Before we start and at the risk of telling folk something they already know Scrope is pronounced “Scroop.” The Scrope family is one of the great northern families who arrived with the Conquest and gradually grew in power. They can be found in a number of official capacities down the centuries from the fourteenth century onwards including as Lord Wardens of the Western March. It should be added that like everyone else I’m reading about at the moment Richard Scrope was decidedly chummy with John of Gaunt. Goodman describes him as a mentor to the duke – after all Scrope had campaigned with Edward III since the early days of the Hundred Years War as well as during various Scottish conflicts (p289).
Richard was the son of Edward III’s chief justice. Sir William de la Pole, the canny Hull merchant who I mentioned in my previous post was Edward III’s financier at about the same time. He arranged the marriage between Richard Scrope and his daughter Blanche de la Pole in 1344. The couple had four sons before Blanche’s death in 1378.
Sir Richard, like many men of his generation, fought during the early campaigns of the Hundred Years War. He served initially in the retinue of The Earl of Warwick in France and later with John of Gaunt where he was an experienced warrior in a war band led by Gaunt who at that stage in proceedings hadn’t seen so much conflict. He appears on Gaunt’s list of knights from 1367 for the fee of £40 per annum. He was still receiving that fee when the duke died in 1399.
Scrope fought in every major campaign between 1346 and 1384 including at Crecy and the Siege of Calais. We know this from the events that followed the Scottish campaign of 1385. Goodman makes the point that soldiers of Scrope’s repute helped to recruit men who wished to serve in John of Gaunt’s retinue. As time passed younger men wished to serve Gaunt not only for the patronage and prestige of being linked to the house of Lancaster but also to rub shoulders with their military heroes (p 217) including Scrope.
In the meantime as well as garbing himself in fortune and glory whilst in France Scrope proved to be a canny businessman. He obtained the wardship of the three heiress daughters of Robert, Lord Tiptoft who died in April 1372. Tiptoft was reputed to have salvaged King John’s treasure from ‘The Wash’. Sir Richard paid 230 marks for to become the girls’ guardian. The three girls were betrothed to Scropes’ sons and are all left legacies in Scrope’s will. It should be added that by the time he died he was a wealthy man having purchased land all over the country including the Isle of Man.
Scrope’s links with John of Gaunt and the ties of the Lancaster Affinity are evidenced not only by his appearance of Lancaster’s list of retainers but is also evidenced through their shared patronage of the Franciscans at Richmond. Other donors also feature on Gaunt’s list of retainers. The men on the list, as might be expected given their lives working together also feature in other written records – namely wills and as witnesses on other legal documents. Scrope, for example, was one of William Ufford, earl of Suffolk’s executors. (Just to clarify this particular earl died without male heirs, the title lapsed and was filled three years later by Michael de la Pole another of John of Gaunt’s retinue.
Yet more evidence of the links between Scrope, John of Gaunt and other members of the Lancaster Affinity can be found in the case of Sir Richard Scrope versus Sir Robert Grosvenor from Cheshire. All the magnates turned out for war against the Scots in 1385. Not only did the campaign not go well for the English but there was the small matter of both Scrope and Grosvenor turning up with arms described in heraldic terms as azure bend or (blue with a gold stripe running diagonally from top left to bottom right). A General Proclamation was promptly made throughout the army that all who were interested in the dispute should appear on 20th August at Newcastle on Tyne to state their views in the matter. Unsurprisingly it took rather longer than a day to resolve the issue. More than three hundred depositions exist taken from thirteen different locations on behalf of both men pertaining to their rights to bear those particular arms. The question that the depositions answered was had the person giving their deposition seen Scrope or Grosvenor bearing those arms, were they aware of any prior usage within the family and had they ever seen the arms used by anyone else. The case lasted four years.
The depositions provide the information that Scrope first bore his arms during the reign of Edward III in 1359. One of the depositors on Scrope’s behalf was a knight called Sir John de Sully of Crediton in Devon. He was allowed to give his information from the comfort ofhis home – he was over a hundred years old at the time! Testimony was provided by none other that Geoffrey Chaucer- it is from his deposition that we learn that Chaucer ended up as a French prisoner of war during his various adventures. Amongst the people giving evidence were John of Gaunt.
Testifying for Sir Robert was a little known Welshman called Owen Glyndwr – possibly demonstrating that Fourteenth century Britain was a small place when all was said and done! The depositions were made to establish who used the arms and when – making them a gift for military historians wishing to piece together information about the specifics of a particular campaign. Judgement was eventually handed down in Westminster in Scrope’s favour and Grosvenor chose a new coat of arms which changed the bend or for the Chester wheat sheaf – that particular coat of arms is still used by the very unrural sounding dukes of Westminster. It should be added that the Grosvenor family remembered the loss of their coat of arms and in the 1880’s named a race horse “Bend Or.” It won the Derby.
Between 1371 and 1375 Scrope served as Lord Treasurer and was made Lord Chancellor in 1378, which post he held until 1380, but he then served again from 1381 to 1382. One of his roles was to curb the extravagance of the young king who installed toilets in his palaces and followed the fashion for curly toed shoes. Relations between Scrope and his king came to a rather sticky impasse as a result of the execution of Edmund Mortimer, Third Earl of March. Richard being a bit short of cash should made the most of Mortimer and his fellow conspirators having under age heirs. The lands and the heirs immediately came into Crown hands – wards were valuable commodities in that the person holding the wardship of an heir could milk the estates for their own benefit until the ward came of age and if they were canny the guardian would ensure that the ward was married into the guardian’s family. It was in a sense a way for Richard to make some quick cash by selling the various wardships to the highest bidder. Scrope suggested that this wasn’t the most sensible thing that Richard had ever done. It would make far more economic sense for Richard to keep the wards under his own control as the estates would generate revenue and could still be farmed out a later date. Richard II informed his Chancellor to do get on and do what he was told. Scrope persisted in trying to persuade Richard to hold on to the lands in question. Richard II did not like being told what to do and demanded the Great Seal back from Scrope. Scrope refused to comply until he’d had it from the king’s mouth rather than a messenger’s that he’d been dismissed from his post.
It should be added that Scrope appears to have been regarded as an honest man in that he was appointed executor to Edmund Mortimer’s will – so to say he must have experienced a conflict of interest might be an understatement!
In between going to war, running the country and fulfilling various legal commitments from his friends and peer group Scrope found time to be the Warden of the West March – a post he was appointed to in 1381. The post became something of a hereditary one in that the name Scrope features frequently as warden from that time hence until the post was abolished during the reign of James I of England (VI of Scotland).
It was perhaps fortunate in the aftermath of Richard II’s disagreement with Scrope that Scrope already had a licence to crenelate Castle Bolton. The project took him twenty years and £12,000. In the meantime his son William took on the role of warrior and politician rising to become the earl of Wiltshire – and loyal member of the Lancaster affinity. Richard Scrope died on 30 May 1403. He was buried at Easby Abbey.
MacFarlane, K.B. (1973). The Nobility of Late Medieval England. Oxford. Oxford University Press
Goodman, Anthony. (1992) John of Gaunt: The Exercise of Princely Power in Fourteenth Century Europe. London: Longman