ELMHAM, Sir William (c.1336-1403), of Westhorpe, Suff. and Fring, Norf.
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Family and Education
b.c.1336,1 s. of Henry Elmham of Westhorpe by Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Sir William Hackford of Fring. m. (1) bef. Mich. 1371, Anne, prob. da. of Sir Robert Marney*, 1s. d.v.p.; (2) bef. Feb. 1382, Elizabeth (d.1419/20), da. of Sir Hugh Hastings (d.1369) of Elsing, Norf. by his w. Margaret (?Everingham), wid. of Thomas Caterton,2 s.p. Kntd. bef. Dec. 1365.
Capt. of Bayonne by June-aft. Aug. 1374; gov. of Bayonne and seneschal of Les Landes 28 Feb. 1375-c. June 1377.3
Envoy to treat with the King of Navarre and the count of Foix Mar. 1375, 18 Dec. 1376, with the count of Flanders 1 June 1383, with envoys from France 14 Oct. 1383, with the King of Portugal Jan. 1387, with the French regarding violation of the truce in Aquitaine 3 Sept. 1390, with the count of Armagnac 17 Jan. 1391, with the French in Aquitaine 11 June 1393, to France, Aragon and Navarre 5 Mar.-9 Sept. 1395, France 28 Apr.-27 Sept. 1396, Scotland 14 Aug.-31 Oct. 1397, 5 Feb. 1398.
Conservator of the truce in Aquitaine 28 July 1376.4
Commr. of inquiry, Norf. Apr. 1378 (liberties of Great Yarmouth), Hants Oct. 1379 (offences committed by the soldiers of John, Lord Arundel), Norf. Apr. 1380 (resistance to the arrest of ships for royal service), Suff. Mar. 1383 (concealments), May 1392 (wastes on estates of the countess of Oxford), Norf. Dec. 1392 (homicide), Apr. 1400 (wastes on Hastings estates), oyer and terminer, Norf., Suff. Dec. 1380, Norf. Feb. 1393; to compel insurgents to restore goods looted from Stratford abbey, Essex Aug. 1381; make proclamation of the sale of forfeited goods, Norf., Suff. Aug. 1381; put down rebellion Dec. 1381, Mar., Dec. 1382; of array, Suff. June 1386, Dec. 1399, Norwich Aug. 1402.
Adm. of the northern fleet 8 Apr. 1380-26 Oct. 1382.5
J.p. Norf. 20 Dec. 1382-Jan. 1388.
Elmham inherited from his father the manor of Westhorpe in Suffolk (of which he and his first wife took possession in 1371) and from his mother the manors of Uphalle and Hackfordhall in Fring and Hackford’s in Bridgham, Norfolk. By 1375 he owned three manors in Westhorpe and other properties nearby at Wyverstone, Finningham and Bacton, as well as lands across the border in North Elmham, Calthorpe and Bodham. His first wife, Anne, was probably a daughter of the affluent Essex landowner Sir Robert Marney, for in 1376 when Marney made an entail of his valuable manor at Kingsey in Buckinghamshire, he named Elmham’s son, William, in succession after his own sons and stepson.6 Together with his second wife, Elizabeth, Elmham held the manor of Beeston in Leeds, Yorkshire, and property at Widdington and Nun Monkton in the same county, although whether these were acquired by purchase or formed his wife’s jointure from a previous marriage, is unclear. They sold Beeston in 1382, thereafter concentrating on the expansion of their territorial interests in East Anglia. In about 1393 they acquired the manor of Walsham-le-Willows near Elmham’s seat in Suffolk, and as a widow Elizabeth also held manors in Wyverstone and Rickinghall as well as several sizeable properties in Norwich.7
Elmham’s emergence as a substantial landowner ran parallel to a long, turbulent and exciting career in which he was involved in many of the important military, diplomatic and political events of his age. He owed at least some of his wealth to his lifelong service to the Crown, although loyalty to the King did not prevent him from accepting on occasion the patronage of the houses of Lancaster and Mowbray. His early reputation was made as a soldier. It was probably in order to join the forces of the Black Prince in Aquitaine that he left England in November 1364, soon to be knighted and to prove himself an effective leader in the field. In December 1365, when Du Guesclin led an expedition into Spain on behalf of Henry of Trastamara, the pretender to the Castilian throne, Elmham was among the English soldiers of fortune who accompanied him, even though they subsequently received orders to prevent the subjects of Edward III from joining this army sponsored by the French, their movements being a clear breach of the Anglo-Castilian alliance. Already, Sir William ranked with the renowned Sir Hugh Calveley and Sir Nicholas Dagworth* in importance as a military captain: in the following February papal letters of credence for the bishop of Chichester, sent as nuncio to make peace between the kings of Aragon and Castile, were directed to these three knights alone. Elmham returned to Spain in 1367, this time serving under the command of Prince Edward, whose aim was to restore Peter I