WILLIAM (formerly SPAYNELL), alias William MARKES, Mark (d.c.1434), of Bristol.

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



Dec. 1421

Family and Education

1st s. of William Spaynell (d.1391) of Bristol by his w. Soneta. m. bef. May 1404, Agnes, wid. of William Solers (d.1403) of Weston Subedge, Glos.,1 1s. d.v.p. 1da.

Offices Held

Bailiff, Bristol Mich. 1400-1; sheriff 5 Oct. 1405-1 Oct. 1406; mayor 4 Sept. 1422-Mich. 1423.2

Tax collector, Bristol Dec. 1407.

Searcher of ships, Bristol 20 Feb. 1410-13, Bristol and all ports between Gloucester and Bridgwater 28 Apr. 1410-Feb. 1413; controller and supervisor of the search, Bristol 3 June 1413-Oct. 1416.


The Spaynells were quite likely of Spanish origin, and Mark’s mother was probably a Spaniard by birth. Mark followed his father into trade: when William Spaynell, owner and shipmaster of La Trinite of Bristol, sailed her to Portugal in March 1387, she carried a cargo of cloth partly belonging to his elder son, and this early partnership in his father’s business still continued in May 1391, by which time Mark himself had taken over as master of the vessel. By his will, drawn up at Lepe in Spain on 4 Oct. that year, Spaynell bequeathed to Mark the sum of 100 marks, a fourth share in his barque and, jointly with his widow and younger son, Richard, a consignment of salt worth a further 100 marks. Mark Spaynell soon adopted a new name—Mark William—which he used when procuring a royal pardon in June 1398, but throughout his life contemporaries remained uncertain what to call him, sometimes even reversing the order of his names.3

After his father’s death William continued to use La Trinite to import fruit and wine from the Iberian peninsula and to make shipments of cloth from Bristol on the return voyages. However, in the autumn of 1400 he suffered heavy losses when seven Bristol ships were captured by Spanish pirates, one of the seven being loaded with wine he had bought, another being La Trinite itself, which was carrying oil, scarlet dyes and other merchandise said to be worth as much as 9,000 nobles (£3,000). In partnership with other Bristol merchants, in October 1403 he shipped 28 dozen Welsh cloths worth about £81 to Spain, and on his own account a further 61 lengths of fabric worth £51. Then, in March following, the Cogge John of Bristol arrived from Bordeaux with 31 pipes of woad and four of mead worth £159 for him and his associates. In addition to La Trinite, Mark William was also owner of La Marie of Bristol, which, by royal licence of March 1405, he was permitted to load with a mixed cargo of cloth, old wine, and salt for export to Ireland, it being understood that she would return with a shipment of hides, rabbit and other skins, cloaks, Irish linen and salmon. William’s seafaring and mercantile experience led to his appointment early in 1410 as searcher of ships in the port of Bristol, a commission specifically extended that April to cover the Severn estuary and the coast between Gloucester and Bridgwater. Then, at the beginning of Henry V’s reign, he was promoted to be controller and surveyor of the search in Bristol, an office which he held until the autumn of 1416. On one occasion while still controller he was fined £6 13s.4d. for contempt, presumably following some administrative error on his part. In the spring of 1417 William joined the retinue of Thomas, duke of Clarence, for the royal expedition to Normandy, his assignment being no doubt to assist in the conveyance of the duke’s army across the Channel, or else to act as victualler.4

Meanwhile, William had established himself as a leading burgess of Bristol, and had served as bailiff there within a few years of his father’s death. In September 1404 his name was one of the three put forward for the office of sheriff of the urban county, but he was not in fact appointed until the following year. He attended 12 parliamentary elections at Bristol between March 1406 (when, as sheriff, he presided over the hustings) and 1429, and on the occasion of his own election to the Commons for the first time, in 1419, he was given responsibility for the delivery of the endorsed writ to the clerk of the Parliaments. When not holding a specific office in the town, he often served on the common council — certainly doing so in 1409-10, 1416 and 1422. During his mayoralty in September 1422 the oath taken by members of the council was redrafted to include a new clause specifically for lawyers. The exercise of the patronage of the local chapel of St. Thomas appertained to the mayor, so it was William who, in November that same year, presented the new chaplain. He concurrently held office both as mayor of the local Staple and as royal escheator in the county of Bristol.5

