Outline of the history of the Argentein family: 14th and 15th centuries

N.B. Blue links are to more text or images; red links are references.

John de Argentein

According to his father's Inquisition Post Mortem, John de Argentein was aged 30 when he succeeded his father in 1308 (Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem). Presumably this is a round figure, so that John would have been born in the late 1260s or in the 1270s - probably after his father's release from captivity after the Battle of Evesham, at any rate.

We first hear of John when, at his marriage to Joan, the daughter of Roger Brian in 1302, settlements were made by their parents. Reginald settled the manor of Fordham (in Essex) on the couple, and Roger settled his manors of Hatley (in Bedfordshire) and Throcking (in Hertfordshire) after his death. (Roger seems to have died by 1307, when John had a grant of free warren in Hatley and Throcking (Charter Roll)). By his first wife, John had three daughters:

(Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem). We know that Joan must have died soon after the birth of Denise, leaving her daughters to inherit the Brian estates.

Four Argentein gravestones, apparently in Baldock church, are recorded in Sloane MS 1301 (fo.146b). In addition to those of Reginald and Lora are two more, bearing the names 'Iohn de Argentine' and 'Iohan de Argentine'. It seems likely that these are the gravestones of Reginald's son John and his first wife, Joan. If so, the arms illustrated ('Gules a saltire [?]or, a chief ermine') must be those of the Brian family, although I have not seen them recorded elsewhere under this name.

Some interesting light is shed on the family's domestic arrangements by a surviving set of accounts for 1317-8 from the manor of Melbourn (Palmer), where they seem to have been living at the time. We know from later evidence that Joan's elder daughters, Joan and Elizabeth were married to two brothers, John and William, the sons of Ralph Boteler (or Butler). (The younger daughter, Denise, died without issue.) Evidently they were married extremely young. In fact, the marriages must have been arranged immediately their status as heiresses was apparent, because in the Melbourn accounts occurs an 'Aid for marrying the lord's eldest daughter'. The young bridegrooms also seem to have been living at Melbourn: the accounts also contain expenses for 'little socks', 'shoes' and 'slippers' for John Boteller, and 'linen cloth for the use of John Boteller and his brother'.

By April 1317, John had remarried, to Agnes, the daughter of William de Bereford (Hertfordshire Record Office, no 59315). The following Spring, Agnes gave birth to a son, John, who was to succeed his father at the age of 6 months. The Melbourn accounts include an entry 'for four score and four geese and goslings (hocorys) bought for the churching feast of the Lady Agnes' after John's birth (Palmer).

In contrast to his 13th-century ancestors, John de Argentein's official roles were purely local (although he might perhaps have achieved greater prominence if he had lived longer). He had a commission of oyer and terminer in 1312, after a band of robbers had assaulted and robbed a representative of the king at Baldock (Patent Roll), and others in 1316 and March 1318 concerning disturbances in Cambridgeshire (Patent Roll). In 1314 he had been appointed one of the conservators of the peace for Hertfordshire (Patent Roll), and in November 1317 he was appointed to a commission in Hertfordshire to enquire into those raising bodies of men-at-arms (Patent Roll).

In the military sphere, John's arms appear on the First Dunstable Roll (c. 1308) (Long) and the Parliamentary Roll (c. 1312) (Parliamentary Writs). The Melbourn accounts of 1317-8 also show him undertaking a journey to the north ('a horse bought for Jackbet when he went north with my lord' (p.44); 'for saddle gerthys for the lord when he went north' (p.54)), which Palmer suggests would have been for military service against the Scots. It is not clear whether he ever returned from this journey.

John died, apparently only in his 40s, shortly before 20 October 1318 (Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem), leaving his second wife Agnes and her baby son. As mentioned above, he was possibly buried in Baldock church, although another account says that his gravestone was formerly in Little Wymondley church, having possibly been removed there from Wymondley Priory (Wright, p.143). (Some support is lent to this by the provision in his widow Agnes's will to be buried in the Priory if she dies in Hertfordshire or Cambridgeshire, though nothing is said about John Argentein's place of burial.)

