POTYN, Nicholas (d.1398), of Otterden, Eversley in Charing and Langdon, Kent and London.
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Family and Education
?s. of John Potyn† of Rochester, Kent. m. Alice, 1da.
Searcher of ships, London and river Thames 12 June 1372-5 Dec 1377.
Commr. of sewers, Kent Dec. 1374, Feb. 1376, Feb. 1394; arrest, London May 1385; inquiry, Kent Apr. 1386 (wastes, Throwley priory), Kent, Suss. July 1391 (lands forfeited by judgement of the Merciless Parliament), Sept. 1391 (concealments), Suss. Feb. 1393 (forfeited estates of Robert de Vere, duke of Ireland), Kent Aug. 1394 (theft of shipwrecked goods and murder of mariners); array Mar. 1392; oyer and terminer Sept. 1393 (condition of Rochester bridge).
Controller of customs, London 14 Oct. 1375-22 June 1377; collector 17 Feb. 1397-19 May 1398.
J.p. Kent 18 June 1394-d.
Sheriff, Kent 3 Nov. 1397-d.
Potyn’s career affords an interesting example of a member of the burgess class entering the ranks of the country gentry, but without entirely discarding the role of his forebears. His family came from Rochester, where it had been prominent for well over 100 years, and various of its members had been elected to Parliament on no fewer than 14 occasions during the first half of the 14th century. His own career, however, began in London, where in the 1360s he practised the related trades of fuller and draper. He managed his own shop, acted as a surety for others engaged in the same business, and in 1376 appeared with other fullers to advise the civic authorities about ordinances for the regulation of their craft. Yet he was also engaged in wider mercantile ventures than this implies, and his interests expanded considerably in the 1370s during his time as royal searcher of ships in the Thames estuary, although they are no more than hinted at by his appearance in 1376 as a guarantor for the delivery of a cargo of wheat from Sussex to the capital, and by his standing bail on another occasion for a mariner imprisoned in Newgate after a tavern brawl. On 20 June 1377, the very eve of Edward III’s death, Potyn obtained a royal licence to journey overseas with three other men and their 12 servants, taking with them as much as £5,000 in money and jewellery.1 It is nowhere stated to whom this bounty pertained, but the fact that Potyn was acquainted with the King’s mistress, Alice Perrers, who was afterwards accused of stealing his jewels, may lead us to view his movements with suspicion.
In the early 1370s Potyn had dealings in property in London, situated in Fleet Street and in the parish of St. Dunstan in the West and, although it is uncertain whether these transactions were undertaken on his own account or on behalf of friends, he continued to be called ‘citizen of London’ long after he had become established as a landowner in Kent. The ending of Edward III’s reign resulted in Potyn’s immediate loss of his post as controller of customs in London, and not long afterwards he was also deprived of the searchership, which had earned him an annual fee of £10. His subsequent absence from royal commissions for a period of nine years suggests that he was out of favour with the government of Richard II, a state of affairs which may well have been influenced by his earlier association with Alice Perrers. (He had witnessed a deed for her in 1373, and, more important, they were both involved in conveyances regarding the Kentish manor of East Hall, in which Potyn’s daughter, Juliana, had a dower interest, and from which he himself derived revenues before 1378.) The growth of Potyn’s landed interests was marked by his purchase in the 1380s of property in Nonington and Goodnestone by Wingham, and by his acquisition, probably through marriage, of the manors of Otterden, Eversley and Langdon.2
Potyn’s resumed participation in local administration came about, indirectly, through a much earlier connexion with Sir Nicholas Lovein of Penshurst. In 1370 he had been appointed by Lovein’s feoffees (who included William of Wykeham, bishop of Winchester) to act as their attorney in taking seisin of Sir Nicholas’s estates in six counties; and in the following year he was associated with Lovein’s brother-in-law, Sir John Peckbridge*, in a business transaction involving recognizances for £200. When, in 1375, Sir Nicholas made his will (of which Bishop Wykeham was to be overseer), he appointed Potyn as an executor and, judging from his grant to him for life of an annuity of ten marks and, in addition, an annual rent of £5, evidently much depended upon his sense of responsibility. Potyn performed his duties conscientiously: in 1376, for the welfare of Lovein’s soul, he obtained a royal licence for the alienation to the abbey of St. Mary Graces by the Tower of property to be held in frankalmoin; and, in