1611, Robert Swinglehurst and other royal tenants in Yorkshire seek legal security

Robert Swinglehurst, John Proctor and other tenants of the crown, of the manor of Sladburne, Yorkshire. SP 14/61 f. 128 (1611)

To the right honourable the Earle of Salisbury Lord High Treasaurour of England.

The humble peticion of Robert Swinglehurst and John Proctor, with others of his majesties tenantes of the mannour of Sladburne in the countie of Yorke.

That whereas your peticioners holde dyvers landes of the said mannour by coppie of court roule, to them and their heires, accordinge to the custome thereof. Which landes, by meanes of certein suites brought against the said tenantes, in defence whereof the tenantes have spent above 500 pounds that the same are noe parcell of the possessions of the Dutchie, in whose jurisdiction the same lye and for that question hath bene made, that their coppiholde estates canot bee good, in regarde noe coppiholde estate can bee created, de nova, without some acte of Parliament thereupon to bee made, which acte have bene of late passed for confirmacion of the same coppiholde estate, upon composition of the tenantes, with his majestie or the comissioners thereunto appointed.

Humblie your peticioners beseech your good honour, that you would bee pleased, to admitt them presentlie, to make composition accordinge to the said acte, for their said landes, in respect of their often attendance thereupon, orells the next terme at the furthest, for which cause they must come upp purposlie, and that thereby they maie have their fines certein of their landes, and receave the benefitt of the said acte of Parliament accordinge to his majesties pleasure, and they all shall dailie praie to God for your honours longe and prosperous health.

[Paratext:] If thes copieholders come to compound they may repaire home and retourne back the next terme, at which time they shall bee hearde; but if they have any purpose to buy, lett them attend my Lord and other the comissioners for sales on Wednesday next in the afternoone. / 13 February 1610 / R Salisbury

Report by Penny Bidgood

Although this petition covers a particular case it should be seen in light of proposals by Salisbury and his predecessor as Lord Treasurer, Thomas Sackville, first Earl of Dorset, to revise the state of copyholders.  Copyhold was a customary tenure; copies could not be legally valid unless they met the test of custom i.e. that they had existed “from beyond the memory of man”.(1)  Copyholders held their land under agreement with the Crown through the Duchy of Lancaster in this case.  They held a copy of the entry made in the rolls which recorded the possession of a holding on agreed terms.  There was a Court official who oversaw transfers of copyhold land and enforced payments of services due to the landowner.  During the 16th century copyhold started to be replaced by leasehold; it was finally abolished in 1922.(2)

The Duchy of Lancaster had, on a number of occasions in the 16th century granted new copies which whilst convenient were technically insecure.(1) Dorset wanted to sell copyholds and, by 1606 calculated that he could raise £40,000 for the Duchy by these means.  Between 1607 and 1610 the Duchy tried to raise money by questioning the validity of the copies of its tenants on its northern manors.  Dorset’s chief surveyor, John Hercy, was commissioned in February 1608 to negotiate with those willing to purchase their copyholds and their offers are marked on a number of surveys he made.  However, Dorset died in May 1608 and Salisbury became Lord Treasurer.  He had a different policy – instead of enfranchising the copyholders he wanted to change the ways copies were granted.    Hence all 202 Crown stewards and neighbouring justices were given instructions for assessing fines.  Among the 606 instructions, for example, was one which allowed claims that could be justified in the court rolls, but not necessarily otherwise.  However by November 1609 few copyholders had complied.(1)

In this petition, Robert Swinglehurst, John Proctor, and others who were tenants of the Crown, want to be allowed to “make composition”, i.e. pay an annual sum, for their tenures which are called into question as not belonging to the Duchy of Lancaster.

The Slaidburn Manor Court Rolls(2) record how the tenancy of farms and other land could descend to tenants’ heirs, on payment of a fee called a fine.

