TRUSSELL, Sir John (c.1349-1424), of Gayton, Northants.

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

b.c. 1349, 1st legit s. of Sir Theobald Trussell (d.1369) of Flore, Northants. by his w. Katherine; yr. bro. of Sir Alfred*. m. (1) by 7 Nov. 1374, Alice (d. 6 Oct. 1379), da. and h. of Sir John Hotham of Solihull, Warws. and Collyweston, Northants., wid. of Sir Hugh Despenser, 1s.; (2) by 1396, Margaret (d. 29 July 1442), 1s. d.v.p., 1da. Kntd. by 26 Sept. 1387.1

Offices Held

Commr. of array, Northants. Apr. 1385, Mar. 1392, Aug. 1402; inquiry June 1409 (a murder at Creaton); to hold a special assize Easter 1410 (ownership of the manor of Hinton by Brackley).2


Although he was his parents’ third child and second son, our Member was the first of their offspring to be born in wedlock, and because of this the bulk of the Trussell estates descended to him as lawful heir. His father, Sir Theobald, was a landowner of some consequence, for besides the extensive patrimony which had come to him in 1346 on the death of his own father, he also succeeded his uncle, Sir Edmund’, who died childless three years later, leaving him an impressive amount of property in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. Even after quite generous provision had been made for his illegitimate brother and sister, Sir John could thus still rely upon a sizeable income derived from the manors of Theddingworth, Littlethorpe, Peatling Magna, Fleckney, Holt and Bringhurst in Leicestershire and of Gayton, Hothorpe, West Hall (in East Carlton), Drayton and Flore in Northamptonshire. Although he may well have been slightly under age at the time of his father’s death in 1369, Trussell took immediate possession of all those estates which had not been settled upon his widowed mother by way of dower. She lived on at Gayton for at least another four years, but her son’s losses in this respect were subsequently offset by the partition between him and his kinsman, Sir John Mewes, of the property of William Hakluyt, who died in 1374 leaving the two manors of Braunston and Lye, together with other land in Rutland and rents in Leicestershire, to the young men as his next heirs.

Trussell’s finances were also augmented for a temporary period by his marriage to Alice, the daughter and heir of Sir John Hotham, who was himself the great-nephew and heir of John Hotham, bishop of Ely (d.1337). His well-deserved reputation for highhanded—indeed often lawless—behaviour seems to have begun at this time, since he abducted Alice shortly after the death of her first husband, Sir Hugh Despenser, and took her as his wife without the necessary royal licence. Although Edward III saw fit to pardon his offence, and even permitted the couple to appoint attorneys for the supervision of their affairs in Ireland, Trussell’s long-term plans to gain personal possession of the Hotham estates were frustrated by an earlier settlement made by Alice in favour of Sir Hugh Despenser the younger, the child of her first marriage. Consequently, on her death in 1379, Trussell lost control of the manors of Collyweston (Northamptonshire), Solihull (Warwickshire), Bonby (Lincolnshire) and Hotham (Yorkshire), as well as extensive appurtenances in these four counties.3 Such, however, was his determination to regain this valuable prize that, once Sir Hugh’s last surviving kinsman, Sir Edward Boteler, died in 1412, Trussell began a long and acrimonious series of lawsuits on behalf of his own son, John, whom he advanced as rightful heir to the Hotham estates, despite his reputed idiocy and proven inability to manage his own affairs. The ownership of the manor of Collyweston proved a particular source of friction between Trussell and the rival claimant, (Sir) William Porter II*, who stood high in the King’s favour, and to whom John had apparently made over his title without his father’s consent. All attempts at arbitration failed, and because of mounting disorder in the area (to which Sir John contributed in no small part), the royal council was eventually driven to intervene, awarding the manor, in 1417, to Porter.4

