EXTON, Thomas (d.1420), of London.
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Family and Education
m. (1) Isabel Elys; (2) bef. Apr. 1379, Joan (d.1423), da. of Thomas Frambald of Battlesden, Beds. by his w. Maud, 2da.1
Renter of the Goldsmiths’ Co. 17 May 1373-4; warden 19 May 1376-7, 1380-1, 1386-7, 1393-4, 1398-9, 1406-7.2
Common councillor, Aldersgate Ward June 1384-Mar. 1386; auditor, London 21 Sept. 1389-90, 1398-9.3
Collector of murage, Aldersgate Ward Mar. 1387.4
Commr. to levy a subsidy, London Dec. 1402.5
Tax collector, Southwark June 1410.
Nothing is known of Exton’s early background, although he may well have been a kinsman of the wealthy fishmonger Nicholas Exton†, who was twice elected mayor of London and played a prominent part in civic affairs during the early years of Richard II’s reign. Thomas Exton had established himself as a practicing goldsmith by May 1373 when he was made renter, or custodian, of all the property belonging to his livery company, and through a generous loan of 100 marks advanced while holding office in 1380 he made possible the purchase of a tenement in Newgate Street by his fellow goldsmiths.6 His knowledge and experience of the London property market was already great, since he had built up a considerable personal estate there through marriage. Isabel, his first wife, was almost certainly the sister of Roger Elys, the rich and influential waxchandler who became sheriff of London in 1395, and of Martin Elys, a minor canon of St. Paul’s. Her early death, before 1379, must have left Exton more prosperous, although it was his second marriage, to Joan, the daughter and coheir of Maud Frambald, which made him really wealthy. From her mother she inherited shops and tenements in the London parishes of St. Michael le Querne, St. Leonard and St. Alban, as well as a messuage called ‘le Kenthouse’ and other land in Battersea, Lewisham and Beckenham. In February 1389, Joan’s father granted Exton and his feoffees an annual rent of £10 for the next 20 years, although Frambald’s sudden death and the temporary reversion of his estates to the Crown meant that the annuity fell almost immediately into arrears. The division of Maud Frambald’s London property between Joan Exton and another of her kinsmen, Robert Conyngesburgh, was finally settled after much argument in February 1390. Two years later Conyngesburgh made over all his premises in the parish of St. Vedast to the Extons, and when he died soon afterwards his son’s wardship and the custody of a substantial part of the remaining Frambald inheritance went to Thomas Exton, who enjoyed the revenues until December 1404.7 Other lands and houses in the City were either purchased outright by the goldsmith or acquired as an investment on long-term saleable leases. In April 1382, for instance, he bought the remaining 17-year leasehold of a tenement and garden in the parish of St. Mary atte Axe from the recently-widowed Joan Fish. Ten years later he successfully extended his tenancy for over half a century, having meanwhile purchased shops and dwellings in West Cheap from Thomas Whitchurch and his widow. In 1400 William Ryston sold him another lease, this time for 36 years, of various profitable holdings in the parish of St. Giles without Cripplegate which belonged to the prior of Guildford. Exton owned at least one tavern in the City, for his name occurs in a list of goldsmiths who, in July 1406, were registered as inn-keepers and bound severally in sureties of £200 to keep the peace. The assessors of the lay subsidy of 1412 estimated that his London property alone was worth almost £13 a year; and he is also known to have held land in the close of St. Thomas’s hospital, Southwark.8
Exton’s wealth and social position meant that his services as a mainpernor and feoffee were very much in demand, especially among other members of his guild. John Coraunt, a goldsmith accused of riotous assembly during the mayoral elections of 1384, called upon Exton to offer sureties on his behalf, as did John Edmond, a leading practitioner of his craft, who had to find mainpernors on being made engraver of dies at the Tower in 1389. Exton acted in this capacity for many other Londoners, including John Wade I*, the fishmonger, at the time of his appointment in August 1403 as guardian of the daughters of the late Nicholas Exton.9 Because of his marriage to Isabel Elys, Exton became closely involved in the affairs of her brother, Roger, who named him as his feoffee and executor. Otherwise he seems only to have been a party to enfeoffments made by his fellow goldsmiths, of whom the most notable were Drew Barantyn* and John French.10
Very little evidence has survived about the nature and extent of Exton’s commercial activities, although he was obviously rich enough to invest quite heavily in property. Only once, in August 1382, is he known to have supplied the royal wardrobe with goldsmiths’ wares (on this occasion 4,021 pearls worth 200 marks), although he may well have had other dealings with the Crown. He certainly had a connexion with John of Gaunt, whose receiver advanced him and two other Londoners a loan of 100 marks in 1391 and was repaid in the following year. The grant in January 1398 of a papal indult permitting Exton and his wife to make use of a portable altar is also a sign of the goldsmith’s social standing.11
