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William Noble (c.1531–1592)

Mayor of Oxford 1581/2


William Noble was the son of Richard Noble of Cumnor.

On 29 September 1545 William Noble was apprenticed for seven years to the Oxford mercer Robert Cogan, with 20s. and double apparel at the end of the term. He was duly admitted free in the council year 1553/4.

Noble became a mercer in St Martin’s parish, and in June 1559 he took on Richard Morton of Woodstock as his apprentice. Three months later, on 29 September 1559, he was admitted to the common council

William Noble had the following children:

  • William Noble (baptised on 16 March 1561/2 at St Martin's Church);
  • Ellen Noble (baptised on 9 March 1563/4 at St Martin's Church)
  • Bennett Noble (baptised on 17 October 1566 at St Martin's Church, died aged one month)
  • Robert Noble (baptised on 14 December 1567 at St Martin's Church)
  • Elizabeth Noble (baptised on 14 September 1570 at St Martin's Church)
  • Alice Noble (baptised on 18 February 1572/3 at St Martin's Church)
  • Edward Noble
  • Marian (Maryan) Noble.

On 19 June 1562, Noble was committed for slander. The council minute reads:

It was agreed by the hole Counsaill that Wm Noble shall goo to warde uppon a slaunder agaynst the Mayre, Aldermen, and 10 of Assistaunce.

On the same day it was agreed that he and ten others should be dismissed from the council house for subscribing their names to “the mayntenaunce of John Cumber in his disobedyence agaynst Mr Mayre and the worship of this Citie … untyll they shall uppon there submyssion be thought mete by them to be recevyd agayne”.

Noble’s wife also had a loose tongue: she insulted the Vice-Chancellor of the University in Noble’s tavern (the Swindlestock), causing him to be discommoned, which meant he could have no trade or other contact with scholars and privileged persons of the University.

On 2 December 1562 Noble was appointed a Carrier of the University.

In 1568 Noble paid 2s 6d. towars the Lottery in the south-west ward.

On 29 September 1571 Noble was elected one of the two Chamberlains, and on 29 September 1573 one of the two Bailiffs. While Bailiff, he shut the Guildhall door against the Vice-Chancellor, Doctors, and Regent Masters of the University when they came to keep a Leet Court there, and as a result the University imprisoned him in the Castle for twelve days. They also discommoned him for the second time.

In his defence before the University Court, Noble claimed that he had only “stood in the defence of the lyberteyes of the Cytty” according to his oath, and added that “where they soght before but to ponyshe me alone, nowe theye ponyshe me, my pore wyfe and vi pore and young childerne” as well as his servants who had never offended, by “open publyshynge in every place where they gooe that yr poore orrator is a banckerowte knave, and is to his grete dyscredite, for no man will credit or truste a banckerowte”.

By the 1570s, Noble was the keeper of the Swindelstock Tavern at Carfax, and he took on three apprentice vintners: John Harris of Cumnor (25 March 1573); John Gregory of Cuxham (24 June 1581); and Richard Battie of Thame (15 July 1583).

On 19 October 1574 it was agreed that Noble and seven others should attend the Mayor on his visit to London to put the business of the city before the lords of the Privy Council. Noble brought a suit against various members of the University in Star Chamber.

On 13 December 1575 Noble’s licence to sell wine was renewed, and again on 11 November 1578.

On 29 November 1570 Noble was elected one of the four Aldermen.

In 1579 various citizens petitioned Lord Burghley to say that on 14 January that year between 7pm and 9pm, when it was very dark, Noble’s family was attacked in their home by members of Christ Church. They said that:

