Tomb of Philip Mede, 1475

Philip Mede of St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, 1415 - 1475

Philip Mede was born in about 1415, probably in the parish of St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol. His brother, Thomas Mede, about five years older, was born in about 1410. John Mede, who may have been a third brother, appears in Bristol as a witness to a will in 1441, so he would have been born before 1420.

Their father's name was Thomas Mede, and their paternal grandfather and great grandfather were Thomas atte Mede, born in about 1355 and 1330, in Fayland in the parish of Wraxall in Somerset. There are records of the family of Mede or atte Mede having lived in the area around Bristol since about 1280, and in 1327 Nicholas atte Mede of Wraxall was assessed for lay subsidies. In 1364 Thomas atte Mede bought land in Bedminster, a couple of miles from Fayland and adjacent to Redcliffe in Bristol. Philip sold this land in 1457 upon the death of his brother Thomas. Towards the end of the 14th century the family moved to Bristol. Thomas atte Mede first appears in the records of Bristol in 1395, when he was the executor of the will of Joan Seys in the parish of St. Augustine. His son, Thomas Mede, merchant of Bristol, first appears in the records as a juror in 1428, and commissioned to collect a tax in 1429.

Thomas and Philip Mede lived in the parish of St Mary Redcliffe, on the south side of the River Avon. Redcliffe lay along two main streets. Redcliffe Street led from Bristol Bridge south to Redcliffe Gate and the church of St Mary Redcliffe outside the city walls; St Thomas Street was one block to the east. In his will of 1496, John Mede (a different John Mede from the one above, the son of Thomas) mentioned a tenement on Redcliffe Street in the parish of St. Thomas, as well as property in St. Thomas Street in the parish of St Mary Redcliffe. Philip Mede's house was on Redcliffe Street, near the city wall and Redcliffe Gate. Just outside Redcliffe Gate was their parish church, St.Mary Redcliffe. Philip and Thomas were members of the parish church of St Mary Redcliffe in 1455. Philip also owned property on the Quay and by the Guildhall, no doubt for his warehouse and counting house.

Redcliffe at that time was the center of the woollen cloth industry of Bristol. Thomas and Philip became wool merchants. In his will, Philip left the church a pipe of woad, a blue dye use in cloth making. Typical of Bristol trade at that time was to sell cloth to Spain and buy wine from there. For example in May 1459 Philip Mede and his partner Robert Richards engaged in a contract for woollen cloth and other dealings with John Dybarola, a merchant of Navarre, Spain.

The government of Bristol

In 1438 Thomas Mede was elected bailiff of Bristol and in 1452-53 he was the sheriff. After that he apparently concentrated more on business, since he no longer appears in politics. In 1461 Thomas Mede and several others were granted a licence for foregn trade in a ship of less than 800 tuns.

Philip was elected bailiff of Bristol in 1444 and the sheriff in 1454. In 1458 he was elected mayor, again in 1461 and again in 1468. The term was from Michaelmas, or from the end of September.

Bristol at that time was governed by a mayor, a sheriff, and forty members of the Common Council, two of whom were elected by the council as bailiffs. Bailiffs, like all of the members of the council, were wealthy merchants with an interest in foreign trade and the running of the port of Bristol. One of the responsibilities of the bailiffs was collecting customs tolls on goods coming into Bristol. They also presided over the Tolsey Court. An ordinance of 1449 required them to be "attendaunt for the boke of tolle and custome langying to the town of Bristowe and notified in the Tolsey". Bristol was a major port for the import of wine, on which there was a duty of 2d a ton. It was the responsibility of the bailiff to inspect the cargo of all ships coming into port in order to assess the customs duty.

The post of sheriff came into being in 1373, when King Edward III gave the city a charter creating the County of Bristol. At that time the parishes of Temple, St Thomas and St Mary Redcliffe south of the river Avon were incorporated into the County. The sheriff was selected by the king from a list of three people nominated by the Common Council. He was the king's representative in the county, but he also had responsibilities in the city of Bristol. Every day except Sundays and holidays the sheriff was expected to assist the mayor at the Counter, where they heard the complaints and disputes of citizens, and attended to the running of the city.

