STUMPE, John (c.1525-1600), of Malmesbury, Wilts.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. c.1525, 2nd s. of William Stumpe of Malmesbury by Joyce, da. of James Berkeley of Bradley, Glos. m. (1) c.1552, da. of Matthew King of Malmesbury, 3s.; (2) c.1566, Christian, da. of William Chaffin of Bulford, wid. of Thomas Dowse of Collingbourne Ducis, s.p.1

Offices Held

Bailiff and collector of Malmesbury from c.1563.2


Stumpe was probably born about the time that his father migrated from Gloucestershire to Malmesbury, and he grew up with the celebrated cloth manufactory there. His elder brother, Sir James, appears early to have taken the mantle of gentility, whereas John followed his father in the business. William Stumpe died in July 1552, having bequeathed to John, by his will of October 1550, the leases of three houses, ten broad looms and £500 in cash; and when, by a codicil added on the day of his death, he left his remaining looms to the infant son of his second marriage, their employment may well have devolved upon the grown-up brother. It was perhaps upon his father’s death that John entered upon his first marriage, to a daughter of Matthew King, who was to succeed William Stumpe as Malmesbury’s leading clothier; and the match sounds even more of a business affair than most. Stumpe’s wife was to bear him three sons—the second and third of whom were probably twins—between 1555 and 1559 before her death early in Elizabeth’s reign.3

The new Queen’s accession may well have brought relief to John Stumpe by dispelling not only the cloud of royal disfavour which had hung over secularisers of monastic property but also the more serious suspicion of involvement in treasonable activities. In April 1554 a servant of his brother’s had been summoned before the Council and he himself mentioned during the examination of a suspect at about the same time. Sir James died in July 1563. Although his daughter Elizabeth and her husband Henry Knyvet were to inherit the bulk of the patrimony (not surprisingly at the cost of a disputed will), they betook themselves to Charlton and left John as the family’s figurehead in Malmesbury. They also conveyed or leased to him some of their property there, and it was the Abbey House, which survives largely as he or his son rebuilt it, that he made his home at least until the early 1590s. To his urban estate Stumpe added some country leases, one of tithes in Corston and Rodbourne formerly belonging to the abbey, another of the ex-priory of Longbridge, near Berkeley, in his father’s native county; he also acquired from Matthew King the manor of Througham which had once been his father’s, but this he soon parted with.4

It was during these years that there came to light a transaction which might have compromised Stumpe. In 1564 it transpired that the Exchequer had been supplied with an inquisition, purporting to have been taken at Malmesbury in November 1561, before him and Edward Pleydell, by which the chantry of West Hatch had been valued at 13s.4d. a year. The inquisition was a forgery, and since the chantry had been leased since 1545 to the Snells the purpose of its manufacture was doubtless to conceal the under-assessment by which the lessees had long benefited. A fresh inquisition was held in September 1564, before the sheriff, John Erneley, at which the true value of £11 11s. and 1 lb. of pepper a year was established, and Nicholas Snell escaped lightly with no more than a demand for payment of arrears, under a recognizance of £500. There is nothing to suggest that Stumpe was other than an innocent victim of the conspiracy.5

In September 1566 Stumpe and nine other burgesses of Malmesbury took a lease of all lands in Malmesbury and Westport formerly belonging to the abbey which still remained to the Crown, at an annual rent of £58. At the same time they leased certain other properties, and because the buildings in question stood in need of repairs they offered to make these at their own costs; Stumpe himself further offered to surrender his patent (and fee of £4 a year) as bailiff and to discharge that office voluntarily. It was the first of two public-spirited actions on his part. Fourteen years later he acquired partly by gift and partly by purchase, the former hospital of St. John in the borough, which he conveyed to the corporation for 41 marks.6

We hear little of John Stumpe during the last 20 years of his life. He was probably the principal mourner of that name at the funeral of his niece Elizabeth Knyvet in 1585. His own wife died in 1595, and he himself on 3 May 1600; it was as ‘John Stumpe, gent., the elder’ that he was buried on 6 May in the abbey church. He appears to have made no will, but his inquisition, taken on 22 Apr. 1601, shows him to have owned numerous properties in and around Malmesbury. His son and heir James, who was then upwards of 45 years old, died in September 1602, leaving only the third son, Basil, to reach old age.7

