WALSINGHAM, Thomas (d.1457), of London.
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Family and Education
s. of Alan Walsingham of London, cordwainer, by his w. Juliana. m. by 1412, Margaret (d.1445), da. of Henry Bamme of London, vintner, by his w. Alice, wid. of John Wakele, junior, vintner,1 1s. 1da.
Victualler of the King’s household Nov. 1399-1413.
Gauger of wine, Cinque Ports 23 Jan. 1404-16 Aug. 1409.
Under butler of England c.1413-1422.
Collector of customs and subsidies, London 29 Sept. 1421-June 1447.
Alderman, Castle Baynard Ward 25 Feb.-4 Apr. 1429.2
Tax assessor, London Jan. 1436.
Commr. to requisition vessels for the passage of the duke of York to France Mar. 1436; of inquiry, Kent Oct. 1439 (forestalling and regrating).
Walsingham’s father, a cordwainer who probably came from Norfolk, acquired property in London, including an inn called Le Tabbard on the Hoop and a shop called ‘Le Forge’, both in the parish of St. Benedict, Gracechurch; and in 1407, together with Thomas, he took on a lease of Le Grenegate tavern in the parish of St. Andrew’s Cornhill. Thomas himself later added to these holdings property in Holborn and St. Stephen’s Walbrook as a consequence of his marriage to a vintner’s daughter.3 But it was through his own successful business as an importer of wine, coupled with close connexions with the royal court, that he achieved prominence. He had entered royal service by October 1398 when Richard II granted him and another ‘King’s servant’ land worth £6 1s. in Yeovil, Somerset. Henry IV revoked the letters patent authorizing this grant, but within two months of his accession he started employing Walsingham as a victualler of his household, and four years later he appointed him gauger of wines in the Cinque Ports. At about the same time the vintner was made administrator of the effects of John Payn II*, Henry’s first chief butler. Then, in March 1408, the King granted him for life Le Grenegate Inn in Cornhill (the same as he already held by lease), worth £10 a year. Naturally, Walsingham maintained close contacts with other leading vintners, and his connexion with the royal household inevitably brought him into touch with the new chief butler, Thomas Chaucer* of Ewelme, whom he was to serve as his immediate deputy in Henry V’s reign and had probably done so before. It is by no means inconceivable that Chaucer and, perhaps even more so, Chaucer’s cousins, Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester, and Sir Thomas Beaufort, were behind Walsingham’s elections to the Parliaments of 1410 and 1413 (May), for Wareham and Lyme Regis, respectively, places with which he himself had no recorded links. The party of the prince of Wales, whose chief supporters the Beauforts were, was already in charge of the royal administration; when Parliament met in January 1410, it was opened by Henry Beaufort, Thomas Beaufort was appointed chancellor four days later, and in between times Chaucer was re-elected Speaker. When Henry V’s first Parliament assembled in May 1413 it was Bishop Beaufort who was chancellor. On this occasion another close associate of Chaucer’s, and again a prominent vintner, Lewis John, sat in the Commons for both Taunton and Wallingford, where the Beaufort influence, mediated in each case by Chaucer, was powerfully active. In connexion with these elections it is particularly worth noting that Walsingham was a friend and business colleague of Lewis John’s: in 1406 they had together provided securities in Chancery for two other London wine merchants; and when, more recently (in fact on 14 Apr. 1413, only a month before Parliament met) John had been appointed as master worker of the Mints in the Tower and at Calais, Walsingham and Chaucer had both offered sureties, each in a sum of 1,000 marks, on his behalf.4
Walsingham’s attachment to Chaucer remained firm right up to the latter’s death in 1434. He is frequently recorded acting for the chief butler as a mainpernor at the Exchequer or in other financial transactions, and in such dealings he was often associated with another member of Chaucer’s circle, the future clerk of the Commons, Thomas Haseley, who, it is interesting to note, also sat in the Parliaments of 1410 and 1413 (May).5 Both Walsingham and Haseley served as feoffees of Chaucer’s estates in Oxfordshire and elsewhere.6 Walsingham owed his appointment in 1421 as a customs collector in London directly to the patronage of Bishop Beaufort, who nominated him for the post; and he was to remain as customer for over 25 years, retiring only after his patron’s death in 1447. It was he who supplied Beaufort’s large household with wine, and his personal standing with this highly influential kinsman of the King is further indicated by his inclusion, in November 1435, and along with Archbishop Kemp, Bishop Alnwick and Lord Cromwell (the treasurer), as a grantee of 1,000 marks annual rent from the estates of the bishopric of Winchester for the rest of Cardinal Beaufort’s life. Then, in 1443, he joined with Beaufort in granting to Christ Church priory, Canterbury, the manor of Bekesbourne, Kent.7 Among Walsingham’s testamentary bequests were a set of amber ‘payn-bedes ... which my Lord Cardynalle gave me’, and a ‘grete Bibille that the Cardinal gave me, writyn of boleyn hand’, so clearly their relationship meant much to him.