For example, in 1455, when Philip Mede was sheriff, he attended the mayor, Richard Hatter. At one session on August 29 they dealt with matters such as the election of chamberlains, admittance of burgesses to the city, the weighing of strangers' merchandise, the sale of salt by strangers, and maintenance and repair of town property.

A new mayor was sworn in on Michaelmas, September 29, on a high dais in the Guildhall. In addition to his job deciding disputes among townspeople, he also represented the city to the outside world. For example in 1462, King Edward IV granted the city some financial privileges and charters. Philip Mede, then the mayor, was reported to have "sped full well with the king's good grace" during an audience with Edward on that occasion.

Philip Mede also represented Bristol as a Member of Parliament in 1460. MPs were elected by men with freehold property worth two pounds a year or more. As a Member of Parliament for the County of Bristol, Philip Mede was entitled to the status of a knight of the shire.

Wives and families

The population of Bristol throughout the 15th century was about 10,000. Bristol, as a major port, was often visited by plague and other epidemics. Hygiene was appalling and child mortality was very high. Couples may have had eight to ten children, if both lived so long, but seldom did more than one or two live to adulthood. If they lived to adulthood, they died at an average age of around fifty. For this reason, there had to be a continuous flow of migrants into the city from the surrounding countryside to seek their fortunes. Also, few families lasted in the city more than two or three generations; rarely did dynasties have time to develop.

Thomas Mede married Margaret in 1435 and they had Thomas and John. John is mentioned in the churchwardens' accounts in 1455 as the son of Thomas and Margaret. John, a master weaver, was a churchwarden of St.Mary Redcliffe several times between 1473 and 1495. John married Alice and died in 1496. Thomas, a merchant of Bristol, was granted a licence in 1461 to trade with Iceland and Finnmark, together with several other merchants. He would not have been in the churchwardens' accounts of 1455 with his parents because he was already an adult.

In about 1435 to 1440, Philip Mede married Isabel Ricard, the daughter of Philip Ricard, burgess of Bristol, merchant. Philip Mede and Isabel had two children who survived to adulthood. Richard, born about 1440, was married twice, first to Elizabeth daughter of John Sharp of Bristol, and second to Anne daughter of Thomas Pauncefoot of Hasfield in Gloucestershire. (Her father is Thomas in Richard's will but Henry in the Visitation of Gloucestershire.) When Richard died in 1491, he was survived by his wife Anne but they had no surviving children.

There was a John Mede, born about 1435, who was made an acolyte in 1453. He studied at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, receiving his B.A. in 1457. He was a tutor there in 1461 and 1462. In January 1457/8 Thomas Bekynton, the bishop of Bath and Wells, issued letters dimissory, entitling to ordination "to all holy orders for John Mede of the parish of Redcliffe, Bristol, B.A., acolyte." John Mede M.A. became the vicar of Wraxall in 1467, witnessed by his father and brother, Philip Mede, merchant of Bristol and Richard Mede, literate. Master John Mede, vicar of Wraxall, was a witness to Philip Mede's will in 1471. He apparently finished his career as the prior of St. John the Baptist, Bristol, where he died in 1494. I had thought this was a son of Philip and isabel, but a Common Pleas case of 148o shows that he was the son of Walter.

Isabel, born about 1437, married twice. With her first husband she had three children, all of whom died young. In 1465 she remarried, this time to Maurice Berkeley, son of James Lord Berkeley and Isabel Mowbray. Maurice at his marriage was in his thirtieth year. Upon the death of her brother in 1491, Isabel became heir to lands, messuages and tenements in Bedminster, Fayland, Wraxall and Middle Tickenham in the county of Somerset. The couple had four children, Maurice, Thomas, James and Ann. Their marriage was by all accounts a happy one.

The Battle of Nibley Green

The Wars of the Roses had been fought off and on since the 1450s, over which descendants of Edward III would have the throne. Although national issues were at stake, quite often local barons took the opportunity to settle old scores.

The feud between Thomas Talbot Lord Lisle and William Berkeley got its start with the death in 1417 of Thomas Lord Berkeley, the great uncle of William and Maurice. A dispute over the inheritance arose between the three daughters of his daughter Elizabeth on the one side, and his nephew and heir James on the other. William Lord Berkeley inherited the feud from his father.

