MAY (MEY), William, of Tavistock, Devon.

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



May 1413
Nov. 1414
May 1421

Family and Education

prob. s. of Walter May (portreeve of Tavistock 1374-5). m. (1) Maud, 1s; (2) by 1425, Margery, da. and h. of Philip Butterford of Butterford, Devon, by his w. Thomasina Denys,1 ?2da.

Offices Held


William’s brother, John, abbot of Tavistock from 1402 until his death in 1422, made his mark as a monastic administrator and set about the reconstruction of the conventual church. William himself was often employed on the affairs of the abbey: in June 1417, when Roger Oskeriswill, one of its tenants, died leaving a three-year-old daughter as his heir, it was he who went to Exeter with the steward, Thomas Raymond*, to claim the child as the abbot’s ward; and he also acted on his brother’s behalf as an attorney at the assizes at Exeter.2 All of his known elections to Parliament for Tavistock took place while John was lord of the borough. Furthermore, several of May’s properties were held as a tenant of the abbey’s manor of Hurdwick: in 1407 he acquired a 40-year lease of 40 acres at Pixon for 23s.4d. p.a.; and he later held two parks in ‘Berkamstedys’ Whitham, lands in Downhouse and Wilminstone, and a house in Tavistock itself, all of which ultimately pertained to the abbey.3

From 1407 onwards May acted as a feoffee of the property of his ‘cosyn’ Ranulph Hunt*, and later served as executor of his will. This involved him, some time between 1413 and 1417, in a suit in Chancery against Austin Strode, clerk, over chattels of Hunt’s worth 100 marks which, along with the will and various muniments, he had left in Strode’s keeping while he was ‘hors du pays’, but which the clerk refused to hand over when he returned.4 It is possible that May had been taking part in the French campaign of 1415. His second marriage was to the heiress of the manors of Manworthy and Gidcott, and together with her in December 1425 he obtained a licence from Bishop Lacy to have divine services celebrated in St. James’s chapel in Milton Damarel. May would appear to have eventually settled at Gidcott. Certainly, in 1431 and 1436 he transferred his properties in Tavistock and Crelake to his son, Walter, and in 1438 relinquished to him also lands in the hundreds of Tavistock, Rodborough and Plympton. Other property in Tavistock and Sutton Vautort was conveyed to William Lyer and his wife, Thomasina, who was perhaps May’s daughter.5 In the meantime May had attended the shire elections held at Exeter castle in April 1432, and two years afterwards he had been included among the notables of the shire required to take the oath, made mandatory by Parliament, not to maintain those who broke the peace. In 1439 he was asked to mediate in a dispute over land at ‘Petipasweke’ in Hurdwick. Seven years later he made a quitclaim to the abbot and convent of Tavistock of premises in the same lordship at Woodovis and Hele. Last recorded in 1447 as a witness to a conveyance made by his mother-in-law, he died before June 1459, at which time his son granted a number of properties to the abbey, to provide for religious services and alms for the souls of his parents.6

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. Devonshire Wills ed. Worthy, 486.
  • 2. H.P.R. Finberg, Tavistock Abbey, 262-3; Devon RO, T1258 M/S 21 f. 103; JUST 1/1536 m. 37; Tavistock Parish Recs. ed. Worth, 70.
  • 3. Devon RO, Bedford mss, D84/29 mm. 8, 17, S21 f. 5, D2/122.
  • 4. Ibid. D2/100; C1/6/92.
  • 5. Reg. Lacy ed. Hingeston-Randolph, i. 29; Feudal Aids, i. 495; Bedford mss, D2/109, 110, 121, 123, 124, D11/1, 2.
  • 6. C219/14/3; CPR, 1429-36, p. 399; Tavistock Parish Recs. 110; Bedford mss, D2/128, D30/27; CCR, 1447-54, p. 80. There is no evidence to identify him with the William May who was master of New Temple in 1449: Paston Letters ed. Davis, i. 148. The Butterford lands passed to Agnes May, probably William’s daughter.