FELTON, Sir John (c.1339-1396), of Edlingham, Northumb.
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Family and Education
b.c.1339, yr. s. of Sir William Felton† (1299-21 Sept. 1358) of Edlingham by his 2nd w. Isabel; half-bro. and h. of Sir William Felton (d.s.p. 20 Mar. 1367). m. (1) Joan (d.1385), da. of Sir William Fitzwilliam of Wentworth, Yorks., wid. of Thomas Stapleton, 2da.; (2) 7 Nov. 1385, Elizabeth (d. 7 Apr. 1422), da. and coh. of Sir John Fenwick of Northumb., 1s. Kntd. by Nov. 1367.1
Commr. of oyer and terminer, Yorks. May 1376 (disorder in Wharfedale); kiddles Feb. 1378; array (W. Riding) Dec. 1383, Aug. 1384,2 Northumb. June, Aug. 1388,3 Mar. 1392; gaol delivery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne Feb. 1387;4 inquiry, Northumb. Nov. 1389 (lands of Sir Henry de la Val), July 1391 (concealment of arms at Bamburgh castle), Mar. 1396 (escape of felons), Mar. 1396 (destruction by Scots); to value the lands of Sir Alan Heton Dec. 1390.
Assessor of a tax, Yorks. (W. Riding) May 1379; collector Mar. 1380.
Conservator of the truce with Scotland 10 July 1386; envoy to receive an oath from Robert II of Scotland 3 July 1389.5
J.p. Northumb. 15 July 1389-d.
Sheriff, Northumb. 7 Nov. 1390-28 Nov. 1391.
The Feltons rose to occupy a position of influence on the Scottish border through the efforts of Sir William Felton the elder (d.c.1328), who not only served as sheriff of Northumberland, but also held successively the constableships of four royal castles, first in Wales and then in the north. The family seat at Edlingham, bought by him in 1294, passed on his death to his son, Sir William the younger, an equally capable crown servant. During the course of a busy public career this Sir William spent some time as constable of Roxburgh and later represented Northumberland in at least four Parliaments. Through his second wife, Isabel, he obtained the manor of Hinton in Nottinghamshire, which was duly entailed upon their elder son, John, the subject of this biography. The rest of the Felton estates, however, descended on Sir William’s death, in September 1358, to the son of his first marriage, another Sir William. The latter came into a rich inheritance, for the Feltons had by then also acquired the manors of West Matfen, Heddon and Buteland, together with extensive holdings in Nafferton, Lemington, Lorbottle, Milbourne, Whittingham and Thirston in Northumberland, the vill of Medomsley and the neighbouring manor of Hamsterley in the palatinate of Durham, and the manor of Boddington (which alone produced over 20 marks p.a.) in Northamptonshire. Sir William’s death, without issue, while he was campaigning in Spain in 1367, meant that John, whose prospects had hitherto seemed rather modest, succeeded to almost all his half-brother’s possessions. He did not gain custody of them without a struggle, though, since the guardians of his two young nephews of the half-blood, William Hilton (the future Lord Hilton) and (Sir) Thomas Swinburne*, tried to prove that most of the property had been settled upon the boys in fee simple, giving them a superior title at law. A number of separate inquests held locally to determine the descent of the Northumbrian manors returned contradictory findings, but after a protracted bout of litigation, which lasted until August 1372, John managed to uphold his claim to most of the inheritance, except for rents worth £25 p.a. in Nafferton, half the manor of Milbourne and various holdings in Durham. These were finally assigned to the two boys when they came of age, seven years later.6
Aged about 28 or so at the time of his half-brother’s death, Sir John Felton had already been knighted, although he showed little inclination at first to become involved in the round of official business which had so preoccupied his father and grandfather. His legal battles over the Felton estates may well have consumed all his time and energy, for it was not until June 1373 that we encounter him in any other context. He and Henry, Lord Percy (the future earl of Northumberland), then received a royal pardon for becoming trustees without licence of Thomas, Lord Fauconberg’s property in Cleveland, Yorkshire. Fauconberg had been married for some years to Sir John’s kinswoman, Constance Felton; and when he was consigned to prison in 1378 on a charge of treason, the burden of managing his affairs fell partly on Sir John and other members of the family. The bond of 20 marks which Sir John surrendered to Robert Muskham, a Chancery clerk, in the summer of 1373 was, perhaps, connected with his trusteeship of Fauconberg’s estates, since property in Yorkshire was pledged as security, although he may already by then have established far closer personal attachments in the county. The precise date of his marriage to Joan, the daughter of Sir William Fitzwilliam of Wentworth, is not known, but it almost certainly occurred before his appointment, in May 1376, to the first of several royal commissions in the West Riding, where the Fitzwilliams were landowners of