of Castile to his throne, and following the battle of Najera he and Calveley were sent by the prince to Pere III of Aragon to open preliminary talks for an alliance between them. Both men subsequently represented the prince at the formal negotiations which began at Ariza that July.8 In 1371 Elmham served at sea under the command of Guy, Lord Bryan, one of the King’s admirals. During a brief stay at home in the following year he was party to recognizances in 1,000 marks made on behalf of Sir Ralph Shelton, undertaking that the latter would account for sums collected in Norfolk towards the parliamentary subsidy levied on all the parishes of England. No doubt as recognition of his military services, on 22 Nov. 1372 he was granted by Edward III’s ‘special grace’ a charter of free warren on his lands at Westhorpe and Fring as well as the right to hold markets and fairs at both places.9Late in 1373 Elmham was at Bordeaux with John of Gaunt, and it seems likely that he had endured the long and exhausting march across France with the duke’s army. In January 1374 he was sent by Gaunt to Barcelona to negotiate for Aragonese support for an intended conquest of Castile, but he returned to Bordeaux two months later, having failed to extract any firm undertaking from Pere III. He remained in Aquitaine after Lancaster left for England, and that June he conducted a stout defence of the castle of Bayonne, besieged by a Castilian army led by the usurper, Henry of Trastamara, a notable exploit which earned him a personal letter of thanks and congratulation from Edward III, as well as a special reward of 500 marks. Elmham returned home before the end of the year, but in February 1375 he was appointed governor of Bayonne and, together with Sir Thomas Felton, the seneschal of Aquitaine, he was empowered to treat for a truce with the King of Navarre. They sailed for Gascony in May, and Sir William then remained in south-west France until the beginning of the reign of Richard II. There, he held Bayonne with a garrison of 200 men, appeared with Felton as an accredited conservator of the truce with France, and conducted further negotiations with Navarre.10
At some unknown date before his death in 1376 the Black Prince had granted Elmham a handsome annuity of £100, charged on the revenues of North Wales, and this was confirmed by the prince’s son, Richard, shortly before he came to the throne in 1377. Elmham, an experienced soldier and diplomat, who had acquitted himself well, was typical of many of the knights of the new King’s household, and throughout Richard’s reign he was to be identified with the court party. In 1379 and 1380 royal pardons for homicide were granted at his personal request. And he now began to serve on commissions in the localities, in particular on bodies where his military training would be of use. In October 1379 he was sent to Bury St. Edmunds to restore order following disturbances caused by opposition to the papal nomination to the abbacy. At that time he was also making preparations to join the expedition to Brittany as a captain under the command of John, Lord Arundel, the marshal. After considerable delays, the fleet eventually sailed, only to be dispersed by storms, in which Arundel and many others were drowned; but the ships bearing Elmham and his old comrade Calveley were driven back to England, their return to safety being considered by the chronicler Thomas Walsingham to be a manifestation of divine mercy because they had not shared in Arundel’s evil and sacrilegious acts.11
An indication of Elmham’s reputation as a commander was his appointment in April 1380 as admiral of the King’s northern fleet, a post which he held for more than two years. This involved him in such tasks as arresting ships for royal service, investigating cases of piracy, and patrolling the North Sea. The autumn of 1380 found him busy in East Anglia, requisitioning vessels to sail to the West Country for the passage of the earl of Buckingham’s army to Brittany, but the Peasants’ Revolt of the following year necessitated his active military participation on land, so that order might be restored. Elmham’s connexion with the King’s uncle, John of Gaunt, begun long before in France, had not lapsed: in 1382 Gaunt appointed him to take custody from the dowager countess of Suffolk of the daughter and heiress of Lord Strange of Blackmere, whose wardship pertained to him. In spite of Elmham’s many services to the Crown few tangible rewards came his way. In 1380 he had secured at the Exchequer a lease of lands in Norfolk, but although this was granted him for ten years he kept it for no more than two. He may, however, have derived some profit from the wardship of the heir of John, Lord Bohun of Midhurst, which he enjoyed by a royal grant made before 1382.12