John Stumpe’s standing in Malmesbury, reinforced by his kinship with Sir Henry Knyvet of Charlton, would sufficiently account for his return in 1584, with Knyvet as his fellow-Member; and it is only the existence of his son John which casts any doubt upon the identification. By 1584 this son was a man of 25 and a member of the Inner Temple, to which he had gone after a spell at Oxford with his two brothers and of which he would become an utter-barrister in 1587. By his marriage to the heiress of a Devon gentleman who had died in 1566 John Stumpe the younger acquired a stepson, Reuben Crane, and four daughters, of whom the first three were born in London between 1588 and 1592, and the fourth at Malmesbury in September 1593. In November 1591 he had taken a long lease of the Abbey House, and the next month acquired the reversion of it. These were the first of a number of transactions by which he acquired a considerable part of the family property in the town, and which seem to reflect a decision to invest the yield of his legal practice and lucrative marriage in an establishment there.8

The closing years of his short life furnish a couple of interesting sidelights on Stumpe. When engaged by Sir Walter Longe to advise enclosure rioters on how they should pull down Sir John Danvers’s fences, he counselled them to work in pairs and thus evade the charge of rioting which could only be committed by three or more persons acting together. It was an argument which cut no ice in the Star Chamber, which adjudged the affair in 1596 and imprisoned and fined Longe for his incitement. Some years earlier Stumpe had been complained of to the Privy Council by the bishop of Exeter and others for his vexation of the old incumbent of Plymtre rectory, of which Stumpe and his wife held the patronage.9

Stumpe died 7 Dec. 1598 and was buried, as ‘John Stumpe, gent., the younger of the Abbey’, in the abbey church on the following day. He had probably foreseen his end for some months, since in the previous August he had enfeoffed two gentlemen, John Warnford and Francis Bradshaw, in all his Wiltshire property to the use of his wife and children after his own. It was Warnford whom his widow was to marry in July 1601. The three surviving daughters married, two in 1607, the third in 1611.10

But for his early death John Stumpe the younger might well have cut a notable figure in Malmesbury and have prolonged his family’s representation of the borough in Parliament, especially with Sir Henry Knyvet in continuing control. It is, however, unlikely that he was the man to sit in 1584, since unless there was then a call—of which there is no indication—for his legal acumen, his father’s claim in both seniority and standing far outweighed his own.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: S. T. Bindoff


  • 1. PCC 26 Powell; Wilts. N. and Q. viii. 390; C3/107/49, 3/164/17; Wilts. Vis. Peds. (Harl. Soc. cv, cvi), 37.
  • 2. CPR, 1563-6, p. 463.
  • 3. CPR, 1555-7, p. 146; PCC 26 Powell; G. D. Ramsay, Wilts. Woollen Industry; Basil and John Stumpe were both aged 16 when they matriculated at Oxford in 1575, Al. Ox. 1500-1714, p. 1440.
  • 4. APC, v. 14; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 82; C3/106/11; CPR, 1550-3, p. 259; 1560-3, pp. 330, 357; 1563-6, pp. 129-30, 265; 1566-9, p. 305; Wilts. N. and Q. vi. 355; vii. 411, 417; viii. 537.
  • 5. CPR, 1563-6, p. 250.
  • 6. CPR, 1563-6, pp. 463-4; J. M. Moffatt, Hist. Malmesbury, 121-2.
  • 7. Wilts. N. and Q. viii. 449, 532; C142/264/135, 272/60, 752/215; PCC 10 Bolein
  • 8. Cal. I.T. Recs. i. 324-5, 346, 349, 415, 426; Al. Ox. 1500-1714, p. 1440; C142/260/151; Wilts N. and Q. viii. 532.
  • 9. Wilts. Arch. Mag. i. 447-8; APC, xxiii. 301.
  • 10. C142/260/151, 296/98; Wilts N. and Q. viii. 451-4, 532.