BARET, William (d.1411), of London.
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Family and Education
Tax collector, London Mar. 1377, May, Dec. 1384.2
Alderman of Aldgate Ward 12 Mar. 1377-8, Lime Street Ward 1379-80, Walbrook Ward 1381-2, Cornhill Ward 1383-4, Tower Ward 1390-bef. Mar. 1394; common councillor, Queenhithe Ward Oct. 1384, Apr. 1385-7; auditor of London 21 Sept. 1378-9, 1392-3.3
Sheriff, London and Mdx. Mich. 1379-80.
Supervisor, the collection of murage, London Mar. 1387.4
Nothing is known of Baret’s ancestry, although he may have been a kinsman of Roger Baret, a London spicer, who in 1364 appears as a mainpernor in Chancery. His sister, Agnes, became head of the Benedictine priory of St. Mary Magdalene at Rusper, Sussex, which suggests that the family was not without influence in this area. William Baret is first mentioned in July 1364, when he stood surety in Chancery for Geoffrey Crymelford, a London merchant whom he subsequently made one of his feoffees and executors.5 His commercial interests expanded dramatically during the early 1370s, as he began to trade in a wide variety of commodities. In June 1370 he was importing wine from Lisbon; and between April 1372 and 1373 he had licence to export 147 sacks of wool from the ports of London and Chichester.6 At first his ventures were dogged by misfortune. In June 1370 a commission was set up to investigate a complaint by Baret and other English merchants that ships of theirs laded at Sluys had been wrecked and plundered off Calais; and in December 1373 he was petitioning to be excused customs upon a cargo of wool which had been rescued from pirates by sailors from Romney. Even heavier losses were sustained by Baret and his business partner, John Aubrey†, as a result of the confiscation of merchandise worth over £232 in Portugal, although in April 1374 Sir Philip Courtenay*, one of the King’s admirals, was ordered to hold Portuguese goods of equivalent value in English ports until proper reparation had been made. As was often the case, the business of obtaining compensation proved slow and difficult: 19 years later, Sir Philip took Baret and Aubrey’s widow to law because they had failed to give him a proper discharge, yet it is possible that neither of them had even then received the full amount.7
Baret was also owed money at home. In 1372 he began two suits in the court of common pleas for the recovery of debts worth £76, and in the following year he obtained a recognizance for £200 from Sir Thomas Salisbury. The bond was honoured, but it none the less almost cost Baret his life at the hands of Salisbury’s son, Paul, during the Peasants’ Revolt. Using the disturbances as a pretext for settling old scores, Paul Salisbury and a band of hired insurgents broke into Baret’s home on 14 June 1381 and drove the occupants out into the street. Baret and his wife, who had been forced onto her knees, were not only obliged to thank Salisbury ‘for their long inhabiting of the said house and for their lives’, but also to hand over the two indentures by which Sir Thomas had originally leased the property to them, as well as his cancelled recognizance for £200, which may have guaranteed them security of tenure and possibly involved a mortgage. At this point the rabble moved on to take similar vengeance against Hugh Fastolf*, another powerful member of the civic oligarchy towards whom Salisbury likewise bore a grudge. As alderman of Walbrook Ward, Baret was well placed to revenge himself once the rising had been put down, and he no doubt derived great personal satisfaction from compiling a list of local people suspected of taking part in the revolt.8
Meanwhile, Baret’s business interests continued to flourish. In 1373 he became a member of the Grocers’ Company, but, surprisingly for a man of his wealth and status, never held office there and disappears from its records altogether ten years later. In 1376 he began selling cloth, although this seems to have been a short-lived and rather minor venture on his part. It was from the wool trade that he derived his greatest profits, exporting 18 sarplers of wool from the port of London over the two months ending on 30 Jan. 1381, and a further 24 sarplers in November 1384 and March 1385.9 Despite his growing wealth, Baret showed no wish to become involved in royal finance, and his loans to the Crown were comparatively modest. In May 1370 he joined with John of Northampton† in advancing £20 to Edward III, adding to this a personal contribution of £30 towards the loan of £4, 621 raised by the City in the following February. Only seven Londoners gave more than the £4 which was Baret’s share of a cash payment intended to persuade ‘the great lords of the realm’ to return to London in January 1379, but in common with most of his contemporaries he was not prepared to offer Richard II any voluntary financial support.10
