FRAY, John (d.1461), of London and Munden Furnival, Herts.
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Family and Education
Commr. of oyer and terminer June 1408 (appeal against a judgement by the dep. captain of Calais), Herts., Bucks. Mar., July 1430 (charges against Sir John Cheyne II*), Norf., Suff. Apr., May 1431 (general), Norf. June 1441 (general), Berks. July 1444 (general), London July 1450 (aftermath of Cade’s Rebellion), Mar. 1451 (indictment of Sir John Say†); inquiry, Staffs., Salop, Herefs., Glos., Derbys., Som., Wilts., Devon, Lincs., Rutland, Bristol Dec. 1409 (estates of Sir John Tuchet), Essex Dec. 1419 (property dispute at Havering-atte-Bower), Herts. July 1420 (property dispute at Aldenham), Essex, Norf., Suff., Lincs. July 1421 (concealments), London Feb. 1424 (treason and felonies), Essex, Herts., Cambs., Hunts., Norf., Suff., Beds., Bucks. July 1427 (concealments and wastes), Essex, Herts. Jan. 1429 (concealments), Bucks. July 1429 (property dispute at Fenny Stratford), Essex May 1433 (concealments), Norwich Dec. 1433 (misgovernment of the city), Norf., Suff., Cambs., Hunts., Beds., Bucks. June 1434 (escape of felons), Kent, Surr., Suss., Essex, Herts., Mdx., Norf., Suff., Cambs., Hunts., Beds., Bucks. July 1434 (concealments and evasion of customs), London Dec. 1435 (earl of Northumberland’s title to property), Herts., Feb., July 1436 (property dispute at Thele), Suff. July 1439 (a murder), Cornw. July 1441 (piracy), Norwich July 1441 (misgovernment of the city), London, Mdx., Essex, Kent, Surr. Oct. 1441 (treasons and insurrections), Hertford Nov. 1442 (escape of felons), Norwich Feb. 1443 (misgovernment of the city), Norf. June 1444 (violence at Ellingham), Bedford Dec. 1446 (petition for reduction of fee farm), Mdx. Feb. 1448 (concealments), Herts. Feb. 1451 (felonies); kiddles, Essex, Mdx. Feb., July 1416, Herts., Essex, Mdx. Feb. 1427, Feb., May 1428, Dec. 1433, Apr. 1434, Essex Feb. 1439, Essex, Herts., Mdx. May, July 1440; array, Herts. Mar. 1419, Dec. 1459; gaol delivery, Newgate Jan., Nov. 1423, Jan. 1425, Jan. 1426,2 Huntingdon Apr. 1441; raise royal loans, Herts. Mar. 1439, Nov. 1440, Mar. 1442, Essex, Herts. June 1446, Herts. Sept. 1449, 1453; raise a subsidy Feb. 1441; assign contingents of archers Dec. 1457.
J.p. Herts. 4 May 1419-July 1423, 12 Feb. 1429-Nov. 1457, Hunts. 9 July 1428-Feb. 1429, 27 Jan. 1432-50, Norf. 5 Dec. 1428-May 1448, Cambs. 28 Apr. 1429-Feb. 1448, Bishop’s Lynn 30 Apr. 1429-Feb. 1437, Great Yarmouth 16 July 1429-June 1459, Beds. 16 July 1429-May 1461, Cambridge 24 Nov. 1429-Feb. 1432, 4 Dec. 1433-Feb. 1448, Bucks. 1 Mar. 1431-Aug. 1453, Suff. 14 Oct. 1431-Apr 1448.
Common serjeant-at-law of London by 26 June 1421-Sept. 1422.3
Recorder of London by 21 Sept. 1422-26 May 1426.4
Third baron of the Exchequer 26 May 1426-8 Feb. 1435, 2nd baron 8 Feb. 1435-6, chief baron 9 Feb. 1436-2 May 1448.
Auditor of the accounts of ministers of the Crown in Chester and North Wales 1 Mar. 1428-5 Sept. 1430.5
Justice of assize, Beds., Bucks., Cambs., Hunts., Norf., Suff. May 1428, and Norwich July 1430, Oct. 1439, Feb. 1442.
Assessor of a tax, London Jan. 1436; collector, London, Herts. Aug. 1450.
