PORTER, William II (d.1436), of Wimpole, Cambs.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
s. of Reynold Porter of Rutland. m. by Dec. 1411, Agnes (c.1387-4 Mar. 1461), da. and coh. of Sir Adam Francis* (d.1417) of London and Edmonton, Mdx. by his 1st w., wid. of Thomas Basings (d.1400) of Kenardington, Kent, and of William Standon* (d.1410) of Wimpole and London, s.p. Kntd. Sept. 1415.
Yeoman ranger of the forests of Melksham and Pewsham, Wilts. by appointment of Queen Joan 6 Oct. 1408-d.
J.p. Cambs. 21 Mar. 1413-Nov. 1417, Northants. 7 Apr. 1416-Oct. 1417, 7 July 1423-d., Rutland 27 June 1432-d.
Envoy to King João I of Portugal July 1413, to France 14 Dec. 1414-10 Mar. 1415, to treat for peace with France 23 Feb., 28 Mar., 22 Apr., July, 21 Nov. 1419, 28 Apr. 1420.1
Keeper of Rockingham castle and steward of the forest, Northants. by appointment of Queen Joan 8 May 1416-d.
Commr. of inquiry, Lincs. June 1416 (entry into friars’ property at Stamford),2 Northants. May 1425 (rebellious bondmen at Fawsley); to raise royal loans, Northants., Rutland May 1430.
Capt. of Rugles 31 Oct. 1417-c.1422, Vernon-sur-Seine 2 Feb. 1419-c. Aug. 1422.3
Surveyor of Brigstock park c. Oct. 1417-d.; keeper of King’s Cliff park, Northants. by appointment of Queen Joan 30 Nov. 1422-d.
Porter came from a Rutland family of modest means, probably only possessed of the meagre landed holdings at Tixover, Ketton, Edith Weston and Kilthorpe which after his death were to pass to a distant and obscure kinsman, William Baxter of Wardley. From this humble background he rose to wealth and prominence seemingly by the force of his own personality, which won him a lucrative marriage and the friendship of a King. When first recorded, in 1400, Porter was in the service of a local landowner, Sir Hugh Despenser, for whom he provided securities at the Exchequer; but within three years he had become an esquire in the household of the prince of Wales, Henry of Monmouth, in whose company he fought on the Welsh campaigns of 1403 (in the summer probably taking part in the battle of Shrewsbury) and 1404. Prince Henry subsequently granted him an annuity of £20 for life from the fee farm of Coventry. Porter also found favour with Henry’s stepmother, Joan of Navarre, who over the next few years was to award him a number of sinecures, starting in 1408 with the post of yeoman ranger of her forests in Wiltshire which provided a daily wage of 3d. Henry IV confirmed this stipend to Porter for life, and as a ‘King’s esquire’ he received in 1409 a certain sum of £36 forfeited to the Crown. Nevertheless, he owed his rise not to the King or queen, but to Prince Henry, to whom he was now assigned as an esquire of the body. In April 1410 the prince granted him the manor of Shotwick (Cheshire) for life in place of his annuity at Coventry, and two years later he settled the same on him and his wife in survivorship, together with the handsome sum of 50 marks a year. In the meantime, Porter had sailed to France in the force sponsored by Henry and led by Thomas, earl of Arundel, to aid the duke of Burgundy, and had been one of the captains specially commended in the French chronicles after distinguishing themselves in the capture of the bridge at St. Cloud in November 1411.4
Porter’s marriage, contracted in the same year of 1411, made him a wealthy man. As her dower from her first husband, a Rutland esquire named Thomas Basings, Agnes held substantial property in Kent including the manor of Kenardington; while from her second husband—William Standon, a former mayor of London—she had received estates in Cambridgeshire centred on the manor of Bassingbourn in Wimpole. In addition, Porter was able to acquire at the Exchequer custody of the rest of Standon’s property during the minority of his young daughter and heir. Earlier on, Agnes and her sister Elizabeth, wife of (Sir) Thomas Charlton*, had inherited from their maternal grandmother farmland elsewhere in Cambridgeshire at Trumpington. All this may well have been sufficient to encourage Porter’s suit for her hand, but no doubt what attracted him most was the prospect that she would in due course inherit a moiety of the impressive fortune amassed by her father, Sir Adam Francis, whose annual income, from estates in four counties (Surrey, Bedfordshire, Essex and Middlesex) and from property in many London parishes, amounted to at least £276. Francis named his son-in-law Porter among the executors of his will in 1416, and in the following year his daughters divided between them their sizeable inheritance (with the exception of the part remaining in their stepmother’s possession).5
