MORDAUNT, Sir John (1508-71), of West Horndon, Essex and Turvey, Beds.
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Family and Education
b. 1508, 1st s. of John, 1st Baron Mordaunt of Turvey by Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Sir Henry Vere of Great Addington, Northants.; bro. of Edmund. m. (1) settlement 26 Feb. 1526, Ella (d. 2 June 1543), da. and h. of John Fitzlewis ?4s. inc. Lewis† 6da.; (2) lic. 3 Dec. 1545, Joan, da. of Richard Fermor of Easton Neston, Northants., wid. of Robert Wilford (d. Sept. or Oct. 1545) of London. KB ?30 May 1533; suc. fa. as 2nd Baron 18 Aug. 1562.2
Sheriff, Essex and Herts. 1540-1; bailiff, duchy of Cornw., Newport Pound, Essex c.1543; j.p. Essex 1544-47 or later, q. by 1554-64; commr. relief, Essex 1550, musters, Essex, ?Herts. c.1557, 1558, 1563, 1565, heresy 1557; steward, duchy of Lancaster, Olney, Bucks. 1552-8, Hertford and constable, Hertford castle 1554-?58; PC 1553-?58.3
The Mordaunts had been prominent in Bedfordshire since the 13th century. Their landed wealth had steadily increased and Sir John Mordaunt’s father, besides acquiring much monastic land, had secured the wardship of the granddaughter of Sir Richard Fitzlewis and married her to his son and heir. At least until the 1st Baron Mordaunt died, Sir John Mordaunt seems to have lived most frequently on his first wife’s property at West Horndon, and it was mainly in Essex that he served as a county official. But his family’s long connexion with Bedfordshire, together with his own Privy Councillorship, enabled him to secure the knighthood of that shire in the first four Parliaments of Mary’s reign.4
As a young man, Mordaunt had been introduced by his father into Henry VIII’s court, created a knight of the Bath at the coronation of Anne Boleyn, and been among the courtiers present at the arrival of Anne of Cleves at Blackheath. During the closing years of Henry VIII’s reign, and increasingly under Edward VI, however, both he and his father forfeited royal favour through their opposition to religious change. Although Mordaunt remained a loyal local official, raising troops for the wars in 1543-4, there is no evidence that he accompanied the King abroad, or attended court functions between 1544 and the death of Edward VI. Privy Council letters to him in 1549, at the time of the Protector Somerset’s fall, were concerned entirely with local matters, and he managed to avoid entanglement in court faction until the succession crisis of 1553 brought him to the forefront of politics.5
Although included in Cecil’s list of gentlemen expected to transact ‘affairs for Queen Jane’, Mordaunt, whose second wife had formerly been in the service of Princess Mary, was one of the first prominent men to join the Marian forces. This promptitude earned him a place on Queen Mary’s Council, and for some years from 22 Aug. 1553, his first recorded appearance, he attended Council meetings regularly. He was present at Mary’s coronation and at her wedding to Philip of Spain; at the time of Wyatt’s rising against the marriage he had been one of those appointed to organize the supply of the Tower. He was also active in suppressing opponents of Catholicism—first as a justice of the peace, and from 1557 as a heresy commissioner in the diocese of London.6
With the increasing age and infirmity of his father, Mordaunt began to take more responsibility in and for Bedfordshire. Besides being repeatedly elected knight of the shire, he performed a variety of local duties, as, for instance, when he was one of those appointed in August 1554 to look into an unspecified ‘matter in variance between the inhabitants of the town of Bedford’. After 1555 his name does not appear so often with regard to the central government—he is not known to have attended any Council meeting after September 1556—but he remained a loyal servant of the crown. During the last year of the reign he was prominent in levying Essex men for service at Calais.7
