STORMSWORTH, Richard (d.1397), of Northampton.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
s. of Richard Stormsworth (fl. 1389), of Welford, Northants. m. by Oct. 1391, Katherine, at least 1s.1
Tax collector, Northampton Dec. 1380.
Bailiff, Northampton Mich. 1386-7.2
One of the most colourful, and certainly one of the most truculent, characters to represent Northampton during our period, Stormsworth was frequently involved in disputes of one kind or another with his neighbours. Despite the fact that he is not mentioned before December 1380 (when he became a tax collector), he must already have been a figure of some consequence in the Northampton area to secure such a post. His appointment as bailiff followed six years later, and not long afterwards he experienced his first brush with the law. At about this time a local burgess took him to court for averring threats, although in November 1388 he managed to obtain a writ of supersedeas, and thus halted the legal proceedings. It is worth noting that one of his mainpernors then, and on a subsequent occasion, was the influential London mercer, Thomas Newton*, which suggests that Stormsworth had already established connexions in the City. His father, who, like him, probably earned his living through the wool trade, was still alive in 1389, the date of certain letters appointing the future MP to act as his attorney ‘in all services, purchases and sales, and especially in the receipt of debts’. We do not know exactly how much property Stormsworth himself was able to accumulate in Northampton, although his wife, whom he married at some point before October 1391, brought him a life interest in a messuage and six shops, leased at an annual rent of 40s from Sir Thomas Green and his heirs.3
By March 1393 Stormsworth was again in trouble with the authorities, this time because of allegations that he had tried to defraud two local woolmongers through the use of counterfeit weights. The charges, if true, could have proved extremely serious, and they did indeed result in the temporary forfeiture of his goods by the mayor of Northampton, John Fox†. As events were to reveal, however, the latter already bore a personal grudge against our Member, who promptly sued out a writ of replevin and had the case transferred to the royal courts. The overt cause of friction between the two men was Fox’s espousal of lollardy and his enthusiastic support of heretical preachers in the town, although Stormsworth no doubt used this weapon against his enemy as the most effective means of gaining revenge in the course of a less high-minded private quarrel. He certainly seized the opportunity to achieve personal advancement at Fox’s expense, and his motives in petitioning the King about the mayor’s unorthodox views cannot wholly be attributed to a burning sense of religious zeal. His complaint, which was made in the spring of 1391 and probably followed just after the confiscation of his effects, is particularly interesting because of the amount of detailed information which it contains about the spread of lollardy in Northampton. Stormsworth claimed to have made a valiant stand against the growing band of heretics in the town, although his attempt to barrack a lollard preacher merely provoked a murderous attack, launched upon him in the church itself by the mayor and his supporters. His subsequent indictment on 14 Jan. 1393 before a hand-picked local jury appears to have been little more than an empty charade, and he was duly found guilty of disturbing the peace and causing an affray. Within a matter of weeks, however, the tables were reversed, and despite the efforts of his many loyal adherents, including the town bailiff, John Spring*, Fox was removed from office and thrown into Nottingham castle.
Yet if Stormsworth hoped to capitalize from his adversary’s fall he was sadly disappointed. Although pursued with great vigour and unscrupulousness, his plan to obtain the mayoralty for himself came to nothing with the issue in the following September of royal letters close which not only ordered a free and fair election but also debarred his own candidature on the grounds that he stood
indicted and not yet acquitted of felonies, deceits and evil doings committed within the town against the King and others of the people; [and that] scheming to obtain his deliverance ... [he had] procured letters of the King’s signet to them addressed for his election as mayor for the coming year contrary to the said liberties [of Northampton].4
How far the rival faction had conspired to frustrate Stormsworth’s plans cannot now be determined, but the affair seems to have died down quickly; and in October 1395 he received a formal pardon from the King with respect to any ‘contempts, trespasses, frauds, deceits and unjust and excessive weighings of wools’. These letters make no mention of yet another of the MP’s exploits, which may then still have been the subject of litigation begun in the court of Chancery in the previous year by Joan Scaldwell of Brixworth in Northamptonshire. She accused him of having ‘assigned, procured and conducted’ six of his servants to ambush and rob her husband, in September 1393, and of having subsequently ridden about the country ‘from day to day armed with six or seven bowmen in warlike manner’, so that nobody would dare bring him to book for his crimes. Stormsworth was also said to have bragged openly that even if he had murdered Scaldwell and all of his neighbours as well he could still have secured a royal pardon without any trouble: a boast which, in the event, seems not to have been too far-fetched. Although he was summoned before the chancellor in November 1394, Stormsworth evidently went unpunished, even though there is good reason to suppose that he was, indeed, surrounded by a gang of malefactors. One of his servants was eventually imprisoned in Newgate for stealing gold and silver plate worth £40 at about this time, and there were other complaints about their nefarious activities.5
Meanwhile, in February 1395, Stormsworth went surety for Johin Warwick I*, who had been made the farmer of certain royal estates in Northamptonshire. On the death of his kinsman, John Stormsworth (who may even have been his elder brother), he seized the opportunity to purchase the property in Welford and Sibbertoft, Northamptonshire, and North Harborough and South Kilworth, Leicestershire, which the deceased had previously settled upon trustees. He further consolidated his holdings in February 1397, when he was awarded a crown tenancy of two cottages in Northampton at an annual rent of 6s.8d. He was then sitting in the House of Commons, for the borough electors had chosen to forget his earlier misdeeds and return him to Parliament. Not for long, however, did he enjoy the benefits of his new-found respectability. He died on 24 Oct. of that year, leaving a will which has now been lost, but in which he is said to have made provision for new works at Welford parish church. To his son and heir, Richard, fell the burden of paying off John Stormsworth’s trustees, who were still owed £40 for the estates which they had sold in 1395.6
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. CCR, 1389-92, p. 392; Add. Chs. 5998-9, 6046.
- 2. Northampton Recs. ed. Markham and Cox, ii. 556.
- 3. CCR, 1385-9, p. 625; 1389-92, p. 392; Add. Ch. 6046.
- 4. C. Kightly, ‘Early Lollards’ (York Univ. D. Phil. thesis, 1975), 106, 108-10; SC8/142/7099; K.B. McFarlane, Wycliffe, 143; CCR, 1392-6, pp. 52, 167.
- 5. Procs. Chancery Eliz. ed. Caley and Bayley, i. p. v; C258/49/17A; CPR, 1391-6, p. 627; CCR, 1399-1402, p. 350.
- 6. CPR, 1391-6, p. 627; Add. Chs. 5998-9.