BOWES, William (d.1439), of York.

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



Mar. 1416
May 1421

Family and Education

m. by Mar. 1403, Isabel (d. 26 July 1435), 1s. William†, at least 3da.2

Offices Held

Chamberlain, York 3 Feb. 1399-1400; sheriff Mich. 1401-2; member of the council of 12 by c. May 1413-d. ; mayor 3 Feb. 1417-18, 1428-9.3

Commr. of kiddles, Yorks. Mar. 1408; inquiry, York Feb. 1417; gaol delivery Feb. 1417.


Bowes, who rose to become one of the wealthiest and most influential York merchants of his day, first appears in 1391, when he shipped a quantity of wool from the port of Kingston-upon-Hull. No more is heard of him until, in 1399, he assumed office as chamberlain of York, after which date his career went from strength to strength. Some idea of his standing in the community may be gathered from the fact that, just three years later, he and his wife were accorded a papal indult for the plenary remission of sins at the hour of death, and that in 1406 William Skirlaw, bishop of Durham, left him a silver cup worth 40s. in his will. Bowes’s commercial activities were evidently expanding, too, for although at some point before 1405 he and John Bolton* failed to recover a debt of £24 owed to them by a merchant from Carlisle, he could obviously afford to write off such a relatively modest sum. Indeed, by 1407 he and a consortium of other merchants belonging to the Calais Staple (among whom were Richard Russell I* and Richard Whittington*) were in a position to advance £4,000 to the Crown for the payment of the garrison’s wages, the loan being secured on the strength of the forthcoming wool subsidy, and thus relatively easy for them all to collect. Bowes evidently transacted a good deal of business at Calais. In May 1412, for example, he sold wool and fleeces worth 300 marks to two French merchants, although since part of the money was assigned to him in bonds due from John Rous II* of Ipswich, he experienced considerable trouble in obtaining settlement, especially after the latter’s death, and the case was referred to the court of Chancery.4

By the time of his first return to the House of Commons, in March 1416, Bowes had not only occupied the shrievalty of York but had also been nominated to the council of 12, which was responsible for most aspects of civic government. He had thus already taken part ex officio in the parliamentary elections of 1402 (as sheriff), 1413 (May), 1414 (Nov.) and 1415, and was, indeed, to attest at least ten more returns, on the last occasion, in 1435, being joined by his son, William. It is also worth noting that, in March 1415, he secured a second papal indult, this time for the use of a portable altar, and that he and his wife were admitted to the prestigious guild of Corpus Christi in York about then. But not even he was above criticism: in 1418, shortly after he had discharged his first term as mayor, a porter who unloaded barges on the river Ouse was disciplined by the council of 12 for making slanderous remarks about him in public; and two years later Bowes suffered the far worse indignity of being himself reprimanded by Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, and other royal commissioners appointed to investigate the pollution of a royal fishery on the Foss. Bowes owned a capital messuage and at least three tenements in Peasholm, which abutted onto the fishery, and it was through his negligence that the water had become silted with debris and the stock depleted. He was, however, permitted to enclose his property with fences in the hope of solving the problem, and in the absence of further complaints we may assume that he mended his ways.5 His holdings in Peasholm caused yet more trouble in 1424, when he and his erstwhile business partner, John Bolton, fell out over the ownership of two adjoining tenements. The matter was submitted to arbitrators (including John Morton II*), who pronounced in Bowes’s favour. Bolton’s readiness to accept the award without the customary legal safeguards may well have been prompted by the fact that he and Bowes were not only neighbours but kinsmen by marriage. By then the latter’s daughter, Joan, had become the wife of John Blackburn*, whose sister, Alice, was Bolton’s daughter-in-law. But an even closer tie may well have existed between them, for there is some reason to suppose that Bolton’s younger son, William, married one of our Member’s daughters. On drawing up his will, in 1428, William chose Bowes to act as his executor, and also left bequests to his wife and their son. Perhaps he had been the husband of their daughter Alice, a well-educated young woman, who owned ‘an English book de spiritu Guidon and a French book de Barlaham et Josephath’, but she evidently predeceased him.6

Bowes made his own will at Whitsuntide 1437, although it was not proved until 6 Aug. 1439. He may well have lived to see the award of pardons for outlawry, in May 1438 and April 1439 respectively, to two men whom he had been suing in the court of common pleas on actions of account, and he certainly survived his wife, beside whom he wished to be buried in their parish church of St. Cuthbert. His son, William, who had by then himself represented York in Parliament, inherited all his holdings in Peasholm, as well as two other messuages in Colliergate, while his daughter, Katherine (whose late husband, Robert Louth, had employed Bowes as a trustee), received two tenements in Thursday Market. The reversion of these last was settled upon her sister, Joan, together with £5 in cash, although since she then occupied a substantial amount of Blackburn family property as a jointure her requirements were clearly less pressing. Bowes also left a quantity of armour, weapons and jewellery, the bulk of which passed to his grandson, William, who, in addition, shared £30 equally with his five siblings. A generous bequest of £20 went to St. Cuthbert’s church, and a dwelling in Skeldergate was set aside for the implementation of pious bequests.7

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iv. 974.
  • 2. CPL, v. 562; Test. Ebor. i. 352; ii. 69-70; F. Drake, Ebor. 314; Borthwick Inst. York, York registry wills, iii. f. 580.
  • 3. C219/10/2, 11/12; Surtees Soc. lxxxv. 3, 4, 8, 9; cxxv. 52, 157.
  • 4. C1/6/79; E122/59/24; E404/22/464; CPL, v. 562; Test. Ebor. i. 313; CPR, 1405-8, pp. 128, 321, 414-15.
  • 5. CPL, vi. 364; C219/10/2, 11/2, 5, 7, 12/3, 4, 6, 13/2, 3-5, 14/1, 4, 5; Surtees Soc. lvii. 17; cxxv. 75-77; clxxxvi. 88-89.
  • 6. Surtees Soc. clxxxvi. 42-43; 76-77; Test. Ebor. i. 352; ii. 69-70; York registry wills, ii. ff. 564v-5.
  • 7. Test. Ebor. ii. 69-70; York registry wills, iii. f. 580; Surtees Soc. clxxxvi. 122; F. Drake, Ebor. 314; CPR, 1436-41, pp. 111, 213.