CHEYNE, Sir John I (d.1413/14), of Beckford, Glos.

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

Family and Education

m. (1) between Apr. 1372 and Nov. 1373, Margaret (d. 2 Apr. 1380), da. of William, 2nd Lord Deincourt, by Millicent, da. of William, 1st Lord Zouche, wid. of Robert, 3rd Lord Tybotot,1 s.p.; (2) bef. 1388, Margaret (22 Jan. 1373-19 June 1438),2 da. and h. of Edward Lovetoft of Southoe, Hunts., 2s. Kntd. by Feb. 1378.

Offices Held

Ambassador to Brittany 6 May-3 Oct. 1380, to Wladislas, King of the Romans, Nov. 1381, to the Papal Curia, Rome 15 June-14 Dec. 1390, to treat with the envoys of Rupert III (anti-Kaiser) in London Feb. 1401, to Rome c. Apr. 1401, to France 29 Apr.-23 July, 5 Aug.-c. Sept. 1404, Rome 20 Nov. 1406-Aug. 1408, France 20 May-July 1410, Feb.-July 1411.

Captain of Marck (Pas de Calais) Mich. 1384-Jan. 1386.

Commr. of inquiry, Glos. May 1389 (felonies), Feb. 1400 (wastes, Deerhurst priory estates), May 1400 (trespasses), Worcs. Aug. 1401 (theft of the abbot of Evesham’s goods), Herefs. Aug. 1401 (murder), Glos. Aug. 1401 (poaching), July 1405, Jan. 1406 (alienation of land in the King’s wardship), Feb. 1406 (estates forfeited by John, earl of Huntingdon); to determine appeals from the constable’s ct. at Bordeaux Feb. 1400, the admiral’s ct. Dec. 1400, Jan., Feb., June, July, Sept., Nov. 1401, Nov. 1404, Nov. 1405, Feb. 1406, the constable’s ct. July 1401, Mar. 1403; of oyer and terminer, Glos. May 1400; to make proclamation of Henry IV’s intention to govern well May 1402; supervise musters of men joining the prince of Wales’s army, Worcs. Aug. 1402; determine lawsuits over the ransoming of Scots taken prisoner at Humbleton Hill Mar. 1403; raise royal loans, Carm. Sept. 1403; victual Cardiff castle Sept. 1403; of arrest, Worcs. Apr. 1404; to negotiate for the submission of the lordships of Usk, Caerleon, Edlogan and Dingestow Aug. 1405.

J.p. Glos. 10 Nov. 1389-Dec. 1390, 28 May 1400-d.

Coroner, Glos. 1 Feb.-23 June 1392.3

Lt. of the constable of Eng. in the ct. of chivalry 23 Apr. 1393-c. July 1397.4

Speaker-elect 6 or 14-15 Oct. 1399.

Member of Henry IV’s council by mid June 1400-Dec. 1406.


The career of Sir John Cheyne, the only knight of the shire for Gloucestershire ever to be elected Speaker, is of great interest, not only because of his involvement in important diplomatic enterprises under both Richard II and Henry IV and his prominent position as a councillor to the latter monarch, but also for the well-founded suspicions that he was a lollard.

Cheyne’s parentage has not been discovered, although a case has been made for his membership of the Buckinghamshire family of that name which lived at Drayton Beauchamp.5 Almost certainly a younger son (for all the lands he subsequently held were secured either by marriage or by royal grant), he was destined for a career in the Church, and, indeed, went so far as to take minor orders before the prospects of an extremely advantageous marriage and an introduction to royal service altered his course. In later years he was to be regarded in certain ecclesiastical circles as a renegade and apostate. It seems likely that he had a legal training as a civilian and canonist, and both his later employment in the court of chivalry, where civilian processes were used, and his ambassadorial work at the Curia, indicate an intelligent, well-educated man. Probably because of his obscure, or even lowly, birth Cheyne’s marriage in 1372 or 1373 to the daughter of one peer and the widow of another, met with opposition from her family the Deincourts, who were subsequently accused of having assaulted and injured him at Langar in Nottinghamshire, one of the manors the marriage brought him. Furthermore, the match was contracted without royal approval, for which breach Cheyne was fined £100. In the event this proved to be no great hardship, for during the eight years before his wife’s death Cheyne was to enjoy possession of her dower estates situated in five counties and valued at 230 marks a year, and in 1378 the £50 still owing for the fine (which he had been permitted to pay in half-yearly instalments of £10) was cancelled. By August 1374 he had become an esquire in the King’s household, possibly owing his entry to his connexion with the treasurer of the Exchequer, Richard, Lord Scrope† of Bolton, who held the wardship of Cheyne’s three stepdaughters, the Tybotot coheirs. He was knighted in about 1378, the year in which he took command of a small force at sea. From then on Cheyne was to be closely connected with some former members of the Black Prince’s household, a group favouring heretical views and later known as the ‘lollard knights’, among them Sir Lewis Clifford, Sir Thomas Latimer† and Clifford’s son-in-law, Sir Philip de la Vache*. The connexion proved to be long-lasting: in 1393 Cheyne was to be one of a group to whom as feoffees to fulfil his will Clifford conveyed the castle and lordship of Ewyas Harold (Herefordshire), and 11 years later he was named as overseer of Clifford’s will.