It was not long before the lure of conquest beckoned Elmham again: in May 1383 he enlisted as a captain in the army destined to invade Flanders under the command of Bishop Henry Despenser of Norwich (who, incidentally, was a kinsman by marriage of his wife). At first the ‘crusade’ met with success and, believing that victory was close at hand, in June Richard II commissioned Elmham and others to treat with the count of Flanders, and with representatives of the Flemish towns, for the settlement of all disputes, as well as to receive their homage due to him as king of France. That the campaign then failed utterly was later attributed by Walsingham to the actions of Elmham, Sir Thomas Trivet and Sir William Faringdon, who allegedly compelled the bishop to lay siege to Ypres instead of rapidly advancing into France, then refused to meet the French in battle and withdrew ignominiously to Bourbourg, a castle which the opposing forces might readily put to flames. There is no doubt that Elmham and his colleagues came to terms with the enemy and evacuated all the fortresses they had won earlier. On his return to England Elmham did not fall into any immediate disgrace for his part in this disaster: indeed, on 4 Oct. he was among those appointed to discuss with envoys from France a suitable time and place for a meeting of ambassadors to open peace negotiations. But the widespread allegations of treachery, coupled with general dissatisfaction about the waste of public money expended on the ‘crusade’, were bound to cause trouble when Parliament met on the 26th. Bishop Despenser was promptly impeached, but his captains, including Elmham, remained loyal to him, giving evidence in Parliament to the effect that he had not known that the 5,000 francs sent to him by the French as a bribe had not been returned to them forthwith. After the Commons demanded that those who had received money from the enemy should publicly acknowledge it, Elmham, Trivet and Sir Henry Ferrers admitted receipt of 3,000 francs for their agreement to the treaty for the evacuation of Flanders and the surrender of Gravelines and other strongholds. Elmham and other captains had also been paid 2,000 francs as a ‘gift’, and he alone had accepted 2,000 francs more on behalf of Sir William Hoo, the captain of Bourbourg. The chancellor arraigned the knights for treating with the enemy without royal authority and for their unauthorized surrender and sale of the King’s castles. In his defence Elmham said that he had accepted payment from the French in return for food, prisoners and goods which he had in his keeping at Bourbourg and elsewhere, and that he would have been compelled to surrender the fortress had he not then capitulated, the enemy’s numbers having been overwhelming. Nevertheless, it was ordered that he and the others were to be committed to prison until they handed over to the King all sums of money received. In fact, Sir William seems to have remained at liberty until March 1384, when the sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk was ordered to levy 3,400 francs from his lands and to bring him before the King and Council prior to imprisonment; and barely two months later, on 14 May at Salisbury, where Parliament was being held, he was issued with full pardons for the offences committed in Flanders.13
While this same Parliament was in progress Elmham was allegedly among the group of prominent knights who seized the Carmelite friar, John Latimer, as he was being led into custody after accusing John of Gaunt of treason, and, presumably with the intention of discovering who had encouraged him to make the accusations, tortured him so cruelly that he died. The others said to have been involved in this unsavoury incident were Sir John Holand (the King’s half-brother), Sir Philip Courtenay*, and Lancaster’s retainers, Sir Thomas Morieux and Sir Henry Green*. Whether they were all acting at John of Gaunt’s behest remains unclear; but certainly no official action was taken against them. By November Elmham had made his account at the Exchequer for the money acquired on the Flemish campaign, then obtaining another royal pardon.14
In the summer of 1385 Elmham served at sea in the retinue of Sir Thomas Percy, admiral of the northern fleet, providing support to the forces invading Scotland under royal leadership. A year later rumours of an invasion from France were strong enough to warrant his assignment to keep watch on the east coast at Great Yarmouth with a band of 75 armed men. Nor were his skills as a diplomat neglected for long: in January 1387 he was given instructions to visit Joao I of Portugal to request the dispatch of a squadron of Portuguese galleys to English waters in accordance with the treaty he had concluded with Richard II. However, it is unlikely that he spent long in Portugal, for later that year he enlisted in the naval force commanded by Richard, earl of Arundel, as admiral of England.15
