CLIFTON, Sir John (d.1403), of Clifton, Notts.

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

s. or gds. of Sir Gervase Clifton (d.c.1383) of Clifton. m.c. June 1382, Katherine, e. da. of Sir John Cressy (d. Aug. 1383) of Hodsock, Notts. and Melton near Barnborough, Yorks., sis. and coh. of Sir Hugh Cressy (c.1375-1408), at least 1s. Kntd. by June 1380.1

Offices Held

Commr. of inquiry, Notts. Mar. 1401 (contempt of royal franchises).

Sheriff, Notts. and Derbys. 29 Nov. 1402-d.

Verderer, Sherwood forest, Notts. to d.


According to Thoroton, the Nottinghamshire antiquary, this MP was the son of Sir Robert Clifton and Agnes, a daughter of one of the Lords Grey of Wilton. But firm evidence of such parentage remains wanting, and it seems more likely that his father (or possibly grandfather) was Sir Gervase Clifton. The latter obtained royal letters of exemption from office-holding in 1377, but was still employed as a verderer of Sherwood forest in 1388, by which date he had grown too sick and old to perform his duties. Whatever his immediate ancestry, Sir John certainly belonged to the same well-known Nottinghamshire family, whose members had already been living at Clifton for 150 years if not longer. He himself is first mentioned in August 1377, when he was about to set sail with Edward III’s youngest son, Thomas of Woodstock, newly created earl of Buckingham, in an attempt to clear the Channel of French and Spanish ships. His association with Woodstock, which lasted until the latter’s death in 1397, proved of great importance in his career, and three years later he again enlisted in his service, this time for an expedition intended to support John IV, duke of Brittany, against the French. By then a knight, Clifton was influential enough to secure for himself the hand of a wealthy bride (he may, indeed, have previously been married to Isabel, daughter of Sir George Monboucher), and in June 1382 indentures were drawn up for his marriage to Katherine Cressy. Her father, Sir John, promised to settle upon the couple an estate at Broughton in Nottinghamshire, and other property at Hodsock and Melton could well have changed hands at this time. Meanwhile, in October 1379, Clifton was able (perhaps with the help of his patron, Thomas of Woodstock) to obtain a writ of supersedeas which halted an action for menaces being brought against him by a London mercer.2

The precise date on which Sir John was formally retained by Woodstock (who became duke of Gloucester in 1385) is not now recorded, but at some point shortly after November 1387 an annuity of £20 was assigned to him for life from the ducal manor of Kneesall in Nottinghamshire. The terms of his contract evidently did not prevent him from taking part in the first expedition led into Lithuania by Gloucester’s nephew, Henry of Bolingbroke, on behalf of the Teutonic knights. The crusading force set out in August 1390, but Clifton and his friend, Sir Thomas Rempston I*, had the ill-fortune to be captured and thrown into prison two months later by Wladislas, king of Poland. In March 1391, Bolingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt, wrote personally to Wladislas requesting their immediate release, and the two knights were eventually allowed to go free. Both men were safely back on their estates by February 1392, when they acted together as feoffees for a local landowner. Nothing daunted by his recent experiences, Sir John indented in the following May to accompany the duke of Gloucester to Ireland with a personal retinue of two esquires and 20 archers. Despite the revocation of Gloucester’s commission as lieutenant of the province shortly afterwards, his treasurer of wars did in fact pay Clifton and his men over £54 in wages, a sum of £8 being assigned to the young Simon Leek*, who was then serving under Sir John.3

Gloucester’s role as one of the leading Lords Appellant of 1388 earned him the lasting and implacable enmity of his nephew, Richard II, who was by 1397 in a position to revenge himself upon those who had previously attempted to curb his authority. In July of that year the duke was arrested at his castle of Pleshey, removed to Calais and obliged to confess his ‘treason’. His death, under highly suspicious circumstances, was announced to the September Parliament, which duly pronounced him a traitor and forfeited his estates. These events placed Clifton in an extremely vulnerable position, especially as he had strong connexions with Henry of Bolingbroke, another of the Appellants, who, although in no way then hostile to the King, was to be banished by him in September 1398. In order to protect himself he therefore sued out royal letters of pardon because of his past affiliations, no doubt paying heavily for the protection which they accorded him. His loyalty to Bolingbroke remained unshaken, however, and when the latter returned to England in 1399 to claim his confiscated inheritance and eventually the throne as well he rewarded his former companion-in-arms by making him a knight of the royal body. Another mark of favour was shown to Clifton in February 1400 in the shape of an annuity of 40 marks, payable for life from the issues of Nottinghamshire (although this soon fell into arrears); and in the following year he was summoned as a representative of the county to attend a great council at Westminster. Just four days after the dissolution of his first Parliament, in November 1402, he began a term as sheriff, having perhaps already assumed office as verderer of Sherwood forest.4

Sir John’s attachment to the house of Lancaster brought about his early death, on 21 July 1403, at the battle of Shrewsbury, when he fell fighting under the royal banner. He thus did not live to profit from a settlement of 1400 made by his childless brother-in-law, Sir Hugh Cressy, whereby the manors of Risegate, Claypole and Braytoft in Lincolnshire, Melton near Barnborough in Yorkshire, and Hodsock in Nottinghamshire had been settled jointly in reversion upon Cressy’s two sisters, Clifton’s wife, Katherine, and Elizabeth Markham. The beneficiary of this arrangement was, in fact, Katherine’s second husband, Ralph Mackerell*, whom she married not long afterwards. Sir John left at least one son, Gervase, born in about 1390, who took to wife a daughter of the influential Staffordshire knight, Sir Robert Francis*, and enjoyed an income of at least £60 p.a. from his patrimony in Nottinghamshire. The John Clifton who campaigned with the earl of Suffolk in Normandy during the reign of Henry V, was knighted for his services and died in about 1430 may well have been Gervase’s brother.5

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. C137/67/30; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Ce D674; Clifton ms, CID no. 520; CCR, 1389-92, p. 516; A. Goodman, Loyal Conspiracy, 180-1; CIPM, xv. nos. 965, 966.
  • 2. R. Thoroton, Notts. ed. Throsby, i. 103; Goodman, 180-1; CCR, 1377-81, p. 339; 1389-92, p. 224; CPR, 1377-81, p. 289; Clifton ms, CID no. 520.
  • 3. CIMisc. vi. no. 359; Derby’s Expeds. (Cam. Soc. n.s. lii), pp. xliii, 113, 131; Dip. Corresp. Ric. II (Cam. Soc. ser. 3, xlviii), 218; Clifton mss, CID nos. 520, 622; Add. Ch. 40859; E101/74/1/43.
  • 4. C67/31 m. 13; C81/606/2386; E404/16/382; PPC, i. 162; CPR, 1399-1401, pp. 226, 439.
  • 5. J. Trokelowe, Chron. ed. Riley, 369; CFR, xii. 220; CPR, 1399-1401, p. 411; CCR, 1405-9, p. 417; C137/67/30; E179/159/48; Thoroton, i. 103; Harl. 54I 8; Vis. Notts. 17; Thoroton Soc. iv. 204; Gesta Hen. V ed. Williams, 267; CIPM (Rec. Comm.), iv. 99.