DEATH Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Southampton merchants testaments funerals mass charity memorial services property holding gates dower clothing chantries trustees careers royal service shipbuilding
Subject: Wills of two Southampton mayors
Original source: Southampton City Archives, Black Book ff.54-55, 63-64
Transcription in: A.B. Wallis Chapman, ed. The Black Book of Southampton, vol.II. Southampton Record Society, vol.14 (1912), 98-112, 152-61.
Original language: 1. Latin; 2. Latin and Middle English
Location: Southampton
Date: Late 15th century


[1. Will and testament of William Soper]

In the name of God, Amen. On 8 November 1458, I William Soper esquire, burgess of the town of Southampton, being of sound mind and memory, have set out my testament in the following manner. First, I bequeath my soul to Almighty God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and to all the heavenly host, and my body to be interred within a certain marble tomb which, for my burial, I recently had built in the southern part of the nave of the church of the Friars Minor, in the town already mentioned. I wish my executors to have as many masses for my soul celebrated in that church, on the days of my burial and obit day, as they are able to arrange. For [the good of] my soul, I wish that on my burial day, and as promptly as possible following that day, my executors distribute to poor married men and women, as well as to those who are infirm, blind or crippled, alms to the value of £66.13s.4d, in the form of woollen and linen cloth and other necessaries, from my moveable goods; [that is,] up to the value of 6s.8d each, handing out less to some and more to others, as my executors, in their sound judgement, think appropriate to achieve the best results. Furthermore it is my wish that, each day during the thirty days following my burial, in the chapel where my corpse is buried, the warden or his deputy and six of his brethren of the Friars Minor of that town shall chant solemn exequies and requiem masses for my soul. I also wish that my executors (or [at least] one of them) make offerings at all the masses mentioned above as being celebrated during that thirty days, and that they or he pay to each warden on that occasion, or to his deputy, and his six brethren who shall be present at the exequies and masses each of those thirty days, sixteen shillings towards the cost of their vestments.

I bequeath 105s. towards the repair of the church of the Friars Minor in that town. I bequeath 3s.4d to the cathedral church of St. Swithun at Winchester.

I give and bequeath to my wife Joan that tenement situated on the west side of English Street in the parish of St. Laurence. Which tenement extends in length from English Street at its east end, as far as the boundary of the king's castle in the town, at its west end; and it lies between the tenement of Joan Mersh, formerly the wife of Adam Mersh, on the south side, and the tenement of John Stake on the north side. Joan is to have and to hold that tenement with all its appurtenances for the term of her life, under the following condition: that while my wife Joan is alive she provide food and clothing for John Hawyt; should it happen that my wife Joan die before John, then I wish and grant that John receive the rent due from the tenement for the rest of his life. After John's death, I give, bequeath, and grant [it] in perpetuity to Joan the wife of John Heckley junior and the direct and legitimate heirs of the same Joan. Should it happen that Joan die without a direct and legitimate heir, then it is my wish, decision and provision that the tenement be sold by my executors (or their executors) and the money issuing from the sale of the tenement be distributed as alms to the needy, for [the good of] my soul and the souls of my parents.

I give and bequeath to my wife Joan twenty shillings in annual rents, received quarterly in equal payments from my tenement [held by] John Ingoldesby, my fellow burgess of the town of Southampton, out of the rent issuing from two conjoined towers built above the town gate called the Watergate, with all buildings and gardens belonging to those towers; as is set out more fully in a certain agreement made in regard to that between ourselves, William Soper and John Ingoldesby. Which towers the mayor and community of the town of Southampton granted to me, William, and my heirs and assigns for a specific number of years. I also give and bequeath to my wife Joan a shop and a room built above it situated on the east side of those towers; in which shop and room John Draper currently lives. My wife Joan is to have and to hold the aforesaid twenty shillings rent, together with the shop and room mentioned for the term of her life. Immediately after the death of my wife Joan, I wish the annual rent of twenty shillings together with the shop and room to be sold by my executors (or their executors), and the money received from the sale to be received and distributed as soon as possible to poor people and others in charitable works for my soul and for the souls of my parents Robert and Clemency, my wives Isabelle and Joan, and all my benefactors.

I also wish that once all my debts have been paid my wife Joan receive possession of half of all my goods not otherwise bequeathed.

I bequeath my wife Joan, for life, those adjoining messuages, with the cellar atop which they are built, which I recently had put up in the cemetery of the Friars Minor of the town of Southampton. I also give and bequeath my wife Joan my messuage with adjacent garden located in Holy Rood parish in the town of Southampton, on the east side of English Street, between the tenement recently of Richard Holte esq. to the north and the tenement of John Ludlowe to the south. That messuage, cellar, and garden with all its appurtenances, Joan is to have and to hold for life from the chief lords of that fee by the services due and customarily owed by right; and also by finding and providing annually, during Joan's lifetime, two wax candles to burn above the altar in the south chapel next to my tomb, each day during celebration of the morning mass there, as well as by offering one penny daily, or having that offering made daily, at the same morning mass. And also by providing and distributing annually, in perpetuity, thirty-four shillings and eightpence, for my soul and the souls of my parents Robert and Clementia, my late wife Isabelle, and the souls of all my benefactors, divided up and distributed in the following manner. Viz.

