EATON (ETON), Walter, of Norwich, Norf.
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Family and Education
s. of William Eaton (d.1392) of Norwich by his w. Joan (d.1419). m. bef. Oct. 1394, Agnes.
Bailiff, Norwich Mich. 1399-1400; recorder c. Sept. 1408-c. Mich. 1415, Mich. 1425-30.1
Commr. of inquiry, Norwich Jan. 1414 (illegal congregations and riots); gaol delivery Nov. 1423, Feb. 1428, c. Apr. 1430.2
Steward of the abbey of St. Benet of Hulme, Norf. c.1420s.
Sheriff, Norwich (by Crown appointment) 15 July-29 Nov. 1437.
This Member’s family took its name from Eaton, now a suburb of Norwich. His father, William, the bailiff of 1378-9 and 1384-5, contributed £20 towards the building of a new aisle in the church of St. John Maddermarket and, together with his wife Joan, held a number of properties in the city, situated not only in that parish but also in those of St. Michael Coselany, St. Giles and St. Andrew. Certain of these holdings passed to Walter following his father’s death in 1392, but most remained in the possession of his mother, who lived on 27 years longer. Instead of emulating his father in his occupation as a merchant, Walter trained to be a lawyer, and was thus able to assist his widowed mother in bringing actions for debt in the central courts. After his marriage he and his wife acquired two tenements in St. Laurence’s parish, which was probably where they set up home. In the course of his long career Eaton also came to have landed holdings outside the city: to the north-west at Attlebridge, Taverham and elsewhere, conveyed to him in 1396; to the south-east at Bixley; and to the west at Barford, although these last may not have come into his possession until some 30 years afterwards.3
In the years between 1395 and 1410 Eaton was kept busy acting on behalf of clients from Norwich and elsewhere in Norfolk, for whom he provided securities in Chancery and pleaded in the lawcourts.4 Not infrequently his work brought him into contact with another Norwich lawyer, John Alderford, and while at Westminster as colleagues in the Parliament of 1406 these two exhibited the city’s charter before the judges of the common pleas, a task for which they were subsequently reimbursed £5 as expenses. Eaton’s appointment as recorder of Norwich did not take place until two years later when, in 1408, he succeeded the recently deceased John Yelverton. His first spell of office lasted seven years, during which he received a regular annual fee of five marks as well as livery of vesture worth 6s.8d. He was thus the person concerned when, in 1414, among the grievances voiced by the ‘commons’ of the city against the ‘prudeshommes’, it was asserted that no redress was to be had for wrong judgements in the courts of the mayor and sheriffs, since appeals were heard by their nominee, the recorder. One of the provisions in the ‘composition’ subsequently drawn up in February 1415 stipulated that henceforth the recorder should be chosen by the general assembly of citizens, so it seems likely that it was opposition from the ‘commons’ which led to Eaton’s removal from office a few months later. Yet although not formally retained as recorder again until ten years had elapsed, Eaton nevertheless continued to give the civic authorities legal advice on occasion: thus, in 1420-1 he drafted a letter to be sent to Bishop Wakering of Norwich regarding the repayment of a loan of 1,000 marks made jointly by Norwich and Bishop’s Lynn to Henry V, for which the King’s coronet had been pledged as security, no doubt asking the bishop for his assistance in dealings with the royal council. Then, in 1425, he was re-elected to Parliament after an absence of 18 years. In February 1426, not long after he had been reappointed recorder, Eaton was among those chosen in the city assembly to treat with the council of the prior of Norwich cathedral priory in an attempt to resolve the longstanding disputes between the two bodies.5
The services of a lawyer were always useful when it came to the conveyance of landed property. In 1408 Eaton had been required to act as a feoffee of certain lands to the south of Norwich at Swardeston and elsewhere, apparently on behalf of the purchaser, Richard Purdance*; and early in 1410 he witnessed a deed regarding the manor of Tolthorp within the precincts of the city itself, which was being transferred into the possession of Sir Thomas Erpingham KG. Also in 1410 he joined with others, including William Rees* of Tharston and William Sedman*, in making a grant in mortmain of the manor of Cringleford to St. Giles’s hospital, for the maintenance of a chaplain who would celebrate mass there for the soul of Master John Darlington, the late archdeacon of Norwich — an endowment which required special licences not only from the Crown but also from Thomas, Lord Dacre. Rees was his co-feoffee, too, of an estate centred on Raynham which belonged to the Scoggans. It was in the capacity of a trustee or an executor that Eaton presented to the living at Morley in 1418. Meanwhile, he had attended the county elections held in the shire house at Norwich for the Parliament of 1411.6
The ten-year gap in Eaton’s service as recorder of Norwich, between 1415 and 1425, may also have been occasioned to a certain extent by personal financial embarrassment, as indicated by several suits brought against him for debt. On 24 Nov. 1423 he obtained pardon of his outlawry for non-appearance when sued by a number of creditors, including the abbot of Waltham, for sums amounting to £66. A more serious charge was to be levied against him in his professional capacity as steward of the abbey of St. Benet of Hulme: at some unknown date between 1426 and 1432 a petition presented in Chancery alleged that he had conspired with others to deprive a merchant from Northamptonshire of a consignment of fleeces seized on its way to Yarmouth for shipment to Calais and impounded by order of his court at Horning.7
Eaton attended the shire elections for Norfolk prior to the Parliaments of 1425 and 1427, and he was among the notables of the county who in the spring of 1434 were required to take the generally administered oath not to maintain breakers of the King’s peace. When, in 1437, as the result of serious dissensions in Norwich, the King’s Council temporarily suspended the normal government of the city and appointed John Welles III*, a prominent London grocer and financier, as warden, Eaton was nominated to serve under him as one of the sheriffs.8 In the following year he was associated with Sir Henry Inglose† and others as patrons of the living at Little Plumstead, but is not recorded alive thereafter. He died before November 1443.9
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. Norf. Official Lists ed. Le Strange, 98; Recs. Norwich ed. Hudson and Tingey, ii. 59; Norf. RO, Norwich treasurers’ rolls, 10 Hen. IV-9 Hen. VI.
- 2. Recs. Norwich, i. 300, 303-4.
- 3. Norf. Official Lists, 97; Norf. Arch. iii. 206-7; CPR, 1396-9, p. 130; Norf. RO, Reg. Hyrnyng, ff. 49-50; Norwich enrolments, 15 mm. 9, 12, 18, 29d, 33; 17 m. 12; CP25(1)168/181/272; Feudal Aids, iii. 563, 591.
- 4. CCR, 1392-6, p. 413; 1396-9, pp. 221, 295; 1405-9, pp. 105, 238, 241, 269, 379; 1409-13, p. 86.
- 5. M. McKisack, Parl. Repn. Eng. Bors. 138; Recs. Norwich, i. 76, 104; ii. 63; Norwich assembly roll, 4 Hen. VI.
- 6. CP25(1)168/183/82; CCR, 1409-13, pp. 102, 106, 110; F. Blomefield, Norf. ii. 480; iv. 387-8; CPR, 1408-13, p. 187; 1422-9, p. 523; C219/10/6.
- 7. CPR, 1422-9, p. 146; C1/7/210.
- 8. C219/13/3, 5; CPR, 1429-36, p. 405; 1436-41, p. 123; CFR, xvi. 344.
- 9. Blomefield, vii. 245; CCR, 1441-7, p. 271.