MARLOW, Richard (d.1420/1), of London.

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

1399
1411
Apr. 1414
Mar. 1416

Family and Education

s. of Richard Marlow. m. Agnes, da. of John Faryngton, 1s.1

Offices Held

Constable of the Staple of Westminster 3 July 1397-1401.2

Auditor, London 21 Sept. 1397-8; alderman, Queenhithe Ward by 20 July 1403-d.; mayor, London 13 Oct. 1409-10, 1417-18.3

Collector of wool custom, London 4 June 1401-1 Oct. 1405, 6 Feb. 1406-20 Feb. 1407.

Commr. to recruit seamen, London Aug. 1403; of musters, Kent June 1404; oyer and terminer, London Jan. 1407; to examine evidence in maritime cases Aug. 1412, May 1414; of inquiry Jan. 1414 (lollards at large), Feb., July 1418 (estates of Sir John Oldcastle*); gaol delivery Nov. 1417.4

Jt. treasurer for the wars 25 Mar.-14 Nov. 1404.5

Treasurer and victualler of Calais 9 Mar. 1407-27 Oct. 1409.6

Ambassador to the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order 24 Nov. 1409, 24 Mar. 1410.7

Biography

This distinguished London MP, who rose to play an important part in national and civic affairs, came originally from Great Marlow, Buckinghamshire. His family may have been landowners on a modest scale, for at the time of his death he owned property there and in the neighbouring village of Henley-on-Thames. Although he originally joined the Ironmongers’ Company, Marlow adopted the habit in later life of ‘yearly and alternately’ exchanging its livery for that of a fishmonger. An ordinance of 1415 put a stop to this practice, and he wisely chose to become a member of the richer and more powerful Fishmongers Guild.8 From the very beginning of his career he was involved in a wide range of commercial activities and speculative ventures which made him both rich and influential.

‘Richard Merlawe, ironmonger’ first appears in May 1384, when he offered sureties in the mayor’s court on behalf of another Londoner. He acted as a mainpernor on four more occasions between August 1387 and September 1402, once, in December 1400, standing bail of £500 in Chancery for Thomas Yokflete and John Salerne II*, and subsequently guaranteeing the payment of a debt of £682 by the Genoese merchant, Angelo Cyba.9 His own business transactions meanwhile grew more diverse and ambitious. In February 1389 he was owed £110 by a Dartmouth man, who repeatedly defaulted on his obligations for the next four years. None the less, between April 1390 and September 1391 Marlow was affluent enough to ship mixed cargoes of lead, iron and cloth worth more than £509 into the port of London. Some of his purchases may have been financed out of the £200 which he and Robert Parys, a fellow merchant, borrowed from John of Gaunt in 1391, although the loan was promptly repaid by them within the year. Marlow became involved in the affairs of the wealthy Londoner, Gilbert Mayfield, who paid him £54 in June 1394 to distribute among his creditors.10

Marlow’s appointment in July 1397 as constable of the Staple of Westminster doubtless provided him with a number of valuable connexions in the wool trade. The first evidence of his interest in this lucrative field dates from the previous March: between then and November 1401 (when he had become collector of the wool custom in London) he exported at least 523 sarplers of wool thence to Calais, and he may well have arranged for further shipments from other ports. The fragmentary nature of the customs’ records now makes it impossible even to guess at the scale of Marlow’s exports, but they seem to have fallen off considerably after he ceased to hold office. A bare minimum of 202 sarplers left London in his ships from 14 Sept. 1404 to 20 Jan. 1406, whereas he was sending out far smaller cargoes of wool during the spring and summer of 1410. That he still continued to do business as an ironmonger is clear from a payment of £210 made to him by a clerk of the wardrobe in, or just before, May 1409 for a consignment of iron and sea coal intended to make cannon. He also appears to have maintained his interest in the cloth trade, which provided a small but none the less significant part of his income: in April and May 1410, for example, he paid customs duties on 30 bales of finished cloth, presumably so that he could sell them on his own premises. Seven years later he obtained a royal licence to ship 300 quarters of wheat, bought by him in East Anglia, from Bishop’s Lynn to London for the victualling of the City, although he did not otherwise deal in grain and may well have been acting in response to temporary food shortages in the capital. Marlow also made a substantial profit out of provisioning the royal army which sailed for France in 1415. John Mowbray, the Earl Marshal, alone purchased wine worth £40 from him for the expedition, for by then he was dealing in any commodity likely to realize dividends.11