  • To the warden of the church of the Friars Minor then in office, or to his deputy, with his six brethren, for performing and solemnly chanting the exequies in the south chapel in the nave of the church of the Friars Minor, next to my tomb, and for observing my anniversary with an annual mass there, ten shillings towards their footwear.
  • Item, to eighty poor people of the town most in need, 6s.8d to be distributed on the day of my anniversary thus: a penny each.
  • Item, to the town crier for proclaiming at the usual places in the town the observance of my anniversary in the above-mentioned fashion, 4d.
  • Item, to the parish clerk of Holy Rood church of the town, for ringing the bell called the "assembly bell" on the vigil and on the day of my anniversary, 12d.
  • Item, to two poor burgesses or (if there are no such burgesses) two other poor persons who are greatly in need, for holding two torches on my anniversary, ten shillings for two gowns.

It is my wish and provision that immediately after Joan's death, the messuage mentioned above, with cellar and adjacent garden, situated in Holy Rood parish in the town of Southampton shall remain to the mayor then in office and the burgesses of the town of Southampton. The mayor and burgesses, and their successors as mayors and burgesses of the town, are to have and to hold the messuage, cellar and garden in perpetuity. On condition however that the mayors and burgesses, by the hand of the steward of the town then in office (or whoever is performing those duties), out of the revenues and profits of that messuage turn over and distribute annually in perpetuity, for my soul and the souls of Robert and Clemency my parents, Isabelle and Joan my wives, [etc.] 34s.8d divided and distributed as follows. Viz.:

  • To the warden [etc. as above]
  • Item, to eighty paupers [etc. as above]
  • Item, to the town crier [etc. as above]
  • Item, to the parish clerk [etc. as above]
  • Item, to the mayor of the town of Southampton, or whoever is then exercising his duties, for his diligence in being present at my anniversary and oversees it being carried out properly, 3s.4d.
  • Item, to the steward of the town then in office, for his efforts in the same regard, 2s.4d.
  • Item, to the common clerk of the town, or whoever is exercising his duties, for reading out this my last will publicly, immediately after my anniversary services, 12d.
  • Item, to two poor burgesses [etc. as above]

In addition they are, by the hand of the steward (or whoever is exercising his duties) to turn over and pay annually, in perpetuity, thirty shillings and fivepence out of the revenues and profits of that messuage, in the following manner. Viz. by making an offering on a daily basis, or having it made, of one penny at the morning mass, for my soul [etc.]. On the understanding that, if the rent of my tenement with cellar and adjacent garden and its appurtenances is at any time in the future unable to support the above charges, after necessary repairs [have been paid for], due to lack of tenants or something similar, then the mayor and burgesses and their successors are bound to observe my anniversary and make the daily penny offerings no more than in proportion to the diminished rent and revenues realisable from the property at that time. However, it is my wish that should it happen that the mayor and burgesses default in coming up with and distributing the 34s.8d, to be divided and distributed as already indicated, or in coming up with and paying the thirty shillings and fivepence to be offered as stated above, or in any way fail to carry out what has been specified above, that the estate in and power over the messuage with cellar, garden and appurtenances, on the part of the mayor and burgesses and their successors shall entirely cease. And that thereafter the messuage [etc.] shall remain to the Abbot and Convent of Beaulieu in Hampshire. The Abbot and Convent and their successors to have and to hold of the chief lords of that fee in perpetuity by the services due and customarily owed by right, and by paying, finding, undertaking, and fulfilling each and every charge, offering, and payment specified and stated above using the rents and profits of the messuage, cellar, garden and appurtenances, each year in perpetuity – faithfully, properly and entirely, as set out above.

[Further clauses, set out in much the same terms, provide that: 1) if the Abbey of Beaulieu fails to perform the obligations, then the property is to pass to the Prior and Convent of St. Denys, near Southampton, under the same conditions; 2) if the Priory defaults in those obligations, the property is to be sold by Soper's executors, or their executors, and the proceeds spent on masses, alms and other charitable works, for the benefit of his soul and the souls of all faithful deceased.]

Also, I wish that my wife Joan have possession of all rents and revenues from all my tenements, services, vaults, shops, cellars, bakehouses, empty plots of land, and gardens, with each and every of their appurtenances, which I have within the liberties of the town of Southampton, for the period of five years immediately following my death. Immediately after the five years are up, I wish and instruct my executors to sell all those remaining lands and tenements, rents and services, vaults, shops, bakehouses, empty plots, and gardens with all their appurtenances (such as are not otherwise given or bequeathed above) that I have in the town of Southampton or within the liberties of the town. The same applies to each and every of my rights, title, estate, and claims (not bequeathed above) that I have, whether for a term of years or on any other basis whatsoever, over and in all lands, tenements, cellars, bakehouses, empty plots, gardens, and enclosures, with all their appurtenances within the town of Southampton and within the liberties of that town. All monies arising from the sale of those lands and tenements [etc.], as well as all my rights, title, estate and claims, not given or bequeathed above, my executors are to distribute on a merit basis to poor men and women and on mending the roads around the town of Southampton, which on occasion need repairs and maintenance.

