WIGHTMAN, William, of Huntingdon and London.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
m. by Feb. 1383, Agnes.1
Spigurnel of the Chancery’s Nov. 1363-10 Mar. 1394.
The length and scarcely interrupted continuity of Wightman’s service as a parliamentary burgess is truly remarkable, his outstanding record of 22 returns being in part, at least, due to his regular presence at Westminster. He entered the employment of the Crown in June 1357, as one of Edward III’s yeomen, at an annual fee of 40s. charged upon the manor of Harlington in Middlesex. Six years later his annuity was slightly increased on his appointment as spigurnel of the Chancery, a post which he retained for over three decades, presumably until old age forced his retirement. Although apparently not a native of Huntingdon, he soon acquired property there. Indeed, shortly after he first represented the borough in Parliament, King Edward granted him an acre of land and half a messuage from the confiscated goods of a local felon. By a charter of 1379 he became the owner of a tenement in St. Benedict’s parish, having previously taken sureties of 20 marks from the vendor, as an earnest of his good faith. Thus, by the time of the Peasants’ Revolt, Wightman ranked as one of the most important (albeit, of necessity, occasional) residents of the borough; and it was largely through his leadership that the insurgents who planned to take Huntingdon by storm were held in check. As a royal servant, Wightman mobilized the defence of the bridge which gave access to the town, and together with a group of burgesses managed to drive off the attackers, killing two or three in the process. His bravery did not go unrecognized, for in the following year he received a grant for life of 6d. a day, assigned initially from the revenues coming into the hanaper (to which he must have had ready access), then as a charge upon the Exchequer and lastly, in 1393, as a deduction from the fee farm of the manor of Chesterton in Cambridgeshire. Wightman and his wife were, moreover, accorded a joint corrody at the abbey of Burton-upon-Trent, where they were to be supported for the rest of their lives.2
Thanks to his standing at Court, Wightman was able to avoid the potentially ruinous consequences of his decision to stand surety on behalf of a number of Huntingdon men who had become involved in a dispute with the government over the ownership of goods seized by them from some of the rebels. The quarrel dragged on for quite a while, and eventually Wightman was called personally to account at the Exchequer. But he had no trouble in obtaining a writ of supersedeas, and by the end of 1385 Richard II had actually decided to let him keep all the chattels in question as a reward. This was certainly not the first occasion on which he had exploited his influence: in 1375 he secured for himself the wardship and marriage of John Merkenshale’s next heir, a royal ward, together with custody of the latter’s inheritance; and in the following year a messuage in the London parish of St. Benet Sherehog, which had escheated to the Crown, was made over to him for life. Inevitably, some of the perquisites of office proved difficult to retain as others, too, sought to avail themselves of the royal bounty. This was the case with regard to a grant of land in Alton, Hampshire, made to Wightman in 1371, but contested by a rival claimant some 12 years later. After a protracted legal battle, he managed to retain his title, although he subsequently deemed it prudent to relinquish the estate to the King’s butler, John Slegh.3
The date of Wightman’s death is not known, so we cannot now tell if he or a namesake was rewarded with two messuages, two shops and other holdings in St. Albans by Henry IV in 1406. The letters patent were renewed in both 1407 and 1408, but although the recipient is described in all three documents as a royal servant, there remains a strong possibility that he was a kinsman, perhaps even the son, of our Member. The latter would have been well over 70 by then, and into his 14th year of retirement.4