GRAY, Sir Thomas (c.1359-1400), of Heaton in Wark, 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



Jan. 1397

Family and Education

b.c. 1359, 2nd s. and h. of Sir Thomas Gray (d. Oct 1369) of Wark by Margaret (fl. 1389), da. of William Pressen of Middleton. m. by 1384, Joan, da. of John, 4th Lord Mowbray (1340-68) by Elizabeth (1338-bef. 1368), da. and h. of Thomas of Brotherton, earl of Norfolk (1300-38); and sis. of Thomas Mowbray, earl of Nottingham (cr. 1383), Earl Marshal (cr. 1386) and duke of Norfolk (cr. 1397), 4s. 1da. Kntd. by Nov. 1385.1

Offices Held

Collector of taxes, Northumb. Nov. 1382, Nov. 1383, Dec. 1384.

Commr. to muster men at Berwick-upon-Tweed Nov., Dec. 1385; survey Bamburgh castle, Northumb. Feb. 1389, Dec. 1392; maintain order at Berwick-upon-Tweed Mar. 1389;2 hold a special assize in Newcastle-upon-Tyne July 1389;3 take oaths from Scots travelling through England Oct. 1389;4 of inquiry, co. Dur. c.1390 1390 (salmon poaching),5 Northumb. July 1393 (water supply at Bamburgh), July 1396 (evasions and concealments), Feb. 1397 (prohibited exports to Scotland); oyer and terminer, co. Dur. c.1391 (disorder on the estates of Ralph, Lord Lumley).6

Steward of Walter Skirlaw, bp. of Durham in co. Dur. and Northumb. c.1389-aft. 1391; constable of Norham castle and steward, sheriff, escheator and c.j. of the episcopal liberty of Norhamshire and Islandshire, Northumb. 20 Dec. 1395-d.7

Dep. warden of the east march for Thomas Mowbray, Earl Marshal c.1389-bef. 25 Nov. 1392.

Envoy to Scotland on various diplomatic missions 28 June, Dec. 1390, 12 Jan. 1392, 12 Feb. 1394, 16 Mar., 22 Sept. 1398, to Dec. 1399.8

J.p. Norththumb. 1 Feb. 1397-d.


Sir Thomas Gray’s father and namesake is now chiefly remembered as the author of the Scala Cronica, a source valuable for Scottish history. His writing was based on first-hand experience, for he spent some time as a prisoner in Edinburgh, and was thus able to study the enemy at close quarters. By the terms of an entail made in February 1367, he settled his property upon his elder son, John, with successive remainders to his other boy, Thomas, and his three daughters, one of whom married Philip, Lord Darcy. The legitimacy of his offspring was evidently a cause of some concern to the knight, for in the following year he obtained a papal instrument confirming his marriage to Margaret Pressen, who had in childhood been betrothed to one of Sir Thomas’s kinsmen. John Gray predeceased his father, who died in the autumn of 1369 when Thomas, now the next heir, was about ten years old. The boy thus stood to inherit impressive estates in Northumberland and the palatinate of Durham, which the family had built up over the previous century. In the former county the Grays owned the manors of Heaton in Wark, Doddington, Howick, Hawkhill, Earle, ‘Eworth’ and ‘Neverton’, together with land in Bamburgh, Middleton, Alnwick, Coldmartin and Lofthouse and tenements in Newcastle-upon-Tyne (which in our period were leased to Sampson Hardyng*). In addition, Sir Thomas and his wife had been jointly seised of the nine manors of Hetton, Newlands, Ancroft, Ross, Upsettlington, Cheswick, Allerdean, Felkington and Kybe, with their extensive appurtenances along the Scottish border and three fisheries on the river Tweed, all of which they had occupied as feudal tenants of the bishop of Durham’s lordship of Norhamshire. The bishop was, moreover, overlord of the lands in and around Elstob, Sedgefield and Urpeth which formed the bulk of their shared possessions in the palatinate. The widowed Lady Gray was consequently assured not only of the customary third of her late husband’s property but also of a handsome jointure and, inevitably, a number of eager suitors. In the event, she took two more husbands, the first of whom was Robert, son of Ralph, Lord Neville. By 1378, however, she had married the second, the northern knight Sir John Lilburn, upon whom she settled a life interest in her own estates in Teviotdale in Roxburghshire. Not until her death, then, which occurred after 1389, did the young Thomas Gray succeed to the bulk of his inheritance, although he did at least obtain custody of Heaton and the other properties in which his mother retained no further interest once he came of age.9

