CATESBY, John (d.1404/5), of Ashby St. Ledgers, Northants. and Ladbroke, Warws.

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

s. and h. of William Catesby† (d.1383) of Coventry and Ladbroke by Joan, da. of William Arden of Radbourne, Warws. m. by Feb. 1381, Emma (d. aft. 1426), da. and h. of Robert Cranford of Ashby St. Ledgers by Margaret, da. of Edmund and sis. and h. of Roger Watford of Watford, Northants., wid. of John Swynford, 3s. inc. John†.

Offices Held

Commr. of inquiry, Warws. May 1363 (enforcement of statutes relating to cloth sales), Warws., Leics. Dec. 1367 (escheated land), Warws., Salop Nov. 1377 (alnage), Warws. Apr. 1380 (theft), June 1380 (escheats), Nov. 1380 (pollution of a river), July 1382 (wastes on estates of Monks Kirby priory), Dec. 1382, Aug. 1383 (poaching in the King’s park, Coventry), Dec. 1383 (concealments), July 1384 (administration of Coventry), Sept. 1384 (counterfeiting and trespass), Warws., Northants. Dec. 1384 (wastes on the earl of Nottingham’s estates), Northants. Nov. 1386 (murder), Warws. Nov. 1389 (wastes on estates of Monks Kirby priory), Northants., Warws., Leics., Rutland July 1393 (false weights), Warws. Apr. 1385 (lands of a tenant-in-chief), Oct. 1402 (escheats); arrest Jan. 1369; oyer and terminer, Worcs. Feb. 1380, July 1392, Feb. 1394, Feb. 1400; to put down rebellion, Warws., Worcs. June, Dec. 1381, Dec. 1382; of weirs, Northants. June 1398; to make proclamation of Henry IV’s intention to govern well May 1402.

Steward of Coventry, Warws. (by appointment of the Black Prince) by June 1375-aft. Dec. 1383; of Cheylesmore by Sept. 1375-c. Oct. 1384.

J.p. Coventry 30 Jan. 1376-Sept. 1377, 11 Feb. 1398-c.1399, Warws. 2 July 1377-89, 24 Dec. 1390-July 1397, 13 Nov. 1398- d. , Worcs. 26 Oct. 1378-May 1380, Northants. 26 Nov. 1383-c. 1384, 12 Mar. 1393-d.

Steward of the estates of Thomas, earl of Warwick, Northants. by Mich. 1396-July 1397.


Catesby belonged to an old Warwickshire family, which through the accumulation of property in the late 14th and early 15th centuries became substantial landowners. The growth of the family holdings was largely due to John’s father, who was seven times MP for the county between 1354 and 1365, and to John himself, these two building up their estates piecemeal through marriage and purchase and extending their interests beyond the shire boundaries into Northamptonshire and Leicestershire. An important centre of their activities was Coventry, where they came to own many properties: John’s father had regular dealings with the merchants there, while he himself became a prominent member of the Holy Trinity guild; indeed, the arms of his family and those with whom they were connected were depicted in stained glass in the guild’s church. Before the end of the century Catesby had obtained possession of the Warwickshire manors of Hopsford, Upper Shuckburgh, Radbourne and ‘Roffeley’, together with a lease on that of Braunstone in Leicestershire,1 while his marriage to Emma Cranford had brought him control not only of her Swynford dower lands in Northamptonshire, but also her paternal inheritance of Ashby St. Ledgers in the same county and Theddingworth in Leicestershire.2 Other landed holdings came to him through his connexion with Robert Fitzwith (his brother-in-law) and Sir John Beauchamp† of Holt (the husband of his niece). In 1361 Fitzwith assigned him an annual rent of £2 from the Warwickshire manor of Bubbenhall for his lifetime, and in 1383 the Beauchamps gave him a lease on the whole manor for £8 a year. Subsequently, Fitzwith’s widow Joan (who had married William Terrington* of Aspley Guise) granted Catesby her life interest in Shotteswell, although his withholding of payments of an annuity charged on the Fitzwith estates later caused her to bring suits against him.3 Catesby’s determination to retain and expand his holdings is evidenced by the protracted litigation in which he became involved, most notably over the manor of Ladbroke. Indeed, during the last two decades of the century he conducted a complicated defence of his property against the repeated attempts of relatives to oust him, the dispute being heard at Westminster in the courts of common pleas and King’s bench, in Chancery, and even by the King’s Council, as well as locally at the assizes and before the councils of four magnates. Such efforts were clearly worthwhile: valors compiled in 1385 and 1386 show Catesby’s annual receipts from his estates to have been over £123, and this figure is confirmed by the subsidy assessments made in 1412, which estimated the holdings of his widow and son John at £120 a year.4