In the general lawlessness during the Wars of Roses, great families kept their own private armies with which to settle disputes and augment their power. The forces of Lord Berkeley and Lord Lisle met in battle on March 20, 1469/70 at Nibley Green in Gloucestershire. Maurice Berkeley's father-in-law, Philip Mede, together with John Shipward, another merchant and former mayor of Bristol, raised an army of 1000 Bristolians in aid of the Berkeley family. They were victorious and Lord Lisle was slain. The Battle of Nibley Green was the last battle fought with private armies on English soil.

In the words of John Smyth in The Lives of the Berkeleys: "This lord's (Thomas Talbot, Lord Lisle) party lay close in the utter skirts of Michaelwood chase, out of which this lord Berkeley brake, when he first beheld the lord Lisle with his fellowship descending down that hill from Nibley Church. The lord Berkeley's number was about a thousand, and exceeded the other in greatness. The place of stand was at Fowleshard, whence this lord William sent upon the lord Lisle the first shower of arrows. One Black Will (so called) shot the lord Lisle as his beaver was up. Thomas Longe father of the said William was servant to one of them who helped to carry the lord Lisle when he was slain. And thus did all the sons join in revenge of the innocent blood of that viruous and princely lady Isabel their mother maliciously spilt at Gloucester seventeen years before by Margaret this viscount's grandmother."

Considering the support given by Maurice Berkeley and the Mede family to William Berkeley at Nibley Green, William's subsequent dealings with his younger brother are even more treacherous. He disinherited his brother on the grounds that he had married a commoner, a woman of mean and base blood.

In the words of John Smyth (1567-1640) in The Lives of the Berkeleys, this was but a "feigned and unbrotherly quarrel picked on purpose to give colour for his own exorbitances. Like vain were his exceptions to his said brother and heir, for defending the virtue of his wife and the worthiness of her parentage."

It is not for nothing that William Berkeley was called "the Wastall". In order to pay off his enormous debts he gave his estates to Henry VII in exchange for being made a Marquis. Upon the death of William in 1493, without surviving heirs, his younger brother Maurice became Lord Berkeley after all.

"She was a virtuous lady," writes John Smyth of Isabel, "and evermore content with better and harder fortunes." She died in the sixth year of the reign of Henry VIII, in 1514, and was buried with great pomp and ceremony beside her husband in the Church of the Augustinian Friars in London.

The Mede family tomb

Philip Mede left a will dated 1471. He died in 1475 and was buried in the family tomb in the chapel of St. Stephen in St Mary Redcliffe. The tomb, at the east end of the north aisle of the church, has effigies of Philip Mede and his wife lying full length, their heads resting on cushions supported by angels and their feet resting upon recumbent dogs. On the tomb is a Latin inscription, about a third of which is worn away. The assumed first part of the text is in brackets. It read "[Here lies Thomas Mede and his wife, and Philip Mede son of] the aforesaid Thomas Mede and thrice mayor of the town of Bristol, died the 20th day of December 1475, may God propitiate for their souls. Amen." Behind the effigies is the Mede coat of arms: gules, a chevron ermine between three trefoils slipped argent.

At the back of the adjoining tomb there is a memorial brass showing the kneeling figures of a man and his wife. A second woman is standing behind them, apparently his first wife. The man is of youthful appearance, with smooth face and long flowing hair. He is clad in complete armour and his helmet is lying in front of him, leaving his head uncovered and showing his long hair. Over his armour he is wearing a tabard charged with his armorial bearings, the same as those of Philip above. This is Richard Mede, together with his two wives, Elizabeth Sharp and Anne Pauncefoot.

John Mede died in 1496 and is buried in the Mede family tomb in St Mary Redcliffe. His monument bears a Latin inscription, "Here lies John Mede, burgess of the town of Bristol, who died 17 April 1496, and beside him rests Alice his wife, may God propitiate their souls." A scroll once issued from his mouth bearing the words, "Sancta trinitas unus Deus miserere nobis." Or "Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy upon us."