HAWLEY, John I (d.1408), of Dartmouth, 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. 1390

Family and Education

s. of John Hawley of Dartmouth by his w. Elizabeth. m. (1) by 1372, Joan (d. 12 July 1394); (2) Alice (d. 7 Jan. 1403).1 1s. John II*.

Offices Held

Mayor, Dartmouth Mich. 1374-5, 1376-7, 1378-9, 1382-3, 1385-6, 1387-9, 1390-1, 1392-5, 1397-9, 1400-1.2

Commr. to fortify Dartmouth Dec. 1374, Feb. 1377, Nov. 1381, Mar. 1406; of inquiry, Devon June 1378, Devon, Som. Sept. 1385, Dec. 1404 (incidents at sea), to confiscate merchandise illegally seized at sea, Dartmouth Feb. 1386; compel restitution for acts of piracy, Devon Dec. 1386; of arrest July 1387, July 1406; to survey mines, Devon, Cornw. Aug. 1391; close the ports of Kingsbridge, Tor Bay and Dartmouth May 1401; of array, Devon July 1402; to organize the defence of merchant shipping Oct. 1402, Mar. 1403, Aug. 1403; bring certain vessels to London Nov. 1403.

Tax collector, Dartmouth Mar. 1377.

J.p. Devon 8 Mar. 1382-3.

Controller of customs and subsidies from Ilfracombe to Melcombe Regis 28 Aug. 1383-4; collector, Exeter 18 July 1388-9, Nov. 1390-Aug. 1391, from Bridgwater to Sidmouth 21 Nov. 1400-6.

Escheator, Devon and Cornw. 12 Dec. 1390-8 Dec. 1391.

Royal receiver, Devon and Cornw. 15 Dec. 1390-Aug. 1398.

Lieutenant to Thomas Percy, earl of Worcester, admiral of England c. Dec. 1399-June 1401.


John Hawley, who was possibly the model for Chaucer’s shipman, was the most famous Dartmouth man of the medieval period. His father built ‘Hawley’s Hoe’, a great wharf with warehouses on the Mill Foss, while he himself came to hold as many as 45 houses in the town. Not only was his mansion between Higher Street and Lower Street, where he was living with his wife and four servants in 1377, acquired by the town in 1480 and used for the next four centuries as the guildhall, but it was he who financed the building of the chancel in the newly founded church of St. Saviour.3 Hawley’s great wealth, accumulated over the years from mercantile ventures and the capture of foreign prizes at sea, enabled him both to purchase and lease large estates in Devon and Cornwall. From 1387 to 1400 he leased from Totnes priory the manor of Upton and the rectory of Brixham, at the high annual rent of £30, and in 1400 the Benedictines of Tywardreath granted him for life rents of £20 a year from their Cornish properties. Undoubtedly his most important purchase was the estate forfeited by Sir Robert Tresilian, c.j.KB, who was executed for treason following condemnation by the Merciless Parliament of 1388. Between October 1389 and May 1390 Hawley spent the very large sum of £1,033 in buying from the Crown six manors and two tin-works in Cornwall and the Scillies, and from Sir Humphrey Stafford I* Tresilian’s manors of ‘Polhorman’ and Penhargard; and in 1393 he gave Tresilian’s widow and her second husband, (Sir) John Colshull I*, 100 marks for certain of her dower lands in Cornwall. In addition, he exchanged with Colshull lands in Duloe for the manor and advowson of East Washbourne, Devon.4 Moreover, Hawley showed astute business sense when negotiating the terms of the sale with Richard II’s council, in insisting on a provision that if ever he or his heirs were evicted from the Tresilian estates the Crown would be obliged to compensate them for their loss. His possession of the Cornish estates was, in fact, opposed both by some of the tenants and by Tresilian’s son John, the latter claiming an annuity of £100 charged on the estate (in which claim he was maintained by his stepfather, Colshull, during the latter’s shrievalty of 1397-8), and, in June 1399, securing from Richard II full rights to his inheritance. Nevertheless, Hawley obtained confirmation of his letters patent by Henry IV in November 1399, and his title was reinforced by orders to the sheriff of Cornwall to arrest anyone who illegally entered his property. In addition, in February 1402 Henry of Monmouth, as duke of Cornwall, granted Hawley and his son, John II, the wardship and lands of Elizabeth Tresilian, Sir Robert’s daughter, she being reputedly an idiot.5

