PHELIP, Sir William (c.1380-1441), of Dennington, Suff.

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



Apr. 1414
Nov. 1414

Family and Education

b.c. 1380, 1st s. of William Phelip (d.1407) of Dennington by Juliana, da. of Sir Robert Erpingham† of Erpingham, Norf.; nephew and h. of Sir Thomas Erpingham KG (d.1428), and er. bro. of Sir John Phelip*. m. bef. June 1408, Joan (11 Nov. 1390-12 Mar. 1447), yr. da. and coh. of Thomas, 5th Lord Bardolf, by Amy, da. of Ralph, Lord Cromwell, of Tattershall, Lincs., 1da. Kntd. 8 Apr. 1413; KG Nov. 1418; cr. Lord Bardolf 13 Nov. 1437.1

Offices Held

Constable of Norwich castle 8 Mar. 1411-25 July 1413, 3 Aug. 1413-d.

Envoy to treat with the French for the surrender of Melun castle 10 Apr. 1420.2

Capt. of Harfleur 28 July 1421-c. Nov. 1422.3

Treasurer of Henry V’s household and ex officio treasurer of war 1 Oct. 1421-8 Nov. 1422.

J. p. Suff. 7 July 1423-34, 16 July 1438-d., Norf. 2 Nov. 1429-Oct. 1431, 19 Nov. 1432-Mar. 1434, and ex officio, as chief steward of the duchy of Lancaster, in 16 southern counties 1437-d.

Commr. to raise royal loans, Norf., Surr. July 1426, May 1428, Mar. 1430, Feb. 1434, Feb. 1436, Norf. Nov. 1440; of inquiry, Norf., Suff. Nov. 1427 (concealments), Mar. 1438 (evasion of customs), S. Wales Feb. 1441 (treasons); to take musters, Kent Apr. 1430,4 Winchelsea Apr. 1433; of sewers, Lincs. July 1434, Lincs., Northants., Hunts., Cambs. Feb. 1438, Aug. 1439, Jan. 1441, Norf. May 1438; to assess contributions to subsidies, Norf., Suff. Jan. 1436; distribute tax allowances, Norwich May 1437; of oyer and terminer, Suff. May 1438; to guard against unlawful assemblies Aug. 1440.

Chamberlain of Henry VI’s household 1 Mar. 1432-d.

Member of the King’s Council 8 May 1432-d.

Constable of Wallingford castle and steward of the honours of Wallingford, St. Valery, the Chiltern hundreds and 16 lordships 4 Jan.-Feb. 1437, jt. holder of the same with William de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, 22 Feb. 1437-d.

Chief steward of the duchy of Lancaster, south parts 12 May 1437-d.5


William Phelip the elder, the father of this shire knight, owned a manor in Dennington near Framlingham, and probably also held ‘Brakle’, ‘Phelippes’ and Brundish, properties which at the time of the younger William’s death had a total annual value of £25. The father was a tenant at Little Glemham of William de Ufford, earl of Suffolk (d.1382), whom he served as bailiff of Framlingham and also as a feoffee and executor, receiving from the earl at his death a life annuity of £10 in compensation for the expected loss of the bailiffship. He died in 1407 and his widow Juliana in 1414, both being buried in Dennington church.6 But it was not young Phelip’s father, who was never of more than local importance, but rather his maternal uncle, Sir Thomas Erpingham, who most influenced the course of his career, as well as that of his younger brother, John. Erpingham had shared Henry of Bolingbroke’s exile in 1398-9, and after Henry’s accession to the throne he reaped substantial rewards for his friendship, including immediate appointment as constable of Dover castle and warden of the Cinque Ports. It was perhaps the younger William Phelip who stood surety for Sir Thomas in December 1399 when he secured a valuable wardship at the Exchequer, for within a month he had become a ‘King’s esquire’, sharing with one of his fellows an annuity of £40 and custody of the alien priory of Chepstow, the latter being for the duration of the war with France. He continued to wear the livery of a member of the King’s household until December 1406 or later, no doubt all the while enjoying special favour as Erpingham’s nephew, for Sir Thomas was successively chamberlain and steward there. Phelip received many tokens of regard from Henry IV: in 1402 he was granted custody of the manor of Spernall (Warwickshire) up to the value of ten marks a year (although he encountered opposition locally from Sir Thomas Burdet*, who allegedly took possession of certain lands pertaining to the manor, thus depleting its revenues); and that same year the King made him a gift of two horses and bestowed on him a further annuity of ten marks. These items were followed in 1403 by a fee of £20 p.a. charged on the issues of the duchy of Lancaster in Norfolk, and £17 in silver from the forfeited goods of the Percys’ adherents; then, in 1405, because his wages at the Household had fallen into arrears, he was given a ship containing uncustomed wool worth £10. Furthermore, in May 1406 Phelip was granted for life property in the London parish of St. Nicholas Acon, and this was augmented six years later by a tenement in Smithfield worth 13s.4d. a year. Of much greater importance, however, was his appointment for life in 1411 to the constableship of Norwich castle, a post which carried an annual fee of £20 and made him a prestigious figure in the locality. Until then he had spent much of his time in the royal entourage, occasionally acting as a messenger between the King and his Council.7

