URSWYK, Sir Robert (c.1336-1402), of Tatham, Lancs. and Badsworth, 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



Oct. 1382
Nov. 1384
Nov. 1390
Jan. 1397

Family and Education

b.c.1336, s. and h. of Adam Urswyk (d.1361) of Strickland Ketel, Westmld. by Sarah, da. and h. of Robert Tatham of Tatham and Over Kellet, Lancs. m. (1) by 1367, Margaret, da. and h. of Thomas Southworth of Upper Rawcliffe, wid. of Robert Hornby† (d.c.1363) of Middleton, 1s.; (2) by 1372, Ellen (fl. 1394), wid. of Sir John Dalton† (d.1369) of Dalton, Yorks., and Bispham, Lancs., at least 1s. Thomas*, 2da.; (3) by July 1398, Joan. Kntd. by 28 Oct. 1386.1

Offices Held

Master forester of Amounderness, Quernmore and Wyresdale, and forester of Myerscough, Lancs. for John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, 5 Sept. 1374-c. Feb. 1399, then for Hen. IV c. Oct. 1399-d.; chief steward of Lanes. for Gaunt 1392-3.2

Commr. of oyer and terminer, Lancs. Feb. 1382, Mar. 1383, 1384 (trespasses in Gaunt’s forests); array Feb. 1384, Mar. 1400; to recruit archers to fight with Gaunt in Spain Mar. 1386;3 of inquiry, Yorks., Cumb., Westmld., Lanes. May 1388 (wastes at St. Leonard’s hospital, York), Lancs. July 1391 (trespass);4 to make arrests Aug. 1396; prevent the spread of treasonous rumours May 1402.

Escheator, Lancs. 8 Apr. 1383-bef. 6 Oct. 1388, by 22 Mar. 1389-1 Dec. 1391.5

J.p. Lancs. 18 Mar. 1384, 15 Aug. 1393-July 1394, 16 Mar. 1400-d.6

Collector of pontage for the repair of Preston bridge, Lanes. 12 Mar. 1400-d.


So far as we can tell, the bulk of Adam Urswyk’s estates lay at Strickland Ketel in Westmorland, and it was through his marriage to Sarah Tatham, the heiress to extensive holdings in and around Over Kellet, that he became a landowner of real consequence across the border in Lancashire. Adam wore the livery of Henry, duke of Lancaster, as master forester of Bowland, and also distinguished himself in Edward III’s wars against the French, so it was natural that his eldest son and heir, Robert, should pursue a similar course. He probably entered the royal household while quite young, for in 1366, when he was about 30, King Edward made him a grant of ten marks a year for ‘long service’ both to him personally and to his younger son, Edmund, earl of Cambridge. Robert’s position at Court no doubt helped him to make a profitable marriage at this time, since although he had inherited his father’s estates in 1361 and had subsequently persuaded his mother to make over to him part of her inheritance, he still nursed grander territorial ambitions. His first wife, Margaret, was indeed a valuable prize: besides her father’s property in Upper Rawcliffe she also held as dower one-third of the possessions of her late husband, Robert Hornby. She and Urswyk may actually have been related in some way, as in 1367 they were obliged to seek a papal dispensation for an impediment which had come to light after their wedding. In the following year, in his capacity as an esquire of the earl of Cambridge, Robert made a trip to Prussia, taking with him six yeomen and letters of exchange to the value of 100 marks. He again travelled overseas in 1369, although neither his business nor his destination is recorded. His wife was then engaged in litigation for the recovery of part of her inheritance, and he may have returned in time to see her title confirmed at law.7

Robert’s growing influence at Court is evident from the regularity with which, from 1370 onwards, he intervened as a member of the royal household to secure pardons for Lancashire men convicted of murder. At least six such documents were issued at his behest, for as an esquire of the body to Edward III (being, moreover, from 1371 onwards in receipt of a second annuity of £20, payable for life) he commanded considerable reserves of patronage on his own account.8 The death of his first wife left Robert free to contract an even more advantageous marriage with Ellen, the widow of Sir John Dalton, whose murder, in 1369, had left her seised of the widow’s customary third of substantial estates in Bispham and Dalton. Later, in 1377, she and Urswyk obtained a grant of the farm of the rest of Sir John’s property, for which they agreed to pay £20 a year until his young son came of age; and it appears, too, that Ellen enjoyed a life interest in the manor of Little Hoole, settling it on feoffees about then in return for an annual rent of ten marks. This buoyant stage in Urswyk’s career marks the beginning of a close association with another of King Edward’s sons, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, which was to last until the latter’s death over 20 years later. It is, indeed, worth noting that both his first wife, Margaret Southworth, and her successor came from families closely attached to the duke, who must already have known Robert for some time. In September 1374, Gaunt made him master forester of Quernmore, Amounderness and Wyresdale at a fee of £20 p.a.; and although the appointment had to be held in name only for the next six years because of vigorous protests from the existing incumbent, Sir Adam Hoghton, it none the less signified a further improvement in Urswyk’s burgeoning fortunes. Not only did Gaunt reward him with such gifts as valuable consignments of timber for repairs to his private property, but the King also showed yet more ‘special grace’ towards his esquire in the very tangible form of a grant made in 1375 of the marriage, wardship and property of the late William Hornby’s nearest heir, and of another in the following year bestowing rights of free warren throughout the Urswyk estates. These now included the manor of Badsworth in Yorkshire, which had previously belonged to the Foliot family.9

