TONG, William (d.1389), 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



Jan. 1377
Nov. 1380
Sept. 1388

Family and Education

m. bef. May 1379, Avice (d.1423), 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da.2

Offices Held

Examiner of wines, Welbrook Ward Nov. 1373, Nov. 1376.3

Common councillor, VintnersMystery 9 Aug. 1376-12 Mar. 1377, Tower Ward 11 June 1384-7; alderman of Vintry Ward 12 Mar. 1377-8, Aldgate Ward 1381-2, dep. alderman of Tower Ward Aug. 1384, alderman of Tower Ward 12 Aug. 1385-12 Mar. 1386; auditor, London 12 Sept. 1385-8.4

Tax collector, London Nov. 1377, Mar. 1388; assessor May 1379.5

Collector of murage, suburbs of London Mar. 1387.6


This wealthy and influential London vintner may well have taken his name from the village of Tonge in Leicestershire. His sister, Ellen, married Walter Person, a native of that county, and left descendants at Market Harborough. William Tong first appears in July 1362, when, as one of the executors of a London merchant who had died insolvent and in debt to the King, he was briefly committed to prison and subsequently bound over to appear before the royal council. Nothing more is heard of him until December 1371, the date of his release from the Tower, this time after an alleged, but evidently unproven, act of trespass against certain Portuguese merchants. Tong was himself then trying to recover a cargo of wine, tin and other commodities which he and several other merchants, including (Sir) Nicholas Brembre, had been transporting to London on board ‘La Welfare’ of Dartmouth. A commission was actually set up to inquire into their complaints that the ship had been plundered after being wrecked off the coast at Wareham, Dorset, but the outcome remains unknown. Whatever losses Tong may have sustained were more than offset in the following September when he shared in a royal licence to export cloth to Bordeaux in a Dutch vessel and load it there with wine for the return journey to England. Twelve years later, in February 1384, Tong and a consortium of London merchants—again including Brembre lost another cargo of wine after a wreck on the south coast, although on this occasion orders were issued immediately for the restoration of whatever had been pilfered by the local people.7

Tong’s interest in the wine trade led him to buy a house and tenement ‘known vulgarly as Le Newe Taverne’ in the parish of St. Peter Wood Street. This he and his wife acquired in May 1379 from John Coke of Dorset, who offered them securities of £300 as a guarantee of tenure. Tong’s widow was able to lease out the property at a rent of £20 a year in 1419, which suggests that the original purchase price must have been considerable. At the time of her death in 1424 Avice Tong was also in possession of various premises in the parish of St. Mary Axe, which had at some point been sold to her by the same John Coke. Over the years Tong greatly consolidated his holdings in the City. In November 1383 he bought a tenement with numerous appurtenances in the Vintry, settling it upon his eldest son, William (who, according to the title deed, had been born some time before his parentsmarriage); and shortly afterwards he took on the lease of other holdings in the parish of St. Clement East Cheap. By the time of his death he also owned another tavern called Le Crowne in the parish of All Hallows the Less, a garden and fairly extensive property in the parish of All Hallows Barking, and a number of annual rents. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Tong did not invest heavily in land outside London: his only known purchase of such property was in October 1383, when he took possession of a messuage and farmland in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. A settlement of certain Bedfordshire property had been made upon him some ten years before, but it is unlikely that his title was more than that of a feoffee.8

Some idea of Tong’s wealth and the extent of his business activities may be gained from his frequent recourse to litigation as the plaintiff in actions for debt. Between April 1372 and June 1387 he sued at least 18 people for sums totalling £164 at common law alone, albeit with a marked lack of success.9 Moreover, in October 1376 William atte More of Cheshunt undertook to deliver £60 to Tong within one month, and two years later he agreed to pay a further £101 on similar terms. Tong had subsequently to petition the mayor of the Staple of Westminster for the enforcement of these bonds, together with a third obligation, also in £101, which had come into his hands at this time. These transactions were probably connected with his later acquisition of land in Cheshunt, perhaps as a result of foreclosure on a mortgate, but their exact purpose remains obscure. So too does that of a recognizance for £100 which Tong obtained from Sir William Burcester* in November 1383, although the two men had for some time been trustees of a tenement in the City, so there was clearly a longstanding connexion between them. It is also worth noting that in June 1385 Tong was a party to a conveyance of the manor of Newton Hall, Essex, in which Sir William is known to have had an interest.10

