STAFFORD, Ralph (d.1410), of Grafton, Worcs.
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Family and Education
2nd s. of Sir John Stafford† (d.c.1370) of Bramshall, Staffs. by his 2nd w. Margaret, 4th da. of Ralph, earl of Stafford (d.1372); bro. of Sir Humphrey I*. m. c. Aug. 1373, Maud (b. 2 Feb. 1359), da. and coh. of Sir John Hastang (d.1366) of Leamington Hastang, Warws. and Grafton, prob. 2s.1 inc. Humphrey*.
Surveyor of a tax, Worcs. Aug. 1379; collector Mar. 1404.
J.p. Worcs. 15 July 1389-June 1390.
Commr. of inquiry, Herefs., Warws., Worcs. Dec. 1390 (goods of Sir John Beauchamp† of Holt).
Although he was only a second son, Ralph Stafford exercised considerable influence in the north Midlands, in part because of the prestige attached to his family name and the highly advantageous marriage which he was thus able to contract. His mother was the daughter of Ralph, 1st earl of Stafford, and Katherine Hastang, so a double, and thus particularly close connexion existed between his father and the earl, who were themselves already related. As members of a cadet branch of the baronial house it was natural that Sir John and his sons should be associated with their more illustrious kinsmen, although their continued loyalty to successive earls points to a more recent strengthening of the family bond. Ralph’s marriage to Maud, elder daughter and coheiress of Sir John Hastang, may well have been arranged behind the scenes by either the 1st or 2nd earl as a means of cementing the alliance between the Hastangs and the Staffords. At all events, on 22 Aug. 1373, just two days after he had purchased it for 125 marks from the Crown, Alexander Besford* sold Maud’s marriage for twice that sum to Ralph’s widowed mother. Maud came of age in the following May and obtained livery of an inheritance comprising the manor of Grafton in Worcestershire and lands, rents and services in Leamington Hastang, Hill and elsewhere in Warwickshire, together valued at over £77 a year. She and Ralph subsequently went to law to recover the manor of Shenington, now in Oxfordshire, and were successful in their attempt.2
Over the years Ralph acquired other estates, some of which may have been left to him by his father, who died in about 1370. He owned tenements in the town of Stafford, as well as closes and fields in Crakemarsh, and later, during the Easter term of 1406, he enlarged these holdings in Staffordshire by buying land in Longridge from a local farmer. He was from time to time involved in property disputes at the local assizes, such as an action brought against him in 1395, by Roger Longridge*, although we cannot always tell when his interest was merely that of a feoffee-to-uses. From 1398 onwards, if not before, he also began consolidating his wife’s possessions in Warwickshire, so that by his death he had added the manor of ‘Grenburgh’ and land in Napton, East Leamington and ‘Burdesbury’ to her estates. His efforts to gain possession of certain land in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, led to proceedings in Chancery begun on the petition of the claimant, who denied that Stafford had ever purchased the property, and who appears to have won his case. The allegations of ‘overtz oppression, maintenance et outrageous extorsions’ then made against him suggest that he was not slow to exploit his position for personal advantage.3
Comparatively little is known of Stafford’s early life, although he seems to have remained close to his elder brother, Sir Humphrey, with whom, in May 1379, he acted as a mainpernor in Chancery on behalf of the Stafford retainer Sir William Burcester*, and who granted him general powers of attorney to act on his behalf in the following year. His first journey overseas was perhaps made with Hugh, 2nd earl of Stafford, whose retinue on the French expedition of 1373 included one ‘Raulyn’ Stafford, esquire. He was certainly in France in 1376, when the dean of Poitiers granted him a licence to choose his own confessor. At some point between 1372 and 1386 the earl awarded him an annuity of £10, payable for life from the manor of Whatcote in Warwickshire, possibly in return for his loyal service during these campaigns.4 Ralph once again planned to fight abroad in 1381, when he received royal letters of protection for an absence of one year as a member of the free company commanded by Theodore, the so-called canon of Robesart. Further letters were issued to him in the spring of 1383 on his departure for Dunkirk with Henry Despenser, bishop of Norwich, whose ill-fated ‘crusade’, on behalf of the rebellious townsmen of Ghent, was abandoned within less than six months. In the following year he and his kinsman, Sir Nicholas Stafford*, were appointed to act as attorneys in England for Richard Tyseo, a clerk about to leave the country on business, and from this date onwards he evidently stayed at home.5
