ROCKLEY, Sir Robert (c.1340-c.1415), of Falthwaite, Yorks.

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.1340, s. and h. of Robert Rockley (d.1341) of Falthwaite by Cecily, da. of Robert Oxspring of Oxspring. m. (1) Elizabeth, da. of Sir William Fitzwilliam of Wentworth and Sprotborough by his w. Maud Cromwell, 3s. (1 d.v.p.); poss. (2) by June 1402, Alice, da. and h. of Thomas Sheffield of Bolsterstone by his w. Alice. Kntd. by June 1398.1

Offices Held

Commr. of array, Yorks. (W. Riding) Dec. 1368, June 1388, Aug. 1403, May 1415; to deliver a prisoner from London to Boston Oct. 1391; make arrests Yorks. Dec. 1392, Aug., Sept. 1393, Mar. 1394, Jan. 1396, July 1403 (rebels and traitors).

Assessor of a subsidy, Yorks. (W. Riding) Dec. 1381.

Constable, steward and master forester of Knaresborough and bailiff of Osgoldcross, Yorks. for John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, by Sept. 1388-bef. 1399.2

J.p. in the duke of Lancaster’s liberties in Yorks. 11 Mar. 1390.


Although he belonged to a cadet branch of the Rockley family, Robert was heir to an impressive estate which had been acquired piecemeal by his immediate ancestors. Through a series of marriages to wealthy local heiresses they had built up widespread holdings around their original home at Falthwaite, extending their possessions to include land in Oxspring, Balne, Thurgoland, Barnsley, Burchworth and other parts of the West Riding. This process of expansion led, however, to a conflict with the Everinghams, who had inherited the two profitable manors of Rockley and Stainborough from Sir John Rockley, a representative of the senior line, so relations between the two families were already strained before Robert’s birth. He was probably still a mere infant when his father died, in 1341, just a few months after taking control of his wife’s various properties in Oxspring. The widowed Cecily Rockley immediately became involved in a dispute with Edward III’s queen, Philippa, over the assignment of her dower, but by 1342 Philippa had disposed of her rights of wardship to none other than Sir Adam Everingham. As we shall see, the years which he spent in Sir Adam’s custody did nothing to ease Robert’s resentment over the latter’s ownership of land which he felt rightly to be his; on the contrary, he seems to have conceived a lasting personal grudge against his guardian’s family. Little evidence survives about the period just after his coming-of-age, and it was not until 1368, when he must have been in his late 20s, that Robert received his first appointment to a royal commission.3

In the spring of March 1372, Robert obtained seisin of additional property in Worsborough which suggests that he had already decided to consolidate his existing inheritance. He secured a reversionary interest in other property there one year later, having in the meantime joined the retinue of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, whom he accompanied on at least three overseas campaigns during this period. Gaunt himself undertook to pay his ‘bien aime esquier’ a fee of £10 p.a. for life from the honour of Richmond in Yorkshire in return for service in peace and war; and in October 1374 Rockley received an additional sum of £20 from the duke, perhaps as wages for his part in the recent campaigns in France. Absence abroad no doubt explains why little is heard of him over the next few years, but he was back in England by June 1379, when he became a trustee of land in Flockton. Not long afterwards a local man mortgaged his manor of Hoton Lyvet near Maltby as security for a debt of £20 which he owed Rockley, evidently as part of a somewhat larger amount. In the following October, Gaunt decided to alter the terms on which his esquire’s annuity was paid, assigning the money henceforward from his lordship of Tickhill near Doncaster (which lay close to Rockley’s own estates), and also promising to double the fee once Robert was knighted. Provision was made, too, for the payment of more generous rates in wartime, but, notwithstanding this inducement to assume a higher rank, Robert remained an esquire for almost nine more years. Yet he had pressing need of Gaunt’s ‘good lordship’, for at some point before September 1380 his quarrel with the Everinghams took a serious turn, resulting in a violent affray at a chapel in Worsborough. The duke managed to effect a temporary ‘accord’ between Robert and Sir Adam Everingham the younger, who protested that he had not started the fracas, although the dispute over the manors of Rockley and Stainborough was merely transferred from the streets to the courts, where litigation dragged on interminably. Robert never managed to prove his title, and his appearance among the witnesses to a conveyance by one of Everingham’s trustees, in 1383, may well have been a tacit acceptance of failure on his part.4

Much of the anger of the insurgents of 1381 was directed against Gaunt, who wisely remained in safety over the Scottish border until the various outbreaks of rebellion had been put down. In late June several of his retainers in Yorkshire were requested to provide him with an armed escort for the march south to Knaresborough, Rockley himself being asked to raise a private bodyguard of six men-at-arms and 40 archers. He also took part in Gaunt’s expedition to Spain in the summer of 1386, thus meriting further promotion at home. We do not know exactly when he assumed the constableship of Knaresborough castle, together with the offices of steward and master forester of this important duchy of Lancaster lordship, but he had certainly been appointed by the spring of 1388, when a group of local men began a series of attacks upon him and his deputy which soon escalated into a full-scale vendetta. Attempts were even made on Rockley’s life, and many others were killed during successive outbreaks of disorder. Five years later, in February 1393, Rockley, his son Thomas and other members of their following received royal pardons for the murder of at least eight ringleaders of the rival gang, who had allegedly organized themselves into a ‘parliament’ to oppose the duchy authorities. But not all the blame lay with the rebels, whose commander was himself pardoned not long afterwards. In June 1396, Richard Dowbyggynge, Rockley’s deputy, still faced charges of felony, and his abuse of power may well have sparked off all the violence. It is, indeed, possible that Gaunt’s decision, made at this time, to appoint Thomas Chaucer* in Rockley’s place was an attempt to defuse a potentially explosive situation. Even so, the troubles did not prevent our Member from receiving a knighthood; and in December 1398, while his own home was still virtually under siege, he acted as a surety for Sir William Fulthorpe, who was then negotiating with Richard II for the restoration of his confiscated estates.5

