STEPNETH, Alban (by 1538-1611), of Prendergast, Pemb.
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Family and Education
b. by 1538,1 3rd s. of Thomas Stepneth of St. Albans, Herts. and his 2nd w. Dorothy, da. and h. of John Wynde of Ramsey, Hunts., comptroller of the York Mint. educ. Christ’s, Camb. 1552. m. (1) 1565, Katherine, da. and coh. of Thomas Cathern† of Prendergast, ?s.p.; (2) by 1573, Mary, da. and coh. of William Philipps† of Picton, Pemb. 3s. 2da.2 d. by 19 Nov. 1611. sig. Albane Stepneth.
Recvr. and registrar, St. David’s dioc. 1561-81.3
Freeman, Haverfordwest, Pemb. by 1571;4 commr. i.p.m. Pemb. 1571, 1575, 1578, 1580, 1582-3;5 sheriff, Pemb. 1572-3, 1589-90, 1604-6, Carm. 1596-7;6 commr. tanneries, Pemb. 1574;7 j.p. Pemb. ?1575, 1584-d.;8 escheator, Pemb. 1582-3;9 commr. subsidy, Pemb. 1576, 1581, 1584, 1586, 1589, 1593, 1597,10 1608, Haverfordwest 1608,11 piracy, Card., Carm., Pemb. 1589, 1598, Pemb. 1608,12 to survey boundaries 1591,13 to discover goods of Sir John Perrot†, S. Wales 1592-at least 1602;14 steward (for Sir John Perrot), manors of Walwyn’s Castle and Syke, Nolton and Robeston, Pemb. 1592,15 (for the Crown) St. Dogmael’s manor, Pemb. c.1592;16 commr. to make an inventory of the goods of Marmaduke, former bp. of St. David’s, Pemb. 1594, survey lordship of Rosemarket 1594, investigate spoil of woods 1594, 1601, examine William Warren regarding debt owed to Sir John Perrot 1598, establish boundary bet. Crown forest of Narberth and Barlow lands 1602;17 dep. woodward, Canaston Wood, Pemb. by 1603;18 collector, Privy Seal loan, Pemb. 1604-5,19 dep. lt. by 1607-at least 1608.20
In the early sixteenth century Stepneth’s father, Thomas, bought property in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, where members of his family held municipal office by the 1480s. Employed as an estate steward by the local priory (1515-28), and later by the Crown,21 he acquired the manor of Aldenham in 1546. Stepneth himself was a younger son who, after receiving a university education, sought his fortune in south Wales. In 1561 he became receiver-general to the bishop of St. David’s. Four years later he married one of the heiresses of Thomas Cathern, a wealthy Pembrokeshire squire whose Prendergast seat lay slightly north-east of Haverfordwest. On Cathern’s death in 1567, he took charge of the Prendergast estate,22 which he subsequently expanded through purchase.23 A second marriage during the early 1570s, to another Pembrokeshire heiress, brought him further property, at Walwyn’s Castle, five miles south-west of Haverfordwest, and in Carmarthenshire.24 The combined effect of these marriages was to connect him to most of the notable families in Pembrokeshire.25
Stepneth’s proximity to Haverfordwest gave him influence over the borough’s parliamentary seat, and on three successive occasions during the Elizabethan period the town returned him to Westminster. However, in 1589 Haverfordwest was represented by his former enemy Sir John Perrot, Pembrokeshire’s dominant landowner, whom Stepneth now served as an estate steward. He therefore transferred his attentions to Cardigan Boroughs, a seat which was probably provided for him by his then patron, the 2nd earl of Essex. Stepneth is not known to have sought re-election to Parliament until 1604 when, with more than 30 years experience of local office under his belt, he was elected knight of the shire for Pembrokeshire. He was presumably returned on the interest of his second wife’s family, the Philipps’ of Picton, as John Philipps of Picton, his wife’s first cousin, had represented Pembrokeshire in 1601.
