ERDESWYK, Hugh (c.1386-1451), of Sandon, Staffs.
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Family and Education
b.c.1386, s. and h. of Thomas Erdeswyk (d. Mar. 1410) of Sandon, by Helen, poss. da. of Sir Hugh Venables, baron of Kinderton, Cheshire; er. bro. of Sampson*. m. Thomasina, da. and coh. of Sir Ralph Meynell (d.1388) of Langley Meynell, Derbys., wid. of Reynold Dethick, s.p.1
Commr. to take sureties in a dispute, Staffs. July 1413; raise a royal loan Nov. 1419, Jan. 1420, Mar. 1422, Mar. 1439, Nov. 1440, Mar. 1442; of inquiry Dec. 1420, Apr. 1431 (persons liable for taxation), July, Nov. 1431; to take oaths against maintenance May 1434; of array Jan. 1436; assess a tax Jan. 1436; of gaol delivery, Stafford Oct. 1437.
J.p. Staffs. 6 July 1415-Dec. 1417, 8 July 1420-4.
Sheriff, Staffs. 13 Nov. 1423-6 Nov. 1424.
Steward of the Staffs. estates of Humphrey, earl of Stafford (cr. duke of Buckingham 1444) Mich. 1442-Easter 1451.2
Tax collector, Staffs. Aug. 1450.
Erdeswyk and his three brothers are chiefly remembered for the protracted and vicious feuds in which they became involved during the early years of the 15th century, although the colourful language of contemporary legal records makes it easy to exaggerate their disruptive influence, and, indeed, to forget the overtly hostile nature of much of the evidence. The list of damning indictments filed against the Erdeswyks at Lichfield in 1414 was, for example, drawn up under the direction of the sheriff, Sir John Bagot*, an adversary of long standing, who willingly seized the opportunity to settle old scores. Any study of Hugh Erdeswyk’s early career inevitably takes the form of a catalogue of arson and mayhem, but this is largely because the sources are too biased to permit a more objective assessment.
Although he did not officially come of age for another two years, Erdeswyk first appears in July 1404 as one of the defendants in two lawsuits brought against his father by their kinsman, Sir Humphrey Stafford I*, and the latter’s son, Sir Humphrey II*, over the ownership of the manors of Amblecote and Bramshall in Staffordshire. Not long after losing the second of these cases, the two Erdeswyks were again being sued, this time on a plea of trespass and theft brought by one of their neighbours. In June 1406 Hugh alone stood surety for a Cheshire man, no doubt as a result of some connexion established through his mother, who was the daughter of Hugh Venables, baron of Kinderton. (He was later to act as a trustee of the Staffordshire estates of William Venables of Kinderton, another of his kinsmen in the palatinate).3 It was in June 1407, while his father was still alive, that Erdeswyk led the first of the armed raids for which he and his brothers soon became notorious. We do not know why he planned to ambush, or even murder, Sir John Bagot, who was then escheator of Staffordshire, although their disagreement, which resulted in an assault on Bagot’s manor-house in Blithfield, and another attempted assassination two years later, may have arisen over some official matter, intensified by the acute dislike felt in many quarters against Henry IV’s agents in the provinces. Such was perhaps the reason for Erdeswyk’s even more celebrated vendetta with certain eminent officers of the duchy of Lancaster then serving in Staffordshire, of whom the most notable were Sir John Blount and Sir Nicholas Montgomery I*. Blount in particular seems to have suffered from the unwelcome attention of the Erdeswyk retinue, largely because as steward of Newcastle-under-Lyme he was entrusted with the invidious task of producing the malefactors in court. Yet Erdeswyk and his followers (among whom were Thomas Barber II*, Hugh Wildblood* and John Mynors* and his two brothers, themselves the leaders of substantial groups of men) remained free to wage what was subsequently described as a virtual war of attrition against the tenants and officers of the duchy, defying arrest and even challenging their opponents to single combat. So great was the alarm felt at the general collapse of order in Staffordshire, that the Commons of 1410 petitioned for the arrest of Erdeswyk and his retainers, listing in some detail the more heinous offences laid to their charge. The names of the shire knights returned for Staffordshire to this Parliament are not known, although Sir Thomas Aston*, the sheriff, was a loyal servant of the house of Lancaster, and presumably had a hand in securing the election of men most likely to represent the duchy’s case. Orders were immediately issued for the arrest of the accused, who were indicted for several offences, including murder, attempted murder, arson, riot, trespass and menaces, at the next assizes held in Stafford. Having initially failed to answer the writ of summons, Erdeswyk finally appeared in court, but only to produce royal letters of pardon dated February 1411.4 His conduct for the next few months seems to have been above reproach. His appearance at the Staffordshire parliamentary elections in the following October was perhaps contrived by the sheriff, John Delves†, one of his former partisans, but his return to the Parliament of May 1413 and his appointment to a royal commission soon afterwards suggest that he had temporarily made his peace with the Crown and the duchy authorities. This reconciliation was, however, shortlived, not least because he and his brothers were busy recruiting a large following from among the local yeomanry. Neither the cause