C.J. (Charles James) Billson.

Mediaeval Leicester online

. (page 15 of 21)
Online LibraryC.J. (Charles James) BillsonMediaeval Leicester → online text (page 15 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

great many Letters Dismissory to enable men to be ordained
by other bishops. Clowne's name does not appear, however,
to be amongst them.* Moreover, Henry of Knighton does not
mention that the Abbot had been a layman, and his silence seems
conclusive, since he was not at all the kind of person to hold
his tongue, had there been anything unusual about his Abbot's
election. He may perhaps have been a son or nephew of the

* I am indebted to the Rev. Canon C. W. Foster for this information.

burgess. There were in fact two other persons of the name of
Clowne living at Leicester in the early part of the 14th century.
At any rate the Abbot was distinguished, like the burgess, not
only for great business ability, but also for a generous hospitality
and good nature. Henry of Knighton calls him " humanissimus,"
and the list of his benefactions to the Abbey is a long one. He
obtained from the I'Cing a dispensation freeing the Abbey from
the unprofitable duty of sending representatives up to Parlia-
ment ; and he also procured exemption from payment of a
heriot on an Abbot's death. He added considerably to the rent-
roll of the rich monastery, and never seems to have gone to law
without winning his case. He rebuilt the Abbey Gates and
the Abbot's Hall, and spent a large sum on the Church. The
monks were grateful to him for changing their black shoes for
strong and useful boots, and he also obtained for them from the
Pope a grant of liberty to eat white meat during the season of
Advent. Clowne was a friend of the second Earl Henry, Duke
of Lancaster, who made him an executor of his will. When the
Duke died, in 1361, he was still a comparatively young man,
and it is likely that he had derived great help from the experienced
Abbot in framing the regulations for his College in the Newarke,
the first vdtness to the Statutes drawn up for that purpose being
William de Clowne. The Earl gave him a license to impark the
woods of his Abbey, and made him a present of some deer from
Leicester Forest ; and when Clowne entertained Edward HL
at the Abbey in 1363 the King gave him a license for holding
a Dog-show, or Market for Greyhounds, within the Abbey
walls. " He obtained a market for greyhounds and all kinds
of dogs for hunting," wrote Henry of Knighton, " in which
sports he frequently accompanied the King, princes and great
lords : but he would privately tell his friends that he took no
other delight in these sports but to gain opportunity to insinuate
with those great men for some advantage to his house." The
market was never established.

A month or two after his death Sir Ralph Basset of Sapcote,
who had made him an executor of his will, executed a deed
founding a charity in Sapcote Church, for two chaplains to pray


for the souls of himself and others, including " William Clowne,
Abbot of Leicester."

Other important burgess families of the 13th and 14th
centuries were the Kents, one of whom was Mayor twice and
another six times, the Bushbys, the Marewes, the Martins, the
Dunstables, the Warrens, the Staffords, the Knightcotes, and
the Humberstones, of whom William Humberstone, who was
Mayor in 1390, was one of the founders and benefactors of the
Guild of Corpus Christi.

Several Goldsmiths are mentioned in the Borough Records
between 1200 and 1400, one of whom was Mayor in 135 1-2 and
1352-3, and another became a notorious Lollard, and, being
excommunicated by Archbishop Courtney, was buried in un-
consecrated ground in a spot still known as " Goldsmith's

In the 15th and i6th centuries other names appear. The
most considerable burgess families of that period, were, of course,
the Herricks and the Wigstons, whose histories are too well
known for repetition, and may be read in the pages of local

Other important families were the Curteyses, the Newtons,
Norrises, Staffords, Newcombes, Stanfords, Ellises, Mortons,
Gillots, Chettles, Tatams, Reynolds and Clarkes.

Two members of the Curteys family, both named Piers,
or Peter Curteys, held the office of Bailiff one after the other for
about thirty-seven years. •]• The younger Piers was Alderman
of the Twelfth or Southgate Ward, Justice of the Peace, and
Mayor in 1482-83. He was attached to the household of King
Edward the Fourth, who '* in consideration of his good services
to the King " gave him a dwelling-house near the South Gate

* His name was Roger ; the name of the Mayor was William. James
Thompson, in his account of Leicester Mayors, seems to have confused
them. William was dead long before Archbishop Courtney's visitation,
as we read of " Alicia, late the wife of William Goldsmith," more than
a dozen years before.

t They were " bailiffs of the liberty," appointed by the Lord or King,
and not town officials chosen by the community, as their immediate
predecessors were. (Records of the Borough of Leicester, vol. ii.
Introduction xxvi.)

