THORNBURGH, William, of Longsleddale and Whinfell, Westmld.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Nov. 1414

Family and Education

prob. s. and h. of William Thornburgh (b.1340) of Longsleddale and Whinfell by a da. of Robert Lengleys. m. poss. c.1383, Idonea, at least 5s. inc. Roland*, 1da.1

Offices Held

Commr. of gaol delivery, Carlisle castle Jan. 1390;2 array, Westmld. Mar. 1392; to partition the estates of Sir Alan Heton July 1394; of inquiry, Cumb., Yorks. Mar. 1406 (desertions to Welsh rebels).

Escheator, Cumb., Northumb. and Westmld. 24 Oct. 1392-Nov. 1394.

Collector of taxes, Westmld. Nov. 1392, July 1413.

Alnager, Westmld. 20 July 1394-17 Oct. 1399.


By the mid 14th century the Thornburghs were in possession of property in the Westmorland villages of Longsleddale, Selside, Skelsmergh and Whinfell near Kendal, which they held as feudal tenants of the earls of Oxford. Roland Thornburgh, who succeeded to these estates in 1359, sat on the county bench and served on various royal commissions, as well as representing Westmorland in at least three Parliaments. On the last of these occasions, in 1373, he was returned together with his son, William, who seems on circumstantial evidence to have been our Member’s father. The two men are easily confused, but it looks very much as if William Thornburgh the elder died in the mid 1380s, about ten years after his own father. A collusive suit brought by Edmund Sandford, early in 1383, against the elder William for possession of the manor of Little Asby may, just possibly, mark the date of the younger William’s marriage, as his wife, Idonea, could well have been Sandford’s daughter.3 There is, however, no doubt at all that the subject of this biography began to take an active interest in local affairs on his appointment, in 1390, as a justice of gaol delivery at Carlisle. He later performed jury service there, too, although it was the county of Westmorland which chose him as a parliamentary representative; and it was there that he discharged most of his administrative duties. By the time of his third appearance in the House of Commons, in 1394, he occupied the escheatorship of Cumberland, Northumberland and Westmorland; and later in the same year he began a fairly lengthy term as alnager of Westmorland. He was already connected, through his mother, with the influential Lengleys family (as well as with the above-mentioned Sandfords), and his relations with other leading members of the northern gentry were further strengthened, in 1397, on the marriage of his young daughter, Margaret, to William, the son of John Mauchell of Crackenthorpe. The future Speaker, Sir Richard Redmayne*, considered him to be a suitable choice as his general attorney when he left England two years later on Richard II’s ill-fated expedition against the Irish: all in all there was no shortage of useful local contacts.4

The Lancastrian usurpation of 1399 had little effect upon William’s career, for although he left office as alnager in October of that year, the electors of Westmorland returned him to his fourth Parliament not too long afterwards, and, moreover, approved the candidacy of his eldest son, Roland, who first became a shire knight in January 1404. Roland, in turn, joined with another of his many relations, William Thornburgh the younger, to ensure that his father again took a seat in the Commons of November 1414, so the family as a whole evidently maintained a lively interest in the question of parliamentary representation. Our Member certainly put in a regular attendance at the Westmorland elections, being present on at least seven such occasions between May 1413 and 1425.5 The existence of a younger kinsman and namesake (who may perhaps have been his second son) causes some problems of identification from 1408 onwards, although we know that it was William Thornburgh the elder and his wife, Idonea, who, in March 1414, received a papal indult permitting them to make use of a portable altar. Either of the two Williams could have been engaged in a suit for debt against Richard Billingham at about this time: the involvement of our man in a particularly brutal feud with (Sir) John Lancaster I* is, on the other hand, beyond question. The quarrel, which arose over a struggle for control of some of the estates of the late Sir William Threlkeld*, came to a head on the early death of Roland Thornburgh. The latter had not only been guardian of Threlkeld’s young son, but also appears to have married the boy’s widowed mother, Katherine; and it was at her manor of Meaburn Maulds, in July 1421, that an attempt was made on (Sir) John’s life. We do not know if Katherine laid the trap on her father-in-law’s instructions, although William Thornburgh the elder is said to have ordered four of his sons to hide armour and weapons in a bedchamber so that they could murder the sleeping knight. Despite the failure of their plot, the Thornburghs pursued their vendetta, actually going so far as to disrupt the sessions of the peace held in Appleby a few months later to investigate their crimes. It is, however, unlikely that William himself joined his sons when they went into hiding in Lancashire, or that he lived to see the final settlement of the dispute, which was effected on the initiative of Roland’s son, yet another William, some six years later.6

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xx. 82, 88-90; CIPM, xi. no. 474; CPL, vi. 406; RP, iv. 163-4. The ped. of Wm. Thornburgh given in Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xiv. 61-62 is completely unreliable, not least because he is confused with his putative father.
  • 2. C66/329 m. 17v.
  • 3. Recs. Kendale ed. Farrer and Curwen, i. 224, 240, 253, 302, 303; Peds. Plea Rolls ed. Wrottesley, 144-5; CIPM, x. no. 605; Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xx. 82, 88-90.
  • 4. JUST 1/3/70/1; CPR, 1396-9, p. 519; Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. viii. 423, ped. facing p. 466.
  • 5. C219/11/2, 5, 6, 8, 12/3, 4, 5, 13/3.
  • 6. CP25(1)249/8/17; CPL, vi. 406; Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xiv. 62; RP, iv. 163-4.