Kingston upon Hull was founded in the 12th century by King Edward I. The site was purchased and developed into a port based on the successes of Meaux Abbey, to the north of the site of Hull. The location was ideal, being sited at the confluence of the River Hull and River Humber it could act as a port serving major inland waterways such as the Trent, Ouse, Aire and their tributaries. This and the Humber estuaries location made a port suitable for trade with northern France, Flanders, the Hanse, Scotland, Scandinavia, and on occasion to Russia. Kingston upon Hull therefore had a major economic appeal, which led to its designation as a royal borough from the time of its founding by Edward I. This in turn made the port of importance in relation to maritime security and defence of the east coast, leading to the fortification of the town.

Founding of Kingston upon Hull

On 31 January 1293 Meaux Abbey granted its lands at Wyke upon Hull to King Edward I. This was the result of several years of negotiations, patronage to the Abbey, and determination of exactly who held what in the area. The King’s acquisition did not include all working acreage in the area, some remained held by the Archbishopric of York, and some lands were retained by local lords: the majority, however, had now been transferred to the crown. In March of the same year similar arrangements fell into place at Myton, also on the banks of the River Hull. On 18 March 1293 final arrangements were settled in the area. This included Meaux Abbey providing the King with the right to use its lands for the construction of 3 roads into the town and port that he intended to construct on the properties he had acquired. [Meaux Abbey on Historic England]

Maritime Intent

That the King had ensured that he had negotiated the construction of roads through lands held by the church hints at his intent. He needed a major port in the region and the existing ports of the East Riding coastline were small and susceptible to damage in poor weather: this need was borne out soon, the port of Ravenscar on Spurn Head was destroyed in January 1362 by what is called Saint Marcellus’s flood. Conversly, a port based on the River Hull would be protected from high seas. It was further inland thus closer to market places that imported and exported goods, and as a royal holding could be controlled and monitored with relative ease. A purpose built port was able to hold larger vessels and accomodate a larger number of maritime trades, warehouses, and military related stores.  Similarly, the construction of a port slightly inland provided the venture with better security as any would be raider would need to sail up the River Humber which could be defended at various points between the mouth of the river and its confluence with the River and Port of Hull. Most pressing for the King was the potential of a port on the Humber that could act as a supply base for campaigns against Scotland.

Organisation of Medieval Hull

The newly created Borough of Kingston upon Hull was managed for the Crown by a Keeper, with assistance from a Bailiff. These men would act as controllers of the customs at the port and had oversight of local administration of matters such as taxation and justice. In 1331 this system was replaced by a Mayoral system, with Aldermen to assist. The borough was allocated a fee farm of £70 for the Mayor and Bailiffs. The men who were in receipt of this Fee Farm include some well known figures of the late Medieval Era. The last Keeper of Hull was  Robert de Hastang, upon his death in 1336 the Fee Farm was allocated to Richard and William de la Pole. It then passed to Michael de la Pole and remained with him until his attainder of 1388. This resulted in a short break, the Fee Farm being partially reinstated to the family in 1391. In 1392 £20 of the Fee Farm was allocated to the Scrope family of Castle Bolton, with the remaining £50 remaining with the de la Pole family. This arrangement remained until 1446, when the Scrope’s portion was returned to the de la Pole family.

Kingston upon Hull as a royal borough enjoyed some liberties. One of which appears to have been the absence of royal tallages, a form of taxation upon towns. However, Hull did pay taxes via local subsidies. Records suggest that the full amount levied was not always collected, and in some years the town received exemptions in return for contributing to the keeping of the seas [ie funding the navy].

Customs: Tonnage, Poundage, Royal Charters and Exemptions

The taxes raised in Hull were varied. Prior to the creation of the Mayorality and use of Burgesses Kingston upon Hull was fully controlled by the Crown Estate. This included the King creating a Mint in Hull in 1300, which lasted less than a year but illustrates that the port was a major part of England’s international trading system. There was also an Exchange, which was in place on and off through the Medieval era.

Customs related income for the Crown was derived from Hull’s International Trade. Hull was one of just 15 headports through which exports could be sent to the continet: these ports had associate ports which were smaller, possibly inland points of departure. They were accounted for through the headport – Hull’s Customs accounts illustrate some examples of this in practice. Customs came in the form of Tonnage and Poundage. The figures were set nationally, with special arrangements being made for some traders: for example, the Hanseatic League.

