ROCHFORD, John (d.1410), of Fenn of Boston, Lincs.
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Family and Education
Commr. of inquiry, Lincs. Nov. 1379 (disorder at Boston), Mar. 1382 (shipwreck), Norf. May 1388 (dispute over the manor of Denver), Lincs. May 1391 (refusal of chantry priests to perform their duties), Feb. 1392 (counterfeiting the great seal), May 1392 (negligent chantry priests), July 1393 (use of fraudulent weights by wool merchants), Dec. 1397 (attacks on the bp. of Lincoln), Lincs., Notts., Yorks. Mar. 1400 (goods of the abp. of Canterbury), Lincs. Dec. 1400 (dispute over the manor of Blyborough), May 1401 (possessions of a felon),2 Sept. 1401 (value of Somerton castle),3 Nov. 1402 (fair at Burgh-le-Marsh), Feb. 1410 (possessions of a felon);4 array (Holland) Apr. 1385, Dec. 1399, Aug. 1402, July 1403, (Kesteven) Aug. 1403, (Holland) Sept. 1403; sewers Feb. 1390, May 1395, (Lindsey) Nov. 1399, (Holland) Feb. 1400, May 1403, July 1405, Norf. June 1406, June 1407, Lincs. July 1409, (Lindsey) Nov. 1410; to settle a civic dispute, Lincoln Mar. 1393; take charge of the goods of the vicar of Sibsey, Lincs. Feb. 1398; take securities Nov. 1400; proclaim the King’s intention to rule justly May 1402; take victuals for the royal army June 1405; inspect indictments for treason Nov. 1405; enforce statutes concerning weirs, Cambs., Hunts. Mar. 1410.
Alderman of the Corpus Christi guild, Boston 1381-6, 1391-4, 1397-9, 1409.5
J.p. Lincs. (Holland) 20 Dec. 1382-Feb. 1407, 7 June 1410-d., (Kesteven) 16 May 1401-Mar. 1406.
Sheriff, Lincs. 21 Oct. 1391-18 Oct. 1392, 24 Nov. 1400-8 Nov. 1401, 4 Nov. 1409-29 Nov. 1410.
Steward of the duchy of Lancaster honour of Bolingbroke, Lincs. and overseer of feodaries and bailiffs, Lincs. bef. 3 Feb. 1399-12 May 1407.6
Steward of the estates forfeited for treason by Thomas Holand, earl of Kent, Lincs. Feb. 1400-d.
Constable of the bp. of Ely’s castle of Wisbech, Cambs. 17 Aug. 1401-d.7
Collector of a tax, Cambs. (Isle of Ely) Mar. 1404, of a royal loan, Lincs. Sept. 1405; controller of a tax (Holland) Mar. 1404.
The Rochfords had long been one of the leading families in Boston, and by the mid 14h century their influence made itself felt throughout Lincolnshire. John’s father, Sir Saier, served as both sheriff and escheator of the county, and was also returned as a shire knight to the Parliament of 1343. His uncle, Sir John†, distinguished himself in the French wars, fighting under the banner of John of Gaunt, whom he followed loyally for years. He too represented Lincolnshire in the House of Commons, and became closely involved in the work of local government from the late 1370s onwards. That the young John Rochford would follow the example of these two men seemed a foregone conclusion, and he must still have been quite young when, in November 1379, he was appointed to his first royal commission, which involved an inquiry into disorder at Boston.8 He and his wife, Alice, were already well known figures in the town, since from about 1375 they had both belonged to its celebrated guild of Corpus Christi. Indeed, in 1381, Rochford began his first term as alderman of the guild, holding office for a period of at least five years. It was also in 1381 that he and a third kinsman, Sir Ralph Rochford the elder (who sat for Lincolnshire in the Parliament of 1379), acted together as trustees of an estate in Hagworthingham. He and Sir Ralph were also feoffees-to-uses of rents from the manor of Healing, and this explains why, in 1383, they were arraigned on an assize of novel disseisin at Lincoln. One of Rochford’s cousins was Sir Philip Tilney*, who succeeded him as alderman, and clearly regarded him as a close friend. Another prominent member of their circle was the Boston merchant, John Bell*, who settled some of his property upon the two of them in trust at this time. Rochford’s wife, Alice, may herself have strengthened his ties with the local community, since she was evidently related to a townsman named Richard Newton whose will she helped to execute. The task involved her in litigation for the recovery of a debt of 40s. but she had little success, and in 1388 the defendant was pardoned an outlawry incurred for failing to appear in court. The extent of Rochford’s family connexions is further revealed in documents concerning the endowment of Barling abbey in Lincolnshire, a house for which he felt a particular attachment and where he and his wife were both buried.9
By the date of his first return to Parliament in 1390, Rochford had already been sitting on the bench in the parts of Holland for almost eight years, and, moreover, appears to have been retained at a fee of 40s. by the dean and chapter of Lincoln cathedral. He was once again in office as alderman of the Corpus Christi guild when, in May 1392, he, his friends Bell and Tilney, and others of the brethren obtained a royal licence to endow it with additional property worth over £5 a year. Not content with this single work of piety, the three men were also the moving spirits behind the foundation of another guild in Boston, which was to be dedicated to God and the Virgin and be supported out of a landed income of £10 p.a. The letters patent authorizing this endowment were obtained at the supplication of Queen Anne, since most of those involved were her own tenants. Besides appearing together from time to time as feoffees, Tilney and Rochford were both appointed to the royal commission