SPELLY, Elias (d.1391), of Bristol and Kingston Seymour, Som.

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. 1377
Nov. 1384

Family and Education

poss. s. of John Spelly (d.c.1363) of Worcester. m. bef. 1364, Agnes (d.c.1394), ?s.p.1

Offices Held

Chamberlain, Bristol Mich. 1356-7; bailiff 1361-2, 1363-4; mayor 1369-70, 1378-9, 1382-3, 1390-d.2

Constable of the Bristol Staple by Feb. 1358.3

Commr. of inquiry, Bristol, Glos., Som. Sept. 1371 (administration of St. Augustine’s abbey), Bristol Jan. 1375 (shipwreck); gaol delivery June 1379, Oct. 1382; oyer and terminer Sept. 1383, Oct. 1390; to settle a dispute by arbitration Nov. 1386; determine an appeal from the admiral’s ct. Dec. 1386.

Tax assessor, Bristol May 1379.

Collector of tunnage and poundage, Bristol 9 June 1388-d., customs and subsidies 30 Nov. 1390-d.


Spelly came from a prominent Worcester family, and retained property in that town until his death, but his mercantile activities always centred on Bristol, where he settled very early in his career. His active participation in borough affairs lasted as long as 40 years, starting in 1350 (by which date he was already a member of the common council), and culminating with his fourth mayoralty in 1390. In between his terms of office as bailiff and mayor, Spelly often served on the council, as when, in November 1370, he attended the meeting at which the drapers’ ordinances were confirmed. On 30 Sept. 1373 he was one of the jurors who marked out the bounds of the new county of Bristol as granted by royal charter. He was closely associated with Walter Frampton, for whom in January 1375 he witnessed the foundation of a chantry, and with whom he witnessed deeds concerning property in London, dated the same month, when Frampton was mayor. In his own official capacity as mayor in January 1383, Spelly conducted an inquiry into the seizure of 20 tuns of wine by English subjects in Scotland contrary to the truce between that country and Spain, after being specially instructed to exact compensation from the men of Bristol who had been implicated. One of his last actions as mayor in 1390 was the holding of an assize of fresh force, which later came up for appeal before the court of common pleas and then became the subject of a petition to Parliament.4

Other offices and duties came Spelly’s way. In 1358 he had served as one of the constables of the Bristol Staple, and he subsequently often took part in the election of the officials of the Staple (certainly doing so in 1359, 1364, 1367, 1368 and 1371). In those years the mayor of the Staple was not always the current mayor of the town, but later on Spelly himself occupied both posts simultaneously. Although, in February 1380, he obtained letters patent exempting him for life from holding any post in the Crown’s appointment against his will, he nevertheless agreed to serve as mayor twice more, and also continued to discharge royal commissions. For instance, in November 1386, when MP for Bristol for the fifth and last time, he was appointed along with his fellow parliamentary burgess, William Canynges, to settle the complaint of John Cobyndon that John Fulbroke* had not paid him his share of the 100 marks they had won from their lawsuit against a Genoese merchant; and in the following month he was made a member of a tribunal set up to determine an appeal from the court of the admiral of the west. It was not until late in his career, in 1388, that he secured appointment as collector of tunnage and poundage in the port of Bristol, and only shortly before his death that he was made customer there.5

Like several other members of his family, Spelly was engaged in the profitable cloth trade of Bristol. In December 1363 the keepers of passage in the port were ordered to allow him to load 15 fardels of cloth (each containing 20 lengths of fabric) for shipment to Spain and Gascony, despite the recent statute restricting such exports to Calais. Later, in March 1368, in partnership with William Canynges, he obtained a licence to sail their ship, La Seinte Marie Cogge of Bristol, to Santiago with a number of pilgrims of moderate means. The two men had similar joint interests in La Clement of Bristol, and Spelly was sole owner of at least four other vessels: Le George, La Cogge John, The James and a ship which he bought cheap from a Flemish merchant for £30, at an unknown date before 1378. He traded regularly with Ireland, appointing attorneys to act there on his behalf in 1375, 1381, 1382 and 1384, and his ships were occasionally chartered by Irish merchants (as in 1389, when one Geoffrey Blake of Galway exported eight cloths in a crayer of his, but neglected to pay customs duties). Cloth was always Spelly’s principal interest: he shipped 24 lengths in his cog, the Seinte Marie, in February 1379, ten in the George in June 1388, 24 the following month, and 33 in the October before his death, these shipments being destined for La Rochelle, Gascony or Ireland; and he was a business associate of Thomas Beaupyne*, for whom he provided securities at the Exchequer in 1377, at a time when Beaupyne was farmer of the cloth subsidies throughout south-west England. Less is recorded about his imports, which probably included wine, although on occasion cargoes of fish were unloaded in his name.6

