SHILLINGFORD, John (d.1458), of Exeter and Shillingford, Devon.
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Family and Education
Receiver, Exeter Mich. 1419-21; member of the council of 12, 1421-8, 1430-5, 1445-6, 1448-50, 1451-6; mayor 1428-30, 1444-5, 1446-8.1
Constable of the Staple, Exeter Nov. 1421-2; mayor 1423-4, Oct. 1430, Jan. 1432-Feb. 1433, Jan. 1448-Oct. 1449.2
The Shillingfords, who held the manor of Shillingford some three miles from Exeter, had long played a part in the affairs of the city. Ralph Shillingford† was recorder of Exeter in the 1350s, having represented the shire in Parliament in 1343, and Master Baldwin (d.1417/18) and his brother John DCL (d.1406) were both canons of the cathedral.3 John the MP is usually held to have been an illegitimate son of Baldwin (for whom he acted as executor), but there is no evidence to support this contention. Clearly, however, he was not of the main line of the family, for, although he did eventually come into possession of the Shillingford lands, this did not happen until the 1430s, when they passed to him from his ‘cosyn’ William. In the early stages of his career he lived in Exeter. He acquired on a long lease the house in Gandy Street which before rebuilding had belonged to Sir John Cary†; another messuage in High Street, where he was living in 1421, was leased from the Wilfords; for some years he rented two towers on the south gate with three gardens and a piece of ground near Southernhay weir; and in 1448 he was party to a conveyance of land at Duryard worth as much as £20 a year. Meanwhile, in 1428, he had shared with William Shillingford a quarter of a knight’s fee in Widecombe-in-the-Moor, but it was his kinsman alone who then had possession of the family estates in Shillingford, ‘Stapilhull’ and Farringdon, along with the advowsons of Shillingford and St. Mary Steps, Exeter. John entered the inheritance at an unknown date between 1433 and 1436. Different juries later estimated it to be worth £26 13s.4d. or £33 6s.8d. p.a.4
Shillingford had become a freeman of Exeter on 14 Nov. 1418, having previously attended the shire elections held at Exeter castle in 1417 and established trading contacts in the city, where he set up in business as a merchant.5 The returns for the second Parliament of 1421 record Roger Shillingford and John Shaplegh II as the elected representatives for Exeter, and John Shillingford as Roger’s mainpernor, but it was he who was paid expenses by the receiver of the city for attending the Commons,6 and who, having been elected as a constable of the local Staple on 11 Nov., was formally appointed as such by the Crown in Westminster on the first day of the Parliament (1 Dec.). Shillingford’s qualities as an administrator and delegate were much appreciated by his fellow citizens. He was made a feoffee for the foundation of almshouses in the city and appointed by the recorder, William Wynard (d.1441) as executor of his will, sharing with his co-executors, who included the chief justice John Fortescue*, the sum of £100 as a gift for their pains. Long before the journeys made necessary by the famous lawsuit between the civic and cathedral authorities of 1447-8, he must have become thoroughly familiar with the road from Exeter to London, for on several earlier occasions he rode to the capital on business.7 He was, however, reluctant to take up the mayoralty for the third time, in 1444, until compelled by a writ under the privy seal on pain of a massive £1,000 fine, yet, as Hooker noted, ‘yn thende [he] dyd performe it very well’.8 Shillingford’s fifth mayoralty coincided with the height of the city’s dispute with Bishop Lacy and the dean and chapter, for which his own letters provide abundant evidence. His place as leader of the citizens is clear from the bishop’s claim that all the trouble stemmed from the ‘wilfulle laboure of John Shillyngford nowe being maier in whoos tyme ever hast be grete trowbil to the grete hurte and losse of the saide church and citiee’. Shillingford’s reports of his journeys to London in the winter of 1447-8, and his interviews at Lambeth and Westminster with the chancellor, Archbishop Stafford, and the chief justices, show that he had made a careful study of the city’s case, and reveal an able and vigorous personality, a man skilled and shrewd in debate, intelligent and good humoured, although not much given to modesty. The lawsuits proved expensive for Shillingford himself as his hints suggest: ‘I am right mery and fare right well, ever thankyng God and myn owne purse’, he wrote home on one occasion, and on another he commented, ‘money ys like to be scarce with me, considerynge the bisynesse and coste that y have hadde’. If his own story is to be credited, he created a favourable impression with the chancellor, and he is also thought to have been on good terms with Stafford’s successor as chancellor and in the primacy, Archbishop Kemp, whom he personally requested to contribute some relief towards the reconstruction of Exebridge.9
Shillingford’s will has not survived, but in a petition sent to the court of Chancery some time between 1460 and 1465 his son, William, claimed that it had been his intention to grant an income of ten marks a year from the family lands to the hospital of St. John in Exeter for a secular priest to pray for his soul, but that he had been dissuaded from doing so on moral grounds, as it was thought that as he had been granted the same in fee by his kinsman, William, with the intention that they should pass to the lat