NORTON, William II (d.1439/40), of London.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
m. (1) by Jan. 1394, Alice or Agnes (fl. June 1429), da. of William Hall of London by his w. Agnes (d.1407/8), and wid. of Peter Wotton of London, draper, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 1da.; (2) by July 1429, Katherine (d.1431), wid. of John Oo of London, apothecary; (3) by Nov. 1437, Gillian.1
Alnager, Mdx. 20 July 1394-2 Feb. 1405.
Auditor, London, 21 Sept. 1398-9, 1413-14; alderman of Candlewick Ward by 27 Sept. 1406-c. Dec. 1420.2
Commr. of inquiry, London Mar. 1404 (persons liable to pay taxes).3
Tax collector, London Mar. 1404, Dec. 1406, Nov. 1416.
Sheriff, London and Mdx. Mich. 1408-9.
The first piece of evidence clearly relating to the subject of this biography concerns a settlement of property made upon him and his wife, Alice, in January 1394. It was then, probably at the time of their marriage, that the couple were confirmed in possession of two tenements (one being described later as a ‘great dwelling house’) and 16 shops in the city parish of St. Michael Bassishaw. This property, which formed part of Alice’s inheritance, remained in Norton’s hands for the rest of his life, as did the premises in the parish of St. Andrew Cornhill, formerly owned by her father, the wealthy draper, William Hall. The death of Alice’s mother shortly before May 1408 brought further valuable additions to Norton’s estate: he was given, and took, the first option to buy her land and tenements in the parishes of All Hallows, Bread Street, and St. Mary Bow (as her executor he may have paid well below the market price); and together with his wife he acquired a life interest in other property in the parish of St. Katherine Coleman. Their son, Edmund, inherited his grandmother’s holdings in Bow Lane, but since he predeceased his parents by several years, they were able to enjoy the revenues of this property as well. It is less easy to determine the date of Norton’s other accessions: he had by May 1395 either leased or purchased premises in the parish of St. Sepulchre without Newgate and was by 1397 in possession of a solar, rents and tenements in West Cheap, which he eventually farmed out at 40 marks a year. Altogether, his annual income from land and rents in the City exceeded £43 in 1412, and remained fairly constant over the next 24 years.4
Norton was already, therefore, a man of some consequence when he first began litigation for the recovery of debts totalling £70 during the Michaelmas term of 1394. He made a number of appearances at the possessory assizes and the husting court of London over the next few years, first as an attorney for his friend, John Coventry, and then, between March 1397 and May 1406, to perform regular jury service. On one occasion at least he also came forward to offer sureties on behalf of a plaintiff. His standing in the community was high, as can be seen from two papal indults granted to him and his wife in September 1397, enabling them to appoint their own confessor and make use of a portable altar.5 Although he was only once returned to Parliament, Norton sat in the Commons when a petition against official malpractices, drawn up by the leading citizens of London, including himself as a representative of the Drapers’ Company, came under discussion. The early years of the 15th century stand out as a particularly litigious period in his life, since he brought a number of lawsuits (for alleged debt, menaces and failure to render an account) in the court of common pleas at this time.6 Norton seems to have arbitrated in quarrels between other London tradesmen only once, in September 1405. He was, however, much in demand as a mainpernor, performing this service in Chancery, the Exchequer and, when called upon by his kinsman, the draper Walter Gawtron*, before the chamberlain of London.7 Gawtron was one of the many eminent Londoners to name Norton among their trustees: not all the conveyances in which he became involved can immediately be recognized as enfeoffments-to-uses, but it is clear that his interest in many London properties was not personal.8
