HOLME, Thomas (d.1406), of York.
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Family and Education
yr. s. of William Holme of Holme-on-the-Wolds, Yorks. by his w. Isabel; uncle of Robert I*. m. (1) by Oct. 1376, Marion or Mary (fl. 1383); (2) by Easter 1396, Katherine (d. aft. 1424), da. of Walter Frost† of Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorks., merchant, s.p.1
Bailiff, York 3 Feb. 1366-7; mayor 1373-4; member of the council of 12 by Mar. 1377-d.2
J.p. York 8 Feb. 1377-81, 4 Dec. 1385-Oct. 1392.
Assesor of a tax, York May 1379.
Commr. of inquiry, York May 1381 (value of Holy Trinity priory), Oct., Nov. 1388 (escapes of felons); to seize the goods of Prussian merchants in east-coast ports Nov. 1385; of kiddles, York Apr. 1388.
Between them, Thomas Holme and his brother Robert† dominated the political and economic life of York during the late 14th century, for the pair of them were not only extremely rich and successful merchants but also active public figures who devoted years of their lives to the business of local government. Robert Holme, the elder of the two, was born and raised in the village of Holme-on-the-Wolds, moving to York by 1347, when he was admitted to the freedom as a mercer. By the time that Thomas himself took this step, seven years later, Robert had already served as both chamberlain and bailiff of York; and he subsequently went on to occupy the mayoralty as well as sitting in at least two Parliaments, thus setting a pattern for his sibling to follow. Success may, therefore, have come more easily for Thomas, who rose rapidly in the civic hierarchy, and, as a former mayor, had achieved aldermanic rank by 1377. Although he continued from then onwards to sit regularly on the bench and discharge a number of other royal commissions, Thomas evidently now felt able to devote more time to his manifold commercial interests, which are far better documented from this point onwards.3
By October 1376, Thomas was rich enough to consider endowing an existing chantry in his parish church of St. Mary’s, Castlegate, with one of his messuages in York. He then paid £10 for royal letters patent permitting him to alienate the property, although a few months later he secured a second licence for rather less than half this sum, presumably recouping the difference. We know that he owned numerous dwellings and shops in the city, as well as widespread farmland in Little Smeaton, Norton, Pontefract and Stapleton in Yorkshire, and in Newark, Nottinghamshire, some of which may well have come to him through his first wife, Mary.4 But the real source of his prosperity was trade, often carried out in partnership with his brother. Together the two men acquired a house in Calais, which clearly served as a base for their flourishing business activities, most notably in wool and cloth. They were, for example, both involved in lending money to the Crown, repayment being promised to them and other northern merchants in 1377, by way of a royal permit for the export of 640 sacks of wool from Kingston-upon-Hull free of the usual customs. Sometimes Thomas acted on his own: between October 1378 and the following January he shipped out at least 54 sarplers of wool from Hull; and in the early 1390s large consignments of his cloth left the same port on vessels which returned carrying merchandise as diverse as woad, wax and raisins. That he was a producer as well as a vendor of cloth is evident from the alnager of York’s accounts for the latter part of the decade, where he appears among the leading cloth manufacturers of the area. But his major foreign ventures were collaborative affairs, partly because of the amount of capital and the hazards involved. Indeed, like all members of the mercantile community, Thomas faced the constant risk of shipwreck or even piracy, of the kind which occurred shortly before the summer of 1377, when he and his brother contracted to send wool worth 800 marks to Calais on a Dutch ship, only to lose the entire cargo when the crew made off for home with the spoils. Repeated complaints voiced on their behalf by the English government proved largely ineffective, and as a result orders were issued in October 1379 for the confiscation at Calais of any goods belonging to subjects of the Lord of Gorkum, where the malefactors lived. For some reason the mayor of the Staple was reluctant to hand over the wool thus seized, and in the following year the brothers had to seek further help from the Crown, this time to force the surrender of almost £130 in damages.5 Nor was this the only protracted commercial dispute in which our Member took part: although they concerned the payment of a far more modest sum of £8, the efforts which he made to recover overdue credit from a York fishmonger had equally serious consequences, and actually helped to bring about the introduction of two parliamentary statutes limiting the power of the admiral’s court. Having won an action for debt against the fishmonger in the local courts, Thomas grew impatient over the latter’s delays and evasions, and seized one of his ships at anchor in the river Ouse. He claimed, with apparent justice, that since it then lay within the city bounds the vessel was, quite legitimately, liable for confiscation; but the fishmonger appealed to the superior court of admiralty, which was extremely unpopular in many quarters. In theory, the admiral had cognizance of all cases involving ships on tidal waters, so it was just possible for John, Lord Beaumont, the admiral of the north, to intervene and reverse the original verdict on a legal technicality: yet by so doing he merely fuelled the already heated argument about the special jurisdiction enjoyed by the court. The decision of the royal council to halt proceedings, on the ground that they were derogatory to common law, was at first ignored by Beaumont, who was himself eventually bound over in £1,000, in February 1391, to cease any further action against Holme, while his lieutenant now faced imprisonment and a heavy fine for ‘oppression of the people and extortion’. Without doubt, the case had considerable influence upon the passage of legislation restricting the admiral’s legal powers in such circumstances. Holme may quite possibly have sought election for a third time when the Commons were actively protesting about these and other abuses of maritime law, but since we do not know who represented York in either of the 1390 Parliaments his role in the agitation at Westminster remains a matter for conjecture.6 Not surprisingly, Holme was a party to other lawsuits, but none received so much attention nor assumed such importance as this. Indeed, on the whole he seems to have been fairly unsuccessful as a litigant: in 1385 a London merchant whom he and his brother had had arrested for debt was released unconditionally; and a few years later his servant failed to recover £36 from another member of the Holme family on his behalf. At least two of the dyers with whom he did business also managed to avoid a final reckoning.7