set up in March 1393 to deal with the civic disputes which were then disrupting the government of Lincoln. In the event, this delicate undertaking was considered unsuitable for so formal a body, but Rochford’s inclusion among the original commissioners clearly reflects his growing influence. Further evidence of this is to be found in his appearance, in 1397, as a trustee of Sir Simon Felbrigg KG, standard-bearer to Richard II, and the award to him in 1398 and 1399 of papal indults for the use of a portable altar and for plenary remission of sins at the hour of death.10 Even so, his career and prospects still improved dramatically on the fall of King Richard, since he had for some time been employed as steward of the duchy of Lancaster estates in Lincolnshire, and was thus recognized as a loyal family retainer by Henry of Bolingbroke on his accession to the throne. Both his late uncle, Sir John, and his younger brother, Sir Ralph, had in addition devoted their lives to the service of the house of Lancaster. Sir Ralph, who had accompanied Bolingbroke to Prussia in the early 1390s, was made a ‘King’s knight’ with an annuity of 50 marks shortly after Henry’s coronation, and went on to receive many further marks of favour. He even fulfilled two terms as sheriff of Lincolnshire, and he also shared a commission of the peace with his brother in Kesteven.11 It was probably thanks to him that John received a knighthood from the newly crowned Henry IV and was given the stewardship of the Lincolnshire manors forfeited by Thomas Holand, earl of Kent, Richard II’s nephew, after his rebellion a few months later.
Understandably enough, in view of his strong connexions with the new regime, the electors of Lincolnshire chose Rochford to represent them in what was to become Henry IV’s first Parliament. He continued to enjoy the monarch’s good will, retaining his post on the duchy of Lancaster estates, and, one year later, embarking upon his second term as sheriff. During this period he was summoned to attend a great council at Westminster, and also obtained the post of constable of Wisbech from John Fordham, bishop of Ely, at a fee of 20 marks p.a. This appointment, which was clearly no sinecure, enabled him to extend his authority into Cambridgeshire, and no doubt helps to account for his return as one of the county Members to the Gloucester Parliament of 1407. Meanwhile, in March 1403, he and his brother were rewarded with the keepership of the estates of Sir James Roos’s younger son, Robert, who was then a royal ward. The raising of troops to fight against the rebellious Welsh and King Henry’s other enemies took up a good deal of Rochford’s time during the turbulent early years of the century; and he himself may have taken up arms, albeit briefly, for purposes of national defence. He certainly became involved in a personal confrontation during this period, for in the spring of 1406 he was bound over in sums of £100 to do no harm to one Robert Kerville, whom he appears to have threatened or assaulted. His mainpernors on this occasion included Sir Walter Tailboys*, John Skipwith* and Sir John Copledyke*, a Lincolnshire landowner to whom he was apparently related.12
Given his active career as an administrator, man of affairs and possibly soldier, it is all the more surprising to discover that Rochford was something of a scholar noted for his interest in historical and literary work. Although subsequent research has shown that certain texts previously attributed to his pen were merely glossed or extended by him, his achievement was none the less considerable. Whether or not he studied as a young man in Italy and France (as Pits believed) we shall never know, but towards the end of his life, at least, he compiled digests of and indexes to various well-known chronicles; and he may even have translated works for English readers. In 1406, for example, he completed his Notabilia Extracta per Johannem de Rochefort Militem de Viginti et uno Libris Flavii Josephi Antiquitatis Judaice; a Tabula super Flores Storiarum (an index of the Flores Historiarum of Matthew of Westminster) followed; and in 1410 he produced Extractum Chronicarum Cestrensis Ecclesiae.13 The compilation of these works seems to have been undertaken during Rochford’s later years, although he did not feel it necessary to retire from public life in order to devote himself to scholarship. On the contrary, he served his third and last term as sheriff in 1409 (his brother, Sir Ralph, standing surety on his behalf), and was still in office when he drew up his will. This document, made at Lincoln on 20 Oct. 1410, gives no hint of his literary pursuits, although his pious veneration of Christ as a subject of personal devotion (which presumably dated back to his early days as a guildsman in Boston) is evident from a bequest to the church of Stoke Rochford of ‘unum pixidem de cupra deaurate cum uno berell ad portandum corpus Christi in Festo Corpus Christi ibidem’. His five executors included John Southam, a canon of Lincoln cathedral, to whom letters of administration were awarded in the following December. Rochford was succeeded either by his brother, Sir Ralph, or by a son or grandson of the same name, who inherited from him the manors of Stoke Rochford, Fenn in Boston and ‘Skreyng’ in Lincolnshire, and possibly that of Arley in Warwickshire.14
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Variants: Rechefort, Rechford, Rochefort, Rycheford.
