WOODCOCK, John (d.1409), of London.
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Family and Education
s. of William Woodcock of Doncaster, Yorks. by his w. Joan. m. by Oct. 1391, Felicity, da. of Thomas Austyn (d.1391), of London, mercer, 2s. 2da.1
Common councillor, Cripplegate Ward 31 Aug. 1388.2
Warden of the Mercers’ Co. 24 June ?1390-1, 1397-8, 1407-8.3
Auditor, London 21 Sept. 1390-1, 1399-1400; alderman of Coleman Street Ward c.1397-1402, Cripplegate Ward by 20 Mar. 1402-d.; mayor, London 13 Oct. 1405-6.4
Collector of the wool custom, London 19 Feb. 1397-12 Oct. 1399, London and the Thames from Gravesend to Tilbury 12 Oct. 1399-18 Nov. 1400, Ipswich 16 Aug. 1402-1 Oct. 1405.
Sheriff, London and Mdx. Mich. 1397-8.
Commr. of gaol delivery, London Jan. 1406;5 inquiry, London and Mdx. June 1406 (concealments); to raise a royal loan June 1406.
A Yorkshireman by birth, Woodcock prospered through trade to become one of the richest men in early 15th-century London. Although he only represented the City once in Parliament, his wealth gave him great influence, and, like Richard Whittington*, his activities as a mercer brought him many powerful connexions. He appears to have set up in business by May 1382, when he and Whittington were called upon to value certain pearls produced in evidence before the court of the mayor of London. Two years later he attended the mayoral elections as a representative for Bassishaw Ward, but it was not until 1388 that he actually sat on the common council.6 He had by this time been supplying the wardrobe of Henry, earl of Derby (the future Henry IV), who purchased goods worth at least £826 from him between September 1387 and February 1398. John of Gaunt was also one of his customers: in 1392, for example, the duke’s wardrober paid over £31 for various items of merchandize.7 But Woodcock clearly owed much of his early financial success to the patronage of Richard II, whose hostility towards the City was somewhat offset (so far as individual citizens went) by his readiness to spend large sums of money on maintaining a magnificent Court. Notwithstanding the fact that in October 1398 Woodcock had been pardoned by the King specifically as an erstwhile supporter of the Lords Appellant (no doubt as a result of his attachment to Derby), he still remained a notable purveyor to the Household. Unfortunately, towards the end of his reign, at least, Richard made no attempt to settle his mounting debts, and in February 1400 the mercer was driven to petition his former patron, Henry IV, for help in collecting the £1,250 still due to him from the royal wardrobe. His claim that he could no longer ‘son estat honestement maintainer ne supporter’ received a sympathetic hearing: the money was assigned to him in four annual instalments, and, moreover, unlike many less fortunate London merchants, he also managed to recover a separate sum of £50 which he had lent Richard II some three years before. Richard’s nephew, Thomas Holand, earl of Kent, also died owing Woodcock money, some of which had evidently been advanced at the time of his marriage to Joan Stafford. Again, in September 1400, Henry IV undertood to honour the debt, this time in payments, totalling £420, spread over the next three years.8
Perhaps Woodcock’s previous association with the house of Lancaster led the new King to look upon him with special favour. At all events, in November 1401 he was awarded a royal annuity of 40 marks for life from the issues of London; and when, seven years later, the money could not be found because of over-assignment, instructions were given for him to be paid directly from the Exchequer. As one of the chief suppliers of the royal wardrobe, Woodcock was almost continuously owed large sums by the Crown, although he could in general be sure of obtaining preference over other royal creditors. By the summer of 1402 he had provided Henry IV and his family with goods worth almost £2,330 of which just over half was to be repaid out of the wool custom. At first this proved impossible, but through his influence Woodcock was able to secure the post of collector of customs at Ipswich, and was authorized to retain all the revenues passing through his hands until the sum should be cleared. His readiness to continue lending money to the Crown may in part explain this success: at some point before August 1402, for example, he had joined with Thomas Duc, a skinner, in advancing over £348 to the King on the security of the wool subsidy at Chichester. In all, Henry IV could then have owed him £2,700 or more; and it looks as if he borrowed a further £700 (or else extended the terms of an existing loan) before 1405, as well as purchasing further quantities of expensive fabric from Woodcock on long-term credit. In February of