RADCLIFFE, Sir John (d.1441), of Attleborough, Norf.

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

yr. s. of James Radcliffe of Radcliffe, Lancs. and bro. of Richard. m. (1) ?in 1405, Cecily (d.1423), da. and coh.of Sir Thomas Mortimer (d. bef. 1387), of Newnham, Cambs. and Attleborough, by Mary, da. of Nicholas Park, wid. of Sir John Herling (d. bef. 1403), 1s.; (2) bef. June 1426, Katherine (c.1407-13 Oct. 1452), da. and coh. of Sir Edward Burnell (o.s. of Hugh, Lord Burnell) of Thurning and Billingford, Norf., 1s. Kntd. Aug. 1415; KG 22 Apr. 1429.

Offices Held

?Sec. to Thomas of Lancaster, lt. of Ire. by 20 Mar.-aft. Dec. 1403.

Second baron of the Exchequer, Ire. 14 May 1404-22 Dec. 1406.

Commr. of arrest, Ire. Aug. 1404, Hants May 1427; to raise royal loans, Salop July 1426, Norf. Mar. 1439; hold musters, Kent June 1428, Apr. 1430, Calais May 1436; of inquiry, Norf. Dec. 1433 (misgovernance in Norwich), Mar. 1438 (evasion of customs), Norf., Suff. May 1438 (lands late of Robert Garveys), Cambs., Hunts., Norf., Suff. July 1439 (concealments), Norf., Suff. June 1440 (evasion of customs); gaol delivery, Ipswich Mar. 1439.

Jt. chief butler, Ire. 1 Jan. 1406-c. Aug. 1411.

Envoy to treat for the ransom of French prisoners 18 Sept. 1413, to the congress of Arras 23 June-15 Sept. 1435, to treat with ambassadors of Prussia and the Hanse towns Mar. 1436.

Bailli of Evreux 2 June 1418-12 Mar. 1419.

Constable of Bordeaux 16 May 1419-2 Oct. 1423.

Capt., Fronsac 16 May 1419-6 Nov. 1436.

Seneschal, Aquitaine 1 May 1423-6 Nov. 1436.

Chamberlain, North Wales 10 Feb. 1434-2 Apr. 1437.

Dep. lt. of Calais by 15 Mar.-aft. Oct. 1436.


John, who was to become one of the most important military captains of his day, came from Lancashire. His father, James Radcliffe, gave his wholehearted support to Henry of Bolingbroke on his return to England in the summer of 1399,1 thereby securing an entry into royal service for his younger son. John spent most of Henry IV’s reign in the entourage of the King’s second son, Thomas of Lancaster, and it seems very likely that he was the person of this name who in 1403 was acting as the prince’s secretary in Ireland, where Thomas was the King’s lieutenant, receiving by the latter’s gift a number of grants of Irish property. However, much later, Radcliffe’s petition for admission to the Order of the Garter stated that he had fought at the battle of Shrewsbury that same year. In 1404 he was granted the office of second baron of the Exchequer of Ireland to hold for life (although in the event he was to relinquish it after little more than two years); and he also owed to his connexion with Prince Thomas the King’s grant made to him on 2 Oct. of a life annuity of £10 charged on the revenues of the county of Lancaster.2 Described as ‘of Lancashire’, in December 1405 Radcliffe was associated on the first recorded occasion with (Sir) John Fastolf (whose later career was to resemble his own in many respects), when they both provided securities for certain men from Attleborough in Norfolk; and it may well be that his marriage to Fastolf’s half-sister Cecily Mortimer (the lady of that manor) dated from the same time. He now established a friendship with Fastolf which was to last for life, starting with their joint tenure, from 1406, of the office of chief butler of Ireland for the duration of the minority of the earl of Ormond, an appointment in the gift of Thomas of Lancaster. Service in Ireland (Radcliffe apparently made visits to the province again in 1406 and 1412) earned for him various rewards: for example, in February 1407 he was granted for life the bailiwick of the ‘garde’ of Snaith, Yorkshire, and a year later, at the request of Prince Thomas, he received a life annuity of £10 charged on the fee farm of Waterford (an allowance he was to retain until 1440).3

