Alongside class consciousness, and perhaps fostering it, were family pride and personal ego. That the solidarity and exclusiveness of the ruling class was furthered by marriage alliances between its component families is now well-documented. In early fourteenth century Lynn the families of Schilling, Keu, Thornegge, and Massingham were so linked. Slightly later Hugh de Betele married the daughter of his trading partner John de Swerdestone. At Ipswich we discover intermarriage between the families of Maister, Horold, and Curteys; also those of Rente, Roberd, Whatefeld, and Harneys. To provide a full list would only use up space unnecessarily. Marriages between members of leading families was a natural consequence of their close social and business contacts; probably we should not go beyond this to infer some socio-political conspiracy. For it would be possible also to cite numerous cases of scions of leading urban families looking beyond the narrow horizons of their own community for a spouse, or taking in new blood. We have just noted Margery Kempe's scorn for her husband John Kempe's less distinguished social background; it is clear that John's modest success in business and politics owed as much to Margery's dowry and family prestige as it did to his own father's position as jurat and merchant.
The cohesiveness of the ruling class was also contributed to by factors such as business partnerships and neighbourhood. The former could also be a source of fallings-out, however. And rarely does one see such a close relationship as that of John Ashenden and Edward Mayn of Lynn: partners in a brewing operation, they entered the franchise together in 1412, Corpus Christi gild together in 1436 (each standing pledge for the other), pledged each other's wife when she entered the Trinity gild, and stood side by side at assembly meetings; they were separated only by death. Neighbourhood is more difficult to trace because it is not always clear which of several properties owned was a man's residence; but certainly market and port areas were heavily populated by members of the ruling class. One cannot help feeling, in looking at business involvement, however, that individualism was more important than family association. Enterprise is not inherited as easily as property, and it was by enterprise that family fortunes - and political prominence - were built and maintained. We therefore encounter not only expressions of family pride, but also personal pride: a sense of self-importance. John Prymerole of Colchester bequeathed in 1452 the bed-cover under which he slept, which was adorned with the image of St. John Baptist and flowers called primeroles. Ipswich's John Drayll left a very long will (1464) in which he required that not only his name but an image of himself be carved on his tombstone, and that St. Mary Tower be provided with an altar-cloth with his name inscribed on it so as to be visible to all. John Burghard of Lynn insisted that bedemen be hired to proclaim his death throughout England. And Thomas de Couteshale of the same town was sufficiently arrogant to provoke the hostility of the whole community by his refusal to submit to minor disciplining.
Personal merit and achievement were liable to mitigate the disadvantages of birth in the case of alien immigrants. The Lynn merchant class, with its wide range of trading contacts, was willing to accept these strangers into its midst. In the early fourteenth century and before, a large element of Lynn's upper class was composed of men who could trace their origins outside of England. The father of the first mayor of Lynn, Sunolf de Ley, had settled there by 1165, and was evidently a wealthy man; his son was exporting to Norway in 1200. The families of Almannia and Thurendine (Trondheim) also reflect the importance of the northern trade to Lynn. Richard de Almannia traded with Norway and Estland in 1284; John de Almannia (chamberlain 1296/7) was also a merchant, whose goods were assessed in the local tax of 1298 at £40 - the average assessment being £11. John and Peter de Thurendine were both merchants, the latter trading with Trondheim and Bergen in 1308, and both mayors. Their local tax assessments in 1299 were, respectively, £120 and £300 - making Peter one of the two wealthiest men in Lynn. Whether the family's contact with Lynn began as mercantile agents for one of the Norwegian nobles or ecclesiastics who exported to England annually must remain speculation. John de St. Omer and his son Lambert, also mayors of Lynn, were on a par with the Almannias rather than the Thurendines in terms of wealth. They exported wool (1273), had dealings with the Count of Holland, and maintained their ties with St. Omer, which was one of the earliest Flemish industrial centres, its merchants heavily involved in the early English cloth and wool trade. Lynn's southerly contacts are indicated by the family of John de Hispania, merchant and several times mayor in the late thirteenth century, although members of that family are found in Lynn from mid-century.
