SAVILLE, Sir John (c.1325-c.1399), of Shelley and Golcar, 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



Oct. 1382
Apr. 1384
Nov. 1384
Jan. 1390

Family and Education

b.c. 1325, s. and h. of Sir John Saville (d.1353) of Shelley and Golcar by Margaret or Margery, poss. da. of Matthew Wood. m. by June 1353, Isabel (fl. 1423), da. of Thomas Elland of Elland and Tankersley by his w. Joan, poss. 3s. 1da. Kntd. by May 1369.1

Offices Held

Commr. of oyer and terminer, Yorks. Nov. 1364 (conspiracies), Feb. 1365 (disorder at Wortley), Feb. 1370 (poaching at Halifax), Apr. 1388, May 1390 (obstructions to the Ouse); array Apr., July 1377, Feb. 1379, Dec. 1383, Aug. 1384,2 Apr. 1385, June, Aug. 1388,3 Mar. 1392; to make an arrest Aug. 1380; of inquiry Jan. 1381 (liability for poll tax) Nov. 1382 (goods of traitors), Nov. 1382 (wastes at Ravensthorpe), Mar. 1385 (insurrections), Oct., Nov. 1388 (escapes from York gaol), Nov. 1391 (obstructions to highways), to suppress the insurgents of 1381, Mar., Dec. 1382; recruit artisans to repair the King’s manor of Thorpe Aug. 1383; hold a special assize July 1384 (ownership of land in Selby).4

Assessor of taxes, Yorks. (W. Riding) Mar. 1371, May 1379; collector June 1371, Dec. 1372; surveyor Mar. 1381.

J.p. Yorks. (W. Riding) 2 June 1371-May 1380, 15 July 1389-Nov. 1397, liberty of Beverley 12 Oct. 1381.

Escheator, Yorks., Northumb., Cumb., Westmld. 12 Dec. 1374-12 Nov. 1375.

Sheriff, Yorks. 3 Mar.-18 Oct. 1380, 24 Nov. 1382-1 Nov. 1383, 18 Nov. 1387-1 Dec. 1388.

Constable of Pontefract castle, Yorks. for John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, by June 1396.5


The Savilles established themselves in the West Riding during the mid 12th century, if not before, and soon accumulated estates at Golcar, Silkstone, Dodworth, Shelley and Barnsley. Through an advantageous marriage, John’s grandfather and namesake was able to acquire other holdings in and around Rishworth; and at some point property in Kirk Smeaton and Grimston came to the family as well. John succeeded his father in 1353, by which time he had himself found a wealthy bride. His wife, Isabel, was the daughter of Thomas Elland, who settled upon them his two manors of Tankersley and Elland. Much later, in the autumn of 1372, the couple entailed a reversionary interest in the manors upon their sons, John and Henry, thus securing the title for their descendants. At the same time they themselves were confirmed in the reversion of Thomas Elland’s other estates in Brighouse and Carlinghow, although neither of them lived to inherit. We cannot now determine the exact size of their annual landed income, but they are known to have received at least £40 p.a. in net profits during the first years of their marriage.6

Most of John Saville’s early life was spent campaigning overseas. He probably first saw action at the siege of Calais in 1346, when Edward III himself commanded the English army. Ten years later he received royal letters of protection pending his departure abroad in the retinue of the Black Prince; and it seems likely that he fought at the battle of Poitiers in September 1357. Just before leaving, he acknowledged a debt of £10 due to a local clergyman, although the money was duly paid and the bond was cancelled. For part of the ensuing expedition, John served in Brittany under the banner of Henry, duke of Lancaster. He subsequently gave evidence on behalf of two English soldiers found guilty of murder there, and was instrumental in securing pardons for them both. At about this time Duke Henry granted John a life tenancy of certain lands at Marsden in the duchy of Lancaster lordship of Pontefract, although, because a royal licence had not first been obtained,John was later obliged to pay a fine of £10 to keep the property after 1361, when his patron died. His involvement in the business of local government began in 1364, when he served on his first royal commission, yet he still took a keen interest in military affairs, and three years later we find him in Spain, again in the retinue of the Black Prince, with whom he fought at the battle of Najera.7 On his return to England he agreed to act as an attorney for the prior of Monk Bretton in Yorkshire, but once again his stay at home proved short lived. In common with many of the late duke of Lancaster’s retainers, he transferred his allegiance to the new duke, John of Gaunt, becoming a member of the latter’s affinity, at a fee of £20 a year during this period. In return for his annuity he took part in at least three expeditions to France. In April 1373, for example, Gaunt’s receiver was ordered to pay the 30 archers whom Saville and (Sir) Robert Rockley* had commanded on one of these recent operations. Sir John probably had the duke to thank for the knighthood which was bestowed upon him in the late 1360s; and he also acquired the marriage of Elizabeth Thornton, one of his patron’s wards, albeit for ‘un grant somme’. His election to the Good Parliament of 1376 may have owed something to Gaunt’s influence as well, although it is important to remember that, notwithstanding his frequent absences abroad, Sir John already possessed considerable administrative experience: he had not only served on the West Riding bench for the best part of five years, but had discharged a term as escheator of Yorkshire, too. During the Good Parliament, he was sufficiently trusted to conduct Thomas Caterton from Queenborough castle for interrogation before Parliament. Caterton had been appealed for treason by Sir John Annesley*, and the court party, including Gaunt, was anxious to protect him from attack. In the event, they were able to hold off the opposition, despite some damning revelations about their conduct of the war-effort. The duke himself was singled out for particular criticism, and during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 he fled into Scotland, leaving his Savoy palace to be destroyed by the London mob. Gaunt was, understandably, reluctant to cross the border again without the protection of a sizeable bodyguard. In late June, therefore, his leading retainers in the north were instructed to provide an escort for his journey to Knaresborough. Not only did Sir John mobilize a personal retinue of ten men-at-arms and 40 archers; he also helped to suppress the rebellion in the north by serving on two commissions for the punishment of insurgents.8