Not content with the potential proceeds of his wife’s lands, in the same auspicious year of 1411 Porter had set his sights on the rich estates in England belonging to the abbey of Cluny—the manors of Letcombe Regis (Berkshire), Offord Cluny (Huntingdonshire) and Manton and Tixover (Rutland)—and in his determination to obtain them he made full use of his intimate association with Henry of Monmouth. His lengthy correspondence with the abbot of Cluny, in which he sought to persuade him to sell the estates, began in the spring of 1411 and continued during his visit to France later that year. By promising to use his influence on behalf of the order, he managed to enlist the support of the Cluniacs at Lewes, whose prior wrote of him to the abbot as ‘valentissimus scutifer domini Regis, et presertim domino principi carissimus et eidem semper adstans a latere in consiliis et agendis’. In February 1412 he took out a royal licence to cross the Channel again in order to bargain with the abbot personally; but failing to make use of it, he had to obtain a renewal in April 1413. In the event there proved to be no need for further negotiation; and Cluny never received even the comparatively small sum of money Porter had offered, for in May, by act of the first Parliament summoned by Henry of Monmouth as King (an assembly attended by Porter as a shire knight), the Cluny manors were resumed by the Crown. On 14 June the new King’s esquire received them by royal grant, to hold for as long as the war with France should last, and rendering to the King for estates valued at 200 marks a year no more than an annual quit rent of a rose.6
There can be no doubt that Henry V held Porter in the highest regard. He had retained him as an esquire in the Household after his accession to the throne, and in July 1413 entrusted him with a secret mission to his uncle by marriage, King João of Portugal. The generous gift of the Cluny estates was confirmed a few months later, and in September 1414 they were regranted to him in tail, while other royal bounty included two tuns of wine a year for life, and an Exchequer lease of property in Stamford (Lincolnshire). The King saw fit to employ Porter on the important embassy sent to Paris in the winter of 1414-15 under the leadership of the bishops of Durham and Norwich, to treat for a final peace with France yet insisting on recognition of Henry’s claim to the French throne. When, as must have been expected, the mission failed, Porter returned home to make preparations to join the King’s personal retinue in the army of invasion, with a contingent of seven men-at-arms and 24 archers as agreed in his contract of 29 Apr. On 7 July, before embarkation, Henry gave him additional privileges on his Cluny manors, allowing him all such franchises as the abbot had enjoyed, as well as exoneration from taxation whether granted by Convocation or Parliament. Furthermore, in the will which he made at Southampton on the 24th, he bequeathed to his esquire a gold cup, a horse and £6 in money. The discovery at Southampton of the plot against the King’s life made Porter the richer by the manor of Great Bowden (Leicestershire), immediately forfeited by one of the traitors, Henry, Lord Scrope of Masham. Porter was a member of the advance party which, led by the earl of Huntingdon, landed in France on 14 Aug. to explore the terrain before the greater part of the army disembarked; and he was knighted for his bravery when, on 11 Sept., still in the earl’s company, he helped repulse a sally made from a supposedly impregnable barbican at Harfleur and then attacked and took the same stronghold. He went on to fight at Agincourt, returning to Dover with the King in November.7
As reward for his ‘good and unpaid service’, in December Sir William was granted in tail-male the reversion of an estate at Faringdon (Berkshire) worth £40 a year, to fall in after the death of Sir Thomas Erpingham KG. (He was to gain possession of two-thirds of the property in 1428, and the rest when Erpingham’s widow died six years later.) Shortly afterwards, the Scrope manor was confirmed to him for life. Porter now enjoyed a privileged position at Court as one of the King’s carvers, entitled as such to wear a special livery of gold-embroidered velvet trimmed with martens’ fur. Joan of Navarre, still on amicable terms with the King, favoured his knight with a grant for life of the keeping of Rockingham castle and the stewardship of the forests between Stamford bridge and Oxford, promising him in addition the surveyorship of Brigstock park on the death of the incumbent. When Porter embarked for France on the expedition of 1417, once again as a member of King Henry’s personal retinue, his