FROST, William (d.c.1408), of York.

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




Family and Education

m. by Oct. 1390, Isabel, da. and coh. of John Gisburn (d.c.1390) of York, merchant, by his w. Ellen (d.1407/8), s.p.1

Offices Held

Escheator, Yorks. 30 Nov. 1388-12 Dec. 1390.

Commr. of inquiry, Yorks. May 1389 (lands of John Lokton), Nov. 1389 (petition of Michael de la Pole for the restitution of his father’s estates), Nov. 1391 (lands of John Lokton), York Dec. 1391, Nov. 1399 (abuses at St. Leonard’s hospital), May 1400 (goods of Simon Quixley), Oct. 1401 (sluices), July 1405 (goods of a murderer), June 1406 (concealments); gaol delivery, Beverley Feb., Sept. 1392;2 oyer and terminer, Yorks. Feb. 1397 (weirs in river Ouse), York Feb. 1403 (appeal of murder); to collect and deliver royal loans July 1400; take the city of York into the King’s hands June 1405; raise royal loans June 1406.

Mayor, York 3 Feb. 1396-8, 1400-4, 3 June 1406-3 Feb. 1407.3

Dep. keeper of the civic liberties, York 3 June-25 Aug. 1405; jt. keeper 25 Aug. 1405-3 June 1406.

Collecto. of taxes, Yorks. (E. Riding) Dec. 1407, (W. Riding) Jan. 1408.


Although he Although he was, without doubt, the most influential figure to represent York in our period, Frost’s origins and background are surprisingly obscure. He was almost certainly a kinsman of Walter Frost, who not only served twice as mayor of Kingston-upon-Hull and five times as MP for the borough during the late 14th century, but was also steward of Beverley for Richard II. The pair of them were named together, in September 1388, as farmers of two Yorkshire manors recently confiscated from John Lokton by the Lords Appellant in the previous Parliament, so they clearly maintained close personal ties. Walter had at least five children (one of whom married the wealthy York merchant, Thomas Holme*); and, although it is just possible that William was another of his offspring, hitherto overlooked by genealogists and local historians, circumstantial evidence points more convincingly towards an uncle-nephew relationship. Certainly, in 1390, one Thomas Frost of Beverley (who may be identified as Walter’s brother) joined with his own son and grandson, both of whom were called William, in obtaining seisin of extensive property in and around Great Driffield. There is, unfortunately, now no means of telling if, as seems quite likely, the son later sat for York in Parliament, but we can, at any rate, be sure of our Member’s strong early connexions with Beverley. That he belonged to the middle ranks of the Yorkshire gentry is, moreover, confirmed by his appointment to the escheatorship, which was, in fact, made in 1388 while Walter Frost still held royal office. Given the normal course of events, William’s career would probably have continued along these fairly predictable lines. He had already witnessed the occasional deed for his neighbours, and in 1383 he had pledged the not inconsiderable sureties of 500 marks on behalf of a friend who had assaulted the King’s clerk, Richard Ravenser. But as yet he possessed neither the wealth nor the inclination to become involved in the affairs of the mercantile elite of York, and it was through his wife that he rose to occupy such an important place in civic life.4

The date of Frost’s marriage to Isabel, one of the two daughters and coheirs of John Gisburn, is not known, but it probably took place at some point between June 1385, the date of Gisburn’s will, and October 1390, when letters of administration were assigned to Frost and his brother-in-law, Sir William Plumpton. It is a mark of Gisburn’s great wealth and stature that he had been able to marry his other daughter, Alice, into one of the leading gentry families of Yorkshire, which was closely related to the Lords Scrope of Masham. Frost’s attractions as a son-in-law are harder to discover, although the match may have been arranged through the agency of Walter Frost, who maintained a network of valuable commercial and social links with various York merchants. According to the terms of her father’s will, Isabel only stood to receive £20 and some plate, but her inheritance actually comprised a half-share in the numerous tenements, shops and dwellings in both Ripon and York left after dower had been assigned to her mother. By the terms of an agreement reached in January 1392, the Plumptons were assigned most of Gisburn’s scattered properties, while William and Isabel took possession of his great house in Micklegate, along with four adjoining shops. Of almost equal value to Frost must have been the status which this new connexion gave him in the eyes of the ruling hierarchy of York, for Gisburn had played a notable (and sometimes extremely disruptive) part in the factional disputes of the early 1380s, as the leader of one of the two rival groups bent on securing control of local government.5

