WOTTON, Nicholas (d.1448), of London.
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Family and Education
s. of William Wotton (d. by 1397), of London, woolman, by his w. Margaret (d.1405). m. (1) by Oct. 1403, Joan (d.1413) 2s. 1da.; (2) by Apr. 1416, Margaret.1
Constable of the Staple of Westminster 3 July 1401-2, mayor 5 May 1424-7 July 1425.2
Tax collector, London Mar. 1404.3
Alderman of Broad Street Ward ?Oct. 1404-c. Dec. 1406, Dowgate Ward by June 1407-5 Apr. 1446; mayor, London 13 Oct. 1415-16, 1430-1.4
Commr. of inquiry, London, Mdx. June 1406 (concealment of royal revenues); gaol delivery, London Nov. 1415; oyer and terminer Sept. 1416 (treasons, insurrections, felonies), Jan. 1424, June 1426, Feb. 1427, Sept. 1428, July 1430; to assess a crown grant Apr. 1431.
Sheriff, London and Mdx. Mich. 1406-7.
Parlty. cttee. to witness the engrossment of the Parliament roll Dec. 1406.5
As the son of a wealthy and influential Londoner who held the aldermanry of Dowgate Ward from 1387 to 1392, Nicholas Wotton was from his youth sure of a prominent place in civic affairs. Like his father before him, his chief interest, at least during his early years, lay in the wool trade, in which he invested heavily. The London customs records are too fragmentary to provide reliable information about Wotton’s total exports at the beginning of the 15th century: we know, however, that between October 1397 and March 1408 he had royal licences to ship a minimum of 555 sarplers of wool and 4,000 woolfells to Calais. His exports appear to have declined somewhat after this date, but again the evidence is not full enough for purposes of analysis.6 In February 1405 Wotton was held responsible for an act of piracy against a Prussian ship by a vessel named La Elene, of which he was joint owner. He finally reached a settlement with the Prussian captain, offering him full compensation for his losses, and being in turn awarded suitable recompense from the sailors who had caused the incident. The most striking evidence of Wotton’s rising fortunes is to be found in a series of loans which he made to the Crown over the next three decades. At some point before 10 June 1407, for example, he joined with Richard Whittington* and William Brekespere in advancing £1,200 to Henry IV ‘for the defence of the kingdom’ The three men were then excused customs duties on wool exported through the ports of London, Chichester and Sandwich until the debt had been repaid—an arrangement which clearly worked to their mutual advantage.7 In June 1417 Wotton contributed £200 (a sum equalled by only one other Londoner, his friend Thomas Knolles*) towards the cost of Henry V’s second expedition to France. On this occasion the loan was made on the security of the wool custom due after February 1420. Meanwhile, in July 1417, he was one of the six leading aldermen to give and take securities for a further loan of £2,000 raised by the government to finance the war-effort. Part of the £130 borrowed by the Crown from a group of London merchants in August 1426 came from Wotton, who also contributed towards the £5,351 lent to Henry VI by the merchants of the Calais Staple five years later. Together with Nicholas James* and William Estfield†, Wotton was then appointed by Act of Parliament as an agent to recover the money. Indeed in the next Parliament he and five other merchants of the Staple, again acting as attorneys on behalf of their colleagues, successfully petitioned for £2,918 to be assigned to them out of the wool custom.8
