Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer


1386Robert Overdo I
 John Overdo
1388 (Feb.)William Soulby
 Adam Crosby
1388 (Sept.)
1390 (Jan.)
1390 (Nov.)
1391William Soulby
 John Sowerby
1395Robert Gare
 William Savage
1397 (Jan.)John Helton
 John Sowerby
1397 (Sept.)Christopher Curwen
 Thomas Chamberlain I
1399Thomas Warcop I
 William Crackenthorpe I
1402Robert Gare
 Robert Overdo II
1404 (Jan.)
1404 (Oct.)
1406John Ninezergh
 William Crackenthorpe II
1407John Sagher
 John Pray
1411John Helton
 John Sowerby
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)Robert Sandford II
 Thomas Stockdale
1414 (Apr.)
1414 (Nov.)Robert Crackenthorpe
 John Birkrig
1415Roland Thornburgh
 John Birkrig
1416 (Mar.)Richard Bristowe
 Thomas Ma[nningham]
1416 (Oct.)
1417Thomas Stockdale
 John Birkrig 1
1419Richard Wharton
 Thomas Pety
1420William Lowther II
 Nicholas Stanshawe
1421 (May)William Scalby
 Nicholas Stanshawe
1421 (Dec.)John Booth II
 Nicholas Stanshawe

Main Article

Although of considerable importance as a defensive site during the early Middle Ages, Appleby played a less vital strategic role after it was destroyed by the Scots in the 1170s; and by our period the combined effects of disease, depopulation, economic recession and war had taken a heavy toll.2 The burgesses complained to the January Parliament of 1380 that the existing fee farm of 20 marks p.a., which had been imposed by the Crown when at least 300 houses were occupied in the borough and there was also a flourishing local market, could no longer be collected because of the dramatic fall in population and the loss of trade by their market to the other unchartered markets of the region:

et or le dit vile est si grauntment enfeblez et enpouerez ad cause q’il yad este si graunt pestelence en la dite vile q’il ne sont a ore enhabitauntz en la dit vile que vint et treis pouers comunes; et auxint il yad a ore en chescune ville du dit pays marches, c’estassavoir Kyrkmarkethes, sanz graunt de nostre seigniour le Roi et auxint touz les choses qui dusent estre venduz en la dit vile sount issint forstallez par tout le pays par cause des quex kyrke markethes et forstalleriez, le dit marchee illoques est tout aneynty.3

Their petition received a sympathetic hearing, and in June of that year steps were taken to prevent illicit trading by itinerant merchants who removed their goods from Appleby for sale throughout Westmorland ‘on Sundays, in the churchyards and elsewhere’. Half the profits of the ensuing fines and forfeitures were, indeed, earmarked for the use of the mayor and burgesses ‘in compassion of their impoverishment by pestilence, by removals, and by the wars with Scotland’. But such limited and tardy relief had little lasting effect. Enemy raids in the summer of 1388 (when the English suffered a crushing defeat on the east march at the battle of Otterburn) had such disastrous consequences for the borough that no one could be found to represent it either in the September Parliament of that year or later in January 1390. On the first occasion, the deputy sheriff of Westmorland recorded on the return that Appleby had been so badly damaged by the Scots ‘quod nullus burgensis est ibidem commorans, nec nullus aliquis’; and on the next he made a similar report, adding that the town was still in ruins. For the second time in its history the parish church was burnt to the ground, along with every other building of note.4 Although a small measure of recovery followed, and Members were sent to Parliament again from 1391 onwards, the borough remained in a state of decline. Much later, in 1539, John Leland described it as ‘but a pore village, having a ruinous castle wherein the prisoners be kept’.5