note. In 1382 Sir John was able further to extend his influence by taking on the farm, jointly with a group of associates, of the two Northamptonshire manors of Pattishall and Rothersthorpe, which had temporarily been seized by the Crown pending the outcome of an inquiry into their rightful title to the property. Three years later writs of supersedeas were issued suspending payments of rent, so it looks as if they received a favourable hearing. The year 1385 marked the birth of Sir John’s second daughter, Joan, and the death of her mother. Within a matter of months he remarried, taking as his second wife Elizabeth, a daughter of the Northumbrian knight Sir John Fenwick. In November 1385 he paid ten marks to the King for permission to settle his manor of West Matfen as a jointure upon her, presumably at the time of their marriage.7
Even during periods of truce, the border between Scotland and England was the scene of many outbreaks of violence and retaliatory raids. In July 1386, Sir John was deputed to act as a conservator of the existing truce with Scotland, although the increasingly fraught political situation in England made it unlikely that peace could be maintained for long. Taking advantage of the collapse of the court party and the general state of tension in the south, the earl of Douglas led an army across the border in August 1388, defeating the English after a hard-fought engagement at Otterburn. Sir John is said to have conducted himself ‘moult vaillammant’ under the banner of Sir Henry Percy, ‘Hotspur’, and evidently managed, unlike his commander, to avoid being captured. He was a party to the peace negotiations of the following year; and at about the same time he took his seat on the Northumbrian bench. Not surprisingly, the county electors chose to return him to the second Parliament of 1390, which met on 12 Nov., just five days after his appointment to the shrievalty of Northumberland. Sir John was thus technically in breach of the statute which forbade the return of sheriffs to the Lower House, although he had, in fact, been elected before taking up office. By this date, Sir John’s kinsman, Lord Fauconberg, was suffering from the effects of a long imprisonment. In March 1390, his wife drew attention to his deteriorating health, mental collapse and ‘great destitution’, begging the King that he might be released forthwith into the custody of Sir John Felton and his nephew, William, Lord Hilton. The two men had apparently become reconciled after their earlier quarrel, and Richard II agreed to entrust Fauconberg to their care. In the event, however, he remained a captive in Gloucester castle until November 1391, when Lord Hilton, the earl of Northumberland, and Sir Ralph Euer* became his guardians. Sir John none the less maintained a fairly close connexion with the earl, because they were both feoffees of the manor of Seghill for Sir William de la Val, in which capacity they became involved in litigation at this time. Indeed, when Sir John died, on 31 Mar. 1396, the custody of his estates, together with the wardship and marriage of his young son and heir, John, was granted to Northumberland by the King.8
Sir John was survived by his second wife, Elizabeth, who retained the manor of West Matfen as her jointure, as well as receiving the customary assignment of dower. By 1399 she had married Sir Henry Boynton, another Percy retainer, who helped her with the task of executing Sir John’s will. Although they were heirs only to the manor of Boddington, which had been entailed upon them some years previously, Sir John’s two daughters by his first wife both made good marriages. Joan, who did not survive for long, became the wife of her distant kinsman, Sir Walter Fauconberg, while Elizabeth married Sir Edmund Hastings*. When her half-brother died at the age of about 15, in February 1403, Elizabeth succeeded to all the Felton estates, which thus became the property of the Hastings family.9
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. C136/87/26; C138/63/23; CIPM, x. nos. 444-5; xii. no. 200; DKR, xlv. 194; Hist. Northumb. vii. 111-17, 119, 121-2. According to Arch. Aeliana (ser. 4), xi. 76-77, Sir John’s mother, Isabel, was the daughter of Duncan, earl of Fife, by his wife, Mary Monthermer, a grand daughter of Edw. I, but such a genealogy is clearly impossible (CP, v. 374-5).
- 2. Rot. Scot. ed. Macpherson etc. ii. 58, 67.
- 3. Ibid. ii. 95.
- 4. C66/323 m. 24v.
- 5. Rot. Scot. ii. 84, 98.
- 6. Hist. Northumb. vii. 111-17, 121-2; CIPM, x. nos. 444-5; xii. no. 200; DKR, xlv. 194; CCR, 1377-81, pp. 178-9.
- 7. CCR, 1369-74, p. 576; 1385-9, pp. 109-10; CFR, ix. 307; CPR, 1370-4, p. 295; 1385-9, p. 49.
- 8. Hist. Northumb. vii. 119; ix. 64; CPR, 1388-92, p. 228; 1396-9, p. 92; CP, v. 278; CFR, xl. 172.
- 9. Hist. Northumb. vii. 119, 121-2; C136/87/26; C138/63/23; DKR, xlv. 196; CCR, 1392-6, pp. 465-6; 1396-9, p. 29; Arch. Aeliana (ser. 3), vi. 66. Sir Henry Boynton, was executed for treason following the great northern rising of 1405 (J.H. Wylie, Hen. IV, ii. 272).