URBAN (HURBAN), John (d.1420), of Helston, Cornw. and Southfleet, Kent.

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



May 1382
Oct. 1383
Nov. 1384
Jan. 1390
Jan. 1397

Family and Education

m. c.1399, Joan (d. 11 June 1414), da. of Sir John Reskymer* of Reskymer, Cornw., 2s.

Offices Held

Commr. of inquiry, Cornw. July 1387 (the escheat of ‘Coweswork’ tin mine), Feb. 1393 (shipwreck), Nov. 1393 (the Tresilian estates), Feb. 1395 (goods pertaining to the Crown), Kent July 1402 (lands of the Knights Hospitallers), July 1408 (floods), May 1414 (robberies); sewers (coast) July 1402, July 1409, Sept. 1411; to hear a piracy case, Calais July 1403; inspect the records of the Staple of Calais Apr. 1404; hear appeals from the ct. of Calais, Sept. 1407, July 1409; of array, Kent Mar. 1419; to treat for a loan Nov. 1419, Jan. 1420.

J.p. Cornw. Feb. 1393-7.

Lt. of the admiral of the west (Sir Thomas Rempston I*) by Sept. 1401, of the admirals of the west and north by Apr. 1403, of the admiral of England (Sir Thomas Beaufort) by July 1415.

Ambassador to Flanders c. July 1402-Apr. 1403, France and Flanders July-Aug. 1403, Burgundy and Flanders Nov. 1403-Feb. 1404, Mar.-July 1404, Nov. 1404-Mar. 1405, 1406-7, France Oct. 1406-7, Burgundy June 1408, France Nov. 1408, Burgundy May 1417.

Lt. of the Staple of Calais by July 1404-aft. June 1405.

Collector of customs and subsidies, Exeter and Dartmouth 23 Jan. 1412-Dec. 1414.


The career of John Urban is of considerable interest, for despite the obscurity of his origins he became not only an important figure in his home town of Helston, but attained to a much wider influence in mercantile and diplomatic affairs. His parliamentary career, representing first Helston and Truro and then his native county, reflects his rise in social status.

Urban was sufficiently well established in Helston to be chosen to sit for the borough as early as 1381. A few years later he and another merchant, Thomas Moyle* of Lostwithiel, were quick to take advantage of the redistribution of Sir Robert Tresilian’s estates following their forfeiture by judgement of the Merciless Parliament, securing for themselves a seven-year lease at the Exchequer of certain of the former chief justice’s Cornish properties. He was less successful in avoiding official discovery of certain shipments of tin sent abroad by the direct routes avoiding the Staple at Calais; and in 1393 he and a number of others were fined for breaking the statutory regulations. Between 1394 and 1401 he was assessed for coinage at Lostwithiel and Truro on the large quantity of 135,000 lbs. (60 tons) of tin; and although no other clear traces of his mercantile activities have been found, beyond references to a statute staple for £100 owed to him by (Sir) John Trevarthian*, his frequent appearances as surety and attorney suggest a man of means with wide business interests. Urban’s introduction to Richard II’s court quite probably came about through his close connexion with the royal standard-bearer, Sir Nicholas Sarnesfield, who since 1385 had held the manor and borough of Helston by the King’s grant. By 1394 he had also come into contact with some of the royal clerks, and he subsequently acted as attorney for two of them, Nicholas Slake and John Kirkeby, during their absence in Ireland in the royal household. He also stood surety for a King’s esquire, John Meysy, when the latter was appointed farmer of the alien priory of Avebury (Wiltshire).1

