DEATH Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Newcastle-upon-Tyne testaments administration heirs property holding merchants trustees funerals pious uses charity chantries debt death wardship careers
Subject: Wills of different types
Original source: Durham University Library, Archives and Special Collections, GB-0033-DCD/C2
Transcription in: R.L. Storey, ed., The Register of Thomas Langley, Bishop of Durham 1406-1437, vols.II and III, Surtees Society, vol.166 (1951), 74-76, 104-05, 146-48, vol.169 (1954), 164-67.
Original language: 1.-3. Latin ; 4. Middle English
Location: Newcastle upon Tyne
Date: early 15th century


[1. The testament of Robert Hibburn]

In the name of God, Amen. I, Robert Hibburn, mayor of the town of Newcastle upon Tyne – turning my thoughts to the transitory nature of this world and to the threat of death hanging over me, given that I am sick in body but sound in mind, in which state we cannot cling to our worldly attachments but must look to our future – on 3 August 1415 at the town of Newcastle have set out my testament in the following manner. First, I bequeath my soul to God, the Blessed Mary, and all the saints, and my body to be buried in the church of All Saints of that town, before the altar of the chantry of St. John the Evangelist.

I give and bequeath to my wife Agnes the entire burgage that is my chief tenement with its appurtenances, situated in the town of Newcastle in the street called The Close, on the west side of the tenement of Robert Clyfforth, as per its established boundaries. Agnes is to have and to hold that tenement and appurtenances for the term of her life, from the chief lords of the fee by the services owed therefrom and rightfully due; with the proviso that after Agnes' death, the chief tenement and its appurtenances shall in their entirety remain to my son Thomas and his heirs and assigns in perpetuity, to be held of the chief lords of the fee by the services owed therefrom and rightfully due. I give and bequeath to my son Robert all my lands and tenements (or burgages) with appurtenances that are outside the gate of Sandgate, within the area of jurisdiction and suburbs of that town, as per their established boundaries. My son Robert and the legitimate heirs of his body are to have and to hold of the chief lords of the fee by the services owed therefrom and rightfully due. With the proviso that should it happen that Robert die without legitimate heirs of his body, then all those tenements (or burgages) outside the gate of Sandgate shall in their entirety remain to my son Thomas and his heirs and assigns in perpetuity of the chief lords of the fee by the services owed therefrom and rightfully due. I give and bequeath to my son Roger all my lands and tenements being in the town of Newcastle upon Tyne that I hold in fee from the master and friars of Wall Knoll upon the Quayside or in Pandon, as per their established boundaries. Roger and the legitimate heirs of his body are to have and to hold of the chief lords of the fee by the services owed therefrom and rightfully due. With the proviso that should Roger die without legitimate heirs of his body, then those lands and tenements with appurtenances shall in their entirety remain to my son Thomas and his heirs and assigns in perpetuity of the chief lords of the fee by the services owed therefrom and rightfully due.

I wish that all my goods and moveables, once my debts have been fully paid, be divided. So that one part go to my executors named below, to distribute for my soul, in whatever ways they consider most effective. Another part of the goods is to go to my wife Agnes, as her fair share. And the third part of the goods is to go to all my children named above, as their fair share, the said legacies notwithstanding. I give and bequeath to my daughter Margaret £26.13s.4d in cash, provided however that she follow the advice and counsel of my below-named executors, Richard Dalton, and other of her brothers, as to whom she shall marry. If the above-mentioned fair share of the goods that happens to fall to Margaret exceeds the value of £26.13s.4d, I nevertheless wish that Margaret may have her share, if she marries with the approval of the afore-named; with the proviso that under all circumstances the £26.13s.4d be counted as part of her fair share.

The residue of all my goods I give and bequeath to my wife Agnes and my son Thomas to distribute for my soul and the souls of my parents, as they would wish to answer for it before God and his saints, and I appoint, make and name Agnes and Thomas as my executors, to make provision for my soul, and Richard Dalton to be supervisor of this testament. In testimony to which, I have set my seal to this testamentary document. Witnesses: John de Hall, John de York, Richard Willysby chaplain, John Brompton, John Alnewyk, and others.

