ELLIS (ELYS), John II (d.1401/2), of Great Yarmouth, Norf.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Feb. 1388
Jan. 1390

Family and Education

s. of John Ellis (d.1370), of Yarmouth. m. Margaret, 1da.

Offices Held

Bailiff, Yarmouth Mich. 1377-8, 1381-2, 1383-4, 1387-8, 1391-2, 1395-6, 1399-1400.1

Collector of customs and subsidies, Yarmouth 1 Feb. 1382-20 June 1392.

Dep. butler, Yarmouth 6 Nov. 1382-c.1383.

Commr. to fortify Yarmouth, Aug. 1386; of inquiry, Norf. May 1390 (removal of a Prussian ship’s cargo as wreck of the sea); to assemble shipping for service against pirates, Yarmouth May 1398.

J.p. Yarmouth 14 Oct. 1398-d.


The family of Ellis was among the most important in Yarmouth in the 14th century. In 1332 it had been the wealthiest, or at least the highest taxed in the town, being rated even higher than the Fastolfs. The Ellises owed their prosperity to the flourishing herring trade, being to the forefront as owners of fishing vessels, ‘hosts’ to fishermen and promoters. Before John Ellis’s day, members of his family had filled the office of bailiff no fewer than 18 times, and such was his own father’s reputation that in the following century William of Worcestre could refer to him as ‘honoured in his offspring and wealth’.2

John is first mentioned in 1372 when, in association with his wealthy kinsman, William Ellis†, he stood surety in Chancery for a man from Field Dalling, Norfolk. William, who represented Yarmouth in five Parliaments all told and occupied the bailiffship for seven terms, was to be impeached in the Good Parliament of 1376 for extortion when farmer of the petty custom, an offence for which he was fined and imprisoned. At that time John and his brother Thomas were also named among the ‘great and powerful men’ of Yarmouth, of whom the ‘poor men’ of the town made vociferous complaint, alleging that they had been threatened by the Ellises in life and limb. Accordingly, in October that year they both had to provide securities for their future good behaviour.3 Within a few months the normal hierarchy had regained control over the town, and John Ellis soon became actively involved in local government. He served as bailiff seven terms in all, as such being jointly responsible for the electoral returns to the Parliaments of 1382 (May), 1383 (Oct.), 1388 (Sept.) and 1391, and, presumably, also of that which recorded his own first election to the House of Commons. His name appears fourth on the surviving list of 24 jurats who in 1386 chose the borough officials; and when, in November 1392, ordinances were made in the common hall for the construction of a new haven, he was one of only four burgesses authorized to supervise the levy of a toll on every last of herring sold in the town and to requisition men and materials for the works. In common with other Yarmouth men, Ellis was a busy customs official, receiving a succession of appointments in the port between 1382 and 1392. Among these was the post of deputy under John Slegh, the King’s chief butler. In November 1387 he provided guarantees in Chancery that a fellow townsman would take his ship from Bishop’s Lynn either to Yarmouth or to the port of Orwell, and not sail it elsewhere. By that time he had become a leading member of the guild of St. George in St. Nicholas’s church, to which only the most substantial burgesses belonged.4 Throughout this period he was engaged in profitable mercantile ventures, dealing in such commodities as herring, grain, iron, saffron and salt, and trading with Spain, Gascony, the Baltic, and the Low Countries.5