Stepneth played only a minor role in all the parliaments of which he was a Member. During the first Jacobean assembly mention of his name is confined to the records of the first two sessions. In view of his former connections with the late earl of Essex, it is not surprising that he was appointed to consider the bill to restore the son of Essex’s executed estate steward, (Sir) Gelly Meyrick† (1 Apr. 1606). Other appointments concerned scandalous ministers (12 June 1604); the subsidy (to which committee he was added on 12 Feb. 1606); the 1604 Welsh Cottons Act (10 Mar. 1606); delays in executions (to which committee he was added on 7 May 1606); and the relief of John Holdich (16 May 1606). On 20 Apr. 1604 he was added to the list of those Members appointed to attend the king at Whitehall that afternoon in connection with the proposed Union.26 He made one recorded intervention, on 26 May 1606, concerning a member of Convocation named Parker, who had criticized Parliament from the pulpit the previous day. In a poisonous speech, Stepneth implied that Parker had made little effort to prepare this sermon, having spent the whole of Saturday night playing cards. Taken in conjunction with Stepneth’s earlier nomination to the committee on scandalous ministers, the observation suggests that, like many of his parliamentary colleagues, Stepneth was alarmed at the inadequacy of many members of the clergy.27
Stepneth was the subject of parliamentary debate himself in February 1606, when the House learned that he had been summoned to appear in Star Chamber at the instigation of William Warren of Trewern, who controlled three royal corn mills in Haverfordwest as guardian of the daughter of their former lessee, William Morgan.28 During Morgan’s lifetime Stepneth had erected his own mill in the town, thereby provoking bitter competition for business and lawsuits between the two men. After Morgan’s death Stepneth had intimidated Warren by alleging that £158 was owed to the Crown from Morgan’s estate and claiming the right to tithes payable in kind rather than in cash from his rival’s corn mills.29 Warren in turn had accused Stepneth, inter alia, of illegally selling bailiwicks as sheriff and of suppressing depositions in return for a bribe.30 None of these charges mattered to the Commons, of course, which was solely concerned with the infringement of Stepneth’s privilege. On being brought to the bar of the House Warren admitted knowing that Stepneth was a Member of the Commons at the time Star Chamber had issued its summons, but explained that he had believed that Stepneth was not entitled to privilege as he was then sheriff of Pembrokeshire. As sheriffs were not legally permitted to leave their county without royal dispensation, and as Stepneth had not attended the brief parliamentary sitting in November 1605, Warren had assumed that Stepneth would not attend the second sitting at all and would therefore be free to answer the interrogatories put to him. In fact, Stepneth had returned to Westminster after his shrievalty had ended at the beginning of February 1606. Following an investigation by the privileges committee, the House concluded that Warren’s defence was truthful but inadequate. However, because Warren had not actually prosecuted his suit but had merely sought to compel Stepneth to answer various interrogatories, he was not confined to the Tower but instead placed in the custody of the serjeant-at-arms for three days.31 So far as the Commons was concerned, this concluded the matter, but the feud between Stepneth and Warren dragged on until at least 1608.32 How it ended is unclear, although Stepneth seems never to have been fined by Star Chamber.33
Stepneth received a grant of arms in March 1606.34 He drafted his will on 30 Apr. 1611, in which he bequeathed Prendergast manor to his wife Mary in lieu of a jointure, and bestowed a house and lands in the Carmarthenshire parish of Llangunnor on his eldest son John. Provision was also made for his other children, including a dowry of £300 for one unmarried daughter, and £20 was set aside for the poor of St. Albans, Hertford, Carmarthen and Haverfordwest, to be divided equally between all four towns. The precise date of his death is unknown, but the omission of his name from the list of Pembrokeshire magistrates on 16 Sept. 1611 suggests that he was dead by then. Certainly he had expired by 19 Nov. 1611, when his will was proved. In accordance with his wishes, Stepneth was probably buried at either Prendergast or Llangunnor. Verses on his life, penned by an unknown friend in 1614, improbably imbued its subject with the characteristics of a saint. No funeral monument had been constructed by May 1616, an oversight which caused his second son, Philip, to order the erection of a tomb at his own cost ‘if my brother John will not do it speedily’.35 Stepneth’s eldest son purchased a baronetcy in 1621. His grandson, Sir John Stepneth, the 3rd baronet, represented Pembroke Boroughs in the Short Parliament and Haverfordwest in the Long Parliament.
