ORMSHEAD, William (d.1437), of York.

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



Dec. 1421

Family and Education

m. (1) Agnes; (2) Joan (d.1415/16); (3) Ellen (fl. 1437), 1s. d.v.p. 2da.1

Offices Held

Chamberlain, York 3 Feb. 1411-12; sheriff Mich. 1414-15; member of the council of 24 by June 1417-aft. Apr. 1424, of the council of 12 by Jan. 1425-prob. d.; mayor 3 Feb. 1425-6, 1433-4.2

Commr. of inquiry, York Nov. 1424 (lands of John Gunwardby); oyer and terminer Aug. 1433 (attacks on St. Mary’s abbey).


Ormshead was already trading as a merchant at the time of his entry to the freedom of York in 1404, although little else is known about his activities before he assumed civic office as chamberlain seven years later. He and his second wife, Joan, became members of the prestigious guild of Corpus Christi either just before or during his term as sheriff of York, which began at Michaelmas 1414. Joan did not, however, live to see his promotion to the ranks of the council of 24, for her death is recorded in the mortuary roll of the guild shortly afterwards, and it was her successor, Ellen, who really benefited from Ormshead’s rise in the civic hierarchy. He attended the parliamentary election for York in 1417, being himself first returned to the House of Commons in December 1421. His two subsequent appearances as an MP occurred after he had occupied the mayoralty, and it is also worth noting that he participated in at least eight more elections, mostly in his capacity as an alderman, or member of the more exclusive council of 12.3

A man of considerable wealth, Ormshead acquired property in various parts of York, including Coliergate, Peasholm, Stonegate and Micklegate, and was accorded the privilege of a papal licence, in 1430, permitting him to make use of a portable altar. Not much evidence has survived about his commercial ventures, but they evidently involved him in the export of wool. In 1426, for example, he, John Northby* and Thomas Gare* lost a valuable cargo off Dover during an attack by pirates; and at a later date he was called upon to act as an expert arbitrator in a mercantile dispute concerning the effects of another York entrepreneur, John Aldstaynmore, who dealt in the same commodity. Ormshead may have been helped by the marriage of his sister, Margaret, to Nicholas Blackburn the elder (father of John*), one of the richest and most powerful merchants in the north of England, with whom he remained on the closest of terms. He acted as a trustee of the various holdings in York occupied for life by Blackburn’s widowed daughter-in-law, while also joining with Blackburn himself and Richard Russell I* in acquiring a modest amount of property in Cumberland from none other than Henry, earl of Northumberland. Ormshead transacted business of his own in this part of England, for just a few weeks before his death he had a Penrith barber committed to the Fleet prison for an outstanding debt of £23 (which was never paid). Not surprisingly, he was named, in 1432, along with Russell, as an executor of his brother-in-law’s will, an onerous task which evidently preoccupied him for the rest of his life, and led him to insert a codicil into his own last testament, on 16 Sept. 1437, begging someone to discharge his remaining responsibilities in this quarter. He could at least be thankful that his sister, who did not long survive Blackburn, chose other executors, although she still left him and his third wife two elaborate silver ewers, and bequeathed ten marks towards the marriage of their young son, John, who seems to have predeceased them both.4

According to the will which he drew up in October 1435, Ormshead wished to be buried next to his second wife, in the church of Holy Trinity. He set aside £60 for funerary masses, as well as making many generous bequests to religious institutions and the poor of York. The bulk of his property was settled for life upon his widow, Ellen, on the condition that she did not remarry, with reversion to his two daughters, who were meanwhile to take immediate possession of adjoining tenements in Micklegate. Prominent among the other beneficiaries of the will (and its codicil) were Nicholas Blackburn the younger, his nephew, and John Bolton’s* son, John†, who had married his niece, Alice. As executors he named his wife and Thomas Gare, the son and namesake of his sometime trading partner, who shared with various other members of the Gare family an impressive legacy of jewels, weapons inlaid with silver and similar items. Ormshead died within a week of the award of probate on 23 Sept. 1437.5

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


Variant: Ormesheved.

  • 1. Borthwick Inst. York, York registry wills, iii. ff. 503-4v; Surtees Soc. lvii. 240; F. Drake, Ebor. 321; CPL, viii. 188. We do not know which of Ormshead’s three wives was the mother of his daughters, but his son, John, was unmarried in 1433, and may well have been a minor (Test. Ebor. ii. 47-48).
  • 2. Surtees Soc. lvii. 16; lxxxv. 3, 4; xcvi. 114, 135, 146; cxxv. 62, 64, 74-75, 79, 86, 91, 110, 135, 139, 142, 157, 159, 174, 183.
  • 3. Ibid. lvii. 16, 240; xcvi. 107; C219/12/2, 13/1-3, 5, 14/1, 3-5.
  • 4. York registry wills, iii. ff. 503-4v; CPL, viii. 188; CPR, 1422-9, p. 385; 1441-6, p. 7; C1/10/296; C88/125/4; CP25(1)280/155/29; Surtees Soc. clxxxvi. 113; Test. Ebor. ii. 19, 47, 48.
  • 5. York registry wills, iii. ff. 503-4v; Test. Ebor. ii. 19.