Exemptions and reductions in customs duty and crown taxes were in place for some organisations and groups of people. This occured in Hull and other major ports. The most striking example is that of the Hansard merchants. A Royal Charter [1285] exempted the Hanse from future Crown taxes. As a result, Hanseatic merchants refused to pay tunnage and poundage duties on wool and cloth. This was accepted by the Crown but the Hanse merchants were still subject to pre 1285 Taxes and so did pay, albeit much lower, rates of duty. Other exceptions to the norm were also in place. These included the extension of Denizen rights from 1466 to 1489 to merchants from Castile: it was a clause in the Anglo-Castilian treaty. Rights of merchants from several parts of Europe were extended at certain times. Typically, they were given the same rights and tax arrangements as traders of the Hanseatic League. Some Flemish traders received such rights in 1471, extended to other parts of the Low Countries in 1473, and again in 1478. Traders based in Calais, the Staplers, were wholly exempt from paying dues at Hull and other ports. This was not a straight exemption from dues, the Staplers had an arrangement with the Crown at times that provided them with tax exemptions in return for their paying for the maintenance and defence of the Port of Calais: which was a fixed amount per Stapler. [See the Introduction to The Customs Accounts of Hull 1453-1490 for full details of exemptions and the manner in which taxes were collected].

Medieval Hull - North Shipyard as it was illustrated at a later date (1640)
North Shipyard, Hull. As illustrated in the 1640 Hollar Map

Poll Tax Evasion

The Hundred Years War and the medium term consequences of the Black Death resulted in financial problems for the State. One of the measures introduced to alleviate the issue was a Poll Tax. This tax was in addition to the typical form of taxation which was based on income and set, usually, at one tenth or one fifteenth: ie 10% or 6.6*% of revenue. The Poll Tax in its 1377 format was a straight levy of 4d [pence] per adult aged 14 or older. . It sparked outrage in some quarters, as this was a far higher proportion of income for the poor than it was for the nobility, or wealthy merchants. By 1381, the Poll Tax had been modified to take into account the varied levels of affordability of additional levies. In Hull the 1381 Poll Tax averaged 1s per head in the 1381 collection. The increased rate of tax and its genera unpopularity saw Poll Tax being evaded in Hull. Victoria County History notes that the 1381 collection was evaded by roughly one quarter of those subject to the charge in Kingston upon Hull, though not all records for Yorkshire remain so that statistic may be an estimate.

Hull and the de la Pole family

When Edward I purchased land on the banks of the River Hull, the de la Pole family were ideally placed to take advantage of the economic boost that the royal venture would present. Generally believed to originate from lands between Hull and Ravenscar, the de la Pole brothers Richard and William, were already established as merchants operating from the Humber estuary. When Hull was established by the King, the pair moved their business into the new town and quickly grew in importance.

The brothers traded wool, cloth, wine, and corn into Flanders, France, and Spain. It generated much wealth and led to the pair becoming prominent citizens of the town. William de la Pole (d1366) became Mayor of Hull as a consequence. He and his brother part financed the construction of fortifications at Hull, to safeguard their trade against Scottish attacks. As their business empire grew, so did their network of associates across Western Europe and within the English court. This led to William de la Pole being appointed as Baron of the Exchequeor and a broker and lender of loans for Edward IIIs campaigns against France.

Though William de la Pole faced opposition to his growing power: he served six months in the Fleet Prison in London on financial charges, his status remained high. Upon his death, his son, Michael de la Pole inherited the family business. Michael de la Pole was not only a merchant, but also a warrior, fighting alongside the Black Prince in the Hundred Years War.  Michael was a close confidant of King Richard II and was appointed as Chancellor of the Exchequer by the King. This placed him at the heart of disputes between the Crown and the Lords Appellant. He faced charges of impeachment, was found guilty, and became the first English government official to be removed from office as a result of that process. Michael de la Pole had fled to Paris during the disruption surrounding the ‘Merciless Parliament’ and avoided the fate of his associates. In his absence, his title: he had been created 1st Earl of Suffolk, and his estates were stripped from him.