Agnes, wife of John de Argentein

Agnes is the first woman in the family for whom we have more than cursory references. She survived her first husband for 57 years, and remarried twice; she is also the first of the family whose will survives.

Agnes was the daughter of William de Bereford, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas (d.1326). She was one of three sisters, who eventually became the legal coheirs of their brother Edmund de Bereford, though their eventual inheritance of his estates was delayed and complicated by the presence of Edmund's two illegitimate sons, John and Baldwin.

When John de Argentein died, shortly before 20 October 1318, his heir John, Agnes's son, was a baby of 6 months (Calendar of Inqusitions Post Mortem). The following January, Agnes was granted generous dower estates, consisting of the manors of Great and Little Wymondley and Melbourn, with lands in Throcking, Colney and Halesworth (Close Roll). On the same day, the keeping of the bulk of the remaining Argentein estates - the manors of Halesworth and Ketteringham, with lands in Melton, Pidley, Weston and Ketteringham - during the minority of the heir was granted to Agnes's father, William de Bereford (Fine Roll).

These dower provisions seem generous, including as they do the family's original seat at Great Wymondley and the manor of Melbourn, where they seem to have been living in 1318. But more was to follow - in 1324 an order was made for further dower lands to be delivered to her, in Wallington, Melbourn and Ashendon, together with the advowsons of St Benet's church in Cambridge and the chapel of Saints Simon and Jude in Newmarket (Close Roll). In addition, she was found in 1359 to be holding in dower the chapel and the advowson of the Hospital of St Nicholas, Royston (Close Roll). We can only wonder if William de Bereford, the Chief Justice, exerted his influence in his daughter's interest when the dower lands were being allotted.

In February 1321, Agnes received, at her father's request, royal licence to marry whoever she wished (Patent Roll). Agnes's second marriage, to John de Nerford, was, like her first, short-lived. John died, without issue, on 5 February 1329 (Complete Peerage, vol.1; Blomefield, vol.5, p.305). In addition to the dower estates she had from her first marriage, Agnes received more from her second, namely the manors of Wissett in Suffolk, and Tharston and Shotesham in Norfolk (Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem).

It is interesting to note that, although by this time William de Bereford was dead, another member of the family, Simon de Bereford, was now an influential member of the government. Simon was apparently Agnes's brother (though I have not seen the relationship stated in a contemporary document). After William de Bereford's death, Simon had, in January 1327, been granted custody of the Argentein estates, 'in consideration of his good service' (Patent Roll); a few months later the Argentein lands in Exning and Newmarket were added (Memoranda Roll). The day after the first of these grants, Edward II was formally deposed (later, apparently, to be secretly murdered), and Queen Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer effectively took power. Simon de Bereford was a close supporter of Mortimer, and was subsequently appointed to the Council as one of his representatives. When Mortimer fell in 1330, Simon was attainted as a traitor and executed, 'for aiding and counselling Roger Mortimer in all his treasons, including the murder of the king'.

It was probably through Simon de Bereford that Agnes met her third husband, John Maltravers, who was also a leading supporter of Mortimer. The couple could have been married only a short time before he, like her brother, was sentenced to death, in November 1330 - he was condemned for encompassing the death of the earl of Kent by convincing him that his brother, Edward II was still alive. (Cuttino and Lyman). This is ironic, because Maltravers has won notoriety as - it is presumed - one of Edward's murderers, at Berkeley Castle in September 1327.

John Maltravers escaped execution and fled into exile in Flanders. Agnes remained in England, and was possibly in a state of financial embarrassment for a few months, as his lands had been confiscated. If so, her distress did not last long - in February 1331 her dower lands from her first two marriages were restored to her at the request of Queen Philippa, and the restoration was confirmed by several more grants in the following months (Patent Rolls).

In July 1332, Agnes received a licence to cross the Channel from Dover, as she was going on pilgrimage. In fact, this seems to have been a pretext to visit her husband in Flanders. This was the start of a long process of rehabilitation for Maltravers, who seems to have gained favour by acting as an agent for England in Flanders during the 1330s, being particularly helpful when an Anglo-Flemish alliance was cemented in 1340. Perhaps as a result, in 1342, Agnes received permission to stay with Maltravers in Flanders as long as she wished (Tout, Cuttino and Lyman). Over the following decade, the process continued until, eventually, John Maltravers was pardoned, and had his estates restored to him in February 1352 (Cuttino and Lyman).

