Canterbury

Borough

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
1386Thomas Holt
 John Symme
1388 (Feb.)John Mendham
 William Ellis
1388 (Sept.)John Creking
 John Wimpole
1390 (Jan.)Henry Lincoln
 Thomas Ickham
1390 (Nov.)
1391Edmund Horne
 John Proude
1393John Sexton I
 Richard Gervays
1394John Proude
 Robert Farthing
1395William Ellis
 Thomas Ickham
1397 (Jan.)Richard Gervays
 John Sexton I
1397 (Sept.)Edmund Horne
 Robert Farthing
1399John Sheldwich I
 Thomas Lane
1401Thomas Ickham
 John Pirie 1
1402John Sheldwich I
 Robert Cooper II
1404 (Jan.)Thomas Chicche
 John Sexton I
1404 (Oct.)John Umfray
 John Haute 2
1406Edmund Horne
 Richard Water
1407John Sexton I
 Richard Water
1410Thomas Lane
 Henry Lynde 3
1411William Ickham
 William Rose II
1413 (Feb.)William Lane
 John Sheldwich II 4
1413 (May)Thomas Lane
 William Emery
1414 (Apr.)Richard Water
 John Sheldwich II 5
1414 (Nov.)Thomas Lane
 John Sheldwich II
1415John Sheldwich II 6
1416 (Mar.)Henry Lynde
 John Sheldwich II
1416 (Oct.)William Ickham
 William Benet 7
1417John Sheldwich II 8
 Henry Lynde
1419John Monyn
 John Sheldwich II
1420William Benet
 William Ickham
1421 (May)John Sheldwich II
 William Lane 9
1421 (Dec.)Thomas Langdon
 Thomas Norman

Main Article

By this stage in its already long history, Canterbury had grown into a sizeable city containing 12 parishes and an estimated population of nearly 4,000. The Roman settlement had been adapted in Anglo-Saxon times to serve as capital of the kingdom of Kent, and the grant made to Augustine by King Ethelbert of his palace there at the end of the sixth century ensured the city’s place as the first and long unrivalled centre of Christianity in England. Canterbury’s importance as the seat of the primate and pre-eminent place of worship clearly lay behind widespread concern about its decayed fortifications in the late 14th century. After the renewal of open war with France in 1377, hostile raids on the south coast prompted Archbishop Sudbury to rebuild, at his own expense, the western gate of the city as well as the ‘long wall’ between that and Northgate, and likewise persuaded Richard II of the need to grant £200 from the issues of Kent due in the years 1386-8 to supplement the contributions made by Archbishop Courtenay and the citizens themselves in order to complete the work of renovation. At the same time substantial repairs were undertaken on the royal castle at Canterbury, which was thus enabled to continue in use as the principal gaol of the county, and on occasion the headquarters of the sheriff, for more than a century longer.10

Canterbury’s development had inevitably followed from its situation on the principal thoroughfare from London to Dover and the continent, which also made it the end of the journey for countless pilgrims visiting the shrine of St. Thomas Becket in the cathedral; and until the suppression of the religious foundations and the removal of this shrine the pilgrim traffic alone ensured that the city prospered. On behalf of Christ Church priory, Archbishop Courtenay obtained from Richard II a grant of four fairs to be held at principal festivals of peregrination in the year, and this naturally redounded to the greater profit of the citizens. It was a cause of civic pride that when, in 1420, at the jubilee of St. Thomas, an estimated 100,000 visitors came to Canterbury in the two weeks following the festival on 7 July, they were, ‘by the providence of the bailiffs of Canterbury’, all supplied with food and lodging at a reasonable cost, and, furthermore, the King’s peace was kept unbroken throughout. All three Kings of England of our period made visits to Canterbury; and Richard II’s father, the Black Prince, Henry IV himself, and the latter’s second son, Thomas, duke of Clarence, were buried in the cathedral. Henry V was welcomed by the citizens on several occasions, most notably on 18 Nov. 1415 immediately after his return to England following the victory at Agincourt, and in August 1416 when the city, also playing host to the Emperor Sigismund, gave its name to the treaty then concluded between the two monarchs.11

