STEVENS, Thomas, of Gloucester and London.
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Family and Education
Commr. to administer St. Bartholomew’s hospital, Gloucester Apr. 1421; of inquiry, Norf., Suff., Essex July 1421 (customs evasion).
Controller of customs and subsidies, Bristol 10 May 1434-bef. July 1445.
We first hear of Thomas Stevens in September 1401 when, described as a mercer of London, he contributed as a mainpernor to sureties of £200 for certain Gloucester men charged with extortion. Thereafter nothing further is known until he figured as one of the defendants at Gloucester in an assize of novel disseisin brought by Llanthony priory in January 1414, and in October 1415 he attended the parliamentary election held in the town. Four years later he stood surety for the appearance in the Commons of Robert Gilbert II, when the latter was returned as burgess for Gloucester.2 It is possible that, in the meantime, he was the Thomas Stevens mentioned in July 1418 as executor of the will of Richard Vaux, who died at the seige of Rouen, he himself being bequeathed the testator’s best horse and armour and the residue of his goods in Normandy. In December 1421 when described as ‘mercer alias gentleman’ of both Gloucester and London, he received a royal pardon for outlawry following his repeated failure to answer suits for debts contracted respectively with a Worcestershire draper (John Bredon*) and another city mercer. His connexions with the London merchant companies doubtless derived from involvement in the Calais wool trade, although how and where he had first set up in business is not recorded.3
Stevens had been appointed in the spring of 1421, along with Bishop Morgan of Worcester and the chief baron of the Exchequer, William Babington, as a member of a small royal commission charged to administer the revenues of the hospital of St. Bartholomew at Gloucester, but he also retained his interests on the east coast where, in July that year, he was authorized by the Exchequer to investigate the evasion of customs on exported staple merchandise along the Essex bank of the Thames and in East Anglia. Although he is not known ever to have held office in Gloucester, he again stood surety for the parliamentary burgesses elected in December 1421 (Robert Gilbert and Richard Dalby), and was later among the electors of the shire in 1427 (when he himself was returned to Parliament for the fourth time). Shortly after the dissolution of the 1422 Parliament, in which he and Gilbert had represented the borough, he went surety at the Exchequer for the lessee of two royal purprestures in Gloucester, and in the course of 1423 he provided securities for various strangers seeking licence to trade in the town. It was as ‘of Gloucester’ that he witnessed conveyances concerning the manor of Ruardean, in 1426 and 1429. Indeed, he was in possession of a number of properties in Gloucester: in September 1429 he and his wife, with Thomas Hewes† and Agatha Heydon, rented a tenement on the Severn bank; in December 1430 he took out a 20-year lease from Llanthony priory of premises in ‘Le Ratorewe’; and at some point before his death he also acquired an interest in buildings in the Mercery, Northgate Street, Southgate Street and Travel Lane.4
A more permanent royal appointment than had been afforded by his earlier commissions came Stevens’s way two years after his sixth return as an MP, when, by patent of May 1434, he was appointed as controller of customs in the port of Bristol. In August 1438, additionally, he was granted an Exchequer lease for seven years of the keeping of the mills pertaining to Bristol castle. It was only three months later that he became involved in a dispute with William Thomas, the water bailiff’s deputy, who alleged that he had abused his position as controller by fixing his seal to certain forfeited goods. When both parties petitioned the King for an official inquiry, a commission was set up, headed by Chief Justice Juyn, but even so the quarrel dragged on until the summer of 1440, when Stevens’s opponent, then a prisoner in the Marshalsea despite his royal pardon of April that year, was bound over to keep the peace towards him. On 21 Feb. following, Stevens was confirmed in his controllership. The dispute, however, was one of the reasons for the appointment, in April 1441, of a general surveyor with authority over all the customs officials at Bristol, this being considered necessary because of ‘the negligence and unfaithfulness of certain officers in concealing and appropriating the subsidies’. Stevens is last recorded in June 1442, when present in the Exchequer court at a judgement in favour of a claim by John Clermond for recovery of a ship and merchandise seized by Thomas Rokes, the collector, and himself as controller of customs at Bristol. Precisely when he relinquished the office is not known.5
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: L. S. Woodger
See also Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. lxxiv. 108-10.
- 1. Gloucester Corporation Recs. ed. Stevenson, 1093; Gloucester Rental 1455, ed. Cole, 88.
- 2. CCR, 1399-1402, p. 374; C219/11/6, 12/3; C115/K2/6682, ff. 71, 73d, 74.
- 3. Reg. Chichele, ii. 168; CPR, 1416-22, p. 356.
- 4. C219/12/6, 13/5; CFR, xv. 26; Gloucester Guildhall, roll 1353; CCR, 1422-9, pp. 459, 471; Gloucester Corporation Recs. 1093; Gloucester Rental 1455, pp. 6, 12, 32, 34, 66, 88, 94, 114; C115/K2/6682, ff. 98, 204.
- 5. CPR, 1436-41, pp. 268, 414, 478, 519-20; CFR, xvii. 47; SC8/198/9850; E122/18/43.