CARNABY, Sir William (d.1407), of Halton, Northumb.

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



Oct. 1404

Family and Education

s. and h. of William Carnaby (fl. 1347) by his w. Margaret (d. 26 Nov. 1361), er. da. and coh. of Sir John Halton (d. 31 Mar. 1345) of Halton and Whittington. m. (1) Margaret (c.1370-29 Sept. 1387), da. and h. of Sir Henry ap Griffith (d. 15 May 1372) of Nether Witton by his w. Joan (d. 10 Oct. 1381), s.p.; (2) by c.1390, Isabel (d. Oct. 1411), da. of Sir Henry Fenwick of Fenwick, 2s. 1da. Kntd. by Oct. 1404.1

Offices Held

Constable of Dunstanburgh castle and receiver of the lordship of Dunstanburgh, Northumb. for John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster by 10 Feb. 1372-bef. 27 June 1380.2

Commr. to raise debts owed to Thomas Arundel, former abp. of York, Hexhamshire Apr. 1398; make arrests, Northumb. July 1398; of inquiry May 1399 (murder in Tynedale).

Constable of Norham castle, and justice, steward, sheriff and escheator of Norhamshire and Islandshire for Walter Skirlaw, bp. of Durham 1401-3.3

Chief steward and bailiff of the abp. of York’s liberty of Hexhamshire 18 July 1405-d.

Escheator, Northumb. 9 Nov. 1406-d.


As a young man, William Carnaby entered the service of John of Gaunt, who made him constable and receiver of Dunstanburgh shortly before February 1372, and also retained him as a member of his affinity. Besides performing the usual administrative duties, Carnaby had to execute various commissions for the duke. Not long after assuming office, for example, he was ordered to effect major repairs to the castle, and also, at about the same time, to hold a formal inquiry regarding certain complaints from the prior of Finchale in Durham.4 Little else is known about him during this early period of his life, although by the date of his replacement, in the spring or early summer of 1380, he must already have been preoccupied with plans for the recovery of what he believed to be his rightful inheritance. William’s mother, Margaret, was the elder daughter and coheir of Sir John Halton, whose manors of Halton, Whittington and Clarewood were divided equally between her and her sister, Eleanor, in 1345, after his death. Margaret was then married to Sir Thomas Lowther, her first husband, who persuaded her to entail the property upon him and his heirs male. Sir Thomas died childless, however, leaving his brother, Robert, as heir presumptive to Margaret’s inheritance. Although these arrangements clearly deprived him of any title at law, William, as the son of Margaret’s second marriage, clearly felt aggrieved at the loss of such valuable estates. For some years after Margaret’s death, in 1361, Robert Lowther retained hold of the property, while William waited impatiently for an opportunity to strike. An undated petition made to the Crown by Lowther and his trustee, Sir Bertram Monbourcher*, refers to a ‘false fine’ whereby Carnaby attempted to gain seisin of the manors, but his plan evidently failed. He thus decided upon a more violent course of action, beginning early in 1382, when he led an armed raid on Lowther’s home at Halton, killing livestock worth £10 and driving away other animals which he proceeded to ransom for twice that amount. A commission of oyer and terminer was set up in May of that year to investigate Lowther’s complaints, but matters evidently did not rest there. According to a royal pardon issued to Carnaby six months later, he had contravened the laws of England by pursuing his quarrel outside the realm (in Scotland), and had even managed to have his adversary thrown into prison. In the event, Lowther’s death without issue, in March 1383, prevented the escalation of further violence; and William lost no time in occupying his mother’s estates. His circumstances improved even further when his aunt, Eleanor, who had peaceably retained the other half of the Halton inheritance throughout this period, died, leaving William to dispute the succession with two other claimants. Robert Lowther’s kinsman, Sir William Lowther, proved the more tenacious; but on this occasion William Carnaby carried the day, and in August 1384 he purchased a royal pardon for entering Eleanor’s property without the necessary licence. Thus, within a matter of months, William found himself in undisputed possession of the three lucrative manors of Halton, Whittington and Clarewood, together with their various appurtenances.5

