GIRDLER, alias VIRLY, Thomas (d.1390), of London.

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




Family and Education

s. of Robert Girdler of London, girdler. m. bef. Nov. 1372, Margaret, da. of Thomas Gaugeour, 1s.1

Offices Held

Common councillor, Billingsgate Ward June 1384-aft. Mar. 1386; auditor, London 21 Sept. 1384-6.2

Commr. to arrest counterfeiters and forgers, London July 1386.

Supervisor of the collection of murage, Billingsgate Ward Mar. 1387.3


Although he never rose above the rank of common councillor, Thomas Girdler was quite evidently a man of considerable wealth and influence whose background would have enabled him to play a more prominent part in civic affairs had he so wished. His father, Robert Girdler, became sheriff of London in 1368 and subsequently held office as a collector of the wool subsidy there.4 Thomas himself first appears in May 1369 when he acted as a feoffee for John and Alice Padbury of London, but he was soon acquiring land on his own account, firstly through his marriage to Margaret Gaugeour, the grand daughter of the wealthy vintner, William Gaugeour (d.1343). His wife’s inheritance in London, Middlesex and Dorset had been settled upon him by November 1372: some of it he sold immediately afterwards to Richard Lakenham, using the money for further investment in land.5 In 1374 the couple bought part of a house in the parish of St. Michael Paternoster Church, and six years later they joined with Thomas’s father in taking on the long-term lease of a tenement and four shops in Billingsgate ward. It was at this time that they purchased farmland in Harefield on the borders of Middlesex and Buckinghamshire from one John Virly, who was probably a kinsman. Other acquisitions included buildings next to their home in Painted Tavern Lane, and the reversion of a dwelling in the parish of St. Botolph’s without Bishopsgate.6

Girdler’s activities brought him into conflict with a number of his fellow Londoners: between January 1381 and March 1389, for example, he was named as defendant in six separate legal actions, one of which, alleging nuisance on his part, was begun by no less an adversary than Sir Nicholas Brembre. Margaret Girdler’s title to her inheritance in the two London parishes of St. Martin in the Vintry and St. Nicholas Cole Abbey proved particularly hard to defend. In February 1382 the prior of Bermondsey advanced his own claim to the property in the court of husting, and in the following year the Girdlers fought a second, unsuccessful, action at the possessory assizes, where they were found wrongfully to have withheld rents from a messuage and shop in these two parishes.7 From November 1385 until the mid 1390s first Girdler and then his widow were involved in a protracted suit with two chantry priests from the church of St. Margaret of Bolstone, Herefordshire, who claimed that other rents totalling 60s. a year were due to them from a tavern in the Vintry which Margaret had inherited from her grandparents. She and her husband, however, were by then expert in exploiting the cumbersome machinery of the law to their advantage and managed to delay the case indefinitely.8

As a man of property and considerable social standing, Girdler inevitably became involved in the business affairs of others. Early on in his career, in 1376, he stood surety with his father for the prominent London citizen Adam Bury; and in May 1381 he performed a similar service for John Walcote*, the wealthy draper. Two years later he assumed responsibility for the legacy left by Nicholas Kymbel to his young son, Robert, offering sureties of 100 marks to the chamberlain of London as a guarantee of his good faith.9 Girdler twice acted as an arbitrator for the settlement of civic disputes. He was also twice named as an attorney — on the first occasion in June 1380 by John Girdler, his kinsman who was then leaving for Ireland, and on the second in September 1387 by John Proude, master of The Katherine of Dartmouth, who appointed him to collect payments for transport from a merchant in Bordeaux.10 Although a girdler by trade, it seems that by this date his commercial activities had extended to the shipment of wine — perhaps as a result of his ownership of an inn and shops in the Vintry. In May 1387, for example, he entered into an obligation to pay over £110 freightage on 86 tuns of Bordeaux wine imported to England for him by John Hawley I* of Dartmouth. Nor did his various enterprises stop here. Indeed, it was as a mercer of London that he began an action before the mayor of the Staple of Westminster two years later for the recovery of a modest debt; and a subsequent reference in the husting rolls to ‘Thomas Girdler, fishmonger of London, and Margaret his wife’ as the owners of two shops and a house in the parish of Holy Trinity the Less suggests that Girdler may have taken up a fourth trade towards the end of his life.11

