WALCOTE, John (d.1407/8), of London.
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Family and Education
s. of John Walcote of London, draper. m. bef. 1393, Christine, 1da.1
Common councillor, Candlewick Street Ward Mar. 1382-3, Oct. 1384, 1387-8; alderman, Walbrook Ward Mar. 1388-91, during royal pleasure (no ward given) 24 July 1392-bef. 12 Mar. 1393, Candlewick Street Ward Mar. 1393-c. May 1406; auditor, London 21 Sept. 1382-3, 1388-9, 1397-8, 1399-1400; mayor 13 Oct. 1402-3.2
Tax collector, London Dec. 1385, Dec. 1401.
Sheriff, London and Mdx. Mich. 1389-90.
Commr. to recruit soldiers and sailors to protect English shipping, London Aug. 1403.
The first reference which can be attributed to this MP with any degree of certainty occurs in November 1364, when, as John Walcote junior, he was summoned to attend the husting court of London as a juror for Candlewick Street Ward. A John Walcote, draper of London, who was presumably his father, had also served on a jury there some two years before, but since the elder Walcote’s date of death remains unknown, it is not always possible to distinguish between them.3 Orders from the mayor’s court in December 1369 for the surrender of a tenement held by John Walcote without an adequate title were perhaps intended for the father, although either could have been named among the residents of Candlewick Street who complained in June 1371 of ‘noxious fumes’ caused by the furnace of a local plumber. The elder of the two Walcotes probably joined with other London merchants in offering bail of £200 for a man who was imprisoned for riotous behaviour in the City shortly afterwards. But the subject of this biography is more likely to have been the plaintiff in two actions for debt brought over the next five years, and to have acted as a collector of the arrears due from Candlewick Street Ward for a gift made in 1374 to the prince and princess of Wales on their return from Gascony.4 He had certainly established himself by July 1377, when he acquired the guardianship of the two children of Richard Scutt from the city chamberlain. Their joint inheritance came to £200, a sum which Walcote was later said to have withheld after Thomas, the survivor, came of age. Meanwhile, in January 1379, he was able to contribute five marks towards a sum raised by the people of London to persuade ‘the great lords of the realm’ to return to London, then being one of the more affluent citizens called upon for a donation. Three years later, despite his somewhat dubious record for financial probity, he obtained custody of another ward, Joan, the daughter of John Ussher, who was then aged five and brought with her a legacy of £106.5
Even in an age when most wealthy Londoners chose to invest the profits of trade in property, Walcote is remarkable for the number and size of his purchases, both in the City and the surrounding countryside. Over the years he and his wife bought at least one tenement, four shops and several dwelling-houses in the parish of St. Nicholas Acon, two tenements in the neighbouring parish of St. Martin Orgar, and a brewery, five more tenements and rents worth over £6 a year in several other London parishes. Walcote added to his considerable holdings in the Walbrook area by leasing a shop there from the wardens of London Bridge.6 He was also able to increase his rent-roll through an extremely lucrative transaction in August 1390, whereby the London skinner, John Sely, granted him and his associate, John Leicester, full possession of all his property until an outstanding debt of £170 had been paid off. One of Sely’s tenements was still in Walcote’s hands at the time of his death; others seem to have been bought outright by him and, in September 1401, conveyed to Thomas Wyssenden, a Northamptonshire esquire.7 Walcote also owned property in Holborn and elsewhere in Middlesex, as well as possessing a joint title to several acres of timber in the royal forest of Barking, Essex.8 Between 1388 and 1392, he became involved in the purchase of farmland, rents and buildings in the Barking area by John Leicester, almost certainly as a fooffee rather than as the owner of the estate. His connexion with Leicester was already a long one, dating from August 1376, when he had offered sureties for his friend’s good conduct as King’s changer and assayer in the Tower. The pair were evidently in business together by June 1387, since they were then owed a joint debt of £80 by a London ironmonger. Two years later, Reynold Aleyn, a pepperer, bound himself by statute of the Staple of Westminster to pay them £400 within a specific term: his failure to do so led them to petition for redress in February 1389, with apparent success. When Leicester died, in or before 1393, he made Walcote one of his executors, and it was thus that the draper was able to gain complete control of John Sely’s estate. Although he does not appear otherwise to have welcomed the responsibilities of an executor or feoffee, Walcote did agree in September 1394 to act as attorney in England for John Winslow of Essex, who was then leaving to campaign in Ireland.9
