WINGFIELD, Sir William (c.1326-1398), of Cotton and Dennington, Suff.

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



May 1382
Oct. 1382
Feb. 1383
Oct. 1383
Jan. 1390
Nov. 1390

Family and Education

b.c.1326, s. and h. of Richard Wingfield of Dennington. m. (1) bef. Jan 1370, Joan, wid. of Ellis Francis of London, mercer, 1s.; (2) bef. May 1393, Margaret or Margery, ?wid. of — Spyce. Kntd. by June 1365.

Offices Held

Commr. to conscript masons for the King’s works, Essex Apr. 1361; of inquiry, Suff. Jan. 1371 (concealments), Norf., Suff. Apr. 1381 (liberties of the borough of Gt. Yarmouth), Feb. 1382 (wastes), Suff. Mar. 1383 (assaults), Sept. 1384 (revolt against royal officials at Lowestoft), Essex, Suff., Norf. Jan. 1387 (theft of a ship’s cargo), Essex, Herts., Suff. May 1392 (wastes on de Vere estates), Suff. July 1392 (export of gold), Aug. 1395 (concealments), Oct. 1395 (discovery of hidden bullion), May 1397 (disturbance at Eye); to collect the parochial subsidy June 1371; of array Aug. 1372, Apr., July 1377, Feb. 1379, Mar. 1380, Apr. 1385, June 1386, Mar. 1392; oyer and terminer Mar. 1375, Nov. 1385, Norf. Dec. 1386, Suff. Dec. 1391; to hold special assizes Apr. 1380, July 1382, Nov. 1391; restore goods seized by insurgents, Norf. June 1381; put down rebellion, Suff. Dec. 1381, Mar., Dec. 1382; fortify Orwell Sept. 1386; administer the oath in support of the Lords Appellant Mar. 1388; of arrest Nov. 1391; gaol delivery, Eye Aug. 1394.

Tax collector, Suff. Dec. 1372; surveyor Aug. 1379.

J.p. Suff. 6 July 1378-89, 10 Nov. 1389-Dec. 1396.


Wingfield’s father, Richard, a cadet of the important family seated at Wingfield in Suffolk, held the manor of Dennington and died shortly before 1349, when it was William who acted as patron of the local church. The latter was subsequently also possessed of manors in Cotton and Stradbroke as well as substantial holdings at Newton Gipping, Mendlesham, Finningham and Bacton, all of which were situated in the same part of the county. He extended his territorial interests into Norfolk by his purchase, in 1385, of ‘Botourys’ in Kymberle,1 and through his marriage to Joan Francis, the widow of a London mercer, he evidently also acquired property in the City. In 1370, he and his wife conveyed to the hospital of St. Mary within Cripplegate certain messuages once owned by Joan’s former husband, and in 1385 Wingfield’s stepson, Ellis Francis, conveyed to him and his feoffees tenements in the parishes of St. Olave in Old Jewry and St. Stephen in Colman Street. Wingfield’s second wife, Margery, held for life property nearer home at Brantham in Suffolk, of the inheritance of Clement Spyce, to whom she was probably related.2

It is generally accepted that William was a first cousin of Sir John Wingfield (d.1361) of Wingfield and of Sir John’s brother, Thomas (d.1378) of Letheringham.3 Certainly, he was named in the entail of the estates of this main branch of the family, under the terms of which he would inherit in the event of the failure of the issue of Sir John and his brother. Sir John had risen to be a person of considerable wealth and influence through service to John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, William Montagu, earl of Salisbury (d.1344) and, most important, Edward, prince of Wales. By 1351 he had been promoted steward of the prince’s estates, and in later years he was called ‘governor of the prince’s business’, clearly being the most prominent of his councillors and his lieutenant in all but name.4 Evidently, William’s own entry into the Prince Edward’s retinue was facilitated by his cousin. He saw military action under the prince’s banner at the siege of Calais in 1347, and in June 1355 he delivered 100 marks to Sir Baldwin Botetourt as a gift made by the prince at Sir John Wingfield’s suggestion. William took part in the sea fight with the Spanish fleet off Winchelsea in 1356, so he cannot have been at Poitiers with the prince’s army. However, in October that year he acted as his lord’s attorney for the delivery of seisin of the manor of Newport (Essex) to Botetourt as a reward for his achievements in the field, and following Botetourt’s death four years later he was appointed by his executors to receive the farm of Newport for settlement of his debts. He was then described as the ‘prince’s yeoman’, and by March 1361 he had been made custodian of Newport on his lord’s behalf. Meanwhile, he had served in Edward III’s army in France in the winter of 1359-60.5

