MEGRE, John (d.1419), of Truro, Cornw. and London.
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Family and Education
m. by 1397, Emma, 2da.
Megre held property in Penryn and in the parishes of Kenwyn and Truro which, despite a move to London quite early in his career, he retained until his death.1 He had begun trading in tin by 1385, and over the next few years brought very large consignments (in 1392, for example, about 20,000 lb) to be assayed in the coinage halls of Truro and Lostwithiel. Early in 1393, along with three other Cornish merchants, he confessed before the King’s Council to having illegally exported 603 ‘pieces’ of tin to Flanders without going through the Staple at Calais, in a boat called the Seinte Marie of Falmouth of which he himself was part-owner, whereupon the tin and the vessel were adjudged forfeit to the Crown. Furthermore, in May following, he and some 45 other merchants were fined £200 for shipping tin overseas, again without repairing to the Staple. There is no further evidence of such transgressions on Megre’s part, but he was willing to assist his fellow traders when suspicion fell on them. Thus, in 1399, he agreed in Chancery under pain of £3,000 to answer for certain shipments of tin if these were deemed to pertain to the Crown. This was after three other merchants had claimed that the tin had been unjustly confiscated on the mistaken assumption that they had failed to pay customs duties.2
On 29 Jan. 1397, during Megre’s first Parliament, he and his wife purchased from the executors of Thomas Nocket, a London draper, all his tenements, shops and cellars near the Cardinal’s Hat in Lombard Street, in the parish of St. Mary Woolnoth, and it was in the next few months that he set up in business in the City as a pewterer. As ‘citizen of London’, at Lostwithiel in 1401, in association with Thomas Knolles*, a member of the Grocers’ Company, he received from Sir Henry Ilcombe* and three other Cornishmen recognizances in £20, for payment of which sum he and Knolles had later to go to law. Naturally, since his principal trading continued to be in tin, Megre always retained contacts in Cornwall. In March 1407 his ship, Le Gabriell of Fowey, then under arrest in the port of London, was permitted to return to its home port, on the understanding that it would then sail back to Southampton to serve in a royal expedition to Acquaitaine. The seizure of the ship may have been occasioned by a suit in London over 139 cwt and 60 lb of tin in which Megre was then engaged. This particular consignment had been bought by a Florentine merchant for £125 11s.8d. from William Venour, who himself had purchased it from Megre, giving him a bond for £150 in payment. Megre, however, denied that he had been paid, refused to release the tin to the Florentine, and asked that the matter might be tried by law merchant (so that half the jury could speak the plaintiff’s language). Perhaps not surprisingly, the jury found against him. Otherwise, Megre’s business prospered: in 1410 he purchased more shops in London, this time in the parish of St. Mary Newchurch, and two years later his property in the City was assessed at £7 12s.3d. a year. He also enjoyed an income from the premises belonging to his wife, who was possibly a Londoner but may have come from Suffolk. Emma Megre held lands for life in Whitton near Ipswich by grant of Alice, widow of Simon Wynchecombe, a London armourer, and she may well have been the widow of a member of Alice’s family, that of Master of Ipswich. After Megre’s death her holdings in London and Suffolk were said to be worth £26 p.a.3
On 21 June 1417, shortly before his second Parliament as Member for Truro, Megre joined with other citizens of London in making individual loans of sums ranging from £10 to £200 to Henry V to help finance his second invasion of Normandy. Megre’s own contribution was as much as £50. As security for repayment the creditors accepted a sword of Spanish manufacture, encrusted with gold inlaid with precious jewels, but were naturally happy to release it in May 1419 in return for assignments on the wool subsidies collected in the port of London.4 It is unlikely, however, that Megre ever recovered the full amount of his loan, for he died before 26 Oct. that same year. Besides revealing that he was a wealthy man, his will, drawn up on 26 Aug., shows him to have been deeply concerned for his eternal welfare. His bequests to churches and other religious foundations on condition of prayers for his soul’s salvation were unusually numerous. The church of St. Mary Woolnoth was to receive 26s.8d. for forgotten tithes and £11 for its fabric, while Megre’s descendants were to pay an annual sum of 20 marks for the support of two chaplains there in perpetuity, and a third chaplain was to say masses on his behalf in St. Mary’s church at Truro for seven years. Other religious foundations in Cornwall which Megre remembered in his will included the church of Kenwyn, the Dominican friary at Truro, the Franciscan friary at Bodmin and the chapels of St. Germoe and St. Michael’s Mount, as well as the new chapel ‘super les rokkes’. The paupers of the parishes of Kenwyn, Truro and St. Kea, and also six Cornish leper-houses, all received bequests, while in London the mendicant friars, the lepers, the paupers and the sick were all to have some benefit from his estate. Another unusual detail was Megre’s co