Rather less is known of Wotton’s other affairs. From time to time he acted as a mainpernor, most notably in April 1413, when he and 11 other prominent Londoners offered sureties of 10,000 marks for the chancellor of the Exchequer, Henry Somer*, who had been summoned to answer certain unspecified charges before the next Parliament.9 Wotton was also closely involved in various transactions made by members of the Knolles family, both regarding the settlement of their property and the administration of their finances. In June 1411 he represented the goldsmith, Henry Wertesburgh, in negotiations with a merchant from Lucca over certain letters of exchange; and in 1419 he made a donation of £5 to the fund recently set up for building a new Drapers’ Hall, this being the livery company to which he gave his allegiance. Shortly afterwards a Kentish farmer entered into recognizances in 100 marks, payable to Wotton at Michaelmas 1420: he failed to honour his bond, however, and in November 1422 the draper appealed for satisfaction to the court of the mayor of the Staple of Westminster. It is likely that Wotton kept an agent or factor to act for him in Calais throughout this period, although the only reference to such a person occurs in April 1431. At this time our Member was one of the 11 plaintiffs in an action for the recovery of £924 from the affluent Lincoln merchant, Hamon Sutton*. Only two of Wotton’s associates appeared in court to press their suit, however, and since they failed to produce sufficient evidence the defendant went free two terms later.10
Over the years Wotton established himself as a landowner of some consequence. In London he seems to have been content with the property left to him in reversion by his father and finally surrendered to him on his mother’s death in February 1405. This comprised shops and tenements in the parishes of All Hallows the Great, St. Lawrence Pountney and St. Magnus the Martyr (where Wotton also inherited a Thames-side wharf), and was said to be worth over £9 a year in 1412, once an annuity of ten marks set aside by Margaret Wotton for the upkeep of a local chantry had been paid.11 Wotton began building up a sizeable estate outside London in 1397 when he acquired a joint interest in the manor of Bruscombe in Egerton, Kent, which subsequently became his alone, together with other land and manors extending in a wide arc from central Kent to the Isles of Thanet and Sheppey. Most of this property had previously belonged to Robert Corby and his wife, as had the holdings in the East and West Thurrock area of Essex conveyed to Wotton in about 1404. Not enough is known of our Member’s first wife to tell whether or not all this property came to him through marriage, although he was certainly rich enough to buy land on such a scale. In 1428 Robert and Elizabeth Wotton (who were probably his relatives) confirmed him in possession of a messuage and land in St. Olave’s parish, Southwark, and it was as a result of his attempts to acquire another tenement there that he came into conflict with Sir John Fastolf some nine years later. Altogether, his possessions in Kent, Essex and Surrey were assessed at £147 a year during this period. The valuation, made for tax purposes, takes no account of the land in and around Kingston-upon-Thames and Kingston Blount in Oxfordshire which Wotton acquired in 1424 and promptly settled upon his feoffees, so he must have been very wealthy indeed. Predictably, Wotton was much in demand as a trustee; and he acted in this capacity for a number of eminent Londoners, including William Sevenoak*, Richard Goslyn* and various members of the ubiquitous Knolles family. Between 1426 and 1429 he was also a party to conveyances made on behalf of the Grocers’ Company.12
Wotton belongs to the small group of wealthy aldermen who shared the distinction of serving two terms as mayor of London. His public career is also notable for its length, since he played an active part in civic government for over 44 years. Twice, in October 1402 and November 1403, he was chosen to sit on juries at the trusting court; and almost immediately afterwards he assumed the rank of alderman, which he held until April 1446, when age and infirmity made it impossible for him to continue with his duties.13 From 1413 onwards he regularly arbitrated in disputes involving his fellow citizens: he also attended at least 13 of the parliamentary elections held in London between 1416 (for the March Parliament) and 1442, besides being himself returned to the Commons six times.14 Wotton’s first mayoralty did not pass without incident. In July 1423 John Burneux of Amiens came before the great council at Westminster to petition for the recovery of £30 which Wotton had confiscated eight years