In 1354 Agnes's brother, Edmund de Bereford, died. He had two illegitimate sons, John and Baldwin, on whom most of his property was settled. However, Agnes and her sisters Joan and Margaret seem to have inherited some property at this time, including the manor of Adwell (VCH Oxfordshire) and lands in Long Wittenham (VCH Berkshire). Agnes appears to have disposed of these lands before her own death. Much of the property settled on Edmund's illegitimate sons did eventually pass to the heirs of the three sisters, after the deaths of Baldwin de Bereford in 1405 and his widow Elizabeth in 1423.

Agnes was widowed for a third time when John Maltravers died in 1364. The couple had no children, having been separated for 12 years early in their marriage. Agnes again received extensive dower lands, this time from the Maltravers estates in Gloucestershire, Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire (Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem).

In the remaining decade of her life, Agnes must have been financially very comfortable, holding dower lands from her three marriages in eight counties (Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem). Judging from her will, even in her mid-70s she was accustomed to travel between the Maltravers lands in the West of England, and the Argentein and Nerford manors in the East. Perhaps she spent most of her time in the West, however, as there is some evidence that the Argentein estates fell into neglect during her tenure - in her son's Inquisition Post Mortem, both the buildings of the manor and the windmill were found to be valueless on account of their ruinous condition (Palmer, p.77)

Agnes died in July 1375, having made her will in London the previous February. The will, a long document in French, opens with a long list of gifts to religious houses (including the Argentein foundations of Wymondley Priory and Royston Hospital), and also many bequests of personal items to relatives and others. Agnes wished to be buried near John Maltravers in the church of Lychet Maltravers if she died in Dorset or Wiltshire, but in Wymondley Priory if she died in Hertfordshire or Cambridgeshire. Of her Argentein relatives, she mentions her son John, his wife Margaret, and their daughters, Maud the wife of Ivo fitz Waren and Elizabeth the wife of Baldwin St George (though curiously she refers to her granddaughters Maud and Elizabeth as her 'daughters').

John de Argentein

As mentioned above, John de Argentein was a 6-month-old baby when his father died in 1318 (Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem). His mother Agnes enjoyed generous dower provisions, and the custody of his remaining estates was granted to her father William de Bereford, and after his death to Simon de Bereford (apparently Agnes's brother).

In 1325, when he was only 7 years old, the right to arrange John's marriage was granted by the king to Robert Darcy, and William de Bereford was ordered to hand the child over to him (Patent Roll). Soon afterwards, Robert married John to his daughter Margaret - in 1332 he settled the reversion of the manor of Dunston, in Lincolnshire, on the couple and on Margaret's heirs (John was about 14 years old at this time, but Margaret seems to have been his senior by some years - she was at least 30 in 1343) (Patent Roll). Margaret was her father's heir at his death, and subsequently John held other property in her right, such as the manor of Pachesham (in the parish of Leatherhead, Surrey), in 1347 (VCH Surrey).

In March 1338 an order was issued for John to be given seisin on of his father's lands (or at least, those lands which were not in his mother's possession). At this time he was still a minor, aged about 20, but he had paid 100 'for the king's affairs' in order to gain possession of his estates a year early (Close Roll).

John may have been particularly anxious for his minority to end because he was engaged in a dispute with his half-sisters over the property - the manors of Exning, Newmarket and Fordham - which had been settled at the marriage of their mother Joan Brian in 1302. There had been some dispute over this settlement after his father's death, when the jurors failed to recognise two charters produced by the Prior of Wymondley and a certain Giles de Argentein, claiming that the enfeoffment had been made by other charters (Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem). (The charter later transcribed by Cole was presumably one of these two dubious ones.) The dispute seems to have revived in early 1337, and in the same year that he took possession of his estates, John sued his half-sisters for the manor of Fordham. (Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem; Coram Rege Roll). In 1345 Joan, the wife of John Boteler, brought an action to force the Prior to produce Reginald's confirmation of his grant of Newmaket (Year Books). It is difficult to grasp exactly what was at issue in these disputes, but the three manors in question seem to have been retained by Joan Brian's heirs - they do not appear among the lands held by John at his death (Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem), although the Argenteins apparently did retain some interests in Newmarket (Cole, 1383; Cole, 1417) and in Fordham (Close Roll, 1412).

