CRACKENTHORPE, John (d.1436), of Newbiggin, Westmld. and Ousby, Cumb.

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



May 1382
Jan. 1390

Family and Education

s. and h. of William Crackenthorpe (d. aft. 1371) of Newbiggin, and e. bro. of William I*. m. by Dec. 1378, Alice (c.1355-bef. 1436), da. and coh. of Roger Salkeld (d. Dec. 1378) of Ousby and Great Salkeld, Cumb. by his w. Joan (d.10 Mar. 1415), da. of Thomas Beaumont, 5s. inc. William II*, Thomas† and Robert*.2

Offices Held

Commr. to make arrests, Cumb. Nov. 1386, Apr. 1397; of inquiry, Westmld. June 1406 (concealments); to raise a royal loan June 1406.

Constable of Brough castle, Westmld. for Thomas, Lord Clifford, and his successors 1 Feb. 1390-d.

Dep. sheriff of Westmld. 12 Nov. 1392-c. Nov. 1394, 3 Dec. 1395-12 Oct. or 23 Nov. 1398; 19 Oct. 1400-2 or 4 Nov. 1403.3

Alnager, Westmld. 24 Nov. 1400-8 Nov. 1401.

Escheator, Westmld. 24 Nov. 1400-8 Nov. 1401.

Collector of the wool subsidy, Carlisle and Cumb. 26 Jan 1404-16 Feb. 1405.


John’s ancestors acquired the manor of Newbiggin in the 13th century, although they probably came originally from the nearby village of Crackenthorpe, where they also owned property. They occupied other farmland and tenements in Brougham, Kirkby Thore, Knock and Maulds Meaburn in Westmorland, together with less extensive holdings in Culgaith and Blencarn, Cumberland, so it is hardly surprising that they achieved prominence in the local community. John’s father, William, served briefly as coroner of Westmorland and may well have been a lawyer. We cannot now tell what sort of legal training John himself received, but it seems unlikely that the Cliffords, who were feudal overlords of Newbiggin, would have employed him so regularly had he not been well-qualified in the law. He was evidently still very young at the time of his marriage to Alice, the second daughter and coheir of Roger Salkeld, whose estates lay exclusively in Cumberland. On Salkeld’s death, in December 1378, the customary third of his property was assigned as dower to his widow Joan, while Alice and her sister, Margaret, divided the rest equally. John took immediate possession of his wife’s inheritance in Ousby, Great Salkeld, Penrith and Skirwith; and since Margaret left no children, her share eventually passed into his hands as well. It was not, however, until Joan’s death, in 1415, that the Crackenthorpes gained control of all Roger Salkeld’s estates, which were duly entailed upon their eldest son, William II.4

Although he represented Westmorland in the Parliaments of 1382 and 1385, John did not serve on his first royal commission until 1386; and it was, indeed, only in the following decade that his career as an administrator began to flourish. He was again returned to the House of Commons in January 1390, when he was one of the northern shire knights to press for a reduction of taxes in the border counties because of the devastation and depopulation caused by the Scots. He had no doubt already established a close connexion with Thomas, Lord Clifford, who made him constable of the castle of Brough in the following February, and had his grant confirmed by royal letters patent shortly afterwards. As part of his preparations before leaving England on Henry of Bolingbroke’s expedition to Prussia, in 1391, Clifford appointed John as one of his attorneys, with power to administer the profits of his estates for one year following his death. His concern as to the effects of a long minority proved more than justified, for he was killed in battle in August of that year, while his son, John, was still an infant. Crackenthorpe showed himself a loyal retainer to the dowager countess, Elizabeth; and in February 1392 he joined with her other advisors in offering heavy securities of 4,000 marks to Richard II’s queen, Anne of Bohemia, who demanded that the total sum of 2,000 marks due to her as guardian of the boy and his inheritance should be guaranteed well in advance. When dower was assigned to Lady Clifford a few weeks later, Crackenthorpe undertook to act as one of Queen Anne’s attorneys, although there can be little doubt that he had the Cliffords’ best interests at heart. Elizabeth certainly continued to employ him in various capacities, as, in November 1392, when she chose him to be deputy sheriff of Westmorland, a post which he occupied, on and off, for over eight years. He also acted as a mainpernor on her behalf at the Exchequer, agreeing in May 1399 to underwrite the farm she owed for the keepership of some of the young Lord Willoughby’s estates.5

