DEATH Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval York merchants widows religiosity wills testaments administration chantries civic works bridge maintenance charity funerals silverware furniture furnishings linen cloth personalia careers socio-religious guilds
Subject: Testaments of a devout husband and wife
Original source: Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, Prob.Reg. 2, f.605, 3, ff.415-16
Transcription in: James Raine, ed. Testamenta Eboracensia, part II. Surtees Society, vol.30 (1855), 17-21, 46-51.
Original language: Latin and Middle English
Location: York
Date: 1430s


The testament of Nicholas Blakburn senior, citizen and merchant of York. [extracts only given by the transcriber]

20 February 1432. I, Nicholas Blakburn senior, citizen and merchant of York [...] to be buried in the cathedral church of St. Peter, York, on the south side, before the image of Our Lord there, under my marble stone which has been prepared on that spot for the purpose. [...] To Brian Sandford esq. and his wife Isabelle, my daughter, all gifts, collations and presentments to the four chantries that I have in the city of York, of which one is in the chapel of St. William on the Ouse Bridge in York, another in the church of St. John the Evangelist at the end of the Ouse Bridge, and two chantries in the church of St. Martin Micklegate, York. [...] To the sons and daughters of the same Brian and Isabelle, £66.13s.4d. [...] To my wife Margaret, my entire capital messuage in North Street etc. for her lifetime; after her death, to my son Nicholas Blakburn, for his lifetime, and after his death to his son Christopher Blakburn [...] then to his sister Agnes Blakburn [...] then to his sister Alice Blakburn. [...] To dom. Robert Semerr, also called dom. Robert de Revestre, £3.6s.8d. [...] To Nicholas Wyspyngton and William Blakburn my son, the entire debt owed me by Cowpyn cooper of Aldwark and John Cotell of the same. [...] To my daughter Alice Bolton, wife of John Bolton, and their daughters Margaret, Joan, Agnes, Isabelle, and Elena, £66.13s.4d. [...] I bequeath 40s. towards the tax that has been granted to the king, to help out with the levy on the entire community of citizens of the city of York, to be paid between now and Easter next, in praise and honour of the glorious resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I bequeath £100 for giving firewood, linen and woollen cloth, boots and shoes to poor men and women at Easter, for [the benefit of] my soul. I bequeath £100 for the same thing at All Saints. I bequeath £60 for the same at the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I bequeath £10 to be distributed to poor men of the town of Richmond, for them to pay their tax granted to the king, payable between now and Easter, and £10 towards the fabric of the parish church there. To John Walton mercer of Richmond, £5, which William Bedford, receiver of my lord the Duke of Bedford, is holding as my fee. I bequeath to my executors the reversion of all tenements in the Flesh Shambles, also called Needlergate, in York, following the death of Joan Blakburn, widow of my son John Blakburn; to be sold, and the money thereby received disposed of to bring praise to God and his Son and in pious works. [...] I appoint as my executors my wife Margaret, mag. John Carleton canon of the cathedral church of St. Peter, York, Richard Russell, William Ormeshede, John Aldstanemore, my son Nicholas Blakburn, John Bolton citizen and merchant of York, and William Revetor chaplain, and I bequeath to each of them £10. Drawn up at York.


In the name of God, Amen. I, Nicholas Blakburn senior, citizen and merchant of York, beseech Almighty God, as any earthly man can or may, in soul and mind, to grant me the strength and grace to arrange the disposition of the residue of the possessions that he has given me here in this world, in a way that will above all be pleasing to and show my love towards him, his blessed mother Saint Mary, and her blessed mother Saint Anne, and all the saints in Heaven, and will afford help and relief to the health of my soul, [those of] my wife Margaret, our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters, our children and all our friends, and all the souls of those from whom I have undeserving received anything in this world, and all Christian souls. First, I wish and provide that, should Catterick Bridge, Kexby Bridge, Thornton Bridge, or Skip Bridge suffer from any misfortune or faulty workmanship during the four years after my death, which God forbid, my executors shall sue those [who have taken responsibility], by recognisance or bond, for maintaining them. If those responsible for the same strive to the best of their ability to repair defects in the bridges, insofar as their means allow, rather than letting the bridges collapse, I wish my executors of the goods of God and myself to make the repairs, acting under the best advise and recommendations they can obtain; so that, with God's grace, those bridges will not in any way deteriorate. I wish my wife Margaret, quite apart from what I advised her in my testament, have [provision] for the livelihood of a gentlewoman, while she lives – for her, and a priest, and a servant. I wish my executors to send for Sir Gilbert Gyghlay, knight, to be present at my burial; for his efforts, I wish him to have a pipe of wine, or its equivalent in monetary value. I assign £40 to Christopher Blakburn and his sisters Agnes and Alison for their marriage, so that they can make good ones. To my son Nicholas Blakburn, £40 to spend on his three sons – that is, Robert, Thomas and Henry – and they will be false to find them with "bonn by ye wall", while it will last. I assign 40s. to dom. Nicholas Clyffe priest. And 26s.8d to the wife of Kendall the lister. I assign 20s. to each of my son Nicholas' servants; that is, John, Richard and Isabel. To dom. John Chalkar priest, 40s. To Agnes Salkan, 40s. To Simkin, Watkin, and Alison Meyke, servants of John Bolton, 26.8d each. To the nurses of John Bolton, 20s. To Margaret Horsley, 20s. To my servant Sissota, if she remains with me after her term is up, I wish her to have her wages and 20s. To Alison of the kitchen, 6s.8d. I assign to Alison Strynger, my cousin, who lives in Blackburn parish, 100s. To Richard Stowe vintner, 26s.8d. I assign to my chantry in the chapel of St. Anne on Foss Bridge, York, my best vestment, my best missal, and my best chalice, for the use of that chantry in perpetuity. I assign 20s. to William Glover. To Alison Walker, my sister, 100s. I assign 20s. to John Robynson my former servant. I assign [...] to William Revetor priest for the good work he has done and will do in my behalf.

