Alice Claver

Alice Claver was one of the most successful London silkwomen during the fifteenth century.

Alice's birthplace and maiden name are unknown. She was the second wife of Richard Claver, a successful mercer. It is likely that they were married when she was in her 20's and he in his late 40's. Richard and Alice had one son, also called Richard, and Richard (the elder) had an illegitimate daughter named Jone. Richard Claver the elder died in November 1456 after a long illness, having made his will on 2nd August 1456. Alice was one of the executors of his will and was appointed guardian of their son, in effect trustee of the goods left to him. The will left Alice his household goods, "her own goodys" (which indicates that she was trading in her own right, as married women could not own property) and £200 of his own goods. To his son he left 200 marks in money and his house and land at Uxbridge. Jone was left £10 for her marriage and the same was left to his niece, Alison Claver. There were also charitable bequests. 

Their son completed his apprenticeship as a mercer and took the Freedom of the City. In 1471 he made his mother a gift of goods and chattels. There are various commercial reasons for the gift: it may have been a form of mortgage, it may have been to avoid forfeiture or to avoid the expense of making a will. He predeceased his mother, dying at about age 25, and appears to have left no will.

By 1480 Alice was supplying goods to Edward IV through the Great Wardrobe. She later supplied items for the coronation of Richard III Queen Anne Neville, as well as items for the later coronation of Henry VII.

Like her husband, Alice was a member of the parish fraternity the Penny Brethen of St. Lawrence Jewry. She was also a sister of the fraternity of the Founders Company.

Alice made her will on 27th June 1489 and it was proved on 10th July 1489. There is no mention of her business in the will and Alice describes herself as the widow of Richard Claver. There are bequests to women servants, with the residue of her goods left to Katherine Champyon, who was named as sole executor. It seems likely that this is the same person as the Katherine Claver who supplied the Great Wardrobe, as it was accepted practice for someone in her position to use her mistress' name. Alice was buried at St. Lawrence with her husband Richard.

Elizabeth Stockton

Elizabeth Stokton was one of the silkwomen from the higher stratum of the merchant class.  

Her first husband was mercer John Goldwell, who was admitted to the Mercers' Company in 1450. By 1468 he had died and Elizabeth had remarried to fellow mercer John Stokton. As executor of Goldwell's estate, Elizabeth was attempting to recover a debt owed for cloth sold to John More. The sale took place in the parish of St Pancras, Soper Lane, so perhaps the Goldwells had a house or shop there.

Elizabeth Stokton was called as a witness in the dispute between silwomen Elene Lovell and Agnes Hull.

Because John Stokton was a leading mercer (he served as Master of the Mercers in 1463 and 1469) and became Mayor there are a considerable number of references to him and his activities in the record books.  He was elected Alderman for Cripplegate on November 17th 1461 having been nominated by ex-Sheriffs Steward & Nedeham and by Jon Adys, Goldsmith.  He continued as an Alderman for Cripplegate until he removed to the Lime Street ward December 14th 1470.  He served as Mayor in the year 1470-71 and was knighted on May 20th 1471.  There are numerous references to him acting in both his business and his City capacities, including those recording him as being present at meetings of the Aldermen.  Fellow-mercer Richard Claver, who was married to the well-known silkwoman Alice Claver, appointed John Stokton as one of his executors, along with Alice and John Burton.  Although the Clavers were not in quite the same social class as the Stoktons, it seems likely that the two silkwomen must have known each other in a business capacity and possibly also in a social one.

John and Elizabeth Stokton had a son, also named John and Elizabeth acquired a step-daughter, Joan, on her marriage to Stokton. In 1468 Joan is found initiating divorce proceedings from her husband Richard Turnaunt. Although a straightforward case on the surface, there does appear to be considerable doubt as to just what was happening. 

The will of John Goldwell refers to his wife (Elizabeth) and their children.

John Stokton made his will, a substantial document, on March 9th 1471 and it was proved on June 4th 1473.  In this he left the tenement in the parish of St. Mary le Bow where they lived to Elizabeth. This was held on a 30-year lease from the priests of Elsing Spital.  Keene and Harding have managed to identify the probable location of this property as a site on the east side of Bow Lane with gated access to a lane leading into Soper Lane.  The lane can be identified as what is now the eastern end of Well Court as it joins modern day Queen Street.

