The Soldier in Later Medieval England

Thomas de Mussenden

Thomas de Mussenden "was brought up in the warres in the time of Richard ye second and was captaine of the Castle of [….] in Fraunce".  Thus wrote Rev Edmund Lynold, Rector of Healing, Lincs., in his early seventeenth century account of the Mussendens, basing himself on "an auncient roll almost worne in pieces, & scarce to be read in diverse places, it being above 200 years ould" which he found amongst the family papers. [1]   These original documents have long since turned to dust.  The challenge today, when so many other mediaeval records – such as those in this database - have become accessible, is not just to test the accuracy of these sketchy comments and fill in the obvious gap, but to see how much further one can go in understanding how Thomas's career developed and the critical influence he was to have on the family's fortunes over the next couple of centuries.  The present writer is a direct descendant working on a history of the family.


Thomas was the second son of Sir Thomas de Mussenden of Great Missenden and was probably born in the late 1350s.  Sir Thomas himself began life as the son of the relatively obscure John Marshall of Great Missenden.  He spent many years in the service of Edward III, chiefly as a butler, both in England and accompanying the king on his campaigns in France.  By 1359 he was wealthy enough to become the captain of a small band of men who took part in Edward's last French campaign and ultimately he became a knight of the shire for Buckinghamshire in 1363 and 1365.  He married Isabella Brocas.  This not only brought him lands in Lincolnshire but equally importantly cemented an alliance with the influential Brocas family, whose support for some of the Mussendens was to prove critical on and off during the remainder of the fourteenth century.  Thomas died in 1369.  His widow later married Sir John Golafre of Sarden, Oxon. [2]


To the eldest son, the future Sir Edmund, born in around 1355 [3] , came the benefits of the firstborn: in his case, an arranged marriage, barely into teenage, to a local peer's daughter and the inheritance of his father's lands.  In short, he was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth.  The fate of his brother Thomas, born around a couple of years later, was quite different: he would have to make his own way in life.  As an athletic young man who proved to be a very competent jouster, the obvious choice was military service.


The first concrete information on his career comes in 1378 when Thomas is listed as a man at arms in the garrison in Brest.  The two captains of the garrison at the time were Sir Richard Abberbury and Sir John Golafre, Thomas's stepfather.  This connection may or may not be significant.  Both commanders were replaced the following year and Golafre died shortly after his return to England.  One of their two successors was Sir Hugh Calveley.  One assumes that Thomas was in Brest at some point while Calveley was there, and furthermore that he impressed him, as he became one of the men at arms who accompanied him on the expedition to France in 1380-1 led by the Earl of Buckingham. [4]


It would appear that in around 1379 Thomas took a break from his garrison duties, returned to England and married Joan, the daughter of Sir Robert Hawley and Beatrix his wife.  He was at home again in May 1380 when he is described as "Thomas Messynden, father of Bernard Messynden, now of Healing," just north of Grimsby, "armiger". [5]   He remained there, no doubt, until Buckingham's expedition set off that autumn.  Hawley was lord of the manor in Mablethorpe in Lincolnshire called Mohaut fee and of Ingleton, in the former North Riding of Yorkshire.  He served under John of Gaunt on various occasions from 1359 until at least 1382. [6]   His wife was an heiress and a descendant of the FitzHughs, lords of Ravensworth. [7]   What is clear is that even by 1379, barely into his twenties, Thomas was being viewed as a man of some promise.  It is likewise apparent is that his connection with Lincolnshire began at a very early age.  His father held lands in various parts of the county: Kelstern, Brackenburgh, Saltfleetby and Folmesthorpe.  The last three were held of the Helyng family for the fee of one knight. [8]   The Heyling family had been living in Healing since at least the twelfth century. [9]   Saltfleetby is only a couple of miles away from Mablethorpe.  It is reasonable to conclude, therefore, that Thomas may well have joined the household of either Sir John de Helyng or his future father in law in his youth.  Sir John de Helyng was a seasoned retainer of Sir John de Welles, Lord Welles, one of the two aristocrats who wielded considerable influence in the north of the county, the other being Thomas de Mowbray, Welles's brother in law.  In an undated letter of the 1370s Welles wrote to Sir John de Helyng addressing him as "mon trescher compaignon et fiable amy Mons. Johan de Helyng" and summoning him in the name of the king to accompany him on a military campaign in France. [10]   The tone of the letter suggests a close bond between the two men. 


