BRAMPTON, William I (d.1406), of London.
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Family and Education
m.(1) ?1s.; (2) bef. June 1405, Alice (d.1417), sis. of John Chesterfield, chaplain.1
Common councillor, Fishmongers’ Mystery 1381-2.2
Bailiff, Southwark until 20 July 1382.3
Ambassador to treat for a truce with Albert of Bavaria, count of Holland, 14 Dec. 1382, for a commercial treaty with the same 3 Sept. 1388, to treat generally with the merchants of the Hanse 13 May 1403, with Prussia and the Hanseatic towns May 1405-Mar. 1406, with the High Master of the Teutonic Order 14 Nov. 1406; envoy to Middleburg and Ghent Mar. 1384.4
Governor of the Staple of Middleburg 24 Jan. 1384-2 Feb. 1389;5 searcher for illegal exports of bullion through the Staple, 20 Apr. 1384.
Commr. of inquiry, Middleburg Mar. 1387.
Alderman, Bridge Ward 12 Mar. 1390-d.; auditor, London 21 Sept. 1390-1.6
Sheriff, London and Mdx. Mich. 1394-5.
Mayor of the Staple of Westminster 3 July 1397-1402.7
Member of the royal council 1 Nov. 1399-18 July 1400.8
Lt. to Thomas, Lord Berkeley, admiral of the West bef. 2 Nov. 1405.
This wealthy and influential London merchant, who rose to occupy a place in national as well as civic affairs, may well have come originally from the village of Brampton in Huntingdonshire. The bequest which he made to the local parish church in his will suggests this, although he is known to have settled in the capital by 1364, when he and another fishmonger lent £26 at a high rate of interest to Henry Cambridge. The latter subsequently sued his two creditors for the return of a recognizance in £88 which they had taken from him as security, and in November 1382 finally won his case. Notwithstanding his activities as a usurer, Brampton had become a churchwarden of St. Michael’s, Crooked Lane, before October 1369, the date of a reference to his involvement in property disputes concerning the church. In July 1375 Thomas Keys appointed him to act as his attorney in the husting court of London, and in the following year he again advanced substantial sums of money, this time to Richard Kent, a fishmonger who experienced some difficulty in repaying his debts.9
It is now impossible to establish how great a profit Brampton derived from financial speculation and commerce, although he was obviously very rich indeed. Evidence of his litigation for the recovery of debts and his attempts to enforce the terms of recognizances is somewhat fragmentary, but none the less shows the scale of his various enterprises. Between November 1379 and November 1394 he began at least 11 lawsuits in the court of common pleas against persistent debtors who together owed him over £410.10 That he also made cash loans on the security of bonds in the statute of the Staple of Westminster is clear from the petitions which he and his executors addressed to successive mayors of the Staple for help in recovering some of these obligations. Bad debts overdue in 1393 and 1394 alone accounted for £343, in addition to whatever bonds had been promptly honoured. At the time of his death Brampton was owed a further £60 by John Godeston, who had borrowed the money in May 1405, but had failed to repay it within the time allowed. In a codicil to his will, drawn up in November 1406, our Member refers to two far larger sums of £195 and £220 due from Simon Camp*: these, appropriately enough, were set aside for the foundation of a chantry and the provision of masses for the good of his soul.11
Although a fishmonger by trade, Brampton had many other commercial interests, the most lucrative being the export of raw wool. His five years in office as warden of the Middleburg Staple gave him all the connexions and opportunities necessary to make profits, but it was during his term as mayor of the Westminster Staple that he began shipping wool out of England in large quantities. Over the period March 1397 to June 1398, for example, he obtained royal licences to export 122 sarplers of wool to Calais; and during the second week of March 1400 alone he dispatched a further 12 sarplers from the port of London. In July 1391 and March 1401 we find him bringing finished cloth into the capital; and in February 1397 he was given permission to lade a ship there with Gascon wine for sale at Calais.12 Brampton’s experience of overseas trade, particularly in the Netherlands, admirably qualified him for service on embassies sent to negotiate with England’s commercial rivals. His appointment in March 1380 as an agent to hire ships in Flanders, Holland and Zeeland for the transport of Thomas of Woodstock’s retinue to France suggests that he already had personal contacts in that area, and in March 1382 he was indeed retained by two Flemish merchants to recover a substantial debt owed to them in England. Nine months later Brampton returned to the Low Countries among the ambassadors sent to negotiate a truce with the duke of Holland; and in March 1384 he was entrusted as a royal messenger with letters from Richard II to the inhabitants of Middleburg and Ghent. Brampton could boast equally powerful connexions at home, being one of the London merchants to whom John of Gaunt’s receiver-general advanced sizeable loans in 1391 (in this case £300 which he shared with Thomas Newton* and repaid one year later). No evidence of any other financial dealings between him and Gaunt has survived, however.13
