CULPEPPER, John, of Isham, Northants. and Exton, Rutland.
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Family and Education
e. s. of Sir Thomas Culpepper (d.1429) of Upper Hardres and Bayhall, Kent, by his 1st w. Eleanor, yr. da. and coh. of Nicholas Green (d.c.1379) of Isham by his w. Joan Bruse of Exton and Conington, Hunts. m. by Feb. 1429, Juliana, at least 1da. Kntd. between Easter 1429 and Feb. 1430.1
J.p. Rutland 12 Feb. 1422-July 1424, 27 June 1432-Feb. 1434.
Sheriff, Rutland 15 Jan.-12 Dec. 1426, 10 Feb.-5 Nov. 1430, Northants. 26 Nov. 1431-5 Nov. 1432.
Commr. to raise a royal loan, Northants. Mar. 1431; make an arrest, Worcs. May 1432; of inquiry, Rutland May 1434.
The Culpeppers were a prominent Kentish family, and had lived for many generations in the south-east. Our Member’s paternal grandfather, Sir John (d.1413/14), was perhaps the most distinguished of his ancestors, since he rose to become first a King’s serjeant-at-law and then a j.c.p., although his son, Sir Thomas, was a far richer and more influential landowner. This was partly because of the latter’s first marriage to Eleanor, daughter and coheiress of Nicholas Green, who, in 1379, inherited her father’s manor of Isham and other property in Northamptonshire. On her death, at some point before July 1400, the manor descended to her son, the subject of this biography, who was then living there. Eleanor also possessed a title to her mother’s manors of Exton and Conington, together with the advowson of Conington church, and when her elder sister, Elizabeth Holand, died childless in 1421 these also passed to John Culpepper, who was returned to Parliament for the first time as representative for Rutland almost immediately afterwards. His father, Sir Thomas, did not die until 1429, at which time all the estates which he owned in Kent were divided between the three sons of his second marriage. Feeling, perhaps, that his eldest son was already sufficiently well provided for, he left him a single bequest of £40, made on the condition that he would neither contest his will nor disturb the work of his executors in any way. This legacy contrasts sharply with the generosity shown by Sir Thomas to John’s half-brothers, who each received a lump sum of 200 marks, as well as gifts of jewellery, costly vestments and plate. Culpepper’s share of his father’s property was, in fact, confined to the small plot of land in Bayhall which descended to him by virtue of the Kentish custom of gavelkind.2
Comparatively little information has survived about Culpepper’s career before he became an MP. As we have seen, he spent the first part of his life at Isham, before moving to Exton in about 1421; and it was thus that he became involved in the affairs of his kinsmen and neighbours, the Greens. In March 1414, for example, he acted as a feoffee-to-uses for Ralph Green* and his wife, who were then making a settlement of their extensive estates. Two years later he obtained royal letters of pardon for an outlawry incurred because of his failure to defend himself in court against a suit for debt brought by Agnes Lynne of London, to whom he owed £5. He probably continued to have dealings in the City, for in the late 1420s the celebrated grocer, William Burton I*, sued him for an unpaid bill of £2 which he never managed to recover. Culpepper had by this date established himself as a prominent figure in Rutland as well as Northamptonshire: in 1422 he took a seat on the Rutland bench, and during the next ten years he served a term as sheriff in both counties. Besides attending at least three Parliaments as Member for Rutland, he was present as sheriff and returning officer at the county elections of 1426, and as a witness to the returns in 1429, 1432 and 1433.3
Culpepper himself went to law in 1428, when he made an unsuccessful attempt to recover £25 from the parson of Conington. Since he himself had the right to present to this living, it may well be that the dispute had something to do with the advowson itself, although no further details of the case are now forthcoming. Our Member was involved in a far more serious quarrel at this time, probably as a result of his claim, through his mother, to certain land in Exton known as ‘the Zouche fee’. This had been sold in 1345 to one of the first Lord Zouche’s sons, and there is a strong possibility that some clash of interests over the property brought John into conflict with William, 5th Lord Zouche of Harringworth. Whatever the immediate cause of their disagreement, events seem to have taken a violent turn, for in February 1429 Zouche and his mainpernors offered the unusually heavy securities of £1,333 6s.8d. in Chancery that he would do no harm either to Culpepper or his wife. Both parties evidently reached a compromise, for no more hostilities seem to have broken out between them. This was not, however, the only occasion on which Culpepper’s hold on the property in Exton was challenged, or that he himself resorted to force in an effort to retain it. Trouble also broke out between him and Thomas Mulsho* whose father, John*, had obtained certain land in the area from Edmund, earl of Stafford, and who himself claimed the manor as a whole. The outcome of the dispute, which eventually came to the attention of the chancellor, is not recorded, but Mulsho alleged that he had been evicted ‘in manner of war’ by Culpepper and his wife. It was at about this time that the Culpeppers acted together as trustees for their neighbour, John Burgh III*, who conveyed some of his estates in Rutland to them and another influential local figure, Robert Browe*.4
The rest of John’s life passed peacefully enough without dramatic incident, and by the 1430s, if not before, he had become a leading figure among the gentry of the Midlands. This is clear from two appearances which he made as a mainpernor in 1431: for on the first he was able to join with Thomas Strange* and others in offering bail of £1,000 on behalf of Sir John Keighley; and on the second he stood as a guarantor for no less a person than the King’s uncle, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester. Moreover, he was listed, in May 1434, among the leading entry of Rutland who were to take the general oath imposed by Parliament in the previous year that they would not help persons breaking the peace.5 No further references occur to him after this date, so we may assume that he died within the next few years. He was certainly dead by February 1448, when his widow, Juliana, and her second husband, Robert Fenne, esquire, were confirmed in possession of the manor of Woodcroft in Northamptonshire. He left one daughter, named Katherine, who married first John Harrington and then Brian Talbot†. Since Culpepper had settled most of his estates upon her as early as 1432, she was a considerable landowner in her own right.6
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. CFR, xiv. 404-5; Reg. Chichele, ii. 382-5, 648; VCH Northants. iv. 190; VCH Rutland, ii. 128-9; CCR, 1419-22, pp. 169-70; 1422-9, p. 453; PRO List ‘Sheriffs’, 93; CP25(1) 192/9/4.
- 2. Reg. Chichele, ii. 382-5, 648-9; VCH Northants. iv. 190; VCH Rutland, ii. 128-30; CCR, 1402-5, p. 374; 1419-22, pp. 169-70; CFR, xiv. 404-5, Harl. Chs. 76G 45, 48, 49.
- 3. CPR, 1413-16, p. 190; 1416-22, p. 17; 1422-9, p. 430; C219/13/4, 14/1, 3, 4.
- 4. CPR, 1422-9, p. 443; CCR, 1422-9, p. 453; VCH Rutland, ii. 130; CP25(1)192/9/4; C1/7/114.
- 5. CFR, xvi. 38; CPR, 1429-36, p. 370; CCR, 1429-35, pp. 109-10.
- 6. CCR, 1447-54, p. 134; VCH Northants. iv. 190; VCH Rutland, ii. 128-9.