THORNBURY, Sir Philip (d.1457), of Little Munden and Bygrave, Herts.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Dec. 1421

Family and Education

s. and h. of Sir John Thornbury*. m. by Sept. 1396, Margaret, da. and h. of John Durham* of South Mimms, Mdx. by his 1st w. Joan, 2s. (d.v.p.) 1da. Kntd. by Mar. 1417.1

Offices Held

Commr. of inquiry, Herts. Nov. 1401 (robbery at Puckeridge), Feb., July 1436 (ownership of land at Thele), Feb. 1451 (felonies); oyer and terminer Mar., Sept. 1417 (evasion of labour services by bondsmen of St. Albans abbey), Bucks., Herts. Mar., July 1430 (complaints against the Cheyne family); to raise a royal loan, Herts. Mar. 1439.

J.p. Herts. 20 July 1424-Mar. 1437.

Assessor of a tax, Herts. Jan. 1436.


This MP is first mentioned in the spring of 1388, when he was a party to the conveyance of property near his father’s manor of Little Munden. As Sir John Thornbury’s only surviving son, he inherited a sizeable estate in Hertfordshire, which he and his widowed mother settled upon feoffees by a series of transactions begun in September 1396.2 In addition to his own holdings in and around Bygrave, Pillerton, Watton-at-Stone, Bennington and Little Munden (where he also rented land from Rowney abbey), he was able to acquire through marriage the neighbouring manor of Great Munden, as well as the reversion of certain tenements in London. Most of these came into his hands on the death of his father-in-law, John Durham, in the autumn of 1420, although he was obliged to bring an action in Chancery against one of the latter’s feoffees to recover the rest. Since he did not significantly enlarge his estates after this date, we may assume that he then enjoyed the annual income of £100 on which he was taxed some 16 years later.3

Thornbury’s connexions with the Durham family brought him into contact with a number of prominent local landowners, including (Sir) Thomas Charlton* and his particular friend, John Ludwick*, who made him one of his own trustees, and with whom he also acted as a feoffee-to-uses of John Durham’s property in the Hertfordshire village of Diggeswell. On becoming farmer of land in White Roding, Essex, in October 1399, Thornbury enlisted the services of both Ludwick and his father-in-law as mainpernors on his behalf at the Exchequer, while agreeing to act in the same capacity for them as lessees of property in Hertfordshire. He was also on close terms with Sir Edward Benstede*, who married one of his sisters at about this time. The two men made a number of enfeoffments upon each other, although Benstede died first, leaving Thornbury to supervise the division of his estates and probably to execute his will as well. Sir Edward was involved with Thornbury in a far less creditable incident, which took place in 1403, and led to their indictment on a charge of conspiracy against one Thomas Molynton, who, it was alleged, had been imprisoned in Hertford castle as a result of the false accusations made by them against him. Being men of considerable influence in the area, they easily secured a royal writ of supersedeas. Once again, Ludwick and Durham came forward to offer sureties for them, and the case disappears from the record.4

Meanwhile, as one of the administrators of his father’s estate, Thornbury faced a protracted lawsuit against the executors of William Gold, Sir John’s companion-in-arms, from whom he and his mother were eventually able to recover almost all the 4,200 marks owed to them. We do not know how successful they were in obtaining the additional sum of 2,000 marks which they claimed in damages, but it is clear that from 1398, at least, Thornbury was in possession of a considerable fortune. This is reflected in the grant to him, in February 1400, by Bishop Beaufort of Lincoln, of a licence to celebrate mass privately at the family home in Little Munden.5 From his father he also inherited a keen interest in military affairs, and soon he began campaigning overseas. In June 1404, he was granted royal letters of protection for an absence of three months on a naval expedition then being mounted by the bishop’s brother, Sir Thomas Beaufort, the admiral of England. In the following April he attended a muster at Sandwich prior to his departure for Guienne with Sir Thomas Swinburne*; and, in view of the general lack of information about him over the next few years, it seems likely that he remained abroad for a fairly long period. Back home by October 1411, he appears to have promised the living of Bygrave to a nominee of his kinsman, Thomas Field, dean of Hereford. Despite his influence as a royal clerk and diplomat, the latter failed to gain preferment for his candidate, possibly because of opposition from the abbot of St. Albans. Thornbury took part in the invasion of Normandy led by Thomas, duke of Clarence, in the late summer of 1412; he may well have been fighting once again in the retinue of Sir Thomas Beaufort (then earl of Dorset), who, following Henry V’s successful siege of Harfleur in 1415, retained him to serve in the garrison of the town. Having spent the first three months of 1416 in France, Thornbury returned to England, perhaps already possessed of a knighthood, and evidently remained there for the rest of his life.6 His real involvement in local government began one year later with his appointment to a commission of oyer and terminer in March 1417, and his first election to Parliament took place in the following autumn.