A number of charters had been granted to the citizens of Canterbury in the course of the Middle Ages. That of 1233 permitted them to hold the city from the Crown for an annual fee farm of £60, while two more, dated 1256, conferred freedom from interference in their affairs by royal officials, including the privilege of return of writs. In 1380 Richard II confirmed these earlier charters ‘for the honour of St. Thomas the martyr’ and because his own father lay entombed at Canterbury; and his Lancastrian successors followed suit with grants made in 1399, 1414 and 1425.12

By the late 14th century the city was administered by two bailiffs who presided over the burghmote court with the assistance of a council of 12 jurats, supported in its turn by a body of 36 ‘honest and worshipful men’. All were elected in September, a few days in advance of their entry into office at Michaelmas, and if the surviving record of an election held on 27 Sept. 1418 is to be taken as typical of the normal procedure followed, the new officials were chosen by a committee consisting of the two outgoing bailiffs and ten other citizens selected by them. Perhaps as a consequence it was not at all usual for bailiffs to be re-elected for a consecutive term of office: in our period this only happened at Michaelmas 1387, when the bailiffs were kept on by royal command so that the works on the city walls might be more speedily completed, and in 1403, 1412 and 1416, for undocumented reasons. Certainly after 1393, if not necessarily before that date, a jurat was permitted to serve for no more than two years without a break (those elected for a consecutive term being described as ‘senior’ jurats, and the newcomers as ‘juniors’). However, there was no bar to re-election either as bailiff or jurat after a year’s exclusion from office. Each of the six wards of the city (named after the principal gates) was headed by an alderman. This office, which entailed duties in the government of the city which are nowhere specifically stated, appears not to have been elective in our period, rather to have been held by persons in fee, as an inheritance. As details of the careers of William Lane and Henry Lincoln reveal, the aldermanry of Westgate could change hands by sale, and that of Worgate be bequeathed by will. Naturally, only freemen of the city might participate in its administration, and admission was strictly controlled by the governing body, which limited entry to sons and sons-in-law of citizens, those prepared to pay a substantial fee, and a select few worthy of special favour.13

Canterbury had regularly sent representatives to Parliament throughout the 14th century. Up to and including 1407 the names of those elected were recorded on the dorse of the parliamentary writ directed by Chancery to the sheriff of Kent, together with those of two mainpernors for each Member (or, as became usual after 1402, two mainpernors for both Members). From 1411 onwards, a single indenture certified the election of both the knights of the shire and the burgesses from the two Kentish boroughs, in terms suggesting a common election in the shire court held either at Canterbury (as happened in 1411, February 1416 and November 1421) or at Rochester. On rare occasions (as in 1411) the electors named in the indenture included a number of citizens of Canterbury, who to all appearances elected the knights of the shire as well as the parliamentary burgesses. Nevertheless, from other evidence it is clear that the elections of the Members for Canterbury were in fact not made in the shire court, but on another, earlier occasion by the citizens meeting by themselves and elsewhere, perhaps in their ‘speche house’ or in the jurats’ chamber. This appears from the events of 1429, when the bishop of Rochester, John Langdon, successfully persuaded the sheriff of Kent to override an election already made at Canterbury, and to declare as elected one of his own servants in the place of one of the representatives the citizens themselves had chosen. Indeed, the election had been held so far in advance of the sheriff’s return of the parliamentary writ as to allow the citizens’ chosen representative, William Rose II, to spend five days at Westminster before he was recalled.14