the previous year, for instance, our Member had supplied cloth costing £200 for the reception of Queen Joan at Reading, and he continued to do business with the royal wardrobers throughout this period. Again, after initial set-backs, he was given an assurance of precedence over other claimants upon the wool custom—an assurance which was repeated in the following May and October. The execution of Thomas Mowbray, the Earl Marshal, for his part in the Yorkshire rebellion of June 1405, left Woodcock with the problem of recovering over £246 which the young man had owed him for mercers’ goods. Once again Henry IV intervened to honour the debt in full, evidently without encountering the usual problems of over-assignment. Woodcock’s last major delivery to the royal wardrobe was made for the Christmas festivities of 1407, when the King acknowledged a total debt to him of £251 due on merchandise bought over the previous year. The wardrober had still to pay almost all of this sum at Michaelmas 1408, and it may well be that Woodcock died before his account was fully settled.9
It is now impossible to tell how much money Woodcock advanced to Henry IV by way of direct cash loans rather than in the form of luxury goods. The receipt and issue rolls of the Exchequer list II separate loans of sums ranging from £60 to £200 made by him between 20 July 1401 and 4 Mar. 1408. In or before June 1405 he also contributed 500 marks towards the cost of national defence, and in the following year he joined with Thomas Knolles* in lending the King £200 for Good Friday alms. Twice, in April 1402 and January 1403, he stood surety with other Londoners for the repayment of substantial sums (respectively £2,500 and £495) borrowed by the Crown. The full extent of his involvement in government finance must, however, remain a matter of conjecture.10
Far less is known about the mercer’s other business affair, although they were clearly conducted on an impressive scale. Between May 1389 and October 1395, for instance, he began four lawsuits in the court of common pleas for the recovery of debts totalling almost £416. Sir Hugh Courtenay*, the earl of Devon’s brother, was one of those summoned to appear in court, although, like other defendants, he failed to do so.11 Woodcock trained a number of apprentices during his lifetime and enjoyed great influence among his fellow mercers. When, at the turn of the century, their livery company split into hostile factions he was one of the eight senior members ‘de sagesse et discrescion’ chosen to settle their disagreements. In 1410 the wardens paid his executors £200 for buildings in West Cheap, known as ‘Le Crowneselde’, which had come into his possession some ten years before and had been held by him and other mercers to the use of the guild. He was also closely involved in the Company’s accession of property worth £8 a year in the parish of St. Martin Outwich: this was settled upon him in 1392 and through his efforts the wardens obtained a royal licence to take seisin of the premises five years later.12 One of his business associates at this time was Richard Whittington, with whom in November 1399 he entered into a recognizance for 500 marks payable to Sir Hugh Waterton. Woodcock had stood surety for Waterton as farmer of the manor of Middleton on the previous day, and may have had other dealings with him. He was also connected with Nicholas Englefield, esquire, acting as his attorney in England during Richard II’s Irish expeditions of 1394 and 1399. Although hardly any evidence of Woodcock’s activities on the international market has survived, it is most unlikely that a man of his wealth and interests would not have maintained widespread connexions abroad. He must also have become heavily involved in the wool trade, if only as a means of recovering the money owed to him by the Crown. Some of these royal debts were repaid while he was collector of the customs at Ipswich (the type of post which many wool merchants exploited to their own advantage), but on at least one occasion, in February 1405, he was given the opportunity to export wool free of customs charges until his demands for £698 had been met. On just one day in January 1406 we find him shipping 21 sarplers of wool to Calais, so his total investment may have been very large indeed.13
