BERTRAM, John (d.1450), of Bothal, Northumb.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

2nd s. of Sir Robert Ogle (1353-31 Oct. 1409) by his w. Joan (c.1358-12 Oct. 1416), 3rd da. and coh. of Sir Alan Heton† (d. Mar. 1388), of Ingram; bro. of Sir Robert Ogle*. m. (1) by Oct. 1404, Isabel, da. of Sir William Heron of Cornhill, at least 2s. inc. William†, 1da.; (2) by June 1425, Joan (d. aft. Jan. 1451), da. of Sir John Loudham, wid. of Sir John Swillington (d. 2 Apr. 1418) of Burston, Norf., and Wigston, Leics. 1s. illegit. Edward†. Kntd. by 21 May 1415.1

Offices Held

Escheator, Northumb. 29 Nov. 1410-10 Dec. 1411, 14 Dec. 1415-8 Dec. 1416.

Commr. of gaol delivery, Norhamshire, Northumb. c.1410-11, May 1421, c.1431-2;2 to victual the garrison at Roxburgh July 1416;3 of array, Northumb. Apr. 1418, Mar. 1419, Mar. 1425, Cumb. Mar. 1427, Northumb. Oct. 1429, July 1434; to raise royal loans July 1426, May 1428; of inquiry, Norhamshire c.1431-2 (concealments), Cumb., Northumb., Westmld., Yorks. July 1434 (evasions and concealments); to hold a special assize, Norhamshire c.1431-2;4 of oyer and terminer, Northumb. May 1438 (generally).

Sheriff, Northumb. 10 Dec. 1411-3 Nov. 1412, 30 Nov. 1416-10 Nov. 1417, 22 Sept. 1422-13 Nov. 1423, 5 Nov. 1430-26 Nov. 1431, 3 Nov. 1434-7 Nov. 1435, 3 Nov. 1438-5 Nov. 1439.

Keeper of Roxburgh castle 9 Dec. 1415-23 Mar. 1421.5

J.p. Northumb. 27 Jan. 1418-July 1423, 20 July 1424-July 1437, 1 Mar. 1439-July 1442; of the bp. of Durham’s liberty of Norhamshire and Islandshire 6 Sept. 1421, c.1431-2, c.1436-7.6

Dep. capt. of Fronsac in France by 25 Aug. 1419.7

Envoy to Scotland on diplomatic missions 12 July 1429, 14 Aug. 1433, 3 Feb.-4 Mar., 10 May 1434, 5 Feb., 14 Mar. 1436, 4 Mar., 20 Apr. 1437, 18 Mar.-2 Apr., 17 May 1438.8

Assessor of a subsidy, Northumb. Jan. 1436.