Formal returns for Canterbury have survived for only 23 of the 32 Parliaments assembled between 1386 and 1421. However, all but one of the gaps in the series have been filled (or, in the case of the Parliament of 1415, half-filled) from the records of payments of parliamentary wages preserved in the city’s own financial accounts. Accordingly, we know the names of those occupying seats in all the Parliaments of the period save those of the two Members of 1390 (Nov.) and one of 1415. No fewer than 31 men were elected. Of these, a dozen were returned for Canterbury just once and six more twice. On the other hand, a third of the total (ten) secured election much more frequently, serving in at least four Parliaments each; and the record of John Sheldwich II, who was elected 14 times all told between 1413 and 1439, was unequalled at Canterbury throughout the 14th and 15th centuries. John Monyn was the only Member to sit for another constituency, having represented Dover in six Parliaments before his single return for Canterbury in 1419. If all such service is taken into account, the average number of Parliaments per Member was nearer three than two. The fullness of the records enables us to undertake a more confident analysis of the representation of Canterbury than may usually be applied to a borough. It is clear that candidates who were already experienced in the workings of the Commons were preferred to those who were novices, for Canterbury returned at least one man so qualified to 25 Parliaments, in half of which (12) neither Member was a newcomer to the House. Nevertheless, in perhaps as many as six Parliaments (those of 1393, 1399, October 1404, 1411, February 1413 and December 1421), Canterbury was wholly represented by untried men. The highest concentration of novices occurred under Henry IV, for newcomers occupied five out of the six available seats in the last three Parliaments of the reign, and only in 1407 are both Members known to have had previous experience of their role. It was not usual practice at Canterbury to re-elect one or more of the Members of a Parliament to its successor. Indeed, this did not happen at all in our period until 1407, when Richard Water was returned for the second time running. However, thereafter practice changed somewhat with the election of John Sheldwich II to four Parliaments in a row between April 1414 and March 1416, and then to the consecutive assemblies of 1417 and 1419.

Without exception the 31 MPs lived in Canterbury, where they all owned property. There can be little doubt that all of them were admitted as freemen of the city prior to their elections to Parliament (although incontrovertible proof of this is lacking in two cases). How many were actually natives of Canterbury is now impossible to say, but certainly four (Thomas Chicche, William Ellis, Henry Lincoln and John Sheldwich I) were related to men who had represented the city in the Commons earlier in the 14th century. Three families—those of Ickham, Lane and Sheldwich—produced more than one parliamentary burgess in our period, but only the Sheldwiches ever came anywhere near to monopolizing a seat. Although prior to 1393 records of the names of jurats are not complete, it is nevertheless clear that Canterbury preferred to send to the Lower House men who had already become involved in the administration of the city as bailiffs or jurats, for after that date only five instances have been found where the elected representatives had no such previous experience of local government: Robert Farthing (1394), Henry Lynde (1410), William Ickham and William Rose II (both 1411) and John Sheldwich II (1413). It may not have been coincidental that, save for Farthing, these five were elected towards the end of Henry IV’s reign, at a time when, as has already been mentioned, the city also took no exception to individuals untried in parliamentary affairs. Only two of Canterbury’s representatives—Thomas Holt and John Mendham—are not recorded as ever holding office as bailiffs or jurats, although this may well be because their careers were largely over before the long sequence of surviving financial accounts begins in 1393. Twenty-one MPs served as bailiff of Canterbury, more than half of them doing so for four or more terms: the most prominent in this respect being William Ellis (eight times a bailiff) and William Benet (seven times a bailiff and once—after the charter of 1448—mayor). But only a third of them (seven) had any experience of this office before they first sat in the Commons. It rarely happened that the city chose one of its officiating bailiffs as an MP, doing so only in May 1413 and October 1416 with the respective elections of Thomas Lane and William Benet. However, on six occasions an outgoing bailiff was returned to Parliament on completing his term, and in 1420 both the recently retired officers were so elected. Members of the governing council—the jurats—were quite frequently chosen to represent the city in the Commons: they occupied no fewer than 34 of the 61 seats where the MPs are known, and in at least seven Parliaments both burgesses were jurats. In addition, William Lane was elected in 1413 (Feb.) and 1421 (May) when occupying the important aldermanry of Westgate.

