BISHOPDALE, William (d.1398), of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumb.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Family and Education

m. (1) by 3 Nov. 1391, Agnes, da. and coh. of Thomas Graper (d. by Oct. 1381) of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Swarland by his w. Mary, da. of Richard Stanhope of Newcastle, wid. of John Heselrig (d. by Sept. 1391); (2) 1 May 1392, Elizabeth, da. of William Swinhoe (fl. 1389) of Newcastle by his w. Elizabeth, 2da.1

Offices Held

Bailiff, Newcastle-upon-Tyne Mich. 1377-9; mayor 1379-82, 1390-3.2

Collector of customs, Newcastle-upon-Tyne 10 Dec. 1377-20 June 1389, 18 Mar. 1390-8 Dec. 1391.

Dep. butler, Newcastle-upon-Tyne 5 Nov. 1378-bef. 23 Nov. 1391.

Commr. to enforce the statutes regarding salmon fishing, Northumb. May 1380; of gaol delivery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne June 1382, July 1391, Aug. 1393;3 to receive coal from the bp. of Durham Sept. 1383; of inquiry Nov. 1383 (contents of castle chapel, Newcastle); to sell coal for the King Feb. 1384; of oyer and terminer, Northumb. Aug. 1385 (disorder at Whittonstall); to remove and replace royal officials, Newcastle Mar. 1393.

J.p. Newcastle-upon-Tyne 24 Dec. 1390.


The Bishopdales were an old and influential Newcastle family, who prospered through investment in the wool trade. Although still a young man, William must himself have been fairly affluent by January 1370, since he was then in a position to purchase all the goods and chattels of a local man named Nicholas Cook from his executors. Between 1373 and 1376 he received a number of royal licences for the export of wool and tallow from Newcastle, sometimes in partnership with his brother, John (who, like him, spent many years as a collector of customs in the port), or else with his future parliamentary colleague, Stephen Whitgray*. William was himself first returned to the House of Commons in 1378, while in office as town bailiff; and at the time of his second election to Parliament, three years later, he was actually serving as mayor of Newcastle. It was during his mayoralty that the burgesses began to build the tower on the Gateshead side of the Tyne bridge which was later, in 1410, to become the cause of a protracted and bitter dispute between them and Thomas Langley, the bishop of Durham, although William did not himself live to see the consequences of his decision to improve the town’s defences.4

Meanwhile, in 1379, William acquired certain estates in the north Yorkshire villages of Maunby, Newsham and Kirby Wiske from Sir Robert Charles. We know that when he died he also occupied land in the nearby township of Northallerton as well as at Brampton, Aldbrough, Whitwell, Hauxwell and other parts of Richmondshire, which he may have obtained by this date, possibly through marriage. He was certainly anxious to invest in property, for he built up substantial holdings in Newcastle, too, where he owned numerous shops and tenements. Not all his ventures were successful, however. On the death of his brother John, in 1380, for example, he failed to prevent the prior of Durham (who was related to John’s widow) from securing the reversion of property in Gateshead and Whickham, and was obliged to recognize the latter’s superior title. Not surprisingly, William was often called upon by his neighbours to witness conveyances of land in and around Newcastle.5 Much of his influence was due to his regular employment by the Crown not only as a customs officer and deputy butler in the port of Newcastle, but also on royal commissions of various kinds and as a local j.p. From time to time, William came into conflict with his superiors, as in December 1383, when he faced prosecution over the unauthorized release from custody of a pipe of wine, and had to sue out a royal pardon as a result of his negligence. As one of the leading figures in Newcastle, with a personal as well as an official interest in trade, William was naturally concerned to keep the North Sea free of enemy vessels, whose constant attacks on merchant shipping posed a serious threat to the prosperity of the north east. In July 1387, he and two other local men obtained a licence from Richard II enabling them to fit out, at their own cost, ‘a large ship, a barge, and a balinger of war, arrayed and equipped for the safe passage and return of fishmongers, merchants and other the King’s lieges at sea ... and for destroying the King’s enemies of France and Scotland’. Appropriately enough, in view of his efforts, he was once again serving as mayor, in January 1391, when the King presented a sword to the people of Newcastle, along with letters patent permitting them to carry it in state before Bishopdale and all his successors in office whenever they processed through the town. Yet notwithstanding this and other evident marks of royal favour, William found himself in serious trouble two years later as a result of certain unspecified allegations made against him before the King’s Council. On 11 Mar. 1393 he was bound over in sums of £2,000 to appear at Westminster during the Easter term and submit to interrogation, while at the same time having to surrender a further £200 in securities as an earnest that he would do no harm to a local man named Adam Houden. One day later he was required, in his capacity as mayor, to remove the common clerk and serjeants of Newcastle, who had recently been outlawed for trespass, but who were later reinstated. Whether, as Anthony Steel has asserted, this ‘unhappy fall from grace’ was a result of wholesale corruption on the part of the borough authorities, in which William, in particular, was heavily implicated, is by no means clear; but it certainly marks the end of his career — both in local government and as an official of the Crown.6

