FENN, Hugh atte (d.1409), of Great Yarmouth, 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



Jan. 1397

Family and Education

?s. of Peter atte Fenn of Yarmouth. m. Christine,1 3s.

Offices Held

Bailiff, Yarmouth Mich. 1383-4, 1389-90, 1393-4, 1396-7, 1398-9, 1400-1, 1402-3, 1405-6, 1407-8.2

Controller of customs and subsidies, Yarmouth 12 Oct. 1391-24 June 1392; collector 20 June 1392-3 Dec. 1400, 24 Mar.-7 Dec. 1401, 24 Nov. 1402-10 Feb. 1404, 18 Dec. 1404-3 Feb. 1405, 8 Sept. 1405-11 Mar. 1407, 7 Mar.-29 Sept. 1408.

Dep. butler, Yarmouth 4 Oct. 1395-6 June 1407, 8 Jan. 1408-8 May 1409.

Commr. to conscript labourers for construction of a new harbour at Yarmouth Aug. 1398; of inquiry, Lincs., Norf. Dec. 1397 (piracy), Norf., Suff., Essex, Herts. Nov. 1403 (evasion of alnage); to assemble shipping for service against pirates, Yarmouth May 1398; prevent vessels of over 30 tuns from leaving port, Yarmouth, Lowestoft May 1401; recruit men-at-arms for protection against Breton attacks on Yarmouth merchant men trading with Bordeaux Aug. 1403.

J.p. Yarmouth 14 Oct. 1398-d.

Mayor of the Staple, Yarmouth 17 Mar. 1404-5.


Atte Fenn was the first of his family to reach a position of public eminence. Possibly the son of Peter atte Fenn, the bailiff of 1360-1, he was also related to John atte Fenn, three times bailiff between 1368 and 1378, and may have been the father of Robert, the bailiff of 1399-1400. He himself served in that post for as many as nine terms, in the course of which he shared responsibility for making the returns to the Parliaments of 1383 (Oct.), 1384 (Apr.), 1388 (Sept.) and 1406, as well as recording his own elections in 1397 and 1399. In 1389 it was alleged in Chancery by Thomas Beaupyne* and other merchants of Bristol that atte Fenn and his fellow bailiffs had wrongfully seized goods to the value of £90 which had been washed ashore near Yarmouth from the wreck of Le Cristofre. Three years earlier, atte Fenn had been one of the 24 jurats, being named sixth on the list of those selecting borough officials. He had also become a member of the guild of St. George in St. Nicholas’s church, the most influential of such local associations. In November 1392, when ordinances for the construction of a new haven were drawn up in the ‘common hall’ of the town, he was put on a committee of four burgesses authorized to supervise the works and to levy a toll on every last of herring sold locally in order to finance the project.3 At least 18 years of atte Fenn’s career were devoted to the duties of a customs official in Yarmouth; and when elected to all three of his Parliaments he was currently serving as customer and (in 1397 and 1399) as deputy butler too. He discharged the latter post under three successive chief butlers—(Sir) Thomas Brownflete, John Payn II* and Thomas Chaucer*—but not under Sir John Tiptoft*, Chaucer’s replacement in 1407-8.

There is much evidence of atte Fenn’s mercantile activities. He traded in substantial quantities of herring, wine, cloth, salt and grain, and his shipowning interests were considerable. He was owner of La George, a 50 tonner, and Michael (both built at Yarmouth), and part-owner of two other vessels. These were all possibly as much engaged in piracy as in lawful business. In 1402 the Michael was seized off Plymouth by the ‘men of Postok’ (presumably Rostock), perhaps as a reprisal; and her capture is said to have been one of 28 instances cited by Henry IV when treating with the Hanse towns for a mutual redress of grievances caused by piratical attacks. At all events, two years later, one of the ships in which atte Fenn had an interest—a crayer of Kirkley—took part in the interception and capture of two Prussian vessels bound for Zeeland. The inevitable inquiry was ordered in December 1404. Earlier that year, in February, atte Fenn had been given a bond in £40 by Sir John Fastolf, son of Hugh Fastolf* the wealthy fishmonger of Yarmouth and London, and later that same month he had received by royal grant the goods of the then sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk, Ralph Ramsey*, which had been forfeited for debt. In March he had been appointed mayor of the Staple of wools, hides and woolfells in Yarmouth for a year, this being the first appointment to be made under a royal order by which the Staple, hitherto shared between Bishop’s Lynn and Ipswich, was transferred to Yarmouth (partly because of the ‘poverty of the town’ and partly because of its situation as ‘a frontier against the King’s enemies’). During his mayoral year, in January 1405, he and his kinsman, Robert atte Fenn, obtained a royal licence to ship 1,000 quarters of barley and oats from their home port to Holland and Zeeland.4