The testament of Margaret, widow of Nicholas Blakburn, one-time citizen and merchant of York, deceased.

In the name of God, Amen. On 10 March 1433, I, Margaret Blakburn, widow of Nicholas Blakburn citizen and merchant of York, sound in body and mind, have made and set out my testament in the following manner. First, I give, bequeath, and commend my soul to Almighty God, the most Blessed Virgin Mary, her holy mother Anne, and all saints; and my body to be buried in the cathedral church of St. Peter, York, there to lie next to the body of my late husband Nicholas Blakburn, under the marble stone before the image of Our Lord on the south side. I bequeath to the rector of the church in whatever parish I die, the best cut of cloth from my body, with hood, by way of mortuary payment. I bequeath eight wax torches, each weighing 16lb., to burn around my body during my exequies and mass on the day of my funeral. Of [the remains of] which eight torches, I wish two to go to All Saints parish church in North Street, York, to be lit there each year (as long as they last) on Easter Day during [the services commemorating] the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Two other of those torches are to be placed in St. John the Evangelist parish church, at the end of Ouse Bridge, York, to be lit there each year (as long as they last) on Easter Day during the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Another pair of those torches are to be placed in Holy Trinity parish church in King's Square, York, to burn there on the same terms. And the final pair of those torches are to be placed in St. Mary Virgin parish church in Richmond, to be lit there on Easter Day during the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for as long as they last. I bequeath £20 to pay for funeral expenses at the time of my exequies. I bequeath £10 to be distributed among paupers, at the disposition of my executors, on the day of my burial.

To each chaplain who regularly celebrates divine services in All Saints church, North Street, 12d. To the parish clerk there, 8d. And to the sub-clerk, 4d. To each chaplain who regularly celebrates in the church of St. John the Evangelist, 12d. I bequeath 10s. to the prior and convent of the Abbey of Holy Trinity in Micklegate, York. I bequeath 10s. to the house of the Friars Preacher, York. And to the other three orders of mendicant friars in York, 20s., divided equally between them. I bequeath 10s. to the three recluses of York, divided equally. I give and bequeath £9.6s.8d for a suitable and respectable chaplain to celebrate for the soul of my late husband, Nicholas Blakburn, my soul, the souls of our parents, as well as the souls of those to whom we are obliged, and the souls of the the faithful deceased, in the church of St. John the Evangelist for two whole years.

I bequeath to William Ormeshede, my brother, a silver ewer with a spout, gilded in parts. And to Elena Ormeshede, his wife, a flat piece of gilded silver plate, pounced, with cover. I bequeath to my son, Nicholas Blakburn, a silver pot of any size under a pottle. To his wife Margaret, a piece of silver plate, "swared", marked under its base with an "K". I bequeath Isabelle Sandford, my daughter, a silver pot called "the quart". I bequeath Alice Bolton, my daughter, a silver spice-plate and two silver pots called pottle-pots – of which one is marked with a shield of seven bars, a dog, and "N" and "B", and the other is marked under its base with a sign like an "M" – and one piece of gilded silver plate, covered, with a knop and a lion on the top. I bequeath to John Wyspyngton a flat piece of silver, covered, with a hawthorn chaplet and its knop gilded. I bequeath to Friar Nicholas Wattre a standing-cup called "the nut", covered, with silver base. I bequeath to my son, Nicholas Blakburn, the £10 which he owes me as per his bond. And to Robert Blakburn, his son, £6.13s.4d. To Thomas Blakburn, £6.13s.4d and a red coverlet with valance, embroidered with chaplets and stars; a pair of new linens. To Henry Blakburn, £6.13s.4d. To Christopher Blakburn, £6.13s.4d. To Agnes Blakburn, £6.13s.4d and a girdle decorated with 8 bars and three "teryngbarres" of gilded silver and white swans in the tissue; a feather bed with bolster, a pair of new linens and a bed – that is, a coverlet with valance of red say embroidered with popinjays, and red curtains, and a tester of the same colour. To Alice Blakburn, her sister, £6.13s.4d, a flat piece of silver, covered, with a round knop, a feather bed with bolster, one pair of new linens.

