Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Sir William Northern (d. 1383)

Mayor of Oxford 1369/70 and 1376/7

William Northern (or Northerne or le Northern), alias le Laighburgh (Loughborough) was the son of John Northern (who was assessed at 13s 4d in the poll tax of 1327, served as bailiff on the council in 1325, and died in 1340). He may also have been a relation of the William Northern (“Wilhelmus de Boreali”) who was indicted for murder in Oxford in 1285.

Northern was probably a draper or a clothier. In the aulnage accounts of 1354/5, 16 men in Oxford paid on 102 cloths, with William Northern paying on 21 of them.

In 1356 Northern was a Bailiff on the council. He was elected one of the four Aldermen in 1366, 1367, 1370, 1375, 1377, 1378, and 1380.

In 1367 Thomas de Gloucester granted to William Northern and his wife Margaret two messuages in the parish of St Peter-le-Bailey between Elm Hall in St Michael’s parish to the north and land belonging to the canons of Osney to the south. This meant that the Northerns lived in the area of the present New Inn Hall Street.

William Northern was elected Mayor of Oxford for 1369/70 and again for 1376/7. The Coronation of Richard II fell on 16 July 1377 during his second term of office, and Northern was knighted around this time, which implies that he was present at the Coronation in the Oxford Mayor’s traditional role as butler.

Northern was also elected Member of Parliament for Oxford in 1366, 1372, 1382, and 1383.

At the time of the 1380 poll-tax, Alderman Northern had the second largest recorded household, with eleven servants. He was assessed at 12d., as were his seven male servants (Peter, four Johns, Richard, and William). Three of his four female servants were named Alice and assessed at 4d. each, while the fourth, an unnamed “spynnestere” was assessed at 8d.

† Sir William Northern died on 21 September 1383 and was buried in St Peter-le-Bailey Church.

Anthony Wood describes a brass to William and his wife Margaret that stood in this church, but neither the brass nor the curch has survived:

In the body of the church, on a brasse affixed to a gravestone, the picture of a man & his wife: under them this inscription:–

Hic iacet Willelmus le Laighburgh, alio nomine dictus Northerne, civis Oxoniae, qui fuit Major ejusdem villae tempore coronationis regis Richardi secundi, et obiit Anno Dni MCCCLXXXIII in die nativitatis virginis gloriosae; et cum eo jacet Margareta uxor sua: quorum animabus propitietur deus, Amen.

Here lies William le Laighburgh, known by the other name of Northern, a citizen of Oxford, who was Mayor of that same town at the time of the coronation of Richard II, and died on the day of the nativity of the glorious Virgin in A.D. 1383; and with him lies Margaret his wife: may God show mercy on their souls, Amen

The brass was already lost in 1667, when the city replaced it with a plaque (below).

Inscription to William Northern

When St Peter-le-Bailey Church was demolished in 1874 and rebuilt further north in New Inn Hall Street, the plaque was moved to the new church (now St Peter’s College chapel).This inscription reads:

To the Immortall names of
Of this Citie at the coronation of
Richard the second and
Dame MARGARET his wife
Enterred both under the next
Marble 1383.
The Ever Loyall Citie Oxford
Renewe their acknowledg-
ment to stand a Perpetuall
Marke of Honour due to so
Auncient Benefactours. 1667
C.I. Fletcher aedificavit an. 1772

On 15 September 1581, praise was given to God for the benefactors to the City, and the Northerns were thus lauded:

For Margarett Northerne, William Northerne her husbande, and Symon her father, who were benefactors of this Cytie.

Dame Margaret Northern, William’s widow, bequeathed £40 to found a loan-chest for freemen, who could borrow up to £3. This loan system was in operation by 1420, and in 1581 Margaret, her husband William, and father Simon were placed on the benefactors’ role by the city. It appears, however, that by the mid-seventeenth century the coffer was empty.

A John Northern who was bailiff on the council in 1444 was probably Northern’s grandson or great-nephew. His property in New Inn Hall Street passed to John Otteworth.

  • Biography not yet available on the History of Parliament website

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 22 September, 2018

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