A significant part of Brampton’s cash profits was invested in property on both banks of the Thames. At some point before February 1378 he purchased land in St. Olave’s parish, Southwark, from another fishmonger named John Little, and shortly afterwards he bought two shops in the neighbouring parish of St. Gregory. Large quantities of fish caught along the south coast were brought into the City through Southwark, and Brampton was naturally anxious to acquire business premises to the south of London Bridge. His appointment as bailiff of Southwark (from which post he was summarily dismissed in 1382 for illegally trying to corner the market in fish) gave him an early incentive to consolidate his interests in the borough. As late as 1400, he was still building up his resources, and took on the lease of three messuages and eight more shops there at an annual rent of 26s.8d. from John Seymour, who also sold him the reversion of the property.14Brampton had meanwhile become a notable landlord in the City. By October 1390 he was the owner of tenements standing next to the church of St. Michael in Crooked Lane; and in the following year Richard Wysden sold him a brewery called Le Lampe on the Hoop in the parish of St. Ethelburga within Bishopsgate. From the executors of the fishmonger, John Lovekyn†, he acquired a tenement and wharf in Thames Street, which was confirmed to him in August 1395, some time after the sale itself. The brewery and Thames Street properties were together said to be worth £5 a year in 1412, but were commercially of far greater value.15 From 1396 onwards Brampton extended his interests by buying up land to the north east of Sevenoaks in Kent. His first purchase comprised 28 acres of farmland in Chefsfield and Knockholt, to which he added three messuages in St. Mary Cray previously owned by a London ironmonger. During this period he was also a party to the conveyance of the manor of Norsted in Chelsfield by Richard and Anne Perrers, but it seems likely that on this occasion at least he was not the outright purchaser.16
Being a man of substance with a reputation for financial expertise, Brampton found himself much in demand as a feoffee. He performed this service for a number of people, including John Northwold, the mercer, and John Lagage, whose daughter, Elizabeth, began a suit against him in Chancery for failing to carry out the terms of her father’s various enfeoffments.17 He was also frequently called upon by friends and business associates to stand surety on their behalf in Chancery and the Exchequer. Between December 1378 and October 1402 he appeared six times as a mainpernor in these two departments of state, once for John Brampton, a Northamptonshire clergyman, who may well have been his kinsman.18 In February 1396 Brampton and three other Londoners bound themselves in £200 as guarantors of Thomas Shelley’s* willingness to abandon certain financial claims upon the heirs of Sir Bernard Brocas*. One of his fellow sureties was the fishmonger, William Askham*, who appears to have been a particularly close friend as well as a neighbour and business partner. The two men were together instrumental in founding the perpetual fraternity and guild of St. Peter in the church of St. Peter, Cornhill, which was set up in the spring of 1403 and made subject to their own precise regulations. Askham acted as Brampton’s feoffee, was involved in his financial affairs and eventually helped to execute his will. Brampton’s dealings with William Colman and Robert Hallesey, both of whom named him, in turn, as their executor are, unfortunately, less well documented.19
For almost 40 years Brampton played a full and active part in public life. His role was modest enough at first: in March 1378 and again in April 1380 he was one of the London fishmongers appointed by the mayor to prevent the destruction of small fry in the Thames. More significantly, he was chosen at this time to serve on a committee of the common council for the supervision of the City’s liberties, and in January 1379 he contributed the relatively large sum of five marks towards the gift raised by the civic authorities for placating the great noblemen who had quarrelled with them. His career suffered a temporary setback during the mayoralty of John of Northampton†, whose radical programme of reform was directed against the victualling companies in general and the Fishmongers in particular. Brampton’s removal from office as bailiff of Southwark on the ground that he had exploited his position to gain