The occupations of 22 of the 31 Members have been discovered. Among them were a grocer, a cutler, a brewer, a former shipowner and merchant from Dover (John Monyn), three men involved in the wine trade (including the taverners Thomas Lane and Henry Lincoln, who probably made a good living from the pilgrim traffic), and six who traded in cloth. John Pirie was engaged as surveyor and clerk of the works at the cathedral, while Thomas Ickham dealt in livestock which he supplied to the garrison of Calais. Seven are known to have been lawyers, whom the city and citizens engaged as counsel, most successful among them being William Ellis, whose service for a year as King’s attorney in the court of common pleas preceded his earliest election to Parliament. Men of law were returned to at least 17 Parliaments of the period, and in 1414 (Apr.), 1416 (Mar.) and 1417 both Members belonged to this profession. Doubtless the city found it made sense to send to Westminster men who were qualified to do its business in the lawcourts at the same time as representing its interests in the Commons. In this context, it may be noted that in 1399 John Sheldwich I was paid £5 10s. as parliamentary wages for 55 days, although Parliament was only in session for 44.15 Certain of the lawyers (such as Henry Lynde and John Sheldwich II) were designated ‘gentlemen’ on occasion; indeed, the career of William Ellis was more typical of a shire knight than that of a parliamentary burgess. Similarly, Thomas Langdon and William Rose II (whose occupations are not known), were also ‘gentlemen’, and were in other respects different from the normal type of Member, the former being the brother of a bishop, and the latter a protégé of the prior of Christ Church. By the time John Monyn sat for Canterbury in 1419 he had acquired the status of ‘esquire’, and was clearly regarded as being one of the gentry. Yet he was by no means alone in owning land in the county at large, for no fewer than 22 of the 31 MPs are known to have possessed landed holdings beyond the city walls, and the wealthiest of them—the lawyer William Emery (with property estimated at £20 6s.8d. p.a.), the vintners Thomas Lane (with holdings worth over £28 a year) and William Lane, and the draper William Benet—rivalled some of the knights of the shire in terms of income.

Of the 17 Members who were appointed to royal commissions at some stage in their careers, nine dealt with matters affecting the county as a whole, not just Canterbury alone. William Ellis even served for a short while as a j.p. for Kent; indeed, when first returned to Parliament in 1382 he was a member of the bench. However, only a comparatively few of Canterbury’s MPs ever held offices in the Crown’s appointment, and it only happened on three occasions that tenure of such posts coincided with election to Parliament: Ellis was occupying the alnagership of Kent when elected in 1395, and Thomas Lane, successively deputy butler and collector of customs at Sandwich, was returned to two of the Parliaments of Henry V’s reign while engaged as customer. Ellis and John Sheldwich I were both made escheators of Kent and Middlesex (the latter being appointed within a few days of the dissolution of his second Parliament in 1402), and John Proude had served as a coroner in Kent before his first appearance in the Commons.

There is no evidence that the Crown ever sought to influence the outcome of parliamentary elections at Canterbury. Similarly, there is nothing to suggest that the archbishop of Canterbury did so, although a number of the parliamentary burgesses are known to have come to the attention of one or other of the archbishops of the period. For example, Richard Water, the notary, had been appointed bailiff of New Romney by Archbishop Arundel, who apparently also employed Thomas Ickham and John Sheldwich I in some capacity; and William Ickham was a trustee of property with which Archbishop Chichele subsequently endowed All Souls college, Oxford. It does not, however, follow that any of them were elected largely because of such a connexion. When John Pirie was returned for the only time in 1401, he was serving as surveyor of works at the cathedral by appointment of Thomas Chillenden, prior of Christ Church; and when William Rose II was elected in 1411, it was scarcely two years after his admission to the freedom of Canterbury at the special request of the same prior. But in neither case is there sufficient reason to conclude that the citizens’ choice was unduly influenced from outside. In view of Bishop John Langdon of Rochester’s intervention in Canterbury’s elections in 1429, the near coincidence of his appointment to the see by Pope Martin V in November 1421 with the return to Parliament of his brother, Thomas Langdon, might conceivably give rise to suspicion of ecclesiastical interference. But then Thomas, who had been involved in the civic administration of Canterbury for 16 years prior to his election and, moreover, had been serving as a bailiff only a few weeks previously, was certainly no outsider. It is, however, significant that with John Langdon’s promotion to the episcopate, Thomas virtually retired from civic affairs, asked if the bishop did ever seek to secure his election to Parliament at a later date, he failed.

Canterbury’s MPs were paid at the customary rate of 2s. a day, but it is clear from the city’s records that, although many Parliaments were of short duration, it was not unusual for one of the representatives to leave before the end of a session. Thus, while John Sheldwich I received payment for 55 days service in 1399, his companion, Thomas Lane, was paid for only 31; in the first two sessions of the Parliament of 1406, together lasting 59 days, Edmund Horne attended for 47 and Richard Water for 53; and while one of the Members—William Ickham—was present for the full length of the Parl