A story of a hunt for medieval ancestors….


One of my first “finds” in the early days of my Family History research was in The Book of the Medieval Knight by Stephen Turnbull, [1] and a reference to a John Judde, who was described as a Merchant of London and appointed as Master of the Kings Ordnance in a Royal Warrant issued in 1456. This with other research at the time on my ancestors, set me off on the hunt for more information. The following account is what I found on John Judde.

John Judde

John was probably born circa 1415. The references we have to him in the Calendar of Patent Rolls and Close Rolls referred to him as ‘of London’, an Esquire, and Citizen and Merchant of London. [2] In 1448 he is referred to as one of the King’s Serjeants at Arms and from 1449 onwards John is mentioned in further entries as being employed on the Kings business in maritime matters. He was commissioned in 1449 to take mariners and soldiers to serve on the sea, and during 1450 to arrest ships in the Port of London for the transport of Lord Rivers and soldiers to Aquitaine. [3] He also seems to have come to the attention of Cade’s rebels in 1450, being mentioned in a particularly critical political poem.  It is not clear what he had done to provoke the rebels’ ire, but it would seem he was marked out as an enemy of the rebellion! [4]

It is regarding his early career that the ‘Soldier Team’ were able to fill in further details.  They have found a reference in the Issue Rolls (which record payments to soldiers serving for Crown pay).  This records a payment on 30 October 1453 to John Judde of London, Merchant, ‘who has lately set out to Bordeaux in the company of Lord Talbot, for 3 months service with 100 ‘hominibus defensiblibus’ (armed men)’. [5]   This would be the last time troops were sent to France, as following the defeat and death of Talbot in 1453 at Castillon, the Hundred Years War was effectively at an end.  It is therefore interesting to speculate whether Judde was with Talbot at this fateful battle, or was he perhaps part of a reinforcement party from England, and thus never made the battle? [6]

Whatever the case, it is clear that this service seems to have passed safely for John. In 1456 he was tasked with collecting Customs in the Port of Chichester. In December of that year he was made Master of the Kings Ordnance. [7] The French had used their artillery to great effect at the decisive battle at Castillon, three years earlier.  Judde’s presence in Gascony in 1453, either at the battle, or as a reinforcement, suggests that he may have picked up the importance of gunpowder weaponry from his own experience at the receiving end.  From his return to England, he specialised in this battle winning technology.


On 21 December 1456 a Royal Warrant appointing John Judde, King’s Serjeant and Merchant of London as Master of the Kings Ordnance was issued. This grant was for life. John attracted Henry VI’s attention by offering to provide 60 serpentines and twenty tons of saltpetre and sulphur ‘at his own expense and deliver them to the crown under certain reasonable conditions’. [8]   Within a year he had supplied 26 Serpentines. [9] These were field guns mounted on mobile carriages and had a calibre of between two and six inches and were between three and seven feet long. John also manufactured a Culverin. This was smaller than the Serpentine. All of these were transported to Kenilworth Castle. Three great Serpentines were also ordered by the King through his Master of Ordnance and he wanted assurance from John Judde that with these he would be able to subdue any castle or place which rebels might try to use against him. [10]


John certainly fulfilled part of his Contract with the King for on 19 May 1457 he was assigned at the Exchequer £133 8s 5 ½d towards payment for 26 new Serpentines with their apparatus for the field. Also included would have been various amounts of sulphur, gunpowder, saltpetre, a culverin a mortar, and the cost of carriage and two carts to go from London to Kenilworth. [11]


John was not just adept at manufacturing ‘modern’ gunpowder weapons, for on 25 February 1458 John Judde with Thomas Thorp, Thomas Bettes, William Jakes and Richard Eston were appointed to arrest the necessary workmen required for the Kings works to manufacture certain bows. [12]   Anyone who has knowledge of this period of history will know that archery played a major part in the winning of battles. In the conflict with France at the battles of Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt, English archers played a vital role in winning the day. Keeping with this demand for archery equipment, on 10 April 1459 a Commission was issued requiring John Judde, Master of the Kings Ordnance with Robert Wylbram, Thomas Bettys and William Teyes to purvey bows, arrows and cords for bows with other things necessary to the office of the artillery and the offices ‘des bowyers, flecchers and stryngers, and carriage therefore, and to arrest the workmen and labourers necessary herein’, it is evident that master craftsmen were being sought out to procure the best. [13]


It seems that John was also able to use his earlier naval experience to assist the Lancastrian cause.  In the autumn of 1459 John was commissioned to assist in the fitting out of Ships for Somerset’s expedition to Calais and to seize armaments which had once belonged to York.[14]


Later in December 1459 at Coventry, John Judde Esquire, received another commission to go out and seize ‘all the ordnance and habiliments of war, late of Richard, the late Duke of York, Richard the late Earl of Warwick and Richard the late Earl of Salisbury’, appointing him to ‘visit all castles, fortified towns and fortalices in the realm and to survey the ordnance and habiliments of war therein, repairing where possible those that are insufficient by indentures to be made between him and the Constables or Keepers thereof’. [15]


Perhaps in recognition of his good and loyal service, on 30 December 1459 John Judde, Kings Esquire and Master of the King’s Ordnance received a ‘grant for life with the wages of £50 yearly by the hands of the sheriffs of London from their receipts of the green wax and the subsidy on strangers dwelling in the city; in lieu of a grant thereof by letters patent, surrendered as invalid because the yearly wages are not specified therein’. [16]