The attitude towards aliens in Lynn became less open-minded as time went on, despite the fact that in the fifteenth century apprentices were frequently sent overseas to serve for a few years as factors of their Lynn masters, and the German Hanse set up quarters in Lynn, whilst a colony of Lynn merchants had been established in the Baltic in the late fourteenth century. Some, like Margery Kempe's son, settled abroad where, as factors, they had established business and social ties. The only case, in this period, of an alien attaining office in Lynn is that of James Nicholasson. A maker of patens (wooden shoes), he was heavily involved in exporting wool and importing paten materials and haberdashery even before he entered the franchise in 1395. In his trading ventures he showed a marked preference for associating with men of the Low Countries rather than those of Lynn. His economic prominence in the community may have influenced his selection in October 1411 to attend the upcoming parliament, but he was replaced a few days later, apparently because of complaints that his father had been an alien. In September 1412 he obtained testimonial letters from the mayor, stating that he was of good character and reputation and had been born in Lynn of an English mother. This was evidently insufficient, for in June 1413 James did homage to the king and obtained a grant of denization; even this did not prevent a mob attack on his property at Lynn in November. A later member of the family, mayor John Nicholasson, found that the past was not easily escaped when the insult "Fleming's-bride" was flung in his face (1459).
The same wariness of aliens at this period is seen in our other towns. Aliens in Maldon were subject to a strict curfew, forbidden to carry weapons, and obliged to take a special oath of obedience to the bailiffs. Giles Morvyle tailor became a freeman there in 1449, on which occasion he took oath that he was a denizen, born on Guernsey. It was subsequently rumoured (1457) that he was a Spaniard or a Breton; after two years of trying to disprove this, and compounding his error by seeking the support of external lords, he admitted to being a Fleming. He won back the grace of the community only by giving it his house (which was re-leased to him) and re-entering the franchise as an alien; he was later allowed to hold minor office in the administration. In Ipswich it was ordained in 1435 that no burgess who was alien-born should be admitted into the assembly, and in 1483 it was prohibited for any outsider to become a burgess. On the other hand, foreign birth was not necessarily a bar to advancement. James Nicholasson went on to become councillor (1418-20), and a later Lynn man, vintner John Basse, did not find that fact that his father was born in Brabant a hindrance to his becoming chamberlain. John Swolle's father was born in Utrecht, but John acquired letters of denization in 1437 and became bailiff of Yarmouth eleven years later, continuing to hold property in Holland, Zeeland, and Flanders, as well as in Yarmouth. John Asger was a merchant of Bruges, and was in fact in that city at the time he was elected mayor of Norwich in 1426. It seems that economic status was more important than social background in determining political prospects.
