MESSINGHAM, Robert (d.1396), of Lincoln.
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Family and Education
m. (1) Margaret; (2) Agnes, 5s. 1da.1
Collector of a tax, Lincoln Mar. 1377.
Bailiff, Lincoln Sept. 1382-3; mayor 1388-9.2
Commr. of array, Lincoln May 1389.
Messingham was a rich and influential figure, who first appears in 1373 when he served as a juror at the sessions of the peace in Lincoln. That his commercial interests were conducted on an impressive scale can be seen from an award made in about 1376 by Henry, Lord Percy, between him and certain other local merchants and a consortium of Florentines who had left the country without paying them for goods allegedly worth £10,000. Much of his wealth came from the wool trade: in the following year he exported at least 35 sarplers of wool from Boston; and in 1388 a ship carrying wool of his was wrecked off the Norfolk coast, although the cargo was salvaged. Indeed, as late as 1395, the year before his death, he obtained a royal pardon for all fraudulent and illegal transactions in wool. He did, however, deal in other merchandise as well, paying customs at Boston on an assignment of iron worth £15 (in 1384) and one of woad valued at £20 (in 1387).3
Despite the fact that in 1374 he gave £20 to the then mayor for an exemption from having to serve as bailiff, Messingham was still appointed to the post in September 1382, and consequently became responsible for holding the parliamentary elections in the following February. The sheriff of Lincolnshire received orders to re-imburse the £20 on the ground that no civic authority had the power to excuse anyone from office, so he was at least able to recover the money before being replaced. During this period relations between the citizenry and the dean and chapter of Lincoln cathedral were severely strained because of a dispute over their respective jurisdictions. Matters were not helped by the refusal of some leading residents to pay their rents to the dean, and by 1384 Messingham had himself allowed arrears of over ten years to build up for the two tenements which he leased for a total of 8s. p.a. The quarrel came to a head in 1390, not long after he had served a term as mayor; and he was thus regarded as one of the ringleaders in the campaign to eliminate any rival franchises. Each of the suspects was bound over in the following March in individual securities of 100 marks to keep the peace and stay away from the cathedral. A commission of over and terminer met to investigate the dean’s charges in the following May, and a compromise was achieved soon afterwards through the undeniably partial arbitration of John of Gaunt. The latter had himself been involved in a similar conflict over judicial privileges in his capacity as keeper of Lincoln castle, and had likewise accused Messingham of working to undermine his interests.4
Most of Messingham’s associates belonged to the mercantile community, but in 1392 he acted as a trustee of holdings in Resham for the landowner, Robert Cumberworth*. His own possessions were extensive, although evidently confined to Lincoln and its suburbs. We know that as late as 1395 he was acquiring vacant plots for property development; and, when disposing of his estate in the following year, he was able to leave land and tenements to each of his five sons. Messingham drew up his will on 6 May 1396 and died within the next four days. He wished to be buried at St. Swithin’s church, Lincoln, where he was evidently a parishioner. To his second wife, Agnes, he left £200 as well as quantities of plate and jewellery, while between them his six children shared no less than £620 in cash alone. Other bequests to friends, servants and his private chaplain amounted to a further £206. His executors, among whom was Robert Appleby*, encountered serious difficulties, and by the spring of 1400 they had actually been excommunicated by the bishop of Lincoln. They appealed to the papal see and the archbishop of Canterbury, and were duly accorded a stay of execution. It is interesting to note that Messingham’s widow engaged in the cloth trade on her own account and made regular payments of subsidy to the alnager of Lincolnshire.