nor the precise date of Erdeswyk’s quarrel with Edmund, Lord Ferrers of Chartley, can now be determined, but it seems to have begun at about the time of the latter’s entry into his inheritance in April 1413, and may, given the proximity of their estates, have arisen over a property dispute, rapidly escalating into a struggle for hegemony in the county as a whole. Within months their respective retinues had taken up arms and efforts to settle their quarrel by private arbitration only gave rise to yet further violence, not to mention accusations of duplicity and at least one murder. Sampson Erdeswyk, Hugh’s brother, claimed to have been attacked and mutilated by Lord Ferrers and his men, while Ferrers alleged that a love-day, arranged to end a dispute between Sir John Bagot and one of his neighbours, was in fact a plot to ambush and assassinate him. Both parties submitted petitions for redress to the Leicester Parliament of April 1414, although their complaints merely served to increase the very real concern now felt in official circles. Almost at once a long series of indictments was being heard against them at the Lichfield assizes in the presence of the King, who was greatly alarmed by the lawlessness then endemic throughout the north Midlands. As we have already seen, Sir John Bagot, the sheriff, hastened to revenge himself upon the Erdeswyks and their followers, and it is worth noting how many of the indictments concerned attacks upon his own person, some of which had allegedly taken place six or seven years before. Several other charges dealt with illegal retaining by the leaders of both factions, yet despite the obvious anxiety still generated by this continued threat to peaceful government, neither Ferrers nor the Erdeswyks were actually disciplined in any meaningful way. During the Michaelmas term of 1414, Hugh Erdeswyk was bound over in sums totalling £300 to keep the peace (his mainpernors included Sir Thomas Gresley, with whom he was first returned to Parliament, and the latter’s son, Sir John†), but shortly afterwards he received a royal pardon and the charges against him were dropped. Interestingly enough, an undated retinue list of either Edmund, Lord Ferrers of Chartley (d.1435), or his son and heir, William, includes Erdeswyk’s name as the recipient of an annuity of 66s.8d., so we may assume that the breach between the two families was eventually healed.5
From this date onwards Erdeswyk’s life followed a far more conventional pattern, the violence of his youth being put firmly behind him. In July 1415 he was appointed to the Staffordshire bench, and four years later he again sat in Parliament, perhaps through the intervention of his old friend, Sir Thomas Gresley, who, as sheriff of Derbyshire, may well have been instrumental in securing his return to the Commons of 1419. Meanwhile, in Decmber 1417, he appears to have acted as an arbitrator or witness in the earl of Warwick’s dispute with his former adversary, Sir Humphrey Stafford II, over the manor of Perton in Staffordshire, being one of the local landowners who then visited Sutton at the earl’s expense to discuss the matter. Erdeswyk prepared to take up arms again two years later, this time quite legitimately in response to a summons issued to ‘the most able and sufficient’ residents of every English county for help in the reduction of Normandy. In the spring of 1420, moreover, he made a personal contribution towards the £2,873 raised by the Crown in loans to finance the war-effort. A reconciliation with Sir John Bagot had finally been effected by 1421, when the Erdeswyk brothers and their friends (including the sheriff, John Delves) returned their old enemy to the May Parliament, and Bagot cast his vote for Hugh Erdeswyk in the following December. Erdeswyk attended at least six other county elections at Stafford; and again, in December 1428, he was listed among the county gentry whose services were required in defence of the realm.6During this period he also held office as sheriff and served on a number of commissions.
In asserting that Erdeswyk was sufficiently powerful to have his own followers returned as MPs for Newcastle-under-Lyme, J.C. Wedgwood took no real account of the fact that men like John Mynors possessed a good deal of local influence in their own right and would probably have been elected whatever their personal affiliations. Yet the Erdeswyks were, none the less, a force to be reckoned with in early 15th-century Staffordshire, in part because of their extensive estates, but chiefly through the absence of any effective counterpoise to their growing ambitions. The three great houses of Stafford, Audley and Dudley were each suffering from the effects of long minorities, and as a result Hugh Erdeswyk and his brothers were subject to no immediate restraints. They were, moreover, able to take refuge in their Cheshire or Derbyshire manors when the threat of arrest became too great at home.7 Hugh himself inherited his father’s property in and around the Staffordshire villages of Sandon, Bramshall and Draycote, and at some point, probably on the death of his mother, he took possession of land in Leighton, Cheshire. An extremely advantageous marriage to Thomasina Meynell, one of the four daughters and coheirs of Sir Ralph Meynell, and a former daughter-in-law of Sir William Dethick*, enabled him to consolidate his own estates with the manors of Hints and Kingsley, and also brought him Langley Meynell in Derbyshire. The holdings in Gnosall, Staffordshire, which he conveyed to Elizabeth Middleton in 1447 may also have belonged to his wife. The precise nature of his title to land in the Ashbourne area of Derbyshire and a substantial estate centred upon Gayton in Staffordshire cannot now be established, although an attempt to recover part of it from him at law in 1426 appears to have been unsuccessful. The ownership of such lucrative properties inevitably involved Erdeswyk in litigation, which, on certain occasions, seems to have been inspired by a desire for revenge. Thus, his suit against Agnes Draycote, begun in 1422 for the supposed abduction of a ward, enabled him to settle an old score with the widow of one of his more distinguished opponents.8