Interpretations of Hawley’s exploits at sea range from the picture of a public spirited, local military leader to the impression of a ruthless pirate. Neither extreme rings true, yet elements of both may be discerned. For most of his life maritime conditions were influenced by a state of war in which the inhabitants of coastal towns were obliged to defend their shipping and shores at their own expense. It was inevitable that friendly vessels would sometimes be mistaken for enemy shipping, and complaints were often made. The activities of Hawley’s ships often attracted the judicial attention of the royal council, but in most cases he made full recompense to any merchant whose claim against him was validated. One of the earliest references to him was as the owner of Le James and part-owner of the Codzer which were commandeered for royal service in 1372. Seven years later he, Thomas Asshenden I* and Benedict Bottesana were licensed to go to sea for one year at their own expense to attack and destroy the King’s enemies. Their flotilla of seven vessels included three of Hawley’s barges. Following the Parliament of May 1382, when provision was made for the financing of naval defence from a subsidy of 6d. per £1 value of merchandise passing through the ports of the realm, Hawley was named as a farmer of the subsidy as well as being himself involved in defensive preparations. It is not surprising to find him in 1384-5 wearing the livery of the admiral of the west, Edward, earl of Devon. Although there was then a truce with Brittany, two ships which Hawley had freighted with goods worth £300 were seized in that year by Bretons, and naturally he did not hesitate to exact reprisals. One incident dating from the period of war with France resulted in a lengthy suit in the court of chivalry brought against him by the captain of Brest, Sir John Roches*, who alleged that Hawley’s men had captured three French ships sailing under his safe conduct. Hawley’s defence was that the vessels had resisted search and acted in a hostile fashion, and he made counter-claims for the loss of two other ships. He admitted freely, however, that he habitually sent vessels out to rove the Channel, relying on their capture of enemy ships to reward the crews and reimburse himself. Hawley’s readiness to compensate Genoese and Flemish merchants for their losses at sea was no doubt prompted by the chancellor’s fixing a penalty of £1,000 on his land and chattels if he failed to obey the Council’s orders. In April 1388 he was building a barge for royal service at his own expense, but he probably obtained adequate remuneration from the handsome grant of £500 made in September from the tunnage and poundage leviable in Devon and Cornwall. On 15 Nov. he took out letters patent exempting him from holding royal office, but in the same week he again put to sea to attack enemy shipping. It is clear that the government, at least, did not regard him a a pirate whose activities called for restraint; the Council was ready to pardon him for shipping wine to Harfleur without licence, and to support him against foreign claimants.6

During the truce with France that lasted from June 1389 until after Henry IV’s accession the activities of Hawley’s vessels are less well documented. A few months after his first Parliament, in December 1390, he was appointed as escheator of Devon and Cornwall and ‘in consideration of past and future good service’, as the King’s receiver in the same shires. Although in the following February a commission investigated his alleged concealment of profits and emoluments due to the Crown, he continued to hold the receivership until 1398. Meanwhile, on 16 May 1395, Richard II granted his ‘esquire’, John Hawley, an annuity of 40 marks for life, and two of Hawley’s ships, Le Margaret (a balinger) and the Petre, were used in the following year for the King’s voyage to Calais for his marriage to Isabella of France, the captain having joined with Thomas Knap* of Bristol in presenting Richard with two great masts and their tackle as a wedding gift. From August 1396 Hawley also enjoyed an annuity of £10 from the estate of the Earl Marshal, Thomas Mowbray, at Bramber (Sussex).7