The greater part of Walcote’s income seems to have come from his dealings in the wool trade. The loss of many customs records now makes it impossible to tell exactly how much wool he sold abroad, although an incomplete series of licences for export granted to him over an 18-year period ending in April 1398 shows him to have had a considerable interest in this branch of commerce. On 14 Dec. 1380, for example, he was licensed to export 39 sarplers of wool from London to Calais; on 18 Sept. 1381 he shipped out a further ten; and on 3 Apr. 1398 he was charged customs duties on three loads of wool comprising 30 sarplers in all. In November 1386, he and a fellow merchant, Richard Preston, successfully petitioned for permission to divert a valuable cargo of wool from Calais to the Middleburg Staple in Zeeland; and there may have been other occasions on which he did not export directly to Calais. Less evidence has survived of his activities as a draper, since these seem to have been confined almost entirely to the domestic market. In August and September 1390 he imported modest quantities of plain cloth through the port of London, but he evidently did not otherwise deal with cargoes of this kind.10 The scope and variety of Walcote’s commercial transactions remains open to conjecture: he appears to have supplied the Court with cloth at the beginning of Henry IV’s reign, when he did business with John Innocent, a treasury clerk. Walcote probably acted as a money lender, too, although the debt of £400 acknowledged to him by another John Winslow (who did business as a grocer), in January 1387, could perhaps have arisen through some joint trading venture. Walcote also became involved in the affairs of his son-in-law, the wealthy grocer, Walter King, whose mainpernor he was in July 1394, and whose executors he later sued for a debt of £40. Interestingly enough, he was one of the influential Londoners to offer sureties of £682 for the appearance of the Genoese merchant, Angelo Cyba, before the royal council, a gesture which suggests some existing connexion between the two men. Walcote was perhaps too prudent to lend heavily to the Crown, and only twice, in October 1401 and May 1402, does he appear among Henry IV’s creditors. On the first occasion he joined with Richard Whittington* and others in advancing £379, and on the second he made a personal loan of 100 marks.11
Walcote’s acquisition of property and the growth of his business interests inevitably resulted in litigation, which seems to have consumed an increasing amount of time as the years passed. Between May 1382 and January 1404 he appeared as plaintiff in at least four suits for debt (in addition to two separate appeals for the recovery of recognizances entered in the court of the mayor of the Staple of Westminster) and was himself the defendant in seven cases concerning the ownership of rents and tenements in the City. Four of these were brought by Henry Talbot, who contested Walcote’s title to property in the parish of All Hallows, Bread Street, and another by William Baret*, whose claim to rents in the same parish was upheld at the possessory assizes of London.12
From 1382 onwards, Walcote played a full and active part in civic affairs, for besides holding office as an alderman, a sheriff and finally as the mayor of London, he was frequently called upon to offer specialist advice over the auditing of accounts. From October 1388 onwards he was commissioned to examine seven different statements of account submitted to the chamberlain of London by those to whom property or wardships had been entrusted, and he was also chosen to serve as an auditor of the City for no less than four annual terms. On two occasions, in July 1387 and December 1393, he arbitrated in disputes between city merchants; and while alderman of Walbrook Ward, in March 1388, he was himself involved in an acrimonious exchange with one Robert Stafferton, whose refusal to attend upon him when summoned was deemed sufficiently serious to merit 40 days in prison. The sentence was later commuted, however, although Stafferton