NORTHBY, John (d.1432), 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



Nov. 1414

Family and Education

s. of Margaret Northby (d.1416), of York. m. (1) by July 1407, Emma (d. by 1415), da. of William Vescy (d.1407), of York, merchant, by Marian (d.1393), wid. of Hugh Hanby (d. by 1381), of Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorks., merchant, and Robert Savage* (d.1398), of York; (2) Emma or Emmot (fl. 1438), 2s. 1da.1

Offices Held

Chamberlain, York 3 Feb. 1408-9; sheriff Mich. 1409-10; mayor 3 Feb. 1416-17; member of the council of 12 by June 1417-aft. Apr. 1428.2


Much of Northby’s great success as a merchant was undoubtedly due to his early association with the rich and powerful York merchant, William Vescy, who may well have trained him as an apprentice before he entered the freedom in 1402, and certainly employed him as a servant at the time of his death five years later. In point of fact, the MP had probably by then assumed the position of junior partner in Vescy’s various business activities, since he had already married his twice-widowed daughter, Emma, and was chosen to act with her as an executor of his will. That he earned the handsome bequests of £20 in cash, a belt inlaid with silver and a dagger left to him by his father-in-law, is evident from the efforts which he made over the foundation of a chantry in All Saints’ church, North Street, dedicated to the welfare of his soul. Just three weeks after an inquisition ad quod damnum sanctioned the alienation by him and his fellow executors of five messuages worth almost £5 p.a. as part of the endowment, he paid £20 at the hanaper for royal letters patent permitting the transfer of property. Furthermore, in his own will he made provision for additional masses to be said on Vescy’s behalf, along with others for Emma and her first husband, the Hull merchant, Hugh Hanby. Northby was extremely lucky to make such an advantageous early marriage, which not only brought him invaluable connexions with the mercantile community of York and ownership of the various tenements and substantial quantities of plate and jewellery settled upon his wife as a dowry by her second husband, Robert Savage, but also left him in possession of some of Hanby’s property in the city as well. By the terms of a settlement of 1415, drawn up after Emma’s death, Northby retained his title to the latter, while at the same time confirming Hanby’s next heir, Katherine Bingley, as tenant of other land in South Otterington. He had by then acquired a tenement in Clementhorpe in the suburbs of York; and in the spring of 1416 he made a further investment in some meadowland in Middlethorpe. We do not know when he acquired the holdings in Stockton-on-the-Moram and the messuage in Skeldergate which are mentioned in his will, but he was clearly a rentier of some consequence by the date of his first return to Parliament.3

Northby had already served as chamberlain and sheriff of York when he entered the House of Commons, and besides representing the city on three occasions he attended at least 11 other parliamentary elections between 1415 and the year of his death. In contrast with his busy public career, which spanned two decades, his commercial activities are not very well documented, although we know that he belonged to the Calais Staple, and that twice, in 1424 and 1426, he lost valuable cargoes of wool at sea because of piracy and bad weather. He was, however, able to secure royal licences allowing him to ship out equivalent quantities of wool from Hull free of customs duties, so in this respect at least he was saved further expenses. The most striking evidence of Northby’s wealth comes from his will, which was drawn up in February 1430 and proved in October 1432, a few months after he last appears in the records. In addition to a single bequest of £100 for funerary masses, he was able to leave over £266 to his three young children and an intriguing bequest of £40 to a servant named Emma Kirkby, who also received plate, a bed and the life tenancy of the dwelling in Clementhorpe where she already lived rent-free. Whether an uneasy conscience led him to set aside £7 for the poor, along with money to provide 20 pairs of shoes and 20 chalders of coal as well as other suitable gifts for those in need, we can only guess, but he showed scant concern for the fate of his second wife (yet another Emma), even though she was the mother of his children. They behaved more generously towards her: in 1436 she received £25 from her daughter, Margaret (the wife of Nicholas Usflete), and was made executor of her will; and two years later her son, John, who also predeceased her, set aside ten marks for her from his estate. Both John and Margaret were buried in the church of St. Mary Veteris, their father’s last resting place. Northby had belonged to the prestigious guild of Corpus Christi, which duly observed his obit.4

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. Borthwick Inst. York, York registry wills, i. f. 60v; ii. ff. 123-3v, 619v-20v; iii. ff. 266v-8v, 473; CCR, 1413-19, pp. 107, 114; F. Drake, Ebor. 268.
  • 2. Surtees Soc. xcvi. 110; cxxv. 47-49, 51-52, 62, 79, 111, 157, 159, 173, 183.
  • 3. York registry wills, ii. ff. 619v-20v; iii. 266v-8v; Surtees Soc. xcvi. 106; C143/441/20; CP25(1)280/153/31; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. xxxix. 214; CPR, 1408-13, p. 162; CCR, 1413-19, pp. 107, 114.
  • 4. C219/11/7, 12/2, 4, 5, 6, 13/1, 3, 4, 14/1, 2, 3; CPR, 1422-9, pp. 348-9, 385; York registry wills, ii. f. 123-3v; iii. f. 473; Surtees Soc. lvii. 246.