MIDDLETON, William, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumb.
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Family and Education
m. by Nov. 1427, Elizabeth.1
Collector of customs, Newcastle-upon-Tyne 17 Dec. 1407-29 Sept. 1408.
Sheriff, Newcastle-upon-Tyne Mich. 1408-9, 1414-15.
Nothing is known for certain about Middleton’s background but he may well have been related to Sir John Middleton, who sat with him as a shire knight for Northumberland in the Leicester Parliament of 1414. It seems particularly significant that his only return to the House of Commons should take place when Sir John and his kinsman, Sir William Leigh (who was then representing Cumberland), were anxiously seeking support for their claim to the Skelton estates. Even so, some problems of identification remain. A William Middleton succeeded his father and namesake in 1382, at the age of 23, to land and tenements in Darlington, and was still in possession at the end of Henry V’s reign.2 There is, however, no specific evidence to connect him with the subject of this biography, who first definitely comes to notice in about 1394 when he shipped a consignment of woolfells out of the port of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. From then onwards he regularly exported cargoes of cloth, fleeces, hides and lambskins, while importing a wide range of commodities, including iron, dyestuffs and soap.3 On one occasion, at least, Middleton’s commercial dealings in London ended in litigation, when Robert Buxton, a mercer, sued him for debt. Robert Darcy* then offered sureties on his behalf and the proceedings were halted. Middleton belonged to the consortium of local merchants who attempted, during the early years of the 15th century, to break the monopoly over wool exports exercised by the Calais Staple, and send their merchandise direct to foreign ports. Not surprisingly, the Staplers, who stood to lose substantial revenues through customs duties, protested to Parliament; and, because of his financial dependence upon them, Henry IV was obliged to revoke earlier letters patent of August 1400 permitting the Newcastle men to ship 2,000 sacks of wool straight to Flanders. The merchants involved sustained heavy losses, and the wool was left to rot on the quays until, in 1408, thanks to a new offensive led by William Johnson*, the King relented sufficiently to allow the export of 600 sarplers overseas. Two years later the same group of woolmen, headed by Middleton and his two closest associates, Roger Thornton* and William Langton*, secured a far more generous licence for the export of 2,000 sacks of wool without recourse to the Calais Staple, so their persistence was eventually rewarded.4
Meanwhile, in January 1409, Middleton advanced financial guarantees at the Exchequer on behalf of the two newly appointed alnagers of Northumberland, with whom he must have had frequent dealings in view of his interest in the cloth trade. He had already served one term as sheriff of Newcastle-upon-Tyne when the celebrated quarrel between the townspeople and Thomas Langley, bishop of Durham, over the building of a tower on the Gateshead side of the Tyne bridge, reached the courts. Claiming that this constituted an infringement of his jurisdiction, Langley began litigation in 1410; and an unsuccessful effort was made two years later to settle the dispute by private treaty. Middleton was one of the delegation of leading burgesses who travelled to Durham, in March 1412, for a meeting at the chapter-house with the bishop and his council. They were not prepared to accept all Langley’s demands, although in the end he proved too powerful an opponent and defeated them at law. So far as we can tell, Middleton sat only once in the Commons, although he did attend at least eight parliamentary elections between 1415 and 1427, being one of the 12 probi homines of Newcastle who customarily returned Members for the borough.5
It is difficult to determine exactly when Middleton died. He was still alive