During his years of enforced retirement William was at least able to derive some consolation from the additional revenues which had come to him through two advantageous marriages. In the autumn of 1391, he obtained the hand of the recently widowed Agnes Heselrig, who had inherited property in Swanland, Jesmond, Elswick and Newcastle from her father, Thomas Graper. Although she died a few months later, leaving most of her fortune to her son, Thomas Heselrig, William was able to secure an annuity of £20 for life from her estates in Northumberland.7 He cannot have remained a widower for more than a few weeks, since on 1 May 1392 he married Elizabeth Swinhoe, the heiress to a number of properties in and around Newcastle. Two years later, in November 1394 (perhaps as a consequence of investigations by the royal council), he was found to owe £72 in unpaid customs dues at the Exchequer, although nothing seems to have been done to collect the money during his lifetime, beyond the taking of securities in that amount. It is unlikely that the royal letters of protection accorded to William in the following February, in consideration of his membership of the earl of Northumberland’s retinue at Berwick-upon-Tweed, were issued in a military capacity. He was quite probably employed in victualling the garrison there, an exercise which could easily be undertaken from the port of Newcastle by sea. Despite the vicissitudes of his later years, he still remained active until just before his death, which probably occurred soon after 2 Feb. 1398, when he drew up his will. This document, made while he was ‘languens in extremis’;, shows him to have lived in considerable style, for he was able to leave quantities of plate, hangings and valuable items of dress to his family and friends. William was survived by two daughters and his widow, Elizabeth, who promptly married Richard Clitheroe, a prominent member of the local community. In May 1400 Clitheroe was briefly permitted to lease the deceased’s estates in Yorkshire and Northumberland, which had been seized by the Crown as a means of paying off his arrears. His attempts to obtain a dower settlement for Elizabeth out of these properties were evidently successful, because over the next four years William’s two nephews, Thomas and Richard Pykburn, who took on the farm after him, confirmed him in possession of several holdings in Newcastle.8

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


Variants: Bisshopdale, Byschopdale, Bysshopdal.

  • 1. Hist. Northumb. vii. 391-3; CIMisc. vii. no. 9; Arch. Aeliana, n.s. i. 30; (ser. 2), i. 29, 30; (ser. 3), vi. 66; Surtees Soc. cxxxvii. 185-9.
  • 2. Surtees Soc. cxxxvii. 218-20.
  • 3. C66/312 m. 9v, 332 m. 35v, 338 m. 25v.
  • 4. CFR, viii. 235, 237, 330; CPR, 1374-7, p. 251; Surtees Soc. cxxxvii. 64-65, 184; C44/24/7.
  • 5. CCR, 1377-81, p. 226; 1381-5, p. 405; CFR, xii. 59; Surtees Soc. cxxxvii. 187; C260/106/5; Northumb. RO, Swinburne (Capheaton) ms 2/40.
  • 6. CFR, x. 25; CPR, 1385-9, p. 342; 1388-92, p. 378; CCR, 1392-6, pp. 52, 119, 128, 219; Studies Presented to Sir Hilary Jenkinson ed. Davies, 396-7.
  • 7. Hist. Northumb. vii. 391-3; Surtees Soc. cxxxvii. 186-7.
  • 8. CIMisc. vii. no. 9; Cal. Scots. Docs. (supp.) v. no. 4509; Surtees Soc. cxxxvii. 185, 187-9; CFR, xii. 59, 230; Arch. Aeliana, n.s. i. 29, 30; (ser. 3), vi. 66; C1/69/250.