Constable of the castle at Newcastle-upon-Tyne by d. 9


Although only a younger son, the subject of this biography was clearly the favourite of both his father and his wealthy grandmother, Ellen, the daughter and sole heir of Sir Robert Bertram of Bothal, whose surname he adopted early in life. In May 1403, just a few months before she died, Ellen and her third husband, David Holgrave†, settled the manor and castle of Bothal (together with property in at least ten other Northumbrian villages) upon John’s father, Sir Robert Ogle, for life, with a reversion to John and his heirs. Sir Robert entered the property in February 1406 after Holgrave’s death, and promptly confirmed John’s title, at the same time promising his eldest son and namesake the rest of the family estates. Three months later Sir Robert offered John securities of 1,000 marks as a guarantee that he might enjoy peaceful possession of Bothal from then onwards, but it looks as if John decided to lease back the castle and manor to his father, in January 1407, at an annual rent of £200 charged upon his other Northumbrian properties. These arrangements were evidently designed to provide John and his wife with a fixed income, which they enjoyed for the next two years. However, in March 1409, a new agreement was reached whereby John himself took up residence at Bothal, paying his father £80 p.a. as compensation for the final surrender of his life interest. Perhaps Sir Robert had already come to suspect the motives of his eldest son, who made no attempt to conceal his resentment at the over-generous way his sibling had been treated. At all events, he entrusted the execution of his will to John alone, leaving him his sword as well as his two best horses. One of his last acts, moreover, was to obtain royal letters patent confirming John as heir to Bothal, although (Sir) Robert Ogle the younger, who could barely wait to get his hands on the property, paid scant attention to these or any other proofs of title.10 Anticipating their father’s death, which occurred at Hexham on 31 Oct. 1409, the latter assembled a private army composed of renegade Scots and other freebooters. Sir Robert had not yet been buried when they set out for Bothal, intent on seizing the castle and causing as much damage as possible. Despite attempts by Sir John Widdrington* and Sampson Hardyng*, two of Bertram’s friends who were also j.p.s, to prevent bloodshed, Bothal fell after a short siege. Whether or not John was indeed robbed of goods and crops worth over £400 as he later claimed, his losses were considerable, and the castle was virtually destroyed. No doubt because the problem of violence in the north was already causing great concern, the Lords and Commons in the Parliament of 1410, to whom John appealed for redress, showed unaccustomed speed and firmness in dealing with the affair. (Sir) Robert was summoned to answer for his misdeeds before the royal council, and bound over in heavy securities not to threaten his brother in any way. Even so, his position in the north was such as to prevent John from pursuing the vendetta in more than a rather halfhearted manner, and after a while an uneasy truce was established. Not that John himself lacked influence on his own account, either as a landowner or as a crown servant. In the autumn of 1404, for example, he and his wife, Isabel, a kinswoman of William, Lord Heron (d.1379), bought two messuages in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and much later, in 1415, they sued out a fine establishing Isabel’s title to half the manor of Benwell with extensive appurtenances in Capheaton, which they settled on trustees. Meanwhile, in May 1410, the couple obtained from Bishop Langley of Durham a licence permitting them to make use of a private oratory in their home. John seems to have been on friendly terms with the bishop, who employed him on various occasions as a commissioner and a j.p. He was also present, in September 1410, when Langley took certain oaths from his serfs, and three years later he witnessed the resignation of the prioress of St. Bartholomew’s, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which was submitted to the episcopal authorities. Inquiries made in 1417 into the delapidated state of the hospital of West Spital there proved so damning that the bishop appointed Bertram as one of the lay administrators whom he hoped would restore its finances, so he evidently had a high opinion of his ability.11

From the start of his first term as escheator of Northumberland, in 1410, John became increasingly involved in the business of local government. Indeed, on the very day that he surrendered the escheatorship he assumed office as sheriff, a post which he held six times in all. During the summer of 1411, he and Sampson Hardyng acted as witnesses when an assignment of dower was made to Agnes, the daughter of their old friend, Sir John Widdrington. But Bertram did not always get on so well with his colleagues, and although they sat together in the May Parliament of 1413, relations between him and another of his neighbours, William Mitford, subsequently deteriorated to the point of bloodshed. Within five years, John had joined with Sir Henry Percy of Atholl, John Belasise and their henchmen in evicting William from the family estates at Mitford and causing damages estimated at a somewhat inflated figure of £200. At this juncture Robert Ogle (who had by then been knighted and had long been awaiting a suitable opportunity for revenge) threw his not inconsiderable weight behind Mitford, hoping thus to get even with his brother. Yet although both parties did their best to win support for their cause in Parliament, neither was prepared to risk the consequences of all-out private warfare. Bertram (who also became a knight at about this time), was, moreover, far too preoccupied with affairs along the Scottish border to become permanently involved in such feuds. In May 1415, for example, he was ordered to convey the Scottish prisoner Murdoch, earl of Fife, to Warkworth castle so that he might be exchanged for the late earl of Northumberland’s grandson, Henry Percy. It is also interesting to note that despite the chance which it gave them to plot against each other neither Sir John nor his brother showed the slightest sympathy for plans then being concocted by their kinsmen, the earl of Cambridge and Sir Thomas Gray, for a change of dynasty; and neither was in any way implicated when the two conspirators were executed for treason, in August 1415, on the eve of Henry V’s departure for France. On the contrary, just four months later Sir John was entrusted with the captaincy of the important border stronghold of Roxburgh castle, where he indented to serve, jointly with Sir John Etton*, for an initial term of two years. The garrison was badly demoralized because of arrears in pay and general neglect on the part of the government, and it was only a matter of time before the Scots took advantage of the situation. News that King Henry was about to launch a second expedition to France, in 1417, gave them an ideal opportunity for invasion. Realizing that attack was imminent, Bertram travelled personally to Southampton, where he begged the King for an immediate consignment of cash so that the men could be paid and provided with adequate armaments. He returned with £1,000, and began preparations for defence. These came none too soon, for within a matter of days one Scottish army had surrounded Berwick-upon-Tweed, while the other began to lay siege to Roxburgh. Although both forces were repulsed the garrison remained on the alert, and in December Sir John arranged for additional ‘estuffments’ and ‘artillar’ to be sent north from the Tower of London. This was indeed a busy period in his life, since he was also serving a second term as sheriff of Northumberland when the siege took place. Needless to say, he found it impossible to raise the customary county farm because of devastation by the enemy, and for once the Crown was prompt in excusing the shortfall in his account. Although from February 1418 until his replacement three years later Sir John acted as sole captain of Roxbugh, he managed to spend some time campaigning in France. For a while he actually helped to command the castle of Fronsac in the Gironde, and in August 1419 a payment of £150 was made to him for repairs and maintenance there.12

