FLEMING, William (c.1475-1540), of Oxford.
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Family and Education
b. c.1475. educ. Merton, Oxf. m. Joan, ?1s.2
Commr. subsidy, Oxford 1523, 1524, alderman by 1523-d., mayor 1527-8, 1528-9, coroner in 1531.3
William Fleming’s forbears are unknown, although two weavers of that name were assessed for a poll tax at Oxford in 1380. He first appears as a postmaster or poor scholar and servant of Dr. FitzJames, warden of Merton College (1483-1507). By 1515 he was occupying a house in Queen Street in St. Martin’s parish and was then fined 3s.4d. for continually using an unlawful yard-measure. In August 1533 he and his wife purchased a house and garden in St. Ebbe’s and three years later, when he was described as a grocer, they leased a garden in the parish of St. Peter le Bailey.4
On 5 Oct. 1522 Fleming paid £7 to be excused for ever from the offices of chamberlain and bailiff. This did not betoken lack of interest in municipal affairs, for the two years of his mayoralty were to witness a struggle with the university in which Fleming, despite his earlier connexion with Merton, staunchly upheld the town’s rights. Wolsey’s charter to the university, although drawn up in 1523, was not delivered until 1527. In that year the town’s bailiffs refused to summon a jury under the new terms and were consequently imprisoned, while the university sought a writ in Chancery for the charter’s enforcement. In 1529, unable to coerce the bailiffs, the university ordered its bedels to summon a jury, whereupon the bailiffs closed the guildhall. When Fleming left office at Michaelmas, after he had been elected to Parliament but five weeks before it met, he was succeeded by Michael Heath, who had also preceded him and whose intransigence was soon to bring excommunication from the chancellor’s court.5
A petition by the townsmen to the King in 1530 alleged that Fleming had been forced by the commissary to answer certain questions under the threat of ecclesiastical censure; they also complained that Fleming’s windows had twice been broken under cover of darkness, a statement which prompted the counter-charge that such transgressions were more often the work of townsmen than of scholars. This was followed by the further charge from the university that there had been no trouble until Fleming and Heath took office, after which its privileges had been ‘more notoriously violate’ than ever before. The dispute dragged on until 1533, when Fleming joined the mayor and other leading figures of the town and university in promising Cromwell that both sides would labour for an agreement or would submit to the King’s arbitration.6
Fleming himself must have been known at Westminster before he entered Parliament, as it was customary for the newly elected mayor of Oxford to be presented to the barons of the Exchequer, but it is not known whether he and John Latton were returned with official support or whether they used their Membership to press the town’s case against the university. It appears from an obscurely worded reference in the council book that the election of 1529 may have been a contested one, with William Frere and John Pye as the defeated candidates. If that were so, it might throw light on some further features of Fleming’s parliamentary record. When in April 1536 Cromwell and the lord chamberlain asked that Fleming and Latton should be re-elected, they were passing on the King’s general request to that effect. Frere, then mayor, replied that Fleming was old and partially blind and that he at least should be replaced; if Frere had been passed over in 1529, this suggestion may have been intended to turn the tables. Unfortunately, the outcome is hidden, for not only are the names of the men returned in 1536 unknown, but it cannot be safely concluded from the £56 10s. which Fleming claimed for his wages and expenses whether the amount related only to the Parliament of 1529 or to that of 1536 as well. It was in the course of deciding, in April 1537, to disallow his claim that the town council reminded Fleming of his promise in 1529 to serve without payment, as Frere and Pye had undertaken to do on the same occasion.7
Fleming was in fact one of the richest men in Oxford: for the subsidies of 1524 and 1525 he was assessed to pay 40s. on goods worth £40. The only other indications of his wealth are bequests in his will of 30 Apr. 1540. He left two houses and a garden to the churchwardens of St. Martin’s parish: the income was to provide annual masses for himself and his wife. She was still alive when he made the will, as the churchwardens were to receive a further 20d. a year on her death. He himself must have died soon after the enrolment of the will on 7 May 1540, since he does not appear again in the town records.8
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: T. F.T. Baker
- 1. LP Hen. VIII, x, 903; Oxf. Recs. 148.
- 2. ‘An aged man’ in 1536. Emden, Biog. Reg. Univ. Oxf. 1501-40, p. 206; Liber Albus Civ. Oxon. ed. Ellis, no. 344; Surveys and Tokens (Oxf. Hist. Soc. lxxv), 146.
- 3. LP Hen. VIII, iii, iv; Oxf. City Docs. (Oxf. Hist. Soc. xviii), 3; Oxf. Recs. 56, 58, 104.
- 4. Oxf. City Docs. 23, 31; Emden, 206; Surv. Oxf. ii. (Oxf. Hist. Soc. n.s. xx), 66, 108, 141; Oxf. Recs. 13.
- 5. Oxf. Recs. pp. vii-xi. 32.
- 6. Ibid. 73, 77, 89, 99, 100.
- 7. LP Hen. VIII, vii. x, xii, xiii; Oxf. Recs. p. xiii.
- 8. E179/161/174, 182; Liber Albus, no. 344; Antiqs. Oxf. ii. (Oxf. Hist. Soc. xvii), 85-86; Surveys and Tokens, 146.