STAVELEY, Sir Ralph (c.1362-c.1420), of Staveley, Cheshire.
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Family and Education
Commr. to raise men and lead them against the northern rebels, Lancs. July 1403; of array, Derbys. Sept. 1403, Notts., Derbys. May 1405; to make an arrest, Lancs. Oct. 1404; of oyer and terminer, Derbys. July 1406 (disorder at Eckington).
Steward, bailiff and master forester of the High Peak in the duchy of Lancaster, Derbys. and constable of the castle of the High Peak 3 Sept. 1403-15 Feb. 1420.2
J.p. Derbys. Feb. 1404-Feb. 1407.
Sheriff, Lancs. 7 Mar. 1411-11 Oct. 1413.3
Sir Ralph’s ancestors are known to have lived in Staveley as feudal tenants of the Macclesfield family from the reign of Edward I, if not before. His father, Robert, discharged various commissions in the county and also served from about 1389 as a justice in eyre at the Macclesfield sessions. A loyal supporter of the house of Lancaster, he became steward of Macclesfield ten years later, the previous incumbent having been executed as a supporter of Richard II. By marrying one of his daughters to Sir John Assheton I*, Robert established a valuable connexion across the border in Lancashire; and his influence there was further strengthened when his son, our MP, eventually took as his wife Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir Ralph Radcliffe. As well as being wealthy landowners with considerable authority in their own right, both Radcliffe and Assheton were prominent (albeit in Radcliffe’s case sometimes disaffected) retainers of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, so it is hardly surprising that Ralph donned the same livery. He is first mentioned in September 1386 when, as a young man of about 24, he travelled to Stockport to give evidence in the dispute between Sir Robert Grosvenor and Richard, Lord Scrope, over the right to bear the same coat of arms. He may, perhaps, have already entered the household of Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, for by the time of the latter’s first expedition to Prussia, in 1390, he had come to occupy a position of some trust. During the course of this venture, in which Bolingbroke joined forces with the Teutonic Knights in a crusade against the Lithuanians, he acted as steward, supervising various personal disbursements (such as Bolingbroke’s losses at dice) and remaining in constant attendance upon his master.
In November 1391, a few months after his return to England, Ralph and the Derbyshire landowner, Roger Leche*, offered securities of £100 on behalf of one Thomas Skelton, who had become involved in a violent dispute with two London fishmongers; and a few days later he performed a similar service when Leche himself was bound over to keep the peace towards another group of citizens. His position as an esquire of the body to Henry of Bolingbroke was formally recognized in the following January when he received an annuity of ten marks, assigned for life by Gaunt from the revenues of Lancashire. It was probably at about this time that the duke permitted him to take an additional five marks annually from the profits of grazing land in the High Peak area of Derbyshire, where his family appears to have exercised some territorial interests. Ralph may, furthermore, already have been drawing a third fee of ten marks p.a. from Daventry in Northamptonshire, awarded expressly for his past and future loyalty to Bolingbroke. While in attendance upon the latter at Court in the following summer and autumn, supplementary payments of £16 6s.1½d. were made to him to cover his expenses, so he clearly derived considerable financial benefit from their association. Bolingbroke embarked on a second journey to Prussia in 1393, accompanied by Ralph and many other of his former companions. The riotous behaviour of the English caused a serious rift with their hosts, and Bolingbroke decided to abandon his plans for a crusade, disband most of his followers, and travel to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage instead. Ralph accompanied him as far as Venice, supervising the distribution of alms and undertaking other personal tasks on his behalf.4
As one of the Lords Appellant of 1388, Bolingbroke never entirely allayed the suspicion of treachery felt towards him by Richard II, who, at long last, in September 1398 contrived to send him into exile. Such, however, was the King’s desire to reassure and win over Henry’s leading retainers that, barely a fortnight after this sentence was pronounced, he issued letters patent awarding substantial fees of £20 p.a. to Ralph and his father, and 20 marks to Ralph’s younger brother, Thomas. If he hoped thus to win their support he was sadly mistaken, for when Bolingbroke returned to England in the summer of 1399, to claim the inheritance which had been confiscated on the death of his father in the previous February, the Staveleys welcomed him with enthusiasm. His seizure of the throne brought with it the promise of advancement for the entire family, and led, as we have seen, to Robert Staveley’s appointment as steward of Macclesfield. Ralph was not only confirmed in his four existing annuities, but was also awarded a substantial new one of £40 p.a. charged upon the lordship of West Derby in Lancashire. In all, he now received £70 a year from the Crown, as well as such valuable marks of favour as gifts of timber from Derbyshire and preferential treatment in the court of the chamber of the duchy of Lancaster. In 1402, for example, a dispute over his right to collect rents in the High Peak, in which the King’s interests ran contrary