As his interests in property and finance grew, so Exton found himself increasingly involved in litigation. His first appearance in court took place in December 1376, when he gave evidence against a member of the Goldsmiths’ Company who had slandered him and the other wardens. Between November 1382 and November 1397 he was summoned as defendant in no less than eight lawsuits concerning the ownership of land and rents in the City. Two of these suits went against him, while the remainder were either dropped or settled more amicably out of court.12 In June 1407 he and three other London goldsmiths faced an action in the court of common pleas, but they were easily able to secure a writ of supersedeas, and thus brought the proceedings to a halt. The recovery of unpaid debts posed less of a problem to Exton, who, unlike the great majority of London MPs, rarely took those who owed him money to law. In October 1412 he began proceedings for the recovery of £18, this being the largest sum which he ever tried to raise through litigation.13
Despite the fact that he never held office as an alderman of London, Exton’s frequent election as warden of one of the most powerful city livery companies, together with his obvious financial expertise, made him a greatly respected member of the community. He was one of ‘the best and wisest men of the City’ chosen at a session of the common council on 24 June 1384 to examine the franchise and, more specifically, to consider changes to the notorious ‘Jubilee Book’ of ordinances compiled during the mayoralty of the radical John of Northampton†. The latter’s attack upon the monopoly exercised by the victualling guilds had at first won him many supporters, including a number of goldsmiths, but his extremism provoked the inevitable hostile reaction, in which Exton, as a common councillor, joined. In August 1384 he attended Northampton’s summary trial before the royal council at Reading, and in the following March he was one of the 24 citizens appointed during an emergency session of the common council to supervise the strengthening of the City’s defences against future disturbances. One year later, in March 1386, he was present at the meeting which pressed for Northampton’s permanent banishment from London by the King. Shortly afterwards the council nominated him to serve on a commission for the enforcement of a new rate of murage, intended to raise the money for more effective law enforcement. In November 1390 and again in June 1396, Exton, a former auditor of London, was appointed by the city chamberlain to examine the accounts of guardians entrusted with the property of young orphans.14
Exton appears to have retired from public life in 1407, the date of his last term in office as warden of the Goldsmiths’ Company and of the one occasion on which he is known to have taken part in a parliamentary election at the Guildhall. He died between May and December 1420, and was buried in St. Paul’s churchyard. He made many generous bequests both to the cathedral and to the parish church of St. Leonard, London, which was promised the reversion of part of his estates on the death of Joan, his widow. Her will, drawn up on 5 Nov. 1423, refers to a daughter named Margery, although the latter probably predeceased Exton, who settled nothing on the child. He is also known to have had another daughter, Elizabeth, to whom Roger Elys left £5 in August 1395, but about whom no other evidence has survived.15
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. Cal. Wills ct. Husting London ed. Sharpe, ii (1), 305; ii (2), 447-8; Corporation of London RO, hr 107/178; Guildhall Lib. London 9171/3, f. 109d.
- 2. T.F. Reddaway and L.E.M. Walker, Early Hist. Goldsmiths’ Company, 326-9.
- 3. Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 53-54, 87, 92; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 239, 270, 281, 344, 355, 444, 449.
- 4. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 300.
- 5. Ibid. I, 25.
- 6. Reddaway and Walker, 72.
- 7. C81/519/6627; Corporation of London RO, hr 107/178, 118/82, 120/119, 133B/67; CIMisc. v. 298; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 424; PCC 50 Marche.
- 8. Corporation of London RO, hr 110/135, 120/120, 122/28, 36, 131/50, 151/17; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, p. 278; Arch. Jnl. xliv. 61; PCC 50 Marche.
- 9. Corporation of London RO, hcp 118, Monday aft. feast Conversion St. Paul, 17 Ric. II; CCR, 1377-81, p. 380; 1389-92, pp. 151-2; 1402-5, p. 287; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 67, 234; Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 26.
- 10. Corporation of London RO, hr 122/96, 124/64-66, 125/46, 126/19, 129/109, 133A/88-90, 134/122, 130, 141/88, 144/72; Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 146; Cal. P. and M. London, 1413-37, p. 70; Add. 37664, ff. 46-48; CCR, 1399-1402, p. 501; Guildhall Lib. 9171/1, f. 381d.
- 11. E403/490 m. 13; DL28/3/2, f. 6; CPL, v. 137.
- 12. Cal. P. and M. London, 1364-81, p. 288; Corporation of London RO, hcp 117, feast St. Dunstan 16 Ric. II, 121, Monday bef. feast St. Peter’s chains, 20 Ric. II, 122, Monday bef. feast St. Luke, 21 Ric. II; hpl 105 m. 1, 108 m. 24, 114, Monday bef. feast St. Margaret, 20 Ric. II, 122 m. 9; CAD, vi. C6077.
- 13. CCR, 1405-9, p. 294; Corporation of London RO, hcp 137, Monday aft. feast St. Luke the Evangelist, 14 Hen. IV.
- 14. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 235, 245-6, 254, 275, 299; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 53-54, 57, 281.
- 15. C219/10/4; Cal. Wills ct. Husting London, ii (2), 447-8; PCC 50 Marche; Guildhall Lib. 9171/1, f. 381d, 3, f. 109d.