Baret invested some of his spare capital in property acquired piecemeal over the years, both in and out of London. The house which Paul Salisbury had attempted to recover from him in 1381 was probably part of a large tenement called ‘Le Sterre’, which, together with four shops and other appurtenances in the parish of All Hallows, Bread Street, he held on a long-term lease and subsequently rented out to tenants. At the time of his death Baret owned other land and tenements in the three parishes of St. Dunstan in the East, St. Peter Cornhill and St. Margaret Patyns, although his title to some of these holdings was shared with others. According to the lay subsidy return of 1412, Baret’s executors then held property in London worth over £22 a year, but his income as a landlord was undoubtedly far in excess of this sum. In December 1387, for example, he and a small group of wealthy merchants bought all Katherine de la Pole’s estates in the City, retaining control of them until June 1406, when they were put on the market and sold. We do not know how much money Baret made from this transaction, or from a similar purchase which gave him a part share in a brewery in Bishopsgate Street from July 1390 onwards, although his receipts cannot have been negligible.11 A further 46 marks annual rent came to Baret from his wife’s property in Writtle, Essex, where she also held the reversion of three messuages and extensive farmland. Eleanor Baret was almost certainly the daughter and coheir of Sir Hugh Baddow, whose death, shortly before Michaelmas 1382, left her in possession of other widespread holdings in the nearby manors of Great Baddow, Sandon and West Hanningfield. Between 1382 and 1405 the Barets made a series of conveyances designed both to free the land from previous entails and protect their own interests, although since Eleanor died without issue, in 1401, her inheritance passed to Baddow’s widow, who was then married to Thomas Coggeshall*.12
Understandably, Baret’s name appears frequently in the enfeoffments made by fellow Londoners, and on one occasion he was a party with Joan, countess of Hereford, (the mother-in-law of both Thomas of Woodstock and Henry of Bolingbroke) to some of Coggeshall’s property transactions. Others for whom he performed this service were Sir Robert Marney*, Avice, the widow of William Tong*, and Sir Nicholas Twyford, the influential goldsmith who was himself one of Baret’s feoffees.13 In November 1370 Baret offered sureties in Chancery for his partner, John Aubrey, and ten years later he was called upon to arbitrate in a dispute arising at the assize of nuisance. Otherwise his participation in the affairs of friends and associates was limited. Perhaps because of the responsibilities involved, Baret rarely acted as an executor. He is known to have done so only twice, and was both times caught up in unwelcome litigation. In November 1374 he and the other executors of John Hatfield sued Sir Stephen Cosyngton in the court of common pleas for a debt of £50 owed to the deceased. Some years later in 1392 he himself was taken to law by Thomas, the orphan son of the London goldsmith, John Pynchon, who claimed that Baret, as one of his father’s executors, had withheld from him goods and unpaid debts worth over £1,000. Baret and his colleagues eventually offered the young man a settlement of £600, but had still to administer the rest of Pynchon’s estate and deal with his creditors. In the following year they were, however, released from all legal actions arising from the testator’s work for the Crown, which must have eased their burden considerably.14
Baret was himself a litigious man and often appeared in court on his own account. Between July 1382 and 1401 he was plaintiff in two suits for debts of £134, four assizes of nuisance and two actions for the recovery of rent from Thomas Exton* and John Walcote*, the tenants of his Bread Street property. An earlier suit in which he and Sir John Chaunceaux had advanced rival claims to this and other rents dragged on for at least four years, and had not reached a conclusion by July 1386, after which date no more is heard of it. Three years later Baret and his fellow merchants failed to establish their joint title to other rents which they had acquired from the executors of Katherine de la Pole. Baret last appears as a litigant in November 1403, when the widow of Sir Thomas Aleyn claimed to have been disseised by him of a messuage in the City, agreeing eventually to settle out of court.15