It seems likely that Hawley, disaffected by the loss of the Tresilian estates in 1399, lent his active support to Henry of Bolingbroke. Certainly the new King was quick to confirm all of his existing grants and, in addition, allotted him custody of the manor of Yealmpton (Devon) during the minority of the earl of Salisbury. During the first two years of Henry IV’s reign Hawley acted as lieutenant to the admiral of England, Thomas Percy, earl of Worcester, and the assistance given by the French to Welsh and Scottish rebels soon provided him with a new excuse to search and plunder French vessels. But formal complaints of piracy were also made against Hawley to the King’s Council by the king of Aragon and merchants of Castile and Flanders, and the complaints of the Flemings became so insistent as to find a place in the general negotiations which, in the hope of sorting out claims and counter-claims and of putting an end to reprisals, were held at Calais in July 1403. For the time being it suited the government to ignore such protests, at least while it relied on men like Hawley for naval defence. Hawley’s ships Le Cristofre and the Seinte Marie had been in royal service in the previous year, and as recently as March he had put to sea with 200 mariners expressly to fight the King’s enemies. In the autumn he was commissioned to requisition men to defend merchant ships going to Bordeaux, under the command of the admiral of the west, Thomas, Lord Berkley.8 Hawley’s greatest exploit took place in the week of 18 Oct. when, under colour of this commission, he and Thomas Norton* of Bristol, commanding a fleet from Bristol, Plymouth and Dartmouth, seized seven carracks laden with rich cargoes from Spain and Italy. These they illegally retained for three years and longer. One of the merchants who suffered loss on this occasion, Richard Garner of Piedmont, had much cause for complaint, for not only did Hawley take his cargo of wine, worth £398, but two years later also seized one of olive oil worth £210, shipped in his name. Such incidents stand recorded because the robberies were committed upon the vessels of friendly powers and so called for inquiry; with the trading ships of France there was constant though less well-documented warfare. Hawley was evidently a soldier of note: in 1404 he was foremost in the defence of Dartmouth, repulsing the French attack at Black Pool and taking prisoner the brother of their leader, Tanneguy de Chastel. (He may have been wounded in the fray, for on 14 July, when he wrote to Henry IV to excuse himself from appearing at court, he said he was ‘grantement malade en l’un de mes jambez’.) That autumn the Council was still relying on Hawley to join with the admirals in resisting the renewal of French attacks, but in his later years he fell out of favour with the King.9 On 15 Dec. 1406 he was imprisoned in the Tower and not released until, on 4 Feb. following, he agreed under a penalty of £1,000 not to leave Chancery without the Council’s licence and to return the goods of certain merchants of Barcelona which he had taken at sea. He was required to appear before the Council once more, in February 1408, but died later in the year, on 30 Dec.10

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. H.R. Watkin, Dartmouth, 183. By tradition either this John Hawley or his s. John is said to have married ‘Emmeline’, da. of Sir Robert Tresilian (see e.g. J. Maclean, Trigg Minor, i. 394), and although there is no contemporary evidence of such a match, it is possible that the younger John’s wife, Margaret, was Tresilian’s da. of that name.
  • 2. Watkin, 58-59, 183-4.
  • 3. Ibid. 44; E179/95/35; CPR, 1391-6, p. 261; CIMisc. vi. 162.
  • 4. CPR, 1385-9, p. 360; 1388-92, pp. 100, 126, 156, 247; 1399-1401, p. 309; Cornw. Feet of Fines (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. 1950), ii. 39, 44, 49; CP25(1)45/67/139.
  • 5. CPR, 1391-6, p. 359; 1399-1401, p. 133; 1401-5, p. 108; C1/3/33, 7/128, 295-6; Procs. Chancery Eliz. I ed. Caley and Bayley, ii. pp. ii-iii; CCR, 1396-9, p. 507; 1399-1401, p. 156.
  • 6. Trans. Devon Assoc. xcviii. 173-205; Watkin, 58; CPR, 1377-81, p. 405; 1385-9, pp. 165, 392, 428, 499-500, 508; 1388-92, p. 147; CFR, ix. 314; E101/39/28; Add. Roll 64320; CCR, 1381-5, p. 463; 1385-9, pp. 145, 271, 333, 349; C47/6/4; R. Higden, Polychronicon ed. Lumby, ix. 200; PPC, i. 13; Dip. Corresp. Ric. II (Cam. Soc. ser. 3, xlviii), no. 107.
  • 7. CPR, 1388-92, p. 439; 1391-6, p. 569; 1399-1401, p. 335; CCR, 1392-6, pp. 174, 324; E101/41/38; P. Russell, Dartmouth, 15.
  • 8. CPR, 1399-1401, p. 331; 1401-5, p. 195; CFR, xii. 57, 66; CCR, 1399-1402, p. 545; 1402-5, pp. 24, 27, 76, 89, 100, 198-9, 274; PPC, ii. 81.
  • 9. CPR, 1401-5, pp. 360, 363, 427, 437; 1405-8, pp. 228, 286, 326; CCR, 1402-5, pp. 257, 267; 1405-9, p. 24; CIMisc. vii. 270, 282; Letters Hen. IV ed. Hingeston, 270-1; C76/88 m. 2; PPC, i. 234.
  • 10. CCR, 1405-9, pp. 166, 174; CPR, 1405-8, p. 418; Watkin, 298, 314.