Lollard Knights & Associates VACHE, Sir Philip de la (1348-1408)
Chamberlain to Queen Isabella probably by July 1399 - July 1401
De la Vache was descended from an ancient family (reputedly of Gascon origin) which had settled at Chalfont St. Giles as early as 1166. However, it had not been until the late 13th century that the de la Vaches had accumulated their principal manors—Shenley, ‘Vaches’ in Aston Clinton, Hale in Wendover, and ‘The Vache’ in Chalfont, all in Buckinghamshire, together with Barton in Cambridgeshire—and it was Sir Philip’s father who finally consolidated the estate by acquiring the manors of Bury in Chalfont and Ashendon, and by obtaining, in 1363, a royal charter of free warren on his demesne lands in all these places. By then, Sir Richard had spent many years at the court of Edward III. His wife was probably one of the ladies-in-waiting to Queen Philippa, at whose special request they named as godmother of their son, Philip, born in 1348, none other than Isabel, the queen’s eldest daughter. There can be no doubt that Sir Richard was held in high esteem by King Edward: he was elected to the distinguished Order of the Garter in about 1355, received, as the royal standard-bearer, annuities totalling £100, and at the height of his career, in 1361, was made constable of both the Tower of London and Windsor castle for term of his life. Furthermore, the last few years before his death in January 1366 saw him in constant attendance on the King as under chamberlain of the Household.
Strange to relate, at one time Sir Richard intended that Philip should enter the Church: in 1358 he successfully petitioned Pope Innocent VI at Avignon for a benefice in the diocese of Lincoln for him, and another in the diocese of Salisbury for his younger brother, Edward, following up this request five years later by asking for a canonry for the younger boy (who, whatever Sir Richard claimed, cannot have been older than 14). However, Philip was clearly destined to follow in the steps of his father, as courtier and knight. On 21 Jan. 1366 his wardship and marriage were granted to William of Wykeham, the King’s chief minister in all but name; he was knighted (though not yet 18) some time during the next six months; and in July he made preparations to travel overseas. His choice of William Strete, at that time the King’s butler and later (1376-7) controller of the Household, as one of the attorneys to look after his affairs during his absence, is a further sign of an intimate relationship with members of the royal court. Strete, moreover, was among those whom de la Vache enfeoffed in one of his manors in Chalfont at an unknown date before May 1368, when they were pardoned for so acting without royal licence. (Presumably Wykeham had permitted his ward to take possession of at least part of his inheritance prematurely.) De la Vache enlisted with the army, comprised in large part of the ‘King’s retinue’, which crossed over to France in September 1369, there to join the forces under the command of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster—the King himself remaining in England grief-stricken at the death of Queen Philippa. Having returned home, Sir Philip made formal proof of age in May following, and had livery of the rest of his estates in the autumn. In May 1374, for unspecified reasons, Lancaster paid him 50 marks, and although there is no evidence that he was ever formally retained by the duke, it may be assumed that, in the meantime, he had done further military service under Gaunt’s banner. Despite his youth, de la Vache was now made one of a select group of knights of the King’s chamber. From 25 Aug. to 28 Sept. 1374 he was overseas on a mission to Guînes castle, its main purpose being to escort certain French prisoners over to England, and two days after his return home he was granted for life an annuity of £50 charged on the Exchequer. Shortly afterwards, he and John Harleston sold two of their own prisoners (John, Lord of Poys, and Walter Chastillon) to the Crown for as much as £2,500: they received 1,000 marks in part payment that December, together with a promise of the balance during 1375 in two equal instalments, although they were obliged in the event to wait for the final settlement until May 1376.
