PROPHET, John II (d.1416), of London.
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Family and Education
m. (1) bef. Feb. 1391, Cecily; (2) bef. Nov. 1402, Joan; (3) bef. Jan. 1415, Elizabeth, da. of Richard Odyham (d.1407), of London, grocer, s.p.1
Master of the Fishmongers’ Co. 20 Dec. 1393-c. Dec. 1394.2
Common councillor of London by Jan. 1402; auditor 21 Sept. 1399-1400; chamberlain 1404-d.3
Commr. of sewers, Mdx. Aug. 1406.
Alnager, London Mich. 1413-d.
Prophet may have come originally from Ewhurst in Hampshire, since his will contains many bequests to its church and local people. He had, however, settled in London by July 1378, when the guardianship of Richard Hedyche’s two daughters was committed to him by the city chamberlain. He was still a relatively young man at this time (although already in business as a fishmonger), so it is possible that he had married the girls’ mother. Prophet was clearly handling a sizeable share of the capital’s fish supplies by December 1383, when he claimed to have lost a cargo of salted herring worth £40 through negligence on the part of the keepers of the sea. The latter had assured him that it was safe to proceed on his voyage from Scarborough to London, but he had been attacked by pirates, his ship grounded and his fish stolen. It is unlikely that he continued personally to supervise the shipment of fish for sale in the City, as his sources of supply were so widely scattered. In March and May 1390, for example, he paid customs duties on at least five separate boatloads, most of which included a quantity of shell fish.4 He had, meanwhile, done well enough out of trade to invest in six shops, various rents, farmland and other appurtenances lying between Sittingbourne and Borden in Kent. He acquired part of this property in the Easter term of 1385, holding it jointly with James Swote, another fishmonger, who was evidently his trustee. Three years later they bought more land together, clearly to Prophet’s use; and finally, in February 1391, the latter and his wife made a new settlement of all their recent purchases. Prophet subsequently came into possession of other holdings in Kent, perhaps through marriage, in November 1402, when Stephen and John Edolfe settled their manor of ‘Henys’ in Halstead upon him and his second wife, Joan. The exact value of these various accessions remains unknown, although they evidently brought him a substantial regular income. In November 1403, for example, he was able to grant a yearly rent of £10 from his land in Borden to Richard Hembridge, the King’s serjeant-at-arms, and Rose his wife, offering them sureties of £200 as a guarantee of his willingness to pay the money while they lived. Joan Prophet also appears to have possessed a title to the manor of ‘Heversbrokas’ in Kent, which Sir Stephen Scrope acquired from Reynold Cobham in 1404, but there is no evidence of any litigation over the question of ownership.5
It is less easy to discover how much property Prophet actually occupied in London, since he often acted as a feoffee for his fellow merchants, whose transactions are not always distinguishable from his own. He and various others were being sued in March 1405 by the prioress of the house of St. Helen, Bishopsgate, for forcing an entry into her tenement in the parish of St. Michael, East Cheap, but there is no evidence that he himself laid claim to the premises. Nor does it look as if the shop in Bridge Street which he and his associates settled on Hugh Ryebread* in December 1406, or the numerous premises held by him and Richard Osbarn in different parts of the City really belonged to him outright. Even so, Prophet enjoyed a landed income of at least £9 p.a. from London alone by 1412, and clearly received far more after the death of his brother-in-law, Robert Odyham, the grocer, some three years later. Prophet’s third wife, Elizabeth, had been promised the reversion of a tenement and rents in the parish of St. Antholin by her late father, Richard Odyham, a wealthy merchant, and these finally became hers when Robert died. At this time Prophet was also involved in litigation with the priors of Holy Trinity, Aldgate, and Christ Church, Canterbury, over his attempts to recover tenements in the parish of All Hallows, Gracechurch Street.6
An affluent and influential man, Prophet was often called upon as a mainpernor and trustee. In April 1398, for instance, he stood surety in the Exchequer for John Spencer*, a royal clerk, who also chose him to act as his attorney at the time of Richard II’s expedition to Ireland in the following year. He performed a similar service for William Chignall, another member of the royal army. In June 1402, and again in February 1407, Prophet offered sureties in Chancery on behalf of three Kentishmen, as well as agreeing from time to time to execute the wills of his fellow merchants. He was named among the feoffees of many rich and well-connected people, including William Bailly, the draper, and Sir Nicholas Haute*. Although involved in a number of lawsuits on behalf of other property owners, Prophet himself was not a litigious man. Only once, at some point before March 1406, does he appear to have brought a case on his own behalf: this was against Edmund Sherman of Westminster and his family for allegedly making violent threats against him and his wife. By the time of his death, he had thus established himself as a notable and generally well-respected figure in the City, and it is a further mark of his social status that, in March 1415, he obtained a papal indult permitting him to make use of a portable altar.7
Prophet’s public career really began in September 1399 with his appointment as auditor of London. He attended his first Parliament in 1402, at which time business of immediate concern to him and his fellow citizens was under review. As a member of the common council and a representative of the Fishmongers’ Mystery, he was prominent among the 48 commoners of London, who, with the other civic authorities, petitioned Parliament for an official inquiry to be held in their presence before the royal council into certain ‘horribles oppressions and extorcions’ practised by the sheriffs. Although ready to accept the onerous post of chamberlain of London in September 1404, Prophet found himself less able to fulfil his many duties as he grew older, and after ten years in office he begged to be released because of his increasing ‘infirmity’. No one else was prepared to succeed him, however, and he agreed, under pressure from the mayor and aldermen, to serve for one more year, being promised exemption from any of the other posts ‘such as his enemies had been endeavouring to force upon him against his will’. He continued reluctantly to hold the chamberlainship until his death in the winter of 1416.8
Prophet was buried in the church of St. Margaret, Bridge Street, to which he made a number of bequests, including one of £20 for the foundation of a chantry. He left no children, and instructed his widow to distribute among the poor the money raised by selling off his estate.9