[2. The testament of John Stokdale]

In the name of God, Amen. On 6 April 1416 I, John Stokdale, brasier and burgess of the town of Newcastle upon Tyne, being of sound mind and having it in mind to go overseas for purposes of commerce, have set out my testament in the following manner. First, I commend my soul to God, the Blessed Mary, and all the saints, and my body to be buried wherever God sees fit. By this document I wish and direct that my kinsmen, John de Wermouth chaplain and William Cayster, and their heirs and assigns, peacefully enjoy tenure and possession of all my lands, tenements, rents, and services with their appurtenances that are in the towns of Newcastle and Gateshead, and elswhere within the See of Durham, according to the terms, force and effect of certain of my charters concerning the same, previously made and delivered to them, without any challenge, claim or dispute from me or my heirs; for the purpose of fulfilling my wishes, as stated to them, concerning the lands and tenements. I wish and direct that the aforesaid John de Wermouth and William peacefully hold and possess all my goods and chattels, wherever they may be – whether on this side of the sea or overseas – as per a certain other document bearing my seal which I previously granted and delivered to them, according to the terms and effect of that other sealed document. Because there are various other goods and chattels, as well as debts, acquired by me subsequent to the issue of my said sealed document, and now in my possession, both on this side of the sea and overseas, I give and bequeath to John and William those goods, chattels and all kinds of debts owed to me from anybody whatsoever. Concerning all those goods, chattels, and whatever debts are now owed to me, by this document I make, appoint, and name John and William my executors, to make arrangements for my soul, as they would wish to answer for it before God and his saints. By this my current testament, I ratify and confirm, and for myself and my heirs approve as mentioned above, the right and possession of John de Wermouth and William in all of the aforementioned lands, tenements, rents and services, and all other goods in my possession at present or granted to them by my other sealed writing, taking into account the grants of possessions and the seisin of lands, tenements, rents and services with appurtenances, and the grant of all goods and chattels wherever they may be via my other previous document. In testimony of which I have set my seal to this testament. Witnesses: Emery Heryng, John Barker merchant, John de Moreton merchant, Robert de Wytton clerk, Robert Fletcher, and others.

[3. The testament of William Esyngton of Newcastle]

In the name of God, Amen. On 15 March 1416 I, William de Esyngton, burgess of the town of Newcastle upon Tyne have made and set out my testament in the following manner. First, I give and bequeath my soul to Almighty God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the saints, and my body to be buried wherever God sees fit. I give and bequeath to the high altar of my parish church, for tithes and offerings I neglected, £20. I give and bequeath £30 to the fabric of the church of St. Nicholas in that town. I give and bequeath £3.6s.8d to the fabric of the chapel of St. John in that town. I give and bequeath 13s.4d to each order of friars mendicant. I give and bequeath 6d. to each pauper who is, due to infirmity, confined to bed within the town.

I give and bequeath to my son Nicholas and to the legitimate heirs of Nicholas' body all my lands and tenements, with all their appurtenances, revenues, produce, and easements, however defined, both within the town of Newcastle and outside it. Should it happen that my son Nicholas die without legitimate heirs of his body, then I wish that all those lands and tenements with all appurtenances, revenues, produce, and easements be sold, without any fraud or deceit, and [the proceeds] distributed for my soul and the souls of my wife Alice, our children, and all the faithful deceased, and for the souls of those to whom we owe a special and genuine debt of gratitude – through the performance of both divine services and other pious works, as my executors identified below think most beneficial and effective. I give and bequeath to my son Nicholas all my chief possessions in my chamber, hall, pantry, kitchen, brewhouse, alehouse, and stable, together with all my arms and armour, both offensive and defensive. All the remainder [of my possessions] – that is the utensils – I give and bequeath to my aforementioned son Nicholas, and my alleged sons Henry and William, to be divided equally amongst them. I give and bequeath to my alleged son Henry £40 and to William his brother £40. I give and bequeath to my son Nicholas all my jewels and ornaments for adorning both the head and the body of a woman, together with the bags in which they are kept, which my wife Alice directed should go to our daughters Elizabeth and Ellen in her last will. I give and bequeath £6.13s.4d to my sister Matilda. I give and bequeath £200 for priests to celebrate divine services for the souls of myself, my wife Alice, our children, and all the faithful deceased. As for the residue of all my goods, not otherwise bequeathed above, I give and bequeath it to my son Nicholas, to dispose of for my soul, as seems most effective to him after he has taken good advice.

