SKELTON, Sir Thomas (d.1416), of Hixton, Cambs. and Sherborne 'Coudray', Hants.
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Family and Education
m. (1) by Oct. 1382, Margaret ?da. of Sir William Clopton†, 4s. 1da. (all d.v.p.); (2) Katherine; (3) between July 1395 and May 1396, Joan (c.1351-1415), cousin and h. of Sir William Fifhide† of Sherborne ‘Coudray’, and wid. of Giles Norman of Tidworth, Hants, Peter Bridges† of Andover and Sir John Sandys*, s.p. Kntd. by Nov. 1394.
Commr. to put down rebellions, Westmld. Mar., Dec. 1382; of gaol delivery, Cambridge Mar. 1384, Bury St. Edmunds Nov. 1391, Nov. 1395 (q.), Jan. 1397 (q.), East Dereham July 1394 (q.), Sept. 1395 (q.), Ely Aug. 1394 (q.), Norwich Nov. 1396 (q.), Great Yarmouth May 1397 (q.); array, Cambs. Apr. 1385, Hants Dec. 1399, July 1402, Wilts., Hants Sept. 1403, Hants May 1406; inquiry, Cambs. July 1386 (repairs to the bridge at Cambridge), Cambs., Essex Sept. 1388 (custody of a park), Suff. May 1391 (treasons and felonies), Cambs. Jan. 1393 (de Vere estates), Feb. 1394 (repairs to the bridge at Cambridge), Norf. Dec. 1402 (crown rights to an advowson), Hants Nov. 1405, Mar. 1406 (rents due to God’s House, Southampton), Surr. June 1406 (concealments), Hants Dec. 1406 (piracy), Apr. 1407 (breach of the peace), May 1407 (relocation of the wool-beam, Southampton), Jan. 1414 (lollards), Sept. 1414 (robbery), Jan. 1415 (services at Southampton castle); sewers, river Thames from London Bridge to Greenwich Jan. 1388, Norf. June 1406, Cambs. Mar. 1407, Norf. June 1407, Nov. 1408; weirs, Herts., London May 1388, Hants June 1398; oyer and terminer, Norf., Suff. Nov. 1391, Hants, Wilts., Som., Dorset July 1401, Cambs. July 1404, Norf. Oct. 1404; to carry out a Chancery award, Cambs. Aug. 1395; determine appeals in the admiral’s ct. Jan. 1401, Jan. 1403; make proclamation of Henry IV’s intention to govern well, Hants, Cambs. May 1402; hold assizes, Herefs. July 1402; take custody of Lord West’s estates, Suss. July 1405; raise royal loans, Surr., Hants June 1406.
J.p. Cambs. 20 Dec. 1382-c.1385, 28 June-Dec. 1390, 18 June 1394-Feb. 1397, 22 July 1397-June 1412, Hants 13 May 1396-d.
Justice, S. Wales 17 Oct. 1390-c.1391.1
Chief steward of the southern and Welsh parts of the duchy of Lancaster by 1393-5 Dec. 1405.2
Tax collector, Hants Mar. 1404.
Parlty. cttees. to treat with the Council about the safe-keeping of the seas 3 Apr. 1406, to supervise the engrossment of the rolls of Parliament 22 Dec. 1406.3
Controller of customs, Southampton 1 Mar. 1407-8 Oct. 1409.
