SCARBURGH, John, of 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

Offices Held

Commr. of inquiry, Yorks. Apr. 1378 (unlawful assemblies), Essex, Mdx. 1390 (wastes on estates of Takeley priory); to survey the possessions of Apb. Arundel, Thomas, duke of Gloucester, Richard, earl of Arundel, and Thomas, earl of Warwick, Yorks., Northumb., Cumb., Westmld. Oct. 1397.

Chancery clerk by 1373-c.1413.

Clerk of the Commons in Parliament by 5 Mar. 1385-c.1414.1

Under butler of England by 1385-1394.


The identification of this representative for Shaftesbury presents problems, for his name was not at all uncommon in the late 14th century. However, it was extremely rare in Dorset, and since no satisfactory local man called John Scarburgh has been discovered, there is a strong likelihood that the parliamentary burgess in question was the person currently serving as clerk of the Commons. This supposition is given weight not only by the many similarities between Scarburgh’s career and that of his successor in the clerkship, Thomas Haseley (who sat for another Dorset borough, Lyme Regis, in 1410 and for Barnstaple in 1413), but also by the clear evidence that the inhabitants of Shaftesbury were not averse to electing men who, having no connexion at all with their town, held influential positions at the centre of royal government. They did, in fact, choose Robert Frye II, the clerk of the King’s Council, as Scarburgh’s fellow in the very same Parliament of 1406. It would appear that the two royal clerks were elected in response to a governmental injunction or, which is perhaps more likely, that they had made a joint approach to the borough, soliciting their election, their aim being to take an active role in the deliberations of the Lower House.

In outline Scarburgh’s career is quite well defined. In the 14th century much of the executive work of government offices was in the hands of clerks from Yorkshire, and Scarburgh evidently belonged to that group. He may well have been the John Scarburgh who, at York in July 1366, had been admitted as a protonotary by Archbishop Thoresby. Royal letters patent granted to him in 1398 noted that his diligent service in the Chancery reached back over 20 years ‘and more’, and his first known appearance as a Chancery clerk dates, in fact, from as early as 1373. It was as ‘of Yorkshire’ that Scarburgh then provided securities in Chancery for the good behaviour of various individuals from northern parts, and in February 1376, now described as ‘Master John Scarburgh, clerk of the diocese of York and notary public’, he affixed his seal to an instrument on behalf of Richard Ravenser, canon of St. John’s Beverley, who was his immediate superior, being keeper of the hanaper. Later that year, in September, he stood surety for the good behaviour of the abbot of Evesham. Again, in January and March 1379 Scarburgh performed similar tasks for certain persons seeking royal pardons, on which occasions, it is well worth noting, he was associated with John Rome, who was afterwards clerk of the Parliaments (1384-1415). One of the many rewards forthcoming for his services in Chancery was a prebend in the chapel of St. Mary and the Holy Angels, York, granted him in August 1380. The prebend was claimed by Thomas Oldington, the nominee of Archbishop Neville of York, but this opponent was bound over in Chancery not to disturb Scarburgh’s possession by any suit in the Roman Curia, Scarburgh acknowledging in return an obligation not to proceed with his own plea of praemunire which was then pending in the English courts.2

When Scarburgh’s term of office as clerk of the Commons began is uncertain. The earliest known clerk, Robert Melton, received as such a salary of £5 a year for life from 1363 to 1385, but may not have actually discharged his duties for some years before his death. Scarburgh’s patent for the same salary was dated 5 Mar. 1385, but in view of the fact that officials were paid retrospectively at Easter and Michaelmas it is probable that he had acted as clerk in the previous Parliament (November 1384) and possibly in earlier sessions, too.3 His work at the Chancery continued to be important, and maybe even brought him into close contact with Richard II. In June 1386 he and two other Chancery clerks acknowledged that they had received from the keeper of the hanaper the sum of nine marks ‘pro labore nostro quem circa scripturam diversarum ligarum inter prefatum dominum nostrum regem et Johannem regem Castelle et Legionis, ducem Lancastrie, ac regem Portugalie nuper factarum’, the treaties in question being the articles of agreement drawn up in the name of the proctors of Jo’o I of Portugal on 9 May. Scarburgh also appeared as a witness to John of Gaunt’s formal alliance with his royal nephew. During the Parliament which met in November following he was granted custody of the Cumberland lands and heir of Sir John Warthwyk, in return for payment of a sum of money agreed with the chancellor and treasurer, which took into account his expenses in recovering the wardship in the King’s name. In the event, in the following March he had to pay £10 for the property and the marriage of the boy, who had caused additional trouble by fleeing from royal custody. On 12 Apr. 1388, the eve of the second session of the Merciless Parliament, the prior and convent of Newburgh were ordered to grant Scarburgh the pension due on the prior’s creation, which Archbishop Neville, recently condemned for treason in the Parliament, had previously conferred on Alexander Herle. Both candidates appeared in Chancery in person on 30 June only for the justices to decide against Scarburgh.4 At the end of the Parliament the Commons had petitioned the King to help ‘leur common clerk’ with some other financial reward, but it was not until Parliament had re-assembled at Cambridge that, on 12 Oct., he responded by granting Scarburgh lands at South Wheatley (Nottinghamshire) worth £10 a year, which had been forfeited by Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, following his attainder in the first Parliament of the year; and when, ten years later, Suffolk’s son was restored to his estates, the clerk received instead an annuity of £10 for life from the issues of the City of London. The reward took this particular form because, it was noted, Scarburgh had incurred some irregularity and for that reason was disabled from accepting any ecclesiastical benefice. Exactly what this irregularity had been is not revealed, but it seems likely that he had married, a step which imposed obvious limitations on the rise of a royal clerk but was later (as in the case of his successor Haseley) to prove no great a hindrance to success.5

