William Gascoigne

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For other people named William Gascoigne, see William Gascoigne (disambiguation).
Sir William refuses to sentence Archbishop Scrope

Sir William Gascoigne (c. 1350 – 17 December 1419) was Chief Justice of England during the reign of King Henry IV.

Life and work[edit]

Gascoigne's (alternately spelled Gascoyne[1]) reputation is that of a great lawyer who in times of doubt and danger asserted the principle that the head of state is subject to law, and that the traditional practice of public officers, or the expressed voice of the nation in parliament, and not the will of the monarch or any part of the legislature, must guide the tribunals of the country.

He was a descendant of an ancient Yorkshire family. Though he is said to have studied at the University of Cambridge his name is not found in any university or college records.[2] It appears from the year-books that he practised as an advocate in the reigns of Edward III and Richard II. When Henry of Lancaster was banished by Richard II, Gascoigne was appointed one of his attorneys, and soon after Henry's accession to the throne was made chief justice of the court of King's Bench. After the suppression of the rising in the north in 1405, Henry eagerly pressed the chief justice to pronounce sentence upon Lord Scrope, the Archbishop of York, and the Earl Marshal Thomas Mowbray, who had been implicated in the revolt. This he absolutely refused to do, asserting the right of the prisoners to be tried by their peers. Although both were later executed, the chief justice had no part in this. It has been doubted whether Gascoigne could have displayed such independence of action without prompt punishment or removal from office.

The popular tale of his committing the Prince of Wales (the future Henry V) to prison must also be regarded as unauthentic, though it is both picturesque and characteristic. It is said that the judge had directed the punishment of one of the prince's riotous companions, and the prince, who was present and enraged at the sentence, struck or grossly insulted the judge. Gascoigne immediately committed him to prison, and gave the prince a dressing-down that caused him to acknowledge the justice of the sentence. The king is said to have approved of the act, but it appears that Gascoigne was removed from his post or resigned soon after the accession of Henry V. He died in 1419, and was buried in All Saints' Church, the parish church of Harewood in Yorkshire. (This even attracted gazetteers in the 19th century, suggesting his tomb amongst places worthy of visit.[3] [4] ) Some biographies of the judge have stated that he died in 1412, but this is disproved by Edward Foss in his Lives of the Judges. Although it is clear that Gascoigne did not hold office long under Henry V, it is not impossible that the scene in the fifth act of Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 2, (in which Henry V is crowned king, and assures Gascoigne that he shall continue to hold his post), could have some historical basis, and that the judge's resignation shortly thereafter was voluntary.

Family[edit]

He was born in Gawthorpe W-Riding, Yorks, to Sir William Gascoigne and Agnes Franke. In 1369, Gascoigne married firstly Elizabeth de Mowbray (1350–1396), granddaughter of Alexander Mowbray, son of Roger de Mowbray, 1st Baron Mowbray. Some sources show an alternate ancestry for Elizabeth Mowbray.[5][6] He married secondly Joan de Pickering, widow of Henry de Greystock.

Issue[7] by first marriage[edit]

Name Notes
Sir William Gascoigne II (1370–1422) m. Joan Wyman. Their descendant, William Gascoigne V, married Lady Margaret Percy and became ancestor to many notable persons. William V's uncle (William III's younger son), John Gascoigne, was ancestor of William Gascoigne.[8] William III's daughter Margaret married William Scargill III and became ancestress of Martin Frobisher.[9] William V's sister Margaret was ancestress of Mary Ward.[10]
Elizabeth Gascoigne m. John Aske
Margaret Gascoigne m. Robert Hansard

Issue[7][11][12] by second marriage[edit]

Name Notes
Sir Christopher Gascoigne (born 1407)
James Gascoigne (born 1404) great-great-grandfather of George Gascoigne,[8] poet
Agnes Gascoigne (c. 1401 – after 1466) m. Robert Constable. They were great-grandparents of Sir Robert Constable.
Robert Gascoigne (born c. 1410)
Richard Gascoigne (born c. 1413)

His brother, Nicholas Gascoigne, was ancestor of the Gascoigne baronets.[13][14] Another brother, Richard (c. 1365 – 1423), married Beatrice Ellis,[15] and was possibly the father of Thomas Gascoigne,[16] Chancellor of Oxford University. William Gascoigne's sister, Johanna, married Sir John Scargill[17] and became ancestress of George Gascoigne and Martin Frobisher.[9]

Ancestry[edit]

His Great Grandson, also called Sir William Gascoigne, married Joan Neville. Their son, also Sir William, married Lady Margaret Percy, the daughter of Henry Percy, 3rd Earl of Northumberland and Eleanor de Poynings, Baroness de Poynings.[18] They had a daughter Agnes (or Anne) Gascoigne, who in turn became the wife of Sir Thomas Fairfax, who is the ancestor of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.[19]

References[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir Walter de Cloptone
Lord Chief Justice
1400–1413
Succeeded by
Sir William Hankeford