DRAYTON, Sir John (d.1417), of Nuneham, Oxon.

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. of Nicholas Drayton of ‘Draytons’ in Kempston, Beds. m. (1) Margery (d.1407); (2) between Feb. 1407 and Feb. 1409, Isabel (d. 2 May 1437), yr. da. and event. coh. of Sir Maurice Russell* of Dyrham, Glos. and Kingston Russell, Dorset, wid. of William le Scrope, earl of Wiltshire (exec. 1399), and of Sir Thomas de la River of Tormarton, Glos., 2da. Kntd. bef. Apr. 1385.

Offices Held

Commr. ? to take custody of certain royal wards, July 1382; of array Oxon. Apr. 1385, Mar. 1392, Berks. Dec. 1399; inquiry, Oxon. Mar. 1391 (liberties at Warborough and Shillingford), Oxon., Berks. Dec. 1399 (lands of an idiot), Glos. July 1412, June 1414 (concealments); sewers, river Thames from Oxford to Reading July 1416.

Captain of Guînes 8 Nov. 1383-bef. Mar. 1388.

J.p. Oxon. 28 Nov. 1399-May 1403, Berks. 7 Feb. 1406-7.

Tax collector, Berks. Apr. 1404.


A substantial part of Drayton’s landed property came to him by inheritance from his grandmother’s nephew, Sir Hugh Segrave, treasurer of the Exchequer from 1381 to 1385. Drayton and his brother, Sir William, were among a group of feoffees who, shortly before Segrave’s death in 1385, carried out various transactions on his behalf relating to estates in Essex, Kent, Bedfordshire, Berkshire and Wiltshire; and certain of these properties — notably the manor of Burghfield Regis in Berkshire and a manor in Kempston, Bedfordshire — were to fall to him along with Nuneham in Oxfordshire following the death of his father, Nicholas, some time after 1387. Other of Segrave’s manors, which Drayton’s father apparently sold (such as Clifton and Burcot in Oxfordshire and Aston in Berkshire), were to come into John’s possession later on in life when he re-purchased them. John would seem to have been the eldest son, but not all of his father’s holdings descended to him: Drayton St. Leonard, Oxfordshire, for example, passed to his brother, Nicholas. Drayton’s interest in West Wittenham (Berkshire), a manor which he succeeded in retaining despite a suit brought by Sir Humphrey Stafford I* of Hooke, may have come about through his first marriage, but little more is known of his wife than that her name was Margery, and that in her will, made on 20 Jan. 1407, she asked to be buried at Burghfield.2

Drayton’s second marriage, to Isabel Russell, brought him her royal pension of £100 a year as widow of the earl of Wiltshire, as well as possession of her dower in the de la River estates in Gloucestershire, notably the manors of Tormarton and Acton Turville. However, with regard to the latter he had to take his father-in-law, Sir Maurice Russell, to court for seeking to retain the property in his capacity as a trustee for his young grandson, Maurice de la River. After Russell’s death in 1416 certain of his Gloucestershire estates, including the important manor of Dyrham, were partitioned (under the terms of an entail made long before in 1369) between the children of his first marriage: Isabel Drayton and her sister Margaret, the wife of Sir Gilbert Denys.* But the major part of the Russell estates in Somerset, Dorset and elsewhere, remained in trust for their young half-brother.3 In 1412, when landowners were assessed for taxation on the basis of the annual value of their properties, Drayton was said to have lands in Bedfordshire worth £26, in Gloucestershire worth £60, and in Berkshire worth £63 6s.8d. The assessments for Oxfordshire, where lay the bulk of his holdings, have not survived, but it may be safely assumed that his total income from land exceeded £200 a year.4