There is then a break in Thomas's military records until 1388.  One suspects that he was spending much of this time with his family in Healing and fathering more children.  It is significant that now he is recorded as a man at arms serving under Thomas Mowbray in the naval expedition of that year.  He is numbered seventh in a list of esquires below him.  He is likely to have begun working under him a few years earlier.  Mowbray was Thomas's junior by around ten years and would have been studiously building up a faithful retinue.  Thomas's brother Edmund also served on that campaign of 1388, but directly under Richard, Earl of Arundel, Mowbray's father in law. [11]   Thomas was to remain in Mowbray's service until the latter's fall from grace in 1398.  He formed part of the standing army assembled in 1389-90 by Mowbray to defend the East March of the border with Scotland. [12]   A few months later, in the spring of 1390, as Froissart records, both Thomas and Mowbray took part in the friendly tournament against the French which was held at St Inglevert on the western fringe of the pale of Calais.  Immediately afterwards the English team made their way back home. [13]   In 1391 Mowbray was appointed Captain of Calais and Thomas returned there with him. [14]   In 1392, the duke rewarded Thomas for his continued good service by granting him two parts of his manor in West Hatch, Wilts.  Further income from the Mowbray estates followed. [15]


By some time in the 1390s Thomas was wealthy enough to buy from Sir John de Helyng the manors of Healing, Aylesby and Great Coates, land nearby in Little Coates, and the advowson of the church of Healing.  This comes as little surprise as his wife must have brought with her a significant dowry and Thomas had already enjoyed a successful and profitable military career.  Thomas added the Helyng arms to his own, thus stamping his authority on the immediate area.  He was granted freewarren on his demesne land in Healing and Little Coates in 1395. [16]


By 1393 Thomas Mussenden was one of the king's esquires, a post he was to enjoy for the rest of Richard II's reign.  On 6 May 1394 he was granted the custody of the manor of Ingleton, lately the property of his mother in law Beatrix, which had fallen into the king's hands because of her death in 1389 and the earlier deaths of her husband and her son, Sir John, and the minority of the latter's heirs. [17]   In November 1397 Thomas was granted £20 a year rent from the Hawleys' farm and manor of Aylesby, near Healing, during the young Hawleys' minority.  By the following November the remaining son had died, leaving his sister Beatrice, still a minor, the sole heir.  The king appointed Thomas her guardian and stipulated that she was to reside with him until a husband could be found for her. [18]  


In the meantime, on 18 February 1396, Mowbray appointed Thomas captain of Oye, today's Oye Plage, guarding the eastern approaches to Calais.  Just under two years later, in January 1398, Mowbray fell out with Richard II and was stripped of all his offices.  The king initially appointed Thomas Percy, and swiftly followed this with one of his own half brothers, John Holand, Duke of Exeter, to take over as Captain of Calais.  Mowbray was banished from England in October that year and died in Venice the following September.  Thomas appears to have suffered no immediate ill effect from his association with Mowbray as no successor was appointed as Captain of Oye until 1399. [19]   Similarly, he seems to have been able to continue to enjoy the revenue Mowbray had granted him from his estates. [20]   Thomas remembered his former master with lasting gratitude to his dying day and provided £11 in his will for a mass to be said for his soul. [21]  


Around five months after John of Gaunt's death in February 1399 his exiled son, Henry Bolingbroke, landed in Ravenspur on the long spit of land across the Humber estuary from Healing, and usurped the throne.  Once in power, an immediate priority was to set up a regional administrative network sympathetic to the new regime.  Thomas quickly became one of his appointees.  The two men would almost certainly have met at St Inglevert, as Bolingbroke was another participant, and no doubt on other occasions during the period when Thomas was serving under Mowbray.  On 28 October, barely a fortnight after his coronation, Henry confirmed Thomas's position as an esquire of the king and also his right to continue receiving income from the Mowbray lands in Thirsk.  In November, Thomas was among the first batch of Commissioners for the Peace to be appointed in Lindsey, the northernmost administrative region of Lincolnshire.  A month later, he was appointed a Commissioner of Array for the same district.  He was reappointed in 1403. [22]   That Thomas was called upon to carry out these various duties was confirmation that he had become an established figure in the region.  His heirs were to maintain this status and fulfil similar roles for the next two hundred years. 