A substantial part of Woodcock’s profits was used to establish his position as a landowner. At the time of his death he owned property in four counties. Besides the tenements which he and a friend had bought in his native Doncaster, he held the three manors of Norsted in Kent, Nobright in Surrey, and ‘Berwe’ (probably Barrow Hall, Eastwood) in Essex, together with surrounding farmland and other valuable appurtenances. Through his wife he also possessed a title to the reversion of the manor of Hillingdon in Middlesex, having already acquired the tenancy of land in Impington, Chesterton and Howes in Cambridgeshire.14 It is difficult to establish the extent of Woodcock’s holdings in the City because he was involved in so many conveyances and settlements made to the use of others that his own purchases are not always recognizable. His impressive residence in the parish of St. Alban Woodstreet was acquired in 1387; he bought other rents and tenements in this part of London over the years, largely through a series of transactions with John Mersh, the King’s butler, who in December 1391 bound himself in £400 to honour an unspecified agreement with the mercer. He also rented two tenements, a garden and a shop in the parishes of St. Mary Aldermanbury, St. Mary Bow and St. Mary Abchurch, as well as owning other premises in Basing Lane and West Cheap. On the death of her brother, Thomas, in or before 1406, Felicity Woodcock inherited a valuable tenement in Lombard Street, which was duly confirmed in her possession by the latter’s trustees under sureties of £100. According to an inquisition held in March 1397, Woodcock’s own home alone was worth £10 a year, so his total income from land probably exceeded three or four times this sum.15 He possessed a joint title, in most cases as a feoffee-to-uses, to land and tenements in many other city parishes, being a party to the transactions of the most eminent Londoners of his day. He was also made a trustee of land in Berkshire, Kent, Dorset, Hampshire and Middlesex.16
Surprisingly for a man of his wealth and social position, Woodcock does not often appear among the mainpernors or executors chosen by his fellow merchants. He performed the latter office for only women, one of whom was his father-in-law, the wealthy mercer, Thomas Austyn. On being summoned before the royal council in November 1387, Austyn named Woodcock as one of the bailsmen standing joint sureties in £4,000 on his behalf; and when he died some four years later, he stipulated that his three youngest children and their patrimony of £300 should be entrusted to Woodcock’s care in the event of their mother’s death.17
Civic duties clearly absorbed a great deal of Woodcock’s time, since for most of his life he played a major part in the government of London. By 1392 he was considered to be one of its 24 leading commoners, and as such he was summoned to attend upon Richard II at Reading when, in June, the King’s quarrel with the City came to a head. The royal pardon accorded him in October 1398 was, as we have seen, a consequence of his association with the Lords Appellant during the previous decade, and it was during the reign of one of the Appellants, Henry of Bolingbroke, that he really enjoyed the benefits of royal favour. Yet Woodcock was essentially a self-made man, who owed his great success to a combination of business acumen and financial expertise. Towards the end of his life he acquired a great reputation for piety, and initiated the practice of holding divine service before the election of the mayor. It would also appear from the unprecedented number of chantry priests arrested for immoral conduct during his mayoralty that he was somewhat puritanical in outlook. On the other hand, his own style of living lacked none of the pomp or luxury befitting one of London’s richest citizens: to his elder son he left a complete set of armour with all the accoutrements necessary for jousting; and it is evident that over the years he had acquired an impressive collection of gold and silver plate.18
Is Woodcock died in January 1409 and was buried in the church of St. Alban Wood Street. The copy of his will entered in the trusting rolls lists bequests totalling more than £3,485 in cash, in addition to numerous gifts of plate and jewellery: his widow was left goods to the value of 1,000 marks as well as 2,000 marks sterling, while their four children, all of whom were minors, were to share a similar cash sum on coming of age. Felicity Woodcock married her second husband, Sir John Lumley of County Durham, before February 1410, when they took formal receipt of her share of the deceased’s estate. The couple failed to establish their title to some of his property, although their claim may well have been a somewhat tenuous one. Woodcock’s daughter, Joan, subsequently married one of Sir John’s kinsmen, William Lumley, esquire, of Yorkshire, while his elder son remained in London and became a mercer.19
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. Corporation of London RO, hr 134/69, 140/61; Guildhall Lib. London 9171/1, ff. 244-5. The belief that Woodcock married Sir Richard Redmayne’s* sister, Felicity (CP, viii. 271), is demonstrably untrue in the light of Austyn’s property settlements.