One of Sir John’s comrades-in-arms was the northern knight, Sir John Lumley, the second son and heir of Ralph, Lord Lumley, who had been attainted and executed for treason in 1400. On drawing up his will, in 1418, Lumley left his friend a bequest of ten marks, and when he fell at the battle of Bauge, three years later, custody of his estates was awarded by the Crown to Sir John Bertram. Unfortunately for the latter, Lumley had already settled most of his property on trustees, who began litigation in the court of Chancery to reassert their title. Wisely, Sir John abandoned his own claim, and the royal letters were rescinded. The loss of the Lumley estates was more than offset by Sir John’s good fortune in marrying as his second wife a wealthy widow with property in at least eight English counties. On his death in April 1418, Sir John Swillington had left his relict, Joan, in possession of a jointure comprising the manors of Wigston (Leicestershire) and Stanford-upon-Soar (Nottinghamshire), as well as dower properties in Greenwich (Kent), Shelf (Yorkshire), Burston (Norfolk), Wingfield, Tibshelf and Crancknowl (Derbyshire), Widmerpool, Stanton-in-the-Wolds, Normanton and Kingston (Nottinghamshire) and unspecified parts of Suffolk. Joan and Sir John Bertram were married by June 1425, when she took possession of the land in Burston which had been held in dower by Swillington’s widowed grandmother. They later experienced some problems with regard to Wigston, for Baldwin Bugge†, a royal servant, took advantage of Sir John’s frequent absences on official business in the north to seize the property with a force of armed men.13

Sir John meanwhile attended the elections for Northumberland to the Parliaments of 1421 (May) and 1425, being himself returned, at the very beginning of Henry VI’s reign, in 1422, for the second time in his career. Relations between him and his brother appear to have eased perceptibly, since he then witnessed a deed for Sir Robert; and not long afterwards he was a party to the marriage settlement made between his niece, Margery Ogle, and the young Robert Harbottle. He was even prepared to pledge financial guarantees on behalf of Margery’s brother when the latter succeeded to some of his late father’s offices, in 1436, but an element of distrust still clouded his relations with the senior branch of the family. Not surprisingly, Sir John was much in demand as a trustee, acting in this capacity not only for such Northumbrian landowners as Alexander Heron, but also on behalf of the Pierreponts and Rempstons, who were his wife’s neighbours in Nottinghamshire. In 1432 for instance, Margaret, the widow of Sir Thomas Rempston I*, offered him and Sir William Phelip* (later Lord Bardolph) bonds worth 1,750 marks, perhaps in connexion with property transactions in Suffolk. Sir John’s association with Henry IV’s half-brother, Thomas, duke of Exeter (d.s.p. 1426), probably dated from his time in France, and led to his appointment as one of the duke’s executors.14 Although he last entered Parliament in 1432, by which time he must have been well over 50 years old, Sir John had lost none of his enthusiasm for public affairs. Indeed, his regular employment as a royal envoy to Scotland only really began in 1429, and commanded much of his attention throughout the following decade. Occasional rewards, like the gift of £10 made to him by Henry VI, in 1434, came his way, but the work proved demanding, especially in conjunction with the other offices and commissions which he continued to execute. Sir John was prominent among the Northumbrian gentry who took the general oath, in May 1434, that they would not assist any disturbers of the peace, but by now the knight confined his disputes to the more peaceful arena of the lawcourts. He had but recently been outlawed for failing to appear when being sued by William, Lord Hilton; and in 1437 Bishop Langley set up a commission to examine his title to the advowson of Sheepwash. He probably lost his case, for an enfeoffment made by him of land in the area two months later makes no mention of any ecclesiastical patronage. Now well advanced in years, Sir John was concerned lest his son and heir, William, might face any problems regarding his title to Bothal and its extensive appurtenances. His choice of trustees, made in the autumn of 1436, is interesting since he conveyed the bulk of his Northumbrian estates to a group of Nottinghamshire gentry, including John Leek* and Sir William Plumpton†, whom he evidently felt would be less susceptible to pressure from his brother’s family. He also had his petition of 1410, together with the appropriate extracts from the minutes of the royal council, exemplified in the records of Chancery, again to confound any attempt by Sir Robert Ogle’s heirs to seize control of the property. No doubt through his dealings with Bishop Langley, Sir John had become friendly with the latter’s steward, Thomas Holden†, who died in 1441 leaving him 50 marks towards the cost of his daughter’s marriage, as well as excusing the sum of £20 which Sir John had recently borrowed and had yet to repay. His last years were spent quietly in retirement, marred only by an action of account, begun in 1446 by the government, for the recovery of £200 which Sir John allegedly owed from his time as captain of Roxburgh. His last recorded act, in September 1449, was the endowment of a chantry at the Dominican friary in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where prayers were to be said for 12 years for the souls of his first wife and her parents.15

