SPERLYNG, Andrew (d.1438), of Wycombe and Ludgershall, Bucks.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
Governor, Lincoln’s Inn 1 Nov. 1425-6.2
Escheator, Beds. and Bucks. 4 Nov. 1428-12 Feb. 1430.
J.p. Bucks. 1 Mar. 1431-d.
Commr. of oyer and terminer, Berks. Aug. 1432; weirs, Bucks., Mdx. Aug. 1433, Berks., Bucks., Oxon. May 1438; to distribute a tax rebate, Bucks. Jan. 1436; of inquiry, Berks., Bucks., Oxon. Feb. 1438 (condition and value of estates of the honour of Wallingford); sewers, Norf. May 1438.
Sperlyng, who was to become a distinguished lawyer and an associate of such prominent figures as Thomas Chaucer* of Ewelme and the latter’s successive sons-in-law, the earls of Salisbury and Suffolk, was the most important person to sit for Wycombe in this period. Probably the son of Nicholas Sperlyng, the former mayor and parliamentary burgess, Andrew was resident in the town during the early part of his career. He is first mentioned in 1411, standing surety for a man from Wendover in a plea for debt, and his election to Parliament two years later no doubt owed much to his growing competence in legal matters and skill as an advocate. Early in 1414 he and Thomas Sperlyng (perhaps his brother) were presented by the county escheator with the forfeited goods of local lollards convicted of complicity in Sir John Oldcastle’s* revolt: it is thus possible that the Sperlyngs had been involved in arresting them. In November of the same year, and again in March 1416, 1420, December 1421 and 1422, Andrew witnessed the Wycombe elections to Parliament.3 Meanwhile, in September 1420, with several fellow burgesses, he had been granted an annual rent of four marks from a tenement (presumably a tavern) called the Newe Inn, adjoining the close of Wycombe rectory. Early in 1421 he and two other men allegedly appeared in the town ‘armez et an manier de guerre’ and, ‘ove fort main saunce ascun manier de droit’ dispossessed four London citizens of two houses and 90 acres of land, thereafter retaining the profits until the owners were forced to bring a case against them in Chancery. How true these allegations were is unknown, but this is only the first of severaal appeals against Sperlyng for sharp practice in property transactions. The last record which definitely connects him with Wycombe occcurs in 1423, when he was holding land in the manor of Bassetsbury.4
All this while Sperlyng had been building up his legal practice; and, becoming much in demand as a trustee of landed estates both within Buckinghamshire and elsewhere, he ceased to have much time for purely local affairs. A member of Lincoln’s Inn by 1420, in 1425 he was elected as one of the Inn’s five governors, along with John Hampden† of Great Hampden, another Buckinghamshire lawyer, with whom he was to be frequently associated. Sperlyng’s connexion with Thomas Chaucer, five times Speaker of the Commons (although never so elected, when he himself was sitting), had already been established, for that same year he was able to call on Chaucer and the latter’s friend, John Golafre*, to assist him in his acquisition of a sizeable estate at Long Crendon, which included 16 houses and more than 300 acres of land and was subsequently known as ‘Sperlyng’s manor’. In the following year, he was again linked with Chaucer and Golafre, this time as their co-patron of the living of Nedging in Suffolk, doubtless acting on behalf of Alice, Chaucer’s only child, on whom the manor had been settled at the time of her marriage to Sir John Phelip*.5
Before too long, Sperlyng’s services were required by Alice Chaucer’s second husband, the great soldier, Thomas Montagu, earl of Salisbury: in the spring of 1428 the earl and his countess enfeoffed him and Richard Alred (subsequently receiver-general of the duchy of Lancaster) of the manors of Yealmpton and Stokenham, Devon, for the purpose of making a settlement on Alice in jointure. Following the earl’s death during the siege of Orléans, on 9 Nov. that same year, the two men were among those left as his executors. That earl’s wil, dealing as it did with property in England and France, not to mention debts and bequests in both countries, was long and complicated, and cannot have been easy to administer. In December 1429 Sperlyng and his co-executors gave acquittance of a debt owed to Salisbury’s estate by Richard Neville, the earl’s son-in-law and successor to the title; and a month later they successfully petitioned the King’s Council for exemption from the levy of 6d. in the pound on the £100 which they needed to exchange into foreign currency before sending it to the friars of Mount Sion, in accordance with one of Salisbury’s legacies. Then, in April 1430, they demanded of the Exchequer the arrears of the late earl’s wages for military service in France. Parts of the will were still in dispute 1432, when William Montagu, Salisbury’s ‘cosyn’, demanded the lordship of Lambourn, Berkshire, which he claimed had been left to him by Earl Thomas, but which, as feoffees-to-uses, Sperlyng and John Golafre refused to relinquish. The executors still held Salisbury’s manor of Newhall in Boreham, Essex, in 1435, and certain of his properties in Hampshire in 1436 (when they conveyed the latter to William Montagu).6