In the meantime, William’s brother, John, had been found a place in the household of Henry of Monmouth and had quickly become one of the prince’s personal friends. Both brothers clearly owed their initial success in the courts of the King and prince to their uncle, Sir Thomas Erpingham, to whom they remained closely attached. All three, Erpingham and the Phelip brothers, were trustees of the estates of Sir Andrew Butler* of Great Waldingfield, who married William’s sister Katherine; and together William and Butler acted as executors of the will of Sir Robert Tye (d.1414) of Barsham, who referred to Erpingham, whom he named as overseer, as his ‘uncle’. Phelip and Erpingham were often recorded together as co-feoffees of estates in East Anglia, and on occasion Phelip stood surety for his uncle at the Exchequer.8

It was no doubt with Erpingham’s help, and with the full approval of Henry IV, that Phelip came to make the important marriage which was eventually to give him territorial standing in several counties. By the summer of 1408 he had secured the hand of one of the daughters and coheirs of Thomas, late Lord Bardolf, whose estates had been forfeited three years earlier for rebellion in support of the earl of Northumberland. The King had granted the confiscated honour of Wormegay to his own half-brother, Sir Thomas Beaufort, and other Bardolf lands had gone to Sir George Dunbar, Sir William Bardolf (Lord Bardolf’s brother) and the queen. Then, too, Lord Bardolf’s widow held certain properties in dower. Yet over the years Phelip and his wife, Joan, in association with her elder sister Anne (wife firstly of Sir William Clifford, who died in 1418, and then of Sir Reynold Cobham of Sterborough), gradually secured possession of all of the Bardolf estates. It was a long process: in 1408 they paid 200 marks to recover the lands held by Dunbar, along with the reversion of the properties held by Sir William Bardolf; and they brought suits in Chancery against Queen Joan and in opposition to Lady Bardolf’s claims to jointure, thereby succeeding in obtaining the reversion of the manors held by the former, but being formally required a few years later not to trouble Lady Bardolf further. In 1413 judgement in another suit won them Hallaton (Leicestershire) from the queen. Lady Bardolf died in 1421, followed by her brother-in-law two years later, but seisin of Queen Joan’s holdings was not to be secured until as late as 1439, after her death. By 1438 it was clear that Phelip’s sister-in-law, Anne, would have no issue and, accordingly, the Phelips were assured of the reversion of her moiety of the estates. Thus, eventually, the whole Bardolf inheritance fell to Sir William and his heirs.9 He died in possession of holdings in ten counties, conservatively valued at £400 a year.