It was Radcliffe’s first marriage which brought this landless younger son territorial possessions. Cecily’s grandfather, the wealthy Sir Robert Mortimer (d.1387), had left her 350 marks as her marriage portion (which went to her first husband, Sir John Herling), and had divided his estates between her and her sister Margery, wife of Sir John Fitzrauf, stipulating only that they should pay 2,000 marks to his trustees for the completion of Attleborough college. Under the terms of an agreement made with the Fitzraufs in 1403, the portion allotted to Cecily (then a widow) included the manors of Attleborough and Stanford in Norfolk and Newnham and Foxton in Cambridgeshire, as well as several other substantial properties. Subsequently, she settled her most important manor, Attleborough itself, on her husband Radcliffe and his heirs, and she also formally confirmed his interest for life in the rest of her inheritance.4

Radcliffe’s new standing as a landowner did not cause him to give up his career as a soldier; indeed, his value in this capacity was early recognized by Henry V, who in July 1413 retained him with life annuities amounting to £43 6s.8d. (comprised of 4 marks given to him and his wife in survivorship, and 25 marks to him alone). It seems likely that in 1412-13 he had served in France under Thomas of Lancaster, recently created duke of Clarence, for in September 1413 he was authorized to negotiate for the ransom of certain French prisoners, and at some unknown date he himself took captive John, Lord de la Leigne, who came to England in the autumn of 1414 to make final payments to secure his release. In the summer of 1415 Radcliffe joined Henry V’s personal retinue to cross to Normandy, taking with him a contingent of six men-at-arms and 18 archers, and he was among those knighted when they landed on French soil. On the day that Harfleur surrendered (22 Sept.) Sir John entered the town under the command of Thomas Beaufort, earl of Dorset, and he was to remain in France as one of Beaufort’s lieutenants, certainly until 6 Jan. 1416 and perhaps for longer. When, ten years later, his promotion to the ranks of the Garter Knights was under consideration, it was to be claimed not only that he had fought at Agincourt but also that he had taken part in the famous raid into Caux made in March 1416.5 On 8 Feb. 1417 Radcliffe contracted to serve in the forthcoming invasion of France with his own force of 20 men-at-arms and 60 archers. Four months later, not long before the army embarked, he was granted the estates belonging to the late Sir Thomas Morley of Framsden, Suffolk, during the minority of Morley’s daughter Margaret, together with the latter’s marriage, a grant which in 1419, after he had clearly demonstrated his ability as a commander in the field, was to be confirmed on highly advantageous terms; and so long as the wardship did not exceed the value of £20 a year, and the marriage the value of 100 marks, he was to have them free of charge. Radcliffe played a useful part in the conquest of Normandy: in October 1417 he was made responsible for receiving revenues from the lordship of Verneuil; in June 1418 he was appointed bailii of Evreux with a mandate to destroy all fortresses in the region which he was unable to garrison; and later that summer he was empowered to conclude truces for the surrender of a number of other castles. He remained in office at Evreux until the spring of 1419, when he was moved to a different sphere of military activity.6

In May 1419 Radcliffe was appointed as both constable of Bordeaux and captain of Fronsac (a strategically vital stronghold on the Dordogne); posts he was to hold for four-and-a-half years and, although the initial contract expired in 1425, for more than 17 years, respectively. As remuneration he was promised 4s. a day and £100 a year on top of other allowances at Bordeaux, and as much as 1,000 marks p.a. at Fronsac. Two months after his arrival in Aquitaine in August 1419 he was charged with the special mission of explaining to the nobles and citizens of Bordeaux the King’s plans for the defence of the region; and in the following May, as Henry V’s representative, he addressed the meeting of the estates at a ‘parlement’ held at Dax, requesting from them a hearth tax to be spent on military operations. That same spring he led the forces of the duchy in several offensives, during which he recovered a number of important castles from the dauphinists. In June he obtained a royal licence to ship grain from Norfolk to Aquitaine, but in all probability he did not return to England before the end of the year. He was then elected to Parliament for the first time.7 In April 1421, following the reverse of Baugé (where the duke of Clarence was killed) and perhaps as part of a drive to restore the morale of English troops in northern France, Radcliffe was dispatched to Normandy with a special brief to inspect all the towns and fortresses under Henry V’s sovereignty and to report on the conduct of their captains and garrisons. It seems likely that after completing this task he returned to his posts in Guienne for the rest of the reign.8

