RAFMAN, alias ALCOCK, Henry, of Wymondham, Great Yarmouth and Norwich, Norf.
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Family and Education
Controller of customs and subsidies, Great Yarmouth 24 Oct. 1399-24 Mar. 1401, 26 Nov. 1401-18 Dec. 1404, 11 Mar. 1407-29 Sept. 1408; collector 8 Sept. 1405-30 Sept. 1407.
Searcher, Great Yarmouth 26 Nov. 1399-c.1400.
Bailiff, Yarmouth Mich. 1406-7, 1409-10.1
Sheriff, Norwich Mich. 1414-15; mayor May 1416-17.2
Rafman alias Alcock was generally known by his occupational surname, which means chandler. Apparently a native of Wymondham, he established himself at Yarmouth where he found much employment as a customs official in the early years of Henry IV’ s reign. His acquisition of a royal pardon towards the end of the previous reign, in July 1398, was evidently connected with the political events of that time, for it made specific reference to the support he had rendered to the Lords Appellant in the years 1386 to 1388. However, Rafman was perennially in debt and no doubt obtained the pardon not only to escape persecution by the Crown, but also to gain some protection from legal actions brought by his creditors. At Yarmouth he promoted his mercantile interests, sometimes importing wine and foodstuffs from France, and exporting cloth to the Low Countries. In 1405 he shipped over 6,500 woolfells—more than any other native merchant using the port that year. It was while collector of customs at Yarmouth that Rafman was elected to represent the borough in the Commons of 1406, and before Parliament was dissolved he was chosen as one of the four bailiffs. In his official capacity he was to make returns to the Parliament of 1407 and, during his second term, to that of 1410. Meanwhile, in February 1407, he had been pardoned his outlawry for failing to appear in the court of common pleas when sued during the reign of Richard II by Robert Ashfield for a debt of 40 marks jointly owed by him and another Wymondham man, and by a second creditor for the sum of £24. Nor was this the only court to issue summonses for Rafman’s appearance: in April 1408 he appealed against a judgement of the admiral’s court given in favour of a Flemish merchant, it having been found that merchandise worth £140 had been spoiled while in his custody, and accordingly he had been ordered to forfeit goods of a like value and pay £100 in damages. That December Rafman was granted a special pardon of all offences punishable by fine, ransom or imprisonment. At the same time certain other men of Yarmouth obtained similar pardons, an indication that these were connected with the posts they all held in the customs service, and were perhaps issued to exonerate them from any negligence or unintended concealment. Rafman was never appointed to royal office again.3
Although no details survive of Rafman’s own property in Yarmouth, his son John is known to have acquired some land and buildings there in 1407. That same year, or the next, he himself purchased admission to the freedom of Norwich and, after the end of his second term as bailiff of Yarmouth in 1410, he left the coast for the city. As ‘citizen and merchant of Norwich’ on 24 Oct. 1413 he was again pardoned his outlawry for non-appearance in the central courts when sued by various persons from East Anglia and London for debts amounting to £124 6s.8d. Among his creditors were the executors of the same Robert Ashfield who had sued him in the days of Richard II, and Richard White I*, the Norwich mercer, to whom he owed £50. Despite any ill-feeling created by such bad debts within the merchant community of Norwich, Rafman was elected sheriff of the city just a year later. In his official capacity he made the returns to the Parliament of 1414 (Nov.). He himself was elected to Parliament by Norwich in March 1416, and in May, during the recess between the two parliamentary sessions, he began his mayoralty. During his term of office he was paid two marks for finalizing the arrangements for a loan to the Crown of 300 marks. Rafman was present with his successor as mayor when the city’s charter was formally renewed in July 1417, and a few months later he was among the citizens named as party to the parliamentary indenture.4
Rafman’s disappearance from civic records not long afterwards is explained by the indictment of him and his son in the King’s bench, following an accusation made by Cecily, widow of John Caley of Norwich, that they had murdered her husband. The evidence showed, however, that they had been indicted maliciously and were therefore entitled to pardons. These Henry V intended to grant, but because of his absence in France and unexpected death in August 1422, they were not actually issued until July 1423. Rafman probably ended his days in poverty. He is last recorded in November 1435 still in trouble over his debts, though pardoned his outlawry once more in connexion with the sum of £60 owed to creditors of longstanding, £5 as damages awarded against him, and a more recent failure to remit £8 5s.4d. The largest debt had been owing since the reign of Henry V and, if incurred while attending Parliament in 1416, might explain the description of the defendant as ‘late of Westminster’. Rafman had eventually surrendered to the Fleet prison and paid his dues.5