In August 1375 de la Vache had been awarded custody of the royal manor of Woodstock, in Oxfordshire, for a yearly farm of £127 16s.6d., this grant being made in the first instance during royal pleasure, but a year or so later changed to one for term of his life. In effect, this keepership was to strengthen further his ties with the King’s family, for Woodstock was ever a popular royal residence. In November following, he and Sir Philip Courtenay* were given the marriage of the heir of John, Lord Mowbray, only to sell it almost immediately to the King’s mistress, Alice Perrers. Subsequently, de la Vache was party to transactions regarding the Despenser estates: in February 1376 Sir Philip Despenser entered into recognizances in 1,000 marks to him and Nicholas Dabrichecourt*, and shortly afterwards he was granted (but only temporarily as it turned out) wardship of manors in Buckinghamshire lately belonging to Edward, Lord Despenser. During the Good Parliament, which met in the spring, he was among those members of the Court who rallied to the support of William, Lord Latimer, following his impeachment by the Commons, at least to the extent of providing securities for Latimer’s appearance to stand trial. Then, in February 1377, he shared with other royal retainers custody of a manor in Suffolk. Since the previous autumn, de la Vache had been acting as receiver of the King’s chamber, which explains why, in March, he joined with John of Gaunt in guaranteeing repayment to Richard, earl of Arundel, and his brother, John, Lord Arundel, of a loan to the Crown of 5,000 marks. It was he who supplied, from the Chamber, £1,400 for the cost of Edward III’s funeral. For a while he was kept on as receiver under Richard II: in October he had in his custody some of the late King’s regalia, including two crowns, which he handed over as security for loans from the city of London. However, in December he was ordered, under penalty of forfeiture, to deliver up to the keeper of the Great Wardrobe any more jewellery and goods of Edward III’s still in his possession, having first shown them to the commissioners specially appointed to compel disclosure of missing items. The inquiry coincided with the trial of Alice Perrers, begun in Richard II’s first Parliament, it being generally suspected that she had purloined jewellery from the late King. De la Vache’s first-hand knowledge as a chamber knight, it was believed, would make him a valuable witness at her trial; and, accordingly, he was called to give evidence on 22 Dec. both about Alice’s vendetta against Sir Nicholas Dagworth* and her alleged part in persuading Edward III to restore the forfeited lands and chattels of Richard Lyons†, the merchant courtier impeached in the Good Parliament. Nevertheless, much of what he had to say was mere rumour, and, moreover, he testified that when, at Sheen in May 1377, he had been called into the King’s presence to hear what was being planned with regard to Lyons, he preferred not to stay (‘ne voudroit demurer’), and quickly left the room. This was not, however, said in order to save Alice, for as a member of the jury of seven knights and nine esquires of the Household then asked whether or not she was guilty, he helped find against her; whereupon the Lords passed sentence of banishment and forfeiture.
Changes among those closest to Richard II’s person meant that for the next few years de la Vache was no longer a knight of the King’s chamber. Yet he continued to have some influence at Court (as is suggested by the grant of a royal pardon at his supplication), and his annuity of £50 was confirmed in February 1378. So, too, was his keepership of Woodstock; indeed, he was soon to be regranted that estate at the original farm, even though its true annual value had been found to be £216 17s., thus yielding him a handsome profit of £89 a year. Meanwhile, at the end of January 1378, he had joined Sir William Neville, Sir John Clanvowe, and Sir Richard Stury in temporary charge of a naval force of 120 men, pending the arrival of John of Gaunt, under whom they were to serve from March until 15 Sept. De la Vache’s fellow commanders all belonged to a group conspicuous for its religious unorthodoxy which afterwards made them notorious as ‘lollard knights’. They and their closest friends were individuals with whom Sir Philip was long to remain on intimate terms; men such as the diplomat Sir John Cheyne I* (like himself once intended for a career in the Church), for whose custody of Beckford priory he provided securities in October 1379; and the distinguished soldier, Sir Lewis Clifford, his fellow mainpernor on that occasion, whose daughter, Elizabeth, was shortly to become his wife. But how far, if at all, de la Vache himself was influenced by the teachings of the lollards cannot now be ascertained.