Auditor of the accounts of the ministers of Beatrice, late countess of Arundel, Oct. 1439-40.6
One of the most influential lawyers to serve the Crown during the first half of the 15th century, Fray rose from relative obscurity to become chief baron of the Exchequer, and thus provides us with a particularly striking example of the ‘self-made man’ whose success was achieved through a combination of talent, hard work and personal ambition. Nothing is known for certain about his early life, although he may well have been the son of the John Fray who appears in 1384 as the owner of property in both Great Waltham, Essex, and the Hertfordshire village of Cottered (where he either bought or inherited land of his own). His family certainly had a longstanding connexion with Great Waltham, and he himself was living there when, in the spring of 1408, he assumed the trusteeship of land belonging to the London merchant, William Sudbury. Fray had probably just completed his legal training, since he began over the next few years to play an increasingly active part in the local property market, being employed as a feoffee-to-uses by a number of landowners, among whom were the Londoners, Drew Barantyn* and William Waldern*. Anne, dowager countess of Stafford, and her husband, Sir William Bourgchier*, also engaged Fray in this capacity, and it was thus that he established an association with the powerful house of Stafford which was to last for the rest of his career. In June 1409, one year after he had served on his first royal commission, Fray and the King’s clerk, John Hannbury, were made joint farmers of the possessions of the alien priories of Panfield in Essex and Well Hall in Norfolk, and within a few months the tenancy arrangement was extended to include Sir William and the countess. Perhaps the MP had already become a member of the Stafford council, although no specific references occur to him as such until July 1421, when he and Robert Frampton undertook to search the records of the duchy of Lancaster for evidence concerning the countess’s share of the de Bohun inheritance. Both men were later made executors of her will, and it is interesting to note that by 1416, if not before, Fray began to acquire trusteeships in conjunction with Sir William Bourgchier.8
By the time of his first return to Parliament, Fray had also built up a considerable reputation for himself in London, where, from October 1409 onwards, he was in great demand as a feoffee-to-uses. His appointment first as common serjeant and then as recorder of the City followed naturally upon his growing popularity among the leading members of the merchant class, with whom he maintained close relations from the very beginning of his legal career. Fray was first invited to arbitrate in a civic dispute in February 1416, and did so on many other occasions afterwards. He was, moreover, on friendly terms with John Browne, an esquire of the body to Henry V, who, in his will of 1418, left him a bequest of £15.9 It is hardly surprising that the electors of Hertfordshire chose to be represented by this able young lawyer, especially as he had already established a strong connexion with the county. Fray appears to have begun purchasing property there in about 1413, although a bond in 200 marks offered to him by Sir John Poultney* in the previous year may perhaps mark the first of his investments in land. By 1419 he had acquired the manors of Rushden, La More in Sandon, Herons and Great Munden (which he bought from Richard, Lord Grey of Wilton), and he had probably by then taken seisin of the estates in Cottered, Little Munden, Watton at Stone, Kimpton and ‘le Leigh’ which were subsequently listed among his possessions and to which he added systematically over the years. As lord of the manor of Radwell with its appurtenances in Norton, Fray became involved in a boundary dispute with St. Albans abbey. The matter was submitted to arbitration in 1431, and seems to have been settled amicably enough. Indeed, his relations with his powerful neighbour grew so cordial that he eventually settled all this property, together with the manor of Burston Hall in St. Albans, upon the abbey to hold in mortmain. The royal licences permitting the alienation of the two manors were accorded to Fray as a particular mark of favour from Henry VI, since Abbot Whethamstead had previously encountered considerable opposition from his old enemy, the King’s secretary, Thomas Beckington, who sought to prevent the grant. Fray also held the advowson of the Benedictine priory of Rowney in Hertfordshire, the revenues and administration of which were entrusted to him by the prioress in 1457 after years of insolvency. It was here that Fray founded a chantry for the souls of various members of the royal family, to be financed out of his property in the surrounding area.10 In addition to these estates, he had other interests in Cambridgeshire. In April 1410 he took securities of £100 from Andrew Beures as a guarantee of his uninterrupted tenancy of the manor of ‘Brache’ (in Whaddon), which he had agreed to farm on a 12-year lease. At some point before 1441 he paid £80 for a plot of land worth four marks p.a. in Cambridge, but exchanged it for rents of equal value so that Henry VI could found St. Nicholas’s college on the site. Fray also held a life interest in the Buckinghamshire manor of Wyrardisbury, a crown property settled in reversion by the King upon Eton college. He was, moreover, lord of the manor of Eaton Socon, Bedfordshire, and the owner of an estate near St. Neot’s in Huntingdonshire. We do not know exactly when he acquired the various shops and tenements in London which figure prominently both in his own and his wife’s wills, but it seems likely that he already occupied some of them by the date of his appointment as common serjeant of the City, if not before.11
