DUNSTON, Robert (d.1425), of Norwich, Norf.
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Family and Education
s. of William Dunston of Norwich by Cecily, da. of Cecily Lopham of Norwich. m. (1) bef. Apr. 1396, Christine, 1s.; (2) Margaret.
Treasurer, Norwich Mich. 1396-7; bailiff 1399-1400; overseer of the revenues 4 July 1406-7.1
Tax collector, Norwich May 1416.
Despite frequent employment in the day to day business of the city, and election on no fewer than eight occasions as one of its parliamentary representatives, Dunston never held office as mayor or sheriff, although he did reach aldermanic rank. He came of a Norwich family which included Hugh and William Dunston, who between them had served as bailiff 11 terms between 1314 and 1351. His father died before August 1380, when Robert made a quitclaim of a shop in ‘le Necherrowe’ in the parish of St. Peter Mancroft, which he had recently inherited; but his mother lived on for several years more, retaining possession of a number of properties elsewhere in the city, as well as lands a few miles away at Colney to the west and at Plumstead and Postwick to the east, all of which had once been held by her own mother, the heiress Cecily Lopham, widow of Robert Bumpstead†.2 Dunston’s ventures as a merchant had begun to expand by 1392, when he shipped into Great Yarmouth cargoes containing chests and linen cloth from Brabant, and in later years he imported such items as madder, soap, onions, oil and vinegar. Woollen cloth, including worsteds, was his principal export, destined for the Low Countries.3
Dunston’s first civic post was as one of the two treasurers, the annually elected junior financial officers of the city. On 1 Jan. 1399 he was chosen to assist the bailiffs in making arrangements for a formal reception for Richard II, shortly expected to visit Norwich, and also as a member of a committee set up to consider how best to present to the King the city’s case for a new charter under which it would become a shire-incorporate, only for the visit to be abandoned. It was only after service as a bailiff and as one of two overseers of the administration of the city’s finances that he was first elected to Parliament in 1407. A year later he was made joint supervisor of works on the building of a new guildhall, a project prompted by the recent constitutional changes. In his second Parliament (1410) one of the petitions adopted by the Commons secured a grant to Norwich of the alnage of worsted cloth in Norfolk over a period of seven years; for their successful promotion of the petition Dunston and his companion, William Ampulford, were rewarded with 25 marks to be shared between them, and not long afterwards they received just short of a further £20 for appearing before the King’s Council to withstand the criticism of the worsted-men of the shire who objected to the scrutiny. Dunston’s personal interest in the cloth trade no doubt made him an enthusiastic advocate of the city’s case.4
At a general assembly held in Norwich in February 1414, Dunston, apparently a member of the mayor’s council, was chosen to sit on an advisory committee of eight who were to draw up ordinances to regulate the election of all civic officers in future. Yet three years later the constitutional disputes in the city had still not been healed. Sir Thomas Erpingham KG laid the matter before Henry V, who demanded that a representative from each side should come before the Council with authority to conclude a final concord. Accordingly, on 12 May 1417 in the guildhall, the mayor, sheriffs and aldermen chose Dunston and the ‘commons’ chose Thomas Marshal, and, before the King’s departure for Normandy, these two secured a new charter, issued on 21 July, embodying the Council’s ruling. On the same day the two delegates bound themselves to the King in a recognizance for 500 marks, as a guarantee of their intention to uphold the agreement. Over the years from 1417 until his death in 1425, Dunston was employed by the city in its attempts to obtain repayment of another sum of 500 marks, borrowed by Henry V on the security of a gold coronet set with precious stones and worth £800, which the King also pledged as security for a loan from Bishop’s Lynn. The King’s financial embarrassment made the task difficult and took Dunston three times to the Exchequer in 1417-18 and 1420-1. On the third occasion he and his companions carried with them the pledged coronet, evidently in anticipation of a settlement, but all to no purpose: the money had still not been paid back when Henry V died in 1422. A year or so later Dunston was sent to Castle Rising to treat with the late King’s executor Thomas Beaufort, duke of Exeter, about it, but once more he met with no success, and, indeed, nothing was to be achieved until long after his own death. In the meantime, on 30 May 1421, following their return to Norwich from attending the Parliament dissolved a week earlier, Dunston and his colleague, Robert Baxter, reported to the mayor and commonalty on its proceedings. Shortly after the close of his last Parliament, in December 1422, Dunston was one of six aldermen named on a committee assigned to organize a civic reception for the duke of Exeter. At the Norwich parliamentary elections of the following year, he stood surety for the appearance of John Gerard†. His last official act was as one of the body of 24 aldermen present at the sealing of the ordinances drawn up for the better government of Norwich, on 6 Dec. 1424.5
Dunston’s will, made on 2 Mar. 1425, authorized the sale of land in the suburbs at Heigham and of a capital messuage in the parish of St. Giles. Proceeds from the sale of the latter were to be divided into four equal parts: one each to go to his wife and son Nicholas; another to an unborn son should his wife happen to be pregnant; and the last to his executors to pay his debts. He died before September that year, when his widow, along with Thomas Sistede, secretary to the bishop of Ely, completed transactions relating to the same property. Dunston had left £5 for repairs to the tower of St. Giles’s, and it was in the nave of this church that he was buried, next to his first wife.