LEIGH, Sir William (d.1428), of Isel and Blindcrake, Cumb.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of William Leigh (fl. 1394) of Isel and Blindcrake, poss. by his w. Katherine. m. by c.1388, Agnes (d. bef. Apr. 1428), da. and coh. of Sir Clement Skelton* at least 1s. Sir William†. Kntd. by Aug. 1396.1
Sheriff, Cumb. 30 Sept. 1399-24 Nov. 1400, 3 Nov. 1412-6 Nov. 1413, 14 Feb.-13 Nov. 1423.
Commr. to prevent the spread of treasonous rumours, Cumb. May 1402; of array Sept. 1403, Mar. 1419; inquiry Jan. 1412 (persons liable for taxation).
Constable of Cockermouth castle, Cumb. for Henry, earl of Northumberland, by July 1403.2
J.p. Cumb. 10 Apr. 1410-July 1423, 20 July 1424-d.
The Leighs were a family of some antiquity, having over the generations acquired the manors of Isel and Blindcrake, as well as extensive estates in the Cumbrian villages of Bassenthwaite, Plumblands, Red-main, Sunderland and ‘Warthell’, and property in the city of Carlisle. William himself is first mentioned in January 1394 when he was granted royal letters of protection preparatory to his departure for Ireland with Richard II, although in the event he ‘tarried in Chester and other places in England on his own affairs’, and the letters were rescinded. He was knighted shortly before August 1396, when he confirmed Sir John Ireby’s* wife, Katherine, in a life interest in the manors of Blindcrake and Isel, which were to revert to him on her death. The terms of this deed suggest that she was either his mother or his stepmother, but the exact nature of their relationship remains unknown. By then Sir William had established a close connexion with another Cumbrian landowner, Sir Clement Skelton, whose daughter and coheir, Agnes, became his wife. Through her mother she was heiress to part of the manors of Orton, Wiggonby and Great Stainton, as well as holdings in Carlisle, while her father (of whom nothing is heard after 1399) left her a third share of land in Skelton and Stainton. One of Agnes’s sisters, Joan, married the Northumbrian knight, Sir John Middleton*, who later joined with Sir William in trying to recover other Skelton family estates.3
The first Parliament in which Sir William ever sat met on 30 Sept. 1399 to depose Richard II and ratify Henry IV’s title to the throne. He clearly stood well with the new regime, since on that very day he was made sheriff of Cumberland. A more tangible mark of preferment followed in March 1402, with the award to him of an annuity of 40 marks, payable at the Exchequer until other provision could be made for him from the royal estates; and he was, not surprisingly, returned again to the House of Commons a few months later. Some of his success may have been due to the support of Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland, who granted him the constableship of Cockermouth castle in Cumberland; but, when the Percys rebelled against King Henry in the summer of 1403, he prudently chose to remain loyal to the government. More than that, he inspired sufficient trust to be retained in office after the forfeiture of the earl’s strongholds, and he was even authorized to keep guard over a number of valuable Scottish prisoners then being kept hostage there. Throughout this period, Sir William regularly acted with his friend, (Sir) William Osmundlaw* (who became bailiff of Cockermouth after the fall of the Percys), as a witness to local property transactions, most notably those involving the mortgage of Sir Robert Muncaster’s* estates to (Sir) John Skelton*, and the various conveyances made by Sir William Curwen* and his trustees. In February 1404, he stood surety at the Exchequer for Osmundlaw as farmer of crown lands in Cleugh Head, Cumberland; and together with him he received a royal pardon two years later ‘for all treasons, insurrections, rebellions, felonies, misprisions, oppressions and trespasses touching lands’ committed by them. It seems highly unlikely that either had taken part in the northern uprising staged by the earl of Northumberland and his adherents in the previous year, but since both had recently served as sheriffs they may well have sought to escape punishment for malpractices of various kinds.4
Sir William began sitting on the Cumberland bench in 1410, at which time he sued out a fine in the court of common pleas for the recovery of the manor of Frizington, evidently in the capacity of a trustee. A second term as sheriff followed soon afterwards, but Sir William did not attend Parliament again until the spring of 1414, when he and his brother-in-law, Sir John Middleton (who then represented Northumberland), had strong personal reasons for seeking election. Along with another brother-in-law, they had seized control of extensive holdings in Bothel, Blindcrake, Bowness, Carleton and Torpenhow which had belonged to the late Thomas Skelton. Their claim to be acting in the right of their wives, as cousins and next heirs of the deceased, was countered by Skelton’s feoffees, who began an action in Chancery on the ground that the three men were ‘de si graunde aliaunce et cosinage’ in the north that justice could not be had against them in the local courts. The case dragged on until December 1416, when, after ‘deliberation with the justices, serjeants at law and others of the council learned in the law’, the chancellor ordered Sir William and his wife under pain of £200 to vacate the premises immediately. They had at least by then taken possession of one third of the inheritance previously occupied by Agnes’s widowed mother, although the loss of the Skelton properties clearly deprived them of substantial revenues.5 Sir William had, meanwhile, indented with Henry V, in May 1415, to serve with a personal retinue of two men-at-arms and nine archers in the forthcoming expedition to Normandy. He survived the gruelling conditions at the siege of Harfleur, when a large part of the English army died of disease, and fought at Agincourt in the following October. On the King’s return to France, in the summer of 1417, he commanded a slightly larger body of 14 armed men, whom he led at the siege of Louviers one year later. He had, however, returned home by the autumn of 1419, and was present at Carlisle for the parliamentary elections which saw his fourth and last return to the House of Commons. The William Leigh who was campaigning in France during the following year was almost certainly his son, since he had not yet been knighted.6
Throughout this period Sir William continued to receive his royal annuity, which was confirmed to him shortly after the succession of Henry VI. He discharged a third term as sheriff of Cumberland in 1423 and remained on the county bench until his death, but otherwise he seems to have spent his last years quietly on his estates. He died on 10 Apr. 1428, having survived his wife, Agnes. His son, who was said to be about 40 years old and had by then received a knighthood, thus inherited all the family property at once. Already, in February 1424, he and his wife, Isabel, the daughter of (Sir) Robert Lowther* (and a grand daughter of William Strickland, bishop of Carlisle), had obtained custody of his father’s holdings in Carlisle and Blindcrake, perhaps on the occasion of their marriage. Lowther had been Sir William’s colleague in the April Parliament of 1414, and they were evidently old friends. Sir William Leigh the younger himself sat as a shire knight for Cumberland in 1433, but died six years later, leaving a minor to succeed him.7
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Variants: Lee, Leegh, Legh.
- 1. C139/33/29, 93/50; CPR, 1391-6, p. 529; CCR, 1396-9, p. 79; Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xii. 12, 18-19.
- 2. PPC, i. 210-11.
- 3. C139/33/29, 93/50; CPR, 1391-6, pp. 529, 537; CCR, 1396-9, p. 79; Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xii. 12, 18-19.
- 4. CPR, 1401-5, p. 54; 1405-8, p. 117; PPC, i. 210-11; CFR, xii. 240; Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xviii. 234.
- 5. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. vii. 245-6; C1/6/296; CCR, 1413-19, p. 333.
- 6. C219/12/3; E101/44/30, pt. 3; E404/31/329; DKR, xli. 711, 713; xlii. 362-3; N.H. Nicolas, Agincourt, 381; Gesta Hen. V ed. Williams, 270.
- 7. CPR, 1422-9, p. 43; C139/33/29, 78/46, 93/50; CFR, xv. 189, 221; CCR, 1435-41, pp. 295-6.