The same conclusion is suggested by other migration evidence. Since Lynn is the town for which there is the best occupational evidence, we shall use it as the main example. Of the 473 Lynn men studied, something is known of the origins of 157: 9 emigrated from locations outside of Norfolk, 23 from locations within Norfolk, and 125 were born in the borough. Occupational analysis of these groups reveals that:
Although a nine-man group is too small to be the basis for confident conclusions, we may reasonably suspect that immigrants from distant locations were well-established financially by the time they arrived and already had interests in the town, which was the principal port through which was routed merchandise from, or bound for, not only Norfolk but also the West Midlands. Henry Bermyngham alone of the nine does not fit this mould for, coming from Birmingham perhaps of an artisan family if we may judge from his alias Spurrier, he was apprenticed in Lynn as a merchant. Yet even he was of Midlands origin. John Burghard entered Lynn's franchise in 1305 as "of Stoke", and this was probably Stoke-on-Trent, for his will mentions poor relations in Stoke and Burton. When the realm's great wool-merchants were summoned to advise the king in 1322, John was one of the four qualified men sent from Lynn. William Pilton, who entered the franchise in 1440, evidently came from Northamptonshire, where perhaps known by his alias of William Reynolds. At his death he held land in several vills in the neighbourhood of Pilton, where his brother seems to have been living still. Conceivably, the William Pilton who was exporting wool from Ipswich in 1411 may have been his father. When he became a freeman in 1445, William Lewes was described as "of Oakham", but even earlier (1440) he had become indebted to Lynn's Merchant Gild in the sum of £40. A merchant of the Calais staple by 1450, he maintained business relations with Rutland artisans up to his death. Lewes' stature is indicated by the fact that he entered the ranks of the jurats only 8 months after entering the franchise. This unorthodox procedure is also seen in the cases of two men not included in our group of distant immigrants, yet who perhaps ought to be there. John Style was made jurat on the same day that he became a freeman in 1439 (a move which provoked some public criticism). Only two years later he was exporting large quantities of wine and cloth; there is some indication he may have been apprenticed in London and pursuing a career there in the 1430s, returning to Lynn perhaps as the heir of William Style who died c.1438. The case of John Waryn is similar. He too was elected jurat on the day he entered the franchise (1427) and does not appear in Lynn records before this time, although a merchant family of the surname was in Lynn tempore Richard II and Henry IV. However, a John Waryn of London was warden of the English merchants' colony in Middelburgh 1421-23. One member of our nine distant immigrants, Richard Selwode (about whom little is known), was identified as "grocer of London" when he became a freeman at Lynn in 1453.
Those remaining from that group came from counties adjacent to Norfolk. John de Fyncham was from Lavenham, Suffolk, and was evidently no mean personage before he came to Lynn in 1349, since he was serving the king as purveyor of victuals in 1341 and as collector of the Norfolk wool-loan and lay subsidy of 1347. John Bryghtzeve, who became a freeman in 1406 under the alias of John Bury, was quite possibly the merchant of the former name operating through Ipswich 1386-1402, conceivably coming from Bury St. Edmund's. The career of William Caus began in the customs service at Yarmouth in 1443 and continued, soon after, at Lynn. He established a residence there and became a freeman in 1451; he may have been the William Caus of Wisbech involved in a large financial transaction in 1440. Finally, John Bocher, who entered the franchise in 1429 as "merchant" and had already been shipping woolpells from Lynn to Holland in 1423-24, when a resident (at different times) of Godmanchester, Huntingdon, and St. Ives.
This type of immigrant may be found in our other towns. From Ipswich: Richard Felawe, originally a merchant of Harwich, where he retained interests despite his move (c.1445) to Ipswich where he almost immediately entered the ranks of the portmen; and John Parker, whose father was an Essex land-owner. From Colchester: Ralph Algar, formerly a merchant of London who traded with Colchester men; Walter Bonefey, a Cambridgeshire cloth merchant trading in Colchester before he moved there; and brothers Thomas and John Godestone, each with landed wealth before they came to Colchester, the one in Surrey, the other in Essex - John also being a mercer of London, importing and exporting via Ipswich. These are but a few of the examples which could be given. Also far too numerous to mention are the men from our towns who had close contacts with London: some moved from there to be closer to the ports through which their merchandise passed; more moved to London to try their luck in the game with the highest stakes; some simply had trade or family connections there; others acquired property or spouses there, occasionally holding citizenships in both London and their East Anglian town. London interests were particularly strong at Yarmouth, due to the herring fishery; on at least one occasion these interests intruded too far into local politics. Merchant Hugh Fastolf was one of the most prominent Yarmouth rulers (10 times bailiff and 6 times M.P. 1354-77) and a man rich both in goods and lands. But his connections with London fishmongers, his interests at court, and his marriage to the widow of a London grocer prompted him to move to London (c.1379), where he became an alderman in 1381 and sheriff 1387.