- 1. CPR, 1399-1401, p. 164; P. Thompson, Boston, 177; Reg. Repingdon (Lincoln Rec. Soc. lviii), 211-12. Lincs. Peds. ed. Maddison, 829, is mistaken in stating that Rochford's mother was Joan, da. and coh. of Sir Hillary, for although she did have a son named John Rochford he cannot have been our MP. The latter was succeeded by Sir Ralph Rochford of Fenn in Boston (d.1439/40) not by two young female descendants as was the case with Joan Hillary's son: CFR, xiv. 423; Fifty Earliest Eng. Wills (EETS, lxxviii), 120-8. During the lifetime of his uncle, Sir John Rochford the elder (d.c.1392), contemporaries usually referred to this MP as 'the younger' or 'son of Sir Saier' in order to avoid confusion. The problem of identification is, however, further complicated by the evidence of yet another namesake known as John Rochford of Boston. He and the subject of this biography were together parties to the endowment of Barling abbey in 1390 (C143/409/19; CPR, 1388-92, pp. 192-3), and were evidently related. John Rochford of Boston was himself a figure of some consequence. An adherent of the Lords Appellant of 1388, he served as a j.p. in Lindsey from 1387 to 1390, and, along with other members of the prolific Rochford clan, he took the oath in 1388 to support the Appellants' rule. He served on occasional royal commissions, and in 1398 was twice pardoned for his attachment to King Richard's enemies (C66/319 m. 16v; C67/30 mm. 18, 34; PR, iii. 400; CPR, 1385-9, p. 257; 1391-6, p. 430). Yet despite his connexion with leading figures in Boston (CP25(1)143/147/19, 144/148/39; JUST 1/1496 rot. 3v), we know that it was not he, but the subject of this biography who played a prominent part in the affairs of the Corpus Christi guild there.
- 2. CIMisc. vii. 181.
- 3. Ibid. 198.
- 4. Ibid. 408, 412.
- 5. Thompson, 117-18.
- 6. Somerville, Duchy, i. 575; DL42/15, f. 28.
- 7. Ely Episcopal Recs. ed. Gibbons, 75.
- 8. Lincoln Rec. Soc. xlix. pp. xxvii-xxviii; Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 241.
- 9. C143/409/19; CP25(1)143/143/26, 146/10; JUST 1/1488 rot. 47; CPR, 1385-9, p. 418; 1388-92, pp. 192-3; Thompson, 117.
- 10. C143/414/31; CP25(1)144/149/2; Lincs. AO, Dean and Chapter muns. Bi. 2/8, f. 9; CPR, 1391-6, pp. 68, 192, 140; CCR, 1392-6, pp. 133-4; 1405-9, p. 501; CPL, v. 127, 140.
- 11. Derby’s Expeds. (Cam. Soc. n.s. lii), 51, 123, 131, 133, 138, 265; PRO List ‘Sheriffs’, 79; CPR, 1399-1401, p. 245; Somerville, i. 576, 583.
- 12. CPR, 1399-1401, p. 534; CFR, xii. 204; PPC, i. 160; Ely Episcopal Recs. 75.
- 13. DNB, xvii. 74; Flores Historiarum ed. Luard, pp. xxix-xxx, xlii.
- 14. Reg. Repingdon (Lincoln Rec. Soc. lviii), 211-12; Fifty Earliest Eng. Wills. 120-8.