SUTTON, John II (d.1415), of London.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
m. Isabel, 1s.1
Common councillor, Cordwainer Street Ward 8 July 1384; auditor of London 21 Sept. 1390-1.2
Warden of the Grocers’ Co. prob. 14 May 1396-7, 28 May 1407-8.3
Sheriff, London and Mdx. Mich. 1413-14.
Nothing for certain is known about the subject of this biography before June 1381, when he and two other Londoners claimed to have lost a cargo of cloth and other merchandise by acts of Flemish piracy in the North Sea. They demanded that the goods of two Flemish merchants in England should be seized and offered to them as compensation estimated first at £150 and later at £211. Very little appears to have been done until April 1385, when orders were issued for the arrest of all Flemish shipping in the port of London. Almost two months afterwards the mayor received further instructions which enabled the three petitioners finally to obtain satisfaction. Meanwhile, by Christmas 1383, Sutton had assumed the full livery of the Grocers’ Company, which he wore regularly from then onwards.4 In the following year he was made a member of the common council for Cordwainer Street Ward, a part of the City in which his son, and probably he himself, held property. He was also present at the election of Sir Nicholas Brembre† as mayor of London in October 1384, and four years later he audited certain private accounts submitted to the city chamberlain. His appointment as auditor of London took place shortly afterwards, but did not apparently inspire him with any great ambition for civic office.5
Very little evidence has survived to illuminate Sutton’s career during the 1390s. At some point before April 1396 he began a lawsuit for the recovery of £20 from the estate of a Barnstaple merchant who had died intestate, albeit without any real chance of success. Sutton must have been quite affluent by this date, since he was chosen shortly afterwards to serve his first term as warden of the Grocers’ Company, one of the richest and most powerful of the city guilds. Further proof of his commercial standing is to be found in his appearance among the arbitrators chosen to settle a quarrel between three London merchants in February 1397. He could certainly boast a number of extremely influential customers, including John Montagu, earl of Salisbury, who owed him at least £114, but whose execution for treason, in 1400, may well have occurred before all the debt was paid. Indeed, not all of Sutton’s business transactions went according to plan: in October 1402, for example, a Devon man bound himself by statute of the Staple of Westminster to pay the grocer £50 by the following Easter, but his obligations were still outstanding 15 years later, when Sutton’s executors petitioned for redress. Again, in December 1408, Sutton was involved in a dispute with Henry Halton*, another grocer, and was obliged to guarantee his readiness to accept the Company’s final decision on the matter.6
Although simply described as ‘merchant of London’, it seems very likely that the John Sutton who shipped a quantity of wool and woolfells to Calais during this period can be identified with our Member. Between March 1408 and November 1412 he obtained royal licences (one of which was shared with three other merchants) to export at least 60 sarplers of wool and almost 13,000 woolfells from the ports of London, Chichester and Sandwich. Many grocers invested heavily in this branch of commerce, and Sutton’s known involvement in a trading venture intended to open up the Italian market suggests that his own operations were transacted on a considerable scale. He belonged to a consortium of nine English merchants, including William Waldern* and Drew Barantyn*, who exported wool and other merchandise worth a reputed £24,000 to Genoa in the hope of establishing valuable outlets there. The Genoese authorities had, however, seized all their cargoes, and ignoring Henry IV’s letters recommendatory had actually thrown their agents into prison. In February 1413 the English government finally agreed to the exporters’ demands for reprisals, granting them licence to recover their lost £24,000, together with the enormous sum of £10,000 in costs, from the ships and possessions of all Genoese merchants in England. As was usually the case, Sutton and his colleagues had to wait a long time for proper compensation, and it was not until July 1427, when most of them were dead, that the last £1,000 was handed over.7
After a period of virtual retirement from public life, Sutton again played an active part in civic affairs during his later years. In May 1413 he attended the parliamentary elections at the Guildhall, and in the following September he began a term as sheriff, the highest office which he ever held. In June 1415 a Coventry man contracted to pay £47 to Sutton, who did not live to collect the money, dying between 31 Oct. and 7 Dec. of that year. His executors faced many problems, made worse by the growth of ‘contentions, discords and contradictions’ between them and the executors of the grocer, John Presden. The dispute had become so acrimonious by February 1417 that the auditors appointed by the city chamberlain to examine the relevant accounts found themselves unable to proceed until both parties had settled their differences at law.8 John Olney, a grocer who had numbered Sutton among his feoffees, and Isabel, the deceased’s widow, were involved in litigation for the next seven years, and had not fully discharged all their duties as executors until 1427. Among the cases which they fought was a maritime action brought against Frise Frisson over the ownership of three parts of a ship called the Holygost. In December 1417 Frisson gave notice of appeal against the amount of damages awarded to the plaintiffs, although he had not yet secured a hearing one year later. Sutton’s son, who was also named John, initially kept up the family business, but despite his protests to the contrary, he was found by an inquiry held before the mayor’s court in 1420 to have closed down his shop and ceased trading. He none the less contrived to be known as ‘John Sutton, grocer’ for the rest of his life.9
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. PCC 30 Marche; E210/4251.
- 2. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 239, 355, 367.
- 3. Ms. Archs. Grocers’ Company ed. Kingdon, i. 77, 101. Only a passing reference is given to Sutton’s first term in office as warden, and the precise date remains unknown. Internal evidence, however, suggests that he is most likely to have held the post between 14 May 1396 and 1397.
- 4. Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, p. 98; CCR, 1385-9, pp. 2, 75, 542; Ms. Archs. Grocers’ Company, i. 58, 68, 76, 84, 89, 94, 103.
- 5. Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, p. 85; 1413-37, p. 126; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 16.
- 6. CCR, 1391-6, p. 678; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, p. 245; C241/211/13; E210/4251; Ms. Archs. Grocers’ Company, i. 105.
- 7. CCR, 1405-9, p. 320; 1409-13, p. 373; 1422-9, p. 405; E122/72/64 m. 1d; CPR, 1408-13, pp. 461-2, 467; 1413-16, p. 90.
- 8. C219/11/1; CCR, 1413-19, p. 276; PCC 30 Marche; Corporation of London RO, jnl. 1, f. 12d.
- 9. CAD, i. A1555, 1558; CPR, 1416-22, pp. 127-8, 174, 348; 1422-9, p. 306; Cal. P. and M. London, 1413-37, pp. 78, 126, 174.