Skelton was a native of Cumberland, and almost certainly a member of the family which lived at Armathwaite castle and had a long tradition of parliamentary service for the shire. He was possibly a younger son of the Thomas Skelton† who died in 1365 and, if so, a brother of Sir Clement*, with whom he was later associated as co-feoffee for Sir Robert Muncaster* of lands at Threapland, Aldersceugh and Blennerhasset. However, such properties as this Member himself possessed in the north were most likely acquired late on in life; and his career bears the hallmarks of that of a younger son, in this case one who came south to win success through the legal profession. He retained contacts in Cumberland throughout his career. In the 1370s, when he was building up his practice in the central courts, he acted as an attorney and as a mainpernor in Chancery and the Exchequer for several people from his native county (among them John Denton, who had married the other Thomas Skelton’s widow), and from early on he was closely associated with the fellows of Queen’s college, Oxford, which had been founded for scholars from Cumberland and Westmorland. Indeed, in 1380, one of the benefactors of the college, Robert Byx, bequeathed to him black robes and a baselard. Skelton could still be described as ‘a nobleman of the diocese of Carlisle’ as late as 1394, and by that date he was in possession of the manors of Threapland and Allensteads in Cumberland, as a tenant of the wife of Henry, earl of Northumberland, for whom he had previously acted as a feoffee of property in Suffolk.4
At an early date Skelton formed what was to become a lifelong friendship with William Gascoigne, a fellow lawyer who was to serve as chief justice for most of Henry IV’s reign. They were engaged together in property transactions in London in the 1380s, and in later years they were associated in the conveyances of estates in Essex, Surrey, Hampshire and Middlesex, acting on behalf of such members of the gentry as Robert Dingley I*. In 1382 Gascoigne was linked with Skelton and his first wife when all three were granted the manor of Hinxton (Cambridgeshire) by Sir William Clopton. This may have been a marriage settlement, Clopton possibly being Skelton’s new father-in-law. The connexion may well have come about through Sir William’s son, Walter, who, already a serjeant-at-law, was to become chief justice in January 1388, continuing as such until his death in 1400.5 Skelton’s new status as a landowner in Cambridgeshire soon brought him attendant duties. His earliest royal commissions had been in the north of England, but now he was appointed to the Cambridgeshire bench and throughout the 1380s and 1390s he was kept constantly busy in East Anglia as well, his talents being most often employed on important assignments directly affecting the Crown’s rights or the administration of justice; and when he was appointed as a commissioner of gaol delivery it was nearly always as one of the quorum. His reputation as a lawyer grew rapidly, and in October 1390 he was appointed as a magistrate in South Wales. But Skelton’s abilities were not only noticed by the Crown: he also came to the attention of John of Gaunt, who in about 1393 made him his chief steward of the southern and Welsh parts of the duchy of Lancaster, which post, being the most important stewardship in the duchy, warranted an annual fee of as much as £100. In 1393-4 Skelton was engaged in legal transactions facilitating the settlement in reversion on Gaunt’s eldest son by Katherine Swynford (John Beaufort, earl of Somerset), of certain estates in Somerset which belonged to William, earl of Salisbury. It is indicative of the trust in which the duke held our MP that when he made his will at Leicester in February 1398, he named him as one of the executors.6
Skelton was not elected as a Member of the Commons until January 1397, but he had attended no fewer than five of the six previous Parliaments as proxy for the abbot of Bury St. Edmunds (a task he agreed to perform in this Parliament as well and was to do again in those of 1404 and 1406), so he was by no means ignorant of parliamentary procedure.Although not a shire knight in the Parliament of 1397 (Sept.) he was called to Shrewsbury for its second and brief final session in January 1398, when, as a necessary corollary of the repeal of the Acts of the Merciless Parliament, the judges and other leading members of the legal profession (of which Skelton, by now a prominent apprentice-at-law, was clearly one), were asked their opinions as to whether the judges summoned to Nottingham by Richard II in 1387 had spoken loyally and justly concerning the King’s prerogatives. Skelton agreed with his colleagues that this was so, thus endorsing Richard’s acts of revenge.When, that February, an assize due to be held in Hampshire was postponed, this was because by the King’s command Skelton was elsewhere and could not attend. None of this was held against him at the time of Richard’s deposition: indeed, he was a Member of the Parliament which acclaimed the new regime, and he was retained for several years by Henry of Bolingbroke in the duchy stewardship (which he had continued to hold without break over the period of the duchy’s confiscation in 1399). That he was thus able to keep the confidence of Gaunt, Richard II and Henry IV during years of political crisis gives us good reason to suppose that they all held him in high esteem.7
In the meantime, Skelton had made a very profitable third marriage, to the thrice-widowed Joan Sandys, a tenant of duchy of Lancaster lands in the south. By the turn of the century, therefore, he had become a wealthy man, enjoying not only his annual fee of £100 from the chief stewardship, but also an income from estates in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Sussex and Cambridgeshire conservatively estimated in 1412 at £190 p.a. All but £43 of this landed income (that coming from his property in Cambridgeshire) was acquired as a consequence of his marriage to Joan Sandys. After her death in 1415 Skelton encountered some difficulties, largely because he sought to retain possession of the premises she had held as dower from her first husband, Giles Norman. But a man of his influence could easily overcome local opposition; he allegedly packed a jury at the assizes thereby obtaining the condemnation for damages of £400 of the rival claimant, Robert Peny, and bringing about the latter’s imprisonment. The unfortunate Peny petitioned the Parliament of 1415 against his powerful adversary, but was nevertheless kept a prisoner in the Fleet until after Sir Thomas’s death. Skelton’s last marriage had afforded him entry into the Hampshire community and, although he had continued to sit as a j.p. in Cambridgeshire, by this date he had also served on the Hampshire bench for a considerable time, and had been returned to two Parliaments for that county.
