BESSELS, Sir Peter (1363-1425), of Bessels Leigh, Berks.

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



Jan. 1404
Mar. 1416

Family and Education

b. Radcot, Oxon. 24 June 1363,1 2nd s. and event. h. of Sir Thomas Bessels† (d.1378) of Buckland, Berks. by Katherine (d.1406), da. and h. of John Leigh of (Bessels) Leigh and Kingston, Warws. m. (1) bef. May 1384, Joan, da. of Thomas Cateway† of Buscot, Berks.; (2) bef. Oct. 1424, Margery Haines (d. 18 May 1484), s.p. legit. Kntd. 28 June 1387.2

Offices Held

Commr. of array, Oxon. Dec. 1399, Sept. 1403, Berks. May 1418, Mar. 1419; to make proclamation against sedition and rebellion May 1402; of inquiry, Oxon. Jan. 1412 (contributions to a subsidy), Oxon., Berks. Jan. 1414 (lollards); to raise royal loans, Berks. Nov. 1419.

J.p. Berks. 16 May 1401-Oct. 1408, Oxon. 26 Apr. 1418-Jan. 1420, 12 Feb. 1422-July 1423.

Escheator, Oxon. and Berks. 1 Dec. 1405-9 Dec. 1406, 12 Nov. 1414-14 Dec. 1415.

Sheriff, Oxon. and Berks. 4 Nov. 1409-29 Nov. 1410.


In 1382 Peter Bessels became heir to his paternal family estates following the deaths, while minors in the King’s wardship, of his elder brother John and the latter’s son. Although only two years were to elapse before he came of age and formally received seisin, a further 22 had to pass by before his mother’s death in 1406 enabled him to take possession of those lands she held in dower, together with the properties she had inherited from her own family, the Leighs. Bessels’s inheritance taken altogether was a substantial one, located in the upper Thames valley in Oxfordshire and Berkshire where it comprised two manors at Buckland and others in Leigh, Radcot and Grafton, but also including a valuable property at Kingston in Warwickshire and the manor of Kings Brompton and advowson of Barlinch priory in Somerset. In addition, in 1393 he and his mother had extended their Berkshire holdings through the purchase of Carswell from Sir Richard Adderbury I*. After Bessels’s death these landed holdings were estimated to have provided him with revenues of nearly £70 a year, and this was very likely an undervaluation.3

While still in wardship of the Crown, Bessels imprudently married without first seeking the King’s permission to do so. Accordingly, at Salisbury in May 1384, he and his father-in-law Thomas Cateway (then attending Parliament as knight of the shire for Berkshire) were fined 50 marks, payable in instalments over four years, before being granted a royal pardon for their offence. Three years later Bessels enlisted for naval service in the contingent Sir Gilbert Talbot* raised under the command of the admiral, Richard, earl of Arundel, and it was at the height of Arundel’s successful campaign that, in June 1387, he was knighted. Further military service followed in December 1394 when he crossed over to Ireland to join the King’s army there, returning home in April following. However, it was not until after Richard II’s deposition that Bessels was first appointed to royal commissions. He proved his loyalty to the new regime by acting as a juror at the trial of Sir Thomas Blount* and other traitors at Oxford castle on 12 Jan. 1400, and he was summoned to great councils as one of three men called from Berkshire in 1401 and 1403. Despite serving on the local bench, he could not always be relied upon to act with discretion. During his first escheatorship, in April 1406, he was party to a breach of the peace, and in February 1411 he was required to find sureties for good conduct at the suit of a monk from the abbey of Gloucester. More serious still, just three months after this second incident he fell out with Sir Robert Corbet*, the then sheriff of Oxfordshire and Berkshire, although on that occasion it was his adversary who was ordered on pain of 200 marks to curb his violent behaviour. Not long afterwards one John Tynten alleged that Bessels had assaulted him, after forcibly entering his place at Appleton (near Leigh) in the dead of night with a band of armed followers. Of course, Bessels was also engaged in more respectable pursuits. In 1407 he had obtained royal confirmation of a deed made in December 1399 whereby Sir William Brantingham* and his wife had conveyed to him and the vicar of Dodford (Northamptonshire) a lease for their lifetimes of the manor of Dodford, for 45 marks a year. He regularly attended parliamentary elections in the two shires where he held his principal estates, doing so at Grandpont in 1407, November 1414, 1419 and 1420, and at Oxford in May 1413 and April 1414.4

By September 1412 Bessels had placed nearly all of his substantial estates in the hands of feoffees-to-uses, who included Thomas Coventre I (burgess for Oxford in the Parliament of January 1404 when Bessels had been returned for the county) and John Wilcotes*; but it was not until he made his will at Bessels Leigh on 23 Oct. 1424 that he fully stated his intentions as to their disposal. He left no immediate heirs, and Thomas, the illegitimate son of his second wife Margery Haines (who afterwards called himself Thomas Bessels and claimed to be Sir Peter’s son and heir), received no more by the terms of the will than a life interest in a small estate at Longworth together with the expenses of his education. Margery was permitted to keep the manors of Bessels Leigh and Kingston for her lifetime, but these were then to be sold, as were nearly all of the rest of Bessels’s estates (with the notable exception of Kings Brompton which was to be donated to Barlinch priory). The sum of money thus raised (which Bessels expected to amount to £600) was to be spent on charitable works. These were to include handsome gifts of £30 to the chapel at Radcot for repairs, and £120 to the church of Dominican friars at Oxford, where he was to be buried next to his father, for glazing six windows in the north aisle; and provision was to be made for up to 4,000 masses for his soul, at the discretion of his executors. Certain properties were set aside for the further endowment of the bridge recently built at Abingdon, and also to found a college of Premonstratensian canons at Oxford. Bessels, having made a final testament on 20 Dec., died on 2 Mar. 1425.5

There ensued a great deal of squabbling over his estate between the executors, who included Bessels’s widow Margery (strongly supported by her second husband, William Warbleton†), and in the course of acrimonious lawsuits which dragged on for many years one of the trustees was even put in the Fleet prison for embezzlement of the proceeds of the sale of the lands, which was said to have raised over £1,000. By no means all was carried out in accordance with the deceased’s wishes. Indeed, by outliving Sir Peter by nearly 50 years, the widow successfully contrived to have Radcot and Grafton entailed to the advantage of the issue of her bastard son Thomas.6

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421


Variants: Beselles, Besiles, Besyles.

  • 1. CIPM, xv. 947. His proof of age is missing: ibid. xvi. 188.
  • 2. E101/41/5.
  • 3. CIPM, xv. 98-101, 946-7; Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 5), v. 75-76; CCR, 1381-5, p. 477; CFR, xiii. 42; VCH Berks. iv. 395-6, 454-6; VCH Warws. v. 44; Feudal Aids, vi. 399, 514; C139/17/28.
  • 4. CPR, 1381-5, p. 404; 1391-6, p. 498; 1405-8, p. 375; E101/41/5, 402/20, f. 35d; E37/28; CCR, 1405-9, p. 123; 1409-13, pp. 191, 216; C1/16/36; PPC, i. 163; ii. 87; C219/10/4, 11/2, 3, 5, 12/3, 4.
  • 5. CPR, 1422-9, p. 535; Reg. Chichele, ii. 307-8, 342-4; Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 5), v. 75-76; CCR, 1422-9. pp. 229-30.
  • 6. CCR, 1429-35, p. 63; 1141-7, pp. 383, 387; C1/7/231, 9/126-7, 10/304, 74/84; Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 5), v. 77-80; C141/4/39. Margery’s legitimate heir was her nephew, John Haines of Salop.