HARBOTTLE, Robert (d.1419), of Preston, 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



Family and Education

m. by c.1401, Isabel (d. 23 Oct. 1426), da. of Sir Bertram Monbourcher*, wid. of Sir Henry Heton (d. Oct./Nov. 1399) of Hartley and Chillingham, at least 1s.1

Offices Held

Constable of Dunstanburgh castle (duchy of Lancaster), Northumb. c. Aug. 1399-d.; steward of Dunstanburgh 1417-d.2

Warden of the east march of Scotland 3 Sept.-3 Dec. 1400.3

Commr. to provision Dunstanburgh castle Feb. 1404; of array, Northumb. July 1410, Apr. 1418; to survey Roxburgh castle Dec. 1416, Feb. 1418.4

Dep. at Newcastle-upon-Tyne for Thomas Chaucer*, chief butler of England, 5 Mar. 1404, then for Sir John Tiptoft* 29 Nov. 1407.

Sheriff, Northumb. 23 Nov. 1407-15 Nov. 1408, 3 Nov. 1412-6 Nov. 1413.

Escheator, Northumb. 9 Dec. 1408-7 Nov. 1409, 10 Dec. 1411-3 Nov. 1412, 12 Nov. 1414-14 Dec. 1415, 4 Nov. 1418-d.

J.p. Northumb. 27 Jan. 1418-d.


Through a combination of ability, shrewd political judgement and remarkable good fortune Harbottle rose from obscure—perhaps even humble—beginnings to occupy a position of considerable influence in northern society. While still a comparatively young man, he came to the attention of Sir Matthew Redmayne, one of the wardens of the Scottish march, who was related by marriage to the Lords Greystoke and Fitzhugh. He had no doubt already entered Sir Matthew’s service when, in August 1392, he murdered a local man at Methley in Yorkshire. Thanks to the intervention first of Sir Matthew himself and then, in March 1396, of his son and heir, Sir Richard*, Harbottle was accorded royal letters of pardon. Nothing daunted by his brush with the law, he took part soon afterwards in an armed raid on the Yorkshire estates of Isabel, the widow of Walter, Lord Fauconberg, stealing cattle and goods valued at £106, destroying crops worth a further £40 and assaulting the dowager’s tenants. A commission of oyer and terminer was set up in February 1397 to investigate the affray, but once again Harbottle seems to have escaped unpunished.5

Despite this somewhat inauspicious start, Harbottle was able to exploit his connexions to obtain the constableship of Dunstanburgh castle, in about August 1399, from the triumphant Henry of Bolingbroke. Whether or not he had known Bolingbroke personally before his exile in the previous year remains a matter of conjecture; at all events the latter had need of a reliable servant to take charge of the most northerly outpost of the duchy of Lancaster, and his confidence was clearly not misplaced. In May 1400, ‘nostre biename escuier’, Robert Harbottle, received a retrospective grant, dating from February 1399, of all the profits of the demesnes at Dunstanburgh, together with a special allowance for the cost of artillery and a personal gift of a pipe of wine every year. The additional expenditure on gunnery was necessitated by Henry IV’s plans for an expedition against Scotland, during the aftermath of which Harbottle briefly served as one of the wardens of the east march. He had by then also been given custody for life of the town of Malkarston in Tynedale, and other rewards followed apace. In October 1401, for example, he was confirmed in the constableship of Dunstanburgh for life at a peacetime salary of 50 marks p.a. (to be doubled during periods of war); and a few months later the King settled upon him an annuity of ten marks charged upon the duchy of Lancaster manor of Soham in Cambridgeshire. Not surprisingly, Harbottle remained staunchly loyal to the Crown throughout the various uprisings staged by the Percys and their supporters in the north. He may, indeed, have been present at the battle of Shrewsbury in July 1403, for a few weeks later King Henry made a gift to him of tenements and mills in Berwick-upon-Tweed to the value of 14 marks p.a., as well as assorted goods worth up to £100, all of which had been confiscated from members of the rebel army. The death in action of Sir Henry Percy, ‘Hotspur’, moreover, gave Harbottle the opportunity to petition for custody of the Monbourcher estates which had previously been in Percy’s hands, together with the wardship and marriage of the young heir. His finances were by then sufficiently buoyant to meet the farm of £200 demanded by the King, and he thus gained control, albeit temporarily, of an impressive network of property concentrated in the north upon Durham, Northumberland and Yorkshire, and also including valuable farmland in Nottinghamshire and Sussex.6