Drayton is probably to be identified with the man of that name who, as an esquire in the service of Richard II’s half-brother, Thomas Holand, earl of Kent, was appointed by him on 23 Feb. 1380 as serjeant-marshal and clerk-marshal of the marshalsea of the King’s household. If so, it was he who in July 1382 stood surety for the earl’s wardship of estates late of Edmund Clivedon†, and who was commissioned to take sole custody of Clivedon’s heirs. This presumed connexion with Holand was severed, however, before April 1383, when Drayton appointed attorneys (among them his influential kinsman, the treasurer, Segrave), to act on his behalf during his absence in Flanders on the ‘crusade’ led by Bishop Despenser of Norwich. The expedition ended in disaster and, in the Parliament which met in October, Drayton was among those whose conduct became the subject of investigation. Nevertheless, he emerged unscathed to be appointed captain of Guînes on 8 Nov., and to receive on the 25th part payment of 40 marks expenses for having gone as a messenger to John, duke of Lancaster, on business between the duke and the ambassadors of the French king, then in the marches of Calais conducting peace negotiations. Drayton remained in office at Guînes for several years, in the course of which period he was knighted. He returned home only briefly in 1387, he and his brother Sir William then acting as mainpernors, each under a pain of £1,000, for Master Andrew Baret, who was facing trial for bringing suits against the King in Rome. Drayton’s career suffered a set-back in the following year, most likely as a direct result of the government falling into the hands of the Lords Appellant. He was removed from his captaincy and, on 19 Mar. 1388, during the Merciless Parliament, he saw fit to obtain a pardon for all treasons, trespasses and felonies whether committed in Guînes, Calais or England, and a remittance for all his debts. For a while the Appellants treated him leniently: on 14 Apr. he was granted special protection with his men and household as he was coming to the Council on urgent business and feared the loss of his goods at the hands of his enemies (i.e. creditors). This interview with the Council clearly proved satisfactory, for on 20 July collectors of customs in four major ports were ordered to pay him various sums of money, in all amounting to £1,965, in exchange for tallies issued to him at the Exchequer. Even so, Drayton’s sympathies would seem to have lain with Richard II’s friends and supporters: in June he had stood surety for the King’s secretary, Richard Metford, whom the Appellants had imprisoned in the Tower; and it was not long before he himself was in deep trouble. On 26 Oct. he, too, was committed to the Tower, there to remain until bail was granted on II Feb. 1389. The pretext for his imprisonment was a declaration by the treasurer of Calais, Roger Walden, that he had rebelliously refused to relinquish command of Guînes when required to do so by royal writ (presumably orders issued by the Appellants). Following the King’s resumption of power, Drayton was able to obtain a pardon (in December 1389), and subsequently a tribunal consisting of the most prominent officers of state and members of the Council questioned him and Walden about the affair. Drayton was evidently cleared of all charges of treason, and judging from the fact that on 12 Jan. 1391 the King granted him for life lands in Kildare (Ireland) worth as much as £100 a year, he was soon restored to royal favour.5

Drayton was always a quarrelsome man, and before long the Guînes affair was followed by other disputes. The 1390s were troubled years for him, containing lawsuits and further imprisonment: first, he sued a Cornish knight, Sir William Lambourne*, over a bond for £500; then there were suits in which it was alleged that he had taken land without due process of law and had forced a man to sign deeds against his will; and a second spell of incarceration in the Tower, lasting a week from 5 July 1393, perhaps arose from one of the frequent local broils in which he indulged from his home at Nuneham. Drayton’s disputes were often with monastic establishments, and it may be significant that a monk from Thame abbey was put in the Tower at the same time. Then, the abbot of Dorchester complained to the chancellor about Drayton’s procurement and maintenance of men to break into the abbey’s property and assault his servants; and, in November that same year, Sir John was bound over to do no harm to one of the canons of Dorchester. By this time he had healed his quarrel with Lambourne, who now acted as one of his mainpernors (as did also another Cornishman, John Trevarthian*), but it was not long before he was suing for debt a countryman of theirs, Sir Henry Ilcombe*. Sir John and his brother Sir William both took part in the King’s first expedition to Ireland, receiving wages at the Wardrobe from 7 Sept. 1394 until 21 Apr. 1395, and then entering contracts to stay on in the province for a further six months’ service. In April 1397 Drayton was being sued for trespass by St. Helen’s priory in London, while a more influential antagonist was Sir William Bagot*, who for the past four years had, allegedly by maintenance and threats, prevented him from recovering possession of the manor of Aston near Birmingham, of which he held a lease. In June the same year both Drayton and Bagot were required to enter into recognizances for £400 to keep the peace.6