So that this testament may be faithfully carried out, I make and appoint these as my executors: viz. the aforesaid Nicholas my son, dom. John de Etall chaplain, Richard Forester clerk, and William de Cornford. To which executors, for their labour in seeing the entire testament fulfilled, I give and bequeath £13.6s.8d to be divided equally amongst them, exclusive of all other expenses and costs incurred in carrying out my testament. In testimony to which, I have set my seal to this testamentary document. Witnesses: William Redmershell, John Whyt draper, John Pontfreit cordwainer, John Cosson glover, and others. Drawn up at Newcastle on the date above.

[4. The testament of Roger Thornton senior]

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen. On 22 December 1429 I, Roger Thornton senior, have made and set out my last will and testament in the following manner. That is, I commend my soul to God's mercy and my body to be buried beside my wife in All Hallows church, Newcastle. I wish that every secular priest who attends my interment have a noble to pray for my soul and attend my dirge and coming forth. I wish that £100 be spent and distributed at my interment, at the directions of my son Roger. I give 100s. to the vicar of St. Nicholas' church for forgotten tithes. To the church of St. Nicholas for repairs and ornaments, £26.13s.4d. To All Hallows church for the like, £20. To St. John's church, 4 fothers of lead. To St. Andrew's church, 2 fothers of lead. To the chapel of St. Thomas on the Tyne bridge, 6 fothers of lead. Towards the repair of West Spital, 2 fothers of lead. To the Wall Knoll [friars] for the repair of their church, 2 fothers of lead. Towards the repair of the The Nuns of Newcastle, 2 fothers of lead. To the leper-men of Newcastle, 40s. Towards the repair of Newcastle's Tyne bridge, £66.13s.4d, if the mayor and community will agree to release me from any lawsuits – I who never caused them any problems, nor owe them anything as far as I know, but I desire this [commitment] so as to avoid any controversy. To the Maison Dieu dedicated to St. Katherine, which I founded, £20 for its ornaments. To my chantry dedicated to St. Peter in All Hallows church, £10 for its ornaments. To the chapel of Witton by the water, £4. To every almshouse dedicated to the bedridden in Newcastle, 13s.4d; which is to be part of the amount [assigned] to be spent on my interment. Towards the repair of those tenements that I have given to the aforementioned Maison Dieu and chantry, £10. I wish that 30 priests sing for me, for two years following my death; each priest having as his salary £5.6s.8d. I wish that the £266.13s.4d owed me by the prior and convent of Hexham be spent upon the building of their church, if they will put up satisfactory surety that such will be the use made of it. I give to the house of Blanchland 2 fothers of lead. To Brinkburn, 2 fothers of lead. To Coketland, 1 fother of lead. Towards the repair of Farnland, 1 fother of lead. To the nuns of Holystone, 1 fother of lead. To each of the four mendicant orders in Newcastle, to pray for my soul, £6.13s.4d, to be divided among each friar, at the direction of my son. I wish that the hermit of Newcastle and dom. Henry Fenwyk and dom. Henry Lincoln, priests, be among the 30 priests for 2 years; after those two years, I wish the three to sing for me, each of the two secular priests receiving £5.6s.8d annually and the hermit £4. Up to £66.13s.4d is to be spent on this, if they live that long; failing that, it is to be spent for [the good of] my soul, at the direction of my son. I pardon £30 of the debt that the house of Gisburn owes me (besides the £100 that I have given them at an earlier time), on condition they find a priest to sing for me in their house in perpetuity, as we have agreed upon. I wish that my poor tenants – those who have difficulty paying [their rent] – be pardoned £66.13s.4d, at the direction of my son. I give to the convent of Yarm