JOHN, Lewis (d.1442), of London and West Horndon, Essex.

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

Constituency

Dates

May 1413
May 1413
Nov. 1414
1420
1426
1431
1437
1439

Family and Education

?s. of John.1 m. (1) between Sept. 1413 and Jan. 1414, Alice (d.c.1431), da. of Aubrey de Vere, 10th earl of Oxford, by Alice, da. of John, Lord Fitzwalter, wid. of Sir Francis Court of Tytherley, Hants, 2s. inc. Lewis Fitzlewis; (2) c.1433, Anne (d. 28 Nov. 1457), da. of John Montagu, 8th earl of Salisbury, by Maud, da. of Adam Francis of London, wid. of Sir Richard Hankford of Hankford, Devon, 3s. 4da. Kntd. Kennington 24 May 1439.2

Offices Held

Dep. butler, London by 13 Nov. 1402-Nov. 1407.

Collector of customs and subsidies, London 11 Dec. 1404-Apr. 1413.

Master worker of the Mints in London, the Tower of London and Calais 1 Apr. 1413-6 Feb. 1422.

Sheriff, Essex and Herts. 30 Nov. 1416-10 Nov. 1417, 16 Nov. 1420-1 May 1422.

Commr. of inquiry, Aug. 1417 (estates of Walter, Lord Fitzwalter), Mdx. Mar. 1431 (concealments), Essex Dec. 1438 (extortion by millers); array Mar. 1419, June 1421, Jan. 1436; to raise royal loans Nov. 1419, May 1421, July 1426, May 1428, Essex, Herts. Mar. 1431, Essex Feb. 1434; take musters, Winchelsea June 1422, Honfleur May 1441; of oyer and terminer, Essex Dec. 1423; to demise lands of the duchy of Cornw. July 1427; take custody of the priory of Talley’s possessions Wales May 1430; distribute tax allowances, Essex May 1437, Apr. 1440; treat for payment of parliamentary subsidies Feb. 1441.

Receiver, duchy of Cornw. 10 Feb. 1423-21 Mar. 1433.

Steward, duchy of Cornw. and warden of the stannaries, Devon 10 Feb. 1423-d.

Steward of the lordship of Havering atte Bower, Essex 5 Mar. 1424-d.

J.p. Essex 8 May 1435-d.

Ambassador to Scotland Apr. 1436, Brittany Feb. 1438.

Biography

A Welshman of dubious origin who became a financier, a landowner of substance and the son-in-law of two earls, Lewis John was an unusual and interesting figure. Petitioning in the Parliament of November 1414 (when himself sitting for Hampshire), he stated that both his parents were Welsh, and a number of documents about his background date from between 1424 and 1427 when, in an attempt to dispel rumours that he was a bondman by birth (which perhaps stemmed from envy of his rapid advancement), he obtained certificates from various Welsh municipal and ecclesiastical authorities testifying to his independent status. The mayor of Carmarthen, for example, declared that John was ‘a gentleman of our country’, free-born and of ‘the best family in this part of Wales from the Conquest to the present day’. It is not known exactly when John settled in London. He claimed to have been made a freeman of the City before 1401 (the date of a statute prohibiting Welshmen from holding office or land in England), and was certainly living there in 1402. The early part of his career was spent in mercantile dealings with a particular interest in wines, and it was on this that he laid the foundation of his future wealth. In 1406 he was referred to as a citizen and vintner of London, and in the same year he acted as administrator of the will of another London wine merchant, Stephen John (almost certainly a relative). He purchased property in the City, where by 1412 his holdings were of an estimated annual value of £20 6s.8d.3

Undoubtedly one of the main reasons for John’s success was his close association with Thomas Chaucer* of Ewelme, Henry IV’s chief butler and cousin of the King’s half-brothers, the Beauforts. The connexion must have dated from well before 1402 when Chaucer appointed John as his deputy butler in the port of London; and together the two men supplied wine to the households of Henry IV and Henry V. In 1408, for example, tallies for £140 were issued from the Exchequer in the names of Lewis John and his fellow collector of subsidies in London, to reimburse the former for wines supplied to the Household; and in 1413 his successors in office were ordered to pay him and Chaucer £795 10s. for their discharge towards various merchants from whom they had bought wine for royal consumption. On the latter occasion payment was not forthcoming and in the second Parliament of 1414 John and Chaucer (both Members of the Commons), together with their associate, John Snypston, presented a petition claiming that more than £868 was still owing to them for wine purveyed for Henry IV. No doubt in return for such services in November 1408 John, described as the ‘King’s servant’, had been granted 1s. a day for life from the issues of Oxfordshire. He was also well known to the prince of Wales; indeed there is some foundation for believing the report that Prince Henry and his three brothers were wont to drink and dine at his house in the Vintry, where the entertainment included the declamation of poetry. In 1414 John was paid more than £125 at the Exchequer for ‘various things’ (certaines choses) which he had provided for the prince before his accession.4

