The Stanfords of Stanford on Avon in the 14th Century

"The aftermath of the Black Death left the country short of labourers and craftsmen, and scarcity brought rewards for those that survived at a time when the feudal system was beginning to die. Professional soldiers like John FitzPeter de Staynford returning from the French campaigns with money in their pockets acquired farmsteads and smallholdings on favourable terms"

While the northern branch of the family dispersed eastwards from its cradle on the Ribble towards York and beyond, the descendants of Leuric of Stanford on the Avon underwent both migration into the southern counties and a rebirth in the west.

This southern branch appears to have been well educated compared with their first Norman masters, the offspring of the loutish soldiers of fortune that came over with the Conqueror. The Benedictine School at Stanford provided a thorough grounding in literacy and numeracy, as well as preparing suitable candidates for the Church. However, not for six generations after Hastings does the name Stanford start to appear in the records, then only sparsely here and there in the country districts of the west midland counties and, with the single exception of a Thomas de Stanford, who was admitted as a Freeman of Leicester in 1251, never in a town. The reason for this is not hard to seek.

Shortly after the battle of Crecy a terrible pestilence, known as the Black Death, entered the country from the Continent through the port of Bristol, and within a decade had carried off one-third of the entire population of England. The towns suffered appalling fatalities, and the smallest villages and hamlets fared not much better. The plague made no distinction between nobleman and commoner, and no section of the community escaped. Even Queen Philippa, the beloved wife of Edward III, fell a late victim to one of the Black Death's aftershocks, for the Grim Reaper moved through the realm scything down whole families at a stroke. Only in the north and northwest was the devastation not so severe, and this may explain how the family name came to survive there far better than in the south.

The aftermath of the Black Death left the country short of labourers and craftsmen, and scarcity brought rewards for those that survived at a time when the feudal system was beginning to die. Professional soldiers like John FitzPeter de Staynford returning from the French campaigns with money in their pockets acquired farmsteads and smallholdings on favourable terms. Their exploits, moreover, had engendered in the English country folk an enormous sense of national pride, and a knowledge that they were no longer under-dogs in their own land. If Jack was not yet as good as his master, as a professional soldier of the archer class, an independent landowner and skilled craftsman, he had a new worth and was respected....

At about this time, an important cluster of the Stanford family, well educated and holding church appointments appear in the western counties of Worcestershire and Herefordshire. As early as 1285, the register of the Bishop of Worcester lists a Master Richard de Stanford to be appointed Deputy (adiutor assignatus) to the vicar in the parish of Hagley. Two generations later two more Stanfords appear in the diocesan archives. On 25th October 1333, Master Giles de Stanford is appointed Clerk of the Hereford diocese, while a John Staunford is made acting Sequestor General on the 5th April 1334. This was an important office in the diocese involving the correction of offences, managing probates, and custody of vacant benefices. Giles may have been the father, or uncle of two young men, Hugh, listed as an acolyte on 5th April 1337, and Roger, who became a priest of the parish of Rock on 11th September 1340.

Closer examination of these families suggests that they did not arrive at Stanford-on-Teme as a result of a migration from the estates of Leuric of Stanford-on-Avon, but arose from a cadet branch of the same family holding the tenancy of the manor from Queen Edith, the daughter of Earl Godwin of Wessex and wife of King Edward the Confessor. Indeed the Doomsday Book of 1086 states that there were two manors at Stanford and Stanford Bridge on the Teme, the larger of two and a half hides was held by Godric from Queen Edith, the other across the way at Noverton was the holding of Britic, another of the Queen's tenants. Although the two estates together were not nearly so large as Leuric's huge holdings on the Avon, all three were royal manors held by the same Stanford family. This secondary cradle of our family, therefore, needs to be explored further....

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It is difficult to trace the movement of the Stanfords into Herefordshire, Warwickshire, Shropshire and Staffordshire over those six generations following the Conquest, but occasionally an important Stanford family records its presence on the migratory ripple expanding outwards from its origin.

One such family is headed by a Master Richard de Stanford, described as a Clerk, but probably an official of the Warwickshire County Court, who held lands at Wooten Warwen in 1287, the fifteenth year of Edward I. Richard had one recorded son John, who on his father's death held Wooten Warwen in 1322. When John died in 1359, he bequeathed the manor, (worth a caracate of land at a rental of 20 shillings due to the King,) to his surviving son, another John, by his wife Margery. John Stanford II, however, was a sickly young man who died childless in 1363/64 Our interest in that family, however, does not die with him.

John Stanford I had a daughter, Matilda, who had married Roger Harewell, younger brother of John Harewell, Bishop of Bath and Wells, who died in 1387, and they started a dynasty that grew in wealth and property over the generations by marriages to wealthy heiresses on the way up the social ladder. Their eldest son, Richard, became Canon of Wells Cathedral in 1397, following the ecclesiastical path of his uncle John, the Bishop. The third son, Thomas Harewell, married late, Iseult, the widow of John Salwey (q.v.) lord of the manor of Stanford-upon-Teme, in 1428, and held the manor until his death in 1444....

The next generation, too, brings together another important family connection. Roger and Matilda Harewell had four grandsons, John, William, Richard and Roger Harewell, all prosperous and fortunate in their parents' choice of marriage partner. That of the third son, Richard, seems to have been the most advantageous. Richard Harewell, already the lord of Shottery, near Stratford on Avon, married an Aston heiress who brought him considerable estates at Aston, Upper Middlehope and Broseley in Corve Dale, Co.Salop., together with a scattering of other Aston lands throughout the county. For in the three hundred years or so since the Conquest, the Astons, a wealthy family of landowners along the Welsh borders, had fanned out all over Shropshire, Herefordshire and Flintshire, and penetrated later into Cheshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire.

The Stanford relationship with the Astons of Corve Dale had, however, started several generations earlier. About twelve miles northwest of Stanford-on-Teme, and half that distance southeast of Corve Dale, lay a small manor now Wheathill hamlet, which, became the homestead of a family that spelt their name Staunford, the same way as John, the Sequestrator General of the Herefordshire diocese in 1344. Staunford is a rare variation of the spelling of our family name; so this important cluster undoubtedly originated from Stanford-on-Teme. Later evidence points to Richard Staunford as being our earliest recorded ancestor from whom we are descended in an unbroken line to the present day.

Richard Staunford was born at Wheathill about 1350. He was well educated, probably in the cathedral school at Hereford, and thereafter studied law. He undoubtedly was a very able man if, perhaps, overzealous in his official duties. He represented Stafford Town in the parliaments of 1382, 1386, 1388, 1391, 1399 and 1402, and is described as 'late the King's Bailiff for Stafford Town' in a 1403 writ suing him for murder of one, John Walshall. The writ stated that in the early evening of the Feast of St. Barnabas 1401, Richard Staunford, in company with Richard and John Ipstone, John Blakemere, John Henryson of Hopton, and Ralph Milleyn waylaid John Walshall and felonously assaulted him with premeditation. Both John Blakemere and Richard Ipstone struck John Walshall with their swords, Ipstone's blow cutting off Walshall's thumb, but John Blakemere's savage cut to the head with a two-handed sword killed the victim instantly.

Richard Staunford was released on bail until the following year; but when he appeared in court six months later, he produced Letters Patent, dated 4th February 1404, by which King Henry IV pardoned his 'late Bailiff of his town of Stafford for all felonies, treasons, etc. of which he had been indicted the preceding 7 September,' and he was acquitted. The fact that he was pardoned indicated that he was acting in his official capacity, and John Walshall died while resisting arrest.

Not Found Wanting, pp.28-32, abridged

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