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ESTURMY v. COURTENAY 1392

On October 10, 1390 there was a memorandum of a mainprise for Robert Yeo (Calendar of Close Rolls)
Memorandum of a mainprise under a pain of 40 l., made in chancery 17 January this year by John Burneby of London, serjeant at arms, John Tregos of Cornwall, and John Elmede and William Smyth of Devon for Robert Yeo, and an undertaking by him under a pain of 100 marks, that he shall do or procure no hurt or harm to William Wyke.This was repeated again on Dec 3, 1391, same people involved.
In 1392 (Jan 10) an entry appeared in the Calendar of Patent Rolls
Appointment of William Sturmy and James Chudleigh, John Grenville, sheriff of Devon, and Thomas Credy, the king's serjeant-at-arms, to arrest and bring before the king and coundil in Chancery Robert Yeo and John Langford.
In 1392 (Feb 4) an entry appeared in the Calender of Patent Rolls.
Appointment of William Sturmy and James Chudleigh, John Grenville, sheriff of Devon, and Thomas Credy, the king's serjeant - at - arms, to arrest and bring before the king and council in Chancery Robert Yeo and John Langford


1392 The case of Esturmy v. Courtenay is for several reasons one of the most notable in the present collection. As a case of violence and oppression, it was the first of a series of trials, such as afterwards pertained to the court of Star Chamber. It was a trial on criminal charges of one of the peers of the realm, for which the council, apart from the house of lords, demon­strated its competence. Different from former cases of the kind, the matter was given a complete hearing by the council. The record too is of unusual fullness, giving a vivid narrative of the proceedings at every step. Although the incident was of political importance, no entry was made of it in the Rolls of Parliament, but in the journal of the council for the 15th year of Richard II the following minute appears:

On 23 January, 15th year, etc., there were present the chancellor, the treasurer, the bishop of Winchester, the bishop of Durham, the bishop of Chester, the steward, the sub-chamberlain, E. Dalingrugg, and Stury, and the justices and sergeants of the king. And then it was agreed that letters should be issued to the earl of Devonshire summoning him to come before the council to answer to certain matters that should be explained to him. And this (he should do) on his allegiance and under penalty of whatever he can forfeit to the king, and let him bring with him his servant Robert Yeo under the same penalty on the next Thursday after Candlemas. And let another writ be issued to John Grenville sheriff of Devonshire to come on the same day under the same penalty.'

When the matter was brought. to the attention of the council on 10 January, a commission was issued to arrest Robert Yeo and his servant John Langford . But for the same reasons as before the commission failed of its purpose. The next move was the issue of a subpoena on 23 January to the earl and the sheriff as has already been told. This was effective. The parties came and the trial began on the day set, 8 February. From this point the record itself is the best narrative. The method of trial was an examination into the charges made by William Esturmy, nominally in behalf of the justices of the peace, that the earl had threatened the justices and jurymen with violence. One by one the witnesses, nine in all, were brought in, sworn and questioned in turn as to the words they had heard from the earl. Any divergences of testimony or prevarications under the circumstances would have been readily detected. But they were all, in­cluding even the earl's own messenger, in substantial agreement that he had uttered the threats attributed to him. After six days the earl himself was examined in the presence of a score of lords in the council chamber. He could make no defence; although he claimed that his words to the jurors were intended as reproaches rather than threats. He threw himself, therefore, on the king's mercy. The council, consisting at the time of his peers, with unusual severity condemned him to prison until he should pay fine arid ransom, at the same time in view of his royal blood and previous good conduct, it commended him to the king's mercy. It may be with excessive leniency, the king granted the earl a full pardon for every crime heretofore perpetrated by him, and a few years later pardoned John Langford who had committed the murder. It may be thought that the earl's submission and humiliation was sufficient punishment for all that he had done, but it is surprising to learn that during the week when the trial was pending, on 12, 14, and 15 February, the earl of Devonshire is recorded as present in the council, the same as other lords, deliberating on the king's business, With such tolerance toward wrongdoing shown by the lords of the council, it is not strange that the statutes of livery and maintenance for the next century failed of enforcement.

