Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


William Fleming (d. 1542)

Mayor of Oxford 1527/8 and 1528/9

William Fleming (or Flemyng/Flemynge/Flemming/ Flemmynge) was a graduate of the University of Oxford. He lived in St Martin’s parish, and was initially a grocer, and then a mercer.

He first appears in the city records on 26 April 1515, when he was fined 3s. 4d because he “usith contynually unlawfull mesures, that is to seye, an unlawfull yerde in the grete discyte of the Kyng’s liege people”.

On 25 March 1521 William Fleming and his wife Joan took on an apprentice grocer, William Walter of Princes Risborough.

On 6 October 1522 Fleming came on to the council, compounding for the offices of Chamberlain and Bailiff with a fee of £7.

William & Joan Fleming took on two more apprentice grocers: Walter Taylor of Wantage on 25 December 1523, and Thomas Green of Birmingham on 29 September 1525.

At the time of the lay subsidy of 1524 (when Fleming paid three pounds in St Martin’s parish) he was already an Alderman, and on 29 September 1527 he was elected Mayor, a position he was to hold for two consecutive years: he was presented to the Barons of the Exchequer by Richard Flexney and John Pye. At the same time he was appointed one of the two Coroners. During his term of office, he forbade privileged persons to engage in manual trade.

At some point between 1525 and 1528 Fleming changed his trade, as on 25 December 1528 took on Henry Wyne as an apprentice mercer.

William Fleming was elected Mayor of Oxford for the consecutive years of 1527/8 and 1528/9.

The University exhibited numerous complaints against the town in 1528 relating to Fleming’s first year as Mayor, including the following:

  • On St Scholastica’s Day it was the normal practice for the Mayor and Council to humble themselves before the University and pray in St Mary’s for the souls of those from the University who had been killed, but Fleming refused to do this, and the University complained that “notwithstandinge ye same William Flemminge, nowe Mayor of ye saide towne, yt to doe hath bitterly refused, whereby ye saide Mayor and cominaltie being residivate into the saide iurisdiction, and have broke their covenaunte contained in ye said indenture”;
  • Although it was the duty of the Mayor of Oxford to inform the Chancellor of the University of his intention to give an oath of fidelity to the king, “ye saide William Flemminge, nowe Mayor of ye saide towne, hath taken uppon him ye saide oathe wtout any praemonition thereof given, unto ye saide Chaunceler or his saide deputie”;
  • It was the duty of the Mayor, Aldermen and 58 burgesses of the town of Oxford to swear an oath before the Chancellor that they would observe and keep the liberties and customs of the said University; but “William Flemminge, nowe Mayor of ye said towne, to take any such oathe before ye said Chaunceler or his deputie as of old time hath beene accustomed, utterly hath denied and refus’d, to a right ill ensample; wherfore ye said Chaunceler, proctours, and Schollers, prayeinge that the said Mayor may be compelled to be sworne to observe and keepe ye liberties, priviledges, and fraunchesses of ye said Universitie in like forme as other mayors before this time have done”;
  • The University and town had together laid down rules relating to brewers and bakers, but “William Flemminge, nowe Mayor, hath commanded ye said bakers and brewers, upon paine of periurie and other great paynes and forfeitures, no longer to observe ye said lawes and ordinaunces, accordinge to ye wch commandement ye said bakers and brewers have refused to keepe the said good ordinaunches, wherby not only at many times ye said Universitie and towne have beene destitute of bread and ale, but also ye prices and assises therof excessively, to ye great preiudice of ye commonwealth of ye schollers of ye said Universitie.”

William Fleming was elected Member of Parliament for Oxford in 1529.

In 1530 the town retaliated by petitioning King Henry VIII against the acts of the University. One of the town’s complaints was the way that William Fleming had been cited before the Commissary:

On John Cottysford, Comisari of the sayd Universitye, sent a cytacon to on Wylliam Flemyng, then beyng Mayar, to appere before hym for the mere healthe of hys sowll; and when the sayd Wylliam Flemyng apperyd before the sayd Comysari, he commaundyed hym to swere uppon a boke to make trew answere to all soche articles as the same Comysari ther wolde sey unto hym. And the sayd Will’m Flemyng, for fere of censurrs of the Churche, toke a othe accordyng to hys commaunde. And then the sayde Comysari ther demandyd of hym dyvers questuons concernyng the Kyngs lawday, that is to sey, what persons shuld be indityd there, wt dyvers other questions not nesesari nor convenyent to be to hym discloysed.

The answer of the Commissary and the Scholars of the University in 1530 included a reference to Fleming’s windows, which had been broken: they asserted that even if the Commissary and Proctors had been out that night, the “lewed dede” might still have taken place. The argument continued to run, until a joint letter for the ending of disputes was signed in January 1532/3: Fleming was one of the four town signatories.

In 1531 Fleming was loath to perform his duty as Coroner where the deceased had died of the plague, and sent a young Constable to do the dangerous work instead:

Richard Govnter desyred the foresayd Mr William Flemyng, Crowner [coroner], to loke uppon and vewe the ded corpus before he wer buryd, and to testefye the trewthe concerning the premysses. And the said Mr William Flemyng answrd and sayde that he was lothe to goe and see the ded corpus yf he dyed of the pestylence, bout he sayd he wolde doe hys dewtty for hys owne dyscharge. And soe forthewith the sayd Mr William Flemyng, Crowner, dyd sende for one Henry Colt, constabyll of the southe west warde, wher the ded corpus was, and commaundyd hym to take certayne honest men wt hym, and suche as he coulde gett and vewe the ded corpus, and certefye hym the trewthe therof.

On 1 August 1536 William Fleming and his wife Joan were granted a garden in St Peter-le-Bailey parish by Thomas Day and his wife.

Fleming enrolled his will on 7 May 1540. He enjoined that his body should be buried in his parish church of St Martin, and bequeathed to that church a tenement in St Martin’s parish adjoining the west end of the church (the site of 45 Queen Street); the garden ground in St Peter-le-Bailey parish that he had been granted in 1536; and a tenement and garden in St Ebbe’a parish. In return he expected masses to be sung there for his soul and that of his wife Joan, and hoped that various council officials would attend those masses and give specfic sums.

† William Fleming died in 1542, and was buried at St Martin’s Church. Anthony Wood records that he instituted an obit for himself at that church, and “for that purpose, as also to the church it selfe left severall lands; but before they were scarce setled, were surrendred into the king’s hands; and then at that time the revenews belonging to the obit only were valued to be worth 25s. 4d. per annum”.

In 1896 St Martin's Church was demolished (apart from its tower), and all bones uncovered were transferred to an unknown communal grave in Holywell Cemetery.

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©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 28 September, 2018

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