Elizabeth Clifford, as the widow of John Lenveysy—heir to the former baronial family of de Plescy—held for her lifetime moieties of the manor of Missenden and the patronage of Missenden abbey (Buckinghamshire), the manors of Hook Norton and Kidlington (Oxfordshire) and Combe Bisset (Wiltshire), and a third part of the manor of Long Wittenham (Berkshire). In the course of the next two years, she and her new husband sold her life interest in the properties in Wiltshire and Berkshire to William of Wykeham, in aid of his foundation of New college, Oxford. Not so with the estates in Oxfordshire, which were of considerable value, producing as they did revenues of at least 100 marks a year, and also bringing with them such profitable feudal rights as pertained to the old honour of D’Oilly. These Oxfordshire manors the de la Vaches set about acquiring on a permanent basis. Both Hook Norton and Kidlington were due to revert after Elizabeth’s death to the Buckinghamshire landowner, Sir William Moleyns†, who, under the terms of an entail made in 1380, also possessed a similar interest in four of Sir Philip’s own manors, should his issue fail. Moleyns was persuaded not only to relinquish the latter interest (which he did in February 1381), but also to give up his reversionary rights in the Oxfordshire holdings to certain feoffees, who in July 1382 received from de la Vache and his associates recognizances in 1,000 marks before transferring the estate to them. Moleyns had died in the meantime, but de la Vache entered into recognizances in £100 in favour of his widow, Margery, whom he then befriended.
On de la Vache’s wedding day, the King’s mother, Joan, princess of Wales, had made him a gift of a gold goblet, which he treasured until his death. To what extent he owed subsequent marks of royal favour to Joan’s influence in particular is unclear; but, as a ‘King’s knight’, he received in October 1383 custody for life of the royal park at King’s Langley, and he secured at the Exchequer the farm of the manor there for five years, for an annual rent of 50 marks. In June 1385 he and his father-in-law, Sir Lewis Clifford, were among the 13 men specifically assigned ‘to assist continually about the person of the King’s mother’ during Richard’s absence in the north of England. This meant attending on the princess at Wallingford castle, where, just two months later, she named them both among the executors of her will. In September they were issued with liveries of mourning following her death. It was possibly in response to criticisms levelled during the Parliament of 1386 against those who held several offices for life, that de la Vache then decided to withdraw from his life tenancy of King’s Langley park. He was on good terms with John, Lord Cobham, a member of the parliamentary commission then given control of the royal executive, for he subsequently named him among the trustees of his estates; and it may well be that this connexion with one who was to be an ally of the Lords Appellant helped him to survive the great political crisis of 1387-8, which involved the expulsion from Court of his friends, Sir Richard Adderbury I* and Lady Margery Moleyns. Sir Philip, probably for the only time in his life, was returned as knight of the shire for Buckinghamshire to the Merciless Parliament of 1388, and so, as a member of the Commons, he took part in the impeachment of former colleagues in the King’s household (although, it must be noted, none to whom he had been particularly close suffered the ultimate penalty). So well did he succeed in gaining the trust of the Appellants that, on 7 Apr., during the parliamentary recess, indentures were drawn up in which he was contracted to serve as captain of the key fortress at Calais, for an initial term of three years, his formal appointment being authorized in May, after Parliament had re-assembled. Indirectly, too, he profited from the judgements of the Parliament: one of those condemned to death and forfeiture, Sir John Beauchamp† of Holt, 1st Baron of Kidderminster, had held three manors in Oxfordshire and another in Warwickshire as of the honour of D’Oilly; these, de la Vache now claimed against the Crown for the duration of the minority of the heir, young John Beauchamp*.
