NEEL, William (d.1418), of Chichester, Suss. and London.
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Family and Education
poss. s. of Thomas Neel of London, taverner. m. ?(1) 1s. Thomas* d.v.p.; (2) c.1397, Alice, da. and coh. of Geoffrey Horne of London, fishmonger, by Margery, da. and h. of John Croydon, fishmonger, and wid. of John Walworth of London, vintner;1 (3) Katherine. s.p.
Constable of the Staple, Chichester Mich. 1390-1; mayor ?1411-12.2
Mayor, Chichester Mich. 1393-5, 1401-2.3
Collector of customs and subsidies, Chichester 6 Apr. 1406-19 Oct. 1408.
Neel was well established as a citizen of Chichester by the time of his first election to Parliament in 1388. Before too long his trading concerns—principally the shipment of wool to Calais and the import of wine into Chichester and London—were flourishing, and he had invested some of his profits in property in Sussex. By the end of the century he had acquired at least 14 messuages, 23½ acres of land and annual rents of 9s.8d. in and near Chichester (where he was a parishioner of the church of St. Peter the Great); while just outside the city he held the manor of Woodcote in Westhampnett. Something of his standing locally is suggested by his presence at the laying of the foundation stone of the Vicars’ Hall in March 1397, and by his election as mayor for no fewer than three terms. It seems likely, too, that he was related to Robert Neel, BCL, a canon of Chichester cathedral from 1389 onwards, whose position as chancellor to Bishop Rede (from 1400) and as Rede’s vicar-general in spirituals and executor, made him a figure of consequence in the locality.4
William’s close connexions with the city of London, and particularly his admission to the freedom of the City as a vintner, point to his kinship with Thomas Neel, a taverner recorded as living there in the 1370s and 1380s, and he may even have been a Londoner by birth.5 His own marriage to Alice, the widow of another vintner, John Walworth, obliged him in 1398 to help endow a chantry in St. George’s, Eastcheap, for the souls of Walworth and Robert Pykeman, fishmonger, which was to be maintained by rents from property in which Alice had an interest. Even after so doing, he and his wife retained premises worth £10 a year in St. Botolph’s, Billingsgate, probably comprising part of Alice’s inheritance from her father and maternal grandfather, both of whom had been fishmongers. Furthermore, the marriage also brought him land at Greenwich, Deptford, Southwark, Rotherhithe and Lambeth, which he placed in the hands of Thomas Patching (his fellow Member in the Parliaments of 1388 and 1399) and others, the trustees of his holdings in Chichester. But this London marriage eventually involved Neel in embarrassments. His strong-minded wife, a Londoner born, had no desire to leave her native city, except at her own pleasure, and to obtain her agreement to marry him Neel had had to give her sister’s husband, Thomas Morys, a bond in £100 not to remove her against her will. Morys kept the bond, and when he died, even though many respected individuals could testify to the condition attached to it, his executors by collusion of a third party sued Neel for debt on the basis of his undertaking, so that some time between 1413 and 1417 he had to appeal to the bishop of Winchester, then chancellor, to intervene.6
Meanwhile, in February 1401, Neel had sat with the royal justices trying a suit for poaching brought by Bishop Rede against the prior of Hardham. It seems likely that he was the father or elder brother of Thomas Neel, whom the citizens of Chichester elected to Parliament in 1406, and it may well have been on Thomas’s suggestion that he came to be appointed collector of customs and subsidies in Chichester by the nomination of the merchants who, in the first session of the Parliament, had been assigned a substantial part of those subsidies in order to finance naval defence. William established close contact with other sometime MPs for Chichester: for instance, in 1408 he acted as a feoffee of John Vincent’s* property in the Arun valley. In February 1410 he provided bail for John Hay, the former mayor of Chichester, when he was accused at the Exchequer of detaining money found in the locality which was allegedly due to the Crown. Neel attended the shire elections held in the county court at Chichester in May 1413 and 1415, the latter being the occasion of his own last election to Parliament.7
Neel made his will on 9 Aug. 1418, and died before 27 Sept. He was buried in Chichester cathedral. Besides bequests to the clergy, friars and hospitals of Chichester, he had ordered substantial payments to the cathedral clergy attending his funeral, and stipulated that 200 psalms and more than 6,000 masses should be sung for his soul within a month of his death (leaving 45 marks for that purpose). He established rent-charges of 20s. a year on property in the locality, to be used for keeping his obit. Neel’s widow, Katherine, was to have all the goods she had brought with her at marriage, provided she made no claim for dower except from the messuage in Southwark he had already given her. He left John Hilly† a cottage in East Lane, and John Exton† two shops in East Street, Chichester; and, in each case for life, to Hilly a house in Bread Street, and to Thomas Patching another in Thames Street, London, which latter properties were, like the rest of his holdings in the capital, to be sold on their deaths and the proceeds devoted to pious and charitable uses for his soul and that of Alice, his former wife. To the hospital of St. Thomas the Martyr in Southwark he bequeathed an annual rent of 13s.4d. from a tenement in Thames Street to keep two lamps burning in its church. Exton and Patching were named among his executors, and he ‘meekly’ asked William Cheyne (presumably the then j.KB) to offer them his counsel. The executors were acquitted at Lambeth on 28 Oct. 1418, but the will was not enrolled in the trusting court of London until January 1422.8