I bequeath Isabelle Sandford, my daughter, the £6.13s.4d she owes me. And to John Sandford, her son, £6.13s.4d. And to Katherine, his wife, a flat piece of silver, covered, [engraved] with a motto scroll "Bien venir". To Edmund Sandford, £6.13s.4d and a silver goblet. To Nicholas Sandford, £6.13s.4d and a silver goblet. To Henry Sandford, £6.13s.4d and a silver goblet. To Richard Sandford, £6.13s.4d. To William Sandford, £6.13s.4d. To John Sandford, £6.13s.4d. and a flat piece of silver, covered, pounced, [engraved] with the twelve months of the year. To Elizabeth Sandford, £6.13s.4d, [and] a silver candelabrum. To Agnes Sandford, £6.13s.4d and a small girdle with six enamelled and gilded silver bars. To Isabelle Sandford, £6.13s.4d and a necklace called "Lamb of God".

I bequeath to Alice Bolton, my daughter, £6.13s.4d. To her son, John Bolton, £10 and 12 silver spoons marked with "R" and "K". To Margaret Bolton, £10 and a flat piece of silver without cover; a blue coverlet of arras-work with images [woven] into it, with the valance belonging to the same; and a pair of linens of triple-weave. To John Bolton, £10 and six silver spoons with gilded acorns. To Agnes Bolton, a silver powder-box and a gold necklace in the style of a rose. To Isabelle Bolton, £10 and a flat mazer with a single band of gilded silver, and a girdle with eight bars of gilded silver and the image of Our Lord in its pendant. To Elena Bolton, £10, a mazer with the image of St. Katherine called "Fronnce" at the bottom, and a small girdle with six bars of gilded silver and the pendant likewise a rose.

I bequeath to John Esyngwald a flat piece of silver without a cover. To his son, John Esyngwald, 13s.4d. And to his brother, William Esyngwald, 13s.4d. To Elena Wyspyngton, 13s.4d. To her sister, Elizabeth Wyspyngton, 20s. I bequeath to John Ormeshede, the son of my brother William Ormeshede, £6.13s.4d towards his marriage. To the two sons of Thomas Blakburn, 40s. divided equally between them. To Lady Joan Sponyngthorn, 6s.8d, a black cloak lined with buckram, a black hood, and a set of jet beads. To William Blakburn, 26s.8d. I bequeath to John Brandesby, my son, 13s.4d. To the nuns of St. Clement's in the suburbs of York, 6s.8d. To the nuns of Essholt, 10s. As for the residue of all my goods and utensils, I give and bequeath them to be disposed of, at the disposition of my executors, as is more fully specified in a certain schedule.


In the name of God, Amen. I, Margaret Blakburn, widow of Nicholas Blakburn senior, one-time citizen and merchant of York, concerning my utensils not bequeathed in my testament. First, I give and bequeath to my son, Nicholas Blakburn, a chest banded with iron in which there used to be my silver vessels, and one of the best quilts. I bequeath to Brian Sandford a large, flat chest painted red. And to his wife Isabelle: another, smaller chest, carved on the outside in the shape of windows; a spruce coffer; one of the best tablecloths, diapered with roses; one wide towel of "amys" work; six new gryphon cushions; one large, round bowl. I bequeath to John Sandford a small chest painted green, and a bowl called "counterfeit" with laver. And to his wife Katherine a twill towel with black borders, four and a quarter ells long, and a pair of double-weave linens. To John Sandford, a tablecloth of Flemish work, two towels 18 ells long, a pair of linens, and a coffer with two iron clasps. To Edmund Sandford, a counterfeit bowl with laver. To Nicholas Sandford, a counterfeit bowl with laver. To Elizabeth Sandford, a twill tablecloth five and a quarter ells long, and a towel four ells long (less the "nale").

I bequeath to Agnes Blakburn, daughter of my son Nicholas Blakburn, a plain tablecloth four and a half ells long, and two towels with plain edges. To Alice Blakburn, her sister, a twill tablecloth four and a half ells long, one towel five and a half ells long, and another towel three ells long. To Christopher Blakburn, a bowl with laver.

I bequeath to John Bolton senior a chest banded with iron, standing on four iron wheels. To his wife, Alice Bolton: a Flemish chest whose exterior is carved with images; a small chafing-dish for water; a brass mortar; six new gryphon cushions; six cushion covers of Arras work. I bequeath to dom. John Fox chaplain a red-and-white coverlet with three curtains and testers belonging to the same, a small round bowl, and a pair of linens. I bequeath to Agnes Gudeale a black gown with grey fur. To Alice Kirkeby, daughter of the late Thomas Kirkeby mason of York: another black gown, furred with lamb-shanks wool; a kirtle; a blue coverlet with trees, lions and birds woven into it, with a valance; and a pair of blankets. I bequeath to my servant Joan Escrik: a short black tunic, lined; a blue and grey coverlet; a pair of new linens; a pair of blankets; two bronze pots, one larger and one smaller; a "kilped" pan; a bowl with laver, and two small round bowls for the [bed]chamber; six "gaitez" cushions; one of the best kirtles; a "frende" with grey fur; two crape kerchiefs; and two bronze candelabra. I bequeath to John Geddesson: a coverlet with valance, with red and blue border; a pair of linens; and a pair of blankets. I bequeath to dom. John Fox two bronze candelabra. To William Revetour chaplain a large chafing-dish for water, and a small round bowl. I bequeath to Alice Kirkeby a pair of second-quality linens. To Margaret Wilson a red and blue coverlet spangled with roses, with valance, and a pair of linens. To Alice Meke, a coverlet of murrey and grey, and another coverlet, red, embroidered with a hawk. To Joan Usburn, a red and blue coverlet with roses woven in.