and the convent of Hartlepool £6.13s.4d each to pray for my soul, to be divided among them [i.e. the residents] at the direction of my son. I give 1 fother of lead towards the repair of the steeple of Durham minster. To every monk of Charterhouse at Mountgrace to pray for my soul, 6s.8d. To every monk of Tynemouth, 6s.8d. To every monk of Whitby, 6s.8d. I give 100s. to dom. Thomas Pityngton, vicar of Hartburn. To dom. John Fenwyk, £10. To dom. William Harwod, 20s. To my servant Margaret "in penny and in pennyworth", £86.13s.4d; also, for her lifetime, the house in Broad Chare in which Nicholas Baxster resides. To Roger Corbet, £4; also, for life, the almshouse of the Maison Dieu, on condition he not reside there. To my servant Hawlay, 40s. To John Gofden, 20s. To my servant Robert Hall, 40s. [pardoned] of the debt he owes me. To John Desburgh, £4 of the debt he owes me. To my former servant Thomas, 6s.8d. To Agnes Hume, 20s. To Agnes Ward, 20s. To Ellen Ward, 20s. To Marion Wan, 20s. To old Gillot, 20s. To Janet Pryddowe, 20s. To Sir Henry Lincoln, 13s.4d. To William Mawe, if he renders account honestly, 20s. To Thomas Gentylman, 20s. To John Tynmouthe, 20s. To Emery Heryng, 100s. To William Desburgh, 100s. To Henry Thornton, 100s. To John Wharnowe, 50s. out of his debt. To Robert Barker, 13s.4d To Thomas Skynner the skinner, 4s. To John Sharp, 15s. To John Moreton, 20s. To William Walker, 20s. To Chirnsid, 6s.8d. To John Felton, his house free [of rent] for his lifetime (he to keep it in repair) and a corrody in St. Katherine's for his lifetime. I pardon John Whelewryght 20s. of his debt. I give 13s.4d to Thomas Croxton. I wish that £40 be at the disposition of my son for the following purpose: if any poor labourer or other person claim any debt that I owe, he may use his discretion in doling the money out to pay them, to remove the burden from my soul, as he will answer to God for it. I give 100s. to Gerard Mitford. To John Robynson of Thornton, if he renders an honest account, 100s. To young John Robynson, his son, 100s. To John Brompton, 40s. To my servant Cok, 20s. To my servant George, 13s.4d. To Margery Corbet, 40s. To Margaret Dalton, 20s. To my servant Alison, 6s.8d. To Robert Killingworth, 13s.4d. All these bequests I wish my son to fulfill, as he will answer to God for it. All the remainder and residue of my goods, moveable and non-moveable, together with all my lands in which I or anyone else in my name or to my use are enfeoffed (except the lands assigned to my Maison Dieu and my chantry), I give fully, freely, and with clear title to my son Roger and to his heirs and assigns in perpetuity. To fulfill this, my last will and testament, I make and appoint that same Roger my son to be my executor, in the presence of dom. John Fenwyk, Emery Heryng, and my servant Margaret, sealed with my own hand on the day and year indicated above.


These several examples of wills of fifteenth century townsmen demonstrate some variety in tone and preoccupation. Hibburn's is formal to the point of coldness. The document was drawn up as he approached death (which took place on 31 August, and probate was completed on 27 September), his mind is focused on the succession to his real estate; while he makes the customary provision for the dower for his wife – but no more – his main concern is that his estate pass only to his legitimate male heirs, particularly the eldest. A stern, paternalistic attitude is conveyed.

Stokdale's will is precautionary: he is prudently making provision as he prepares to make a trip overseas, but only needs to do so in general terms, not with specific bequests; this is not a deathbed will where provision for one's soul becomes a motivator, but more of an insurance policy. He probably drew up similar documents when making other overseas voyages; the reason this one survives is because he did in fact die, although under what circumstances we are ignorant, probate being granted on 13 June.

