Thomas de la More
Thomas de la More (or Delamore; 1395–1460/1461) was a fifteenth-century Sheriff of Cumberland. Little is known of his early life, but he was a loyal royal official in Cumberland and Westmorland for all his adult life, serving as Member of Parliament, Escheator and Justice of the Peace on multiple occasions. A man of social and political significance in the area, he eventually became involved in the struggle for local supremacy in the 1450s between the Neville and Percy families. This led to him and his men being beaten and threatened by Thomas Percy, Lord Egremont, over which he petitioned the royal council in 1455. De la More played no active part in the Wars of the Roses which broke out the same year. He is known to have married twice. His first wife, called either Idione or Maud, died first, but his second, Margaret, survived him.
Early life and marriageEdit
Little is known of de la More's early life; according to his own testimony, he was born in 1395. The Parliamentary historian J. C. Wedgwood suggests that he may have been the son of a namesake who attended the 1420 parliament. According to the medievalist Carole Rawcliffe, however, Wedgwood is in error, "mistakenly assum[ing] that two different men, father and son, must have sat for Cumberland in 1420 and 1450, whereas they were one and the same". In 1415 de la More was arrested by officers of the Warden of the East March for breaking the truce with Scotland after he was discovered leading raiding parties across the border. At some point de la More inherited a patrimony, based around Cumcatch, from his parents. He later augmented his estates by purchasing other properties in Branthwaite and took out a 20-year lease on the manors of West Farlam and Sebergham, then owned by the Crown.
By July 1419 de la More had married a woman named either Idione or Maud, who was the widow of William Sandford.[note 1] She brought de la More the manor of Little Asby by jointure.[note 2] Rawcliffe suggests that the marriage brought de la More "powerful connections", as her feoffees included Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland and Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland.[note 3]
Offices and royal service in CumberlandEdit
King Henry VI was six-months old when his father, Henry V, died in 1422. Henry VI began his personal rule in 1437 aged 16. To celebrate the occasion, which the medievalist John Watts called "a sign to political society that the King had come of age", Henry issued a royal pardon to whoever sued for one. Of this, de la More availed himself.[note 4]
De la More's career was to be a full one. He held royal offices in both Cumberland and Westmorland almost from the point he had entered his majority. He was the King's Escheator from 1431 to 1432 for both counties and was appointed Sheriff of Cumberland in 1443–1444, 1447–1448 and 1452–1453. He was also appointed elector of the county—one who stewarded shire elections to parliament, often in the face of pressure from either the crown or local nobility—in 1437, 1442, 1447 and 1449. He was elected to parliament as the county candidate four times, in 1420, 1429, 1450 and 1455. His second election involved de la More in some political skullduggery. His co-candidate, Sir William Leigh, was not favoured by the then-sheriff Christopher Moresby, who replaced Leigh with his own choice of candidate, Sir Thomas Parr, and without consulting the county court as was required. Moresby found himself able to appoint a new candidate after the original writs of summons were superseded by another that arrived after the election had taken place. He had only to write Parr's and de la More's names on the new writ prior to returning it. The subsequent investigation into Moresby extended into de la More's own first term as Sheriff.[note 5]
De la More took the 1434 oath not to harbour criminals and disturbers of the King's Peace. This indicates, argues the prosopographer Gilbert Bogner, that de la More was a man whom the crown considered capable of summoning men on its behalf. The historian R. A. Griffiths suggests that men such as de la More were "socially prominent or politically powerful" in their regions. De la More performed a number of legal services for his neighbours also. For example, he was executor of his friend, Sir Robert Lowther's will, and sat on an assize assessing William Stapleton's claim to an estate in Black Hall. He also presented oral evidence to his cousin William de la More's Inquisition post mortem[note 6] or and acted as a mainpernor[note 7] to colleagues.
De la More gravitated into the service of Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury by 1452, and perhaps as early as the previous decade. Within a few years, Salisbury's sons became engaged in a bitter feud with those of the Earl of Northumberland, led by Thomas Percy, Lord Egremont. At the same time, the King was mentally incapacitated and unable to govern. The House of Lords had appointed the Duke of York protector during the King's illness, and York, in turn, made Salisbury his Lord Chancellor. Following the Yorkist victory at the First Battle of St Albans, York held another parliament towards the end of the year, and another general pardon was issued which de la More again took advantage of on 10 October 1455. Both of de la More's pardons, suggests Rawcliffe, were "no doubt to cover himself from charges of malpractice in office". In the latter document, he is listed as "of Comberkath, Cumberland, esq., alias gent., alias late of London". Wedgwood speculates that the latter designation may have been the result of de la More's attendance at the York's parliament between 1455 and 1456.