Fray’s first experience of the Hertfordshire parliamentary elections occurred in the autumn of 1414, when he witnessed the return of the shire knights. By the time of his own election in 1419, he had already been appointed to the local bench, and was also acting as a custodian of the Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire estates of Sir William Argentine*, whose son was a royal ward. Together with John Hotoft* and the mercer, Thomas Aleyn, Fray undertook to farm the property at an annual rent of 200 marks. He and Aleyn were evidently anxious to extend their possessions in this way, for in March 1420 they became lessees of the inheritance of the young John Tyringham. The farm of his various manors in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Lincolnshire was eventually fixed at 80 marks p.a., above a further sum of 200 marks which they paid for the boy’s marriage. This arrangement brought them into conflict with the trustees of the Tyringham estates, against whom they began an action for waste in the court of Chancery. Meanwhile, in October 1420, Fray obtained yet another preferential lease at the Exchequer, this being of the land in Middlesex held by the Crown during the minority of Helming Leget’s* son, Thomas.12
Fray did not sit again as a shire knight after 1420, at which point his professional status began suddenly to improve. He held a series of important appointments, culminating in 1448 with his elevation to the rank of chief baron of the Exchequer. During this period he served on no less than 59 royal commissions, and was constantly employed as a j.p. in East Anglia and the home counties. He was also a member of Henry VI’s council, and as such received instructions to deal with any petitions still outstanding when the first session of the 1427 Parliament came to an end. Although Fray complained at least once that his ‘greet labour and diligence’ was not adequately rewarded, the emoluments of office were great: besides the leases of crown property which came his way from time to time, he received an annuity of 110 marks in 1436, a yearly grant of two pipes of Gascon wine together with revenues totalling 40 marks p.a. from the manor of Aber in Caernarvon in 1437, and another annuity of 100 marks in 1443.13 We can only guess at the income which he derived from the fees, pensions and presents given to him by the great body of suitors and clients who sought his help or advice over the years. Some idea of his prestige both in and out of legal circles can be gained from the frequency with which he acted as a trustee and arbitrator in private quarrels. Such influential persons as Henry, Cardinal Beaufort, Walter, Lord Fitzwalter, Ralph, Lord Cromwell, Nicholas Wotton*, John Gedney*, Nicholas Carew*, William Waldern and Robert Chichele* made him their feoffee. That he remained in contact with his neighbours in Hertfordshire is clear from his continuous involvement in the affairs of Sir Edward Benstede*, John Barley*, Sir Philip Thornbury*, John Ruggewyn* and William Flete*.14 His relationship with Flete, who made him his executor, seems to have been particuarly close, perhaps because Flete, a mercer by trade, also had interests in the City. Fray was, furthermore, chosen to execute the wills of two other influential mercers, John Coventry and Sir William Eastfield†. Among those whose disputes he attempted to settle were Edmund, earl of Dorset, and James, Lord Berkeley, as well as a large number of rather less distinguished figures.15
Fray died on 1 July 1461, having just recovered the loan of £200 which he had made to Edward IV and the late Edmund, earl of Rutland, presumably in support of the Yorkist cause. He was buried in the church of St. Bartholomew the Less, London, where his daughter Margaret, the wife of Sir John Leynham, subsequently endowed a family chantry. He left five daughters in all, each of whom was able to make a lucrative marriage as a result of his wealth and position. His widow, Agnes, the elder sister of the distinguished lawyer Sir Robert Danvers†, and half-sister of Sir Thomas† and Sir William Danvers†, found herself in an even more advantageous situation, and took two more husbands before her death in June 1478. The first, John, Lord Wenlock†, was killed at the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471, and the second, Sir John Say, predeceased her by just a few weeks. She was buried beside Fray in London and is depicted, along with two of their daughters, in a stained-glass window at Long Melford church in Suffolk.16
H. Chauncy, Herts. i. 133; Essex Feet of Fines, iii. III, 198, 250, 253-4, 265-6, 270, 272; C1/71/40; JUST 1/1521 rot. 48; CCR, 1409-13, p. 414; 1413-19, p. 316; 1419-22, pp. 7-8, 30, 43-45, 57.
