STYUECLE, Nicholas, of Great Stukeley, Hunts. and Madingley, Cambs.
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Family and Education
Escheator, Cambs. and Hunts. 10 Dec. 1411-3 Nov. 1412, 7 Nov. 1435-23 Nov. 1436.
J.p. Hunts. 14 Apr. 1416-Feb. 1418, Feb. 1422-June 1443.
Commr. of array, Hunts. Mar. 1419; inquiry Apr. 1431 (persons liable to pay taxes), Jan. 1439 (forestalling of corn), Feb. 1448 (evasions and concealments); to treat for royal loans Feb. 1448, Mar. 1439, Mar. 1442, June 1446, Sept. 1449; for payment of a tax Feb. 1441; of oyer and terminer Mar. 1451 (attack on the abbot of Ramsey’s property at St. Ives).
Sheriff, Cambs. and Hunts. 6 Nov. 1424-15 Jan. 1426.
Assessor of a tax, Hunts. Jan. 1436, Aug. 1450; distributor of a tax rebate Jan. 1436.
Although not specifically described as such, this MP was probably either the son or grandson of John Styuecle, and thus assured from birth of a prominent position in Huntingdonshire society. Despite the financial vicissitudes which beset him for most of his adult life, John enjoyed considerable influence in the county, partly as a result of his many connexions, but also because of the widespread respect commanded by his family for generations. Nicholas was also related to Ralph Styuecle (d.c.1450), coroner of Huntingdonshire and verderer of the royal forests of Sapley and Weybridge, who may well have been his brother. His career, none the less, began inauspiciously with the issue, in July 1408, of a royal commission ordering his arrest together with that of ‘Nicholasservant Styuecle’ and two others. The miscreants had evidently failed to appear in Chancery when accused jointly by Henry IV and Philip Repington, bishop of Lincoln, of various unspecified crimes, which were almost certainly of a violent nature. On 16 Oct. following, Styuecle offered the bishop personal securities of £100; and on the next day four of his friends, including Roger Hunt* and Robert Scott* (both of whom were to sit with him in Parliament), surrendered a further bond of 100 marks as a guarantee that he would do no harm to any of the King’s foresters or parkers. Whatever doubts they may have had about his self-restraint were no doubt assuaged by a third series of recognizances worth £100, which each man demanded of him at this time to secure himself against possible loss.2
Nothing more is heard of Styuecle before his first return to Parliament in 1411. The Commons were still sitting when he was made escheator of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, although five more years passed before he took his seat, as a recently created knight, on the local bench. He served on commissions of the peace for over 23 years, being only omitted from one, when, interestingly enough, his place was taken by John Styuecle. It was during this period, in November 1419, that he was informed of his appointment as sheriff of the two counties, only to be replaced shortly afterwards by Thomas Beville II*. The reason for this is not known, but since he obtained the shrievalty in 1424, and later served a second term as escheator the likelihood of any serious reversal of fortune seems remote indeed. Perhaps because he had yet to inherit the bulk of his estates, very little is known about Styuecle before the mid 1420s, which saw his marriage to the widow of a London draper. He naturally assumed some of his wife’s responsibilities as executrix of her late husband’s will, and by October 1425 the two of them were involved in an unsuccessful lawsuit against the wealthy grocer, Edward Gysors, who had owed £8 to the deceased. Against these somewhat onerous duties must be set the fact that in December 1427 Sir Nicholas obtained custody, for the next five years, of his wife’s two young daughters, together with their patrimony, which must have been quite valuable.3 Meanwhile, 1426, he undertook to act as trustee of land in the Huntingdonshire village of Broughton. One of his co-feoffees was Roger Hunt, who had by then become a very influential figure in the county, and thus tended to dominate Styuecle’s immediate circle. Their relationship was further strengthened as a result of an attempt made by (Sir) Thomas Waweton (Styuecle’s parliamentary colleague in both 1414 (Nov.) and 1420) and a gang of ‘outsiders’ to secure the election of their own two candidates as Members for Huntingdonshire in the Parliament of 1429. Under pressure from Waweton and a sizeable contingent of Bedfordshire men, who seem, in the light of recent research, to have been pursuing a private feud of their own rather than acting on behalf of the earl of Huntingdon, as was once believed, the sheriff made a return which was challenged at the next meeting of the county court by Styuecle and 13 other prominent local figures. In direct response to their complaint, a free election was held at once, and just five days before the Commons assembled Sir Nicholas himself and his friend Hunt were chosen to represent the county. The latter, in particular, had good reason to seek out support in the Lower House because the 1429 Parliament was still sitting when he appeared in the court of King’s bench on a charge of accessory to murder. Styuecle stood bail for him and two of the men accused of the actual homicide, his securities being confiscated when they subsequently failed to answer repeated writs of summons. Despite the disruption which it caused, this contest over the choice of representatives did not permanently divide the local gentry into armed camps, and Sir Nicholas soon became reconciled with (Sir) Thomas Waweton. The sale of John Styuecle’s manor of Woolley to Sir John (now Lord) Tiptoft*, one of Waweton’s closest friends, had already established a common link between them, which was reinforced when, in May 1431, Styuecle became a feoffee of Tiptoft’s estates in Middlesex and Cambridgeshire. Interestingly enough, he later appeared with Waweton among the trustees of the Huntingdonshire manor of Sawtry Moyne.4