Relations with Lord EgremontEdit
In July 1454 de la More petitioned[note 8] the royal council that during his last period as sheriff, Lord Egremont had prevented him from carrying out his official duties. Egremont, complained de la More, had assaulted his deputy sheriffs and servants and had threatened to behead de la More. As a result of Egremont's violence, argues the medievalist R. L. Storey, "the one half of the shire was divided from the other" and de la More's tenure as sheriff was punctuated with "great dissensions, riots and debates". De la More, a protégé of Salisbury's, petitioned the council while his lord was Chancellor, probably in the knowledge that Salisbury would take the opportunity to demonstrate his good lordship[note 9] to de la More. Although de la More blamed Egremont for his inability to collect £94 of shrieval dues, it seems as likely that it was the result of Scottish border raids having "lyth wast and destroyed" the Cumberland countryside. In any case, de la More was keen that he be respited the amount he had been unable to raise; this was granted on condition that de la More realise it would not set a precedent and that he swear to his losses under oath.[note 10] The medievalist Peter Booth argues that de la More's preferential treatment at the Exchequer was the direct consequence of his feudal relationship with Salisbury.
Later career and deathEdit
De la More continued in royal service almost up to his death. The 1450s, says Rawcliffe, was a "were a particularly strenuous time" for him, as he went on multiple embassies to Scotland, sat on the local Bench as a Justice and attended parliament twice. Wedgwood suggests that his appointment as a keeper of the truce with Scotland in 1457 was one of his last appearances in public office; "he probably died soon after, as he is not on the 1458 or 1462 Pardon Rolls". Rawcliffe does not date de la More's death, merely noting that it must have been "well before" April 1463 due to references in subsequent shrieval writs. He outlived his wife Maud (or Idione), and had remarried a woman known only as Margaret; it was she who acted as executrix for de la More's will. He left no children. De la More's enemy in Cumberland, Lord Egremont, died around the same time. During the civil wars of the late 1450s, he remained loyal to Henry VI, and, acting as the King's personal bodyguard, was slain at the Battle of Northampton in June 1460.
- Her brother-in-law was Robert Sandford of Askham, Westmorland, Member of Parliament for Appleby in 1413.
- Jointure was a method of providing for widow's after her husband's death. A form of prenuptial agreement, he would settle designated lands upon himself and his wife, to be held jointly, so that if he predeceased her she would continue to enjoy the profits after his death. Jointures were usually entailed so that on her death, the jointure would descend to their children.
- In late medieval England, a feoffee was a trusted friend, colleague or servant to whom one enfeoffed certain lands with the intention of avoiding feudal dues. This was effectively granted them legal seisin of the lands while keeping the use—or benefits—to oneself. The historian K. B. McFarlane compares the mechanism to the creation of a trust, which "could make a great landowner appear to die a landless man...[if] he had conveyed the seisin to feoffees—members of a trust, an undying corporation which never suffered a minority and could not be given in marriage".
- This does not necessarily indicate that de la More had committed a crime; the scholar Christopher Dyer notes that general pardons such as that issued in 1437 were often requested as a form of insurance against malicious accusation. General pardons were issued by the King, rather than requested by a plaintiff, and excused almost every offence there was a statute for. These ranged from treason, murder, trespass through to marrying without a royal license or buying land without permission. It was, argues Storey "quicker and much cheaper to obtain" a pardon in this way than it was to negotiate a lengthy legal process towards the same end. At least 1,866 people requested and received a pardon in 1437; Storey notes that they included the Abbot of St Albans, John Whethamstede, and concludes that "it is obvious that not all of those who purchased a copy would have been doing so in order to evade the penalties of criminal activities".
- The period 1427–1429 was, argues the historian Susan E. James, was one of "fraudulent sheriffs, ineligible electors and falsely-returned knights" in Cumberland elections, with a concomitant rise in election disputes of which Parr's was just one. Elections such as Parr's eventually led to the Parliamentary stature regarding Shire Electors later the same year.
- Professor Michael Hicks describes Inquisitions post mortem as "the product of sworn enquiries by local jurors into the landholdings after death of feudal tenants". They sat on the orders of the crown, effectively as a means for the King to ensure he was not dispossessed of land he had previously granted the tenant. They also allowed the King, more broadly, to keep track of his feudal rights.
- A mainpernor acted as a guarantor to someone undergoing legal proceedings, which allowed them to be released on the mainpernor's bond. A form of bail, it differed in that an individual released on bail could be reseized at any moment, whereas one released under mainprise could not, and, indeed, could sue if he was.
- The petition is extant and held at the National Archives in Kew, classified as SC 8/29/1446. It has been transcribed and published by the literary scholar J. H. Fisher in his Anthology of Chancery English.
- Late medieval feudalism—known by historians as bastard feudalism—was predicated on mutual benefit to both a lord and those he retained. In the same way as a lord could summon his retainers to do him service, a retainer could conversely expect his lord to support him in his cause, if necessary with force.
- This was, the medievalist Ian Rowney suggests, "a good result...with many opportunities for being fined and few for profit, a sheriff considered himself fortunate if he were only marginally out of pocket at the end of his term of office".
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