John's will also provided for a new ceiling for the Mercers' Hall. Unfortunately, there seems to have been a reluctance on the part of Elizabeth to release the funds for this and in 1474 the mercers decide to go ahead and complete the project (part of the new ceiling was sitting in their Hall) themselves. Elizabeth does seem to have experienced quite a bit of difficulty in administering the estate and she is found taken action on a number of occasions.

We find the widowed Elizabeth taking legal action concerning cloth delivered to Sebastian Giglis, a Luccan merchant, for sale in Italy but which had been embezzled by the consignee in Venice. 

Elizabeth subsequently married a third time. This time her husband was Gerard Canizioni, a wealthy Italian mercer, and we can find records of their joint business transactions as well as the purchase of property at Great Linford in Buckinghamshire. Gerard died in 1484. Elizabeth and her son were still settling the estate of John Stokton two years later.

Beatrice Fyler, Died 1479

Beatrice Fyler, who lived in the London parish of St. Mary Magdalen, Milk Street, has been described by Anne Sutton as a leading silkwoman of the time.  A contemporary of the well-known silkwoman Alice Claver in the late fifteenth century, Beatrice was trading in her own right as a femme sole and was married to Thomas Fyler, a mercer, by whom she had 8 children.   It seems likely that Beatrice (along with silkwomen like Alice Claver and Elizabeth Stokton) was actively involved in the politics of protecting the craft and trade of the silkwomen.  Between 1455 and 1485 there were five Acts of Parliament restricting the importation of goods that competed with those of the London silkwomen.  The final Act of 1485 extended the restrictive provisions until 1505.

Thomas Fyler had been the apprentice of mercer William Estfeld. We know from the Mercers’ Company records that in 1475 Thomas was a mercer worth £10 per annum and we can trace some of his business dealings.  There is a record that in February 1464 Thomas was appointed as one of three arbitrators in a dispute between two other mercers (one of whom was from Winchester).  His fellow arbitrators were not mercers, one being a goldsmith and the other a tailor. 

Much of our knowledge of Beatrice and Thomas comes from family wills and from notes they made in some of their books. Beatrice and Thomas owned a collection of texts in English, including Richard Rolle’s Seven Works of Mercy, and some poems and prayers of Thomas Hoccleve, his Letter of Cupid and a ballade to Henry V (much of this in Hoccleve’s own hand).   They recorded their children in the Easter table as follows:

John, died August 1471
Joan, who married John Marshall (mercer) to whom her brother Edward had been apprenticed. <br>Thomas, died 1473
Robert, who predeceased his mother
Edward, who died a few weeks after his mother
William<br>Isabel, who married Robert Marshall (haberdasher), the brother of John Marshall, some time after the death of her mother.

Thomas’ merchant mark is in the book, together with a 1463 inventory of their house at Little Baddow in Essex at which they had a mappa mundi.  From his will we know that by the time he died in 1482 (three years after the death of Beatrice), he also owned property at Willinghale Andrew and Willinghale Spain.  These he left to the two children then surviving – Joan and Isabel.

In her will, made August 1479 (GL MS 9171/6, f.280v), Beatrice appointed Alice Claver as one of her executors together with her own eldest daughter, Joan, the wife of John Marshall, and probably also a silkwoman. Edward, her eldest surviving son who was to die within weeks of her own death, was to be the overseer.  She left  £50 to Edward and £30 to each unmarried daughter (Margaret and Isabel). Alice received a “bolyon ring” - a gold ring with a decorative knob of metal.  Beatrice’s will also mentions gifts of plate.  She was buried in the Pardon Churchyard of St. Paul’s and in his subsequent will Thomas expressed the wish to be buried with her.

Edward’s will includes bequests to a number of women and Anne Sutton suggests that they may have been part of his mother’s business enterprise.  There are bequests of 20s each to Katherine Sergeaunt, Agnes Sherman, Alice Andrew and Isabell Chubbe, 10s to Anne Dolfynby and also £4 to Joan Stokes, “shepster”.  His executors were his sister Isabel and John Marshall, with Joan as overseer. 

Assuming that Joan was also a silkwoman, a supposition supported by her joint appointment as her mother’s executor, it may have been that she took on much of Beatrice’s business, including employees, but unfortunately we have no firm evidence as to what happened.  Furthermore there are no surviving wills from the daughters or their husbands.