FRYE, William (d.1427), of Feniton, Devon.

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



Jan. 1390
Sept. 1397

Family and Education

m. by 1404, Joan, s.p.

Offices Held

Commr. of inquiry, Cornw. June 1396 (mismanagement of the estates of Tywardreath priory), Dorset Jan. 1405 (impoverishment of Lyme Regis), Devon June 1406 (concealment of royal income), Wilts., Hants, Som., Dorset, Oxon., Berks. June 1413 (concealment of revenues due to the duchy of Lancaster), Devon Jan. 1414 (lollards), Jan. 1416 (trespasses, Dartmoor forest), Feb. 1717 (estates of Modbury priory), July 1418 (piracy), May 1424 (estates of St. James’s priory by Exeter), Cornw. May 1424 (idiocy of John Trege, q.); oyer and terminer, Devon Feb. 1405, Aug. 1409, July, Oct. 1412, Nov. 1413, Mar. 1417, Feb. 1421, July 1423, Cornw. July 1409, Devon, Cornw. Aug. 1410, Devon, Som., Dorset, Wilts., Hants, May 1422; to raise royal loans, Devon, Cornw. June 1406; hold inquisitions post mortem, West Country Mar., July 1410, Feb. 1418; of gaol delivery, Exeter Nov. 1413.

J.p. Cornw. 18 Dec. 1405-Feb. 1407, Devon 27 Jan. 1406-Oct. 1415, 16 Oct. 1420-Feb. 1422, 7 July 1423-d.

Justice of assize, Cornw. July 1410, Devon Feb., June 1412, May 1417.1

Steward of Dunkeswell abbey by Apr. 1413.2


Frye’s origins are obscure, but he seems to have been a native of Devon. His lands were situated in three shires: in Devon he held property in Ebsworthy (in Okehampton), Talaton and Heavitree, and in 1404 he presented to the rectory of Feniton; in Cornwall he acquired through marriage a small estate in Menheniot and Pelynt, near Liskeard, and in Dorset he leased the manor of ‘Bromle’ in Stoke Abbot as well as land in ‘Ferlegh’, Netherbury and Purse Caundle. By an indenture drawn up on 12 Jan. 1409 he and his wife were granted for life the manor of Broadwindsor and the hamlet of ‘Adesham’, also in Dorset, by a grandson of the 10th earl of Devon, Master Richard Courtenay (later bishop of Norwich). Three years later his estates in Devon and Dorset alone were estimated to be worth £50 a year.3

A lawyer of considerable ability, Frye was sought after both to serve on royal commissions and to conduct property transactions for west country landowners. His representation of the city in Exeter in Parliament in 1390 was an early event in his career and may have owed something to the influence of a rich local merchant, Richard Bosom*, for the Exeter receiver’s account in recording payments to Adam Golde* and ‘his colleague in the Parliament’, described the latter as ‘the clerk of Richard Bosom’. From 1398 to 1401 Frye received an annual ‘pension’ from the city of 20s., which was doubled in 1402, and in later years he often received gifts of wine from the citizens and enjoyed their hospitality on his visits to the city, these being either to hold sessions as a j.p. or justice of assize, or to attend the elections of the knights of the shire held at the castle (which he did in 1411, 1413, 1414 and 1425).4 From early on he attracted clients of standing: in 1393, for instance, he acted as a mainpernor in Chancery for John Arundell I* of Cornwall, offering sureties of £100 that he would keep the peace. A growing reputation in the central courts led to his appearance as bailsman on other occasions, when writs of error were pending following judgements in the city courts of London. He also seems to have developed an interest in the administration of alien priories: he was sometimes named on royal commissions to investigate mismanagement of their estates, and in 1398 and 1403 he stood surety for the lessees of Appuldercombe, Tywardreath and Carisbrooke.5