William was occasionally required to act as an executor of the wills of his fellow burgesses, but none of any great note. He was also, inevitably, called upon to witness local deeds, such as one of 1425 which concerned the nearby manor of Stapleton, Gloucestershire, then owned by St. Bartholomew’s hospital, Bristol. He could not, however, be said to have always been a law-abiding townsman, as is evident from the disputes over the endowment of the hospital and fraternity dedicated to the Holy Trinity at Lawford’s Gate under the will of John Barstaple (d.1411), a former mayor. By February 1412 William and his wife were in possession for life of the lands at Ridgeway, Gloucestershire, which Nicholas Barstaple, clerk, the ex-mayor’s son, then granted in reversion to the hospital. But William’s tenure of the manor of Ridgeway was contested by Robert Russell II*, one of the founder members of the fraternity, and he aroused the enmity of another member, David Dudbroke*, to such an extent that in July 1418 the latter had to pledge 300 marks that he would not procure harm to him. William also fell out with John Burton II*, who alleged in a petition to the chancellor that although in July 1420 he had paid him as much as £200 of the purchase price of £240 to buy 12 messuages, five cellars and four gardens in Bristol, he had refused to deliver seisin, thus breaking their agreement. The following year a royal commission was set up to investigate the allegation of the prior of the college of Calendars that William had dispossessed the college of certain rents from property in the suburbs. In May 1425 a Bristol merchant and John Bird* of Marlborough, Wiltshire (who was probably the husband of William’s stepdaughter), stood surety for him in £40, he himself pledging £100, as guarantee that he would be obedient to the local authorities in future. During the same period, another Bristol man, Stephen Stepesoft, petitioned Chancery to complain that after he had enfeoffed William of his house in the town, with a view to repossessing it at a later date, he had not only refused to fulfil the conditions of the enfeoffment but, by bringing legal action against him in Sussex, had ensured his imprisonment in the Fleet for six years, all the while continuing to enjoy the profits from the property.6

Not all of William’s apparently extensive estates had been acquired by such dubious methods. Early in his career he had married Agnes Solers, recently widowed by the death of a tenant-in-chief in Gloucestershire. The marriage took place without the necessary royal licence, but in May 1404 William compounded for this offence by payment of a fine of 6s.8d., and accordingly Agnes was assigned dower in the Solers lands. She also brought to her second husband property in Bristol. There, William was among the wealthiest of the merchants, with holdings in Old Corn Street, St. Nicholas Street, the High Street, Irish Mead, in the market and on the Quay; these including Weltofarez Taverne and ‘le magnum gardinum et orchard’ to which William of Worcester later referred. It was claimed after Mark William’s death that his property in and around Bristol was worth as much as 400 marks. Not surprisingly, his wealth attracted suitors for his daughter, Isabel. He and his wife initially arranged that she should be married to Thomas Stamford when she reached marriageable age, and that certain lands and tenements which he had bought from the estate of John Droys* should be settled on the couple in reversion; but before the espousals took place, William’s only son, Robert, died, leaving Isabel as the merchant’s sole heir. Stamford visited him at his house in April 1423 to discuss a new marriage settlement, and it was agreed that the nuptials would take place at Easter 1425, but William reneged on this agreement by marrying Isabel in July 1424 to a member of the Wiltshire gentry: (Sir) John Seymour†, the grandson and coheir of the rich and influential Sir William Sturmy*. The date of Mark William’s death is not known, but it occurred before 9 Apr. 1434 when his widow completed, with the mayor and commonalty, an indenture respecting his bequest of 100 marks to provide for the purchase of grain to feed the people of Bristol in times of scarcity. The money was secured under four locks in the common chest of St. George kept in the guildhall, and the strict stipulations that the grain should only be bought at cheap rates where there was a surplus provide a glimpse of the benefactor’s undoubtedly astute business sense, which had helped him prosper.7

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. Bristol Wills (Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. 1886), 30; CPR, 1401-5, p. 391; Genealogist, n.s. xii. 73-75.
  • 2. Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. xxvi. 129-31.
  • 3. Bristol Wills, 30; C67/30 m. 6; E122/40/12; Overseas Trade (Bristol Rec. Soc. vii), 198.
  • 4. E122/16/21, 34, 17/1, 8, 10, 182/8; Overseas Trade, 45-46, 50-51; CPR, 1399-1401, p. 216; 1405-8, p. 4; CFR, xii. 96; C76/100 m. 1; E401/671, 27 Feb.
  • 5. CFR, xii. 267; Little Red Bk. Bristol ed. Bickley, i. 1, 138-9, 158, 183; Reg. Bubwith (Som. Rec. Soc. xxx), 425; C267/5 no. 49; C219/10/3, 4, 11/1, 4, 8, 12/2-6, 13/1-5, 14/1.
  • 6. Bristol Wills, 60, 79, 84; Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. xxxv. 21-22; CPR, 1408-13, p. 370; 1416-22, p. 325; C1/4/100, 165, 5/103, 6/113; CCR, 1413-19, p. 507; 1422-9, p. 204.
  • 7. Bristol Wills, 65, 114-15, 117, 122-3; Little Red Bk. i. 174; J. Dallaway, Antique Bristow, 93; CCR, 1402-5, p. 338; 1441-7, p. 283; CPR, 1401-5, p. 391; C137/41/11; Genealogist, n.s. xii. 73-75.