The 1st Earl of Suffolk’s son, also called Michael, was a supporter of the Lords Appellant and Henry Bolingbroke. Despite this, he was able to regain his fathers title in 1398 and had many but not all of his family rights restored by King Henry IV. He retained the family role within Hull and traded extensively from the port. His primary focus, however, was within the lands associated with the family title and those linked to his mothers family in East Anglia. Hull, however, continued to benefit from the de la Pole trading empire throughout his life.

Michael de la Pole 2nd Earl of Suffolk was killed at the Siege of Harfleur in 1415. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Michael 3rd Earl of Suffolk. The 3rd Earl’s life also ended during the 1415 Campaigns in France, he died in the Battle of Agincourt. He was succeeded by his brother, William de la Pole, as 4th Earl. William was later elevated to the rank of Duke. The Duke of Suffolk retained favour within the Lancastrian Court and, like the first Earl, faced impeachment by Parliament. His lifetime continued to see the Port of Hull benefit from de la Pole business links, however he is far better known for his ties to King Henry VI, arranging of the marriage of the King to Margaret of Anjou, and his notoriety as ‘Jackasnapes’. More about William de la Pole 1st Duke of Suffolk can be found here.

For details of the role of the de la Pole family in financing the initial stages of the Hundred Years War, click here. 

Hull as the Wars of the Roses approached

The civic rights of Kingston upon Hull, like other boroughs, were held from the Crown. In this regard, the Mayor and Aldermen held a responsibility and loyalty to the Crown. As a Port, Hull played an important role in terms of National defence, International Trade, and the regional economy. This meant that, like York, the authorities within Hull had to deal with powerful regional magnates with whom they had frequent, vital, links who were over the course of the 1440/50s becoming increasingly divergent in their political views, affinities, and engaging in acts of violence towards one another.

The scenario was complex. Within a days travel of the port could be found manors held by the Neville’s of Middleham, Percy lord of Northumberland, the Duke of York, and others who were embroiled in the political divisions shaking court and, perhaps, fuelling unrest and revolt. In simple terms, the Port and Borough of Hull needed to act carefully to maintain its own interests and to fulfil its given purposs of defending the coast, acting as a supply route for international military campaigns, and servicing the economic needs of the regions mercantile classes. Whilst continuing to enjoy the support of lords who were at loggerheads with one another.

The manner in which this was undertaken was through civic patronage, gifting, consistency in terms of permissions granted to lords of either affinity, and a marked toeing of the government line at any given moment in time. This was accompanied by increasing the level of security in and around the town and port, and making provision for government requests for military aid and/ or soldiers.

Hull in the build up to the Wars of Roses. In brief:

1451-2 – Gifts sent to the following noble houses: Buckingham, Clifford, Egremont, Neville [Middleham], Poynings, Roos and Salisbury.

1452 – onwards – Gates barred overnight and watch increased.

1454 – The Duke of Exeter, Lord Egremont and Richard Percy rebuffed by Hull (and York).

1454 – The Crown thanks Hull for its loyalty in relation to the Duke of Exeter: this was whilst the Duke of York was Protector.

1454 – Loan to the Crown of £100.

1457 – 50 Archers raised at the request of the Crown for defence of the relam (against a possible Yorkist invasion).

1460 – Lord Egremont initially refused entry into Hull to sit in his Crown appointed role as Admiral of the Humber. This was complicated by virtue of the fact that his predeccessor in the role had deputed the job to the Mayor, and Lord Egremont’s reputation preceded him, people were worried about the prospect of his retinue being violent within the confines of the town.

1460 – [September] All gates into Hull except Beverley Gate were sparred. Entry and exit was by Licence only.

1460 – [October/November] The Duke of Somerset and other leading Lancastrian lords sailed north to prepare their opposition to the Duke of York and the Act of Accord [passed 25 October 1460]. Professor A. J. Pollard notes a force reported to be in the region of 15000 men assembled in support of the Lancastrian cause at Hull. [ Pollard, AJ. North-Eastern England during the Wars of the Roses: Lay Society, War, and Politics 1450-1500. Clarendon Press. Oxford. p281]

1460 – [November] Each Staithe [landing bay in the docks] was provided with a Gun and an archer assigned to all civic and private Staithes.