hearinge a most lamentable and pytyfull crye of the wife, childeren, and servantes of Wyllyam Noble wt these pytifull and lamentable words cryed, Murdere, murdere, lyght, lyght, for the passyon of God; the wch pytyfull owte crye, beyinge hard by yor said orators afore namyd wt dyvers beinge then in there howses, came fourth to see the Quenes Maties offycer, beinge there, commanding us in the Quenes Maties name, that we should ayde and assiste him to kepe the peace, and so we did in as much as in us did lye, and when we came unto the howse of the saide William Noble, we did then and there find one Thomas Hickson, a Mar of Arte of Christ Church of the Universitie of Oxforde, and dyvers others of the same collidg being Mrs of of Arte assawting the said William Noble, wt his wife and childeren, and servantes, in his owne howse, and brekinge the doores and windowes of the said howse, threatninge to pull downe and fyere the hose; and seinge the said Noble, his wife, and childeren w th famyly to be in so great dainger, and lyke more to be, by the reason of so great a nomber of disordered persons of the Universitie assembled together, and seynge that the constable and we could not prvaile to kepe the peace, and fearinge that murther would be done, we went wt all spede to caule Doctor Humfferey who was Vyce-Chanceler of the Univeritie, and required him in the Quenes Maties name that he would com wt all speid to the howse of the said Noble and see the peace kept, who wt all speid did so, and dyvers other docters of the Universitie wt him, but could not pacyfye the unlawfull assemble w towt proclamation of rebellyon, acordinge to the lawes and statewtes of the realme

On 1 August 1581 Noble was granted a new lease of his house, “being two tenements called the Swynestocke, from Michaelmas nexte, for tearme of three score yeares, paying foure pounds yearlie rent, wth a clause of re-entrie for none payment of the rente after a moneth, and also a re-entrye for not doing reparacions wthin syxe monethes warnynge”. The rent of £4 a year included the cellar under the Swindlestock and under the tenement of Merton College to the west.

In September 1581, Noble was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1581/2). His apprentice John Harris was admitted free during his mayoral year.

On 1 October 1581 Noble was granted a licence to sale ale by the University.

On 18 September 1583 the Mayor (Edmund Bennett) and William Frere held a meeting with Noble in the Council House and they agreed “to remitt everie one to the other all quarrells and controversies betwyxt them for any words spoken or imprisonment suffered before this day”.

In the year 1583 Mrs Noble of the Swindlestock Tavern was paid 10s. 3d. for wine for the election dinner.

In 1584/5 William Noble was elected Member of Parliament for Oxford. In that year he was paid almost £120 for costs incurred by his dispute with the University.

His daughter Ellen Noble was buried at St Martin’s Church on 24 September 1587.

On 28 June 1589 a Balliol College lease of property on the site of the present 261–283 Queen Street in St Peter-le-Bailey parish was granted to William Noble, “vintener” of two gardens over and against the Butcherow (Queen Street), late in the tenure of William Noble, for 40 years, at a rent of 13s. 4d.

Noble’s wife, described as “Mris. Noble, wife of Alderman Noble” was buried at St Martin’s Church on 2 April 1592. He himself died just six months later.

On 6 October 1590, when he made his will, he was in the Fleet Prison in London, relating to a bankrupt person for whom he was creditor. A week later he was dead

† William Noble died between 6 and 13 October 1592, and may have been buried in London.

He left his possessions to his daughter Maryan Noble, saying in his will that “of all the children he had he made most accompte of Maryan Noble his daughter”, and as for the rest of his children, “he prayed god to deale better with them than they had done with him in his misery”.

Noble’s wine licence for the Swyndlestock Tavern was given to Francis Harris senior (the father of the future Mayor Francis Harris) on 13 October 1592.

His son Edward Noble received nothing from his father, and on 13 September 1593 it was agreed by the council that “Edward Noble, sonne of Mr Alderman Noble, shall have thirtie shillings geven him in consideration of his povertie.”


See also:

  • Biography of William Noble on the History of Parliament website
  • Selections from the Records of the City of Oxford, pp. 353–5: Remonstrance by Noble about the wrongs done to him and the whole town of Oxford by the University in 1574.
  • Ibid., pp. 358–65: Articles exhibited by Noble against certain persons of the University before the Privy Council, April 1575
  • Ibid., pp. 407–8: Petition to Lord Burghley on behalf of Noble, 1579
  • PCC Will PROB 11/80/484 (Will of William Noble, Alderman of Oxford, proved 7 December 1592)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 23 September, 2018

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