To a significant degree, Erdeswyk’s influence in the north-east Midlands must have been eclipsed on the coming of age of Humphrey, earl of Stafford, although the latter was not slow to recognize the importance of cultivating so prominent a supporter. The Erdeswyks had for many years been mesne tenants of Stafford family property in Bramshall; and Hugh, who was distantly related to the young earl through his paternal grandmother, Margaret Stafford, soon became involved in his affairs. His presence in Newport, Monmouthshire, in April 1427, as a witness to the ratification of the borough charter suggests that he was by then a member of the Stafford council, an assumption borne out by his appearance with other councillors among the parties to a series of major enfeoffments-to-uses made by the earl eight months later. At some point before Michaelmas 1442, Erdeswyk was appointed steward of Earl Humphrey’s Staffordshire properties, a post which he retained for almost nine years until old age or illness led to his replacement.9 Erdeswyk and his brother, Sampson, were also recruited into the service of the influential Derbyshire landowner, Sir Richard Vernon*, who was attempting to extend his power base in Staffordshire. By 1437 he was in receipt of the unusually large fee of £10 p.a. from Vernon’s manor of Kibblestone, while Sampson held office at the same time as steward of Acton. A man of Erdeswyk’s status was, naturally, in great demand as a feoffee, sometimes, as in October 1444, because of his connexion with the house of Stafford, but on many occasions as a man of property in his own right. Besides his patron, Sir Richard Vernon, others who made him their trustee included William Lee II*, John Swynnerton* and William Rushall, although the latter had reason to regret his decision and, in about 1430, sued Erdeswyk for fraudulently retaining control of his estates. Together with James, Lord Audley, Erdeswyk was a party to a conveyance of land in Northamptonshire in 1427, as well as assisting in the settlement of property belonging to other members of his own family.10
Erdeswyk’s last years passed peacefully enough, being marked only by a few minor lawsuits and the temporary confiscation, in June 1443, of his land in Sandon because of a sentence of outlawry passed (but soon suspended) for his failure to appear in court. Together with his brother, Sampson, he arbitrated in a property dispute at Penkridge, Staffordshire, in June 1451, but he was dead by 11 Nov. of the same year, when a royal writ of diem clausit extremum was issued in his name. He appears to have had no children, for, as early as 1439, his wife’s estates were settled in reversion upon Margaret Basset, his stepdaughter.11
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Variants: Ardeswyk, Herdeswyk, Ordeswyk.
- 1. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xi. 245; xvi. 41-42; xvii. 117-18; n.s. iii. 157; Staffs. Parl. Hist. i (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc.), 177; DKR, xxxvi. 172; Vis. Cheshire (Harl. Soc. xviii), 228; CIPM, xvi. nos. 715-16; CCR, 1399-1402, p. 77; CHES 3/26/4.
- 2. C. Rawcliffe, Staffords, 216.
- 3. CCR, 1399-1402, pp. 350, 365-6; Peds. Plea Rolls ed. Wrottesley, 129-30, 559-60; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xv. 117-18; xvi. 41-42; DKR, xxxvi. 172; Huntington Lib. San Marino, Hastings mss, HAD 174/2832.
- 4. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xvi. 84-87; xvii. 3-5, 10, 22-23; CCR, 1408-13, p. 64; CPR, 1408-13, pp. 64, 276; RP, iii. 630-2.
- 5. C219/10/6; E163/7/31 (1); SC8/23/1131; CP, v. 317; RP, iv. 32-33; CPR, 1413-16, p. 180; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xvii. 3-11, 15, 20, 22-23, 26, 36-37, 49, 51-52; E. Powell, Kingship, Law and Society, 211-16, 241-2.
- 6. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. n.s. vi (2), 198; C219/12/5, 6, 13/2, 3, 14/1, 5, 15/1, 2; E28/97/31, 33; E403/645; Egerton Roll 8773.
- 7. Staffs. Parl. Hist. i. 177-9.
- 8. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xi. 245; xvii. 82, 85-86, 110-11, 139, 152; n.s. iii. 157; vii. 244; CIPM, xvi. no. 453; DKR, xxxvii (2), 290-1; Feudal Aids, i. 303; v. 21-22; Wm. Salt Lib. Stafford, Salt deed (Pearson) 275.
- 9. Archaeologia, xlviii (2), 450; CIPM, xvi. no. 453; CCR, 1422-9, pp. 318, 321-2, 344; Staffs. RO, D641/1/2/54 m. 6, 57 m. 10.
- 10. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xi. 233, 252; n.s. iii. 155; vii. 246-7; S.M. Wright, Derbys. Gentry (Derbys. Rec. Soc. viii), 68, 249; CAD, iv. A8363, 10274; CCR, 1441-7, pp. 311-12; Belvoir Castle deeds 4028-32; Wm. Salt Lib. Stafford, D1790/A/87-89.
- 11. E364/77 rot. I; CFR, xviii. 231; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xi. 245; 1928, pp. 147-8.