It was to attend Henry V’s first Parliament, in May 1413, that John was elected as Member for both Wallingford and Taunton. Both elections were undoubtedly the result of Thomas Chaucer’s influence, for he was constable of Wallingford and Taunton castles, whereas John himself had no other known connexion with either place. Only shortly before the Parliament met he had been appointed master worker of the Mints in London and Calais. This gave him considerable control over the system of foreign exchange, for which privilege he was to render £1,500 at the Exchequer in the first year, though from 1414 he held the monopoly for only 200 marks a year. His promotion as master came after a succession of unpopular foreigners had occupied the post, and marked the beginning of a period of 30 years in which the Mints were controlled by well-to-do citizens of London. He probably owed his position to Chaucer’s cousin, Bishop Beaufort of Winchester, then chancellor of England, and it is of significance that his closest associates at this time were other members of the Beaufort circle, such as Thomas Walsingham*.5

At some point towards the end of 1413 John married the sister of Richard, earl of Oxford. Alice de Vere, as the widow of Sir Francis Court, held dower estates in Hampshire, and it was in her right that John came into possession of land in Holbury and East Tytherley in that county. He also obtained formal custody of the manors of Tytherley and Lockerley during the minority of Court’s heir, but his election as knight of the shire for Hampshire in 1414 owed much more to the manipulation of Chaucer (sheriff of the county at the time) than to any recent acquisitions of property. In the course of the Parliament, in which Chaucer was Speaker for the fourth time, John presented his petition for denization. The granting of his request, taken in conjunction with his recent marriage, marked a vital turning point in his career, providing legal security for his property transactions. Like so many prosperous London merchants he had been investing in land, and in July 1414 he had obtained a royal licence to enclose and empark 300 acres at West Horndon and to build and crenellate a lodge there. It is difficult to determine whether the choice of Essex for the establishment of his landed estate was cause or effect of his marriage to a member of the de Vere family, for the de Veres were prominent landowners in the county. It is clear, however, that most of John’s holdings there were acquired by purchase and only one or two manors came to him as a direct consequence of the match.6

John became closely involved in the campaigns in France. On 29 Apr. 1415 he completed an indenture to serve abroad with two men-at-arms and six archers; but although some of his men were to fight at Agincourt (under the leadership of his friend, Sir John Montgomery) he himself was invalided home at the very beginning of the siege of Harfleur. Among the prisoners taken at Agincourt was Louis, count of Vendôme, over whose ransom there arose considerable dispute. Eventually, in 1417, the sum of £5,000 was offered, and while two-thirds was found by two Florentine financiers, it was John who provided securities for the payment of the first instalment. This was by no means his only encounter with the Florentines, for in 1422 he agreed that a debt of £2,000 owed him by one of them, John Vittore, should be reduced to 2,000 crowns, and in the following January Vittore granted him the lordship of Blainville in the bailliage of Rouen, allegedly ‘out of love and affection’ but apparently in settlement of the rest of the debt and for an additional payment of 3,000 crowns. John retained Blainville until his death. (Fortuitously, his eldest son was to sell it in 1447, before the expulsion of the English.) Meanwhile, in May 1422, John had given up his office as sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire, and in the following month had received £20 for his expenses in going to visit Henry V in France on business of the Council.7