- 2. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 133.
- 3. Mercers’ Company Recs. Wardens’ acct. bk. ff. 23d, 45d, notes Woodcock’s last two terms as warden, while the List of members, f. 570, states that he was also warden in 1391/2. Since there is a consistent discrepancy of one year between the dates in the List and those given in the acct. bk. he is more likely to have held office in 1390/1.
- 4. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 355, 367, 449; I, 52; Beaven, Aldermen, i. 108, 129.
- 5. Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 44.
- 6. Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 14, 84-88.
- 7. DL28/1/2, ff. 5-8, 14d, 21, 22, 3, ff. 5-8d, 20-22, 4, ff. 5-7d, 19, 20d, 5, ff. 8-11d, 24d, 30-31d, 6, ff. 7d-15, 33, 38, 3/2, ff. 15-16, 5, f. 13.
- 8. E401/604, 622; E403/565, 576; E404/15/160, 16/64, 734, 18/391; CPR, 1399-1401, p. 334; C67/31 m. 12; Staffs. RO, D641/1/2/5 m. 2.
- 9. CPR, 1401-5, pp. 14, 116, 491; E404/18/26, 19/319, 20/266, 21/79, 329, 23/173, 528; E101/405/4, f. 1; Add. Ch. 16556.
- 10. PPC, i. 268; CCR, 1399-1402, p. 563; E401/626, 627, 631, 635, 644; E403/573, 576, 578; E404/18/276, 21/279.
- 11. Corporation of London RO, hpl 114 mm. 2-2d; hcp 118, feast St. Magaret, 18 Ric. II, 120, Monday bef. feast St. Martin, 19 Ric. II; CPR, 1396-9, p. 306.
- 12. Mercers’ Co. Recs. Wardens’ acct. bk. ff. 8, 32, 34d, 38d, 39d-40, 54d; List of members, ff. 131, 167, 279, 322, 412; C143/427/30; CPR, 1396-9, p. 109; Corporation of London RO, hr 125/106, 129/56, 135/18.
- 13. CCR, 1399-1402, p. 100; CFR, xii. 25; CPR, 1391-6, p. 475; 1396-9, p. 540; 1401-5, p. 491; E122/71/6, m. 2d; E404/20/266.
- 14. Corporation of London RO, hr 134/69, 140/61; CPR, 1405-8, p. 11.
- 15. CCR, 1389-92, p. 535; CAD, ii. A2509; C143/427/30; Harl. 44D 36; Corporation of London RO, hr 115/102, 116/32, 119/150, 120/36, 70, 111, 121/11-12, 42, 134/69, 73-74, 111-12, 125; Bridge House rental (1404), f. 11d.
- 16. CAD, iii. D1326; CPR, 1408-13, p. 36; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, p. 273; Corporation of London RO, hr 118/96, 100, 120/84-85, 121/58, 124/86, 95, 133, 126/129, 128/64, 129/83, 133B/10, 54, 134/5, 79, 135/11-12, 24, 136/23; hpl 121, feast St. Gregory, 20 Ric. II.
- 17. CCR, 1385-9, p. 359; 1396-9, pp. 192, 282, 286; 1402-5, pp. 483, 508; 1405-9, p. 186; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, p. 107; CPR, 1422-9, p. 30; Guildhall Lib. 9171/1, ff. 244-5.
- 18. C67/31 m. 12; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 378; I, 112, 275-6.
- 19. Beaven, i. 129; PCC 17 Marche; Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 137, 151, 155; Cal. P. and M. London, 1413-37, pp. 29-30, 86-87, 89; J. Stow, Surv. London ed. Kingsford, i. 296; Corporation of London RO, hr 137/56-57, 138/33; hpl 137, Monday aft. feast Conception of Virgin, 14 Hen. IV, 141, Monday bef. feast SS. Simon and Jude, 5 Hen. V.