STAWELL, Sir Thomas (c.1369-1439), of Cothelstone, Som.

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.1369, s. of Sir Matthew Stawell (1340-76) of Cothelstone by Eleanor, 1st da. and coh. of Sir Richard Merton of Merton, Devon. m. (1) c.1392, Joan, da. of Sir John Berkeley I*; (2) bef. Apr. 1396, Joan, da. of Walter Frampton of Buckland Ripers, Dorset, 1s. d.v.p. 1da.; (3) Margaret, da. of Henry Burton and ?wid. of — Trumpington. Kntd. by Mar. 1416.1

Offices Held

Commr. of inquiry, Som. Nov. 1395 (Fichet estates), Oct. 1421 (piracy), Feb. 1435 (evasion of customs), June 1436 (treasons and felonies); to raise royal loans Apr. 1422; of sewers Nov. 1423; gaol delivery, Ilchester May 1430, Dec 1433, Aug., Sept. 1434, May 1435; to assess contributions to a tax, Som. Apr. 1431, Jan. 1436; of oyer and terminer June 1432, June 1436; array Jan. 1436.

Sheriff, Devon 3 Nov. 1434-7 Nov. 1435.


The Stawells were early settlers in Somerset after the Conquest, taking their name from a village in the middle of the county on the Glastonbury estates, and acquiring lands at Cothelstone, Stony Stratton, Evercreech and Priestleigh. Stawell’s father died shortly before February 1376, leaving, besides the Somerset holdings, property in Devon, including part of the manors of Merton and Ideford and of the castle, manor and advowson of Great Torrington, which were held in right of his wife, one of four daughters and heirs of Sir Richard Merton. Thomas must then have been no more than a child (his mother was said to have been aged about 19 only six years before, in 1370). He had come of age by 1390 and subsequently shared the patronage of Merton and Sutcombe churches. As well as his inheritance from his parents, he also inherited a claim to the estates of Philip, Lord Columbiers, his great-grandmother’s brother, and he successfully acquired the Columbiers manor of Shaw-cum-Donnington in Berkshire, only to sell it in 1404, whereupon it came into the possession of Winchester college. The rest of the Columbiers’s estate was held by Elizabeth, Lady Audley, until her death in 1400.

Her heirs were John Tuchet, Lord Audley, and Margaret, relict of Sir Roger Hilary; and in 1404 Stawell sued Tuchet for his share (moieties of eight manors in Somerset). His suit was dismissed by the court, largely because this part of the estate had been entailed on the male line and his claim was through a female, but he persevered, vainly asserting his title for over 30 years. It was probably through marriage that Stawell established rights at Middlezoy and Weston Zoyland (Somerset) and acquired property in Bridgwater. The connexion forged by his second marriage, to Joan Frampton, was reinforced by the wedding of his sister, Edith, to Joan’s brother, John Frampton* of Moreton, Dorset, the heir to the Frampton estates. In 1412 Stawell’s own landed holdings were said to be worth £63 13s.4d. a year.2