Sir Philip’s landed wealth, coupled with his reputation as a soldier, made him a prominent figure in county society, and it is rather surprising that he did not come to assume a more active role in administrative affairs. He was, however, in great demand as a witness to property transactions, most notably for John Hotoft* of Knebworth, treasurer of the household to Henry VI.7 The ‘SS’ collar displayed on his effigy at Little Munden church indicates that he himself was a retainer of the house of Lancaster, although no further evidence of his connexion with the Court has come to light.8 Indeed, all the known references to Sir Philip’s last years are essentially local in character. He acted as a feoffee for John Kirkby II, his parliamentary colleague of December 1421, and was involved in various conveyances of land in the home counties. In February 1430, we find him suing a neighbouring farmer for £6 8s., and at a latter date he and his wife began an action in Chancery for the recovery of the advowson of Great Munden, which had been withheld from them by one of John Durham’s Coffees. It was in June 1435 that Sir Philip obtained royal letters patent confirming a 13th-century grant of a weekly market and an annual fair at his manor of Bygrave, although in return the Crown approached him for a loan of £40 a few months later.9

Our Member’s dealings with the Armeburgh family, which seem to have occupied a considerable amount of his time between 1444 and 1453, are now difficult to understand, especially as the precise nature of his title to their extensive estates is by no means clear. In 1444, Joan and Robert Armeburgh settled their property in Warwickshire, Essex, Hertfordshire and Suffolk upon feoffees with a remainder to Joan’s ‘trusty friends’, among whom was Sir Philip, ‘here at all tymes true and faithfull kynnesman and friend’. By July 1452, he and Reynold Armeburgh, who also possessed a reversionary interest in the estate, were at odds with Ralph Holt over the question of ownership, and then offered him recognizances of 100 marks as a guarantee of their readiness to submit the matter to arbitration. The dispute was settled in their favour, but there is a strong possibility that Thornbury had been acting as a trustee for one of the other parties. He had certainly relinquished any title to the Armeburgh estates in Hertfordshire by 1456, for a settlement of all his holdings then made upon his only daughter, Margaret, does not even mention them.10

Save for this lawsuit and an unspecified disagreement with a husbandman at Cheshunt, Thornbury spent his last years in quiet retirement at Bygrave. An interesting light is shed upon his household there by indentures drawn up in 1448 between him and his cook, Richard Whiturk. According to his terms of employment, Whiturk was to receive a fee of 20s. p.a., clothing, fuel and a tenement at Little Munden, free of rent, for the rest of his life. He, for his part, undertook to serve Thornbury and his wife as ‘larder, catour and cook’ for as long as they both lived.11

Thornbury was already well over 70 when he made his will on 25 June 1452, although he lived on for another four years or more, dying shortly before February 1457. He was buried beside his wife in the parish church of Little Munden, where their tomb with its impressive effigies may still be seen. He had at least two sons, Richard and Thomas, both of whom predeceased him; and it is possible that the John Thornbury who went to France with Henry V in 1420 was another of his children. All Sir Philip’s estates descended to his only surviving daughter, Margaret, and her husband, Nicholas Appleyard.12

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. CAD, ii. B2567, 2570-1; PCC 49 Marche, 11 Stockton; C1/5/109; CPR, 1416-22, p. 87.
  • 2. CAD, ii. B2567, 2569-71, 2574; iii. D538; Feudal Aids, ii. 447-8.
  • 3. C1/5/109; E315/62, f. 7v; Corporation of London RO, hr 144/42, 152/68, 186/14; EHR, xlix. 634.
  • 4. CAD, ii. B2567, 2569, 2571; CFR, xii. 10, 16, 21; CCR, 1402-5, p. 287; 1409-13, pp. 418, 422; 1413-19, pp. 115-16; 1419-22, p. 192; CPR, 1401-5, p. 104; 1422-9, p. 539; C139/59/38; LR 14/587; Corporation of London RO, hr 163/46.
  • 5. Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 253-5; Lincs. AO, Reg. Beaufort XIII, f. 22v.
  • 6. E101/44/8, 47/39; CPR, 1401-5, p. 394; CCR, 1409-13, p. 293; J.H. Wylie, Hen. IV, iv. 73-87; Hen. V, i. 92.
  • 7. CAD, vi. C4608, 5360; J. Amundesham, Chron. S. Albani ed. Riley, ii. 185; CCR, 1399-1402, pp. 111, 308; 1409-13, pp. 293, 303, 312-13, 317; 1419-22, pp. 251-2; 1429-35, pp. 63, 159-60, 225, 251, 436, 439; 1435-41, p. 121; 1447-54, pp. 116, 425.
  • 8. VCH Herts. iii. 134.
  • 9. C1/5/109; C139/115/26; CAD, iii. D748; CPR, 1429-36, pp. 45, 461; PPC, iv. 328.
  • 10. Essex Feet of Fines, iv. 34; CCR, 1447-54, pp. 448, 473-4; VCH Herts. iii. 127, 320; J.E. Cussans, Herts. (Broadwater), 149.
  • 11. CCR, 1441-7, p. 483; CAD, iii. D1172.
  • 12. PCC 11 Stockton, 49 Marche; E404/36/23; VCH Herts. iii. 130, 134, 214-15; Cussans, 151-2; HP ed. Wedgwood 1439-1509, Biogs. 847-8, is wrong in describing John Thornbury† (d.1473) of Faversham as our Member’s son.