MITFORD, John (d.1409), of Molesden in Mitford, 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

s. of Gilbert Mitford (fl. 1353) of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. m. at least 2s. inc. William*, 2da. Kntd. by 29 Nov. 1402.1

Offices Held

Steward of Corbridge, Northumb. for Henry, Lord Percy (later earl of Northumberland) 28 Feb. 1370-bef. 25 Nov. 1408, of Morpeth for Percy by 25 Apr. 1380-bef. 8 Oct. 1384.2

Collector of taxes, Northumb. Mar., June 1371 (Hexhamshire only), Oct. 1371, Nov. 1377; an aid for the marriage of Princess Blanche Dec. 1401.

Commr. of inquiry, Northumb. June 1371 (lands of the countess of Atholl), Cumb. Mar. 1377 (seizure of the manor of Lee), Northumb. Oct. 1378 (petition from burgesses of Newcastle-upon-Tyne), Nov. 1383 (contents of the castle chapel at Newcastle), May 1385 (an idiot), Feb. 1387 (murder), July 1387 (claims to the manor of Eslington), May 1389 (damage done by the Scots), July 1391 (concealment of weapons at Bamburgh castle), Mar. 1392 (smuggling of wool), Dec. 1392 (defects in the defences at Bamburgh), Mar. 1393 (suicide), July 1393 (pollution of water supply, Newcastle), Mar. 1395 (drainage at Newcastle), Dec. 1395 (illicit mining), Nov. 1396 (defects in the defences at Roxburgh and Berwick-upon-Tweed), May 1399 (murder in Tynedale), June 1399, July 1401 (estates of John del Chamber), Feb. 1401 (illicit exports to Scotland),3 Aug. 1403 (goods of the late Sir Henry Percy), June 1406 (concealments), June 1408 (age of William Whitchester), June 1408 (estates of Sir Henry de la Val); to perambulate the boundaries of Corbridge May 1373; of oyer and terminer, Northumb., Cumb., Westmld. Aug. 1374 1374 (smuggling of wool), Northumb. Feb., June 1375 (poaching and disorder at Benwell), Dec. 1378 (disorder at Whittingham), Westmld. Aug. 1386 (disorder at Kirkoswald), Northumb. Nov. 1392 (evasion of wool custom); gaol delivery, Newcastle bef. May 1375, Jan. 1378, July 1380, Dec. 1381, Feb. 1386, Feb. 1387, Feb. 1389, Feb. 1393, Appleby (Westmld.) Feb. 1395, Newcastle Oct. 1397;4 kiddles, Northumb. July 1375; to survey the defences at Newcastle May 1380; conserve salmon fisheries, Northumb. May 1381, Jan. 1386; receive ransom money from Robert II of Scotland Dec. 1383, Dec. 1389;5 provision Berwick-upon-Tweed Feb. 1386; array the garrison there Feb. 1386;6 survey measures for selling coal, Newcastle Apr. 1389; of array, Northumb. Mar. 1392, Dec. 1399; to prevent forestalling of wool supplies Mar. 1393; partition the estates of the late Sir Alan Heton July 1394; prevent the spread of treasonous rumours May 1402; take oaths of loyalty to Henry IV from leading gentry Aug. 1403; prevent unlawful assemblies at Alnwick July 1405; raise royal loans June 1406.

J.p. Northumb. 10 Aug. 1372-Dec. 1375, 15 July 1376-d.

Escheator, Northumb., Cumb. and Westmld. 1 Dec. 1383-3 Dec. 1386, Northumb. 8 Nov. 1401-29 Nov. 1402.

Keeper of the seal of the liberty of Tynedale, Northumb. for Edmund, duke of York c.1386.7

Steward of Hexhamshire, Northumb. after the confiscation of the temporalities of Alexander Neville, abp. of York 20 Mar. 1388.

Envoy to Scotland on various diplomatic missions 10 Nov., 18 Dec. 1389, 13 Mar., 27 May, 1 June, Dec. 1390, 4-12 Mar., 27 June, 13 July 1391, 26 Jan., 30 May, 20 July, 15 Nov. 1392, Apr., 27 June, 22 Aug., 26 Oct. 1393, 9 Feb., 20-27 Aug. 1394, 12 Feb., 6 May 1395, 22 Sept. 1398, 26 June, 7 Aug., 4 Dec. 1400, 18 Mar. 1401, 21 Aug., 23 Sept. 1404, 4-5 Mar. 1405, 7 Feb. 1406, 27 Mar., 17 Aug. 1407.8

Supervisor of murage and pontage, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Roxburgh 2 Mar. 1392.9

Alnager, Northumb. 20 July 1394-17 Oct. 1399.

Constable and keeper of Mitford castle, Northumb. for Sir John le Scrope* 1396-d.10

Sheriff, Northumb. 29 Nov. 1402-5 Nov. 1403.