of Leicester, which had been forfeited by Everard Digby,
attainted of high treason in 1461. Afterwards Peter Curteys
held the office of Keeper of the Wardrobe to King Richard the

After the death of Richard III Piers Curteys became
Keeper of the Wardrobe to Henry VII and also Usher to the
icing's Chamber and Keeper of the King's Palace at West-
minster. When the power of electing parliamentary burgesses
was divided in the year 1478 between the commonalty of the
town and the Mayor and his Brethren the commons chose as
their representative Peter Curteys, and in the years 1483, 1489,
1 49 1 and 1495 they repeated their choice. Peter Curtis who
entered the Guild in 1481, and is described as a " gentleman,"
may have been his son, but nothing more is known of him. The
Will of Piers Curteys, Esquire, of Black Friars, London, Middle-
sex, Kingston, Surrey, and Leicester, was proved in the pre-
rogative court of Canterbury in 1505 by Sir Everard Fielding,
Knight, and is now at Somerset House. The testator declared
that, if he died at Leicester, or about Leicester, his body should
be buried in the Collegiate Church of Our Blessed Lady, St.
Mary the Virgin, of Newark in the County of Leicester, and,
after providing for a priest to sing for a year for his soul and for
the souls of his " fader and moder brethern and sustren frends
and benefactors and for all Christian soules," and giving legacies
of 20s. to each of his four men-servants, and 13s. 4d. to each
of two female servants, he bequeathed the residue of his estate
" to be distributed and disposed by myn executors underwritten
in deeds and werks of mercy and charitie as they by their good
discrecions shall think to be most to the pleasure of god and for
the welth of my soule." He devised his land in Middlesex in
trust for sale, the net purchase money to provide an honest
priest to pray for his soul and for the souls aforesaid as long as
it will endure, " that is to say in the Church where my body
shall be buried."

Of the Newton family, Thomas was a Merchant of the
Staple of Calais, who entered the Guild of Leicester in 1500,
became an Alderman and held several public offices. The better


known Alderman, Gabriel Newton, of the i8th century, may
have been his descendant. The Will of Thomas Newton, dated
October 8th, 1521, and proved in the prerogative court of Canter-
bury on November nth, 1521, contains some unusual pro-

" First I bequeath my soul to Almighty God and to his
blessed mother and all the holy company of heaven and my
body to be buried in the churchyard of St, Martin's in Leicester
by my children and for my mortuary my best gown after the
custom and manner Also I bequeath to the high altar of the
said church for oblations forgotten ^d. Also to the mother
church of Lincoln ^d. Also I will that my body be brought
to the ground with all the priests and clerks of St. Martin's
Church and all the three orders of friars within Leicester and
the same friars after that they have brought my body to the
church then they to go home and to sing dirige and mass for
my soul unto the which three houses I bequeath 30s. Also
the same day or shortly after I will there be done three trentals
two of them in St. Martin's Church in Leicester and the third
in the Friars in the Ashes Also I will that a stone be provided
for to lie upon my body and also my wife's if it be her mind
when God shall call her And in the same stone to be graven
mine image and my wife's and all our children departed to God
that is the number of eight Also I will my daughter Alice Newton
being yet alive have ^20 of my goods for her child's part And
if God call her from this world then I will my wife have it to
dispose as she shall seem best Unto my brother Hugh Newton
one of my riding-coats and my best chamlet doublet with a pair
of my best hose and a shirt Also I will that my brother Nicholas
Newton have another of my riding-coats with a doublet of
worsted a pair of hose cloth of white kersey a shirt a bonnet
Also I bequeath to Robert Elen a doublet of St. Thomas worsted
(wulsted) Also I will that my Executor make me a brother of the
chapterhouse of the Friars in the Ashes of the order of St.
Dominic and my wife also sister unto whom I bequeath for the
same 6s. 8d. Also I will and desire master Sir William Fisher
that he make me brother and my wife sister of the Observants

161 V

unto whom I bequeath 6s. 8d. Also I will and bequeath to master
Sir William Fisher to pray for my soul and to be good to my
wife 6s. 8d. Also I bequeath unto master Robert Harwar my
grey ambling Gelding price 40s. and in money 3^3 whom I
make Overseer of this my last Will and Testament whom I
singularly trust will be good to my wife in her need for the
calling in of my debts and for performing of this my last Will
and Testament Remnant of my goods not bequeathed I freely
give unto my wife Katherine Newton my wife whom I make
sole Executrix." Sir William Fisher was, of course, the first
Confrater of Wigston's Hospital.