I bequeath to Robert Janyn one hundred shillings. I bequeath 6s.8d to my servant Richard Waryn. I bequeath 40s. to Friar William Chamberleyn. I bequeath a silver platter to the high altar of the Friars Minor in the town of Southampton. I bequeath a silver basin with a silver jug to Hugh Pakenham. I bequeath a charger with a silver platter to Thomas Chamberleyn. I bequeath a silver charger to dom. Thomas Hacker chaplain. As for the residue of all my goods, not otherwise bequeathed above, after my debts have been paid, I give and bequeath them to my wife Joan, Hugh Pakenham, Thomas Chamberleyn and dom. Thomas Hacker chaplain. So that they may dispose of and distribute the goods in alms to those poor people in greatest need, and in other pious uses on the basis of what seems to them most efficacious for the health of my soul, the souls of my parents Robert and Clemency and of my late wife Isabelle, and those of all the faithful deceased, as they would wish to answer for it at the Final Judgement.

For the faithful execution of this testament, by this document I make, designate, and appoint my wife Joan, as my chief executrix, and Hugh Pakenham, Thomas Chamberleyn, and dom. Thomas Hacker chaplain as my true and lawful executors. In testimony to which, I have set to this document the seal I am accustomed to use. Drawn up at Southampton on the above date. Witnesses: Walter Clerk, then mayor of the town, Nicholas Holmage, John Williams, Walter Fetplace, John Donne, burgesses of the same town, and many others.

[2. Will and testament of William Gunter]

In the name of God, Amen. On August 1, 1492, in the seventh year of the reign of King Henry VII, I William Gunter being of sound mind and memory, [but] perceiving my death approaching, have set out my testament in the following manner. First, I bequeath my soul to Almighty God, the Blessed Mary His Mother, and my body to be interred in the church of St. Mary near the town of Southampton, on the right-hand side of the tomb of John Jamys, lately buried in that church – or in some other location my wife Alice sees fit to arrange.

I bequeath 12d. to the cathedral church of St. Swithun at Winchester. I bequeath 6s.8d to the fabric of St. Mary's church, [in appreciation] for my burial. I bequeath 6s.8d to the nave of Holy Rood church in the town of Southampton, for repairs to the church. I bequeath to Joan, the widow of my brother Henry, one of my fur-lined gowns red in colour, called "murrey gown". I bequeath to my kinsman John, son of my brother Henry, one of my fur-lined gowns called "deep sanguine". I bequeath to John's brother William the other of my fur-lined gowns also called "deep sanguine". I bequeath to each daughter of my brother Henry 6s.8d cash, or other of my goods to the same value at the discretion of my wife Alice. I bequeath to William Justice one of my fur-lined gowns crimson in colour, called "wedding gown". I bequeath to Gilbert Mowntegue, recently my servant, one of my fur-lined gowns called "russet gown". I bequeath 40s. to little Margaret my servant for her dowry, if she lives [long enough]. I bequeath 20s. to Margaret's mother Emma, or the same amount in goods at the discretion of my wife Alice. I bequeath 3s.4d to my servant Cecily. I bequeath 4d. to each of my godsons and god-daughters who survives me, to pray for my soul. I bequeath 3s.4d. to Alice Durante, to pray for my soul. I bequeath to my servant John Fynmore a gown or 10s. and a double, at the discretion of my wife Alice.

I bequeath to the altar of the church of St. Mary at Andover, called "Sawnderys wenydd", a silver chalice and paten, [in return] for prayers for my soul, the soul of my late wife Agnes, and the souls of my parents and all the faithful deceased. I wish and bequeath that on the day of my burial money be distributed for the sake of my soul to the most needy poor folk, at a penny a time up to the amount of one hundred shillings; that is, one penny to each poor person, etc.

