LANCASTER, John I (c.1369-1434), of Rydal, Westmld. and Caton, Lancs.

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
Mar. 1416
Dec. 1421

Family and Education

b.c.1369, s. and h. of Sir William Lancaster (1345-99) of Rydal and Caton by his w. Christine (d. by Mar. 1406); bro. of Robert*. m. (1) by Sept. 1398, Margaret (b. bef. 1385), da. of Sir William Threlkeld* by his 1st w., 1s. d.v.p., 4da.; (2) by Nov. 1414, Katherine (d. aft. 1454). Kntd. by Aug. 1401.1

Offices Held

Commr. to make arrests, Westmld. Apr. 1397; raise crown loans June 1406; of inquiry Jan. 1412 (persons liable to pay taxes), Cumb. Feb. 1422 (counterfeiting); array Apr. 1418, Westmld. Mar. 1419, Mar. 1427, Oct. 1429, Mar. 1430.

Dep. sheriff, Westmld. 12 Oct. or 23 Nov. 1398-19 Oct. 1400, 28 Nov. 1413-20 Nov. 1415; sheriff, Cumb. 30 Nov. 1416-10 Nov. 1417.

J.p. Westmld. 18 Dec. 1405-Mar. 1411, 2 July 1412-June 1419.

Collector of taxes, Westmld. Dec. 1407.


The Lancasters were landowners of some note in Westmorland and Lancashire, having over the years acquired substantial estates in both counties. John’s father, Sir William Lancaster, was himself born at Caton, which, with the manor of Priest Hutton and other holdings in Lancashire, brought him an income of about £15 a year. Just across the border in Westmorland he owned the manors of Rydal, Wynborrow, Loughrigg, Milburn and Howgill, as well as property in Deepdale, Glencoyne and Kirkby Thore, which together produced a minimum of £20 in annual revenues. Not surprisingly, he became involved in the business of local government as a j.p. and royal commissioner, although towards the end of his life his eldest son and heir, the subject of this biography, took over the management of his affairs. John was about 28 years old when he first entered Parliament, in January 1397, by which date he had perhaps already married Sir William Threlkeld’s daughter, Margaret. She and her sister (who became the wife of John’s younger brother, William) were then heirs presumptive to all the Threlkeld estates, and the double marriage was clearly planned by Sir William Lancaster as a means of extending his family’s influence as far as Cumberland. A few days after the end of the parliamentary session John stood surety at the Exchequer for his neighbour, the abbot of Cockersand, as farmer of the alien priory of Lancaster. In the following year he and his father both deemed it expedient to sue out royal letters of pardon, John’s being awarded in September 1398, at the same time as a papal indult according him and his wife plenary remission of sins at the hour of death. If he thus hoped to avoid earthly as well as divine punishment for his part in the ‘divers dissensions’ resulting from his vendetta with Sir John Beetham’s* family he was doomed to disappointment, as in November following orders went out for his arrest along with Richard Duckett* and all the other local gentry responsible for ‘unlawful assemblies, consequent murders, insurrections and riots in breach of the peace’. These incidents had no lasting effect on John’s career, however, and did not even prevent his appointment as deputy sheriff of Westmorland while he was still threatened with detention. He succeeded his father in the following January, although it was not until May 1399 that he obtained formal seisin of his inheritance. Dower was then assigned to his mother, Christine, who died in 1406, leaving him in possession of all the family estates.2

