ST. JOHN, Sir John (aft.1360-1424), of Paulerspury, Northants. and Fonmon, Glam.
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Family and Education
b. aft. 1360, Salisbury, Wilts. s. and h. of Sir John St. John (d. bef. Aug. 1373) of Fonmon and East Luccombe, Som. by Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Agnes de la Bere of Watertown and Coity, Glam. m. by Easter 1395, Isabel, wid. of Sir John Pavley (d. by Aug. 1394) of Paulerspury, at least 1s. 2da. Kntd. by 14 Feb. 1388.2
Commr. of inquiry, Yorks. Aug. 1387, Mar. 1388 (estates of Sir Thomas Place); to hold a special assize, Northants. Easter 1410 (dispute over the manor of Hinton by Brackley); of oyer and terminer May 1410 (cattle thefts near Daventry), the duchy of Lancaster lordships in South Wales June 1413 (treasons and insurrections); to take musters, Aquitaine Sept. 1413, June 1419.3
Sheriff, Glam. (for Thomas, Lord Despenser) by Feb. 1397.4
Steward of the lordship of Gower, Glam. for the Mowbrays, Earls Marshal, bef. 1 Mar. 1397-1421, of Chepstow for the same 1414-15.5
Receiver of the dower properties in the lordship of Gower held by Elizabeth Mowbray, dowager duchess of Norfolk, by Mich. 1401-aft. Mich. 1402.6
Dep. chamberlain of South Wales by Mich. 1411-Mich. 1412.7
Dep. justiciar of South Wales by Mich. 1411-Mich. 1413.8
Mayor, Bordeaux 1 Apr. 1413-2 May 1423.9
Steward of the lordship of Usk, Mon. for Edmund, earl of March, by May 1415-d.10
Ambassador to negotiate an extension of the truce with Castile Jan., Dec. 1416, Jan. 1417.11
St. John belonged to an old and distinguished family which had lived at Fonmon for many generations. His grandfather, Sir Oliver, also held estates in Somerset and Devon, some, but not all, of which eventually came into his hands. On the old man’s death, in August 1374, a local jury found that his only son, John, had ‘died abroad’, evidently without heirs, and as a result Henry St. John, Sir Oliver’s younger brother (who may well have played a less than creditable part in the inquiry), seized hold of the manor of East Luccombe. At some point over the next seven years, John’s widow, Elizabeth, appealed to the King on behalf of their young son, the subject of this biography, whom she claimed had thus been wrongfully deprived of his inheritance. In February 1381, two justices were appointed to investigate the boy’s parentage, and it was no doubt on their advice that Richard II awarded temporary custody of the disputed estates to Thomas Mowbray, earl of Nottingham. Henry St. John continued to press his own title, but he seems to have been generally unsuccessful in this attempt to oust his great-nephew. He may, indeed, have encountered opposition from the earl himself, who struck up a close relationship with John, his near contemporary, and came to rely heavily upon his services.
