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Carpenter, John (1370?-1441?) (DNB00)


CARPENTER, JOHN (1370?–1441?), town clerk of London, son of Richard Carpenter, a citizen of London, and Christina, his wife, was probably born about 1370, and educated for the profession of law. On 20 April 1417 he was chosen town clerk or common clerk of the city, after having held an inferior post in the town clerk's office for some years previously. Carpenter was well acquainted with John Marchaunt, his predecessor, and was one of the executors of Marchaunt's will in 1421. As town clerk Carpenter frequently addressed letters to Henry V on behalf of the corporation, and very soon after his appointment began a compilation of the laws, customs, privileges, and usages of the city, extracted from the archives of the corporation. This important work, which was entitled the ‘Liber Albus,’ was completed in November 1419, and was printed from the Guildhall manuscript for the first time in the Rolls Series in 1859. Carpenter was the intimate friend of the far-famed Sir Richard Whittington, who was lord mayor for the third time in 1419, and as one of the executors of Whittington's will was busily employed in 1423 and the following years in carrying out Whittington's charitable bequests. On 23 Feb. 1431 Carpenter and his wife, whose christian name was Katharine, received from the corporation an eighty years' lease of property in St. Peter, Cornhill, at a nominal rental; on 20 Nov. 1436 he was elected one of the representatives of the city in parliament; on 14 Dec. following he was granted a patent of exemption from all summonses to serve on juries or to perform other petty municipal duties. In 1438 Carpenter resigned the town clerkship; during his twenty-one years of office he was sometimes styled ‘secretary,’ a designation which no other town clerk is known to have borne. On 26 Sept. 1439 Carpenter was re-elected member of parliament for the city; but he had now resolved to retire from public life. On 3 Dec. following he obtained from Henry VI letters patent exempting him from all military and civil duties. He was thus relieved of the necessity of attending parliament and of receiving the honour of knighthood. On 10 June 1440 the mayor and aldermen voted Carpenter a gratuity of twenty marks, and in 1441 he defended the sheriffs in a lawsuit preferred against them by the dean of the collegiate church of St. Martin-le-Grand. In the same year Carpenter, conjointly with another John Carpenter [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Worcester, and John Somerset, chronicler of the exchequer, received from the crown a grant of the manor of Theobalds in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. He probably died in 1441. On 8 March of that year Carpenter drew up a will disposing of his personal property, and a copy of this document is still extant. From it we learn that Carpenter lived in the parish of St. Peter, Cornhill, in whose church he desired to be buried. He left large sums of money, together with his jewels and household furniture, to his wife, and similar gifts to his brothers, Robert and John, and their children. To the religious foundations in and near London he also bequeathed gifts of money, and the terms of his bequest indicate that he was a lay brother of the convent of the Charterhouse, London, and of the fraternity of the sixty priests of London. To his friends Reginald Pecock, William Clewe, John Carpenter, bishop of Worcester [q. v.], and other ecclesiastics, he left most of his books, which included Richard de Bury's ‘Philobiblon’ and some of Aristotle's works translated into Latin. Of his landed property no account is extant, and no mention is made of it in the will that now survives. But he undoubtedly owned large estates in the city, and made a careful disposition of them. Stow states in his ‘Survey of London,’ p. 110, that Carpenter ‘gave tenements to the citye for the finding and bringing up of foure poor men's children with meat, drink, apparell, learning at the schooles in the universities, &c., until they be professed, and then others in their places for ever.’ This benefaction was duly executed by the corporation with little change for nearly four centuries. In the earliest extant book of the city accounts, dated 1633, a list of Carpenter's lands and tenements appointed for educational purposes is given, and the rental of the property then amounted to 49l. 13s. 4d., and the charges upon it to no more than 20l. 13s. 4d. In the course of the following century the discrepancy between the two sides of the account increased rapidly. In 1823 the charity commissioners pointed out that only a fraction of the proceeds of the benefaction was applied according to the testator's wishes; in 1827 the court of common council increased the sum to be applied to the education and maintenance of four poor boys, and in 1833 it was resolved to apply 900l. per annum from the Carpenter bequest to the foundation and endowment of a new school and to the establishment of eight Carpenter scholarships for the assistance of pupils at the school and universities. This school, called the City of London School, was erected on the site of Honey Lane Market, and opened in 1837; it was removed in 1883 to the Thames Embankment. A statue of Carpenter as the virtual founder was placed on the principal staircase in the old building, and has been removed to the new. Orations in Carpenter's honour are given by the boys on the annual speechdays.

[Thomas Brewer's Memoir of the Life and Times of John Carpenter (London, 1856) gives very full particulars. Carpenter's Liber Albus, edited by H. T. Riley (1859), forms the first volume of the Munimenta Gildhallæ Londoniensis in the Rolls Series Translations of the Norman French passages are given in the third volume of the Munimenta, together with a long letter by Carpenter (dated 20 Feb. 1432, and printed from Guildhall Letterbook K), describing Henry VI's entry into the city of London after his return from France.]

S. L. L.