I give and bequeath to my wife Alice my three tenements. Of which two are situated in English Street in the town of Southampton, on the east side of that street. One being situated there, with gardens and other appurtenances, between the tenement recently of Andrew Jamys, to the north, and the Southampton tenement in which William Dey presently lives, to the south; at its east end it abuts on the stones of the town wall and at its west end on the street, and it is called the Dolphin. The other tenement situated there, with adjoining garden and appurtenances, is between the tenement recently of Thomas Avan, to the north, and the tenement recently of John Williams, to the south; it abuts on the stones of the town wall at the east end and the street at the west end. As for the third tenement, it is located in the city of Salisbury, in a certain street there called Wynman Street, viz. between the tenement of John Curteys to the east and the tenement recently of William Cockys spindler (now of his son John Cockys) to the west; the which I William Gunter recently acquired from Thomas Somer. My wife Alice is to have and to hold these three tenements with gardens and all other appurtenances for her lifetime. After Alice's death, I will, give and bequeath the three tenements with all their appurtenances as indicated above to Thomas Dymmock at this time mayor of the town of Southampton, Thomas Overey, Thomas Reynolde, Vincent Tehy, Thomas Troyes esq., John Feteplace gentleman, Thomas Thomas, John Dawtrey, mag. John Dogode cleric, William Nycollson the rector of St. Laurence, William Heckeley, Masse Salmon, John Godfray, William Justice, Peter Spryng, George Cockys, William Wisham, Thomas Wilson, John Baudewyn, and Gilbert Mowntegue; they, their heirs and assigns to have and to hold the three tenements with all things belonging thereto and indicated above in perpetuity.

[Here the document switches to English]

To the intent that my wife Alice shall, during her life, arrange for a priest of good judgement and proper qualifications to sing a mass and perform other divine services each day at the Holy Rood altar in Holy Rood church in Southampton, and to be present in the choir on holy days when divine services are performed, for the souls of myself, William Gunter, my father and mother, John Jamys, the souls of all my friends, and all Christian souls. Taking £6 as his annual salary. After her death, [the property] is to remain to Thomas Dymmock, Thomas Overey etc. and to their heirs in fee. To the intent that, with the annual profits and revenues from the 3 tenements following Alice's death, they should and shall find a priest of good judgement [to officiate] in Holy Rood church for my soul and all the souls mentioned above, and all Christian souls, in the same manner that Alice did. Whenever and as soon as any three of my feoffees named above have died, then 3 other persons in possession who are still living should and shall make a further enfeoffment of the 3 tenements and appurtenances to as many other persons as are named by John Adam and Robert Wright, wardens of Holy Rood church, or their successors of that time, to the same use and intent as indicated above. And so continually the estate be renewed every time, forever, that 3 of the feoffees happen to die.

During her lifetime, my wife Alice is to engage, appoint and admit the priest, and to remove and dismiss him if she finds reasonable cause, and then appoint another. My feoffees are to act similarly after her death, in perpetuity. But after her death I give full power and authority, notwithstanding what has already been said, to John Adam and Robert Wright and to their successors as wardens of Holy Rood church, in perpetuity, to enter into the 3 tenements and their appurtenances and to demand, levy and receive the rents of the same, and use them to pay the priest his annual stipend and wages. And with the same revenues and profits that exceed his wages, to properly repair and maintain the 3 tenements forever. After the death of my wife Alice, I wish that the wardens of Holy Rood church and their successors, if they carry out their duties specified above under the supervision of my feoffees, each receive for their labour 3s.4d a year out of the [revenues from] the 3 tenements.

I also wish my wife Alice to hold my obit in Holy Rood church each year on the date of my departure from this life, distributing and disposing of 20s. that same day. That is:

  • 20d. to the mayor if he attends – otherwise that sum is to be distributed suitably as alms on that occasion;
  • 12d. to each of the then wardens of Holy Rood church, whom I wish to hold my obit each year in perpetuity following the death of my wife;
  • 8d. to the vicar or curate of the church;
  • 4d. to every priest there;
  • 6d. to the clerk of that church;
  • 2d. to the bedeman;
  • 13s.4d on bread, cheese, ale and wine
The annual value of the 3 tenements, after costs are deducted, is £8.13s.4d. Of which, £6 is to be paid each year to the priest, 20s. for my obit (divided as indicated above), and 6s.8d each year to the churchwardens as mentioned above. There still remains of the £8.13s.4d the annual sum of 26s.8d, which I wish to remain in my wife's hands during her life. And after her death in the hands of the wardens of Holy Rood church and their successors; to the intent that if anything unfortunate happen to the 3 tenements, or any one of them, by way of fire, dilapidation or something similar, they apply it to the repair, upkeep, and maintenance, and in all regards shall protect and look after them. I wish and fully empower my feoffees to see that all these obligations are performed, undertaken, and carried out after my wife's death, according to [the instructions in] this my last will. If no such [misfortunes] befall the 3 tenements, or any of them (which God forbid!), then I wish the remaining 26s.8d of the £8.13s.4d to be expended by the wardens, after my wife's death, under supervision of my feoffees, on ornaments for Holy Rood church, if they are needed, or else on other suitable alms as seems best to them, and so continue in perpetuity. On condition that a priest is constantly provided for.

[The document now reverts to Latin]

As for the residue of all my goods not bequeathed above, my debts having first been paid, I give and bequeath them to my wife Alice, so that she may arrange for their disposal for my soul, as she considers most expedient, pleasing to God, and beneficial for my soul; and as she will be willing to answer for before the highest authority on Judgement Day. For the performance, execution, and fulfilment of this my testament, I make, designate and appoint my wife Alice as my executrix, and Thomas Troyes esq. and William Justice as supervisors. Thomas is to have 40s. for his labour, and William 20s.

