THRELKELD, Sir William (1347-1408), of Threlkeld, Cumb. and Crosby Ravensworth, 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



Jan. 1380
Jan. 1390

Family and Education

b.1347, s. and h. of John Threlkeld (d.v.p.), by Alice (d. by Jan. 1387), da. of John Hodelston; gds. and h. of Sir William Threlkeld (d. Oct. 1371) of Threlkeld and Crosby Ravensworth. m. (1) by 1385, Margaret (d. aft. Dec. 1393), 2da.; (2) by 1399, Katherine, 1s. Kntd. by Apr. 1379.1

Offices Held

Commr. of oyer and terminer, Cumb. Nov. 1375, Jan. 1376 (attacks on Roger, Lord Clifford’s property at Kirkowsald), Westmld. Dec. 1376, July 1377 (poaching in Lord Clifford’s parks); array Feb. 1379, Dec. 1383, Mar., Aug. 1384, June, Aug. 1388,2 Mar. 1392, Dec. 1399, Sept. 1403; to suppress the insurgents of 1381, Mar., Dec. 1382; of inquiry, Cumb. Sept. 1393, Aug. 1394 (claim by Maud, countess of Northumberland, to the castle of Cockermouth); to prevent the spread of treasonous rumours, Westmld. May 1402.

Collector of taxes, Westmld. Aug. 1379, Nov. 1392, Mar. 1395, Cumb. May 1398.

Chief forester of Inglewood forest, Cumb. 8 June 1387-27 Dec. 1389.

J.p. Westmld. 12 Dec. 1393-Mar. 1397, 28 Nov. 1399-Dec. 1405, 8 Feb. 1407-d.


One of the most prominent gentry families in the north-west, the Threlkelds had established themselves as landowners of note by the late 13th century. It was then that Henry Threlkeld, sometime under sheriff of Westmorland, received a royal grant of rights of free warren on his manors of Crosby Ravensworth, Yanwath, Tebay and Roundthwaite in Westmorland. He also owned the manor of Threlkeld in Cumberland (whence the family took its name); and at some point either he or one of his immediate descendants acquired the manor of Ousby and other property near Penrith, in the same county. Sir William Threlkeld senior, our Member’s grandfather, had four sons, the eldest of whom, John, received the holdings around Penrith on his marriage, in 1343, to Alice Hodelston. The youngest, another William, was the child of his father’s second marriage, and shared with his mother a life interest in part of the manor of Ousby, but the rest of the family estates were entailed upon John and his issue. John was still alive in 1367 when he took part with his father and brothers in an armed raid on Sir Richard Vernon’s manor of Meaburn Maulds, although he died shortly afterwards. Consequently it was his son and heir, the subject of this biography, who succeeded Sir William on his death in October 1371, taking immediate possession of a substantial inheritance. The young man’s mother, Alice, retained as dower a modest estate in Yanwath and Bolton, the reversion of which he promptly settled upon a group of feoffees. A royal pardon, accorded to him later, in June 1377, was probably intended to afford protection for any infringement of crown rights at this time.3

Before long, William Threlkeld was appointed to his first royal commission in the north-west; and from 1375 onwards he maintained an active interest in the business of local government. In common with most landowners of note, he had also to devote a good deal of time to legal affairs, notably with regard to the setting up of trusts and the protection of his various franchises and interests. In May 1378, for example, he settled the manor of Crosby Ravensworth upon feoffees, this being the first of a long series of conveyances made to secure his title to the property. He was also anxious to terminate a longstanding quarrel resulting from his grandfather’s seizure of land in Bretherdale from Byland abbey; and in 1379 he restored the holdings which Sir William had retained ‘in no small peril to his soul’. He had himself by then been knighted, and was preoccupied with two lawsuits in the court of common pleas at Westminster. One concerned the loss of a valuable horse through negligent treatment by a farrier, while the other was an attempt to recover damages of £10 from trespassers at Yanwath. Since he already had this personal business on hand at Westminster, Sir William was, no doubt, happy to represent Westmorland in the House of Commons, especially as this would warrant the payment of his expenses. As representative for Westmorland in the first Parliament of 1380, he joined with other Members from the northern counties in protesting over ‘les tres grantz meschefs et damages’ caused by raiding parties from Scotland, made worse by the deplorable state of English defences along the border. He probably seized the opportunity to begin another suit for trespass, which reached the courts a few months later.4

