NEWTON, Thomas (d.1399), of London.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
m. bef. Feb. 1390, Anne or Avice.1
Collector of customs and subsidies, Southampton 25 Feb. 1386-25 July 1387.2
Ambassador to treat for a truce with Flanders 20 May 1388.3
Warden of the Mercers’ Co. 24 June 1391-2.4
Commissioner of sewers, Essex Oct. 1391; oyer and terminer, Mdx. July 1393 (counterfeiting).
Alderman of Langbourn Ward 12 Mar. 1392-d.; auditor of London 21 Sept. 1395-6.5
Sheriff, London and Mdx. 25 June 1392-Mich. 1393.6
Nothing is known of Newton’s early background, although he may perhaps have been a kinsman of the King’s butler, Geoffrey Newton†, a London alderman and MP, who, in 1376, was made collector of the custom on imported wines throughout England. The first reference to Thomas himself occurs in December 1371, when he was licensed to export 104 sacks of wool from London to Middleburg and Dordrecht. From this date onwards he appears to have derived considerable profit from the wool trade: the surviving customs accounts of the port of London, for example, show him to have exported 46 sarplers of wool to Calais between late January and early March 1385, and a further 32 sarplers during the spring and summer of 1397.7 Newton’s interest in the wool trade and his evident standing in mercantile circles led to his inclusion, in May 1388, among the ambassadors sent to treat for a truce with Flanders, while his appointment as a collector of the customs at Southampton gave him many opportunities to extend his commercial interests at home. At all events, by November 1389 he was importing supplies of finished cloth from abroad. It was then that a royal commission was set up to investigate a complaint made by a number of English and German merchants, including Newton, that the prior of Christ Church, Canterbury, had wrongfully seized merchandise of theirs from a Dutch vessel wrecked off the Kent coast on its way to London. In August 1390 Newton imported cloth and twine worth over £80, and, as the records of the Mercers’ Company reveal, he kept at least three apprentices throughout the following decade to work at his shop in the City.8
Evidence of Newton’s financial affairs is rather fragmentary, but still shows him to have been a wealthy man with powerful connexions. In about 1381 he was suing John Walkingham of London in the court of Chancery for fraudulently attempting to recover bonds worth £15 when he, Newton, had already settled the debt by payments in kind. Five years later, he and two other Londoners undertook under heavy securities to deliver 500 marks to Sir Thomas Gaunson’s widow within the next two years. This they duly did, but not all their associates were so punctilious in honouring their commitments. Twice, in October 1386 and December 1396, Newton had to petition the mayor of the Staple of Westminster for assistance in recovering unpaid debts totalling £144; and his attempt to sue the vicar of Westbury for £100 during this period proved equally frustrating. Although not a regular creditor of the Crown, Newton made at least one major loan—100 marks advanced in December 1386—to Richard II. He was himself briefly in debt to John of Gaunt six years later, but the sum of £300 which he and William Brampton I* borrowed from the duke’s receiver-general had been repaid by February 1393.9
It is now impossible to determine how much property Newton owned in London. At some point before July 1389 he acquired a joint tenancy with three others of a tavern called Le Iren on the Hope in the parish of St. Mary Magdalen, Old Fish Street, but they were then evicted by Robert Berden, to whom Richard II had granted the premises. Proceedings to determine the question of ownership began in the court of Chancery three months later; and in January 1390 Newton and the other plaintiffs were confirmed in their title. After waiting a further 18 months for the verdict to take effect, they were involved in a second protracted bout of litigation which ended in November 1397 with the property being seized by the sheriffs of London on Berden’s behalf. Newton’s losses must have been partly offset by the commitment to him in September 1389 of the guardianship of John, the orphan son of John Halstead (a wealthy London merchant), who was then only ten years old.10
Rather more is known about Newton’s possessions outside the City. In February 1390 he bought the three Essex manors of South Hall in Rainham (together with the advowson of the parish church), Franks in Great Warley and Bridgemans, as well as other farmland in Wennington and Aveley from the executors of a London armourer. Two years later his feoffees obtained permission to alienate land in Rainham to the warden of a chantry in the local church, so that he might celebrate mass daily for the good estate of Newton and his wife as the new patrons. At the time of his death Newton also owned property in Cambridgeshire, although the extent of his holdings there is not recorded.11