The king sent his writ to the said earl that he should be before the king and his council ~ on Thursday following the feast of Candlemas, the fifteenth year of the said king, bringing with him one Robert Yeo his retainer. On this day ~ the said William declared before the said council that whereas one William Wyke of the county of Devonshire, tenant of the lord of Huntingdon and of himself, recently pursued divers writs of our lord the king against the said Robert Yeo, and one of the said writs was taken by force from the hands of the said William Wyke by the said Robert Yeo and John Langford his servant and thrown into a well, and then other writs were directed to the sheriff of Devonshire and delivered to him at the suit of the said William Wyke to seize the bodies of the said Robert and John. Whereupon on Lady Day l ast passed the said John lying concealed in a ditch attacked the said William Wyke as he was coming to the church bare-foot on a pilgrimage, and horribly murdered him by command and at the instigation of the said Robert Yeo . And afterwards the said William Esturmy sat with John Wadham justice of the peace in this county, when the said Robert and John Langford were indicted of the aforesaid murder by the most worthy knights and esquires of this county, and then the said William Esturmy went to the house of the said earl expecting to find good favour, and the said earl said to him in the presence of John Grenville knight that he and his ally the false justice and others had in­dicted his servant the said Robert Yeo falsely, whereof he swore on the cross of his chapel that the said William Esturmy should answer with his body, calling him repeatedly false traitor, and said that he should have respite no longer than this day of his aforesaid promise, and moreover the earl sent (word) to him the same day by the said John Grenville that he should keep faith of what he had promised, and then he said the same words to ' Walter Cornu ,'and at last he sent to the said William Esturmy, William Gouys as messenger, who told him in the presence of Sir James Chudlegh , the said John Grenville and William Hankford on behalf of the said earl, that he was false and that he should answer with his body, that he knew all the roads by which he must come and go, and that he should not escape the hands of the earl who was sure of him. And also the said William Esturmy says that the said earl had threatened and reproached William Beaumont , John Coppleston , William Burleston , Thomas Credy, and John Wotton because they had taken part in the inquest indicting the said felons. Where­fore these men as well as the said James, John Grenville , and Walter Cornu were required to come on the said Thursday before the said council to be examined upon the matters aforesaid. Whereupon the said John Grenvilie , having been sworn and examined before the said council said that he heard the very words that the earl spoke to the said William Esturmy , and that he took the message of the said earl just as the said William Esturmy had declared. And Walter Cornu having been sworn and examined before the said council said that the said earl spoke to him the same words as the said William Esturmy had said, but the earl discharged him of taking such a message; and the said James, John Grenville , and William Hankford , having been sworn and examined before the said council, said that they heard the message given to the said William Esturmy by the said William Gouys on behalf of the said earl just as the said William Esturmy had alleged. And the said John Wadham , having been examined before the said council, says that while he was sitting in a session of the peace at Exeter on Tuesday following the last. feast of St. Hilary, holding process upon the said felons, the said John Grenville told him in the presence of the said William Esturrny and William Hankford that the said earl sent word to him that he should sit more uprightly without partiality in this session than he had at the last session. And the said William Esturmy said that the said John Grenville did not give his message fully, for he said that he had been charged to say that the said John Wadham was a false justice; and as to this the said John Grenville , having been sworn and examined before the said council, says that his message was the same as the said John Wadharn and William Esturmy had declared; and also the said William Beaumont , having been sworn and examined before the said council, says that he was vilely reproached by one John Folk , esquire of the said earl, and afterwards by the earl himself, that fhe was perjured in the aforesaid indictment, but this would be true of others more than of himself whom it behooved to kneel and cry "mercy." And also the said John Folk said to the said William Beaumont that the said James Chudlegh was false. And also the said earl said to the said William Beaumont that the said Robert Yeo would be delivered in spite of the teeth of the said John Wadham and William Esturmy . And John Coppleston , having been sworn and examined before the said council, says that the said earl re­proached him, saying he had perjured himself for the aforesaid cause. And the said William Burleston , having been sworn and examined before the said council, says that the said earl reproached him saying he had falsely perjured. And John Wotton, having been sworn and examined before the said council, says that the said earl reproached him saying he had per­jured, etc. And inasmuch as the said earl had been commanded by writ to be before the king and his council at Westminster on the aforesaid Thursday to answer to the things that should be laid against him on be­half of the king, on this day the said earl came before the said council and was given one day after another until the king should be pleased to attend to this business. Whereupon after the following Thursday in the pres­ence of our lord the king and of the lords spiritual and temporal remain­ing with him, namely the duke of Guienne and Lancaster, the archbishop of Canterbury and the archbishop of York, chancellor, the bishops of London, Winchester, Durham, St. David's, Chester, the bishop of Salisbury, treasurer, the bishops of Hereford and Chichester, the dukes of York and Gloucester, the earls of Derby, Rutldnd, Arundel, Huntingdon and the earl marshall y' Lord Roos, and many others, wherein was propounded the entire matter aforesaid touching the said earl of Devonshire , as well as the fact that the said s was indicted of felony before the justices of the peace from whom the said earl of Devonshire had knowledge of the same indictment, but he did not put the said Robert under arrest; rather the earl harboured him. To this the said earl of Devonshire answered as regards the message that he sent to the said John Wadham justice that this was true, and for this he threw himself on the grace of our lord the king, and as to his having reproached the men who had sworn in the said inquest, suggesting that they had perjured, he acknowledged that he spoke to some of them declaring that it weighed heavily upon him that they had perjured, not with the intent of reproach­ing them, and for this also he placed himself in the king's grace; and as to his having threatened the said William Esturmy who had the king's commission to take the said Robert Yeo as had been alleged against the said earl of Devonshire, he answered saying that he had no knowledge of the said William having such a commission, but he did say that he would like to break his head, and for this also he placed himself in the king's grace. Whereupon it was adjudged by our lord the king and his said council that the said earl of Devonshire should be committed to prison, there to remain until he paid to our lord the king fine and ransom at the pleasure of our said lord the king. Immediately thereafter all the afore­said lords, spiritual as well as temporal, prayed our lord the king to do grace to the said earl of Devonshire , having regard for the fact that he was of royal blood and one of his uncles , and that it was the first time any such complaint had been made to our lord the king against the said earl of Devonshire . Our lord the king at the aforesaid request extended to the earl grace and pardon in his behalf on condition that he should aid and sustain according to his power the laws of our said lord the king and the execution thereof as well as his ministers in guarding the laws and making execution thereof, so that if any default on his part should be found in time to come contrary to this (understanding), our said lord the king would take cognisance of the trespasses and the execution aforesaid, as (though they were) trespasses and malfeasances committed and per­petrated by him anew.

But the pardon of the earl of Devonshire was not the last word, on the same day, 15 February, the king took dramatic advantage of the situation to exact from all the lords then present new pledges of loyalty.

Iin June, 1397, Robert is mentioned again when his servant, John Langford received a pardon for murdering William Wyke
Pardon, at the supplication of the duke of Brittany, to John Langford, servant of Robert Yeo of Heaunton Sachevyle, for the murder of William Wyke of the parish of Petris Marland, at Combe in the tything of Petris Merlond, on Friday the feast of the Conception of St Mary in the fifteenth

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