STEVENS, John, of Bristol.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
m. Margaret (d.1417), 1s.1
Bailiff, Bristol Mich. 1388-9; sheriff 20 Oct. 1394-15 Oct. 1395; mayor Mich. 1402-3.2
Collector of customs and subsidies, Bristol 1 Dec. 1395-23 May 1398, 24 June 1401-1 Oct. 1405, 26 Feb. 1408-Dec. 1412.
Commr. of inquiry, Bristol Dec. 1402 (removal of valuables from the castle), Feb. 1408 (maladministration of St. John’s hospital) Glos., Bristol Jan. 1414 (lollards); to conscript men and mariners, Bristol Aug. 1403 (for defence against Breton pirates); victual the royal army and garrisons of S. Wales May, Sept. 1405; muster the lt. of Ireland’s forces, Bristol Sept. 1406; of array May 1415.
Constable of the Bristol Staple 26 Sept. 1414-Mich. 1425.3
Stevens, a leading Bristol merchant frequently required for royal service by Henry IV, took an active interest in local affairs and held all of the important borough offices. He was first elected to the common council in August 1381 and seven years later was installed as a bailiff, as such participating ex officio in the foundation of Edmund Blanket’s chantry in 1389. Two years later he represented Bristol in Parliament for the first time, and on 25 Sept. 1391 and again at Michaelmas 1392 and 1394 he was proposed for the shrievalty, on the last occasion successfully. In 1402 he attained the highest municipal dignity, concurrently acting during his year of office as mayor of the local Staple and as royal escheator for the county of Bristol. Stevens is recorded serving as a councillor again in 1409, 1410, 1422 and 1425. His son, John, was evidently of age by the end of Henry IV’s reign, but it was John Stevens ‘senior’ who was annually elected as constable of the Staple between 1414 and 1425, inclusive, and who was present at the elections held in the guildhall to the Parliaments of 1407, 1411, 1413 (May), 1414 (Nov.), 1416 (Mar), 1417, 1419, 1420 and 1421. (It is uncertain, however, which of the two men attended those of 1422 and 1423.)4
Two years after Stevens had been a parliamentary burgess for the second time, in December 1395, he entered royal employment, and from then until 1412 he was regularly appointed as a customs collector in the port of Bristol and the neighbouring, smaller havens. In 1395 he accounted for the royal prise of falcons in Bristol, and later he took charge of the subsidies of tunnage and poundage and wool customs collected there. It was he who, with his fellow customer and later controller of the customs, Thomas Saunders, became largely responsible for the victualling of Henry IV’s army in Wales in the early years of the reign. Stevens contributed personally to the royal efforts with a loan of £45 made in association with John Banbury II* and other Bristol men, for which repayment was authorized in June 1402. In November 1403 he was ordered to advise Saunders upon the distribution of the sum of 20 marks among crews of ships going to relieve Cardiff castle, then under siege; and it was through his and his colleague’s enterprise that the royal castles in west Wales were kept fairly supplied with provisions, thereby enabling them to hold out throughout the following year. Thus, in January they obtained 66 pipes of mead, 12 casks of wine, four of vinegar, 50 of wheat flour and 80 quarters of salt for the prince of Wales to victual Caernarvon, Harlech, Cardigan and Lampeter; and Stevens paid £45 2s.8d. to the mariners sailing with provisions to Caernarvon, Cardiff, Newport and Caldicot, for which the Exchequer was instructed to reimburse him in March. It was under his command that on 23 Apr. the royal council dispatched from Bristol five armed vessels, laden with food for the beseiged garrisons, with orders to repel any French attacks; and then, in August, he and Saunders were authorized by the Council to purvey wine and corn worth 200 marks for sale at reasonable rates to the soldiers at Caernarvon. In May 1405 they were formally commissioned to victual the royal army, and the following September Stevens and John Droys*, under Saunders’s supervision, were endeavouring to get supplies to the garrison at Cardiff. The Bristol customers were still engaged in provisioning the Welsh castles as late as October 1408. Meanwhile, in the autumn of 1406, Stevens and Saunders had been ordered to hold a muster at Bristol of the forces of the King’s second son, Thomas, the lieutenant of Ireland, on their way to the province. Although he was not so extensively employed under Henry V, in 1414 Stevens received payment of £107 10s.8d. for inspecting the manufacture of a great cannon at Bristol, and for supplying the necessary materials—iron, coal and timber; and later, in January 1420, he and John Newman were paid expenses incurred in travelling from Bristol to London to inform the Council about certain other matters of concern to the King.5