In testimony to which, I have set to my seal to this document. Drawn up at Southampton on the above date.


[I have divided the documents into paragraphs to make for easier reading. The itemized lists are also my own editorial interpretation.]

William Soper

William Soper was one of the most prominent members of Southampton's community of his generation. Born and raised in Winchester, where his father was a draper, he had moved to Southampton by 1410, when he served a term as its steward – a position that originated as assistant to the alderman (originally the executive officer not only of the merchant gild but of the town), with responsibilities of directing the borough courts and administering public property and finances, although during the fifteenth century it became the low rung on the ladder of political advancement. His high standing by this time is further evidenced by his election as mayor in 1416, a second term coming in 1424/25. Immediately after his first mayoralty he served as alderman, and once more after his second term – this time remaining in office until 1429; he was again alderman from 1430 to 1433 and 1434 to 1437. Between 1413 and 1449 he was chosen to represent Southampton in 13 parliaments, yet another sign of the trust the Corporation had in him.

Greater testimony to his administrative abilities is seen in his frequent employment in the king's service. Much of it was in relation to maritime activities, as suited a merchant engaged in overseas commerce. He had entered the customs service by November 1413, as one of the collectors of tunnage and poundate at Southampton, and then from 1421 as collector of customs on wool; he remained in this branch of the service until at least 1446 – an unusually long tenure, during which he also held the post of deputy butler (supervising the wine trade) from 1418 to 1422.

In 1414, soon after Henry V's accession and as the nation geared up for war, he was set to work constructing ships for the king at Bursledon, on the Hamble River, a few miles southeast of Southampton, as well as renovating a captured enemy vessels. It has been suggested that this came about because several Southampton ships, including one of Soper's, had been involved in seizing a Spanish ship under questionable circumstances; and that, to avoid the king's wrath, Soper had (perhaps at his own suggestion) undertaken to convert the prize for use by the king [S. Rose, Southampton and the Navy in the Age of Henry V, Hampshire Papers 14 (1998), 2]. Soper's handling of this task, the close availability of timber from the New Forest, and the convenience of Southampton as a base for pursuing the war in France and in the Channel itself, may all have contributed to the decision to make the area a naval centre.

Soper had two storehouses at Bursledon and in 1418 built a wooden tower to defend the river entrance against French raiders. When a naval dockyard was built at the mouth of the Hamble River, Soper was put in charge of it. He became closely involved in organizing the king's expedition to France in 1415, for which he was rewarded the following year with a lifetime annuity. In this period Southampton became the major base for the royal navy (although of course this did not exist as a formal, permanent force at this time). After a special dock – probably a modest facility. little more than a slipway, which has left no trace – had been built there in 1416, Soper had a role overseeing the construction of the Gracedieu, the largest ship built in England in the Middle Ages. Moved to Hamble for fitting out, launched in 1418, and later laid up at Bursledon, it never saw action in Henry's French war – the success of which outpaced the need to defend the Channel – and is known to have participated only in one expedition to patrol the Channel (1420). In 1439 it was destroyed by fire, its remains still occasionally visible in the Hamble. Soper accounted for thousands of pounds spent on this project, much of it from the customs money he collected. Much of this money went to Soper's associates among the mercantile ruling class of Southampton, who supplied materiel for the several ships whose construction, or remodelling, he undertook or supervised.

Part of Soper's reward for this work was appointment as a clerk of the king's ships in 1418, which formally made him a supervisor of naval construction, and gave him a daily wage of one shilling (compare to twopence to fourpence for a craftsman). In 1420 his salary was doubled – although not paid regularly – when he was appointed keeper and governor of the king's fleet, a post in which he remained until 1442, after which he served a further ten years as controller of his successor in the post. He was in charge of a fleet of up to 30 vessels. He built a storehouse and forge at Southampton, adjacent to his own property near the Watergate. His duties included organizing royal construction projects in Normandy, and in 1419 he was leasing a house at Harfleur as his base. When the fleet was dismantled after Henry V's death, Soper was instructed to sell many of the ships (to help pay the late king's debts); several local men were able to acquire vessels at bargain prices; Soper was allowed to take some of the profits himself in recompense for expenses and/or wages owed him by the government. He continued to try to keep a few unsold ships seaworthy for the king's use. This demanding work, and the difficulty in recouping his expenses, prompted him to seek release from his post as early as 1436, on the excuse that he wished to make a pilgrimage to Lombardy before he became too old for it; this may, however, have been a pressure tactic to recover his costs. His value to the king is seen in that his successor in the post was offered only the shilling-a-day wage, although admittedly the duties of the officer were by then lighter than they had been during Henry V's wars.

