THORPE, Sir Edmund (d.1418), of Ashwellthorpe, Norf.

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



Sept. 1397

Family and Education

1st s. of Sir Edmund Thorpe (1319-93) of Ashwellthorpe by Joan (d.1400), da. of Robert Baynard and sis. and h. of Thomas Baynard of Colkirk and Gately, Norf. m. (1) 6 Oct. 1368, Margaret, da. of Sir Richard de la River of Little Dunham; (2) between July 1387 and Mar. 1388, Joan (d. 3 Jan. 1415), da. of John Northwood of Northwood, Kent by Katherine, da. and coh. of Sir John Aspall of Stonham and Cowling, Suff., wid. of Roger, 4th Lord Scales, 2da. Kntd. bef. Mar. 1388.

Offices Held

Commr. of array, Norf. Mar. 1392; inquiry Apr. 1400 (wastes on Hastings estates); sewers Nov. 1408.

Mayor, Bordeaux 1 Aug. 1400-bef. Sept. 1402.

Envoy to redress infractions of the truce with Burgundy 28 Apr. 1418.


Edmund’s great-grandfather, John Thorpe (d.1324), had been summoned to Parliament by individual writ, and although none of his descendants were so honoured, members of his family continued to be ranked highly among the gentry of East Anglia. The Thorpes took their name from Ashwellthorpe, a few miles to the south-west of Norwich, and their substantial estates in Norfolk included manors in Wreningham, Fundenhall, Bunwell, Little Massingham and North Creake. Through marriage, our Sir Edmund’s father had acquired other properties at Colkirk and Gatley, while over the border in Suffolk he was in possession of manorial estates at Horham and Stradbroke. By 1380 the elder Sir Edmund could expect an annual income of at least £100 from his landed holdings. Edmund junior was to inherit all these family estates, with the exception of two manors in Norfolk and lands in Stradbroke which were reserved for the support of his younger brothers. His father, who had fought at Crécy and represented Norfolk in four Parliaments (in 1371, 1379, 1380 and 1384), made his will in 1393 at the age of 74, leaving family heirlooms to Joan his wife (who lived on until 1400) and then to Sir Edmund junior as the eldest of his four surviving sons.1

In 1368 Edmund, probably no more than a child, had been wedded to Margaret de la River, but no heirs to the Thorpe estates resulted from this union. When he married again, nearly 20 years later, his choice of a wife caused an immediate increase in his wealth and standing. On 3 Mar. 1388 he paid a fine of £20 to obtain a royal pardon for having married Joan, widow of Roger, Lord Scales, without first securing the King’s licence. Joan brought him considerable landed holdings: as her jointure from Scales she held the manors of Islington, Howe, Raynham and ‘Castlehall’ in Middleton, all situated near Bishop’s Lynn, and her dower lands included a third part of Haslingfield in Cambridgeshire. These properties were probably worth rather more than the £60 a year at which they were to be valued after her death.2 In addition, she held in her own right, as her inheritance from her mother, Katherine Aspall, the manors of Stonham Aspall and Cowling in Suffolk and Steeple in Essex; while from her father’s family, the Northwoods, she had inherited an interest in lands in Kent.3 Furthermore, in about 1394 Joan purchased the manor of Whittlesford in Cambridgeshire so that by 1412 her holdings in that county alone were valued as highly as £55 6s.8d. a year.4

Thorpe’s military career had commenced before he made this prestigious match. In April 1385 he had joined the company of Sir John Wingfield, then serving in the naval force commanded by Sir Thomas Percy as admiral of the northern fleet. It would appear that he was formally retained by Percy, who eight years later headed the list of trustees of the Thorpe estates as chosen by Sir Edmund himself. Percy, as vice-chamberlain of Richard II’s household, may well have been responsible for bringing him to the King’s notice; on 7 Jan. 1393 he was formally retained with a life annuity of 50 marks charged on the Exchequer. Clearly, when he was elected to Parliament in the autumn of 1397, in the company of Sir Nicholas Dagworth (an erstwhile knight of the Chamber), it must have been in the full expectation that he would support Richard’s extremist policies. Thorpe’s position of influence at Court was noted by the citizens of Norwich: in the following year they entertained him to a breakfast held ‘for the honour of the city’, and they asked him to present a supplication to the King on their behalf. On the eve of his departure for Ireland in Richard II’s train in April 1399 Thorpe obtained an exemplification of the letters patent relating to his royal annuity.5

