NOBLE, William (d.1592), of Oxford.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
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Family and Education

m., 6ch.

Offices Held

Freeman, Oxford c.1553, common councilman 1559, chamberlain 1571-2, bailiff 1573-4, alderman 1579, coroner 1579-80, mayor 1581-2, member of the ‘associates’ or mayor’s council 1585.


Noble was landlord of the Swindlestock tavern, on the south west corner of Carfax, in which had begun the battle of St. Scholastica’s day. He was of an ideal temperament to lead the townsmen in their perennial disputes with the university. As bailiff of the city in 1574, he shut the doors of the guildhall against the vice-chancellor, Dr. Humfrey, thus preventing the university from holding its court leet. A special convocation promptly committed him to the castle prison, from which he was released 12 days later when Sir Francis Knollys, high steward of Oxford, guaranteed his appearance to answer for his contempt before the Privy Council. To the lords of the council Noble himself submitted a long remonstrance, alleging that the university was trying to ruin his business by making him out to be a ‘bankrupt knave’; the university’s wider purpose was to cow the citizens by fear of imprisonment and ‘discommoning’ (excommunication), penalties which it inflicted, Noble hinted, on authority originally conferred by the Pope. In October 1574 the attorney-general, solicitor-general and two judges were commissioned to mediate between town and university. Knollys wrote to them on behalf of the town, the Earl of Leicester supporting the university, of which he was chancellor. In the following April Noble submitted a new list of outrages by the scholars, together with a complaint that the mayor and aldermen were not fulfilling their duties as justices of the peace. On 17 May 1575 the Privy Council upheld the university’s privileges on many points, but in the matter of the court leet spared the town, ‘for this time only’, the forfeit laid down some years before, on the occasion of a similar incident. Noble remained unreconciled. Humfrey assured Burghley that convocation earnestly desired his restoration, but he refused to submit, and in March 1576 the attorney-general and the solicitor-general were again instructed to attempt a settlement. According to Anthony Wood, Noble did at length submit during a serious illness in November 1576. One night in January 1580, however, the townsmen, summoned by a cry of ‘Murder, murder, light, light, for the passion of God’, found Noble being assaulted in his own house by a group of Christ Church graduates, and in vain pressed the vice-chancellor to intervene.

Though a difficult colleague on the corporation (Noble had been a common councilman only three years when he was gaoled for insulting the mayor), he was popular with the citizens generally, and his election to Parliament in 1584 reflects this. It is interesting to see that his punishment for a contempt was remitted in February 1584 because Noble was serving as an MP. The university was still complaining about him in December 1585, ‘one Mr. Noble, who ever delighted in raising contentions’, but by March 1592 he was in the Fleet prison, at the suit of the creditor of a bankrupt for whom he was surety. On the eighth of that month, the Privy Council appointed a commission to investigate the matter, but Noble was still there when he made his nuncupative will 6 Oct. and there he died a few days later. He left his possessions to his daughter Marion, ‘and concerning the rest of his children he said that they had been but bad and comfortless children unto him and he prayed God to deal better with them than they had done with him in his misery’. His wife having died on 2 Apr., and Noble having named no executors, letters of administration were issued to Marion. On 13 Oct. the corporation of Oxford licensed a man to sell wine in the place of ‘Mr. Alderman Noble, deceased’, and soon afterwards granted 30s. to Noble’s son Edward, ‘in consideration of his poverty’.

W. H. Turner, Oxford Recs. passim; H. E. Salter, Oxf. Council Acts (Oxf. Hist. Soc. lxxxvii), passim; H. E. Salter, Oxford City Properties (Oxf. Hist. Soc. lxxxiii), 155-8; A. Wood, Univ. of Oxford, ii. 185-6; City of Oxford (Oxf. Hist. Soc. xxxvii), 231; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 498; 1581-90, pp. 294, 308; APC, ix. 97, 106; xxii. 319; C. Monro, Acta Canc. 541-2; PCC 90 Harrington.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: Alan Harding