Not surprisingly, given his political affiliations, Robert agreed to stand at this time as a mainpernor for Thomas Caterton, whom the Good Parliament, acting at the instigation of Sir John Annesley*, had sought to impeach as part of a wider attack on King Edward’s unpopular chamberlain, William, Lord Latimer, and, by implication, on the duke of Lancaster himself. He also offered sureties for his kinsman, the influential Lancashire knight, Sir Walter Urswyk, who shared his attachment to Gaunt, but it is quite evident that his commitments at Court left him little time for any further involvement in the local community. This state of affairs changed dramatically on the death of Edward III, since although the advisors of the young King Richard were prepared to confirm his annuity, he evidently lost his place in the Household and retired to his Lancashire estates. He was already embroiled in a dispute there over the custody of documents relating to his mother’s inheritance, and in 1378 he assumed responsibility as a trustee of land in Eccleston.10

Now free to devote more time to administrative affairs, Urswyk put himself forward as a candidate for election to Parliament, being returned no less than 13 times as a shire knight. His success in this respect clearly owed a good deal to Gaunt’s patronage, which remained both constant and liberal, although in return he was clearly expected to advance his patron’s interests whenever possible. There can be little doubt, for instance, that in the October Parliament of 1382, he and his colleague, Sir John Assheton I*, who also wore the ducal livery, did their best to win support for Lancaster’s claim to the throne of Castile. Yet, notwithstanding the regular presence in the House of members of his affinity, the Commons tended to view Gaunt with a suspicion bordering on hostility, a factor which makes his generosity towards Urswyk and the other shire knights in his retinue appear all the more open handed. Thus, in 1380, Robert was permitted to lease from the duke the herbage of several parks and woods in Lancashire, agreeing in the following year to pay an annual sum of £29 as rent; and not long afterwards he assumed office as escheator of the county — a post in Gaunt’s gift. During this period, Urswyk advanced a title to the lands of the late Sir Thomas Banaster, and it appears that Gaunt lent him his support in gaining possession. Certainly, in September 1386, the duke’s chancellor took securities of 500 marks from the widowed Agnes Banaster that she would convey her share of the property to Urswyk, she having previously been obliged by the duke to surrender the relevant title deeds. By marrying his daughter, Ellen, to Richard Molyneux*, the son of Agne’s second marriage, Urswyk may well have had further designs on these estates, although in the event, it was Ellen’s next husband, Sir James Haryngton*, who actually recovered them. In the meantime, in 1393, while occupying the chief stewardship of his patron’s extensive local holdings Urswyk (who had by then been knighted) obtained the duke’s comprehensive pardon for any previous acts of trespass, and also persuaded him to secure from his nephew, the King, royal letters patent sanctioning a transfer of property within the Urswyk family. The licence, issued in November of that year, permitted Sir Walter Urswyk to entail upon Sir Robert and his heirs rents of 20 marks p.a. in the Yorkshire wapentake of Langbergh. It was renewed on Sir Robert’s third marriage, in 1398, and thus enabled him to settle a jointure on Joan, the last of his wives. Nor were these the only marks of Gaunt’s favour. An annuity of £20, awarded to Sir Robert for life in March 1394, was followed, four years later, by an additional fee of ten marks granted on similar terms, while at the same time Urswyk’s elder son Robert, was retained as one of the duke’s esquires. Sir Robert clearly earned all this largesse, not least because he had for some years been a member of an advisory council responsible for the running of the duchy of Lancaster estates in the north. Although subordinate to the duchy council in London, he and his colleagues (who included Sir Richard Hoghton*, Sir James Pickering* and Sir Nicholas Haryngton*) enjoyed a great deal of power and patronage, especially in the matter of local appointments.11