In February 1422 John had asked the Council to be discharged from the office of master worker of the Mints. His departure may have been hastened by recent agitation against the excessive charges demanded at the Mints and Exchanges, which had found expression in Commons’ petitions to the Parliaments of the previous year. It was no doubt John’s connexions with Bishop Beaufort which enabled him to acquire, in compensation, from the Council of Regency in Henry VI’s first year the offices of receiver of the duchy of Cornwall and steward of the duchy lands in Devon together with that of warden of the stannaries in Devon, for the combined annual fee of £40. In 1424 Henry IV’s widow, Joan of Navarre, appointed him as her steward of Havering atte Bower for term of her life, and the period of appointment was to be extended by Henry VI in 1437 when she died. These offices, together with his 1s. a day from the issues of Oxfordshire, gave him an annual income from the Crown of over £60 in the 1420s, falling by £20 in 1433 when he was replaced as receiver of the duchy. But this was by no means his only source of revenue. He had continued to trade as a merchant, and in 1429 and 1430, for instance, he obtained licences to export dairy produce to Flanders. Yet it was his political affiliations rather than mercantile interests which led to his involvement in the acrimonious dispute over the captaincy of Calais in 1428. Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, discharged from the post on his appointment to supervise the education of the young King, and replaced by John, duke of Bedford, deeply resented his removal and suspected that it had been engineered by Lewis John, Richard Buckland (the treasurer of Calais) and Richard Wydeville (Bedford’s chamberlain). A letter to the duke complained that ‘oure lorde of Warrewik sheweth himself alway hevy lord’ to the three associates, ‘surmetting upon thayme that they were causers therof, which God knoweth the contrary’. There may well have been good cause for Warwick’s suspicions, however, for John, Buckland and Wydeville were all members of Bedford’s council, having been so for the past two years at least. John showed a continuing interest in affairs in France where Bedford was Regent: he assisted Sir John Montgomery to raise a ransom for his brother; and in 1430 he crossed the Channel for the coronation of Henry VI as king of France in Notre Dame. (With a view to his forthcoming departure, in the Parliament of 1430 he had petitioned for a legal distinction to be made between him and a Lewis John of Fowey, who had been sentenced to outlawry.) In November 1430 the abbot of St. Ouen in Rouen granted him a share in all the prayers, masses and good works of the abbey. Then, in May following, he was issued royal letters of protection for another journey to France, this time travelling in the retinue of Cardinal Beaufort, with whom he evidently remained on amicable terms.8

During John’s absence abroad his wife died, and a dispute arose between him and her nephew, John, earl of Oxford, over the manors of Langdon and ‘Ames’ in Essex and Dullingham in Cambridgeshire, these properties having been settled on Alice and Lewis John by her brother, Sir John de Vere. Lewis John enjoyed better relations with other members of the gentry in Essex (although during his shrievalty of 1420-2 certain men of Waltham had allegedly ambushed him and besieged him in a house), and he had been closely connected with other relations of his wife, notably Walter, Lord Fitzwalter. In 1422 he had shared with others, including Bishop Beaufort, the wardship of the estates and marriage of Thomas Coggeshall’s* grandson. He was occasionally associated with his neighbour (Sir) John Tyrell*, and among those whom he served as a feoffee were Sir William Coggeshall* (Tyrell’s father-in-law) and John Fray*, the chief baron of the Exchequer. John’s standing in Essex, exemplified in his five elections to Parliament by the shire community, was founded on substantial estates, mostly acquired by purchase. Over the years he had made regular acquisitions of land in the parishes near his place at West Horndon: thus, for example, in 1418 the abbot of Coggeshall had leased to him an old dried-up pond, for him to refill and stock with fish. Property granted to him by Waltham abbey in 1424 to enlarge his park, led later, however, to a Chancery case over the abbey’s right to alienate.9

In about 1433 John married again, his new wife, Anne, being once more the daughter of an earl. Successive marriages to a de Vere and a Montagu illustrate his increasing wealth and importance, but his second marriage was also indicative of his continuing association with Thomas Chaucer, whose daughter was Anne’s sister-in-law. The widow of Sir Richard Hankford, she held dower lands in Wiltshire, Somerset, Berkshire and Devon. In March 1433 John was granted for £200 the marriage of his infant stepdaughter, Anne Hankford (she was subsequently married to Thomas, earl of Ormond), and he also obtained custody of some of the estates she was to inherit. When, that same year, he settled his own estates on his wife in jointure, his impressive selection of feoffees included his old patron, Cardinal Beaufort, Archbishop Kemp, Bishop Alnwick, the earl of Salisbury (husband of his wife’s niece), the earl of Suffolk, and his wife’s brothers-in-law, the Lords Willoughby and Ferrers of Groby, as well as friends like Chaucer and Montgomery. Quite clearly, John had risen to a position of considerable wealth and influence. In 1436 the estimated taxable value of his lands in Essex alone was £350 a year, placing him as second in wealth only to Sir John Tyrell and Robert Darcy* among the knights and esquires of the shire. He had presumably lost possession of the Court properties in Hampshire when his first wife died, but he may have acquired other lands there, for his will was to be dated at Catherington in that county. Meanwhile, in June 1440 he profitably exchanged his royal pension of 1s. a day for a grant in tail-male of the reversion of the manor and advowson of Dunton (Essex), worth £24 a year. By the time of his death, besides various properties in Middlesex and Hertfordshire (held by grant of Lord Fitzwalter), he owned at least five manors and over 1,200 acres of land in 17 parishes in Essex, as well as receiving the income from the ferry between West Thurrock (Essex) and Greenhithe (Kent), and this was by no means the full extent of his holdings.10

