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The son of Scotangle: Sir John Steward (d. 1447)


Bennett, M, The son of Scotangle: Sir John Steward (d. 1447), Journal of the Sydney Society for Scottish History, 15 pp. 17-47. ISSN 1320-4246 (2015) [Refereed Article]

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In 1447 Sir John Steward made a will that is a memorial to an eventful life. Describing himself as the son of John Steward alias ‘Scotangle’, that is Scot-English, he requested burial in the mother church of Calais. He named his eldest son Thomas as his heir, bequeathing him his military equipment and a ship called Grace de Dieu given him by John, duke of Bedford, brother of Henry V and Regent of France. Other bequests included a gold goblet given him by Queen Catherine at her coronation and a diamond ring given him by Eleanor Cobham, duchess of Gloucester, while she was in his custody. He bequeathed his mansion at Swaffham, Norfolk, to a second son Robert, and silverware and jewelry to his daughter Magdalena. Steward assigned the tutela of his eldest son to Sir Thomas Kyriel and appointed him his executor. The will was proved on 3 September 1447. It survives in the registers of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, now held by the National Archives. A copy also appears in a manuscript miscellany compiled by Augustine Steward, a lawyer and antiquary in London, around 1570. The centrepiece of the manuscript is a Latin chronicle, tracing the history of his family from Banquo, through the high stewards of Scotland, ‘Scotangle’ and Sir John Steward, to the Stewards of his generation, most especially his branch of the family, based at Lakenheath, Suffolk. The manuscript also includes transcripts of some twentyfive old charters in Augustine’s possession in 1567. Apparently, Augustine did not have an original copy of Sir John Steward’s will. A transcript appears at the end of the manuscript with a note, dated 1564, providing a reference to the register at Lambeth.

This article’s primary concern is to explore the career of Sir John Steward, the testator of 1447. The attention that has been hitherto paid to him has been entirely genealogical and has arguably generated more heat than light. The pedigree of the Scotangle Stewards came under assault in the late nineteenth century, caught initially in the crossfire of the debunking of the myth of Banquo and the notion that Oliver Cromwell was, through his mother Elizabeth Steward, a distant cousin of Charles I. Walter Rye, a Norfolk genealogist, argued that Augustine sought to conceal his family’s modest origins and fabricated its history to support its heraldic claims. John Horace Round, the great pedigree buster, acknowledged that the Scotangle legend predated Augustine and that the charters he transcribed appeared authentic. He nonetheless regarded the pedigree as one of the most egregious forgeries of all time and identified Augustine’s uncle, Robert Steward, prior of Ely, as the fabricator. Of course, neither Rye nor Round could deny that there was a notable knight, well connected in royal circles in the reigns of Henry V and Henry VII, called Sir John Steward. For Rye, this knight, ‘the genuine fighter at Agincourt’, was appropriated and enlisted as a cover for the family’s humble origins. In an undeservedly neglected article in the mid-1920s, however, Henry Steward, an amateur family historian, made a very able response to Rye and Round, pointing out major flaws in their argument and providing a more thorough analysis of the evidence. Above all, of course, there is the testimony of the will of 1447. Neither Rye nor Round attempt an explanation or even ponder the significance of the fact that the testator identified himself as the son of an anglicised Scot.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Research Division:History, Heritage and Archaeology
Research Group:Historical studies
Research Field:European history (excl. British, classical Greek and Roman)
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in history, heritage and archaeology
UTAS Author:Bennett, M (Professor Michael Bennett)
ID Code:107990
Year Published:2015
Deposited By:School of Humanities
Deposited On:2016-04-03
Last Modified:2016-10-17

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