Berkshire

County

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

Elections

DateCandidate
1386Richard Brouns
 Sir Gilbert Talbot
1388 (Feb.)Laurence Drew
 Edmund Sparsholt
1388 (Sept.)Laurence Drew
 William Golafre
1390 (Jan.)Richard Brouns
 Sir John Kentwood
1390 (Nov.)John Arches
 Thomas Childrey
1391Laurence Drew
 John Eastbury
1393Sir John Kentwood
 Edmund Sparsholt
1394Sir Richard Adderbury II
 Sir William Langford
1395William Brouns
 William Wood I
1397 (Jan.)Sir Richard Adderbury II
 Robert James
1397 (Sept.)John Englefield
 John Hartington
1399Robert James
 Edmund Sparsholt
1401John Golafre
 Thomas Gloucester
1402John Arches
 Robert James
1404 (Jan.)Sir William Langford
 Edmund Sparsholt
1404 (Oct.)John Arches
 John Golafre
1406Thomas Childrey
 Laurence Drew
1407John Golafre
 Edmund Sparsholt
1410John Golafre
 Robert James
1411
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)John Golafre
 Robert de la Mare
1414 (Apr.)John Golafre
 Edmund Sparsholt
1414 (Nov.)Laurence Drew
 John Shotesbrooke
1415
1416 (Mar.)Sir Peter Bessels
 John Golafre
1416 (Oct.)
1417Robert de la Mare
 Thomas Rothwell
1419Thomas Beckingham
 John Shotesbrooke
1420William Danvers
 Thomas Rothwell
1421 (May)William Fynderne
 John Golafre
1421 (Dec.)William Danvers
 William Perkins

Main Article

Berkshire elected 26 men to the 28 Parliaments of the period for which returns survive. The gaps in the returns—for the Parliaments of 1411, February 1413, 1415 and October 1416—make it impossible properly to define the frequency of repeated election during the later part of the period. Even so, it is clear that in general those with previous parliamentary experience were preferred to those without; for it happened on no fewer than 12 occasions that both men elected had sat before for this or some other constituency, and on at least 13 more an experienced Member accompanied a newcomer. Nevertheless, in 1394, for the first time in 12 years, the shire returned two novices, and the same thing happened at the next election in 1395, and again in 1397 (Sept.). Thus, in the last four Parliaments of Richard II’s reign only one of the eight available seats was occupied by an already tried Member. By contrast, in Henry IV’s reign (or rather in the eight Parliaments between 1399 and 1410 for which there are returns) only one novice was elected (in 1401), and experienced Members filled 15 out of the 16 seats. Re-election of even one knight of the shire occurred but rarely over the period as a whole—in 1386, 1388 (Sept.), 1410 and 1414 (Apr.)—and on no known occasion were both shire knights in one Parliament chosen again for its successor.

Nearly a third of Berkshire’s MPs—eight of the 26—are only recorded as being returned once for the county; and this, moreover, was the only occasion on which they sat in the Commons at all. However, nine others were elected four or more times for Berkshire, thus raising the overall average to three Parliaments per Member. Laurence Drew and Edmund Sparsholt were both returned five times, and Richard Brouns on seven occasions, while the most outstanding in terms of parliamentary service was John Golafre, who followed up an early appearance in the Lower House for Oxfordshire with attendance at 12 Parliaments for Berkshire between 1401 and 1429. Besides Golafre, three others also represented different constituencies: Sir Peter Bessels sat for Oxfordshire once before twice representing Berkshire; Robert James added three Parliaments for Buckinghamshire to his four for this county; and Sir John Kentwood sat three times for Cornwall (where he was steward of the duchy) in the gap between his five appearances for Berkshire. In terms of length of service, John Golafre, with his 13 Parliaments extended over 32 years and into four reigns, was again the most impressive, although 29 years elapsed between Laurence Drew’s first return in 1385 and his sixth in 1414, 26 between Edmund Sparsholt’s first in 1388 and his sixth in 1414, and 25 between Robert James’s first in 1397 and his seventh (sitting for Buckinghamshire) in 1422. Some MPs sat more infrequently over a long period, as with John Arches who was returned four times in 20 years (1384-1404); whereas the parliamentary service of others was compressed into a relatively brief span: for example, Richard Brouns’s seven Parliaments all assembled within ten years (1380-90). There are but few hints of the Berkshire MPs’ actively participating in the deliberations of the Commons, the most interesting being the appointment of both shire knights of 1406, Thomas Childrey and Laurence Drew, to the committee of six Members of the Lower House nominated to audit the accounts of the former treasurers of war. Moreover, the other references to Drew on the Parliament roll of that year reveal him to have otherwise taken an exceptionally prominent part in the business of the sessions.