Meanwhile, the fortunes of Erpingham and his nephews had been improved still further by the accession to the throne of Henry of Monmouth in 1413. Erpingham was promptly re-appointed steward of the Household, and his nephews were both knighted on the eve of the coronation. Sir John Phelip, promptly made a knight of the King’s chamber, was singled out for special marks of Henry’s generosity; and Sir William, although never the royal favourite that his brother undoubtedly was, still obtained confirmation of all his annuities and, two years later, was granted more property in London, rent-free.10 Sir William was returned for Suffolk, his home county, to both Parliaments of 1414, during which the Commons gave their approval to Henry V’s policy of active renewal of the war with France. (Incidentally, Parliament also authorized the confiscation of the estates of the alien priories, a move which rendered Sir William’s brother even more secure in his possession of Grovebury.) Both Phelip brothers prepared with their uncle to accompany the King overseas in the following summer, Sir William contracting to serve with nine lances and 30 archers, although only 36 men actually embarked with him. The campaign was seriously marred for them by Sir John’s death at Harfleur on 2 Oct., but Sir William marched on with the King towards Calais and so fought at Agincourt. He had been acting as a trustee of his brother’s estates for the previous two years and had been named as an executor of his will shortly before they sailed for France, so the return home must have found him busily engaged in the administration of the deceased’s effects.11 Furthermore, he was faced with various complications arising from the deaths of two de la Pole earls of Suffolk on the same campaign of 1415, for on 8 Dec. that year he shared with Erpingham and Katherine, widow of Michael, the 2nd earl (who had died at Harfleur), custody of all the estates of the earldom during the minorities of the earl’s younger son and heir, William, and of his grand daughters, a grant which excused them from rendering anything at all at the Exchequer. Not surprisingly, Phelip was subsequently made a feoffee of other de la Pole properties: those held by Elizabeth, the widow of Michael the 3rd earl, who had fallen at Agincourt. It was not long before the King summoned him to serve in France again. In May 1417 when preparations for the second invasion were well under way, he was named on a short-list of three suggested by the Council for the office of marshal of the army, and although he was not in the event chosen for the post he nevertheless raised a force of 85 men and fought throughout the reduction of Normandy. Sir William evidently distinguished himself in the field, for in November 1418, during the siege of Rouen, Henry V honoured him with nomination to the Order of the Garter. In the following spring, while still abroad, Phelip secured the wardship of certain manors in Sussex held by a tenant of Hugh Cokesey, his late brother’s stepson. In May 1419 he and Sir John Tiptoft* were ordered to prepare a place near Mantes for the proposed meeting between the kings of England and France. Remaining in Henry V’s immediate retinue as Norman fortresses continued to fall to the English, in April 1420 he was commissioned to treat for the surrender of Melun castle. Phelip probably sailed home with the King early in 1421, only to return to France in the royal entourage that July, then taking up appointment as captain of Harfleur. That he stood high in the King’s confidence is demonstrated by his promotion, three months later, to the treasurership of the Household, an office which encompassed the exacting duties of the treasurer of war to the English forces in France. He held this position until after Henry V’s death in August 1422. Having taken responsibility for the King’s funeral arrangements, he embarked for England with Henry’s body.12

Partly through the influence of friends, though through his own ability as an administrator as well, Phelip lost little of importance during the long minority of Henry VI, and what he was initially obliged to forgo he eventually recovered. Undoubtedly, his most useful connexion in the early years of the reign was with the King’s great-uncle, Thomas Beaufort, duke of Exeter, with whom he had probably first become acquainted through the duke’s kinswoman, Alice Chaucer, the widow of his brother. Beaufort not only made him a trustee of his estates but also, in December 1426, named him as an executor of his will, under the terms of which he was to have bequests of £40 and a covered cup of silver-gilt. Phelip took a special interest in the future of Exeter’s landed estate, for the duke held in tail the honour of Wormegay (to which his wife had a claim); and when, in February 1427, two of his fellow executors were granted custody of the honour and other manors in Norfolk belonging to the Bardolf inheritance, he himself appeared as their surety. The executorship proved to be an exacting task, involving Phelip in complicated transactions over the wardship of the earl of March’s estates, the disposal of Exeter’s valuable jewellery and financial undertakings in large sums of money. Indeed, Beaufort’s affairs had still not been finally settled by the time of his own death 15 years later.13 Another royal councillor with whom Phelip was on amicable terms was Ralph, Lord Cromwell, his wife’s kinsman, for whom he acted as a trustee. Connexions such as these were useful in obtaining for him lucrative wardships in 1427 and 1428. More significantly, they won for him on 31 May 1428 nomination at the head of a body of four knights and four esquires appointed by the Council to be constantly about the person of the young King under the direction of Henry’s newly assigned governor, the earl of Warwick. Each of the knights was to receive a fee of 100 marks a year.14