In November 1428 Sperlyng had been appointed royal escheator in Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and it was while he was serving in this office that he and John Hampden were elected to represent Buckinghamshire in Parliament by no less than 129 members of the local community assembled at the shire court at Aylesbury on 31 Aug. 1429. The election, however, overruled by the sheriff, (Sir) Thomas Waweton*, who sent into Chancery an indenture describing an election purporting to have been held at the same time and place, at which 83 named men had elected Sir John Cheyne II* and Walter Strickland. Waweton’s record was already bad: in fact, only ten days before the débâcle at Aylesbury, he had been the prime mover in another irregular election, held in Huntingdonshire. His illegal operations in Buckinghamshire were soon exposed, perhaps because of a petition presented by Hampden and Sperlyng; and on 24 Sept., only two days after the opening of Parliament, a royal commission was set up to inquire into the case. Even so, it was not until after the Commons had finally been discharged on 1 Mar. 1430, a judicial hearing was conducted at Aylesbury before the justices of assize. This established that Hampden and Sperlyng had been duly elected, and that the false return had been made by Waweton ‘per auctoritatem suam propriam’. Thus found guilty of breach of the statute of 1406 against corrupt elections, Waweton was fined £100. The fine itself was apparently collected by Hampden and who three years later, in February 1433, received £8 from the Exchequer ‘for their labour, costs and expenses in obtaining £100 . . . from Sir Thomas Waweton . . . for permitting the elections of the knights for the county of Buckinghamshire in a manner and form not accustomed’. In the meantime, the two lawyers had succeeded in obtaining election together as shire knights to the Parliament of 1431.7
It is possible that the disputed election of 1429 was linked in some way to the long-drawn-out quarrel over ownership of the manor of ‘Maudelyns’ in Northchurch, just across the county border in Hertfordshire, for not long after Waweton’s trial Sir John Cheyne II was to be indicted the King’s bench for criminal offences against the tenants of this property, of which Sperlyng had been acting as a trustee since 1426, by nomination of the then owner, William Strete. That the trusteeship was by no means of minor importance is suggested by Strete’s nomination of none other than the Protector, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, to head the body of trustees. On the other hand, no positive evidence of a personal quarrel between Sperlyng and Cheyne has been found; and the former would even appear to have been on good terms with Sir John’s kinsman, John Cheyne* of Chenies, for not only did he act in 1430 on the latter’s behalf as a feoffee of the Buckinghamshire manor of Ellesborough, but also, three years later, he was given a fiduciary interest in the manors of Buckingham and Bourton which belonged to his wife.8
Before the end of 1430 Sperlyng had entered the service of William de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, who was shortly to marry Alice (née Chaucer), the widowed countess of Salisbury. In October that year, he was made a feoffee by Suffolk of various of his estates in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire, and within a year he was also enfeoffed of manors in East Anglia, the purpose of all these transactions being the settlement of the property jointly on the earl and his new countess. Then, in 1433, he and two other regular appointees of the earl—John Hampden and Richard Restwold II*—were put in charge of certain holdings in Somerset, Wiltshire and Hampshire, which were destined to be used by Suffolk to endow his new almshouse at Ewelme. Throughout this period, Sperlyng had continued to be associated with de la Pole’s father-in-law, Thomas Chaucer. Together with John Golafre and Robert Danvers†, he had taken possession of the manors of Huntingfield (Suffolk) and Langham (Essex) which, in 1433, they leased to Chaucer and his wife for £13 6s.8d. a year, only to convey the reversionary rights (destined to fall in after the death of Chaucer’s widow) to his daughter and her husband. Then, in July 1434, he went surety for the former Speaker when he obtained at the Exchequer custody of Addington, Buckinghamshire, during the minority of his ward, Eleanor Moleyns. At that time, he himself was described as residing at Ludgershall, another Moleyns manor, not far from his place at Long Crendon.9
