REYNWELL, John (d.1445), of London.

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




Family and Education

1st. s. of William Reynwell (d.1403/4), of London, ironmonger, by his w. Isabel. m. 1s. 1da.2

Offices Held

Tax collector, London Dec. 1407.3

Auditor, London 21 Sept. 1409-11, 1414-15, 1417-18, 1419-20; alderman, Aldersgate Ward by 11 Apr. 1416-26, Bread Street Ward by 20 May 1426-32, Billingsgate Ward c.1432-Oct. 1445; mayor, London 13 Oct. 1426-7.4

Sheriff, London and Mdx. Mich. 1411-12.

Mayor of the Staple of Calais 1428/9-aft. 23 Feb. 1432.5

Commr. to distribute a tax allowance, London Dec. 1433, Feb. 1434, June 1445, July 1446.

Ambassador to negotiate a commercial treaty with Holland, Flanders and Brabant 23 Nov. 1438.6


Reynwell’s father, who came from Bromley in Kent, began life as a girdler, but in 1399, two years after being made alderman of Billingsgate Ward, he assumed the livery of the Ironmongers’ Company instead. At some point in his career he was made a freeman of Stratford-upon-Avon, where he owned property and probably had commercial contacts. He died a wealthy man, leaving his eldest son, the subject of this biography, to execute his will and administer the inheritance of his three younger children. About six years later, in October 1409, John Reynwell submitted his final account to the chamberlain of London for the sums he had disbursed.7 Like his father before him, he did not simply do business as an ironmonger, but had diverse and extremely lucrative commercial interests, the chief of which seems to have been in the wool trade. Between August 1404 and February 1406, for example, he obtained royal licences to export a bare minimum of 122 sarplers of wool from London to Calais, and it is likely that he dispatched similar shipments from other English ports. This was certainly the case after September 1408, when he and his close friend, Drew Barantyn*, were excused customs duties of 1,000 marks on wool to be sent from Chichester and London in repayment of a loan made by them to the Crown. He also recovered in this way the £285 which he spent seven years later on fitting out the King’s ship, La Trinitee Roiale de la Tower, although his immunity from paying customs was then confined to the port of London. Reynwell must have made a handsome profit out of such contracts: in 1416, for example, he supplied large quantities of oakum and canvas for a new royal vessel called The Ane which was being built for the duke of Bedford at Southampton; and not long afterwards the King bought 22 newly made masts from him. Even so, by March 1418 he and his brother, William, owed the collectors of the London wool subsidy over £88 for exports in excess of the quota allowed to them free of charge. Few further references to our Member’s activities in this field survive until 1430 (when he sent at least 29 sarplers of wool to Calais), but there can be little doubt that he derived a substantial part of his income from wool throughout this period.8

The London customs records are too fragmentary to give more than a general idea of Reynwell’s other dealings: we know that he shipped occasional consignments of finished cloth into the City, and that in August 1425 he took delivery of a mixed cargo of wax, spices and other commodities worth £74 in all.9 From 1405, if not before, Reynwell owned his own vessels, for in February of that year the master of a Prussian ship recovered compensation from him and a group of London merchants because of piracy committed by crews they had hired. Together with Drew Barantyn, Reynwell took a prominent part in arranging and financing a scheme to open up the Italian market to English commerce. The Genoese, who feared the threat that such an enterprise would pose to their own monopoly of trade in the Mediterranean, confiscated merchandise said to be worth £24,000 and added insult to injury by imprisoning the agents employed by Reynwell and his associates. The latter petitioned Henry IV for redress in February 1413 and were given permission to recover their initial losses as well as £10,000 damages by seizing in reprisal the goods of any Genoese merchants then in England. Their indiscriminate enforcement of these letters of marque caused many disputes with other foreigners, while the Genoese themselves postponed the question of settlement for many years and did not hand over the final instalment of a greatly reduced sum until July 1427.10