Later in 1428 Phelip’s uncle Erpingham died, whereupon the nephew, who was an executor of his will, inherited his substantial possessions in Norfolk. Sir William was also enabled to secure custody of several valuable properties which Erpingham had leased from the Crown, notably the manor of Horstead in Norfolk (parcel of the estates of Caen abbey), and substantial holdings in London. Wardships and leases continued to come his way throughout the period of the royal minority.15 In 1430 Phelip naturally enough accompanied Henry VI to France for his coronation, taking with him a personal retinue of 80 men. Returning home with the King early in 1432, he then replaced his friend Cromwell as chamberlain of the Household. Changes in other prestigious offices of state made at the same time are generally held to have been influenced by Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, who, availing himself of Cardinal Beaufort’s absence, dismissed those ministers who had recently attempted to curb his power; and although there is no evidence that Phelip was of Duke Humphrey’s faction (and, indeed, his connexions with the Beauforts would make this explanation for his appointment unlikely), it should be noted that his sister-in-law, Anne Cobham, was stepmother to the duchess. Alternatively, he may possibly have been the young King’s personal choice for the chamberlainship. On 8 May following he was made a member of the royal council at a salary of £100 a year, though deductions were in general to be made for absence, and in the course of the next five years he attended more than half of all meetings convened. Furthermore, he was given many important administrative tasks, notable among them being the implementation of the terms of Henry V’s will with regard to bequests to members of the Household, and the audit of the accounts of the treasurer of the Chamber.16

As the King grew more assertive of his independence, so did his chamberlain Phelip benefit from royal patronage. Thus, in January 1437, he obtained the highly lucrative offices of constable of Wallingford castle and steward of many royal lordships in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire, posts which had fallen vacant on the death of his sister-in-law Alice’s father, Thomas Chaucer*, only to agree, just a month later, to share them with her third husband, William de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, with whom he had been closely connected since the time of de la Pole’s minority. Indeed, Phelip and Suffolk long continued to co-operate to their mutual benefit, both men enjoying the personal favour of the King. On 12 May following, only some three weeks after Suffolk had been appointed chief steward of the estates of the duchy of Lancaster north of the Trent, Phelip secured the southern stewardship. Then, in July, having obtained a lease of the alien priory of Creeting St. Mary (Suffolk), he was also granted the custody of the lordship of Swaffham (Norfolk), only to surrender it four months later, in November, so that the earl might have it.17 It was in November, too, by which date Henry VI’s minority had formally ended, that Sir William’s place in the ruling clique was made abundantly clear. On the 11th he and his wife were granted the honour of Wormegay and the other Bardolf estates previously in the possession of the duke of Exeter (the earl of Suffolk having generously surrendered his lease), and two days later he was named as a member of the King’s Council during his majority. From that day onwards Phelip was consistently styled ‘Lord Bardolf’; and it seems most likely that the King’s intention in making these grants was to create him a peer.18 In the four years left before his death the new Lord Bardolf exploited to the full his opportunities to take advantage of Henry’s unfettered generosity, enjoying the fruits of royal patronage at the Exchequer.19

Phelip had risen from the ranks of the minor gentry of Suffolk to be one of the foremost and influential of the lesser nobility of England. A mark of this rise in status was the marriage of his only child to John, Lord Beaumont (elevated to a viscountcy in 1440), a match which had possibly been planned as early as 1428, when Phelip had assisted young Beaumont to secure possession of his inheritance.20 In July 1437 Phelip and his wife obtained a royal licence for the foundation of ‘Phelippes chantry’ in Dennington church, endowed with lands worth £20 a year; and when he composed his will on 1 Dec. 1438 he issued detailed instructions for his burial there, where 1,000 masses were to be sung for his soul immediately after his death. He left bequests to the Lords Cromwell and Beaumont, and Bishop Alnwick of Lincoln was named as one of the overseers. Phelip died on 6 June 1441, a week after making a codicil.21 Elizabeth, Viscountess Beaumont, his daughter and heir, died shortly afterwards, as did also Henry Beaumont, his elder grandson, so the combined estates of Phelip, Erpingham and Bardolf all passed to his younger grandson, William, later Viscount Beaumont. Phelip’s widow, Joan, Lady Bardolf, made a will on 7 Sept. 1446 and another on 11 Mar. 1447, the day before her death. She was buried with her husband, in a sumptuous tomb chest bearing richly painted and gilded alabaster effigies.22