Despite his relative wealth and influence, Stafford remains a somewhat obscure figure, for even though he was well placed to pursue a distinguished career as a soldier or administrator, he sat only briefly on the Worcestershire bench, and never held office as either sheriff or escheator. Yet his later life was not uneventful, showing signs of a belligerent temperament which may account for his lack of promotion. In February 1390 he was arrested and held in the Tower as a result of his apparently violent intervention in a dispute over a prebend at the collegiate church of Gnosall in Staffordshire. He was examined in Chancery and then released on bail of £600, raised partly by his brother, Sir Humphrey, and a fellow shire knight, John Delves*. Within little more than a year he again fell foul of the law, when an associate for whom he had himself stood surety failed to appear before the court of King’s bench. The pledges worth £40 which he then lost were soon restored to him, however, and his sentence of outlawry was revoked.6 The royal letters of pardon awarded to him in June 1398 were no doubt little more than a formality, since he seems to have been completely uninvolved in either local or national politics at the time, perhaps because of the successive minorities with which the house of Stafford was then afflicted. Surprisingly, in view of his position, he was not much in demand as a feoffee-to-uses, either: indeed, only once, in April 1399, did he act in this capacity, having acquired an interest in the estate of John Swynnerton*. Not long afterwards Stafford obtained a papal indult allowing plenary remission of sins at the hour of death, an award addressed to him as lord of Leamington Hastang, where he was then living.7
As a retainer of the young Edmund, earl of Stafford, who came of age in 1399, Ralph was called upon to support Henry IV during the troubled months after his usurpation. In January 1400, for example, he and his nephew, Sir Humphrey Stafford II* of Hooke, stood by ready armed to help put down the earl of Kent’s rebellion, and in June of the same year they served under Earl Edmund on King Henry’s Scottish campaign.8 Ralph may already have been at odds with Ralph Merston* of Worcester by this date, but it was not until April 1401 that he was bound over in 100 marks to behave peaceably towards him. The quarrel had evidently begun in earnest a few months earlier, when his son, Humphrey, had been a party to the premeditated killing of one of Merston’s kinsmen. Humphrey eventually appeared in court to answer for the offence three years later, naming his father among his mainpernors, yet since he had already obtained a royal pardon, the proceedings amounted to little more than an empty formality.9 Father and son were again implicated in a disturbance of the peace in August 1405, when a commission of oyer and terminer was set up to investigate allegations by William, Lord Beauchamp of Abergavenny that they had broken into his park at Feckenham and caused considerable damage. Beauchamp’s nephew, the earl of Warwick, had previously held a commission for the arrest of Humphrey Stafford, so there may well have been a private feud between the two families.10
Stafford’s last years passed quietly enough. He attended the Staffordshire parliamentary elections in 1407, and shortly before his death he had the satisfaction of seeing his heirs male confirmed in their residual title to the extensive estates of his nephew, the above-mentioned Sir Humphrey Stafford II. He died on 1 Mar. 1410, having outlived his wife, Maud. His son, Humphrey, represented Worcestershire in the Parliament of 1415. His grandson, who bore the same name, is chiefly remembered for his death at the hands of Cade’s rebels, although he too was a distinguished shire knight.11
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. CIPM, xiv. 63; CCR, 1369-74, pp. 584, 590-1, 608; 1374-7, pp. 121-3; C137/79/38. Certain aspects of Stafford’s pedigree as given in Genealogist, n.s. xxxi. 173-5 and Staffs. Parl. Hist. i (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc.), 52-53, 162-3, remain undocumented, although it is clear from various settlements of property made by Sir Humphrey Stafford II that his father and the subject of this biography were brothers (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. n.s. iv. 206-7). A John, son of Ralph Stafford of Longridge, gentleman, occurs during the early 15th century, and as the MP had land in this part of Staffordshire these references are probably to his second son (ibid. xvii. 8, 17, 21).
- 2. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xiii. 181; CIPM, xiv. no. 63; xvi. no. 449; CCR, 1369-74, pp. 584, 590-1, 608; 1374-7, pp. 121-2; VCH Warws. vi. 151; C137/79/38.
- 3. C1/7/3, 215; C137/79/38; JUST 1/1504 mm. 96, 98d, 100; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xi. 216; xiii. 179; xv. 58, 60; n.s. vii. 245; Warws. Feet of Fines (Dugdale Soc. xviii), nos. 2371, 2380; CCR, 1389-92, p. 281.
- 4. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xiv. 232; CCR, 1377-81, p. 254; CPR, 1408-13, p. 395; Add. Ch. 73915.
- 5. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xiv. 228, 237, 238.
- 6. CPR, 1388-92, pp. 495, 512; 1389-92, pp. 115, 116, 124-5, 146-7.
- 7. C67/30 m. 18; CPL, v. 238; William Salt Lib. Stafford, D1790/A/7/9.
- 8. Staffs. RO, D641/1/2/40A mm. 1, 2.
- 9. CCR, 1399-1402, p. 393; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xvi. 41.
- 10. CPR, 1399-1401, p. 417; 1405-8, p. 64.
- 11. C219/10/4; C137/79/38; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. n.s. iv. 206; Staffs Parl. Hist. 212-13.