1460 – [November] River Hull chained. All ships from Southern Ports barred entry into the Port until the Captain had given and had accepted assurances from the Civic Authorities.

1460 [November] System of Fines, Imprisonment, and Confiscations implemented for breaches of Watch, Failure to attend Watch, Negligence whilst on Watch. It resulted in several men being convicted.

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and the Port of Hull

As noted above, the authorities in Kingston upon Hull had responsibilities to the crown, merchants, and to the citizens. And these responsibilities often contradicted each other. This was the case with regards the Earl of Warwick at times. As a major landholder in Yorkshire, Richard Neville Earl of Warwick had a vested interest in the economic success of the ports of the Yorkshire coast and North East. He also held roles relating to the Keeping of the Sea, which again gave him an interest in the port of Hull, and others. The appointment of the Earl of Warwick as Keeper of the Seas along with his tenure as Captain of Calais had a direct bearing upon the Port of Hull. English maritime safety in the Channel and North Sea was largely the responsibility of the Port of Calais, and it was a very expensive undertaking. From 1458, this was partially paid for by the customs duties collected at the Port of Hull.

1457. Dec. 27.

To the collectors for the time being of the subsidy of 3s. the Westminster. tun and 12d. in the pound in the port of Great Jernemuth.

Order to pay by indentures made with him, his factors or attorneys, to Richard earl of Warrewyk all subsidies of tunnage and pound- age in that port arising from Michaelmas day last for three years, any statute, act, ordinance or assignment to the contrary not- withstanding; as by indentures of 26 November last, trusting in the fidelity, probity and circumspection of the earl, by advice and assent of the council the king did retain him to sail in his service at sea upon the safe guard thereof and defence from his enemies there, and for that cause did assign to him among other things for three years from Michaelmas last all subsidies called tonnage and poundage’; and willing that he shall have due payment of the same, by letters patent with advice and assent of the council the king has given him for three years for guard of the sea those subsidies in all ports of the realm, Suthampton and Sandewich only excepted, according to the grant thereof made to the king by the commons in the parliament holden at Redynge, 6 March, 31 Henry VI, without rendering account or aught else to the king.

Erat patens. Like writs to the collectors for the time being of the said subsidy in the following ports: Briggewater. Dertmouth and singular the ports and places adjacent. Gippewich. Pole and singular etc. (as above). Bristol and singular etc. London. Bishops Lenn. Cicestre. Plymmouth and singular etc. Newcastle upon Tyne. Berwick upon Tweed. Kyngeston upon Hull. St. Botolph’s town.

‘Calendar of Close Rolls, Henry VI’, in Calendar of Close Rolls, Henry VI: Volume 6, 1454-1461, (London, 1947). British History Online – also on Hathi Trust.

So, the authorities in Hull were being asked on the one hand to prepare defences against a potential assault by Yorkist forces, which could conceivably include an invasion fleet from the continent. And, on the other hand were at the same time being required to collect tunnage and poundage at the Port of Kingston upon Hull and have it sent directly to Richard Neville Earl of Warwick, a leading Yorkist, for his uses in Calais, which was home to a fleet which he as Captain of Calais, could potentially utilise on behalf of the Yorkist faction.

This customs duty was collected and sent to the Earl. A collector, Richard Anson, was appointed at Hull for the very purpose of ensuring that the duties were collected, checked, and sent to the Earl for the Keeping of the Seas and defence of Calais.

Hull in the Wars of the Roses

When the Yorkist invasion did come, the authorities in Hull initially sided with the Lancastrians. The Member of Parliament for Hull fought and died for the Lancastrian cause in the Battle of Wakefield. Perhaps ironically, it was the very same Richard Anson whom had previously been appointed to collate tunnage and poundage duties for Richard Neville Earl of Warwick.