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. De Antiquis Legibus Liber (Cam. Soc. xxxiv), pp. cxlvi-ccii; CP, i. 420-1; PCC 43 Marche; CPL, vi. 354.
  • 2. DKR, xlii. 368.
  • 3. Ibid. 415.
  • 4. C76/112 m. 13.
  • 5. Somerville, Duchy, i. 428.
  • 6. CIPM, xv. 606, 619-20; CFR, xiv. 180; Lambeth Pal. Lib. Reg. Courtenay, ff. 191-4; J. Weever, Funeral Mons. 782.
  • 7. Norf. Arch. xxxv. 96-108; CFR, xii. 31; CPR, 1399-1401, p. 179; 1401-5, pp. 35, 89, 95, 184, 255, 493; 1405-8, p. 176; 1408-13, pp. 278, 398; E101/404/21, f. 45; Harl. 319, f. 46; DL42/16 (pt. 1), f. 43; PPC, i. 290; C1/6/3.
  • 8. CCR, 1399-1402, pp. 332, 392; 1405-9, p. 385; Bodl. Chs. Suff. 428, 433; Reg. Chichele, iii. 406; CPR, 1405-8, p. 295; 1408-13, p. 416.
  • 9. C137/67/31, 75/64; C138/55/11; CPR, 1405-8, p. 448; 1408-13, pp. 39, 95-96; 1413-16, pp. 2, 167; 1436-41, pp. 135, 165-6; CIMisc. vii. 382-6, 428-30; CCR, 1405-9, pp. 427, 448-9; 1409-13, pp. 245-6, 315; 1422-9, pp. 87-88, 94-95; 1435-41, pp. 297-8; CFR, xiv. 410, 412, 441.
  • 10. C115/K2/6682, f. 63d; CPR, 1413-16, pp. 62, 321.
  • 11. DKR, xliv. 564; E101/46/16; CPR, 1408-13 p. 470; 1413-16, pp. 67, 259; PCC 43 Marche.
  • 12. CPR, 1413-16, pp. 383, 403; 1416-22, pp. 256, 258; PPC, ii. 252; E101/51/2; DKR, xli. 696, 775; xliv. 606, 612, 631; Reg. Order of the Garter ed. Anstis, i. 66-73; G.F. Beltz, Mems. Order of the Garter, pp. lix, clviii; CFR, xiv. 276; E364/69 m. F; W. Dugdale, Baronage, ii. 213-14.
  • 13. Reg. Chichele, ii. 355, 361-2, 364; CFR, xv. 163, 286; Issues ed. Devon, 406; CCR, 1422-9, p. 463; 1429-35, pp. 30, 229; 1435-41, pp. 374-5; CPR, 1422-9, p. 518.
  • 14. CPR, 1422-9, p. 212; CFR, xv. 194, 208, 222; PPC, iii. 294; E404/44/315.
  • 15. Reg. Chichele, iii. 380-1; CFR, xv. 247-8, 281; xvi. 49, 59, 86, 314; C139/34/47, 43/8.
  • 16. E404/46/255, 48/281; DKR, xlviii. 275; PPC, iv. 110; E364/70 m. F; CPR, 1429-36, pp. 254, 278, 349; 1436-41, p. 91.
  • 17. CFR, xvi. 153, 334, 336; CPR, 1436-41, pp. 32, 44, 133, 366; Harl. Ch. 54 I 8; Add. Ch. 2016; Corporation of London RO, hr 163/57, 169/17; CCR, 1447-54, p. 214.
  • 18. CPR, 1436-41, p. 117; PPC, v. 71; vi. 312-13; De Antiquis Legibus Liber, p. excvi.
  • 19. CFR, xvii. 4, 83, 154, 248-9; CPR, 1436-41, p. 473.
  • 20. CP, ii. 62-63; CFR, xv. 208, 211, 288; CPR, 1436-41, p. 35.
  • 21. CPR, 1436-41, pp. 78, 390; Reg. Chichele, ii. 598-605; C139/103/30.
  • 22. Norf. and Norwich RO, Reg. Wylbey, ff. 130-2; C139/132/30-31; De Antiquis Legibus Liber, p. clxxiii.