GURNEY, John (d.1408), of Harpley and West Barsham, Norf.

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. and h. of Edmund Gurney (d.1387) of Harpley by Katherine, da. and event. h. of Sir William Wauncy† of Depden, Suff. and West Barsham. m. bef. Nov. 1392, Alice, da. and event. sole h. of John Heylesdon (d.1384) of Hellesdon and Norwich, Norf. and London, mercer, 1s.

Offices Held

Commr. of inquiry, Norf. July 1384, May 1387 (murder), May 1388 (maintenance), Mar. 1392 (theft), Jan. 1400 (shipwreck), Apr. 1400 (wastes on the Hastings estates), July 1402 (rights of Thomas, earl of Arundel, to an advowson), Feb. 1406 (insurrection at Bishop’s Lynn), May 1407 (piracy); array Mar. 1392, July 1402; gaol delivery, Great Yarmouth Feb. 1394; weirs, Norf. June 1398; oyer and terminer Mar. 1399, Suff. July 1402; to make proclamation of Henry IV’s intention to govern well, Norf. May 1402.

Steward of the Norf. estates of Richard, earl of Arundel, bef. 1386.

J.p. Norf. 12 July 1388-9, 18 June 1394-Mar. 1397, 22 July 1397-c. Oct. 1399.

Alnager, Norf. 20 July-24 Nov. 1394.

Sheriff, Norf. and Suff. 3 Nov. 1399-24 Nov. 1400, 15 Nov. 1408-d.

Escheator, Norf. and Suff. 8 Nov. 1401-29 Nov. 1402.


The Gurney family had been established in Norfolk since the 12th century. In 1387 John inherited from his father manors in Harpley and Hardingham as well as ‘Loundhall’ in Saxthorpe, for which last Edmund had exchanged other premises. John’s mother lived on until 1394 or later, but he eventually inherited through her the Wauncy estates at West Barsham as well as those at Depden in Suffolk.1 To these properties Gurney made considerable additions as a consequence of his marriage to Alice, a daughter of John Heylesdon, the wealthy mercer and former alderman of London. In his will made in 1384, Heylesdon had shared out his substantial possessions between Alice and her sister, Margaret, both of whom were then still under age. But Margaret died before attaining her majority, and in 1392 Alice and her husband secured from the civic authorities of London payment of the £300 allotted to her in her father’s bequests. As well as a warehouse called ‘La Selde Coronata’ in the City, Alice inherited the Heylesdon properties in Norfolk: the manors of Hellesdon and Drayton, the advowsons of the churches there and of the two chantries founded in her father’s memory, and other estates, including houses in Norwich. Gurney increased his holdings still further through purchase, buying in 1399 a moiety of the Nerford manor at Houghton, which bordered on his own estate at Harpley. He thus became a landowner of no small means, apparently able to leave in his will eight manors in Norfolk and another in Suffolk.2

Gurney’s father, Edmund, a successful lawyer whose counsel had been sought on occasion by the city of Norwich and the borough of Bishop’s Lynn, served John of Gaunt as either steward or joint steward of his estates in East Anglia almost without break between 1372 and his death in 1387. John evidently followed in his footsteps: his career as a man of law had begun by 1382, and within four years he had been retained as steward of the estates in Norfolk belonging to Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel, from whom the Gurneys held their manor at Harpley. The precise date of his appointment and the length of his service are not known, but his connexion with the Fitzalans probably lasted until 1402, if not for the rest of his life.3 It caused him to lend his staunch support to the earl in the winter of 1387-8, when, as one of the Lords Appellant, Arundel seized control of the government. Gurney’s parents had been closely associated with the Feltons of Litcham, Norfolk, and from 1384 until the year of his death he himself acted as a trustee of property at Banham on behalf of Joan, widow of Sir Thomas Felton KG. Several others by whom he was employed in a similar capacity in the 1390s were then or later staunch supporters of the house of Lancaster, including Sir Thomas Erpingham of Erpingham, Sir John Strange* of Hunstanton and John Wynter* of Barningham. When, in 1392, Edmund Clippesby, a leading Norfolk lawyer who had acted with Gurney’s father as joint steward of the duchy of Lancaster estates in the region, was murdered at his home, Gurney himself was threatened with death if he tried to open proceedings against the criminals, all of whom were servants of Bishop Despenser of Norwich. (The bishop was no friend of John of Gaunt.) It may have been because of his ties with the Lancastrians that Gurney was reinstated on the Norfolk bench in July 1397 after the arrest of his lord the earl of Arundel. (Certainly the duke of Lancaster headed the list of j.p.s.) But, clearly, a connexion with the King’s uncle could no longer guarantee security: Gurney purchased a royal pardon in the following spring, in the hope that his earlier adherence to the Appellants would be overlooked. In October 1398 he agreed to act as a trustee of the estates of Sir Thomas Erpingham, who had decided to join Gaunt’s heir, the banished Henry of Bolingbroke, in exile.4

