COVENTRE, Thomas I, of Oxford.
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Family and Education
m. bef. Mar. 1406, Alice.1
Bailiff, Oxford Mich. 1402-4; alderman 1407-8, 1417-19, 1421-5, 1426-7, 1432-8; coroner bef. Apr. 1418; mayor Mich. 1419-20, 1427-31.2
Commr. of sewers between Oxford and Reading July 1416; to raise royal loans, Oxon. Nov. 1419, Jan. 1420.
J.p. Oxford 17 Feb. 1418-June 1426, May 1436-Mar. 1437.
Coventre’s 16 elections to Parliament in 30 years, his continuous services to the borough, especially in times of crisis, and his links with the county gentry make him one of the most important of Oxford burgesses of the first half of the 15th century. Possibly a relative, even a son, of John Coventre, bailiff in 1363-4, and a kinsman of Thomas Coventre, the hosier assessed at Oxford for the poll tax of 1380, Coventre came to be owner of a substantial and widespread number of properties in the town. These included Coventry Hall, together with other holdings in St. Martin’s parish which seem to have given him the right to present to the chantry of St. Mary in the parish church. In the parishes of St. Aldate and St. Mary Magdalen he leased several tenements from Osney abbey. Furthermore, from quite early in his career he owned two of the most important university halls, Hinxey Hall (next to Coventry Hall) and Well Hall. A bare hint as to his mercantile connexions is afforded by the knowledge that from 1399 to 1406 he was in possession of a house in Southampton.3
Coventre first sat in Parliament in the course of his second, consecutive, term of office as bailiff. During this session, in February and March 1404, he went surety in Chancery for two defendants in pleas of debt, respectively a Deddington man and the widow of an Oxford burgess. Not long afterwards, in July, he was one of those by whom the sheriff of Oxfordshire summoned Sir Baldwin Berford to attend upon a case in Chancery. By 1407, when he was next elected to Parliament, Coventre was an alderman, and early in the following year he was one of the borough’s attorneys appointed to negotiate ‘de certis gravaminibus, materiis, articulis et querelis inter cancellarium et scolares Universitatis Oxonie et nos’ — probably the dispute over cessions of actions — before Archbishop Arundel and other members of the royal council. One of his fellow attorneys was Hugh Benet, who sat with him in the Parliament of 1410, during which, on 25 Feb., they both stood surety for one John Galoun in a suit for debt. The two burgesses may well have been responsible for submitting to this Parliament a petition in which the borough asked that clerks holding property in Oxford should be obliged to contribute towards tenths and fifteenths.4
Coventre developed quite strong links with members of the local gentry, in particular with Sir Peter Bessels, who had represented Oxfordshire in 1404, when he had made his own first appearance in the Commons. In February 1411 he stood surety for Bessels, who had been impleaded by a monk of St. Peter’s, Gloucester; and 18 months later he became a feoffee of Bessels’s widespread estates, both in the county and elsewhere. In October 1413 Coventre acted as mainpernor for Thomas Beckingham*, when the latter petitioned for the custody of the alien priory of Cogges. It was probably due to such connexions that Coventre was present at the elections for Oxfordshire to the Parliaments of March 1416, 1422, 1423 and 1437. In addition, he attested those for Oxford in 1425 and 1437, in his capacity as an alderman.5
In the meantime Coventre, as an alderman and member of the local bench, had become deeply involved in the city’s dispute with the abbot of Osney. In April 1418, as a past holder of the office of coroner, he was named among those who had long encouraged the corporation to usurp the abbot’s jurisdiction in the manors of North and South Osney. The abbot also included Coventre among those whom he accused, before a royal commission of oyer and terminer appointed that December, of breaking down his weirs, stealing horses, fish and other of his goods, and assaulting and imprisoning his tenants. Following arbitration, the dispute was settled shortly after the beginning of Coventre’s first mayoralty. He was apparently present at the making of the final agreement at Oxford on 1 Nov. 1419, though the Parliament of this year, of which he was a Member, was then still sitting at Westminster.6