One of the most diligent and successful administrators to represent Northumberland in the Middle Ages, John Mitford pursued a career as remarkable for its length as its involvement in almost every facet of local government. Over a period of almost 40 years he not only sat in at least 13 Parliaments, but also served as a tax collector, crown commissioner, escheator, sheriff, alnager, j.p. and diplomat, while also holding a variety of stewardships and constableships for such eminent figures as Henry, earl of Northumberland, Edward, duke of York, and Sir John le Scrope. His achievements were largely those of a self-made man, although his family was not without influence, especially in the port of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where his father held office in the 1350s as a collector of customs and pesager of wool. One of his kinsmen, also named John Mitford, belonged to the household of Edward, the Black Prince, who employed him, in 1352, to ship grain from Newcastle to London. This John owned a tenement in the City and may well have helped his young relative and namesake to obtain a legal training there. For the subject of this biography was almost certainly a lawyer, with a rapidly growing circle of clients in the north. Besides premises in Newcastle, Gilbert Mitford, John’s father, owned a small estate at Bolam; and in 1364 John himself acquired other property a few miles to the east in Mitford, near Morpeth. Further expansion followed five years later, when David, earl of Atholl, granted him ‘all his lands and tenements in the vill of Molesden’ in Mitford, thus providing him with a sizeable territorial base. It was perhaps also at this time that the earl settled upon John and his brother, Alexander, additional holdings in the Lincolnshire village of Gainsborough, which John passed on to his descendants.11

In February 1370, Henry, Lord Percy, made John steward of his manor of Corbridge on the river Tyne, an appointment which he retained for almost 38 years until shortly before his death. His connexion with the Percys remained constant until their rebellion against Henry IV in 1403, since besides occupying the stewardship of their manor of Morpeth for a brief period in the early 1380s, John served on many commissions and embassies to Scotland with his patron, who was created earl of Northumberland in 1377. He acted, too, as a feoffee for the earl and his second wife, Maud, Baroness Lucy, holding in trust at various times their castles at Warkworth (Northumberland) and Cockermouth (Cumberland), and large areas of property in Northumberland, Cumberland, Yorkshire and Sussex. The earl’s son, ‘Hotspur’, employed his services as a mainpernor on at least one occasion, and it seems likely that John’s popularity with the electors of Northumberland was due, in part at least, to the support of this powerful baronial family.12

John Mitford first entered Parliament in 1372, not long after being given a seat on the Northumbrian bench. Over the next few years he began to consolidate his estates even further by a process of leasing, purchase and exchange which brought him fairly extensive holdings in Eachwick, High Callerton, Mersfen, Espley Hall, Brinklaw and Morpeth, as well as the manor of Newsham and rents worth £7 p.a. in Newcastle. Furthermore, from Sir Aymer Atholl (a relative of the earl of Atholl) he acquired half the vill of Wharmley and widespread appurtenances, while Sir John le Scrope, a kinsman by marriage of both Sir Aymer and the Percys, gave him additional land in Mitford. Scrope evidently valued his neighbour’s services very highly, as in 1396 he made John keeper of Mitford castle for life and also awarded him a fee of 100s. ‘for his counsel and advice’. The two men had previously been involved in the settlement of a boundary dispute between the inhabitants of Mitford and Morpeth, where John’s legal expertise had clearly been put to good use.13 Not surprisingly in view of his great industry and diligence in the field of local government, rewards eventually began to come his way from the King himself. In 1383, for example, he obtained the wardship and marriage of the late John Belasise’s next heir; and in March 1393 Richard II promised him an annuity of £20 for life. This grant was made specifically ‘for his good services as a messenger and on treaties in the north’, although it was conditional upon his foregoing the right to any further reward in future. Often together with his friend, Sir Gerard Heron*, John took part in over 30 diplomatic missions to negotiate for peace with the Scots, and he was regularly out of pocket as a result. Yet if he had to help finance these embassies, in the short term at least, there was no lack of funds with which to do so. In addition to the revenues from his estates, and the profits of a flourishing legal practice, he could rely upon a substantial return from trading ventures along the coast from Northumberland to Yarmouth and London. That he maintained close links with the mercantile community from whence he came is evident from his appearance with Sir Gerard Heron in February 1394 as a mainpernor for a group of merchants from Berwick-upon-Tweed. Moreover, in the following July, a cargo of coal, which he was shipping south from Newcastle was confiscated without reason at Yarmouth. His own son, William, offered sureties of £300 on his behalf; and the consignment was restored to him, pending an official inquiry. Although he received formal letters of pardon from Richard II in 1398, it seems likely that John remained aloof from the political struggles which beset the last years of the century. Being first and foremost a conscientious bureaucrat, concerned with the smooth running of local government, he transferred his allegiance without protest, in 1399, to the newly crowned Henry IV, whom he served as loyally and diligently as he had his predecessor, King Richard.14

