WILFORD, William (d.1413), of Exeter, Devon.

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



Jan. 1397
Sept. 1397
Jan. 1404

Family and Education

1st s. of Robert Wilford (d.1396) of Exeter by his w. Elizabeth; bro. of John*. m. between 1393 and 1400, Margaret, da. of Sir Robert Cornu (d.1399), of Thornbury, Devon, wid. of Robert Cruwys of Morchard, Rackenford and East Anstey,1 1s. 1da.

Offices Held

Steward, Exeter Mich. 1396-7; receiver 1397-8; member of the council of 12, 1398-9, 1401-2, 1403-4, 1405-6, 1407-8, 1409-10, 1411-12; mayor 1400-1, 1402-3, 1404-5, 1406-7, 1408-9, 1410-11, 1412-d.2

Constable of the Staple, Exeter Mar. 1398-May 1400; mayor c. Oct. 1406-7, Jan. 1410-11.3

Commr. of inquiry, West Country Jan. 1405 (customs evasion); oyer and terminer, Devon July 1412.


William’s father, MP for Exeter in 1377 (Oct.) and 1381, officiated as mayor for as many as 13 terms between 1373 and 1395. A wealthy shipowner who traded in cloth, wood, madder, wine and herring, he was nevertheless named among the ‘esquires’ granted livery by Edward, earl of Devon, in 1384-5 when the latter was admiral of the west, and his attachment to the Courtenay family is clear from the provisions made in his will for prayers for the souls of the earl’s grandparents (Earl Hugh and his wife Margaret) and for the welfare of his uncle, Archbishop Courtenay.4

William formally obtained the freedom of Exeter on 28 Aug. 1396, shortly after his father’s death. Yet he had already represented the city in Parliament, during Robert’s final mayoralty. He, too, flourished as a merchant, and he also developed an interest in the expanding cloth finishing industry of the city; in 1399-1400 he was assessed for alnage on as many as 23 cloths of assize. But it was his exploits as a sea captain in the autumn of 1403 which caught the attention of the chroniclers. That August William du Chastel, Lord of Chateauneuf in Brittany, had burnt and plundered Plymouth in a daring raid across the Channel. In retaliation, Wilford, as admiral of a fleet assembled from Dartmouth, Bristol and Plymouth, crossed to Brest where he immediately captured six foreign vessels, and, just a day later, took four more, loaded with cargoes of iron, oil and tallow. Proceeding to Belleisle, the English then seised a fleet of 30 or 40 ships from La Rochelle, carrying off about 1,000 casks of wine. Wilford landed a troop of men on the promontory of Penmarch and advanced 18 miles into the countryside, plundering and burning villages in his path. Revenge was complete with the destruction of St. Matthieu. He is said to have challenged an army from Brest to give battle, but the Bretons declined.5

In Exeter Wilford was second only to his father in local standing and the number of his mayoralties; and in 1405-6 he was paid as much as £10 for making a journey to London on business of the city. His reputation enabled him to marry the daughter of a former knight of the shire for Devon. She, Margaret, enjoyed a dower portion of the Cruwys estates in the county, and it was in her right that William presented to East Anstey church in 1406. Elsewhere he held land in Frogmore (on Salcombe Haven) and near Crediton, which, together with his wife’s landed possessions gave him an annual income conservatively estimated at £22. The dean and chapter of Exeter had granted to his father the site of the old chapel of St. Peter the Less, with liberty to open up a doorway into the cathedral close and to erect a new chapel. The house subsequently built on the site and known as ‘The Eagle’, which fronted on High Street, was the largest dwelling of any merchant in the city, comprising three shops and solars as well as the restored chapel. In addition the Wilfords owned a messuage near Broadgate with two shops and a vaulted cellar, and a close in ‘Cartrenstrete’ extending to the street of the Magdalen.6

By his will, made on 30 June 1413 during his seventh mayoralty, Wilford left his croft outside the south gate and the sum of £10 to be used for the laying and maintenance of a conduit for the inhabitants of the city. He asked that a house near St. Petrock’s church be sold to provide the sum of £1 annually for 58 years to pay the priests of the church to sing an antiphon to St. Mary at his obit (but allowed that if the present tenant was prepared to pay 25s. rent and rebuild the house, he might keep it for the same term and also have Wilford’s stock of timber at Southernhay for the construction). Twelve torches, each weighing 10 pounds, were to be offered in the churches of St. Petrock, Morchard, Rackenford, East Anstey and Puddington, while two chaplains were to say mass for the testator’s soul in St. Petrock’s church. Property in the suburbs and in the parishes of St. Pancras and St. Sidwell was left to Wilford’s daughter, Elizabeth (wife of John Parker), and certain of his servants, but his principal heir was his son, Robert, then a minor. Wilford provided that the rents from his estates were to be kept in a chest and used to support Robert until he came of age, the sum of 100 marks being reserved for the boy’s immediate needs. Wilford’s estate was valued at over £228. He died before 19 July (when a new mayor was elected to fill the vacancy caused by his death), and was buried in the cathedral. Bishop Stafford, in his letter authorizing a commission for probate on 26 Sept., recalled that the deceased had worn his livery.7

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. Devon and Cornw. N. and Q. xiii. 136.
  • 2. Exeter City RO, mayors’ ct. rolls 20 Ric. II-1 Hen. V.
  • 3. C67/23; C267/6/41-43, 46; C241/196/6.
  • 4. Add. Rolls 64320-1; mayor’s ct. roll 20-21 Ric. II m. 17.
  • 5. Mayor’s ct. roll 19-20 Ric. II m. 48; E101/338/11; E122/40/23; J. Trokelowe, Chron. ed. Riley, 376-7; T. Walsingham, Hist. Ang. ed. Riley, ii. 259-60.
  • 6. Exeter receiver’s acct. 7-8 Hen. IV; CP25(1)45/73/77; Trans. Devon Assoc. xliv. 482, 489, 490, 500, 505, 508; lxiii. 261; O.J. Reichel and W.E. Mugford, An Old Exeter MS, 51; Feudal Aids, vi. 419.
  • 7. Reg. Stafford ed. Hingeston-Randolph, 370, 401-2; mayors’ ct. rolls 14 Hen. IV-1 Hen. V, 1-2 Hen. V m. 41. Wilford’s son, who attained armigerous rank, settled at Oxton in Kenton and died in 1476: C140/57/57. Through the female line he was an ancestor of the most famous of Exeter’s early historians, John Hooker† alias Vowell.