to his own, was decided unequivocally in his favour.5 Even more profitable to him was the wardship of the estates and person of his young stepson, Edmund Trafford, which, together with rights of marriage, was awarded to him in May 1403 by the King. The boy’s inheritance, comprising the manors of Trafford and Edgeworth in Lancashire, produced well over £20 a year; and later, in 1410, Ralph became guardian of Edmund’s kinsman, John Trafford, who had succeeded to property in Chorlton. Meanwhile, in August 1403, our MP, who had been recently knighted (perhaps at the battle of Shrewsbury in the previous month), attended a great council at Westminster as a representative for Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. His authority in the High Peak was greatly strengthened in the following September, when King Henry bestowed upon him the offices of steward, bailiff and master forester there, as well as the constableship of the castle which stood at the centre of this wealthy and important duchy of Lancaster lordship. In addition to the enviable reserves of patronage thus placed at his disposal, Sir Ralph found himself richer by at least £31 a year; and these customary wages were clearly augmented by other emoluments, bribes and gifts.6
Not surprisingly, the electors of Lancashire were anxious to be represented in Parliament by one who commanded such great influence both locally and at Court; and, in the autumn of 1404, at Coventry, Sir Ralph took his seat in the House of Commons for the first time. The session was still sitting when, on 8 Nov., he secured the lease, at £36 6s.8d. p.a. for the next six years, of all grazing rights in the High Peak (the contract being renewed at a later date to last until 1421). Just a few months later, Sir Ralph went surety for John Macclesfield in the court of Chancery. He had already agreed to underwrite the sum of £416 which his second brother, Oliver, owed to the prince of Wales for the wardship and marriage of his young stepson, William Venables. Thanks to another act of royal generosity Oliver, too, had been allowed to marry into a wealthy landowning family whose estates were held by a minor, becoming a figure of some consequence in Cheshire as a result. Sir Ralph’s own relations with the prince grew even closer because of his involvement in the wars against the Welsh, for during the spring and early summer of 1406 he took up arms, possibly in the company of his old friend (Sir) Roger Leche, with whom he was again associated as a mainpernor at this time. On the death of their father, during the course of the next four years, the three Staveley brothers assumed the task of executing his will. The bulk of his estates descended to Sir Ralph, who not long afterwards began a term as sheriff of Lancashire. It is interesting to note that during his tenure of office his sister’s stepson, Sir John Assheton II*, was twice elected to Parliament, Sir Ralph being responsible for making the return.7
In January 1413 Sir Ralph, who had presumably encountered the usual problems experienced by pensioners of the Crown, surrendered the royal letters patent of 1398 awarding him £20 p.a. from the Exchequer, on the condition that a corresponding reduction would be made in the farm which he himself paid for grazing rights in the High Peak. All his remaining annuities and offices were confirmed a few months later by the newly crowned Henry V, his fee from West Derby being then increased by a further 60 marks a year, no doubt as a reward for past services in the field. It was consequently to be expected that, in common with many other leading members of the Lancashire and Cheshire gentry, Sir Ralph would give enthusiastic support to King Henry’s plans for an invasion of France. His personal retinue in the army which left England in the summer of 1415 comprised four men-at-arms and 12 archers, along with a contingent of 50 archers raised by the Crown for which he eventually received £113 15s. in wages. We do not know whether he took part in Henry’s second expedition to Normandy, two years later, but he certainly died before 1420, when his brother, Thomas, inherited his estates.8
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Variants: Stavele, Stavelegh, Stavlegh. The name Staveley can, in contemporary sources, be easily confused with Stanley or Stanelegh; and many scholars have fallen into this paleographical error. References to Sir Ralph are, therefore, frequently to be found under the name of Stanley.
- 1. Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 280; G. Ormerod, Palatine and City of Chester ed. Helsby, iii (2), 865-7; Chetham Soc. xcv. 63, 96-97; Lancs. Feet of Fines, iii. 69; J. Foster, Lancs. Peds. sub Trafford; PPC, ii. 88.
- 2. Somerville, Duchy, i. 551.
- 3. DKR, xl. 527; Chetham Soc. n.s. xcvi. 111.
- 4. Ormerod, iii (2), 865-6; DKR, xxxvi (2), 451; Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 280; DL42/15, f. 83, 16 (2), f. 20; CCR, 1389-92, pp. 506, 532; CPR, 1396-9, p. 566; Derby’s Expeds. (Cam. Soc. n.s. lii), 28, 31, 37, 39, 106, 115, 120, 126, 134, 138, 266, 276-8, 299.
- 5. CPR, 1396-9, p. 411; 1399-1401, p. 67; CCR, 1399-1402, p. 20; DL29/738/12098, 12100; DL42/15, ff. 83, 86, 120v-1v, 127, 154v.
- 6. PPC, ii. 88; Chetham Soc. xcv. 68, 96-97; Foster, loc. cit.; DL28/27/3.
- 7. DL42/16 (1), f. 29, (2), f. 74v; CPR, 1405-8, pp. 110, 145; CCR, 1405-9, pp. 86-87; Lancs. Feet of Fines, iii. 69; DKR, xxxvi (2), f. 446; Ormerod, iii (2), 867.
- 8. DL42/16 (2), f. 81v, 17 (1), ff. 3, 34; E404/31/227; DKR, xliv. 571; N.H. Nicolas, Agincourt, 384; VCH Lancs. ii. 212; Ormerod, iii (2), 865-7.