BURTON, John II (d.1455), of Redcliff Street, Bristol.

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

s. of John Burton (d.1401) of Bristol by his 1st w. Ellen. m. Isabel, 1s. d.v.p. 2da.1

Offices Held

Tax collector, Bristol Dec. 1406, Apr. 1431, Jan. 1436, Aug. 1450.

Commr. of inquiry, Bristol Feb. 1414 (piracy), May 1428 (illegal conveyance of pilgrims), June, July 1440, Mar. 1449 (piracy); to muster men and mariners June 1430; raise royal loans, Devon, Cornw. 1453.

Bailiff, Bristol Mich. 1416-17; sheriff 15 Oct. 1418-11 Oct. 1419; mayor Mich. 1423-4, 1429-30, 1448-9, 1450-1.2

Collector of customs and subsidies, Bristol 14 Nov. 1431-27 May 1432.


John Burton, who was to become one of the foremost Bristol staplers of this period, was the son of the bailiff of 1391-2 of the same name. The father, although never sheriff of the county of Bristol, was one of the nominees for this office in 1397, 1399 and 1400. He had married, as his second wife, Joan, widow of Thomas Sampson of Bristol, and the earliest mention of the younger John dates from August 1395, in the will of her son, William Sampson. John senior died soon after making his will in 1401, leaving to young John half of his goods, £100 in cash and their dwelling-house in Redcliff Street.3

Burton’s position in Bristol must have already been established by 1413, when he was sufficiently important to be among the electors to Parliament as a member of the common council. He was in fact to attend almost every parliamentary election thereafter until his death: out of 16 elections between 1420 and 1449 he missed at most only four, and the election held on 18 Sept. 1419 he himself conducted in his capacity as sheriff. When returned to Parliament for the third time, in October 1423, Burton was both mayor of the town and, by royal appointment, mayor of the local Staple, posts he was to fill for three more terms. During the periods he was out of office, he frequently attended the meetings of the common council, doing so as late as September 1454 for the mayoral elections.4

Burton’s standing was based upon a good foundation of commercial success. Certainly, his mercantile interests were not geographically limited. His father had been engaged in the wine trade and the export of cloth to Gascony in the last decade of Richard II’s reign, and he himself was apparently quick to seize upon the opportunities for commerce in northern France opened up by Henry V’s conquest of Normandy. Along with Richard Trenode* he procured a royal licence in February 1419 allowing them to re-export wine to the ports of the duchy. He was evidently also interested in other aspects of the military conquest, too: in 1422 and 1425 he was holding certain French prisoners, one of whom, a knight, petitioned the King’s Council for his release for six months so that he might raise his ransom money. It was a far less reputable activity (although local inquests declared him innocent) which, in March 1421, led him to be involved, as a shipowner, in the seizure, off the coast of Pembrokeshire, of a Venetian carrack carrying cargoes belonging to two Flemish merchants.5 Precisely how many ships Burton possessed is not known, but he certainly owned one called La Kateryne in which, in April 1445, he was licensed to take 100 pilgrims to St. James of Compostella, this vessel having been earlier (in 1442) included by the Commons in a list of ships assigned to coastal defence. The ship Burton built near the round tower on the Quay at Bristol had the reputation of being the largest and most remarkable vessel built in the port at that time. Burton’s interests also extended to the corn trade: in 1429, for example, he, Trenode and Robert Russell II*, along with other Bristol merchants, had been engaged in shipping wheat and barley down the Severn to victual the town, only for their ‘trowes’ to be attacked by malefactors at Minsterworth Lake, and the grain stolen. Later, in August 1442, the King’s Council appointed Burton and five others to see to the purveyance and transport of 1,000 quarters of wheat to Bayonne; they were to recover their expenses by exporting other merchandise free of custom and subsidy. The following March, as mayor, Burton was to help in arranging for the conveyance of the lieutenant of Aquitaine and his company to Guienne. If his first concern in the early months of 1443 looked towards south-west France, by the end of the year it had shifted to the Arctic, for he then obtained a royal licence permitting him to engage in the Icelandic trade and import fish and other goods. Judging from the fact that at the time of his death his ship, The Mary of Bristol, was still employed in that area, he probably found such ventures profitable. He may well have purchased this particular vessel from John Wych, who had been trading in Iceland with her and, in 1448, had transferred a cargo of fish to Burton ‘for the contentment of dyversez dettez’. Burton’s mercantile activities involved him in several lawsuits over bonds, one in association with Russell and Trenode again, another against a brewer who, after bringing false charges in the court of admiralty, was maintained by several Bristol clothiers, and a third when the petitioner, previously Burton’s own apprentice, asserted that he (Burton) was a ‘gret ruler in the seyd contrey’ and ‘so gret of goodez that no man dare medyll with him’. In 1447 Burton and another merchant were engaged in a suit against a Surrey chaplain involving recognizances in £400. The date Burton joined the ranks of the merchant staplers of Calais is not known, but he was a member of that company by October 1449 when, with two others, he was exonerated from payment of the subsidies leviable on wool shipped from Ipswich over a period of four years, until they had secured repayment of a loan to the Crown of £239 3s., this licence being extended for another year in October 1454.6

