GEDNEY, John (d.1449), of London.
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Family and Education
Alderman of Farringdon Ward Without 18 Jan.-aft. 20 Dec. 1415, of Coleman Street Ward by 27 July 1416-bef. 13 Oct. 1435, of Cornhill Ward c. Oct. 1435-d.; auditor, London 21 Sept. 1419-20; mayor 13 Oct. 1427-8, 1447-8.2
Tax collector, London Nov. 1416, Dec. 1421, Oct. 1422.3
Sheriff, London and Mdx. Mich. 1417-18.
Warden of the Drapers’ Co. Aug. 1427-8, master Aug. 1439-?41, 1447-8.4
Commr. of kiddles, Essex, Herts., Mdx. Dec. 1433, Apr. 1434, Oct. 1436.
Alnager, Mdx. 4 July 1443-d.
Gedney’s family background remains obscure, although it seems likely that he was a relative (perhaps even the son) of the John Gedney, styled variously ‘of Middlesex’ and ‘of Westminster’, who obtained an exemption from jury service in 1417 on the ground of increasing age. This John Gedney appeared frequently as a surety in the early years of the 15th century and had an interest in the cloth trade. The MP’s other namesake, a prosperous London grocer active at this time, may also have been one of his kinsmen.5 The first known reference to John Gedney the draper occurs in May 1407 and concerns his purchase of the reversion of a messuage in the City. Between 1412 and 1422 the wardens of the Grocers’ Company bought cloth worth £417 from Gedney for liveries, perhaps choosing him as their chief supplier because of his connexion with a member of their guild. He had taken on at least one apprentice by August 1414, and continued to train a series of young men in the draper’s trade until the last years of his life.6 Evidence of Gedney’s commercial activities is rather scattered, but none the less shows him to have been both rich and influential. From 1420 onwards, if not before, he sold quantities of cloth to the royal household. A good deal of merchandise was made available by him on long-term credit, for in May 1439 he had still to recover almost £490 in debts incurred by Henry VI over the previous decade; and he was still awaiting payment of part of the sum as late as 1446. Two direct loans of his to the Crown (one of £20 made towards the cost of Henry V’s second French expedition in 1417, and a similar sum advanced nine years later) were both promised on the security of the London customs, but a third of £133, borrowed by Henry VI in April 1445, seems for once to have been repaid in cash almost immediately.7 Others were just as slow in settling their accounts: during his later years Gedney went to law for the recovery of at least £228 from customers and business associates, most of whom lived in the south-east of England, and all of whom failed to appear in court when summoned.8 The draper also dealt extensively in luxury goods supplied by Italian merchants. In September 1425, for example, he and John Mitchell* paid £358 to two Venetians; and six years later Francis Spinull of Genoa assigned one of his own creditors a debt of £218 owed to him by Gedney alone. The latter also acted as a general broker in the City, besides importing woad, which he shipped into the country through Southampton.9 One of the senior members of his livery company, Gedney was chosen as its first master, an office created in 1439 soon after the drapers obtained their charter of incorporation. He had already served a term as warden of the guild, and, in 1419, had promised one of the largest donations towards the cost of building a Drapers’ hall then noted down in the company records. His membership of an inner council of leading drapers (who in 1434 were given a dinner by the company in recognition of their services) also testifies to the respect accorded him by his colleagues. As might be expected, Gedney was often called upon to arbitrate in commercial disputes, helping to settle at least seven cases of this kind from May 1419 onwards.10
Gedney derived a substantial part of his income from property in London and Middlesex which, by 1436, brought him at least £120 a year. The bulk of his holdings in the City lay in St. Christopher’s parish, although he owned other shops and tenements elsewhere, together with premises called the Newe Inne outside the Temple Bar.11 His activities as a feoffee now make it very difficult to distinguish many of his own transactions from those of the associates who made him a party to their conveyances and purchases, so the full extent of his possessions remains unknown.12 His wife, Joan, who was already three-times widowed, and thus an extremely affluent woman in her own right, laid claim to shops and tenements in Colchester, probably as part of a family estate, as well as enjoying a life interest in all her second husband’s property in Winchester. Her third husband, Robert Large, a former mayor of London and personal friend of Gedney’s, does not appear to have left her any of his extensive holdings in the City, but he did confirm her in possession of a dower worth 400 marks and made her guardian of his two sons and their inheritance of £2,000. As executor of Large’s will, Gedney was particularly well placed to press his suit upon the widowed Joan, who had initially intended to take the veil.13 The draper’s most significant accessions in the country were made between 1427 and 1449, as one by one the main sub-manors of Tottenham in Middlesex, some of which had belonged to John Walden*, were united in his hands. An efficient landowner, who could bring years of financial expertise to the business of