TALKAN, Robert, 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




Family and Education

m. by 1381, Joan, 1s.1

Offices Held

Chamberlain, York 3 Feb. 1377-8; member of the council of 24 by Jan. 1378-aft. c.1405; bailiff 3 Feb. 1379-80; mayor 1399-1400.2

Commr. of kiddles, Yorks. Nov. 1399; to arrest pirates, Kingston-upon-Hull, York Feb. 1403; of inquiry, York June 1406 (concealments); to raise royal loans June 1406.


A Robert Talkan, possibly the subject of this biography, was admitted to the freedom of York as early as 1364, but no more is heard about him for another 13 years. Our Member had, however, quite definitely established himself among the city’s mercantile elite by 1377, when he assumed office as chamberlain. He took his place on the council of 24 in the following year, being then already engaged in the export of cloth from the port of Kingston-upon-Hull. But his commercial interests lay chiefly in the wine trade, and it was as a vintner that he obtained a royal pardon in May 1382, perhaps because of his involvement in the factional disputes which had recently broken out in York. The scale of his operations is now hard to determine, as the loss of so many local customs accounts means that we are thrown back on a few random scraps of evidence. Even so, Talkan did business on quite an impressive scale: on 22 Dec. 1391 alone he imported 34 tuns of wine through Hull; smaller consignments were regularly shipped up the Humber by him in 1398; he paid customs duties on 15 tuns at Hull on 19 Apr. 1401; and in January 1405 he supplied the royal household with wine to the value of almost £20. It is also worth noting that when Archbishop Neville’s goods were being seized, after his exile in the spring of 1388, Talkan bought a consignment of red wine from his butler.3

In common with most medieval merchants, Talkan was prepared to trade in anything that made a profit, and besides continuing to deal in cloth he also joined with other York entrepreneurs in importing herring from Denmark. At least one such cargo was lost after a shipwreck almost within sight of Hull and seized by local men who helped themselves to the casks and refused to return them. Later in life, Talkan made a notable investment in the export of wool: he was, indeed, one of the northern merchants who petitioned Henry IV (and possibly the Parliament of 1402, of which he was a Member) for redress against acts of piracy in the North Sea and the Channel. Their claim to have lost merchandise to the value of £1,000 led to the setting up of a royal commission of oyer and terminer in February 1403, but, although Talkan himself was appointed to sit on this body, his son, John, appeared in Chancery one year later to testify that the royal letters patent had never been delivered. Whether or not he ever recovered his damages, Talkan was prepared to assist King Henry in his campaign to subdue the Welsh rebels, by joining with five other leading citizens of York in lending £200 to the government for this purpose. Repayment was promised to them in August 1404 out of the forthcoming wool custom, but the all too usual delays and problems of over-assignment seem to have occurred.4

Not surprisingly, in view of his profitable commercial activities, Talkan was able to build for himself a suitably imposing residence in York. At the time of the poll tax of 1381, he, his wife and their three servants were already living in the parish of St. Martin’s, Coney Street, where, at the very end of the century (just a few days before he became mayor), he obtained permission from the civic authorities to extend his existing premises right over St. Martin’s Lane. Indeed, he even obtained special authorization to store building materials in the churchyard itself, and when complete the new wing of his house must have aroused widespread admiration. ‘Talkan Hall’ was evidently used by leaders of the mercantile community for business meetings and more convivial gatherings: in 1401, for instance, our Member provided six shoulders of mutton, eight pullets and nine gallons of wine for the entertainment of such associates as William Selby* and Thomas Santon*. As a senior parishioner of St. Martin’s, Talkan applied to the Crown, in the following year, for a licence to endow a chantry there for the benefit of his soul and the souls of all his neighbours. An inquisition ad quod damnum held in April 1402 found that even after the alienation of property worth over 30s. a year, Talkan would still be sure of £10 in annual landed revenues, but no royal licence seems to have been forthcoming and he may have abandoned the scheme. He and his friend, William Selby, also shared an interest in a messuage in Walmgate; and in about 1400 he began litigation against Sir Gerard Salvin for the recovery of other, unspecified premises in York. The jury eventually found in his favour, and he was awarded additional compensation of £10.5

Talkan’s two returns to Parliament, the first of which was possibly occasioned by his desire to obtain redress for losses at sea, took place at the very end of his career, after he had occupied all the major civic offices. He must have been aged at least 60 on entering the House of Commons in 1402, and he apparently retired from public life soon after sitting for a second time five years later and assisting the then mayor as a deputy. But no firm evidence of his death survives before 1416, when his executors delivered a modest contribution towards the building works at York Minster.6

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. Trans. E. Riding Antiq. Soc. xxx. 41; CCR, 1402-5, pp. 294-5.
  • 2. York City Archs. List of Civic Officials ed. Skaife, f. 413; Surtees Soc. xcvi. 74, 102; cxx. 24, 245; clxxxvi. 36.
  • 3. List of Civic Officials, f. 413; C67/29 m. 7; E122/59/3, 23, 159/11; E404/21/68; C. Frost, Hull, app. 2; CIMisc. v. no. 90.
  • 4. SC8/167/8344; CPR, 1381-5, p. 505; 1401-5, pp. 201, 417; CCR, 1402-5, pp. 294-5; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. lxiv. 101.
  • 5. Trans. E. Riding Antiq. Soc. xxx. 41; A. Raine, Med. York, 148, 150; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. lxxvi. 178; C143/432/15; C260/113/3; Surtees Soc. clxxxvi. 22, 78.
  • 6. Surtees Soc. xxxv. 32.