SELBY, William (d.c.1426), of York.

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



Feb. 1383
Apr. 1384
Jan. 1397

Family and Education

m. (1) by 1381, Alice, at least 1s. d.v.p., 1da. prob. d.v.p.; (2) prob. by June 1390, Hawise, sis. and h. of William Mowbray (d.s.p. 1390/1), of York.1

Offices Held

Bailiff, York 3 Feb. 1373-4; member of the council of 24 by Mar. 1376; constable of the parish of St. Michael-le-Belfry and keeper of Bootham Bar 1380; mayor 3 Feb. 1385-6, 1387-9; member of the council of 12 by Dec. 1392-aft. June 1417.2

Commr. of inquiry, York Mar. 1381 (persons liable for taxation), Nov. 1399 (state of St. Leonard’s hospital); to take sureties from lawbreakers Mar. 1382; of gaol delivery, York castle Nov. 1385;3 kiddles, Yorks. c. Nov. 1399 (river Ouse).

J.p. York 4 Dec. 1385-c. Oct. 1392.4

Collector of a tax, Yorks. (E. Riding) Dec. 1407.


Although quite a few of his relatives lived in York and he obviously came from a large family, our Member’s immediate background remains obscure. He was, however, a descendant of Hugh Selby, having rights of presentation to a chantry at St. William’s chapel by the Ouse bridge, which was dedicated to the welfare of the latter’s soul. The John Selby, merchant, of York, who died in 1390 while on business in Calais, was, perhaps, his uncle, for he not only entrusted to him the task of executing his will, but also left his wife a casket and some cloth. John had no legitimate issue, and it is interesting to note that one of his tenements in Coney Street eventually passed into William’s hands. The latter’s brother, Roger, and his sister, Agnes, both of whom were to figure prominently as beneficiaries of his own will, clearly played an important part in his life, while another of his relatives, also named William, did business as a weaver and was able to hand on property in Walmgate to his own son. Selby himself engaged in the wool trade, and although comparatively little direct evidence has survived about his ventures (he is known, for instance, to have exported ten sarplers of wool in December 1379, and, much later, in 1392, to have dealt in canvas, wine and woad) the extent of his holdings in York and the important position which he occupied in the civic hierarchy testify alike to his great wealth and social status.5

As a former bailiff of York and member of the council of 24, Selby naturally became involved in the factional disputes which divided the city in the early 1380s, but instead of supporting John Gisburn, the leader of the ‘bones gentz’, he and his great friend, Thomas Graa*, threw in their lot with Simon Quixley, many of whose adherents were drawn from the ranks of the less affluent citizenry. The second Parliament of 1380 heard how Gisburn, the then mayor, had been chased out of the city by rioters, who had then broken into the guildhall and forced the aldermen to swear in Quixley as his successor. That Selby had been prominent among the rebels seems more than likely, as he was summoned, in May 1381, along with other leading residents, to give evidence about the dispute before the royal council. Despite the fact that all those present were bound over in heavy securities to keep the peace, Quixley’s chief supporters (who seem to have been more avid for revenge than he was himself) seized the first opportunity to get even with their opponents. Fortunately for them, he was elected to the mayoralty in February 1381, and thus held office when the Peasants’ Revolt broke out in the following summer. On the pretext that Gisburn’s chief associates were somehow involved in fomenting rebellion, Selby and Graa had them all thrown into prison and forced them to surrender bonds in exactly the same sums as they themselves had been obliged to give in Chancery. But what had begun as a power struggle among members of the ruling elite soon degenerated into mob violence once Gisburn’s men took to the streets, and the lower orders, inflamed by news of events in the south, joined in an attack on St. Leonard’s hospital and other unpopular religious institutions. Graa and Selby were together accused in the 1381 Parliament of extorting money with menaces, and in January of the following year the leaders of both factions were charged, upon pain of 1,000 marks each, to appear at Westminster and face the music. Shortly afterwards a collective fine of this amount was imposed upon the people of York, while the ringleaders from both camps were ordered to pledge individual guarantees of £100 as an earnest of future good behaviour. Yet none of them suffered any permanent disgrace as a result of their participation in this potentially serious dispute: indeed, Selby himself was actually returned to Parliament for the first time in February 1383, and served three terms as mayor over the next six years.6

Selby’s third and last mayoralty was marked by a visit paid to York by Richard II, whose increasing disenchantment with the people of London may already have predisposed him to show especial favour towards his subjects in the north. At all events, the disturbances of 1381 were now forgotten, and he presented Selby with a ceremonial sword to be carried before him and his successors as a token of their official rank. Richard returned to the city twice in 1396, by which time his hostility towards the Londoners was such that he may even have contemplated removing the seat of government to York. He was certainly prepared to grant the city the status of a shire-incorporate; and Selby, as one of the most influential and experienced aldermen then serving on the council of 12, was dispatched to Nottingham (for five days) and London (for 44 days) with the then mayor, William Frost*, to discuss matters with the King, and then to negotiate the terms of a new royal charter.7