During the course of his civic career, Holme contrived to stay aloof from most of the factional disputes which drove the ruling elite into hostile camps. He experienced some trouble during his mayoralty as a result of embezzlement and fraud by the common clerk, John Rufford, and was subsequently called upon to testify in court, but his own probity remained unquestioned. Later, in May 1381, both he and his brother were among the leading citizens of York to be summoned before the royal council and interrogated about the recent outbreak of disorder as rival groups fought for control of local government. In common with the rest, they were both bound over in heavy securities to keep the peace, yet neither seems to have posed much threat to public order. Holme faced a far greater crisis in 1398, some two years after his brother’s death, when Richard II was turning a covetous eye towards his wealthier subjects in the north. Although he was not apparently forced to enter one of the notorious blank charters’ whereby Richard extorted money from other members of the York mercantile community, Holme appeared a prime victim for even less attractive methods of fiscal terrorism, and in May 1398 he was forced to offer pledges worth £1,000 as a guarantee that he would appear before the royal council at the end of the year. The award to him, two months later, of Richard’s full letters of pardon suggests that he had to pay heavily for a reprieve, but the sum itself remains unknown. The pardon refers specifically to help given by Holme to the Lords Appellant during the period 1386 to 1388; and although the precise nature of this support is now hard to determine his Membership of the Merciless Parliament of 1388, when the Appellants purged the court party of Richard’s more unpopular favourites, assumes particular significance. It is interesting to note that one of his sureties was William Frost*, to whom he was now related by marriage, and who stood high in the King’s favour.8
Holme’s second wife, Katherine, was a daughter of the Hull merchant, Walter Frost, and thus clearly a woman of considerable wealth in her own right. Access to her fortune may have enabled Holme to accelerate the ambitious programme of charitable endowments which had begun years before, in 1376, although some of hisplans for the further expansion and embellishment of what was now effectively his chantry at St. Mary’s had already been implemented during the time of his first marriage. Between May 1383 and May 1392, Holme secured no less than five royal licences for the alienation of extensive property in York for the support of two priests there; and in 1387 he received permission to settle rents worth 30s. a year upon St. Leonard’s hospital as well. His decision to set up a hospital of his own, on Castle Hill, probably stemmed from that mixture of civic pride and fear of the after-life which prompted so many of his wealthy contemporaries to undertake works of public utility: being childless (like Richard Whittington*, another notable benefactor of the deserving poor) he faced few of the usual constraints with regard to entails or family settlements. His almshouse was founded in about 1390, and six years later his brother, Robert, bequeathed money to the inmates. But it was the chantry at St. Mary’s which constituted Holme’s proudest achievement, representing as it did a remarkable investment in both hard cash and energy. Although by 1480 the endowment had declined sadly and could only support one priest, an inventory of 1428 suggests that Holme’s chantry had once been the finest in the city. Its vestments, jewels, books and plate were then worth almost £100, two breviaries alone being valued at £20 and £15 respectively. The impressive chests of brocade, damask, cloth of gold and embroidery may well have been purchased out of funds set aside for pious works in Holme’s will, although as a merchant with widespread connexions in London and Calais it is quite possible that he acquired these sumptuous goods on his travels. He was, of course, buried in St. Mary’s, his death having occurred at some point between April and early November 1406.9
All Holme’s property in York was held for life by his widow and executrix, Katherine, upon whom he also settled a substantial estate in Little Smeaton and Norton. These holdings, along with a considerable amount of other property in Pontefract and Newark, were eventually sold for the upkeep of the chantry, but Holme did remember his two nephews, Thomas (the son of an otherwise obscure brother named John), and Robert I, his elder brother’s child (who was to represent York in the second Parliament of 1414), leaving them land and tenements in Pontefract, Stapleton and Calais. Shortly before the summer of 1411, Katherine married the wealthy landowner, Robert Morton* of Bawtry. She brought him no less than 33 messuages and their appurtenances in York alone, and when he died, in 1424, she gained possession of some of his estates, too.10
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. York City Archs. List of Civic Officials ed. Skaife, ff. 361-2; Borthwick Inst. York, York registry wills, i. f. 102; iii. f. 254; Test Ebor. i. 408; iii. 237; CP25(1)279/147/38, 152/33; CPR, 1374-7, pp. 349, 454; 1381-5, p. 315.
- 2. Surtees Soc. xcvi. 70-72; cxx. 23, 31; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. xxxix. 3; lxiii. 160; lxxvi. 171, 177, 184.
- 3. List of Civic Officials, ff. 361-2; York registry wills, i. f. 102; Surtees Soc. xcvi. 49.
- 4. CPR, 1374-7, pp. 349, 454; Surtees Soc. cxx. 2, 3; C143/394/24; CP25(1)279/147/38; York registry wills, iii. f. 254; Trans. E. Riding Antiq. Soc. xxx. 20.
- 5. York registry wills, iii. f. 254; CFR, ix. 42, 60; CCR, 1377-81, pp. 31, 270-1, 314-15; E122/59/2, 23, 24, 26, 159/11; Surtees Soc. lxiv. 14, 61, 73, 76, 92, 101.
- 6. Surtees Soc. cxx. pp. liii-iv, lxxvi-lxxxvi, 225-34; CCR, 1389-92, pp. 235-6, 242, 299, 354-5.