Thomas's campaigning days were still not over, however.  Another of Henry IV's immediate concerns on taking power was England's relations with Scotland.  In an effort to assert his authority he concluded early in 1400 that the only solution was to invade Scotland that summer.  In June letters were sent out to all barons, knights, esquires and other persons of the king's retinue to come to Henry's assistance and assemble in York.  Thomas was one of those to receive the call and quickly gathered together a small company of men consisting of four archers under his command.  He was, no doubt, anxious to underline his allegiance to the new monarch, but equally he may have been hoping that any distinguished action on his part or that of his men might have led to further wealth and possibly a rise in his status within the county or wider afield.  Whatever ambitions he may have entertained, they came to nought as the campaign proved to be an expensive failure. [23]


Thomas appears to have died shortly before 21 February 1404.  A stained glass portrait of him (which regrettably no longer survives) was erected in his memory in the east window of the chancel at Healing showing him in his full military glory.  His widow Joan went on to marry William Hilton. [24]   One of Thomas's sons, Arnold, was a man at arms and second in command under Sir Geoffrey Hilton in the expedition to France led by Henry V in 1421.  Sir Geoffrey held lands near Healing.  William may have been Sir Geoffrey's uncle of that name who was still alive in 1409. [25]   As nothing further is known about Arnold, it is possible he perished on the campaign.


Thomas died a relatively wealthy man.  He had done well out of his military career.  He had served his masters loyally.  He had steered a successful path which had saved him from adverse fallout when they came to grief, yet was at the right place at the right time when new men came to power who needed to depend on someone of his abilities.  Just as importantly, he married well and was lucky enough to father not just the requisite male heir, but also a sufficient number of spares to continue the family name.  He founded a new dynasty that was to remain in Healing down to the early seventeenth century when, according to the antiquary, Gervase Holles, it was doomed to die out in the legitimate line because a curse had been put on Francis Mussenden in the 1580s for using stone from the recently demolished church of St Mary's, Grimsby, to improve his manor house. [26]   Nonetheless, Thomas remains the ancestor of most of the Mussendens living today.  Many trace their ancestry back to Francis Mussenden, MP for Boston in Richard Cromwell's parliament and linked to the Healing family through an illegitimate son. [27]   Ironically, although Thomas's brother Sir Edmund also had a successful career, he died aged around 40 leaving a young son, who in turn died in his early twenties leaving two young daughters.  The Buckinghamshire branch of the family thus came to an early end. [28]

Richard Leathes


[1] Edmund Lynold, Accounts of the Missendens of Healing taken chiefly from charters and archives of Francis Mussenden, Lincoln College, Oxford, MS Lat 147 (c 1640), fº 7r, 9v.

[2] The National Archives (TNA) E 101/393/11, Farley’s Wardrobe Book fº 76v, 113r-v, my thanks to Dr Andrew Ayton for this reference; Andrew Ayton, Knights and Warhorses, Military Service and the English Aristocracy under Edward III(Boydell, 1999), p 266.  For the most comprehensive and reasonably accurate pedigree of the Mussendens down to the 17th century, see A R Maddison, Lincolnshire Pedigrees (Harleian Society Visitation Series), vol. li, p. 697.  Thomas is generally shown in the Mussenden pedigrees as Sir Thomas and Isabella's eldest surviving son, an exception being British Library (BL) Harl. MS 1550 f° 26 which shows him below Edmund.  However, Edmund was confirmed by Sir Thomas as his heir in the inquisition post mortem taken in 1372, Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous, (London, 1937), vol. iii, 838, pp. 317-18 and inherited all his father's lands.  See also, Calendarium Inquisitionum post mortem sive Escaetarum (London, 1806-1828), vol. ii, pp. 190, 301, vol. iii, p. 180.  G Lipscomb,History and Antiquities of the County of Buckingham (1847),vol. i, pp. 394-96; J S Roskell, etc, The House of Commons 1386 – 1421 (London, 1993), vol. iii, p. 740; Anthony Goodman, ‘Richard II's Servants and the Missenden Inheritance’, Records of Buckinghamshire, (1965) vol. 17, pp. 350-355.