accordance with the testator’s wishes, he long remained a good and loyal friend to his widow, Margaret de Vere (aunt to Richard II’s favourite, Robert, earl of Oxford). It was Margaret’s marriage to Sir John Devereux (afterwards Lord Devereux) which led to Potyn’s involvement in the latter’s affairs. Thus, in November 1382 he was party to a transaction whereby Margaret’s son, John, Lord Beaumont, undertook, in bonds for £4,000, not to disturb his mother and Devereux, her new husband, in their possession of various manors in Leicestershire and Lincolnshire; and in later years he not only acted as a trustee of Devereux’s lands, but also witnessed a number of his deeds. It was probably this relationship which in July 1387 lay behind his appearance as mainpernor at the Exchequer for Guy, Lord Bryan, in connexion with the wardship of Bryan’s grand daughters, one of whom was destined to marry Devereux’s son. Certainly on at least two occasions Potyn helped Devereux in the purchase of property: namely, of a manor in Northamptonshire acquired from the Crown in 1390, and of land in Kent bought a year later. Indeed, it may have been far from a mere coincidence that his first two elections to Parliament, in 1391 and 1393, occurred while Lord Devereux was not only steward of the King’s household, but also constable of Dover castle and warden of the Cinque Ports, appointments bound to have been known to the electors. Nevertheless, such access to royal patronage as Lord Devereux obtained for his feoffee was on no grand scale: in fact, the only grant Potyn received at that time, while his first Parliament was in progress in November 1391, was of the wardship of the manor of Luddenham (Kent) worth ten marks a year, which he was to hold rent-free during the minority of John Froggenhall (and as it turned out for less than a year and a half). Then, in 1393, Devereux named Potyn among the executors of his will, and left him the sum of 20 marks as a gift. Potyn’s involvement in the affairs of Lovein and Devereux had brought him into association with Bishop Wykeham on a number of occasions, and for some time after Devereux’s death that connexion was maintained. Potyn not only dined in the bishop’s household several times in the early summer of that year, but, in June, Sir William Rickhill, the royal judge, and others entered into recognizances with him and Wykeham for 500 marks, a transaction which may have had something to do with the administration of Lord Devereux’s will.3
In the course of his career, Potyn acted as a mainpernor or feoffee for a number of Londoners and members of the Kentish gentry, such commitments sometimes highlighting the different aspects of his career. In 1388 he had provided securities to guarantee the punctual payment at the Exchequer by Morgan Gogh of the farm for the Poynings estates; then, five years later, he appeared as a feoffee for William Brenchesle, the future judge, and as a surety for Sir William Burcester (recently his fellow knight of the shire); and in 1395 he was named among the trustees of the estates of John, Lord Cobham. Meanwhile, in 1392, he had been party to a grant in mortmain to Davington priory, but on whose behalf is not made clear.4
Only five days after the end of Potyn’s last Parliament, in February 1397, he was appointed as collector of customs in London, thus returning to an official post in the port after an absence of 20 years. And it was as resident in the City that in May he obtained a papal indult for plenary remission of sins as often as he pleased. Evidently now in favour at Court, on 2 Nov. following he was granted at the Exchequer the farm of a large number of properties in the city parishes of St. Dunstan in the East and Holy Trinity the Great, forfeited to the Crown by a disgraced former customer, and, moreover, the very next day he was made sheriff of Kent. Potyn took out a royal pardon in June 1398, only to die, while still in office as sheriff, before 17 July. On the 18th, the escheator of Kent was instructed to seize all his lands and goods, as he had been indebted to the Crown ‘in great sums’, namely, for his recently relinquished office of customer and also as sheriff (for neither of which posts had he rendered account).5 However, it would seem that the matter was soon satisfactorily cleared up, for in the year following his death Potyn’s feoffees were able to obtain a royal licence to grant to the wardens of the newly built bridge at Rochester the reversion of the manor of Langdon expectant on the death of his widow, Alice. Subsequently, the wardens agreed to pay Alice an annual pension of £13 6s.8d., in return for immediate possession. Prayers were said for the welfare of Potyn’s soul both in the chantry which Lord Cobham had founded next to the bridge and (after 1408) in the one