FRYE, Robert II (d.1435), of Wilts.
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Family and Education
s. of Agnes Frye who m. (2) Thomas Raleigh (d.1397) of Farnborough, Warws.; (3) 1399, Thomas Wanklyn.2
Clerk of the King’s Council c.1397-June 1421.3
Secondary in the privy seal office, Dec. 1420-Easter 1425.
Coming from a modest background in Wiltshire and having no university degree, Frye probably began his career as a clerk in royal service at the lowest level, as a writer in the signet office. He worked his way up and achieved a position of importance and affluence well beyond that of most of his fellows. His term of employment in the signet office began in about 1387, and by January 1394 he was assistant to John Prophet the first-known clerk of the Council, when Prophet was secondary in the privy seal office. By 1397 (at the latest) he was writing for the Council and continued to do so until 1421, but it was only from 1406 that he was formally entitled ‘clerk of the Council’. He proved to be a particularly efficient bureaucrat who improved the filing system in the privy seal office and made a considerable contribution to the development of the Council records.4
The privy seal clerks were not paid salaries, but on 28 Jan. 1399 Frye was granted for 12 years’ good service in the offices of the privy seal and signet £10 a year out of the profits of the county of Wiltshire, and this annuity, after confirmation by each of the Lancastrian kings, continued to be paid right up to his death in 1435.5 Like other civil servants he petitioned for and received corrodies, forfeited goods and other rewards. In 1392 he had been nominated for a pension from the diocese of Hereford; in 1395 he was granted the office of sub-deacon in the abbey church at Wilton; in 1398, along with Thomas Hoccleve, the poet, and two other royal clerks, he shared a £40 forfeit; in 1400 he received a corrody at Halesowen abbey; and in 1404 he obtained another at Osney.6 He was obviously very well placed to secure other favours. His mother, Agnes, had married Thomas Raleigh, a wealthy Warwickshire landowner with estates in seven counties, and when she was widowed for the second time in 1397 he secured at the Exchequer for himself, in association with Agnes and their kinsman, William Frye, custody of these lands during the minority of Agnes’s stepson, Thomas Raleigh*. A few years later his mother wrote to tell him that the Wiltshire holdings of one Nicholas Waldebeof were about to be forfeited following his conviction for the murder of a Wilton man, asking Robert to ‘helpe me of zor consayl yt y myztte have a lytel lyvynge yt ys encheted in ye knyges hand’. The property, worth ten marks, Frye obtained for himself in August 1401, but had some difficulties over gaining entry.7 The clerks could also expect an income from fees and rewards, and Frye’s letters show that experienced clerks at Westminster were much in demand to help suitors who assuredly paid them in some way for their assistance. And then, of course, there were official bonuses. In 1401, along with eight other privy seal clerks, he petitioned the Council for a reward for his work on its behalf; they received £40 between them, and he himself was given 40 marks in addition ‘pur les graundz labours et travalx queux il ad eux et sustenuz entour lescripture des actes du conseil en temps passez’. From 1403 to 1405 he received an annual salary of £20 and this was increased to 40 marks from 1406. Journeys undertaken with members of the Council and the completion of tasks beyond his normal duties over the years brought additional emoluments.8
The title of clerk of the Council was first used on 8 Dec. 1406, a significant date in the history of the Council appointed in the last session of the Parliament then in progress. At the time Frye was sitting in the Commons for both Wilton and Shaftesbury, and it is perhaps to this year that should be ascribed a draft letter from him to the mayor and burgesses of Wilton thanking them for choosing him as one of their representatives and promising to do all that he could for the borough. He was selected no doubt because his services were both less costly and more effective than those of a townsman. In the last session of the 1406 Parliament, and in response to the Commons’ insistence on a plan for good government, 31 articles were agreed, of which the sixth is of especial interest in the present context. It provided that all crown revenues not granted away before the first day of the Parliament and coming into the King’s hands before the last day of the next Parliament were to be reserved for the payment of the expenses of the Household, and that no grants or remissions of payment of these revenues were to be made until the end of the stated term. The very few exceptions to this provision, specified and subsequently enrolled on the Parliament roll, included a pardon to Frye and his mother for their failure to pay £17 13s.5d. due to the Exchequer for the wardship of the Raleigh estates.9