William Newby was Mayor thrice, and four times Member
for Leicester. In the year 1448 or 1449 he acted as the Chair-
man of a Commission appointed to enquire into certain cases
which had arisen of persons in the service of Viscount Beaumont,
of Sir Edward Grey, Lord Ferrers of Groby and others, who had
contravened the Statutes of Livery and Maintenance. • The
household and the partisans of Lord Ferrers, exasperated at being
deprived of their old customs, turned in their fury upon the
unfortunate Commissioners, and grievously beat and wounded
William Newby, threatening at the same time to beat all the
others. At that period Queen Margaret of Anjou held the
Honour of Leicester, which she had received as her dowry.
When she heard of these doings, she wrote a letter wherein
" considering the great hurt and harm of William Newby, our
tenant," she did ordain, deem, and award that Lord Ferrers
for him and for them that beat the said William Newby should
" pay to the said William Newby 100 marks, and should be
good lord to the said William Newby and to all other tenants."
This penalty was a fairly substantial solatium for the wounded
Mayor, being probably equivalent to about a thousand pounds
of present money.

Norris, Noreys, Norice, Norreis, " the Northerner," is a
fairly common name in the Leicester annals of the 12th and 13th
centuries, and in the 15th and i6th there were several burgesses
of some note who bore it. There was a John Norris who was
Bailiff in 1439-41, and another was Mayor in 1503-4, and in


1505 Alderman of the Third Ward, which comprised the North
Suburb. It would seem to be the Will of this John Norris
dated August 29th, 1505, and proved April 22nd, 1510, which
is now at Somerset House. He had two sons, WiUiam and John,
and was a Tanner. He is described in his Will as " Johannes
Nores Barker de Parochia Omnium Sanctorum villae Leicester."
He gave his body to be buried " in capella beatae mariae infra
ecclesiam parochise Omnium Sanctorum villae predict." After
directions for his funeral, and legacies to All Saints, he gave
5 marks to be distributed among the poor on the day of his
funeral. He left 3s. ^d. to the poor men's house within the
college of the Newarke of Leicester, 2s. to the widows of St.
John's and 2s. to the prisoners in Leicester town. He gave
pecuniary legacies and real estate to his sons and daughters, and
a close in All Saints' parish to provide an obit for his soul in
All Saints' Church. To John Whitton he gave " unam togam
penulatam cum foxe quam nuper emi de Wilhelmo Plummer,"
and he appointed his wife Margaret and William Whatton,
Vicar of All Saints', Executors, and Dr. William Mason and
Richard Reynold Overseers, Mason to have 20s. and Reynold
" unum equum quem ultime emi." Another John Norris, a
Butcher, entered the Guild in 1508. Alderman William Norris,
who was Steward or Master of the Occupation of Tanners, was
Mayor in 1567-68, and again in 1579-80. His history was
recorded in a quaint epitaph inscribed on a wooden tablet in
All Saints' Church, and his place of burial in the Churchyard
is marked by a piece of rough forest granite, now just below the
surface of the ground, without inscription, about 14 feet from
the Chancel's outer wall. He had three wives, and died in
1615-16, in his 97th year. By his vidll he gave " thrice fifteen
groats yearly to All Saints' poor," and 5 marks yearly to the
second master of the Free School. It was probably another
Alderman William Norris who paid a chief rent of nine pence
a year " out of a house of his called the Fox in the North Gate,"
and who was in 1598 chosen Master or Steward of the Brewers'
Company, but refused to serve. George Norris, another Tanner,
was Mayor in the great year 1588-89, when Leicester received


her Charter of Incorporation, and the Spanish Armada was
defeated. The Banquet given by George Norris in the Guild
Hall to celebrate that event set the precedent for many sump-
tuous entertainments on subsequent anniversaries. The Will of
" George Norrice, tanner, St. Margaret's, Leicester," was proved
in the prerogative court of Canterbury in 1598. John Norris,
gentleman, who was buried at All Saints' on July 30th, 1700,
was the last male representative of this old Leicester family.

The name of Stafford, known in Leicester from an early
date, rose to some prominence in the 14th century. John of
Stafford, described as a " belleyetere," or bell-founder, entered
the Guild in 1338, and occupied the Mayor's chair no less than
four times. He was also chosen four or five times to represent
the town in Parliament. He lived in the North quarter of the
town and was a member of the Guild of the Assumption of the
Blessed Mary in the Church of All Saints. It may be inferred
that the Leicester bell-foundry, then, as afterwards, stood within
that parish. There was a Bellfoundry at Leicester as early as
1307, when Roger le Belleyetere was a taxpayer. In 1348,
Stephen, a Bellfounder, was a parishioner of All Saints. John
Stafford cast the tenor bell of All Saints' Church, and, besides
making the bells of Aylestone and Glen and other Leicestershire
villages, worked for York Minster and for Brigg in Lincoln-