After the death of his cousin Sir John Wingfield, William left Prince Edward’s company to become a favoured retainer of Thomas de Vere, earl of Oxford. In December 1364 de Vere obtained a royal licence to grant to his esquire for life the manors of Langley and Bradley in Berkshire, and he subsequently also gave him and his first wife a joint life estate in the manors of Market Overton and Paston in Northamptonshire. These properties provided Wingfield with an annual income of as much as £35. In addition, de Vere bestowed on his retainer for life the sinecure keepership of Camps park (Cambridgeshire), a post which entitled him to a regular supply of grain, fodder and horseshoes. It was while in Earl Thomas’s service that Wingfield was made a knight, and he followed him across to France in the duke of Lancaster’s army in 1369, there to take part in the engagement ‘a le Hille vers Harreflete’ (Harfleur). Their relationship clearly continued to be a close one: the earl employed Wingfield as a feoffee-to-uses for the settlement of jointure on his wife Countess Maud, and Sir William made his lord a present of a coat of mail, which the earl treasured sufficiently highly to bequeath to his brother, Sir Aubrey de Vere. Another of the bequests in the earl’s will, made in 1371, favoured Wingfield’s wife. In December that year, after Thomas de Vere’s death, the widowed countess, feeling too weak to travel, named Sir William as one of her attorneys to sue in Chancery for her dower lands.6

Wingfield was returned to his first Parliament in 1376 in the company of Sir Richard Waldegrave*. This was the first instance of combined service on the part of these two shire knights, who were to form a unique pair as representatives for Suffolk, for they sat together in no fewer than nine Parliaments. Their earliest recorded association had occurred 11 years earlier when Wingfield, acting as a feoffee of the estates of the late Sir Robert Bures, had conveyed to Waldegrave and his wife Joan, Bures’s widow, her dower portion from the same. But it seems to have been their parliamentary experience in each other’s company which laid the foundation of their friendship: when in London to attend the Commons they sometimes lodged at the same hostel; they named each other as trustees; and at the end Wingfield was to ask Waldegrave to act as an executor of his will. In this Parliament of 1376, known at the time as the Good Parliament, Sir William played a prominent part in the Commons’ attack on ministerial corruption, by providing evidence for the impeachment of John, Lord Neville of Raby. His sympathies may have been determined by his early connexion with the Black Prince, who seems to have supported the stand taken by the shire knights; certainly he had maintained a close association with some of the prince’s retainers. For instance, in the previous year he had acted as a trustee of the manors in East Anglia belonging to Sir Thomas Felton, the seneschal of Aquitaine and former steward of Prince Edward’s household, and he was later to serve in a similar capacity on behalf of Felton’s widow.7 But a more immediate influence on Wingfield’s stance in the Parliament was that of Michael, Lord de la Pole, the husband of Katherine, daughter and heiress of his cousin, Sir John Wingfield. One of the charges brought against Neville was that he had purchased tallies at a discount from Reynold Love, a London merchant, and had then secured full allowance on them at the Exchequer. Love, on being examined in Parliament, said that he had given the tallies to Neville in part payment for wool and that their full nominal value had been deducted from his debts, at which point de la Pole and Wingfield came forward with the assertion that, only the day before, Love had admitted in their presence the truth of the Commons’ allegations. Their testimony forced the merchant to retract his earlier statement and so added to the weight of evidence against Neville.8