By nature an intransigent and sometimes violent man, Trussell often found himself at odds with the forces of law and order. In June 1378, for example, the constable of the Tower of London was instructed to release him from solitary confinement and allow him to associate with other prisoners (albeit under heavy personal securities). He was still there three months later, when his elder brother, Sir Alfred, and his stepson, Hugh Despenser, offered guarantees of £100 for his future good behaviour. He had evidently been accused of various acts of trespass against the King’s ministers in Rockingham forest, Northamptonshire, although (as K.B. McFarlane has already pointed out) these offences must have been unusually serious to merit so long and harsh a period of incarceration. Some nine years later, he and Sir Alfred were indicted before the j.p.s in Leicestershire for ‘divers trespasses’, but since these ‘did not amount to felony’ they escaped any further punishment.5 Notoriety of a far different kind overtook our Member during this period as a result of his alleged lollard sympathies, which were noted by the Leicester chronicler, William Knighton. His list of the six ‘lollard knights’ who supported the heretical preacher, William Smith, as he journeyed through Leicestershire in 1382 includes Trussell, although his suspicions were probably based on local gossip, since no other contemporary monastic writers appear to have harboured any doubts as to Sir John’s orthodoxy. Thomas Walsingham, for example, writing at St. Albans, omits Trussell’s name from his two lists of prominent lollards, compiled respectively in 1387 and 1395, a fact which makes it difficult to speak with any degree of certainty about the MP’s religious beliefs. The other evidence is equally conflicting, for whereas on the one hand Trussell’s estates lay on the very path followed by the lollard preacher, William Swinderby, when he visited Market Harborough, on the other his career and way of life were hardly modelled upon the teachings of Wycliffe or his disciples. His ‘preoccupation with the affairs of the world, such as land-grubbing and land-grabbing’ ill accorded with the basic tenets of lollardy, although it seems likely that he felt some personal sympathy, at least, for adherents of the faith, and clearly had no truck with the ecclesiastical establishment. In 1418, a far more dangerous time for heretics, he went surety for Joan, the widow of Robert Burdet, guaranteeing that she would not ‘cause unlawful assemblies or maintain or aid anyone in ... heresy’. Another of her mainpernors was Richard Trussell, probably one of Sir John’s relations, who had previously offered bail for the lollard priest, Ralph Clark of Coventry. We may perhaps conclude that whereas the charge of out and out heresy cannot be proved against Trussell, who like so many others found it politically expedient to dissociate himself from the likes of Sir John Oldcastle*, he was none the less well disposed towards the unorthodox.6

Another aspect of Trussell’s life at odds with Wycliffe’s views on seemly behaviour was his membership of the affinity of a great magnate. The lord in question, Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, retained both Sir John and his brother, Sir Alfred, the latter being rather more active in his service. By 1395, if not before, Sir John was in receipt of an annuity of £13 6s.8d from the earl, and it was clearly because of this connexion with one of the Lords Appellant of 1388 that he was summoned in April 1398 to appear before the royal council at Westminster under pain of £200 to ‘declare what should there be laid before him by (them) at his coming’. In common with most of the other political suspects interrogated at this time, Trussell sued out letters of pardon, specifically because of his previous attachment to the Appellants’ cause. Two separate royal pardons were issued to him on 27 Apr. and 5 June respectively, and from then onwards his loyalty went unquestioned. Indeed, despite this former attachment to one of King Richard’s enemies, he provided a force of nine armed men to resist Henry of Bolingbroke when he landed in England during the summer of 1399.7 Not long before the Lancastrian usurpation Trussell and his friend, Sir Giles Mallory* (another member of the Beauchamp affinity), had become involved in a violent quarrel with John Harrowden*, which was brought to the attention of the chancellor of England himself. In January 1399, the two men and their mainpernors were bound over in mutual sums of 1,000 marks to keep the peace towards each other. Although we are not told the nature of their dispute, it may well have hinged upon Harrowden’s trusteeship of part of his adversary’s estates, an office which he had assumed some three years before and possibly failed to discharge as requested.