Appleby may well have received its first royal charter of incorporation before 1179, at which date Henry II not only rebuilt the defences but also confirmed the burgesses in those liberties and privileges already enjoyed by the citizens of York. Subsequent charters of 1200, 1232 and 1286 likewise refer to their freedom from ‘toll and stallage and pontage and lastage’ throughout England. In 1290 they offered to pay an increased farm of £20 p.a. in return for the grant of a water-mill and certain market tolls (similar to those exacted by the citizens of Carlisle), but it soon became clear that their resources were not even adequate to meet the old farm of 20 marks. Indeed, in 1311, Edward II seized the town into his own hands because no money at all had reached the Exchequer for over three years. The debt must eventually have been paid, because in two charters of 1330 and 1331 Edward III restored the burgesses to their former authority. The fee farm remained fixed at 20 marks a year for the next century, being assigned during our period to Ralph, earl of Westmorland, as part of his annuity from, first, Richard II and then successive Lancastrian monarchs. Arrearages probably developed quite quickly, as the town continued to experience economic problems; and eventually, in 1432, the Crown conceded defeat by accepting a drastic reduction to just 26s.8d. a year.6

Appleby was governed by a mayor and two bailiffs, who are first mentioned in the mid 13th century, by which date the borough also possessed its own common seal. There seems to have been little, if any, competition for office-holding, and mayoral elections were held rarely, perhaps only on death or retirement. Certainly, John Maunchell, mayor of Appleby by 1415, enjoyed an uninterrupted term of office for a further ten years at least, no doubt because it was hard to find a successor for such an unrewarding post. The residents of Appleby had not only to face the constant threat of Scottish raiding parties, but were also subject to a good deal of disorder and violence on the part of local landowners. In 1421, for example, the sessions of the peace there were disrupted by a gang of men recruited by the elderly William Thornburgh*, four of whose sons stood indicted on a charge of attempting to murder (Sir) John Lancaster I*. Thornburgh hoped to avoid prosecution by intimidating the justices and jury and terrorizing the townspeople, but he underestimated the tenacity of his opponent, who made a successful appeal for redress in Parliament. Lancaster and the Thornburghs eventually became reconciled, and together launched a murderous attack on Robert Crackenthorpe (Lancaster’s son-in-law) while he was presiding over an inquiry held before the county bench at Appleby into their ‘graundes et outragiouses riotes, assembles, routes, debates et affraies’. Although he managed to escape on this occasion, Crackenthorpe was murdered later, in 1436, by his enemy, Roland Thornburgh. He was, indeed, the second MP for Appleby to meet a violent end, William Soulby having been slain, in about 1393, by the Yorkshire landowner, Sir Thomas Rokeby*, in the course of a property dispute. John Ninezergh, on the other hand, abjured the realm in 1414 after killing a man in a brawl at Burton in Westmorland. Nor was this his first homicide: while seeking the hand of the widowed Lady Scrope (whom he is said to have raped and abducted) he reputedly murdered the vicar of Wensley.7

