THICKNESS, William (d.c.1403), of Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffs.

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

Family and Education

illegit. s. of William Thickness (d.c.1385) of Newcastle-under-Lyme by Katherine Swynnerton; er. half-bro. of Thomas Thickness*. m. by Easter 1366, Alice, wid. of Hugh Hough of Shavington, Cheshire, 1s.1

Offices Held

Bailiff, Newcastle Mich. 1370-2; mayor 1372-3, 1379-81, 1382-4, 1385-6, 1387-8, 1395-6, 1399-1400.2

Tax collector, Staffs. Mar. 1401.


According to a deposition made in September 1378, this MP was the child of a ‘secret marriage’ contracted by his father some 50 years before, during his lifetime of his first wife, who left no issue. It was, therefore, upon the offspring of a much later and more prestigious marriage to Margery Audley that William Thickness senior settled his estates, although the close relationship which existed between the younger William and his half-brother, Thomas (with whom he was returned to the Parliament of September 1388), was clearly not jeopardized by these arrangements. Thanks to his own lucrative marriage, which had taken place by the spring of 1366, William achieved financial independence, and thus found it easier to accept his sibling’s good fortune. At this date he and his wife conveyed a plot of land in the Staffordshire village of Knutton (near Newcastle) to a local man. In about 1378 they began what was probably a collusive lawsuit for custody of the four messuages and extensive farmland in Shavington which formed part of the dower properties settled upon Thickness’s wife by her first husband, Hugh Hough; and much later, in 1399, they made an enfeoffment-to-uses of certain holdings in and around Newcastle.3 Even if Thickness received little from his father in terms of material wealth, he was at least able to benefit from his influence in the borough. His first return to Parliament took place towards the end of his father’s second mayoralty, although, as a former bailiff and mayor himself, it may be argued that his seat in the Commons owed as much to personal as paternal influence. At all events, when the old man died, in about 1385, his elder son had already begun to play a far more telling part in municipal life. The election of his brother, Thomas, first to Parliament and then to the freedom of Newcastle (significantly during one of William’s terms as mayor and without payment of the customary fine) further consolidated the important position which the family as a whole now enjoyed.

From the time that he first became bailiff in 1370, William Thickness was actively involved in local government. Between then and 1386 he often stood surety for his successors in that office and for persons newly admitted to the freedom of the borough. During the Easter term of 1376 he was summoned to serve on a jury in a lawsuit between the bishop of Coventry and James, Lord Audley, which was being heard at Lichfield. In 1382 he and his friend, Ralph Hough*, to whom he was probably also related by marriage, witnessed a deed for the prior of Trentham. The two men maintained a lasting association, which saw them returned together to the Parliament of 1384 (Apr.), and which eventually brought them into court on a charge of harbouring suspected murderers at Newcastle during the spring of 1388 and on other occasions shortly afterwards. They were finally acquitted in February 1392 by the justices of gaol delivery then sitting at Stafford. A reference made one year earlier to indictments for felony laid against Thickness and his son, Nicholas, may perhaps concern this case, although it is more than possible that the MP was charged with other crimes as well. He had, meanwhile, been sued for a debt of £5 by John Keen* and John Colclough*, two parliamentary colleagues who had been made executors of the former mayor, Richard Colclough.4

From 1389 onwards, if not before, Thickness belonged to the prima duodena (or senior members) of the merchant guild at Newcastle. He served no less than nine terms as mayor, and was returned to five of his six Parliaments while holding office. He is last mentioned in the spring of 1403, when he sat on the jury at the great leet held annually in the borough, and it may reasonably be assumed that he died soon afterwards.5

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. T. Pape, Med. Newcastle-under-Lyme, 89; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xi. 175-6; xiii. 192; CCR, 1389-92, p. 245; DKR, xxix. 50.
  • 2. Pape, 144-5, 151, 153-4, 157, 159, 163, 166.
  • 3. Ibid. 89; DKR, xxix. 50, 52; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xi. 175-6, 210.
  • 4. Pape, 145, 147, 149, 152, 157; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xi. 328; xiii. 129, 192; xvi. 29.
  • 5. Pape, 160, 196.