The accession of Elizabeth again brought him into disfavour at court. By April 1561 his adherence to Catholicism had caused him to be imprisoned in the Fleet, ‘a prisoner for the mass’, but he probably did not remain there long. As Baron Mordaunt, he was employed by Elizabeth’s government on a number of local commissions; as late as June 1564 he was still an Essex justice of the peace of the quorum, but by November of that year, when the bishops reported to the Privy Council on the religious attitudes of justices, his name was omitted. Although this is not conclusive evidence that he had been removed for his Catholicism, since peers were often excluded from the episcopal reports, there is no known later reference to him as a justice, and the next surviving commission, that of 1569, does not include his name. His religion did not prevent him from attending the Parliament of 1563 as a peer and in 1571 he named Edward, 3rd Lord Windsor, his proxy.8
Mordaunt’s public career had been set against a background of domestic discord. He and his eldest son, Lewis, became estranged by the son’s refusal to marry a daughter of his stepmother. According to the family historian, Lewis had at first been willing to marry the girl, whom he may have seduced, but his grandfather, the 1st Baron, forbade the marriage as one of disparagement. This led to a series of complicated manoeuvres. Mordaunt secured a recovery of the Fitzlewis lands to his own use, and drew up a will depriving Lewis of them if he continued to refuse the marriage, whereupon old Lord Mordaunt made arrangements virtually disinheriting Mordaunt himself in favour of Lewis, whom he ordered to leave his father’s house and take up residence at Turvey. The Mordaunt estates still lay principally in Bedfordshire but included outlying manors in Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire and Somerset. There was also a large London house in St. Sepulchre without Newgate.9
After consuming much time and money in these disputes, Mordaunt and his father were officially reconciled, probably as late as 1562. Lewis inherited the Mordaunt estates in 1571, although his father’s final will still appears designed to keep his son out of full enjoyment of the Fitzlewis lands for at least ten years after that date. It is probable that Lewis reached an agreement with his stepmother over these, to which, by the will of Sir Richard Fitzlewis, he was undoubtedly the heir on his father’s death. This took place between 16 Apr., when Mordaunt drew up his last will, and 19 Oct. 1571, when it was proved. He left lands to maintain three scholars at Brasenose College, Oxford, and four almsfolk at Turvey. He was buried as he had directed, at Turvey. His widow married Sir Thomas Kempe†.10
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: N. M. Fuidge
- 1. C219/24/IV.
- 2. Date of birth given in CP, ix. 195. R. Halstead (pseud. of Henry Mordaunt, 2nd Earl of Peterborough), Succinct Gen. Mordaunt, 325-6, 400, 599; PCC 13 Jankyn; Vis. Beds. (Harl. Soc. xix), 42; LP Hen. VIII, vi; Marr. Lic. Fac. Off. (Harl. Soc. xxiv), 5.
- 3. Duchy Cornw. RO, ministers’ accts. 125/4; LP Hen. VIII, xx; CPR, 1553, p. 352; 1553-4, pp. 19, 36, 107; 1554-5, p. 94; 1555-7, pp. 125, 281-2, 405; 1563-6, p. 122; 1569-72, pp. 222, 224; Cam. Misc. ix(3), 28-29, 62-63; VCH Bucks. iv. 429-39; Somerville, Duchy, i. 593, 604-5; APC, iv. 327; v. passim; vi. 162, 237; vii. 242; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 225.
- 4. Beds. N. and Q. ii. 156-7; LP Hen. VIII, iv, ix; Halstead, 401 seq.
- 5. LP Hen. VIII, vi, xiv, xv, xviii, xix; Halstead, 401, 588-9.
- 6. Halstead, 401, 590-1, 600; Lansd. 103, f. 2; Chron. Q. Jane and Q. Mary (Cam. Soc. xlviii), 3; J. E. Oxley, Ref. in Essex. 223; CPR, 1555-7, pp. 281-2.
- 7. APC, v. 66; vi. 237 et passim.
- 8. CSP Dom. 1601-3, Add. 1547-65, p. 510; LJ, i. 582, 626, 667.
- 9. Halstead, 328-36, 402-3, 593-6, 600 seq.; C3/123/29; Harl. 6767, f. 21v; Morant, Essex, i. 105, 213-14; ii. 558; Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. n.s. vi. 52; VCH Beds. iii. 97-98, 110-11, 113, 182-3, 219, 443; VCH Bucks. ii. 329-30, 333-4; iv. 409, 503, 516; LP Hen. VIII, xviii, xix; Beds. N and Q. ii. 157.
- 10. Wards 7/26/28; PCC 13 Jankyn, 39 Holney.