Meanwhile, in 1429, Walsingham had been elected as an alderman of London, but in April that year he secured a discharge, partly because of his obligations in the royal service (he was by this time an esquire in the Household), and partly in consideration of his financial undertaking to glaze the eastern gable of the Guildhall. He was not, however, so heavily committed to attendance at Court as to jeopardize his own profits from trade, either as a vintner or as a merchant stapler. He had been engaged in the cloth trade since at least 1410, and from 1417 onwards is recorded shipping large quantities of wool to Calais. In 1431 he joined with his fellow staplers in a lawsuit, brought before the mayor of the Calais Staple against Hamon Sutton*, the wealthy Lincoln merchant, for debts of more than £900.8 Success in commercial ventures as in his other concerns enabled him to purchase substantial estates in Kent, which included the manors of Scadbury, Champeyns and Tong, and land in Chislehurst, St. Paul’s Cray, Lewisham, Bromley and Bexhill. By 1436 his annual income from property in London, Middlesex, Kent and Hertfordshire, as assessed for the purposes of taxation, amounted to at least £90. In the same year he advanced a loan of 100 marks to the royal council as a contribution towards equipping the duke of York’s army.9 In May 1441 Walsingham obtained a royal licence entitling him, for the rest of his life, to ship 100 sacks of wool every year directly from London or Southampton to Italy, so bypassing the Calais Staple, and on 20 Oct. 1442 he and his wife were granted, in survivorship, two pipes of wine every year from cargoes unloaded in the port of London. That he retained some influence at Court even after Cardinal Beaufort’s death, is suggested by the exemption he secured from the workings of the Act of Resumption of 1453. By then, however, he had retired from royal employment. In fact, as early as November 1448 he took out letters patent exonerating him from holding public office. The only other service he is known to have undertaken was of a private nature: the executorship of the will of Sir William Estfield†, his sometime fellow customer. It was in accordance with Estfield’s wishes that Walsingham made arrangements for the provision of clean water for the City of London by extending an existing conduit all the way from Paddington to Fleet Street.10
Walsingham himself drew up three testamentary documents. The first, dated 30 Mar. 1448, provided that his properties in ‘Berebynderislane’ off Lombard Street (which he had purchased from Henry Somer* in 1447) and Gracechurch Street should pass to his son, Thomas, with remainder to his daughter, Philippa, the wife of Thomas Ballard, esquire. In the event of both Thomas and Philippa dying without issue, the Vintners Company was to use the premises for the foundation of a chapel dedicated to St. Mary in St. Katherine’s church by the Tower. This was where Walsingham wished to be buried. The ultima voluntas he made on 19 Jan. 1451 related to his estates in Kent, and his final will, dated 15 Mar. 1457, in which he described himself as ‘squier and citezin of London, myghty of minde and in good memorie’, dealt with personal effects. The latter suggests that he was a devout man: he left to St. Katherine’s his ‘gret portous [breviary] that I have usid to lye afore me and to say on my service’, and to his son ‘my portos that I sey on my service at Skatbury’ so that he might ‘serve God in forme of my accustome and to have me in minde’. The church of St. Katherine’s was bequeathed three cloths of gold ‘of a sute’. Every priest attending his funeral was to receive 3s.4d., every master 13s.4d., every clerk 20d., and every bede-woman 8d.; and similar sums were to be paid to attendants at his month-day service. His personal priest at Scadbury was left five marks. Walsingham instructed his executors to do as had himself been wont (to keep the ‘forme accustomed’) at the new abbey on Tower Hill, and every Saturday for a year have a devout person pray to St. Anne there for his soul and spend 20d. in alms. ‘My fader Bibill coverid in white lether’ (with silver and gilt clasps) was bequeathed to his cousin, Master Nicholas Messingham, but Cardinal Beaufort’s gifts were to be retained as family heirlooms by his son and son-in-law. Walsingham ended his will with provision for a businesslike settlement of his affairs with both debtors and creditors, leaving a list of his own debts due to be settled the next Easter, in accordance with a practice he had followed every Easter since 1425. Probate was granted at Lambeth on 17 May 1457.11