STEPNETH (STEPNEY), Robert (by 1513-57), of West Ham, Essex, and Aldenham and St. Albans, Herts.
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Family and Education
Bailiff and collector, former lands of Holy Trinity priory, Aldgate, London, and Stratford-at-Bow priory, Essex 1546-d.2
One Thomas Stepneth is named in the accounts of St. Alban’s abbey for 1529-30 as the abbey’s solicitor and a John Stepneth was one of the city’s wealthier townsmen in 1523. There was thus a family connexion with the city, even though Robert Stepneth did not live there, so far as can be discovered, until the last few years of his life.3
Of the two half-brothers so named, the elder who died in 1557 was probably the Member. It was almost certainly he who in 1544 took a crown lease of Monkwick mansion outside Colchester for 21 years at a yearly rent of £22. John Dudley, Earl of Warwick and later Duke of Northumberland, had a crown grant of the freehold reversion of Monkwick in June 1547, but sold it to his dependant and relative by marriage Sir Francis Jobson, who in turn must have acquired the leasehold interest from Stepneth, for he made Monkwick his principal residence and died there in 1573. Stepneth’s will clearly shows the connexion between the two men, which probably dated back to 1544 and may have prompted Stepneth to take his lease as Jobson’s nominee, perhaps in return for favours from Jobson as receiver for Essex and Hertfordshire to the court of augmentations. Stepneth’s advancement, and in particular his return to Parliament, are only to be explained by some influential connexion, such as that with Jobson; his younger brother, who is not known to have enjoyed any such connexion, is much less likely to have earned a comparable reward.4
Stepneth also took a lease in 1544 of land at West Ham that had earlier belonged to Stratford-at-Bow priory. Both this lease and Stepneth’s offices as collector for the lands of two dissolved monasteries he perhaps also owed to Jobson’s influence; after his death they passed to a namesake, probably the younger brother. Styled a gentleman, Stepneth lived at West Ham at least until 1548, when he acquired from a distant cousin, Ralph Stepneth, the Hertfordshire manor of Aldenham; one-third of the manor came to Stepneth as heir at law, the other two-thirds were bequeathed to him for life, with remainder to his younger son Ralph, presumably the testator’s godson. Robert Stepneth was involved in at least one chancery case, and his descendants in several more, against other cousins who tried, apparently without success, to prove that his grandfather had not been the firstborn but had had an elder brother, whose descendants, the claimants, should have inherited the land.5
On Mary’s accession Sir Francis Jobson suffered temporary imprisonment for his support of Queen Jane, but he did not lose the lands he had accumulated with Northumberland’s help or fail to sit in two Marian Parliaments. He did so in 1555, and presumably also supported Stepneth’s candidature at St. Albans. He may have foreseen that bills to be introduced into this Parliament would concern him personally, and so felt the need of a reliable supporter in the House. Somewhat surprisingly, the only known roll of ‘opposition’ Members in the Commons of 1555 does not include the names of either Stepneth or Francis Jobson. Stepneth, for his part, had already run into some unspecified trouble with authority. He was one of four persons bound by the Privy Council on 1 Feb. 1554 in the sum of 50 marks each to appear when summoned ‘and in the meantime to behave themselves like true subjects’. The offence does not sound a very serious one, and the exhortation suggests a recourse to violence, perhaps as an accompaniment of some lawsuit, or as an aftermath of the political crisis of the preceding year.6
Unlike Jobson, Stepneth had no opportunity to sit again, for he died between 11 Feb. 1557, when he made his will, and the following 24 Apr., when his offices were granted to another of the same name. He provided for his wife by leaving her land in St. Albans for life, and also ‘my office of the collection-ship within the town of St. Albans with the yearly fee of £10 8s.’ and ‘all such debts and duties’ as Jobson then owed him. Alice Stepneth was also left a crown annuity pur autre vie of 50s., perhaps granted to her husband in return for the surrender of the stewardship of Hertford priory, which he is known to have held earlier. After directing the sale of his house in Hart Street, London, Stepneth provided for his four sons from lands in Essex and Hertfordshire; each son also received £20 in cash and an unmarried daughter £80. He also remembered his brother Robert and a number of more distant relatives, and named his wife executrix and Sir Francis Jobson overseer.7
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: D. F. Coros
- 1. Date of birth estimated from age at cousin’s i.p.m., C142/88/72. St. Albans and Herts. Arch. Soc. (1933-5), 320-2; PCC 12 Wrastley.
- 2. LP Hen. VIII, xxi; CPR, 155-7, pp. 293-4.
- 3. E315/274, ff. 24v, 80, 85v.
- 4. LP Hen. VIII, xix; CPR, 1547-8, pp. 204, 254; 1555-7, pp. 293-4; PCC 24 Populwell.
- 5. St. Albans and Herts. Arch. Soc. loc. cit.; C1/1217/46-47; 2 Eliz./516/56; 3/168/9; 142/88/72; LP Hen. VIII, xix, xxi.
- 6. APC, iv. 391.
- 7. Clutterbuck, Herts. i. app. 21; PCC 12 Wrastley.