Magazine article History Today

Ghostly Speaker: Richard Baynard, Speaker of the Commons of December, 1421

Magazine article History Today

Ghostly Speaker: Richard Baynard, Speaker of the Commons of December, 1421

Article excerpt

IN MEDIEVAL ENGLAND it Was commonly accepted that the dead could return to haunt the living. The church rationalised this belief by teaching that ghosts were the souls of those who were trapped in Purgatory and unable to rest until they had expiated their sins. Most surviving ghost stories of this period come from compilations used by the clergy for didactic purposes, but it was the enemies of Richard Baynard, a fifteenth-century lawyer and parliamentarian from Essex, who put about the tale of his ghost.

Born in about 1371, Richard Baynard was from a long-established family with estates in the countryside around Braintree and Colchester. Although a younger son, he inherited these lands in 1375, following the deaths of his father and three elder brothers. He was still an infant at this date, and his wardship and marriage were purchased by the Essex knight Sir Robert Tey, possibly the father of Baynard's obscure first wife. Baynard married four times in all. His second and third wives were the daughters of London merchants; his fourth, Grace, the widow of an Essex landowner. Grace, whom he married in Henry V's reign, was the mother of his six legitimate children, although he also had at least one bastard son. Through Grace and his previous two wives Baynard acquired additional lands and property in Hertfordshire, London and Essex, and he must have lived in considerable comfort at Messing, his principal manor in the latter county.

Baynard had completed his legal training by 1395. He proved an able lawyer, and his services were soon much in demand among the Essex gentry and the citizens of London. His ability was also recognised by the electors of Essex, who in the period 1406-33 returned him to six parliaments as a knight of the shire, and by his fellow MPs, who elected him Speaker of the Commons when his third parliament opened in December 1421. Baynard's time as Speaker was not sufficiently distinguished to lead to preferment by the Crown, but his skills as a lawyer won him important patrons among the nobility, including Edward, Duke of York, who employed him as the steward of his estates in Essex in the early 1400s, and the formidable Joan Beauchamp, widow of William, Lord Abergavenny, a lady whom he served as a counsellor in his later years.

Like other associates of Joan among the Essex gentry, Baynard was drawn into a dispute over the estates which Sir Geoffrey Brokholes (who died in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century) had once held in that county, Hertfordshire and Warwickshire. …

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