ELLIS, William, of Burton in Kennington and Canterbury, Kent.
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Family and Education
m. bef. 1381, Isabel, ?1s. Thomas*.
Jt. searcher, Kingsdown, Kent 1 May 1371-3 Oct. 1374
Commr. of sewers, Kent Mar. 1380, I. of Thanet Oct. 1388, Kent Dec. 1400, June 1407; oyer and terminer Mar. 1381, of Thanet Feb. 1392; array, Canterbury May 1381, Dec. 1399, Aug. 1402; to put down unlawful assemblies, Kent Sept. 1381; of gaol delivery, Canterbury Sept. 1383, Nov. 1385; inquiry, Kent Oct., Nov. 1389 (estates forfeited by Sir Simon Burley), Feb. 1392 (shipwrecked goods), May 1405 (confiscated land).
King’s attorney in the ct. of c.p. 19 Oct. 1380-9 Sept. 1381.
J.p. Kent 20 Feb. 1381-Dec. 1382.
Jurat, Canterbury Mich. 1382-3, 1385-8, 1389-91, 1392-3; bailiff 1383-4, 1388-9, 1393-4, 1395-6, 1400-1, 1402-4, 1406-7.1
Escheator, Kent and Mdx. 24 Oct. 1392-24 Nov. 1394.
Alnager, Kent 20 July 1394-5 Dec. 1395, 17 Oct.-21 Nov. 1399.
Tax collector, Canterbury Dec. 1407.
Ellis, whose impressive array of offices was more typical of a shire knight than a parliamentary burgess, came from a family living at Kennington, and is known to have owned land in the neighbouring parish of Willesborough from 1370. Several years later he inherited more property in Selling and Boughton under Blean; and as his career progressed he added to his holdings by purchase, acquiring, for example, premises in Patrixbourne.2 Perhaps a relation of John Ellis, who had represented Canterbury in Parliament seven times between 1339 and 1361, he himself took up residence in the city at some date before assessments were made for the poll tax levied in December 1380. Then, living with his wife and six domestic servants (possibly in the house in Stour Street which he is known to have owned subsequently), Ellis, described as ‘homo legis’, was taxed at the comparatively high rate of 6s.8d.3 Indeed, by that time he was to all appearances making a success of his career as a lawyer and royal official, for he had received his first crown post (as searcher at Kingsdown) nearly ten years earlier, and had quite recently been appointed as King’s attorney in the court of common pleas. Furthermore, his private practice had been boosted in November 1380 by his engagement as counsel for judicial hearings at Sandwich by the abbot of St. Augustine’s, Canterbury. Ellis’s work as King’s attorney must have been affected by the Peasants’ Revolt, with its serious repercussions on life in his native county, although whether this was a factor in his dismissal after less than a year in office is not known. Thereafter he devoted considerable energy to the affairs of the city of Canterbury. Five times its representative in Parliament and elected as a bailiff on no fewer than eight occasions, he spent more than 25 years actively engaged in the city’s service. In February 1386 he and five other prominent citizens successfully negotiated for a grant of £200 from the Crown as a contribution towards the cost of renovating the city walls, which were then in a semi-ruinous condition. Not infrequently he put his legal expertise at the disposal of his fellow townsmen and the commonalty: thus, in 1387 Edmund Staplegate entrusted him with custody of his goods and chattels, and in 1392-3 the authorities paid his expenses for a trip to Rochester in connexion with a suit at the assizes in which the city was a party.4
At an unknown date before November 1389 the prior of Christ Church granted Ellis the farm of the priory’s lordship on the Isle of Sheppey. Three months earlier he had spent £100 in purchasing from the Crown lands near his own property at Kennington, forfeited by his one-time superior, Sir Robert Bealknap, c.j.c.p., in the Merciless Parliament, of which he himself had been a Member; but these he was obliged to restore to Bealknap on the judge’s return from exile early in 1399, and it seems unlikely that he ever recovered his money. Certainly, by that stage in his career Ellis could expect no favours from Richard II, for his term as alnager of Kent in 1394-5 had ended in trouble, his account showing a discrepancy of over £38, which he subsequently failed to make good. As this constituted an offence which ‘the King would not pass without punishment’, he was ordered in September 1396 to appear for judgement before the barons of the Exchequer, while the sheriff of Kent received instructions to square the debt from his confiscated goods. The incident probably accounts for his lack of official employment in the last four years of Richard’s reign, and perhaps also for his rapid removal from the alnagership after regaining it by Henry IV’s grant in the autumn of 1399.5
There are no further records of Ellis after his nomination as a tax collector in 1407. He is plausibly believed to have been the father of Thomas Ellis of Kennington, the knight of the shire of 1421.
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. Canterbury Cathedral City and Diocesan RO, burghmote reg. O/A1, ff. 4d, 7d, 9, 11, 12, 14; accts. FA1, f. 2; List Canterbury Officials comp. Urry and Bunce, 48-49.
- 2. CP25(1)106/191/1850, 110/235/679, 242/862; CIMisc. vi. 168; W.S. Ellis, Notices of Ellises, 77-82; E. Hasted, Kent, vii. 550.
- 3. E179/123/50; O/A1, f. 7d.
- 4. CCR, 1377-81, p. 412; 1385-9, pp. 120-1, 447; FA1, f. 6.
- 5. Hasted, vii. 549; CPR, 1389-92, pp. 93-94; CCR, 1389-92, p. 35; 1396-9, pp. 58, 373-4.