The earls of Salisbury and Suffolk were not the only members of the nobility to make use of Sperlyng’s knowledge of estate management: in the early 1430s he had been acting as steward of certain manorial holdings in Buckinghamshire belonging to Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, from whom he received an annual fee of £4. While serving as a knight of the shire that same year, he had been appointed to the county bench, on which he remained until his death. He attended the shire court for the parliamentary elections of 1432 and 1433, and in May 1434 he was among the local gentry listed as liable to take the general oath not to maintain breakers of the peace. In the summer of 1435 Sperlyng took on yet another trusteeship—that of manors in Bedfordshire, Warwickshire and Dorset belonging to Sir John Cressy†, a ‘King’s knight’ then about to sail for France to join the forces of the Regent, the duke of Bedford. The Parliament to which he was elected that August was, when it met in October, to be preoccupied with the situation in France in the immediate aftermath of Bedford’s death and the collapse of the Anglo-Burgundian alliance, in particular with the need to finance a sizeable military expedition under the leadership of the duke of York. For this purpose, in the following February, the King’s Council requested loans from named individuals, and these included Sperlyng, whose contribution was expected to be £40, as befitted his status.10
Sperlyng was still a member of Lincoln’s Inn at this time, for in November 1436 he ‘promyssid that he wuld contynu on Cristismasse next comynge ynto after Newe Yere is Day, and yn Lenton than next comynge a monthe’. (Other senior members of the Inn made similar commitments to keep alternate vacations, possibly in order to teach law students.) In the same month, Sperlyng and others, nearly all lawyers, entered into recognizances for £1,000 with Humphrey, earl of Stafford, a bond which was, however, afterwards cancelled with the earl’s assent. At this time, too, Sperlyng became increasingly involved in the affairs of Isabel, widow of John Barton II*, a fellow member of Lincoln’s Inn. In the capacity of a feoffee of the manor of Dinton, Buckinghamshire, to Isabel’s use, in 1437 he and his fellows conveyed it in reversion to a syndicate acting on behalf of Robert Whittingham*; but subsequently, Whittingham alleged that, although he had paid 860 marks to have the manor outright (after negotiating the sale with Sperlyng as Isabel’s counsel), he was nevertheless unable to gain possession and was reduced to bringing an action in Chancery. A more complicated dispute concerned the Bartons’ manor of Stone, which Isabel conveyed to Sperlyng for 300 marks on condition that she would receive an annuity of £20 for life from the manorial issues. Shortly before his death Sperlyng sold Stone to Whittingham, whereupon the latter, professing ignorance of the agreement between him and Isabel, refused to pay the annuity, with the eventual outcome that Isabel and her second husband, Sir Robert Shotesbrooke†, had to petition the chancellor for redress.11
Sperlyng maintained his links with the earl of Suffolk until the end of his life: he twice acted as a surety in July 1437 when Suffolk obtained at the Exchequer custody of an inn called ‘the Quene’s Wardrobe’ in London, and of the confiscated lands of Thomas, Lord Bardoff, in Norfolk; and in the early part of 1438 he was appointed to three royal commissions on which his patron also served. On the lst of these—a commission of sewers dated 20 May—Sperlyng cannot have acted, for he died only six days later. His son and heir, William, was then 22 years old.12
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: Charles Kightly
- 1. CCR, 1441-7, pp. 361-2.
- 2. LI Black Bk. i. 2.
- 3. CCR, 1409-13, p. 236; E357/24 mm. 34, 67; C219/11/4, 8, 12/4, 6, 13/1.
- 4. HMC 5th Rep. 562-3; C1/5/114; St. George’s Chapel Windsor, recs xv/15/1 m. 4.
- 5. LI Adm. i. 3; VCH Bucks. iv. 43; CP25(1)22/118/18; Reg. Chichele, iii. 476; J. Copinger, Suff. iii. 197.
- 6. CPR, 1422-9, p. 478; Reg. Chichele, ii. 390-400; CAD, i. B57; ii. B2643; iv. A6994, 7009; PPC, iv. 15-16; Letters and Pprs. Illust. Wars of English in France ed. Stevenson, i. 403-21; C1/12/227; Essex Feet of Fines, iv. 21.
- 7. C219/14/1; CPR, 1429-36, p. 39; Issues ed. Devon, 416.
- 8. CCR, 1429-35, p. 56; VCH Bucks. ii. 332; CP25(1)22/120/2; VCH Herts. ii. 247; Harl. Ch. 56 F 30.
- 9. CCR, 1441-7, pp. 361-2; 1447-54, pp. 209-10; CAD, v. A10892; CPR, 1429-36, p. 346; 1436-41, p. 75; Bodl. d.d. Ewelme A 11, 14, 17; Essex Feet of Fines iv. 81, 21; CFR, xvi. 206-7.
- 10. SC12/18/45; C219/14/3, 4; CPR, 1429-36, pp. 397, 463; PPC, iv. 329.
- 11. LI Black Bk. i. pp. xxv, 6; CCR, 1435-41, p. 102; C1/9/207, 16/703-9; CPR, 1436-41, pp. 31, 51.
- 12. CFR, xvi. 339, 345; E149/164/1; CCR, 1447-54, pp. 342-3.