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Andrew Thrush
- 1. Aged calculated from date of university admiss.
- 2. Biog. Reg. Christ’s Coll. comp. J. Peile, i. 51 (Al. Cant. mistakenly dates his entry to 1562); H.C. Andrews, ‘Stepneth Fam. of St. Albans’, St. Albans and Herts. Arch. Soc. Trans. n.s. iv. 318-19; F. Green, ‘The Stepneys of Prendergast’, W. Wales Historical Recs. vii. 114-15, 118, 120. The peds. err in making him the 2nd son: Dwnn, Vis. Wales, i. 180; Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiv), 603-4. His 1st w. is mistakenly named Margaret in Thomas Cathern’s ipm: C142/148/47.
- 3. Green, 118; HMC Hatfield, iv. 280.
- 4. STAC 5/S79/34, ff. 2v-3.
- 5. CPR, 1569-72, pp. 248, 431; 1572-5, p. 443; 1575-8, p. 453; 1578-80, p. 256; 1580-2, p. 133; C66/1209, m. 17d; 66/1229, mm. 3d, 6d.
- 6. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 245, 266.
- 7. Cal. Reg. Council in Marches of Wales ed. R. Flenley (Cymmrodorion Rec. Ser. viii), 126.
- 8. JPs in Wales and Monm. ed. Phillips, 206-7, 211.
- 9. List of Escheators comp. A.C. Wood (L. and I. Soc. lxxii), 240.
- 10. STAC 8/290/5, ff. 7, 13v, 15v.
- 11. SP14/31/1.
- 12. HCA 14/26/38; G. Owen, Description of Penbrokshire ed. H. Owen (Cymmrodorion Rec. Ser. i), pt. i. 163; HCA 14/39/217.
- 13. Cal. Recs. of Bor. of Haverfordwest ed. B.G. Charles (Univ. Wales, Bd. of Celtic Studs., Hist. and Law ser. xxiv), 39.
- 14. ‘Notes on Perrot Fam.’, Arch. Camb. (ser. 3), xi. 123; SP46/42, f. 17; Lansd. 156, f. 364.
- 15. LR2/260, ff. 55, 62, 70.
- 16. M. Gray, ‘Power, Patronage and Pols.’, Estates of English Crown ed. R. Hoyle, 154.
- 17. E178/3482; 178/3484-6; 178/3492.
- 18. Exchequer Procs. Concerning Wales ed. E.G. Jones (Univ. of Wales, Bd. of Celtic Studs. Hist. and Law Ser. iv), 309.
- 19. E401/2585, f. 70.
- 20. SP14/28/48; 14/33, f. 4v.
- 21. Andrews, 318-19; Green, 110.
- 22. Admons. in PCC Vol. I: 1559-71 ed. R.M. Glencross, 83. See also Admons. in PCC Vol. II: 1572-80 ed. R.M. Glencross, 125.
- 23. Green, 120.
- 24. H.A. Lloyd, Gentry of S.W. Wales, 1540-1640, p. 99.
- 25. Arch. Camb. (ser. 2), v. 35-8.
- 26. CJ, i. 179b, 237a, 267a, 281b, 291b, 307a, 309b.
- 27. Ibid. 313b.
- 28. Ibid. 267b.
- 29. Lansd. 156, f. 364; Exch. Procs. Concerning Wales in Tempore Jas. I comp. T.I. Jeffrey (Univ. Wales, Bd. of Celtic Studs. Hist. and Law ser. xv), 291-2.
- 30. STAC 8/290/5.
- 31. CJ, i. 268b, 269a; Bowyer Diary, 37. In Bowyer’s account, Stepneth is called ‘Skepweth’.
- 32. STAC 8/257/9, f. 10.
- 33. TNA transcript, ‘Fines in Star Chamber, 1596-1641’ comp. T.G. Barnes, 188. Collectanea Juridica ed. F. Hargrave, ii. 109, implies that Stepneth was convicted by Star Chamber of abusing his position as a magistrate, but offers no evidence.
- 34. Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 243.
- 35. Green, 121-4; R. Harrison, Some Notices of the Stepney Fam. 7.