The council of Henry VI retained Radcliffe at Bordeaux for a while, only to promote him on 3 Mar. 1423 as seneschal of Aquitaine. His contract stipulated that he should discharge this highest office in the duchy with a permanent force of 200 mounted archers. He embarked from Southampton in August following, and on his arrival in Guienne he formally relinquished his post as constable of Bordeaux. From then on he assumed responsibility for the defence of the duchy, using his extensive powers not only in the field, but also in delicate diplomatic negotiations to secure the allegiance of the counts of Foix and Armagnac, and to make truces with the enemy on the frontiers. It was said that ‘by hys labour in knyghthood’ he brought ‘to hys sovereign lord’s obeysance ... many dyverse cytes, townes and fortresses’, and such was his reputation as a commander that Bazaz capitulated, the defenders ‘doubtyng to fyght wyth Radeclyff and hys power’. Nevertheless, Sir John was reluctant to continue in this difficult role for long, especially in view of the growing inability of the government to meet his costs as seneschal, and to pay the wages due to him and his garrison at Fronsac. On his return to England he appeared before the Lords in Parliament on 23 May 1425 and requested from them an immediate discharge. Aware that his plea was not being received sympathetically, he then required that his demand be enrolled as of record, disclaiming any responsibility for such misfortunes as were likely to befall the duchy. It was at this time that his captaincy of Fronsac was extended on the same seemingly advantageous terms as before. However, Radcliffe’s visits to Aquitaine now became increasingly rare. In April 1426 he was first put forward for membership of the Order of the Garter, but on there being an equal number of voices for him and his friend Fastolf, the duke of Bedford decided in the latter’s favour.9

Radcliffe’s wife, Cecily, had died at Bordeaux in 1423, and it was probably during his stay in England which began in 1425 that he contracted his second marriage, to Katherine Burnell. She, one of the three grand daughters and heirs general of Hugh, Lord Burnell (d.1420), had been betrothed in 1416 to the eldest son of John Talbot, Lord Furnival (later earl of Shrewsbury), to whom her grandfather had promised a substantial dowry of some 30 manors in Shropshire and Staffordshire. Yet the descent of these estates was governed by entails made a century earlier in favour of the male line; and, in fact, Lord Burnell possessed not a single acre of which he was free to dispose. Evidently discovering this, the Talbots had withdrawn from the arrangement, and Katherine had remained single. Whether Sir John was fully cognizant of the weakness of his wife’s title to the Burnell estates is difficult to ascertain. He may have believed that she was at least sure of the manors of Billingford, Thurning and East Ryston in Norfolk, which had been settled on her father and his issue; and soon after their nuptuals he took steps to secure possession of certain of the Burnell properties in the west Midlands. But they had yet to defeat the claims of William, 7th Lord Lovell, the heir male, and litigation, begun in 1426, was to continue for 11 years, interrupted only by Radcliffe’s periods of absence overseas. In the end Lovell triumphed, although, by deeds dated in December 1439 and July 1440, he formally allowed the Radcliffes and their issue the three manors in Norfolk they had long considered theirs by right, as well as Southmere and Docking in the same county.10