Spelly encountered a typical assortment of setbacks to his mercantile ventures. In 1366 he and William Canynges sent La Clement to Lisbon, but she was taken on the voyage and burnt by subjects of the pretender to the Castilian throne, Henry of Trastamara, who seized her cargo and held the crew to ransom. In retaliation Spelly and Canynges persuaded the mayor of Bristol to detain a Spanish vessel then in port, but in December her release was ordered so as not to prejudice the English alliance with Peter II of Castile. Later, in June 1369, five Spanish ships were captured by the admiral of the west, and Spelly and Canynges, along with 14 other Bristol merchants and two from London, successfully petitioned for compensation for their merchandise on board, as well as for the loss of La Clement, said, with considerable exaggeration, to be worth £1,600, and cargoes seized in retaliation by the Spaniards from Le Welefare of Bristol and La Margarete of Plymouth, allegedly worth £6,000. Further hindrances to trade resulted from the requisitioning of merchant ships after the war was resumed with France; thus Le James and the Seinte Marie Cogge took part in the attempt to relieve the siege of Thouars in 1372, Spelly and Walter Frampton receiving £29 10s. in wages as joint masters and owners of the former. Similar difficulties arose from over-zealous action on the part of local officials: in 1377 Spelly, along with Robert Gardener* and other Bristol merchants, loaded La Cogge John at Lisbon with 30 tuns of wine, two pipes of oil, 500 pounds of wax and 26 ‘couples’ of fruit for sale in Dublin, but the ship, being driven ashore at Kinsale by storm, was there confiscated in the mistaken belief that some of the crew were nationals of allies of Castile. The merchants failed to obtain the release of their vessel until royal orders were issued. Then, in 1389, when two ships freighted by Spelly in Limerick and Galway with 12 lasts of hides bound for Calais, proved unseaworthy and he had them reloaded at Bristol into stronger vessels, the customs officials required a second payment of duties and refused to let them leave port until they received authorization from the Exchequer on the back of securities provided on Spelly’s behalf by two other merchants of Bristol.7

Spelly probably lived in St. Ewen’s parish, where he witnessed a deed in 1365, but as a consequence of his highly successful trading ventures he came to own a considerable amount of property scattered all over the town. This comprised numerous shops and buildings (including the New Inn) in the High Street, Small Street, Temple Street, Bear Lane, Baldwin Street (where he leased for 40s. a year a house with a garden and orchard), St. Nicholas Street, Grope Lane, and on Avon Bridge. He also enjoyed an annual rent of 40s. from a messuage in St. Mary Le Port Street, as granted to him by the parents of Master Thomas Spert, the chancellor of Wells cathedral. Furthermore, he also had holdings at some distance from Bristol, in Worcestershire and Wiltshire, while nearer home, in Somerset, he became a landowner of consequence. Spelly’s property in the High Street, Worcester, had probably come to him by inheritance, but he always maintained trading links there, and saw fit to purchase ‘Stowehalle’ in the same street, only to find his ownership challenged in the court of common pleas in 1390, when Joan, widow of Edmund Brugge claimed it as her dower. In 1376 he acquired a small estate in East Kennett, Wiltshire, but had relinquished possession before his death. His acquisition of part of the manor of Kingston Seymour in Somerset proved to be more permanent: in 1368 John, son of Sir John Bouedoune, formally quitclaimed the manor to him and his wife Agnes, and afterwards they were party to transactions regarding a third part of the manor and its advowson. Agnes probably came from a gentry family of Somerset, for in 1376 she was named in an entail of the manor of Weston-in-Gordano, her inheritance depending upon the death without issue of one Ralph Perceval. In addition, Spelly acquired an interest in the manor of Stathe, in the same county. In April 1383, together with Sir John Beauchamp of Lillesdon and Matthew Clyvedon, who also owned property there, he was licensed to convey to the abbot of Athelney 220 acres of pasture in ‘La Saltmore’ in exchange for rights of common. This led to a legal action on the part of the dean and chapter of Wells, who, as the chief lords, required the abbot, Spelly and Robert Brice to surrender certain lands, of which Spelly’s share was 40 acres. However, in 1389 the chapter drew up an indenture with Beauchamp, Clyvedon’s heir and Spelly, granting them a lease of the disputed property for 50 years.8

Spelly, apparently a conventionally religious man, became party to a number of ecclesiastical foundations. In 1383, in association with Thomas Beaupyne and Walter Derby, he had obtained permission from the chapter at Wells to grant land at Monkton and North Curry, worth £4 a year, to the priory of Woodspring near Kingston Seymour, for the provision of a permanent light on the altar; and Spelly himself secured the necessary royal licence three years later in October 1386, when up at Westminster for his last Parliament. Meanwhile, in the previous year, when also representing Bristol in the Commons, he had taken the opportunity to procure on behalf of himself and other local merchants (including his fellow Member, Thomas Knap) a similar licence, this time to grant ‘Le Wynesmede’ in Bristol to the Friars Minor. Spelly was also a benefactor of the chapel on Avon Bridge, where there was inserted a stained-glass window depicting him and his wife. They both became members of the guild of the Holy Trinity at Coventry.9

