Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Ralph Flexney I (d. 1578)

Mayor of Oxford 1551/2, 1552/3, 1562/3, 1577/8

Ralph Flaxney

Ralph Flexney (or Flaxeney or Flaxney or Flaxon) was the elder son of Richard Flexney and his wife Alice, who lived in Coventry Hall in St Martin’s parish. He had one younger brother, Richard, who was an Alderman in 1557.

His father was described as both a fishmonger and a tallow chandler when he took on an apprentice in 1530.

The name Flexney first appears as the name of tradesmen in Oxford in 1524 and is found in Northmoor as early as the thirteenth century. It derives from Flexney in Stanton Harcourt.


Ralph Flexney first came on the Common Council on 29 September 1531. He was elected one of the two Chamberlains for the year 1538/9, and was elected Senior Bailiff in September 1542.

Like his father, he was by trade a chandler, but he too was described as a fishmonger in 1543, and a fishmonger and chandler in 1555 and 1565.

On 21 February 1535/6 Ralph's father Richard Flexney (“syke of body and hole of mynde”) made his will, leaving to Ralph “after the decesse of Alys my wyffe, a cottage withe the apourtenances, sett and lying in the parishe of Stanlake, called Kelpecks” and his “rydyng cote”. He was buried at St Martin's Church in the St Thomas's Chapel, and the will was proved on 20 May 1536.

Ralph’s mother Alice Flexney initially took over her husband’s chandler’s business, and when she took on Thomas Colls of South Leigh as her apprentice on 15 March 1536 it was agreed that if she gave up the chandler’s craft, Thomas would serve out his apprenticeship with her son. None the less Alice took on two more apprentices in August 1536 and November 1574. On 4 November 1543 she was living at the Roebuck Inn when she paid a subsidy of 20s. for the North East Ward on goods worth £30.

Between 1541 and 1566 Ralph took on nine apprentices himself (chandlers, unless stated otherwise): William Kemp of Horton (25 March 1541); William Riley of Cheshire (fishmonger, 4 August 1543); Thomas James of Northampton (fishmonger, 25 December 1543); Robert Marshall of Worcestershire (fishmonger & chandler, 21 December 1551); Henry Gysborn of Kingham (25 December 1555); Robert Hirst of Combe (29 September 1556); Richard Machyn of Oxford (25 December 1560); William Sergeant of Haseley (fishmonger & chandler, 29 September 1565); and Robert Hawkins of Staffordshire (25 March 1566).

On 4 November 1543 Flexney paid a subsidy of 13s. 4d. in the South West Ward on goods worth £20.

On 1 February 1545/6 Flexney was granted a lease of a tenement

yn a lane callyd laurence hall lane adjoynyng to the churche yard of Seynt Mychells at the northe gate at the est end of the same churche, and also a garden grounde adjoynyng to the seyd tenement on the est end of the same tenement late yn the tenure of John Westborne for xxj yeres.

This probably marks the transition of Flexney from St Martin’s to St Michael’s parish (on the site of 26–28 Cornmarket), where he spent most of his life. Anthony Wood records that the New Inn in St Michael’s parish was in the tenure of Ralph Flexney in 1545, but that it was “fallen soe farre into decay that it was lett but for 46s. 8d. per annum.

On 15 September 1547 Ralph Flexney was elected Member of Parliament for Oxford, and he was also elected an Alderman at about that time. In October 1547 he undertook to subscribe 2s 8d yearly towards Dame Margaret Northern’s Coffer.

Ralph Flexney was elected Mayor of Oxford for the first time in September 1551 (for 1551/2), and in the following Feburary:

“yt ys agreyd that Mr Mayer that now ys shall have xls of the Key Kepers, for and towards hys costys and expences at London yn the Townes buynesse, concernyng a sub pena for the rent of the Blew Bore, sent forthe by the Mr of the rolls”.

In September 1552 Flexney was again elected Mayor of Oxford for the next year (1552/3).

Ralph Flexney married three times. His first wife was Agnes Cogan, the daughter of William Cogan and Margaret Woodward and the granddaughter of Edward Woodward, but Agnes died young and they do not appear to have had any children. (His mother-in-law Margaret Coogan married Richard Flaxney, the father of Ralph Flexney II).

In the late 1550s, Ralph Flexney I married his second wife Catherine (described by Anthony Wood as “uxor secunda Radulphi”). They had two sons and seven daughters:

  • Thomas Flexney
  • Alice Flexney (baptised on 17 July 1559 at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church)
  • Ann Flexney (baptised on 3 April 1562 at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church)
  • Mary Flexney (baptised on 10 July 1564 at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church)
  • Margaret Flexney (baptised on 9 June1565 at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church)
  • Dorothy Flexney (baptised on 5 June 1566 at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church)
  • Richard Flexney (baptised on 13 July 1567 at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church)
  • Two more daughters, one of whom is possibly Beatrix Flexney (b.1570).

(The baptismal register of St Michael at the Northgate Church date only from 1559.)

His wife Catherine is mentioned in apprenticeship records from 25 December 1560.