Girdler had no first-hand experience of civic affairs until June 1384, when, as a newly elected member for Billingsgate Ward, he attended the meeting of the common council at which John of Northampon was unanimously blamed for the recent riots and unrest in London. Nine days later he was among ‘the best and wisest men of the City’ chosen by his fellow councillors to examine and revise the notorious ‘Jubilee Book’ of ordinances compiled while Northampton and his party had been in power. Despite their disagreements in the lawcourts, Girdler’s sympathies clearly lay with Northampton’s rival, Sir Nicholas Brembre, whose election as mayor he had attended in October 1384. In the following August he went with other civic dignitaries to Reading, where the young King’s advisors decided to commit Northampton for trial. Girdler also attended an emergency session of the common council on 22 Mar. 1385, undoubtedly supporting the general view that Northampton’s death alone could bring peace to the City. As an interim means of preventing future disturbances the same meeting elected a body of 12 aldermen and 12 commoners, including Girdler, to investigate general issues of law and order. Apart from his duties as an auditor of London (a post which he held for two consecutive years), Girdler was not otherwise much burdened with civic responsibilities. In October 1385 he was one of the surveyors chosen by the common council to report upon the value of vacant dwellings and plots of land outside Cripplegate, but save for his one return to Parliament this was the last time that his services were required by the community.12

Since he claimed to be a freeman of the City of London by birth, it was not until July 1387, after an ordinance had been passed by the common council, that Girdler took the necessary oath in the presence of the chamberlain. He died before 19 May 1390, leaving a son, also named Thomas, who came of age in 1401 and took part in the elections for London to the Parliament of May 1413.13

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


Variants: Gurdeler(e) and Gyrdeler(e). He is not to be confused with Thomas Virly, the son of Roger Virly of Norwich, who was pardoned his outlawry in the court of husting in November 1374 (CCR, 1374-7, p. 11).

  • 1. Corporation of London RO, Guildhall, hr 100/57; hpl 110 m. 1d.
  • 2. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 235, 237, 249, 271, 273, 280, 286; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 53-54, 85, 123.
  • 3. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 299.
  • 4. PRO List ‘Sheriffs’, 202; CFR, viii. 302.
  • 5. CPR, 1367-70, p. 254; CP25(1)151/72/475; Cal. Wills ct. Husting London ed. Sharpe i. 470; Corporation of London RO, hr 100/57; CCR, 1369-74, p. 470.
  • 6. Corporation of London RO, hr 102/15, 109/39, 110/105, 115/26; CP25(1)289/52/35.
  • 7. London Rec. Soc. ii. no. 170; Corporation of London RO, hcp 105 m. 21, 107, Monday aft. feast St. Agatha, 6 Ric. II, 113 m. 9.
  • 8. Corporation of London RO, hcp 110 m. 4; hpl 110 m. 1d, 112, Monday aft. feast St. Dunstan, 13 Ric. II.
  • 9. CCR, 1374-7, p. 442; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 165, 216.
  • 10. London Rec. Soc. x. no. 632; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 132, 140; CPR, 1377-81, p. 500.
  • 11. Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, p. 130; C241/177/2; Corporation of London RO, hr 118/86.
  • 12. Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 53-57, 85; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 235, 246, 252.
  • 13. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 310; Corporation of London RO, hpl 112, Monday aft. feast St. Dunstan, 13 Ric. II, 125 m. 2, 126, Monday aft. feast St. Lucy, 3 Hen. IV; C219/11/1.