I bequeath to the chantry in the chapel of St. Anne on Foss Bridge, York, founded by my late husband Nicholas Blakburn, a green vestment, two painted cloths with the Salutation and the curtains belonging to them, and two other cloths [hung] next to each other there above the high altar. I bequeath to John Fox and Joan Escrik three blue and green painted cloths with depictions of birds and roses, to be equally divided between them. 10 March 1433.

[Another codicil, 5 April 1435::]

[Drawn up] in a certain inner chamber at the upper end of the hall of the residence of John Bolton, citizen and merchant of York, in Skeldergate. I wish my executors, in order to fulfill my husband's will, pay £100 towards the fabric of Kexby Bridge and £100 towards the fabric of Catterick Bridge, under the following conditions. Viz. that those responsible for administration of those bridges are willing to provide my executors with satisfactory guarantees that thereby the bridges will be fully and satisfactorily built within four years after my death; and on condition that, at my wish, my executors pay annually towards the fabric of each bridge, during those four years, £25 of the £100. Always with the proviso that my husband's goods suffice to see the bridge works carried out. My daughters Isabelle Sandford and Alice Bolton [to be] my executors.


[I have divided the second will into paragraphs to make for easier reading.]

The Blackburns were one of the more prominent York families in the opening decades of the fifteenth century, and their lifestyle a cut above even the average city merchant. Nicholas senior served as mayor in 1412 and his son Nicholas junior in 1429; a second son, John, who was one of the city's aldermen by 1419, having represented it in parliament two years earlier, and who took as his second wife a daughter of William Bowes (mayor 1417), might also have risen to the mayoralty had he not died prematurely in 1426. Nicholas senior drew up his will at a time when he probably sensed his end approaching, for it received probate on 10 April 1432.

Nicholas migrated from Richmond (although the family had its roots in Blackburn, Lancashire) to York in the late fourteenth century, becoming a freeman there in 1396, when already referred to as "senior". His wife Margaret was from a family that also had its roots in Richmond: her brother William Ormeshead, who became a colleague of Nicholas in York's government, also entered the franchise (1404) as "of Richmond". Possibly Nicholas had made his marriage before moving to York; his elder sons John and Nicholas, also merchants, were old enough to take up the franchise themselves in 1403, suggesting a possible birth date for Nicholas of ca.1365/70.

He was probably prospering in business before making the move to York. In his will Nicholas did not forget the home town that was his stepping-stone to success. Surviving records sample his mercantile activities between 1395 and 1431 and suggest a pattern that was fairly typical: wool, sheepskins, and cloth were his major exports, although he dabbled in other goods (e.g. coal) when there looked to be a profit in it; his imports were likely even more varied, and included iron. He is also seen active in the victualling trade, notably the opportunities to serve the frontier garrisons and the king's household. Like many leading merchants of that period, he is found making sizable loans of money to Henry V; this was part of doing business with the king.

His quick rise into the ranks of York's mercantile leadership – he being one of the few men not called on to serve as chamberlain before reaching higher office – is reflected by a couple of things. First, he and his wife together, and apparently at the same time as William Ormeshead and his wife, became members of the Corpus Christi Gild at York in 1414. This influential, cleric-run, socio-religious gild, which had been in existence for perhaps only a few years, associated many of the city's leading churchmen with the leading citizens, as well as with members of the country gentry. Women were prominent among the secular members and it may have been Margaret Blackburn's influence that prompted her husband to join; or perhaps that of their son John, who had become a member two years earlier. The gild's register of obituaries lists both Nicholas and Margaret in the appropriate years, and indicates that the gild had received from Nicholas an extraordinarily large legacy of £15.

Second, Nicholas was appointed the king's Admiral of the North in 1406. He is not known to have held the post for long, yet it was remembered as significant as late as 1432, when he was described in a completely unrelated context as a former mayor of the city and former admiral of the king. Other royal commissions regularly came his way in that early phase of his career, notably involving investigations to be made in Yorkshire – many of which related, directly or indirectly, to commerce, which was why Nicholas was qualified for such duties.