Provision for the soul is demonstrated most clearly in the will of Roger Thornton, again drawn up as he was approaching death, the probate process having been initiated on 4 January 1430 (the day after he died) and completed on 19 January. It makes only a passing reference to his real estate, focusing firstly on pious bequests and funeral arrangements – his concern with the future of his soul being evidenced not only by his will, but also by the foundation earlier in his life of a hospital and a chantry – and secondly with rewards to his servants and employees, with occasional intimation of genuine gratitude, if not fondness, and a concern for their welfare after his death. His will is otherwise uncomplicated, since his wife had predeceased him, and everything would go to his son.

William Esyngton's will (which, like that of Hibburn, I have divided up in to paragraphs, for easier reading) was not drawn up so close to death, but likely as the testator sensed himself going into decline. It is more balanced, making a more conventional provision for his soul, and then proceeding to address the disposition of his estate, both moveable and real, among his heirs; the latter is his principal concern and motivation, provision for his soul being secondary. This otherwise fairly ordinary will is marked by the peculiar references to his filiis putativis, a term I have rendered (hypothetically) as "alleged sons"; whether this implies bastardy, step-sons, alienation from sons of an earlier marriage, or something else, I cannot be sure. But the testator had reservations about Henry and William, and was not prepared to name them among his executors; he perhaps provided for them only in the hope that they would not interfere with the inheritance of his principal heir, Nicholas, who was either underage or incompetent. Probate was granted on 23 February 1417, when John Strothir was appointed guardian of Nicholas Esyngton, who was judged too young to take on the role of executor unaided; Strothir therefore became, in effect, executor along with Richard Forester, John Etall refusing to undertake administration and William Cornford perhaps having died as he is not mentioned.

Although refusals are not so uncommon, in this case it may be a reflection of trouble foreseen in administering the will. On the same date that probate was completed, the executors obtained from Bishop Langley a letter to the parish priests of Gateshead and Newcastle, condemning persons purportedly unknown for having removed from Esyngton's house, before he was even dead, "gold, silver, obligations, contractual documents, papers, tallies, memoranda, letters, financial accounts, and other legal documents... as well as jewellery and other personalia, merchandize, household utensils, and various other goods" [Register, vol.II, 145], and for intentionally obstructing the executors in their work. The parish priests were ordered to denounce and threaten with excommunication anyone so behaving, or assisting or instructing those behaving in that way, and failing to restore the illegally appropriated goods. Possibly it was the elder sons who were considered the culprits, or at least instigators. The outcome is unknown. Nicholas, as an orphan, was not in a position to assert his rights. On 10 March 1417, he was transferred to the guardianship of chaplain John Wermouth, and matters relating to his inheritance had still not been cleared up. Why the wealthy and influential Strothir had relinquished his responsibility is not known; perhaps he did not wish to become embroiled in a legal battle on someone else's behalf at a time when his own career was more demanding: he had just served as sheriff of Newcastle in 1415/16, was elected as its parliamentary representative in 1417, and would be elected to the first of two mayoral terms in 1418. Or perhaps Nicholas' enemies were too powerful to oppose. In this regard we may note that a William Esyngton served as mayor of Newcastle in 1421/22 and possibly in the following year as well.

We should beware of reading too much into these documents, as regards the character of the testators. What appears formal may simply be the style of the clerk or lawyer who drew up the document. Historians have much debated on how reliable testaments – usually the closest we have to a personal document for the vast majority of medieval townspeople – may be in accurately reflecting the psychology or attitudes of testators.