Frost may possibly have decided to follow his late father-in-law’s example by investing in the wool trade, for in about 1392 he shipped a cargo of fleeces out of the port of Hull. But little else is known about his business ventures, and it seems that like many of the earlier mayors of York he derived most of his income from land rather than commerce, as had become the trend of late. From 1389 onwards (when he served on the first of two royal commissions concerning the Lokton estates, some of which were to remain in his own hands for another two years), he was regularly employed by the Crown on a variety of administrative tasks, combining these with a remarkable record of involvement in the day to day running of the city. In February 1396, not very long after his admission to the freedom, he began the first of seven terms as mayor, and was thus in office when Richard II made two separate visits to York in the spring and early summer of that year. Following his dramatic quarrel with London, in 1392, the King had shown particular favour to the people of York, partly as a deliberate means of settling old scores and cowing his opponents in the capital. It was clearly in furtherance of such a policy that he now granted York the status of a shire and permitted the citizens to choose their own sheriffs, just as the Londoners did. Frost naturally played a major part in the protracted negotiations leading to the issue of the new royal charter of May 1396 which set out these privileges: he and William Selby* spent five days at Nottingham with the King at a cost of almost £5 to the city; and a much larger sum of £44 was allocated to them to cover various expenses sustained by them in London, where they stayed for the best part of six weeks to supervise the necessary business in Chancery. King Richard’s good will was an expensive commodity, which the rulers of York paid handsomely to retain. In June 1396, for example, they mounted a special performance of the Corpus Christi plays at a civic reception held to thank him for his generosity, although there was more than an element of calculation in this gesture, since they naturally hoped to profit from his deep-seated antagonism towards London. Frost himself derived considerable personal benefit from his position as a key figure in the government of York, since he was able to secure at least two royal licences for the alienation of property at this time. In the spring of 1396 he took advantage of his continued stay at Westminster to obtain permission for the endowment of a chantry by him and his wife at St. Saviour’s church in York, prudently naming the King as well as such friends or kinsmen as his late father-in-law and John Morton II* among those for whom prayers were to be said. A few months later he was likewise authorized to grant land to the vicar of Paull in Holderness for the making of a new cemetery, so there can be little doubt that he stood high in Richard’s regard. Fortunately, too, he escaped the kind of treatment suffered by affluent York merchants like his kinsman by marriage, Thomas Holme, who were forced by Richard to part with large sums of money, sometimes under threat. Indeed, in May 1398, he actually stood bail of £1,000 for Holme, who seems to have been intimidated into purchasing an extremely costly royal pardon.6