In the following year, March 1460, John Judde with Henry Nevill, Alexander Norton, Robert Parker, John Carpenter and Dederic Tyle (recte, Pyle) were commissioned to take carpenters called ‘whelers’ and ‘cartwryghtz and other carpenters, stonemasons, smiths, plumbers, artificers and workmen for the works of the Kings ordnance and bombards, cannons, culvryns, serpentines, crossbows, bows, arrows, saltpetre, powder for cannons, lead, iron and all other stuff for the said ordnance and carriage therefore and horses called hakeneys’. [17]

Therefore, during the summer of 1460 John was obviously kept busy transporting these armaments and guns from the Tower of London to various Royal fortresses around the country including Kenilworth which had become the Kings residence for a while. It was while on one of these missions John was killed at St Albans on 22 June 1460. [18] A chronicle reports, ‘And on the Friday (feria sexta) before the feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist a certain person called Judde, detested of men, passed through London towards the King with 30 cartloads loaded with canon, powder for them, lances, axes (malleis), and other ordinances of war. And on the following Sunday the same Judde was killed between St. Albans and Dunstapill’. One London correspondent or chronicler of the time, Robert Bale, described his fate as a ‘wretched end, as the caitiff deserved’. He described Judde as a man who had maliciously conspired and laboured to ordain and make all things for war to the destruction of the Duke of York and all the other Lords. [19]


From the outline of John’s career, provided above, it is clear that up until his death, he had been energetic in royal service to the Lancastrian King, Henry VI.


The battle of Northampton took place on 10 July 1460 with the Kings forces taking up a defensive position at Northampton, in the grounds of Delapre Abbey, with their backs to the River Nene, with a water-filled ditch in front of them topped with stakes and now without the support of John Judde. The defending army was 10,000 to 15,000 strong, consisting mainly of men-at-arms. The Lancastrians also had a quantity of field artillery which had been previously manufactured and delivered by John Judde.

At two o’clock the Yorkists advanced. The men were in column, but the hard rain blowing in their faces somewhat hindered them. As they closed with the Lancastrians, Warwick was met by a fierce barrage of arrows; luckily for them, though, the rain had rendered the Lancastrian collection of cannon quite useless, so the late John Judde’s efforts were all brought to no effect.This proved a fatal blow to the loyal Lancastrians: after this, the battle lasted a mere thirty minutes. The defenders, unable to manoeuvre inside the fortifications, fled the field as their line was rolled up by attackingYorkists. The Duke of Buckingham, the Earl of Shrewsbury and Lords Egremont and Beaumont all died trying to save Henry from the Yorkists closing on his tent. Three hundred Lancastrians were slain in the battle, the King was captured and once more became a puppet in the hands of the Yorkists.


This is the story I have been able to put together about my ancestor John Judde and it would be tempting to speculate what would have happened at the battle of Northampton, had he not been killed just 20 days earlier.  Indeed, could it be that the Yorkists sought out this loyal Lancastrian in order to remove his important support for the Lancastrian regime in forthcoming encounters?

To date I have not yet been able to establish exactly where John Judde was murdered in St Albans, but I am hopeful of one day locating something in one of the surrounding churches, even a plaque to commemorate his passing, so I could pay my respects.

It is of interest to note the existence of other Juddes within the Soldier database, men such as John Judde, (archer); Richard Jude, (armed archer); Robert Judde, (man-at-arms); Stephen Judde, (archer); Thomas Judde, (man at arms); William Judde, (archer). [20]   It may also be that they are members of the same or related family.

David Judde

[1] Stephen Turnbull, The Book of the Medieval Knight (Crown Publications, 1985), p. 163.

[2] Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1446 – 1452, p. 389 dated 30 Aug 1450, and H S Vere Hodge, Sir Andrew Judde (1953), p. 123

[3] Vere Hodge, Sir Andrew Judde, p. 123, and CPR, 1446 – 1452, pps. 265, 389.

[4] R. A. Griffiths, The Reign of King Henry VI: The Exercise of Royal Authority 1422-1461 (London, 1981), p. 639.

[5] The National Archives (TNA) E 403/795, m.3, dated 30th October 1453.

[6] A.J.Pollard, John Talbot and the War in France, 1427-1453 (London, 1983), pp.137-8, where he speculates that Talbot delayed at the end of June, perhaps waiting for reinforcements to be sent from England.

[7] Anthony Goodman, Wars of the Roses: Military Activity and English Society 1452 – 1497 (London 1981),  p. 160.

[8] Goodman, Wars of the Roses, p. 160.

[9] Turnbull, The Book of the Medieval Knight, p. 163.

[10] Bertram Wolffe, Henry VI (Yale, 2001), p. 315 citing TNA E 404/71/3/43.

[11] Goodman, Wars of the Roses, p. 160.

[12] CPR, 1452 – 1461, p. 416, dated 25 Feb 1458.

[13] CPR, 1452 – 1461, p. 485, dated 10 April 1459.

[14] Goodman, Wars of the Roses, p. 160.

[15] CPR, 1452 – 1461,  p. 527, dated 1 Dec 1459.

[16] CPR, 1452 – 1461, p. 536, dated 30 Dec 1459.

[17] CPR, 1452-1461, p. 605, 2 Mar 1460.

[18] Griffiths, The Reign of King Henry VI, pps. 858, 876n citing CPR, 1452 – 1461, p. 605.

[19] G. Baskerville, ‘A London Chronicle of 1460’, English Historical Review, volume 28, no 109, January 1913, p. 125, translation from the Latin by David Judd. John Gillingham, The Wars of the Roses, Peace and Conflict in 15th century England (London, 1981), p. 26.

[20] Found by searching for the surname ‘Jud*’ on the muster database at