control of the capital’s fish supplies must be seen in the general context of Northampton’s campaign to undermine the Fishmongers’ monopoly of the London market and free the trade from their control. This is not to deny that Brampton may have acted unscrupulously in Southwark, although the decision, adopted generally by the common council, that no bailiff could in future be a fishmonger, together with the harsh controls subsequently imposed for the regulation of the Fishmongers’ Mystery, were all part of a sustained attack by Northampton. Some three months after the latter’s fall from power in October 1383, Brampton had sufficiently recovered from his disgrace to be elected governor of the Middleburg Staple. His appointment may have owed something to the intervention of Northampton’s great rival, Sir Nicholas Brembre†, who was then enjoying a brief resurgence of political influence as mayor of London. Such a potentially dangerous connexion with one of Richard II’s unpopular friends and leading creditors could well explain why orders were issued on 22 Feb. 1388 for Brampton’s arrest and appearance before the royal council. Sentence of death had been passed on Brembre by the Merciless Parliament two days before, and it is interesting to note that two other victims of the Lords Appellant, Robert de Vere, duke of Ireland, and Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, would have been interrogated with Brampton had they not already escaped abroad. Although his fate may at first have hung in the balance, Brampton was not long under suspicion, and in September 1388 he was actually sent on an embassy to treat with Albert of Bavaria, count of Holland. He also remained in office as governor of the Middleburg Staple until its final transfer to Calais in the following year.20
On his return to London, Brampton busied himself with civic affairs. Throughout the 1390s he was frequently enlisted to audit accounts presented to the city chamberlain, and he often acted as an arbitrator or expert witness in disputes between his fellow merchants.21 As an alderman of London at the time of Richard II’s quarrel with the City, Brampton was summoned to Nottingham on 25 June 1392 to hear the King condemn certain ‘notable and evident defaults’ on the part of the ruling hierarchy, whose normal powers of government were suspended. He and the other office-holders gave evidence to a special commission of inquiry on 18 July and four days later they appeared before the King at Windsor. Together with most of his colleagues, Brampton was confirmed in his aldermanry, albeit only at pleasure. The fine of 3,000 marks which Richard then imposed on the civic authorities was finally pardoned in the following September, when the government of London returned to normal. Anxious lest the King should again withdraw his favour, the aldermen appear to have raised some kind of royal gift or ‘loan’ as a conciliatory gesture. On 22 Oct. 1392 Brampton and 14 other dignitaries each bound themselves to pay £11 to the city chamberlain by the end of November.22
Brampton’s long and wide-ranging experience of trade and commerce admirably qualified him for membership of Henry IV’s council on which he served (as one of the three Londoners thus honoured) from November 1399 to July 1400. Deteriorating relations between England and the merchants of the Hanse led Henry to despatch an embassy to Prussia in the spring of 1405, with Brampton among the ‘right notable men’ chosen to debate with the High Master the difficult question of compensation for English merchants. Envoys sent to Prussia two years later claimed that Brampton’s ship went down with all hands in the North Sea on his return journey in October 1405, and used the loss of his diplomatic papers as a pretext for demanding a higher rate of damages. They were clearly guilty of deception, for on 5 July 1406 Brampton was assigned (but not paid) expenses of £167 to cover an absence abroad on royal business of almost 11 months, ending in the previous March. Moreover, on 14 Nov. of that year he received a further commission to negotiate a commercial treaty with the Knights of the Teutonic Order, although, as the addition of two codicils to his will shows, he was by then already near to death.23 He died within a fortnight, and was buried in the church of St. Magnus near London Bridge, to which he made many generous bequests. Most of his property went to his widow, Alice, for life, being promised in reversion to his son, James, who was probably the child of a previous marriage. James, ‘a counterfete gentilman ac nevir thrifte’, evidently begrudged Alice Brampton her share of his father’s estate, and in June 1407 he was bound over to keep the peace towards her. She died ten years later, leaving most of her money and possessions to her brother, a chaplain named John Chesterfield.24
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. PCC 12 Marche; Guildhall Lib. London, 9171/2 f. 367.
