HOWDEN, John (d.c.1406), of York.
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Family and Education
m. by May 1368, Juliana, poss. da. of John Archibald (d. by 1368) of York, poss. 1s. d.v.p., 1da.1
Bailiff, York 3 Feb. 1374-5; member of the council of 24 by Feb. 1378; constable of the ‘new tower’ near Jewbury by Aug. 1380; mayor 3 Feb. 1386-7; member of the council of 12 by Nov. 1390-prob. d.2
Commr. of gaol delivery, York May 1386;3 to make arrests June 1386; of kiddles Apr. 1388.
J.p. York 10 Jan. 1387-c.1390.
A mercer by trade, Howden was admitted to the freedom of York in 1364, and soon rose to occupy an important position in the ranks of the ruling mercantile oligarchy. He had married by 1368, when Roger Archibald, another local merchant, who may well have been his brother-in-law, confirmed him and his wife, Juliana, in possession of a messuage in Monkgate. This had previously been settled upon Juliana by Roger’s late father, John Archibald, so it looks as if Howden was able to make a lucrative marriage. He took up civic office in 1374, as bailiff of York, although the royal pardon accorded to him three years later was probably intended to protect him from the consequence of commercial rather than official malpractices. The rulers of York certainly had every confidence in his ability, for by the time of his first return to Parliament, in November 1384, he had assumed a place on the council of 24 and had also been made one of the constables appointed to guard the city walls. Howden was, without doubt, admirably qualified to represent the city at Westminster, being already a man of considerable wealth (together with their two servants, he and his wife had made a substantial payment of 10s. towards the poll tax of 1381) and administrative experience, but there is good reason to believe that, on this occasion at least, he actually sought election for personal reasons. At all events, a few days after the start of the session a commission of oyer and terminer was set up to investigate a complaint by him and a consortium of eight other York merchants (including Robert Talkan* and the above-mentioned Roger Archibald) about the theft of a cargo of herring which they had lost after a shipwreck near the port of Kingston-upon-Hull.4
Howden’s main commercial interests lay in the wool and cloth trade, and although most of the evidence about his activities survives from the 1390s, after the date of his fourth and last appearance as an MP, we can be reasonably certain that his business affairs had followed a similar pattern for many years. Between 5 May and 10 June 1392, for example, he shipped a minimum of 100 sarplers of wool from Hull, and over a rather longer period he exported 400 straight cloths, some of which had almost certainly been manufactured on his own looms. Interestingly enough, one of his major imports at this time was woad (a single cargo alone being worth the best part of £64), perhaps for the use of dyers in his employment. Yet Howden’s success proved something of a mixed blessing, in so far that it attracted the rapacious eye of Richard II, whose last years were marked by a combination of fiscal and political absolutism. Not even his loyal supporters in the north were exempt from the blank charters and other suspect devices used to extort money from his subjects. By December 1398 some of the most prominent merchants in York faced arrest because they had failed to hand over certain unspecified sums within the appointed time, although Howden and his friend, Simon Quixley†, were less disposed to offer resistance and travelled to London to make their peace with the King, surrenderin