GRAA, Thomas (d.1405), of York.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Jan. 1377
Jan. 1380
Apr. 1384
Jan. 1397

Family and Education

s. and h. of William Graa (d.c.1377) of York, merchant. m. (1) by 1369, Agnes (fl.1378), poss. da. of John Woodhall (d. by 1368) of Woodhall, Yorks.; (2) by 1381, Maud (d.1391/2), da. of John Multon of Ingleby, Lincs., 3s. 2da.; (3) by Nov. 1401, Alice, wid. of John Colthorpe (d.c.1394) of Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorks., merchant.2

Offices Held

Commr. of kiddles, Yorks. June 1371, May 1379, Mar. 1380, Nov. 1399; oyer and terminer July 1377 (disorder at Hutton), Mar. 1390 (disorder at Wilton); to repair the King’s fish-ponds and mills, York May 1379; hold a special assize July 1379;3 of gaol delivery July 1379;4 inquiry Feb. 1380 (alms to St. Leonard’s hospital), Yorks. Nov. 1384 (disorder at Oakwell), Aug. 1387, Mar. 1388 (lands of William Playce), York Oct., Nov. 1388 (escape of felons from gaol), Dec. 1391 (abuses at St. Leonard’s hospital), Apr. 1400, May 1401 (alienation of estates from St. Nicholas’s hospital); to take sureties from persons disturbing the peace Mar. 1382; collect money owed to the King Apr. 1398; deliver the temporalities of the abpric. of York to Richard Scrope June 1398; raise and collect royal loans July 1400.

Mayor, York 3 Feb. 1375-6, 1398-9; member of the council of 12 by Mar. 1376-aft. Apr. 1397; chamberlain 3 Feb. 1397-8.5

Surveyor of a tax, York Apr. 1379; collector of an aid on the marriage of Princess Blanche Dec. 1401.

Parlty. cttee. for reform of the royal household 2 Mar. 1380.6

J.p. York 26 May 1380-c. Feb. 1393.7

Escheator, Yorks. 1 Nov. 1383-11 Nov. 1384.

Ambassador to negotiate a commercial treaty with Prussia 12 June-aft. 21 Aug. 1388.


As a member of one of the richest and most prominent families in 14th-century York, the subject of this biography could reasonably expect to occupy an important place among the civic elite, although he soon came to enjoy considerable influence throughout the county of Yorkshire as well, where his success was clearly due to talent rather than personal connexions. Thomas’s father, William Graa, represented York in no less than 14 Parliaments between 1343 and 1372, so the young man himself commanded a good deal of authority in the city from a relatively early age. Perhaps he accompanied William on his frequent visits to London: in November 1364 and twice in May 1368 (when his father was actually sitting in the Commons) he stood surety at the Exchequer on behalf of the farmers of certain crown estates in Yorkshire; and in July 1369 (just after the close of William’s 12th Parliament) he had the terms of a transaction whereby two Yorkshiremen promised to pay him £20 enrolled in the records of Chancery. Thomas had by then married his first wife, Agnes, who possessed a reversionary title to the manor of Woodhall and half the advowson of Darfield church, Yorkshire. Since this was expectant on the death of John, son of John Woodhall, she may, quite probably, have been the younger Woodhall’s sister. Already a property owner of some consequence, our Member rented two tenements in York from the civic authorities at a cost of over 16s. a year, owned a modest estate in Sand Hutton, another in Skelton in the royal forest of Galtres, and was involved in the conveyance of land in Brandsby, which evidently belonged to Agnes. Not surprisingly, from 1371 onwards he began serving on royal commissions of various kinds in Yorkshire as well as York, and by the time of his father’s death he had not only discharged a term as mayor of the city but had also taken a seat on the prestigious council of 12.8 Moreover, William Graa lived to see his first return to Parliament, in January 1377, although it is unlikely that he survived for very long after the award of a royal pardon, issued to him in the following June. By March 1379 Thomas and his kinsman, Laurence Graa, along with the other executors of William’s will, were making plans for the foundation of a chantry dedicated to the soul of the deceased at St. Mary’s church, Castlegate. An official inquiry, held to determine if they could alienate land worth 30s.a year to the church, found that the rest of the estate would still yield over £10 p.a., and not too long afterwards (at a further cost of £5) they obtained formal permission from the Crown to implement the scheme. A second royal licence followed, in January 1385, this time for a more modest endowment.9

