1447 - Litell John ship of Calais

From International Robin Hood Bibliography
Date 1447
Topic The Litell John of Calais and Nicholas of London seized two small ships attempting to dodge customs.
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In lieu of the Little John, the beheading of de la Pole in a dinghy towed by the Nicolas of the Tower as imagined by James Doyle / Doyle, James E. A Chronicle of England B.C. 55–A.D. 1485 (London, 1864), p. 396.

By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2018-11-04. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2021-01-08.


[7 Oct. 1447:]
Grant to the king's serjeant, Thomas Byrmychamp, esquire for the body, of all that pertains to the king of the forfeiture of two ships called 'spynners' alias 'farkenstekers,' laden of late with wool and other goods and merchandise in the port of Pole or other places and 'crykes' pertaining thereto, which, issuing thence secretly without payment of cocket or custom, were taken by two ships called Litell John of Calais and Nicholas of London. By K. etc.[1]

Source notes

Membrane 20 of the Patent Roll for 25 Henry VI – Part I. Marginal note: "Oct. 7. Westminster". Italic type as in printed source.

IRHB comments

For ships named after Little John or Robin Hood, see the page on ship names. This passage includes the first of only two known ME occurrences of the noun 'spinner', which is derived from another relatively rare ME word, 'spinace', a "small ship capable of carrying 25 men, a pinnace".[2] Oddly enough it seems at least one, and possibly two, of the vessels concerned in 1447 played a central role in the events detailed in the second source to include the noun 'spinner'. On 5 May 1450, William Lomnor wrote a sad letter – he claimed he had "soo wesshe this litel bille with sorwfulle terys that on-ethes ye shulle reede it" – to the elder John Paston, broaching the news of the capture, mock trial and subsequent beheading of William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, by sailors off the Kentish coast. Persecuted in England for his responsibiity for a failed Anglo-French policy that had led to renewed war between the two old foes, the duke, intending to go to Calais with two ships, had sent ahead "a litel spynner" to find out if it would be safe for him to go there. En route this vessel encountered "a shippe callyd Nicolas of the Towre, with othere shippis waytyng on hym". According to Lomnor, the crew of the 'spinner' betrayed the Duke to the captain and crew of the Nicolas who subsequently captured him and after keeping him prisoner aboard the Nicolas for a few days subjected him to a mock trial and subsequent beheading with a rusty sword that had to be wielded all of 15 times to sever the ducal head from its body.[3] Would it not be at least a mild surprise if the two Nicholases, one of London, the other of the Tower, were not one and the same ship? As two 'spinners' had been captured by the Nicolas and the Litell John of Calais, it is far from impossible that it was one of these that was involved in 1450 as well. Since the Nicolas was accompanied by other ships, it is even possible that the Little John was there also, but this is of course mere speculation.




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