Perhaps what most appealed to Cheyne in the lollards’ aims was their demand for the disendowment of monasteries. Certainly, he himself benefited greatly from the sequestrated lands of the dependencies of a number of French abbeys and priories. From 1379 he farmed the estates (consisting of three manors in Gloucestershire and one in Lincolnshire), of the priory of Beckford (where he made his home), the rent being halved in the following year when Richard II granted him an annuity of 50 marks charged on Beckford, and cancelled altogether in 1383 when this annuity was doubled. Six years later he obtained permission to acquire from the mother-house of Ste. Barbe-en-Auge a demise of the priory for his own lifetime, that of his second wife and that of his elder son. (It was accordingly to remain in the family until his widow’s death in 1438.) In addition, in 1387 he had secured for life the farm of the Gloucestershire estates of the Norman abbey of Beaubec.

These substantial rewards evidently followed on the discovery that Cheyne was a diplomat of exceptional ability. Richard II’s government made full use of his skills: thus he was sent on embassy to Brittany in 1380 (receiving wages of £1 a day for 150 days),6 and on secret business to Wladislas, King of the Romans (whose sister, Anne, was shortly to marry the King), in the following year. In 1384 the captaincy of the castle of Marck was entrusted to him as a replacement for Sir William Bryan, Lord Bryan’s younger son, but certain difficulties arose between the two knights over delays in the transfer of command, their quarrel lasting until 1390 (long after Sir John himself had been superseded as captain), when the Council settled it in Cheyne’s favour. There is no specific evidence that Cheyne was as yet attached to the Lords Appellant of 1387-8; on the contrary, during the years of their rule he served on no royal commissions whatsoever, and only re-emerged in July 1389 after Richard II had again established his authority. Then, as a knight of the King’s chamber, he was dispatched to meet the French ambassadors at Sandwich. Two months after Cheyne’s appointment as a j.p. in Gloucestershire, in November following, he was elected knight of the shire for the first time. During the Parliament a second and more stringent version of the Act of Provisors of 1351 was introduced, and in June Cheyne left for Rome in order to present to Boniface IX royal letters explaining the clauses in the statute. He returned home on 14 Dec., to be given a handsome present of 100 marks over and above his wages of £185.7

Cheyne accompanied Richard II on his first expedition to Ireland in 1394, but his relations with the King were beginning to be clouded by his growing connexion with Richard’s foremost enemy, Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester. Since Cheyne’s appointment as the duke’s lieutenant in the court of chivalry in April 1393 he had no longer been trusted with diplomatic tasks, nor even with local commissions, and at the time of Gloucester’s fall in the summer of 1397 he himself was made a prisoner. He was arrested on 21 July at the same time as the duke, and having been brought before Parliament on 24 Sept. he was condemned to death for treason. He nevertheless escaped the fate then meted out to the earl of Arundel and the others condemned with him, for his sentence was changed to perpetual imprisonment ‘prece ac magna instancia dominorum’. It is possible that he remained a captive until Bolingbroke’s successful invasion in the summer of 1399, but his inclusion in transactions concerning the property of Sir John Russell* of Strensham in February that year may point to an earlier release, perhaps engineered by Russell himself, who was at that time one of the King’s most trusted councillors. The two remained friends and Cheyne subsequently acted as an executor of Russell’s will.8 Cheyne was elected to the Parliament summoned to witness the deposition of Richard II and acclaim the accession of Henry IV. After the acceptance of Richard’s resignation of the Crown on 30 Sept., Parliament, formally re-summoned, met on 6 Oct. only to be adjourned until the 14th. According to Thomas Walsingham, Cheyne was elected Speaker on the 6th, but on the following day Archbishop Arundel, addressing Convocation, alluded to the anti-clericalism of many of the parliamentary knights and especially to the dangerous views held by Cheyne himself, who had long, he said, been an enemy of the Church. Whether or not Cheyne’s abandonment of the office of Speaker on the 15th was due to pressure exerted on the new King by the archbishop is unclear; the formal reason he gave for resigning was the physical weakness caused by his long spell of imprisonment.

