CAPELL, Sir William (by 1448-1515), of London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. by 1448, 2nd s. of John Capell of Stoke Nayland, Suff. by Joan. m. by 1485, Margaret, da. of Sir John Arundell of Lanherne, Cornw., 1s. 2da. Kntd. 6 Jan. 1487.3

Offices Held

Warden, Drapers’ Co. 1475-6, 1484-5, master 1487-8, 1491-2, 1496-7, 1499-1500, 1504, 1504-5, 1509-10, 1511-12; auditor, London 1483-5, 1495-7, alderman 1485-d., sheriff 1489-90, mayor 1503-4, Jan.-Oct. 1510; commr. subsidy 1512, 1514, 1515.4


William Capell was born into an armigerous family settled in Suffolk since the 12th century, but as a second son his inheritance was small, perhaps only the £3 6s.8d. left by his father to be paid him at the age of 20. He went to London, where he made a fortune as a draper and merchant of the staple. Besides cloth and wool he dealt in Spanish iron, Derbyshire lead and other wares. He emerges from the records as a tough man of business, quick to pursue debtors, great or small, in the courts and capable of suing an apprentice, who on his orders had carried away plate, jewels and money from his London house, in respect of the bond which he had taken for their safety.5

Capell had removed his valuables at a time when he was himself in hiding ‘for such danger and trouble as he was then in’ through an information laid against him for infringement of statutes ‘by many days and years passed, which men thought should never have been called to mind’. In Michaelmas term 1494 he was charged in the Exchequer with selling cloth, pepper and other goods to foreigners without being paid forthwith in ready money or goods. For this breach of the Act (8 Hen. VI, c.24) of 1429 he incurred the penalty, not of the mere forfeiture of the goods as prescribed in the Act, but of a fine of £2,743, later reduced at the intercession of his wife’s brother-in-law Giles, 1st Lord Daubeney, to £1,615 payable over three years. It is not surprising that after this he sued out pardons at regular intervals, a general pardon in November 1495, a pardon of all mercantile offences in May 1500 and three more in 1505, a general one, another as a merchant of the staple and the third for offences against the statute (19 Hen. VII, c.8) of 1504 restricting the collection of the London toll known as scavage. For the second general pardon, in which his son Giles was included, father and son paid £1,000, and for the pardon over scavage Capell paid 100 marks, besides £30 to Henry Tofts, who was doubtless the informer as he had been earlier.6

Capell must have been the more anxious to clear himself in 1505 in that his recent mayoralty made him an obvious target. As it was, his alleged failure in that capacity to punish a coiner of false money meant further trouble for him. In 1508 he was found guilty by a jury composed of men ‘fastly bound to the girdles’ of Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley, sent to the Compter and then to the house of one of the sheriffs, and eventually, when he refused to pay the £2,000 demanded, transferred to the Tower. There he remained until the King’s death led to his release and replacement in prison by Tofts and other collaborators of Empson and Dudley. Capell resumed his seat in the court of aldermen on 8 June 1509, exactly a year after his last attendance. Even then his pardon hung fire: he was at first excluded from the general pardon offered by Henry VIII at his accession, and although his pardon bears the date 8 May 1509 it was not issued until the beginning of the next year.7

Capell’s rehabilitation was endorsed by his fellow-aldermen, who early in 1510 chose him to replace the dead Thomas Bradbury as mayor. His election for a second term was opposed as unconstitutional by George Harward, a Merchant Taylor, who thought it better to have ‘a clear man’ than one ‘far in danger to the King’. Undeterred by the current rumour that Henry VIII had restored £1,000 to Capell, Harward tried to mobilize the Companies against him, but the conflict was essentially one between the Drapers and the Merchant Taylors. During his first mayoralty Capell had led the campaign for the revocation of the Merchant Taylors’ new charter, negotiated for them in 1503 by William Fitzwilliam, whom three years later the King forced upon the City as sheriff. When in 1510 Fitzwilliam was elected sheriff, his first tenure of the office being held invalid, Capell, again mayor, was suspected of having planned this revenge; he was summoned before the chancellor but apparently nothing could be proved against him. In the following March the question arose of re-admitting Fitzwilliam to the freedom, from which he had been expelled, but a decision in his favour was not reached by the court of aldermen until after Capell had left the meeting.8

First elected to Parliament in 1491, Capell was re-elected to the Parliaments of 1512 and 1515, on the second occasion in accordance with the King’s request for the re-election of the previous Members. He doubtless supported the City’s bills for corporations, whereby the mayor and aldermen hoped to gain greater control over the Companies, for these were in part aimed at the Merchant Taylors. He died before the second session of the Parliament of 1515, but there is no evidence that he was replaced. He had made his will on 1 Sept. 1515, asking for burial in the chapel which he had prepared in his parish church of St. Bartholomew the Less in London and making generous bequests to the poor. Five years earlier he had set up a use, in favour of himself, his wife and their son, covering his London house, two manors in Middlesex, five in Essex, six in Norfolk and single manors in Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Suffolk; the feoffees were headed by the archbishop of Canterbury and included seven peers and many eminent lawyers. In his will Capell confirmed this settlement and divided his remaining lands, seven widely scattered manors and the reversion to two others, between his son and two grandsons. He died five days after making the will, which was proved six months later by the executors, his wife and son-in-law William Paulet. The manors of Rayne, Essex, bought by Capell in 1486 and settled on his son in 1512, and Little Hadham, Hertfordshire, bought in 1506, remained the family residences throughout the 16th century. His grandson Sir Henry Capell sat for Somerset in the Parliament of 1547.9

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Helen Miller


  • 1. City of London RO, Guildhall, jnl. 11, f. 147v; rep. 2, f. 125v.
  • 2. Ibid. jnl. 11, f. 204v. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 3. His father died in 1449 leaving three sons. VCH Herts. gen. vol. 83-84; C142/30/5, 16, 25, 38, 42, 43, 48, 78; HP, ed. Wedgwood 1439-1509 (Biogs.), 153-4.
  • 4. A. H. Johnson, Company of Drapers, ii. 466-8; City of London RO, letter bk. L, ff. 209, 215, 269, 309, 318; jnl. 9, f. 91; 10, f. 294v; rep. 2, f. 80; Statutes, iii. 83, 118, 172.
  • 5. Copinger, Suff. Manors, i. 227; CPR, 1485-94, pp. 364, 445; 1494-1509, pp. 43, 439, 465, 494; CCR, 1485-1500, nos. 65, 486, 896; LP Hen. VIII, i; C1/66/238, 238/53, 246/97, 261/22, 308/55.
  • 6. C1/308/55; Great Chron. of London, ed. Thomas and Thornley, 258; Year Bk. 10 Hen. VII, 7; CPR, 1494-1509, pp. 43, 198, 414, 447, 450; Lansd. 127, ff. 3v, 9v.
  • 7. Great Chron. 336-7; City of London RO, rep. 2, f. 69v; LP Hen. VIII, i.
  • 8. City of London RO, rep. 2, ff. 80, 86b-87, 100-1. 108v; C. M. Clode, Merchant Taylors’ Co. ii. 42-48.
  • 9. PCC 13 Holder; W. K. Jordan, Charities of London, pp. 92, 326; C142/30/5, 16, 25, 38, 42, 43, 48, 78; Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. n.s. ix. 243-72; VCH Herts. iv. 52.