- 2. Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, p. 29.
- 3. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 192-3.
- 4. Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ed. Carte, ii. 141, 158, 189, 192; E403/499 m. 20.
- 5. Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ii. 145.
- 6. Beaven, Aldermen, i. 400; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 353, 367.
- 7. C267/8/24-27.
- 8. E404/15/477; PPC, i. 122.
- 9. PCC 12 Marche; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, p. 25; CFR, viii. 40; CPR, 1374-7, pp. 253-4; Corporation of London RO, hr 103/124.
- 10. CPR, 1377-81, pp. 331, 389, 554-5; Corporation of London RO, hcp 104, Monday aft. feast St. Hilary, and Monday aft. feast St. Mathias, 3 Ric. II, 119, Monday aft. feast St. Agatha, 18 Ric. II.
- 11. C241/182/25, 36, 50, 198/46, 51; PCC 12 Marche.
- 12. E122/71/13 m. 33, 20 mm. 2-4d, 22 mm. 3-3d, 23 mm. 2-4, 72/4 m. 3, 225/56/15, 18, 19; CCR, 1396-9, p. 35.
- 13. E403/481 m. 11, 499 m. 20; DL28/3/2 f. 5; Dip. Corresp. Ric. II, no. 43; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, p. 1.
- 14. CCR, 1377-81, p. 126; CP25(1)231/66/12; PCC 12 Marche.
- 15. Corporation of London RO, hr 119/50, 120/91-92, 123/19, 132/87, 154/65; PCC 12 Marche; Arch. Jnl. xliv. 64.
- 16. CP25(1)110/247/994, 111/252/1115, 261/198, 221; Add. Ch. 36572; CAD, vi. C4577; PCC 12 Marche.
- 17. CCR, 1381-5, pp. 207, 217, 416; 1399-1402, p. 398; C1/10/52; Corporation of London RO, hr 118/121, 123/62, 124/59.
- 18. CFR, ix. 122-5; CCR, 1392-6, p. 453; 1389-92, p. 61; 1399-1402, p. 198; 1402-5, p. 117.
- 19. Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, p. 235; C1/10/52, 17/380; PCC 12 Marche; CPR, 1401-5, p. 260; J. Stow, Surv. London ed. Kingsford, i. 195; HMC 6th Rep. 407-14.
- 20. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 87, 94, 125, 143, 192-3; CPR, 1385-9, pp. 470, 537, 541.
- 21. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 254, 275, 387, 394, 447; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 140, 198, 207, 231; CPR, 1399-1401, p. 215.
- 22. CPR, 1391-6, pp. 130, 171; CCR, 1392-6, pp. 87-89, 379; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 378, 380, 386, 391.
- 23. J.H. Wylie, Hen. IV, ii. 71-77, iv. 7; Hanseakten aus England ed. Kunze, 310; Hansercesse ed. Koppmann, v. 374; PCC 12 Marche; E404/21/274, 23/545.
- 24. Stow, i. 212; C241/198/51; PCC 12 Marche; CCR, 1405-9, p. 273; Cart. St. Bartholomew’s Hosp. ed. Kerling, no. 271; Guildhall Lib. 9171/2 f. 367.