Perhaps in order to encourage Radcliffe to resume active service in Aquitaine, Henry VI’s council made him a number of grants. In 1424 he had shared custody of Stow Bedon, Norfolk. Then, in July 1425, shortly after his plea for discharge from office in France, he was sold for £600 the marriage of John, son and heir of Henry, Lord Beaumont (which perquisite he was able to pass on, no doubt at a profit, to Sir William Phelip* KG). A year later he was awarded the marriage of Ralph, earl of Westmorland, in lieu of 2,000 marks due to him for military wages, and it was also agreed that he should have the 200 marks which Elizabeth, widow of John, Lord Clifford, had recently paid to the Council as a fine.11 Even these incentives were not enough; although Sir John took out letters of protection to return to Aquitaine in October 1426 and again one year later, he probably never left England. Certainly, he was active at home during the spring of 1427, for he and his retinue ran up expenses of £100 in tracking down a certain traitor. Radcliffe was returned to Parliament again at the end of the year and during the second session, in February 1428, he received grants of the valuable Begney estates in Gascony. Eight months later a payment of £40 was made to him by the Council for his services at home. His installation as a Knight of the Garter eventually took place in April 1429. A month later, on 10 May, he undertook to join the duke of Bedford in northern France with a large force of 100 lances and 700 archers, and the Council made him a gift of £200 to encourage his speedy departure. He and his men embarked from Sandwich in July and probably remained in France for the next six months, if not longer.12

There are signs that the government was becoming anxious about Radcliffe’s neglect of his duties in Aquitaine, especially as military operations had been drastically curtailed during his absence. His reluctance to return there is readily explained by the mounting debts owing to him for wages and expenses both as seneschal and as captain of Fronsac. In July 1428 the Exchequer had been ordered to pay him 4,000 marks from the next instalment of the king of Scotland’s ransom, but even so a year later the enormous sum of £6,620 was still outstanding, and he was assigned £1,000 a year on the customs collected at Melcombe Regis to cover the deficit. In May 1430 the Council awarded him £200 specifically for his services in Aquitaine, and on 6 July special grants were made and enrolled as letters patent as guarantee of its good intent, assigning to him all the customs revenues of six ports of the West Country, and allowing him the privilege of nominating one of the collectors of subsidies in each of the six to safeguard his interests. Furthermore, in March 1431 he was ‘sold’ the marriage of the King’s ward John, son of Sir John Boteler of Lancashire, for a payment of 500 marks. Now under obligation to return to Aquitaine, on the 22nd of the same month he formally entered a contract to campaign with a force of 20 men-at-arms and 500 archers in addition to his complement of 200 archers already in the duchy. Fresh assignments of 2,454 marks were issued by the Exchequer on his behalf, and he was given £1,000 for distribution among the ‘barons and captains’ of the region at his discretion, to encourage their material support. In June all the revenues of Aquitaine were put at his disposal for the payment of the wages of local garrisons. Just before he sailed from Plymouth on 9 July, Radcliffe appointed his son Thomas to be receiver of all revenues from lands, all annuities and all assignments due to him in his absence.13

Sir John probably remained in Gascony until early in 1433. But while he was unable to exert direct pressure on the King’s Council for preferential treatment at the Exchequer, his financial position worsened, and, moreover, the grant of the Begney estates was withdrawn on a conciliar decision. At home once more, he took steps to reverse this situation: he petitioned the Commons in the Parliament of 1433, begging them to ask the King and Lords to grant him lands in England equal in value to those he had lost in Aquitaine; and he asked the same Parliament to make a formal declaration that as Melcombe was no longer a port where royal customs were collected, his assignments would be valid at Poole. The urgency of the situation in Gascony had enabled him to secure on 16 May, before Parliament met, grants of the revenues of the counties of Caernarvon and Merioneth and of the lordship of Chirk and Chirksland, until he should have received £7,030 owed to him. These revenues were to be paid to him by the chamberlain of North Wales, whose office was to be granted to Radcliffe himself nine months later, on the understanding that, although he was to forego an official salary, he would be allowed £727 10s.2d. p.a. on his account until the government’s debt was cancelled. At the same time (in May 1433), he was given, for the nominal payment of 800 marks, custody of all the estates late of Walter, 5th Lord Fitzwalter, together with the wardship and marriage of Fitzwalter’s only child, Elizabeth. He made sure that these valuable holdings would remain in his family by wedding Elizabeth to his own son, John. Over the next few months various other less important but still lucrative wardships also came his way, including that of the Mautby heiress (who later married Sir John Fastolf’s friend, John Paston).14