Baret played a full and active part in the government of London, being returned as alderman for five wards of the City, as well as sitting on the common council and holding office twice as auditor of London and once as sheriff. His first experience of civic affairs was in August 1373, when he was appointed to audit the accounts of two boat builders employed by the corporation. Despite signs of an early connexion with John of Northampton, Baret had by 1384 aligned himself firmly with the former mayor’s enemies. As a grocer he can have had little sympathy for Northampton’s attempts to limit the monopoly of the London guilds — particularly those concerned with the victualling trade — and in August 1384 he attended the meeting of the King’s Council at Reading when Northampton was sent to prison as the instigator of recent disturbances in London.16 Baret was more immediately involved in the quarrel between Richard II and the City, which came to a head in the early summer of 1392. Together with the other aldermen and 24 prominent commoners of London he was summoned to appear before the King at Nottingham on 25 June; Richard then suspended the normal government of the City, and set up a commission to investigate the ‘notable and evident defaults’ perpetrated by the civic authorities. Having testified before the commissioners at Eton on 18 July, Baret and his colleagues had to submit to the King’s judgement. At a meeting of the royal Council at Windsor four days later they were fined a total of 3,000 marks; and although most of the aldermen, including Baret, were then confirmed in office, all of them continued to serve at the King’s pleasure, and thus remained subject to his every whim. It was not until September 1392 that Richard agreed to excuse the aldermen their fine and restore the liberties of the City, albeit conditionally ‘until he should otherwise ordain’. The people of London had to pay heavily to retain Richard’s favour, and when, on 22 Oct. 1392, Baret and 14 other aldermen each bound themselves to pay the chamberlain of London £11 6s.8d. at the end of November, they may well have been contributing towards a royal ‘loan’.17
Nothing is known of Baret’s last years, which were probably spent in peaceful retirement. He died in the autumn of 1411, naming the wealthy grocer, Robert Chichele*, as one of his executors. He left no children, so, in accordance with his will, most of his property was sold to finance the upkeep of a chantry in the church of St. Dunstan in the East, where he and his wife were buried.18
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. CCR, 1381-5, pp. 318-19; London Rec. Soc. i. no. 208.
- 2. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 60, 62, 248, 254.
- 3. Beaven, Aldermen, i. 9, 122, 174, 198, 216; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 88, 124; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 102, 153, 385, 399.
- 4. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 300.
- 5. CCR, 1364-8, p. 93; 1399-1402, p. 400; CPR, 1361-4, p. 521; PCC 24 Marche.
- 6. CPR, 1367-70, p. 339; CFR, viii. 167, 233, 235.
- 7. CPR, 1367-70, p. 470; 1370-4, p. 379; C81/435/29951; CCR, 1374-7, p. 41; 1392-6, p. 147.
- 8. CCR, 1369-74, pp. 545-6; Corporation of London RO, hpl 94 mm. 9d, 29; Peasants’ Revolt ed. Dobson, 228-30; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 288-91.
- 9. Ms Archs. Grocers’ Company ed. Kingdon, i. 45, 58; E101/340/24, 31; E122/71/4 mm. 2-6; 71/5 mm. 2-5.
- 10. Issue Roll Brantingham ed. Devon, 163; Cal. Letter Bk. London, G, 276; H, 124.
- 11. Corporation of London RO, hr 115/71, 161; 116/70; 120/5, 6, 121/209, 122/1, 2, 5, 131/60, 134/37, 142/53; Cal. Wills ct. Husting, London ed. Sharpe, ii. (pt. 2), 394; Arch. Jul. xliv. 62.
- 12. CCR, 1381-5, pp. 218-19; 1385-9, pp. 425, 432-3, 599; 1399-1402, p. 400; Essex Feet of Fines, iii. 197, 207, 244.
- 13. CCR, 1385-9, p. 426; 1396-9, p. 82; Cal. Wills ct. Husting London, ii. (pt. 2), 279; Corporation of London RO, hr 119/74, 143-4, 120/44, 124/77, 132/108, 134/105, 138/15.
- 14. London Rec. Soc. x. no. 632; CFR, viii. 98; CPR, 1391-6, p. 267; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, p. 201; Corporation of London RO, hcp 98, Monday aft. feast Conception of Virgin, 48 Edw. III; Guildhall Lib. London, 9171/1 ff. 263-3d.
- 15. Cal