yet even before his marriage had ensured for him a modest income from land, he had embarked on a career remarkable at its outset for the succession of aristocratic patrons willing to offer him employment. First, he came to the notice of John, Lord Lovell, on whose behalf he witnessed deeds in 1386, and with whom he was long to remain on amicable terms. Then, Thomas, Lord Despenser, a leading Gloucestershire landowner whom he may have accompanied to Ireland on Richard II’s first expedition in 1394, formally retained him for life by an indenture drawn up at Cardiff castle at Michaelmas 1395, requiring him to be in attendance when needed, with a yeoman, a groom and three horses, in return for an annual fee of £10 charged on Despenser’s estate at Broadtown (Wiltshire). In May 1397 a royal serjeant-at-arms was ordered to arrest Wilcotes and bring him before the King in person, but whatever the reason for this, it need not have had anything to do with Despenser who, clearly in the King’s favour, was to be elevated to the earldom of Gloucester in the Parliament held later that year. Despite the terms of his indenture, Wilcotes evidently did not accompany his lord to Ireland with Richard II’s army in the spring of 1399, for he then agreed to act at home as attorney for Lord Lovell. Having been returned to Parliament for the first time that autumn, he there witnessed not only Richard II’s deposition and Henry IV’s accession, but also the examination and demotion of Richard’s henchmen, who included Despenser. Prudently, he took no part in the Epiphany Plot to dethrone the new King and restore the old, which led to Despenser’s summary execution for treason in January 1400, and a month later he obtained from King Henry confirmation that payment of his retaining fee would continue to be made from Despenser’s now forfeited estates. Although Wilcotes’s association with his late lord’s family was by no means ended—in the following year he assisted Lord Thomas’s widow to complete important transactions regarding her dower lands—he soon decided to attach himself elsewhere, and by the autumn of 1402 he had found employment with Edmund, earl of Stafford, in the King’s service in Wales. A number of journeys to the principality at that time inevitably meant that his duties as sheriff of Oxfordshire and Berkshire suffered considerable neglect, and he was unable to make his proffer at the Exchequer at Michaelmas as ordered; however, in April 1403, he was not only pardoned a fine of £5 for his failure to appear before the barons to render account, but also given an allowance of 40 marks from the issues of the shrievalty to cover the expenses and losses incurred while absent from his bailiwick. Meanwhile, he had spent from November 1402 to February 1403 journeying to and from Brittany as a member of the entourage of Bishop Henry Beaufort, appointed to accompany Henry IV’s consort, Joan of Navarre, to England. The earl of Stafford was killed at the battle of Shrewsbury on 21 July following, and although Wilcotes subsequently officiated (certainly doing so in 1407-8) as steward of the Stafford estates at Kirtlington (Oxfordshire), the fact that the heir to the earldom was a mere boy caused him to look for yet another patron. Such he found in the young Earl Marshal, Thomas Mowbray, by whom he was retained at Chepstow on 25 July 1404, this time with a fee of £20 p.a. Once more, the choice was unfortunate, for the earl was executed for treason at York less than a year later, in June 1405. But again Wilcotes displayed his talent for avoiding the consequences of his alliances, and his Mowbray retaining fee was confirmed by the King just four months afterwards. That same year he received a personal summons to attend a great council, in the company of his older kinsman, William Wilcotes. There was no slackening in his duties in local administration, as is clear from his further appointments as a j.p., sheriff and escheator. And his ability was recognized in other respects, too: in 1406, while attending his fourth Parliament, he was one of the dozen knights of the shire chosen to supervise the engrossment of the Parliament roll at the end of business. In the course of the second session, on 6 June, his ‘good and generous’ services to the King’s half-brother, Bishop Beaufort, were recognized by a grant of yet another life annuity of £20, charged on the bishop’s manor at Adderbury in Oxfordshire, and although this connexion is not otherwise well documented, it seems very likely that it had a profound and lasting effect on his career. During his second term as escheator, in February 1409, he obtained a letter of exchange for £100 together with permission to appoint attorneys to look after his affairs while he was absent overseas, and even though it is not made clear whether his journey was to be undertaken on public or private business, there is a strong likelihood that he was intending to go to the General Council of the Church at Pisa, perhaps to represent Beaufort’s interests. That Wilcotes’s links with Mowbray were not forgotten is shown by his being allotted a share, with certain other of the late Earl Marshal’s retainers, in an Exchequer lease of the castle and lordship of Bramber (Sussex), for the short time after March 1411 remaining of the minority of the earl’s brother and heir.5
At precisely what stage Wilcotes was taken up by Henry of Monmouth is not known, but this had clearly come about well before Henry’s accession to the throne in 1413, and doubtless owed much to the recommendation of Bishop Beaufort. Within two weeks of the beginning of the new reign, now described as ‘King’s esquire’, he was given the important posts of receiver-general of the duchy of Cornwall and steward of the duchy estates in Devon, with fees amounting to £40 a year. He quickly became a trusted servant of the King, remaining in these offices until his death. In July 1417 he was one of those suggested by Henry V to his feoffees of the duchy of Lancaster estates as a possible replacement should their number be reduced by death; and in October that year he attended a meeting of the council established to advise the King’s lieutenant, John, duke of Bedford, during Henry’s absence in France. The frequency of his appearances as a councillor is now impossible to determine, but four years later he was to be rewarded with 50 marks specifically for his assiduity in this respect, and