Meanwhile, in October 1399, John and his brother, William, acted as mainpernors for their influential neighbour, Sir Richard Redmayne*, who was then involved in a dispute with the archdeacon of Richmond. Redmayne may have helped John to obtain preferment, for by August 1401 (when he was summoned to attend a great council at Westminster as one of the representatives for Westmorland) he had been knighted; and before long he was accorded a seat on the county bench as well. Sir John was again returned for Westmorland to the Parliament of 1406, along with his former adversary, Sir John Beetham. He went on to attend the county elections held at Appleby for the Parliaments of 1407, 1411, 1413 (May) and 1422 (when he headed the list of witnesses); and he was himself responsible as deputy sheriff for returning the parliamentary representatives for both the borough and the shire in 1414 (April and November) and 1415. His first wife’s prospects as an heiress had unfortunately been dashed in 1399 on the birth of her half-brother, Henry, although she and her sister were at least able to share part of the manor of Yanwath in Westmorland which their late mother had occupied as a jointure, and which descended to them in 1408 on the death of their father. Sir John’s part in the division of this inheritance may not have been entirely above suspicion. Shortly afterwards he obtained a second royal pardon covering ‘all felonies, trespasses and misprisions’ previously committed by him, although, so far as we can tell, no immediate attempt was made to challenge his title. We do not know when his first wife died, but it seems likely that he remarried before the autumn of 1414, when he took part in the Cumberland parliamentary elections for the first time. He was returned to the House of Commons for the county in 1416 (Mar.), another brother, Robert, then taking a seat for the city of Carlisle. Since Robert attended only one Parliament in the whole of his career, it looks very much as if the two men had private family business to deal with at Westminster. Sir John was also on hand at Carlisle to witness the return of shire knights in 1419, 1420, 1421 (May), 1423 and 1426, we can reasonably assume that he spent some time throughout this period on his second wife’s estates in Cumberland. Her identity remains uncertain, but we know that she brought him land in Brougham in Westmorland and the manor of Skirwith in Cumberland. Circumstantial evidence suggests that she was a sister or fairly close relative of Eleanor, the wife of William Thornburgh the younger (who numbered among his kinsmen some of the most notorious lawbreakers in the north-west), and was thus herself a member of the Crackenthorpe family. At all events, she added appreciably to her husband’s income as a rentier, while also involving him in a number of increasingly violent disputes over property.3

Sir John had a son and four daughters by his first marriage. Elizabeth, who may have been the eldest, married her new stepmother’s kinsman, Robert Crackenthorpe*, a neighbouring landowner strongly connected with the Cliffords. For many years the two men remained on cordial terms: Sir John helped to ensure Robert’s election to Henry V’s first Parliament as a shire knight for Westmorland, in May 1413; and three years later Robert stood bail of £100 for one of his father-in-law’s kinsmen during the course of a somewhat heated disagreement with William Blenkinsop*. Sir John then also enjoyed friendly relations with Roland Thornburgh*, who may, just possibly, have married his wife’s stepmother, and who employed his services as a mainpernor; and with Sir Christopher Curwen* one of his partners in a joust held at Carlisle in 1417 against a team of Scottish knights. Curwen actually prevailed upon Sir John to arbitrate for him in a quarrel over the ownership of property in Westmorland, so there can be little doubt of his standing in the local community at this time. His circle included such other prominent northern landowners as (Sir) John Bertram*, Sir Peter Tilliol*, (Sir) Robert Lowther* and Robert Warcop*, all of whom were caught up in one another’s financial affairs as either creditors or sureties for debt.4

Before long, however, Lancaster was drawn into a particularly brutal feud with the Thornburghs, who had, significantly, gained control of the Threlkeld estates by marriage. When visiting Roland Thornburgh’s widow, Katherine, in July 1421, he was set upon by her four brothers-in-law, who were reputedly acting on the orders of their elderly father, William Thornburgh*. The failure of their first attempt upon his life merely made the Thornburghs more determined, and in September they mounted an armed raid on Sir John’s home in Westmorland, driving off his cattle and threatening his servants. His plans to have them indicted at the next sessions of the peace at Appleby were thwarted by brute force, since the jurors and justices alike were so afraid of reprisals that they refused to proceed with the hearing. Sir John’s inability to obtain redress locally led him to seek election to the Parliament of December 1421, where he was able to argue his case in person. Not surprisingly, in view of the concern then felt by the government over declining standards of law enforcement, his petition met with a sympathetic hearing. The Thornburghs (who had gone into hiding in Lancashire) were promptly summoned to appear before the royal council under heavy securities of £100 each, and were, furthermore, bound over in similar sums to keep the peace in future. It is interesting to note that a few years later, in November 1427, Roland Thornburgh’s son, William the younger, recovered a sizeable estate in Westmorland from Sir John. There is, as we have seen, a distinct possibility that the two men were brothers-in-law, a fact which may well have compounded their quarrel at first, but probably induced them to reach a settlement in the end.5