We must also keep in mind that these wills come from the upper crust of urban society; which means that any attitudes we may infer from them would not, even if valid, necessarily represent those of urban society as a whole. Robert Hibburn, for example, was one of the more prominent townsmen of his generation, who served as one of the sheriffs of Newcastle in 1403/04 and again in 1410/11, and was approaching the close of his term as mayor when he died. He on one occasion described himself as having been 30 years old in 1380, which would have made him 65 at the time of his death – a good age, by medieval standards. His father was also a Newcastle man, although less prominent, but the family had its roots among the county gentry; Hebburn lay on the banks of the Tyne a little east of Newcastle, while the family also held land at Newton-by-the-Sea, quite some distance north. John Hibburn's wife was a co-heiress of property in the same areas and others, and in time Robert had the benefit of this. He himself similarly married into an important county family, to Agnes the sister of Sir William Carnaby.

Despite all this, it was as a merchant that he primarily established himself (land-holding being, in northern parts susceptible to Scottish raids, no less precarious a source of income); he is found exporting wool in the 1380s, and later woad, and in 1406 we glimpse him acting as a middleman for a London merchant. His administrative service likewise began, as far as we can see, in the early 1380s, with him serving first as an assessor of taxes in the borough, and a few years later as a tax collector. He was a collector of pontage from 1390 to 1393 and again (when combined with pavage) from 1406-11, and a collector of the king's customs in the port from 1411 until shortly after he had been elected mayor. At his death he left three sons and two daughters, of whom the elder, Agnes, was not mentioned, having received her dowry when she married Richard Dalton ca.1411; Agnes' second husband was the John Strothir who was briefly guardian of Nicholas Esyngton.

Even more prominent in Newcastle was Roger Thornton. The geographical origins of his family are uncertain. According to one tradition he may have come from Hartburn. As he evidently held an estate at Thornton (since a bequest went to someone likely his steward there), his ties to his ancestral home remained strong. But where that home was is not easy to identify. The place-name of Thornton is quite common in England, with a particularly large number of villages in Yorkshire bearing the name (most with some qualifier). A second tradition associates him with the Thornton that is near Bradford. There is a Thornton in Northumberland, a few miles southwest of Berwick, which could be a candidate, but one closer to Newcastle is in the North Riding of Yorkshire, just outside Middlesborough; the latter has the attraction of being close to Yarm, which would help explain the bequest to the monastery there.

Like Hibburn, he was not the first generation of his family to settle in Newcastle. A John Thornton was bailiff there (1382/83), customs collector, and an exporter of cloth and leather, dying in 1394; as the family is first seen in Newcastle in the 1370s, it might be tempting to associate it with the John Thornton who served as the keeper of the private wardrobe (Westminster) of Edward III in 1370, but no connection is evidenced. By the time of John's death Roger had already become one of the leading merchants and Leland later described him as the richest merchant ever to live in Newcastle; Roger's wealth is reflected through the large number of bequests he could make without impoverishing his heirs. He is seen exporting wool in 1385, lambskins in 1389, and cloth in 1393. In 1400 he was licenced with partners to buy 2,000 sacks of wool to ship to Flanders, and licences on a similar scale were issued again in 1408 and 1410. At the same time he was diversifying his business by moving into the coal and lead trades, as well as by dealing in iron, woad, madder, and wine (for which the abbey of Durham was one of his frequent customers). Lead eventually became his chief commodity; in 1401 he negotiated a 12-year lease from the Bishop of Durham of mines that produced lead and silver. This explains the numerous bequests of that material; he had also paid the dowry of his daughter Agnes in gold and lead, when she married the son of Sir John Middleton.

With the fortune he made from commerce, he was able to invest in real estate; this included manors at Netherwitton, about 20 miles northwest of Newcastle, and (much closer to home) at Byker, the latter later being the source of endowments of his chantry in All Saints and the poor people's hospital, or Maison Dieu, of St. Katherine, a project he had begun in 1402 and, some years after its completion, turned over to the administration of the borough authorities. He also came to hold several other estates, both in Northumberland and County Durham, some of which were received as a reward from the king for his efforts and expenses in defending Newcastle against the rebellious earl of Northumberland in 1405; as well, he leased the manors settled by the Middletons on their young son, when he married the young Agnes Thornton. Roger held extensive property in Newcastle itself, his own residence being in Broad Chare, and in the later part of his life he even bought property in London, including a business office in Sea-coal Lane. Many of the smaller cash bequests (under 100s.) in Roger Thornton's testament may have been to servants, even where this is not specified, who were needed for the upkeep of his household and his properties across the north-east.