Meanwhile, in June 1385, Scarburgh had been appointed to supply wine to the royal household for the military expedition to Scotland, doubtless in the role of principal deputy to John Slegh, the chief butler (a post which was to be similarly held by Haseley under Thomas Chaucer*). The chief butler’s duties included acting as coroner of London, and Scarburgh served Slegh in this capacity from 1390 to 1394. However, in January and July 1393 and again in November 1394 he was busy carrying out clerical work for the King’s household (presumably on the last occasion in Ireland) so another deputy had to be appointed during his absence from the City. After Slegh’s death he appeared as attorney for his executors in their dispute in the court of Chancery over lands in Trumpington (Cambridgeshire). Following the close of the first session of the Parliament of September 1397, Scarburgh was appointed to survey the estates of Richard II’s attainted enemies in the four northernmost counties. Then, in April 1399, he was named as their attorney by several lords and knights crossing to Ireland with the King, these including Sir Walter de la Pole*, a nephew of Richard’s sometime chancellor, the impeached earl of Suffolk.6 Scarburgh’s official career was not adversely affected by the coup d’état of 1399, for his patents for £5 p.a. as clerk of the Commons and his £10 annuity were both confirmed by Henry IV on II Nov. 1399 during the first Parliament of the new reign; and he evidently continued to act as the Commons’ clerk. On 14 Oct. 1406, when actually sitting in the Lower House as parliamentary burgess for Shaftesbury, he was again appointed by Sir Walter de la Pole to look after his affairs during an absence abroad.7 By now Scarburgh must have been an old man. He was confirmed in his salary as clerk of the Commons by Henry V in October 1413, but retired or died before the next Parliament assembled in April 1414, for Thomas Haseley was ‘sent fore to Leycestre’ where the King ‘appointed assigned and ordeigned the seide suppliant secunde clerk of his parlement’. It is interesting to note that Haseley also took over some of Scarburgh’s property in Chelsea, Middlesex, this perhaps being a perquisite of the office.8

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. CPR, 1381-5, p. 535; EHR, lxxvii. 42; Bull. IHR, xvi. 66-72.
  • 2. Northern Hist. v. 12-33; CPR, 1370-4, pp. 266, 428; 1374-7, pp. 239, 339; 1377-81, pp. 204, 315, 338, 539; CCR, 1377-81, p. 389; 1385-9, p. 449.
  • 3. A.J. Pollard’s suggestion (EHR, liii. 577-605) that Scarburgh was the author of the ‘Anonimalle Chronicle’, and in particular of the passages relating to the Good Parliament and the Peasants’ Revolt, is pure hypothesis.
  • 4. CCR, 1385-9, pp. 197, 493, 513; Foedera ed. Rymer (orig. edn.), vii. 515; Reign of Ric. II ed. Du Boulay and Barron, 37-38; CFR, x. 161; CPR, 1385-9, pp. 238, 286.
  • 5. RP, iii. 245, 251; CPR, 1385-9, p. 517; 1396-9, pp. 427, 373. He had been earlier presented by the King to the livings at Andover (1385), and Lessingham (Norf.), and Bowness (Cumb.) in 1386, the last while Parliament was in process (CPR, 1381-5, p. 549; 1385-9, pp. 94, 220). He may have been the John Scarburgh of the diocese of York referred to with his wife Joan in 1393 (CPL, iv. 493) but it is perhaps more likely that he was the one who married Joan, wid. of John Feckenham (d.1401), an usher of the King's chamber who had been granted the manor of East Worldham (Hants.) after it had been in John Slegh's possession from 1378 to 1395. (Slegh was Scarburgh's superior as under butler.) As Joan's second husband and described as an esquire he became involved in the disbute over East Worldham with Thomas Chaucer (CPR, 1401-5, p. 281; CCR, 1409-13, p. 13). That John Scarburgh 'clerk' and John Scarburgh 'esquire' were one and the same person is entirely possible as is clear from a reference elsewhere to John Scarburgh 'clerk alias esquire', and Haseley's progression from clerk to esquire and ultimately knight.
  • 6. CCR, 1391-6, pp. 35, 160, 321; 1396-9, p. 320; CPR, 1396-9, pp. 308, 530, 552.
  • 7. CPR, 1399-1401, p. 140; 1405-8, p. 248. A John Scarburgh was steward and farmer of the Essex estates of Joan of Navarre from 1408 to 1411, at a salary of £5 a year (SC6/1093/1 mm. 17, 18), but whether he was the same person as the Commons’ clerk is not known.
  • 8. CCR, 1429-35, p. 286; PPC, v. 106.