KNAP, Thomas (d.1404), of Bristol.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Feb. 1388

Family and Education

m. Avice or Agnes, 1da.

Offices Held

Bailiff, Bristol Mich. 1376-7; sheriff 1 Oct. 1379-80; mayor Mich. 1386-7, 13 Jan. 1391-Mich. 1392, 1396-7, 1399-1400, 1403-d.1

Tax collector, Bristol Nov. 1377; assessor May 1379; controller Dec. 1380.

Commr. of inquiry, Bristol Feb. 1387 (customs evasion), Bristol, Devon, Cornw. Dec. 1399 (evasion of customs on tin and concealment of possessions of Richard II’s adherents), Bristol Apr. 1400 (evasion of customs on cloth), May 1400, Aug. 1402 (treason and insurrection); gaol delivery Nov. 1391, May 1393; oyer and terminer May 1393, May 1400; to collect arrears of tunnage and poundage Jan. 1400; collect an aid Dec. 1401.

Collector of customs and subsidies, Bristol 8 Dec. 1391-20 Jan. 1392.

Alnager, Bristol 20 July-18 Oct. 1394.


Few men can have rivalled Thomas Knap in medieval Bristol, either in local prominence or in commercial activity. His career of almost 30 years’ duration began with his nomination to the shrievalty of Bristol county on 1 Oct. 1375, even before his election as a bailiff. Similarly nominated again in 1377, he was eventually appointed sheriff after his name had been put forward a third time, in 1379. Knap was chosen mayor of Bristol on as many as six occasions. He did not, however, serve for all of the six years, for his second mayoralty began in January 1391, when Elias Spelly* died in office, and his last ended in June 1404 with his own death. During his second term, in June 1391, he drew up an agreement with the Dominican friars of Bristol for the supply of piped water to their convent, in exchange securing a lease for the town of the conduit and spring known as ‘Pennywell’, royal confirmation of the arrangement being obtained two months later. In June 1392, following his re-election as mayor, Knap held an assize of fresh force, petitions subsequently being made to Parliament against the reversal of his judgement. When mayor for the fourth time, in October 1396, Knap joined with four other Bristol men in making a loan of £200 to Richard II, for which repayment was authorized in February following. It may have been his Membership of the Merciless Parliament and consequent association with the acts of the Lords Appellant, Richard’s enemies, which prompted him to take out a royal pardon in March 1398. Knap’s mayoralty of 1399-1400, coinciding as it did with Henry IV’s troubled first year on the throne, saw him kept busy with royal commissions, and in the course of these duties he accounted at the Exchequer for goods and chattels worth over £600 which had been forfeited by adherents of the late King; and he also paid in substantial sums of money as arrears of the subsidy of tunnage and poundage collected in Bristol. Knap concurrently held office as mayor of the Bristol Staple, and as such he presided over the first hearing of the prolonged lawsuit between Richard Hautysford and John Spyne*.2

It was as a shipowner and merchant that Knap excelled. His was a trading family: his brother William owned La Trinite of Bristol, imported salt from Brittany and traded with Ireland, and another brother, John, was similarly engaged. Thomas himself possessed at least three ships: the Cogge John, Le Barnabien and La Marie, all of which were occasionally requisitioned for royal service. In April 1370, he had been given royal orders to purchase victuals for the fleet assigned for naval defence. Two years later he was engaged to transport certain of John of Gaunt’s Spanish knights to Guienne, and in the same year, 1372, the Cogge John took part in the abortive attempt to raise the siege of Thouars, a voyage on which Knap received £10 in wages (6d. a day) as master and £11 4s. as owner of the vessel. In November 1387 he obtained leave to sail two of his ships to Plymouth or Dartmouth despite orders to the authorities of Bristol to prevent all vessels from leaving port, so it may be that he had agreed to their being used for more royal service. The frequent demands made on his ships caused him some difficulties. He and John Banbury II* petitioned Richard II in April 1398 for the release of their vessels, including La Marie, requisitioned to transport the duke of Surrey’s troops to Ireland. Later, Le Barnabien was similarly commandeered, causing Knap to protest that as a consequence he had fallen into disrepute among fellow merchants who had entrusted him with goods for export, and moreover that the crew was threatening to leave his employment. Then, in November 1403, certain of Henry IV’s soldiers travelling to Cardiff in one of Knap’s ships abandoned her in rough seas, and Knap had to obtain permission to reclaim his vessel wherever it came ashore. The Cogge John and Le Barnabien were both used for the lucrative traffice in pilgrims, their owner taking out a licence in May 1395 to convey an unlimited number of such travellers from Bristol to Santiago, although another, of two months later, was more specific, limiting him to 160 pilgrims on the Cogge John alone.3