Radcliffe was among the knights who, summoned to the great council of April and May 1434, witnessed the dispute between the dukes of Bedford and Gloucester as to how the war in France should be conducted. It may well be that he himself supported Duke Humphrey, by whom he was to be later retained as his deputy lieutenant at Calais. In February 1435 he again petitioned the Council for payment for his past services overseas, and as he had surrendered assignments of two years’ revenues from the customs and from Wales as a ‘loan’ to the King, fresh tallies were authorized. No doubt because of his wide experience of military affairs, Sir John, now given the rank of ‘banneret’, was appointed one of the ambassadors to the important congress for peace held at Arras. On 22 June he was licensed to take with him coin and plate worth 500 marks, and he and the canonist, Dr William Lyndwood, left London the next day, forming an advance party for the embassy. Royal instructions to their delegation provided that if a marriage agreement should be concluded between England and France, Radcliffe and the earl of Suffolk were to go personally to view Henry VI’s prospective bride. Radcliffe returned to London on 15 Sept. In the following March he was employed on another diplomatic mission, this time to treat with the representatives of Prussia and the Hanse towns for redress of grievances. His appointment as Gloucester’s deputy lieutenant of Calais dated from about the same time, and was probably made in order that he should be in command of the garrison when it came under the expected assault of the duke of Burgundy’s army. How long he remained at Calais after the lifting of the three weeks’ siege in July 1436 and Gloucester’s own arrival there is unclear, although his final discharge from the posts of seneschal of Aquitaine and captain of Fronsac effected in October may suggest that he continued to be committed to the defence of the northern stronghold for some time longer.15

At the end of Radcliffe’s military career his accounts for Aquitaine indicated that he was owed £11,815, and on top of this he had suffered from bad assignments. As a token gesture, Henry VI’s council continued to grant him wardships: in 1437 he shared with Fastolf and others custody of the Burley inheritance in Herefordshire, and two years later he obtained the wardship of Sir Edward Benstede*’s lands. And in March 1439 it was allowed that Radcliffe, who had made a loan to the King of £1,100, should be repaid by special assignment. After his death, when the government’s debt to him officially stood at £7,015, it was put on record that he had ‘long served the King in war and otherwise, and by pressure thereof sold the greater part of his revenues and was greatly indebted to his friends’.16 The picture is one of a long-suffering knight banneret, stricken with poverty because of his devotion to duty to the Crown. Clearly, Sir John’s reasonable expectations of wealth and standing as a consequence of hardship and danger fighting in France (which expectations had, after all, been realized in the experience of his friend Fastolf), were never fulfilled.

Radcliffe’s frequent absences overseas meant that he was not often available as a trustee of the estates of his colleagues at home. However, in 1426 he had been ready to act for Sir John Fastolf and, as one of his general attorneys, to prosecute the executors of Henry V and the duke of Exeter, and in later years he witnessed deeds on Sir John’s behalf. Among his other close associates were Fastolf’s kinsman, Sir Henry Inglose, and the duke of York’s chamberlain, Sir William Oldhall. In fact, he himself had dealings with York: in 1429 he provided securities enabling the duke, who was then still a minor, to obtain custody of the estates he had inherited from the earl of March; and ten years later he entered a similar commitment when York and others took control of the estates of the earldom of Warwick.17 Radcliffe’s standing enabled him to secure the services of Thomas Langley, bishop of Durham, as a trustee of his own landed holdings.

Radcliffe died on 26 Feb. or 4 Mar. 1441 and was buried in the choir of Attleborough church. Most of his first wife’s estates then passed to her grand daughter Anne, the only child of Sir Robert Herling and already wife of Sir William Chamberlain. His own heir was the son of his second marriage, John (c.1430-1461), who adopted the title of Lord Fitzwalter in right of his wife, but never received a summons to Parliament. From him were descended the Lords Fitzwalter and earls of Sussex. Our MP’s widow married John Ferrers, and survived until 1452.18

