John Pole of Hartington (the picture is of Hartington Church) in Derbyshire held some important offices in the Duchy of Lancaster – not least being the steward of the High Peak – which I think you’ll agree is a rather wonderful title as is the title of forester of Crowdecote – another of John’s nice little money spinners. The Crowdecote office came with the purchase of land which appears to have occurred shortly after Pole inherited the family lands in the area. The Parliamentary website also suggests that it was the purchase of the land at Crowdecote which first brought Pole into the orbit of Gaunt’s sphere of influence certainly it was from this time that Pole acquired grazing rights to land in Hartington in the ownership of Gaunt as part of the Duchy of Lancaster (Hartington had been in the hands of the Ferrers family until involvement with de Montford’s rebellion saw his estates ending up in the hands of Edmund of Lancaster).
We probably shouldn’t be too surprised, either, to learn that Pole became a member of parliament following his links to Gaunt – it is pure supposition to consider the idea that Pole purchased the land at Crowdecote with the single aim of improving his political and financial standing by hooking up to the Lancaster bandwagon but it certainly isn’t outside the realms of possibility.
In 1381 Pole can be found suppressing revolting peasants – a role which he continued throughout his career in Gaunt’s service as in 1386 he is on the record arresting people following unrest in Worksop. Ironically it was probably his role as an assessor of tax in 1379 that led to the unrest in the area in 1381! He is also noted as being sent off in 1395 to lean on juries in Staffordshire along with other men in Gaunt’s retinue…suddenly its all sounding very mafia-ish.
More importantly so far as history’s knowledge of Pole is concerned is his keenness to take people to court – lawyers are good at written records and consequentially we know quite a lot about him. He first appears in 1376 suing someone from Alstonfield for poaching and there are also records of him suing his own family over the inheritance of the manor of Sheen which had been split for a number of years due to the way it was inherited but when the manor was finally reunited under John’s tenure he promptly sued the previous occupants for laying waste the estate – presumably they weren’t too happy about the fact that the manor was ultimately going into John’s hands and took what they could whilst the going was good. Ultimately another John Pole would sell the manor of Sheen to Edward IV.
Our fourteenth century Pole appears to have recognized which side his bread was buttered and became on of the duchy’s most loyal supporters in the region. In return he gained preferential rates for grazing in the High Peak as well as an annuity of £10 a year as one of Gaunt’s retainers – crucially both in times of peace and war. He was newly knighted in 1386 when he set off for Spain with John of Gaunt and Constance or Constanza of Castile in John’s abortive campaign to claim the Spanish throne. Fortunately for Pole he avoided succumbing to the disease that rampaged through Gaunt’s army and returned to Derbyshire.
When he returned to England he appears to have continued extending his land holdings in Derbyshire and Staffordshire. His behaviour either on his own behest or for his master seems to have caused major disagreements with the abbot of Dieulacres in 1395.
Dieulacres, a Cistercian Abbey near Leek, had a bit of a reputation! The abbot was prone to suggesting that it was put upon but the Victoria County History for Staffordshire paints a rather different picture as this extract demonstrates:
The abbey appears as aggressor as much as victim in numerous breaches of the peace in the area during the later Middle Ages, the abbot maintaining armed bands like any troublesome lay magnate. A royal commission of inquiry in 1379 recited ‘information that one William, Abbot of Dieulacres, desiring to perpetrate maintenance in his marches and oppress the people’, had kept a band of 21 retainers ‘to stay with him . . . to do all the mischief they can to the people in the county of Stafford and that they have lain in wait for them, assaulted, maimed, and killed some, and driven others from place to place until they made a fine with them’. In 1380 a similar group was indicted for having beheaded John de Warton at Leek by command of Abbot William. The abbot surrendered and was imprisoned, but he was soon pardoned and released. At the beginning of Henry V’s reign the county was in a very disturbed state, and among the many indictments was one involving a monk of Dieulacres and a servant of the abbot. They were accused of being members of a group of 80 who had broken into William Egerton’s park at Cheddleton in 1413 and stolen ironstone.
So the dispute between Pole and the Cistercians was probably a rather lively one which has been relegated to a passing footnote of history. 1395 also saw Pole being charged with the illegal use of hunting dogs – whether it was connected to the abbot is another matter entirely.
Pole was probably dead by 1397 because he disappears from the register and his son, another John, is described as a minor. John senior’s widow, Isobel, went on to marry Sir Thomas Beek, another member of Gaunt’s retinue. Isobel and Sir Thomas appear in the records in several land ownership cases at the time as well as sueing Henry Marion, William Perkson, William de Tyderyngton and Hugh del Grene, for treading down and consuming her grass at Alstonfield – I should add that it was the cattle of the aforementioned doing the trampling and eating!
The family tradition for suing all and sundry was maintained by young John when he came of age because he promptly sued his mother and step-father for failing to account for their stewardship of his estates – including at Alstonfield- the general feeling being that they had lived rather well on the proceeds.
I have the feeling that I will be returning to the Poles at some point. And before anyone asks; I know that they were related to the Poles of Radbourne in Derbyshire and linked to the Chandos family but not to the de la Poles (dukes of Suffolk) or to the Pole family who were Henry Tudor’s cousins (Henry married off Margaret Plantagenet- daughter of the duke of Clarence- to his cousin Sir Richard Pole – she went on to become the Countess of Salisbury and was brutally executed by Henry VIII). I should add that that particular Pole family came from Cheshire. A casual glance at the map reveals that it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that the two families were somehow linked but the two sets of Poles were distinctly separate entities so far as known history is concerned.
G C Baugh, W L Cowie, J C Dickinson, Duggan A P, A K B Evans, R H Evans, Una C Hannam, P Heath, D A Johnston, Hilda Johnstone, Ann J Kettle, J L Kirby, R Mansfield and A Saltman, ‘Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Dieulacres’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3, ed. M W Greenslade and R B Pugh (London, 1970), pp. 230-235. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol3/pp230-235 [accessed 22 August 2017].
POLE, Sir John de la (d.c.1397), of Hartington, Derbys. and Alstonfield, Staffs. 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