The Newcombes, too, were a great family of Bellfounders.
Their business in All Saints' may have been the old 14th century
foundry, but it cannot be traced back further than the year 1500,
when William Mellers, " Bellheyterar," was admitted to the
Guild Merchant. When he died, a few years later, Thomas
Newcombe married his widow Margery, and carried on the
business. Thomas Newcombe died in 1520, and was buried
in All Saints' Church, where his tombstone may still be seen
stript of its brasses and of the three bells which signified his
calling. After his death his widow married again, and took the
business to a third husband, Thomas Bett, who was Mayor of
Leicester in the year 1529-30, and of whom it is pleasantly
recorded that, on March 17th, 1530, when he came down to


sit on the bench, he was handed a posy consisting of budding
hawthorn, beanflowers and a columbine flower, in token of the
unusual precocity of the season. Two years later there was
brought to Mr. Nicholas Reynold, then Mayor, on St. Leonard's
Day (November 6th), " a chester of appletree blooms." The
tomb of Thomas Bett lies in All Saints' Church. He left
nearly all his property to Robert Newcombe, the eldest son of
Thomas Newcombe, who had married his daughter Katharine.
Robert Newcombe, in 1540, bought the house in the old High
Street opposite to All Saints' Church, where the family resided
and carried on the business. He was a Churchwarden of All
Saints' Church, and was elected Mayor of Leicester in 1550.
The accounts of the estate of this well-to-do mediaeval burgess
admit us into his household on a footing of unusual intimacy.
They were rendered to the governing body of the town, to whom
all the expenditure on orphans had to be submitted. Richard
Pratt, one of the Executors, returned the value of his testator's
assets at £2^1 i6s. 8d. The funeral expenses were £(i 13s. 4d. ;
and the Legacies comprised ^31 13s. 4d. to Wife; ;£2o each
to Sons, Edward and William, and £2,-^ 6s. 8d. to his daughter
Anne in money, and in plate 3^31 6s. 8d. ; to his Curate, 3s. 4d. ;
To five men servants, ten shillings each ; to two maids, ten
shillings ; to the poor, twenty shillings : to the overseers of his
Will, twenty shillings ; for the mortuary, ten shillings. The
expenses of Probate were 33s. 4d. ; the keep of four children
of testator and two maids to attend them for sixteen weeks
was ;^io 13s. 4d. The wages of two servants, £/^ 2s. 4d. After
allowing the difference between the estimate made in the in-
ventory and the actual prices received, there was a loss " in the
price of a certain metal " of ^12 13s. 4d. ; in the price of the
wood, £3 6s. 8d. ; and the price of the bark, j(ji 6s. 8d., and in
the price of two kine, thirty-two shillings. The total of all these
expenses was stated to be £150 14s. 4d.

The debts paid since the testator's death were j()io 7s. yd .
The expenses of the children since the death were 3(^34 14s. 2jd.,
and comprised such items as " three yards of frieze to make
Edward a coat, 3 shillings," " Elizabeth Newcombe's board at


Mr. Herrick's for twelve weeks 13s. 4d.," " For the charges of
Robert Newcombe by the space of three years and a haU" at /6
a year, £21," " For the charges of Margaret Newcombe for one
year and a quarter at £6 the year, £y los." Sundry charges
for collecting debts and travelling came to ^13 13s. ^d., and
the grand total of payments was 3(^209 9s. 6|d., leaving a balance
in the Executor's hands of £^2 ys. i|d. " And yet this
Accountant standeth answerable to Robert, Elizabeth, Marjorie,
and Marget, four of the children of the said testator, to every
of them ;(^20, and to Anne Duckett ^6 13s. 4d., and six silver
spoons by estimation thirty shillings, ^88 3s. 4d. ; so that the
same Accountant is now in surplusage £2$ i6s. 2|d., towards
the levying whereof there are remaining towards this Accountant
debts desperate due to his said testator (total ^^39 12s. 8d.)."

Three of Robert Newcombe's sons, Thomas, Robert and
Edward, were members of the business and noted bell-founders.
An account of the various bells cast by them will be found in
North's " Church Bells of Leicestershire." Thomas died in
1580. Edward was living in 161 1. Three of his sons, another
Robert, another Thomas and another William, continued the
business. Thomas was described as " tanner and bell-founder."
The last dated bells of the Newcombes are of the year 1612 ;
after that time the foundry seems to have been taken over by
Hugh Watts, a relative by marriage, and a bell-founder whose
reputation had been for many years established.