Thomas may have entered these estates as early as 1377, for in that year he received a royal pardon, possibly because of irregularities in his succession. He performed his first official duties, in November 1382, as a collector of taxes for the government; and three years later (by which time he had been knighted) he offered sureties in the court of Chancery on behalf of his brother-in-law, Philip, Lord Darcy, and two of his followers who had become embroiled in a dispute in Lincolnshire with certain tenants of Richard II’s queen, Anne of Bohemia. Sir Thomas established an even more valuable baronial connexion on his marriage, in about 1384, to Joan, the sister of Thomas Mowbray, the recently created earl of Nottingham. This alliance clearly reflects the prestige and importance of the Grays as a gentry family, and it naturally brought about a marked improvement in Sir Thomas’s personal status. By now a figure of some consequence on the border, he appeared on the list of northern gentry to whom warnings were sent, in July 1386, about the need to preserve the threatened truce with Scotland. Despite the problems caused by enemy raids and outbreaks of violence even in peacetime, he was evidently anxious to consolidate his holdings on the border, since in March 1388 he contracted to farm six fisheries belonging to the Crown on the river Tweed for the next ten years at an annual rent of 20 marks. Not surprisingly, in view of his mother’s position as one of Bishop Skirlaw’s leading tenants in Norhamshire, the principal offices of the episcopal liberty (which were customarily held in plurality by a prominent local figure, and which had already, in 1320, been occupied by his own grandfather) were granted to him in about 1389, for term of life. In October of that year Richard II recognized Sir Thomas’s growing influence by awarding him an annuity of £50, payable for life at the Exchequer. That he did not lack friends at Court is evident also from his appearance shortly afterwards as a mainpernor for Janico Dartasso, a young Gascon esquire of the King’s retinue.10

Although from 1390 onwards Sir Thomas served on a number of diplomatic missions to treat for peace with the Scots, he lost none of his enthusiasm for illicit raiding parties into enemy territory. At an unknown date, for example, he and Sir William Swinburne* planned one such venture with some of the earl of Northumberland’s men and other local gentry eager for plunder. The capture of his mother by the Scots, late in the 1380s, may, paradoxically, have provided an impetus for more freebooting activities, both in retaliation and as a means of raising her not inconsiderable ransom. Sir Thomas’s experience of life on the border naturally made him an ideal choice as deputy when his brother-in-law, now the Earl Marshal, became warden of the east march in 1389; and even after Mowbray left office he continued to assist his successor, the earl of Northumberland, at ‘march days’ and other meetings with the Scots. But his horizons were gradually beginning to broaden, and in 1392 he agreed to act as an attorney for Lord Darcy while he was away in Ireland. The award to him and his wife of papal letters permitting them to hear mass in places currently under interdict, in December 1396, suggests, moreover, that they both accompanied the Earl Marshal abroad on a mission to France and the Low Countries in the following February. Sir Thomas was certainly on hand to join the other envoys in London, as he had just represented Northumberland in the House of Commons for the first time. Somewhat surprisingly, he did not attend the second 1397 Parliament, when his brother-in-law was created duke of Norfolk as a reward for his part in bringing about the downfall of the duke of Gloucester, the earl of Warwick and his own father-in-law, the earl of Arundel. Norfolk’s duplicity in betraying three of the Lords Appellant of 1388, who had at one time welcomed him into their ranks, was followed shortly by another display of treachery. His former ally, Henry of Bolingbroke, to whom he confided his fears as to King Richard’s good faith, showed little inclination to become involved in any further acts of conspiracy, and himself revealed Norfolk’s indiscretion. In doing so he played into the King’s hands, and set in train a dramatic series of events which led ultimately to his own banishment for ten years and Norfolk’s exile for life. On 3 Oct. 1398, just over a fortnight before he set sail, Norfolk obtained formal permission from King Richard for the setting up of an ‘entire and continuous council’ which was to do ‘all things necessary or fitting for the duke during his absence’. Sir Thomas was one of the nine persons initially appointed to this body, although by the end of the month he was back on the border, where he stood surety for the earl of Northumberland’s son, ‘Hotspur’, with regard to arrangements for the return of certain Scottish prisoners. Notwithstanding his attachment to the Percys, Sir Thomas remained on even closer terms with their rival, Ralph Neville, earl of Westmorland, to whom his mother was related by marriage. In September 1398 he obtained the earl’s castle and manor of Wark in exchange for certain other estates in Northumberland. The acquisition of this valuable stronghold consolidated his possessions on the Tweed and also gave him a suitably impressive residence there. It may, moreover, mark the date of his eldest son’s marriage to Westmorland’s daughter, Alice, which cemented the connexion between the two families. Another valuable alliance was forged, in May 1399, when Sir Thomas’s daughter, Maud, became the wife of (Sir) Robert Ogle*, a leading member of county society, upon whom he settled an estate in Lowick.11