A man of diverse business activities, Norton is known to have supplied the household of Thomas Mowbray, the Earl Marshal, with cloth at the very beginning of Henry IV’s reign. He also had interests in Ireland, where from 1408 to 1427 he obtained royal licences to appoint a series of attorneys (including his own son, William). In December 1414 an award of £100 was made to him jointly with the woolmonger, Thomas Wandesford, although they had already seized goods to that value as compensation for losses overseas. Three years later the draper contributed £20 towards the cost of Henry V’s expedition to France, being promised repayment from the wool subsidy due after February 1420.9 Meanwhile, in February 1419, he was appointed to audit certain accounts submitted as evidence in a case being heard by the court of aldermen. In the following April he joined with the goldsmith, William Louthe, to stand surety in £1,000 in Chancery on behalf of Thomas Beaufort, duke of Exeter, as custodian of certain Genoese merchandise. Norton was himself obliged to enter bonds of £100 there not long afterwards as a guarantee of his good behaviour towards certain other Londoners. This apparently violent incident in no way dampened his enthusiasm for litigation: in 1430 and again in 1433 he had actions pending in the common lawcourts.10 Norton promised to donate ten marks to the fund set up by his livery company in 1419 for building a new Drapers’ hall, but he had still to pay part of this sum in 1426. He had by then retired from his aldermanry, perhaps to settle in Middlesex, where he probably had family connexions. His third wife, whose honesty was not always above suspicion, continued to do business on his behalf. We know, for example, that she lent £20 to Edmund Beaufort, earl of Dorset, in November 1437 on the security of a gold brooch worth 100 marks, and that she allegedly tried to retain the jewel after the debt had been paid.11
Norton made his will on 20 Sept. 1439 and died before late June of the following year. Most of his property descended to his son, William (styled ‘gentleman of London’), although his widow, Gillian, was still sufficiently well provided for to attract the Northamptonshire landowner Henry Rydall as a second husband. She was still alive in June 1448, when, after a period of imprisonment, she finally paid the fine imposed upon her for attempting to forge the title deeds to some of Norton’s tenements in the City.12
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
The problem of distinguishing this MP from his namesake, who represented Middlesex in the Parliament of 1391, are considerable, especially as the latter also appears to have had a son or close relative of the same name and they were, moreover, quite probably related. Identification is made even harder by the existence of a William Norton, citizen and grocer of London, at this time (Ms. Archs. Grocers’ Company ed. Kingdon, i. 76, 84, 89, 94).
- 1. Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 127; Cal. P. and M. London, 1413-37, p. 242; C1/12/206; Guildhall Lib. London, 9171/3 ff. 292-2d, 4 f. 46; Corporation of London RO, hr 122/43, 135/97, 158/18, 22.
- 2. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 444, 449; I, 117, 128; Beaven, Aldermen, i. 81.
- 3. Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 28.
- 4. E179/238/90; Corporation of London RO, hr 121/107, 110, 122/43, 123/27, 126/118, 129/76-77, 131/88-89, 135/97, 158/14, 18, 22, 160/27, 161/24, 163/4, 49, 170/43; Arch. Jnl. xliv. 62; CCR, 1435-41, p. 445; Cal. P. and M. London, 1413-37, pp. 172, 179.
- 5. Corporation of London RO, hcp 119, Monday aft. feast St. Agatha, and Monday bef. feast St. Gregory, 18 Ric. II, 121, Monday bef. feast St. Benedict, 20 Ric. II, 122, Monday aft. feast St. Martin, 12 Ric. II; hpl 122 m. 10, 130, Monday aft. feast St. Dunstan, 7 Hen. IV; London Rec. Soc. i. no. 208; CPL, v. 51, 61; vii. 314; RP, iii. 519.
- 6. CCR, 1396-9, p. 432; 1399-1402, p. 513; 1402-5, pp. 313, 489; 1405-8, p. 111; CPR, 1413-16, p. 88.
- 7. CCR, 1402-5, pp. 117, 150, 179; 1405-9, p. 132; CFR, xii. 276; Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 52, 104; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, p. 274.
- 8. Corporation of London RO, hr 124/3, 126/3, 141/94, 151/43, 154/51; hcp 119, Monday aft. feast St. Agatha, 18 Ric. II, 123, Monday bef. feast St. James and Monday bef. feast St. Petronilla, 9 Hen. IV; hpl 119, Monday bef. feast St. Margaret, 19 Ric. II, 124, Monday aft. feast St. Peter’s Chains and Monday aft. feast St. Benedict, 1 Hen. IV; CCR, 1396-9, pp. 291-2; 1399-1402, pp. 474-5, 504-5, 519; 1435-41, p. 115.
- 9. CPR, 1405-8, p. 465; 1408-13, p. 391; 1416-22, pp. 30, 234-5; 1422-9, p. 427; Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 203; Cal. P. and M. London, 1413-37, p. 32; Add. Ch. 16556.
- 10. Corporation of London RO, jnl. 1, f. 54d; CCR, 1419-22, p. 38; 1422-9, p. 66; CPR, 1429-36, p. 236; Cal. P. and M. London, 1413-37, p. 256.
- 11. A.H. Johnson, Hist. Drapers’ Company, i. 300, 314; C1/12/206.
- 12. C40/723/533; Guildhall Lib. 9171/4 f. 46; Corporation of London RO, hr 186/30.