Appleby first sent Members to Parliament in 1295, and although a number of early returns have now been lost, it appears to have been represented more or less continuously from then onwards. As we have already seen, elections could not be held in either 1388 (Sept.) or 1390 (Jan.) because of wholesale devastation by the Scots. Returns are, moreover, missing for the second 1390 Parliament (when it may still have been impossible to find anyone to travel to Westminster), as well as for nine other Parliaments between 1393 and 1416 (Oct.). We know the names of 29 of the men who sat for the borough during our period; and there is a strong possibility that the Thomas Ma ... noted on the damaged return of 1416 (Mar.) was the Thomas Manningham who later represented both Carlisle and Bedfordshire in Parliament. It is, of course, impossible to speak with any degree of certainty about the relative experience of these men, given the gaps in the evidence. There can be little doubt, however, that the problem of finding candidates ready to make the long and arduous journey south meant that lawyers with business in the lawcourts at Westminster were often returned, as were members of such influential county families as the Crackenthorpes, Curwens, Lowthers, Sandfords, Thornburghs, Warcops and Whartons. Not surprisingly, candidates did not generally seek to represent Appleby more than once or twice, either because they enjoyed sufficient standing to be nominated as shire knights for Westmorland or Cumberland, rather than continuing to attend Parliament as burgesses, or because they felt little real commitment to, or interest in, the affairs of central government, which must often have seemed remote and of little relevance to the harsh business of survival on the border. Of the 29 burgesses whose full names are recorded, almost two-thirds (18) appear to have been returned only once for Appleby, although it is interesting to note that no less than seven of their number also sat as shire knights at some point in their careers. William Crackenthorpe II, Thomas Warcop I and Richard Wharton each represented Westmorland once, if not more, William Crackenthorpe I and Roland Thornburgh sat twice for the county, and Robert Crackenthorpe four times. Christopher Curwen, the only one of our men known to have been elected for Cumberland, actually attended a further six Parliaments as its representative. Four burgesses were returned twice for Appleby; and of these both John Helton and Thomas Pety (who were lawyers) also sat on two more occasions for the city of Carlisle. Helton was actually chosen by both the city and the borough in January 1397, no doubt in an attempt to reduce the cost of parliamentary expenses. Another lawyer, John Sowerby, had one return for Carlisle and three for Appleby to his credit, while John Birkrig and John Overdo also stood three times for Appleby. Few MPs could boast impressive records of service, although Nicholas Stanshawe and William Soulby each attended four Parliaments, Adam Crosby five and Robert Overdo I a minimum of ten extending over a period of 22 years. So far as returns for Appleby alone are concerned, each of our 29 MPs sat in an average of exactly two Parliaments, although if their experience elsewhere is taken into account the average rises to a point half way between two and three Parliaments. Given the general lack of enthusiasm for service in the Lower House, it is not surprising to find that novices quite often sat together, although due allowance must be made for the loss of so many returns. Two apparent newcomers served in 1395, 1397 (Sept.), 1406, 1407, 1413 (May), 1416 (Mar.) and 1420, while one was accompanied by a more experienced colleague on a further seven occasions. So far as we can tell, both Members had some previous knowledge of the Lower House in at least six of the 32 Parliaments which met in our period; but once again the evidence is too limited for us to do more than establish a minimum figure.

When it proved impossible to find a local lawyer or neighbouring landowner to represent the borough, the electors of Appleby were sometimes obliged to return obscure burgesses about whom little, if anything, is known. John Booth II, Thomas Chamberlain I and John Pray remain completely unidentified, while John Birkrig, John Sagher and Thomas Stockdale are very shadowy figures, whose identity is still largely a matter of speculation. It is possible, given the preference frequently shown for men with professional commitments at Westminster, that a long-serving Exchequer official named Thomas Stockdale represented Appleby, but we cannot be at all certain. On the other hand, the lawyers and landowners form two sizeable and well-defined groups, both of which contained some fairly prominent members of county society. At least one lawyer, Robert Crackenthorpe, belonged to a leading rentier family, but on the whole the lawyers who sat for Appleby were not landlords of particular note, and they evidently derived most of their incomes through the exercise of their profession rather than the ownership of estates. A minimum of ten lawyers were returned during our period, including the two Yorkshiremen, Robert Gare and William Scalby, Nicholas Stanshawe, who came from Gloucestershire, and possibly Thomas Manningham, also born in Yorkshire, but the owner, through his wife, of extensive holdings in Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Lancashire and Cumberland.8 Although all had local connexions of one kind or another, none of these four appear to have owned any property in Westmorland, and their election for the borough again reflects the difficulty of finding suitable local candidates. Indeed, only one-third of the parliamentary burgesses returned during our period can actually have been resident in Appleby, since a further nine representatives were members of leading gentry families, and thus lived on estates in other parts of Westmorland or across the county border in Cumberland.9