Roger was very active in both local and royal administration. His earliest known position of responsibility was as a borough tax collector in 1385. He served as a bailiff of Newcastle in 1396/97, followed by 9 terms as mayor, the first in 1400/01 and the last in 1425/26. Constable of the Newcastle staple in 1399/1400, he went on to serve briefly as collector of pontage (1406), and more extensively as a customs collector there (1406-13, 1421-25). He had married Agnes Wauton, who bore him seven sons and seven daughters, if we may trust the depiction on the brass covering the couple's tomb, although only two are know to have survived him. His son and heir Roger was, a year before Roger senior's death, betrothed to the daughter of Lord Greystoke; a sizable part of the father's property was settled on the son at that point.

William Esyngton was yet another prominent wool merchant; his surname could refer to one of several villages called Easington, in Yorkshire, Northumberland, or Durham. Henry IV granted licences in 1400, 1408 and 1410 for the purchase and export to friendly countries of large amounts of northern wool, hides and wool-fells by a consortium of Newcastle merchants whose core membership was Esyngton, Roger de Thornton, William Langton, Robert Gobefore, and William Middleton. The purpose of such licences for the merchants was to export directly to the continent instead of having to go through the Calais Staple. After the first licence in 1400, the Staple organization protested this challenge to their monopoly and the king backtracked. Despite the losses they incurred as the result, the Newcastle consortium tried again a few years later, salvaging some of the warehoused wool from their first effort; they met with more success, the Staple offering less resistance now, and went on to a more ambitious venture in 1410.

In 1412 Esyngton placed a claim, in the court of admiralty, on the cargo of a Scottish ship captured at sea and brought into port at Kingston-upon-Hull; it appears that some of the co-owners of the ship owed money to him; the ship's master settled the debt and the king gave permission for the ship to be released from arrest. The following year we hear mention of a ship co-owned by Esyngton and Hugh Byker, the Christopher, which was one of a small fleet that had captured a hulk and a barge on the belief they were transporting a cargo of wine belonging to the French enemy. Esyngton, along with Robert Hibburn, was also associated with Thornton in the latter's acquisition of the manor of Byker in the same reign. He was probably one of the aldermen by 1406, and in 1412 he was one of a delegation of leading townsmen (headed by mayor Langton, and including Hibburn and Thornton) negotiating with Bishop Langley in a dispute between bishop and borough over a tower the latter had erected on the south side of the Tyne bridge.

John Stokdale is much less well-documented both in local and national records, and the absence of immediate family mentioned in his will may indicate he was still relatively young, although he evidently had an active business.



"look to our future"
I.e. make provision for the future of the soul.

"3 August"
The date is uncertain, as the document states die veneris tercio mensis Augusti; the 3rd was a Saturday. As Professor Storey noted, the third Friday of the month (16th) may be meant, but a scribal error is just as likely.

"church of All Saints"
Technically All Saints – like St. John's and St. Andrew's – was a chapel, Newcastle only having a single parish church (St. Nicholas') to which tithes were due.

"chief tenement"
A capitale mesuagium generally meant the house in which the owner lived, as opposed to one owned but rented out.

"The Close"
This road ran parallel to the bank of the Tyne, to the west of the bridge; it may be that Hibburn's property was a riverside one, as might be expected of a merchant.

Situated at the southeastern corner of the walled town; possibly riverside land.

"Wall Knoll"
A street in the southeastern corner of the town, just within a stretch of the walls that was evidently an afterthought to the original plan of the circuit, apparently intended to circumvent the hill (knoll), and/or take buildings that would otherwise have been suburban (and thereby exposed to Scottish invaders), and/or take in a large stretch of the quayside. The Carmelites had their friary inWall Knoll until at least the early fourteenth century, although in 1360 the site was taken over by the Trinitarians (an order of friars associated with the Crusades, with only a handful of houses in England).

