Thursday, August 2, 2018

Sir John Philpot, High Sheriff of Compton and Lord Mayor of London

 1330 - 1384

    Ancient stories tell us that in 1066, the "Phillip" family left their homes in Normandy and joined the "Norman Conquest"as it made its way to England.  As centuries passed, most family members were absorbed into the culture and traditions of their new land, which often  resulted in changing the spelling of their name from Philpot to Philpott, Philipot, Philepot or de Philpot.

     This story begins 300 years after the Philpots  arrived in Kent, England some 52 miles from London.   It was there that John Philpot was born and lived until turning 15 when, like many boys his age, he packed his few belongings, bade his parents goodbye and headed toward the big city of London in search of adventure.

     It might have surprised the boy to learn that no one seemed to care about his arrival in the big city and that he had to find work immediately in order to feed his growing body and pay for a bed that would be more safe than the streets of London

Official emblem - The Grocers Company
     Thanks to his persistence, he did finally manage to find a job as a lowly "go-fer" with "The Worshipful Company of Grocers" - an organization which set standards for the weighing and measuring of spices being shipped out of the country.  (Still in operation today,its main purpose is to serve as a "charitable, constitutional and ceremonial institution").  
King Edward III
     After running errands, arranging shelves and cleaning up spills, young John soon decided he needed to add excitement to his life and satisfied that goal by joining the Royal Army.  It wasn't long after he made  that decision that he connected with young  King Edward III of England.  During their time together, the young men found themselves sharing their stories and goals while dodging bullets, and built a friendship which was to last all their lives. 

     No one could have foreseen that only a few years later,
King Edward II
Edward would have to call on his friend, John Philpott, to help him restore the reputation of the throne that his dissolute father, King Edward II, had been steadily destroying. Thanks to Edward and John's efforts, England finally regained its stability and was transformed into one of Europe's most formidable military powers. 

    In appreciation for John's continuing friendship and support, Edward III bestowed on him the title of Lord Mayor of London, a title which  granted him authority over every citizen living in London for a period of one year
John of Gaunt
     But not everyone was pleased about the king's gift to his friend.  One of those was John of Gaunt, a wealthy soldier, statesman and prince, who was so consumed by jealousy that he mounted a campaign to abolish the office of Lord Mayor altogether (a campaign that went nowhere).

 One person who remained grateful for the friendship and support of John Philpott was  his close friend who also happened to be King.  Edward III, was noted for his military success and for restoring royal authority after the disastrous and unorthodox reign of his father, Edward II. 

     Their deep friendship even survived young Edward's occasional poor decision-making abilities which tragically led to the "Hundred Years War" and resulted in large sections of France being absorbed into England.  King Edward might have been a great soldier, but he was such a poor money manager that he was forced to borrow10,000£ from his wealthy and devoted  friend, John Philpot, in order to get his creditors off his back.

    But that wasn't all!  Faced with the  lack of money in the treasury which had been  designated to  repair his country's defenses, the king was forced to ask John to spend some more of his own money to recruit train and even equip a navy (which became known as"Philpott's Navy") to defend England against pirates plaguing cargo ships bringing needed supplies into the country.

John Mercer, Pirate

   The king's confidence in his friend was well placed! Not only did John's ships defeat the dreaded Scottish pirate, John Mercer, but they recovered fifteen Spanish merchant vessels that the pirate had taken several months before. 
Sadly, the old saying "No good deed goes unpunished" was just as true then as it is now.  Despite  (or perhaps because of) his continuing successes and evident wealth, John's fellow noblemen accused him of fraudulently using the Crown's money for his own purposes. Since he could easily prove that he had always used his own money to not only protect his properties, but also all of England's coastal defenses, those charges were eventually dropped,  with grumbling apologies given by those who had  accused him.

King Richard II
Joan of Kent
    Shortly after his old friend and mentor, King Edward III (aka the "Black Prince"), died in 1377,  John volunteered to sign a loyalty pledge on behalf of the leaders of the city and present it in person to the new king, Richard II, (who was only 10 years old when he assumed the throne) and his mother, Joan of Kent.

    After the new king learned of John's willingness to accept and support him, he showed his appreciation by appointing John and one of his closest friends to be co-treasurers of money which had been earmarked for a future war against France. 
    There was only one problem with what seemed to be a positive action by the king - and it was huge!  London was broke - so broke in fact that city merchants were forced to lend money to the king, who - in turn - could only secure the loan by pledging  three royal crowns and several other royal jewels as collateral

     In the meantime,  many of the nobles were so jealous of John's popularity that they started calling him the "King of London" (a derogatory term), and declared that he had no right to act on anything or make any decisions without their permission.   He didn't take their insults lightly and was heard to retort that "if those same nobles hadn't left the country vulnerable to invasion, they could have fought their own battles and wouldn't have had to depend on me!
At the height of his popularity, he was once again elected Lord Mayor of London in 1378 and 1379 an honor he took very seriously.  So whenever  he saw something in the city that needed attention, he dealt with it, such as:
  • city ditches flooding into the streets and homes whenever there was heavy rain.  (His simple answer was to order them cleaned out and a tax levied to pay for the project).  and
  •  defraying some of the cost involved to erect two 60 foot high stone towers, each of which held the end of a chain stretched across the Thames River in an attempt to protect  against possible French attacks. 

      During his lifetime he had been married three times. Each of his wives was independently wealthy and had achieved high social status long before he had come into their lives. They were:
  • Joanne de Sauneford, who died in 1374; 
  • Margaret (or "Marjery") de Croydon, who died within a year of their marriage; 
  • and Margaret Birlyngham, the daughter of a former Mayor of London and the mother of his three children who outlived him.
Even though he claimed he had retired, Sir John found it hard to step back completely, so he:
  •  continued to support the King (who, in thanks, awarded him with a large estate); 
  • represented the City of  London in Parliament;
  • served on a committee of merchants as they deliberated whether money should be loaned to the king for a peace-making  expedition to France;
  • and, even though he had officially retired in 1383, arranged to transport the Crusader, Bishop Depencer, and his men to the city of Ghent to aid in its struggle against supporters of the "Anti-pope" Clement VII. 
  After his age finally caught up with him and he had retired, King Richard II (the son of King Edward III) officially  honored him for his lifelong service to his king and country by knighting him, an action which officially changed his name to Sir John Philpot.  
        Three years before he died on May 25 1384, John, who had always been  highly organized and generous, composed his Will in which he bequeathed his lands to the city of London for the relief of "poor people forever" and asked to be remembered for his "zeal for the king and the realm".   

John was buried in front of this  entrance into the choir area of the
Grey Friars Church in London (now known as Christ Church).

   Even after 700 years, there is still a short street in London named Philpot Lane for the "Former Lord Mayor of the City of London (1378–9)" who supposedly built his home there (which  burned down and was never rebuilt)..

    Plaque installed in the Winchester Cathedral next to the Philpott window (ee above).  The window was created in 1917 and erected in memory of Philpots who have been associated with Winchester and specifically Compton since the 14th century.

(For more information see "Catalogue of the Tombs In the Churches of the
 City of London A.D. 1666" by Major Payne Fisher.)


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