CANYNGES, John (d.1405), of Bristol.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Oct. 1383
Sept. 1397

Family and Education

prob. s. of William Canynges* by his 1st w. m. by Sept. 1387, Joan ( d.1429), da. of John Wotton of Bristol by his w. Margaret, 3s. inc. William† and Thomas†, 3da.1

Offices Held

Jt. farmer of the cloth subsidies, Bristol, Cornw., Devon, Dorset, Glos. 9 Dec. 1375-Mich. 1376.

Bailiff, Bristol Mich. 1380-1; sheriff, 6 Oct. 1382-3; mayor Mich. 1392-3, 1398-9.2

Tax collector, Bristol Nov. 1383, Dec. 1384.

Commr. of oyer and terminer, Bristol May 1393; gaol delivery May 1393.

Alnager, Bristol 18 Oct. 1394-10 June 1399, 17 Oct.-21 Nov. 1399.


John is generally held to be the son of William Canynges, the Bristol merchant who founded the family’s fortunes, and, although no contemporary proof of this has been found, the close connexion between the two, particularly in their trading ventures, suggests some such intimate relationship. He may well have been the John Canynges mentioned in 1369 among those for whose welfare prayers were to be said in the priory church at Witham, Somerset, as endowed by William. Before long John had joined his kinsman among the leading traders in cloth in the region. In 1375 he and Simon Canynges (perhaps his brother) contracted with the Crown to collect the cloth subsidy in six counties of the south-west, rendering £180 a year and taking for themselves a moiety of the ‘ancient forfeitures’. Frequently, he and William made shipments of cloth from Bristol in the same vessels, trading mainly with Bayonne, Portugal and Spain, but also, albeit to a lesser extent, with Ireland and Flanders. John is recorded as importing between December 1378 and May 1379 cargoes of woad, iron, oil, honey and wax, the value of his shipments in that period amounting to more than £235. He was William’s partner in a venture which came to grief later that year, when a ship belonging to them was seized by other English merchants while under sail for Calais, and taken to Hartlepool. Like William, too, John established trading links with London, becoming a freeman of the City; but in April 1380 he was taxed £3 following the introduction of a civic ordinance that non-resident freemen should not be permitted to escape assessment for tallages and aids. Meanwhile, some time before August 1377, he and William Chedder of Bristol had received from young William Corbet, the heir to estates in Gloucestershire and Shropshire, a recognizance for the sum of £320 made before the mayor of the Staple of Bristol, this being in connexion with William Canynges’s guardianship of Corbet’s inheritance; and the debt was still outstanding in 1382. John’s trading contacts were widespread: he is known to have had dealings with men from Tamworth in Staffordshire, and in 1382 a Leicestershire knight, Sir Thomas Walsh*, was obligated to him under statute staple in £40, as guarantee of Canynges’s untroubled possession of a messuage in Tucker Street, Bristol. The Canynges family had long been closely associated with the Beaupynes of Cirencester, like them prosperous dealers in cloth, and in 1389 John acted as mainpernor for Thomas Beaupyne* when he secured a seven-year lease of the cloth subsidy in the West Country. Canynges’s own business was clearly flourishing: between January and August 1391 he shipped at least 98 lengths of fabric from Bristol.3

John had followed the lead of William Canynges in participating in the government of Bristol. In October 1378 he was one of three candidates for the office of sheriff of the county and, although not selected on that occasion, he was appointed to the shrievalty four years later, having in the meantime filled the post of bailiff for an annual term. Election to Parliament for Bristol in October 1383 followed immediately after his year as sheriff had ended. He was mayor for the first time in 1392-3. There is no conclusive evidence to show that the Bristol merchant was indeed the John Canynges who represented Marlborough in the Parliament of September 1397, yet the fact that the families of both him and his wife — Jane Wotton — originated in Wiltshire, coupled with the strong likelihood that he had dealings with the cloth-producing areas of the county, make it at least a reasonable assumption that this was the case. Two months after the Parliament ended the merchant procured a royal pardon.4

