Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Michael Hethe (d. 1537/8)

Mayor of Oxford 1525/6, 1526/7, and 1529/30

Michael Hethe (or Heth or Heathe) was a graduate of the University of Oxford who became a freeman in order to trade as a brewer.

Hethe was on the Common Council by October 1518, and in 1520 paid to be admitted as a Bailiff without being Chamberlain:

Md that the vth day of Novembr’ in the xijth yere of the reigne of Kyng Henry viijth at a hole Counsaile holden ther it was grauntid by the same Counsaile to Mihell Heth for the some of six pounds paide in hand that he shall be dischargied of the offices of the Chamberleyn for ev’ And so to be admytted as a bailly, and to have the rome of a bailly as an other bailly doth.

Michael Hethe and his wife Agnes took on six apprentices between 1520 and 1531: Richard Pratt (25 December 1520); Richard Pese of Brackley (27 December 1524); John Hayne and Robert Jackson (25 December 1528); Thomas Harper of Binsey (29 September 1531); and William Aston of Worcestershire (29 September 1531).

On 6 October 1522 Hethe was elected an Alderman, and on 26 April 1525 a Coroner.

On 29 September 1525 Hethe started his first term as Mayor (for 1525/6), and was elected again the following year (for 1526/7).

In 1529 he was elected Mayor a third time (for 1529/30). In August 1530, during his term office, he was in trouble in the Chancellor’s Court, and he was summoned before the Commissary of the University and excommunicated, as reported in the council records:

Md that the iiij day of August, the xxijti yere of the reigne of or Soverayn lord the Kyng that now ys, Marten Lyndesey, depute to John Cottysford, Commysarie of the Unyversitie of Oxford, sent iij Bedylls to Michaell Hethe, Mayr of the Kyngs grace ys Towne of Oxford, and commaundyd hym to appere beffore him at Saynt Marys Churche as on the vj day of August than next folowying, an ther to shew why he shuld not be perjured and uppon that excommynycate; and the sayd Mayar then demaundyd the massynggers what was the cause, and they answerd that they could not tell, and than the sayd Michaell Hethe sayd unto the sayd massynggers recommaund me unto yor master, and shewe hym I am here in thy Towne, the Kyngs graceis lyvetenaunt, for lacke of a better, and I knowe noe cause why I shulde appere before hym, I know hym not for my ordernary yf ther be any cause concernyng betwen the Unyversite and the Towne, I wylbe glad to mete hym at a place convenyent whche was assignyd by my lorde and Suffolks grace. And by cause that the Mayer dyd not appere at the place lymeted, the same Marten Lynsey causyd the sayd Michell Hethe to be denownsyd and publychyd excommunicate in every pariche church in Oxford, the sayd Marten Lyndesey did also excommunicate and accursse all those persons which after the same excommunication shuld ette or drynke a companye wt hym.

The Council submitted a Bill of Complaint at this excommunication, and the Commissary replied that the had sent three times for him “tenterly, charytably, and lovyngly to have add a lovyng comynycacion wt him”, but that Hethe, “of his obstynate and hye mynd beyng alwes redye to breke not only the said privyleges, but also all lawdable customes and composycions made and observyd of old tyme unto his days bytwen the said Towne and Unyversite” had failed to appear. He went on to explain why it was necessary to excommunicate him from all churches:

The cause why the said Mychaell was so denowncyd in all churches, was by reason and occasion of his owne contempt and inobedyence, in that yt schuld have ben only denowncyd in his owne church, if he wold in the tyme of evynsong have sufferid the curate there to say evynsong to the parishyners, and there to have executid his dewty as he was required, but the said Michaell compellid hym to putt of his surplesse and to departe owt of the churche, or ells he wold have bett or myschevyd hym, as he thretenyd the said curate so to doo…

The dispute involves much correspondence between the University and the Council, with the University answering a second Bill of Complaint by stating that it did not banish people lightly, and that they would only call a Mayor by citation who was guilty of “the vyolacion of his othe gyven by hym for the observance of the privylege, libertyes, and customes of the said Universite, whych Mychaell Hethe and William Flemmyng have nowe late yn tyme of theyr Meyralte more broke and and more notoryously vyloat then any Meire before them, by the remembraunce of any man beying yn lyffe yn the said Universite”. It said that Hethe and three others were guilty of negligence towards the inhabitants of the town, involving

forstallying and regratyng of markett and sellyng of moche corrupte vitalls, and non yn Oxford so myche as they beforenamyd, nor wyllyng to be reformyd not only to the greatt hurte and hynderans of the said Universite, but also to the greatt hurte of the comen welthe of the Towne and the countrye. And the said inhabytaunts, vytaclers of Oxford, estsons of ther perverse mynds, do sell unto there neyboures townsmen good wyne, and to scollers wyne that is corrupte and noughte, and one of them schall bye so moche beffe or motton for iijd as the scollers schall pay iiijd for, and a payer of schoys for viijd that scollers schal not have under xd, wt sich lyke of all other merchaundyze and vytaylls.

The following year Hethe was beaten in the election by William Frere, and the University’s response to a Bill of Complaint about a town and gown struggle included the following:

Also there was dyssencion as it was said bytwene one Hethe, and ye Maire yt now is ye same tyme, because Hethe wold have bene Maire, and cowld not make his nombre, so as it is supposed of his frynds, beyng townesmen, shot ye said arrows at William Frerys wyndowes to cause hym to be afraid to be Maire ye yere folowyng….

The dispute ended with the announcement on 6 December 1533 that Congregation had agreed to discommon (i.e. deprive of the privilege of dealing with the undergraduates) Hethe and others. The Commissary and Proctors had met with the heads of all the colleges in Congregation House at St Mary-the-Virgin Church and agreed

“to discomyn one John Pey, Mair of ye Towne of Oxford, Joh Austen, Michaell Hethe, of ye same Towne, Aldermen, wth divers of ye sayd Towne to ye number of 20 and above, that no schollar nor none of their servants should buy nor sell wth none of them, neither eat nor drink in their houses, under payne of for every time so doinge to forfeyt to ye Commissary 6s 8d….

In February 1535/6 Hethe suffered an attack on his house in a town and gown battle:

… they went to Michaell Heathes house, one of ye Aldermen of ye saide Towne, and beate at his dores and windowes soe yt they brake ere windowes, and called for fier, and bid him come forth out of thy house horson gorhelled churryll….

† Michael Hethe probably died in 1537 or 1538, as his will was proved in February 1538. He asked that he should be buried in St Ebbe's Church.

He mentioned his wife Agnes in his will.

On 4 November 1543 three orphans in the care of Percival Heath each paid a subsidy of 26s. 8d. in the South West Ward, each on goods worth £26 8d. They were called Mary, Dorothy, and Ambrose Hethe, and may have been the children of Michael Hethe.

In 1581 the council was still praying for Hethe as a benefactor who had given the City £7 in money.

See also:

  • PCC Will PROB 11/27/193 (Will of Michaell Hethe of Oxford, proved 7 February 1538)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 30 September, 2018

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