Apart from the cases of repeated election, a certain continuity in the representation of Berkshire was ensured in a less direct way by sons following their fathers as Members of the Commons. Sir Richard Adderbury II was elected in the lifetime of his father, Sir Richard I (who had earlier represented Oxfordshire); Sir Peter Bessels succeeded his father, Sir Thomas, and father-in-law, Thomas Cateway; Thomas Childrey took the place of Sir Edmund; John Eastbury imitated another John; Robert James could look to the example of his father, John, and father-in-law, Sir Edmund de la Pole*; Sir William Langford followed Sir Thomas; Robert de la Mare followed Sir Thomas; and John Shotesbrooke (and later his brother Sir Robert) followed Gilbert. William and John Golafre were uncle and nephew. But in none of these cases would it be true to speak of a family tradition of parliamentary service, even though such traditions may have been in the making (as instanced by the elections of the grandsons of Sir William Langford and Robert de la Mare later in the 15th century). Nor was there in Berkshire a single outstanding parliamentary dynasty, as was the case in the neighbouring county of Wiltshire.

The majority of the 26 knights of the shire were Berkshire men as regards their principal interests. Indeed, all of them, except perhaps John Hartington (about whom we can discover next to nothing) and Thomas Gloucester (the marshal of the King’s hall who was returned in 1401), owned land in the county. (And even these two exceptions had at least some concerns there, for Hartington married the daughter of a former shire knight, Robert Bullock, possibly before his only election in 1397, and Gloucester, who held the manor of Whitchurch, just over the river in Oxfordshire, received one of his royal annuities from the Berkshire manor of Hinton Waldrist.) Eighteen of the remaining 24 came from local families, albeit in some cases (for example, Robert de la Mare and Sir William Langford) being only the second generation to be settled in the county. Of the six newcomers to the area, three were accepted into the community through marriage to local heiresses: Thomas Beckingham, whose origins are obscure, and William Fynderne, who originally came from Derbyshire but had in the meantime established himself as a landowner in Essex, both married daughters and coheirs of Thomas Childrey (the MP of 1390 and 1406); and Laurence Drew, who hailed from Wiltshire, acquired his property at Southcote by his marriage to Lucy Restwold. Sir Gilbert Talbot, a younger son of the Herefordshire family seated at Richard’s Castle, first settled in Berkshire on being granted valuable manors there by Edward III, and then so considerably increased his holdings in the county by marriage to the widowed Lady Lisle as to become one of the richest landowners of the region. Sir John Kentwood, another whose origins are uncertain, bought most of his Berkshire lands with ransom money paid him by the Black Prince for Philip, the son of King John II of France, whom he had helped capture at Poitiers. Finally, although little is known about William Perkins’s early life, he would appear not to have inherited the property he held in Berkshire, which presumably, therefore, was acquired by marriage or purchase. Quite a fair proportion (eight out of 26) were, therefore, Berkshire men only by adoption, yet the majority made the county their home, and to a large extent the focal point of their interests, despite (as in no fewer than 14 cases all told) their ownership of estates in other parts of England.

There is insufficient evidence to allow us to treat of the incomes of the Berkshire MPs with any degree of certainty, but only a few would seem to have been at all wealthy. Estimates of the value of landed properties in the county itself, arising out of the tax assessments of 1412, show Robert de la Mare’s worth £70 a year, John Golafre’s £49, John Shotesbrooke’s about £27, Robert James’s £25, Sir Peter Bessels’s and Sir Richard Adderbury II’s about £22 each, Edmund Sparsholt’s £20, and Laurence Drew’s £15. But, quite apart from these valuations being probably underestimated, this is by no means the full picture; for most of these men also possessed substantial holdings in other counties, and, as evidence from different sources makes clear, the annual incomes enjoyed by some may even have exceeded £100 (as they certainly did in the cases of Golafre and James). The wealthiest shire knight of all seems to have been Sir Gilbert Talbot, whose lands (including nearly all of the English estates pertaining to the Cluniac order), were worth some £260 p.a. clear. (But then he only sat once in Parliament, in 1386.) In effect, the MPs fell roughly into three categories in terms of wealth: those whose total incomes exceeded £70 a year (including Adderbury, Bessels, Childrey, Golafre, James, de la Mare and Talbot); those (about 11 in number) with between £20 and £70; and the remainder (about seven) with less. However, no distinct pattern of representation in terms of wealth emerges from this analysis, save only that after 1404 those with smaller incomes were seldom elected.