The name of Stanford, or Stamford, occurs frequently in
the earlier annals of Leicester. It was Alexander of Stamford
who put himself at the head of the fullers, when they challenged
the authority of the Merchants' Guild in 1275, and he was aided
and abetted by Ivo de Stamford. In the i6th century a most
prolific family of this name were flourishing in the parish of
St. Nicholas, some of whose members held public positions.
Thomas Stanford, Butcher, who was a Churchwarden of St.
Nicholas, and Alderman of the Fifth, or St. Nicholas Ward,
was chosen Mayor of the Borough in the year 1559, and again
in 1573. During his first Mayoralty he was sent to London,
" to try the liberties of the town." In March, 1574, he received


twenty nobles (^£6 13s. 4d.), on condition that he should assure
to the town land worth los. a year, or an annuity of los. secured
on " the nowe mansion dwelling house of the said Thomas
Stanford in Leicester." He may be identified with the " old
Mr. Stanford," who left a legacy of ,^10 for the upkeep of the
Free Grammar School, which was built during his second
Mayoralty. The legacy was not paid, and a suit was commenced
in the Spiritual Court, before Dr. Chippingdale, prebendary of
Lincoln, against the testator's son, Richard the Elder, who was
also a Butcher and an Alderman of the town. The case was
settled by Richard Stanford and Thomas his son delivering to
the Mayor and Burgesses a bond of j(|20 for the payment oi £10
in ten years by instalments of j^i at the dwellinghouse of the

John Stanford, Butcher and Grazier, who was Mayor of
Leicester in 1576 and 1592, was a son of old Thomas Stanford.
He was a godson of John Herrick the Elder of Leicester, Iron-
monger, who died in 1589, and he married, as his second wife,
Herrick's daughter, Elizabeth, the sister of Alderman Robert
Herrick. In the year 1572 he was chosen to represent Leicester
in Parliament, when his expenses, at 2s. a day, amounted to
£j 14s. od. He was Alderman of the Ward which comprised
the old High Street from the Cross to the South Gate, and he
was instrumental in paving the street and also in rebuilding the
Cross A few years earlier he had complained of the " muckell "
which stood near his house, and a resolution was passed at a
Common Hall, prohibiting any more garbage or muck being
added to it. In 1579 he sold to the town for ^4 and his charges
the bailiwick of Leicester, which he had purchased from John
Danet. In the same year he made a donation of 40s. towards
the cost of a scarlet gown for the Recorder, the rest of the Com-
pany giving 5s. apiece. In the next year, when he was again
Member for the Borough, his charges for nine weeks Parlia-
mentary attendances came to ^6 6s. Some dissatisfaction was
expressed in the Council Chamber that these charges were
allowed, for Stanford was reported to have said when elected
that " he would not crave his charge except he did good to the


town." The general opinion was that " if Mr. Stanford do at
any time hereafter, by reason of his Burgess-ship, any good to
the town, then his charges to be allowed ; otherwise he to repay
again that which he hath received for the two Parliaments past."
The wages paid to Borough Members had long been a burden
upon the town's finances, which was bitterly resented at Leicester
as at other places. In this case there was, no doubt, an additional
grievance, because the recipient was, to all appearances, the
richest man in Leicester. At any rate, his personal effects were
valued in 1590 at a higher sum than those of any other townsman.
Among the Leicestershire subscribers of ^25 towards the defence
of this country at the time of the Spanish Armada in 1588 was
" John Stanford, Grazier." When he was again appointed
Burgess for the town in 1592 he agreed to bear his own charges,
though his colleague, James Clarke, was " to have his charge."
In 1597 his son John was appointed a Burgess only on condition
of bearing his own expenses.

In 1594 the grazier seems to have been living at a house
in Belgrave Gate, which he rented from the town. At that time
the South end of Leicester was infected with plague, and for
that reason the Mayor could not take the Judges to sit at the
Castle as usual, but was obliged, as he said, " to lodge them at
Mr. Stanford's house, and to have them sit at the Town Hall."
In the last years of his life Stanford retired to Barkby, and died
at Elmesthorpe* on March 17th, 1603. He was buried
at Barkby. His son, John Stanford, was a prominent lawyer,
who during the latter years of the i6th century was busied with
various pieces of litigation in which the town of Leicester was
concerned, chiefly in connection with the purchase of the Newarke
Grange. A letter of his, dated January 26th, 1592, which is
quoted by Thompson in his History of Leicester, shows the
independence of his spirit. He had chambers at Gray's Inn,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryC.J. (Charles James) BillsonMediaeval Leicester → online text (page 15 of 21)