MUNCASTER, Sir Robert (d.c.1409), of Torpenhow and Hayton, Cumb.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of William Muncaster (d. by 22 July 1388) of Torpenhow and Hayton. m. Joan, poss. 1da. Kntd. by Dec. 1385.1
Collector of taxes, Cumb. Dec. 1385, Mar. 1388, Jan. 1392, Mar. 1395.
Collector of customs, Cumb. and Westmld. 18 Dec. 1394-4 Oct. 1397.
Escheator, Cumb. 8 Feb. 1401-9 Nov. 1402.
The Muncaster family had been established in Cumberland since the early 13th century, if not before, acquiring over the years the manors of Torpenhow, Hayton, Whitehall, Blennerhasset, Upmanby, Bothland and Bewaldeth, along with land and tenements in Lowcray, Scales, Threapland, Alderscough and ‘Belysis’. Not surprisingly, Sir Robert’s forebears played a fairly prominent part in the local community; and at least three of them, including his grandfather and namesake, represented the county in Parliament.2 He himself is first mentioned in 1374 when he served as a juror at an inquisition following the death of John Tollesland. No more is heard of him until, as a recently created knight, he was appointed by the government to collect taxes in 1385, a task which he was to perform on four occasions in all over the next ten years. Following the death of his father, William Muncaster, in, or shortly before, July 1388, he inherited the family estates, and was duly returned to Parliament two months later. Despite his influential social position he did not sit again in the Commons, although he continued to act in various administrative capacities in the north-west until 1402, when he more or less retired from public life. He did, however, serve on two local juries, at Penrith in August 1394 and at Carlisle in March 1395, and he subsequently attended the inquisition post mortem held in March 1406 on the death of William Stapleton’s* mother.3
At first his personal affairs seem to have gone fairly well. In 1392 he conveyed his property in Threapland, Alderscough and Blennerhasset to a group of trustees, including Sir Clement Skelton*, Thomas Sands* and William Osmundlaw*, who were subsequently confirmed in possession by a rival claimant. Only later did he begin to sell off and mortgage more and more of his holdings, clearly as a result of pressing financial problems. The local antiquary who described, in 1623, how ‘Sir Robert ... became an unthrift, and, for very small sums of present money sold his lands to his uncle, Ralph, earl of Westmorland (sic), who, knowing the title to be weak by reason of the entail, did straightaway alien the said lands by parcels, Robert presently after the sale dying’, was obviously mistaken on several points of fact, although there can be little doubt that from 1400 onwards Sir Robert was in urgent need of money, perhaps to pay off a ransom or debts to the Crown. In August of that year he mortgaged all his estates in and around Torpenhow to his kinsman, (Sir) Geoffrey Tilliol*, for 250 marks repayable over the next 40 years. Tilliol’s death and the remarriage of his widow, Alice, to (Sir) John Skelton*, seems to have placed Sir Robert in such a difficult position that before long he had disposed of a sizeable amount of property in Bewaldeth, and in June 1404 Skelton himself witnessed the sale of his holdings in Lowcray and Scales. By the following January he was under pressure to renegotiate the terms of his mortgage by entering an agreement with Sir William Clifford, who undertook to pay the outstanding 250 marks to Skelton for the use of his young stepdaughter, Katherine Tilliol, in return for a secure title to Torpenhow. Sir William was almost certainly acting as Skelton’s agent, for in June 1406 the latter offered Muncaster a new mortgage of 255 marks repayable over the next 20 years, thus effectively gaining control of the property himself.4
Sir Robert’s last years may also have been clouded by political misfortunes, possibly as a result of his involvement in one or more of the insurrections staged by the Percys in the north. At all events, in November 1408, he was pardoned ‘all treason, felonies and trespasses committed by him’, which suggests that he may, in a desperate attempt to avoid financial ruin, have given some support to the rebels. He appears to have died shortly afterwards, since no more is heard of him. According to some sources, he left a daughter, but no contemporary evidence survives about her.5
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Variants: Moucastre, Mulcaster.
- 1. CIPM, xvi. no. 722; CFR, x. 119; Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. vii. 237; xiii. 235-6; xviii. 233-4. Muncaster is said to have left one daughter who married Sir Peter Tilliol* (ibid. xviii. 118 et seq.), but this is an error arising from a mistaken reading of the family pedigree. The marriage alliance between the Tilliols and the Muncasters actually took place at least two generations earlier.
- 2. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. vii. 237; xiii. 235-6; xviii. 118, 233-4; xxxviii. 85; tract series, no. 2, pp. 57-58, 154, 174-7; CIPM (Rec. Comm.), iii. 244.
- 3. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. x. 27; xiii. 220; CIPM, xvi. no. 722; C258/31/28; JUST 1/1500 rot. 38.
- 4. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. tract ser. no. 2, pp. 174-7, 179; n.s. xvi. 174; xviii. 118, 233-4; xxxviii. 85; CAD, vi. no. C4149.
- 5. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xviii. 118 et seq.; CCR, 1408-13, p. 6.