WARD, Richard, of Bridgwater, Som.
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Family and Education
Bailiff, Bridgwater Oct. 1388-9; steward of the guild merchant by Sept. 1400-aft. June 1411.1
Commr. of inquiry, Bridgwater June 1401 (seizure of a vessel).
From humble and discreditable beginnings as an inn-keeper selling bread at short weight and wine unsealed, as well as being a persistent debtor, Ward rose to the highest position in Bridgwater. He was a frequent witness to local deeds from 1388 to 1414; and in the meantime he not only served a term as bailiff but also, in 1395, represented the community in the financial manoeuvres concerning the new bridge. Following his only known election to Parliament, he was a member of delegations sent to the shire court to attest the parliamentary returns for Bridgwater in 1410, 1413 (May) and 1414. By the last date, at the end of his career, he had become a substantial merchant trading in cloth, foodstuffs and wine, and had occupied the stewardship of the guild merchant for more than a decade.2
While he was in office, at Easter 1401 Ward had an unpleasant brush with the Exchequer. The barons, still trying to trace the goods of the late treasurer William Scrope, earl of Wiltshire, forfeited to the Crown for treason, accused him of hiding a coffer of gold. Ward declared that in about August 1399 (at the time of Scrope’s execution) a coffer had indeed been delivered to him containing 550 marks, and that he had transferred the same under orders from Peter de Basco, Scrope’s servant, to two merchants, retaining just £40, which he now handed over. He also declared that his son, John, had received £42 from de Basco. The barons ordered the merchants to be arrested whereupon Ward asked John Kedwelly* and John Henton† to stand surety for him. The record of the rest of the case has not been found, although Ward’s son is known to have been formally exonerated two years later. The latter was the owner of one of the vessels in the fleet commanded by John Hawley I* of Dartmouth and Thomas Norton* of Bristol which seized foreign ships in the Channel in 1403. Inquiries established that his father subsequently had possession of 20 quintals of iron from the cargoes taken, but nothing further is heard to his detriment.3