By the time of his second return to Parliament Catesby was a wealthy provincial lawyer, successful in his chosen profession and well capable of prosecuting his own and his clients’ claims in the lawcourts. His career had begun by 1360 when he acted as attorney for the precentor of Lichfield, and in 1362 he stood surety for the farmers of the cloth subsidy in Warwickshire and three other Midland counties. His abilities soon attracted attention, notably from the Black Prince, who in 1364 granted him a share in the farm of Stoke (Warwickshire) during a minority, and among those for whom he acted in a legal capacity at this stage in his career were Thomas Southam, archdeacon of Oxford, and the earl of Arundel’s son.5 Not long after — or possibly even before — Catesby first entered the House of Commons in 1372, the Black Prince appointed him as steward of Coventry and of the duchy of Cornwall manor of Cheylesmore, just outside the town. The prince’s son, Richard II, subsequently retained him in both offices, and his stewardship and position as a j.p. in Coventry further enhanced his standing there. For over 40 years of his life Catesby was kept busy serving on royal commissions, and he was evidently punctilious in performing his duties as a justice during his 25 or so years on the Warwickshire bench. His efforts brought him no rewards of any note, however, save for an Exchequer lease (in 1382) of the manor of Ansty. During the 1380s he acted as counsel for Sir William Breton’s† widow, and as legis peritus he received an annual fee of four marks from Stoneleigh abbey.6

Although a prominent figure locally, Catesby never took a leading part in national politics, and his kinship with Sir John Beauchamp, steward of Richard II’s household, failed to obtain for him preferment at Court. Indeed, Sir John’s execution in 1388 and the forfeiture of his estates only involved Catesby in more lawsuits, notably over the manor of Barnacle (Warwickshire), of which he claimed the wardship during the minority of his great-nephew John Beauchamp*. Nevertheless, he did continue to have important connexions with men at the centre of events. In 1389, when he finally secured custody of Barnacle, among his mainpernors was William Spernore*, an esquire in the service of Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, who as one of the Lords Appellant of 1388 was then in control of the government. The Catesbys’ dealings with the earl were complex: John’s father had annoyed Warwick by disputing the wardship of the Ladbroke heir, but he himself had done homage to the earl for Ladbroke in 1383 and since then had risen in Warwick’s favour. In July 1389 he joined a group acting for the earl in his purchase from the Crown of estates forfeited by Beauchamp of Holt, and in the following February the same body of men provided similar assistance to the earl of Arundel (Warwick’s fellow Appellant). In 1391 Catesby appeared as Warwick’s attorney in the common pleas in a suit against his former retainer Sir William Bagot*; he was probably already a member of Warwick’s council, and within six years he was appointed steward of the earl’s estates in Northamptonshire. One reward for his services came in April 1397 in the form of a grant of a number of shops in Coventry. Catesby’s close connexion with the earl nearly led to his sharing his political disgrace when it came that summer. In August, following the earl’s arrest, instructions were sent to Bagot and the sheriff of Warwickshire to seize the goods of his chief supporters, who included, besides Catesby, Sir Nicholas Lilling*, William Spernore and Robert Walden* of Warwick. Catesby was fortunate in that the order, in so far as it related to him, was rescinded two months later, ‘as the King’s will is that no wrong be done to him’. But he had long been at enmity with Bagot, now ranked among the most powerful men at Court: they had clashed some years earlier over the operation of Bubbenhall mill, and, besides acting for Warwick in his suit against Bagot, Catesby had also served on a commission which had forthrightly accused Sir William of committing waste on land in his charge. Furthermore, as a j.p. he had forwarded to the King’s bench serious indictments against him. Now, in 1397, Catesby was sure that Bagot was behind renewed attempts to oust him from Ladbroke: Bagot paid Catesby’s opponents’ expenses and had a jury empanelled at Baginton (his own manor), while both the sheriff and under sheriff were known to be his henchmen. The overlordship of Ladbroke itself, forfeited by Warwick, now fell to the King’s kinsman, the duke of Surrey, and although Surrey’s council found for Catesby in the dispute, by enfeoffing his uncle, the duke of Exeter, in the property he further increased Catesby’s difficulties.7 The feud with Bagot may well have finally determined Catesby’s political sympathies, and his opposition to Richard II’s government is evident from a petition which he drafted in September or October 1399 for presentation at Henry IV’s first Parliament, proposing the revocation of the arbitrary proceedings of the Parliament of 1397 (Sept.) and the full restoration of the victims or their heirs to their rights and possessions. Catesby’s interest in Richard’s overthrow is clearly indicated by the presence among his papers of an account of the Lancastrian usurpation. He was quick to take revenge on Bagot, too; in September 1399 when his enemy was a prisoner, he, sitting on the Warwickshire bench, heard yet more damning indictments against him.8

