Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rickhill, William

RICKHILL, Sir WILLIAM (fl. 1378–1407), justice of the common pleas, was a native of Ireland. In 1379 and 1380 he acted as English attorney for the Earl of Ormonde. He had already settled in Kent, where he acquired the manor of Ridley, between Rochester and Sevenoaks. He served from 26 Feb. 1378 on commissions ‘de walliis, fossatis, &c.’ in districts east of London and in Kent. In one of these commissions Rickhill acted with Sir William Walworth, who in his will, dated 20 Dec. 1385, made him an executor, with a legacy of 10l. He had then been for some time one of the royal serjeants at law, and five years later, on 20 May 1389, Richard II raised him to the bench of the common pleas in place of one of the judges intruded by the lords appellant after the Merciless parliament.

The uneventful routine of his duties as judge and trier of parliamentary petitions was interrupted in 1397 by a somewhat exciting experience. At midnight, on 5 Sept. in that year, as he afterwards told the story, Rickhill was roused from his slumbers at his house of Essingham in Kent by a king's messenger, with a mysterious order, dated nearly three weeks before, to accompany the Earl of Nottingham, the captain of Calais, to that fortress, and do what he should tell him on pain of forfeiture. Accordingly he went down to Dover the following evening, and on the Friday morning crossed to Calais, whither Nottingham had preceded him. At vespers the same day he was carried from his lodging at a Lombard woollen merchant's to Nottingham's hostel. The earl handed him another order from the king of the same date as the first, commanding him to hold an interview with the Duke of Gloucester in prison at Calais, and carefully report all that he should say to him. Rickhill, according to his own account, was completely taken by surprise, and reminded Nottingham that the duke's death had been publicly announced (feust notifié a tout le peuple) both in Calais and in England. But the earl assured him that Gloucester was still alive, and early next morning (8 Sept.) he was admitted to an interview with the duke in the castle. Before two witnesses, for whose presence he prudently stipulated, Rickhill explained his commission, and begged the duke to put what he had to say in writing and keep a copy. Late in the evening Gloucester, in the presence of the same witnesses, read a confession of nine articles, which he then handed to Rickhill, begging him to pay another visit on the morrow, in case he should remember any omission. But, on presenting himself next morning at the castle gates, Rickhill was told that he could not be admitted. Two days later he crossed to England, and took the precaution of obtaining an exemplification under the great seal of his commissions, and his proceedings under them, fearing that the documents might be tampered with (Rot. Parl. iii. 431). His caution was justified when the death of Gloucester was notified to parliament a few days later, and his confession was read, with the omission of certain articles ‘contrary to the king's intent;’ a similarly garbled version was proclaimed in every county. Stress was laid upon the confession having been received by a justice of the king's court, though, as Rickhill afterwards pointed out, he had acted only as a messenger (ib. pp. 378, 432). On the accession of Henry IV, Rickhill received a new patent for his place; but on 18 Nov. 1399 he was called upon by parliament to answer for his conduct in obtaining the duke's confession. His straightforward story secured his acquittal.

Resuming his seat on the bench, fines continued to be levied before him till Trinity term 1407. The exact date of his death is unknown. His son William served as knight of the shire for Kent in 1420, and the John Rickhill who filled the same position three years later may be another son (Returns of Members of Parliament, pp. 295, 306).

[Rotuli Parliamentorum, Cal. of Patent Rolls, 1377–81; Bentley's Excerpta Historica, 1831; Annales Ricardi II and Continuatio Eulogii (iii. 373) in Rolls Ser.; Gregory, Chron. (Camd. Soc.); Adam of Usk, ed. Maunde Thompson; Dugdale's Baronage; Hasted's Kent, i. 243, ii. 460; Foss's Lives of the Judges.]

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