MORTON, John II (d.1434), of York.
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Family and Education
Sheriff, York Mich. 1408-9; recorder by Mar. 1411; member of the council of 12 by c. Nov. 1414-d.; mayor 3 Feb. 1418-19.3
Commr. of inquiry, York Nov. 1412, July 1413 (dues to St. Leonard’s hospital), Dec. 1424 (lands of John Gunwardby); array (N. Riding) Aug. 1419.
As the son of a former mayor and MP for York, the subject of this biography was naturally assured an influential position in the civic hierarchy, although he was still under age when his father died, and is not mentioned in the latter’s will. His mother, Alice, and his cousin, Roger, undertook to act as executors, and it was probably they who arranged for him to marry Margaret, one of the three daughters and coheirs of John Berden. The latter, who had also served as both mayor and parliamentary representative for York, belonged to that rapidly diminishing sector of the ruling elite whose fortune came from land rather than trade, and was rich enough to promise the couple a lump sum of 200 marks on their wedding day. They had not yet married when he drew up his will, in May 1396, changing the terms of the settlement so that they might have property rather than cash. They were bequeathed a house in Thornthorpe, as well as land in the Birdsall area (near Malton in the East Riding), while Margaret herself obtained a reversionary interest in the rest of the Berden estates in and around York, Leeds and Tadcaster, which were to be held by her mother for life and then shared out between her and her two sisters. Berden died within the next few months, leaving Thomas Graa* and other former associates to see that his wishes were carried out. Consequently, by the time of his entry into the freedom of York, in 1398, Morton was already in possession of his own and at least part of his wife’s inheritance, and was probably living in Micklegate, where he is later known to have occupied a number of tenements.4
Morton’s precise relationship to the influential York merchant, William Frost*, is now hard to establish, although they may perhaps have both been kinsmen of Ellen, the widow of John Gisburn† (d.c.1390), one of the city’s more celebrated (and, in some eyes, controversial) mayors. In 1396, Frost and his wife, who was the Gisburns’ daughter, obtained permission from the Crown to found a chantry at St. Saylout’s church, dedicated, inter alia, to the welfare of Roger Morton’s soul, as well as to the eventual salvation of his son, our MP. The latter evidently owed Ellen Gisburn quite considerable sums of money, which she instructed him and Frost, as her executors, to spend on pious works. In her will of October 1407, Ellen also left all the extensive equipment for brewing then in her home to Morton, presumably as a reward for his work in administering her estate. Another beneficiary was Henry Morton (d.1439), with whom John had previously joined in standing surety for Robert Appleby* and the other executors of the Lincoln merchant, Robert Messingham*, when they faced the threat of excommunication in 1400, and who may well have been his younger brother.5 John himself was well over 30 by the time of his first civic appointment, as sheriff, in 1408, although from then onwards he rose rapidly through the ranks of the ruling oligarchy, serving briefly as recorder in 1411 and subsequently joining the prestigious council of 12. It was almost certainly as an alderman that he attested the return for York to the second Parliament of 1414, being himself elected in the following year. His second appearance in the House of Commons, in May 1421, came after a term as mayor; and although he represented the city only twice at Westminster he continued to put in a regular appearance at the hustings, right up to the time of his death. In all, he took part in 11 parliamentary elections, as well as acting as an arbitrator at least once for the settlement of a local property dispute.6
Enough is known of Morton’s private affairs to suggest that his career, however successful, was sometimes beset by difficulties. As early as 1401, for example, he was sued in the court of common pleas by one John Multon for possession of a messuage in York. The staging of the celebrated cycle of Corpus Christi plays in the city gave property owners like Morton the opportunity to make money by erecting scaffolding outside their homes and selling seats to the public, so he was naturally annoyed when it was suggested that some of the profits should be made over to the authorities. Even so, in the end, in 1417, he grudgingly placed his row of tenements in Micklegate at the disposal of the mayor. His commercial activities may also have caused concern at times, notably in 1431 when he and four other merchants were accused by a Genoese entrepreneur of ‘untrue and unjust packing of 86 sarplers of wool’: in other words, of concealing inferior fleeces in a consignment purported to be of higher quality, which they had sold under false pretences through the agency of a Leicester woolman. The outcome of the case is not recorded, but it is worth noting that the will of Morton’s son-in-law, Richard Warter†, made much later in 1458, refers to ‘all those to whom John Morton was in debt when he died’, and also reveals that Morton’s son had been obliged to mortgage some of his inheritance to the testator. Even so, the MP passed during his lifetime as a man of financial acumen and probity. Such, indeed, was his standing in the local community that Ralph, earl of Westmorland, not only chose him to act as a feoffee of extensive property in York but also entrusted him with his manors of Bolton-in-Allerdale, in Cumberland, and Sutton, in north Yorkshire, along with rents to the value of £51 a year. Investigations following the earl’s death, which occurred in 1425, revealed that the two manors and rents had been acquired by Morton and his fellows without a royal licence, although a substantial fine secured the necessary pardon. Morton’s connexion with the earl seems to have been of long duration, and was certainly close enough to merit his appointment as an executor of the latter’s will, a task which was still preoccupying him as late as 1431. This degree of involvement in the management of Westmorland’s affairs, along with his earlier period in office as recorder of York, suggests that Morton may perhaps have possessed some legal training, although another local merchant, John Quixley, enjoyed a similar position of trust in the Neville establishment.7
Morton drew up his own will on 20 July 1434, and was dead by the middle of December. He asked to be buried next to his wife in the church of St. Martin, Micklegate, where, incidentally, his father had also sought burial. His younger daughter, Ellen, was assigned a quantity of pearls and 100 marks as a marriage portion, although most of this sum (over and above £10 p.a. from rents) was to come from unpaid debts, and may thus have proved hard to collect. Morton’s son and namesake and his son-in-law, Warter, were named as executors.8
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. C219/11/7.
- 2. Borthwick Inst. York, York registry wills, i. ff. 14v-15, 95v, 100-100v; iii. ff. 400v-1, 586v; iv. 115v-116Bv; York City Archs. List of Civic Officials ed. Skaife, f. 321.
- 3. Surtees Soc. lxxxv. 3, 4, 6-9; xcvi. 126; cxx. 74, 140; cxxv. 52, 62, 64, 79, 84, 86, 91, 157, 159, 173-4, 183; clxxxvi. 49, 158; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. cxx. 80; C219/11/5.
- 4. York registry wills, i. ff. 14v-15, 95v, 100-100v; List of Civic Officials, f. 321; Surtees Soc. xcvi. 101; clxxxvi. 83.
- 5. CPR, 1391-6, p. 711; York registry wills, iii. ff. 283, 586v; CCR, 1399-1402, pp. 185, 189.
- 6. C219/11/5, 12/3, 4, 13/1-5, 14/1, 2, 4; Surtees Soc. cxxv. 46.
- 7. Cal. P. and M. London, 1413-37, p. 249; Surtees Soc. cxxv. 63-65, 129-3