SWANLAND, William, of Harefield, Mdx., North Mimms, Herts. and London.

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



Feb. 1388

Family and Education

2nd s. of Sir Simon Swanland of Harefield and his w., e. da. and coh. of Roger Batchworth. m. (1) Joan (d. by Dec. 1352); (2) by June 1378, Joan, da. and h. of William Oliver of London, fishmonger, wid. of Thomas Warleye of London, 1s.; (3) Denise.1

Offices Held

J.p. Mdx. 21 Nov. 1362-May 1378, 26 May 1380-July 1387.

Commr. of inquiry, Mdx. May 1367; oyer and terminer, Cambs., Herts. Mar. 1379; to enforce the Statute of Labourers, Mdx. Dec. 1382; discipline the tenants of Ogbourne priory, Wilts. Feb. 1389.

Tax collector, Mdx. Dec. 1372.

Surveyor of tax assessments, Mdx. Aug. 1379.


The Swanland family was prominent among the merchant class of early 14th-century London, and William’s father, a leading member of the Drapers’ Company, enjoyed a long and distinguished civic career before retiring to his country properties in North Mimms and Harefield. Having served as an alderman and mayor of London, Simon Swanland was knighted in 1337 and went on to represent Middlesex in three Parliaments during the 1340s.2 Although his son, the subject of this biography, was heir to a considerable estate, which he enlarged through two well-chosen marriages, his financial circumstances were at times so pressing that a major part of his income was set aside for the payment of mortgages and the discharge of heavy recognizances for debt. During the first half of the 14th century, the Swanlands had acquired extensive farmland around Harefield, and this, together with part of the manor of North Mimms, passed into William’s hands on the successive deaths of his father and his elder brother John. From his mother he inherited the manor of Batchworth in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire. Also, as a result of his youthful marriage to Joan, a kinswoman of William Leyre of London, he obtained a life interest in property in several city parishes as well as land in Broxted, Essex.3 His second wife, a widow and an heiress whose possessions included rents and tenements along the Thames, should have made him even wealthier, but it appears that from about 1355 onwards Swanland was seriously short of money.4 Before this date his affairs seem to have gone well enough. He is first mentioned in March 1346 when he owed a modest debt of £10 to one of his kinsmen. Five years later his brothers John and Simon offered him securities of 1,500 marks for reasons now unknown. The three men may well have been involved in a major business transaction which caused William’s later financial problems, although soon afterwards, in November 1351, he was able to join with William Ladychapman in lending 100 marks to the Crown. Half of this sum was assigned to them two months later in form of a royal licence permitting them to export wool from the port of London free of customs to the value of 50 marks, and the residue was repaid within the next two years.5

In October 1352 Swanland conveyed part of his first wife’s London property to William Stacy of Hertfordshire, but he had to wait another ten years until his title to her entire estate was confirmed by her kinsman, William Leyre. The recognizance in £100 which he then surrendered to Leyre must have concerned this agreement: the others which he entered over the next few years admit a variety of interpretations, but suggest that his creditors were putting pressure on him for the settlement of his debts.6 Between May 1363 and November 1385 he bound himself in sums ranging from 20 marks to £213 to a number of London merchants and local gentlemen, to whom in most cases he then made conveyances of land or annual rents. Over this period he mortgaged almost all the property of his two wives, and pledged a significant part of his own landed income to various persons for many years in advance. As early as 1355, the merchant, Thomas Brackenbury, received from him a grant for life of farmland in Harefield which was greatly augmented in 1366. By this date the draper, Stephen Cavendish, had taken possession of all Swanland’s holdings (including his own home) in the Milk Street area of London for a term of 24 years on the condition that he would press no financial claims and bring no legal actions against the grantor.7 John Berners, a mercer, was assigned an annual rent of £20 from Harefield and North Mimms in payment of a debt of £200, while Thomas atte Legh, to whom Swanland evidently owed over £213, obtained custody of certain premises along the Thames, most probably as security for his loan.8 Atte Legh was but one of the group of London fishmongers with whom Swanland appears to have done business; others, such as William Bury, Richard Blomvylle and Simon Morden, also received grants of property or were promised sums of money.9 It is possible, but less likely, that he was also in debt to John and Beatrice Mountviron, who leased the manor of North Mimms from him at an annual rent of £33 6s.8d. in 1367, and to whom he bound himself in £100 one year later. Their rent was, however, assessed at a competitive rate, and there is nothing to suggest that this transaction was intended as a mortgage.10