Naturally, Ellis came into close contact with others of the merchant oligarchy of Yarmouth. One of his friends was Hugh Fastolf*, the important naval commander and merchant, who, like William Ellis, had been impeached in the Good Parliament. Their families were connected by marriage (one of Ellis’s kinswomen enjoyed an annual rent of £5 from Fastolf properties); and Ellis acted on his friend’s behalf as a feoffee, witnessed his deeds and was party to a transaction whereby he acquired a moiety of the manor of Hempstead, Norfolk. Another prominent local family with which Ellis was connected was that of Beverley: in the early 1380s he appeared as a trustee for the fulfilment of Alexander Beverley’s will, while later he was a feoffee of John Beverley’s lands in Norfolk and, in 1393, his executor. At the parliamentary elections of 1395 he provided mainprise for Ralph Ramsey*, esquire.6 But Ellis’s circle of acquaintance was by no means restricted to Yarmouth. His father’s widow, Margaret Ellis, was a substantial landowner in her own right: by 1376 she had acquired the manor of Brumstead, several miles north-west of Yarmouth, with lands nearby and a moiety of the manor and advowson of Eccles. (Her stepsons were clearly at home at Brumstead, for John’s brother, Thomas, made his will there in 1382.) Furthermore, from then onwards Margaret held the manor of ‘Walcotes’ and the advowson of the church at Little Snoring, following their conveyance to her by one of Sir Walter Walcot’s† heiresses, Margaret, wife of (Sir) Robert Berney*. John Ellis was party to many transactions relating to his stepmother’s possessions and when, in 1388, another Walcot heiress, Katherine, wife of John Doreward* of Essex, made a conveyance of property in Gunton, he acted as a trustee. Furthermore, his own wife (confusingly also called Margaret) may have been related to the Walcots, too, for she had an interest in ‘Syrewateresmaner’, one of the family’s holdings. These transactions brought Ellis into close contact with Sir Simon Felbrigg KG, standard-bearer to Richard II, and with various of his relations.7Besides a number of messuages in Yarmouth, Ellis himself had landed holdings in the western suburb of the town and an estate at Billockby, some eight miles to the northwest. Indeed, he acted as patron of the church at Billockby in 1392.8

Shortly after Henry IV’s accession Ellis as ‘late one of the customers in the port of Yarmouth’ was found to be in debt to the Crown for £283 18s.9d., which he was then discharging at the rate of £50 a year. He is last recorded in March 1401, when re-appointed to the Yarmouth commission of the peace, but died before June 1402 when his only daughter and heir, Margaret, made a quitclaim to her mother of all the lands and tenements of her inheritance, to be held by the latter for life in accordance with John’s will. The widow made a conveyance to William, Lord Willoughby, of ‘Syrewateresmaner’ and other properties nearby in 1403. She would then appear to have married Thomas Dengaine, either the same as, or an older namesake of, the Yarmouth MP of 1420.9

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


He has been distinguished from John, son of William Ellis (d. 1382/3) of Yarmouth, by his w. Margaret. That John, called ‘junior’, was bailiff of Yarmouth in 1392-3, and died before July 1420, when his only daughter, Margaret, sold lands of her inheritance at Runham, Stokesby and elsewhere: CPR, 1385-9, p. 486; 1388-92, p. 242; Norf. RO, Gt. Yarmouth ct. rolls C4/103, 129.

  • 1. Norf. Official Lists ed. Le Strange, 153-4.
  • 2. Ibid. 149-56; A. Saul, ‘Gt. Yarmouth in 14th Cent.’ (Oxf. Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1975), 265, 342, 345-6, 355, 357; William of Worcestre, Itins. ed. Harvey, 179.
  • 3. CCR, 1369-74, p. 459; 1374-7, pp. 470-1; Saul, 228.
  • 4. C219/8/6, 9, 10, 9/5, 8; HMC 9th Rep. pt. 1, p. 395; CCR, 1385-9, p. 351; C.J. Palmer, Perlustration of Gt. Yarmouth, ii. 120; Yarmouth ct. roll C4/103.
  • 5. E122/149/22, 27, 28, 33, 34; Saul, 368, 374.
  • 6. Yarmouth ct. rolls C4/91-93, 105; CCR, 1381-5, pp. 295, 611; 1385-9, pp. 82, 260; CPR, 1381-5, p. 375; 1391-6, p. 313.
  • 7. CP25(1)167/175/157, 168/177/82, 83, 179/179, 181, 181/259; CPR, 1381-5, p. 497; CCR, 1377-81, pp. 138-9; Yarmouth ct. roll C4/93.
  • 8. Yarmouth ct. rolls C4/97, 98; Palmer, i. 105; Add. Ch. 2006.
  • 9. CPR, 1399-1401, p. 231; Yarmouth ct. roll C4/112; Harl. Ch. 49G 45.