BURTON, William I (d.1438), of London.
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Family and Education
m. ?(1) Joan da. of Joan Waltham; ?(2) by Mich. 1404, Agnes (or Alice), wid. of John Viand (d.1401) of London, grocer; (3) by Feb. 1429, Margery (or Mazera), 2s.1
Buyer for the King’s household 9 Nov. 1399-6 May 1409, 29 Sept. 1412-29 Mar. 1413.
Serjeant confectioner of the King’s spicery 24 Nov. 1401-aft. 18 May 1415 (prob. to d.).2
Warden of the Grocers’ Co. May 1404-5, 1411-12, 1419-20, 1431-2 July 1432.3
Auditor, London 21 Sept. 1411-13, 1417-19.4
Tax collector, London July 1413.5
Burton’s background and early life remain obscure. He may have been the grandson of the wealthy London goldsmith, William Burton (d.1368), whose son, also called William, died before 1380, but since at least one other city merchant of the same name was active at this time his parentage cannot be established with any degree of certainty. The Thomas Burton for whom he stood surety as a customs’ collector in October 1399, and the Richard Burton who appears in the civic records some 21 years later were, like him, both grocers of London, and could perhaps have numbered him among their kinsmen.6 Whatever his ancestry, the subject of this biography had set up in business by March 1395, when he acted as a mainpernor in Chancery for another member of his livery company. For the next 38 years he played a leading part in the affairs of this, one of the richest and most powerful of the city guilds, his position being strengthened no doubt by virtue of his long period of service at court. The financial rewards must have been considerable, for while he held the two offices of purveyor and serjeant of the King’s spicery he was able to supply the royal household directly from his own warehouses; and he could, moreover, rely upon the life annuity of £20 which accompanied the second post. Valuable gifts also came his way: from the chapel of Henry IV he received ‘un vestiment velvet oeverez dor raiez diverses colours’ and ‘vij capes de velvet raiez dor’, while Beatrice, countess of Arundel, the daughter of Joao I of Portugal, gave his son, John, a silver laver when he was christened. Burton’s official duties did not prevent him from serving four terms as warden of the Grocers’ Company and at least three (consecutively from 1428 to 1431) on the advisory board or ‘feliship associed’ appointed to assist in the running of the guild. He was largely responsible for the purchase of a rented place called Le Crowne in the Walbrook which the grocers acquired in February 1420, while also making the relatively large contribution of £6 13s.4d. towards the cost of building the Company’s new hall in Conyhope Lane, which was begun seven years later.7
Comparatively little evidence of Burton’s private affairs has survived, although he was clearly a prosperous and influential man. In December 1402 he and two other Londoners were owed £66 by Thomas Ase of Enfield, Middlesex, who failed to honour a bond made in their favour. Three years later a royal commission began investigations into a complaint made by the grocer and his business partner, Thomas Grey, that they and the master of Le Cristofe of Bristol were owed £40 as compensation for spoils taken by them at sea from the Scots and later surrendered on the orders of the King’s Council. Burton attempted, unsuccessfully, to recover a debt of £10 from a clerk named John Beresford soon afterwards; and he also brought a suit against two men for averring threats at about this time. In August 1410 he shipped a modest quantity of cloth into the port of London, but there is nothing to suggest that he invested heavily in this branch of commerce.8 Burton entered into a recognizance in £10, payable to the city chamberlain, in October 1415. Unfortunately, the reason for this is not stated, nor do we know why he and 15 other Londoners were bound in £100 to appear before the mayor’s court two years later, although it looks as if they may have infringed some civic regulation. From then onwards Burton became involved in a number of lawsuits, not all of which redound to his credit. In May 1421, for example, he agreed to submit a dispute with two other tradesmen to arbitration. In the following July he was convicted of false chevisance and usury as a result of extortionate attempts to recover £108 from a London goldsmith some nine years before; and he actually spent a brief period in prison until the interest ‘damnably and usuriously exacted’ by him had been repaid. This brush with the authorities does not appear to have harmed his reputation — possibly because so many of his contemporaries were themselves guilty of the same offence. Again, in February 1423 and June 1429, Burton had actions pending before the mayor’s court. On the first occasion the claims made against him and a number of distinguished citizens, including John Gedney*, were dropped, but on the second he agreed under pain of £1,000 to present his case personally against the executors of William Mitchell*.9
Part of Burton’s wealth was invested in property. He owned tenements and shops in the London parishes of St. Bride, Fleet Street, St. Mary Colechurch and St. Mildred in the Poultry, while his home, which he bought from (Sir) Thomas Charlton* in June 1412, lay in the parish of St. Stephen Walbrook. His second wife, Alice, the widow of his friend John Viand (who left him £10 on his death in 1401), held a tenement and garden in Redcross Street, although these passed out of his hands when she died. Despite their loss (which he evidently made good on his third marriage), Burton’s possessions in the City were said to be worth £12 a year in 1436.10 His total landed income must have been considerably higher, however, since he occupied a tenement and land in Kingsdown, Kent, as well as farming other property from the Crown. In November 1420 he and Nicholas Dixon, a clerk, took on the lease of the lands of the priory of Brimpsfield, Gloucestershire, at an annual rent of £7, payable for the next 20 years; and not too long afterwards Burton alone became farmer of two torts and two messuages with their appurtenances in Croydon. Another messuage and over 320 acres of farmland in Upshire, Essex, were settled upon the grocer and his second wife by William Grantham during the Hilary term of 1404, possibly as part of a marriage settlement. Burton certainly did well out of his three wives, for the last one, Margery, had land of her own in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, which was later the subject of a property dispute between her daughter by another marriage and William Burton the younger. In April 1430, Richard Berington granted a yearly rent of 40s. from his land in Leicestershire and Hertfordshire to the MP, but the latter’s title may well have been merely that of a feoffee.11 He performed this valuable service for several people, among whom were the London grocers and aldermen John Welles III* and William Sevenoak*.12 Only on a few occasions did he take the risk of standing surety for friends or associates. He was prepared, even so, to offer guarantees on behalf of the guardians of William Waldern’s* children, but only because he had previously helped to administer the deceased’s estate. He also retained custody of the money left by the grocer, Henry Halton*, to his heirs while they were under age.13
Although he never rose to aldermanic rank, Burton occupied a position of considerable importance in the City. He sat on a number of juries summoned both to try cases at the husting court and to give evidence before various official inquiries in London; and between 1415 and 1431 he attended no less than eight parliamentary elections. It is also worth nothing that, when a number of eminent citizens were wrongly indicted for murder in or before July 1419 as a result of a conspiracy by two practised forgers, Burton was among those falsely accused. But he had little trouble in clearing himself, and joined with the others to petition Parliament for the indictment to be annulled.14
Burton died between 10 Mar. and 23 May 1438, and was buried in the church of the Friars Minor beside his second wife, Agnes. To his widow, Margery, he left a dower of £400, in addition to a large quantity of clothing and utensils. His two sons, who were both minors, received £167 in cash and an impressive collection of plate, as well as being promised the reversion of all their father’s property in London and Kent on Margery’s death.15