The future MP, meanwhile, came of age by January 1384, when he offered securities of £200 as a guarantee of the payment of an annuity of £10 by him to a clerk named Walter Lokyngton. The pension was charged upon the revenues of his manor of Yenston (then in Somerset but now in Devon), and in March 1388 he renewed his promise to the recipient. He had by then not only served on his first royal commission (which indirectly involved the interests of his patron, Nottingham, now the Earl Marshal) but had also been knighted, and it is clear that he was rapidly becoming a figure of some consequence. In March 1387, he made a settlement of all his goods and chattels in England and Wales upon Sir William Stradling, his trustee, and in the following year Richard II granted him the lease of the alien priory of Llangennith in Glamorgan which he was to hold at an annual farm of £11. His circle of acquaintances was growing appreciably at this time: in December 1389, for instance, he joined with Sir Henry Green* and others to act as a mainpernor in sums totalling 2,400 marks on behalf of the farmer of property confiscated from Sir Roger Fulthorpe, a victim of the Merciless Parliament. That he was often at Court is evident from his participation some three weeks later in a Christmas tournament being held before the King at Woodstock, although the occasion was sadly marred by his accidental killing of the young earl of Pembroke during a practice joust. Royal letters of pardon were, however, eventually accorded to him in July 1391 at the instance of Sir Thomas Percy (the future earl of Worcester), and from then onwards he enjoyed every mark of favour.12
In January 1393, Richard II formally retained St. John as a knight of the body at an annual fee of 40 marks, payable for life from the Exchequer. As a leading figure in the royal household, he was naturally involved in the King’s plans for an expedition to Ireland, and in September of the following year he made ready to leave England with a personal retinue of four mounted archers. He returned in late April 1395, when an assignment of wages was made to him and his men. His marriage to Isabel, the widow of the Northamptonshire landowner, Sir John Pavley, seems to have taken place immediately afterwards, since it was at about this time that the couple obtained the reversion of the manor and advowson of Paulerspury which then belonged to Isabel’s widowed mother-in-law. A few weeks later they received a grant in survivorship from the Crown of revenues worth 100 marks a year from the wool custom paid at the port of Hull, although the pension soon fell into arrears and repeated orders had to be sent out from the Exchequer to the officials concerned. St. John’s position as a member of an influential Welsh marcher family led to his formal employment, in or before 1397, by both the Mowbrays and the Despensers, who had considerable territorial interests in Glamorgan. Thomas, Lord Despenser (later earl of Gloucester), made him sheriff there, and when, in February 1397, he confirmed the charters of Kenfig, Cardiff and Neath, St. John was present to witness these important documents. He also played a significant part in the administration of the Mowbray lordship of Gower; and it is interesting to note that a papal licence of June 1398, permitting him and his wife to make use of a portable altar, refers to them both as residents of the diocese of Llandaff. As we have already seen, his connexion with Thomas Mowbray, the Earl Marshal, was of long duration, and had been reinforced by his appointment, in 1389, as an executor of the latter’s will. Throughout the 1390s, St. John (who drew a fee of £20 a year from the Mowbray estates) belonged to an inner core of about 15 councillors and officials who advised the earl; and he thus became involved in the dispute between Mowbray (now duke of Norfolk) and Henry of Bolingbroke, which led eventually to the banishment of both protagonists by King Richard. Before going into exile, in October 1398, Mowbray obtained royal letters patent, allowing him to nominate a continual council to manage his affairs. St. John’s name was submitted by him to the King, but for some reason it was omitted from the final list. The knight, whose intimacy with one of the junior Lords Appellant of 1388 clearly made him vulnerable to attack, had prudently sued out letters of pardon in the previous summer; and to avoid further suspicion he agreed to join Richard II’s expedition to Ireland one year later.13