Movement to London was just one step in a migration pattern that generally followed a promotional route: beginning in villages, progressing to smaller towns and market centres, then to the larger towns, and finally on to London. This process took place over several generations, of course, but the movement was steady. McKinley has suggested that most Norfolk families changed their residence at least once in the later Middle Ages. Richard Goodwyn was born at Sedgeford, moved as a child to Litcham, and then was apprenticed in Lynn where he became mayor in 1486; a relative lived in London. William de Lindesey's father, John, moved from Sutton Mareys (Lindsey) to Lynn circa the mid-thirteenth century, while John's brother took another family branch to Wisbech. William married his daughter to a Norwich man. The son of William Bury of Ipswich moved to Colchester, although he retained burgess rights at Ipswich; Thomas Cowman of Ipswich, on the other hand, was the son of a Colchester man (whose family roots may have lain in Ipswich) and moved to Ipswich for apprenticeship. William atte Fen of Ipswich married his daughter Margaret to Richard Purdaunce and the latter, or possibly a son of the same name, moved to Norwich, subsequently becoming mayor there (1420); whilst William atte Fen of Yarmouth married the daughter of Robert Toppes of Norwich (mayor 1435) and himself moved to Norwich. Thomas Fraunceys of Colchester married his daughter to Robert Brasier of Norwich (mayor 1410) whose son Thomas adopted his maternal surname and returned to Colchester to claim his inheritance. This constant mobility meant that families of the urban ruling classes had little time to consolidate their hold on government. It also provided constant openings in their ranks to be filled by newcomers or townsmen working their way up.
Some historians have suggested that gaps in the ruling class were filled primarily by migrants, and rarely by self-made men; the rags-to-riches theory, first seen in Pirenne's Godric de Finchale, would not find many proponents today. Although it is probably true that the political influence of immigrants was proportional to their wealth, and that the sons of leading townsmen possessed advantages over other residents when it came to advancement, we do not have to search hard for examples of men who worked their way up. Although Norwich's custumal prohibited serfs from becoming freemen, it may be doubted that a thorough enquiry was made of the background of each applicant. In 1347 the Bishop of Ely claimed that Richard Spynk, possibly the richest man - certainly the one with the most business acumen - in Norwich, was his villein, a fugitive from Doddington. Spynk laid out a great deal of money to thwart the claim. In 1353 Lynn merchant and jurat Laurence de Reppes negotiated a release from all claim that a Roughton man had on him or his issue as villeins. We cannot be certain that Spynk or Reppes were ever villeins, of course, but evidently there was nothing incredible in the idea of a runaway villein becoming a prominent townsman. Laurence, who perhaps came from South Repps near Roughton, likely began his career as a tanner. John Lomb of Lynn was a butcher in 1333 but between 1348 and 1367 traded in large quantities of victuals, wine, cloth, and other goods; in the same period he was jurat several times. The similar cases of Laurence de Fordham, Richard Cosyn and others were reviewed earlier in this chapter. We may add to them John Ashenden, a brewer of the inferiores class in Lynn, who rose to the mayoralty. In Ipswich Thomas dil Stonhous stands out as an example of a self-made man. His employer bequeathed him a tavern in 1320 (although he had held his own shop since 1307), after which he adopted his master's surname of le Coteler and went on to acquire large holdings - largely commercial - nearby, in St. Laurence and St. Mary Tower parishes, as well as properties elsewhere in town. He also acquired a ship and mercantile interests. We may also note that the Halteby and Starling families had been established at Ipswich for several generations before they produced members of sufficient prominence to hold borough office. We have already noted that the marriage of John Kempe junior to Margery Brunham helped his career in Lynn. The same is true there of John Reed, and in Maldon of John Dale, Thomas Fuller, and Richard Galyot; all these men married into the ruling class.
Structure of Borough Government | Social and Economic Background of Office-Holders
Monopolisation of Office | Attitudes Towards Office-holding | Professionalism in Administration
Quality of Government | Conflict and Solidarity in Urban Politics
|Created: July 30, 1998. Last update: January 8, 2019||© Stephen Alsford, 1998-2019|