Meanwhile, in September 1398, Crackenthorpe and his wife obtained a papal indult permitting them to appoint their own confessor. In the following March he served on the jury at an inquisition post mortem held on the estates of John Lancaster I’s* father, Sir William. His election to the September Parliament of 1399 (which, having witnessed Richard II’s deposition, acknowledged Bolingbroke’s claim to the throne), no less than his subsequent appointment as both alnager and escheator of Westmorland, suggests that he actively sympathized with the Lancastrian cause. At all events, the years immediately following Henry IV’s coronation clearly witnessed an improvement in his fortunes, as well as those of his brother, William I, whose career followed a markedly similar pattern to his own, and who actually served with him in the Commons of 1399. About two years later, Crackenthorpe’s eldest son took up residence on his mother’s estates at Ousby in Cumberland. The young man appears to have got married at about this time; and although the ensuing transfer of title was effected without the necessary royal licence, Crackenthorpe had no trouble at all in securing a pardon from Henry IV. His finances were, moreover, bouyant enough for him to offset these losses by buying more land in the area, as well as negotiating the lease of other property at Rosgill from the abbot of Shap.6

Crackenthorpe must have been at least 50 years of age, if not more, when he attended the Westmorland parliamentary election of 1407. He continued regularly over the next decade to witness the return of Members, not least because two of his own sons stood as candidates. In both 1413 (May) and 1416 (Mar.) he was on hand to see his younger son, Robert, chosen as a shire knight; and in 1425 he helped to get William II, the eldest, elected. His name also appears among those present at the county court for the elections of 1415, 1421 (Dec.) and 1422. On the second of these occasions he had yet another family interest to support, for (Sir) John Lancaster I, whose daughter, Elizabeth, had married Robert Crackenthorpe, was then anxious to obtain a seat in the Commons. Despite his advancing years, our Member was again called into service by the Cliffords in 1415, when John, Lord Clifford, obtained permission from Henry V to settle his estates in Westmorland and Yorkshire upon trustees. As a special concession to Clifford, Crackenthorpe and his associates were promised rights of wardship for a period of two years should Lord John die while his son was still a minor. This did indeed prove to be the case, and in 1422 they were formally empowered as feoffees to administer his property on behalf of the young heir. By then Crackenthorpe’s fifth son, John, had become involved in the affairs of the old dowager countess, Elizabeth, who employed him as her financial agent. When she herself died, two years later, John Crackenthorpe the younger held cash and gold plate worth £128 to her use, perhaps awaiting instructions from his father.7

John Crackenthorpe the elder died in January 1436, after a long and peaceful retirement, clouded over only towards the end by a rapidly worsening feud between his family and their erstwhile friend and kinsman by marriage, (Sir) John Lancaster I. He outlived his wife by some years, but fortunately did not survive to witness the murder of his son, Robert, during the course of this vendetta. The next heir, William II, was by then already well into middle age and his death also occurred before the end of the decade. One of their brothers, Thomas, married Margaret, the widow of (Sir) Christopher Moresby* (who had acted with Crackenthorpe as Lord Clifford’s trustee), became sheriff of Cumberland, and represented both Cumberland and Westmorland in Parliament. Another, named Roger, was made rector of Kirkby Thorpe; and the youngest, John, continued as before in the service of Thomas, Lord Clifford.8

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. Although described as a knight in the return to this Parliament, OR, i. 25, Crackenthorpe is nowhere else accorded this rank.
  • 2. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xxxiii. 45-51; CIPM, xv. no. 141.
  • 3. PRO List ‘Sheriffs’, 150. Although not noted in this list, it is evident that Hugh Salkeld I* held office c.1394-5.
  • 4. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. viii. 313; xxxiii. 45-51; CIPM, xv. no. 141; CFR, xiv. 113-14.
  • 5. RP, iii. 270-1; CPR, 1388-92, pp. 254, 363; 1396-9, pp. 572-3; 1399-1401, p. 51; CCR, 1389-92, pp. 553, 563; 1392-6, pp. 97-98.
  • 6. CPL, v. 148; Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. x. 486; n.s. xxxiii. 45-50; CPR, 1401-5, p. 15; CCR, 1402-5, p. 273.
  • 7. C219/10/4, 11/2, 6, 8, 12/6, 13/1, 3; CPR, 1413-16, p. 320; CCR, 1422-9, p. 5; Surtees Soc. xlv. 85.
  • 8. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xxxiii. 45-51.