William’s improved financial prospects no doubt enabled him to negotiate an extremely advantageous marriage with Margaret, the daughter and sole heir of Sir Henry ap Griffith, whose wardship had passed on the death of her widowed mother, in 1381, to John, Lord Neville. Margaret brought her new husband the manor of Nether Witton and other widespread holdings in the Northumbrian villages of Stannington, Benton, Bellasis, Wingates and Tranwell, but they cannot have remained in his hands for more than a short time. Her early death, in 1387, at the age of just 17, before she had produced an heir, meant that the property reverted to her young cousin, Thomas ap Griffith, and was thus lost to William. Perhaps in memory of his late wife, he made a gift of land in Highfield to the priory of Hexham, although before long he was busy negotiating another marriage with Sir Henry Fenwick, a local landowner, who offered him the hand of his daughter Isabel. William and the Fenwicks were already comrades in adversity, having suffered at the hands of Sir Robert Ogle, who had imprisoned the former and seized cattle from the latter on the ground that they owed him money. William’s fortunes seem to have been at an unusually low ebb during this period, for he had barely escaped from Ogle’s clutches when his estates around Halton were devastated by a band of marauding Scots and he himself was carried off across the border as a hostage. King Richard promised a contribution of 100 marks to secure his release, although when finalized, in December 1390, the royal grant merely exempted him from paying an annual charge of £4 which the Crown had previously demanded from him as a feudal tenant. Since William claimed to have been ruined by the raid, the King’s offer did little to solve the immediate problem of raising a substantial loan, but somehow the Scots were paid off, and William obtained his freedom. Although probably exaggerated, his losses must indeed have been considerable, as the evidence of his inquisition post mortem, held many years later in 1408, reveals. Even then his three manors were producing no more than £12 6s.8d. because of the damage done by the Scots.6 The birth of William’s elder son and namesake at Halton, on 31 Mar. 1391, proved far more of an occasion for rejoicing although the child’s mother, Isabel, was seriously ill for some time afterwards. Three years later William took the precaution of entailing his manors of Halton, Whittington and Clarewood upon the boy and his heirs male, and of having the settlement confirmed formally at law by his aunt Eleanor’s next surviving heir. Some of these deeds mention land in the Durham villages of Winlaton, Lintzford and Barlow (just across the Tyne from Newcastle) as well, so William may also have inherited these holdings from his mother.7

Although he served loyally on a few royal commissions during the reign of Richard II, and helped to defend both Jedburgh and Berwick-upon-Tweed against the Scots during the late 1380s, William did not really assume a position of trust on the east march until after the Lancastrian usurpation of 1399. In this respect, his career was remarkably similar to that of his brother-in-law, Robert Hebburn*, one of the leading figures in the local mercantile community, who clearly shared his sympathies. As a former retainer of Henry IV’s father, John of Gaunt, William in particular came in for his share of patronage, and in 1401 Bishop Skirlaw of Durham bestowed on him the five offices which together gave him almost complete authority in the episcopal liberty of Norhamshire and Islandshire. Having restored his finances to a state of equilibrium, he was able, in June 1403, to purchase half the manor of Saddlingstones, and this, too, was entailed upon his elder son. Not surprisingly, by the date of his first and only known return to Parliament, in the following year, he had assumed the rank of knight; and he was seen as an ideal candidate for the stewardship of Hexhamshire when it fell vacant a few months later. But Sir William was already well advanced in years and had little time in which to enjoy his new career. He died in May 1407 while in office as escheator of Northumberland, having just confirmed the entails which he had previously made upon his elder son. The latter became the ward of Robert Tempest, a northern landowner who married the widowed Isabel Carnaby within a few months of Sir William’s death. Isabel herself died in 1411, so that when he came of age in the following year William Carnaby the younger took immediate possession of all the family estates. He played an active part in local society, becoming steward of Hexhamshire, like his father before him, and marrying (as his second wife) a daughter of Robert, Lord Hilton. He had at least one brother, named Thomas, and a sister, who eventually became the wife of her first cousin, Thomas Hebburn* of Newcastle.8

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


Variants: Karnaby, Querneby.

  • 1. C137/85/2; CIPM, xi. no. 249; xvi. nos. 348, 651; CPR, 1381-5, p. 445; Hist. Northumb. x. ped. facing p. 408.
  • 2. Somerville, Duchy, i. 370.
  • 3. Arch. Aeliana (ser. 4), xxi. 82.
  • 4. Reg. Gaunt 1379-83, p. 11, no. 1106; Hist. Northumb. ii. 200.
  • 5. CIPM, xi. no. 249; SC8/145/7222; Hist. Northumb. x. 395-6; CPR, 1381-5, pp. 144-5, 185, 445.
  • 6. CIPM, xvi. nos. 348, 651; CPR, 1388-92, pp. 123, 338; C137/65/14; Arch. Aeliana, n.s. xiv. 314-15.
  • 7. CP25(1)181/14/28; Arch. Aeliana, n.s. xxii. 120-1; Newcastle-upon-Tyne Rec. Ser. vii. 9-11; CPR, 1405-8, p. 464; CCR, 1405-9, p. 342; Surtees Soc. clxiv. no. 220; clxvi. 496; Hist. Northumb. x. ped. facing p. 408.
  • 8. C137/65/14, 85/2; SC8/191/9501-2; CPR, 1405-8, p. 464; CCR, 1405-9, p. 342; Surtees Soc. clxiv. no. 220; clxvi. no. 469; Arch. Aeliana, n.s. xxii. 120-1; (ser. 4) xxi. 82; Newcastle-upon-Tyne Rec. Ser. vii. 11; Hist. Northumb. x. ped. facing p. 408; Cal. Scots Docs. (supp.) v. nos. 4351, 4387.