HOLME, Robert II (d.1449), of Kingston-upon-Hull and Hedon, Yorks.
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Family and Education
m. (1) Beatrice; (2) Alice, 1da.1
Searcher of ships, Kingston-upon-Hull 13 Oct. 1408-3 Jan. 1409.
Controller of customs, Kingston-upon-Hull 14 Jan. 1409-26 Oct. 1414.
Bailiff, Kingston-upon-Hull Mich. 1419-20; mayor 1424-5, 1428-9, 1437-8.2
Surveyor of an impost on shipping, Kingston-upon-Hull 28 Nov. 1427-37.
Commr. to raise royal loans, Kingston-upon-Hull May 1442.
Arguably the most powerful, and certainly the richest man to represent Hull in our period, Robert Holme II had already begun to prosper as a merchant by 1396, when he is first known to have exported a cargo of wool. He dealt in a wide range of commodities, including cloth, herring and saffron; and before too long he had been appointed to serve first as a searcher of ships in Hull and then, in 1409, as a controller of the royal customs there. Not surprisingly, he used some of his commercial profits to buy vessels of his own, one of which is known to have traded as far afield as Iceland.3 The war with France proved of considerable benefit to Holme, who received at least two royal licences, in 1421 and 1427, to transport grain and other victuals to the English army of occupation. Not all of his ventures were so successful, however: in September 1426, for example, a ship carrying a consignment of his wool from Hull to Calais was wrecked off Dover during a fight with French privateers, and it was not until the following December that he obtained permission to export a similar cargo free of customs duties in compensation for his losses. Like the great majority of English merchants, Holme himself had no scruples about engaging in acts of piracy when the occasion offered. Early in 1436 his ship Le Lenard was involved in the capture of a Dutch vessel carrying merchandise worth an estimated £200. The master and crew were put ashore on the coast of Brittany, but eventually returned to petition the court of Chancery for redress against their assailants (who had also included John Bedford II*). Anticipating further trouble, and no doubt hoping to justify his actions as self-defence, Holme promptly secured royal letters patent, permitting him and his associates to arm and equip Le Lenard and a balinger called La Marie for four months, ‘to resist the King’s enemies on the sea’. The government had still to make some show of impartiality, however, and one year later, in May 1437, orders were sent out for the arrest of all those who had taken part in the affair. Even so, it is unlikely that Holme was actually punished for his freebooting activities since no more is heard of the case.4
Holme’s standing in the borough of Hull is evident not only from the important part which he played in local government (being chosen bailiff once, mayor three times, and MP on at least six occasions) but also from his popularity as an executor and supervisor of the wills of his fellow burgesses. John Hedon’s* son, William (d.1427), the latter’s widow (d.1429) and Cecily Godesman (d.1429) each made him supervisor of their wills, while Robert Hornsea* (d.1426) and Alice Martyn (d.1440) named him among their executors and trustees. He appears, too, as a witness to the will of John Osay of Hull, who died in 1429. Moreover, as a leading member of the mercantile community, he was instrumental in obtaining financial aid from the government for the completion of a beacon and watch-tower at Ravenspur to safeguard shipping in the treacherous waters of the Humber estuary. A petition for assistance was first presented in the Leicestershire Parliament of 1426, which gave its support to the undertaking, but, because of delays in the issue of royal letters patent authorizing the introduction of a special impost on local shipping, the matter was raised again by the Commons in the Parliament of 1427. Holme himself was then representing Hull for the fourth time, so it is hardly surprising that he was named as one of the collectors of the new tax. An act of Parliament of 1439, which required that all alien merchants living in England should be ‘hosted’ or accommodated by a reputable burgess in their place of residence proved far less popular in Hull and other ports with a sizeable foreign population; and Holme, as one of those called upon to offer lodgings, may well have resented such an intrusion. His wealth and influence were, however, so great that he was in no position to refuse.5
Most of the information about Holme’s remarkable financial success derives from his will of 16 Feb. 1449. In it he made bequests of over £810 in cash, as well as disposing of extensive estates in Hull and Hedon, some of which were intended for charitable and pious purposes (including the endowment of chantries where prayers were to be said for the souls of his two wives, Beatrice and Alice). The bulk of his property descended to his daughter, Joan (who had married the affluent Hull merchant, Hugh Clitheroe†, at some point before December 1435), and her three children, each of whom also received substantial sums of money. Holme is now chiefly remembered as a notable benefactor to the borough of Hull, since besides leaving 100 marks to the poor and over £46 for improvements to roads in the area, he set aside no less than £100 for making a lead conduit to carry fresh water to the centre of the town. The lead was, in fact, dug up in 1461 and sold, but two years later the burgesses attoned by founding an obit for Holme at the chapel of St. Mary, where he lay buried.6
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. Borthwick Inst. York, York registry wills ii, ff. 211-12v; Cal. Hull Deeds ed. Stanewell, D433.
- 2. C219/12/3; E368/192 rot. 120 v; Cal. Hull Deeds, D270, 288-9, 291, 294, 319, 323.
- 3. E122/59/26, 60/2, 159/11; C. Frost, Hull, app. p. 3; E. Power and M. M. Postan, Eng. Trade in 15th Cent. 163.
- 4. DKR, xliv. 622; xlviii. 251; CPR, 1422-9, p. 385; 1429-36, p. 510; 1436-41, p. 87; C1/11/96.
- 5. York registry wills ii, ff. 17v, 496-6v, 523v, 548, 553v, 567v, 572; RP, iv. 365; E101/128/31; VCH Yorks. (E. Riding), i. 50; Cal. Hull Deeds, D296.
- 6. York registry wills ii, ff. 211-12v; CCR, 1435-41, p. 40; Cal. Hull Deeds, D433-4; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. cxli. 175.