The context in which he was remembered as admiral was the foundation by Nicholas and Margaret on 2 February, just a couple of weeks before the former drew up his will, of two perpetual chantries (at different altars) in the house of the Friars Preacher of York. The Blackburns made some significant donation to the Dominicans, although whether in cash or property is not stated. Detailed instructions [see the abstract in J. Percy, ed. York Memorandum Book, Surtees Society, vol.186 (1973), 155-56] were given regarding those foundations:

  • A qualified friar was to celebrate daily at each altar.
  • The friary was to supply the celebrants' needs (chalice, book, bread, wine, wax).
  • At the altar of St. Mary Magdalene the celebrant was to begin the chantry service by ringing the chapter bell, just as was done for high mass. A daily mass of the Holy Spirit was to be said for Nicholas while he lived, and a Requiem mass for his soul, and that of Margaret, after their death. However, on Sundays and festival days (with named exceptions when masses were not to be celebrated at any but the high altar of the church) a slightly different service was prescribed. These services were not to be omitted except in special, specified circumstances, e.g. epidemic, fire, general interdict, etc.
  • At the high altar of the friary church a mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary was to be celebrated daily – again with differing specifications for the service before and after Nicholas' death – followed by specified psalms and prayers to be said by all the brethren.
  • After the deaths of Nicholas and Margaret, an obit was to be celebrated annually, by the choir wearing their copes, with specified offices being performed on the feast of St. James (25 July), and a Requiem mass on the feast of St. Anne (26 July). The obit was not to be omitted unless unavoidable, such as in the case of a general interdict. The holding of the obit was to be announced publicly by the city bellman.
  • Each new prior was to take oath, on his first day in office, to uphold this agreement, and was to ensure that all those under his authority did the same, with any brother who failed to do so being punished by excommunication. Failure to meet the above conditions in any year incurred a fine of 40s., distrainable, to be equally divided between the mayor and community and the estate of Nicholas Blackburn.
It would appear that the Corporation was made a party to this agreement, which resulted in it surviving to us through the copy in a city register.

Blackburn's foundation of a chantry in the chapel of St. Anne was a natural follow-up to the major renovation of the Foss Bridge, with the building of the chapel probably an integral part of that initiative; this had taken place while Blackburn was involved in city government. It is the establishment of Blackburn's chantry, in 1424, that lets us know that the chapel (administered by the corporation) was completed and in operation. It represents therefore, from one perspective, an investment to assure the continuation of an institution Blackburn had a hand in creating. The chantry was still in existence in 1534 when its owner (by purchase) was still paying attention to Nicholas' prescription for how the chantry would be run; but York's chantries were dissolved not long after.

The administration of Nicholas' will evidently proved demanding. His monetary bequests amounted to over £600, half of which was to be expended on provisions for the testator's soul, and raising this money from the estate (including debts due, themselves possibly requiring litigation) would have been onerous. Margaret Blackburn had to follow up, in her will's codicil made less than a month before her death in April 1435, on her late husband's open-ended request regarding the support of local bridges – bridges on which merchants such as Nicholas depended for their businesses. Margaret provided clearer specification of how the bridge bequest was to be handled. The ongoing demands of fulfilling Nicholas' will are indicated by the fact that his executor and brother-in-law, William Ormeshead, in a codicil (1437) to his own will asked one of his own executors, Nicholas Wyspington, to take over his remaining obligations regarding Blackburn's will. Perhaps one of the reasons why Margaret Blackburn did not include her brother among her executors, apart from his advanced age, was a feeling that he had been burdened enough by her late husband's will. However, it seems that Margaret's confidence lay more in the female members of her family; women's wills often appear more female-oriented than men's wills.

Administration of Nicholas senior's will could not have been made easier by a quarrel among the executors: Nicholas Blackburn junior accused Revetour, Carleton, Bolton and Aldstanemore of having influenced his father's wishes, so as to defraud the son of property in York. Where the other executors, not accused, stood in this dispute is unknown. As the split must have taken place before Aldstanemore's death in early 1435, it is not clear if it has any relation to the reversion of the Needlergate property, which the executors transferred (September 1436) to Nicholas Wyspington and other York men. Surprisingly, the will mentions relatively little property. Possibly other property had been held but provision made for it prior to drafting the will; this might have been transferred directly to one or more of the sons, or put in the hands of trustees – likely some of the executors-to-be. Another possible bone of contention was a debt for £400 that Margaret Blackburn claimed John Bolton had owed her husband; she gave Bolton two years grace after her death to repay the amount to the heirs; whether he did so is unknown, but Nicholas junior left only a small amount of cash in his will. The administration of his will presented sufficient problems, or was so singularly unattractive, that the two men designated his executors refused to take on the task, leaving it to Nicholas' widow, who procrastinated and eventually passed along the challenge to her own executor.

Nicholas and his wife lived in North Street. We can well imagine the colourful and, for a merchant household, sumptuous rooms of Margaret Blackburn's home. Along with silverware and other tableware, table linens, bed furnishings and linens, and wall coverings were among the kinds of valued items – reflecting wealth and social status – that were considered bequest-worthy. Margaret herself left monetary bequests of over £500, indicative of a level of wealth few widows could match, although of course there had been relatively little time since her husband's death to drain the money supply. Nicholas junior inherited the North Street property after his mother's death but, dying (1448) without sons, it passed to his brother Christopher. The latter, described as "late of Sandwich" (Kent), in 1453 transferred his rights to his sister Agnes and her husband; Agnes had at some time between 1433 and 1436 married Thomas Wandesford (possibly the man who served as mayor's esquire-at-mace 1454-80).