Before his first return to Parliament Wingfield had been appointed to a few royal commissions; following it, he was to be kept almost constantly employed in the business of local government in East Anglia, and from 1378 until shortly before his death 20 years later he was to be a member of the Suffolk bench. All this administrative activity happened despite the fact that during his second Parliament, in October 1378, he obtained letters patent of exemption from being put on assizes or holding any office by crown appointment against his will. Few rewards ever came his way: there was merely a short lease granted at the Exchequer in June 1378 of rents pertaining to the manor of Thorp by Hadesco (Norfolk), and the wardship and marriage of the heir of a minor landowner. In February 1382, while attending the second session of the Parliament of 1381, he and John of Gaunt’s retainer, Sir Henry Green*, shared a grant from the duke of the farm of the manor of Willisham (Suffolk), rent-free for the duration of a minority. As there is no other evidence to connect Wingfield with Lancaster in a personal way, it may be the case that this favour marks an attempt by the duke to attach the shire knight to his interests of the moment, for he needed support in the Commons for his Castilian venture.9

Well-respected in the community of East Anglia, Wingfield was constantly in demand as a trustee of estates and an executor of wills. In the 1360s he had been a feoffee-to-uses of the important Bures estates inherited by Sir Richard Waldegrave’s stepdaughter, Alice; the early 1370s saw him taking on the trusteeship of those of John, Lord Bourgchier, as such exercising Bourgchier’s rights of presentation to the hospital of St. Giles at Little Maldon (Essex); and in 1375 he had served as executor of the will of the Norfolk landowner, Sir Ralph Shelton the elder. Along with Waldegrave, he became in 1377 a custodian of yearly rents amounting to £300 from manors in Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, in this instance on behalf of Waldegrave’s kinsman, Sir John Burgh. More significantly, he had attracted the attention of William Ufford, earl of Suffolk (d.1382), who thought so highly of him as to leave him in his will, made in June 1381, an ‘enpension’ of £20 a year for life as well as a covered goblet to keep in his memory. In later years Wingfield served as a feoffee of the estates of the earl’s kinsman, Sir Robert Ufford. Then, in 1384-5, he was involved in property transactions on behalf of John Bacon, the King’s secretary, a connexion which had probably come about through the intervention of his kinsman by marriage, Michael, Lord de la Pole, who was then chancellor and shortly to be created earl of Suffolk.10 Wingfield’s connexion with de la Pole was particularly close: Lord Michael had headed the list of his own feoffees as named in 1377. Among the rest were Sir Nicholas Gernoun, another of the earl of Oxford’s retainers, who was later (in 1384) to bequeath to him a sparver and a gold ring, and his cousin, Thomas Wingfield of Letheringham, for whom he acted both as a trustee of estates and as an executor. Naturally, other of Sir William’s kinsmen called on his services, too, including Thomas Wingfield’s son and heir, Sir John†, and his stepson, Sir Robert Carbonel.11

Wingfield was a Member of the Commons in 1386 when his kinsman and friend, Michael, earl of Suffolk, was impeached. Whether or not he openly expressed his opposition to this, Suffolk’s enemies saw no reason to dispense with his useful services in the sphere of local government, and throughout the period of their rule he continued to be placed on royal commissions. Furthermore, even though he was not elected to the Merciless Parliament, in which de la Pole was condemned for treason, it was he, and not either of the Suffolk representatives, who was assigned the task of administering among the gentry of the shire the oath of loyalty in support of the Lords Appellant. It may be that these Lords believed him to be sympathetic to their policies; indeed, an inclination towards the Appellants provides a reason for Wingfield’s omission from the list of j.p.s appointed in July 1389, shortly after Richard II had re-asserted his personal authority. Yet Sir William was so invaluable for the effective government of Suffolk that it was only a few months before he was restored to the bench. He was returned to Parliament for the last time in November 1390; and during the session he and his fellow shire knight, Sir William Burgate, stood bail for the release from the Tower of John Rokele of Essex, guaranteeing that he would appear before the assembly on charges brought by the abbot of St. Osyth. The fortunes of the de la Pole family had suffered a serious rebuff in 1388, and the earl of Suffolk had died in exile in the following year. But Wingfield continued to offer support to the earl’s son, Sir Michael de la Pole, the new owner of the main Wingfield estates: he witnessed deeds on Sir Michael’s behalf in 1392 and 1397; and in the meantime he became a feoffee of his lands and, in October 1396, stood as godfather at the baptism of his second son, William (who was eventually to be the 4th earl of Suffolk).12