Knap traded regularly from Bristol in his own ships, not only exporting cloth to Gascony and importing wine from there, but also having interests in the Baltic and Ireland. On one occasion, in 1378-9, he imported woad worth £48 from Bayonne, and on another tallow from Ireland; and shipments back across the Irish sea, in April 1379, included salt worth £44 10s. His knowledge of mercantile affairs led to his appointment, in December 1386, in association with Thomas Beaupyne* and Elias Spelly, to hear an appeal of a case previously brought before the court of admiralty. In May 1388, while attending Parliament for the second time, Knap took out royal letters of attorney nominating a Limerick burgess, Walter Gilbard, to carry on his business in Ireland for the forthcoming year. That same month, in association with two other merchants, he imported as much as 100 tuns of wine from Gascony. While his main centre of operations appears to have been in south-west France, Knap continued to ship small quantities of cloth to Ireland, and in April 1400 the master of his brother’s ship La Trinite, along with Knap himself, obtained royal licence to sell 20 tuns of old wine (considered to be too weak for consumption in England) and five packs of ‘westerencloth’ in the province and, with the proceeds, purchase and salt salmon for sale at home.4

Knap’s commercial ventures evidently made him a wealthy man. Although the full extent of his property in Bristol is not known, he certainly held shops near Marsh Street and in ‘Pylestrete’, and the extent of the valuable estate acquired by John Droys* through marriage to his only daughter testifies to his financial success. His holdings outside Bristol included land he rented at Barton Regis, Gloucestershire. At his death he could afford to bequeath as much as 200 marks to the commonalty of Bristol. Naturally enough, his fellow burgesses often sought his assistance in their transactions: he was named executor of John Woderoue’s will in 1382, and as a trustee of the property of William Wodeford three years later; and when Alan Wryngton made his will in 1392 he stipulated that his feoffees should sell his holdings according to arrangements previously made with Knap. Meanwhile, while up at Parliament for the first time, in October 1385, Knap and his fellow Member Elias Spelly had obtained on behalf of themselves and Walter Frampton, John Vyel* and Walter Tedistille, a royal licence to grant in mortmain to the Bristol Franciscans premises in ‘le Wynesmede’.5

On his deathbed, on 15 June 1404, Knap requested burial in the chapel of St. John the Evangelist on the Back. He left £20 towards the fabric of the church, £5 to the vicar and legacies to each of the chaplains there, but, more important, he also set aside an annual rent of £20 for the foundation of two chantries, where services might be said in perpetuity for the souls of himself, his deceased wife and his progenitors. Knap stipulated also that a priest should say mass every morning at 5 o’clock for all merchants, mariners, artificers and servants. He gave his brother William and his ‘servant’ Avice Knap £50 each, but the chief beneficiary was John Droys who, with his wife Margery, Knap’s daughter and heir, was to succeed to all the testator’s property in Bristol and elsewhere. On the day that he made his will Knap died, the new mayor taking office just a few hours later. The will was proved in the prerogative court of Canterbury on 18 June and before the mayor of Bristol in February 1405.6

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


Variants: Knappe, Napp.

  • 1. Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. xxvi. 128.
  • 2. Gt. Red Bk. (Bristol Rec. Soc. ii), 92; Bristol Chs. (ibid. xi), 188-91; Staple Ct. Bks. (ibid. v), 93; CFR, viii. 297; ix. 12; CPR, 1388-92, p. 479; 1396-9, p. 29; RP, iii. 314; C267/5, nos. 22, 26, 27, 31, 34, 37; E364/34 m. Fd, 39 m. Id; C67/30 m. 30.
  • 3. CCR, 1385-9, p. 350; 1396-9, p. 327; 1413-19, p. 6; CPR, 1367-70, p. 389; 1377-81, pp. 77, 322; 1391-6, pp. 572, 604; 1401-5, p. 326; Reg. Gaunt 1371-5, 955; S.S. Seyer, Mems. Bristol, ii. 151-4; SC8/335/15828.
  • 4. Overseas Trade (Bristol Rec. Soc. vii), 180, 184, 188, 190, 194, 196, 198; E122/16/18, 21, 26, 34, 17/1, 40/12; CPR, 1385-9, pp. 88, 439; 1399-1401, p. 260.
  • 5. Bristol Wills (Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. 1886), 5, 29, 117, 125; CIMisc. vii. 5; CPR, 1385-9, p. 37; Gt. Red. Bk. (Bristol Rec. Soc. iv), 249, 251.
  • 6. Bristol Wills, 68-69; PCC 6 Marche; E136/92/10; J. Dallaway, Antique Bristow, 89, 100, 111, 135; Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. viii. 238-9.