Urban’s transition from merchant to royal ambassador in the years after Henry IV’s accession was dramatic, but may be readily accounted for. By 1399 he already had strong business connexions with Calais and consequently with continental merchants; he was therefore an admirable instrument for use in Henry IV’s policy towards France, Burgundy and Flanders which hinged to a considerable extent on the peaceful re-establishment of trade. Apparently his first public appointment (outside purely county matters) was as lieutenant of the admiral of the west, a post which gave him oversight of vessels sailing along the west and south coasts round to the Thames; and he seems to have continued to hold the posts of lieutenant of both admirals and, eventually, of lieutenant of the admiral of England, over the course of the next 15 years. These appointments involved his participation not only in general mercantile affairs but also, because of attacks on merchant shipping in the Channel and mutual infractions of truces at sea, in diplomatic negotiations. Calais was the natural centre of this diplomatic activity, and it was there, in July 1402, that Urban was first authorized to deal with complaints by the authorities of Bruges about acts of piracy. In the following year he was commissioned with the captain of Calais (the earl of Somerset) and the latter’s lieutenant, Sir Hugh Luttrell*, to treat with French commissioners for redress of grievances of a similar nature; and it was at Calais, too, that in July 1403 he and Doctor Nicholas Ryssheton, an experienced diplomat, were to consider allegations of piracy brought by the Flemings against Englishmen like John Hawley II* and Richard Spicer I*, the outcome of which negotiations was a treaty signed by the ambassadors on 29 Aug. Throughout the winter of 1403-4 Urban was engaged in discussions with the representatives of the duke of Burgundy and the Flemish towns. In January 1404 he and his fellow ambassadors complained of procrastinations which prevented them from leaving Calais to attend the Parliament due to assemble at Westminster on the 14th, and it was not until February that he and Luttrell were able to return home for fresh instructions. He was then told to negotiate with the duke of Burgundy’s delegates at Leulinghen; and in April, probably in order to fulfil one of their conditions, he undertook to inspect the ‘rolls, books and memoranda of the Staple of Calais’ to find out which English merchants owed money to Frenchmen and to ensure repayment. By that time he was probably already holding office as lieutenant of the Calais Staple. He was recalled to London following the duke of Burgundy’s death, but it was to him that the widowed duchess wrote that summer, asking him and his fellow ambassadors to re-enter negotiations for a treaty immediately. Urban was unable to return to Calais until the autumn, but he then continued to negotiate with ambassadors appointed by the duchess and her son, Duke John, throughout the winter and the following year. In March 1406 he carried across the Channel letters to Henry IV from himself and his colleagues to inform the King that the terms of a commercial treaty with Flanders had been agreed. He spent the rest of that year abroad, and he was commissioned to hear appeals from the court of Calais in 1407 and 1409. Urban’s experience of diplomacy was also put to some use by Henry V: his last embassy, which took place in the spring of 1417, again took him to Calais, its main concern being to treat with the duke of Burgundy’s delegates on the perennial cause of contention: infractions of the truce between England and Flanders committed at sea. On that occasion he was given £13 6s.8d. for his expenses.2

Urban’s career as a merchant and diplomat can have left him little time for domestic matters. He had married one of the daughters of a Cornish knight (probably in or before 1399, when he had helped make arrangements for the guardianship of the Reskymer estates during the minority of his wife’s brother), but in about 1402 he had left Cornwall to settle in Kent, where he purchased the manor of Hartley and other properties in the area south of Gravesend, which were later valued at £20 a year. From then onwards he was often engaged in public service in Kent, notably on commissions to inquire into the state of the south side of the Thames estuary not far from his new home at Southfleet. In London he held, for ten years from 1403, a messuage in the Barbican known as Le Pye on the Hoop. However, he still retained his property at Helston, and, after his return to Parliament in 1411 as a knight of the shire for Cornwall, he served for nearly three years as a customs official in the south-west.3

Urban made his will on 20 Sept. 1420. It was his wish to be buried at Southfleet (where the brasses commemorating him and his wife, who had died six years before, may still be seen). Total cash bequests amounted to over £250, more than £87 of which was given to individual churches and clergymen in Cornwall and Kent, and £40 was set aside to provide for a chaplain to celebrate mass at Sithney (near Helston) for nine years at a salary of seven marks p.a. Urban’s two sons were each to receive 100 marks. In a codicil he disposed of his plate and household furnishings, remembering especially his business associates. He died on 16 Nov. following; his will was proved on 9 Dec.; and the executors, who included his kinsman John Hals, a royal judge on the western circuit, were acquitted two months later.4 Both sons, John and Andrew, were minors on their father’s death, and both died soon afterwards (in October 1424 and April 1426, respectively). When, only a year later, their aunt, Emmota Penhale, died too, it was her son John, mentioned in John Urban’s will as a poor relation, who succeeded to the property.5

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421


  • 1. CPR, 1391-6, pp. 263, 510; 1396-9, pp. 418, 491, 530; CAD, v. A10485; CCR, 1377-81, p. 363; 1385-9, p. 598; 1392-6, p. 290; 1396-9, p. 315; CFR, x. 289; xi. 250; Chaucer Life Recs. ed. Crow and Olson, 505; E101/263/26, 264/1, 4, 5, 9.
  • 2. Letters Hen. IV ed. Hingeston, i. 113; 170-4, 177-88, 197-9, 202-5, 210-14, 230-1, 245-8, 266-9, 296, 304, 332, 378; ii. 42, 68-71, 108-9, 192, 199; Foedera ed. Rymer (orig. edn.), viii. 300, 303, 312, 327, 344, 375-7, 444; CCR, 1402-5, p. 76; C76/87 mm. 7, 14, 15, 88 m. 14, 90 m. 20; E403/630, 17 May; PPC, i. 238, 292.
  • 3. CAD, v. A10485; CPR, 1401-5, p. 489; Feudal Aids, vi. 477; C139/49/75; Corporation of London RO, hr 132/13, 143/44.
  • 4. PCC 50 Marche; W.D. Belcher, Kentish Brasses, i. 102-3.
  • 5. CFR, xiv. 371-2; xv. 146; C139/23/26; PCC 5 Luffenham; CCR, 1422-9, pp. 240, 309.