Although Frye found some favour with Richard II’s government, as is suggested by the grant of a corrody at Tavistock abbey which was conferred on him in 1396, his career blossomed mainly under the first two Lancastrian kings. In 1400 he was granted joint custody of two-thirds of the manor of ‘Bromle’, Dorset, forfeited by Sir Bernard Brocas (which he subsequently leased for life from the Brocas family, at a rent of 24 marks a year), and in 1422 he secured the Exchequer lease of the manor of Langford, Devon, during a minority.6 Nor were these the only signs of success. Frye was well connected not only with the Courtenays but also with several of the other influential landowners of Dorset and Devon: Robert Lovell* esquire of Rampisham named him as a feoffee of his landed possessions and paid him an annual fee of £2; William Ekerdon, clerk, a close associate of Sir Humphrey Stafford II* of Hooke, served as one of Frye’s own feoffees; and he was kept busy as trustee of the estates of Sir William Hankford, c.j.KB, the Creedy family and their kinsmen the Paulets, Sir William Cheyne’s* widow, Sir Stephen Derby’s* heir, and the wealthy Bridport merchant William Mountfort II*.7 Perhaps more significant was Frye’s employment in the administration of the estates held in dower by Henry IV’s queen, Joan of Navarre: in 1409 it was he who transferred issues amounting to £260 from Otterton priory to the queen’s receiver-general, and who assisted also in the audit of the local minister’s accounts. It is interesting to note that in July that year he served on a commission of oyer and terminer specifically instructed to investigate a complaint made by the queen. At the beginning of Henry V’s reign Frye was connected with a most influential group at Court: Sir Thomas Brooke*, Thomas Chaucer* and Lewis John* were among his co-feoffees of the manor of East Coker, Somerset. From 1413 until 1416 he was one of the apprentices-at-law retained by the duchy of Lancaster, in June 1413 being appointed to investigate aspects of the administration of the duchy estates in six counties. Throughout this period Frye had also been preoccupied with his duties as a royal justice of oyer and terminer and of the peace, such activities being disrupted only in November 1414 when he went abroad on royal service. Whether this journey had anything to do with Henry V’s plans for an invasion of France is not known, but it is possible that Frye was accompanying his patron, Bishop Courtenay of Norwich, on his embassy to Charles VI. In 1421 Frye was appointed by the King’s Council to act with the then keeper of the privy seal, John Stafford, as arbiter in a dispute over the possessions of (Sir) Roger Leche*, a case then pending before the court of Exchequer.8

Frye died on 26 June 1427, leaving as his heir John Frye, a grandson of his brother.9

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. JUST 1/199/8; CCR, 1409-13, p. 123; 1413-19, p. 395.
  • 2. C219/11/1.
  • 3. CP25(1)45/67/148, 78/65, 79/15; Reg. Stafford ed. Hingeston-Randolph, 173; G. Oliver, Monasticon Diocesis Exoniensis, 143; Cornw. Feet of Fines (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. 1950), II. 852; C139/29/46; CPR, 1413-16, p. 390; Feudal Aids, vi. 419, 426.
  • 4. Trans. Devon Assoc. lx. 189; Exeter City RO, receivers’ accts.; C219/10/6, 11/1, 4, 13/3.
  • 5. CCR, 1392-6, p. 246; 1396-9, pp. 197, 206, 221, 236, 242, 280; CFR, xi. 255; xii. 44, 195.
  • 6. CCR, 1396-9, p. 61; 1422-9, p. 328; CFR, xii. 71; xiv. 427; M. Burrows, Fam. Brocas of Beaurepaire, 352-4.
  • 7. Som. Feet of Fines (Som. Rec. Soc. xxii), 30, 177, 186; Feudal Aids, vi. 427; CP25(1) 45/78/61, 76, 77/42; CCR, 1413-19, p. 95; 1419-22, pp. 161, 195, 210, 212; 1422-9, p. 238; PCC 6 Luffenham; CPR, 1422-9, p. 325.
  • 8. SC6/1102/1; Som. Feet of Fines, 175; Somerville, Duchy, i. 453; C76/97 m. 15; CCR, 1419-22, p. 213.
  • 9. C139/29/46.