before on the ground that merchants from Amiens had to pay an annual fee in return for certain commercial privileges in London. Such arrangements did not, however, obtain in wartime, and the mayor was ordered to make good Burneux’s losses out of his own pocket. He had rather more success in dealing with one William Foucher, who appeared before the authorities in July 1418 to face charges that he had called the distinguished aldermen ‘Nicholas Wytteles’ and made other abusive remarks about him. On Wotton’s insistence, Foucher was bound over in 500 marks to behave more respectfully in the future. Being a man who stood very much upon his dignity, Wotton seems rather to have courted acrimony of this kind. He caused something of a constitutional storm in July 1438, when he refused to take the juror’s oath at an inquisition held in Rochester, Kent. As an alderman and former mayor of London, he claimed exemption, in accordance with established custom, from swearing any oaths outside the City. His refusal to forgo this immunity earned him a fine of £40 for contempt, although he subsequently received letters of pardon from the King and was excused both from serving on any more juries or holding royal office against his will, a concession which was repeated in January 1447. Meanwhile, in September 1443, when the rivalry between the drapers and the tailors threatened to assume serious proportions, Wotton received a firm reminder of his duties as a member of the court of aldermen. Not having attended any meetings of that body for some time he was instructed ‘to be with us with all goodly haste there to counsel and advise us as shall be for the good state and prosperity of the said City’.15
Wotton died on 13 Sept. 1448, leaving two sons and a daughter to share his estates. His widow, Margaret, married Thomas Withnall of London, gentleman, within the next two years, and together with him began a lawsuit in the court of Chancery for the recovery of an annuity of £25 which Wotton’s sons had allegedly withheld from her. They denied the accusation; and it may be that Margaret herself was guilty of an attempt to defraud them of their rightful inheritance by persuading Wotton’s feoffees with ‘sotell and dissavable langage’ to reverse the terms of his will.16
C1/16/319, 19/376 A and B; CP25(1)112/276/566, 277/595, 232/70/28; E179/238/90; Essex Feet of Fines, iii. 242; CAD, ii. C2041; vi. C3818, 4374, 6160; CCR, 1405-9, p. 362; 1413-19, pp. 72-74, 375-7; 1422-9, p. 388; 1441-7, p. 482; Cal. P. and M. London, 1413-37, p. 55.
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Variants: Witton, Wottoone.
- 1. Guildhall Lib. London, 9171/2, ff. 60-60d; Beaven, Aldermen, i. 137; Corporation of London RO, hr 126/52, 133/64; CCR, 1413-19, p. 73; C1/16/319, 19/376A and B; C143/447/13. The once common belief that the London draper, Thomas Wotton, was the MP’s father (W. Herbert, Gt. Livery Companies of London, i. 434) is demonstrably untrue, but the two men may have been related. Thomas was made alnager of London for eight years in 1410 (CFR, xiii. 195).
- 2. C267/8/26-27, 32-33.
- 3. Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 28.
- 4. Ibid. 144, 167-8; K, 112, 123-4; Beaven, i. 11, 137. There is some doubt as to the precise dates of Wotton’s tenure of the aldermanry of Broad Street Ward; the evidence is discussed fully by Beaven (ibid. 79, 230).
- 5. RP, iii. 585.
- 6. E122/71/6 mm. 1d-2d, 22 mm. 1-3, 23 mm. 1d-4, 25 mm. 1-2, 72/2 m. 1, 72/7/5, 7, 15, 72/8, 72/40 m. 1, 74/12, 225/56/2-4, 8, 10, 12-16, 18, 21-23, 25, 27, 34, 57/1-2, 4, 11-14, 58/4, 9, 59/7, 68/5; CCR, 1405-9, p. 320.
- 7. CPR, 1401-5, p. 511; CCR, 1402-5, p. 497; C76/89 m. 3; E404/22/530.
- 8. CCR, 1413-19, p. 435; Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 202-3; CPR, 1416-22, pp. 234-5; 1422-9, pp. 318-19; 1429-36, p. 120; RP, iv. 474-5; E404/47/149, 191.
- 9. CCR, 1405-9, p. 350; 1413-19, pp. 61-62; Cal. Letter Bk. London, I, 21; Cal. P. and M. London, 1413-37, pp. 161, 169.
- 10. Cal. P. and M. London, 1413-37, p. 13; A.H. Johnson, Hist. Drapers’ Company, i. 292, 300, 313, 316; C241/216/6; CCR, 1429-35, pp. 112-13, 117.