As we have already seen, all but two of this latter group sat as shire knights at some point in their careers; and although some, like Christopher Curwen and William Crackenthorpe II, were returned as burgesses while they were still very young men, others (such as Robert Crackenthorpe, his younger brother, William II, and Roland Thornburgh) were quite prepared to sit alternately as shire knights and burgesses. Indeed, Richard Wharton actually represented Westmorland before his one return for Appleby. This apparent indifference to parliamentary status was partly a result of the intensely litigious and often violent nature of society in the north-west, which meant that appeals to Parliament, suits in the central lawcourts, and even interrogation before the royal council, could require the presence of a landowner at Westminster at relatively short notice, and thus make him ready to accept whatever seat might be available. When first accused in the court of Chancery, early in 1414, of being one of the ‘graundez meyntenours et maleffesours’ of Westmorland, Richard Wharton managed to get himself returned to Parliament as a shire knight, but by 1419, when his more influential friends, the Warcops, had become embroiled in the case and also wished to seek support in the Commons, he had to make do with one of the seats for Appleby, which his kinsman, Henry Wharton, the then deputy sheriff of Westmorland, clearly helped him to obtain.

Largely because a fairly high proportion of Appleby’s representatives came from the upper echelons of county society, experience of office-holding was by no means unusual. No less than 11 of our men held some kind of administrative post during their careers, albeit almost always after they had sat for the borough in Parliament. Robert Crackenthorpe served a term as deputy sheriff of Westmorland, Christopher Curwen was six times sheriff of Cumberland, and Robert Gare was once sheriff of his native city of York. Crackenthorpe also occupied the escheatorship of Cumberland and Westmorland, as did his uncle, William Crackenthorpe I, William Lowther II and Roland Thornburgh, while Thomas Manningham held office in Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Four men became j.p.s in Westmorland, but only Roland Thornburgh actually sat in Parliament for Appleby while serving as a member of the county bench. Christopher Curwen was appointed to the commission of the peace in Cumberland, and Thomas Manningham in Bedfordshire. Nine burgesses received royal commissions of a more general nature; and six were named as tax collectors at various times. Roland Thornburgh alone acted as a collector of royal customs (in Carlisle and Cumberland), being in employment at the time of his return for Appleby to the 1415 Parliament. William Lowther II, who had been made constable of Rose Castle in Cumberland by his grandfather, Bishop William Strickland, was likewise in office when he entered the House of Commons five years later. Only Robert Crackenthorpe and Christopher Curwen were ever chosen by the Crown to take part in diplomatic missions to Scotland, both being named as envoys on various occasions.

Given that approximately two-thirds of the 30 men who sat for Appleby during our period were either successful lawyers or members of important gentry families, the level of property ownership and landed wealth was far higher than might at first be expected of an impoverished northern borough. Paucity of local records now makes it hard to tell exactly how many MPs had tenements in Appleby itself, although we know that at least 14 occupied sizeable estates in other parts of Westmorland. Six, if not more, were landowners of note in Cumberland, while Robert Gare, Thomas Manningham, John Ninezergh and William Scalby each had extensive interests in Yorkshire. Ninezergh, whose own estates lay exclusively in Westmorland, acquired his other properties (which included land in Buckinghamshire and Nottinghamshire) through his controversial marriage to Margaret, the widow of Roger, Lord Scrope of Bolton (d.1403), while Manningham’s wife brought him additional holdings in Bedfordshire, Cumberland, Huntingdonshire, Lancashire and London. As noted above, Nicholas Stanshawe lived in Gloucestershire, where his own inheritance had been considerably augmented through marriage.

