Sir John Oldcastle

The exact date of Sir John's birth is not known but he is thought to have been born about 1377, son to Sir Richard Oldcastle at Almely in West Hertfordshire. His association to the castle came about on his marriage (his 3rd) in 1408 to Joan Cobham (her 4th of five) daughter of John de Cobham the 3rd Baron Cobham (who had built the castle in 1381). At the time of the marriage Joan was the holder of the title of the 4th Baroness Cobham and Sir John became the 4th Baron jure uxoris (by right of his wife).


Oldcastle followed a military career and served in the campaigns of Henry IV and became a friend and supporter of the future king Henry V. As Baron Cobham he also sat in Parliament. His eventual downfall came through his support of the Lollard cause. The Lollards being a late medieval religious sect following the teachings of John Wycliffe who believed that the wealth of the church should be used to help the poor rather than sustain the church itself (some have even suggested that this may have subsequently influenced ideas of the later protestant movement within England). Although it is thought his support of the Lollard cause was formed pre 1410 he was indicted by convocation by the Archbishop of Canterbury for unlicensed preaching on the Cobham estate and convicted of heresy in 1413 and imprisoned in the Tower of London for a period of 40 days to renounce his views. During this time he escaped with assistance and went on the run until 1417 when was captured near Wales in West Herefordshire and brought to London. On the 14th December he was executed in St Giles Fields by hanging and being burnt (alive?).


‘The Lord Cobham with his hands bound, was brought on a hurdle to the green meadows of St. Giles, and there hung in chains to the cross beams of the gallows, his body sustained in an horizontal position: faggots were placed beneath and around him and in a few moments all that was mortal of the suffering martyr became a heap of coal black dust.’

An eyewitness account of Sir John’s execution.

 Sir John Oldcastle was portrayed by Shakespeare in Henry IV Part I but after Lord Cobhams invention when the play was printed in 1598 the name was changed to Falstaff.

Epilogue – When Joan Cobham died in 1434 she was succeeded by her granddaughter Joan Brooke as 5th Baroness Cobham. Thus the de Cobham family name died out in Kent and the Baron Cobham title passed to the Brooke family name.


© 2012 F. Withers