It is not known exactly when Sir Nicholas gained possession of his own estates in Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, most of which appear to have been inherited from John Styuecle. The latter’s growing burden of debt had led him to sell off large areas of farmland in the early 15th century, but he retained holdings in Upwood (worth £10 a year), Buckden, Great Stukeley, Beechamstead and Madingley, which were in his successor’s hands by 1428, at the very latest. Sir Nicholas and his wife went on to acquire 20 messuages in Ramsey jointly from his kinsman, Ralph Styuecle, and Thomas Beville II, his erstwhile rival for the shrievalty, who had supported the complaint about interference in the county elections. His title to this and other ancestral property, including rents of £4 6s.8d. in Huntingdon, was duly confirmed by the two men, with Roger Hunt and John, Lord Tiptoft, acting together as feoffees in aid of the change of ownership. If the income tax returns of 1436 are to be believed, his annual revenues from land then stood at £133, if not more, so he was evidently able to preside over a measure of financial recovery in the family’s fortunes.5 Throughout this period Sir Nicholas appears regularly as a witness to the property transactions of of his neighbours although, perhaps in view of John Styuecle’s unfortunate experiences in this field, he did not himself add greatly to his inheritance through purchase. In June 1442, Thomas Charwalton settled certain holdings in Huntingdon upon him and his wife, but he made no further attempts to consolidate his position as a landowner. He and Charwalton had previously been bound in securities of £100 to the prioress of Huntingdon, so they may well have acquired their interests in the town at a much earlier date. Meanwhile, in May 1434, Styuecle was included in the list of leading residents of Huntingdonshire who were required to take the oath that they would not assist persons breaking the peace. He had already begun to act as a royal commissioner for the raising of loans, and two years later an advance of £40 was demanded of him to help pay for the war with France.6
Although he entered the Commons for the 12th and last time in 1435, Styuecle continued to attend the elections at the county court in Huntingdon. He had already witnessed the returns to the Parliaments of 1414 (Apr.), 1431 and 1432; and he did so again in 1437 and 1447, one of the successful candidates on the latter occasion being the lawyer, John Styuecle, who was probably his son. He was, moreover, present at the celebrated Huntingdonshire election of 17 Oct. 1450, when a body of at least 124 named freeholders of the county, together with over 300 ‘good comuners’ returned John Styuecle and Robert Stonham*, only to have their decision reversed by several ‘freholders comoners’ who had been incited ‘be labour of dyvers gentilmen of other shires’ to support Henry Gymber. Although the latter was reputedly ‘not of gentell berth’, and therefore ineligible to sit as a shire knight, his adherents caused such a disturbance that the under sheriff found it impossible to hold a free election. Drawing upon his previous experience as an opponent of electoral malpractice, Sir Nicholas headed the list of local landowners who petitioned the King to instruct the sheriff to confirm the original election, and in this he was entirely successful.7
The fracas at the county elections of 1450 evidently prompted the growth of a connexion between our MP and the above-mentioned Robert Stonham, who, three years later, acted as one of his trustees for the endowment of Ramsey abbey. Styuecle had already served as a royal commissioner of inquiry into attacks on the abbey’s property at St. Ives, and when, in March 1453, the abbot obtained a royal licence to acquire land worth up to 100 marks a year, he decided to contribute annual revenues of £14 towards this sum. In the following May he and his feoffees settled the manor of Great Raveley and holdings in Sawtry upon the monastery. Since no further references to him appear to have survived, we may assume that he died shortly afterwards. His other estates passed to John Styuecle, who besides representing Huntingdonshire in at least three Parliaments, also held office as sheriff and served on the local bench. We are told, moreover, that John’s election in 1450 was largely due to his position as an esquire of the body to Henry VI, although the precise date of his entry into the royal household is not recorded.8
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. Cal. Letter Bk. London, K, 70; CPR, 1416-22, p. 453; 1422-9, p. 305.
- 2. CPR, 1405-8, p. 483; CCR, 1405-9, pp. 464-5, 481; 1447-54, p. 146.
- 3. CFR, xiv. 296; CPR, 1422-9, p. 305; Cal. Letter Bk. London, K, 70.
- 4. C219/14/1; KB27/674 rot. 154; Belvoir Castle deed 203; VCH Hunts. ii. 265, 363; iii. 126, 204; R.E. Archer ‘The Mowbrays’ (Oxf. Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1984), 259, 344, 350; CAD, i. B571.
- 5. VCH Hunts. ii. 231-2, 236, 240, 263, 265; EHR, xlix. 634; CCR, 1429-35, pp. 296, 309-10; Feudal Aids, ii. 475; Add. Roll 39748; Hunts. Feet of Fines (Cambridge Antiq. Soc. xxxvii), 104, 105.
- 6. PPC, iv. 329; CPR, 1429-35, p. 375; CCR, 1429-35, p. 27; 1435-41, p. 343; CAD, i. A1201, 1353, B1555; ii. B3035; Add. Chs. 33550-2, 34002.
- 7. C219/11/3, 14/2-3, 15/1, 4; HP, 1439-1509 ed. Wedgwood, Reg. pp. ciii-iv; Essays Presented to B. Wilkinson ed. Sandquist and Powicke, 383-95.
- 8. Add. Ch. 34083; CPR, 1452-61, pp. 48, 74; HP, 1439-1509, Reg. p. ciii; Biogs. 824-5; E326/4458.