PAPWORTH, Sir William (c.1331-1414), of Grafham, Hunts. and Papworth St. Agnes, Cambs.

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

Family and Education

b.c.1331, s. and h. of Sir John Papworth of Grafham and Papworth St. Agnes. m. (1) c. July 1348, Elizabeth (c.1334-2 Oct. 1361), da. and h. of John Preston of Preston Plucknett, Som., 1s. d.v.p.; (2) bef. June 1371, Alice (d. 7 July 1416), s.p. Kntd. bef. Dec. 1385.

Offices Held

J.p. Hunts. 15 Nov. 1369-July 1389, 12 Nov. 1397-Feb. 1405, Cambs. 15 July 1389-June 1394.

Commr. to collect parochial subsidy, Cambs. Mar. 1371; of oyer and terminer July 1374, Feb. 1383, Oct. 1387; to put down rebellion, Hunts. Mar., Dec. 1382; of inquiry, Cambs. Apr. 1383, Feb. 1391 (repairs to the great bridge at Cambridge), July 1389 (enforcement of statutes controlling the sale of wine and victuals), Dec. 1389 (arson), Apr. 1391 (estates forfeited by Sir Robert Bealknap c.j.c.p.); weirs, Hunts. June 1398; array Dec. 1399, Sept. 1403.

Sheriff, Cambs. and Hunts. 5 Nov. 1371-12 Dec. 1372, 18 Nov. 1387-1 Dec. 1388.

Tax collector, Cambs. Mar. 1377, Cambs., Hunts. Nov. 1377, Hunts. Dec. 1380, Mar. 1404.

Escheator, Cambs. and Hunts. 30 Nov. 1388-12 Dec. 1390.


William was a descendant of Agnes Papworth (the saint Agnes after whom the Cambridgeshire village was named), who had reputedly been a mistress of Henry II. Both his grandfather and father served as knights of the shire: the former representing Huntingdonshire, the latter both Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire, as he himself was to do. Sir John Papworth was evidently well regarded, for Bishop Thomas Bek (d.1343) of Lincoln made him an executor of his will; yet the marriage he arranged for his son, William, in 1348 was not a particularly prestigious one, and the bride’s inheritance consisted of no more than a small estate situated at Preston Plucknett, far away in Somerset. Sir John gave the young couple a reversionary interest in his manor at Grafham. William’s father, father-in-law and wife all died within ten days of each other in the autumn of 1361, probably on account of a visitation of the plague. He thus acquired, all at once, his father’s manors and a life tenancy, ‘by the courtesy of England’, of his wife’s inheritance. A few years later he bought out his wife’s many coheirs from their reversionary interest in the property at Preston Plucknett, only to sell it in 1380 to John Stourton and his son, William* (the future Speaker). In the meantime, in 1364 Papworth had been party to a grant of land at Landbeach and elsewhere to the Franciscan nums of Denney abbey, his intention perhaps being to provide religious services for his deceased kinsfolk.1

By 1371 Papworth had married again and settled Grafham on his new wife, Alice, as jointure. Together, they held ‘Engaynesmanor’ in Teversham and were subsequently patrons of the living at Stow-cum-Quy. Since both of these properties had once belonged to the Dengaine family, it may well be the case that Alice was the widow of one of the Dengaines and held them as her dower portion. In addition, the couple received an annual rent of 40 marks from the Suffolk manors of Cavendish and Denston, which they were to convey in 1395 to feoffees acting for the duke of Gloucester.2 Papworth’s landed holdings in Huntingdonshire gave him an annual income of at least £15, while those in Cambridgeshire may have yielded as much as £44.3

It is strange that Papworth was not made a knight until 1385 or thereabouts, by which date he was aged over 50 and had already served for many years as a j.p., represented Cambridgeshire in Parliament three times and occupied the shrievalty. He would appear to have been the type of conscientious member of the gentry on whom the government might safely rely for the sound performance of the various tasks of local administration. These he continued to undertake until well past his 70th year, political crises notwithstanding. As was to be expected, other landowners of the region called on him to witness their private transactions (he did so for Sir John Burgh and Sir John Dengaine* among others), or to act as a mainpernor in Chancery on their behalf. The evidence he gave in the court of chivalry in the dispute between John, Lord Lovell, and Thomas, Lord Morley, supported the claims of the latter (with whose family he had been acquainted for over 40 years), rather than that of Lovell, to whom he was distantly related.4

In 1391 Papworth, no doubt aware that he was now unlikely to father another child (his son by his first wife had died more than 30 years earlier), made an entail of Papworth St. Agnes, providing that the manor should pass after the deaths of himself and his wife to a distant kinsman (Sir) William (c.1386-1445), the second son of Sir Anketin Mallory of Kirkby Mallory, Leicestershire. This arrangement was confirmed in 1408, by which date the trustees of the property included the Rutland lawyer and future Speaker, Roger Flore*. Mallory was also to inherit the manor of Shelton in Bedfordshire, which Sir William had recently acquired. Other properties were settled elsewhere: in 1400 Papworth assigned all his holdings at Grafham, Perry and Buckden (Huntingdonshire) to another group of feoffees who conveyed them to the Cistercian abbey at Sawtry, by a transaction to which he formally gave his approval in 1413. He died at an advanced age on 4 Sept. 1414, and was survived by his widow for less than two years.5

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. A. Steel, ‘Sheriffs of Cambs. and Hunts.’, Cambridge Antiq. Soc. xxxvi. 17-18 (although Papworth’s heir, William Mallory, cannot have been his gds. as given there); CCR, 1343-6, p. 115; 1346-9, p. 548; 1360-4, p. 224; CP25(1)94/26/75; CIPM, xi. 157-8, 175; CFR, vii. 184; CPR, 1364-7, p. 48; 1367-70, p. 24; 1377-81, pp. 530-1.
  • 2. Add. Ch. 33329; CP25(1)29/85/115, 30/92/22, 223/108/28; Ely Diocesan Remembrancer, 1895, p. 153; 1898, p. 143.
  • 3. Feudal Aids, vi. 410 (where his surname is missing), 462.
  • 4. CCR, 1374-7, pp. 538-9; 1385-9, p. 608; 1389-92, pp. 82, 327; C47/6/1 m. 7.
  • 5. CPR, 1388-92, p. 503; 1405-8, p. 452; Add. Chs. 33338, 33341, 33343, 33354-5; C138/12/28, 19/24; VCH Beds. iii. 162.