Further information tells us something of Burton’s dealings with his fellow burgesses and merchants. Early in his career, in 1414, he and David Dudbroke* were asked by Richard Alexander of Bristol to arbitrate in his dispute with Thomas Young III*. He himself fell out with Mark William*, an important Bristol merchant from whom he purchased in 1421 a number of properties for £240, but although he handed over £200 in part-payment William refused to transfer ownership in accordance with their agreement, and Burton had to petition the chancellor for redress. On another occasion he was sued for retention of certain deeds, the petitioner claiming to have been grossly misled in ‘supposyng in his persone grete treuth and substance’. In 1426 Burton stood surety at the Exchequer for the newly-appointed alnager of Bristol. He was on good terms, too, with Thomas Fish†, the merchant who in 1440 named him as the supervisor of his will, and in whose property Burton still had an interest some 15 years later. Burton also established connexions with local gentry, being in 1441 a trustee of the Bristol properties owned by Sir John Frampton. Some measure of his standing is indicated, moreover, by the marriages of his daughters, Jane and Isabel, to two famous half-brothers: William Canynges†, who was five times mayor of Bristol between 1441 and 1446, and Thomas Young , an apprentice-at-law and the recorder of Bristol who, as MP in 1451, prematurely recommended in the Commons the adoption of Richard, duke of York, as Henry VI’s heir. It may well have been through Young that, earlier, in 1450, Burton had been listed among the distinguished group of feoffees of the duke’s manor of Easton in Gordano, Somerset, which also included Canynges and (Sir) John Fortescue*, c.j.KB.7

Fortescue and Young were named as executors of the will made by Burton on 21 Mar. 1455, and proved in the prerogative court of Canterbury on 28 July following. Burton requested burial in the chapel of St. John the Baptist in the church of St. Thomas the Martyr, assigning £20 for the funeral expenses. Apart from his ship then in Iceland (a fourth part of which was left to his widow, Isabel), Burton’s bequests included cloth worth 200 marks (to his brother Nicholas), a quantity of woad, eight sacks of wool then in his house, miscellaneous merchandise valued at £200 (to Isabel), more cloth, worth £40, two sets of ‘white harness’ and plate armour, two shields, two pole-axes, two pairs of linen sheets and cloaks trimmed with fur. The will provided for the foundation of a chantry near the merchant’s tomb. Despite the Yorkist leanings of his sons-in-law and his own connexion with the duke, Burton’s loyalty to the Lancastrians is evident from the stipulation that prayers should be said there for the welfare of Henry VI, Queen Margaret and Edward, prince of Wales. It was not until May 1457 that Fortescue and Young took out the royal licence enabling the chantry to be endowed with Burton’s free burgage in Bristol worth ten marks p.a. Burton’s only son, Thomas, described as a ‘gentleman’ in 1441, when associated with his father as a feoffee, had died before March 1443 at which date Burton had appealed against a judgement of the admiralty court made against him.8

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Authors: L. S. Woodger / J. S. Roskell


See also Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. lxxiv. 66, 74-80.

  • 1. Bristol Wills (Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. 1886), 44-45, 66, 134-6; CPR, 1441-6, pp. 162, 172.
  • 2. Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. xxvi. 130-1.
  • 3. CFR, xi. 226; xii. 6; Gt. Red Bk. (Bristol Rec. Soc. iv), 220, 236; Bristol Wills, 44-45, 66.
  • 4. C219/11/1, 8, 12/2-6, 13/1-5, 14/1-5, 15/1, 2, 4, 6; CCR, 1429-35, p. 104; Gt. Red Bk. 125, 128-9, 253, 255; C267/5, nos. 50, 53, 63; Little Red Bk. ed. Bickley, i. 88; ii. 144, 169.
  • 5. CFR, xii. 96; CPR, 1416-22, pp. 180, 418; E122/16/21, 17/1; N.H. Nicolas, Agincourt, app. p. 62; C76/107 m. 6; SC8/107/5326; Overseas Trade (Bristol Rec. Soc. vii), 56-57; CIMisc. vii. 619-20.
  • 6. C76/127 m. 7; G. Pryce, Mems. Canynges Fam. 97; S.S. Seyer, Mems. Bristol, ii. 50; Overseas Trade, 80-81, 92-93, 146; J. Dallaway, Antique Bristow, 140-1; RP, v. 38; PPC, vi. 156; CPR, 1416-22, p. 353; 1422-9, pp. 508, 551; 1436-41, p. 464; 1446-52, p. 316; 1452-61, p. 210; C1/7/329, 10/36, 19/263; CCR, 1441-7, p. 481.
  • 7. CCR, 1413-19, p. 187; 1441-7, pp. 37, 50; CFR, xv. 144; C1/4/100, 11/360; Bristol Wills, 131; Som. Feet of Fines (Som. Rec. Soc. xxii), 113.
  • 8. Bristol Wills, 134-6; Gt. Red Bk. (Bristol Rec. Soc. xvi), 56-61; PCC 5 Stokton; CPR, 1441-6, pp. 162, 172; 1452-61, pp. 342, 601; Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. viii. 234-5; E.E. Williams, Chantries of Wm. Canynges, 19, 33.