[3] He was aged "17 years and more" on the Thursday after Whitsunday 46 Edw III (1372), CIM, vol. iii, p. 317.  Edmund married Juliana, daughter of Sir John Grey, Lord Grey of Rotherfield.

[4] Information on military service has been taken from the AHRC-funded 'The Soldier in Later Medieval England Online Database',, accessed 26/2/08. TNA E 101/37/2 m. 1; TNA E 101/39/9 m. 3; Michael Jones, Ducal Brittany 1364- 1399 (Oxford, 1970), p. 119.

[5] BL Lansdowne 207a fº 430.

[6] Simon Walker, The Lancastrian Affinity 1361-1399 (Oxford, 1990), pp. 34n, 271.

[7] G H de S N Plantagenet-Harrison, History of Yorkshire (1879), vol. i, p. 166.

[8] CIM, vol. iii, p. 317.

[9] K S B Keats-Rohan, Domesday Descendants (Woodbridge, 2002), p. 509; Lynold, Accounts of the Missendens of Healing, fº 1r.

[10] Lynold, Accounts of the Missendens of Healing, 6r. Sir Henry Ellis, Original Letters Illustrative of English History (London, 1846), vol. 3, ser. i, p. 45.  Lord Welles took out letters of protection in 1369, 1372 and 1373 to accompany John of Gaunt on expeditions abroad, Walker, Lancastrian Affinity, p. 284.

[11] TNA E 101/41/5 mm. 1, 3.

[12] TNA E 101/47/17 m. 1.

[13] Jehan Froissart, Chroniques XIV 1389-1392 (Lettenhoven edition, Brussels, 1872), pp. 105-151 (pp. 124-125 for Thomas's participation); Sir John Berners: The Chronicle of Froissart translated out of the French (London, 1902), vol. v, p. 350. 

[14] Letters of protection for service in Calais, 15 June 1391: TNA C76/75 m. 1, thanks to the ‘Soldier in Later Medieval England’ team for this reference.

[15] Calendar of Patent Rolls 1391-1396 (London, 1905), p. 363; Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem (London, 1987), vol. xviii, 272, p. 80.

[16] BL Harl MS 1550 fº 26v; Calendar of Charter Rolls 1341-1417 (London, 1916), September 11th 1395, p. 356.

[17] CPR 1391-1396, pp. 277, 406, 595; Calendar of Close Rolls 1392-1396 (London, 1925), p. 306.

[18] CPR 1396-1399 (London, 1909), pp. 255, 504.

[19] Thomas Carte, Catalogue des Rolles Gascons, Normans et François (1743), vol. ii, p. 172: Mowbray appointed Captain of Calais, 1st November 1395, Thomas  de Mussenden appointed Captain of Oye, 18th February 1396;  p. 175: Thomas Percy, earl of Worcester appointed Captain of Calais, 22nd January 1398, Duke of Exeter appointed Captain of Calais, February 1398; p. 178: John Lardiner appointed Captain of Oye, 19th November 1399.

[20] CCR 1399-1402 (London, 1927), p. 5; CPR 1399-1401 (London, 1903), p. 39.

[21] BL Lans. 207a, p. 442ff, abridged translation of the will in N H Nicolas, Testamenta Vetusta (London, 1826), p. 161.

[22] Ravenspur has subsequently disappeared into the sea as a result of the erosion of the area. CPR 1399-1401, pp. 39, 210, 561; CPR 1401-1405 (London, 1903), p. 289; BL Lans. 207a, p. 288.

[23] TNA E 101/41/1 m. 8; A L Brown, 'The English Campaign in Scotland, 1400', in Hearder, H. and Loyn, H.R. (eds.), British Government and Administration: Studies presented to S.R.Chrimes, (Cardiff, 1974), pp. 40-54.

[24] CPR 1401-1405, pp. 370, 371, 382; Calendarium Inquisitionum post mortem, vol. iii, p. 314.  Lynold, Accounts of the Missendens of Healing, fº10r.

[25] TNA E 101/50/1 m. 4d; George Poulson, The History and Antiquities of the Seignory of Holderness (1841), vol. ii, p. 198.

[26] Gervase Holles, Memorials of the Holles Family (Camden Society 3rd series), vol. lv, p. 63.

[27] Maddison, Lincolnshire Pedigrees, p. 700, (Francis baptised 1605).

[28] For a brief summary of Edmund's career see Roskell, HOP, above.