Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rokesley, Gregory de
ROKESLEY, GREGORY de (d. 1291), mayor of London, a native of Rokesley in Kent, whence he took his name, was the richest goldsmith of his time, and a great wool merchant. He appears in the earliest extant list of aldermen of the city of London, his name being connected with Dowgate ward. In 1264, and again in 1270, he served the office of sheriff. In the latter year he and his colleague, Henry Waleys, caused a new pillory to be erected in the Chepe. In 1273 he championed civic purity in a violent dispute on the subject of certain charters illegally granted to various city guilds by the late mayor, Walter Hervey. Hervey attempted to instigate the craftsmen against the more discreet section of the citizens, and caused much excitement by collecting and haranguing mobs in the streets. His charters were, however, suppressed and ‘cried throughout the city.’ The next year (June 1274) Rokesley accompanied the mayor, Waleys, to a conference with Edward I in Paris, and in July again waited upon the king at Montreuil in order to advise upon terms of peace between the king and the Countess of Flanders.
Rokesley was appointed mayor in 1274, and held that office eight times, comprising the years 1274–1281 and 1285. In 1276 he was made king's chamberlain, and acted in that capacity for two years, and for a short period he discharged the functions of coroner and ‘pincerna.’ The important post of master of the exchange throughout all England was conferred upon Rokesley in 1278. The office is otherwise described as that of chief director of the royal mint. At this period great inconvenience was caused by the abundance of clipped coin. This was called in, and a new coinage was circulated under Rokesley's superintendence, consisting of sterling halfpenny and farthing, the silver coins being of the fineness commonly known as ‘silver of Gunthron's Lane.’
When Edward was engaged in the conquest of Wales in 1282, Waleys and Rokesley were deputed by the city to take an aid of six thousand marks to the king. Next year they, with four others, were the city representatives at a special parliament held at Shrewsbury to conduct the trial of David of Wales. Rokesley's eighth mayoralty in 1285 was marked by important events in the history of London. In the previous year a quarrel between two citizens culminated in a duel, and one of them, having dangerously wounded his opponent, took sanctuary in Bow Church, where, not long afterwards, his dead body was found under circumstances which suggested foul play. The king having appointed a commission of inquiry, John de Kirkeby, the lord treasurer, summoned the mayor, aldermen, and citizens to wait upon him at the Tower. This peremptory order seems to have been issued in neglect of the standing rule that forty days' notice of such a summons should be given. Under ordinary conditions the citizens would have donned gay apparel and marched in procession from Barking church to the Tower, bearing presents for the king's justiciars. On this occasion Rokesley went to the church of All Hallows, stripping himself of the robes and insignia of office, handed the city seal to Stephen Aswy, and then proceeded to the Tower as a mere private citizen. The lord treasurer was highly provoked, and committed Rokesley and about eighty other leading citizens to prison at the feast of St. Peter. The king deposed the mayor, and appointed Ralph de Sandwich [q. v.] as custos of the city and its liberties. To give a graver colour to the offence, it was alleged that the mayor had taken bribes of dishonest bakers, who sold penny loaves six or seven ounces too light. The prisoners were set at liberty in a few days, except Aswy, who was lodged in Windsor Castle. Rokesley died on 13 July 1291 (Annal. Londin. i. 99; Roberts, Cal. Gen. i. 441), and was buried in the monastery of the Grey Friars. His monument existed in Christ Church, Newgate Street, until the great fire. A letter by him is printed in ‘Archæologia Cantiana,’ ii. 233–4.
By his wife, Avice, Rokesley had two sons, Sir Reginald and Sir Richard, who became seneschal of Poitou and governor of Montreuil in Picardy (see Rymer, Fœdera, vol. iii. passim). The latter's daughter Agnes married Thomas, first baron Poynings, and was mother of Michael, second baron Poynings [q. v.] Nevertheless the inquisition taken on his death affirmed his heir to be Roger de Risslepe, son of Gregory's sister Agnes (Roberts, Cal. Gen. i. 441). The Rokesley arms, which appeared with nearly thirty others among the designs in the windows of old St. Paul's, were azure a fess gules between six shields sable, each charged with a lion rampant argent. Rokesley's will, undated and enrolled in the court of Husting on 25 July 1291 (Calendar, ed. Sharpe, i. 98–9), mentions, among other property in London, Canterbury, and Rochester, his dwelling-house, with adjoining houses ‘towards Cornhulle,’ charged to maintain a chantry in the church of St. Mary Woolnoth, where his wife lies buried; a ‘former dwelling-house’ in the parish of All Hallows at the Hay towards the Ropery, also charged with the maintenance of a chantry in that parish church. He possessed eight manors in Kent, two in Surrey, and one in Sussex (Cal. Inq. post mortem, i. 109). After legacies to numerous relatives, he left the residue of his estate to the poor. Rokesley had in his lifetime built on the site subsequently long occupied by Christ's Hospital in London a dormitory for the friars minors.
[Archæol. Cantiana, vols. ii. and x.–xviii. passim; Hasted's Kent contains many errors in the account of the Rokesley family; Parl. Writs, passim; Roberts's Cal. Genealog. i. 441, ii. 757; John de Oxenedes (Rolls Ser.), pp. 328, 332; Annales Londin. apud Ann. Edw. I and Edw. II (Rolls Ser.), passim; Liber Albus, ed. Riley; Strype's Stow, 1755, ii. 214–15, 486; Sharpe's London and the Kingdom, i. 107–22, and authorities there quoted; Maitland's Hist. of London, 1760, i. 105; Simpson's Gleanings from Old St. Paul's, pp. 66, 68.]