BILNEY, John II, of Bishop's Lynn, Norf.
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Family and Education
Bilney purchased his admission as a freeman of Bishop’s Lynn in 1402-3. He may have come from South Lynn as was later stated by his enemies, whose interests it served to insinuate that he was an outsider to the affairs of the town.1 Although a merchant, he was excluded from the ranks of the wealthy potentiores who governed Bishop’s Lynn, but when the party of the mediocres, to which he belonged, sought to take control, he emerged as one of its four ring-leaders (the others being a fellow mediocris, Bartholomew Petipas†, and the inferiores William Halyate* and John Tilney*). The alliance had already been formed by April 1411 when Bilney and Halyate stood surety in Chancery for Petipas, who was bound over to keep the peace in Lynn, and on Michaelmas Day that same year the four went at the head of a ‘great multitude’ of townspeople to the guildhall where they conducted mayoral elections, and by securing the appointment of one of their friends, Roger Galion, overthrew the established order. The four then maintained Galion in office for two years, during which period they allegedly sought to destroy the oligarchic nature of the town’s franchise by admitting as burgesses ‘divers foreigners of small worth and reputation dwelling in the town’. On 24 Oct. 1411 Bilney was elected as one of the borough’s parliamentary representatives, but as another election was held subsequently he did not sit in the Commons on that occasion. In December members of all three parties in Lynn submitted to the arbitration of 18 persons drawn from their ranks, and all were bound in certain sums of money to observe the ordinances promulgated by that committee. As he was a mediocris Bilney’s bond was for £50. He himself was named on the committee and when its members proved unable to reach common agreement he and eight others, none of whom were potentiores, took over the government of the town. A principal cause of complaint against the potentiores had been their mismanagement of borough finances, causing the community to fall heavily into debt; consequently, in May 1412 the body of nine took upon itself the task of examining the borough accounts, and giving careful consideration to the many claims of past officials for reimbursement. The disputes in Lynn could not escape the attention of the King’s Council for long, and when, six months later, writs were sent requiring the presence of local representatives at Westminster, the mayor and commonalty formally authorized the four principals (Bilney, Petipas, Halyate and Tilney) to go to put their case. On other occasions the four journeyed to London for discussions with Bishop Courtenay of Norwich, the overlord of the borough, and evidently won his support. Galion’s two years as mayor (1411-13) were followed by the mayoralty of Petipas, and it was during his term that, in April 1414, Bilney was returned to Parliament in the company of their colleague Tilney. Two months later he and Tilney were appointed as attorneys ‘to sue in divers causes and release the common debts of the town’. Order was breaking down: on the night of 20 Aug. the four ringleaders allegedly instigated a violent attack on Thomas Waterden* and a number of other potentiores; when the sheriff, Edmund Oldhall*, attempted to supervise mayoral elections on the 29th, they trapped him and other gentlemen of the county in the town by barricading the bridges and gates, at the same time conducting their own election; and in January 1415 Bilney abetted Petipas in launching a personal assault on the mayor John Lakenheath in the guildhall.2 The potentiores regained control four months later, whereupon Bilney was formally indicted for his part in the municipal upheavals of the previous four years. What became of him thereafter is not known.3