GARE, Thomas (d.1434/5), of York.
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Family and Education
Bailiff, York 3 Feb 1394-5; member of the council of 24 by c. Oct. 1415-aft. June 1417, of the 12 by June 1419-d.; mayor 3 Feb 1420-1.2
The subject of this biography, who rose to become one of the richest merchants in late medieval York, was the son of a local mercer, and as such was admitted to the freedom, along with his brother, John, in about 1385. The two of them were named as executors by John Leversdale, another member of the mercantile community, some four years later, and together they sued a Dartmouth man for a debt of over £42 owed to the deceased. But John did not survive much longer, and the task of administering his estate fell to Thomas during the summer of 1393.3 The latter had already begun to lay the foundations of a substantial fortune accumulated through trade. As early as 1388 he and a consortium of merchants from York and Kingston-upon-Hull obtained permission from the Crown to dispatch a cargo of wool and woolfells to Middleburg free of customs, in lieu of a valuable consignment which had been lost in a shipwreck off the Norfolk coast. As the Hull customs accounts reveal, Gare was a major exporter of wool, although his dealings in finished cloth were equally impressive; during the first six months of 1391, for instance, he paid duty on cloth worth at least £57; and his exports in the following year came to almost as much. Some, if not all, of this merchandise was manufactured by his own work force. Between October 1394 and July 1395 he presented over 90 cloths and 104 ‘dozens’ for inspection by the alnager at York, having either developed this interest as a result of his investments in wool, or else having branched out into the wool trade after inheriting his father’s business as a mercer. Throughout the next decade, and probably for the rest of his life, Gare remained one of the principal dealers in these two lucrative commodities in the north of England. Quite a few of his cargoes left the country from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and since, like most merchants of the period, he never missed the opportunity to turn a quick profit, he began to deal in locally mined coal as well. In July 1397 alone he and his partner, Nicholas Blackburn (father of John*), obtained a royal licence to dispatch 1,000 sacks of wool from Newcastle, although the quality of the fleeces may well have been considerably inferior to those available further south. The range of Gare’s imports is also worthy of comment, for at various times he dealt in herring, wine, woad and Spanish iron (a single shipment of the last, in May 1401, being valued at £32). On the other hand, as we have seen, his purchases were often at risk: in November 1392 a ship named the Marie Knyght, loaded with goods bought by two factors at Danzig, went aground almost within sight of Hull and was pillaged by the sailors as a means of extorting ransom money; and much later, in 1426, he lost ten sarplers of wool because of piracy in the English Channel. Gare was also vulnerable nearer home: when, in April 1398, Richard II was seeking both to raise money and intimidate any potentially disaffected subjects by making them enter bonds (often in unspecified sums) of various kinds, he and another York merchant were forced to surrender securities in excess of £26 under threat of immediate detention. The wealth of the Gares, rather than fears of their political unreliability, probably explains why Thomas’s father, William, was bound over in the even larger sum of £50.4
Perhaps because of the scale of his commercial operations, Gare did not really become involved in civic affairs until later life. Although he served a term as bailiff of York while he was still quite young (and was thus responsible for making the return for the parliamentary elections of 1395), over 20 more years apparently elapsed before he agreed to sit on the council of 24, and he had only been an alderman (or member of the 12) for a few months when he first entered the House of Commons. Yet he none the less stood high in the ranks of the ruling elite, as can be seen from his appearance among the earliest members of the influential guild of Corpus Christi, which he, his wife, Katherine, and their two sons helped to found in 1408, and to which their daughter, Alice, was admitted later. Not surprisingly, Gare was a party to several property transactions in York, beginning, in 1401, with his acquisition of three messuages and other holdings in Nether Ousegate, to which he added dwellings and shops in Coney Street, ‘Lytyll Flessamelles’ and Upper Ousegate. He also acted as a mainpernor at the Exchequer for Robert Middleton on his appointment as alnager of Yorkshire, besides attesting the return for York to the Parliament of 1415. It was, however, after his own election as an MP, in 1419, that Gare really began to take an interest in such matters: he sat again in December 1421 (after discharging a term as mayor), and took part in at least five more parliamentary elections.5
Gare may well have relinquished some of his responsibilities (although not his aldermanry) in 1427, when he made over most of his holdings in York to his elder son, Thomas, in return for an annual rent of 20 marks. Already mindful of the fate of his immortal soul, he had personally delivered 100 marks to the Austin Friars of York for building work on their new dormitory, in return for which they agreed to perform obits on his behalf. The money was later borrowed back by Thomas, whose widow, Ellen, evidently failed to make good the repayments and was sued in Chancery as a result. Ellen was the only daughter of John Bedford II*, a prominent Hull merchant, who may well have done business with Gare on various occasions. The latter survived to see his son’s marriage, as well as his return to Parliament, in 1432, and his election as mayor of York two years later. Indeed, his death (at some point late in 1434 or early in 1435) occurred only a few years before that of Thomas, whose will of December 1438 was proved in the following spring.6
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. Surtees Soc. lvii. 11, 20; xcvi. 81; Borthwick Inst. York, York registry wills, ii. ff. 110v-11; CPR, 1396-9, p. 364.
- 2. C219/9/11, 11/7; Surtees Soc. lxxxv. 3, 7-8; xcvi. 128; cxxv. 52, 62, 64, 79, 86, 91, 111, 157, 173-4; clxxxvi. 28.
- 3. Surtees Soc. xcvi. 81, 82; York registry wills, i. ff., IV, 58; CPR, 1388-92, p. 425.
- 4. CCR, 1385-9, pp. 377-8; CPR, 1391-6, p. 233; 1396-9, pp. 167, 364; 1422-9, p. 385; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. lxiv. 10, 15, 18, 19, 22, 56, 58, 67, 74-75, 81, 88; E122/59/23, 24, 26, 106/26, 30, 159/11; C. Frost, Hull, app. 10.
- 5. Surtees Soc. lvii. 11, 20; cxxv. 53; clxxxvi. 32-33, 65-66; CFR, xiv. 197; C219/9/11, 11/7, 12/4, 13/1-3, 5, 14/2; CP25(1)279/149/22.
- 6. C1/18/87; York City Archs. List of Civic Officials ed. Skaife, f. 225; Surtees Soc. lvii. 31, 247-8; clxxxvi. 83-84; York registry wills, ii. ff. 110v-11.