In common with many of his equally successful contemporaries, Marlow was not unduly scrupulous about the provenance of his merchandise. When, in May 1404, a Dutch vessel carrying goods worth an alleged £315 was captured by the natives of Bawdsey, Suffolk, his agent, Nicholas James*, promptly offered £70 for the ship and part of the cargo. Three months later Marlow was ordered to restore his prize to the rightful owner, and fearing the threat of a summons to appear before the royal council, he hastily complied. He was indirectly involved in another act of piracy soon afterwards, this time as a result of the exploits of the crew of two English ships which he had helped to fit out. The Prussian captain, whose vessel and merchandise had been taken at sea, eventually obtained compensation from Marlow and his associates, indemnifying them against any further claims with regard to the cargo (but not the ship) in February 1405. They, meanwhile, were empowered to recover their losses from the hired sailors, although it is extremely unlikely that they ever managed to do so. Yet another incident occurred to disrupt Marlow’s commercial ventures some years later, at the time of Thomas, duke of Clarence’s return to England from Gascony in April 1413. Eight ships belonging to a consortium of English merchants, including Marlow, were commandeered at Bordeaux to bring home the duke and his retinue. During their voyage the captain managed to capture two Prussian vessels carrying wine and other valuable goods. Marlow demanded a share of the spoils, but despite the petition which he and the other owners addressed to Parliament, he was obliged to wait, perhaps indefinitely, for such a division to take place.12

From a comparatively early date Marlow chose to invest part of his growing fortune in property. His first recorded transaction of this kind occurred at Christmas 1388, when he took on the long lease of a wharf, land and tenements in the parish of St. Michael Queenhithe and elsewhere in London at an annual rent of 80 marks. Robert Parys, the owner, appears to have been one of Marlow’s business associates, and this agreement, which also enabled the ironmonger to take charge of all Parys’s chattels as well as the debts owed to him in the City, may well have been part of a more complex undertaking, possibly a mortgage. Both parties bound themselves in £1,000 to implement the terms of their indentures, and it is interesting to note that at the time of his death, some 32 years later, Marlow was still in possession of all the holdings mentioned in the original, and by then expired lease. According to the lay subsidy return of 1412, these and any other premises owned by him in the City were worth almost £36 a year, above revenues coming in from the country.13 As we have seen, his land in Great Marlow and Henley-on-Thames was probably part of a family estate; but his manor of Old Ford or ‘Marlawe’s’ and other property in Stepney, Middlesex, are more likely to have been bought out of the profits of trade. Certain water-meadows at Old Ford were in his hands by November 1394, after which date he acquired the manor itself.14

Despite all his wealth and possessions, Marlow was not a litigious man, and he is known only once to have begun a lawsuit, in November 1402, for the recovery of a very modest debt. From time to time he acted as a feoffee-to-uses (most notably for Joan, the widow of Hugh Fastolf*), but on the whole he seems to have been reluctant to involve himself in the affairs of others.15 Perhaps this was because of the demands made upon him as the holder of many important offices and commissions.