Cheyne’s relationship with Henry IV was soon established on a satisfactory basis from his own personal point of view, with further grants of alien priory estates being readily forthcoming. While continuing to draw at least 100 marks a year from the Beckford inheritance, he now received a new annuity of 100 marks which between 1400 and 1402 he converted into the custody of the lands of Newent priory (extended at 150 marks a year). From mid June 1400, if not before, he was a member of the King’s Council and during the period of almost seven years when he was a councillor his income from royal grants amounted to at least £231 6 s.8 d. a year. Cheyne’s commitments on the council and his important work in the diplomatic field kept him busier than ever. His involvement in foreign affairs included a proposed embassy to the Court of Rome in April 1401,9 negotiations for the marriage of Henry IV’s elder daughter, Blanche, to the son and heir of Rupert III of Bavaria (in 1402 he was among those who accompanied the princess to Germany), and, in 1404, intensive talks to prevent Anglo-French relations from deteriorating into open hostility. (Two embassies to France, to confer with Charles VI and the Burgundians, earned him a reward of 100 marks in addition to his usual daily wage of £1.)10 Meanwhile Cheyne had also been much occupied with hearing appeals from the constable’s and admiral’s courts. Nor had his activities been restricted to government at the centre: he was also playing an important part in organizing the defence of the southern Welsh marches against the invasions of Owen Glendower, including the victualling of Cardiff castle and the raising of loans for the war-effort. In May 1405 he acted as intermediary between the Council and the treasurers of war regarding the payment of garrisons in the area, and three months later he himself was in the field arranging for the submission of Welsh rebels.11 In the meantime at the Coventry Parliament of 1404, where the Commons had pressed for a short-term confiscation of the temporalities of the Church to aid the King in his dangerous state of financial embarrassment caused by internal and foreign opposition to his rule, it was Cheyne, probably attending the Parliament in his capacity as a councillor, who apparently acted as ‘prolocutor militum’ (although Sir William Sturmy was the official Speaker). His speech provoked a personal attack from Archbishop Arundel who ascribed selfish motives to him and the shire knights, asserting that all they wanted was to seize the resources of the alien priories for themselves.

Cheyne remained on the King’s Council right up to his departure in November 1406 for the Roman Curia; but he was not re-appointed when changes in the council were made on 22 Dec.12 Before he and Henry Chichele left for Rome they were associated with Hugh Mortimer*, the prince of Wales’s chamberlain, in an embassy to the French court to treat for peace on the basis of a marriage between Prince Henry and a daughter of Charles VI. Cheyne spent nearly two years in Rome, engaged in discussions seeking to end the Schism, and by the time of his return home in August 1408 his dues had amounted to nearly £643. Further embassies to France in 1410 and 1411 reveal that his diplomatic expertise was also of much value to the new government headed by the prince of Wales.13

Since 1405 Cheyne had enjoyed, besides his royal emoluments, the income from the estates of his second wife, which included three manors in Huntingdonshire and three more in Lincolnshire, and he was evidently a wealthy man. After 1411 he paid the farm of £67 6s.8d. for the temporalities of Newent to the duke of York’s collegiate foundation at Fotheringhay (to which the estates were to remain after his death), and, probably in return, York’s feoffees granted him for life the manor of Barton near Bristol.

Cheyne’s will, made on 1 Nov. 1413, had all the characteristics associated with lollard testaments: an extravagant emphasis on his unworthiness (he described himself as ‘fals and traitor to my lord God and to his blissid moder our lady seynt Marie and to all the holy compaigne of hevene’); contempt for the earthly body (he referred to his ‘wreched stynkyng careyne’ which was to be buried in the churchyard against the east wall of the new chapel established in the church at Beckford); and strict injunctions against funeral pomp (there was to be no cloth of gold or silk but only russet cloth at 1s.3d. a yard to clothe his corpse, while the doles were to be kept down to £7 in groats and pennies for poor men attending). It appears from the will of Cheyne’s younger son Edmund, made two years later, that Sir John had had in his possession a psalter of the mystic Richard Rolle of Hampole. The overseers of Cheyne’s will were Bishop Henry Chichele (his companion on many embassies), Master John Prophet (keeper of the privy seal), and Sir Thomas Pickworth, lieutenant of Calais. By the time of probate, granted on 28 Apr. 1414, Chichele had been postulated as Arundel’s successor at Canterbury.14

Cheyne’s heir, another Sir John, died in June 1420, by which date the Speaker’s widow had married William Herle esquire.15

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Authors: J. S. Roskell / L. S. Woodger


Except where otherwise indicated, all information in this biography is derived from J.S. Roskell, ‘Sir John Cheyne’, Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. lxxv. 43-72, and Speakers, 9, 12, 26, 68-69, 136-7, 353-5, where the subject is treated more fully.

  • 1. CP, xii (pt. 2), 97-98.
  • 2. C137/45/15; C139/86/27.
  • 3. C242/7/32.
  • 4. Nottingham Med. Studies, vi. 74-108; vii. 77.
  • 5. K.B. McFarlane, Lancastrian Kings, 163-4, 168-71, 172-3.
  • 6. E364/14 m. C.
  • 7. E364/24 m. A.
  • 8. Lambeth Pal. Lib. Reg. Arundel, i. f. 222d.; CP25(1)260/25/57; Corporation of London RO, hr 127/71, 128/84.
  • 9. Cal. Signet Letters ed. Kirby, 32.
  • 10. E101/320/40; E404/19/334, 20/149.
  • 11. Cal. Signet Letters, 341.
  • 12. TRHS (ser. 5), xiv. 44, 50, 53, 56, 61-63.
  • 13. E404/25/366, 391.
  • 14. Reg. Arundel, ii. f. 203d.; McFarlane, 211.
  • 15. C138/53/113.