That Elmham continued to be identified with the court party may be inferred from his arrest along with other royalist partisans on 4 Jan. 1388, when Arundel and his fellow Appellants assumed executive control of the government. The prisoners were split up ‘so that none should have speech with another to take counsel’, and Elmham was sent with Sir Simon Burley to Nottingham castle, there to remain until 24 Feb. when they were both committed to the Tower. Somehow Sir William managed to escape Burley’s fate, and on 30 May he was released on bail after promising to appear for trial before the next Parliament. However, no further reprisals were evidently implemented against him, and soon after Richard II re-asserted his authority he returned to Court.16 Elmham may have owed his survival in 1388 to his connexions with John of Gaunt and with the latter’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, earl of Derby, who was one of the Lords Appellant. Certainly, the latter was fully aware of Elmham’s capability as an envoy: in May 1390 he sent him on a mission to Paris to secure from the French king a safe conduct for the expeditionary force he proposed to lead on ‘crusade’ to Prussia. Elmham himself did not participate in this campaign; instead, he returned to Aquitaine in the autumn, sailing with Sir Richard Craddock and some 50 cavalrymen. His purpose was to treat with the French for correction of violations of the truce, and also to negotiate with the count of Armagnac. He remained in Gascony until early in 1392, subsequently receiving, over and above the normal wages and expenses, a special reward of £100 or having expedited ‘arduous and urgent business’ on behalf of the Crown.17
Elmham’s first return to Parliament, in 1393, thus occurred after nearly 30 years close involvement in military campaigns on land and sea. Nor was it long before he resumed his travels: in April that same year he was sent to the dukes of Lancaster and Gloucester, who were negotiating with the French at Calais, to provide them with up-to-date information about the state of affairs in Aquitaine, and he then returned to south-west France where he once more treated with his French counterparts about breaches of truce. Having sailed back to England for the Parliament which assembled from January to March 1394, he was again sent to Calais in May. Now sometimes described as the King’s ‘bachelor’, he received wages of war as being in the royal retinue in Ireland from September 1394 until the spring of 1395. However, he did not spend all winter in the province, for on 5 Mar. he set off from London on ‘secret business’ with the French king — quite possibly preliminary talks about Richard II’s marriage. Earlier, Richard had written to Philip, duke of Burgundy, thanking him for past favours and counsel given to Elmham and asking for his continued assistance in the business of this mission. Elmham was away from England until 9 Sept., having moved on from Paris to the courts of Aragon and Navarre, where, as well as representing Richard II, he also acted on instructions handed him in Gascony by John of Gaunt.18 From April until September 1396 he and Sir Henry Percy, son of the earl of Northumberland, were engaged in negotiations both in England and France for the moderation of ransom payments claimed by both sides. In October, shortly after his return home, he attended the baptism at Cotton, Suffolk, of William de la Pole, the second grandson of the late earl of Suffolk, Richard II’s chancellor. His connexion with the de la Poles had come about through his second marriage, for his wife’s sister had married Sir John Wingfield† of Letheringham, the de la Poles’ cousin, and the three families were always close.19 Elmham was not present in the Parliament of 1397-8 to witness the restoration of Sir Michael de la Pole to his father’s forfeited estates and earldom, for he had been appointed as an envoy to discuss with Robert III of Scotland arrangements for a meeting of ambassadors from both sides, and was accordingly absent in the north. Early in 1398 he may have made yet another journey to Aquitaine, for a royal letter addressed to Charles VI requested a safe conduct for him and for assistance in some private business he had in the French court; if so, it was probably then that he delivered a New Year’s gift to Richard II’s mother-in-law, Isabel of Bavaria. In February he was named on commissions to treat for peace with the Scottish ambassadors. When, that September, the quarrel between Henry of Bolingbroke, now duke of Hereford, and Thomas Mowbray, duke of Norfolk, resulted in their banishment, and both men were permitted to make arrangements for the administration of their estates during their absence, Mowbray selected Elmham to be of his ‘entire and continuous council’ at home, appointing him on 15 Oct. as one of his ‘general attorneys’. Four days later Elmham was present at the duke’s embarkation at Kirkley Road near Lowestoft.20