Financial problems did not prevent Swanland from playing a full part in local government for most of his life. From 1362 to 1387 he served almost continuously as a j.p. in Middlesex, and was, moreover, chosen to represent that county in at least five Parliaments. He was a feoffee-to-uses of property in Suffolk which was acquired in 1382 by the London merchant, John Hadley*, but no other evidence of his activities as a trustee has survived.11

Swanland made his will in 1392 and was dead by July 1402, when his son, William, had inherited what remained of the family estates. It is not clear which of the two men faced a near riot on the part of the tenantry at Harefield when holding court in 1393, or which of them was charged with illegally blocking a public footpath there a few months later, but the elder Swanland may still have been alive at this time.12 His son was left to shoulder a heavy burden of debt (amounting to at least £200 in 1406), which may explain his rapacious and oppressive behaviour towards the local peasantry, and certainly accounts for his decision to sell a substantial part of his inheritance to Walter Gawtron*. The elder Swanland’s third wife, Denise, lived on until 1429 (or later), having managed to retain her dower lands in North Mimms until this date.13

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. VCH Herts. ii. 252-3; Corporation of London RO, hr 85/48, 106/145, 113/113; D. Lysons, Mdx. Parishes, 104.
  • 2. Beaven, Aldermen, i. 384; S.L. Thrupp, Merchant Class Med. London, 368.
  • 3. VCH Mdx. iii. 241, 244; VCH Herts. ii. 252-3, 259, 381; CCR, 1360-4, p. 435; Corporation of London RO, hr 85/48, 91/142, 147.
  • 4. Corporation of London RO, hr 106/145, 113/113, 114/38, 124/50.
  • 5. CCR, 1346-9, p. 45; 1349-54, pp. 345, 396, 571.
  • 6. Corporation of London RO, hr 85/48; CCR, 1360-4, p. 435.
  • 7. VCH Mdx. iii. 244; CCR, 1364-8, p. 188; Corporation of London RO, hr 92/143, 93/136-9, 140-1, 95/189, 99/150.
  • 8. CCR, 1364-8, p. 69; 1369-74, pp. 181, 279; Corporation of London RO, hr 91/141-2, 146-7, 93/123.
  • 9. CCR, 1374-7, p. 105; 1385-9, pp. 95-96; Corporation of London RO, hr 106/145, 114/24. Swanland had similar dealings with the woolmonger, William Wotton (hr 113/113; CCR, 1374-7, pp. 343-4), Richard Baveler, Richard Everdon and John Aubrey of London (hr 114/38, 124/80; CCR, 1360-4, p. 532; 1374-7, p. 342) and John Martel of Ardleigh, Essex (CCR, 1381-5, p. 222).
  • 10. CCR, 1364-8, p. 471; VCH Herts. ii. 252-3, 259.
  • 11. CCR, 1381-5, p. 129.
  • 12. Guildhall Lib. London, 9171/1, f. 279d; CCR, 1399-1402, p. 589; Pub. Works in Med. Law (Selden Soc. xxii), 83-84; C1/69/72.
  • 13. C1/7/234; CAD, vi. C6573; CCR, 1402-5, p. 492; Westminster Abbey muns. 428, 436, 446, 460, 1368-79, 4429, 4432, 4434. William Swanland the younger died in 1438 (Guildhall Lib. 9171/3, f. 507d).