yeovil people

John Stourton MP

Of Preston Plucknett


John Stourton was the younger son of John Stourton of Stourton, Wiltshire, by his second wife Alice (d 1407).

The family of Stourton, resident at Stourton in the southwest corner of Wiltshire, was already of some standing by the end of the fourteenth century, but owed its prominence in the fifteenth very much to John’s elder brother, William (the Speaker of the House of Commons of 1413), and to William's son John, who was created Lord Stourton by Henry VI. John, while closely allied to his brother was, in comparison, less prominent in national affairs.

The Stourton family, by way of John's brother's grandson, William Stourton, would become the Lords of the Manor of Kingston in Yeovil for twelve generations.

John Stourton’s early activities, regularly recorded after 1399, were usually performed in William’s company, or else concerned his affairs; and it is of significance that he himself was not returned to Parliament until after his brother’s death. Like William, John seems to have trained as a lawyer. From his work on royal commissions it is clear that his interests and activities were predominantly concerned with Somerset, rather than with his native county of Wiltshire, while his personal leanings led to an involvement in the affairs of the local ecclesiastical authorities. As steward of the estates of the diocesan bishop he was to enjoy influence over a wide area in the county, and his other dealings, particularly with the cathedral at Wells and the priory at Stavordale, indicate a man of firm orthodox views. These would seem to have been formed by his family upbringing: another brother, Master Richard Stourton, became a canon at Wells, and a sister, Margaret, was a nun, who from 1423 to 1441 presided as abbess of Shaftesbury.

Stourton was instrumental in the foundation of a chantry at Yeovil in 1410, in a grant for the maintenance of Montacute priory in 1411, and, after his first wife’s death, in the benefaction of a chantry at White Hall priory, Ilchester. His inclusion on the royal commission to seek out lollards in Somerset and Dorset in 1414 comes as no surprise, and in July 1422 the Crown paid him £13 6s 8d as part of a gift of twice that sum for capturing Thomas Payne of Glamorgan, a heretic and ‘late clerk and servant of Sir John Oldcastle’. Payne, a notorious conspirator, had escaped from the Tower of London on the night of 11 April along with two prisoners of war, whom Stourton also recaptured.

Stourton’s estates, mostly acquired through marriage, nearly all lay within the county of Somerset. His first wife’s father had held the serjeanty of East Perrott, the manors and advowsons of Radstock and Wheathill, and lands and rents in Lovington and from the bedelry of the hundred of Wells ‘Foreyn’, which, together with a portion of the manor and advowson of East Lydford, were worth about £43 a year. At Michaelmas 1404 he brought a suit against the local bailiff for attempting to usurp the franchise of return of writs within the limits of the serjeanty, which he held in right of his wife. Stourton purchased the manor and advowson of Pendomer in 1407, and he also held lands at Marston Bigott and Woodford and property in Bridgwater.

At Preston Plucknett, his home, (acquired around 1380) he built the manor house, later Preston Great Farm and today known as Abbey Farm. According to the 1412 assessment his lands in Somerset were then valued at £66 13s 4d a year and he also declared that he possessed holdings in Devon worth £10 and the manor of Wyke in Dorset worth £4. In addition, he later acquired the reversion of the manor and advowson of Brympton, and, through his third marriage, four more manors in Somerset. As well as this Stourton received several temporary grants of land from the Crown. In May 1400 he had shared with William Yerde the keeping of the valuable manor of Fremington, Devon, forfeited by the rebel earl of Huntingdon; along with his brother, William, from November 1412 he occupied the Wiltshire estates late of their brother-in-law, Sir John Beauchamp of Bletsoe; and before William’s death in the following year they had paid £20 of the £100 required for the right to dispose of the marriage of Beauchamp’s heir, their nephew. Together with Sir William Hankford, John Stourton enjoyed possession of his own brother’s lands and the disposal of the marriage of his only son John alias Jenkyn in 1413, and it was no doubt they who arranged for the younger John Stourton to marry the daughter of a former judge and colleague of Hankford’s, Sir John Wadham.

After John junior came of age in 1421 (around which time he built St James' church, Preston Plucknett) he sat in the House of Commons in December that year as a knight of the shire for Wiltshire, while his uncle represented Somerset. Together, and in association with Sir Giles Daubeney and Ralph Bush, in 1426 they were granted custody of premises previously held by John Kendale. In the following year the elder John shared with (Sir) Thomas Brooke an Exchequer lease of property in Taunton. But the most important grant of this kind that he ever received was the joint guardianship of the temporalities of the bishopric of Bath and Wells following on the death of Nicholas Bubwith in 1424. For more than six months he and John Reynold, a canon of Wells, performed this office, rendering £872 7s.9d., after certain allowances, at the Exchequer, and while discharging their duties they made the Crown a loan of 600 marks, for which they received as security for repayment an assignment on the wool subsidies. It is likely that Stourton had been serving as steward of the estates of the bishopric before Bubwith’s death, for he had been so close a personal associate as to be named an executor of his will. Certainly, he occupied the stewardship under Bubwith’s successor, Bishop Stafford, probably in return for a fee of £20 p.a. He was still settling the terms of Bishop Bubwith’s will as late as July 1437, and in his own testamentary depositions he referred to a grey ‘ambler’ horse ‘which I had of the receiver of the Lord Bishop of Bath’.

