ASKHAM, William (d.1414/15), of London.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
m. (1) bet. Sept. 1395, Joan, wid. of William Wyght (d.1393) of London, fishmonger, 1s. (?d.v.p.), 2 da.; (2) bef. Mar. 1398, Margaret; (3) aft. Apr. 1406, Maud.1
Alderman of Castle Baynard Ward c.1395-aft. 10 May 1399, Dowgate Ward by 14 June 1400-aft. 1 Mar. 1406, Bridge Ward by 7 Mar. 1407-d. ; auditor, London 21 Sept. 1396-7, 1398-9; mayor 31 Oct. 1403-4.2
Sheriff, London and Mdx. Mich. 1397-8.
Buyer for the Household 6 Feb.-1 Sept. 1401.
Mayor of the Staple of Westminster 3 July 1402-bef. 3 July 1405; Staple of Calais bef. 13 July 1403-bef. Dec. 1406.3
Commr. of sewers, Kent and Surr. Nov. 1403; gaol delivery, London Nov. 1403; oyer and terminer May 1406, Mar., Apr. (bis), Nov. 1407, June, July 1409.4
Ambassador to treat with the envoys of the Master of the Teutonic Order 24 Nov. 1409, 24 Mar. 1410.5
Askham, a wealthy and influential London fishmonger, owed much of his early success to his connexion with William Walworth†, the celebrated mayor of London, whom he served as an apprentice. He was probably the son of William Askham senior, an obscure Londoner known chiefly through two conveyances made by him in September 1369 and August 1374 of property near Baynard’s Castle.6 We do not know which of the two Askhams advanced £50 to Peter Teband in July 1380 and was still trying to recover it three years later, but it must have been the younger who, in February 1382, stood surety for his master, the recently knighted Sir William Walworth, over the collection of a debt. In October 1384 Askham began an action of account in the husting court of London against Henry Marchaunt of Dartford, his former agent or receiver. Walworth died shortly afterwards, leaving Askham a bequest of £40 and entrusting him with powers of attorney to dispose of part of his extensive London property.7 The great tenement and quay in Thames Street which Walworth had acquired years before from the widow of his master, John Lovekyn†, passed into the hands of his own widow, Margaret, who made Askham one of her feoffees and appointed him to act as her executor. Her death in, or shortly before, 1399 left Askham in a strong position to purchase this impressive property, which lay between four other tenements just above London Bridge on a site later occupied by the Fishmongers’ Hall. When his executors finally sold the house, then known as ‘Askham’s Place’, for 800 marks in 1432, a tradition that the owners were ‘all shireves and meires each aftir other’ had grown up. Askham’s interest in the neighbouring premises was evidently that of a feoffee-to-uses only, for although Lovekyn’s trustees had conveyed them to him and three associates in August 1394 (after the death of Lovekyn’s widow), other occupants, such as the fishmonger William Brampton I*, continued to live and do business there.8 According to the finding of an inquisition ad quod damnum held in May 1411, ‘Askham’s Place’ was worth £12 a year, or less than one-sixth of the annual landed income of £78 from city properties on which he was taxed shortly afterwards. It is now impossible to discover the extent of Askham’s other London holdings, although he owned land and at least three tenements in the parishes of St. Alban, Wood Street, and St. Mary Bothawe. He must also have derived considerable financial benefit from his three marriages — particularly the first, to Joan, the widow of William Wyght, a prosperous fishmonger. Wyght had left her a substantial estate spread over four London parishes, and although the reversion was settled on his four sons, the profits were available to Askham while their mother lived. On being made guardian of Wyght’s eight children and their patrimony in September 1395 he also obtained custody of the £280 which they were to be given on coming of age: the last £50 was not handed over until March 1404, before when it was his to invest as he wished. Askham had meanwhile remarried, and in 1398 was awarded two papal indults permitting him and his new wife to have a portable altar and celebrate mass before daybreak — a further sign of high social standing. In a petition submitted to the court of Chancery during the Trinity term of 1401 John Clopton complained that Askham was so rich ‘que nulle recover devers lui poet overe par processe de lay’: the fishmonger had evidently been overzealous in collecting Sir William Walworth’s unpaid debts, and proved to be a formidable opponent at law. Askham does not appear to have owned much land outside London, although he did possess a title to part of the manor of Walworth in Surrey.9
Most of Askham’s wealth came from trade rather than property and like the majority of successful city merchants his interests were diverse. Between April 1390 and July 1391, for example, he shipped large quantities of wine, cloth worth over £65 and a consignment of woad valued at almost £50 into the port of London. In February 1401 his commercial expertise was put to use by the Crown, and he served for a brief period as buyer for the royal household, presumably concentrating upon the purchase of fish. By far his largest personal investments were in raw wool for export. The fragmentary nature of the London customs records prevents even the most tentative estimate of the scale of his operations, but he was clearly one of the capital’s leading wool merchants. Over the period 6 Mar. 1397 to 26 Sept. 1398 he obtained royal licences to ship at least 287 sarplers of wool to Calais; between 28 Jan. and 10 Nov. 1400 he sent out a further 105 sarplers; and he appears to have exported even larger consignments during the next few years. Moreover, in March 1409 he was permitted to send a cargo of 22 sarplers from Lewes to Calais, having quite probably been using this port as well from a much earlier date. At the beginning of the 15th century Askham served successively as mayor of the Westminster and Calais Staples — posts which presented the occupant with a unique opportunity to extend his own commercial activities and connexions. Certainly, by June 1410 he was in a position to lend £66 to the King, an advance which appears to have been repaid shortly afterwards.10