In 1425 Sir Peter Bessels died having named Coventre as one of his executors. It was he alone who was ordered by the archbishop of Canterbury’s probate court to make an inventory of Bessels’s goods, and to whom the administration was at first consigned, although by October 1427 Archbishop Chichele had provided for this responsibility to be shared among all the executors. Between then and 1432 a dispute occurred between Sir Peter’s widow and executrix, Margery (who was now married to William Warbleton†), and the rest of the executors and feoffees of the Bessels estates, headed by Coventre. According to a Chancery petition filed by Margery, Coventre ‘absolutely refused’ to carry out the will as relating to King’s Brompton, Somerset, Longworth and Carswell, Berkshire, and Sir Peter’s properties in Oxford, which last were to have been sold to set up a college of Premonstratensian canons. However, as in other respects Margery is known to have looked first to her own interests and those of her illegitimate son, it may well be that Coventre was not at fault.7
Appointed mayor of Oxford for a second time in 1427, Coventre appears to have thereafter held the office for four successive annual terms, serving three times in Parliament while so doing. It thus fell to him to lead the town’s defence against Thomas Chace, chancellor of the university, who was attempting to usurp the corporation’s jurisdiction over victuallers within the borough. The dispute began in about 1428, when Chace summoned Coventre and other municipal officers before his court, charging them with having made illegal exactions from victuallers. The ‘exactions’ referred to were the customary market dues collected by the corporation, forming an important part of the town’s revenue, and Coventre naturally denied that they were illegal. The chancellor replied by a proclamation exonerating the victuallers, with the result that the corporation, starved of funds, was hardly able to pay the annual fee farm due to the King: according to the burgesses, ‘le dit chaunceller Doxford par sa volunte voudroit enheriter et avoyr le feferme avantdit, qe Dieu defende’. Both sides appealed to higher authority, Coventre receiving 33s.5d. expenses for riding to beg Cardinal Beaufort to support the borough’s cause. The chamberlains’ accounts for Michaelmas 1429-30 trace the progress of the dispute, and in the course of that year the sum of £21 17s.7d. was spent by the borough on it. This included the expenses of 80 men riding to London, no doubt to present a petition, of messengers going there to consult Coventre while he was attending Parliament, and £7 6s.8d. paid to Coventre himself, some of it while he was ‘in domo Parliamenti’. It was probably he who delivered at least one of the petitions of which drafts survive. But he also found time to exercise the privilege of mayors of Oxford of serving in the royal buttery at coronations — in this instance, at the coronation of Henry VI, which took place on 6 Nov. 1429.8
Coventre and others successfully petitioned Parliament in 1433 for a licence to grant the rents of six messuages and five acres of land in Oxford to the Benedictine nunnery at Littlemore, in exchange for property of that house in Cambridgeshire, at Ely and Thetford. He is last recorded in October 1437 and probably died soon afterwards. His widow was still living in 1452.9
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: Charles Kightly
- 1. Southampton RO, SC4/2/197-9.
- 2. Oxf. Hist. Soc. xxxvii. 19-22; lxviii. no. 771; lxxxix. no. 238; xc. no. 812; Queen’s Coll. deed 2297; Oxf. Archs. D/5/1, f. 48. Both Coventre and William Brampton II* are recorded as mayor in 1430-1: possibly Brampton acted as Coventre’s substitute while the latter was in Parliament.
- 3. Oxf. Hist. Soc. xv. 76; xviii. 28; xxxvii. 89; xc. no. 542; xci. 196, 200, 205, 216, 226, 231-3; (ser. 2), xiv. 14, 16; xx. 99, 185; HMC 11th Rep. iii. 75, 77; Southampton RO, SC4/2/197-9.
- 4. CCR, 1402-5, pp. 309, 319; 1409-13, p. 86; CPR, 1401-5, p. 405; Oxf. Hist. Soc. lxxi. no. 187; RP, iii. 645.
- 5. CCR, 1409-13, p. 191; CPR, 1422-9, p. 535; CFR, xiv. 33; C219/11/8, 13/1-3, 15/1.
- 6. Oxf. Hist. Soc. lxxi. nos. 190, 192, p. 281; CPR, 1416-22, p. 207.
- 7. Reg. Chichele, ii. 307-8, 342-4; CCR, 1422-9, p. 409; CPR, 1429-36, p. 451; C1/7/231.
- 8. Oxf. Hist. Soc. xxxv. 42; lxxi. 284-6; Bodl. Twyne ms 16, f. 50.
- 9. RP, iv. 467; SC8/26/1291-2; Bodl. DD St. Martin’s c.23a; Oxf. Hist. Soc. xciii. 276.