A Record Identifying Thomas Hoccleve's Father

By Stubbs, Estelle; Mooney, Linne | The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History, Annual 2011 | Go to article overview

A Record Identifying Thomas Hoccleve's Father


Stubbs, Estelle, Mooney, Linne, The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History


Until now, nothing has been known of the origins of Thomas Hoccleve, poet and clerk of the Office of the Privy Seal from 1387 to 1426. None of his biographers has much to say about his origins, and his most recent biographer, John Burrow, sums up our ignorance as follows:

   There are no references in his poetry, or naturally enough,
   in the documents to his origins, his childhood, or his youth.
   The surname perhaps points to his--or his family's--origin
   in the village of Hoccliffe, Bedfordshire.[1] His own language,
   as displayed in the three manuscripts of his poems that
   he himself copied, belongs to an early fifteenth-century type
   of London English, which is consistent with what we know
   of his adult life; but this does not rule out the possibility that
   he was born and brought up at Hockliffe, some fifty miles
   north-west of London.[2] Nothing is known of his family. (1)

However, with so many records of medieval deeds now searchable through online databases, we have found a record that might offer our first clues to his parentage. Records of the ownership of a property on Ironmonger Lane show that Thomas Hoccleve was the son of William Hoccleve ("Occlyf"), citizen and Draper of London. (2) This is very likely to be the poet since "Occlyf" or "Hocclyff" was an uncommon surname and because the spelling "Occlyff" or "Occlyf" was a common variant for the poet's surname in documents relating to him, particularly those dated to this period, between 1401 and 1409: in this period the documents of Burrow's appendix spell his surname without initial H "Occlyve," "Occlive," "Occlyf," "Occlyffe," "Occleve," "Occliffe" in 14 out of 21 instances. (3)

The property in question was a small shop with solars above it, designated parcel 6 of the property recorded as St Martin Pomary 95; together with parcel 7 it occupied land that is now numbers 16 to 19 Ironmonger Lane. The lane lay in the parish of St. Martin Pomary, in the Cheap Ward, and this property would be on the west side of Ironmonger Lane in the first block north of Cheapside. Across the street would be the portion of the Hospital of St. Thomas of Acon that by 1403 was leased to the Mercers' Company for their hall. (4) Parcel 6 was purchased in 1380 by Maud Holbech (widow of William Holbech, d. 1365-7) and her second husband Hugh Southern, who were occupying the property already at the time of the purchase. The record then reads,

   Maud died in 1392-3 and left these properties to Thomas
   son of William Occlyf, formerly citizen and draper, for
   the term of his life and then to be sold. In 1408 Thomas
   surrendered the properties to Maud's executors, who included
   Stephen Speleman and in 1415 sold 6 to Henry
   Halton, citizen and grocer. 6 was now described as a shop
   with solar(s) over measuring 10 1/2 ft. (3.2 m.) next to
   the street, 10 ft. (3.05 m.) at its W. end, 14 ft. 3 in. (4.34
   m.) on its S. side and 14 ft. 2 in. (4.32 m.) on its N. side. (5)

This little record of a property left to Thomas Hoccleve for use during his lifetime is intriguing because it names no connection between Maud Holbech and Thomas Hoccleve: was there some tie of blood between them or was their relationship simply a business transaction? That is, the Hustings record does not explain either that Thomas was related to Maud, or had some claim on the property, or paid for its use. If merely a business transaction, Hoccleve would have paid Maud during her lifetime or her executors after her death for the use of this property after her death for the period of his own life thereafter. Perhaps Hoccleve as a young clerk was investing in London property for rental income. It seems unlikely that he would have made this transaction to put a roof over his own head, since in 1392 he lived with the other bachelor clerks of the Office of the Privy Seal in Clifford's Inn.

The year 1408 when he surrendered the property to Maud's executors instead of continuing to hold it for life was around the time when we presume he must have married, so this would be precisely when he would need to provide a home for himself and his wife. …

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