own contingent was made up of no fewer than 39 lances and two archers. His recorded part in the conquest of Normandy began on 3 Aug. when he was one of the signatories to the deed of surrender of Bonneville castle, and subsequent military exploits earned him as reward grants of Norman lands in tail-male and the captaincies of two strongholds, the second, at Vernon-sur-Seine, being awarded after the fall of Rouen in January 1419. On several occasions that year, Porter was named as an envoy to negotiate with the French ambassadors for peace and for the marriage of Henry V with Katherine de Valois, these diplomatic forays ending eventually in April 1420 with his arrival in Troyes to witness the oath taken by Charles VI, his queen and Duke Philip of Burgundy for the observance of the agreement made between the English and French, and to make final arrangements for the royal conference. Only when Henry V himself returned to England, in February 1421, did Sir William leave France to accompany him.8
Porter attended the coronation of Queen Katherine, and then toured England in the royal entourage. The King clearly continued to hold him dear, for in the will he made on 10 June 1421 he named him not only as an executor, but also among those who were to administer his effects. Sir William had agreed to go back to France with a fresh force of 20 men-at-arms and 60 archers, and duly did so in the following month, there to remain on active service right up to King Henry’s death in August 1422. Indeed, he was present when his royal master, on his deathbed, declared his final will, and he subsequently came home with the funeral cortège. At Windsor castle on 17 Nov. he witnessed the delivery of the great seal from the hands of the infant Henry VI to the duke of Gloucester and then to the bishop of Durham, thus formally re-appointed as chancellor. The Parliament then in session granted him and his fellow executors of Henry V’s will moveable goods to the value of 40,000 marks so that they might pay the debts of the late King and his father. Thus began the arduous task of the fulfilment of Henry’s testamentary arrangements which was to preoccupy Porter until his own death several years later.9
Even though Sir William was apparently never re-elected to Parliament following his single return in 1413, he is known to have attended sessions of two of the assemblies summoned in the early years of Henry VI’s reign. The matter of the forfeited Scrope estates was brought to the attention of the Parliament of 1423 when Lord Scrope’s brother, Sir John, claimed they were governed by entail; Porter appeared in person to offer to surrender Great Bowden if the case was found proven. He was also present at the Parliament of 1425, as one of a distinguished group consisting of several lords and three other prominent commoners (Sir Walter Hungerford*, Sir John Tiptoft* and Thomas Chaucer*) who, on 14 May, swore to be impartial in adjudicating the dispute over claims to precedence between the Earl Marshal (John Mowbray) and Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, a debate which was effectively settled in favour of Mowbray by his restoration to the dukedom of Norfolk. Porter was in all likelihood on amicable terms with Warwick, for in May 1428 he was selected as one of only four knights specifically assigned to look after the young King under the supervision of the earl, then formally appointed as Henry’s governor. The knights received generous provision for their expenses and comfort at Court, each being awarded 100 marks a year. Naturally, following upon the King’s coronation in England, Sir William was among those retained to escort him to France for his crowning there too; he contracted on 18 Feb. 1430 to provide a personal following of 20 men-at-arms and 60 archers, and probably remained in the royal entourage until Henry returned home early in 1432. Difficulties over the administration of Henry V’s will again emerged in 1433, although Porter and the other surviving executors then obtained a royal commission to determine the respective shares of the household servants of the late King out of his estate, and were also given parliamentary authority to share out £200 between his clerks of the chapel royal. In April and May 1434 he was present at meetings of a great council held at Westminster, to which nearly 40 prominent knights and esquires had been summoned to hear the duke of Gloucester’s proposals for the future conduct of the war in France. When, in February 1436, plans were being made for the fitting out of a fresh army for Normandy under the command of the duke of York, he was one of those whom the Council decided to approach for a loan, but he died before advancing his contribution.10
