Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bealknap, Robert de
BEALKNAP or BELKNAP, Sir ROBERT de (d. 1400?), judge, was doubtless descended from the Belknape found in the Battle Abbey list of the nobles who followed the Conqueror into England. Nothing appears to be known of the subsequent history of the family until we find Robert de Bealknap settled in Kent, as lord of the manor of Hempstead, in the fourteenth century. According to a deed dated 1 March 1375, Sir Robert de Belcknappe granted certain lands near Chatham to the prior and convent of Rochester; and his parents' Christian names were John and Alice. A certain Bealknap appears as a counsel in the year book for 1346-7, and may have been the father of Sir Robert. Sir Robert himself is first mentioned in the year book for 1362-3. In 1365 and 1369 Bealknap was named one of the commissioners appointed to survey the coast of Thanet, and take measures to secure the lands and houses in the district against the encroachments of the sea. In 1366 he was appointed king's sergeant, with a salary of 20l. per annum, at the same time doing duty as one of the justices of assize, at a salary of the same amount. In 1372 he was placed on a commission entrusted with the defence of the coast of Kent against Invaders. In 1374 he was nominated one of seven sent ad paries transmarinas, with a special mandate to confer with the envoys of the papal court, not, as Foss absurdly says, 'as to the reformer Wicliff,' who was himself a member of the embassy, but for the purpose of bringing about a happy settlement of such questions as involved the honour of the church and the rights of the crown and realm of England, and in the same year he was made chief justice of the common pleas, but was not knighted till 1385. In 1381, on the outbreak of the insurrection against the poll-tax, afterwards known as that of Wat Tyler, he was sent into Essex with a commission of trailbaston to enforce the observance of the law, but the insurgents compelled the chief justice to take an oath never more to sit in any such sessions, and Bealknap was only too glad to make his escape without suffering personal violence. In 1386 the impeachment of Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, for waste of the revenues and corruption, was followed by the transfer of the administrative authority to a council of nobles responsible to the parliament. The king, at the instigation of his friends, summoned the judges to a council at Nottingham (August 1387). With the exception of Sir William Skipwith, all the judges attended. They were asked whether the late ordinances by which Pole had been dismissed were derogatory to the royal prerogative and in what manner their authors ought to be punished. The questions were answered by the judges in a sense favourable to the king; and a formal act of council was drawn up, embodying the questions and the answers, and sealed with the seal of each judge. We learn from Knyghton that Bealknap protested with some vigour against the whole proceeding; but he yielded eventually to the threats of death with which the Duke of Ireland and the Earl of Suffolk plied him. Early next year all the judges who had subscribed this document (except Tresilian, who was summarily executed) were removed from their offices, arrested, and sent to the Tower, by order of the parliament, on a charge of treason. They pleaded that they had acted under compulsion and menace of death. They were, however, sentenced to death, with the consequent attainder, and forfeiture of lands and goods; but at the intercession of the bishops the sentence was commuted for one of banishment into Ireland, the attainder, however, not being removed. Drogheda was selected as the place of Bealknap's exile, and he was ordered to confine himself within a circuit of three miles round it. An annuity of 40l. was granted for his subsistence. He was recalled to England in 1397. In the same year an act of restitution was passed, by which Bealknap and the other attainted judges were restored to their rights. This act, however, was shortly afterwards annulled, i.e. in 1399, on the accession of Henry IV. In 1399 the commons petitioned parliament for the restoration of his estates. He seems to have died shortly afterwards, since he did not join with his former colleagues, Holt and Burgh, when, in 1401, they petitioned parliament for a removal of the attainder. A case in which Bealknap's wife sued alone inspired Justice Markham with two barbarous rhyming hexameters—
Ecce modo mirum quod femina fert breve Regis,
Non nominando virum conjiinctum robore legis.
This lady, who is designated indifferently Sybell and Juliana, was permitted to remain in possession of her husband's estates in spite of the attainder until her death in 1414-1415. They then escheated to the crown; but Hamon, the heir of Sir Robert, at the time petitioned parliament for a removal of the attainder, and the prayer was granted. Sir Edward Bealknap, great-grandson of the judge, whose sister Alice married Sir W. Shelley, a justice of the common pleas in the time of Henry VIII, achieved considerable distinction during the reigns of that monarch and of his predecessor, both as a soldier and a man of affairs.
[Hasted's Kent, ii. 69; Duchesne's Hist. Norm. Script. Ant. 1023; Year Books, 20 and 36 Edward III; Lewis's Isle of Thanet, 200; Rymer's. Fœdera. ed. Clarke, iii. 870, 952, 961, 1007, 1015; Liber Assis. 40 Edward III; Leland's Collect. i. 185; Devon's Brantingham's Issue Roll, 369, 370; Devon's Issues of the Exch. 240; Stow's Annals, 284; Knyghton Col. 2694; Holinshed, ii. 781-2; Chron. A. Mon. S. Alb. (Rolls series), 380-2; Rot. Parl. iii. 233-44, 346, 358, 461; Trokelowe et Anon Chron. (Rolls Series), 195-6. 303: State Trials, i. 106-20; Abbrev. Rot. Orig. ii. 319; Cal. Inq. p m. iv. 7; Cotton's Records, 331, 540.]