During this period he frequently received other royal commissions in the southern counties, involving equipping ships, mustering troops, arranging for the transport of soldiers to France, raising loans or purchasing wine, investigating smuggling, and other judicial enquiries. In 1445 he was part of the delegation that went to Rouen to escort Margaret of Anjou to England, to meet her future husband Henry VI at Southampton. His naval work also brought him in contact with England's admiral, the Duke of Exeter, for whom he acted as a feoffee of the Duke's property in Southampton. At some point before 1447 Soper was given the rank of royal sergeant-at-arms and granted a further life annuity for his long service. He continued to receive commissions after that, but less frequently.

His mercantile activities are evidenced prior to him entering the king's service. By 1412 he was importing wine from France, partnering with William Nycoll (mayor four times between 1411 and 1427), and in subsequent years was bringing in a range of goods – cloth, grain, hardware – from Spain and Italy, as well as salmon and hides from Ireland. Nycoll had also been one of the larger suppliers of construction materials to Soper in the latter's role as clerk of the king's ships. As mentioned above, in 1414 he had been accused of involvement in a piratical seizure of Castilian cargoes. He was involved in the export of wool, taking advantage of his royal post to obtain related trade licences. He acquired a ship out of the royal fleet; in 1426 it was carrying his grain, coal, fish and cloth to France. In 1429 and 1430 he joined with the existing wine-dealing partnership of Walter Fetplace and Peter James in exporting cloth and other goods to Spain; but, when upon arrival his factor was arrested and held to ransom and the £500 cargo was confiscated, Soper gave up on Spain as a regular market. His association with these men was more than just a matter of business: he acted as an executor of Fetplace's will (d.1449), and as a trustee for the daughter of Peter James (mayor five times between 1428 and 1447), who was Isabelle Soper's god-daughter, although James was subsequently accused of engineering the trusteeship as a way of gaining control over her property. Soper continued to be active in commerce into the 1440s, although perhaps on a lesser scale; the wine and luxury goods he is recorded as sending by cart to London may have been for his own use, as he spent quite a bit of time there on royal business, at parliament, and paying Southampton's fee farm (assigned to Henry IV's widow), he having taken on this responsibility between 1428 and 1437. In 1443 he is recorded as having some kind of lodgings in London; three years earlier he had a feather bed transported there from Southampton, along with supplies of paper.

William Soper's last will and testament only partially reveals the extent of the wealth he must have built up. In 1431 his property within Southampton was assessed at having an annual value (i.e. in actual or potential income generated) of £15, and a few years later his property in Hampshire was assessed at being over £50 a year. The latter included an estate and moated hunting lodge on the edge of the New Forest, possibly at Dibden, a little south of Southampton on the far side of Southampton Water. A record has survived to us describing his hospitality on the festival of the Purification of the Virgin to the captains and owners of Florentine galleys, who joined him at his country house for a good lunch, some hunting in the forest, a large dinner, and a vespers service, the party being so congenial that the guests did not depart until the early hours of the following morning. In relation to this estate, we may note that he held the royal post of verderer of the New Forest from about 1428 to ca.1445, although it is unlikely he saw to the duties in person; and that on one occasion he stood as surety in the Exchequer for the abbey of Beaulieu (just a few miles south of Dibden, within the forest). He also held or co-owned properties in several other villages along the south bank of Southampton Water.

His town property in 1431 lay on English Street (Southampton's high street) and comprised what may have been his early residence, as well as a house and quay (by the town quay) known as "Isabelle's vault", and a nearby property that he held on a long lease and may have used for customs collection – at a later date it became the town's official Customs House. He also held property on the south side of Broad Lane, in the same vicinity, and perhaps all the property stretching from there to the customs house. The Franciscan friary in whose cemetery his will indicates he had built shops was also in the same sector of the town. Towards the end of his life he probably lived in the house in Holy Rood parish that he bequeathed to his second wife. The private chapel for which he received papal licence in 1420 may have been there, or perhaps the one he evidently had at his country house.

Soper's involvement in borough government is reflected in several ways in his will. At his own expense he renovated one of the principal gates through the town wall, the Watergate, which separated the bottom of English Street from the town quay. The borough government rewarded him in 1433 with a 100-year lease on the Watergate towers at a nominal rent and permission to build a shop next to the town wall; "rewarded" may not be the correct word, as he perhaps undertook the renovations on some such understanding. By 1455 Soper had built up a cluster of several tenements around the Watergate. In October 1439, however, Soper had sub-let the towers themselves to John Ingoldesby for £1 a year, in gratitude for "counsel he has given me". Soper likely had occasion to seek the lawyer's advice not only on town matters but also in regard to his pursuit of royal business. Ingoldesby continued in tenancy until 1477, when he turned the towers back to the town.

