WESTCLIFF, John (by 1466-1524), of Sandwich, Kent.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. by 1466 m. Elizabeth.4

Offices Held

Common councilman, Sandwich (St. Peter’s parish) 1487-93, auditor 1488, 1491, 1499, 1501, 1514, 1517, common clerk 1493-7, jurat 1497-?d., mayor 1500-1, 1504-5, 1508-9, 1510-11, 1520-1, 1522-3, keeper of the common chest and of the orphans when mayor and 1502, 1503-4; bailiff to Yarmouth 1499, 1509; burgess to the Shepway 1509; collector of customs, Sandwich by 1513-18; commr. 1514, 1523.5


Although no trace has been found of his legal education, John Westcliff was probably a lawyer. The office of common (or town) clerk of Sandwich, to which he was elected in 1493, then entailed duties comparable to those performed later by the recorder, and when in 1516 the Brotherhood of the Cinque Ports agreed to send two ‘learned men’ to negotiate with the mayor and aldermen of London, the choice fell on Westcliff and the town clerk of Rye.6

During During his first Parliament Westcliff petitioned Henry VII for a patent authorizing Sandwich to hold two free fairs each year and his success in this matter presumably conduced to his regular reelection. On 24 Dec. 1509, after having earlier been chosen to go to the coronation, he was elected to the Parliament called for the following January, on 5 Jan. 1512 to the Parliament of February 1512, and on 12 Jan. 1515 to the Parliament of February 1515; this last re-election also accorded with the King’s request for the return of the previous Members. At the session of 1514 a subsidy was granted (5 Hen. VIII, c.17), to be levied ‘as well within liberties as without’, any usage to the contrary notwithstanding. Although the Act as passed contained a proviso exempting the Cinque Ports, this was only inserted under pressure from their Members. During the session Westcliff and his fellow-Member John Hobard reported to Sandwich by letter and were authorized by the mayor, jurats and commonalty ‘to do as other of the five ports therein shall do by the advice of their counsel and the favour of’ the lord warden, the 5th Lord Bergavenny. On 15 Mar., after the Parliament had ended, the townsmen assembled again to hear of ‘the good expedition’ of their members; the arguments used for the exemption of the Cinque Ports were then read, ‘for which considerations the said ports be discharged of the said subsidy by a special proviso in the Act’. None the less, in that or the following month a warrant was sent to the chancellor to name commissioners for the subsidy in Kent, among whom Westcliff was one for Sandwich; when he was reappointed in 1523, again for Sandwich, the name of the town (as of a number of others) was struck out.7

In this as in other matters the ports acted together. Westcliff represented Sandwich at their Brotherhood some 45 times between 1487 and 1524; he was chosen to administer the oath to the new lord warden in 1509; and he was frequently employed in negotiations for the ports. Toward the end of his life his service received special recognition. In July 1521 the Brotherhood granted him an annuity of 40s. for life. It was more than his own town did. When in May 1519, nearly four years after his last attendance at Parliament, he asked for 20 marks of his wages still unpaid, he was told to bring in ‘a due reckoning of his said demand or else not to be allowed for the same’; he was also asked for an account of the money raised from the inhabitants for the suit of the two free markets—the suit which he had successfully concluded nearly 15 years before—and questioned on his liability for £4 10s. owing to the town by a man for whom he had stood surety. The accounts are defective and it is not known whether Westcliff received his money.8

Westcliff was six times mayor of Sandwich, more often than any other 16th-century mayor. It seems that in December 1512 he did not want to remain a jurat, but in January he was sworn in at the request of the whole commons. In October 1516 the mayor and jurats went to his home, where he lay ill, and recorded his and his wife Elizabeth’s grant of all their tenements in Sandwich to Thomas Clifford of Canterbury and two others, who were evidently feoffees. At this time Westcliff was collector of customs in Sandwich and the adjacent ports. His only surviving ledger runs from Michaelmas 1513 to Michaelmas 1514; he received his pardon and release as collector on 23 Nov. 1518. Five months earlier John Lee III had been banished from the town for a year and a day for striking Westcliff and another jurat, after an altercation in which Lee refused to doff his cap. The dispute may have arisen from Westcliff’s promise to deliver to Lee, on behalf of Thomas Wingfield, a sure estate in law for a tenement which he had bought from Wingfield. Although Lee was a troublemaker, Westcliff seems to have provoked the quarrel, whereas his earlier scuffle with John Somer was probably of Somer’s making.9

It was as of St. Clement’s parish, Sandwich, that Westcliff made his will on 23 Mar. 1524, asking to be buried in the parish church of St. Peter, where Edmund Westcliff and other friends of his were buried. He left to his wife Elizabeth all his lands and tenements in Sandwich and elsewhere in Kent in fee simple, to give and sell at her pleasure; she was also to be the residuary legatee and executrix. The will was proved on 11 Apr.; the year is not given but it is registered among wills proved in 1524. From this, and from the fact that he was ill when he made it, one may infer that he died during that year, a conclusion borne out by his omission from the list of jurats of December 1524. His appointment as a subsidy collector in 1524, and a summons to his executors in 1535 to answer for his collection of the subsidy instalment payable in February 1527, may thus merely indicate a bureaucratic time-lag.10

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: R. J. Knecht


  • 1. Sandwich white bk. f. 176.
  • 2. Ibid. f. 191v.
  • 3. Ibid. f. 231v.
  • 4. Date of birth estimated from first reference. Canterbury prob. reg. A16, f. 178.
  • 5. Sandwich old black bk., white bk. passim; Cinque Ports White and Black Bks. (Kent Arch. Soc. recs. br. xix), 124, 144; E122/130/2; LP Hen. VIII, i-iii.
  • 6. Sandwich white bk. f. 24v; Cinque Ports White and Black Bks. 163.
  • 7. Sandwich white bk. ff. 116, 124, 126v, 127, 170v, 176, 191v, 222-4, 231v; CPR, 1404 1494 1509, p. 402.
  • 8. Cinque Ports White and Black Bks. 97-189 passim; Sandwich white bk. f. 268.
  • 9. W. Boys, Sandwich (1792), 418-19; Sandwich white bk. ff. 205v, 242, 244, 257v, 259.
  • 10. Canterbury prob. reg. A16, f. 178; LP Hen. VIII, iv; Egerton 2093, ff. 131v-2.