Skelton’s years of experience as a lawyer and magistrate clearly made him an authority on matters of law, and the government called on him to hear appeals from the court of admiralty and to determine suits as far afield as Herefordshire and Norfolk. The Commons of 1406, too, recognized his capabilities and selected him for a committee established to discuss with the King’s Council the terms under which the merchants were to undertake the safeguard of the seas, and also to sit on another such body whose purpose was to ensure that the roll of the Parliament was correctly engrossed when the House disbanded. Skelton’s last official post, after 25 years of almost continual service to the Crown, was as controller of customs at Southampton, and this he performed with his customary thoroughness. Indeed, in consideration of the ‘grant profit et avantage’ he had obtained for the Crown in the pursuit of its debtors, he received a reward of £20.8
Over the course of his career, Skelton had occasionally been involved in transactions with religious houses: in 1388 he and Robert Carbonel† and others had exchanged with the abbey of Bruisyard (Suffolk), the reversion of certain properties in Cambridgeshire for the manor of Wilton in Norfolk; and in 1404 along with Chief Justice Gascoigne, he had granted an area of woodland in Suffolk to Bury St. Edmunds abbey, to support certain charges for the soul of Thomas Monchensey. However, it was not until he came to compose his will, on 2 May 1416, that he made any permanent provisions for religious services for his own soul’s welfare. He left £10 to the church at Hinxton (2 for repairs and £8 towards the construction of a south aisle), and gave instructions to his principal executor, Roger Whelpdale, provost of Queen’s college, Oxford, and afterwards (1420-3) bishop of Carlisle, to complete arrangements for more ambitious projects. Whelpdale, in his own will, stated that the sum of £200 raised from the sale of certain of his estates was to be used to found a chantry where a priest might pray for the souls of Skelton and Master John Glaston. (The chantry of St. Roke in the cathedral church of Carlisle was probably the one built in fulfilment of Whelpdale’s request.) Also in remembrance of Sir Thomas, Whelpdale donated 4d. to an elemosinary chest he had himself endowed at Queen’s college. Skelton died on 5 May and was buried in Hinxton church, next to his first two wives. The Sandys estates passed to his stepson, Sir Walter Sandys*, but before his death he had placed his other properties, in Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Cumberland, in the hands of feoffees, headed by Whelpdale, who sold them, presumably spending the proceeds on the religious foundations already mentioned. All of Skelton’s children predeceased him.9
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. R.A. Griffiths, Principality of Wales, i. 122-3.
- 2. Somerville, Duchy, i. 155, 427.
- 3. RP, iii. 569, 585.
- 4. Testamenta Karleolensia ed. Ferguson, 130; CIPM, xii. 40, 401; xiv. 199; J. Nicolson and R. Burn, Westmld. and Cumb. 340-1; Cumb. and Westmld. Arch. Soc. tract ser. ii. 174-5; CPL, iv. 493; CIMisc. iii. 919; CCR, 1369-74, p. 421; 1377-81, p. 201; CFR, viii. 266, 311, 337; C136/106/38.
- 5. CCR, 1381-5, pp. 212, 448-9, 576; 1385-9, pp. 155, 467, 599; CPR, 1381-5, p. 183; 1391-6, pp. 583, 608; Corporation of London RO, hr 115/158.
- 6. CPR, 1389-92, p. 435; 1391-6, pp. 351, 529; 1408-13, pp. 50-51; Somerville, i. 67, 125, 155, 367, 427; CCR, 1392-6, p. 235; 1396-9, p. 153; 1399-1402, p. 264; S. Armitage-Smith, John of Gaunt, 430.
- 7. SC10/37/1821, 1834, 38/1876, 39/1921, 1941, 40/1971, 42/2058, 2083, 43/2129; RP, iii. 358; CCR, 1396-9, p. 244.
- 8. Feudal Aids, vi. 406, 449, 525, 535, 627; RP, iii. 83, 111; E404/23/266.
- 9. CPR, 1385-9, p. 527; 1401-5, p. 372; 1416-22, p. 6; 1422-9, p. 290; PCC 34 Marche; Bodl. Rawlinson ms B275 f. 171; CCR, 1413-19, pp. 333, 418-19, 448, 450; Reg. Chichele, ii. 239-40; Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Arch. Soc. n.s. lx. 74. J.R. Magrath in Queen’s Coll. i. 73, 137 and Obituary Bk. Queen’s Coll. (Oxf. Hist. Soc. lvi), 5, 56, erroneously refers to him as Sir John Skelton.