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. J.E. Cussans, Herts. (Broadwater), 139-41; PCC 23 Stockton, 34 Wattys; VCH Herts. ii. 302; CPR, 1467-77, p. 472; F.N. Macnamara, Mems. Danvers Fam. 102, 113, 143-52.
- 2. Cal. Letter Bk. London, K, 7, 18, 39, 49.
- 3. Cal. P. and M. London, 1413-37, pp. 99, 100, 106; Cal. Letter Bk. London, K, 39.
- 4. The supposed problem of dating Fray’s resignation from office (see Cal. Letter Bk. London, K, 50) is solved in CPR, 1441-6, p. 180.
- 5. DKR, xxxi. 199, 200; xxxvii (2), 295.
- 6. E101/515/3, 4.
- 7. PRO List ‘Exchequer Offs.’, 197.
- 8. CFR, xiii. 152, 177; CCR, 1413-19, pp. 371, 374-5; 1429-35, pp. 161-2; CPR, 1413-16, p. 270; C. Rawcliffe, Staffords, 157; Essex Feet of Fines, iv. 16, 34; CP25(1)192/8/12.
- 9. Corporation of London RO, hr 137/8, 26, 53, 139/32, 42, 143/6, 21, 44, 49, 144/25, 27, 29, 145/37, 147/8, 61, 74-75, 151/37; Cal. P. and M. London, 1413-37, pp. 39, 143, 177, 250, 263; CCR, 1422-9, p. 146; Fifty Earliest Eng. Wills (EETS lxxviii), 44; C1/7/272.
- 10. VCH Herts. ii. 302; iii. 266, 273; Chauncy, i. 148; ii. 72-73; Cussans, 139-40; CCR, 1409-13, p. 334; CPR, 1436-41, pp. 131, 243; C1/71/40; C139/59/38; E315/62, ff. IV-3V; Feudal Aids, ii. 447, 449; J. Amundesham, Chron. S. Albani ed. Riley, ii. 35, 63-64; ii. 178-84; Corresp. Bekynton ed. Williams, i. 113-16, ii. 358-9; E315/62, ff. IV-3V.
- 11. CCR, 1409-13, pp. 99, 297; CPR, 1436-41, pp. 565-6; Cal. P. and M. London, 1437-57, p. 96 n. 1; Eton Coll. recs. xxxix, 42A-B; PCC 23 Stockton, 34 Wattys; C1/71/40; E315/62, ff. 3v-5, 18v-19; E326/6052.
- 12. C219/11/4; C1/5/75; CFR, xiv. 354-5, 372; CPR, 1416-22, pp. 215-16, 262.
- 13. RP, iv. 334; E404/64/108; SC8/195/9710; CFR, xv. 263-4; xvi. 265; CPR, 1429-36, p. 494; 1436-41, pp. 31, 50; 1441-7, p. 101.
- 14. C1/25/8; Corporation of London RO, hr 152/68, 154/2-4, 7; CPR, 1422-9, p. 539; 1436-41, pp. 394, 520-1; 1441-6, p. 183; 1446-52, p. 112; CCR, 1422-9, pp. 263, 286-7, 388, 401; 1429-35, p. 291; 1435-41, pp. 264, 269-70; 1441-7, pp. 218-19; Cussans (Odsey), 31; CChR, vi. 50; Essex Feet of Fines, iv. 9.
- 15. CCR, 1435-41, pp. 358, 373, 464, 488; 1441-7, pp. 157, 375, 391-2, 401-2; Cal. Letter Bk. London, K, 355-6; Reg. Chichele, ii. 406; Corporation of London RO, hr 173/35-36; CP25(1)145/156/25.
- 16. SC8/111/5522A; CPR, 1461-7, p. 10; 1476-85, p. 260; Cussans (Broadwater), 139-41; PCC 23 Stockton, 34 Wattys; HP ed. Wedgwood 1439-1509, Biogs. 256-7; Macnamara, 102, 113, 143-52.