By the date of his second return to the House of Commons, Sir John had spent a few months as sheriff of Yorkshire, a post which he again assumed, this time for the customary term of a whole year, just after the Parliament ended. An increasingly heavy burden of administrative duties may have led him to seek royal letters of exemption from office-holding, but although these were granted in June 1384, he continued to occupy a variety of government posts in the north. Indeed, it was during his third and last shrievalty that he became involved in a dispute with Sir Robert Constable* over the payment of the latter’s parliamentary expenses, which he refused to hand over on the ground that they had already made private arrangements for Sir Robert’s benefit. Meanwhile, in September 1386 he gave evidence at York on behalf of Richard, Lord Scrope of Bolton, in his celebrated dispute with Sir Robert Grosvenor over the right to bear the same coat of arms. All in all, he represented Yorkshire in five Parliaments, being about 65 years old when he last entered the Lower House in 1390. He was then attempting to recover debts of almost £250 from a member of the local clergy, although the defendant’s persistent refusal to appear in court brought the case to a halt. Sir John remained active until his death, when he was probably still in office as constable of Pontefract. Only one reference, dated 1396, now survives to him in this capacity, but it seems likely that he received the post (which lay in Gaunt’s gift) at a somewhat earlier point in his career. Sir John certainly remained loyal—and grateful—to the duke, naming him, along with various members of his own family, as one of the spiritual beneficiaries of the chantry which he founded at Elland towards the end of his life. A royal licence permitting him to alienate extensive estates in the area for the support of a chaplain was accorded in July 1396, upon payment of a £20 fine; and all the necessary arrangements appear to have been made by the time of his death, two or three years later.9

Sir John’s will, which bears no date, was proved on 23 Sept. 1399, his elder son, John, appearing as his principal executor. Two months later his widow, Isabel, took a vow of perpetual chastity before a suffragan of the archbishop of York. The couple had at least two other children: Isabel, who married into the Darcy family, and Henry, on whose behalf Sir John had evidently purchased the marriage of Elizabeth Thornton some 30 years before. The Thomas Saville who served Richard II as a serjeant-at-arms may, perhaps, have been their brother, but we cannot now be certain on this point. Sir John Saville the younger pursued a distinguished career, being, like his father before him, an enthusiastic supporter of the house of Lancaster. Henry of Bolingbroke’s coup d’état of 1399 ensured him a favoured position at Court, although he died six years later, and thus never really enjoyed the fruits of royal patronage. After his death both his widowed mother and his father’s executors experienced considerable difficulties. The latter were obliged to bring various lawsuits for the recovery of at least £60 owing to the testator’s estate, while Isabel encountered serious problems in retaining her rightful inheritance. At last, in 1423, she and her grandson, Thomas Saville, were finally confirmed in possession of the property which had previously belonged to her father.10

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


Variants: Seyvyll, Soyvill(e).

  • 1. Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 112; ii. 302; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxv. 5; xxviii. 386-406, 409-12; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. xxxix. 111; LII 45, 157; CP25(1)280/155/3.
  • 2. Rot. Scot. ed. Macpherson etc. ii. 58, 67.
  • 3. Ibid. ii. 95.
  • 4. C66/318 rot. 28v.
  • 5. Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxviii. 409-10; S.K. Walker, ‘John of Gaunt and his retainers, 1361-99’ (Oxf. Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1986), 294.
  • 6. Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxviii. 386-406; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. lii. 45, 157, 162; C47/1/15 mm. 9-10.
  • 7. Foedera ed. Rymer (Hague edn.), iii (1), 119; CCR, 1354-60, p. 305; CPR, 1358-61, pp. 13, 18; 1361-4, pp. 50, 86-87; Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 112; ii. 302.
  • 8. Reg. Gaunt 1371-5, nos. 1232, 1436; 1379-83, p. 7, no. 561; Walker, 285; Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 112; ii. 302; G. Holmes, Good Parl. 106-7; CPR, 1367-70, p. 44.
  • 9. Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 112; ii. 302; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxviii. 409-10; CPR, 1381-5, p. 415; 1396-9, pp. 9-10; Bull. IHR, viii. 86-87.
  • 10. Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxv. 5; xxviii. 410-12; C1/69/383; CP25(1)280/155/3.