Bolingbroke’s invasion of England during Richard’s absence and his subsequent usurpation of the throne initially placed St. John in a delicate position; but Mowbray’s death in Venice, in late September 1399, left him free to espouse the Lancastrian cause without any of the reservations shown by his other employer, the rebel, Lord Despenser. Bolingbroke, in turn, was only too pleased to win the support of such an influential figure, and he promptly confirmed Sir John and his wife in their joint annuity of 100 marks. Isabel St. John also received royal letters patent assuring the continuance of a fee of £20 a year charged upon the manor of Kingsthorpe in Northamptonshire which had initially been granted to her by Richard II. Although he was prepared, in March 1401, to act as a mainpernor for Lord Despenser’s widow, who had become engaged in a lawsuit over wastes on her late husband’s estates in Glamorgan, St. John’s main commitment lay henceforth in the service of the Crown. Henry IV’s wars against the Welsh gave him a particularly good opportunity to advance his career, and at some point in 1402 he assumed responsibility for the safeguard of Neath castle, which he occupied with a force of 130 men. By way of reward, he was made farmer first of the Glamorgan estates of Sir John Norys, and then, in May 1403, of the lands in Swansea and Gower which constituted part of the inheritance of Thomas Mowbray, his late patron’s son, a royal ward who had been deprived of his father’s dukedom, but permitted to retain the title of Earl Marshal. Since he was already employed as receiver-general of the dower properties held in Wales by the boy’s mother, St. John’s authority in this area must have gone virtually unchallenged. Understandably enough, he now ranked as one of the Mowbrays’ leading advisors, and he was extremely active throughout this period on their conciliar business. His connexion with the prince of Wales made him particularly valuable in this respect: indeed, at some point before Michaelmas 1404 he was actually involved in discussions with the prince’s own council about Earl Thomas’s affairs in Chepstow. In the meantime, other royal servants received preferential leases of confiscated property, and in February 1403 St. John went surety for his friend, Sir Hugh Waterton, as tenant of certain land in Brecon. He continued to play a notable part in the suppression of Owen Glendower’s rebellion in Wales, being empowered in November of that year to pardon any insurgents in the area around Chepstow and Gower who submitted to the King’s grace. Not all the Welsh were prepared to surrender peacefully, and in September 1406 he was given a life estate in land worth £20 in Gower which had been seized from one such rebel. Exactly one year later St. John was present at the seige of Aberystwyth castle, an operation directed by Henry, prince of Wales, whose negotiations with the beleaguered garrison were witnessed by him and other leading members of the royal army. His formal role in these proceedings is hardly surprising, for he had already been retained as a knight of the body by the prince, from whom he received an annuity of 40 marks a year (increased in 1406 to £40) charged upon the revenues of the duchy of Cornwall manor of Princes Risborough in Buckinghamshire. Some of these rewards were probably given to him in recognition of his loyalty to the throne during the rebellion of Bishop Scrope in 1405, when the young Earl Marshal had thrown in his lot with the insurgents, and had been summarily executed without trial. St. John did not entirely sever his relations with the Mowbrays, but still made it clear that his principal attachment was now to the house of Lancaster.14
By the date of his first return as MP for Northamptonshire, early in 1410, St. John had established fairly strong connexions with the county through his wife. Although they had at first been promised no more than the reversion of the manor of Paulerspury, in July 1403 the couple persuaded Joan Pavley to grant them the tenancy of the manor, which they enjoyed for the next 11 years until the reversion itself fell in. St. John soon became friendly with his neighbours: in November 1408, for example, he acted as a feoffee for Thomas Wydeville* (who already held some of his estates in trust); and at various times other Northamptonshire men stepped forward to stand surety for him as the lessee of crown lands. In February 1410, St. John received a royal licence to enclose two parks at Paulerspury, which also suggests that he was by then spending a good deal of time in the area. The Commons of 1410 (of which he was a Member) certainly felt that he possessed enough local knowledge to serve as a justice of special assize in a dispute over the nearby manor of Hinton by Brackley which had been pending for many years. St. John’s territorial interests were growing steadily throughout this period, for in April 1403 he consolidated his position in the south-west by taking on the joint lease of some of the Rodney estates in Somerset at a rent of 50 marks p.a. The death of his kinsman, John de la Bere, in May 1409, brought him temporary custody of all the latter’s possessions in Glamorgan; and when the next heir, Thomas, a royal ward, died without issue five years later the entire inheritance was duly partitioned, one half going to St. John’s cousin, John Basset, and the other to the MP himself. He and Basset were subsequently involved as plaintiffs in a lawsuit over the manor of Littleham in Devonshire, so it may be that they also shared a title to property there. A striking instance of St. John’s personal standing at this time is to be found in the marriage contract of April 1410 whereby no less a person than Thomas, Lord Berkeley, sought two of his daughters as wives for his young nephews and heirs-male, Maurice and James. Both parties bound themselves in securities of £600 to accept the terms thus devised, although the early death of James’s betrothed nullified half, if not all, of the arrangements, and must have proved a bitter blow. The surviving girl (or perhaps another sister) eventually married Sir Walter Rodney’s* son and heir, John, and thus came into a sizeable estate in Somerset, part of which had previously been farmed by her father.15
