Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Canynges, William
CANYNGES, WILLIAM (1399?–1474), merchant of Bristol, third son of John Canynges, burgess and merchant of that city, and Joan Wotton his wife, came of a family that stood high among the merchants of Bristol, for the elder William Canynges, his grandfather, a wealthy cloth manufacturer, was six times mayor, and thrice a representative of the city in parliament. Besides making cloth he exported his merchandise in his own ships; for, by a writ of Richard II, John Hesilden, Andrew Browntoft, and others are summoned to appear at Westminster on the complaint of William and John Canynges of Bristol, to answer for seizing and carrying into Hartlepool one of their ships sailing to Calais and Flanders (Surtees, Durham, iii. 101). William Canynges the younger was probably born in his father's house in Touker Street, in the parish of St. Thomas, in 1399 or 1400, for he was but five years old when his father died in 1405. After her husband's death Joan married Thomas Young, merchant, of the parish of St. Mary Redcliffe, Somerset, twice mayor and a member for the borough, and Canynges appears to have been brought up by his stepfather. Having served the office of bailiff, he was elected sheriff in 1438, and mayor for the first time in 1441. His second mayoralty was in 1449, and in that year Henry VI wrote to the master-general of the Teutonic knights, asking his protection for the two factors of ‘his beloved and faithful subject William Canings,’ then carrying on trade for their master in the dominions of the knights in Prussia (Rymer, Fœdera, xi. 226). During his tenure of office certain ordinances were made concerning the watches kept by the crafts on St. John's night and St. Peter's, and the contributions of wine to be made to them by the mayor and sheriff. Although trade with Iceland, Halgaland, and Finmark for fish and other goods had been forbidden, yet in 1450 Christian of Denmark having made an exception in favour of Canynges in consideration of the debts due to him from his subjects in Iceland and Finmark, license was granted him to trade with these lands for two years with two ships of any size (Fœdera, xi. 277–8; Macpherson, i. 166–7). Canynges was returned for Bristol to the parliament of 1451; his colleague in the representation of the city was his half brother, Thomas Young, who was committed to the Tower for proposing that the Duke of York should be declared heir to the throne (Will. Worc. 770; Pryce, 103; Stubbs, Const. Hist. iii. 171). Both Canynges and Young were returned again to the parliament of 1455. Local historians assert that Canynges was a Lancastrian, and that he was forced to change his politics by the success of Edward IV. All trustworthy evidence shows that, like the greater part of the merchants of Bristol, he was always strongly attached to the Duke of York. It was probably during his third mayoralty in 1456–7 that he was able to do York signal service by seizing a large quantity of ammunition that had been consigned to a merchant of the town who was an Irishman and one of the party of the Earl of Wiltshire (James Butler, earl of Ormonde). York was pleased at this, and wrote bidding the mayor and common council take charge of the castle and keep Somerset out. This they did, and put the castle in a state of defence. In 1460 Canynges is said to have lost his wife Joanna. The next year, when he was mayor for the fourth time, in obedience to an order received from Edward IV, he prepared an expedition to act against the Lancastrians in Wales to be ready against the king's coming. When Edward shortly afterwards visited Bristol, ‘where he was most royally received’ (STOW, 416), Canynges is said to have entertained him in his house in Redcliffe Street; the hall and parlour of this house may still be seen, though the building, now occupied by Messrs. C. T. Jefferies & Sons, printers and booksellers, has been much damaged by fire. Canynges and Young had lately sat on a commission appointed to try Sir Baldwin Fulford and John Heysant, who were put to death while the king was in Bristol. Before Edward left Canynges paid him 3,000 marks ‘pro pace habenda’ (Will. Worc.); this must have been in discharge of what he owed for money received by him as escheator during the year of his mayoralty (Seyer, ii. 191). In 1466 Canynges was mayor for the fifth and last time. While he was mayor on this occasion he and the council made certain rules for the government of the society of merchants (Pryce, 135).
Canynges' wealth was great. The list of his ships is given by William Worcester; they were nine in number, a tenth having lately been lost on the coast of Iceland. Among them were the Mary and John of 900 tons, the Mary Radclyf of 500 tons, and the Mary Canyngys of 400 tons, in all 2,853 tons of shipping manned by eight hundred seamen. Even allowing for the difference between our mode of computing a ship's burden and that in use in the fifteenth century, it is difficult to believe that Canynges's ships can have been of the size stated by Worcester. Besides his seamen he paid day by day a hundred carpenters, masons, and other workmen. These workmen were probably largely employed in building the church of St. Mary Redcliffe. The rebuilding of the old church had been begun by William Canynges the elder, who carried the work ‘from the cross aisles downwards’ in 1376; it was taken up by his grandson, and the fall of the steeple in 1446 and the consequent destruction of much of the fourteenth-century work probably determined Canynges to rebuild nearly the whole of the church, which he did with the advice of Norton, his master mason. In 1467 Canynges retired from the world, receiving acolyte's orders on 19 Sept. in the chapel of the college of Westbury, on the title of the rectory of St. Alban's, Worcester. A story told by Robert Ricaut in his ‘Mayor's Calendar of Bristol’ that he took this course to avoid a marriage the king tried to force on him is probably mere idle gossip. On 12 March 1467–1468 he was admitted subdeacon; on 2 April 1468 he was admitted deacon, and on the 16th of the same month priest, being collated to a canonry in the college of Westbury. On 3 June 1469 he was collated to the office of dean of the college, and was inducted and installed on the same day. He died 17 Nov. 1474. Besides his great work in rebuilding St. Mary Redcliffe, he was a benefactor to the college of Westbury, and is said to have rebuilt it (Dugdale, Monasticon, vi. 1439). At Westbury he also founded an almshouse, and by the payment of 44l. to the sheriff of Bristol freed this house and the college from tolls on provisions coming from the city (Atkyns, Glostershire, p. 802). He was buried in Redcliffe church with his wife Joanna. Their tombs were discovered and identified in 1852. Much debate has been held over certain effigies in the church supposed to represent Canynges; the question is carefully discussed in Pryce's ‘Memorials,’ pp. 179–92. Canynges's two sons died before him. His elder surviving brother, Thomas, lord Mayor of London in 1456–7, is the ancestor of the Cannings of Foxcote, Warwickshire, and of the Cannings of Garvagh in Ireland, a family from which have come George Canning, the statesman [q. v.], and Stratford Canning, Lord Stratford de Redcliffe [q. v.] (Pryce, 146–56).[Pryce's Memorials of the Canynges Family; The Great Red Book, MS. in the council-house, Bristol; Wadley's Notes on Wills in the Great Orphan Book at Bristol; Ricaut's Mayor's Calendar of Bristol, ed. L. T. Smith (Camden Soc.); Dallaway's Antiquities of Bristow; Seyer's History of Bristol, vol. ii.; Barrett's History and Antiquities of Bristol; Stow's Annales, ed. 1615; Rymer's Fœdera, xi. ed. 1710; William Worcester's Itinerary; Dugdale's Monasticon; Surtees's Durham; Atkyns's State of Glostershire; Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, i. 666–7.]