Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Scrope, William le
SCROPE, WILLIAM le, Earl of Wiltshire (1351?–1399), was eldest son of Richard, first baron Scrope of Bolton [q. v.], by Blanche de la Pole, sister of Michael, earl of Suffolk [q. v.] The date of his birth is unknown, but cannot have been much after 1350 if he was with John of Gaunt in his dash upon Harfleur in 1369 (Scrope and Grosvenor Roll, i. 166). Four years later (July 1373) Scrope accompanied John into Guienne, and was there again in 1378 (ib. pp. 118, 122, 136). He seems to have passed thence into Italy to the camp of Charles, duke of Durazzo, who, in command of his uncle Louis of Hungary's armies, was co-operating in 1379 with the Genoese fleet in a great blockade of Venice (ib. i. 172; Daru, Histoire de Venise, ii. 122). Whether his crusade to Prussia preceded or followed this adventure there are no means of determining (Scrope and Grosvenor Roll, i. 172). He was made seneschal of Gascony on 28 May 1383, and held this office until 1392. From 1386 to 1389 he combined with it the captaincy of Cherbourg, and from the latter date that of Brest. He was not continuously absent from England during these years, however, for about 1389 he did some injury to the bishop of Durham and his servants, sufficiently grave to be atoned for by presenting a jewel worth 500l. at the shrine of St. Cuthbert (Dugdale, i. 661). On his final return Richard made him vice-chamberlain of the household (February 1393) and, after a fashion set in the previous reign, retained his services for life in consideration of a grant of the castle, town, and barton of Marlborough in Wiltshire. In the same year Scrope bought the Isle of Man ‘with its crown’ (his legal title was Dominus de Man) from the childless William Montacute, second earl of Salisbury [q. v.], and subsequently figured in treaties as one of the allies of his sovereign (St. Denys, ii. 364). He quartered the legs of Man with the arms of Scrope. ‘Miles providus et prædives’ the chronicler calls him (Annales Ricardi II, p. 157). His position in the household, and possibly his relationship to Richard's former friend Suffolk, gave Scrope the ear of the king. In 1394 he became constable of Beaumaris, a knight of the Garter, and constable of Dublin Castle. Crossing to Ireland with Richard, he was promoted (January 1395) to be chamberlain of the household, and made chamberlain of Ireland (June 1395). With the Earls of Rutland and Nottingham, Scrope negotiated the French marriage (1396) which contributed so greatly to Richard's unpopularity. He returned from another French mission in the spring of 1397 to become one of the chief agents of Richard's long-delayed vengeance upon his old antagonists of 1388. Scrope was one of the seven who appealed Gloucester, Arundel, and Warwick of treason at Nottingham in August, and again, clothed in suits of the king's colours, before the famous September parliament of that fatal year. Warwick was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment under his care in the Isle of Man. His servants were accused of treating the earl inhumanly. Scrope's reward was the earldom of Wiltshire (the only county in which he had as yet estates) and a share of the confiscations. As a special favour, his earldom was granted (29 Sept.) to him and his heirs male for ever, while the other appellants received peerages limited to the heirs male of their bodies. Barnard Castle in the bishopric of Durham, Pains Castle and other lands in the march of Wales, and two Essex manors (all of which had belonged to Warwick) fell to his share, along with several lucrative offices in Wales and the newly created principality of Chester (Dugdale, i. 662; Rot. Parl. iii. 354). In the adjourned session at Shrewsbury (January 1398) Richard forced Wiltshire on the clergy as their proctor, and appointed him ambassador to Scotland and captain of Calais Castle. On 17 Sept. he became treasurer of England. John of Gaunt dying in February 1399 and his banished son being disinherited, Wiltshire received custody of his castles of Pickering and Knaresborough with the curious qualification ‘to hold till such time as the Duke of Hereford shall by law recover them out of the king's hands’ (Dugdale, i. 662; Traison, p. 286). Before starting for Ireland, Richard appointed Wiltshire an executor of his will with a legacy of two thousand marks, and left him to assist the regent (the Duke of York). On hearing of Henry of Lancaster's landing, York gathered troops to take the field against him, and told off (12 July) Wiltshire, with Sir John Bussy, Sir Thomas Green, and Sir William Bagot, to guard the young queen at Wallingford (Fœdera, viii. 83). But Henry's rapidity and the recalcitrance of York's troops compelled a change of plan, and they all went into the west to await Richard's arrival. While the regent halted at Berkeley, Wiltshire and his three companions pushed on to Bristol. On 28 July Henry appeared before the city and summoned Sir Peter Courtenay to surrender the castle, promising free egress to all but Wiltshire, Bussy, and Green (Bagot had escaped). On these terms the castle was given up and the three put under arrest. Next day, in deference, it is alleged, to the clamour of the populace, who would gladly have torn them limb from limb, and in view of the danger of carrying them about in the pursuit of Richard, who had now landed, they were given a hasty trial before a court purporting to be that of the constable and marshal, condemned as traitors, and immediately executed (Annales, p. 246; Evesham, p. 153). Henry sent their heads to London. Even the friendly annalist betrays an uneasy consciousness that this short shrift was not readily justified. Henry had probably not yet claimed the crown, and the judges were only constable and marshal designate, the actual holders of these offices being with the king. The fact that part of the inheritance wrongfully withheld from him was in Wiltshire's possession must have given Henry a personal grudge against him. There is no doubt that in the popular mind Wiltshire and his three associates were specially identified with Richard's later tyranny, and their unpopularity appears very clearly in the political songs and in ‘Richard the Redeless’ (ii. 154), where Langland alludes punningly to the short work that Henry made of the ‘Schroff [rubbish] and schroup.’ The Lancastrian historians are unmeasured in their denunciation of Wiltshire. The human race hardly contained one more infamous and cruel, according to Walsingham (ii. 213). He was charged with farming the royal escheats and planning the destruction of many magnates in order to swell his profits (Annales, p. 240). Norfolk had brought this latter accusation against him in 1397 (Rot. Parl. iii. 360). But in the absence of proofs we may leave it doubtful whether he was quite so black as they painted him.
His sentence was confirmed by an attainder in the first parliament of Henry IV (ib. iii. 353). The portrait reproduced in Scrope's ‘History of Castle Combe’ seems to be one of the set of constables of Queenborough painted by Lucas Cornelisz [q. v.] under Henry VIII, and is probably quite imaginary. Wiltshire left no issue by his wife, Isabel, daughter and coheiress of Sir Maurice Russell of Dorset. All his lands being forfeited, the king granted her a small pension (ib. iii. 383). She married, secondly, Thomas de la Ryviere; and, thirdly, Stephen Haytfield, dying on 1 May 1437.[Rotuli Parliamentorum; Rymer's Fœdera, original edit.; Scrope and Grosvenor Roll, ed. Nicolas, 1832; Walsingham's Historia Anglicana and Annales Ricardi II (with Trokelowe) in Rolls Series; Monk of Evesham, ed. Hearne; Chronique de la Traison (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Dugdale's Baronage; Beltz's Memorials of the Order of the Garter; Notes and Queries, 4th ser. iii. 437, 599; Nichols's Royal Wills.]