The return of Henry of Bolingbroke from exile in the summer of 1399 gave Sir Thomas a welcome chance to revenge his brother-in-law, Norfolk, by taking up arms against Richard II. Whatever personal animosity he may still have felt towards the duke, Bolingbroke was anxious to win the support of his men, and Sir Thomas remained at his side throughout the tense and difficult days leading to his coronation on 13 Oct. The death of Norfolk in Venice, just a week before, no doubt made it easier for Sir Thomas to commit himself wholeheartedly to the Lancastrian cause. In any case, the electors of Northumberland considered him admirably qualified to represent them when Parliament was summoned to witness Richard II’s deposition and the accession of Henry IV. The session had just begun when the Scots, taking advantage of the absence of so many northern landowners at Westminster, launched an unexpected attack. Wark castle fell in early October and was sacked by the enemy, who captured Gray’s younger children and some of his tenants, for whom they demanded ransoms of £1,000. Not only was the castle completely destroyed, but Sir Thomas also claimed (somewhat implausibly) to have been robbed of goods worth 2,000 marks. Although he was technically liable for a fine because of his failure to resist the Scots, he obtained a royal pardon absolving him from responsibility; and on 10 Nov., a few days before the Commons were dismissed, King Henry announced his intention of leading a punitive expedition across the border.12 He had by then confirmed Sir Thomas in his annuity of £50 (which was increased at the end of November to the sum of 100 marks) and had also granted him the custody of the late Sir Henry Heton’s property in Northumberland, together with the marriage and wardship of the young heir, thus helping to compensate him for his losses. As a particular mark of favour, Sir Thomas was permitted to join with the earl of Northumberland, his son, ‘Hotspur’, and other trusted supporters of the new regime in farming the estates of Edmund Mortimer, the son and heir of Roger, earl of March, whom Richard II had designated as his heir. It was a matter of great concern to King Henry that both the boy and his inheritance should be kept safely, and the rent of over £1,600 p.a. charged to Sir Thomas and his associates reflects the value of the land in question. Sir Thomas’s continued friendship with Northumberland in no way diminished his attachment to the earl of Westmorland, for whom he acted as a mainpernor in the following spring. Most of the northern lords and their followers were involved in Henry IV’s brief invasion of Scotland in August 1400, although none derived much profit from the exercise, and some were obliged to dig deep into their pockets. The King’s determination to improve defences along the border led him to place Sir Thomas in command of a retinue of 150 men for the protection of the east march. His contract began in early September, and by the time of his death, three months later, he was already owed over £193 in unpaid wages.13

Although still a minor, Sir Thomas’s son and heir, Thomas, had already entered the royal household as an esquire to Henry IV, and the King was thus prepared to grant him custody of his inheritance before he came of age. The widowed Joan Gray obtained the customary third of her late husband’s estates, while also retaining control of the now considerably devalued property in and around Wark which had been settled upon her as a jointure during her lifetime. In her capacity as Sir Thomas’s executrix, she was obliged to fight a legal action over the wardship of Sir Henry Heton’s young daughters, although by the time the case reached the courts, in 1407, she could call upon the assistance of her second husband, Sir Thomas Tunstall. Despite all the preferment shown to him and his family by the house of Lancaster, Thomas Gray the younger became involved in the earl of Cambridge’s conspiracy to dethrone Henry V in favour of the above-mentioned earl of March; and in August 1415 he was executed for treason at Southampton. His brother, John, remained staunchly loyal to the Lancastrian cause, however, and was rewarded by the King with the county of Tancarville in France. He died at the battle of Baugé in 1421, and was the grandfather of Richard, 1st Lord Gray of Powis. Sir Thomas Gray’s third son, William, also pursued a distinguished career, becoming bishop of London in 1426 and then, five years later, bishop of Lincoln.14

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. CP, vi. 136; ix. 383-4, 596-604; C137/24/50; Arch. Aeliana n.s. xxii. 119; CPL, iv. 74; DKR, xlv. 201-2; Hist. Northumb. xiv. ped. facing p. 328; CCR, 1385-9, p. 95.
  • 2. Rot. Scot. ed. Macpherson etc. ii. 76, 78, 96.
  • 3. C66/328 m. 31v.
  • 4. Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. no. 396.
  • 5. DKR, xxxiii. 63.
  • 6. Ibid. 60.
  • 7. Ibid. 44, 60, 62, 63, 65; Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 5), ix (7), 232-3; Arch. Aeliana (ser. 4), xxi. 80-82.
  • 8. Rot. Scot. ii. 107, 108, 114, 126, 142, 152; Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. no. 502.
  • 9. CPL, iv. 74; Arch. Aeliana (ser. 4), xxi. 80-82; C137/24/50; DKR, xlv. 201-2; Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. no. 271; Hist. Northumb. xiv. ped. facing p. 328; CP, iv. 62.
  • 10. C67/28B m. 10; CCR, 1385-9, pp. 95, 99-100, 414; Rot. Scot. ii. 84; CFR, x. 225, 302; CPR, 1388-92, p. 122; 1399-1401, p. 41.
  • 11. Northumb. RO, Swinburne (Capheaton) mss, 1/80, 140; CPL, v. 62; CPR, 1391-6, p. 188; 1396-9, pp. 410, 422; CCR, 1392-6, pp. 32-33; Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. no. 510; Arch. Aeliana, n.s. xxiv. 118.
  • 12. J.H. Wylie, Hen. IV, i. 81; Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. nos. 542-3; CPR, 1399-1400, p. 287.
  • 13. CPR, 1399-1401, pp. 33, 41, 111; CFR, xii. 22, 59; E404/15/96, 304-5, 16/286-7, 387, 17/369; PPC, i. 125.
  • 14. C137/24/50; DKR, xlv. 204-5; CPR, 1399-1401, p. 235; 1401-5, pp. 57, 182; CCR, 1399-1402, pp. 357, 379, 423; 1402-5, p. 11; Arch. Aeliana, n.s. xxii. 119; Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. no. 738; CFR, xii. 95; CP, vi. 136.