UMFRAVILLE, Sir Thomas (c.1362-1391), of Harbottle, Northumb. and Hessle, Yorks.

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



Feb. 1388
Jan. 1390

Family and Education

b.c.1362, s. and h. of Thomas Umfraville (d. 21 May 1387) of Harbottle and Hessle by Joan, da. of Adam Rodham. m. Agnes (d. 25 Oct. 1420), 1s. 5da. Kntd. by May 1387.1

Offices Held

Commr. of gaol delivery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne Feb. 1387, Feb. 1389;2 inquiry Northumb. July 1387 (rival claims to the manor of Eslington), Mar. 1389 (concealments), May 1389 (damage by the Scots), Nov. 1389 (estates of Henry de la Val); array June, Aug. 1388;3 to survey Bamburgh castle Feb. 1389; impose order on the garrison at Berwick-upon-Tweed Mar. 1389;4 examine measures for weighing sea coal Apr. 1389.

Sheriff, Northumb. 1 Dec. 1388-15 Nov. 1389.

Capt. of Roxburgh castle by 7 May 1389-d.

J.p. Northumb. 15 July 1389-d.

Envoy to negotiate with the Scots over violations of truce 18 Dec. 1389, regarding arrangements for peace talks 1-13 Mar., 27 May 1390.5


The Umfravilles were a family of great distinction and antiquity, having first settled in the north of England at the time of the Norman Conquest, when they received the liberty of Redesdale in Northumberland. Thomas’s great-grandfather, Gilbert Umfraville, was elevated to the earldom of Angus by Edward I, although his descendants retained the title for less than a century because of the failure of heirs male in the main line. Thomas himself belonged to a cadet branch of the family, and thus benefited directly from a series of entails of property made by his uncle, Gilbert, the 3rd earl, who died in 1381 without surviving issue. Much earlier, in the summer of 1364, Earl Gilbert had settled his manor and castle of Harbottle and manor of Otterburn, together with their extensive appurtenances in Northumberland, first upon his only son, Sir Robert (who died without issue four years later), and then with successive remainders upon his half-brothers, Robert and Thomas. The earl confirmed this arrangement by a deed of February 1378, which now included his young nephew, Thomas Umfraville the younger, the subject of this biography. In the event, Thomas and his father were destined to enjoy a substantial inheritance, for Robert Umfraville, Thomas’s uncle, died childless in the following year. Thomas Umfraville the elder immediately succeeded to Robert’s manors of Edmondsley and ‘Farnacres’ together with holdings in Gateshead and Ravensworth in the palatinate of Durham; and on the earl’s death, not long afterwards, he duly took possession of Harbottle and Otterburn as well. Since he had also come to occupy the manor of Wheatley, the adjoining vill of Holmside (near Edmondsley) and land in the environs of Durham, together with the Umfraville manor of Hessle in Yorkshire (given to him by his half-brother, the earl, in 1377) and other properties in and around the Northumbrian villages of Whelpington and Alwinton, Thomas now commanded a prominent position among the northern gentry. To be sure, part of his inheritance remained temporarily as dower in the hands of Gilbert’s widow, Maud, although her marriage to Henry Percy, 1st earl of Northumberland, in 1383, brought some compensation in the way of a new and powerful family connexion.6

By the time of his father’s death, in May 1387, Thomas Umfraville the younger had already served on at least one royal commission of gaol delivery at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and had, moreover, been made a knight. Some doubt exists as to his precise age, but he was probably about 24 when, in the following summer, the escheators of Yorkshire and Northumberland were ordered by the Crown to give him custody of his patrimony. By then he possessed the resources to offer joint sureties of £1,000 on behalf of his neighbour, Sir Henry Heton, who was being sued by another Northumbrian landowner. One year later, Sir Thomas performed a similar service for Richard Clifford, the future bishop of Worcester (1401) and London (1407). Sir Thomas’s readiness to stand bail for Clifford, then a clerk of the chapel royal, and for Nicholas Blake, dean of the chapel, on their release from prison is particularly interesting, since the two men belonged to a group of Richard II’s servants who had been consigned to the Tower at the instigation of the Lords Appellant and only discharged on 4 June 1388, the very last day of the Merciless Parliament. As a Member of this assembly, where he was representing Northumberland for the first time, Sir Thomas must have been a party to the trial for treason of King Richard’s most unpopular favourites as well as to sustained attacks on the court party in general, although he evidently felt some sympathy for the victims of the Appellants’ wrath.7

