Pencester, Stephen de (DNB00)

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PENCESTER, PENCHESTER, or PENSHURST, STEPHEN de (d. 1299), warden of the Cinque ports, was a member of an old Kentish family that took its name from its chief seat, the manor of Penshurst, or, as it was more often called in the thirteenth century, Pencester or Penchester. In the latter part of Henry III's reign this manor was held by John de Bellemains, a canon of St. Paul's, who was Stephen's uncle and trustee. Soon after the barons' wars Stephen appears as holding important offices under the crown, to whose service he devoted the rest of his life. Between October 1268 and January 1271 he served as sheriff of Kent, but his duties were discharged by his deputy, Henry of Leeds (Deputy-Keeper's Thirty-first Report, App. p. 298), who is described by Hasted as his assistant or shire clerk (Hasted, Kent, vol. i. p. lxxxi). In 1269 he was allowed to buy up the debt owed to two Jews by John de Peckham (Fœdera, i. 484). After 1271 he appears as constable of Dover Castle and warden of the Cinque ports, and was also granted the custody of the seven hundreds of the Weald, formerly held by Roger de Leyburne (d. 1271) [q. v.] (Excerpta e Rot. Finium, ii. 552). At first Pencester must have held these offices as Edward the king's son's deputy, but after Edward I's accession he held them independently, receiving the sum of 28l. 13s. 4d. a year for the support of himself, his chaplain, servants, and engineers (Pell Records, p. 92). He was already a knight. Hasted (iv. 69) mentions various other constables of Dover under Edward I, but it seems more probable that they were Pencester's deputies, and that he held these offices up to his death; so that for nearly the whole of Edward I's reign he held a very prominent position in Kent and Sussex.

The critical state of the Cinque ports during the barons' wars, and their great importance to Edward during his reign, made Pencester's office a difficult and responsible one, and he is a conspicuous and successful figure among the minor agents of Edward I's policy. He was frequently assigned to try cases in which the rights of seamen of the Cinque ports were concerned (Rot. Parl. i. 98 a, 126 b). His authority was further strengthened by his receiving constant commissions of oyer and terminer, and occasional ones of gaol delivery in the south-eastern counties (examples in Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1281–92, pp. 37, 44, 65, 83, 90, 96, 141, 196; cf. Rot. Parl. i. 3b, 47b). This activity in judicial business has caused Dugdale to put him on his list of judges of common pleas; but Foss doubts whether he ever sat at Westminster, and is inclined to think that his constant judicial employment was discharged in his capacity of warden of the Cinque ports. This can hardly, however, have been strictly the case. Even the commissions held by Pencester in Kent and Sussex went far beyond the liberties of the Cinque ports, and it was no part of the warden's business to hold, for example, the commission of gaol delivery at Maidstone as Pencester did in 1285. Moreover, among the commissions recorded in the patent rolls as received by Pencester, there are included commissions in Surrey and Suffolk as well as Kent and Sussex. And in 1279 Pencester presided at a court held in the Guildhall of London as the result of which three christians and 293 Jews were hanged and drawn asunder for clipping the king's coin (‘Ann. Londin.’ in Chronicles of Edward I and Edward II, Rolls Ser. i. 88). In 1275 he had previously had to deal with the Jewish coin clippers, but had enjoined to let them off on payment of a fine (Fœdera, i. 570). In 1284 Archbishop Peckham, in granting him a license to try some pleas during Lent, describes him as a justice (Peckham, Letters, iii. 1077).

Among the important functions entrusted to Pencester as warden of the Cinque ports was the superintendence of the laying out of the site and constructing the buildings of New Winchelsea, the port which Edward I ordered to be constructed something after the manner of the Aquitanian bastides to replace Old Winchelsea, which was swallowed up by the sea (Cal. Patent Rolls, 1281–92, pp. 81, 225). He was appointed on 13 Oct. 1283, with two others, to this important post, and in 1286 was ordered to enlarge the town by laying out new lots for building and fixing rents for them. He acted also as convener of the musters of the freeholders of Kent in June 1287 (ib. p. 275). On 13 Oct. 1283 his appointment as constable and warden was renewed, and the large salary of 300l. assigned for the maintenance of him and his followers (ib. p. 83). After his death it was found that this grant was in arrears, and his widow Margaret had some trouble in prosecuting her claim for it at the exchequer. He died at Easter 1299 (Cal. Close Rolls, 1313–18, p. 8). He was buried in the south chancel of Penshurst church, under an altar-tomb which represents him in armour reclining on a cushion (Hasted, i. 408). From this Foss infers that he was primarily a soldier rather than a judge.

Stephen became a considerable landowner in Kent. Besides Penshurst, he owned the adjacent manor of West Leigh, where he liberally endowed a free chapel. He also possessed the manors of Overhill, Shepherd's Well, and Allington, for which place he procured a grant of a weekly market and fair in 1280, and in 1281 had license to build and fortify a castle there (Hasted, ii. 129, 182, iv. 3; cf. for his other estates Cal. Inq. post mortem, i. 233).

Stephen married twice. His first wife, whom he married not later than 1259, was Rohese of Baseville, the younger daughter and coheiress of Hawise de Baseville, a tenant-in-chief of the crown (Cal. Genealogicum, p. 141; cf. Excerpta e Rot. Finium, ii. 510). Before 1283 Stephen had married a second wife, Margaret (d. 1308?), said to have been the daughter of John de Burgh, the grandson of the famous justiciar Hubert de Burgh [q. v.], and the widow of Robert de Orreby. It is pretty clear that Hasted is wrong in making Orreby Margaret's second husband (Foss, Judges of England, iii. 138). Stephen left two daughters, his coheiresses. Of these Joan, the eldest (b. 1269), was the wife of Henry of Cobham of Rundall in Shorn. The younger, Alice (b. 1269), was the widow of John de Columbers (Hasted, i. 509, ii. 129, 183, 573).

[Rymer's Fœdera, Record ed. vol. i.; Rot. Parl. vol. i.; Cal. of Close and Patent Rolls; Cal. Inquisitionum post mortem; Pell Records; Rotulorum Originalium Abbreviatio; Calendarium Genealogicum; Excerpta e Rot. Finium; Peckham's Letters, Chron. of Edward I and Edward II, both in Rolls Ser.; Hasted's Kent; Foss's Judges of England, iii. 138–9; Foss's Biographia Juridica, p. 509.]

T. F. T.