CLAVERING, Sir Robert (1326-94), of Callaly and Yetlington, 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



Family and Education

b. Newcastle-upon-Tyne 3 Feb. 1326, s. and h. of William Clavering (c.1302-bef. 1351) of Callaly and Yetlington by his w. Maud (d. 28 Nov. 1351). m. (1) by c.1364, Joan (fl. 1371), wid. of Thomas Baxter of Coupland and Kirknewton, at least 1s. John*; (2) by June 1372, Joan, wid. of Edward Letham (d. 8 Feb. 1368). Kntd. bef. 1370.1

Offices Held

Collector of taxes, Northumb. May 1379, Mar. 1380, Nov. 1382, Nov. 1383.

Commr. to review the garrison at Berwick-upon-Tweed Dec. 1385;2 survey Bamburgh castle, Northumb. Feb. 1389.

Chancellor, chamberlain, clerk of the works and keeper of provisions, Berwick-upon-Tweed 15 Dec. 1386-aft. 7 July 1388.3


The Clavering family enjoyed considerable influence along the east march during the 14th century, partly as a result of their important connexions. Sir Robert’s grandfather, Sir Alan Clavering (d.c.1328), was the younger son of Robert Fitzroger, Lord of Clavering and Warkworth, who made over to him the manors of Callaly and Yetlington. Sir Alan decided to settle Callaly upon his eldest son, William, while endowing his own wife, Isabel, with Yetlington and the manors of Tillmouth and Duddo (in the palatinate of Durham), which also formed part of his estates. Sir Alan lived to see the birth of his grandson, Robert, the subject of this biography, at Newcastle, in February 1326; and was thus assured that the succession would continue in the male line. Isabel’s second husband, Sir Walter Crakes, died in 1349, at which point she decided to make some provision for her younger son, another Sir Alan Clavering, upon whom she entailed her Durham properties, with a remainder, should he die childless, to his nephew, Robert. Since it already seemed most unlikely that Sir Alan would ever produce an heir, Robert’s prospects appeared very promising indeed, although in the event he had to wait a very long time indeed before recovering all four of the manors left by his grandfather. He had already taken up arms in the service of Edward III, being present, in 1346, when he was just 20, at the siege of Calais. Absence overseas may well account for the lack of surviving evidence about his early career, and we hear no more of him until November 1351, when his widowed mother, Maud, died, leaving him to take possession of Callaly and its various appurtenances. Yetlington fell into his hands nine years later on the death of his paternal grandmother, although he had to wait several months before obtaining formal livery of his inheritance. He probably spent most of this period campaigning in France: we know that he was a member of the army with which Edward III besieged Paris in 1360, and that he also took part in the expedition led against the French nine years later by John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster. Wishing to place his affairs in order before he embarked, Robert settled a rent of £40 p.a. from Callaly upon trustees so that they could perform the terms of his will.4

Robert married his first wife Joan, the widow of Thomas Baxter, by 1364, when his son John was born. Joan’s dower from Baxter comprised a sizeable estate in the Northumbrian villages of Coupland, Monylaws and Lanton (near Wooler), although she and Robert had some difficulty in recovering the property from Baxter’s widowed daughter-in-law, who contested their title. Litigation was still in progress when Joan died, leaving Clavering (who had by then been knighted) to press on alone with what was now a somewhat tenuous claim to the Baxter inheritance. He remarried almost immediately, in or shortly before June 1372, taking another widow named Joan as his second wife. She too faced a number of legal problems, partly as a result of demands made upon her as executrix of her late husband, Edward Letham. The latter had died in 1368 owing arrears of 40 marks to the Crown for the wardship of the young Robert Manners of Etal; and Joan was, furthermore, required to produce an additional instalment of ten marks on her own behalf. In the summer of 1372 a distraint was placed upon Sir Robert Clavering for the entire amount, which he evidently paid. Other difficulties arose over the allocation of Joan’s dower, along with suitable maintenance for her young children. This was because the estates which Letham had received as a reward from Edward III lay on the Scottish border and had been so badly devastated as to prove virtually worthless. Although in March 1376 the government authorized a grant to Joan of revenues from Berwick-upon-Tweed worth 65 marks p.a. to cover both these charges, nothing appears to have been done for the next two years, when a sharp reminder was issued to the chancellor to make up for the delay. Fortunately under the circumstances, in June 1377, Sir Robert and his wife obtained formal letters of pardon from the Crown, so whatever charges of debt or evasion had previously been laid against them came to nothing.5

