DRONSFIELD, Sir William (d.1406), of West Bretton, Yorks.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of John Dronsfield (fl. 1386) of West Bretton by his 1st w. Joan. m. by 1403, Grace, prob. da. of Sir William Gascoigne (d.1419), c.j.KB, of Gawthorpe, s.p.; 1s. illegit. Kntd. by Nov. 1401.1
J.p. Yorks. (W. Riding) 16 May 1401-Dec. 1406.
Sheriff, Yorks. 8 Nov. 1401-2, 22 Nov. 1405-d.
Commr. to make arrests, Yorks. July 1403, Dec. 1405; of oyer and terminer, Yorks. (W. Riding) Aug. 1403 (trespasses against the King’s subjects), Lincs. Oct. 1404 (disorder at Wrangle); array, Yorks. (W. Riding) Sept. 1403; inquiry Mar. 1406 (defections to northern rebels).
Collector of a tax, Yorks. (W. Riding) Mar. 1404.
Bailiff of the honour and hundred of Staincross in the duchy of Lancaster, Yorks. by d.2
The Dronsfield family settled at West Bretton in, or before, the mid 13th century, and soon became dominant landowners in the area to the south of Wakefield. By the time of his death, Sir William was seised of an impressive amount of property which comprised the manors of West Bretton, Gunthwaite, Newhall, Bargh and Bulcliff, with extensive appurtenances in almost a dozen surrounding villages, as well as widely-scattered holdings in the outlying countryside. Most of these estates had belonged to his father, John Dronsfield, an ambitious man who had used his growing territorial influence to gain promotion as a crown commissioner, tax collector and j.p. John also managed to negotiate a lease of the manor of Sheffield from successive bishops of Durham, and was thus in a strong position to advance the interests of his three sons. William, the eldest, was born before May 1367, when his father obtained for him a life tenancy of holdings in West Bretton, taking care to secure the reversionary interest for himself in case the boy died young. John remarried not long afterwards; and in 1371 he settled other property in this area upon whatever issue he might have by his new wife, promising William the reversion should they prove childless. Probably on his coming of age, in about 1386, William also received from his father the family estates at Bargh, where he is said to have been living at about this time. Two years later he agreed to offer securities on behalf of a local chaplain who had just become keeper of Rotherham parish church, but otherwise little is known about his early life.3
By March 1395, however, William Dronsfield had entered the service of Henry of Bolingbroke, thereby establishing a connexion of great and lasting importance for the rest of his career. As one of Bolingbroke’s esquires he was then allocated expenses of 60s. for transporting two war-horses from Brod (near Prague) to England, a task which may actually have been undertaken in October 1392, when Henry passed through the town on his way to Venice and thence Jerusalem. Bolingbroke’s seizure of the throne, in 1399, consequently proved a turning point in the fortunes of his loyal servant, who soon came in for a share of royal patronage. He was knighted, appointed to the Yorkshire bench and, in November 1401, chosen to serve his first term as sheriff. Sir William may also have assumed office as bailiff of the duchy of Lancaster lordship of Staincliffe when he took his seat in the Coventry Parliament of 1404, so his commitment to the new regime was beyond question. Moreover, if, as has been suggested, his wife, Grace, was indeed the daughter of Chief Justice Sir William Gascoigne, he could boast an even closer link with Henry IV, for not only was Gascoigne himself particularly favoured by the King, but his brother, Richard, had since 1400 occupied the chief stewardship of the north parts of the duchy of Lancaster. At all events, during this period Sir William grasped the opportunity to consolidate his estates by acquiring small blocks of property in the West Riding. He had already made a major enfeoffment of most of his possessions in 1397, choosing his kinsman, Richard Dronsfield, the rector of Heaton, as one of his trustees, although he evidently considered these arrangements inadequate and revised them nine years later. This was partly because he wished to endow a perpetual chantry at West Bretton, but his chief concern was clearly to make provision for his son, Richard Kesseburgh, who appears to have been illegitimate. His wife certainly had no children, and since his two sisters and their issue stood to inherit part of the family estates, he was naturally anxious to settle a competent livelihood upon Richard. His generosity also extended to his younger half-brothers, John and Thomas, who were each promised a substantial income for life from property originally bought for them by their father. Grace, too, was confirmed in a large and valuable jointure, comprising most of the Dronsfield inheritance. This thorough and detailed family settlement was formalized on 23 Aug. 1406, along with Sir William’s equally precise will. His wife and son, Richard, figured prominently as the chief beneficiaries, although he made numerous gifts to friends, servants and members of the local clergy. Sir William, who was then serving his second term as sheriff, may perhaps already have been ill, for he died before the middle of September, leaving his executors (headed by his chief feoffee, Richard Dronsfield) to assume responsibility for all the official documents pertaining to the shrievalty. Richard Kesseburgh entered his share of the estates unopposed, and since he himself left no issue, all Sir William’s property eventually found its way, through his two sisters, into the hands of the Bosviles and the Wentworths.4
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Variants: Bransfield, Drausfeld.
- 1. Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. lxix. 60; Test Ebor. i. 344-5; J. Hunter, S. Yorks. ii. 242-3; PRO List ‘Sheriffs’, 162.
- 2. Somerville, Duchy, i. 520.
- 3. Hunter, ii. 242-3; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. lxix. 60; lxxvi. 13; CFR, x. 214; Feudal Aids, vi. 599.
- 4. Derby’s Expeds. (Cam. Soc. n.s. lii), pp. lvii, 292; Somerville, i. 418, 468; Hunter, ii. 242-3; CAD, i. nos. C783, C893; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. lxxvi. 14-15, 26; cii. 170; CFR, xiii. 44; Test Ebor. i. 344-5.