Yet, however much gratitude he may have felt towards King Richard, Frost still gave his wholehearted support to Henry of Bolingbroke when the latter seized the throne in 1399. He was, indeed, returned to the Parliament which ratified the coup d’état, this being his only recorded appearance in the House of Commons. The citizens of York clearly felt that he was more valuable to them at home, as mayor, than absent as an MP at Westminster, and retained him in office for four terms in a row between 1400 and 1404. The city’s loyalty to King Henry during the first Percy rebellion of 1403 may have been due in some measure to his restraining influence: significantly enough, he was granted an annual allowance of two tuns of wine for life from a grateful monarch in June 1404, being then accorded the rank of esquire. The citizens’ decision to change sides and lend their support to a second uprising in the summer of 1405 followed directly upon Archbishop Scrope’s dramatic defection into the rebel camp. His eloquent sermons, delivered in York Minster against King Henry’s fiscal abuses, inflamed the populace to such an extent that most able-bodied men took up arms against the house of Lancaster. Frost consequently found himself in an invidious position, for he had not only been involved in certain financial dealings with the archbishop, but was actually related to him by marriage. His brother-in-law, Sir William Plumpton (Scrope’s nephew), had unequivocally thrown in his lot with the insurgents, and may well have urged him to do so too, but he shrewdly remained aloof from the disastrous sequence of events which brought a royal army to the gates of York. On 3 June the King, who had threatened to destroy the city if it did not immediately surrender, suspended the normal government and appointed two of his most trusted retainers, (Sir) Roger Leche* and Sir John Stanley, as keepers, with Frost as their deputy. Three days later the citizens appeared ‘barefoot and ungirt and with halters round their necks’ before King Henry, who withheld his pardon until they had paid a fine of 500 marks. As a further warning, the heads of the leading conspirators (including the archbishop and Sir William Plumpton) were displayed on the city gates, and for the next year York remained in Henry’s hands. He did, however, consent to promote Frost to the position of joint keeper (as from 25 Aug.) which he evidently discharged with his customary efficiency. During his term of office the King rewarded him with the grant of a reversionary interest in land worth 40 marks a year which had been confiscated from one of the rebels; and on 3 June 1406, when the citizens bought back their right of self-government upon payment of a second fine, of £200, they not surprisingly elected him as mayor.7

Whatever they may have felt in private about Frost’s betrayal of the archbishop’s cause, the female members of the Plumpton family were only too grateful to enjoy the protection of one who stood so well with the King. Frost, in turn, was anxious to assist his widowed sister-in-law, Alice Plumpton, and her many children (the eldest of whom, Sir Robert*, was luckily old enough to assume some of the burden as well). He proved punctilious in executing the will of her mother, Ellen Gisburn, who died shortly before February 1408, leaving numerous bequests to the young Plumptons. Both Frost and his co-executor, John Morton II, had owed considerable sums of money to John Gisburn, although Ellen was prepared to write off part of the £40 still due from Frost, possibly under the terms of the settlement made on his marriage so many years before. Although he was well enough to discharge his duties as an executor, Frost fell ill at about this time, and seems never to have recovered from his malady. During the spring of 1408 he was excused from acting as a tax collector in the West Riding because he was ‘too sick and aged’ to leave York, and no more is heard of him afterwards. He must then have been at least 50 years old, although his continuous and active participation in the arduous and sometimes risky business of local government right up to this date suggests that he was by no means elderly, and that his decline proved quite sudden. He left no surviving issue and was probably outlived by his wife, who was also a beneficiary of Ellen Gisburn’s will.8

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. Borthwick Inst. York, York registry wills, i. ff. 15v-16; iii. ff. 283v-4; Plumpton Corresp. (Cam. Soc. iv), p. xxix; Surtees Soc. clxxxvi. 72-73.
  • 2. C66/334 mm. 7v, 24v.
  • 3. Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. xxix. 217; l. 207; lix. 11; cxi. 187-8; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xvii. 118; Surtees Soc. xcvi. 95-96, 98, 103-9.
  • 4. Cal. Hull Deeds ed. Stanewell, D132, 133, 133A, 139, 141, 143, 144, 146; CCR, 1377-81, p. 248; 1381-5, p. 394; CFR, x. 243, 253; Test. Ebor. iii. 237; Surtees Soc. clxxxvi. 34-35.
  • 5. York registry wills, i. ff. 15v-16; CPR, 1391-6, p. 257; Surtees Soc. clxxxvi. 72-73.
  • 6. E122/59/24; CCR, 1389-92, pp. 271-2; CPR, 1391-6, p. 711; 1396-9, pp. 34, 305; Surtees Soc. xci. 65; cxvi. 95; cxcii. 6; Reign Ric. II ed. DuBoulay and Barron, 206-11.
  • 7. CPR, 1401-5, p. 406; 1405-8, pp. 40, 75, 186; 1408-13, p. 30; CCR, 1402-5, p. 378; VCH City of York, 58.
  • 8. York registry wills, iii. ff. 283v-4; Plumpton Corresp. pp. xxi-xxx; CCR, 1405-9, p. 316.