In other respects, less easy to define, one type of shire knight was giving way to another in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, for knights by rank lost their earlier predominance to less distinguished (though not necessarily poorer or less able) men. No more than five belted knights were returned in the whole of the period 1386 to 1421, and as the years passed so they came to be allotted a smaller proportion of the Berkshire seats. Thus, between 1386 and 1397 (Sept.) the ratio of knights to those of lesser rank was 3:8 (that is, they occupied six out of the 22 places available), and on one occasion, in 1394, two knights were returned together. The ratio fell to 1:15 in the eight Parliaments of Henry IV’s reign for which returns survive, and to 1:17 in the nine of Henry V’s. Nearly all of the five knights by rank are known to have led active military careers before their earliest returns to Parliament: Sir John Kentwood’s exploits at Poitiers had been followed by further service overseas; Sir Gilbert Talbot had campaigned in France and Scotland under Edward III and Richard II; Sir Richard Adderbury II had fought in Spain; Sir Peter Bessels had seen action at sea as well as in Ireland; and although details of the military exploits of Sir William Langford have not been discovered, it may be, judging from the way he prized his armour, that the martial arts played an important part in his life. But these five were heavily outnumbered in the representation of Berkshire by men of lesser rank, who with very few exceptions (such as William Golafre, John Golafre and Robert de la Mare) apparently never bore arms on foreign campaigns, not even on Henry V’s. It was the lesser gentry who, with a group of lawyers, came to dominate the shire’s representation in Parliament. There were at least six Members trained in the law: Richard Brouns, Thomas Childrey, Laurence Drew, William Fynderne, William Perkins and William Wood I, and perhaps William Brouns made a seventh. Lawyers were elected at various times throughout the period, but of especial interest is the return of at least one member of the legal profession to each of the Parliaments summoned between 1383 and 1391, and the election of Drew and Childrey together in 1406. These last two were somewhat out of the ordinary, for Childrey, the son of a former judge, had recently acted as steward of the estates of the bishopric of Winchester, and Drew, who had begun his career as King’s attorney in the common pleas, had subsequently been assigned to Richard II’s council specifically to deal with matters of legal significance.

Almost all of the 26 shire knights of the period had some experience of local administration. A third of them (nine) served at least one term as sheriff of the joint bailiwick of Oxfordshire and Berkshire;1 and half (13) as escheator in the same area.2 John Arches discharged the duties of alnager for eight years. With just two exceptions, they all appeared on occasional royal commissions in Berkshire of one kind or another (the exceptions being John Hartington and Thomas Gloucester, although the latter had just completed a year in the escheatorship when elected to his only Parliament in 1401). A remarkably high number—as many as 18—were put on the commission of the peace in this county, and two more served as j.p.s elsewhere.3 These figures are impressive, showing how the tasks of local government were shared among a large number of men. Few did much (except for Drew and John Golafre), but many did something of note on occasion. For the majority, a seat in the Commons fell to them for the first time early in the course of their local duties; less often it came their way even before they undertook such commitments. Thus half (13) had served on occasional commissions before first securing election to Parliament; eight had already sat on the local bench; and six had held office as escheator, although only three had been made sheriff. It never happened in this period that an officiating sheriff was returned to Parliament (which would have contravened the writs of summons). In 1410, however, the county community did elect the then escheator, John Golafre, and to 18 of the 28 Parliaments for which returns survive it chose to be represented by at least one member of the Berkshire bench. (Indeed, in 1386, January 1404, 1406, April 1414 and 1417 both shire knights were currently j.p.s there.) The age of Members when they first sat for the county varied considerably, but few of them were then young men. Bessels, Richard Brouns and William Danvers were all over 50 when they first sat for Berkshire; ten others were most likely in their forties; and the rest, with the exception of Sir William Langford (who was about 28), probably in their thirties.

