Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dunthorn, William

DUNTHORN, WILLIAM (d. 1490), town clerk of London, was a Londoner, and lived in the parish of St. Alban, Wood Street. Nothing is known of his parentage and early life, but he proceeded to the university of Cambridge, where he had a successful career and was elected 19 May 1455 a fellow of Peterhouse, an office which he held till 22 Dec. 1469 (Cole MSS. xlii. 73–4). On the accession of Edward IV he was appointed common clerk of London. His predecessor, Roger Tonge, who had held the office since 1446, belonged to the Lancastrian party, and on 5 Aug. 1461 was discharged by the common council from his office of common clerk for his great offences and rebellion against the king, and declared incapable of holding it in the future. The king's influence was not, however, sufficient to secure the vacant appointment for one Robert Osborn, whom he recommended to the corporation on 23 Sept., but on 2 Oct. Dunthorn was elected by the common council and sworn before the court of aldermen. Some alterations in the establishment were effected at this time, by which the clerks in the outer court became removable at the will of the common clerk.

Dunthorn proved a valuable and trusted officer to the city. The king's confidence in him is shown by his receipt in 1462 from John Norman, alderman of Cheap ward, of the sum of 80l. 6s. 8d., ‘the which was late gevyn unto our sov'aign lord the kyng’ by the inhabitants of the ward (City Records, journal vii. fol. 6). In 1464, for the better custody and preservation of the city documents, the mayor and two aldermen were appointed to survey the books and records and deliver the same to the common clerk by indenture, that officer's own security being accepted for their safe custody. At a court of mayor and aldermen held 13 Oct. 1467 it was agreed that Dunthorn, in consideration of his good and faithful service, should receive, in addition to his usual fees of 10l. and five marks, a further sum of ten marks, making in all an annual salary of 20l. so long as he should continue to hold the office of common clerk (ib. vii. fol. 158). On 28 Nov. 1474 the city fathers further granted to Dunthorn the large sum of 115l. 3s. 3d. assigned to them by the king's letters patent out of the customs of the port of Sandwich, to write anew one or two books of the customs and ordinances of the city (ib. viii. fol. 91).

The result of his labours is still to be seen in the venerable city record, called after its compiler the ‘Liber Dunthorn.’ It is a folio volume measuring 18 in. by 13, and containing 467 vellum leaves, written in a neat law-text hand. Many of its pages are illuminated with floral borders, and an initial W at the beginning of the book contains the effigy of St. Paul, the patron saint of London. The binding is of substantial boards covered with rough calf leather, and garnished with brass bosses and clasps now black with age; on the back cover, under a plate of horn surrounded by a metal frame, is a piece of parchment bearing the name Dunthorn. The volume is written in Latin, Norman-French, and English, and contains a portion of the older and more famous record, the ‘Liber Albus,’ compiled by Dunthorn's celebrated predecessor, John Carpenter (1370?–1441?) [q. v.], in 1419. It also contains transcripts of various charters granted to the city from the reign of William the Conqueror to that of Edward IV, and extracts from the letter-books and other records concerning the rights of the citizens, the duties of officers, and the punishments for various offences. One of the most curious entries in the book is an unpublished letter (May 1471) of Thomas Nevill, the Bastard Falconbridge, ‘captain and leader of King Henry's [VI] people in Kent,’ to the mayor and citizens of London, requesting permission to pass with his army through the city in pursuit of ‘the usurper’ (Edward IV). The answer of the mayor and citizens follows, in which they allude to the battle of Barnet, the deaths of the Earl of Warwick and the Marquis of Montagu, ‘and the opyn liyng of theire bodies in the chirche of Poules by the space of ij dayes,’ and mention the names of the nobles slain in, and beheaded after, the battle of Tewkesbury. They refuse to give him permission. Both letters are in English, and show how strong was the Londoners' attachment to Edward IV's cause. Dunthorn as a Yorkist no doubt took an especial pleasure in transcribing them into his book, and was indeed very probably the author of the reply.

On 13 July 1486 a yearly allowance of ten marks was granted to Dunthorn by the mayor and aldermen (ib. ix. fol. 114). This was doubtless in addition to the salary previously awarded to him, and in the following year an article was added to the oath of the recorder, common serjeant, common clerk, and under sheriffs, forbidding the receipt of any gift or reward beyond their lawful fees. Dunthorn continued to hold office until his death in 1489; he is said to have been the first town clerk who signed himself by his surname only, a practice which has continued to the present time. Dunthorn stood high in the esteem of his fellow-citizens; between 1469 and 1478 his name appears as trustee in no less than twelve deeds in the Hustings Rolls at the Guildhall, frequently associated with his son-in-law, William Newburgh. He also acted as executor to Roger Nicoll, William Haddon, and other citizens (Rolls of Parliament, vi. 110). He appears to have purchased an estate in Essex in 1473 (Pedes Finium, 12 Edw. IV, 64), and other property in the same county in 1486 (Close Roll, 2 Hen. VII, 56). He was buried in London (Payne Fisher, Cat. of Tombs, p. 23). Dunthorn's will, dated 18 Feb. 1489–1490 (Probate Reg. 34, Milles), was proved in P. C. C. 10 June 1490, and contains a bequest to the high altar of St. Alban, Wood Street, of which parish he was a parishioner. He leaves his houses and lands in London and Essex to his wife Elizabeth, and after her death equally between his two daughters, Joan (then unmarried and under age) and Letitia, the wife of William Newburgh (or Norbrough), grocer. Newburgh was a wealthy citizen of Allhallows Barking parish, and left many bequests for religious purposes and to the Grocers' Company. Dunthorn and he appointed each other mutually as executors, but Newburgh was the survivor, his will (Probate Reg. 2, Dogett) being proved 21 Nov. 1491.

[City Records, Guildhall.]

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