Home - Back to main page
Index - Full contents list including primary and secondary source documents
Genealogies - Several different Tonge family histories contributed by other researchers
Search Site 
  TONG(E), William : (d. 1389), of London.  Member of Parliament.  The Stay of Parliament: The House of Commons, 1386 - 1421 (ed. Roskell, Clark & Rawcliffe), IV, (1992), pg. 632-4

TONG, William (d. 1389), of London

LONDON 1377 (Jan.), 1380 (Nov.),1 1388 (Sept.)

m. bef. May 1379, Avice (d. 1423), 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da.2
Examiner of wines, Welbrook Ward Nov. 1383, Nov. 1376.3

Common Councillor, Vintners' Mystery 9 Aug. 1376-12 Mar. 1377, Tower Ward 11
June 1384-7; alderman of Vintry Ward 12 Mar. 1377-8, Aldgate Ward 1381-2,
dep. alderman of Tower Ward Aug. 1384, alderman of Tower Ward 12 Aug.
1385-12 Mar. 1386; auditor, London 12 Sept. 1385-8.4

Tax collector, London Nov. 1377, Mar. 1388; assessor May 1379.5

Collector of murage, suburbs of London Mar. 1387. 6

This wealthy and influential London vintner may well have taken his name
from the village of Tonge in Leicestershire. His sister, Ellen, married
Walter Person, a native of that county, and left descendants at Market
Harborough. William Tong first appears is July 1362, when, as one of the
executors of a London merchant who had died insolvent and in debt to the
King, he was briefly committed to prison and subsequently bound over to
appear before the royal council. Nothing more is heard of him until December
1371, the date of his release from the Tower, this time after an alleged,
but evidently unproved, act of trespass against certain Portuguese
merchants. Tong was himself then trying to recover a cargo of wine, tin and
other commodities which he and several other merchants, including (Sir)
Nicholas Brembre, had been transporting to London on board 'Le Welfare' of
Dartmouth. A commission was actually set up to inquire into their complaints
that the ship had been plundered after being wrecked off the coast of
Wareham, Dorset, but the outcome remains unknown. Whatever losses Tong may
have sustained were more than offset in the following September when he
shared in a royal license to export cloth to Bordeaux in a Dutch vessel and
load it there with win for the return journey to England. Twelve years
later, in February 1384, Tong and a consortium of London merchants - again
including Brembre - lost another cargo of wine after a wreck on the south
coast, although on this occasion orders were issued immediately for the
restoration of whatever had been pilfered by the local people.7
Tong's interest in the wine trade led him to buy a house and tenement 'known
vulgarly as Le Newe Taverne' in the parish of St. Peter Wood Street. This he
and his wife acquired in May 1379 from John Coke of Dorset, who offered them
securities of 300 as a guarantee of tenure. Tong's widow was able to lease
out the property at a rent of 20 a year in 1419, which suggests that the
original purchase price must have been considerable. At the time of her
death in 1424 Avice Tong wa s also in possession of various premises in the
parish of St. Mary Axe, which had at some point been sold to her by the same
John Coke. Over the years Tong greatly consolidated his holdings in the
City. In November 1383 he bought a tenement with numerous appurtenances in
the Vintry, settling it upon his eldest son William (who, according to the
title deed, had been born some time before his parents' marriage); and
shortly afterwards he took on the lease of the holdings in the parish of St.
Clement East Cheap. By the time of his death he also owned another tavern
called Le Crowne in the parish of All Hallows the Less, a garden and fairly
extensive property in the parish of All Hallows Barking, and a number of
annual rents. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Tong did not invest heavily
in land outside London: his only known purchase of such property was in
October 1383, when he took possession of a messuage and farmland in
Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. A settlement of certain Bedfordshire property had
been made upon him some years before, but it is unlikely that his title was
more than that of a feoffee.8

Some idea of Tong's wealth and the extent of his business activities may be
gained from his frequent recourse to litigation as the plaintiff in actions
for debt. Between April 1372 and June 1387 he sued at least 18 people for
sums totalling 164 at common law alone, albeit with a marked lack of
success.9 More over, in October 1376 William atte More of Cheshunt undertook
to deliver 60 to Tong within one month, and two years later he agreed to
pay a further 101 on similar terms. Tong had subsequently to petition the
mayor of the Staple of Westminster for the enforcement of these bonds,
altogether with a third obligation, also in 101, which had come into his
hands at this time. These transactions were probably connected with his
later acquisition of land in Cheshunt, perhaps as a result of foreclosure on
a mortgage, but their exact purpose remains obscure. So too does that of a
recognizance for 100 which Tong obtained from Sir William Burcester* in
November 1383, although the two men had for some time been trustees of a
tenement in the City, so there was clearly a longstanding connexion between
them. It is also worth noting that in June 1385 Tong was party to a
conveyance of the manor of Newton Hall, Essex, in which Sir William is known
to have had an interest.10