Pleas pending in Chancery in the autumn of 1389 were eventually to be decided in his favour a year or so later, so that he was then able to place the Oxfordshire manors in the hands of his own appointees. Nor did Richard II’s assertion of control over the government in 1389 affect de la Vache adversely: on the contrary, he was retained as captain of Calais castle, and in April 1390 was co-opted on to a body of royal ambassadors sent over to negotiate truces with France and Flanders at meetings which were to take place nearby. That de la Vache was by no means continually on the continent during the ensuing decade (even though he held his captaincy at Calais until late in 1395, and was also captain of Guînes from 1393 until almost the end of the reign), is evident from his re-appearance as a knight of the King’s chamber at some point before Michaelmas 1392. Furthermore, he was to remain as one of this select group of about eight knights certainly until 1396, and quite possibly until Richard departed for Ireland in 1399. In the meantime, in April 1394, he had been granted as a special sign of favour an additional pension of 100 marks a year, charged initially on the Exchequer. In the following autumn, de la Vache accompanied the King on his first expedition to Ireland, incidentally being admitted, just before their departure, to the confraternity of Llanthony priory by Gloucester. In November he returned home in order to inform the Council of the King’s successes against the elusive Irish chieftain and rebel, Art Macmurrogh, and of his intention that the next Parliament (due to assemble in January 1395) should be held at Westminster rather than Nottingham. He embarked for Ireland again in February, only to sail back in March, evidently to help prepare for the King’s own return voyage, for on 21 Apr. he wrote to Richard from Bristol to report that a sufficient number of ships had been assembled for this purpose. There can be no doubt of de la Vache’s continued prominence at Court, although it seems to have been only occasionally that he participated in matters of government, as when, in July 1395, he was commissioned, with the c.j.c.p. and others, to receive in the King’s name a recognizance in £20,000 into which the civic authorities of Salisbury had been required to enter, regarding a dispute with their bishop, John Waltham. Fresh royal grants in his favour included the wardship and marriage of the Fitzellis heir (shared with Sir Richard Adderbury I), re-appointment as keeper of King’s Langley park for life, and, in conjunction with Lady Moleyns, a gift of goods forfeited by an outlaw. Then, in November 1396, Archbishop Arundel and Edward, earl of Rutland, to whom the King had given custody of the estates of the late Queen Anne, leased to him for life the manor of Becklay and the hamlet of Horton, in Oxfordshire; together with the custody of Becklay park, all at a farm rent of 50 marks a year. When Parliament assembled at Westminster on 17 Sept. 1397, to accomplish Richard II’s avowed intention of reversing the acts of the Merciless Parliament, and of ruining the senior Lords Appellant of 1388 (Gloucester, Arundel and Warwick), de la Vache was one of four knights of the Chamber called upon to act as pledges for their prosecution. None of the four were Members of the Commons.
It is uncertain to which stage of de la Vache’s career should be ascribed the verses entitledTruth: Balade de Bon Conseyl addressed to him by Geoffrey Chaucer*, in which the poet advised the courtier to retire from public life, be content with such worldly possessions as he already enjoyed, and draw closer to God by devoting himself to prayer and contemplation. Referring to de la Vache’s surname, Chaucer exhorted him to go ‘Forth, beste, out of thy stal’. What is clear is that Sir Philip was not prepared to take this advice, at least not until after Chaucer’s death. Like his father and father-in-law before him, he was elected into the Order of the Garter, in about April 1399, thereafter moving into the stall left vacant by the death of the King’s uncle, John of Gaunt. And how closely at that time he was connected with leading members of the Court, is additionally indicated by the settlement he then made of Bury in Chalfont and the reversion of Hook Norton: the body of trustees to whom these valuable properties were now to revert at his death was headed by the steward of the Household, Thomas Percy, earl of Worcester, and included the ‘King’s knights’, Sir Thomas Blount* and (Sir) Thomas Clanvowe*. Although de la Vache did not cross over to Ireland with the King that spring, this was only because he had been formally assigned to the household of Queen Isabella at Wallingford castle.