The period of Richard II’s autocratic rule in no way affected Elmham’s unswerving loyalty to the Crown, even when Mowbray and Bolingbroke were disinherited. In the spring of 1399, described as a ‘King’s knight’, he was granted for life two tuns of wine a year from the royal prisage of wines in East Anglian ports. Early in July, after the King’s departure for Ireland and Bolingbroke’s landing in Yorkshire, he raised a body of six men-at-arms and 30 archers to help the duke of York to resist the usurper; and, when such panic seized the royalist ranks as caused many prominent figures to flee to Bristol, he refused to join the general defection, and was eventually taken captive at Berkeley castle, where he and his men were stripped of their arms.21 Yet Elmham never suffered unduly for his loyalty to Richard II. On 28 Oct. the new King, Henry IV, ordered that the horses and harness taken from him at Berkeley ‘without process of law’ should be restored, and a few days later confirmation was made of the grants of wine and the annuity bestowed on him many years before by the Black Prince, payment of the annuity now being transferred to the Exchequer. Furthermore, Elmham continued to be called ‘King’s knight’. In August 1401 he was among the few men from East Anglia to receive individual summonses to attend a great council.22
Elmham made his will on 2 Apr. 1403, naming as his executors Sir William Burgate* and Sir John Ingoldisthorpe*.23 He died on 16 Apr. and was interred in Bury St. Edmunds abbey. Elizabeth, his widow, survived him by several years. As none of their children were still living, she sold the reversion of Walsham, after her own life interest, to William, Lord Willoughby. In 1409 she was troubled by major lawsuits brought by the prince of Wales, the duke of York and the countess of Hereford over the wardship of her great-nephew, Robert Wingfield†, but in the following year Henry IV formally granted her the boy’s wardship and marriage for payment of no more than 100 marks in view of the great expense she had suffered.24 Elizabeth had been left a very rich woman, and her will, dated 1 Dec. 1419, contained bequests in money amounting to over £550 and many items of jewellery and fur. She left 100 marks to poor widows and clerks and for the marriage of poor women in Norfolk and Suffolk, £10 to the men of Westhorpe to help them pay royal taxes, 100 marks to one nephew, William Wingfield, and 50 marks to another, John Russell (son of Sir John Russell* of Strensham), not to mention valuable gifts to her many nieces and god-daughters. One of the principal beneficiaries was the ‘haulte et puissante prince, le duc d’Excestre’ (Thomas Beaufort), who received lavish furnishings from Westhorpe and the contents of the manor-house and stables there, as well as all of Elizabeth’s property in Norwich, on condition that he paid 100 marks or else provided a priest to pray for her soul for ten years. The duke headed the executors of the will, which was proved at Norwich on 14 Feb. 1420.25
Elmham’s epitaph at Bury recalled his spirited defence of Bayonne when ‘Hispanic strauit Regem simul inde fugavit’ and continued:
Vir subtilis erat bellis semper fuit aptus
In bello fuerat nunquam victus neque captus
Fortis erat sapiens ferus in bellis animosus.
But he was judged more harshly by some of his contemporaries: Walsingham called him a renowned knight, but spoke of his ’mens invidia corrupta, animus obsessus avarita, et cor proditionis felle toxicatum’, and later historians have also been censorious- Tout’s censorious-Tout’s opinion was that he was `one of the worst of Bishop Despenser’s mutinous followers’. Nevertheless, he deserves respect for his evident capabilities in the spheres of war and diplomacy, and for his loyalty to Richard II.26
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. C47/6/1 m. 12.
- 2. Norf. and Norwich RO, Reg. Hyrning, ff. 56-57. It would be interesting to know whether this was the same Thomas Caterton who surrendered the fortress of St. Sauveur in Normandy in 1375 and was as a consequence accused of treachery in the Good Parliament of 1376. Sir John Annesley* killed him in a trial by combat in 1379: G.A. Holmes, Good Parl. 38, 131-2.
