THIRLWALL, John (b.c.1332), of Alstonby, Cumb.

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



Family and Education

b.c.1332, yr. s. of John Thirlwall (d.c.1342). m. by May 1368, Christine, prob. 1s.1

Offices Held

Commr. of array, Cumb. 1379; to make arrests May 1380,2 Nov. 1386; of inquiry Nov. 1385 (murder of a priest at Denton).

Dep. to Henry, earl of Northumberland, and his successor, John, Lord Neville, as keeper of Carlisle castle bef. 4 Dec. 1384-aft. 28 July 1385;3 controller of payments for the repair of the castle and the defences of Carlisle 20 Feb.-aft. 20 May 1386.

Sheriff, Cumb. 11 Dec. 1384-20 Oct. 1385, 18 Nov. 1386-7.


Some confusion surrounds John Thirlwall’s early life and parentage, largely because of the testimony which he himself provided, in 1386, about his family background. Claiming to be the youngest son of John Thirlwall, ‘le plus veille esquier de tout le North’, he asserted that his father had borne arms for 69 of his 145 years, and had been present on many of Edward I’s campaigns against the Scots. Being about ten years old when his father died, in 1342, he quite probably confused at least two generations of his own family, but there is no reason to doubt that he himself first saw active service in 1354, while still a comparatively young man. He was a member of the English army with which Edward III laid siege to Paris in 1360; and nine years later he campaigned in Caux under the King’s younger son, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster. The John Thirlwall senior, who owned property in Roxburgh at this time and later held office as one of the wardens of the eastern march towards Scotland, may well have been his elder brother or uncle. It was almost certainly the latter who made an illicit raid on the lordship of Annandale in Scotland in 1366, carrying off large quantities of cattle and provisions and incurring the wrath of the English authorities for his breach of the existing truce; but there can be little doubt that John Thirlwall the younger, the subject of this biography, was himself in trouble with the royal council two years later, when he was summoned, under sureties of £100 to submit to interrogation at Westminster.4 By then John was married and had acquired property at Alstonby, perhaps through his wife. In May 1368 the couple took on a lease in perpetuity of certain wasteland at Middlesceugh in the royal forest of Inglewood, for which they agreed to pay £3 4s.6d. a year. They also owned at least one messuage in Carlisle (which in 1376 they conveyed to William Aglionby*), and at some point they became seised of property in Kirklevington as well.5

After some years spent fighting in France, John returned to the Scottish border, and in 1375 he joined the garrison of Roxburgh castle under the command of Henry, Lord Percy (later earl of Northumberland), who also retained him to help with the defence of Berwick-upon-Tweed. By 1384 Percy had made him his deputy as keeper of Carlisle castle, which was then preparing to withstand an invasion by the Scots. On 4 Dec., John took delivery of three brass cannon and other armaments from the sheriff of Cumberland, Amand Monceaux*, whom he himself succeeded in office a few days later. During his term as sheriff, John was closely involved in the plans for Richard II’s invasion of Scotland, being himself responsible in July 1385 for defending Carlisle with a following of 190 men seconded to him from the royal army. Not surprisingly, in view of all these additional expenses, as well as the perennial problem of raising money from land devastated by the Scots, John had difficulty in collecting the customary farm. The new keeper of Carlisle castle, John, Lord Neville, gave evidence on his behalf, and he was eventually excused part of the sum laid to his charge. He and his wife were also allowed a substantial reduction in the rent which they paid for their land in Middlesceugh, likewise because of damage caused by the enemy. John was still involved in the defence of the border in February 1386, when he was chosen to supervise the expenditure of £80 on repairs to the fortifications of Carlisle. He attended Parliament for the first and only time in the following October, his visit to Westminster presenting him with an opportunity not only to press for further allowances from the Exchequer, but also to give evidence at St. Margaret’s church on behalf of John, Lord Scrope, in his celebrated dispute with Sir Robert Grosvenor over the right to bear the same coat of arms. While the House of Commons was still sitting, he and the two northern knights, Sir Robert Ogle and Sir Peter Tilliol*, joined together to offer securities of 700 marks to Sir Walter Tailboys*; and a few days later, on 18 Nov., he began a second term as sheriff of Cumberland.6

It looks very much as if our Member died soon after relinquishing office, because no further references to anyone bearing his name occur for the next ten years. The John Thirlwall who then secured two papal indults for himself and his wife, Sibyl, was almost certainly his son or next heir. He lived on until shortly before February 1413 (when a replacement had to be found for him as verderer of Inglewood forest), leaving a son and namesake who did not survive much longer.7

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


Variants: Threlwoll, Thurlewall, Thylewalle, Tirllewall.

  • 1. Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 181; ii. 425; CFR, vii. 381; CPL, v. 33, 54.
  • 2. Rot. Scot. ed. Macpherson etc. ii. 22.
  • 3. Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. no. 331.
  • 4. Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 181; ii. 425-6; Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. no. 128; CCR, 1364-8, p. 403.
  • 5. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. vii. 241-2; CFR, vii. 381.
  • 6. CCR, 1385-9, p. 269; CPR, 1385-9, pp. 10, 71, 112; Rot. Scot. iv. no. 225; Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. nos. 331, 346; v. (supp.) no. 4091; Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 181; ii. 425.
  • 7. CPL, v. 33, 54; Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xii. 4; CCR, 1409-13, p. 386.