For most of John's life, a large part of the family estates were in the hands of his mother Agnes - by the time she died, he was in his late 50s, and he only survived her by 8 years. Some of the property was disposed of - in 1350 we find Agnes and her third husband granting the advowson of St Benet's church, Cambridge, to the Guild of Corpus Christi; at the same time John granted his reversionary rights to the Guild. Presumably because the manors of Melbourn and Great Wymondley were held by Agnes, John appears to have lived at Halesworth, in Suffolk, and this seems to have remained the seat of the family for the rest of their history. In the final years of his life, he received several commissions concerning Suffolk matters (Patent Rolls).

For the next few years there are few references to John, except that on three occasions he is recorded as appointing attorneys for a year during absences abroad. His journeys were in 1351, with the Earl of Suffolk, in 1358 and again in 1369 (Patent Rolls). (Presumably these journeys are connected with Edward III's wars against the French, though there is no definite statement to this effect.)

John also attended Parliament in 1371, as a knight of the shire (not as a Baron, like his grandfather) (Close Roll). In 1377 he performed the family service of cupbearer at the coronation of Richard II, having presented a petition, in which he explained that he had been a minor at the time of the previous coronation (in 1327).

John de Argentein died in November 1382 (Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem), and was buried at Halesworth (see below). His will, made at Halesworth in the same year, is a brief document, whose main provisions are for bequests to Wymondley Priory and Halesworth church. His wife Margaret survived him for less than a year, dying on 1 September 1383 (Complete Peerage, vol,1; Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem). In her will, dated 29 August 1383, she states her desire to be buried at Halesworth.

By his wife Margaret, John de Argentein had three daughters, who were his legal heirs:

Although the evidence is clear that John's three daughters were his legal heirs, in 1381, the year before he died, we find him entailing most of the family estates on his son William de Argentein and on Isabel, the daughter of William Kerdeston, with remainder to William's heirs. These estates included the manors of Great and Little Wymondley, Melbourn, the manor and advowson of Halesworth, lands in Little Melton and Throcking, and the advowson of Wymondley priory and chapel (Patent Roll, Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem). The only explanation seems to be that William was John's illegitimate son, by an unknown mother. (The pedigree of 1591 shows William as the son of John by another wife, called Agnes Maltravers, whom the Swinhope pedigree makes a daughter of John's stepfather John Maltravers, by his previous marriage. Perhaps the origin of these statements is the curious language of Agnes Maltravers' will - at any rate they do nothing to explain matters, and fly in the face of all the available evidence.)

The settlement on William must have come as a very unwelcome shock to John's legal heirs, who must have expected soon to succeed to shares of the extensive Argentein estates. Although they did not give up without a fight (see below), their inheritance was limited to the three manors of Ketteringham, Little Chishill and 'Gernons' (in Steeple Bumpstead) (Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem).

William Argentein

William Argentein first appears when his father receives licence to entail the bulk of the family property on him and on Isabel, daughter of William Kerdeston, in May 1381. In the licence, Isabel is not called William's wife, so it seems likely that this settlement was made shortly before their marriage (Patent Roll). Isabel seems to have been alive three years later, but unfortunately it is not clear how much longer she survived. Although it seems likely that she was the mother of William's son John, it is impossible to be sure (see discussion).