Marlow’s financial expertise and his influence in the world of commerce made him an obvious choice for the post of royal treasurer for the wars, to which he was appointed by Parliament in 1404. He had already become involved in the business of government finance, standing surety with the mercer, John Woodcock*, for the repayment by Michaelmas 1402 of a loan of £495, which certain Lombard bankers had advanced to the Crown. His knowledge of Exchequer procedure probably led the English merchants who, in 1406, assumed responsibility for defending the seas, to make him one of their attorneys with full powers to collect and administer the assigned revenues. Although admirably qualified for the post of treasurer of Calais, which he took up shortly afterwards, Marlow showed himself either too corrupt or inefficient to halt a general decline in administrative standards. The allegations of malpractice and fraud levelled against all four of Henry IV’s treasurers of Calais gave rise to an inquiry held at the beginning of the next reign in August 1414: none of the charges were actually proved, but there is enough evidence to suggest that they had some basis in fact. Whether or not Marlow did actually line his own pockets remains open to debate, although the appointment clearly brought him closer to Sir William Faryngton, a former governor of the Fleet, whose niece eventually became his wife. In August 1412 the two men were instructed to take evidence from Robert Thorley, Marlow’s successor as treasurer, and as a result of their findings the latter was consigned to the Tower.16 Marlow himself never fell under such a cloud, nor does his reputation appear to have suffered much as a result of his reputed malpractices. On the contrary, he was twice elected mayor of London and continued to serve on a number of important royal commissions even after the inquiry of 1414 had taken place. The soundness of his own financial affairs appears to have gone unquestioned: in April 1413, for example, he was one of 11 prominent Londoners to stand surety in 10,000 marks for Henry Somer*, the chancellor of the Exchequer, who was then himself in similar trouble. Four years later he joined with five other leading aldermen in either advancing or guaranteeing a loan of £2,000 to Sir John Tiptoft* and others, almost certainly for the war with France. The merchants themselves were supposed to be reimbursed immediately by Bishop Langley of Durham, but a second sum of 100 marks which Marlow alone had contributed to the war-effort one month before was still unpaid in February 1420.17

Perhaps the most interesting, and certainly the most ambiguous aspect of Marlow’s personal history at this time is his possible espousal of the lollard heresy. Despite his previous part in three commissions directed against heretics, he was required in the autumn of 1417 to give substantial sureties for his good behaviour to the court of aldermen. At the same time the influential Warwickshire mercer and lollard sympathizer, Ralph Garton, was called upon to testify super materia lollardrie, and stated, in the course of his evidence, that four notable Londoners had been arrested and imprisoned under suspicion of the same offence. If any such charges were indeed levelled against Marlow, they cannot have been proved, for he became mayor soon afterwards, and his orthodoxy never again posed any problems.18

Marlow remained active until the time of his death. He was present at the London parliamentary elections of 1419, having been appointed to arbitrate in a mercantile dispute but a few weeks before. Nicholas James, his former agent and now his executor, had replaced him as alderman of Queenhithe Ward by 22 Jan. 1421, which suggests that he died soon after drawing up his will in the previous September.19 He was buried in the church of St. Michael Queenhithe, to which he made considerable bequests for the upkeep of a chantry. His widow, who had been left the customary third of his goods, together with a cash sum of 500 marks and a life interest in almost all his London and Middlesex properties, married the grocer, Robert Chichele*. The latter had been appointed by Marlow to supervise the execution of his will, and in December 1422 was made guardian of the deceased’s young son, Thomas, a minor with an inheritance of £200.20

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.

Notes

Variant: Merlawe.

  • 1. PCC 50 Marche; Corporation of London RO, hr 149/60, 157/22. He obtained a formal pardon in February 1398 as Richard Marlow the younger, son of Richard Marlow (C67/30 m. 33).
  • 2. C267/8/24-26.
  • 3. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 440, 444; I, 78, 89, 190, 206; Beaven, Aldermen, i. 190.
  • 4. Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 191.
  • 5. J.H. Wylie, Hen. IV, i. 413-14, ii. 109-10.
  • 6. Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ed. Carte, ii. 193, 198.
  • 7. Ibid. ii. 199, 202.
  • 8. PCC 50 Marche; Corporation of London RO, hr 149/60; Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 149.
  • 9. Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, p. 53; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 127, 312; CPR, 1391-6, p. 405; CCR, 13