It is astonishing, in view of de la Vache’s identification with the court of Richard II, that the accession of Henry of Bolingbroke left him virtually undisturbed in possession of his many royal grants and offices, although, of course, no longer as a member of the Household. As early in Henry IV’s reign as 16 Oct. 1399, his keeperships of Woodstock and King’s Langley and his £50 annuity were all confirmed, as was his lease of Queen Anne’s estates, while in November he was granted a farm for 12 years of the royal manor of Langley Marish. Thus reconciled to the new regime, he was not, apparently, tempted to join the earls’ rebellion of January following (like his erstwhile colleague, Sir Thomas Blount, who suffered the ultimate penalty for his treason). That affair none the less caused him some practical difficulties. One of the earls who had risen against the King—John Montagu, earl of Salisbury—had been, since 1393, de la Vache’s co-feoffee of Sir Lewis Clifford’s castle and lordship of Ewyas Harold; and now, immediately after Salisbury’s death (at the hands of a mob), doubtless to escape possible consequences of the earl’s forfeiture, he and the other surviving feoffees conveyed the lordship to William Beauchamp, Lord Abergavenny, in exchange for a manor in Kent. In the meantime he had remained in the household of Richard II’s queen, now a widow; indeed, because he was her chamberlain he was excused from joining Henry IV’s Scottish expedition that summer. So, only after accompanying Queen Isabella on her return to France in July 1401 (a voyage on which his wife also attended on the queen, as one of her ladies-in-waiting), did he decide to follow Chaucer’s advice and go into retirement. In 1403 he took out royal letters patent of exemption from holding office against his will, as well as a concession that, ‘in consideration of his old age and disability’ (he was all of 55), he should not be compelled to fulfil the duty incumbent on royal annuitants of doing military service wherever in England it might be required of them. Despite this effective withdrawal of his services, Henry IV was nevertheless prepared to confirm, two years later, his royal pension of 100 marks. One of de la Vache’s last acts was to witness, at Stoke Poges in December 1407, a grant made by (Sir) William Moleyns*, grandson of his old friend, Lady Margery.
Among the provisions of de la Vache’s will, made on 25 Apr. 1407, was the instruction that a bond in 1,000 marks, by which Moleyns was constrained, should be handed over to him, provided that he would indemnify the King, Lady Moleyns, and others, in another bond for 300 marks. Three years earlier Sir Philip and the alleged lollards, Sir John Cheyne I and Sir Thomas Clanvowe, had been made residuary legatees under the will of his father-in-law, Sir Lewis Clifford, who had himself evidently not recanted his heretical beliefs. Clifford had left Sir Philip his ‘masse book and portoos’ and his wife, the testator’s daughter, his ‘boke of tribulation’. However, despite such influences, and the effects of many years of friendship with leaders of the lollard movement, de la Vache betrayed no unorthodox leanings in his own will (which was written in Latin, rather than in the English tongue preferred by the lollards), save only in his stipulation that the funeral ceremonies should lack all ostentation. What positively the will required in this regard was that a black cloth should be draped over his body as it lay in St. Giles’s church at Chalfont, with five tapers set around it in honour of the five wounds of Christ. Then, too, as many as 1,000 poor people were each to receive 4d. in alms. No bequests, however, were to be made to any monastic establishment. Such provisions were curiously at odds with de la Vache’s style of life as courtier and knight of the Garter, and contrasted with the considerable quantity of silver which he left to his widow. This included three dozen dishes and a dozen salt-cellars as well as the gold goblets given him by Joan of Kent and Queen Isabella, and two silver basins engraved with his crest (a cow’s hoof). The supervisors of the will were de la Vache’s widow, Sir Thomas Clanvowe and Edmund Hampden* (a comparatively recent acquaintance). De la Vache, who was issued with robes to wear at Windsor castle for the St. George’s day ceremonies of the Garter in 1408, died shortly before 28 May; and probate was granted on 22 June. Before his death, Sir Philip, whose marriage was childless, had made arrangements for the disposal of his estates. Accordingly, his trustees now sold ‘The Vache’ and Bury in Chalfont to William Whaplode*, and conveyed Heckfield and Newnham in Hampshire (which he had acquired only recently) to Richard Wyot*, one of his executors. The rest of his lands remained in the possession of his widow for her lifetime, but it was not very long before the valuable manors of Hook Norton and Kidlington were snapped up by Thomas Chaucer*, to whose feoffees they passed at Elizabeth de la Vache’s death in 1414.16 Sir Philip’s nearest kinsfolk were the Spigurnels of Dagnall, since 1390 represented by Anne or Amy, wife of John Kirkham. She duly had possession of his manors of Shenley, Aston Clinton and Barton until her own death without issue in 1427; and then, following the decease of her husband, these and other of the late MP’s properties were successfully claimed in the lawcourts by the Lords Grey of Wilton, whose title was based on an entail made by one of their de la Vache ancestors in 1308, precisely 100 years before Sir Philip’s death.