Salisbury’s response to the petition is to suggest that if the copyholders want to compound they can go home and return later; alternatively they can attend on the following Wednesday.  We do not know what they chose to do and have no direct evidence of what happened. However, in a similar petition, the tenants of Manningham hamlet in Bradford attended the Chancellor of the Duchy at Michaelmas 1610.  As in this case they were allowed to return home until recalled, which it seems they never were.(1)

Robert Swinglehurst

Robert Swinglehurst(3) was the elder son of John Swinglehurst  (c1550-c1618) and Elizabeth Marsden of Pale  who were married in 1582 and grandson of another Robert Swinglehurst (1515-1576)  and Alice Parker who married in  1540.  Each generation had lived at Fair Oak House (or Fair del Holme ie fair water meadow). Richard, Robert’s younger brother, became Bishop of Chester.

John Swinglehurst,(3) described as master of Fair Oak, was much impressed by the teachings of the Reverend Rodger Brierley, who founded a new sect in Grindleton, known as the Brierlists or Grindletonians; they were more puritanical than general at that time.  There is still a house in Grindleton called Swindlehurst house but which probably did not belong to this branch of the family.  An entry 18 April 1618 notes: “John Swinglehurst buried, he died distract (i.e. distraught), he was a great follower of Brierley”.

The Swinglehursts had tenancy of several properties; for example, they had lands in Bowland,(4) Myerscough, etc in Yorkshire and Lancashire which were granted by patent from the King, under seal of the Duchy of Lancaster, for £200 to Edward Badbie and William Weldon of London reserving fee farm rents.  Earlier in the 17th century John and Robert had acquired land at Fold by the Grease (or Greave) and leased land on the Grindleton and Chatburn areas at such places as Chatburn Flote and Bold Croke; a survey of Bowland Woods in 1610 records John had carbige land on ground called the Fence with 30 acres fit to be a coppice.  In 1626 the Rolls of Manor Court of Chipping names Robert Swinglehurst, gentleman, as among the tenants.

In 1615 Robert had a son with a Marie Clarke to whom he was not married; this son, John, was christened on 12 February in Chipping, Lancashire.  Later, in c1618, Robert described as “gentleman”, married Elizabeth Thompson the widow of Richard Falkingham by whom he had four more children – Ann in 1618, another John in 1619, Mary in 1620 and Alice in 1621. They were all christened in Chipping, Lancashire and their father is described as Robert Swinglehurst of Feardock Holme, Lancashire, gentleman.   John died in infancy and both Ann and Alice died in 1633.(3)

In 1632-35 Robert Swinglehurst had lease of Fair Oak from the late King; in 1637 Robert purchased the fee farm inheritance of Fair Oak.

In 1642, during the Civil War Robert became a Captain in the royalist forces; Christopher Harris, son of Gervase Harris of Torrisholme Hall in Morecambe, Lancashire was a young lieutenant under him.  In 1644 they went to York to join Prince Rupert and were involved in the battle of Marston Moor which saw heavy casualties on the Royalist side. Robert was maimed and returned to Fair Oak where he died within a year.  He was buried in Grindleton, Waddington on 21 February 1644/45. Christopher Harris married Robert’s sole surviving child and heiress, Mary, who conveyed her father’s estate to her husband.

Fair Oak was seized by the state in the Commonwealth period, as were other lands of the Harris family.(4)


(1) Richard Hoyle, ‘“Vain projects” the Crown and its copyholders in the reign of James I’, English Rural Society 1500-1800: Essays in honour of Joan Thirsk, ed. by John Chartres and David Hey (1990), ch. 4

(2) Slaidburn Court Rolls, https://www.thornber.net/famhist/htmlfiles/manor.html

(3) Swidelhurts United, family tree 1600-1699, https://www.swindlehursts-united.co.uk/2016%20update/FT/1600-1699.pdf

(4) ‘Townships: Bowland with Leagram’, in A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 6, ed. William Farrer and J Brownbill (London, 1911), pp. 379-381. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/lancs/vol6/pp379-381


This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, 1600-1625’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.