estate management, Gedney adopted a policy of leasing out the demesne as a single unit at an annual rent six times that charged by his predecessors. He introduced a fulling mill to the village of Tottenham and also began the manufacture of bricks, which soon became a thriving local industry. Altogether, his property in this area brought him at least £57 a year, above the profits of his other local enterprises.14Gedney possessed a title to the manors of Dedham and Bohun’s Hall, Essex, and scattered holdings in Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, but it seems likely that here, at least, he was merely executing the terms of a series of trusts. As in the City, he held land to the use of several other people, most notably Henry, Cardinal Beaufort.15 Many Londoners made Gedney a grantee of their goods and chattels; and he was from time to time prepared to act as a mainpernor for persons with litigation pending in Chancery or before the court of aldermen. In May 1431 he joined with three other prominent citizens (one of whom was the above-mentioned Robert Large) to take and offer securities for an advance of £2,000 made to the Crown out of a forthcoming clerical subsidy.16
Although he was one of the very few distinguished individuals who served two terms as mayor of London during the first half of the 15th century, Gedney was initially reluctant to assume a prominent role in civic affairs. He had not yet held office when returned to Parliament in 1414, and on being elected alderman of Farringdon ward Without in the following year he refused to take the necessary oath because of some supposed inability on his part. The dual threat of imprisonment and confiscation of goods soon made him change his mind, and he remained an alderman until his death. Except when he was mayor, however, he rarely attended more than a third of the meetings of the court of aldermen, perhaps because of his interests outside the City. He was present at eight of the parliamentary elections held in London between 1415 and 1449, even so, and soon rose to become one of the leading members of the ruling hierarchy.17 An attempt by two forgers to secure the indictment of Gedney and several colleagues for murder came to nothing, and in 1419 the draper successfully petitioned Parliament for the proceedings to be annulled. In July 1428 the royal council sanctioned a gift of game to Gedney, who was then mayor of London, although for some reason Sir John (now Lord) Tiptoft*, opposed the grant. Gedney remained active until the very end of his life. In the early 1440s he sat on committees to examine the finances of London Bridge and supervise the building of a granary in the City; and in February 1442 as ‘John Gedney, esquire’ he was assigned expenses of £7 for going to Calais on the King’s business. One of the most influential members of his company, Gedney inevitably became involved in the quarrel between the Drapers and their rivals the Tailors, which, by the early 1440s, threatened to disrupt the peace of the entire City. Disparaging remarks about the Tailors’ hall were attributed to him during an enquiry held before the court of aldermen in September 1443, but no disciplinary steps were taken, probably because most of the tribunal shared his prejudices. In the following year he incurred the more serious displeasure of the Church by marrying Joan Large after she had reputedly taken holy orders. Her wealth and possessions no doubt made bearable the heavy penance imposed on Gedney by the ecclesiastical authorities, and the endowment of a fund for the education of scholars at Oxford and Cambridge which he made in 1445 (for the next 19 years) was probably intended further to attone for his offence. It was also at this time that he promised to leave 200 marks for the improvement of the water supply in London, thus ensuring for himself a posthumous reputation for generous public works.18
Gedney died on 12 Feb. 1449 and was almost certainly buried in the Guildhall chapel, of which he was a notable benefactor. His portrait in contemporary stained-glass is in a widow of Long Melford church, Suffolk, which may also have owed something to his generosity. He left no children, and, on the death of his widow in the summer of 1462, the bulk of his estates passed to Richard Turnaunt, the son of her second marriage.19
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Gedney is known to have used the alias Brodyng, notably in 1419, when he petitioned Parliament (RP, iv. 119).
- 1. Guildhall Lib. London, 9171/5, ff. 327d-328; PCC 16, 19 Rous, 17 Luffenham. No direct evidence of Gedney’s first marriage has survived, although a reference of November 1437 to him as joint owner with John Gedney junior of property in St. Christopher’s parish suggests that he then had a son who predeceased him (Corporation of London RO, hr 170/21).
- 2. Beaven, Aldermen, i. 108, 122, 153; Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 142, 226, 245; H, 64, 79-80, 324, 327.
- 3. Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 265.
- 4. A. H. Johnson, Hist. Drapers’ Company, i. 315, 333; iv. 644.
- 5. E101/340/27; C241/189/46; Corporation of London RO, hpl 145 m. 11; CPR, 1408-13, pp. 33, 132, 327; 1413-16, p. 319; 1416-22, pp. 64, 223, 226; CCR, 1399-1402, pp. 405, 418; 1402-5, pp. 490, 530; 1405-9, pp. 117, 140; CFR, xiv. 107.
- 6. Corporation of London RO, hr 134/92; Johnson, i. 287-346; Ms Archs. Grocers’ Company ed. Kingdon, i. 110,