John’s standing is suggested both by his summons to meetings of the great council in April and May 1434 and his inclusion in a royal embassy to Scotland in 1436. Payment of his expenses for the journey north was authorized on 13 Mar., and on 2 Apr. he was granted letters of protection, only for these to be withdrawn the following month when there was doubt as to his having departed. However, a writ to the sheriff of Middlesex to make inquiry brought the response on 12 May that he had indeed been to Scotland and had already returned. In January 1438 John and Sir John Popham were sent to France by the Council to take instructions to the earl of Warwick, inspect the garrisons in Normandy (with a view to reporting on their return), and proceed to discussions with the duke of Brittany. Evidently, his performance met with satisfaction for in the following year he was knighted by the King at Kennington. Sir Lewis paid another visit to France in 1441 when, in May, the Council ordered the delivery of money to the duke of York for the wages of 150 spearmen. The cash was to be transported in a chest which, furnished with two locks (John being entrusted with the key to one of them) was not to be opened until the duke landed in France. John was commissioned to muster the men on their arrival, and, accorded the status of a member of the Council for the purposes of this journey, he was given £50 for his services. He took verbal messages from the Council to the duke and returned in November with replies from the latter to the King. While in France he had been retained by York as a member of the ‘grant Conseil de France et Normandie’, with an annual salary of 1,000 livres tournois commencing in October; and he returned to Rouen to report back to York and his fellow councillors on 9 Apr. 1442.11

John died, perhaps while still overseas, on 27 Oct. 1442. In his will made two years earlier, on 2 June 1440, he had requested burial in a tomb already prepared for him in the abbey of St. Mary Graces in London, and among other instructions was one to the effect that the ‘inning’ of the marsh at Woolwich was to be completed and the land so reclaimed made over to the abbey. To Waltham abbey he left £100 for the purchase of property he held on lease and for masses for himself and his two wives. For 20 winters a priest was to pray for him, his parents, his wives and one Master Pierre de Alcabasse. The bulk of his property was left to his widow, with remainder to his children by both marriages (‘my children and her children and myne’). The possession of so much property in Essex made inevitable the establishment of a county family, which adopted the name Fitzlewis. John’s eldest son by his first marriage, Lewis Fitzlewis, obtained the stewardship of Havering in his place and in 1444 undertook to fulfil the obligations contained in his father’s will, should the resources specified prove insufficient. Another son, Henry Fitzlewis, married the youngest daughter of Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset, thus continuing his father’s long association with the Beauforts. John’s widow married John Holand, duke of Exeter. By the time of her death in 1457 the only children of her marriage to the Welshman left alive were Elizabeth, wife of Sir John Wingfield, and Margaret, wife of Sir William Lucy.12

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger

Notes

  • 1. i.e. ap John. His son, Lewis Fitzlewis, was known inter alia as the s. and h. of ‘Lewis Fitz John’ (C67/42 m. 25).
  • 2. CP, v. 210-11; x. 234; CPR, 1413-16, p. 164. See A.D. Carr, ‘Sir Lewis John’, Bull. Bd. Celtic Studies, xxii. 260-70.
  • 3. Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. xxiii. 69-73; Essex RO, D/DP Ti/1493-1500, 1630, 1867; RP, iv. 44-45; CAD, ii. C2105; CPR, 1405-8, p. 131; Arch. Jnl. xliv. 60.
  • 4. E404/23/265, 30/124; CCR