It is not surprising that this friend of Erpingham’s was returned by Norfolk to the Parliament of 1399 which acclaimed Duke Henry of Lancaster as King. That the new government had confidence in Gurney’s support is clear from his appointment as sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk while Parliament was still in session, and from his later employment as escheator of the joint bailiwick. Gurney continued to be closely associated with Sir John Strange, soon to be made chief usher of the King’s hall, and with John Wynter,the receiver-general for the prince of Wales. Yet his good relations with officials of the duchy of Lancaster in the area were soon to suffer some deterioration. Having recently added to his possessions land in and near South Creak, he now became involved in a dispute with the duchy’s tenants there over a common called ‘South Lings’, where he claimed to have rights of free warren pertaining to his lordship of West Barsham. Proceedings in the suit were adjourned during Gurney’s absence at Coventry for the Parliament of October 1404, but in the following year judgement was given against him.5

Gurney was a trustee of properties belonging to the late Sir Edmund Reynham, and in 1406 he obtained a royal licence to grant certain of them to Walsingham priory in Sir Edmund’s memory. His own enfeoffment of ‘Loundhall’ in Saxthorpe, made later the same year, clearly demonstrates his continuing association with the most prominent of the new regime’s supporters from among the gentry of Norfolk, for those he named as feoffees included, besides Erpingham and Wynter, Sir Robert Berney* and Sir Ralph Shelton*. Early in 1408 he instigated work at Hellesdon on the building of a bridge over the river Wensum, but the citizens of Norwich, apprehensive that this would result in their loss of revenue from tolls, procured a royal writ suspending the project until the matter had been discussed before the King’s Council. The last transaction of any importance with which Gurney was concerned took place in March that year, when the Felton manors at Banham were leased to John Spencer*, controller of the household of Henry of Monmouth.6 He was re-appointed as sheriff on 15 Nov., but died less than three weeks later, on 4 Dec. His only son, Edmund, then ten years old, followed him to the grave not long afterwards, whereupon the family estates passed to John’s nephew, Thomas.7 Gurney’s widow, Alice, survived him by at least 25 years. She sold ‘Loundhall’ to John Wynter in order to pay her late husband’s debts, and then married twice more: first the Fitzalan retainer, Sir John Wiltshire (d.1428), and then Richard Selling, esquire. In 1433 she sold the bulk of her Heylesdon inheritance to Sir John Fastolf KG.8

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. D. Gurney, House of Gurney, 281, 286-7, 359, 365, 374-81; CP25(1)167/169/1290; F. Blomefield, Norf. vii. 43; viii. 454-5; x. 225; HMC Lothian, 45, 52-53; CCR, 1392-6, p. 270.
  • 2. CCR, 1381-5, p. 568; Gurney, 378, 380; Blomefield, x. 411, 426; CP25(1) 168/181/262; Recs. Norwich ed. Hudson and Tingey, ii. 245, 247; Cal. Wills ct. Husting London, ii. 241-2; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 99-100; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 267; CPR, 1396-9, p. 570.
  • 3. Somerville, Duchy, i. 377; Gurney, 380, supp. 790; CCR, 1381-5, p. 137.
  • 4. CCR, 1381-5, pp. 563-4; 1389-92, p. 331; 1396-9, p. 399; Norf. Arch. xxxv. 303, 306; KB9/173(1)/28; C67/30 m. 2.
  • 5. CCR, 1399-1402, p. 332; CPR, 1399-1401, p. 478; 1405-8, p. 301; Blomefield, vii. 43.
  • 6. Gurney, 378; CCR, 1405-9, pp. 385, 524; 1413-19, p. 319; CPR, 1405-8, p. 181; HMC Lothian, 52-53.
  • 7. C137/70/6; Gurney, 378.
  • 8. Blomefield, x. 411, 426; Norf. RO, Reg. Surflete, f. 27. In 1450 Fastolf, anxious to secure the title deeds to the Heylesdon estates, also wanted copies of the wills of Gurney and Wiltshire: Paston Letters ed. Gairdner, i. 164.