BAXTER, Robert (d.1431), of Norwich, Norf.
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Family and Education
m. Christine, 1s. 1da.
Chamberlain, Norwich Mich. 1415-16; sheriff 1418-19; mayor 1 May 1424-5, 1429-30.1
Commr. of gaol delivery, Norwich Nov. 1423, Apr. 1428, Jan. 1429, Apr. 1430;2 to assess liability to contribute to a subsidy Apr. 1431.
Baxter probably came from Diss, some 20 miles from Norwich, and was already established as a mercer when he entered the freedom of the city in 1391-2. In later years he traded in a wide variety of merchandise, making many shipments of cloth through Great Yarmouth to the Low Countries and importing, from the Baltic and elsewhere, such items as dyestuffs, oil, soap, mirrors, whetstones and iron as well as timber in the form of wainscots, bowstaves and clapboard.3 His business prospered, making him one of the wealthiest citizens of Norwich. By the end of his life he had acquired several properties in the city, including one with racks for the process of finishing cloth, and he leased, from the civic authorities, a plot of ground by the Castle Meadow. He had also invested some of his profits in land elsewhere, buying the manor of Surlingham on the River Yare between Norwich and Yarmouth, and a small estate at Hackford several miles to the north west of the city, where he had a private chapel and holdings nearby at Whitwell, Reepham and Kerdiston. As befitted a man of his standing, in 1412 he obtained a papal indult for a portable altar.4
Baxter’s active participation in civic affairs dated from 1407, when he was one of ten citizens named as party to the parliamentary indenture. He was present at an important meeting of the assembly held at the Guildhall in February 1414, and that April he was elected by Mancroft leet to the council of 80. At the elections to the Parliaments of 1414 (Nov.) and 1417, he provided securities for the appearance of Richard Purdance and Robert Brasier, respectively; and having been chosen as a sheriff of Norwich in 1418, he shared responsibility for making the parliamentary returns in the following year. On 30 May 1421, a week after the dissolution of his own second Parliament, he and his companion, Robert Dunston, reported the proceedings to a meeting of the assembly at Norwich. On the same day, he was named by the mayor to serve as one of four j.p.s in the city, a role he was to fill again seven years later. At the parliamentary elections of 1421 (Dec.) and 1422, Baxter stood surety for his former colleague, Dunston, who was re-elected on each occasion. Subsequently, he attested the Norwich electoral indentures for all five of the Parliaments summoned between 1425 and 1431. Meanwhile, he had attained aldermanic rank, being assigned in December 1422 to a committee of six aldermen and eight others charged with the arrangement of a civic reception for Thomas Beaufort, duke of Exeter.5
As mayor of Norwich, Baxter displayed a determination to achieve such internal reform as would bring to an end the factious disputes currently dividing the citizens. In December 1424, disturbed by the continuing lack of good governance, he negotiated a tripartite agreement between himself as mayor (in association with the sheriffs), the 24 aldermen and the commonalty, establishing regulations which stressed in particular the conduct expected of the aldermen. To help ensure that these ordinances were observed, in November 1429, during his second mayoralty, he obtained confirmation of them in royal letters patent issued by the King’s Council. Encouraged by this success, he then tackled a much more formidable problem — the inveterate dispute between the civic authorities and Norwich cathedral priory. He had some personal experience of the difficulties involved, for in 1426 he had been chosen as one of the city’s delegates to treat with the prior’s council. The agreement now made between Baxter as mayor and the prior was to hold firm during Baxter’s lifetime, although its subsequent collapse was to trigger off the civic disturbances of 1443. It was also while Baxter was mayor that the city finally managed to extricate itself from its difficulties in securing from the Exchequer repayment of a loan of 500 marks made to Henry V, only to some extent, however, for it received no more than 200 marks in return for the coronet originally pledged by the King.6 Such was Baxter’s standing in the community that, in 1426, Anne, dowager Baroness Morley, had named him foremost among the executors of her will.7
Baxter’s own will, made on 18 Aug. 1429, together with its codicil dated 22 Mar. 1431, reveals him as an affluent merchant able to make monetary bequests amounting to some £520. He was a benefactor of the churches of St. Andrew and St. Gregory in Norwich and of those of Diss and Hackford elsewhere in Norfolk, leaving for building works at the last-named 6,000 tiles. The sick in the city’s hospitals, the lepers at the gates and certain anchorites and hermits were remembered — one hermit with a gift of £20. Clearly, the welfare of paupers on his own lands and in Norwich also caused him some concern: for their relief he left as much as £50, of which £20 was to be doled out to the poor of the city itself at the rate of 10s. a week. Named relations of his were to receive a total of £18, while his son Richard was to have 40 marks and his daughter Katherine, who was betrothed to Peter Brasier, a reversionary interest in certain properties in Norwich following the death of his widow, Christine. The latter was to be the chief beneficiary, provided she did not remarry. Baxter instructed his executors to sell his manors at Hackford and Surlingham. He died on 3 May 1431, and was buried in St. Giles church, Norwich, to which he had left valuable ornaments, vestments, a missal and a chalice. He had bequeathed 80 marks to provide for the stipend of a chaplain who was to pray there for his soul for ten years. A brass remains, commemorating him and his wife.8
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. Norf. Arch. xxv. 196; Norf. Official Lists ed. Le Strange, 100.
- 2. Recs. Norwich ed. Hudson and Tingey, i. 300, 303-4.
- 3. Norf. RO, Norwich Old Free bk. f. 38; E122/150/2, 9, 17, 151/21.
- 4. Norf. RO, Norwich ‘Domesday bk.’, f. 79d; CPL, vi. 382.
- 5. C219/10/4, 11/4, 12/2, 3, 6, 13/1, 3-5, 14/1, 2; Recs. Norwich, i. 273, 275, 276, 303; Norwich assembly roll 1 Hen. VI.
- 6. C267/3/23; Recs. Norwich, i. 112; ii. 66-67; CPR, 1429-36, pp. 29-32; Norf. Arch. xxxii. 63; Norwich assembly roll 4 Hen. VI.
- 7. Reg. Chichele, ii. 366.
- 8. Norf. RO, Reg. Surflete, ff. 86-88; F. Blomefield, Norf. iv. 240; B. Cozens-Hardy and E.A. Kent, Mayors of Norwich, plate facing p. 28 (which, however, gives the year of his death as 1432).