Frye’s letters reveal the incidental business affairs of a successful clerk in royal employ. He was engaged as an agent and advisor to a number of people. He collected the annuities and watched over the interests of John Spertegrave and John Fairhood, two merchants trading overseas. His relatives and neighbours in Wiltshire used his good offices: he was asked to help delay a judicial hearing, to seek a pardon for two Wilton men, and to use his influence to obtain supplies of timber. Cecily Tickell, a prisoner in Newgate, appealed for his assistance with her bail, thanking him for his ‘noble maisterchepe’ shown ‘withouten eny cause of deserte’; the provost of St. Sever in Gascony wrote to him about some business in which he was engaged; the bailiff of Poillon asked for his help in obtaining confirmation of his post; and he was considered, on one occasion, to have influence in the appointment of the office of gaoler of Newgate.10
Frye spent some of his earnings on land in Dorset and Wiltshire. In 1409 he purchased from Thomas Seward’s* daughter 17 messuages and eight tofts in Shaftesbury, and later his holdings there were valued at £10 a year. In 1412 his property at Wilton was assessed at £1 6s.8d. annually; and in addition he received £5 p.a. from the fee farm of the borough and £10 as his annuity from the profits of the shire. Among the perquisites of his office was the joint guardianship (during a vacancy) of the temporalities of the bishopric of Chichester, from February to June 1418.11
After 1406 Frye sat in five more Parliaments, but perhaps the surprising thing is that he was a Member of the Commons at all. In 1395 he had been in minor orders, and his annuity for work for the Council had been granted in the usual form (‘until promoted to a benefice’). His decision to take further vows was, however, delayed until after his last appearance in Parliament. On 24 Sept. 1418 he was ordained at Clyst and on 10 Nov. 1419 was presented to the parish church of Loughborough, Leicestershire, the warrant specifying ‘so that he be preste or atte leste infra sacros withyn this yere’. But he retained his clerkship of the Council and by December 1420 at the latest had been appointed secondary in the privy seal office, a post of dignity entitling him to furred livery and a salary of £10 a year, although with no very clear duties attached. In December 1423 he was awarded a pension at Shaftesbury abbey.12 He retired from royal service after Easter 1425 and appears to have spent his last years at Loughborough: it was there that he died, in 1435.13
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. He received 20s. ‘in stipendium’ for attending the Parliaments of 1410 and 1411, and 18s.8d. expenses for carrying out business for the town of Wilton in London in 1412-13; Wilton corporation guild stewards’ accts. 1410-13.
- 2. Som. and Dorset N. and Q. xx. 146-7; CFR, xi. 240-1; C136/101/48; CCR, 1396-9, p. 252.
- 3. A.L. Brown, ‘Privy Seal Clerks’, Study of Med. Recs. ed. Bullough and Storey, 260-81, and Clerkship of the Council (Univ. Glasgow Pubs. n.s. cxxxi), 17-20.
- 4. CPR, 1396-9, p. 463; E403/546, 20 Jan.; his formulary is now Edinburgh Univ. Lib. ms 183.
- 5. CPR, 1396-9, p. 463; 1399-1401, p. 30; 1413-16, p. 100; 1422-9, p. 22; E101/596/9.
- 6. CCR, 1389-92, p. 554; 1399-1402, p. 279; 1402-5, p. 325; CPR, 1391-6, p. 648; 1396-9, p. 408.
- 7. E28/29/70; CPR, 1399-1401, p. 535; C1/6/23; CFR, xi. 240-1.
- 8. E28/9/23 July 1401, 23, 29; E404/16/751, 33/98.
- 9. RP, iii. 586, 591.
- 10. E28/29; Anglo-Norman Letters and Pets. ed. Legge, nos. 33, 35, 41.
- 11. Dorset Feet of Fines, ii. 264, 286; Feudal Aids, ii. 122; vi. 538; CFR, xiv. 247-8.
- 12. Reg. Stafford (Exeter) ed. Hingeston-Randolph, 429; C81/1365/12; CPR, 1416-22, p. 249; E404/36/264, 39/143, 312, 41/308; CCR, 1422-9, p. 134.
- 13. CCR, 1435-41, p. 56; Som. and Dorset N. and Q. xx. 146-7.