TILNEY, John, BLC, of Bishop's Lynn, Norf.

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. 1413
May 1413
Apr. 1414

Family and Education

Offices Held

Clerk to Bp. Courtenay of Norwich by Oct. 1414.1

Lt. of the admiral of England by July 1422-c.1440.

Controller, customs and subsidies, Lynn 25 July 1425-Mar. 1432; collector, Great Yarmouth 24 Mar. 1432-Oct. 1433, Lynn 27 Oct. 1433-May 1434.


The name of Tilney, even of John Tilney, was common enough in Lynn and its neighbourhood: John Tilney, a draper who had become a burgess in 1377, exported cloth from the port as well as trading in herring; the heirs of Sir John Tilney were holding a messuage in Stonegate in 1378; another John was involved in 1379 in a conveyance of lands in Wiggenhall, Tilney, Islington and South Lynn; and, in 1399, Henry IV granted John Tilney, ‘his servant’, 6d. daily from the wool custom at Lynn.2

The MP of 1413 was probably none of these people. Although a Lynn man by origin, as one of the inferiores non burgenses he was excluded from any part in the administration of the borough and it was doubtless on this account that, at Michaelmas 1411, described as John Tilney ‘the younger, husbandman of Lynn’, he, along with Bartholomew Petipas, John Bilney II* and William Halyate*, instigated an attack on the constitutional basis of the town’s mode of government (which was completely dominated by the potentiores), secured the election (by force, it was later alleged) of Roger Galion as mayor, and successfully assumed control of the town for the next two years. Chosen, in December 1411, as one of the arbitrators in this dispute, Tilney proceeded in May following to play a leading role on the committee of nine mediocres and inferiores which, in effect, was to control borough expenditure for more than a year thereafter. Contrary to the report that Tilney was a husbandman (a description which appears only in evidence given by a hostile jury and may have been derogatory), he had trained to be a lawyer: he appeared that October (1412) as both attorney for the mayor and clerk for the committee of nine and, in January 1413, as acting town clerk. At this time he was often described in the borough records as either ‘master’ John Tilney BCL, or John Tilney ‘junior’. It was under the latter description that he was returned, with Halyate, to both Parliaments of 1413, but as ‘master’ that he reported the proceedings of Henry V’s first Parliament (May-June) to assembly at Lynn when he came home. During this period of urban unrest Tilney and his associates made several journeys to London, Ely, Cambridge and Norwich for consultations regarding the issues in question, and one result of these interviews was the acknowledged support for their group of Bishop Courtenay, the borough’s overlord, who even appointed Tilney as his own clerk at some stage in the proceedings. But following events in August 1414, whereby the potentiores regained their authority in the town, Tilney was imprisoned in the Marshalsea by reason of allegations made personally to the King; and it was not until 1 Oct., when Petipas and Halyate appeared in Chancery to vouch for his appearance before the Council to answer his accusers (the new mayor and his fellow potentiores), that he was released. Three months later Tilney and his friends retaliated by physically assaulting the mayor. An uneasy period of truce ensued, with neither party gaining full control of the government of the town. To the Parliament of 1415 Tilney was accompanied by a potentior, Thomas Brigge, and on 10 Apr. 1416 he obtained a royal pardon covering all treasons and insurrections.3

Thereafter nothing is heard of Tilney until 1422, by which date he had entered the service of the admiral of England, Thomas Beaufort, duke of Exeter. First as his lieutenant, then as the duke of Bedford’s, he continued to hear suits in the admiralty court for about 18 years over all. Tilney was often alleged to have shown favour in his judgements to merchants from Lynn, such as John Parmenter* and his old friend Bartholomew Petipas; and in one appeal against a decision of his he was even accused of ‘coveyn and conspiracie’.4 For nine years (1425-34) he concurrently held office as either controller or collector of customs at Lynn (sometimes at Great Yarmouth). During this period he also occasionally provided securities at the Exchequer. For instance, in 1428 and 1432, respectively, he did so for the farmers of the Bardolf and Fitzwalter estates in Norfolk.

In 1431 Tilney was described as ‘of Norfolk, esquire’, and it is therefore not surprising to find his name in the list of gentry of the shire who, in 1434, were required to take the general oath to keep the peace and the laws relating to maintenance.5 The date of his death is not known.6

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. CCR, 1413-16, p. 148.
  • 2. King’s Lynn Town Hall, Be 575; Cal. Freemen Lynn, 1, 17; CP25(1)168/176/27; Red Reg. King’s Lynn ed. Ingleby, f. 159; E122/93/31, 94/12; CPR, 1399-1401, p. 68.
  • 3. HMC 11th Rep. III, 192; CIMisc. vii. 517; Norf. Arch. ii. 185; King’s Lynn Town Hall, Ae 17, Ca 3, Ea 46; CCR, 1413-16, p. 148; M. McKisack, Parl. Repn. Eng. Bors. 140-1.
  • 4. CPR, 1422-9, pp. 160-1; 1422-9, p. 280; 1429-36, p. 37; 1436-41, pp. 28, 48, 94, 203, 293, 337, 424; C1/5/189.
  • 5. CFR, xv. 222; xvi. 58, 87; CPR, 1429-36, p. 405.
  • 6. As he is last recorded early in 1440, he may well be identified with John Tilney of South Creake, who made his will on 16 June that year. It was proved at Norwich on 28 July (Norf. and Norwich RO, Reg. Doke, f. 124). The testator mentioned his wife Alice, sons Nicholas and Andrew and daughter Katherine, but there is nothing in the provisions of the will to link him to Lynn. The MP’s identity is further confused by the existence of another John Tilney, BCL (DCnL by 1442), the fellow of Clare Hall who assisted in the foundation of ‘Godshouse’, Cambridge, and died in 1474: Biog. Reg. Univ. Cambridge to 1500 ed. Emden, 589.