Besides acting as an attorney and feoffee for Margaret Walworth, in whose affairs he was closely involved for many years, Askham was a party to the property transactions of many prominent Londoners, including John Clifford, Felicity, the widow of John Woodcock* (who had made Askham a beneficiary of his will), John, the son of William Tong*, and his neighbour, William Brampton I. The latter was Askham’s close friend and business partner: together they played a leading part in the foundation of the perpetual fraternity and guild of St. Peter in the church of St. Peter, Cornhill, in the spring of 1403; and at the time of Brampton’s death four years later they were jointly owed £315 by Simon Camp*, a courtier who had been in debt to Askham for some time.11 In January 1408 Askham joined with John Clifford, the chief grantor, in conveying land in Bermondsey to the wardens of London Bridge; and in May 1411 he obtained permission to settle the manor of ‘Le Ledenhalle’, together with the advowson of two city churches upon the commonalty of London. On this occasion his co-trustees were Richard Whittington*, John Shadworth* and John Hende†, three of the most powerful men in London.12 Between 1409 and 1411 Askham was also a feoffee for property in Wiltshire and Hertfordshire, having previously represented the parishioners of his own church of St. Michael, Crooked Lane, as a custodian of premises left to the rector’s use.13
Because of his wealth and social position, the fishmonger was required to perform a number of services by friends and colleagues, as well as the community as a whole. In February 1396, for instance, he offered joint sureties of £200 on behalf of Thomas Shelley*, who was then involved in negotiations over the wardship of his young stepson. One year later he appeared as a mainpernor for John Marchaunt, a London merchant, guaranteeing his readiness to pay customs of £160 to the Exchequer. Presumably because of his experience as an auditor of London, Askham was appointed by the city chamberlain to examine a series of executors’ accounts in February 1399, and towards the end of his life, in November 1413, he arbitrated in a dispute between the mercer, John Lane, and Nicholas Carew*, one of his customers.14 Although he was not himself particularly litigious, Askham could not avoid becoming involved in disputes over property to which he advanced a title. Once in November 1397 and four times between April 1410 and February 1414 he was summoned to appear in the husting court of London to defend himself, with others, against pleas of intrusion. Three of these lawsuits may have been brought over premises which he himself claimed to own, but the other two concerned him merely as a feoffee, and were evidently collusive. Nor, surprisingly enough in view of the scale of his operations, was Askham greatly troubled by the problem of defaulting debtors. Edmund Smart, a London merchant, and three of his colleagues renegued on a bond of £54 which they had promised to make good by June 1399, and Juliana, the widow of his friend (Sir) Thomas Shelley was also reluctant to pay a debt of 100 marks claimed by the fishmonger two years later, but no other major or persistent defaulters seem to have given him trouble during his long business career.15
An alderman of London from 1395 until his death, Askham played a particularly distinguished part in civic life. It is significant that he was the only fishmonger to be elected mayor over the years 1388 to 1411 — a period during which the other city guilds showed considerable hostility towards his own mystery. No doubt his experience of trade, local government and finance outweighed whatever animus may have been felt towards him as the member of an unduly powerful and monopolistic livery company. During his mayoralty, Askham was approached personally by Nicholas Ryssheton, the English ambassador to Flanders, who warned that preparations were afoot for the invasion of England, and urged the people of London to help provision the town of Calais. Askham’s involvement in the wool trade gave him a vested interest in the question of national defence, and he was almost certainly among the merchants of the Calais Staple who subsequently lent money to Henry IV for this purpose.16
Askham died between 10 Feb. 1414 and 5 Feb. 1415, and was buried in the church of St. Michael, Crooked Lane. His will contains no references to his own children, although he left bequests to John and Robert Kentwood, his sons-in-law, and William Rokeswell, his stepson. A boy of his was being educated at Winchester College in 1399, perhaps as a result of a connexion which he had established with Bishop Wykeham some six years earlier, when he dined in the episcopal household. But the child evidently died young, and because of this, most of Askham’s property was sold to raise money for pious and charitable uses.17
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 424; Cal. Wills. ct. Husting London ed. Sharpe, ii. pt. 1, p. 299; CPL, v. 149; Corporation of London RO, hr 133B/62; PCC 31 Marche; Winchester Coll. muns. 70, 78.
- 2. Beaven, Aldermen, i. 56, 89, 137, 403; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 434, 440, 444, 449; I, 27, 36.
- 3. C267/8/27, 28; E404/22/285, 464; CCR, 1402-5, p. 100.
- 4. Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 35.
- 5. Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ed. Carte, ii. 199, 202.
- 6. Corporation of London RO, hr 97/135-6, 119/108; Cart. St. Bartholomew’s Hosp. ed. Kerling, no. 1091.
- 7. C241/170/140; PCC 1 Rous; Corporation of London RO, hpl 107, Monday aft. feast St. Luke, 8 Ric. II; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, p. 11; CAD, ii. A2547.
- 8. Harl. 565; C1/9/281; Corporation of London RO, hr 117/140, 123/19, 129/81-82, 130/112, 131/25, 49, 52, 132/87, 133B/15, 57, 134/26, 138/65, 85, 140/6; W. Herbert, Gt. Livery Companies of London, ii. 55-63; CAD, ii. A2532.
- 9. C143/422/5; Arch. Jnl. xliv. 62; PCC 31 Marche; RP, iii. 482; CPL, v. 142; Cal. Wills ct. Husting London, ii pt. 1. p. 299; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 424; Corpo