Sir John Harleston at Esol and Freydvill’ in Nonington

The 1377 St. Alban’s Abbey manorial rental rolls for Esol record that the house, buildings and land previously held by Sir John de Beauchamp was then owned Sir John Harleston, who also had a life interest in the Manor of Freydvill’.

Sir John Harleston, sometimes spelt Harlestone or Herliston, had much in common with Sir John de Beauchamp, his predecessor at Esol. Sir John was a knight from a land-owning Essex family who had fought in the Hundred Years War with some distinction on behalf of the English Crown and as a captain in the Free Companies. John Harleston was with Edward III’s army when  the king invaded Normandy in 1346 and Harleston’s share in the sale of a French knight taken prisoner during the march through Normandy amounted to no less than £1,500. This campaign led to the English victory over the French at Crecy where it’s possible that John Harleston did some service for Geoffrey de Say, Lord Say, as at some time prior to 1356 he was given a lifetimes interest in the Manor of Freydvill’ by Geoffrey de Say. Sir John’s lifetime interest was to  revert to the de Says or their heirs when Sir John died, and he retained this interest until around 1400 or so. Maud de Say, the wife of Geoffrey de Say and sister of Thomas, 10th Earl of Warwick, also held Sir John in high regard. When she died in 1369 she left him her French and Latin books, a valuable bequest at a time when  books were copied and illustrated by hand. This bequest may also indicate that Sir John was literate.

In 1359 John Harleston was credited with the capture of Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, some thirty miles north-west of Dijon. The town had been used as a storage depot by the French and according to the chronicler Jean Froissart, the supplies captured were enough to feed the English army for a month.

The Hundred Years War between England and France consisted of periods of campaigning with intense fighting interspersed with truces and peace treaties. During these periods of peace soldiers would be paid off as they were not needed and there were no standing armies at this time. Many unemployed soldiers then formed themselves into “free companies” and raided and looted the towns and countryside of France on their own behalves. In France these companies were known as “bandes de routiers” or “écorcheurs” and were usually led by captains from the lesser nobility, such as John Harleston.
These armed bands became notorious in France after the Treaty of Brétigny concluded in 1360 between King Edward III of England, and King John II which released the French king on payment of a ransom of three million crowns. The treaty also temporarily brought hostilities to a halt, and saw the English renounce claims to Anjou and Normandy while retaining Gascony and Guyenne. However, the treaty was never fully implemented, and war broke out again in 1369.

John Harleston gained some notoriety during his time as a very successful “routier”. It was said by the chronicler Jean Froissart that Harleston gave a banquet where the guests drank from a hundred silver chalices looted from churches in the Champagne area of France, but the English chronicler Thomas Walsingham praised him for his leadership abilities and his skills with weapons. Harleston successfully led a free company for several years in the early 1360’s and became very wealthy, but appears to have suffered from some remorse for his past sinful activities as a “routier” as in 1366 he went on a pilgrimage to Rome to seek Papal absolution and avoid  excommunication.  Pope Urban VI  had previously made a series of pronouncements in an attempt to stem the activities of the “routiers”, especially those, as in the case of Sir John, who were accused of attacking and stealing church property.

During the 1360’s Sir John appears to have embarked on various diplomatic and other missions on behalf of the King, one of which was helping to negotiate a truce between England and France in 1366. On the resumption of hostilities between England and France in 1369 Sir John was appointed Captain of Guise and held the post until late 1376. At some time during 1376 Sir John was actively involved in fighting the French as in that year he and Sir Philip la Vache jointly received the very large sum of £2,500 for two knights they took prisoner.

In 1379 Sir John was made Captain of Cherbourg, and for at least part of that year he was also Captain of Froissart and Kervyn de Lettenhove. During his time at Cherbourg Sir John took part in various skirmishes, and in one of these he captured a French knight, William de Bordes, whom he gave to King Richard II in return for a grant of 10,000 francs. Sir John is also said to have received £1,583 6s 8d for the ransom of another unnamed French knight,  a considerable sum at a time when Richard II’s annual revenue was around £70,000.

After serving as Captain of Cherbourg Sir John accompanied Thomas Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester, on raids into various parts of France which further added to his considerable and steadily increasing wealth. For these raids Sir John contracted to provide six bannerets [knights of the highest order of knighthood], seventy three knights and eighty archers.

As reward for his service Sir John was made a Knight of the Chamber by King Richard II. As with Sir John de Beauchamp it’s likely Sir John Harleston acquired Esol as a stopping off place for journeys between England and the Continent through the port of Sandwich. Esol was ideally situated just some five or six miles from the port and would have provided a comfortable place to stay on arrival from the Continent or awaiting a ship to cross the Channel for Sir John or members of his household and entourage.

Sir John was back in England in 1381 and helped to defeat and punish participants in the Peasants Revolt in Kent and Essex on behalf of King Richard II.  However, he was not in England for long, and he returned to the Continent as part of Despenser’s Crusade of 1383.  This was a military expedition led by Henry le Despenser, the Fighting Bishop of Norwich, which was intended to help the city of Ghent in its struggle against the supporters of the Antipope Clement VII during the great Western or Papal Schism, a split within the Catholic Church which lasted from 1378 to 1417.  This expedition was an integral part of the Hundred Years War as France supported Clement, whose court was based in Avignon, whilst the English supported Pope Urban VI whose court was in Rome.

In 1384 Sir John embarked on a journey to Rome but despite having an Imperial safe conduct from the Holy Roman Empire, he was taken prisoner by Bruno von Rappoltstein, an independent nobleman with holdings in both France and the Holy Roman Empire. Supplications from both the King of England and the Pope in Rome could not effect Sir John’s release. Even the intervention of King Wenceslas IV of Bohemia, the eldest son of the Holy Roman Emperor was to no avail, and  Sir John was held prisoner by Bruno von Rappoltstein at various places until 1392.
On his release he was granted an annuity of one hundred marks [just under £67] by King Richard II to help compensate him for losses incurred during his imprisonment and this annuity was subsequently confirmed by Henry IV in October 1399. After his release Sir John led a quieter life, but still retained some interest in the Royal Court’s affairs until his death in the early 15th century. It appears that around 1400 Sir John transferred his life interest in the Manor of Fredville to John Quadryng, a City of London mercer, and his wife Margaret, and it is also likely that this when Sir John also sold the Esol house and lands to John Quadryng.

Sir John appears to have died in late 1405 as the writ for his post mortem inquisition was issued in January of 1406 , but as at the time of his death Sir John held no lands in Kent directly of the King there is no record of a post mortem inquisition being held.