St. John sat again in the House of Commons in November 1411, by which date he had assumed office as both deputy chamberlain and deputy justiciar of South Wales. The accession of Henry V brought him further marks of preferment, for as well as confirming him and his wife in receipt of their various annuities, the newly crowned King promptly made his loyal retainer mayor of Bordeaux. The town was of vital strategic and economic importance to the English, and Henry naturally sought to place its government in the hands of people whom he could trust. Although appointed in April 1413, St. John does not appear to have left England for at least six months, and he soon returned to ask the King for a consignment of artillery. The townspeople of Bordeaux were well disposed towards Henry V, from whom they also hoped to obtain a confirmation of their privileges, although they feared that Thomas, earl of Dorset, might have the members of any deputation sent by them to England thrown into prison for debt. The earl’s claim to be owed 29,000 crowns of a tax which had been voted by the Bordelais for the support of his troops but never paid was one of the main items on St. John’s agenda when he again visited England in December 1415 as an envoy on behalf of the inhabitants of Bordeaux. Having wisely equipped himself with gifts of wine for the leading members of the English nobility, St. John spent some days at Court, where he was graciously received by the King and assured that siege engines and a master gunner would at last be sent out for the defence of the town. It proved far more difficult to win over the earl of Dorset, whose insistence upon an immediate payment of 6,000 crowns could not be met. The problem of reaching a workable settlement with the earl probably accounts for St. John’s long stay in England, where he remained until mid October of the following year. He was not, however, completely preoccupied with his mayoral duties, and seized the chance to sit for a third time as MP for Northamptonshire. During this period he also received three commissions to treat for an extension of the truce between England and Castile, and was thus kept busy in a variety of ways. As an experienced soldier with considerable knowledge of siege warfare, St. John was, moreover, keen to take part in Henry V’s second invasion of Normandy.In June 1417 he indented to serve the King with a retinue of 60 men-at-arms, and in the following August he received letters of protection pending his departure overseas with the army. Although he continued in office as mayor of Bordeaux until 1423, and also saw active service in Aquitaine, it is clear that he made other visits to England: most notably in the summer of 1420, when he appears to have been instrumental in having a small force dispatched to garrison the town; and in May of the next year, at which time he took his seat in the House of Commons for the last of his four Parliaments. Shortly before his election he made a brief visit to Wales, where he again witnessed the confirmation of the borough charters of Neath, Kenfig and Cardiff, on this occasion by Richard Beauchamp, earl of Worcester, who had succeeded to the Despenser estates in Glamorgan. Yet he did not stay away from the theatre of war for long: over the next few months Gascony was the scene of intensified military operations against the Dauphinist forces—operations in which the mayor and townspeople of Bordeaux played an important part. Their contribution was duly noted by Henry V, who twice wrote to thank them for their loyalty and exhort them to remain staunch in their resistance.16
St. John evidently returned to England for the last time at the beginning of 1423, and once again obtained letters patent confirming him in receipt of the three main royal annuities which had been awarded to him and his wife long before. During his years in Bordeaux he seems to have begun dealing in the wine trade (in 1420, for example, he undertook to help stock Chief Justice Hankford’s cellars), and it may well be that some of the indentures which he entered with his neighbours in Northamptonshire during this period concerned similar transactions. The rest of his life was, however, spent in virtual retirement, and although he yet again witnessed the confirmation of borough charters at Neath (in April 1423) and Llantrissant (in October 1424) he had by then ceased to hold any form of public office. He died on 26 Dec. 1424, having but recently acquired an interest in certain estates in the Northamptonshire villages of Shutlanger and Stoke Bruern, and was succeeded by his son, Sir Oliver, who was then at least 26 years old. The John St. John of Paulerspury who accompanied Henry V to France in April 1422 may also have been his son, since both he and Sir Oliver later appeared together as witnesses to a conveyance of the manor of Llanfair in Glamorgan.17
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, 122.