- 3. Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ed. Carte, i. 161.
- 4. C61/89 m. 6.
- 5. C76/64 m. 9.
- 6. J. Copinger, Suff. Manors, iii. 326-7; CP25(1)222/97/46, 99/27; F. Blomefield, Norf. i. 438; x. 305; Norf. Feet of Fines ed. Rye, 289-90, 295; CPR, 1374-7, p. 296.
- 7. CCR, 1381-5, p. 110; 1389-92, pp. 316, 318; Feudal Aids, v. 102.
- 8. CPR, 1364-7, p. 30; P.E.L. Russell, Eng. Intervention in Spain and Portugal, 39, 116, 119, 120-1; Foedera ed. Rymer (Hague edn.), iii. 779; CPL, iv. 21.
- 9. CPR, 1370-4, p. 89; CCR, 1369-74, p. 444; 1374-7, pp. 58-59; CChR, v. 227.
- 10. Russell, 209-10, 216, 218-19, 565-6; E403/456 m. 21, 457 m. 20, 460 m. 26, 468 m. 11, 478 m. 26; C61/88 m. 7; Foedera, iii (3), 27, 53.
- 11. CPR, 1377-81, pp. 355, 391, 489; 1399-1401, p. 206; T.F. Tout, Chapters, iii. 435; T. Walsingham, Hist. Ang. ed. Riley, i. 418, 425-6.
- 12. CFR, ix. 182; CCR, 1381-5, p. 59; CIPM, xv. 951; xvi. 79; E403/481 m. 19; Reg. Gaunt 1379-83, no. 673.
- 13. CP, vi. 355; C76/67 m. 1, 68 m. 22; Walsingham, ii. 86, 95, 99-100; RP, iii. 152, 156-7; CCR, 1381-5, pp. 368, 449; CPR, 1381-5, p. 414; Recueil des Actes de Jean IV ed. Jones, ii. no. 462.
- 14. Westminster Chron. 1381-94 ed. Hector and Harvey, 72-76; CPR, 1381-5, p. 476.
- 15. E101/40/33 m. 11, 40/39; E403/510 m. 9, 515 m. 24; CCR, 1385-9, p. 169; Dip. Corresp. Ric. II (Cam. Soc. ser. 3, xlviii), no. 73; Russell, 443.
- 16. Walsingham, ii. 173; CCR, 1385-9, pp. 382, 394; CPR, 1388-92, p. 41.
- 17. Derby’s Expeds. (Cam. Soc. n.s. lii), 8, 20, 124, 295; C61/101 mm. 1, 3, 4; CCR, 1389-92, p. 210; E101/41/20; E403/536 m. 20.
- 18. E403/541 m. 21, 543 m. 10, 546 mm. 23, 24, 548 mm. 7, 20; Rot Gasc. et Franc. i. 178; Anglo-Norman Letters ed. Legge, no. 3; E101/402/20, f. 68; E364/29 mm. A, C; Dip. Corresp. Ric. II, 245.
- 19. E364/30 m. G; C138/29/63; CCR, 1377-81, p. 139; 1381-5, p. 130.
- 20. Dip. Corresp. Ric. II, no. 237; Rot. Scot. ed. Macpherson etc. ii. 138-9; E364/31 m. A; C76/82 m. 5; CPR, 1396-9, p. 422; RP, iii. 384; Anglo-Norman Letters, nos. 98, 264.
- 21. CPR, 1396-9, p. 529; E403/562 m. 14; E364/35 m. D; J. Trokelowe, Chron. ed. Riley, 246; Chron. Traison et Mort Ric. II ed. Williams, 292.
- 22. CPR, 1399-1401, pp. 39, 59, 206; PPC, i. 158, 164.
- 23. Norf. and Norwich RO, Reg. Harsyk, f. 289. The will is now illegible, but see Blomefield, x. 305.
- 24. CPR, 1405-8, p. 99; 1408-13, p. 71; 1413-16, p. 302; CCR, 1405-9, p. 519; 1409-13, p. 1; DL42/16 (pt. 2), f. 50d.
- 25. Norf. RO, Reg. Hyrning, ff. 56-57.
- 26. William of Worcestre, Itins. ed. Harvey, 162; Walsingham, ii. 86; Tout, iii. 392.