Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Skipwith, William de

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SKIPWITH, Sir WILLIAM de (fl. 1380), judge, was second son of William de Skipwith, by Margaret, daughter of Ralph FitzSimon of Ormsby, Lincolnshire. He was descended from Osmund, younger son of Robert de Stuteville [q. v.], who in the reign of Henry III assumed the name of Skipwith from his lordship in Yorkshire. Skipwith succeeded to the family estates in 1336, on the death of his father and elder brother. He is stated on somewhat doubtful evidence to have been a member of Gray's Inn, and to have been the first reader there. He frequently appears as counsel in the year-books from 1343 onwards. On 18 Nov. 1350 he was one of the commissioners to carry out the proclamation concerning the moderation of wages and prices in Lindsey (Fœdera, iii. 211; Rot. Parl. ii. 455). In 1354 he was appointed one of the king's serjeants, and on 25 Oct. 1359 was made one of the judges of the court of common pleas, and soon afterwards knighted. In 1362 he became chief baron, and was a trier of petitions in the parliaments of October 1362, October 1363, and January 1365. On 29 Oct. 1365 Skipwith and Sir Henry Green [q. v.], the chief justice of the king's bench, were removed from office for having acted against law and justice, and obtained large sums of money unjustly (Barnes, Edward III, pp. 624, 667). Barnes also states that they were for ever excluded from the king's favour. But the exact accuracy of these statements is open to question, and Skipwith certainly regained the king's confidence, for on 15 Feb. 1370 he was appointed chief justice of the king's bench in Ireland, and on 21 Feb. received forty marks for his expenses (Fœdera, iii. 887; Issue Roll, p. 458). On 8 Oct. 1376 he was restored to his old place as justice of the common pleas in England, and in the Michaelmas sessions of that year delivered the judgment of the court in the case of the Bishop of St. Davids and John Wyton. He was a trier of petitions in the parliament of January 1377, and on the accession of Richard II was reappointed one of the justices of the common bench, and granted 40l. a year (Cal. Pat. Rolls, Richard II, i. 1, 6). Skipwith regularly appears as a trier of petitions in every parliament of the reign down to February 1388, and in 1379 gave an opinion as one of the judges in parliament (Rot. Parl. iii. 61 et alibi). Skipwith's name is of frequent occurrence in various judicial commissions during the opening years of Richard II, and he was also placed on the commission of peace for the counties of Nottingham, Leicester, Warwick, Rutland, Lincoln, Northampton, and Derby (Cal. Pat. Rolls, Richard II, i. passim). With the other judges he was summoned to the council at Nottingham in August 1387, but on the plea of illness avoided attending, and so escaped participation in the opinion that the other judges gave, as they alleged under compulsion, in the king's favour against the commission. He was the only judge who had previously sat on the bench who acted as a trier of petitions in the parliament of February 1388, when his late colleagues were impeached. Skipwith seems to have retired from office shortly afterwards. His name and those of his two sons appear in the list of gentlemen of Lincolnshire who were sworn to support the lords appellant in 1388 (Rot. Parl. iii. 400–3). Skipwith was alive as late as 1392, but the date of his death is not known. By his wife Alice, daughter and heiress of Sir William de Hiltoft of Ingoldmells, Lincolnshire, he had, with other children, two sons, William and John. It has been alleged that Sir William de Skipwith, the chief baron, died in 1366, and that it was his son William who was appointed to the common bench. But Foss has adduced good reasons in contradiction of this theory, showing that it is on chronological grounds improbable that William de Skipwith the younger was old enough to be a judge in 1376, and that there is no evidence of there having been two lawyers of the name. This view is confirmed by the joint mention of Sir William de Skipwith and of William de Skipwith the younger on two commissions in 1378 and 1379 (Cal. Rot. Pat. Richard II, i. 299, 415), and by the mention of them both in the list of Lincolnshire gentlemen sworn to support the lords appellant in 1388. William de Skipwith the younger died without issue male. John de Skipwith, the judge's second son, represented Lincolnshire in the parliaments of 1406, 1407, and 1414 (Return of Members of Parliament, i. 269, 272, 281), and died in 1422. From him were descended the Skipwiths of Newbold Hall, Warwickshire, the Skipwiths of Metheringham, Lincolnshire, and the Skipwiths of Prestwould, Leicestershire. Baronetcies were held by each of these branches, but only the third is still extant.

[Authorities quoted; Knighton's Chron. ap. Scriptores Decem, pp. 2693–4; Foss's Judges of England.]

C. L. K.