Save for his brief period of disgrace as one of the aldermen accused of treacherously admitting the mob into London during the PeasantsRevolt of 1381, Tong played an active part in civic affairs for most of his adult life. His involvement began in August 1373, when he was chosen to audit the accounts of two boat builders then working for the corporation. In the following year he acted as an arbitrator in a mercantile dispute; and in August 1376 he served on a commission appointed by the civic authorities to examine the existing ordinances for the government of London. Tong contributed £4 towards the loan raised by the City to persuade ‘the great lords of the realm’ to return to the capital in January 1379, being already by then one of the richest and most respected members of the merchant class.11 The charge brought against him by John More in the Parliament of October 1382 of opening Aldgate to receive the rebels when the PeasantsRevolt was at its height seems hard to accept in view of his own vested interest in preserving order. Indeed, there are strong grounds for believing that of the five aldermen accused of complicity with the mob only one, John Horn, was in any way guilty of a deliberate act of treason. On the other hand, certain Londoners, anxious for sweeping reforms, were only too pleased to discredit five established members of the civic hierarchy, each of whom was committed to preserving the trade monopoly of the victualling guilds. John of Northampton, the mayor of London from October 1381 to 1382, espoused these radical views, and given that John More, one of his keenest supporters, was the first to call for an investigation into events which had taken place well over a year before, the likelihood of a conspiracy against their opponents, the victuallers, cannot be ignored. The accused were summoned before two inquisitions held by the sheriffs of London in November 1382. The indictments had been prepared by More, and there is clear evidence to suggest that both returns, particularly the second, were selectively edited to emphasize the guilt of three of the aldermen. Tong himself faced only one charge—that of allowing the rebels to enter the City through Aldgate—but was found guilty and sent to the Tower to await sentence with the others. Four of the five were released in March 1383 on sureties of £1,000 (offered by Northampton’s greatest opponents, Sir William Walworth and Sir John Philipot), conditional upon their appearance before the royal council some weeks later. Their bail was renewed in the following November, by which time Tong’s former business associate, Sir Nicholas Brembre, had been elected mayor, and a sweeping reaction against the reformers had set in. A new jury met to try the aldermen in January 1384; all were found innocent, and, with the exception of John Horn, soon resumed their civic duties exactly as before. If Tong had indeed thrown open the City’s defences, it can only have been because of a genuine fear of the consequences of resistance. That he should have felt sympathy for the rebels is out of the question. As alderman of Aldgate Ward he had actually been instructed in August 1381 to compile a list of persons suspected of joining in the revolt, which shows clearly enough how little doubt was felt about his conduct at the time.12

Tong lived to see the downfall of his former enemy, Northampton, in whose disgrace he played a small, but none the less significant part. He was present in June 1384 as a representative for Tower Ward at the meeting of the common council which declared Northampton personally responsible for recent disturbances in the City; and in the following March he attended a second meeting, summoned to press for the former mayor’s execution. He was also, significantly, named among the 12 commoners chosen to examine the defences of London against any future outbreaks of disorder.13 Tong’s election as an alderman in August 1385 and his return, for the third time, as an MP for London three years later confirm that his brief period of disgrace was soon forgotten. In October 1387 he was entrusted with the guardianship of Joan Bricles and her effects, but retained it for less than two years, dying suddenly in August 1389. His eldest son, William, had apparently predeceased him, for his will refers only to two sons (both named John) and two daughters, all of whom were then under age. Each child was to receive a settlement of 100 marks, augmented in the case of the two boys by an annual rent of five marks to finance the elder for seven years should he choose to study the common law, and to assist the younger for a similar period if he showed promise either as an Oxford scholar or a merchant. Tong was buried in the church of All Hallows Barking, which benefited considerably from his generosity. To his widow, Avice, he left a life interest in all their London and Hertfordshire properties on condition that she remained single. This she did, and was still enjoying a substantial income in June 1423 when she drew up her will. Tong’s eldest surviving son came of age in October 1392, which suggests that he, too, was born before his parents married. One of his sisters was apprenticed to learn the trade of embroidery, but the two youngest children died before they could enter into their inheritance.14

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 153.
  • 2. Corporation of London RO, hr 107/51, 119/29.
  • 3. Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 163, 234.
  • 4. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 42, 247, 263, 273, 286, 331-2; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 53, 55, 85, 123; Beaven, Aldermen, i. 10, 198, 206.
  • 5. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 83, 129, 324.
  • 6. Ibid. 300.
  • 7. Corporation of London RO, hr 150/40; CCR, 1360-4, p. 419; 1369-74, p. 404; 1381-5, pp. 354-5; CPR, 1370-4, p. 181.
  • 8. CCR, 1377-81, p. 249; CPR, 1381-5, p. 328; CAD, iv. A8193; Corporation of London RO, hr 107/151, 112/103, 105, 113/21, 119/29, 137/61, 147/16, 21; Guildhall Lib. London, 9171/3, ff. 24-24d.
  • 9. Corporation of London RO, hep 105 m. 4, 111, Monday aft. feast Purification of Virgin, 10 Ric. II; hpl 94 m. 6d, 103, Monday bef. feast St. Peter’s Chains and feast SS. Perpetua and Felicity, 4 Ric. II, 107, Monday bef. feast St. Margaret, 8 Ric. II, 110, Monday bef. feast St. Margaret, 11 Ric. II.
  • 10. C241/170/3, 173/53, 178/110; CCR, 1381-5, p. 411; Corporation of London RO, hr 114/7; hep, Monday aft. feast St. Mathias, 3 Ric. II.
  • 11. Cal. Letter Bk. London, G, 304; Cal. P. and M. London, 1364-81, p. 201; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 41.
  • 12. R. Bird, Turbulent London Ric. II, 53, 56; Peasant’s Revolt ed. Dobson, 212-26; CCR, 1381-5, p. 284; Cal. P. and M. London, 1364-81, p. 289.
  • 13. Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 53, 55, 57.
  • 14. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 319, 357-8; Corporation of London RO, hr 119/15, 29, 147/16; Guildhall Lib. 9171/3, ff. 24-24d.