There is no evidence that Wingfield was of an unusually pious disposition, although he had made grants in mortmain in 1382 to the chantry at St. Mary’s altar in Dennington church, and in 1390 to the minoresses of Bruisyard.13 The religious provisions contained in his will, made on 17 July 1397, are no longer known (the only copy of the will being now badly torn). Wingfield died on 25 May 1398 and was buried in the chancel of Dennington church, where traces of his monument yet survive.14 He was succeeded by his son, another William, for whom about two years earlier he had arranged an important marriage, to Katherine, the younger daughter and coheir of John Hadley*, a prominent merchant and financier of London. Wingfield’s connexion with Hadley, who was himself of Suffolk origin, had dated from 1385 when the merchant had been party to transactions regarding the property of Ellis Francis, Sir William’s stepson. In 1417 the younger William served in France under the earl of Suffolk (his father’s godson), and when, in the following year, he died childless, his commander, as his nearest male kinsman, inherited his estates.15

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


Variants: Wengfield, Wynkfield.

  • 1. J.M. Wingfield, Wingfield Fam. 2; Muns. Fam. Wingfield ed. Powerscourt, 1; C143/98/3, 100/12; Feudal Aids, v. 56; T. Blore, Rutland, 65-66; CCR, 1377-81, p. 139; CP25(1)168/178/147, 222/97/32; Harl. Ch. 58D 12; Cott. Ch. xxix. 30.
  • 2. CCR, 1369-74, p. 295; Cal. P. and M. London, 1364-81, p. 260; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 148; Corporation of London RO, hr 113/94; CP25(1)223/107/23.
  • 3. Evidence given at the post mortem on our MP’s son, William (d.1418) was to state that Sir William’s father was Sir John Wingfield’s brother, but it seems likely that a generation was missed out: C138/31/20.
  • 4. CPR, 1361-4, p. 180; T.F. Tout, Chapters, v. 386-9, 391, 433, 440.
  • 5. Reg. Black Prince, iv. 167, 191, 350-1, 380; Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 173-4; C47/6/1 m. 1.
  • 6. CPR, 1364-7, p. 62; 1385-9, p. 549; 1391-6, p. 98; C47/6/1 m. 1; Add. 14848, f. 167; CCR, 1392-6, p. 465; 1396-9, p. 351; 1413-19, p. 2; Test. Vetusta, ed. Nicolas, 87; CIPM, xiii. 125; CIMisc. iv. 391, 412; v. 51, 194; vi. 25.
  • 7. CP25(1)221/95/15; CPR, 1381-5, p. 335; 1429-36, p. 326; CCR, 1381-5, pp. 131, 422, 563-4.
  • 8. RP, iii. 329; G.A. Holmes, Good Parl. 114, 138.
  • 9. CFR, ix. 96; CPR, 1377-81, p. 287; Reg. Gaunt 1379-83, no. 1029.
  • 10. CCR, 1364-9, p. 186; 1374-7, pp. 537-9; 1381-5, pp. 90, 568, 626; Lambeth Pal. Lib. Reg. Courtenay, f. 193; Norf. and Norwich RO, Reg. Heydon, f. 117; CPR, 1381-5, pp. 83, 133; CIMisc. iv. 174; CP25(1)222/103/7.
  • 11. CCR, 1377-81, p. 139; 1385-9, p. 308; 1392-6, p. 236; Harl. 10, ff. 19v, 129v; CP25(1)222/96/12.
  • 12. CCR, 1389-92, p. 215; 1392-6, pp. 244, 502; 1396-9, p. 202; C138/29/63.
  • 13. CPR, 1381-5, p. 90; 1388-92, p. 332.
  • 14. Norf. and Norwich RO, Reg. Harsyk, ff. 249, 255; Muns. Fam. Wingfield, 19; C136/101/53; Mon. Brasses ed. Mill Stephenson, 454. The date of death given by J. Weever (Funeral Mons. 494)&mdash viz. 1 July 1398 — is certainly an error, for Wingfield was dead by 14 June: CFR, xi. 270.
  • 15. CPR, 1396-9, p. 8; CCR, 1409-13, p. 48; E101/51/2; C138/31/20.