The death of his only son, William, and the childlessness of his second marriage, no less than growing anxiety about his rapacious kinsfolk, led Sir John to make careful provision for the descent of his estates. In 1425 most of his property in Cumberland and Westmorland was settled as a jointure upon his wife, Katherine, with a complex series of entails upon the issue of his two brothers, who were now his next male heirs. His principal trustee, Thomas Warcop III* of Lammerside, was subsequently obliged to pay a substantial fine because the settlement had been made hastily, without a royal licence. The manors of Caton and Priest Hutton in Lancashire were probably devised by Sir John upon his daughters, since in 1427 he fought a collusive suit to free the property from any pre-existing entails. His son-in-law, Robert Crackenthorpe, was evidently dissatisfied with these arrangements, and by 1431 he had persuaded Sir John to grant him immediate custody of Skirwith, to which he may, indeed, have possessed a claim in his own right. Whether or not his acquisitiveness was the cause of yet another family quarrel we shall never know, but before long Crackenthorpe filed a complaint in the court of Chancery alleging that Sir John and his wife had not only tried to have him murdered, but had also perverted the course of justice by intimidating anyone prepared to testify against them. By a remarkable volte face, William Thornburgh the younger had now completely reconciled himself with the Lancasters, and actually master-minded the campaign on Sir John’s behalf, even going so far as to threaten those members of the Westmorland bench favourable to Crackenthorpe. But the latter did not lack influential friends: none other than the earl of Westmorland came forward to substantiate his allegations in a formal deposition, thus, incidentally, driving the local gentry yet further into two hostile camps, whose composition was largely dictated by considerations of immediate self-interest.6

This affair may have hastened Sir John’s death, which occurred shortly before June 1434. He was evidently ill for some time, as unfounded rumours of his demise had already reached Westminster in the previous November. His executors, Christopher Green and John Mackerell, were still busy three years later, when they made a general release of all actions to Sir Richard Haryngton, the husband of Sir John’s daughter, Christine. The incessant feuding which clouded Sir John’s last years continued long after his death, largely because of his widow’s determination to retain her handsome jointure. The murder of Robert Crackenthorpe, in 1436, was but one event in a protracted vendetta, marked by great brutality on both sides. Some 14 years later, for example, John Cliburn complained that the ubiquitous William Thornburgh had assaulted him ‘be excitation, mening and supportation’ of Katherine Lancaster, who had also conspired to burn down his home, ambush him and abduct his children. It is interesting to note that he had been rescued from her clutches by Robert Crackenthorpe the younger, still anxious to revenge his murdered father.7

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. ix. ped. facing p. 298 and pp. 305-6; n.s. x. 426-9, 486-7, ped. facing p. 494; CFR, xiii. 2; CPL, v. 133; PPC, i. 157. Lancaster’s feud with the Thornburghs would be even easier to explain had he m. as a 3rd w. Katherine, wid. of Roland Thornburgh, in whose home he was ambushed in 1421. There is, however, no positive evidence of such a match, and it is important to remember that he m. his 2nd w., another Katherine, while Roland was still alive. Evidently her own dealings with the Thornburghs were enough to cause a rift between them.
  • 2. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. viii. 314-15, 325; x. 486-7; CFR, xi. 209, 290; xiii. 2; CPL, v. 133; C67/30 m. 9, 31 m. 9; CCR, 1396-9, p. 470; CPR, 1396-9, p. 503.
  • 3. PPC, i. 157; CCR, 1399-1402, p. 88; 1409-13, pp. 20-21; 1422-9, pp. 8-9; CPR, 1408-13, p. 196; Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. ix. ped. facing p. 298, pp. 305-6; C219/10/4, 6, 11/2, 4, 12/3-5, 13/1, 2, 4.
  • 4. C219/11/2; Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. v. 197; n.s. xxviii. 192; CFR, xiv. 216; 1413-19, pp. 294, 449.
  • 5. RP, iv. 163-4; CP25(1)249/8/26.
  • 6. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. vii. 247; x. 426-7, 429, 489-93; Recs. Kendale ed. Farrer and Curwen, ii. 23; CP25(1)291/65/34; DKR, xl. 533; CFR, xv. 246-7.
  • 7. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. x. 429, and ped. facing p. 494; DKR, xl. 534; CFR, xvi. 165, 167.