- 2. C139/14/12; CP25(1)178/89/34; Limbus Patrum Morganiae et Glam. ed. Clark, 429; CIPM, xv. no. 269; CCR, 1377-81, p. 433; 1413-19, pp. 138-9; CPR, 1391-6, p. 477; CFR, x. 207; xiii. 231, 244; xiv. 99-101. R.A. Griffiths, Principality of Wales, i. 130 wrongly describes St. John’s wife as Isabel, widow of Sir Luke Poynings and de jure suo jure baroness St. John of Basing. The latter died in 1393 and does not appear to have had any connexion with our Member.
- 3. RP, iii. 634; Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ed. Carte, 203.
- 4. Cartae Glam. ed. Clark, 1409, 1416-17, 1426.
- 5. Ibid. 1427, 1428, 1481; R.E. Archer, ‘The Mowbrays’ (Oxf. Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1984), p. 353. It is possible, as Griffiths suggests (i. 130), that St. John did not hold office continuously throughout this period.
- 6. Griffiths, i. 131.
- 7. Ibid. 182.
- 8. Ibid. 130.
- 9. J.H. Wylie, Hen. V, i. 124; Rot. Gasc. et Franc. 197, 203, 205.
- 10. T.B. Pugh, Marcher Lordships S. Wales, 13, 65; Griffiths, i. 131.
- 11. Foedera ed. Rymer (Hague edn.), iv (2) 152, 187, 191.
- 12. Limbus Patrum Morganiae et Glam. 429; CIPM, xv. no. 269; CCR, 1377-81, p. 433; 1381-5, pp. 540, 603, 608; 1385-9, p. 473; 1389-92, p. 95; CPR, 1388-92, pp. 169, 469; CFR, x. 207; CP, x. 394-5; Cartae Glam. iv. 1368.
- 13. C67/30 m. 13; CP25(1)178/89/34; E101/402/20; Cartae Glam. iv. 1409, 1416-17, 1426; CPL, v. 141; CPR, 1389-92, pp. 146, 402; 1391-6, pp. 213, 474, 477 (bis ), 574, 583; 1396-9, pp. 525, 530, 552; CCR, 1396-9, p. 152; Archer, 75, 120, 281, 340, 353.
- 14. CCR, 1399-1402, pp. 31 (bis ), 306-7; 1402-5, p. 411; CPR, 1399-1401, p. 7; 1401-5, pp. 204, 207, 272, 326; 1405-8, p. 219; 1413-16, p. 95; Add. Ch. 16556; St. Albans Chron. ed. Galbraith, 23; Archer, 353; PPC, ii. 68; CFR, xii. 213.
- 15. SC8/231/11537; CCR, 1405-9, pp. 420-1; 1413-19, pp. 138-9; CPR, 1408-13, pp. 21, 172; CChR, v. 442; CFR, xiii. 231, 244; xiv. 99-101; Cartae Glam. iv. 1459; RP, iii. 634; J. Smyth, Lives of the Berkeleys ed. Maclean, ii. 40; CP, ii. 132.
- 16. C219/12/1, 5: E101/69/8/537; DKR, xlii. 362; xliv. 548; Rot. Gasc. et Franc. 197, 200, 202-3; Wylie, i. 124-8; iii. 368-71; Reg. Jurade Bordeaux (Archs. Municipales Bordeaux, iv), 188; CPR, 1413-16, pp. 74, 95 (bis ), 234; CCR, 1413-19, pp. 142, 265-6; Cartae Glam. iv. 1488, 1490, 1491.
- 17. C139/14/12: CP25(1)178/93/11; E404/40/10, 27; Cartae Glam. iv. 1508-9, 1519, 1537; CFR, xv. 82-83, 102; CCR, 1419-22, pp. 108, 138; 1422-9, p. 53; CPR, 1422-9, pp. 19, 94, 114; DKR, xliv. 637.