NELSON, William (by 1462-1525), of York and Riccall, Yorks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. by 1462, 2nd s. of Thomas Nelson of York. m. Joan, da. of John Norton of Bilbrough, at least 3s. 3da.4

Offices Held

Member, Corpus Christi guild, York 1483, senior chamberlain 1489-90, sheriff 1495-6, member of the Twenty-Four 1496, master, merchants’ guild 1499-1500 alderman 1499-1517, mayor 1500-1; commr. subsidy 1512, 1514, 1515.5


William Nelson followed his father, a merchant who was twice mayor of York, by becoming a freeman in 1488-89 and master of the merchants’ guild in 1499. He is known to have dealt in the Richmondshire lead which was shipped through York, while the taunt of ‘false extortioner’ may mean that he was also a money-lender. Having inherited some of his father’s property in York and in neighbouring Poppleton, Riccall and Sherburn, in 1500 and again in 1503 he was adjudged eligible for knighthood as having a landed income of over £40 a year. It was in the course of a property dispute with the city in 1503-4 that he was fined for threatening the mayor, Sir John Gilliot, and in 1503 he acquired further adjacent land at Acaster Malbis.6

Nelson’s election to four Parliaments in succession—which no York Member was to repeat throughout the century—bespeaks his ascendancy in the city during these years. On the last occasion, however, he was chosen only after the delivery of Henry VIII’s letter requesting the return of the previous Members, the city having first elected Alan Staveley and William Wright: Nelson replaced Staveley but the election of Wright was allowed to stand, perhaps because Nelson’s former partner Thomas Drawswerd was mayor-designate. Yet all was not harmony in York. In 1504 the King sent Nelson and his fellow-Member Richard Thornton back from Parliament with instructions to the city to keep the peace after an election riot, and on their arrival they discussed the situation with Archbishop Savage, head of the council in the north, who was ‘best acquainted’ with them; it is also likely that Nelson’s two journeys south after the dissolution of Parliament in 1514, one of them on the order of the Council, were connected with the disturbances in the city and its surroundings which called forth a proclamation in November of that year. In 1516 Nelson himself became involved in the aftermath of a contested aldermanic election, when he and Drawswerd, who had been on opposite sides, were summoned before the Council and he himself was committed to the Fleet. He was still in custody when, in January 1517, he was elected mayor, to the anger of the King who had the election annulled; later in the year Nelson, by then a free man, resigned his aldermanship. He seems to have taken no further part in civic life and may have retired to his country house at Riccall, although it was as a parishioner of St. Mary, Bishophill, that he was assessed for subsidy in 1524 on goods valued at 40 marks.7

Nelson prefaced his will of 21 Mar. 1525 with a vigorous declaration of his faith. He asked to be buried in Holy Trinity church, Micklegate, near his father; he had already endowed a chantry there to the tune of £100, and he made bequests to that church and to the York friaries, leper houses and maisons dieu, to the poor, and to certain guilds. He left to his wife and family four houses in the city and property at Acaster Malbis, Grimston, Kelfield, Riccall and ‘Welehows’. He complained at length of the gifts, worth over £90, which he had made to William Gascoigne (perhaps one of the two sons of Sir William Gascoigne so christened), who had married one of his daughters and then deserted her. He made his wife and his son and heir Christopher his executors and residuary legatees, and William Coke, priest, his supervisor. The will was proved on 12 Apr. 1525.8

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: D. M. Palliser


  • 1. York Civic Recs. iii (Yorks. Arch. Soc. rec. ser. cvi), 31.
  • 2. Ibid. 37; York archs. B9, f. 62.
  • 3. York Civic Recs. iii. 42-46.
  • 4. Date of birth estimated from first reference. HP, ed. Wedgwood 1439-1509 (Biogs.), 625; Reg. Corpus Christi Guild, York (Surtees Soc. lvii), 114n; York wills 9, f. 305.
  • 5. Reg. Corpus Christi Guild, York, 114, 184; Reg. Freemen, York, i (Surtees Soc. xcvi), 213; York archs. B6-B9 passim; E179/279/1 m. 7; Statutes, iii. 85, 112, 175.
  • 6. York Mercers and Merchant Adventurers (Surtees Soc. cxxix), 323; York archs. B8, ff. 95, 103; B9, ff. 2v, 9, 10, 33; York Civic Recs. iii. 38; Test. Ebor. v. (Surtees Soc. lxxix), 198n; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxxvi, 362, 364; Yorks. Deeds, x (Yorks. Arch. Soc. rec. ser. cxx), 8.
  • 7. York Civic Recs. ii. 142-3, 145-65; iii. 3, 4, 28-51 passim; Tudor R. Proclamations, ed. Hughes and Larkin, i. 125-6; D. M. Palliser, ‘York in the 16th cent.’ (Oxf. Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1968), 164; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. iv. 188.
  • 8. York wills 9, f. 305; Test. Ebor. v. 198-201; York pub. lib. R. H. Skaife ms, civic officials, ii. 527-9; W. K. Jordan, Charities of Rural Eng. 370.