Trussell’s noted disregard for the law possibly accounts for the infrequency with which he was chosen to serve on royal commissions, and perhaps explains why, despite his position as a landowner, he never held office of any kind. He was, however, summoned to attend the great councils of 1401 and 1403, and shortly afterwards he represented Northamptonshire in Parliament for the first time. It was in March 1404, while the Commons were still sitting, that he received a royal grant permitting him to impark 300 acres of land at his home at Gayton, but no other marks of favour appear to have come his way either then or later. He had by this date been married for some years to his second wife, Margaret, upon whom he settled a substantial part of his inheritance as a jointure. His illegitimate sister, Agnes, later released her own title to the couple, who then conveyed their estates to feoffees, including Ralph Parles* and Robert Chiselden*. Trussell seems to have been faced by urgent financial problems at this time, possibly as a consequence of the heavy securities for good behaviour constantly being demanded of him. His repeated failure to appear in court to answer various suits for debt is not in itself evidence of a growing shortage of money, although his decision to sell the two manors of Holt and West Hall, as well as certain land in Northampton and Bringhurst (Leicestershire) suggests that he was being pressed for payment by his creditors. One deed of sale, dated April 1416, refers to the manor of Holt as being previously held ‘under certain conditions by way of mortgage’, so his hand may have been forced by foreclosure for the recovery of a pre-existing debt.8

Meanwhile, Trussell lived quietly enough on his Northamptonshire estates, attending the county elections to the Parliament of 1411, and being himself returned as a shire knight for the second time in November 1414. Whereas in the past he had often required persons to stand bail on his behalf, he now began to act in this capacity for others, both in Chancery and, more frequently, at the local assizes. Although he was involved in at least two minor property disputes during the early years of the 15th century, Trussell managed to avoid any further confrontation with the authorities until September 1416 when he and his wife obtained permission to leave London ‘notwithstanding the King’s late writ ordering them under pain of £1,000 not to depart without his licence’.9 We do not know why the couple’s liberty was thus curtailed, although the suspicion of heresy and perhaps even of involvement in Sir John Oldcastle’s rising cannot be entirely ruled out. The matter may, conversely, have had something to do with their celebrated quarrel with Richard, Lord Strange of Knockin, and his wife Joan, which came to a head on Easter Sunday of the following year. Strange’s murderous attack on Sir John while he was deep in prayer ‘at the prechyng tyme’ in the London church of St. Dunstan in the East caused a tremendous scandal and led to the excommunication of the assailants. For once it appears that Trussell was himself the victim of extreme provocation, which began in the morning at high mass with a heated exchange between him and Lord Strange, who berated him before the entire congregation. Attempts by a group of influential Londoners to effect a reconciliation proved useless: Strange and his wife returned at vespers with a retinue of 12 armed men intent upon revenge for some unspecified offence on Sir John’s part. In view of his imputed heresy, it is particularly interesting to note that at the time of the assault, which took place either immediately before or just after the sermon, Trussell was sunk in his devotions. The lollards placed great importance upon preaching, and this part of the service was regarded by them with especial reverence. His behaviour otherwise appears conventional enough, and we may be sure that the bishop of Lincoln would not have licensed him and his wife in 1414 to maintain their own oratory had any taint of heresy then attached itself to them.10 In the ensuing brawl the fishmonger, Thomas Pedwardyne, was killed, and most of the others, including Trussell, were quite seriously wounded.

Ande thenne was the Lorde Stronge a-restyde and brought unto the Counter in the Pultrye, and the Sonday nexte aftyr he was cursyde in every chyrche in London, withe boke, belle, and candelle, in one houre of the day. And aftyr he dyde his penaunse opynly thorow London for hys trespas ayenst Hooly Chyrche.11

Not only did our Member thus witness the public disgrace of his enemies, but he was also awarded damages of 1,000 marks by the court of King’s bench. The money was paid promptly in the spring of 1418, by which date his wife, Margaret, who evidently shared his belligerent temperament, had become embroiled in yet another quarrel. She was bound over in December 1417 to do no harm to one John Shawe, naming among her mainpernors Thomas Wake* and her brother-in-law, Sir Alfred, who must by then have been well advanced in years.12