As soon as the parliamentary session ended, Sir Thomas hastened back to the border, where he was ordered to ensure the strict observance of the existing truce with the Scots, who were only too anxious to exploit England’s political divisions by launching an invasion on the slightest pretext. The expiry of the truce on 19 June 1388 gave them an ideal opportunity to strike, and just over a fortnight later the earl of Douglas inflicted a crushing defeat on the English at Otterburn. Sir Thomas, whose own estates lay in the path of the advancing enemy, was himself present at the battle, although he escaped the fate of his new kinsman by marriage, Sir Henry Percy (‘Hotspur’), who was captured by the Scots. His subsequent appointment as sheriff of Northumberland and keeper of the strategically vital castle of Roxburgh on the Scottish march, no less than his membership of royal commissions for the improvement of defences and discipline at the other important English strongholds of Bamburgh and Berwick-upon-Tweed, reflect the government’s anxiety over the vulnerability of the north to attack, and its desire that defensive measures should be executed by energetic and able men. By December 1389, Sir Thomas had also begun to serve on diplomatic missions to Scotland, and he was later instrumental in smoothing the way towards more constructive talks for peace. His second return to Parliament, in January 1390, further confirms that his influence in the north was growing steadily, although his early death, on 12 Feb. 1391, bought an abrupt end to his promising career.8

Sir Thomas left five daughters and a son, named Gilbert, who was born and baptized at Harbottle on 18 Oct. 1390, and was thus only a few months old when his father died. In early March 1391, Edward, earl of Rutland, secured the wardship and marriage of the young heir, only to lose it again a few months later when Ralph, Lord Neville (later earl of Westmoreland), had the grant changed in his own favour. The boy made a suitable husband for Neville’s daughter, Anne, to whom he was betrothed in childhood. The death of Maud, countess of Northumberland, in December 1398, left Gilbert heir to her dower properties in Otterburn and Harbottle, as well as the lordship of Kyme and other estates in Lincolnshire, which, to Neville’s chagrin, were placed first in the custody of the Percys and then, after their fall, in 1403, were shared between the late Sir Thomas’s younger brother, Sir Robert Umfraville KG, and George Dunbar, earl of March, as joint guardians. Like his father and his uncle, Sir Robert (who became deputy admiral of England), Gilbert showed great promise as a commander. After distinguishing himself in a series of campaigns against the French, he was killed at the battle of Baugé in March 1421, just a few months after the death of his widowed mother, Agnes. Since he left no issue, the family estates were partitioned between his five sisters and their husbands.9

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


Variant: Dumfreville.

  • 1. CP, i. 151-2; DKR, xlv. 272-3; Cal. Scots Docs. iv. no. 366; CIPM, xv. nos. 469-70; Arch. Aeliana, (ser. 3), vi. 76; Surtees Soc. xc. 201-2.
  • 2. C66/323 m. 24v, 327 m. 23v.
  • 3. Rot. Scot. ed. Macpherson etc. ii. 95.
  • 4. Ibid. 96.
  • 5. Rot. Scot. ii. 101, 103; Cal. Scots Docs. iv. no. 409; PPC, i. 27.
  • 6. CP, i. 151-2; Newcastle-upon-Tyne Rec. Ser. vii. 221; CPR, 1388-61, p. 11; 1377-81, p. 122; DKR, xlv. 272-3; CIPM, xvi. nos. 469-70; Cal. Scots Docs. iv. no. 301; Arch. Aeliana (ser. 3), vi. 76.
  • 7. CCR, 1385-9, pp. 346, 414, 432; CFR, x. 192.
  • 8. Arch. Aeliana (ser. 4), xi. 75-76; CIPM, xvi. nos. 1043-4.
  • 9. CP, i. 151-2; Cal. Scots Docs. iv. nos. 524, 637, 652, 685, 820-1; DKR, xlv. 273; Arch. Aeliana, n.s. xxii. 121-2; CFR, x. 357; CPR, 1388-92, p. 382; J. Hodgson, Hist. Northumb. ii (1), 6.