Soper may have had a similar client-counsel relationship with William Chamberleyn, who also had held the post of recorder in the town (ca.1428 to ca.1439). Soper and Chamberleyn were paired on seven occasions as parliamentary burgesses. Isabelle Soper was related to the Chamberleyn family and William Chamberleyn's young niece Joan came to live with the couple. After Isabelle's death, William married Joan, in 1438 obtaining papal letters to remove any potential obstacle due to family ties. Of the Chamberleyns mentioned in Soper's will, one of them warden of the friary, while Thomas was the son of John, brother of William Chamberleyn; John had held the office of clerk of the king's works at Portsmouth and may have been associated with Soper through those duties.

Soper's involvement with local government is also reflected in his first-choice selection of the Corporation to administer some of his property to maintain an obit; it is probably due to this that his will fortunately survives among borough records. His choice reflects a confidence in his colleagues, although not so great that he neglects to provide for a backup. His mind had turned to the afterlife several years before his death, and possibly the draft of the will that survives to us was not the first. For in 1452 he gave the Franciscans the two houses he had built in their cemetery, in return for provisions for a daily mass to be celebrated in the friary for his soul; the construction project had probably been for that specific purpose, Soper aiming to shore up friary finances in order to ensure his corpse a secure home and his soul perpetual remembrance. In 1454 William Soper esquire granted to Thomas Chamberleyn his property in Eling, Dibden and Fawley; one year later, Thomas conveyed the property back to Soper and his wife, for life, for the annual rent of a rose. This was a legal device to clear the property of inheritance obstructions, thus allowing Soper to bequeath it as he wished. Thomas's involvement with the property would reactivate after the couple's deaths, and his commitment was then to pay out of rents received from the property 40s. each year to Southampton's mayor to support Soper's obit in the Franciscan friary:

"Of those forty shillings, the mayor shall have 6s.8d. And the town clerk shall have 40d. for being there in person and publicly reading out William's testament. And each of four paupers there holding lights shall have 10d. And the warden there shall have 6s.8d. And his brethren of the convent who are present at the exequies and masses celebrated shall have 20s. each year, to be divided equally among them at the disposition of the mayor and the executors of William and Joan, to be in effect for all time."
[Black Book of Southampton, II, 122-24.]

William Soper's will received probate in November 1459. He must have been in his seventies by then. In part because he died childless, provision for his soul is the principal preoccupation of Soper's will. He is less concerned with itemized bequests of property and still less with disposition of his personalia. The will of a later mayor, William Gunter, shows the same preoccupation with easing the suffering of his soul in Purgatory. However, it gives a brief glimpse at his personalia, in the form of the better items from his wardrobe; he bequeaths his nearest blood heirs – his nephews, and their mother – may be considered his "business suits": dark red gowns such as he probably wore when attending Corporation meetings or other formal occasions.

William Gunter

Gunter had been chosen sheriff of Southampton in 1475, and two years later was elected to his first term as mayor, a second coming in 1485. Although he believed he felt the approach of death when he drew up his will, in 1492, this appears to have been a false alarm. Not only did he live into the following year, he was elected to his third term as mayor, and took advantage of the situation to have his will copied into the borough records during his term of office. In fact he was still alive in 1496 and, since we have no probate record, we do not know when he died, but he was dead by 1500.

Like Soper, Gunter had confidence in his peers, with whom he shared political power in late medieval Southampton. It was to the members of borough government that he looked to act as trustees of his property, to ensure after his wife's death that the Holy Rood churchwardens would put the revenues from his properties in Southampton and Salisbury to the pious uses he had prescribed. The group of initial trustees, headed by the mayor of 1492, seems to be dominated by aldermen, with a few clerics and friends or business associates thrown in for good measure; as regards the Corporation members listed, it almost has the appearance of a cursus honorum.

Again like Soper, Gunter had no son to inherit, and was able to dispose of much of his property for the benefit of his soul. He had some association with Andover, perhaps having spent his early career there. In a commission of arrest, issued to him and the sheriff of Southampton in 1467, he was described as William Gunter esq. of Andover; and his first wife Agnes was buried there. On another occasion he was referred to as "merchant". Whether a removal to Southampton or his marriage to John James' widow came first is uncertain; his wish to be buried next to her former husband is curious, but perhaps he looked upon James as an indirect benefactor, since James had died childless and his widow had been left with some of his property in Holy Rood parish. There Gunter settled.

Gunter's chantry was still in operation in the reign of Edward VI, but the revenues assigned it had declined in value to £7 and the obit had been dropped as a result.



"best results"
The editor believed, probably correctly, that this meant achieving the best results for Soper's soul, rather than for the recipients.

Funeral rites and memorial services.

"John Ingoldesby"
Recorder (legal advisor) to the borough government from about 1444 to 1459, but perhaps not for the entire period.

"town crier"
The original has preconisator, an uncommon term for this officer.

"Prior and Convent of St. Denys"
The priory was situated within the liberties, to the north-west of the town.

This probably means shops, or possibly taverns, situated in the vaulted lower floors of buildings. An example of a medieval vault, likely used for commercial purposes, still survives in Southampton.

"liberties of the town"
By the town itself, Soper would appear to be referring to the walled borough. The liberties consumed a much larger territory to the east and north, several miles beyond the walls.