Piracy could sometimes earn exceptional rewards. The other ship of which atte Fenn was part-owner (with William Oxney I* and John Hacon*) was concerned in an event of considerable historical importance: the capture of the future James I of Scotland, who was being sent to France for safety by his father, Robert III. It may be reasonably assumed that the master of atte Fenn’s vessel knew nothing of King Robert’s decision to convey his heir apparent overseas, but was merely on the watch for a rich prize. And so it chanced, for when, on 22 Mar. 1406, he fell in with La Maryenknight of Danzig off Flamborough Head, not only did he find that she was carrying a valuable cargo of Scottish wool, woolfells and hides, but also that she had on board a far more lucrative human cargo in the shape of the Scottish royal heir, accompanied by a small retinue including Henry Sinclair, earl of Orkney, and a bishop (who subsequently escaped). Thus began the 18-year detention of the hapless James, who was then only 11 years old. Atte Fenn and his co-owners of the ship were rewarded by Henry IV with a grant of the merchandise on the Prussian vessel, by way of compensation for their ‘great costs’ in making the capture and bringing the prisoners before him, with authority to ship the goods from Yarmouth wheresoever they pleased, free of custom duties. On 15 Dec. 1408 atte Fenn, in company with several other Yarmouth men, took out a pardon for all offences punishable by fine, ransom or imprisonment. This was probably in order to escape prosecution for any untoward negligence or concealment occurring during his years in the customs service.5

Not surprisingly, atte Fenn was well known in the merchant community of Norwich. In 1387 he had acted as a feoffee of the manor of East Carleton, to the south of the city, which subsequently came into the possession of William Appleyard*, and in 1395 he was involved in transactions relating to other properties in the same area, possibly on behalf of Walter Niche*. A year later, along with Niche, he took possession of certain messuages in the city parishes of St. George and SS. Simon and Jude, and in 1408 he joined with Roger Blickling* and other Norwich men in the acquisition of buildings in the parish of St. Peter Mancroft, near the market-place. Clearly, atte Fenn used Norwich as a centre for his trading concerns. At home, another well-to-do merchant,Nicholas Drayton, named him as his executor in 1391.6

A property owner of some substance, atte Fenn had among his holdings in Yarmouth a messuage and two ‘fish houses’ which he obtained from a kinsman in 1380, and another ‘fish house’ with an adjacent curing shed and ‘salt house’, which he purchased from the ailing Richard Ellis in 1392. Outside the town, he owned lands on the coast, to the north at Bacton and to the south at Corton in Suffolk, as well as further inland at Bradwell.7 By his will, made on 14 Jan. 1409, atte Fenn requested burial in St. Nicholas’s church, Yarmouth, next to his father’s tomb. He divided his property between his sons, Thomas, Hugh and Miles, although his widow, Christine, was to retain an interest for life in a substantial part. The will was proved at Norwich on 25 Feb. Before long the widow married Peter Savage, another burgess of Yarmouth, to whom in 1412 the younger Hugh atte Fenn conveyed a certain property which his father had left him.8

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. CPL, v. 37, 49, 55.
  • 2. Norf. Official Lists ed. Le Strange, 153-5.
  • 3. Ibid. 152-6; C219/8/9, 10, 9/5, 12, 13, 10/1, 3; HMC 9th Rep. pt. 1, p. 305; C.J. Palmer, Perlustration of Yarmouth, ii. 120; Norf. RO, Gt. Yarmouth ct. roll C4/103; C1/68/200.
  • 4. E122/149/22, 27, 28, 33, 34; Palmer, i. 102; CCR, 1402-5, p. 297; 1405-9, p. 215; CPR, 1401-5, pp. 355, 483, 508.
  • 5. T. Walsingham, Hist. Ang. ed. Riley, ii. 273; CPR, 1405-8, p. 168; 1408-13, p. 44.
  • 6. CP25(1)168/179/169, 181/261; F. Blomefield, Norf. v. 101; Add. Ch. 62332; Norf. RO, Norwich enrolments, 15 m. 24d; Yarmouth ct. roll C4/102.
  • 7. Yarmouth ct. rolls C4/92, 103; Feudal Aids, iii. 619; Palmer, i. 102; Magdalen Coll. Oxf. deeds, Hobland Hall 1; CCR, 1413-19, p. 264.
  • 8. Yarmouth ct. rolls C4/123, 125.