TURPIN, Nicholas (c.1365-c.1444), of Whitchester and Houghton, Northumb.

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



Family and Education

b.c.1365, s. and h. of Thomas Turpin (d. by 1377) of Whitchester and Houghton. m. (1) — Rutherford of Rudchester, 1da.; (2) Isabel Thorold, 2s.1

Offices Held

Coroner, Northumb. by 21 Sept. 1419-aft. 14 Feb. 1441.2


The Turpin family had established itself at Whitchester by the late 13th century, acquiring half the manor of Houghton (known as Close House) and other land in Wallington as well. The wardship of the young Nicholas Turpin, whose father died while he was still a child, was thus of some value; and in March 1377 Joan, the widow of William, Lord Greystoke, bestowed all her rights as guardian on John Belasise of Northumberland, by way of reward for his loyal service. Not much else is known about Nicholas’s early life, although he appears to have received some legal training. His frequent appearances as a juror, no less than his long term of office as a coroner of Northumberland, certainly suggest that he was learned in the law. In 1391, by which date he was already a well-known figure in marcher society, Nicholas appropriated for his own use the chantry at Close House together with a messuage and fairly extensive farmland. Since the Crown also advanced a claim to the benefice, Nicholas eventually found himself in trouble with the authorities; and much later, in 1414, an inquiry was held into the legality of his behaviour. For a brief period, indeed, Henry V actually seized the property and advowson into his own hands, but he agreed to relinquish them again because they proved so unprofitable. Perhaps in his capacity as a lawyer, Nicholas attended the baptisms of many children born into prominent Northumbrian families, including that, in October 1390, of Sir Thomas Umfraville’s* son, Gilbert. Immediately afterwards he rode to ‘Kemylispath’ for a meeting with George Dunbar, earl of March, whose dramatic defection to the English side, a decade or so later, in 1402, made possible the defeat of the Scots at the battle of Humbleton Hill.3

During the early years of the 15th century, Nicholas attested a number of deeds for such influential landowners as Christine, the mother of Sir John Middleton*, at whose inquisition post mortem, in 1422, he served as a juror. He was also present at similar inquisitions held in Newcastle-upon-Tyne after the deaths of Sir John Lilburn (1400), Sir Thomas Gray* (1401), Sir William Carnaby* (1408), the latter’s widow, Isabel (1412), and the wealthy merchant, Roger Thornton* (1430).4 He likewise gave evidence to establish the coming-of-age of Nicholas Heron (1407), Henry Lilburn (1407), the abovementioned Gilbert Umfraville (1412), the Carnabys’ son, William (1412), and Thomas, the future Lord Lumley (1431). Naturally enough, his services as a trustee were also in demand, most notably in 1409, when he and (Sir) John Mitford* became feoffees of the manor of Swarland in Northumberland; and seven years later when he helped Sir John Darcy’s son, Robert, to acquire West Merrington in the palatinate of Durham.5

In view of this constant activity, it is perhaps surprising that Nicholas did not represent Northumberland in Parliament until December 1420, when he was already 55 years old. He is known to have attended the county elections to the Parliaments of 1407, 1413 (May) and 1419—and he subsequently attested the returns of 1422 and 1425 as well—so there were presumably other opportunities for him to press his candidacy had he so wished. His eventual decision to seek election may well have been influenced by a bitter personal quarrel arising from an inquest taken by him as county coroner after the murder of William Michelson (a steward of the duke of Bedford) by a Scottish raiding party on 11 June of that year, although matters did not really come to a head until the beginning of January 1421. It was then that his colleague and avowed enemy, Thomas Wytle, held a second inquest, at which Nicholas himself was indicted for ‘abetting, counselling and aiding the death, and for other felonies and treasons’. On 21 Apr. following, he was bound over in securities of £40 to do no harm to the deceased’s widow, Agnes Michelson, who had evidently conspired with Wytle to obtain a conviction. Of far greater consequence, however, was the confiscation of all his goods, which were not restored until a strenuous protest had been made to the Parliament of May 1421, and only then in return for bonds of equivalent value offered by John Strother*, William Mitford* and others. In the end, Nicholas managed to clear himself of Wytle’s calumnies, and all further attempts to remove him as coroner proved unsuccessful. In July 1422, for example, the sheriff was ordered to replace him because he lacked the necessary qualifications, but he clung stubbornly to office despite subsequent allegations, in 1435 and 1441, that he was ‘too sick and aged’ to perform his duties.6

Nicholas’s daughter, Joan, the only child of his first marriage, had, meanwhile, become the wife of a neighbouring landowner named Thomas Read. In 1412 the manor of Close House was settled on the couple, and Read confidently expected that on his father-in-law’s death all the rest of the Turpin estates would be his as well. For some years, therefore, relations between the two men remained cordial. In June 1424, for example, they joined together to guarantee Robert Elmet’s title to the manor of Heugh in Stamfordham, offering securities of 50 marks as an earnest of their good faith. But Read’s expectations were dashed once Nicholas’s second wife, Isabel, produced two sons, who were immediately recognized as heirs to the family property in Whitchester and Wallington. In an attempt to prevent the boys from succeeding their father, Read and his own descendants assiduously spread the rumour that Isabel was no more than a ‘concupyne’, whose issue were illegitimate and thus devoid of any title at law. Although Nicholas’s last years were poisoned by this family feud, he remained active well into old age. In 1429 he attended an inquiry concerning the patronage of the church at Elsdon; and at about the same time he was involved in litigation over a debt of £10 claimed by a London draper. He is last mentioned in 1443, when testifying at an inquisition ad quod damnum in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. His death was followed by a protracted dispute between the descendants of his two wives, which eventually reached the court of Chancery during the following century.7

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


Variants: Torpen, Turpyn.

  • 1. Hist. Northumb. xiii. 102, 112; Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. no. 820; Arch. Aeliana, n.s. xxii. 117, 121; Surtees Soc. lxvi. 296-7.
  • 2. JUST 3/53/5.
  • 3. Hist. Northumb. xiii. 74, 102; Surtees Soc. lxvi. 296-7; Feudal Aids, iv. 85; Arch. Aeliana. n.s. xxii. 121; CCR, 1413-19, p. 161.
  • 4. C137/1/3, 24/50, 65/14, 85/2; C138/59/54; Hist. Northumb. x. 322; CCR, 1409-13, p. 361; 1413-19, p. 71; Surtees Soc. lxvi. 190; Arch. Aeliana, iii. 24.
  • 5. Arch. Aeliana, iv. 330; n.s. xxii. 117, 119, 121, 125; Newcastle-upon-Tyne Rec. Ser. vii. 87; DKR, xxxiii. 129.
  • 6. C219/10/4, 11/2, 12/3, 13/1, 3; CCR, 1419-22, pp. 152, 212, 247; 1435-41, pp. 8, 405; E. Powell, Kingship, Law and Society, 251; Hist. Northumb. x. 160-1.
  • 7. C1/448/42; Hist. Northumb. xiii. 102, 112; Arch. Aeliana, iii. 114; Surtees Soc. lxvi. 261; clxix. no. 820; CPR, 1429-36, p. 97.