The Blackburns' parish church was All Saints, also in North Street. Although they sought and obtained burial in the cathedral, this does not reflect any alienation from the parish church. On the contrary, the family were important benefactors of All Saints, endowing it with two stained-glass windows; these still survive, now known as the Blackburn window and the Corporal Acts of Mercy window. To what extent this was the initiative of Nicholas senior and his wife Margaret, or that of Nicholas junior and his wife (another Margaret), is uncertain; both couples are depicted, as donors, in the Blackburn window – Nicholas senior in armour, perhaps as a reference to his military role as admiral. But the devotion to St. Anne, reflected in the wills of the older couple – such mention being unusual – is also evident in the choice of the imagery in the windows. The central of the three main lights of the Blackburn window (dated between 1417 and 1427) is a depiction of St. Anne teaching Mary to read. The cult of Mary's mother was growing stronger in the early fifteenth century and may be reflective of a renewed piety among the urban elite; we may note the growth in popularity of Agnes (Anne) as a Christian name. One analysis of the content of the windows has led to the conclusion about the Blackburns that:

"their choice of iconographic material and the act of donating the windows were part of the donors' larger concern for maintaining the social fabric.... such donations form part of a new and internalized piety and thoughtful charity inspired by more than the customs of the day."
[Sarah Pedersen, "Piety and charity in the painted glass of late medieval York," Northern History, vol.36 (2000), 35.]

Whether we see a woman's hand in the choice of St. Anne as the central figure of the Blackburn window, perhaps even reflecting an interest in female literacy [Pedersen, p.36], it is hard to say. It is the female donors, rather than the males, depicted in the window who are holding books with legible texts. It is not inconceivable that the female members of mercantile families – with the wealth and connections that could provide access to education, yet not as preoccupied as the males with mundane matters – may often have taken the lead in setting the standards for piety in a household.

Another key figure in the Blackburn window is St. Christopher. He was the patron saint of travellers, and merchants were some of England's most regular travellers. In 1416 Nicholas had donated £10 to erect in Durham cathedral a statue to St. Christopher, St. Anne, or St. John the Baptist. Possibly the interest of the Blackburns in that saint reflects a mercantile preoccupation, just as the concern with maintenance of local bridges in a fit state of repairs was also a matter of business sense. Blackburn's interest in bridges preceded his will. His name is the first in a list of those contracting for the construction of Catterick Bridge – which stood on the road between York and Richmond – in 1421; interestingly, a chapel dedicated to St. Anne was built on the bridge at date unknown, but before 1474. As mentioned, the rebuilding of the Foss Bridge had been a programme of a city government of which Nicholas was a member. Kexby Bridge lay on the route between York and the port of Kingston-upon-Hull, through which much of York's overseas commerce was conducted, and so was important to Nicholas' personal interests, not just his pious intentions. The Blackburn obit at the Dominican friary was to begin on St. James' day, which also happens to be the festival of St. Christopher, although this may be coincidence. We may also note that there was a socio-religious gild in York dedicated to St. Christopher and this, like the Corpus Christi Gild, became increasingly associated with the city corporation, helping pay for rebuilding of the city guildhall in 1444 and maintaining a chapel in the cathedral that served particularly the civic elite. Whether Nicholas Blackburn was a member of this gild is unknown, but the association of St. Christopher with the pious dimension of city government is not insignificant.

The other window donated by the Blackburns depicts six of the seven acts of mercy prescribed for those who wished to be win favour at the Final Judgement. In each, a wealthy man is shown performing the acts, such as visiting prisoners to give them a charitable dole. It has been suggested that the wealthy man is Nicholas Blackburn; clearly it is not intended as an accurate depiction of him, being dissimilar to the donor's portrait of him and far more comparable to the saints portrayed in other windows, but it may be intended to reflect Blackburn as a performer of these charitable acts. In a parish such as All Saints where many of York's well-to-do merchants lived, the window's depiction of exemplary behaviours for merchants hoping for salvation may have been particularly à propos. Whether this moral lesson is in fact intended to point to moral leadership through the example of the Blackburns during life (as opposed to in their last wills) we cannot know for certain.