Sir John Bertram died on 24 Apr. 1450, and was survived by his widow, Joan, who was confirmed in possession of her dower in the following year by Sir John’s two sons, William and Robert. William, the elder, had already represented Northumberland in Parliament and was currently sitting on the county bench. He later occupied the shrievalty, too, and went on to serve briefly as a governor of the Channel Islands. Sir John also left at least one illegitimate son, Edward Bertram, sometime sheriff of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and MP for the borough in 1435.16

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. H.A. Ogle, Ogle and Bothal, 45 and app. p. xii; C138/31/24; C139/139/27; CP25(1)181/15/3; Arch. Aeliana (ser. 4), xii. 90-91, 105; Reg. Chichele, ii. 582; CPR, 1422-9, p. 291; PPC, ii. 160-1.
  • 2. DKR, xxxiii. 99, 143.
  • 3. Rot. Scot. ed. Macpherson, etc. ii. 218.
  • 4. DKR, xxxiii. 136, 143.
  • 5. E404/31/579; Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. no. 900.
  • 6. DKR, xxxiii. 132, 137, 169.
  • 7. J.S. Roskell, Commons of 1422, p. 152.
  • 8. Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. nos. 1030, 1072, 1111, 1112; Rot. Scot. ii. 283, 285-7, 294, 299, 300, 303, 305, 310; PPC, iv. 172-3, 197, 308-15.
  • 9. Arch. Aeliana (ser. 4), xii. 90-91.
  • 10. Ogle, app. pp. x, xi; CPR, 1401-5, p. 230; 1405-8, p. 144; 1408-13, p. 116; Feudal Aids, iv. 82; Arch. Aeliana, n.s. xiv. 285-6; CFR, xiii. 26; Surtees Soc. clxiv. nos. 150-1; Newcastle-upon-Tyne Rec. Ser. vii. 176-7.
  • 11. RP, iii. 629; CP25(1)181/15/2(2), 3; Feudal Aids, iv. 85; Arch. Aeliana (ser. 3), vi. 70; Surtees Soc. clxiv. nos. 140, 159, 319; clxvi. no. 450.
  • 12. Newcastle-upon-Tyne Rec. Ser. vii. 236; J.H. Wylie, Hen. V, iii. 88-89; PPC, ii. 160-1; C1/4/159; E404/31/579, 32/28, 263, 36/227; Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. nos. 874, 875, 877, 879, 880, 886, 892, 895, 898, 900, 1418; DKR, xliv. 611; Roskell, 152.
  • 13. C138/31/24; SC8/31/1543; Surtees Soc. clxvi. no. 550; CFR, xiv. 256-7, 263, 376, 413; xv. 310-19; CPR, 1422-9, pp. 200, 291; Feudal Aids, iv. 136.
  • 14. C219/12/5, 13/3; CPR, 1422-9, pp. 446, 518; CCR, 1429-36, pp. 228-9; Newcastle-upon-Tyne Rec. Ser. vii. 114, 152.
  • 15. C139/139/27; E404/50/156; CPR, 1429-36, p. 396; Newcastle-upon-Tyne Rec. Ser. vii. 177-8; Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. no. 1191; Reg. Chichele, ii. 582; DKR, xxxiii. 131; Surtees Soc. clxxvii. no. 1279.
  • 16. Ogle, 45 and app. p. xii; Arch. Aeliana (ser. 4), xii. 90-91, 105; C139/139/27.