The Latin, purpresteris was normally used to refer to illegal encroachments, usually on public land, which were subject to prosecution as nuisances. But the term can hardly be taken in that sense here, as the testator purports to have a legal claim over the property in question.

A large flat dish for serving joints of meat.

"Walter Clerk"
Mayor for two consecutive terms, 1457-59.

"Nicholas Holmage"
Mayor 1443/44 and 1454/55.

"John Williams"
Mayor for two consecutive terms, 1455-57.

"Walter Fetplace"
The heir (but not son) of Soper's former business partner. He was sheriff in 1456/57 and mayor several times in the 1460s.

"John Donne"
Mayor 1461/62.

"lately buried"
James had in fact died more than twenty years earlier, in 1471, an indication of the untrustworthiness of the Latin "nuper".

"St. Mary's church"
Suburban St. Mary's was situated within the liberties, a quarter mile east of the north-east corner of the walls.

A purple-red colour, the colour of mulberry.

A dark red colour.

"William Justice"
He was later to become mayor himself (1501); possibly Gunter's crimson gown was worn as his mayor's livery. In 1492 he served as senior bailiff of Southampton, having been junior bailiff in 1489, so would have been a colleague of Gunter in borough government. Or his connection to Gunter may have been through Justice being a friend or protege of John James, with whom some association is evidenced. He also served as sheriff in 1495.

"recently my servant"
Chapman plausibly suggests the phrase may point to an apprentice whose term had been completed. Montague was evidently no domestic, for he went on to become mayor himself in 1521, having worked the usual way up the Corporation ladder through steward (1512), junior bailiff (1513), senior bailiff (1516), and sheriff (1517).

A type of cloth grey or brown in colour, although the colour could range from a grey-brown to a red-brown. There was no dyestuff that produced a decent grey or a brown colour, so those colours were obtained by combining processes involving different dyes (notably woad and madder) and it was the variations in this mix of processes that created the colour variations.

"chalice and paten"
For holding the wine and bread during mass.

"the Dolphin"
An inn of the same name stood there in the eighteenth century; it must have been of some size, as four tenants were occupying the buildings there in 1455.

"Thomas Dymmock"
He was mayor during the term immediately preceding that of Gunter, and in the year before that (1491 and 1492); he had served as steward in 1483, junior bailiff in 1484, and sheriff in 1486.

"Thomas Overey"
His position second in the list is significant; he had been the mayor preceding Dymmock, and in fact had served three consecutive terms beginning in 1488. Overey, himself likely the son of William Overey (mayor 1474), had served as junior bailiff during Gunter's second mayoralty and had been elected sheriff two years later in 1487.

"Thomas Reynolde"
Steward in 1461, bailiff 1465, sheriff 1469, mayor 1476.

"Vincent Tehy"
Bailiff in 1470, sheriff 1474, mayor 1484 (and again in 1498).

"Thomas Troyes"
A county gentleman active in royal service, including the post of pesager at Southampton in 1485.

"John Feteplace"
Doubtless a member of the family that had furnished Southampton with two fifteenth century mayors.

"Thomas Thomas"
A Welsh supporter of Henry Tudor, after whose victory he settled in Southampton, serving as customs controller there from 1486 to ca.1499; he never acted as mayor (although his son did), but represented the town at parliament in 1495.

"John Dawtrey"
He was the second parliamentary representative in 1495 (having already acted in that capacity in 1491/92), and succeeded Thomas as controller of customs by 1500. He had already been a customs collector there, since before 1490 when he became a burgess of Southampton.

"William Heckeley"
A man of this name had been steward from 1453-55, but must have been an earlier generation. Our man is doubtless the steward of 1481, senior bailiff 1486, and sheriff 1488.

"Masse Salmon"
Steward in 1480, junior bailiff 1483, senior bailiff 1485, sheriff 1489, mayor 1494.

"John Godfray"
Steward in 1485, junior bailiff 1487, senior bailiff 1489, sheriff 1492, mayor 1496 and 1505.

"Peter Spryng"
Steward in 1486, junior bailiff 1488, senior bailiff 1490, sheriff 1494, mayor 1499.

"George Cockys"
Steward in 1492, junior bailiff 1502.

"Thomas Wilson"
He acted as the borough's broker from 1502 to 1510, but evidently was not a prominent member of the ruling class and his inclusion in the list may have been due to some personal connection with Gunter. During Gunter's second mayoralty, Wilson stood with men like Dymmock and Reynolde as witnesses on behalf of Richard Tehy in a recognizance of debt made before the mayor, so he was not unknown to authority.

"John Baudewyn"
Steward in 1490, junior bailiff 1492, senior bailiff 1495, sheriff 1500, mayor 1506 and 1513.

An official who made public announcements of the death of a townsperson.

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Created: February 29, 2004. Last update: January 6, 2019 © Stephen Alsford, 2004-2019