Stevens had initially, in the 1380s, been assisted in his mercantile career by a legacy from Walter Derby† (whose apprentice he may have been), consisting of an interest in Le Marie of Bristol and a half share in a fully equipped balinger, the Trinite. It was in the latter that Stevens is first known to have traded, when in July 1387 he shipped 15 cloths to Bayonne. From November 1390 to August 1391 he exported no less than 116 lengths of fabric to Spain, Portugal, La Rochelle and Ireland; and between May 1398 and September 1399 he shipped as many as 318½, occasionally in his own vessels and in partnership with William Stevens, probably a relative. The ships he used returned with wine, and when, in 1400, the mayor of Bristol was commissioned to collect arrears of tunnage and poundage, he owed £2 10s. In 1405 the port authorities were ordered to release the Seint George of Galicia to its Spanish owner following an agreement by Stevens to purchase the wine loaded in the barge at five marks per tun. During this period Stevens petitioned the chancellor for licence to ship over to Ireland a cargo of four tuns of old wine, 16 cloths and 40 quarters of salt, with a view to importing victuals on the return voyage, having already, in 1403, obtained one such licence, again along with William Stevens, for a shipment of the same commodities in La Jonet, which permitted them to bring back Irish salmon and hides.6
As a prominent local figure, Stevens was frequently remembered in the wills of his fellow burgesses of Bristol and also required by them to act in positions of trust. His early benefactor, Walter Derby, made him a feoffee of his property in the town, and in 1387 both Thomas Clerk and Walter Stodeley named him as executor of their wills and guardian of their heirs. Under the will of John Castell (d.1401) both Stevens and his son, John, received legacies, the former benefiting by £20 and the prospect of succeeding to all Castell’s property in Bristol after the death of his widow. Then, in 1410, he was appointed overseer of John Basset’s will. On occasion, as in 1411 and 1413, he provided securities at the Exchequer for those appointed alnagers in Bristol and Somerset. Little is known of Stevens’s property in Bristol, save that Walter Derby left him a tenement in Corn Street, and that he acquired others in Touker Street and Smith Street in 1393. The assessors of the tax on landed incomes levied in 1412 reported that John Stevens ‘junior’ was in possession of holdings in Bristol worth as much as £38 a year, but it seems likely that this was an error for John ‘senior’, who was always a more prominent figure in the community. It is not known when he died, but he was certainly no longer alive in January 1430, when John Clyve* bequeathed to his wife and nephew the premises he had acquired from Stevens, the latter being then described as ‘late burgess of Bristol’. The John Stevens, ‘woolmonger’, who made his will in June 1440, was probably the son.7
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. Bristol Wills (Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. 1886), 91, 97.
- 2. Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. xxvi. 128-9.
- 3. C267/5 nos. 42-51.
- 4. Little Red Bk. Bristol ed. Bickley, i. 115, 136-7, 153, 222; ii. 69, 144; C267/5 no. 36; C219/10/4, 6, 11/1, 4, 8, 12/2-6, 13/1, 2; CFR, xi. 13, 58.
- 5. E122/17/9, 10, 13; E364/29 m. H; E403/578, 31 Jan.; E404/17/344, 385; 19/163, 336, 24/195, 35/261; J.H. Wylie, Hen. IV, iv. 257; CPR, 1405-8, pp. 63, 67, 238; PPC, i. 220-1, 234; Issues ed. Devon, 299, 332.
- 6. Bristol Wills, 16; E122/16/21, 34, 35, 17/1, 40/12; Overseas Trade (Bristol Rec. Soc. vii), 193, 195, 199-202; CFR, xii. 96; SC8/305/15211; CPR, 1401-5, p. 209; CCR, 1405-9, p. 18.
- 7. Bristol Wills, 16, 17, 25-26, 28, 60, 86, 117, 129; CFR, xiii. 195; xiv. 10; Feudal Aids, vi. 448; Bristol RO, P/St. P and J/D5(a).