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William Soper of Southampton (c1390s-1459) a summary

Summarised from S.Rose's book, The Navy of the Lancastrian Kings, Accounts and Inventories of William Soper

First mentioned as a court steward in 1410, William Soper became a prominent merchant and MP. He collected customs for Southampton from 1413, from his offices at the Watergate within the city walls of Southampton. The last record of William as a collector of customs is 1446.

He owned and rented several properties in Southampton where he was an alderman. He became Mayor of Southampton in 1416 and 1424.

He owned ships. In 1413, one was with a group of ships that took the Santa Clara of Spain, a 290 tun merchant vessel. The King paid Soper to rebuild her as the naval vessel, the Holy Goast. In 1418, Soper's vessel, the 140 tun, Julyan of Hampton supported a summer naval patrol.

He supervised the building of Royal ships in Southampton from 1414 and was Clerk (or Keeper) of the Kings Ships from 1420. His account books, in Latin, still exist between 1422 and 1427. After the death of Henry V in 1422, the fleet declined and when he stopped being Clerk of the Kings Ships, in 1442, no fleet remained. (see The Royal Fleet 1415 to 1422)

He visited London for the 1413 parliament and was elected to the House of Commons eleven times, between 1414 and 1449, ‘a very unusual achievement’.

William commissioned to build a group of vessels, inc the Gracedieu which was begun1416 & launched probably July 1418. A new dock was constructed on the foreshore 'at Southampton'. Tradition says that Soper's shipyard was at Eling [Totton & Eling Parish Map ref [EPSG:27700] 436000, 112000; map right]. No documentary or archaeological evidence to support this. source

He was apparently an active and honest merchant, but there are few records of the business dealings that provided his wealth. Two likely sources of income that would not have been recorded were, firstly as a banker, when usury (charging interest) was both illegal and a sin. Secondly as a merchant when, as a Royal official, he was forbidden to trade.

In 1422, he was paid to arrange to bring the body of Henry V back from France to England with his widowed Queen, Katherine. He was involved with escorting Margaret of Anjou across the Channel for her wedding to Henry VI

Of William's first wife, Isabel, little is known. She was associated with the Chamberleyn family, she seems to have been a financially secure widow.

His second wife, Joan, was young (he was then middle aged). As she was a cousin to his first wife, she may have been living with the family as companion to Isabel when she died. The marriage was secret, as by canon law it was incestuous and void. Excommunication was possible, but in 1438, possibly after the pilgrimage mentioned below, he negotiated a dispensation from the Pope to remain married.

In 1437, he wrote to King Henry VI, requesting he stopped being, Keeper of the Kings Ship's and asking permission to undertake a pilgrimage to Lombardy (Pope Eugenius IV was at that time residing in Florence). Possibly he went himself, for he had business dealings in the Mediterranean, or paid for someone to go on his behalf. Despite this resignation request, he appears to have continued as clerk until April 1442.

Soper was appointed as Verder of the New Forest, which involved looking after the Royal deer hunting area. He acquired an estate near the New Forest, through direct purchase and his first wife, This was just over the estuary from his work at Southampton. He owned properties in Farley and Diddon, South Langley.

In 1430 William gave a tour of the laid up Royal fleet to a visiting Florentine merchant and galley captain, called Albizzi. Afterwards they visited Soper’s house by the New Forest. Albizzi described it, in his diary, as being richly furnished on the exterior, with a moat. They made a hunting party, where a deerhound killed a deer. William gave him the dog as a gift. Later they took vespers in Soper’s private chapel.

In 1445 when ill health prevented him riding around the New Forest, he lost his position as Verder. He retired to Newton Farm, Newton Bury, by the New Forest, now near Bury Farm. where he died in 1459, having built a marble tomb, in the south aisle of the chapel of the Friars Minor. Anticipating his final illness by several years he entrusted his country estates at Eling, Dibden & Fawley to his friend. As an esquire, his coat of arms was, ' Sable, a chevron between three wings argent'

He anticipating his final illness by several years [died 1459] & entrusted his country estates at Eling, Dibden & Fawley to his friend : from Medieval Southampton : The Port & Trading Comminity 1000-1600 : pub 1873

The Royal Fleet 1415 to 1422 concerning William Soper, a brief summary

Who was William Soper's family?

Soper's biography entry from Oxford Dictionary of Biographies

Further Reading and Links

Back to Sopers in Hampshire

Sketch of Southampton c.1450 [right] from history site, Plymsol.org

Questions ;
Despite the resignation above in 1437, S Rose says he relinquished the job of clerk in April 1442. The last record held at Kew, of William as a collector of customs, is 1446

Two propertys might refer to his widow Joan? - 1) a William Soper m.Joan, widow of Richard Goolde who left her a tenement in Langley 1413. Widowed a 2nd time, she sold it to John Ludlowe, 1482 [if correct she died 90+] : www.british-history.ac.uk : 2) a Joan Sopere held a tenament in Winchester with shop annex, 1435-6 & William Sopare later recorded as a former tennant. By 1437 rent paid by John Woodcok & reduced to 10s (before Sopere, John Cobeu was tenant 1430) GoogleBooks