Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 42.djvu/93

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Oldcastle
Oldcastle
87

of his life (Bale, 'Brefe Chronycle' in Harleian Miscellany, i. 251). Misled by this, the Elizabethan dramatists pictured Oldcastle, 'my old lad of the castle,' the supposed companion of Henry V's early follies, as the 'aged counsellor to youthful sin.' We have the statement of a not very trustworthy contemporary that he was born in 1378, which is probably much nearer the truth (Elmham, Liber Metricus, p. 156).

The conjecture that Oldcastle met Wiclif in hiding at some castle of John of Gaunt's in the west must be relented to the same category as Balers assumption that he was prominent in securing the passing of the great act of præmunire (Archæologia Cambrensis, 4th ser. viii. 125). Weever asserts, in his poetical life of Oldcastle (1601), that in his youth he had been page to Thomas Mowbray, duke of Norfolk [q. v.], who was banished in 1398 and died ahroad in 1399. He makes his first appearance in contemporary authorities as a trusted servant of the crown in the Welsh marches under Henry IV, nearly twenty years after Wiclifs death, and we hear little of his lollard opinions until the clergy took open action against him in the first year of Henry V. In November 1401 'Monsieur Johan Oldecastille' was sent op the Wye to take charge of the castle of Huilth (Ordinances of tlus Privy Council, i. 174). A year or two later Oldcastle was told off to assist the constable of Kidwelly Castle on the Carmarthenshire coast with forty lances and a hundred and twenty archers (ib. ii. 68). In the September following the battle of Shrewsbury, the king empowered Oldcastle to pardon or punish such of his Welsh tenants as were rebels (Fœdera, viii. 331). He sat as knight of the shire for Herefordshire in the lengthy parliament which opened on 14 Jan. 1404 (Returns of Members, i. 265; Wylie, i. 400 seq.) In the summer, however, he was called upon to take temporary charge of the castle of Hay on the Wye, some eight miles south-west of Almeley (Ord. Privy Council, i. 237). A few months later he was placed on a commission entrusted with the impossible task of stopping the conveyance of provisions and arms into the rebel districts of Wales (Wylie, ii. 5). He was sheriff of Herefordshire in the eighth year of the reign (1406-7), and in the tenth joint custodian of the lordship of Dinas in the present Brecknockshire (Dugdale, Baronage, ii. 67 ; Calend. Rotul. Chart. p. 359).

The personal friendship between Oldcastle and the Prince of Wales doubtless dated from the years in which Henry was his father's lieutenant in Wales; and in the quieter times which followed the subsidence of Glendower's revolt the fortunes of the Herefordshire knight continued to rise. He was now, for the second time, a widower, and by October 1409 he had secured the hand of a Kentish heiress, Joan, lady Cobham, granddaughter of John, third lord Cobham of Kent, a prominent figure under Richard U, who died at an extreme old age on 10 Jan. 1408 (Dugdale, i. 67). Cobham Manor and Cowling or Cooling Castle, some four miles north of Rochester, at the edge of the marshes, passed to Joan, who was the only child of Cobham's daughter Joan and Sir John de la Pole of Chnshall in Essex. She was at this time thirty years of age, and had just (9 Oct. 1407) lost her third husband, Sir Nicholas Hawberk, who had served in Wales (Collectanea Topographica et Genealogica, vii. 329 ; Hasted, Hist. of Kent, iii. 429 ; Archæologia Cantiana, xi. 49 seq., xii. 113 seq.) Shortly after, and probably in consequence of his marriage with Lady Cobham, Oldcastle was summoned to parliament as a baron by a writ directed to 'Johannes Oldcastell, chevalier,' on 26 Oct. 1409, and received similar writs down to 22 March 1413 (Complete Peerage, by G. E. C, ii. 317). This is now usually regarded as the creation of a new barony in his favour. He is commonly styled, even in official documents, 'John Oldcastle, Knight, and Lord Cobham [dominus de Cobham];' but we find Lady Cobham's second husband. Sir Re^nald Bray broke, called 'Dominus de Cowling,' after a portion of the property which she was to inherit from her grandfather (Collectanea Topographica, vii. 341 ; cf. Walsingham, ii. 291).

The favour of the prince presently secured the newly created oaron a further opportunity of military distinction. In September 1411 the prince, who was practically acting as viceroy for his sick father, took upon himself to despatch an English force under the Earl of Arundel to the assistance of the Duke of Burgundy, and Oldcastle was associated with Arundel and Robert and Gilbert Umphraville in the command (Ramsay, i. 130). Small as the force was, it at once turned the scale between the warring French factions in Burgundy's favour. By the middle of December the English auxiliaries were dismissed with a remuneration, to raise which the duke had to pawn his jewels. Oldcastle in these years undoubtedly stood high in the favour of the prince, to whose household he seems to have been officially attached (Elmham, Vita, p. 31 ; Walsingham, ii. 291). There is no hint, however, in the contemporary authorities, hostile as they are, to support the view adopted by the Elizabethan dramatists