Save for his brief period of disgrace as one of the aldermen accused of
treacherously admitting the mob into London during the Peasants' Revolt of
1381, Tong played an active part in civic affairs for most of his adult
life. His involvement began in August 1373, when he was chosen to audit the
accounts of two boat builders when working for the corporation. In the
following year he acted as an arbitrator in a mercantile dispute; and in
August 1376 he served on a commission appointed by the civic authorities to
examine the existing ordinances for the government of London. Tong
contributed 4 towards a loan raised by the City to persuade 'the great
lords of the realm' to return to the capital in January 1379, being already
by then one of the richest and most respected members of the merchant
class.11 The charge brought against by John More in the Parliament of
October 1382 of opening Aldgate to receive the rebels when the Peasants'
Revolt was at its height seems had to accept in view of his own vested
interest in preserving order. Indeed, there are strong grounds for believing
that of the five aldermen accused of complicity with the mob only one, John
Horn, was in any way guilty of a deliberate act of treason. On the other
hand, certain Londoners, anxious for sweeping reforms, were only too pleased
to discredit five established members of the civic hierarchy, each of whom
was committed to preserving the trade monopoly of victualling guilds.  John
of Northampton, the mayor of London from October 1381 to 1382, espoused
these radical views, and given that John More, one of his keenest
supporters, was the first to call for an investigation into events which had
taken place well over a year before, the likelihood of a conspiracy against
their opponents, the victuallers, cannot be ignored.  The accused were
summoned before two inquisitions held by the sheriffs of London in November
1382.  The indictments had been prepared by More, and there is clear
evidence to suggest that both returns, particularly the second, were
selectively edited to emphasize the guilt of three of the alderman.  Tong
himself faced only one charge - that of allowing the rebels to enter the City through Aldgate - but was found guilty and sent to the Tower to await sentence with the others.  Four of the five were released in March 1383 on sureties of 1,000 (offered by Northampton's greatest opponents, Sir William Walworth and Sir John Philipot), conditional upon their appearance before the royal council some weeks later.  Their bail was renewed in the following November, by which time Tong's former business associate; Sir Nicholas Brembre, had been elected mayor, and a sweeping reaction against the reformers had set in.  A new jury met to try the aldermen in January 1384; all were found innocent , and, with the exception of John Horn, soon resumed civic duties exactly as before.  If Tong had indeed thrown open the City's defences , it can only have been because of a genuine fear of the consequences of resistance.  That he should have felt sympathy for the rebels is out of the question.  As alderman of Aldgate Ward he had actually been instructed in  August 1381 to compile a list of persons suspected of joining in the revolt, which shows clearly enough how little doubt was felt about his conduct at the time.12

Tong lived to see the downfall of his former enemy, Northampton, in whose disgrace he played a small, but none the less significant part.  He was present in June 1384 as a representative for Tower Ward at the meeting of the common council which declared Northampton personally responsible for recent disturbances in the City; and in the following March he attended a second meeting, summoned to press for the former mayor's execution.  He was also, significantly, named amongst the 12 commoners chosen to examine the defences of London  against any future outbreaks of disorder.13 Tong's election as an alderman in August 1385 and his return, for the third time, as an MP for London three years later confirm that his brief period of disgrace was soon forgotten.  In October 1387 he was entrusted with the guardianship of Joan Bricles and her effects, but retained it for less than two years, dying suddenly in August 1389.  His eldest son, William, had apparently predeceased him for his will refers only to two sons (both named John) and two daughters, all of whom were then under age.  Each child was to receive a settlement of 100 marks, augmented in the case of the two boys by an annual rent  of five marks to finance the elder should he choose to study the common law, and to assist the younger for a similar period if he showed promise either as an Oxford scholar or a merchant.  Tong was buried in the church of All Hallows Barking, which benefited considerably from his generosity.  To his widow, Avice, he left a life interest in all their London and Hertfordshire properties on condition that she remained single.  This she did, and was still enjoying a substantial income in June 1423 when she drew up her will.  Tong's eldest surviving son cam of age in October 1392, which suggests that he, too, was born before his parents married. One of his sisters was apprenticed to learn the trade of embroidery, but the two youngest children died before they could enter into their inheritance.14

1 Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 153. 

2 Corporation of London RO, hr 107/51, 119/29.

3 Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 163, 234. 

4 Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 42, 247, 263, 273, 286, 331-2; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 53, 55, 85, 123; Beaven, Aldermen, i. 10, 198, 206.

5 Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 83, 129, 324. 

6 Ibid. 300. 

7 Corporation of London RO, hr 150/40; CCR, 1360-4, p. 419; 1369-74, p. 404; 1381-5, pp. 354-5; CPR, 1370-4, p. 181.

8 CCR, 1377-81, p. 249; CPR, 1381-5, p. 328; CAD, iv. A8193; Corporation of London RO, hr 107/151, 112/103, 105, 113/21, 119/29, 137/61, 147/16, 21; Guildhall Lib. London, 9171/3, ff. 24-24d

9 Corporation of London RO, hcp 105 m. 4, 111, Monday aft. feast Purification of Virgin, 10 Ric. II; hpl 94 m. 6d, 103, Monday bef. feast St. Peter's Chains and feast SS. Perpetua and Felicity, 4 Ric. II, 107, Monday bef. feast St. Margaret, 8 Ric. II, 110, Monday bef feast St. Margaret, 11 Ric. 11.

10 C241/170/3, 173/53, 178/110; CCR, 1381-5, p. 411; Corporation of London RO, hr 114/7; hcp, Monday aft. feast St. Mathias, 3 Ric. II.

11 Cal. Letter Bk. London, G, 304; Cal. P. and M. London, 1364-81, p. 201; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 41.

12  R. Bird, Turbulent London Ric. II, 53, 56; Peasants' Revolt ed. Dobson 212-26; CCR, 1381-5, p. 284; Cal. P. and M. London , 1364-81, p. 289.

13 Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 53, 55, 57.

14 Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 319, 357-8; Corporation of London RO, hr 119/15, 29, 147/16; Guildhall Lib. 9171/3, ff. 24-24d