FRANCIS, Thomas (d.1416/17), of Colchester, Essex.
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Family and Education
s. of Robert Francis of Colchester (bailiff 1349) by his w. Margery. m. bef. Mar. 1377, Agnes, 2da.1
Alderman, Colchester Sept. 1376-7, 1378-9, 1382-3, 1384-5, 1395-6, 1399-1400, 1404-7, 1411-12, 1413-14; bailiff 1381-2, 1383-4, 1387-8 1389-90, 1392-3, 1398-9, 1400-1, 1403-4, 1407-8, 1409-10, 1412-13, 1414-15; claviger 1395-6; mace-bearer 1404-7, 1411-12, 1413-14.2
Tax collector, Colchester May 1379.
Commr. of gaol delivery, Colchester castle Nov 1388; inquiry, Essex Dec. 1390 (damage done at Manningtree during the Peasants’ Revolt); arrest June 1391; oyer and terminer Nov. 1397; to treat for payment of a fine of £2,000, Essex, Herts. Dec. 1397; assess subsidies, Essex Jan. 1412.
Steward of the estates of St. Osyth abbey, Essex prob. by June 1391-aft. Feb. 1394.3
When Francis first represented Colchester in Parliament he cannot have been long out of his nonage. Nevertheless, he soon attained a prominent position in the town, which he served as bailiff 12 times and as MP 14 times over a period lasting 45 years. He was one of those chosen to present the town’s case at the Exchequer in 1398 and 1400 after the King had claimed the full fee farm.4
Francis’s employment as advocate for the borough and as steward for St. Osyth abbey may strongly suggest that he had been trained as a lawyer. But he also had an interest in the local cloth trade, being assessed for alnage on large quantities of fabric sold in Colchester, and he shipped this commodity overseas. He also imported wine on occasion. From 1375 he held land at West Mersea, but his principal property holdings were in Colchester itself, notably at New Hythe and in St. Nicholas’s parish, and including a spicer’s shop and the Swan Inn. In 1393 he brought a plea in the borough court against one of his tenants who had damaged the walls of his house by fixing nails on which to hang hides to dry. He himself was fined for falsely assigning half an acre of land to himself, and he allegedly forcibly withheld possession of a tenement from the rightful landlord. In the subsidy assessments of 1412 (which he himself submitted) he was said to hold property in Colchester worth as much as £30 a year.5
In 1387 Francis was summoned to the courts at Westminster to anwer Sir Thomas Swinburne* for his part in an attempt to withhold from him rents of £10 from the manor of East Mersea. When the sheriff of Essex refused to accept the jury from Colchester, Francis was sent to Chancery with Simon Fordham* to procure a writ protecting the town’s rights. Ill-feeling between Francis and Swinburne was exacerbated by the disputes of Swinburne’s followers, John Rokele and the lawyer John Sumpter, with the abbot of St. Osyth, for whom Francis acted as steward, and in 1394 Sumpter was required under a penalty of £200 to undertake not to molest the abbot or the MP.6 In 1393 Francis had been associated with others in a grant to St. Osyth’s of land in Clacton. In 1398 he obtained a papal indult for plenary remission whenever he pleased. A co-patron with other burgesses of St. Helen’s chapel, Colchester, he was one of those granted royal licence in November 1407 to refound the guild of St. Helen.7
There were many occasions when Francis acted for his fellow townsmen in the capacity of mainpernor (doing so, for example, for Thomas Godstone at the parliamentary elections of 1402), of surety in Chancery and of feoffee. In 1405 he appeared as a co-trustee of lands at Boxtead, Withermondford and Horkesley, and in 1408 he and John Ford III* obtained from John Sumpter* (probably the son of his former adversary) property in Colchester which they conveyed seven years later to Godstone. In 1415 he and Godstone, acting on behalf of the commonalty, entered recognizances in Chancery ensuring that the townsmen would accept arbitration on all matters disputed with the abbot of St. John’s, Colchester.8
In his will, dated 2 May 1416 and registered in the borough court on 9 Sept. 1417, Francis founded a chantry in St. Nicholas’s church (where he was to be buried next to the tomb of his wife), and granted certain lands and tenements to St. Helen’s guild on condition that it would maintain a chaplain for ten marks annually to pray for the souls of members of his family. His daughters, Mary Kent and Christine, wife of Robert Brasier* of Norwich, received property at New Hythe, and William Nottingham* was bequeathed certain premises at ‘North Scherde’. To St. Botolph’s priory the testator donated in perpetuity land at Kingswood.9
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: K.N. Houghton
- 1. E179/107/54 m. 4; Colchester Moot Hall, ct. roll 40 m. 45.
- 2. Ct. rolls 22, 24, 29, 31, 34-39; Colchester Ct. Rolls ed. Jeayes, iii. 105, 163.
- 3. CCR, 1392-6, p. 260.
- 4. Colchester Oath Bk. ed. Benham, 17, 21.
- 5. E101/342/9, 16; E122/193/33, ff. 14d, 24d; Essex Feet of Fines, iii. 176; Oath Bk. 210, 213; ct. rolls 20 mm. 32, 37; 27 m. 39; 28 m. 40; 35 m. 33; 36 m. 17v; Feudal Aids, vi. 446.
- 6. Oath Bk. 217-20; CCR, 1389-92, pp. 275, 308, 535; 1392-6, p. 260; C. Rawcliffe, ‘Parl. and Settlement of Disputes’, Parl. Hist. ix (pt. 2), 316-17.
- 7. CPR, 1391-6, p. 283; 1405-8, p. 392; C143/416/28; CPL, v. 127; HMC Verulam, 2.
- 8. C219/10/2; CCR, 1402-5, p. 476; 1413-19, p. 201; Essex Feet of Fines, iii. 244; ct. roll 38 m. 37.
- 9. Ct. roll 40 m. 45; Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. (ser. 3), ii. 294-5.