Sir William again represented Westmorland in the Parliament of 1381, having previously stood surety at the Exchequer for the farmers of the cloth subsidy in the far north of England. Notwithstanding the incessant battle waged by him against poachers and trespassers on his own estates, he showed a marked contempt for the rights of other landowners, and in July 1382 the earl of Northumberland complained about thefts of game and other damage done by him at Cockermouth. The offences evidently went unpunished; and in 1387 Sir William actually became keeper of the royal forest of Inglewood in Cumberland. However, he occupied the post only briefly, not as a result of any further misconduct on his part, but because the previous incumbent, Thomas, Lord Clifford, wished to be reinstated. Sir William’s mother died at some point shortly before 1387, leaving him free to farm out her land in Penrith. A transaction whereby he agreed to pay his uncle, Geoffrey Threlkeld, a rent of £24 p.a. over a period of four years, with the manor of Threlkeld as security, is rather harder to understand, but he may perhaps have wished to buy out whatever residual title still belonged to him.5

Much less is known about Sir William’s personal affairs during the 1390s, although his removal from the Westmorland bench in March 1397 and his reappointment after the Lancastrian coup d’état two years later suggest that his sympathies lay with the newly crowned Henry IV. His first wife, Margaret, died during this period, leaving two daughters as coheirs to the lands in Yanwath which she had held as a jointure. One of the girls, Margaret, married the influential landowner, John Lancaster I*, while her sister became the wife of his younger brother, William Lancaster of Yanwath. Sir William’s appearance, in March 1399, as a juror at the inquisition post mortem held on their father suggests that he remained on friendly terms with the Lancasters, at least while they stood to inherit all his estates through their wives. Late in the following September, however, his second wife, Katherine, gave birth to a son, who was baptized at Threlkeld church, and who replaced his sisters as Sir William’s heir presumptive. The boy’s prospects improved even further in 1401 on the death without issue of his great-uncle, William, whose share of the manor of Ousby now reverted to the main line of the Threlkeld family. Two years later Sir William paid a relief for the manor, which made a welcome addition to his rent-roll. Despite his advancing years, he remained as active as ever, sitting on the bench, representing Westmorland again in the Parliament of 1402 and acting as a royal commissioner during the turbulent early years of the 15th century. He attended the county elections to the Parliament of 1407, too, being named first on the list of persons attesting the return.6

Sir William died on 8 Dec. 1408, having entrusted certain outlying property in Penrith, Bolton and Kendale to trustees, no doubt in the hope of depriving the Crown of its customary rights of wardship there. His son, Henry, was of course still a minor, and within a matter of days Henry IV awarded his marriage and the custody of his inheritance jointly to Sir Robert Urswyk and Thomas Strickland II*. In the following February Urswyk alone was named as guardian, although delays in the holding of the necessary inquisitions meant that nothing was done until August. A new arrangement was made in February 1410 whereby Roland Thornburgh* undertook to farm the Threlkeld estates at an annual rent of £63; but when dower was finally assigned to the widowed Katherine Threlkeld one month later, Urswyk and Strickland were still acting as the boy’s guardians. Since Katherine successfully asserted a claim to part of the manors of Yanwath and Threlkeld as her jointure, the keepership of her son’s property was by no means as lucrative as might at first have appeared. Furthermore, his two half-sisters were heiresses as well, albeit on a more limited scale. Henry, who married the daughter of his guardian, Roland Thornburgh, came of age in 1420, and proceeded to buy back his half-sisters’ estates in Yanwath. He died in 1452, by which date a bitter feud had developed between him and the Thornburghs, destined to last for many years. The latter also pursued a vendetta against (Sir) John Lancaster I, clearly as a result of their rival claims to part of the late Sir William Threlkeld’s property. It looks very much as if Roland Thornburgh eventually became Katherine’s husband, a fact which not only accounts for these protracted squabbles over Yanwath, but also explains why Roland’s father and brothers tried to murder (Sir) John when he stayed at her home in 1421.7

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


Variants: Thrilkeld, Thrylkeld(e).

  • 1. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. ix. ped. facing p. 298, 303-6; n.s. xxiii. 154, 172-4; CCR, 1409-13, pp. 16-17, 20-21; CIPM, xiii. no. 150.
  • 2. Rot. Scot. ed. Macpherson etc. ii. 58, 61, 67, 95.
  • 3. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. ix. 298-300; n.s. xxiii. 154, 169-72; CIPM, xiii. no. 150; CPR, 1367-70, p. 64; CFR, viii. 169; C67/28B m. 2.
  • 4. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xxiii. 172, 174; Recs. Kendale ed. Farrer and Curwen, i. 28, 233-4; Later Recs. N. Westmld. 271; RP, iii. 80-81.
  • 5. CCR, 1381-5, p. 94; CPR, 1381-5, p. 196; 1385-9, p. 305; 1388-92, p. 173; Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xxiii. 172-3.
  • 6. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. ix. 304; n.s. x. 486; CFR, xii. 125-6; C219/10/4.
  • 7. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. ix. ped. facing p. 298, 304-6; n.s. xxiii. 176-7, 181, 198-9; CFR, xiii. 137, 141; CPR, 1408-13, p. 164; CCR, 1405-9, pp. 493, 497; 1409-13, pp. 16-17, 20-21; RP, iv. 163-4.