It is easy to read into the pious and charitable provisions of what are often formulaic testamentary documents a conventionalism and a selfish concern for saving one's own soul, and doubt whether the those provisions represent charitable outlooks and actions during life. However, we should not brush aside the possibility that in at least some cases, the piety was genuine and death-bed charity provides a final instance of a concern during life for the well-being of one's community, including the less fortunate members. We should not forget that religion was more pervasive then than it is today. The influence of Christian mores is suggested, for example, by the number of churchmen shown, by the wills of Nicholas and Margaret Blackburn, to have been within their circle of close acquaintances. These included:

  • Robert Semer, who had become a freeman of York in 1425/26, as a "vicar", and by the time of his death in 1432/33 was sub-treasurer of the cathedral.
  • John Carleton, who was either the cathedral prebendary who had joined the Corpus Christi Gild at around the same time as John Blackburn, or the doctor of laws who acted as an advocate in York's consistory court (also a member of the gild).
  • William Revetour, a cleric when he became a freeman of York in 1420 (the son of a riveter originally from Swinton). By 1423 he was acting in the capacity of chantry priest in the chapel of St. William on Ouse Bridge, and by 1424 had a post as a deputy clerk in the city bureaucracy. By August 1428, he was associated with the chantry in St. William's chapel that Nicholas Blackburn had purchased from the descendants of the founder, Richard Toller; Nicholas had presented Revetour to the post of chantry chaplain. Revetour is suspected of being the author of the Creed Play, the manuscript of which he bequeathed to the Corpus Christi Gild (of which he had been one of the custodians in 1440/41) on condition it saw the play performed, apparently among the other Corpus Christi pageants, each year for ten years. His will of 1446 also bequeathed a second play to the gild of St. Christopher, and props for a third play to the girdlers gild, as well as numerous other books, including an English translation of De Oracione Dominica et Stimulus Conscientiae to Blackburn's daughter, Alice Bolton, and an illustrated Primer to Alice's daughter Isabelle, who was Revetour's god-daughter. In 1434 he was also, along with cleric John Carleton junior, a trustee of manors of Roger Salvayn, husband to Alice's other daughter, Margaret. Here was evidently an educated and cultured man close within the Blackburn circle.
  • Nicholas Wartre, a Franciscan friar who had been Bishop of Dromore (Ireland) 1419-27, but had returned to York – possibly his home town (goldsmith Richard Wartre being sheriff in 1429/30 and elected to his first of two mayoralties in 1436) – by 1429, when he became a member of the Corpus Christi Gild. Ca.1437 he was presented to the rectory of St. Mary's, Castlegate. Nicholas had bequeathed him (in part of the will omitted by Raine) £3.6.8d on condition he celebrate the mass at Nicholas' funeral.
  • John Fox, who went on to an appointment in 1439 as master of Trinity hospital, Fossgate, remaining in that post for 40 years; he also served the Corpus Christi gild as a custodian (1453/54) and later as master (1470/71).
Such men – along with some of the ecclesiastics with whom the Blackburns rubbed shoulders in the Corpus Christi Gild – may have encouraged and fostered pious and charitable behaviours on the part of the Blackburns.



"Brian Sandford"
According to Raine, the Sandford family was based at Thorpe Salvin (thereby making a connection with the Salvayn family into which a Blackburn granddaughter married) , in South Yorkshire, some distance south of York. The family had no evident connections with, or interests in, York.

"one is in the chapel of St. William"
Nicholas had founded (or rather re-founded) this chantry in 1425, giving the city corporation at the end of the previous year the sum of £226.13s.4d to support the chantry in perpetuity, and reserving for himself the presentment to the post of chantry chaplain.

"Nicholas Wyspyngton"
A merchant, he enterered the franchise in 1425, was sheriff in 1433/34, and still in aldermannic ranks in 1442.

"John Bolton"
The son of John Bolton senior, who had been active in city government since the mid-1380s and became mayor in 1410; probably himself the son of another John Bolton who had been a city chamberlain in 1380. John Bolton junior and his brother William entered the franchise (by patrimony) in the year of their father's mayoralty. He went on to pursue a career as a mercer, and served as sheriff (1420) and mayor (1431), and by the time of Margaret's will was himself the "senior" John Bolton (his father having died ca.1426). He and his wife Alice joined the Corpus Christi Gild in 1430. He held several manors outside York. He died in 1445.

"Joan Blakburn"
She lived, still in possession of the Flesh Shambles property, until 1446. The daughter of William Bowes (mayor 1417), she had no children by John Blackburn, and his sons by his first wife had predeceased him.

"Richard Russell"
One of York's merchant mayors, and a business partner of Nicholas Blackburn. He died 1435, bequeathing £13.6.8d towards the repair of bridges and causeways in the neighbourhood of York, and provided for several chantries in his will. Further information may be found in the discussion of his own will.

"William Ormeshede"
Active as a merchant when he became a freeman at York in 1404, William Ormeshead served the city as chamberlain in 1411/12 and as sheriff in 1415/6, and was elected to two mayoralties in 1425 and 1433. He was one of the city councillors by mid-1417, and promoted to the upper circle within the council by 1425. He also represented York in parliaments of 1421, 1426, and 1431. Like Nicholas Blackburn, his main interest was the wool trade. He and partners lost a cargo to pirates off Dover in 1426. At a later date he acted as an arbitrator in a mercantile dispute involving the business of John Aldstanemore. His connection to Blackburn was not only by marriage, but also through business: the pair, along with Richard Russell acquired Cumberland property from the earl of Northumberland. William may have had interests in that part of the country, for he is also found prosecuting a Penrith barber for a large debt. In 1430 he acquired papal licence for a portable altar, an indication of his wealth and of a non-sedentary lifestyle. He also served as a trustee of property that Blackburn's widowed daughter-in-law held for life. He had married three times, but only three children are known: two daughters, and a son who predeceased him, possibly a minor. William's will of 1435 included bequests to John and Alice Bolton and to Nicholas Wyspington and his wife Joan, as well as members of the Blackburn family.

