John Don, mayor of Southampton in 1461-62, was born in Wales and came to Southampton via Sherborne. He was established as a member of the mercantile community and supplier to the cloth trade by 1444. He was appointed bailiff in 1448 and 1451 and was elected sheriff in 1454.
Town records reveal that he was a supplier of woad, which was used for dying cloth. It is likely that he imported the woad on Italian ships before distributing it to Salisbury and other centres of the cloth making industry. He was also involved in trading iron, cloth, wine, black soap and nails.
He appears to have had a good working relationship with the younger Walter Fetplace (he may have been apprenticed to the elder Walter Fetplace) who was also involved in importing woad. He also had a good relationship with the Italian merchants, some of whom settled in the town. This brought him into conflict with the Payne family, who were notorious for their dislike of aliens, in particular the Italian merchants. Although Southampton was known for its friendly relations with aliens in general, from c.1450 there appears to have been a growing animosity towards Italians from a group of prominent citizens led by John Payne, mayor in 1450-51 and 1451-52. Anti-Italian feeling in London and other ports was provoked by their dominant position in trade, but in Southampton the Paynes may also have had other, personal reasons for their enmity. There were anti-Italian riots in London and Southampton in 1460. When Edward IV became king in June 1461 he was determined to bring the anti-Italian factions under control. Don was chosen as mayor in September 1461 probably from a desire to please the new king. He was an important calming influence during his mayoralty and afterwards.
Don continued to live and trade in Southampton until the 1470s; he is mentioned briefly in town records of this time. He married his wife Agnes in the 1460s, but given his age at this time he may have had previous wives. Agnes bore him one child who survived: Angel, who later became an alderman in London. Don lived in a large house on the corner of French Street and Vyse Lane. This house survives as 58 French Street (sometimes called the Medieval Merchants House). On his death in 1477, he left this house and two other properties in the town to his son.
‘John Don: Edward IV’s First Mayor of Southampton, 1461-62’, by Anne F. Sutton, in Hampshire Studies, Volume 68, 2013, p149-160
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