MOUNTFORT, William II (d.1437), of Dartmouth, Devon and Bridport, Dorset.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
Commr. to restrict movement of shipping, Lyme and Seaton May 1401. Constable 1401.
Constable of Bridport Mich. 1403-4; bailiff 1407-8, 1409-10, 1412-13, 1415-16, 1417-18, 1423-4, 1426-7.2
A native of Dartmouth, where his elder brother, John, was bailiff in 1394-5, William Mountfort married the heiress of a burgess of Weymouth, thereby acquiring property there and in Melcombe, Smallmouth and Wyke (Dorset), including rights to a moiety of the profits of the ferry plying between the last two places. In September 1395 his brother demised to him half of the sizeable messuage in Dartmouth where their father had lived, but William chose instead to settle in Bridport. He was admitted to the freedom of the borough at Michaelmas 1399, on paying a fee of £2.3
Mountfort’s trading interests extended over a wide area, bringing him into contact with merchants from as far away as York, but would seem to have been mainly concentrated on the West Country. He brought several actions at law in the local and central courts against his many debtors, and bonds have survived for payments to him of various sums amounting to well over £500.4 Although he dealt in fish, oil and cloth, his main trade came to be in ropes, of which Bridport (where hemp was grown) was the most important centre of manufacture in the country. Under Henry V, he regularly supplied the clerk of the royal ships with equipment needed for the King’s ambitious naval programme. In 1415 William Soper* wrote to him as his ‘dere frend’ to arrange for the delivery of cordage to Southampton in all possible haste; and it was Mountfort who provided 50 ropes weighing 15,600 lbs. and costing £97 10s. for the great ship the Gracedieu, and, in 1416 and 1417, cables and hawsers worth at least £145 for rigging other ships of the royal fleet. Two years later he started a suit in the water bailiff’s court at Dartmouth to recover debts of £120 from the executors of a local merchant, Robert Maundevile, subsequently being awarded gear worth £58 from Maundevile’s ship, the St. Mary Cog.5
Mountfort attested the returns for the parliamentary elections of all the Dorset boroughs in 1407, and he was one of the committee of four burgesses sent to report in the county court the outcome of the Bridport elections to the Parliaments of 1414, 1417, 1420, 1421, 1425, 1426, 1427, 1429, 1431, 1432 and 1437. In the meantime he had himself attended the shire elections of 1425. A fellow Member in his own first Parliament (1413) was his wife’s stepfather, John Corp of Dartmouth, and on 8 June, while the Commons were still in session, he provided securities in Chancery for Walter Reynell, a former knight of the shire for Devon. In 1422 Mountfort was associated with Sir Humphrey Stafford II* in a deed of assignment by a Bridport man of all his effects. Two years later he was acting as a trustee of property belonging to Gervase Jakman of Dartmouth, who was then in the Holy Land.6
Mountfort’s profitable trading ventures enabled him to purchase ‘Mortesheigh’, plots for growing hemp and messuages in ‘Stake Lane’, East Street and South Street, Bridport; and in the local cofferers’ account of about 1425 occurs a payment for wine drunk ‘apud Monfortys’ when the common seal of the borough was used.7 He also expanded his landed interests elsewhere in Dorset: in 1412 he had purchased, for £75, the estate at Weymouth of William Wyot†; two years later he obtained annual rents of £6 from lands near Pymore, and afterwards he acquired from a debtor, Walter Veer of the Isle of Wight, the manor of ‘Veres Wotton’ in Symondsbury. It was not until his brother died in 1413 that he came into more family property in Devon, situated in Dartmouth, Clifton and Kingswear.8
Mountfort and his wife were members of the fraternity of St. Katherine in St. Mary’s church, Bridport, and it was there that, at the altar of All Saints, they founded a chantry. In 1432, for this purpose, Mountfort entrusted a large part of his estates to feoffees, including John Waryn, canon of Exeter, John Jaybien* of Plymouth and William Oliver† of Kingsbridge, a kinsman of his, with reversion to Oliver’s heirs. By his will made on 28 Apr. 1437 he completed arrang