"John Aldstanemore"
A merchant, he entered the franchise in 1412, was sheriff in 1421/22 and became mayor in 1427; died January or February 1435. In 1410 he was charged, along with associate Nicholas Blackburn (described on this occasion as "of Richmond") of smuggling wool out of Newcastle.

"Sir Gilbert Gyghlay"
Member of a rural gentry family, who himself died around October 1432. A Richard Kyghlay was chaplain of the Holme chantry in St. Anne's chapel from the 1430s to '60s.

"pipe of wine"
A quantity equivalent to 126 gallons at this period.

"they will be false ..."
I am not sure of the meaning of this phrase; possibly "bonn by ye wall" is idiomatic or metaphoric.

"Nicholas Clyffe"
A chaplain, possibly serving the chapel of St. William, to which he made bequests, or the church of All Saints, North Street, which is where he sought burial (1456). The city chamberlains accounts mention John Clyffe as, in the 1440s and '50s, chaplain of a chantry in All Saints, North Street.

Presumably servants looking after Bolton's children.

Large candles.

"Abbey of Holy Trinity"
In fact, a Benedictine priory belonging to a foreign abbey, yet retaining parochial functions from a period prior to its attachment to the abbey.

The term refers to a kind of ornamentation involving dots or perforations made in metal by a punch or die.

Half a gallon (two quarts).

An ornamental knob, presumably atop the cover and surmounted by the lion.

"coverlet with valance"
The original is coopertorium cum tapete. Tapeta normally refers to a tapestry, but if coopertorium is translated as coverlet (referring to a bed-cover) the interpretation of valance would seem to make sense. However the phrase might alternatively refer to an awning with valance, or to a wall-hanging (the large number of these items bequeathed, and the kinds of decoration or colouring, leads me to suspect the latter may be correct – except that references in the codicil to "painted cloths" are likely wall-hangings, which suggests that coopertorium refers to something else).

A fine cloth with a worsted warp and a woollen weft.

"motto scroll"
This is my guess as to what is intended by rotulo scripto.

Girdles of wealthier women were often decorated with sculpted bars, mounted at spaced intervals, made of precious metal.

Woven with decorations, like a Flemish tapestry.

Linthiaminum could refer to a variety of cloths, from napkins to sheets. The latter seems likely in the present context.

A cup originally made of maple-wood, although precious metals came to be introduced into the construction, initially in the form of metal bands or hoops running around the rim and/or side of the cup; this was more a display than a utilitarian item.

"St. Clement's"
The Benedictine priory, founded in the first half of the twelfth century, lay in the area known as Clementhorpe.

A subsidiary document attached to the main one; in this case, the codicil.

The verb could refer either to drawing flowers (or other motifs) on cloth, or weaving that cloth in such shapes (which was later done particularly with towels and napkins, from which our modern use of "diaper" arises).

"amys work"
Possibly referring to a style originating from Amiens (at that time known as Amyas).

Or "lotorio" may refer to a ewer.

A measure a little longer than a yard; the length of the towels here suggests they may have been some kind of winding towel, while the tablecloths would have been for long tables.

Or possibly rotas may refer to roundels.

"Flemish chest"
The term archam is used here, in distinction from cistam used in previous references to chests.

Parts of a bed canopy.

"grey fur"
"Greywork" is probably intended: the winter fur of squirrels.

"murrey and grey"
Murrey was a purple-red colour; glauco refers to a grey of a yellow or green tinge.

Possibly referring to a quotation from the Salve Regina, a popular anthem widely used in evening services attended by socio-religious fraternities.

"Nicholas junior in 1429"
Nicholas junior had held the shrievalty just the previous year. There remains to be accounted for the Nicholas Blackburn who became a freeman in 1422, was chamberlain in 1433/34, and sheriff in 1437/38. References to Nicholas Blackburn junior, merchant and alderman, in 1437 and Nicholas Blackburn senior, alderman, in 1442 may indicate two men of the name were then living. Perhaps the junior may have been a son of William, son of Nicholas Blackburn senior, or of Edward Blackburn (dead by 1432), for whose widow William Revetour was an executor.

"associated with the chantry"
The transaction, involving the assignment of a rent to the chantry, was witnessed by the two city sheriffs (who included Nicholas Blackburn junior), four aldermen who also would be Nicholas senior's executors – Russell, Ormeshead, Aldstanemore, and Bolton – John Loftehouse (with whom Nicholas senior was, in 1416, co-owner of a fishing-boat supplying fish to the royal household) and others unnamed; Blackburn had the mayor William Bowes – the father-in-law of his late son John – append the mayoral seal to the document.

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Created: February 29, 2004. Last update: December 16, 2010 © Stephen Alsford, 2004-2010