Needless to say, Sir Robert remained staunchly loyal to the house of Lancaster throughout the political vicissitudes of the late 1390S; and although his son-in-law, Richard Molyneux (who was returned with him, probably through his influence, to the first Parliament of 1397), chose to support Richard II, the Urswyks were unswerving in their commitment to Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke. Notwithstanding Richard’s readiness to continue paying his various annuities, Sir Robert welcomed Bolingbroke’s coup d’état, and was duly confirmed in all his former fees, offices and leases. He resumed his seat on the Lancashire bench (from which had had temporarily been removed), and served in the first two Parliaments of the new reign. He was, moreover, summoned in August 1401 to attend a great council as representative of Lancashire. Although well advanced in years, Sir Robert still possessed considerable energy, for in addition to his administrative duties he was also preoccupied with three important lawsuits. One concerned the render of debts owed to the late Richard Molyneux, who had made him his executor, but the others were for the recovery of sums claimed by him personally from John Radcliffe of Ordsall and his own stepson, John Dalton. The latter, who had reputedly failed to honour a bond in £100, outstanding for the previous 16 years, claimed that both the sheriff, Sir John Boteler, and the coroner, Robert Laurence*, were partial to Sir Robert because he was their kinsman, and that it was thus impossible for him to obtain a fair trial at the Lancaster assizes. In the event, however, Sir Robert’s death, in the late September of 1402, brought an end to litigation and Dalton escaped a reckoning.12

Sir Robert left two sons — Robert (d.1420), who succeeded him not only in his estates but also in the master forestership of Amounderness, Quernmore and Wyresdale, and Thomas, another devoted servant of the Lancastrian regime. His widow, Joan, survived him to enjoy possession of the jointure which had been conveyed to her four years earlier.13

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


Variants: Urcewyk, Vrswyk.

  • 1. VCH Lancs. vii. 268-9; viii. 145, 221; CIPM, xi. no. 224; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. lix. 26-27; Lancs. Feet of Fines, iii. 12-13, 45; Chetham Soc. n.s. xciii. 29, 58, 104; CPR, 1385-9, p. 233; 1396-9, p. 402.
  • 2. Reg. Gaunt 1379-83, nos. 412, 665; Somerville, Duchy, i. 373-4, 506.
  • 3. DKR, xl. 525, 526, 528; xliii. 370; Chetham Soc. n.s. xcvi. 44.
  • 4. DKR, xliii. 370.
  • 5. DKR, xl, 522; xliii. 363; Chetham Soc. xcv. 33, 156.
  • 6. DKR, xl. 523, 528, 530-1; Chetham Soc. n.s. xcvi. 45.
  • 7. VCH Lancs. vii. 268-9; viii. 145, 221; CIPM, xi. no. 224; Chetham Soc. n.s. xciii. 58, 104; CFR, vii. 224; CPR, 1364-7, p. 313; 1367-70, pp. 79, 127, 211.
  • 8. CPR, 1370-4, pp. 3, 62; 1374-7, pp. 81, 109; 1377-81, p. 239; 1385-9, p. 233; 1388-92, p. 185; 1391-6, p. 69.
  • 9. Reg. Gaunt 1371-5, nos. 1560, 1564, 1588, 1644; Chetham Soc. n.s. xciii. 29; Somerville, i. 374; CFR, ix. 47; CChR, v. 230; CPR, 1374-7, p. 209; Lancs. Feet of Fines, iii. 5, 12-13; S.K. Walker, ‘John of Gaunt and his retainers, 1361-99’ (Oxf. Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1986), 166.
  • 10. CPR, 1374-7, p. 439; 1377-81, p. 239; CFR, viii. 380; VCH Lancs. viii. 219; Lancs. Feet of Fines, iii. 4; G.A. Holmes, Good Parl. 131-2.
  • 11. Reg. Gaunt 1379-83, nos. 1020, 1027; Chetham Soc. n.s. xcvi. 45; CPR, 1391-6, p. 338; 1396-9, p. 402; CCR, 1396-9, p. 475; Cam. Misc. xxii. 106; DKR, xxxii. 365; xliii. 370; J. Foster, Lancs. Peds. sub Hoghton; Walker, 157-8.
  • 12. CPR, 1396-9, p. 547; 1399-1401, pp. 29, 35; DL42/15, f. 95v; Chetham Soc. lxxxvii. 23, 27-28, 89; PPC, i. 164.
  • 13. DL42/15, f. 100v; CCR, 1402-5, p. 196; DKR, xxxiii. 4; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. lix. 26-27.