Over the years Porter had made himself a landowner of considerable substance, adding to the estates he had acquired through marriage and royal grant. At first he had consolidated his interests near his homeland in Rutland, using his influence with Henry V to good advantage. Thus, in the summer of 1414, he had obtained from Sir John Trussell’s* son, John (reputed to be an idiot), the manor and advowson of Collyweston in Northamptonshire, only to find Sir John himself strongly opposing the transaction. Local unrest, arising from the ‘divers dissensions’ between them, caused the King to order in December that the property be put in the keeping of four persons, two chosen by each protagonist; and in 1416 Trussell and his wife had to enter into recognizances of £1,000 to abide by the award of Thomas, duke of Clarence, and Bishop Beaufort of Winchester, touching legal title to the manor. Not surprisingly, it was to Porter that Collyweston was eventually awarded.11 During the same period Sir William was extending his interests from Cambridgeshire into Suffolk, where he purchased manors at Exning and Frostenden. The trustees of these properties, as eventually nominated by him in 1430, included the keeper of the privy seal, William Alnwick, bishop of Norwich, and Sir William Phelip*, one of his closest colleagues in the royal household.12
Porter died, childless, on 9 Feb. 1436. There is no indication that he had made any provision for the welfare of his soul; indeed, apart from his admission along with his wife into the fraternity of Augustinian canons at Fineshade (Northamptonshire) three years earlier, he had not been associated with any monastic house from the time of his correspondence with the abbot of Cluny. It may be, however, that he had expressed a wish for the Cluny manors of Letcombe Regis and Offord Cluny to be given to Westminster abbey; and Henry VI was formally to convey them to the monks in 1445 in the place of the money Henry V had meant the abbey to have when he made his will. The estates Porter had held in tail-male by royal grant all reverted to the Crown; and his other holdings were dispersed when his executors sold Frostenden to William de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, and Collyweston and the Cluny manors of Tixover and Manton to Ralph, Lord Cromwell.13
Agnes Porter lived on as a wealthy widow until 1461, having meanwhile acquired yet more property when her stepmother, Margaret Francis, died in 1445. In 1458 she founded a chantry at Wimpole for the soul of her second husband, William Standon; and after her death her nephew and heir, Sir Thomas Charlton† (Speaker in 1454), agreed to found a second at one or other of the universities, where prayers in her memory would be said daily. Nobody appears to have made similar provision for Sir William Porter himself.14
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. DKR, xli. 740, 762, 780, 789-90; xlii. 335; Feodera ed. Rymer (orig. edn.), ix. 890.
- 2. CIMisc. vii. 535.
- 3. Rot. Norm. ed. Hardy, 192; DKR, xli. 731.
- 4. CFR, xii. 47; E101/404/24 (pt. 1), ff. 5d, 16; CPR, 1408-13, pp. 55, 154; DKR, xxxvi. 386-7; J.H. Wylie, Hen. IV, iv. 62.
- 5. CCR, 1413-19, p. 394; 1447-54, p. 56; VCH Cambs. v. 265; viii. 256; CFR, xiii. 230, 241; xiv. 200; PCC 38 Marche; C138/29/53.
- 6. Cluni Chs. ed. Duckett, 244-62; CPR, 1408-13, p. 369; 1413-16, pp. 24, 144; Wylie, Hen. V, i. 344-50.
- 7. E101/44/30, 46/23, 321/24, 406/21, f. 27, 407/10; DKR, xliv. 547; Wylie, Hen. V, i. 198, 435; CPR, 1413-16, pp. 161, 235, 354, 359; CFR, xiv. 82; Foedera, ix. 289-93; Gesta Hen. V ed. Taylor and Roskell, 23, 47.
- 8. CPR, 1413-16, p. 385; 1429-36, p. 262; CCR, 1422-9, pp. 413-14; 1429-35, pp. 281-2; E101/51/2, 406/26; DKR, xli. 679, 711, 715, 717, 723, 775; xlii. 426; xliv. 594; Rot. Norm. 284-5; Wylie, Hen. V, iii. 200-1.
- 9. E101/49/30, 70/5/694, 407/4, f. 34d; CPR, 1416-22, p. 406; DKR, xliv. 625; RP, iv. 172, 324; CCR, 1422-9, p. 49; Eton Coll. recs. 59.
- 10. RP, iv. 213, 262; CPR, 1422-9, p. 277; 1429-36, pp. 278, 349; Reg. Chichele, i. 343; PPC, iii. 294; iv. 324; E404/44/315; E101/52/14.
- 11. CP25(1)178/92/8, 28; Cott. Ch. iv. 55; CPR, 1413-16, p. 223; 1416-22, p. 111; CCR, 1413-19, pp. 152, 369; VCH Northants. ii. 551.
- 12. CPR, 1416-22, p. 41; 1429-36, p. 33; Suff. Feet of Fines ed. Rye, 287, 291-2; CCR, 1422-9, p. 362.
- 13. E326/5593; C139/73/12, 78/37; CFR, xvi. 265, 340; CPR, 1436-41, pp. 116, 396; CAD, iii. D547; CCR, 1461-8, pp. 63-64; VCH Northants. ii. 551-2; VCH Rutland, ii. 78.
- 14. C139/118/21; C140/4/39; VCH Cambs. v. 270; CCR, 1461-8, pp. 181-2.