In December 1460 Richard Anson, mayor and MP for Hull, was killed at the Battle of Wakefield fighting for the Lancastrian King Henry VI. Here’s the record of his election as MP (“burgess”) 21 September previous in the Bench Book [C BRB/1]. Hull History Centre via X/ Twitter
The subsequent Yorkist turnaround in fortunes and victory over the Lancastrians at Towton changed Hull’s allegiances rather quickly. Corporation records show that gifts were sent to several leading Yorkists, including King Edward IV, the Earl of Warwick, Lord Fauconberg, and Yorkist Ship Captains who docked at Hull as they secured the area. Hull’s allegiances were further altered as a result of the death at Towton of Henry Percy, 3rd Earl of Northumberland. It, for a time at least, removed the friction between leading local landholders. The Yorkist takeover was not welcomed by all though. Some 32 men  were expelled from Kingston upon Hull for opposing the new regime, 3 were imprisoned for the same, and one man, Nicholas Bradshawe, was beheaded for his response to the assumption of power by Edward IV, with his head displayed above Beverley Gate as a warning to others to accept the new regime [Hull Corp. Rec., L.8; B.B. 3A, ff. 77–77v.].

Hull and the Lancastrian Enclave in the North

Edward IV wasted little time in making use of the Port of Kingston upon Hull for its original purpose as a military supply base. In 1461 Hull was ordered to make six ships available for the Yorkist cause in the far north, to be crewed from available seamen in the port. This included providing victuals at a preferential rate, and saw the authorities in Hull demanding similar arrangements were put in place by their counterparts in the City of York. A similar demand from the Yorkist crown was made in 1462, with records showing payments to Brewers for the provision of beer for the ships. In 1463 one ship was made available by Hull and paid for by the town. In addition, the authorities in Kingston upon Hull paid for 20 soldiers to be stationed at Newcastle in the 1462-3 period and sent an additional 22 men for the Yorkist cause in the North East. 1464 then saw 89 townsfolk raise a sum of £9 to pay for 20 soldiers to join John Neville Earl of Northumberland in the North East.

Hull itself faced no military action from the Lancastrian enclave, or from their supporters in France or Scotland. However, the Port had to remain alert to the prospect of attack as any disruption to Yorkist supply lines at Hull would have a major impact on the fortunes of both sides in the clashes further north. This saw watches remain in place until the North East was secured. Whilst there was no military action against the defences of Hull, the town was affected by the conflict. As much of the ports trade eminated from farmlands in disputed areas, the volume of exports was affected. There is also evidence that Lancastrians took the opportunity to spoil goods en route to Hull for export: thus reducing the revenue of the Yorkist regime through customs duties raised. The precise figures on spoiled goods are impossible to ascertain but it was significant enough for the Crown to grant the Mayor and Burgesses the right to export duty free in 1463, with orders also to increase the watch at the Port to 16 men being issued.

Readeption and the Return of Edward IV

The events of 1469-71 saw conflict once again in the region that Kingston upon Hull drew its export trade. The revolts in the North, and Lincolsnshire Rebellion, coupled with the reinstallation of King Henry VI under the influence of the Earl of Warwick and Duke of Clarence once again hampered civic and mercantile life. As rebellion broke out, the watch in Hull was once again increased. The civic authorities also took possession of enough iron, through a form of compulsory purchase, to replace the chain for use across the River Hull. In simple terms, as unrest increased, so did the vigilance of the boroughs authorities.

When Edward IV landed at Ravenspur, it placed Hull in a predicament. It had been loyal to both regimes for as long as they had lasted. The Mayors and Burgesses from 1455 to 1469 had done as asked by the Crown, whichever House was holding it, and put the best interests of the Port, Citizens, and Merchants at the forefront of their planning. So, when Edward appeared with his small force at the gates of Hull, the authorities had to decide how best to approach the matter. They opted to refuse Edward and his men entry. This in essence prevents them from becoming a base for the Yorkists, which could lead to reprisals should his invasion fail.

Hull did have some links to the return of King Edward IV. The ship that had carried Edward from Flanders had a captain from Hull. He was rewarded on more than one occasion for his role in the Yorkist resoration.