Sir John died on 21 Mar. 1424, and was succeeded by his son, John. According to a series of depositions made in Chancery by Philippa, the child of Trussell’s second marriage, her father had so little confidence in John’s capablities that he appointed a group of trustees to supervise the running of the family estates, which he took care to entail upon her and her issue. Other evidence, however, suggests that her half-brother was by no means without ‘substantial discretion’, and that he even conspired with her husband, Alexander Bozon, and her mother to defraud the Northampton merchant, Richard Wems*, of a large sum of money. On his death, a protracted struggle began between Philippa (who was by then married to Sir Thomas Kerdeston) and her widowed mother for control of the Trussell estates. With characteristic unscrupulousness the lady Margaret had fraudulently broken the existing entail by settling the property on a new set of feoffees, and such was her tenacity that when she died in November 1442 almost all her late husband’s property was still in her possession. Litigation over the inheritance continued for many years, and it may indeed be said that Sir John’s truculent disposition was shared by many of his descendants.13

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. C1/11/263; C139/110/43; CIPM, xiii. no. 262; xv. nos. 220-3; G. Baker, Northants. i. 154; VCH Northants. ii. 551; CPR, 1374-7, pp. 34-35, 72; 1436-41, p. 477; CCR, 1413-16, p. 369; Trans. Leics. Arch. Soc. xiii. 242-3. We do not know which of Trussell’s two wives was the mother of his son, Geoffrey, who sprang to his defence during his fight with Lord Strange at St. Dunstan’s church in 1417 (Reg. Chichele, iv. 172-5).
  • 2. RP, iii. 634.
  • 3. K.B. McFarlane, Lancastrian Kings, 152-7; Feudal Aids, vi. 495; CPR, 1374-7, pp. 34-35, 72; VCH Leics. v. 315; CIPM, xiii. no. 262; xv. nos. 220-3.
  • 4. CP25(1)178/91/50, 92/8, 28; VCH Northants. ii. 551; CCR, 1413-19, pp. 132, 369, 502; CPR, 1413-16, pp. 223-4; 1416-22, p. 111; Cott. Ch. iv. 55.
  • 5. CCR, 1377-81, pp. 200, 214-15; 1385-9, pp. 436-7.
  • 6. McFarlane, 148-9, 152-7; C. Kightly, ‘Early Lollards’ (York Univ. D. Phil. thesis, 1975), 89-92.
  • 7. C67/30 mm. 3, 18; E364/39D; E403/562 m. 14; SC6/1123/15; CCR, 1396-9, p. 277; Egerton Roll 8769.
  • 8. C139/110/43; PPC, i. 158, 160; ii. 88; CChR, v. 424; CCR, 1396-9, pp. 434, 497; 1413-19, pp. 289, 348-9, 370, 519; CPR, 1405-8, p. 397; 1413-16, p. 319; 1416-22, p. 283; Baker, i. 154; ii. 275; Trans. Leics. Arch. Soc. xiii. 212; J. Nichols, Leics. ii. 511.
  • 9. C219/10/6; JUST 1/1514 rot. 5v, 6, 7, 12v, 1524 rot. 37; CCR, 1413-19, pp. 318-19, 454-5.
  • 10. Reg. Chichele, iv. 172-5; McFarlane, 152-7; Early Lincoln Wills ed. Gibbons, 172-3.
  • 11. Colls. Citizen London (Cam. Soc. n.s. xvii), 115-16.
  • 12. CCR, 1413-19, pp. 447, 458, 501.
  • 13. C1/9/16, 11/87, 140, 263; C139/110/43; C145/309/71; Peds. Plea Rolls, ed. Wrottesley, 413, 422; CCR, 1429-35, pp. 132, 169; 1436-41, p. 477; CPR, 1441-6, pp. 359-60; J. Bridges, Northants. i. 263.