Not surprisingly, the settlement of the Argentein estates on John's illegitimate son William caused a great deal of friction between him and the lawful heirs. The conflict began even before John was buried. It was alleged by John's daughter Matilda, and her husband Ivo Fitz Waryn, that the Prior of Wymondley was waylaid by 'certain evildoers' at Newmarket Heath near Babraham, while on his way to John's funeral at Halesworth. John Argentein had entrusted certain deeds, in a sealed chest, to the Prior, and he was now forced to hand them over to William Argentein. The ruffians are said to have gone so far as to assault Ivo, and John's widow Margaret, at Halesworth, and to have disrupted the funeral service (Patent Roll).

William's inheritance of the estates his father had settled on him was contested by his half-sister Matilda and the other coheirs. In 1383 and 1384 orders were issued for him to be given possession of the manors of Wymondley, Melbourn and Halesworth, until the king's court should decide between the parties (Fine Rolls). The court decided for William, and in May 1384 the escheators of the counties of Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk were ordered to give possession of the estates to him and his wife Isabel (Close Roll).

Whatever his origins, it was not long before William, as a substantial landowner, achieved respectability. He served three times as knight of the shire for Suffolk, at the Parliaments held at Winchester in 1393, and at Westminster in 1395 and 1399 (Close Rolls). In 1393 he was appointed sheriff and keeper of the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk and Norwich Castle (Fine Roll), and he was again sheriff of Suffolk in 1401 (Patent Roll).

In 1399, William Argentein was cupbearer at the coronation of Henry IV, although he had to dispute the right to perform this service with his half-sister's husband Ivo FitzWaryn, who had apparently still not reconciled himself to the loss of his wife's inheritance (Wollaston). Probably this was why William obtained, in the following year, confirmation of the charter by which King Stephen had granted, two and a half centuries earlier, the manor of Wymondley and the service of cupbearer, to John de Argentein (apparently William's five-times-great grandfather). Strangely, the office seems to have been left unclaimed at the next coronation, that of Henry V in 1413 (Wollaston).

William's official duties were almost exclusively connected with Suffolk, and he had clearly continued, like his father, to live at Halesworth. In the next few years he received two more Suffolk commissions, and one concerning Norfolk (Patent Rolls). William also had military responsibilities. He received commissions of array in December 1399, July 1402 and twice in September 1403 (Patent Rolls). Perhaps it is appropriate that in 1415, close to the end of his life, we find William Argentem at Agincourt, in the retinue of the Earl of Suffolk, among the 'lances' (Davy).

According to Roskell, William Argentein married secondly, after 1399, Joan, the daughter and coheir of John Hadley, a wealthy London grocer, and the widow of Sir William Pecche of Lullingstone, Kent. Joan died 21 March 1410.

William Argentein seems to have died in February 1419. He had made his will at Halesworth nearly two years previously, but unfortunately it tells us nothing of his family. The will does not specify where he was to be buried, but a Latin note on one pedigree says 'died 15 February buried in the chancel of Halesworth, of which town he was lord as it is [said?] in his epitaphs' (Davy). His son John being already dead, William was succeeded by his grandson John, then a boy of six.

William left a widow, Margery, who seems to have been previously the widow of John Hervey of Thurleigh, and the daughter of Ralph Parlys (see discussion). Soon after his death, a provisional grant was made to Margery, of the custody of his lands during the minority of the heir, and of the marriage of the heir, for which she was to pay 200 marks (Fine Roll). However, as 'no agreement could be made' with her, the custody and marriage were granted in May 1419, under similar conditions, to John Hotoft, Thomas Aleyn and John Fray (Patent Roll). Margery was later granted dower, including the manor and advowson of Halesworth, the manors of Wissett, Great Wymondley and Wallington, and a third of the manors of Little Wymondley and Weston (Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem).

Margery died on 28 September 1427, having made her will the previous April. In her will, she wishes to be buried in Elstow nunnery, and her monumental brass still remains there. This is the only depiction surviving of any of the Argentein family, and shows her wearing the widow's weeds of the early 15th century.

As well as his son John, William had issue:

John Argentein

Of John Argentein, the son of William, we know virtually nothing, because he died in his father's lifetime. The only contemporary document in which he appears is his quitclaim, to Robert Newport and others, of his rights in his father's lands in Fordham, 'Wethermundforde' [?Wormingford] and Bergholt Sackville in Essex, in June 1412 (Close Roll).

