BEALKNAP, ROBERT DE.
CH. C. P. 1377.
See under the Reign of Edward III.
Robert Bealknap had very considerable possessions in the county of Kent before
he could have acquired them from the profits of his profession, we do not find
with certainty who his parents were, except that their names were John and
Alice.2 It is not improbable
that his father was a lawyer, as an advocate of that name occurs in the Year
Book of 20 Edward III. Robert's career
in the courts commences in 36 Edward III.; and we find him three years
afterwards one of the commissioners appointed by the king to enquire into an
inundation of the sea in the Isle of Thanet, and to secure the houses,
&c. In several of the following
years, also, he acted under commissions of a similar character in Kent.3 In 40 Edward III. he became a king's
serjeant, for which he had a salary of 20l. a year; with another of the
same amount as a justice of assize,—a duty which he frequently performed till
his elevation to the bench at Westminster.4 This event occurred on October 10, 1374, 48
Edward III., when he was constituted chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas
in the room of William de Fyn-
2Lord Campbell's Chief Justices, i. 113.
3Lewis's Isle of Thanet, 200.; N. Foedera, iii. 870. 952. 961.
4Liber Assisarum ; Devon's Issue Roll, 44 Edw. III., 369, 370.
cheden. Three months before, he had been sent to treat with the pope's nuncios as to the reformer Wicliff.1 He was knighted in 1385.2
Retaining his place on the accession of Richard II., he continued in the steady performance of his duties in court and in parliament for thirteen years. Only one incident of importance varied the quietness of this period of his life. In May, 1381, he was sent into Essex with a commission to bring to trial and punishment the insurgents who had risen against the poll-tax recently imposed. No sooner had the grand jury began to find the indictments, than they were broken in upon by the rioters, their heads chopped off and carried away on poles, and the chief justice was compelled to swear that he would hold no more such sessions. 3 It was perhaps on account of this oath that he was not appointed chief justice of the King's Bench on the death of Cavendish in the following month; but the circumstance that no personal injury was offered to him proves the respect with which he was regarded, and that the outrages of the people were not directed against lawyers as lawyers.
When the profusion of King Richard, and the arrogance of his favourites, had in October, 1386, induced the parliament to interfere, and not only to insist on the removal of the latter, but to impeach and convict the chancellor, Michael de la Pole, it is not improbable that Bealknap, from his position as a judicial assistant to the peers, contributed to the preparation of the ordinance, then passed and confirmed by the king, by which the executive government of the country was substantially placed in the hands of eleven commissioners, with a complete control over the public revenue. The Archbishop of York afterwards charged him with having devised it; but this was evidently without foundation.
1N. Foedera, iii., 1007. 1015.
2Leland's Coll. 185.
3Turner's Engl. ii. 245.
In the following year that prelate, with the Duke of Ireland, the Earl of Suffolk, and Chief Justice Tresilian, having stirred up the king to resist the encroachment on his authority, the judges were summoned to Shrewsbury to support this purpose by declaring the ordinance to be illegal. There a series of questions with answers, as some allege ready prepared, were submitted to them for signature. Bealknap refused for some time to sign the document, but the duke and earl threatening his life if he persisted, he at last submitted, exclaiming as he did so, "Now here lacketh nothing but a rope, that I may receive a reward worthie for my desert; and I know if I had not doone this I might not have escaped your hands; so that for your pleasures and the king's I have doone it, and deserved thereby death at the hands of the lords."1 The seals of all the judges present were accordingly attached to an act of council dated at Nottingham, August 25, 1387, 11 Richard II., containing the questions and answers, by which they declared the whole proceedings to be contrary to the king's prerogative, and all the promoters of them to be guilty of high treason; thus in effect condemning the commissioners and all the lords of parliament to the death of traitors.
The lords were not idle in securing themselves from the danger to which they were thus exposed; and adding this charge to many others, they appealed the four favourites, together with Nicholas Brambre, of treason, of which they were all convicted in the next parliament. It is said that on February 3, the day of its meeting, Sir Robert Bealknap and the rest of the subscribing judges were arrested while sitting in court; but this could not be, as Bealknap was removed and Robert de Charleton appointed his successor three days before. He was, however, conveyed to close
1Holinshed (1807), ii. 782.
imprisonment in the Tower. At the trial, on March 2, Bealknap pleaded the compulsion under which he signed, and prayed mercy; but the temporal lords, not admitting that excuse, found him and the others guilty, and adjudged them to be drawn and hanged as traitors, their heirs to be disinherited, and their lands and goods to be forfeited to the king. The spiritual peers who had previously retired from the house, the case being capital, now came forward and interceded for the lives of the unfortunate judges; whose sentence was ultimately commuted to that of banishment for life. The town of Drogheda, with three miles round it, was fixed as the retreat of Bealknap, and an allowance of 40l. was granted to him for his support. There he remained till January, 1397, 20 Richard II., when the parliament remitted this part of his punishment, and he was allowed to return to England; and in the parliament of the following year, the whole of the judgment was reversed, and the restoration of such of the forfeited lands as had not been alienated was decreed.1 But all the acts of this parliament were annulled immediately on the accession of Henry IV., so that the forfeiture remained in full force.
What advantage in respect to his estates Bealknap obtained in the interval does not appear, nor is the date of his death precisely known. It may be presumed, however, that he was no longer alive in January, 1401, 2 Henry IV., when his colleagues, John Holt and William Burgh, petitioned the parliament for a restoration of their lands; as if he had been he would no doubt have joined them in the application: and it is certain that he was dead when the prayer of their petition was granted two years afterwards. There is a case in the Year Book of 1 Henry IV. p. 1. relative to a writ of ward against the wife of Bealknap; but that refers to the
1Rot. Parl. iii. 233—244. 346. 358.
king's right on account of the judge's banishment1, and not on account of his death. By another case, in 2 Henry IV. Michaelmas, p. 7., it appears that the wife of Bealknap during his exile brought an action in her own name alone, and that it was decided that she could do so because her husband was attainted in law, and she was the king's tenant; Judge Markham observing,
"Ecce modo mirum, quod foemina fert breve Regis,
Non nominando virum conjunctum robore legis."
The date of this case does not appear, and it is only referred to in the report as analogous to one then before the court.
In the first of these cases the name of his wife is stated to be Sybell; but it is curious that in three records, two bearing an earlier and one a later date, she is called Juliana. The first of these refers to the manor de la Lebury, in Essex, which came to her in 46 Edward III. as next of kin and heir of Thomas Phelipp de Baldock2; the next is the entry on the Issue Roll of Easter, 12 Richard II., of the payment to her of the 40l. allowed for his sustenance in exile3; and the third is the inquisition on her death in 2 Henry V.4
The chief justice's son Hamon did not obtain the complete removal of the attainder till 4 Henry VI., when he recovered possession of his estates, which descended eventually to his grandson Sir Edward Bealknap, who was a privy counsellor in the time of Henry VII. and VIII. Dying without issue, the property was divided among his three sisters, one of whom married Sir William Shelley, a judge in the latter reign.
1The Report says, "religate al Gascoyne," an error probably arising from the name of Judge Gascoyne immediately following. Lord Ellesmere, quoting the Report, makes the same mistake. State Trials, ii. 677.
2Abbrev. Rot. Orig. ii. 319.
3Devon's Issues of Exch.
4Cal. Inquis., p. m., vi. 7. Her husband is erroneously called Richard.