Harbottle could by then, of course, claim a very real personal interest in the fate of the Monbourcher inheritance, since his recent success as a crown employee had made possible his marriage to Isabel, the daughter of the late Sir Bertram Monbourcher. The early death of her brother, in October 1399, resulted in a long minority and gave Harbottle an ideal opportunity to extend his territorial interests. These were already considerable, for although Isabel had not herself inherited much in the way of family property she was possessed of an impressive dowry and jointure from her first husband, Sir Henry Heton, whose Northumbrian estates were worth at least £90 a year. On Heton’s death, in 1399, Isabel retained hold of property in Chillingham, Bamburgh, Hartley Breredon and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, all of which passed into Harbottle’s hands. Moreover, the profits which he made from the constableship of Dunstanburgh, together with the revenues of the local demesnes and his other fees and perquisites enabled Harbottle to buy up extensive estates of his own. From October 1399 onwards, he embarked upon the acquisition by leasehold and outright purchase of holdings in and around Preston, where he built a tower for defence against the Scots. In 1400 he contracted with the authorities of Merton college, Oxford, to farm the tithes of the neighbouring church of Embleton at an annual rent of £60, thus consolidating his influence in the area north of Alnwick even further.7

Within a relatively short period of time, then, Harbottle established himself among the upper ranks of the Northumbrian gentry. His position as a royal official and prominent landowner made him a daunting opponent, as Elizabeth Fenwick found when he sued her, in 1403, for a debt of £40 in the court of common pleas. Comparatively few such cases ever reached a verdict in the medieval period, but Harbottle had little trouble in recovering the money. At about the same time he stood surety in Chancery for one Thomas Sawbridgeworth, who was himself being sued for debt, but on the whole he was too busy with his own affairs to devote much time to the problems of others. In response to a petition which he addressed to Henry IV shortly after the forfeiture for treason of the earl of Northumberland, in 1405, he was allowed to take crops to the value of £20 from the earl’s manor of Tughall, no doubt as yet another reward for his continued loyalty to the house of Lancaster. His neighbour, the abbot of Alnwick, who had previously looked to the Percys for help and protection, recognized that Harbottle would prove a useful ally, and in April 1407 he retained him for life as a councillor at an annual fee of 26s.8d. The abbot later doubled Harbottle’s annuity, while permitting him also to farm the abbey’s estates in Preston and Bamburgh, so the arrangement certainly worked to their mutual advantage.8 The county electors, too, appreciated the value of Harbottle’s important connexions; and he was returned in 1407 to the Gloucester Parliament, during which he began his first term as sheriff of Northumberland. One of his colleagues on this occasion was his stepdaughter’s new husband, William Johnson, whom he may have helped in his struggle to obtain fairer treatment for the wool merchants of Newcastle. So far as we know, Harbottle never sat in the House of Commons again, possibly because the weight of official responsibilities which he had to bear became increasingly heavy. In the spring of 1412, for example, he indented to serve in the garrison at Roxburgh castle, helping to defend the east march from attack, and he was later busy as a royal commissioner in the area. There is certainly no question of his losing authority either in the local community or at Court. On the contrary, the surviving evidence enables us to document the steady growth of his landed income as he acquired new properties in Ellingham, Tritlington, Tynemouth, Preston, Elford and Bamburgh in Northumberland and Bursblades and Little Chilton, across the county border in the palatinate of Durham. Some of these holdings were shared by him and his friend, Sir Robert Ogle*, after the death of John Heron of Thornton, when a brief period of wardship (exercised by Harbottle as keeper of the Heron estates) was followed, in 1414, by a general partition between the various claimants and purchasers.9