The Lancastrian regime made great use of John’s long and varied experience; and although he must have been at least 60 years old, he was immediately put to work on the border, negotiating with the Scots. Having confirmed him in his royal annuity of £20, Henry IV entrusted him with a sum of 100 marks to make good any losses sustained by the people of Northumberland during the recent coup d’état. An altogether more generous employer than Richard II, King Henry also gave him and his two colleagues (one of whom was, once again, Sir Gerard) a similar sum by way of recompense for the ‘time and labour’ they had previously devoted to Scottish affairs. Naturally enough, John was among the representatives from Northumberland summoned to attend a great council at Westminster in the summer of 1401, and at some point over the next few months he was knighted. During the course of his 13th and last Parliament, in the autumn of 1402, he was made sheriff of Northumberland, and thus came to play an important part in suppressing the rebellion staged by the Percys and their adherents in the following year. Notwithstanding his long and fruitful association with the earl of Northumberland, he gave unstinting support to the government, and was even present, on 25 Sept. 1403, at a council meeting at Durham priory where plans were made for the surrender of the earl’s castles. In the company of his old friend, Sir Gerard, he took control of Warkworth, to which, ironically, he already possessed a legal title as one of Northumberland’s most trusted feoffees.15 He and Heron (for whom he had previously gone surety as a collector of customs at Berwick-upon-Tweed) were rewarded with a royal grant of the wardship of the late Thomas Heron’s estates, which they shared along with Sir John’s son, William. The latter, who was by then married to Sir Aymer Atholl’s grand daughter, Margery, had already begun to follow an enterprising career of his own as legal advisor to such prominent members of her prolific family as Sir Henry Percy of Atholl, lord of the manor of Humnanby in Yorkshire, while also assisting Sir Aymer himself in various capacities. William’s own son, John, was born in April 1402 and baptized at St. Nicholas’s church, Newcastle. Sir John arrived too late to witness the ceremony, but caught up with the nurse in the churchyard, kissed the child and with a touching display of sentiment gave it a grandfather’s blessing. By the time of his death, on 16 July 1409, there was, then, no doubt that the estates which he had so carefully built up over the previous three decades would remain safe in the hands of his male descendants. On the very day that he died, an assignment of £20 was made to him at the Exchequer to cover the cost of his most recent visit to Scotland as a royal envoy, so he must have remained active to the very end.16

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


Variants: Metteford, Mitteford, Mydeforde.

  • 1. PRO List ‘Sheriffs’, 98. John Mitford is not to be confused with his contemporary and namesake, who, by 1381, was dep. constable of Bordeaux (J. Hodgson, Hist. Northumb. ii (2), 45). The latter was still active in August 1409, when orders were issued for his arrest because of irregularities in his accounts (J.H. Wylie, Hen. IV, iii. 98, 274-5). Some sources, following Hodgson, describe Alexander Mitford (fl. 1367) as Mitford’s son, but it is clear from contemporary evidence that the two men were brothers (Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. no. 717). On the other hand, the John Mitford the younger, who, in 1391, was granted two livings in Northumberland by the Crown, may well have been the MP’s son, especially as one of his beneficies was at Mitford (CPR, 1389-92, p. 414).
  • 2. Hist. Northumb. x. 451-2; Hodgson ii (2), 494-5.
  • 3. Cal. Scots Docs. iv. no. 572.
  • 4. C66/299 m. 26v, 307 m. 40v, 311 m. 11v, 320 m. 39v, 323 m. 24v, 327 m. 23v, 336 m. 1v, 347 m. 7v.
  • 5. Rot. Scot. ed. Macpherson etc. ii. 56, 57, 102.
  • 6. Ibid. ii. 78, 79.
  • 7. Hodgson, ii (2), 45.
  • 8. PPC, i. 17-18, 27, 33-34; Rot. Scot. ii. 101, 103, 104, 105, 108-10, 112, 115, 117, 118, 121-3, 125-7, 142, 155, 156, 168, 170, 173, 177, 183; Cal. Scots Docs. iv. nos. 409, 554, 673, 784; Dip. Corresp. Ric. II (Cam. Soc. ser. 3, xlviii) nos. 167, 179.
  • 9. Rot. Scot. ii. 115.
  • 10. Hodgson, ii (2), 536.
  • 11. Ibid. 45, 334, 536; CPR, 1350-4, pp. 176, 347, 532; 1367-70, pp. 406-7; 1405-9, pp. 225-6.
  • 12. Hodgson, ii (2), 45; CPR, 1381-5, pp. 313-14, 392; 1399-1401, p. 358; CCR, 1381-5, pp. 402-4; Cal. Scots Docs. iv. no. 510.
  • 13. Hodgson, ii (2), 495-6, 536; Hist. Northumb. xiii. 89; CP25(1)181/14/24, 27; CPR, 1385-9, p. 239; CCR, 1392-6, p. 101.
  • 14. CPR, 1391-6, p. 244; CCR, 1392-6, pp. 206, 305-6; C67/30 m. 11; CFR, x. 14.
  • 15. E404/15/140, 16/397; PPC, i. 157, 160, 211-14; CPR, 1399-1401, p. 190; Cal. Scots. Docs. (supp.) v. nos. 894, 921.
  • 16. CFR, xii. 7, 235-6; Arch. Aeliana, n.s. xxii. 123; Cal. Scots Docs. iv. no. 717; Hist. Northumb. xii. 459; Issues ed. Devon, 312-13; C137/71/26; E404/24/413.