By his will, made on 13 Jan. 1391, Spelly left bequests to a large number of religious houses, including Worcester cathedral, Kingswood abbey, the friaries of Bristol and Worcester, St. Bartholomew’s hospital and the priory of St. Mary Magdalene at Worcester (in which last his kinswoman, Ellen Spelly, was a nun). He asked to be buried in St. Mary’s church, Kingswood, while making provision for two chaplains to hold services in St. Leonard’s church, Bristol, for a period of 20 years for the souls of his parents and himself. The beneficiaries included every child living in Baldwin Street, the sick of the town, each master of ‘wyne haliers’ and each ‘sak berer’ as well as every other porter working on the Quay and the Back. Spelly provided for repairs to the bridge between Calne and Cherhill in Wiltshire, and for the making and mending of causeways near Bristol. The principal legatee was Thomas Norton*, presumably a kinsman of the testator, who was made wealthy by Spelly’s bequests to him of all his property in Bristol and his manorial holdings in Somerset, provided only that he gave his widow £20 a year for life. Furthermore, Norton’s son, Thomas, was to have all Spelly’s property in Worcester, on condition that he maintained a chaplain in St. Oswald’s chapel there. It would appear that Spelly left no children of his own—or if so they were estranged from him. Certainly, he did not mention Joan Spelly, who was to be referred to in his widow’s will as her daughter. He died on 31 Jan. following, while still in office as mayor.10 His widow duly conveyed her interest in Kingston Seymour to Norton, and then, on 8 Sept. 1393, made her own last testament, in which she chose to be buried in the church of the Friars Minor, rather than next to her late husband. She left 20 marks to St. Leonard’s for the annual keeping of her obit, at a charge of 1s.4d. a year. Agnes did not long survive Elias, for she died before June 1395.11

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


Variants: Pelly, Spelli, Spellye, Spill, Spylly.

  • 1. Bristol RO, Phillipps mss (Acc. 26166), 12; Bristol Wills (Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. 1886), 26-28, 126. His putative father was murdered. CFR, xiii. 259.
  • 2. Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. xxvi. 126-9.
  • 3. Staple Ct. Bks. (Bristol Rec. Soc. v), 97.
  • 4. Little Red Bk. Bristol ed. Bickley, i. 21, 114, 202; ii. 51; Bristol Chs. (Bristol Rec. Soc. i), 148-9; CCR, 1374-7, pp. 117-18; CIMisc. iv. 206; RP, iii. 314.
  • 5. Overseas Trade (Bristol Rec. Soc. vii), 299-302; C267/5 nos. 18, 25; CPR, 1377-81, p. 439; 1385-9, p. 244; E122/212/12.
  • 6. Overseas Trade 181-2, 185, 187, 190-1, 198, 201; CCR, 1360-4, p. 507; CFR, viii. 384; RP, iii. 54; CPR, 1367-70, pp. 137, 212; 1374-7, p. 179; 1381-5, pp. 62, 97, 479; 1391-6, p. 594; E122/40/12.
  • 7. CCR, 1364-8, p. 255; 1369-74, p. 30; 1377-81, p. 24; 1389-92, p. 33; S.S. Seyer, Mems. Bristol, ii. 151-4.
  • 8. Add. 29866, f. 7; Gt. Red Bk. (Bristol Rec. Soc. ii), 247; CCR, 1364-8, p. 466; 1374-7, p. 520; 1385-9, p. 81; Som. Feet of Fines (Som. Rec. Soc. xvii), 89, 100; VCH Wilts. xii. 121; Bristol RO, P/St.E/D7; Phillipps ms 12; CPR, 1381-5, p. 263; 1405-8, p. 261; Yr. Bk. 1389-90 ed. Plucknett, 135-7; HMC Wells, i. 322, 326, 419.
  • 9. CPR, 1385-8, pp. 37, 224; HMC Wells, i. 413; C143/402/2; Reg. Holy Trinity Guild Coventry (Dugdale Soc. xiii), 7; Dallaway, Antique Bristow, 109; Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. xlviii. 196.
  • 10. Bristol Wills, 26-28; PCC 8 Rous; C267/5 no. 26.
  • 11. Bristol Wills, 126; Som. Feet of Fines, 151; Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. viii. 249. Memorials to Spelly were displayed in Worcester cathedral: V. Green, Hist. Worcester, ii. pp. xii, xiv.