Stourton attended several elections to Parliament held in Somerset (including those of 1407, 1410, 1414 (Apr.), 1421 (May), 1425 and 1431), and by virtue of his office as sheriff he presided over those conducted at Ilchester on 7 April and at Dorchester on 14 April 1432.

His business and social connexions have left innumerable traces: William, Lord Botreaux, Sir Humphrey Stafford II, Sir William Sturmy, Robert Hill and William Carent (the husband of his niece, Margaret) were all local landowners with whom he was associated. He was especially close to Botreaux, for whom he witnessed the contract of marriage for his daughter to marry Sir Walter Hungerford’s son, and acted as a trustee of extensive estates. Before 1421 Lord William gave him an annuity for life of £10. On one occasion the dean and chapter of Wells paid him £1 for executing a writ on their behalf, and a number of the chapter’s deeds bear his name as a witness.

Stourton’s dearest love among the religious foundations of Somerset was the small house of Augustinian canons at Stavordale in the south-east of the county. In fact, he himself paid for the rebuilding of their church (consecrated in 1443 after his death) and also made arrangements for the endowment of the priory with his advowson of Thorn Coffin. It was there that Stourton wished to be buried. He stipulated that his body should be carried to Stavordale in his best wagon drawn by ten prize oxen, the wagon and beasts then ‘to remain at the said house for a memorial of my soul’. The prior was to have £2 and every canon £1 on the day of his burial. His executors were to supervise the completion of the church and cloister ‘as well in glazing the widows as in other buildings there to be done’, and the church was to be ‘throughout honestly paved with Tyle of my arms and the arms of my mother’. He also willed that two images carried thither by me shall be ordained and placed in the middle of the choir of the said church, between the stalls there, and that underneath shall be made a certain tomb, ordained and walled for the bodies of me and my wife to be placed therein reasonably and honestly after our death, with one closet of iron bars around the said tomb; and that the lectern shall be at the head of the said tomb.

Much of the rest of Stourton’s will was concerned with farm implements, stock and domestic effects, including 14 oxen, ploughs, yokes, iron chains, ‘dragges’, harrows and other articles connected with husbandry, 200 sheep, brewing vessels and the equipment of the ‘bake house’. There was also a valuable relic, a silver cup ‘which belonged to St. Thomas the Martyr’. To his nephew, (Sir) John Stourton, he gave his ‘good psalter which belonged to William his father’, together with vestments of blue cloth of gold and plate and silk for his chapel, but the executors were warned that should the younger man not be satisfied with these bequests in respect of items that had been his father’s, they should not allow him to receive them. To his niece, Margaret, and her husband, William Carent, Stourton bequeathed a gold rosary, and to the latter ‘for his labour and friendship’ £10 and a black horse. John Godewyne, executor of his will and also of that of his deceased brother, Master Richard, was to have £10 too. Stourton’s executors were also instructed to make a tomb at Dawlish Wake of ‘two images, one of a man armed and the other of a gentlewoman, designed for a memorial of John Keynes and his wife’ (probably the testator’s sister). The will, dated to November 1438, prohibited any great expense at Stourton’s funeral: the amount usually spent on such occasions (up to £20) was to be distributed among the poor.

John Stourton died on 16 December 1438.

John Stourton left three daughters, each by a different wife, and his estates were divided between them. The eldest, Cecily, the widow of John Hill of Spaxton (for whom Stourton had acted as executor in 1434), was now the wife of Sir Thomas Kyriel of Sarrecourt, on the Isle of Thanet, currently making his reputation as a soldier; the second, Joan, was married to John Sydenham of Bridgwater; and the third, Alice, was aged seven and as yet unmarried. (Later she was wedded first to William Daubeney of South Ingleby, by whom she became the mother of Giles, 1st Lord Daubeney, and then to Robert Hill of Houndstone, nephew of his namesake of Spaxton). Stourton’s widow married secondly Sir John Beynton of Hampreston, Dorset, thirdly William Wadham, and lastly William Carent (the same person as had previously been the husband of Stourton’s niece); she survived John by nearly 35 years, eventually dying in 1473.


Adapted from the History of Parliament Online