Thorpe’s acceptance of the accession of Henry IV was made easy for him: on 22 Nov. 1399 the new King doubled his annuity (so that it now amounted to 100 marks), granting, furthermore, that henceforth it would be charged on the customs at Bishop’s Lynn, a town which was conveniently close to the Scales estates held by his wife. Furthermore, while King Henry was in the north of England in the summer of 1400 he appointed him mayor of Bordeaux. But Sir Edmund cannot have spent long periods of time in Gascony: he was summoned to the great council of August 1401, and that same month he was party to substantial recognizances enrolled in Chancery in association with Pontius, Lord of Castillon. These transactions were possibly connected with the charges of disloyalty made against him subsequently, which were to lead before September 1402 to his replacement as mayor. He petitioned the Parliament then assembled, complaining that he had been slandered by his servant, Hugh Crane, who, having fled from Gascony to England, had accused him to the King of ‘diverses et orribles maters’ perpetrated against the interests of the Crown; he requested that Crane be tried before Parliament, and that, ‘a conservacion de l’onur et chivalrie’, he himself should be restored to his former office. At the same time he asked for an audience with the King, or else with the Council, so that he might make a personal report on the state of Bordeaux which, he claimed, was ‘en point d’estre destruyt’. In the presence of the Lords, King Henry declared Thorpe to be his loyal subject, but nevertheless left the question of the mayoralty to be decided by the lieutenant of Guienne and, whatever the true story of Thorpe’s doings in Aquitaine, he was never re-appointed to office there. Indeed, he seems to have remained under a cloud for the rest of the reign.6

As an outcome of his marriage to Joan, Lady Scales, Thorpe had established some connexions of interest. His stepson Robert, 5th Lord Scales, had been a member of the Lords in 1397, when he had sat for the first time in the Commons, and his stepdaughter, Katherine Scales, had as her father-in-law Sir Arnold Savage I, the Speaker of 1401 and 1404. Thorpe enjoyed a close friendship with Sir John Howard* of Wiggenhall, whose mother was a sister of the 4th Lord Scales; they had much in common as Howard had also been retained by Richard II and had sat (for Essex) in the Parliament of 1397 (Sept.). Their association led eventually to the marriage of Thorpe’s daughter, Joan, to his friend’s nephew John, son and heir of Constantine, Lord Clifton of Buckenham. (Thorpe was a trustee of the Clifton estates in 1411 and the match was made not long afterwards.) Then, too, Sir Edmund served as a feoffee of the estates of Joan Walton, the wife of Sir Thomas Erpingham KG, who had previously been married to Howard’s son.7

The will made by Sir Edmund’s wife at Michaelmas 1414 contained monetary bequests amounting to £200 and provision for Thorpe’s occupation of her manors of Stonham, Cowling and Whittlesford for the rest of his life. After Joan’s death, in the following January, Thorpe set about arranging the union of two small benefices in the neighbourhood of Ashwellthorpe: St. Peter’s Neyland and All Saints Great Wreningham. Having devoted some energy to the consolidation of his landed holdings in the vicinity (his plan included the purchase of ‘Belhouse Hall’ in Wreningham as well as two moieties of the rectory there), he obtained Archbishop Chichele’s approval for his proposals early in 1416.8