The date of Sir Robert’s marriage to Elizabeth, a daughter of Sir William Fitzwilliam of Wentworth, and, through her mother, a kinswoman of Ralph, 1st Lord Cromwell (d.1398), is not recorded, but in August 1391 the three men appeared together as plaintiffs in a collusive suit brought against them at the York assizes by Sir Thomas Metham. Sir Robert was then involved in two other similar cases; and in 1394 he secured the first refusal on an estate in Flockton which was about to come up for sale on the open market. So far as his career was concerned, however, this proved a quiet period in his life, partly because he felt little sympathy for the increasingly powerful court party. Indeed, his attachment to the house of Lancaster led him to sue out a royal pardon, in May lest he be considered politically suspect and punished accordingly.6 On the death of Gaunt, in the following February, he immediately transferred his allegiance to his son, the exiled Henry of Bolingbroke, whose triumphant return to England and subsequent seizure of the throne brought about a dramatic change in the distribution of government patronage. Henceforward, Sir Robert enjoyed many marks of royal favour, beginning, on 10 Feb. 1400, with the award to him for life, rent-free, of the manor of Kimberwoth and lands in Bawtry which had been confiscated from Thomas, Lord Despenser, after his recent rebellion. Although he was obliged to meet certain charges, the property still brought him over £27 a year as a reward for his past services to the house of Lancaster. Moreover, despite his earlier removal from the three important posts at Knaresborough, Henry IV generously made him an allowance equivalent to the annual fees of £70 which he had been drawing while in office. The pension previously assigned to him by the King’s late father was also confirmed, thus guaranteeing him a regular income of £90 p.a. from the duchy alone. Henry’s decision to allocate all the money from the honours of Knaresborough, Pickering and Pontefract did, however, lead to some delays, and Sir Robert was occasionally obliged to complain about mounting arrears.7

In June 1400 the Yorkshire landowner and prominent supporter of Henry IV, Judge William Gascoigne, took securities of 20 marks from Sir Robert, perhaps because of some local quarrel. Rockley was certainly then involved in another dispute with his neighbours in Flockton, who successfully arraigned him on an assize of novel disseisin. On the whole, however, he enjoyed a position of uncontested authority in the community, strengthened further, in June 1402, by his purchase for 500 marks cash of the two West Riding manors of Bolsterstone and Penisall. The vendor, Thomas Sheffield (who is somewhat implausibly described in certain family pedigrees as his grandfather, but who may well have been his new father-in-law), was to occupy the premises rent-free for life, but the reversion was settled upon Sir Robert and his heirs.8 Not surprisingly, in view of his influence as a landowner and his years of valuable administrative experience, Sir Robert was returned to Parliament by the electors of Yorkshire in the autumn of 1402, although so far as we know this marked his only appearance in the House of Commons.

Advancing years must, in part at least, account for Sir Robert’s withdrawal from public life, although in May 1409 he emerged from retirement to obtain a royal licence for the foundation of a chantry chapel at Worsborough, the scene of his former encounter with the Everinghams. In return for a substantial payment of 40 marks Henry IV permitted him to alienate land in Bradfield for the support of a chaplain, who was to pray for the soul of his late wife, Elizabeth, and other members of the family. References to a second chapel at Bolsterstone suggest that the manor had by then reverted to his hands; and he also appears to have acquired the manor of Blacker (near Barnsley) by this date. He lived on until October 1415, when he was still well enough to attest deeds for his neighbours, but a confirmation of his religious endowments made three years later almost certainly followed the entry of his son, Robert, into the family estates. Robert, who had an elder, but apparently short-lived brother, Thomas, and a younger brother, named John, died in about 1418, and was buried at Worsborough, probably beside his father.9

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


Variants: Roclny, Rockeley(e), Roskley.

  • 1. J. Hunter, S. Yorks. ii. 93, 285-6, 294; CPR, 1385-9, p. 475; 1408-13, p. 107; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xii. 301; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. lxix. 60. Although largely accurate in other respects, Hunter assumes, erroneously, that there were two Robert Rockleys, the younger of whom sat in Parliament.
  • 2. Somerville, Duchy, i. 372; DL42/15, f. 21v.
  • 3. Hunter, ii. 285-6; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. xxxix. 144; CPR, 1367-70, p. 185.
  • 4. Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. xxxix. 145-6, 184; lii. 164; cii. 66; CCR, 1377-81, p. 323; Hunter, ii. 265; Reg. Gaunt 1371-5, nos. 1196, 1663; 1379-83, p. 11 and no. 23; S.K. Walker, ‘John of Gaunt and his retainers, 1361-99’ (Oxf. Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1986), 284.
  • 5. Reg. Gaunt 1379-83, no. 561; CPR, 1388-92, p. 169; 1391-6, pp. 219, 273, 551-2; CCR, 1389-92, p. 95; 1396-9, p. 2; Walker, 284.
  • 6. C67/30 m. 24; JUST 1/1500 rot. 13, 17v, 18v, 19; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. lxix. 61.
  • 7. CPR, 1399-1401, p. 238; CFR, xii. 104; DL28/27/3; DL42/15, f. 21v; DL29/738/12100.
  • 8. CP25(1)279/149/55; JUST 1/1509 rot. 11v; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. xxxix. 191; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xii. 113-14, 301.
  • 9. Hunter, ii. 285-6, 294; CPR, 1408-13, p. 107; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xvi. 94; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. lxxvi. 27.