Flexney was elected Mayor a third time in September 1562 (for 1562/3). There is an interesting account of the selection of the candidates that were put up for Mayor that year, showing how the Thirteen (Mayor, eight assistants, and four aldermen) together with 24 associates selected three candidates for the Mayoralty. These three names were then put into a box, and the first two pulled out were offered to the Common Council for election as Mayor:

Item, the same daye [16 September 1562] at a Counseyll accordynge to the order for the eleccyon of the Mayer and Baylyffs, holden by Mr Mayer, the iiij Aldermen, the viij Assystaunts, and the xxiiijth person aforenamed being called together, dyd all secretlye one after another geve their voyces to the Towne Clerke, whch was sworne upon the hollye Evangelyste justelye to declare who had most voyces, and so the moste voyces dryve and fell that these thre persons to be putt in the boxe accordynge to the order for the eleccyon of the Mayer for the yere nowe nexte ensewinge, that is to saye Raf Flaxney, Alderman Nich. Todde and Ric. Williams, assystaunts. And upon the puttynge of the tenne scrolles beinge blancks herd rolled together into the boxe to the forsid names, beinge lykewyse herde rolled in thre severall scrolls, one John Smythe being one of the xxiijth aforeseid, was swornen justelye to take owte the scrolls orderlye one after another, so that Rauf Flaxney and Ric. Williams were the two persons accordynge to the order wch arre to be putt to the commons for the eleccon of the Mayer for the yere then next followynge.

Flexney was chosen by the Common Council in preference to Williams, and at the end of his mayoral year, his son Thomas Flexney was admitted free for one gilded penny, “accordinge to the lawe of this Cytye, so that he take his othe when he comythe to his full age”. Flexney’s apprentice, Anthony Marshall, was also admitted free during his mayoral year.

In 1565 Flexney’s lease in St Michael’s was renewed by the Council:

Mr Alderman Flaxney to have a new leace of his howse yn the Saynt Myhells lane and hys garden yn Bocardo lane for xxj yeres, brynging yn first his olde leace.

On 29 October 1565 at St Martin’s Church, his son Richard Flexney married a woman called Ann (surname not recorded).

On 25 March 1565 or 1656 a Ralph Flexney, son of Richard Flexney of Oxford, chandler, was apprenticed to the butcher Richard Ladyman. This Richard Flexney may be a brother of Ralph Flexney senior.

In April 1568 Ralph Flexney paid ten shillings towards the Lottery in the North-East ward.

His second wife Catherine Flexney died on 9 September 1567 and was buried in St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church on 15 September.

Two years later, on 27 September 1569, Ralph Flexney married his third wife, Alice Wyckham.

In 1572 Alderman Flexney paid 1/- in the seasement of 28 September 1572 collected from St Martin’s parish.

On 14 December 1576 Flexney and three others appeared when summoned by the Vice-Chancellor but refused to take the oath to observe the privileges of the University, and were pronounced “excommunicatos” by the Vice-Chancellor.

Ralph Flexney was elected Mayor of Oxford for the fourth and last time in September 1577 (for 1577/8), and during his mayoral year his apprentice Richard Goode (who was himself to become Mayor in 1601) was admitted free.

† Alderman Ralph Flexney I died on 25 December 1578, just three months after his term of office ended, and was buried with his second wife Catherine at St Michael at the Northgate Church on the next day.

Flexney memorial

There is a brass monument on the wall of that church (above) dedicated to Ralph Flexney and his second wife Catherine and put up by their son Thomas, who took over his father’s business.

The text at the top reads:

Hic iacet Radolphus Flexney, civitatis Oxon Aldermannus
et Caterina eius uxor secunda ex qua liberos suscepit novem
filios duos, Thomam scilicet et Ricardum, filias septem. Ille
obiit 25o decembris Anno Dni 1578 Haec 9 septembris 1567
Thomas Flexney hoc posuit

Here lies Ralph Flexney, Alderman of the City of Oxford,
and Catherine his second wife, by whom he had nine children:
two sons, that is to say Thomas and Richard, and seven daughters.
He died on 26 December 1578, she on 9 September 1567.
Thomas Flexney set up this memorial.

Under this is an engraving showing an ornate table, with two open Bibles and Ralph kneeling on the left wearing his red alderman’s gown and Catherine kneeling on the right. Above the table is the Flexney coat of arms (azure, fess gules between two fleur-de-lys or):

The Latin text under the engraving reads:

Praeteriens udis haec cerne viator ocellis
Digna est haec lacrimis tristis imago tuis
Nempe quod es fuimus, mox qd sumus ipse futurus
Vive memor mortis, cætera mitte deo.

Traveller passing by, look with wet eyes:
Tthis sad image is worthy of your tears.
Assuredly we were what you are, and soon you will yourself be what we are.
Live mindful of death, and leave everything else to God.

On 15 May 1581 at St Michael's Church Ralph Flexney's third wife Alice Flexney married John Snow.

In September 1581, praise to God was given by the council for benefactors to the city, including “For Mr Raphe Flaxney, late Alderman of this Cytie, who gave unto this Citie a scarlett cloak”.

Anthony Wood records that Ralph's son Thomas Flexney, who was a Bachelor of Civil Law and registrar of the Bishop’s Office, married Elizabeth Hewitt on 15 June 1581 and they had eight children. He lived in St Giles’ parish and was buried there in 1623.

See also:

  • Biography of Ralph Flaxney on the History of Parliament website
  • MS Wills Oxon W. 186.36; 21/3/3
  • His father: Will of Richard Flaxney of St Martin, Oxford, Oxfordshire, proved 20 May 1536 (PROB 11/26/18)
  • Portrait of Ralph Flexney (shown above) by an unknown artist on the wall of the Council Chamber in the Town Hall
  • Brass rubbing of the above engraving, dated 1919, at the Ashmolean Museum (ref. Oxford 2/361, not on display)
  • Ralph Flexney II, Mayor of Oxford 1612, who is probably his nephew.
  • Wood’s City of Oxford, pp. 162–3, which includes a Flexney pedigree. Wood says that Ralph Flexney I was the son of Margaret Irish (d. 1556), who was the widow of Edmund Irish, but this does not seem to be the cas

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 13 January, 2020

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