Meanwhile, in June 1416, Reynwell was chosen by the mayor of London as one of the six attorneys with authority to recover a loan of 10,000 marks made by the City to Henry V. One year later he and Nicholas James* themselves contributed £40 towards the cost of Henry V’s second expedition to France, being promised restitution out of the London wool subsidy due after February 1420. The money had still not been repaid by the summer of 1426, however, when the two wealthy ironmongers (who may have been business partners) accepted an assignment from other forthcoming revenues.11 In the following April, Reynwell bound himself to pay 500 marks to the grocer, Thomas Knolles*, within the next four months. He was soon afterwards made mayor of the Staple of Calais, and while in office he received a ‘ruinous’ tenement there as a gift from the Crown. This property, known as ‘the earl of Hereford’s Inn’, later formed part of Reynwell’s celebrated bequest to the City of London. But he still had problems to overcome, for it was at this time that he became involved in what appears to have been a very acrimonious dispute with his fellow staplers. In April 1431 the royal council met to discover the cause of ‘certeyn hevynesses and grevances hanging betwixe certains persones of the companye’ and its mayor, and to appoint arbitrators to settle their differences. Reynwell subsequently appeared before the council to deny that he had ever intended to harm his adversaries by accusing them of actions prejudicial to the Crown, and agreed to accept whatever damages they might choose to award him. He had to wait another four years, however, before their compensation of £1,000 was finally paid.12 Always ready to begin some new venture, Reynwell obtained a royal licence in November 1437 to ship a quantity of wheat and beans from the east coast for the victualling of London. Four months later he was again caught up in a dispute, probably of a mercantile nature, with Thomas Barry. The two parties bound themselves in impressively large mutual sureties of £5,000 to submit to arbitration, but no more is known about the matter.13

Reynwell’s influence in the City was greatly enhanced by his position as one of its leading property owners. From his father he inherited a great house and ‘Treyereswharf’ on the Thames, which, together with his other holdings in London, were producing at least £16 p.a. by 1412. He subsequently took out a 90-year lease on an adjoining wharf and tenement; and in 1427 he became the tenant of another wharf and premises in Windgoose Lane, where he had already begun to acquire various dwellings. This part of his estate lay on what was to be the site of the original Hanse Steelyard, and possessed an impressive frontage on to the Thames. By 1436 his revenues from land and tenements in London and Warwickshire (probably his father’s Stratford property) stood at an estimated £120 a year. He died owning rents and tenements in at least five London parishes, although it is now difficult to establish the full extent of his personal interests, since he was frequently involved in conveyances made to the use of others.14 Many eminent Londoners, including John Higham* and John Welles III*, chose Reynwell to act as their trustee. He was also a party to the transactions of various members of his family, and on the death of his brother Thomas, a fishmonger, in 1430, he took custody of the latter’s young son and his patrimony.15 Surprisingly, however, Reynwell showed little inclination to assist his friends as a surety: in 1412 he guaranteed the payment of a debt to a group of Italian merchants; and two years later he and William Huddlestone* stood bail of 1,000 marks for Thomas Tykill, a prisoner in the Tower. On only one other occasion, in September 1417, did he perform a similar service, this time on behalf of his own brother, Thomas.16 He was evidently more willing to arbitrate in disputes between citizens. This he did regularly from 1410 onwards (when his friend Drew Barantyn chose him to help settle a quarrel over an unpaid debt), and from time to time he also cast an expert eye over the accounts produced as evidence by suitors in the mayor’s court.17

For many years Reynwell played a full and distinguished part in the government of London: indeed, in later life, when he was first of all mayor of the Staple of Calais and then an ambassador to the Low Countries, he may be said to have achieved eminence on an international level. He performed his first official duty in September 1406, by serving on a London jury summoned to inquire into the retention of dues from the Exchequer. Between 1407 and 1442 he attended at least 14 of the parliamentary elections held in the City, and was himself returned to four Parliaments over a period of 35 years. He was exempted by royal letters patent in October 1442 from performing jury service or holding any office of the Crown; and two years later, in October 1444, the civic authorities likewise agreed that he should not be burdened with serving a second term as mayor of London, probably because of illness or old age. He had, in the previous May, been made a guardian of the key of the common chest of London, and in December of the same year he was appointed to supervise the building of a new granary there, although neither of these tasks is likely to have proved particularly demanding. Again, in September 1445, he was excused from holding office in the City, but he died before the exemption could take effect. Over the years he appeared regularly at meetings of the court of aldermen, being punctilious in the exercise of his civic duties.18

Reynwell is now chiefly remembered for his generosity to the people of London. In the words of his epitaph:

His acts beare witnes, by matters of recorde, How Charitable he was, and of what accorde, No man hath bene so beneficiall as hee Vnto the Citie in giving liberallie ...19

Save for the cost of meeting three modest annuities, the revenues of all his property in London were set aside for works of great economic and practical value to the community. A sum of £66 was made available for the payment of taxes in three aldermanic wards, while £18 was assigned annually to discharge the fee farms of Southwark and London Bridge, payable at the Exchequer by the City. Reynwell also settled pensions upon the leading office-holders of London and left unspecified sums of money for the stocking of granaries and the regular dredging of the Thames. He was survived by one son, named William, and a daughter who had taken the veil.20

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


Variants: Raynwelle, Rynewelle.

  • 1. Corporation of London RO, jnl. 4, ff. 59-60.
  • 2. PCC 5 Marche; Beaven, Aldermen, i. 403; Rep. Foedera, app. C, 22-27.
  • 3. Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 61.
  • 4. Ibid. 75, 88, 94, 127-8, 189, 204, 226, 245; K, 54-55, 64; Beaven, i. 2, 23, 47.
  • 5. Colls. Citizen London (Cam. Soc. n.s. xvii), 164; Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ed. Carte, ii. 269; DKR, xlviii. 274.
  • 6. Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ii. 293-4.
  • 7. PCC 5 Marche; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 446; I, 81; Beaven, i. 403.
  • 8. E122/71/6 mm. 1d, 3, 72/8, 225/60/2, 68/2; E404/31/448; Navy of Lancastrian Kings (Navy Recs. Soc. cxxiii), 212, 226; CCR, 1413-19, p. 216; CPR, 1405-8, p. 469.
  • 9. E122/72/17 mm. 1d, 4d, 76/11, 77/2 mm. 1d, 2, 161/1, ff. 4d, 7.
  • 10. CPR, 1401-5, p. 511; 1408-13, pp. 461-2; 1413-16, pp. 90, 192; CCR, 1402-5, p. 497; 1413-19, p. 55; 1422-9, p. 405; C1/6/30.
  • 11. Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 158; CPR, 1416-22, pp. 234-5; 1422-9, pp. 318-19.
  • 12. Corporation of London RO, jnl. 2, f. 93; CPR, 1429-36, p. 54; CCR, 1429-35, pp. 360-1; PPC, iv. 85; Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ii. 267.
  • 13. CPR, 1436-41, p. 99; Corporation of London RO, jnl. 3, f. 13.
  • 14. Rep. Feodera, loc. cit; E179/238/90; PCC 5 Marche; Arch. Jnl. xliv. 62; J.M. Lappenberg, Hansischer Stalhofes zu London, 68-72; Corporation of London RO, hr 135/13, 160/49, 163/52, 61, 169/46.
  • 15. CP25(1)113/286/184, 114/298/103; Essex Feet of Fines, iv. 15; CAD, i. C373; vi. C4671; CCR, 1429-35, p. 120; Cal. P. and M. London, 1413-37, pp. 194, 265; Corporation of London RO, hr 145/32, 147/61, 148/25, 153/31, 158/10, 37, 162/59, 169/41, 170/7, 171/9.
  • 16. CCR, 1413-19, p. 116; 1435-41, p. 162; Cal. Letter Bk. London, K. 115; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, p. 315; Corporation of London RO, jnl. 1, f. 34d; hr 147/19, 155/53.
  • 17. CCR, 1409-13, p. 85; 1435-41, p. 445; 1441-7, p. 319; Cal. P. and M. London, 1413-37, pp. 71, 179, 263, 283; Corporation of London RO, jnl. 2, ff. 40d, 42, 57.
  • 18. Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 51; C219/10/4, 11/8, 12/2, 5-6, 13/1-5, 14/5, 15/1-2; Corporation of London RO, jnl. 1, f. 60; 4, ff. 43d, 53d, 95; CPR, 1441-6, p. 134; Lambeth Pal. Lib. Reg. Stafford, f. 164.
  • 19. J. Stow. Surv. London ed. Kingsford, iii. 207.
  • 20. Rep. Feodera, loc. cit. Reynwell’s will has been lost, but that of William Stafford, his executor and feoffee, repeats the text of a will made by him on 18 Sept. 1443.