WILLIAM, John I, of Kingswear and Dartmouth, Devon.
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Family and Education
Commr. to close the port of Falmouth May 1401; of inquiry, Galway July 1402; to survey Dartmouth Mar. 1406.
John William held property in Dartmouth but, being often described as ‘of Kingswear’, probably usually resided in that town, on the other side of the estuary.1 He had begun his career as a sea captain by 1386, when a balinger of his took part in the capture off Brittany of a Genoese vessel, and later that year he was said to have illegally seized a cargo of wine from the Cristaven of Middleburgh. He then compounded his offence by failing to appear before the King’s Council to make restitution of two tuns of wine stolen from a third ship. As well as being engaged in such piratical ventures, William is found lawfully exporting cloth on board his ship the Cokjon. On 6 Mar. 1399 he took out a royal pardon for the accidental death of a sailor, which had occurred when his crayer, La Margarete, sailing from London to Dartmouth, collided with another craft. His mercantile interests took him to Ireland, where, however, in 1401 he was captured by rebels from Dingle (county Desmond) and held to ransom for £200. The royal council decided to grant him a licence to return to the province to try to recover the money and also allowed him to keep some harness and armour worth £40 which he had taken from his captors, but insisted that, under pain of 1,000 marks, he would undertake to keep the truce. In the following year, as a ‘captain’ of Galway, William was sent a royal commission to investigate a complaint made by William Clerk of Dartmouth regarding the seizure of his ship, Le Gracedieu, but in December it was alleged that our Member himself had instigated the crime by paying the master and crew of the vessel more than 200 marks to take her from Athenry (county Connaught) to Galway, where two of the traders on board were murdered and the rest held to ransom. A London merchant obtained permission to confiscate William’s goods wherever they might be found. Not long afterwards William was again involved in depredations to foreign vessels, as the owner of a ship in the fleet assembled from Bristol, Plymouth and Dartmouth which, in October 1403, captured as many as seven carracks and their valuable cargoes. Among the commanders of this force was John Hawley I*, and it was as master of one of Hawley’s ships, Le Craccher, and later as captain of Le George, that William was occupied over the next few years roving the Channel in search of the enemy, with scant regard for the truces then operating with Castile and Brittany. In October 1408 a Breton ship sailing to Bristol with a consignment of wine and cloth worth 676 marks was boarded by William and his crew of Le Blak Barge off Blanksable (Finistere) and taken to Ireland; and the mayor and bailiffs of Dartmouth, having ignored commands from the Council to arrest him, were themselves accused of harbouring and maintaining the culprits. Although, on 12 Jan. 1410, William obtained a royal pardon for all treasons and felonies except murder and rape, his arrest was twice more ordered in April and October that year.2
It is most unlikely that the same John William of Kingswear went on to be employed by Henry V as commander of various of his ships and indeed, served under Henry VI, for that namesake did not die until 1447.3