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Shareshull, Sir Williamlocked

  • Richard W. Kaeuper

Shareshull, Sir William (1289/90–1370), justice, was born in Staffordshire, at Shareshull or possibly Walsall, into a family which may have ranked among the lesser gentry; perhaps he was a younger son of Adam Shareshull and Katherine. His highly successful career brought him estates in Oxfordshire (especially Barton Odonis), Staffordshire, Worcestershire, and Shropshire. He married twice, soon after 1316 and again in the summer of 1357, each time to a woman named Dionisia. His first marriage probably linked him to the Purcells, a family of slightly higher status than his own. His second marriage, to the daughter and heir of William Bottiler, greatly extended his landholding. His only son, William, predeceased him. His three daughters, Katherine, Elizabeth, and Agnes, made what were considered good marriages, reflecting their father's social rise; Agnes, for example, married Sir Richard Abberbury (c. 1330–1399) [see under Abberbury family].

Shareshull first appears in the legal records, which document so much of his life, in the 1310s, both as a litigant and a juror in his home county. His first appearance in the common pleas came in 1316; he first acted as an attorney, for the man who probably was (or would soon become) his father-in-law, in 1319. Having served a period as an apprentice-at-law, his career reached a new stage by 1324 when he was promoted to serjeant-at-law. Appointments to a variety of judicial commissions began in the same year and continued for four decades; moreover, from this time the yearbooks begin to mention him frequently as a pleader. His first assize commission came in March 1329. The regard of men important in the king's government, and in the law courts, no doubt lay behind Shareshull's appointment as king's serjeant at the end of 1330. In Easter term 1333 he became a justice of the common bench, receiving the status of knight-banneret with his appointment. For two terms in 1334 he moved to the king's bench, replacing Geoffrey Scrope, but then returned to his former post until Edward III removed him (along with other officials) in the crisis of 1340–41.

Shareshull was temporarily disgraced and confined in Caerphilly Castle, but was never formally charged and was soon back in favour and at work as a justice; he returned to the common bench in 1342 and was again a frequent holder of judicial commissions. On 3 July 1344 he became chief baron of the exchequer, leaving this post in Hilary term 1346 to become second justice of the common bench. From Easter 1350 to Easter 1361 he sat as chief justice of the king's bench. His biographer, Bertha Putnam, argued that he was highly influential in the legislation regulating labour after the plague of 1348–9, and in the statutory definition of treason, that he was a determined upholder of law and order, and a tireless collector of sizeable amounts of revenue through judicial fines.

For thirty years Shareshull served Edward, the Black Prince, as well as his father; he came to be retained as a 'bachelor' of the prince, conducted judicial inquests in his lands, and sat frequently on his council. He was likewise considered a close adviser in matters of law by such lords as the abbots of Glastonbury and Ramsey. Such service must have been well rewarded despite the oath, required by the ordinance of 1346, that justices give no counsel to litigants in matters concerning the king and take no fees, robes, or gifts.

Shareshull was not universally popular; in the Middle English poem 'Wynnere and Wastoure', for example, he is denounced by name. Moreover, he personally encountered the violence that troubled his era. He was attacked and abducted in June 1329, possibly as an attempt to keep him out of court; two prominent knights attacked his household in York in 1333; armed force was threatened against his sessions in Wiltshire in 1336, and may have hastened his departure into a neighbouring county; two of his houses were attacked in 1337, and other break-ins came in 1355 and 1358; his judicial sessions at Tredington were broken up by force in 1347; a clerk and others, probably labourers, were brought to court in 1358, charged with having announced that they would gladly strike Shareshull, given the chance. The most interesting incident occurred in 1344 at Ipswich, following oyer and terminer sessions that had yielded particularly heavy fines. A man who had 'busied himself about the king's business there before William de Shareshull and his fellows' had been killed, and as soon as the justices left, the townspeople, rich and poor, feasted the killers with delicacies and honoured them with gifts, 'as if God had come down from Heaven'. Then from the very steps of the hall of pleas they 'caused proclamation to be made that William of Shareshull was to appear before them under penalty of a hundred pounds … in mockery of the king's justices and ministers in his service' (Sayles, 6.37). Ipswich soon had its liberties taken into the king's hands.

Shareshull's religion may have been of a conventional sort. If he sounded a secular note in his judicial opinions, he could speak in tones of standard piety in a letter to his friend Walter Monington, abbot of Glastonbury. His bequests were likewise typical of his age and status. His piety was certainly not lacking in that degree of independence so often seen among the privileged ranks of the laity. In the dispute between Thomas Lisle, bishop of Ely (d. 1361), and Blanche, Lady Wake, who was the king's cousin, Shareshull and other royal justices and officials were cited in 1357 to appear in the papal court at Avignon; they disregarded this citation and fell under papal excommunication. The excommunication was lifted some time later, but Shareshull had earned the king's gratitude for his stand. His vigour lasted nearly to the end of his life. Even after his retirement from the king's bench, Shareshull continued to serve on a variety of judicial commissions. Early in 1369, however, he entered the Franciscan convent in Oxford as a novice and died, and was buried there early in the following year.


  • B. H. Putnam, The place in legal history of Sir William Shareshull, chief justice of the king's bench, 1350–1361 (1950)
  • J. R. Maddicott, ‘Law and lordship: royal justices as retainers in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century England’, Past and Present, suppl. 4 (1978)
  • D. W. Sutherland, ed., The eyre of Northamptonshire: 3–4 Edward III, ad 1329–1330, 2 vols., SeldS, 97–8 (1983)
  • G. O. Sayles, ed., Select cases in the court of king's bench, 7 vols., SeldS, 55, 57–8, 74, 76, 82, 88 (1936–71), vols. 3–4, 5–6
  • M. C. B. Dawes, ed., Register of Edward, the Black Prince, 4 vols., PRO (1930–33)
  • G. Wrottesley, ed., ‘Extracts from the plea rolls, 1 to 15 Edward III’, Collections for a history of Staffordshire, William Salt Archaeological Society, 11 (1890)
  • M. S. Arnold, ed., Select cases of trespass from the king's courts, 1307–1399, 1 (1985)
J. H. Baker, ; SeldS, suppl. ser., 5 (1984)
Selden Society
Chancery records (Public Record Office)
Public Record Office