The 1370s were indeed a busy and litigious period in Sir Robert’s life, for besides protecting the interests of first one wife and then the other, he had various additional lawsuits to deal with. In 1373, for example, Sir William Clauston attempted to recover from him debts totalling £60; and three years later the London draper, Robert Boxford, sued him for over £17 in unpaid bills. A London armourer named Robert Colan also claimed to be a creditor of Sir Robert, who was actually bound over in February 1380 to appear in court when summoned. His repeated efforts to gain control of the Manners’s estates in Etal (where, as we have seen, his second wife exercised rights of wardship) also caused trouble, because at about this time John Manners began an action of trespass against him. But Sir Robert did not lack powerful friends to help him in his various quarrels. Within the space of a few weeks, in 1373, he not only witnessed the ratification by Henry, Lord Percy (later earl of Northumberland) of the charters of Alnwick abbey, perhaps acting as a member of the Percy council, but also offered securities of £200 on behalf of the influential northern landowner, Sir Matthew Redmayne.6

Somewhat surprisingly, Sir Robert did not play much part in public affairs until 1379, when he began serving as a royal tax collector in Northumberland. In both 1383 and 1385 he took up arms against the Scots, although neither venture brought much credit to the English, who were incompetently led on both occasions and failed in their objective. Perhaps because of his long record of military service at home and abroad, Sir Robert was commissioned to renew the defences of Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1385, and was subsequently made chamberlain and chancellor of the royal castle there. These two posts, along with the clerkship of the works, carried with them a heavy load of administrative and military responsibilities by virtue of the town’s vital strategic position on the Anglo-Scottish border, although Sir Robert was by then aged 60, and thus not long able to remain in office. The year 1386 also witnessed his first and only return to Parliament as a representative for Northumberland, and it was during the session at Westminster that he gave evidence on behalf of Richard, Lord Scrope, in his dispute with Sir Robert Grosvenor over the right to bear the same coat of arms. The rest of Sir Robert’s life passed uneventfully, being marked only by the long-awaited death, in 1391, of his late uncle’s widow, Jacqueline (Jacoba), who had subsequently married John, Lord Stryvelyn, as her second husband, and Robert Clifford* as her third. She had retained control of Tillmouth and Duddo as a jointure, so it was not until then that Sir Robert was at last able to implement his title to the reversion. But he did not live to enjoy the ownership of his new estates for more than a short while. His own death occurred on 17 Jan. 1394, when his son, John, succeeded to the family estates.7

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. Hist. Northumb. xi. 226-7; xiv. ped. facing p. 537; Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. no. 196; CIPM, vii. no. 121; ix. nos. 61, 674; CCR, 1369-74, p. 400; Arch. Aeliana (ser. 3), vi. 59.
  • 2. Rot. Scot. ed. Macpherson etc. ii. 78.
  • 3. Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. no. 362; CFR, x. 247.
  • 4. CIPM, vii. no. 121; ix. nos. 61, 674; x. no. 656; CFR, vi. 356; vii. 181; Newcastle-upon-Tyne Recs. Ser. vii. 196; Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 167; ii. 380-1; CCR, 1369-74, p. 87.
  • 5. Hist. Northumb. xi. 226-7; Arch. Aeliana (ser. 3), vi. 59, 61; Rot. Scot. ii. 7-8; CCR, 1369-74, p. 400; Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. nos. 196, 262; C67/28B m. 11.
  • 6. Arch. Aeliana (ser. 3), vi. 60, 63; Hist. Northumb. v. 33; CPR, 1374-7, p. 231; CCR, 1374-7, p. 337; 1377-81, p. 366.
  • 7. Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 167; ii. 380-1; DKR, xlv. 175, 263; C136/80/14.