was forced to do penance for insulting so eminent a dignitary.13 Walcote held no civic office at the time of Richard II’s quarrel with the City in 1392, but because of his former position he was included among the 24 commoners ordered to appear with the mayor and civic dignitaries before the King at Nottingham on 25 June. Richard then suspended the normal government of London and set up a commission of inquiry to investigate certain unspecified offences for which, furious at being refused a request for credit, he held the authorities responsible. After a preliminary examination of the current office-holders on 10 July, the commissioners decided that their predecessors were also at fault, and Walcote, as a former sheriff, was summoned with all his fellows to attend an inquiry at Eton. Four days later, on 22 July, Richard imposed a fine of 3,000 marks upon the Londoners concerned and declared the liberties of the City to be forfeit. Most of the aldermen were confirmed in office, albeit only during royal pleasure, but among the new appointees was John Walcote, whose previous experience obviously made him a wise choice in such a troubled period. He and his colleagues were eventually excused their corporate fine in September 1392, when the government of the City returned to normal. The people of London had none the less to pay heavily to retain Richard’s good will, and Walcote’s appearance among the 15 aldermen who then bound themselves to pay the chamberlain of London £11 6s.8d. each suggests that he was contributing towards some kind of royal ‘loan’ or gift. When, in January 1403, the City under rather less strained circumstances raised a loan of £100 towards the cost of an expedition to Brittany, Walcote as mayor was given personal custody of the jewels which Henry IV had pledged as security for repayment.14
Walcote died between 11 July 1407 (the date of his will) and October 1408, leaving generous bequests to the church of St. Nicholas Acon were he wished to be buried. His widow, Christine, received a half share of the money raised by selling their land in Middlesex and a life interest in their London property. This part of the draper’s estate was eventually acquired by Walter Gawtron*, who married his only daughter, Joan, on the death of her first husband, Walter King.15
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. Corporation of London RO, hr 122/37, 58.
- 2. Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 88, 132; Beaven, Aldermen, i. 81, 217, 397 (where Walcote is mistakenly recorded as having been elected alderman of Candlewick Street Ward in March 1392, although he in fact was a commoner between Mar. 1391 and July 1392); CPR, 1392-6, p. 12; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 178, 198, 219, 332, 344, 400; I, 23, 27.
- 3. Corporation of London RO, hpl 84, Monday aft. feast St. John ante portam Latinam, 36 Edw. III, 86, Monday aft. feast St. Andrew the Apostle, 38 Edw. III.
- 4. CCR, 1369-74, p. 323; CPR, 1370-4, p. 275; Corporation of London RO, Monday aft. feast St. John ante portam Latinam, 50 Edw. III; Cal. Letter Bk. London, G, 256-7, 283-4, 331.
- 5. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 70-71, 126, 165.
- 6. Corporation of London RO, hr 115/28, 37, 38, 124/113, 128/1, 26, 28, 129/66, 89, 99, 136/4, 138/41; Bridge House rental f. 11d; CIMisc. vii. no. 199; London Rec. Soc. i. no. 255.
- 7. Corporation of London RO, hr 119/35, 48, 59, 69, 106, 130, 144, 120/31, 130/22; CCR, 1392-6, pp. 378-9.
- 8. Corporation of London RO, hr 136/4; CPR, 1391-6, p. 318.
- 9. Essex Feet of Fines, iii. 208, 216-17; Cal. Letter Bk. London, G, 326; H, 410; CCR, 1385-9, p. 318; C241/177/78; CPR, 1391-6, p. 506.
- 10. E122/71/4, 9, 13, 22-23, passim; CCR, 1385-9, p. 193.
- 11. C241/175/151; E401/626; E404/17/11; CCR, 1399-1402, pp. 553, 571; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, p. 220; CPR, 1401-5, p. 338; Anglo-Norman Letters and Pets. ed. Legge, no. 67.
- 12. CPR, 1388-92, p. 415; 1401-5, p. 338; CCR, 1402-5, p. 154; CIMisc. vi. no. 35; London Rec. Soc. i. nos. 157, 208; Corporation of London RO, hcp 125 m. 2; hpl 122, Monday bef. feast SS. Simon and Jude, 21 Ric. II, 125, feast SS. Perpetua and Felicity, 2 Hen. IV.
- 13. Cal. Letter Bk. London, G, 234; H, 52, 254, 323, 354, 394, 405; I, 20; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 140, 207.
- 14. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 377-8, 386, 391; CPR, 1391-6, pp. 130, 171; CCR, 1392-6, p. 12; E404/19/272, 20/128.
- 15. Corporation of London RO, hr 136/4, 138/41, 151/56; London Rec. Soc. i. no. 255.