All the fees, grants and appointments made to Harbottle by Henry IV were duly confirmed by his son and heir, Henry V, who, in May 1415, chose him as a suitable person to escort the captive Murdoch, earl of Fife, to Warkworth castle for an exchange of prisoners. In the event, Murdoch was abducted as part of an unsuccessful plan to raise the north and depose King Henry, although Harbottle, as usual, kept faith with his royal master. In the following year he offered securities on behalf of the Chancery clerk, John Mappleton, as farmer of land in Hertfordshire. He himself took on a major lease of crown property in April 1417, when he agreed to pay £100 p.a. for the farm of land in Embleton and its environs for a term of 12 years, keeping back £40 of the rent to pay his own wages as constable of Dunstanburgh. Long experience of life on the Scottish border led him to insist on the insertion of a clause annulling the arrangements should war break out and excusing him from making good any damage done by the enemy. The onset of hostilities in 1419 thus found him well-protected, at least so far as his tenancy was concerned. Meanwhile, in the autumn of 1417, Harbottle had attended the Northumbrian parliamentary elections, which were held on this occasion at Morpeth. He was also present, one year later, as a witness to the resignation of the old and sickly prior of Brinkburn in Northumberland and the election of his successor. The award to him and his kinsman, William Harbottle, of royal letters of pardon in December 1418 was probably little more than a formality, since he still enjoyed every mark of trust and favour. During the course of his work on a commission for the repair of Bamburgh castle, in 1419, for instance, revenues worth some £86 passed through his hands, and he was also serving a fourth term as escheator of Northumberland at the same time.10

Harbottle died, in office, on 6 May 1419, having but recently gone bail for the Yorkshire landowner, Nicholas Tempest, who had become involved in a quarrel with the abbot of Fountains. His son, Robert, was then 19 years old, but since he had prudently placed all his possessions in the hands of trustees the Crown was unable to assert any claims to wardship. Robert’s marriage to Margery, the daughter of Sir Robert Ogle, took place in June 1424, after Sir Robert and Harbottle’s widow, Isabel, had both agreed to settle property in Ellingham upon the couple, thus reuniting in single ownership the estates which their respective families had partitioned some ten years before. The death, without issue, shortly afterwards of Isabel’s young great-nephew, Bertram Monbourcher, left her heir to the widespread estates which she and Harbottle had previously held in wardship, although her tenure of the property proved very brief. She died in October 1426, leaving her son to inherit an enviable complex of manors, farms and franchises which made him one of the richest gentlemen in Northumberland.11

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


Variants: Herebotell, Hyrbotyll.

  • 1. J. Hodgson, Hist. Northumb. ii (2), 261-2; Scrope v. Grosvenor, ii. 384; C137/1/4; C138/44/5; C139/29/40.
  • 2. Somerville, Duchy, i. 537; DL42/15, ff. 72, 94v; Newcastle-upon-Tyne Rec. Ser. vii. 56, 151-2.
  • 3. J.H. Wylie, Hen. IV, iv. 249.
  • 4. Cal. Scots. Docs. (supp.) v. no. 953.
  • 5. CPR, 1391-6, pp. 404, 688; 1396-9, p. 94.
  • 6. DL42/15, ff. 74, 94v, 98v, 129-129v; E179/159/48; E404/16/377; SC8/272/13581, 295/14750; CPR, 1399-1401, pp. 19, 294; 1401-5, pp. 254, 255, 329; Newcastle-upon-Tyne Rec. Ser. vii. 162.
  • 7. C137/1/4; C139/29/40; Arch. Aeliana, n.s. xiv. 195, 298; Hist. Northumb. ii. 67, 321-2; Newcastle-upon-Tyne Rec. Ser. vii. 155-6, 158.
  • 8. Arch. Aeliana (ser. 3), vi. 67; CCR, 1402-5, p. 314; Newcastle-upon-Tyne Rec. Ser. vii. 156-8; SC8/186/9272; Cal. Scots. Docs. (supp.) v. no. 4711; Newcastle-upon-Tyne RO, Blackgate deeds, B4/i/2 nos. 26, 34; CPR, 1405-8, p. 74.
  • 9. CP25(1)181/15/4, 15; Hist. Northumb. ii. 243; Newcastle-upon-Tyne Rec. Ser. vii. 150-2, 156-7, 163; R. Surtees, Durham, ii. 350; CFR, xiii. 143; Blackgate deeds, B4/i/2 nos. 13, 14, 16-19, 21, 27-32, 35.
  • 10. PPC, ii. 160-1; Hist. Northumb. ii. 31-32; CFR, xiv. 156; Surtees Soc. clxvi. nos. 501-2; C219/12/2; Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. nos. 892, 895; Newcastle-upon-Tyne Rec. Ser. vii. 117.
  • 11. CCR, 1413-19, p. 525; C138/44/5; C139/29/40; H.A. Ogle, Ogle and Bothal, app. p. xii; Newcastle-upon-Tyne Rec. Ser. vii. 152-3; Blackgate deed B4/i/2 no. 15.