Catesby probably died in the winter of 1404-5. He left three sons: William, John and Robert, among whom his estates were at first divided. However, William, the eldest, died within three years leaving John as heir to the bulk of the property, and it was the latter who in 1412, together with his mother, obtained a royal charter of free warren in their demesne lands in Warwickshire and Northamptonshire. John, who became a retainer of Richard, earl of Warwick, sat for Northamptonshire in 1425 and 1429. From our MP were descended the more famous William Catesby, Speaker in the Parliament of 1484 and prominent councillor to Richard III, and Robert Catesby, notorious for his part in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.9

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. J.B. Post, ‘Ladbroke manor dispute’ Med. Legal Recs. ed. Hunnisett and Post, 290-339; CAD, i. A1413; iii. A4299, 4313, 4314, 4327, 4565, 4578, 4661; v. A10867; Reg. Holy Trinity Guild Coventry (Dugdale Soc. xiii), 21; Warws. Feet of Fines (ibid. xviii), nos. 2159, 2194; W. Dugdale, Warws. 177; VCH Warws. vi. 217.
  • 2. Reg. Gaunt 1379-83, no. 444; G. Baker, Northants, i. 242-5; VCH Leics. v. 315; Peds. Plea Rolls ed. Wrottesley, 168.
  • 3. VCH Warws. v. 148; vi. 46; CAD, iv. A8138, 8413; CCR, 1389-92, pp. 374-5, 402; 1396-9, p. 335; CIMisc. v. 162.
  • 4. Post, 315-16; CIPM, xvi. 559; CAD, iv. A6601; Miscellany (Dugdale Soc. xxxi), 15-28; Feudal Aids, vi. 492.
  • 5. CPR, 1358-61, p. 351; 1361-4, pp. 83, 86; 1367-70, p. 108; CCR, 1360-4, p. 433; Reg. Black Prince, iv. 530, 532, 547; CAD, v. A10650; CFR, viii. 246.
  • 6. SC1/50/147, 51/20; CPR, 1377-81, p. 60; CIMisc. iv. 38; CCR, 1377-81, p. 12; Rolls Warws. and Coventry Sessions (Dugdale Soc. xvi), pp. xxxi-ii; Stoneleigh Leger Bk. (ibid. xxiv), 162; CFR, ix. 324; CAD, vi. C4580.
  • 7. CFR, x. 270; xi. 227; CIMisc. v. 162; vi. 307; CPR, 1388-92, pp. 80, 222, 307; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xv. 32; Egerton Roll 8769; CCR, 1396-9, p. 157; Post, 295; KB9/176 m. 12 et seq.
  • 8. J.B. Post, ‘Common petition of 1398-9’, Jnl. Soc. Archivists, vi. 10; CIMisc. vii. 36.
  • 9. Cott. Ch. xii. 8; CAD, iii. A4294, 4347, 4363, 4429, 5047-8; iv. 6386, 6498, 6948-50; v. 10458; Dugdale, 332; CChR, v. 447; M.C. Carpenter, ‘Pol. Soc. Warws.’ (Cambridge Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1976), app. p. 101; Bull. John Rylands Lib. xlii. 148-9.