During Canynges’s second mayoralty of Bristol a royal commission was set up in May 1399 to inquire into the complaint of the abbot of St. Augustine’s that he and certain of the commons of Bristol had riotously assembled to destroy the abbey’s mills at ‘Trenelemull’, Somerset, and, in asserting a claim to rights of way and ferry, had not only stolen timber and placed planks over the watercourse, but had also imprisoned some of the canons. It may not have been coincidental that shortly afterwards Canynges was dismissed from the alnagership of Bristol, after nearly five years in office. Later on in his term as mayor, goods belonging to Richard II and his followers on his last voyage to Ireland were landed at Bristol, and early in September Canynges, acting upon instructions from Henry of Bolingbroke, delivered them to Ralph Ramsey*, the latter’s esquire. After Bolingbroke’s accession to the throne he was re-appointed as alnager, but only for a month.5

Canynges was one of the most substantial property owners in Bristol. In 1387 he and his wife had sold a tenement in ‘Knifesmithstrete’ and three shops in Grope Lane to another burgess, but even so, when Canynges came to make his will on 30 Mar. 1405 he still had in his possession as many as 22 shops, six tenements, three halls, five gardens and a number of unspecified holdings, while outside the town he held a reversionary interest in a house in ‘Netherwer’, Somerset. It is not known whether any of these properties had been inherited from William Canynges, although five years earlier he had disputed with William’s widow Agnes (perhaps his own stepmother) for possession of certain muniments relating to one such property, which he had purchased from the deceased’s estate. He now, in 1405, left all his holdings to his widow Joan for life, providing for their division after her death between his three sons. All six of his children were under age (the eldest boy being about eight), so he named his pregnant wife as guardian of William and Agnes; Margaret Beaupyne (Thomas Beaupyne’s widow) of Thomas, Joan and Margaret; and John Sodbury of John. Canynges died before 12 Aug. and was buried in St. Mary’s chapel in the church of St. Thomas the Martyr, near the tomb of William Canynges. His widow married the Welsh-born Thomas Young III*, who in 1408 assumed custody of his four then surviving children, to each of whom was allotted a share of his goods and chattels, worth nearly £300 in all. Carnynges’s two remaining sons both distinguished themselves: Thomas became a grocer and alderman of London, serving as mayor of the City in 1456-7 and one of its MPs in 1459, and William was to become famous as a wealthy merchant and shipowner of Bristol, five times mayor, and three times MP.6

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. Overseas Trade (Bristol Rec. Soc. vii), 303-4; Gt. Red Bk. (ibid. xviii), 35; Bristol Wills (Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. 1886), 77-78.
  • 2. Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. xix. 116-19; xxvi. 128-9; Gt. Red Bk. (Bristol Rec. Soc. iv), 250.
  • 3. CPR, 1367-70, p. 278; 1374-7, p. 185; 1381-5, p. 213; 1391-6, p. 547; CCR, 1374-7, p. 206; 1389-92, p. 45; R. Surtees, Durham, iii. 101; Overseas Trade, 181-2, 185-6, 189, 193-4, 197-8, 201-3; Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. ix. 320; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 146; Gt. Red Bk. (Bristol Rec. Soc. iv), 113.
  • 4. CFR, ix. 110; C67/30 m. 30. No record of a contemporary John Canynges of Wilts. has been found, although a John Canynges of Stratton St. Margaret had died in Feb. 1362, leaving issue by his w. Susan (d. Mar. 1362), a son Thomas (b. 1351): CIPM, xii. 27-28; xiii. 233.
  • 5. CPR, 1396-9, p. 585; CIMisc. vii. 152-4.
  • 6. Bristol Wills, 25, 48, 77-78; J. Sherborne, Wm. Canynges (Bristol Local Hist. pamphlet lix), 5, 7; Gt. Red Bk. 35.