A substantial part of Thomas’s income derived from the wool trade, and although it is now impossible to estimate the scale of his exports, he clearly ranked among the leading York merchants of his day. In March 1379 alone he exported 43 sarplers of wool through the port of Kingston-upon-Hull; a further 55 sarplers followed between December of that year and April 1380; and he paid customs on a minimum of 44 sarplers at the beginning of 1382. On at least one occasion, in 1377, Graa joined with a group of associates in lending money to the Crown, repayment being promised to them in the form of a licence to ship 640 sacks of wool overseas free of duty. By the time of his return to the first Parliament of 1380, Graa could boast an impressive amount of financial and administrative expertise, and it was clearly for this reason that he was chosen to sit on a parliamentary committee for the reform of the royal household. All but one of the 16 men appointed to this body were currently attending Parliament, but only three were burgesses; and it is an indication of Graa’s standing in the Commons that he was considered worthy to take his place alongside the two eminent Londoners, William Walworth and John Philipot.10 Even so, Graa suffered a serious, albeit temporary, loss of reputation during this period as a result of the intense factional rivalry which split the people of York into two hostile camps. Whereas many of the richer merchants allied themselves with John Gisburn, the mayor in 1380, Graa and his close friend, William Selby*, chose to champion instead the cause of Simon Quixley. Graa himself seems to have held aloof from the outbreak of rioting which saw Gisburn’s expulsion from the city and Quixley’s appointment in his place: at all events, he was not among those (including Selby) who were bound in heavy securities in May 1381 to keep the peace. But he did play a prominent part in the events which sparked off wholesale disorder throughout the city at the time of the Peasants’ Revolt that summer, being responsible with Selby for the imprisonment of some of Gisburn’s leading supporters. These men were arrested on the trumped-up charges of sympathizing with the rebels in the south, and were only released after they had surrendered recognizances in large sums of money to their captors. If Graa and Selby thus hoped to cow their opponents they were sadly mistaken, because what had originally begun as a struggle for power by a fairly narrow clique of well-heeled citizens soon degenerated into a frightening display of mob violence. In the following February the two friends, Graa and Selby, and all the other leading protagonists in the affair were forced to surrender personal securities in £100 to the government as an earnest of their future good behaviour. Neither of them remained out of favour for long, however: indeed, they actually sat together in the Parliaments of 1384 (Apr.), 1395 and 1397 (Jan.); and when Graa died he bequeathed a fine silver cup to his old associate.11

While all these upheavals were in progress, Graa was living with his second wife, Maud, and four servants in the parish of St. Mary Castlegate. He paid poll tax at the highest possible rate of 20s., and thus ranked as one of the richest men in the city. Some of this wealth had possibly come to him from Maud,who was the daughter of a Lincolnshire landowner named John Multon. Through her Graa gained possession of the two manors of Ingleby and Frampton for which he was subsequently charged a rent of £27 p.a. each by the feudal overlords, the earl of Kent and Sir John Bussy*, after her death and during the minority of their eldest son, John, the next heir. Maud’s title to Frampton was formally recognized in 1383 after a lawsuit (which was apparently collusive) in the court of common pleas, but no other challenges were made to her ownership. It is interesting to note that Graa already by then derived at least £5 a year in rents from property in Kingston-upon-Hull, and also occupied a modest estate in Helmsley, to the north of York. The joint interest in the manor of Nunwick, near Ripon, which he and his kinsman, Laurence Graa, shared with others, may perhaps have come to them as trustees of the Merington family, since they settled the property on one William Merington for life, in 1383, just after acquiring other land and dwellings in York and Lounelith from one of his kinsmen. Besides his principal messuage, noted above, Graa’s own holdings in York included tenements in Coney Street, ‘le Littel Flesshameles’ (leased out, appropriately enough, to one of the city’s leading butchers) and Coppergate.12 It is thus hardly surprising that he was in constant demand as a feoffee-to-uses, executor and arbitrator: among those who chose him to execute their wills were Annabel Holme (d.1391), the widow of the wealthy vintner, John Berden (d.1396/7), whose daughter was then just about to marry John Morton II*, and William (d.1400), the son of Sir Roger Leeds. From time to time, Graa helped to settle local property disputes (acting, no doubt, in his capacity as an alderman), and he was also closely involved in the endowment of a chantry at the church of Holy Cross at the turn of the century.13

Besides his constant preoccupation with both civic and county administration (only one other York MP William Frost, held the escheatorship of Yorkshire in our period), Graa also stands out because of his interest in diplomacy, at least so far as it affected his own and his fellow merchants’ commercial interests. In June 1388, he was despatched to Prussia to negotiate with Conrad Zolver, the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, over the redress of grievances arising from conflict between the English and the Hanse in the Baltic, where a group of York men alone had reputedly lost merchandise worth £1,600. Some measure of the importance of this mission may be gauged from the fact that he and the other ambassadors were carefully briefed by the royal council before their departure, steps having already been taken for the confiscation of certain Prussian cargoes in order to pay for their mission. A formal trading agreement was finalized at Marienburg in late summer, although the Grand Master took serious exception to the behaviour of one envoy, the Londoner Walter Sibille, and complained about him to the government afterwards.14