Berkshire was not dominated by great landlords in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, yet a number of magnates who held land in the county or nearby did prove to be useful patrons of their social inferiors. Undoubtedly, the royal castle at Wallingford acted as a focal point for the gentry of the shire, and connexions with the holders of the honour of Wallingford and the constables of the castle were of some significance in its parliamentary representation. Thus, at the beginning of our period Berkshire frequently returned men who had been connected with the Black Prince, and had, since the latter’s death in 1376, either kept in close contact with his former retainers, or else had progressed to the service of his son, Richard II. Richard Brouns (elected seven times between 1380 and 1390), who had been employed by the prince as an attorney, was linked both with Sir Richard Adderbury I (that one of Prince Edward’s retainers who had been made ‘first master’ to his heir) and Sir Hugh Segrave, constable of Wallingford from 1382 to 1387 and treasurer of the Exchequer in the period 1381-6. Sir John Kentwood, who was still in receipt of an annuity of £40 as granted him by the prince, served the young King as steward of Cornwall from 1378 to 1388 and as justiciar of South Wales in 1389-90, his elections for Berkshire in 1390 and 1393 (his seventh and eighth Parliaments) coming at the close of a career spent in arduous tasks on the Crown’s behalf. William Brouns, returned in 1395, had occupied the stewardship of Wallingford when the honour was in the possession of Prince Edward’s widow, Joan of Kent, and may have continued to do so under her son. Another royal annuitant returned by Berkshire (in 1386) was the King’s knight, Sir Gilbert Talbot, who held manors worth £40 a year by grant of Edward III and was wont to vaunt himself as a kinsman of Richard II. Sir Richard Adderbury II’s first election to Parliament in 1394 no doubt owed much to the status still enjoyed by his father at Court as councillor both to the King and his queen, Anne (whom he had also served as her chamberlain). Yet it also coincided with his own return home from France, where, just a few weeks before Parliament assembled, he had been engaged on secret business of the King relating to the negotiations with Charles VI to achieve a permanent peace; and his connexion with the King’s uncle, John of Gaunt (by whom he had engaged for more than 20 years as his retainer and at least six as his chamberlain), was doubtless a further recommendation to the electors. Earlier on, Berkshire had been represented in four of the Parliaments between 1385 and 1391 by the lawyer, Laurence Drew. From 1394 he received annuities of 40 marks and 100 marks, respectively, as a King’s esquire and member of the royal council, and was to prove invaluable to Richard as an advisor in the remaining years of his reign. During that period he himself was not re-elected to the Lower House (perhaps because his attendance would be taken for granted as ex officio member of the Council), yet his hand may have been behind the return of the obscure John Hartington in the autumn of 1397, at a time when the King, already embarked on his policy of attrition against the Lords Appellant of 1387-8 and their erstwhile allies, looked for supporters in the Commons to smooth the way for the processes of appeal and impeachment. Hartington, otherwise a nonentity, was quite likely already the son-in-law of Drew’s friend, Robert Bullock. His total lack of experience of public affairs, in Parliament as elsewhere, would no doubt predispose him to follow the lead given by the King’s ministers. He was accompanied by another relatively unknown figure, John Englefield, who, also a newcomer to the Commons, had yet to take any part in local administration and had little else, other than his kinship with Robert Braybrooke, bishop of London, to commend him. Englefield was, however, like Adderbury, a retainer of the King’s uncle, the duke of Lancaster.

At least three of the Berkshire MPs were known personally to the then bishop of Winchester, William of Wykeham; indeed, the two who survived the bishop were to receive bequests in his will. Richard Brouns had accepted a grant of land from Wykeham in 1379—a gift which when taken together with Brouns’s occasional appearances at the episcopal palace at Southwark, suggests a fairly close personal connexion between them; John Arches held office by Wykeham’s appointment as bailiff of Witney and of the episcopal liberty of Oxfordshire and Berkshire (doing so at least by the time of his third election to Parliament, in 1402); and Thomas Childrey acted not only as steward of the bishop’s estates, but also as one of his executors. Even though these links with Arches and Childrey were not to manifest themselves fully until late in Wykeham’s life, some significance may be attached to the election of these particular three men to the Parliaments of 1390, in the course of his chancellorship of 1389-91.

Of similar interest are the connexions between the shire knights for Berkshire and Wykeham’s successor, Henry Beaufort, connexions which appear to have mostly come about through the auspices of the bishop’s cousin, Thomas Chaucer* of Ewelme. Indeed, Chaucer’s influence over the returns for Berkshire may even be discerned from before October 1399, the date of his appointment for life as constable of Wallingford castle, at the very beginning of Henry IV’s reign. The circle of his friends and associates included Robert James, Edmund Sparsholt, John Golafre and Thomas Rothwell, who between them occupied half the available seats between then and 1422; while Thomas Beckingham (1419), whose acquaintance with Henry Beaufort predated the bishop’s translation to Winchester and had led to Beckingham’s life tenure of the post of bailiff of the episcopal estates in Berkshire, doubtless shared their political inclinations. Of particular interest in this context is the election to the Parliament of 1410 of Golafre and James, linked together with Chaucer in tripartide positions of mutual trust and profit, for it was in this Parliament that the ascendancy of Henry, prince of Wales, and of his allies the Beauforts, was firmly established with the backing of the Commons, led by Chaucer as their Speaker. At that very time Golafre was in receipt of an annuity charged on Bishop Beaufort’s manor of Harwell in Berkshire. He was to be re-elected to Henry of Monmouth’s first Parliament as King, in May 1413, and subsequently received from him not only confirmation of his royal annuities (which dated from Richard II’s reign) but also appointment as controller of the royal manor of Woodstock. Evidence of direct influence over the course of the Berkshire elections is wanting, although the return of members of Thomas Chaucer’s circle, either when he himself was presiding as sheriff (in 1401 and at both elections of 1404), or when Golafre or James was doing so (in 1399 and 1417, respectively) might not have been coincidental. Furthermore, it was while Chaucer was sheriff in 1401 that the only outsider to the community was elected to Parliament. He, Thomas Gloucester, who had been marshal of Henry of Bolingbroke’s household in the 1390s, was currently serving as marshal of the King’s hall and owed everyth