Despite his quarrel with one of Richard II’s most trusted councillors, Drayton seems to have remained loyal to the King himself, and the royal pardon he obtained on 8 June 1398 was perhaps only intended to insure against legal prosecution. In April 1399 he was present when a manor in Oxfordshire was conveyed to the King, a fellow witness being Sir Thomas Blount*, the knight of the Chamber who had married Sir Hugh Segrave’s widow. The same month Drayton was making preparations to join Richard’s second expedition to Ireland; and it seems likely that, like Blount, after Richard was deposed he remained sympathetic to his cause. At all events, in Henry IV’s first Parliament he acted as a surety for John Montagu, earl of Salisbury, when he was appealed by Lord Morley for involvement in the duke of Gloucester’s murder. Hot-headed as he was, however, Drayton showed caution when it came to supporting Salisbury and his fellow conspirators (including Blount) in open rebellion against the new King; indeed, on 12 Jan. 1400 he was empanelled on the jury called to Oxford castle for the trial of the surviving conspirators, the outcome of which was Blount’s execution. Appointed to the Oxfordshire bench only two months previously, he was to remain a j.p. for the next three years.7

Drayton was returned for Oxfordshire to the Coventry Parliament of 1404. Among his acquaintances were several figures of note: his association with Richard Metford had continued after the latter’s installation as bishop of Salisbury, and he is known to have attended his funeral in 1407 and to have fostered a friendship with his brother, Walter, dean of Wells and chancellor to Bishop Henry Beaufort of Winchester; while an even more important contact was Beaufort’s cousin, Thomas Chaucer* of Ewelme. Drayton’s association with Chaucer dated from before his second Parliament in 1410, in which he represented Gloucestershire, and some time in the next few years he named the influential esquire as one of his feoffees in the manor of Nuneham. Chaucer, the Speaker in this Parliament, was among those put on a commission in April, while the Commons were still sitting, to inquire into Drayton’s complaint that men had broken into his close at Nuneham, besieged him in his house, hunted in his park and assaulted his servants. It is now impossible to ascertain whether Chaucer’s influence could have had anything to do with Sir John’s election to the Parliament, which was dominated by the Beaufort faction and others of the affinity of the prince of Wales; but it should be noted that despite his wife’s interest in land in Gloucestershire he himself had never been involved in the affairs of the county.

Drayton’s temperament remained unaltered by the responsibilities of public service, and in 1414 his violent behaviour led to another arrest. The cause was probably akin to that described by the abbot of Abingdon when he petitioned the chancellor two years later: allegedly, in order to deter the vicar of Culham from beating the bounds of the abbot’s manor there in procession with his parishioners on the rogation days, Drayton had built a fortalice within the manor, put a goodly number of armed men in it, positioned some others in a wood of his own nearby, and shot at the abbot’s cattle, using bows, crossbows and even canon, his servants calling out ‘cest keyn est labbe de Abendon ... cest keyn est le vicair de Culneham’, and so disrupting the proceedings that even the birds in the wood left it because of ‘le hidous noise des ditz canons et autres instruments’. This was but one incident in a long-running dispute between Drayton and the abbot, for Sir John had long since usurped the latter’s authority to present to Nuneham church, and his influence was such that it was not until after his death that the abbot was able to regain his rights.8

