OLIVER, William (d.1432/3), of London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

Nov. 1414

Family and Education

m. (1) by June 1424, Maud; (2) by Dec. 1432, Margaret, s.p.1

Offices Held

Warden of the Grocers’ Co. May 1407-8, 1411-12.2

Biography

Oliver first comes to notice in May 1395, when he was attempting to recover a debt of £32 which had been promised to him in the previous year by a London apothecary. He had by this date set up in business as a grocer in the City, and was an active member of the Grocers’ Company for at least 30 years.3 Not much is known about his commercial interests, although he had a number of influential connexions and was evidently a wealthy man. In March 1403, for example, he joined with Thomas Fauconer* in offering securities of £5,000 in Chancery on behalf of Philip de Albertis, a partner in the great Florentine firm of merchant bankers, the Albertini, who were much involved in the exchange of English currency abroad. He was one of the seven mainpernors who bound themselves in 10,000 marks to guarantee Richard Garner’s daily appearance before the Parliament of February 1413, and on at least three other occasions he stood surety for Londoners with investments in trade. Like most grocers, he dealt in a wide range of goods: in May 1400 we find him supplying the royal household with material for gunpowder; and shortly afterwards Thomas Mowbray, the Earl Marshal, owed him £8 for ‘various items’ supplied on credit. He and his wife were both members of the influential guild of the Holy Trinity in Coventry, so it looks as if he also had business connexions in the Midlands.4 The limited evidence relating to Oliver’s finances suggests that from 1411 onwards, if not before, fairly large sums of money were passing through his hands. Between February of that year and the time of his death, for example, at least 23 persons were sued by him for unpaid debts totalling £578. Other sums, such as the £100 which Richard Asple of Kent promised to pay in June 1417, were presumably delivered on time, and with this single exception are therefore now undocumented.5

Oliver’s involvement in the affairs of John Chichele, the spendthrift son of his close friend, William Chichele*, and the nephew of Henry Chichele, archbishop of Canterbury, shows how rich he had become in his later years. The grocer initially undertook to act as a surety for John, who was deeply in debt, but in 1417 he settled with Chichele’s creditors himself, on the understanding that the young man would reimburse him within the year. The archbishop then persuaded Oliver to wait longer for part of the money because of ‘the grete poverte that the same John Chicheley was yn’: a deficit of £300 remained unpaid during Oliver’s lifetime and it was left to the widow of one of his executors to sue for redress in the court of Chancery. She alleged that although Chichele had been advanced over £880 by the grocer, and had, moreover, been released by him from all forms of legal action, he on his part had persistently ignored his obligations despite a marked improvement in his financial circumstances. The outcome of the case is not known, but other evidence confirms that by September 1418 Oliver had indeed paid out at least £438 on Chichele’s behalf. Meanwhile, in June 1417, he advanced £20 towards the cost of Henry V’s second expedition to France. The loan, repayment of which was eventually assigned to him as a charge upon the wool subsidy to be collected after February 1420, places him among the wealthier citizens of London.6 From time to time Oliver himself owed money. In February 1416 he and five other city merchants acknowledged a debt of £764 due to the chamberlain of London on behalf of Henry Halton’s* young children; and in the following year he was one of the parties to several bonds in £100 which were acknowledged before the mayor and aldermen as being due to the King under certain (unspecified) conditions. In September 1430 he promised to pay Nicholas Johan of Bologna the sum of £56 within six months, probably for merchandise bought in the course of business.7

A substantial part of Oliver’s wealth was invested in property. According to the lay subsidy return of 1412, his holdings in the City brought him over £6 a year, an income far below that which he came to enjoy over the next decade. Shortly after the return was made, he purchased a tenement, four shops and annual rents of 64s. in the parish of All Hallows, Bread Street. By December 1414 the prior of St. Bartholomew’s hospital had leased to him certain cottages and gardens in the parish of All Hallows, London Wall, but no rent was actually paid until 1418, when Oliver settled his arrears. From the very beginning of the century, if not before, the MP seems to have lived in Bucklersbury, and it was here that he made his next significant acquisition. In November 1421 he took possession of a tenement called The Sarysenshede to the north of his own home in the City, together with two shops in the parish of St. Mary Woolchurch and other premises in the Walbrook which were rented out for a term of years by the prioress of Clerkenwell. All this property had previously belonged to Robert Chichele, who had settled it upon him as a feoffee at an earlier date. References to Oliver as the new owner confirm, however, that the conveyance of 1421 was in no way collusive, and there is, in fact, a distinct possibility that Chichele had either entered a mortgage on behalf of his impecunious son, or else had sold part of his estate outright to raise money for him. At all events, six years later, in February 1427, Oliver and two other grocers obtained seisin of a hostelry known as The Lambe and the Escheker on the Hope in the parish of All Hallows, Staining, being promised security of tenure by the mercer, Thomas Palmer, under substantial guarantees of £80.8 Oliver owned other property out of London. In October 1399 he was granted by the Crown the farm of the manor of Croham in Croydon, Surrey, at a rent of 40s. a year. This was increased to 50s. in the following July, by which time he had shared the lease with John Southcote. The two men lost their tenancy at Michaelmas 1406, but Oliver managed to recover it soon afterwards, and, having bought out Southcote’s title, purchased the manor for £20 from the King. He spent the same sum on two messuages and a plot of land in ‘Woldham’, Kent, which he bought during the Michaelmas term of 1417.9

Although he never held civic office, Oliver was clearly respected by his fellow Londoners. He often acted as a feoffee — on many occasions with the grocers Thomas Knolles*, William Mitchell* and Robert Chichele.10 He attended the elections held at the Guildhall to the Parliament of May 1413, and occasionally sat on juries summoned to hear cases being tried in the City. It is, moreover, interesting to note that John Brown, a member of Henry V’s household, appointed Oliver to act as supervisor of his will. But he also had his enemies. A petition submitted to the Parliament of 1419 lists the grocer’s name among the 54 London merchants who had been wrongfully indicted for murder. These eminent citizens were, apparently, the victims of two practiced forgers, but they proved their innocence and had the proceedings annulled with very little trouble.11 In May 1427 Oliver obtained papal indults allowing him to make use of a portable altar and choose his own confessor. Two years later, as one of the leading parishioners of the church of St. Stephen, Walbrook, he took part in the foundation ceremony of the new parish church. He was also involved in the building of the grocers’ hall in Coneyhoop Lane, which was begun in 1427 and towards which he contributed the comparatively large sum of £10.12

Oliver died between 19 Dec. 1432 and 8 Feb. 1433 and was buried in the church of St. Thomas Acon. He had promised some years before to settle certain property upon the church for the upkeep of a chantry and the maintenance of a boy chorister. Provision was made for this in the first of his two wills, but nothing appears to have been done about it, and the bequest became a matter for litigation. The mercer, Henry Frowyk, left money for the education and support of ‘Olivere’s Querester’ in 1453, so the grocer’s wishes appear finally to have been fulfilled. There were no children to inherit Oliver’s considerable estate: his second wife, Margaret, received 500 marks and most of his effects, while his other bequests came to more than £80.13

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.

Notes

The subject of this biography may have been a kinsman of the skinner, William Oliver (d.1396), who became an alderman of London, but the latter’s will contains no mention of any relationship between them (Guildhall Lib. London, 9171/1, ff. 384d-5). He is not to be confused with his near contemporary, the mercer, William Oli