Most of Stawell’s activities, public service apart, have left little trace, but three important connexions may be discerned: the first with his father-in-law, Sir John Berkeley, and other members of the Berkeley family, the second with Glastonbury abbey, and the third with the bishops of Bath and Wells. His ties with Berkeley lasted for many years after his brief marriage to Sir John’s daughter had ended with her death: he acted with his father-in-law as a feoffee of the Gloucestershire estates of Sir Maurice Berkeley* some time before 1400; he was closely involved in the transactions made with Robert, Lord Poynings, to provide settlements for the marriage of the latter’s son and heir to another of Sir John’s daughters after 1407; and when he served abroad in 1417 he was mustered alongside John Arundel, Lord Mautravers, yet another of Berkeley’s sons-in-law. His estates at Stawell and Stony Stratton were held of the abbot of Glastonbury, and there survives evidence which suggests that he was a member of the abbot’s council. Moreover, Leland mentioned seeing his tomb in the centre of the transept of the abbey church. Stawell is frequently recorded acting as a witness or feoffee for neighbours, such as the Paulets, but the most prominent of these were the bishops of Bath and Wells, and he became closely involved with Bishop Bubwith’s executors in arranging the transfer of land to the chapter at Wells to help provide a chantry for the deceased’s soul. Stawell’s grant at the Exchequer of the joint keepership of Stogursey priory in December 1432 was later cancelled, but in November 1437 he shared, with Sir Philip Courtenay* of Powderham, custody of one of the Luttrell manors, Minehead, after Bishop Stafford had surrendered it expressly so that they might have tenure. It was quite likely either through episcopal or abbatial influence that Stawell was able to acquire a papal privilege allowing burial rights to the people of Cothelstone in 1401 and papal indults for himself and his wife in 1423 and 1434. His connexions suggest he was someone who could be entrusted with private affairs, and indeed men of the standing of Sir Ivo Fitzwaryn* and Robert Hill* of Spaxton asked him to act as executor of their wills. His friendship with Hill was one of long standing: in 1396 he had been one of the ‘venerable men’ chosen as arbitrators in a property dispute between him and Sir Baldwin Malet (the husband of Stawell’s niece), and Hill was one of his tenants at Yard. When Hill made his will in 1423 he left Stawell a brooch for his services as executor, and he subsequently handled the sale of the testator’s livestock and chattels (notably several horses and four pipes of cider), which eventually fetched £37. Stawell’s own feoffees included the distinguished knight Sir Hugh Luttrell* of Dunster. Given such contacts as these, it is strange that there was a gap of over a quarter of a century between his first two royal commissions, that he never served as a j.p. and that his only appointment as sheriff should have come so late in life and even then not in his home county. Clearly, however, his standing in Somerset was high, and his abilities were recognised by his fellow landowners. In 1419 when members of the local bench were required to inform the King’s Council of the names of those in Somerset best able and sufficient to do service in the defence of the realm, Stawell’s name appeared second in their list.3

Stawell died on 14 Feb. 1439, leaving as his heir his grandson, Robert.4

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421


Variants: Stauwelle, Stouwelle, Stowell.

  • 1. J. Collinson, Hist. Som. iii. 250; Vis. Som. (Harl. Soc. xi), 107; J. Hutchins, Dorset, i. 398; CIPM, xvi. 967; CPR, 1436-41, p. 321; G.D. Stawell, A Quantock Fam. 38-44, app. ix. n. 8.
  • 2. Collinson, iii. 249; CIPM, xiii. 42, 268; xvi. 967; CFR, viii. 130, 376; x. 347; Feudal Aids, i. 491, 496; iv. 366, 382; vi. 419, 510; CPR, 1391-6, p. 703; 1401-5, p. 345; Som. Feet of Fines (Som. Rec. Soc. xxii), 3; Bridgwater Bor. Archs. (ibid. lviii), 18, 54, 121-3; Some Som. Manors (ibid. extra ser. 1931), 329-30; Peds. Plea Rolls ed. Wrottesley, 312, 358; CP, iii. 378-9; Reg. Stafford ed. Hingeston-Randolph, 187, 212; VCH Berks. iv. 89.
  • 3. CCR, 1399-1402, p. 237; 1413-19, pp. 346, 350; 1429-35, pp. 66-67, 97, 117, 131, 232, 285, 309, 363; 1435-41, p. 6; Som. Feet of Fines (Som. Rec. Soc. xvii), 153; ibid. (xxii), 38; Som. Med. Wills (ibid. xvi), 405; Hylle Cartulary (ibid. lxviii), 24, 34; CPR, 1399-1401, p. 288; 1422-9, p. 135; J. Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, i. 287; CFR, xvi. 120-1; xvii. 4; HMC Wells, i. 460, 466, 508-9; ii. 663, 665-6; CPL, v. 390; vii. 309; viii. 513; Gesta Hen. V ed. Williams, 271; CAD, v. A11496; E28/97/28; Reg. Lacy (Canterbury and York Soc. lxi), 240; Stawell, 43.
  • 4. C139/91/23.