Graa’s domestic (and financial) circumstances changed again in the 1390s, following the death of his second wife and his remarriage to a wealthy widow. As we have seen, Maud’s estates were entailed upon their eldest son, but since the latter cannot have been more than about ten years old when her will was proved, in January 1392, Graa obtained the tenancy of her Lincolnshire manors until the boy came of age. Having taken care of the administration of Maud’s effects, supervised her funeral and ensured that their five young children each received their personal legacies, Graa set about looking for another wife, and eventually settled upon Alice Colthorpe. She too was busy executing the will of a recently-deceased spouse, in this case the affluent Hull merchant, John Colthorpe, who had served with Graa in the Parliament of 1385. Alice enjoyed a life estate in all her late husband’s lands and tenements in Hull, so although Graa was obliged to shoulder some of the responsibility for collecting Colthorpe’s debts, this seemed a small price to pay. Arrangements for the endowment of a chantry at the Carthusian house in Hull, in 1402, where prayers were to be said for Colthorpe’s soul and the good estate of both Graa and Alice, reveal that an original assignment of £12 p.a. was to be made, although we cannot now tell if the deceased’s property alone was extensive enough to support such a heavy charge.15

After a long and active career, during which he had attended at least 12 Parliaments, and had, indeed, risen to become a figure of national importance, Graa gradually began to retire from public life. Although he served on a few royal commissions during the early part of Henry IV’s reign, he played comparatively little part in other civic affairs. A recognizance of July 1404, whereby he and such other prominent figures as William Helmsley* and William Frost* offered Archbishop Scrope securities of £133 6s.8d. marks his last semi-official appearance; and no more is heard of him until he drew up his will on 20 May 1405. He died at some point over the next six weeks, and was buried beside his second wife before the altar of St. John the Evangelist and St. John the Baptist at the church of St. Mary, Castlegate. As well as leaving £5 for a stone tomb bearing both their effigies, Graa made generous provision for the setting up of a chantry, to which he bequeathed a book called ‘tyxt’, images of the Crucified Christ, the Virgin and St. John, and a crucifix mounted on a pedestal with three figures in silver gilt. A further sum of £14 was set aside for anniversary masses, and three of his cottages were earmarked for the use of the chantry priests. Graa appointed his wife, Alice, and his eldest son as executors, but also made provision for his two younger boys, who may still have been minors.16

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. The Christian name is missing on the return; C219/9/10.
  • 2. C143/394/24; CP25(1)277/140/13; Borthwick Inst. York, York registry wills, i. ff. 42v, 86; iii. ff. 235v-6; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. lii. 138; CIMisc. vii. no. 53; Peds. Plea Rolls ed. Wrottesley, 142; CPR, 1401-5, pp. 74, 111; Trans. E. Riding Antiq. Soc. xxx. 19.
  • 3. C66/305 m. 45v.
  • 4. Ibid. 43v.
  • 5. Surtees Soc. cxvi. 72, 99; cxx. 23, 30-33, 173; cxxv. 6, 14, 29, 122.
  • 6. RP, iii. 73.
  • 7. Surtees Soc. cxx. 215. The appointment was briefly suspended in Mar. and May 1381 (no doubt as a result of Graa’s involvement in factional disputes in York), and in Oct. 1392 it was reported that his most recent commission had not yet arrived (CCR, 1377-81, pp. 505, 518; 1392-6, p. 84).
  • 8. CFR, vii. 296, 380-1; CCR, 1358-61, p. 473; 1369-74, p. 98; CIMisc. iii. no. 824; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. lii. 138; Surtees Soc. cxx. 9, 10; CP25(1)277/140/13.
  • 9. C67/30 m. 14; C143/394/24; CPR, 1377-81, p. 435; 1381-5, p. 517.
  • 10. E122/59/2, 5, 7; CFR, ix. 60; RP, iii. 73; CPR, 1377-81, p. 459; T.F. Tout, Chapters, iii. 351-2.
  • 11. SC8/103/5143-4; York registry wills, iii. f. 235; CCR, 1381-5, p. 115.
  • 12. Trans. E. Riding Antiq. Soc. xxx. 19; CCR, 1405-9, p. 50; Peds. Plea Rolls, 142; CIMisc. vii. no. 53; CIPM, xv. no. 577; xvi. nos. 737, 749; CP25(1)278/142/52; A. Raine, Med. York. 187; Surtees Soc. clxxxvi. 12, 81; York registry wills, iii. ff. 235v-6.
  • 13. York registry wills, i. ff. 31-31v; ii. ff. 95v, 100-100v; Surtees Soc. cxx. 36; cxxv. 16-17; clxxxvi. 12, 31-34, 81; C143/436/5.
  • 14. CCR, 1385-9, pp. 388, 403, 453, 654; VCH City of York, 102-3; Surtees Soc. cxxv. 1-2, 5-6.
  • 15. York registry wills, i. ff. 42v, 86; Cal. Hull Deeds ed. Stanewell, D165-6; CPR, 1401-5, pp. 74, 111.
  • 16. CCR, 1402-5, p. 378; York registry wills, i. ff. 235v-6; Surtees Soc. iv. 339.