[1471] July 16. Grant for life to Robert Michelson of Hull, who was ‘lodesman’ Westminster. (nauclerus et ductor) in the king’s ship called le Antony at the time when the king took the ship in Seland to come to the realm, of an annuity of 100s. from the customs and subsidies in the port of Kyngeston on Hull. [Calendar of Close Rolls]

Richard III: Scotland, Kingship and the Duke of Buckingham

The Yorkist victories of 1471 altered the political landscape of the north and particularly areas in which the Neville [of Middleham] family had an interest. Kingston upon Hull was one such area. Much of the trade passing through the docks at Hull was from lands that prior to Barnet and the restoration of Edward IV had been held by the Earl of Warwick, or his brother John as Earl of Northumberland. From 1471 onwards a new political arrangement for the lands north of the Humber was implemented. The Percy family had already been reinstated as Earls of Northumberland and as the Neville estates were redistributed, Richard Duke of Gloucester, the future King Richard III, grew in importance in the region.

This led to gifts from Hull being sent to both the Duke of Gloucester and Earl of Northumberland. And for most of the 1470s there was a period of relative calm in Kingston upon Hull. This changed as the relationship between England and Scotland once again resulted in preparations for military actions. Hull had been founded by Edward I for the purpose of supplying campaigns against the Scots. It had been utilised in the 1460s for supplying Yorkist forces to the north and for policing the North Sea against Scottish and French shipping that may have presented a threat. When Edward IV chose to intervene in Scottish affairs he appointed his brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester, to lead the campaigns. As was usually the case for Anglo-Scottish conflicts, this neccessitated the Earl of Northumberland to prepare his forces, and for logistics to be planned and set in motion. Both impacted on Hull, with the logistical aspect requiring direct use of the Port of Hull, and Scarborough as an outlaying hub, as a Crown supply outlet.

As preparations were made for a campaign against the Scots, Hull raised and funded 13 men to join the Duke’s force. This was done twice in 1481, with additional men travelling from areas outside of the Town of Hull but within Hull’s remit of administrative control. As a result, when the English force marched on Berwick and into Scotland, it contained men arrayed by the Borough of Kingston upon Hull.

Edward IV’s death in 1483 led to political upheavals that ran through the summer of that year. As Richard Duke of Gloucester headed south to take a lead in matters, the Earl of Northumberland raised a force based at Pontefract designed to counter any opportunist revolt, or the perceived Woodville threat. Hull dispatched 20 men at a cost of £20 to Pontefract for the Earl’s force. And the borugh remained loyal to Richard once he became King. His arms were placed above Beverley Gate shortly after the announcements that resulted in his Kingship. And when there was a revolt against Richard’s rule, commonly known as Buckingham’s Rebellion, the Borough of Kingston upon Hull once again raised men with 24 being sent to the King’s side to tackle the uprising at an eventual cost of £23.

Hull under King Henry VII

The death of Richard III in the Battle of Bosworth and the resulting accession of Henry Tudor saw the Borough of Kingston upon Hull’s responsibilities fall to a third regime. As with previous changes in power, the Mayor and Burgesses of Hull opted to act as directed by the Crown. This meant that it was called upon by the Crown to resist the invasion of 1487, with men being dispatched to serve under the Earl of Northumberland as the army of Lambert Simnel, commanded by the Earl of Lincoln, marched on York. Similarly, when there were uprisings in 1489, which led to the Earl of Northumberland being attacked and killed, the Borough of Kingston upon Hull remained loyal and tackled dissent.

Medieval Hull Links

British History Online  ‘Medieval Hull’, in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 1, the City of Kingston Upon Hull, (London, 1969) pp. 11-85.

Taylor Francis Online ‘The Fortifications of Hull between 1321 and 1864’, Archaeological Journal, 175(1), pp. 87–156. Evans, D. H. (2018) doi: 10.1080/00665983.2017.1368156.

York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor] Humber Archaeology Partnership (2018) The Fortifications of Hull between 1321 and 1864 [data-set]. Evans, Dave ‘Hull in the Middle Ages’. Lambert, Tim

History Today ‘Restoring Hull’s Medieval Past’: History Today Volume 37 Issue 7 July 1987. Barcay, Simon

Hull History Centre ‘Hull’s Maritime History’ [Overview of Hull’s maritime activities over the centuries, incorporating the Medieval era].

Visit Hull – History of Hull from the local authority tourist pages.

Hull Minster Heritage Features on a wide range of areas connected to the Medieval Minster in Kingston upon Hull. Covers people and features from the 14th century onwards.

Hull Heritage Centre William de la Pole [d1366]

Featured Image

Map of Hull, 1611. John Speed • Public domain.

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