Drayton made his will at Nuneham on 4 Oct. 1417 and died the same day. Clearly his conscience had been troubling him, and he regretted his earlier hostility to the local monastic houses, for he made an unusually large number of bequests to both regular and secular foundations, including Lincoln and Salisbury cathedrals, the monasteries of Abingdon, Westminster and Thame, and some eight churches and chapels. In making provision for repairs to bridges over the Thames at Dorchester, Maidenhead and Henley, he was no doubt recollecting his own journeys from Nuneham to London. To his wife Isabel he left bedcovers of red cloth embroidered with the arms of her father, and a cup which Walter Metford, the dean of Wells, had recently given her. She and Metford were named as executors together wtih Drayton’s brother, Richard, and Robert Quainton. Drayton was buried in Dorchester abbey, where a monumental brass depicts him wearing the SS livery collar of the Lancastrians. His heirs were his young daughters, Joan and Elizabeth, whose whereabouts were for a while concealed from the Crown’s officers by their mother. Subsequently, they were taken into wardship and placed under the supervision of governesses until they came of age (in 1422 and 1426, respectively). Joan’s marriage was purchased for 100 marks by Thomas Chaucer, who married her to Drew Barantyn (great-nephew and eventual heir of the wealthy London goldsmith of that name); while Elizabeth married, first, Christopher Preston of Slapton, Northamptonshire, and second, by 1437, John (afterwards Lord) Wenlock†, the future Speaker. Drayton’s widow, who in later years chose to be known by her former title (Lady Scrope) was married by February 1423 to Stephen Hatfield†. Isabel sold the reversion of Nuneham, after her own life interest should expire, to Thomas Chaucer. In 1432 she inherited a moiety of the considerable Russell estates (her half-brother and his infant daughter both having died), and after her death five years later the heir to these properties was Sir Maurice de la River, her son by her first marriage.9

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. SC8/106/5291.
  • 2. Peds. Plea Rolls, ed. Wrottesley, 237, 298; Harl. Chs. 47C 4, 49F 35, 52D 47, 56A 35; VCH Oxon. v. 240; vi. 73-74; vii. 19; VCH Berks. iii. 400, 454; VCH Beds. iii. 299; CPR, 1385-9, p. 339; PCC 12 Marche.
  • 3. Peds. Plea Rolls, 381; CP25(1)79/85/53; C1/69/241; CFR, xiv. 175; C137/81/43; C138/17/61; CP, xii (2), 733-4.
  • 4. Feudal Aids, vi. 397, 402; C115/K2/6682, ff. 37d-39.
  • 5. CPR, 1377-81, p. 563; 1385-9, pp. 416, 427, 537, 570; 1389-92, pp. 175, 214, 362; CFR, ix. 310; E403/499 m. 9, 502 m. 2; Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ed. Carte, ii. 145, 155; C76/67 m. 9; RP, iii. 152, 156-7; CCR, 1385-9, pp. 206, 313, 414, 504.
  • 6. CCR, 1385-9, pp. 574, 675; 1392-6, pp. 158, 163, 243; 1396-9, pp. 116, 128, 433; 1399-1401, p. 397; Yr. Bk. 1389-90 ed. Plucknett, 148; C146/10298; CIMisc. v. 330; C1/7/258; CPR, 1391-6, pp. 473, 487, 554; E101/402/20 f. 35; SC8/22/1057; RP, iii. 326.
  • 7. CAD, ii. A3200; CPR, 1396-9, pp. 545, 551; C67/30 m. 7; E37/28; Chrons. London ed. Kingsford, 60.
  • 8. Harl. 3755 f. 65d.; Harl. Ch. 47C 4; CPR, 1408-13, p. 222; 1413-16, p. 221; 1416-22, pp. 79-80; C1/6/219; VCH Oxon. v. 245; vi. 27.
  • 9. Early Lincoln Wills ed. Gibbons, 119; CFR, xiv. 246, 255-6, 258; xv. 32, 103; CPR, 1422-9, pp. 97, 280, 330; 1436-41, p. 99; CIMisc. vii. 543; VCH Oxon. vii. 60; C138/27/43; C139/81/43, 82/47; C44/24/24, 25/3; E404/39/331-2, 43/163; Mon. Brasses ed. Mill Stephenson, 404.