The name of the southwestern neighbourhood in which Wall Knoll lay; at its southern end lay part of the quayside.

"fair share"
A third part of the property was often identified by borough custom as the widow's right.

"children named above"
Although the text says filiis meis supradictis, it appears from what follows that the daughter (not "named above") was also to be included in the share-out.

"Emery Heryng"
He served on three occasions in the 1420s as a parliamentary representative for Newcastle, but is not known to have otherwise held any post in local government. He was, however, keeper of the seal of the statute merchant there from 1423 to 1442. His witnessing of the wills of Stokdale and Thornton could be an indication of friendship, business association, legal representation (he is conspicuously not described as a merchant), neighbourliness, or simply social solidarity. Thornton's bequest suggests something more than a casual association.

"John de Moreton"
Probably the merchant who was one of Newcastle's leading exporters of wool, hides and cloth from the 1380s, and a town bailiff in 1393/94; although still alive in 1408, a John Morton junior had appeared from 1394. It is almost certainly the latter who received a bequest from Thornton in 1429.

"tithes and offerings"
Tithes were a one-tenth share of income (profits from commerce, labour, or agriculture) expected to be paid to the Church by laymen to support its religious activities. This payment was promoted by the Church as a divine law, and gradually enforced by secular law, in contrast to an "offering" which was theoretically voluntary.

"friars mendicant"
Orders which, having adopted a vow of poverty, were required to beg. These were the Franciscans (Friars Minor), Dominicans (Friars Preacher), Carmelites, and Augustinians. As distinct from monastic orders such as Benedictines and Cistercians which, although the individual members were not to own significant possessions, the communities as a whole were permitted to amass property. It was partly because the friars depended on public alms that the orders established themselves primarily in towns, where there were relatively dense populations.

"All Hallows church"
I.e. the chapel of All Saints.


"dirge and coming forth"
Typically, a procession would escort the corpse into church, where funeral services would begin that day with the Placebo, followed by an overnight vigil, and the following morning by the Dirige and perhaps one or more masses, after which the body was brought forth for burial.

A measure traditionally applied to lead in England, its weight might vary between 2100 lb and 2600 lb.

"West Spital"
A hospital (alms house) in Westgate Street.

"The Nuns"
St. Bartholomew's Priory, a Benedictine nunnery.

Possibly referring to the lazar-house in the northern suburb, associated with the hospital of St. Mary Magdalene.

"Witton by the water"
Presumably Netherwitton, situated on the bank of the River Font (although the claim to be beside a water source could of course be made by any number of English settlements).

"dom. John Fenwyk"
Elswhere described as a chaplain, although even without that reference his witnessing of the will would argue in favour of clerical status. Since he and Pityngton were clerics, it is a fair bet that Harwod was too. Bequests to laymen are grouped later in the document, although whether Henry Lincoln was a knight or clergyman is more difficult to say.

"in penny and in pennyworth"
My assumption would be that this means "in cash or goods to the value of".

"Broad Chare"
The name of a street leading from All Saints chapel to the quayside.

"William Langton"
Sheriff of Newcastle 1404-06, mayor 1408-10, 1411/12. Active in commerce from 1386-1410, his mercantile dealings were in a wide range of items, but particularly wool; before the consortium of 1400 formed he usually acted alone in mercantile ventures.

"Robert Gobefore"
Co-owner with Thornton and others of the ship Good Year.

"William Middleton"
Sheriff of Newcastle 1408/09, 1414/15. Perhaps a member of the family into which Roger Thornton's daughter married. He was active in Newcastle's commerce from about 1394.

I am grateful to Grace McCombie for advising me [Personal communication, 27 May 2008] that her own resarch suggests that the Hibburn family may rather have originated from Hepburn in Northumberland.

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Created: February 29, 2004. Last update: January 18, 2014 © Stephen Alsford, 2004-2014