that he was closely involved with the country’s rulers is further suggested by his acting in February 1419 as a mainpernor for Bedford himself. Wilcotes was well placed to enjoy the fruits of conciliar patronage: he was given the keepership of certain properties in Cornwall pending a decision as to their ownership, and while receiver-general of the duchy he farmed the manor and parliamentary borough of Helston in Kerrier, which pertained in reversion to the King as parcel of the duchy. In May 1420 he was placed on the commission appointed to assign leases of duchy properties for a period of seven years. When Henry V, about to embark for France for what was to prove to be the last time, made his will in June 1421, Wilcotes was included among his executors, notably as one of the working administrators of the estate. However, as he died before the King, he was never to assume this role.6 During Henry V’s long absenses overseas Wilcotes received several wardships at the Exchequer, thus no doubt supplementing his already appreciable income from fees and annuities. For 18 months from December 1417 he had custody of two manors in Warwickshire belonging to the estate of Edward, late duke of York, and from March following he shared the farm of another part of York’s legacy, in Buckinghamshire. In the same month in 1418 he obtained an interest in certain property in Suffolk and Middlesex, during the minority of the daughter and heir of Richard Berners, while from July 1419 he held a lease of the St. Cler lands in Oxfordshire. Other perquisites coming his way included the wardships of the heirs to Baldington (November 1420) and Pympe (December 1421).7
On occasion Wilcotes’s talents were put at the disposal of various prominent erstwhile MPs of his acquaintance. Several years earlier, at the turn of the century, he had been made an executor by Sir Richard Adderbury I*, at one time a distinguished member of the court of Richard II. Now, during Henry V’s reign, he was chosen to act in a similar capacity by the treasurer of the Exchequer, Hugh Mortimer* (d.1416)—like him a former retainer of the Despensers, but latterly friend and counsellor to Henry of Monmouth—and early in 1419 he offered securities in Chancery on behalf of (Sir) John Pelham*, once the confidant and still executor to Henry IV. Nor were old associates forgotten, for from March that year he served as a trustee for the fulfilment of the testamentary provisions made by Maud, widow of John, Lord Lovell. Moreover, Wilcotes was asked to be a parliamentary proctor on a number of occasions: by the abbot of Cirencester in April 1414, the abbot of Winchcomb in March 1416, 1419 and 1420, and the abbot of Evesham in December 1421. So it seems likely that, as well as the seven of Henry V’s II Parliaments to which he secured election as a knight of the shire, he also attended two more—those of 1420 and December 1421—albeit in a different capacity.8
In just one of the 12 Parliaments to which he was elected overall Wilcotes made a new departure by representing Kent instead of Oxfordshire. His interest in that county had come about through his marriage to Elizabeth Septvance (née Cheyne), a widow who held as dower such lucrative properties as the manor of Milton, and could raise as much as £40 a year from just two of her other manorial estates. In association with his brother-in-law, William Cheyne, he was returned to the Parliament of March 1416 by the Kentish electors.9 However, it was in Oxfordshire that Wilcotes chose to consolidate his position with important purchases made in 1417; notably by his acquisition, from Joan, Lady Beauchamp of Abergavenny, of the manors of Dean, Upper and Lower Chalford, and Heythrop, all owned until recently by the impoverished Robert Lewknor*. Wilcotes’s feoffees, authorized to complete the transaction, included William Kynwolmarsh, who by the time he drew up a document to accompany his will, on 11 Apr. 1422, had been promoted to be treasurer of the Exchequer. Wilcotes left detailed instructions for the disposal of his landed property, ordering that his widow was to have possession of all his estates for term of her life, and that after her death Great Tew was to pass to their daughter, another Elizabeth (then aged four), and Dean and Chalford to the latter’s younger sister, Margaret. Wilcotes’s son Thomas (presumably a bastard, otherwise he would have inherited Great Tew under the terms of the entail made in 1398) received only a reversionary interest in these manors in the event of his sisters’ failure to leave issue, although he was to have certain of Wilcotes’s lands and tenements in Tetbury and Charlton (Gloucestershire) and at Evesham (Worcestershire). Heythrop was eventually to be sold to pay the testator’s debts, with preference being given to one of his creditors, John Ferriby†, esquire, who had married his ward, Margery Berners. Wilcotes apparently died on 21 May, not long after his appointment as sheriff for the sixth time. He was buried in the chancel of Great Tew, beside his first wife; and their fine monumental brass survives, albeit with a much mutilated inscription.10
Wilcotes’s last wishes were to lead to considerable ill-feeling within the family, culminating in a number of lawsuits in Chancery. It was not until 1444, more than 20 years after his death, that his widow, long since remarried (to Sir Richard Walkstead), finally secured possession of Dean and Chalford, and she was also greatly troubled by litigation brought by John Ferriby over Heythrop. She relinquished her hold over her dower lands from the Septvance estate in 1448, but was still living, widowed for the third time, in 1450. Nearly 50 years after John Wilcotes’s death his son Thomas (d.1472) gave Chalford to Oriel college, Oxford, making provision for requiem masses to be said for his father and the latter’s two wives and daughters, not only in St. Mary’s church in the town but also at Great Tew.11
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: L. S. Woodger
Variants: Wilecotes, Wilkotes, Willicotes, Wilycotes, Wylcotys, Wyltecotes.
- 1. CFR, xiv. 429; but PRO List ‘Sheriffs’, 108, has 22 Apr.
- 2. Discharged in Apr.: CFR, xii. 263.
- 3. RP, iii. 585.
- 4. CPL, v. 227; VCH Oxon. xi. 230; VCH Warws. v. 19; Warws. Feet of Fines (Dugdale Soc. xviii), no. 2424; Berks. Bucks. and Oxon. Arch. Jnl. n.s. iii. 101-4; xii. 111-13; xiii. 18-21; CP25(1)191/24/59.