ELYS, Sir William (d.1391), of Everingham, Yorks.

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



Nov. 1390

Family and Education

poss. yr. s. of Thomas Elys of Pontefract. m. by Sept. 1386, Joan (b.1363), e. da. and coh. of Sir William Everingham (d. Aug. 1369) of Skinningrove by his w. Alice, da. of John, Lord Grey of Codnor (d.1392), 2s. 2da. Kntd. by Oct. 1384.1

Offices Held

Commr. to make an arrest, Yorks. Jan. 1367; of inquiry Aug. 1374 (poaching on the lands of the abp. of York), May 1388 (wastes on the same).

Bailiff of Strafforth hundred, Yorks. 28 Sept. 1391-d.


The early life and ancestry of this Member are obscure; and we cannot be entirely certain if he was the William Elys who served as one of Edward III’s serjeants-at-arms. The latter was employed between 1348 and 1352 on various tasks, largely concerning the purveyance and transport of victuals to the royal army in France. It is, however, interesting to note that on two separate occasions he offered property in Yorkshire as security for unpaid debts, so he may perhaps have gone on to represent the county in Parliament, albeit at a somewhat advanced age.2 The subject of this biography had certainly become involved in local government by 1367, although little is known of his personal affairs before March 1384, when he obtained royal letters of protection as a member of John, Lord Neville’s retinue on the Scottish border. In the following year (by which time he had been knighted) he joined the garrison commanded by Sir Thomas Swinburne* at Roxburgh castle. During this period, Sir William was obliged to sue out a royal pardon because certain property in the Yorkshire village of Kirkburn had been conveyed to him without the necessary royal licence. He was on this occasion acting as a trustee for a local landowner, but the manor itself belonged to Adam, Lord Everingham, whose grand daughter, Joan, he was fortunate enough to marry. The match proved a turning point in Elys’s career, for Joan and her sister, Katherine, the wife of Sir John Etton*, were then heirs presumptive to all the Everingham estates, their father, Sir William, and their young brother, Robert, having died within a few months of each other many years before. During the Michaelmas term of 1386 Lord Everingham settled his manor of Fairburn upon Sir William Elys and Joan, who were to pay an annual rent of £20 to him while he lived, and then inherit the property. On his death, two years later, the rest of his holdings in Yorkshire were divided between his two grand daughters, Joan receiving the manors of Brotton and Everingham, as well as other property in Skinningrove which had belonged to her late father. Despite their efforts to contest his title, their uncle, Reynold Everingham, managed to defend his life interest in Lord Everingham’s extensive Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire properties. Since Reynold lived on until August 1398, Elys never came to enjoy this part of his wife’s inheritance, although her immediate share of the Yorkshire manors was enough to establish him as a leading figure in the county community.3

Perhaps through his connexion with the Everinghams (or even as a result of service in the royal household), Sir William came to the attention of Edward Ill’s younger son, Edmund of Langley, duke of York, who retained him at a fee of 40 marks a year. The date of their contract is not now known, but in February 1389 he exchanged the duke’s livery for that of his nephew, Richard II. His annuity (now assigned from the fee farm of Kingston-upon-Hull) remained the same, although his new status as a knight of the King’s body was naturally more impressive. He went bail for Sir John Drayton*, then a prisoner in the Tower; and in December 1390 he managed to secure a royal pardon for a Yorkshireman found guilty of robbery. His position at Court, no less than his recently-acquired influence as a local landowner, admirably qualified him to sit in the House of Commons, although he did not live long enough to represent Yorkshire more than once. The second Parliament of 1390, of which he was a Member, was still sitting when he negotiated a lease of the parsonage of Harswell, Yorkshire, at the Exchequer, agreeing to pay an annual rent of 14s. for the tenancy. His attempts to acquire the bailiwick of Strafforth involved a far greater outlay, for the office was then occupied by John Wightloke, a serjeant of the chamber to King Richard, who would not surrender it without a handsome payment. In September 1391, Sir William promised him a rent of £10 p.a., payable for life from his manor of Fairburn, guaranteeing his offer with securities of £200 as an earnest of good faith. Richard II was happy to sanction the transfer, which received his approval in royal letters patent of the same date. Save for a dispute with one of his neighbours, which reached the York assizes in August of that year, Sir William thus had every reason to congratulate himself upon his good fortune.4 His career was, however, cut short in the following October by a brief but fatal illness. He drew up his will at Everingham on the 10th and died at some point over the next three weeks. His burial took place at the local parish church, to which he proved a generous benefactor. A marriage portion of 200 marks was left to his elder daughter, Joan, who went on to marry Sir John Poucher of Drax and to produce, in her own daughter, the eventual heir to all the widespread family property. Sir William’s elder son and immediate heir, Robert, was then a minor. His wardship passed into the hands of the influential Lancastrian courtier, Robert Waterton, who married the widowed Joan Elys before 1398, and consequently gained control of half Reynold Everingham’s property as well as the Yorkshire manors listed above. Waterton outlived his wife, and it was not until his death in 1425 that Robert Elys finally entered his inheritance. He died without issue in 1464, and was buried beside his father at Everingham.5

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


Variant: Eleys.

  • 1. Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. i. 278; Test. Ebor. i. 162; CP25(1)278/144/4; CP, v. 192; CFR, x. 220; CIPM, xvi. nos. 541-3; CPR, 1381-5, p. 468.
  • 2. CPR, 1348-50, p. 160; 1350-4, p. 343; CFR, vi. 276, 277, 291; CCR, 1349-54, pp. 290-1, 350; 1354-60, p. 78.
  • 3. CPR, 1381-5, p. 468; CP25(1)278/144/4; VCH Yorks. (N. Riding), ii. 329; CIPM, xiii. no. 78; xvi. nos. 541-3; CP, v. 192; CFR, x. 220; Cal. Scots. Docs. (supp.), v. nos. 4131, 4201.
  • 4. CPR, 1388-92, pp. 16, 336, 486; CFR, x. 338-9; CCR, 1385-9, p. 570; 1389-92, p. 497; JUST 1/1500 rot. 19.
  • 5. Test. Ebor. i. 162; VCH Yorks. (N. Riding), ii. 329; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxx. 383-4; Feudal Aids, vi. 604; C139/14/16; E199/50/15; CPR, 1396-9, p. 594; CP, v. 187-93.