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. Lancs. Knights of the Shire (Chetham Soc. xcvi), 159-60, where, however, Sir John Radcliffe’s career is split between two men.
  • 2. Rot. Pat. et Claus. Hib. ed. Tresham, 171, 173, 175, 202; CPR, 1401-5, p. 393; DL42/16, f. 27d.
  • 3. CCR, 1405-9, p. 83; N. and Q. (ser. 7), xi. 432; CPR, 1405-8, pp. 216, 411; 1408-13, p. 361; 1436-41, p. 366; DL42/16 (3), f. 72d.
  • 4. Paston Letters ed. Gairdner, i. 454-6; F. Blomefield, Norf. i. 511-15; CP25(1)168/182/37, 290/60/60, 62; VCH Cambs. v. 113; CP, ix. 250.
  • 5. DL42/17, f. 26d; Blomefield, i. 512; DKR, xlviii. 548; E101/45/10, 47/39, 51/26, 69/6/464, 407/10; E. Ashmole, Inst. Order of the Garter, 270; C61/115 m. 5.
  • 6. E101/51/2, 70/2/600; CFR, xiv. 201, 227; CPR, 1416-22, p. 182; Rot. Norm. ed. Hardy, 194, 203, 357-8; DKR, xli. 696-7, 713-14, 716, 751; R.A. Newhall, Eng. Conquest Normandy, 100. Margaret Morley was later married to Sir John’s kinsman, Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe: CCR, 1429-35, p. 72.
  • 7. C61/118 m. 9; E364/59 m. E; E404/35/119; PPC, ii. 263-6; J.H. Wylie, Hen. V, iii. 367; M.G.A. Vale, Eng. Gascony, 86; CPR, 1416-22, p. 299.
  • 8. CPR, 1416-22, p. 383; DKR, xlii. 428; Cal. Signet Letters ed. Kirby, no. 974.
  • 9. PPC, iii. 52, 68, 70, 170; Vale, 97, 181, 188-9, 191-2, 196-7, 216, 245; E101/71/3/871, 189/5; C61/119 m. 17; CPR, 1422-9, p. 124; G.F. Beltz, Mems. Order of the Garter, pp. lxiii-lxiv.
  • 10. Paston Letters, i. 456; Reg. Chichele, ii. 275; CAD, ii. C2398; CP, ii. 435; xi. 704; Ancestor, viii. 172-83; C138/18/17, 54/116; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xvii. 112-13, 124; n.s. iii. 138, 142; CPR, 1436-41, pp. 544, 563.
  • 11. CFR, xv. 80, 99, 208, 211, 228; CPR, 1422-9, pp. 264, 350; PPC, iii. 204.
  • 12. C61/122 mm. 6, 7; Issues ed. Devon, 398-9; PPC, iii. 295, 312, 326; Beltz, p. clix; CPR, 1422-9, pp. 552, 554; E404/45/137, 140.
  • 13. PPC, iii. 303; iv. 50-51; E404/45/151; CPR, 1429-36, pp. 69, 115-16, 127; CFR, xvi. 12-16, 37, 53-54; E101/71/3/874, 189/5; C61/124 m. 13; CCR, 1429-35, p. 133.
  • 14. PPC, iv. 116; CCR, 1435-41, p. 90; SC8/137/6848; CPR, 1429-36, pp. 263, 269, 338; RP, iv. 445; E364/74 m. E; CP, v. 484-5; CFR, xvi. 154, 181, 198.
  • 15. PPC, iv. 211-12, 298-300; E404/51/164; CPR, 1429-36, pp. 461, 607; E101/322/37; J.G. Dickinson, Congress of Arras, 44, 216-18; C76/118 m. 14; J. Stow, Annales, 376; E28/56/41.
  • 16. E101/189/5; CFR, xvi. 325; xvii. 70; CPR, 1436-41, pp. 247, 542.
  • 17. Norf. Arch. iv. 17; CPR, 1422-9, p. 483; CCR, 1429-35, p. 257; 1435-41, p. 274; CFR, xv. 260; xvii. 77.
  • 18. C139/103/33, 150/36; Blomefield, i. 514-15; CP, v. 484-5.