We know from later evidence that John married, before 1411, Margery the daughter of Sir William Calthorpe, of Burnham Thorpe, and had by her three children:

Margery, wife of John Argentein

We know that John's wife Margery was the daughter of William Calthorpe (of Burnham Thorpe in Norfolk), because she is so named in William Argentein's Suffolk Inquisition Post Mortem. Margery had settled the manors of Gisleham and Chalgrove on William and trustees for life, in return for an annuity of 20. Presumably these manors had been settled by William on John and Margery at their marriage, and she consequently held a life interest in them.

We also know that Margery was the mother of John's children from the detailed statements in made in 1427 proving the age of the daughters Elizabeth and Joan. The first of these refers to 'Margaret Merwyn, the midwife of the same Margery, mother of the said Elizabeth'; and since Elizabeth was the eldest of the children, Margery must have been the mother of all three of them. Joan's proof of age provides a vivid picture of a 15th century baptism (one man carrying salt in a silver cellar, with a towel, another carrying a basin and ewer to wash the rector's hands, and four more standing by the font with burning torches), and a moment of unexpected drama: as the midwife carried the baby back to the manor house 'a certain large oak standing in the aforesaid manor before the door of the aforesaid hall suddenly fell, and one branch of the tree touched the midwife'.

By 1422, Margery had remarried, to Walter Aslak of Sprowston, as we can see by combining several pieces of evidence (see discussion). This Walter has earned a small place in history as a deadly enemy of William Paston, who had annoyed him by defending the Prior of Norwich in an action brought by Aslak, concerning the advowson of Sprowston. Following the brutal murder of one John Grys and his son in 1424 at Wighton, Aslak and his servant Richard Kyllynworth posted bills on the gates and churches of Norwich, threatening to murder and dismember William Paston, his clerks and his servants, 'as John Grys in the same form was slain.' Disputes between the adversaries continued for several years, with Paston writing in March 1426, 'I pray the Holy Trinity deliver me of my three adversaries, this cursed Bishop for Bromholm, Aslak for Sprouston, and Julian Herberd for Thornham' (Bennett).

Aslak was apparently still alive, and still attracting trouble, in 1443, when a jury presented, that Walter Aslak and several others had been assaulted by the mayor and commonalty of Norwich, with 'swords, bows &c', and imprisoned and cruelly used, because they would not consent to the mayor's 'riotous doings' (Blomefield, vol.3, p.151, citing Libr. Plitor. fo 82).

It seems that Margery was still living in 1459, when she is mentioned (as Margery formerly the wife of John Argenten) in the will of William Alington, her son-in-law, as holding a life-interest in the manor of Gisleham. Presumably she was dead by November 1466, when the manor was held by William's son John (Cole).

The children of John Argentein

John, the son of John Argentein, succeeded his grandfather William in 1419, when he was said to be 5 or 6 years old (this suggests that he was the twin of Joan, the younger of his sisters, although there is no hint of this in her proof of age). But the following July he died, leaving his two sisters as coheirs (Inquisition Post Mortem).

Arrangements were swiftly made for Elizabeth and Joan to be married to two brothers (as, curiously enough, their namesakes, also daughters of a John de Argentein, had been a century earlier). Their husbands were to be William and Robert Alington, the sons of William Alington of Horseheath. In February 1423, William Alington entered into two recognisances, one for 800 marks to Margery, the widow of the girls' grandfather William Argentein, and another for 200 Nicholas Huwysshe and John Tolle (Close Roll) (the last two had been appointed feoffees by William Argentein in 1417 (Cole)).

The marriages had certainly taken place by 1427, when Margery Argentein died, and after Elizabeth and Joan had proved their age, her dower estates were divided between the two couples. However, the younger daughter, Joan, did not survive long. She died on 15 May 1429, aged 15, and left no children (Inquisition Post Mortem). (There was formerly a monumental brass commemorating her in the chancel of Horseheath church.)

Thus Elizabeth became the sole heir to the Argentein estates. They passed through her to her son, John Alington, and were to remain in the Alington family for more than 250 years.