It is now impossible to tell exactly how many burgesses had strong personal reasons for seeking election, but the evidence of lawsuits and private disputes suggests that this was by no means unusual. Besides the ten lawyers, who must often have had professional business to attend to in London and Westminster while Parliament was sitting, others were anxious to discharge more private affairs of their own. Thus, when faced with the charge of raping and abducting Lord Scrope’s widow, John Ninezergh stood for Parliament so that he could win support for his case. Similar motives led Richard Wharton to represent Appleby in 1419; and one year later William Lowther II evidently agreed to serve in the Commons so that he could deal more effectively with the administration of the estate of his late grandfather, the bishop. Family connexions were also important: Sir William Curwen, a loyal supporter of Richard II, had his son, Christopher, returned for Appleby to the second Parliament of 1397, in which he himself sat as a shire knight, so that the royal hand could be strengthened even further in the Commons. His political opponents, the two brothers and Lancastrian sympathizers, John Crackenthorpe and William Crackenthorpe I, likewise served together in 1399, as, respectively, shire knight for Westmorland and burgess for Appleby. Later, in 1422, Nicholas Stanshawe offered himself as a candidate for the borough, while his elder brother represented their native Gloucestershire. Stanshawe appears to have struck up a friendship with Robert Crackenthorpe at Lincoln’s Inn, and this may well explain why he was elected four times for such a distant constituency, with which he otherwise had little to do. It was certainly Crackenthorpe, as deputy sheriff of Westmorland, who returned him to the three successive Parliaments of 1421 (May and Dec.) and 1422. His colleague on the last occasion was, moreover, none other than John Forester, another lawyer from the same Inn.

Throughout our period, the parliamentary elections for both Appleby and Westmorland were apparently held together at the county court in Appleby: at least the names of the shire knights and burgesses were noted down on the same return. From 1407 onwards, when, according to the recent statute, the return for the shire (and thus, in this instance, for the borough as well) took the form of an indenture attested by a list of named electors, it is possible to tell a little more about the procedure itself. At first none of the electors involved in choosing the burgesses were named at all, but between 1414 (Nov.) and 1426 the mayor, bailiffs and a small group of local men varying in number from 18 to three, were regularly noted as having selected the two Members for Appleby ‘by common consent’. Only one MP, Robert Overdo II, is ever recorded as being present on these occasions, which tended to be the preserve of tradespeople and residents of modest means. From 1426 onwards, on the other hand, no distinction was made between those who chose the shire knights and those who selected the burgesses, so it looks very much as if the election was no more than a formality, the actual decision about representation having been made some time in advance by a group of influential residents and county gentry.10 It is, however, of interest to note that in 1421 (May), 1427 and 1431 the names of the two burgesses first elected to Parliament were scratched out and others substituted in a slightly different ink on the return; and that in 1429 one Member, Geoffrey Threlkeld, was likewise a second choice as candidate.11 As we have seen, local landowners frequently used their influence in the borough elections to obtain seats for themselves or their nominees, but there is nothing to suggest that either the Cliffords (who owned the castle and manor of Appleby during our period) or the Nevilles, to whom the royal fee farm was assigned, ever attempted to intervene.

Author: C.R.


  • 1. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iv. 903.
  • 2. Later Recs. N. Westmld. ed. Curwen 45-46.
  • 3. SC8/90/4470.
  • 4. CPR, 1377-81, pp. 520, 565; OR, i. 236, 239; Later Recs. N. Westmld. 50.
  • 5. J. Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, v. 47.
  • 6. CChR, i. 152; ii. 331; iv. 192, 224; CFR, xvi. 88; Later Recs. N. Westmld. 46-47; RP, i. 51; J Nicolson and R. Burn, Westmld. and Cumb. i-310-11; CPR, 1399-1401, p. 325.
  • 7. Nicolson and Burn, i. 312; C219/11/6, 13/3; RP, iv. 163.
  • 8. The others were Robert Crackenthorpe, Adam Crosby, John Helton, Thomas Pety, William Soulby and John Sowerby.
  • 9. Namely, Robert Crackenthorpe, William Crackenthorpe I, William Crackenthorpe II, Christopher Curwen, William Lowther II, Robert Sandford II, Roland Thornburgh, Thomas Warcop I, Richard Wharton.
  • 10. C219/10/4, 6, 11/2, 5, 6, 8, 12/3-6, 13/1, 3-5, 14/1, 2; M. McKisack, Parl. Repn. Eng. Bors. 29-30.
  • 11. C219/12/5, 13/5, 14/1, 2.