Throughout this period Selby was clearly accumulating a considerable amount of property in York, some of which came to him as a result of his second marriage. At the time of the poll tax of 1381 (assessments for which were based on information collected by him as a royal commissioner of inquiry), Selby was living with his first wife, Alice, and two servants in the parish of St. Michael-le-Belfry, but by June 1390 he had evidently married Hawise, the sister and heir of William Mowbray. It was then that Mowbray drew up a will naming Selby as both an executor and trustee, and at some point after his death, just over a year later, the latter obtained seisin of four tenements, two crofts and rents worth almost 30s. a year in York. By the time that he came to set his own affairs in order, in 1423, Selby was in possession of at least ten tenements, several shops and over £6 p.a. in rents some of which he may have purchased through the profits of traded.8 His involvement in the property market also resulted from his work as an executor and trustee: he undertook to act in the former capacity for the wealthy York apothecary, Constantine Damme (d.1398), and for his old friend and sometime parliamentary colleague, Thomas Graa (d.1405), both of whom left him valuable pieces of silver plate; and together with William Helmsley* and Robert Talkan* he held land in York to the use of John Kingson’s next heirs. The Agnes Wasselyn who settled upon him the advowson of the hospital of the Holy Trinity, York, in 1397, may well have been his sister, and he assisted her as a feoffee, too.9

Evidence about Selby’s last years is harder to find, perhaps because failing eyesight obliged him to abandon some of his activities. He was apparently planning to travel overseas in December 1407, as a royal permit was issued for the transfer of coin to the value of £30 to him in ‘foreign parts’ from the banking house of Albertini. But less than a month later the government excused him from serving as a tax collector because he had been ‘smitten with blindness’ and could not perform his duties. He was none the less able to arbitrate in a local property dispute late in 1410, and since the quarrel hinged upon the terms of a sale we may assume that he was actually still quite capable of dealing with complex matters of this kind. At all events, he continued to serve on the council of 12 for another seven years, if not longer, and was involved in the production of the Corpus Christi cycle of plays in York during this period. From 1420 onwards, however, when he became embroiled in a dispute over the upkeep of a wall next to his tenement in Coney Street, Selby effectively retired. The will which he drew up in July 1423, was not proved for another four years (on 8 Aug. 1427), although he is last recorded as being alive in the spring of 1425.10

Selby had asked to be buried ‘beside his ancestors’ in York Minster, rather than in his parish church of St. Michael-le-Belfry, where he made provision for the endowment of a chantry. His two children had almost certainly predeceased him: a daughter, named Laurentia, who married the York goldsmith, Warmebold Harlam, is last mentioned in 1406, and his son, Laurence, died at some point before 1423, leaving one child, Hawise, to succeed him. Selby made scant provision for his grand daughter, showing preference instead for other, more distant, relatives, including two of his second wife’s kinsmen. Indeed, although George Mowbray and his son, William, already stood to inherit all her property when she died, Selby also bequeathed to them a reversionary interest in the substantial share of his own holdings which she then occupied as a jointure. His sister Agnes, his brother and the latter’s daughter were also generously treated, receiving either shops, tenements cash or plate. Agnes actually shared with the widowed Hawise Selby the task of executing the will, and it looks very much as if problems soon arose over the administration of the deceased’s estate. In June 1428, one William Bedale, of York was released from prison under heavy sureties of £20 that he would keep the peace towards Hawise, there having previously been some problems over the conditions of bail.11

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. Trans. E. Riding Antiq. Soc. xxx. 48; Borthwick Inst. York, York registry wills, i. f. 27v; ii. ff. 513v-14v; Surtees Soc. clxxxvi. 49-50. According to York City Archs. List of Civic Officials ed. Skaife, f. 383, Hawise lived on until 1450/1, surviving her second husband, Roger Aske, but evidence of this cannot now be found.
  • 2. Surtees Soc. xcvi. 81, 84, 85; cxx. 30-32, 153-4, 173; cxxv. 6, 31-32, 62, 64; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. lxxvi. 117.
  • 3. C66/320 m. 7v.
  • 4. This commission was never delivered (CCR, 1392-6, pp. 84-85).
  • 5. York registry wills, i. f. 11v; ii. ff. 513-14v; Surtees Soc. cxxv. 51-52; clxxxvi. 49; E122/59/5, 23.
  • 6. SC8/103/5143-4; VCH City of York, 80-82; CCR, 1377-81, pp. 524-5; 1381-5, pp. 31-32, 115.
  • 7. F. Drake, Ebor. 106, 181; Surtees Soc. clxxxvi. 123; cxcii. 6.
  • 8. Trans. E. Riding Antiq. Soc. xxx. 48; York registry wills, i. f. 27v; ii. ff. 513-14v.
  • 9. York registry wills, iii. ff. 4v-5v, 235; CP25(1)279/148/9; Surtees Soc. clxxxvi. 78, 148-9.
  • 10. CPR, 1405-9, pp. 302, 352-3; 1409-13, p. 441; Surtees Soc. lxxxv. 16-17; cxxv. 118; clxxxvi. 78.
  • 11. York registry wills, ii. ff. 513v-14v; Surtees Soc. clxxxvi. 49-50, 118.