WELLE, William, of Grimsby, Lincs.
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Family and Education
nephew and h. of Walter Welle (d. by 1396), of Grimsby and Wathe, Lincs. m. (1) by July 1384, Joan; (2) by Aug. 1395, Millicent.1
Commr. of array, Grimsby July 1377; to prevent the departure of ships May 1401.
Bailiff, Grimsby Mich. 1379-80, 1386-7; mayor 1389-90, 1391-2, 1402-3.2
Welle is first mentioned in 1375, when he began a lawsuit against one William Emanson of Grimsby because of trespasses committed by two Flemings for whom Emanson had stood as guarantor. As a young man he owed a good deal of his influence in the borough to his uncle Walter, who besides serving as a local customs officer also held municipal office and was one of the richest shipowners on that part of the coast. Indeed, it is probably no coincidence that his first return to Parliament took place in January 1377 while Walter was mayor; and a few months later the two men sat together on a royal commission of inquiry. Walter’s last years were marred by what appears to have been an arbitrary sentence of imprisonment on the part of the borough authorities. In February 1386 his nephew managed to secure his release on the ground that he was ‘so infirm and aged that his life (was) despaired of if he (was) kept in prison’, offering bail of £40 and promising to produce him in Chancery when required. At some point over the next ten years the old man died, leaving William certain unspecified estates in Wathe, which he settled upon a group of trustees, including Simon Grimsby II*.3
Throughout this period William continued to play a prominent part in the affairs of the borough, notably in January 1380, when, as bailiff, he was responsible for holding the parliamentary elections there. In May 1382 and on two subsequent occasions (in 1385 and about 1402) he served on local juries, while also becoming involved in litigation on his own account. In July 1384, for example, he and his first wife, Joan, were arraigned at Lincoln on an assize of novel disseisin; and two years later an inquisition was held at Grimsby into his claims to have been assaulted and imprisoned by one Roger Messingham, whom he also accused of extorting money with menaces. His charges were upheld, although it was not until 1397 that Messingham actually paid his fine. Like many of his fellow merchants, Welle was engaged in trade with Calais, an activity sometimes made difficult by the unreliable behaviour of his own employees. This was the case in 1390, when he brought an action under the Statute of Labourers against one Matthew Hewson who had deserted from his service instead of crossing the Channel to transact business on his behalf.4 As one of the leading burgesses in Grimsby, Welle was meanwhile required, in March 1388, to take the general oath in support of the Lords Appellant. Whether this led him to sue out royal letters of pardon ten years later, by which date Richard II was pursuing a full-scale vendetta against his earlier opponents, is a matter for conjecture: the pardon may, on the other hand, have been little more than a formality.5
Welle attended the Grimsby parliamentary elections quite regularly and stood surety for Walter Slotheby (in 1390), Robert Burton (in 1394) and John Kelby (in 1393, 1397 (Jan.) and 1402). He and Kelby appear to have been particularly close, for in April 1399 he again acted as his mainpernor, this time in order to obtain for him a writ of supersedeas with regard to an action for attempted murder, brought by the former mayor, Geoffrey Askeby*. It was also during this period that he offered bail of £40 on behalf of a Lincolnshire man named Henry Walsham, who was bound over to keep the peace. We do not know exactly when Welle married his second wife, Millicent, but in August 1395 the couple acquired a messuage called ‘Halsham Place’ in Grimsby. Welle then received from the bishop of Lincoln a licence to build a charnel-house under one of the chapels at St. James’s church, Grimsby, but little seems to have been done to implement the scheme.6 The 1390s proved an eventful decade for him, since he was threatened by the hostility and even violence of his fellow burgesses. In the summer of 1395, William Hosier* and his sons were found guilty of launching two murderous attacks upon him; and three years later he was deprived of his rightful share in a communally owned cargo boat which the burgesses of Grimsby used for trade along the east coast. On this occasion, he petitioned the King for redress against those who ‘by covin and scheming’ had conspired to exclude him, and letters close were duly sent to the mayor and bailiffs commanding them to change their attitude. Welle was less successful in his attempt to recover a debt of £10 from a local man, whose refusal to appear in court resulted in an outlawry subsequently pardoned.7
Towards the end of his life Welle again found himself at odds with the authorities because of the facilities which he and William Duffield offered in 1400 to certain Flemings for whom they acted as hosts in Grimsby. The Flemish ships were anchored on the shore against the Freshney and also in the haven at ‘Somertymyngs’ where they became so embedded in the mud that they had to be dug out. This operation caused such an obstruction to navigation that Welle and Duffield were between them fined 33s.4d. Not long afterwards Welle was also in trouble for his failure to deliver quantities of grain and other victuals which he had forcibly confiscated in various parts of Lincolnshire for the use of Henry IV’s army in Scotland. In December 1402 a royal commission was set up to investigate his alleged malpractices, but it appears that the writs were not delivered, and the case dragged on for another three years at least. Perhaps Welle was already dead, for no more is heard of him after this date.8
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. JUST 1/1488 rot. 50v; CAD, iii. C3755; South Humberside RO, 1/560/29.
- 2. C219/8/4; E368/153, 163, 165, 167, 176.
- 3. CPR, 1377-81, p. 37; CFR, viii. 151; ix. 121; CCR, 1385-9, p. 55; CAD, iii. C3706, C3755; E. Gillett, Grimsby, 24.
- 4. C219/8/4; C143/401/13; C145/233/16; JUST 1/1488 rot. 50v; Feudal Aids, iii. 249; Lincoln Rec. Soc. lvi. 234; Gillett, 26.
- 5. RP, iii. 403; C67/31 m. 11.
- 6. C219/9/7, 9, 10, 12, 10/2; CCR, 1389-92, p. 302; 1396-9, p. 499; South Humberside R