Over the years, Newton became increasingly caught up in the affairs of his fellow Londoners. His responsibilities as an executor of the wealthy grocer, Sir John Philipot† (d.1384), were particularly onerous, since they involved him in a long series of lawsuits for the recovery of debts owed to the deceased, as well as the completion of unfinished business at the Exchequer. John Clenhand* (d.1390), who had accompanied Newton on the embassy to Flanders, also made him his executor, but left a far smaller and more manageable estate. Newton had other influential friends, including Sir Nicholas Brembre†, whose feoffee he was, and Richard Stormsworth* of Northampton, for whom he twice acted as a mainpernor in Chancery. He also offered sureties there in July 1391 for Sir Hugh Luttrell*, and at the time of Richard II’s expedition to Ireland three years later he was appointed by Sir Hugh to supervise his affairs in England. We know too that he entered into obligations to pay the Crown £200 should his business associate the grocer, John Killom, be found to have defrauded the Exchequer of goods to that value, his bond serving to halt litigation then in progress.12
Newton could not claim any great experience of civic affairs when the quarrel between Richard II and London broke out during the summer of 1392 (ostensibly because of abuses on the part of the ruling oligarchs who, by a curious coincidence, had just refused to advance further credit to the King). He had once, four years before, arbitrated in a mercantile dispute, and had been returned to Parliament in November 1390 by his fellow citizens, but his tenure of the aldermanry of Langbourn Ward dated only from March 1392, and he had held no other office in the City. Perhaps it was because Newton had not yet become an entrenched member of the civic hierarchy that Richard made him one of the two new sheriffs of London, appointed at pleasure on 25 June 1392 after the suspension of the normal government of the City and the arrest of their predecessors. Together with his fellow dignitaries, Newton had been summoned to attend upon the King at Nottingham, where they were collectively accused by Richard of certain ‘notable and evident defaults’ and roundly chastized for their laxity. As an alderman of London, Newton was also obliged to give evidence before a special commission which met at Eton on 18 July in response to these allegations. Four days later he and his associates crossed the Thames to Windsor, to hear, no doubt in stunned disbelief, the King himself impose a corporate fine of 3,000 marks upon them all. But having so effectively cowed his critics, Richard was quite prepared to confirm Newton and most of his colleagues in office, and in the following September, when the City’s liberties were restored, he actually agreed to write off the fine. The citizens wisely chose to retain the two royal nominees as sheriffs, and Newton’s term was extended for another year. His appearance among the aldermen, who, in October 1392, promised to deliver over £11 each to the chamberlain of London one month later suggests that he may have been contributing towards a gift designed to retain Richard’s favour.13
Newton obtained a general pardon from the King on 12 June 1398, and was still active as an alderman in December of that year. However, he died before the following April, when his widow, Anne, obtained a royal licence to choose her next husband irrespective of the Crown’s interest in her marriage. No direct references to Newton’s children survive, although it is possible that the Thomas Newton, goldsmith of London, who appeared as a litigant in the court of husting in November 1421, was his son.14
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. CCR, 1389-92, p. 146.
- 2. E403/518 m. 17. Newton is described as ‘citizen of London’.
- 3. Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ed. Carte, ii. 157; E403/519 m. 9.
- 4. Mercers’ Company Recs. List of Members, S-W, 570.
- 5. Beaven, Aldermen, i. 169; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 425, 434.
- 6. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 379.
- 7. CFR, viii. 363; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 89, 98, 148; E122/71/9 mm. 3-4d, 20 mm. 1-4d.
- 8. CPR, 1388-92, pp. 207-8; E122/71/13 mm. 12d, 20d-21, 27; Mercers’ Company Recs. Wardens’ acct. bk. ff. 7, 19.
- 9. C1/16/261; C241/175/62, 186/56; E403/515 m. 17; DL 28/3/2 f. 5; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 84, 101; CPR, 1396-9, p. 126.
- 10. CCR, 1389-92, pp. 370-2; CPR, 1396-9, pp. 356-7; CIMisc. vi. no. 178; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 345.
- 11. CCR, 1389-92, pp. 146, 281; CFR, xii. 78; CPR, 1391-6, p. 158.
- 12. E403/150 m. 6; Corporation of London RO, hcp 110 m. 16; hpl 107, Monday aft. feast St. Petronilla, 8 Ric. II, 108, passim ; hr 121/211; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 171-2; CPR, 1385-9, p. 272; 1388-92, p. 465; 1391-6, p. 498; CCR, 1385-9, pp. 623, 625; 1392-6, p. 52.
- 13. Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, p. 136; CCR, 1392-6, pp. 87-89; CPR, 1391-6, pp. 130, 171; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 378-80, 383, 385.
- 14. Beaven, i. 167; C67/30 m. 7; CPR, 1396-9, p. 518; Corporation of London RO, hcp 145, Monday aft. feast St. Leonard, 9 Hen. V.