Meanwhile, Thorpe’s royal annuity had been confirmed by Henry V, and even though by 1415 he must have been well advanced in years, he had responded to the challenge of the King’s first military expedition to France. He enlisted as a lieutenant of Thomas Beaufort, earl of Dorset, and probably remained with Beaufort at Harfleur after the town fell in September, at least for a few months. Furthermore, he entered a contract for service in the second invasion of Normandy, being mustered at Southampton in July 1417 with a personal following of nine men-at-arms and 33 archers.9 As part of the preparations for this last undertaking, Thorpe had made a will, dated 1 May, to which he had appended on 2 June his wishes with regard to the future settlement of his estates. Asking to be buried next to his second wife in a new chapel to be built in Ashwellthorpe church, he left chapel ornaments, service books, vestments and the sum of £15 for this purpose. For repairs to other churches on his estates he left £14, while Weybourne priory was to have £20, the Carmelites of Norwich £7, and every other friary in the city £2. Among the bequests to members of his family were sums of £20 to his brother, Robert, and 100 marks each to Robert’s sons, Edmund and John, while his own daughters, Joan, Lady Clifton, and Isabel, wife of Philip Tilney, were to have items of jewellery including sapphire rings. His servants were left sums of money totalling £42. Thorpe’s estates were to be retained by trustees for seven years, during which period his debts were to be paid and the provisions of his will carried out, and then they were to be divided between his daughters with successive remainders in the event of the failure of their issue to his brother and nephews, his ‘nephew’ Guy Corbet, Guy’s sisters, Agnes, wife of William Rookwood*, and ultimately to Sir Simon Felbrigg KG.10

In October 1417 Thorpe was at Alençon with Henry V’s army and in the following April he was one of those appointed as commissioners to redress infractions of the truce between the King’s Norman subjects and those of the duke of Burgundy. He and his followers were recorded as camped before Louviers on 9 June 1418; but before the town yielded on the 23rd, he had died. His body was apparently brought back for burial at Ashwellthorpe where the impressive alabaster tomb built for him and his wife still remains.11

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. CP, xii (1), 717-25; F. Blomefield, Norf. v. 119, 140, 142-51. The elder Sir Edmund’s will (Norf. RO, Reg. Harsyk, ff. 183-4) is now illegible.
  • 2. CP, xi. 502-3; CIPM, xvi. 486-7; CPR, 1385-9, p. 415.
  • 3. J. Copinger, Suff. Manors, ii. 353; v. 205-6 (where Joan’s mother Katherine is confused with John Spencer’s* wife of that name); Blomefield, ix. 23; CP25(1)223/112/9; Essex Feet of Fines, iii. 177, 255; CCR, 1405-9, p. 500; Arch. Cant. ii. 36-37.
  • 4. VCH Cambs. vi. 406; Feudal Aids, vi. 406.
  • 5. E101/40/39; CPR, 1391-6, p. 206; 1396-9, pp. 525, 529, 531; Recs. Norwich ed. Hudson and Tingey, ii. 41, 51.
  • 6. CPR, 1399-1401, pp. 129, 143; C61/107 m. 6; PPC, i. 158, 163; Cal. Signet Letters ed. Kirby, no. 45; CCR, 1399-1402, p. 332; RP, iii. 516.
  • 7. Arch. Cant. lxx. 69; CP, iii. 308 (where Margaret Howard is wrongly given as Sir John’s daughter); ix. 757-8; CPR, 1408-13, p. 274; CCR, 1422-9, p. 175.
  • 8. PCC 32 Marche; C138/7/14; William of Worcestre, Itins. ed. Harvey, 245; Reg. Chichele, i. p. cii; iii. 372-81.
  • 9. CPR, 1413-16, p. 157; DKR, xlviii. 565, 581; E101/51/2.
  • 10. Reg. Chichele, ii. 143-9. Thorpe was a trustee of Rookwood’s lands in Suff.: CPR, 1422-9, p. 141.
  • 11. Rot. Norm. ed. Hardy, 357; DKR, xli. 683, 711; Norf. Arch. xxxiv. 253-8.