Available from Boydell and Brewer
|1388 (Feb.)||Thomas Patching|
|1388 (Sept.)||William Horlebat|
|1390 (Jan.)||Thomas Patching|
|1395||John atte Mille|
|1397 (Jan.)||John Goldston|
|1397 (Sept.)||Thomas Patching|
|1413 (May)||Geoffrey Hebbe|
|1414 (Nov.)||Robert Stryvelyne|
|1416 (Mar.)||William Farnhurst|
|1417||Thomas Russel II|
|1421 (May)||William Farnhurst|
|1421 (Dec.)||John Dolyte|
First established by the Romans as the capital of a native kingdom on the coastal plain, Chichester became in medieval times an important trading centre and port, even though it lacked direct access to the sea. Markets and fairs were regular events there, and from the early 13th century customs dues on wool, woolfells, and hides were collected in Chichester harbour, after 1341 the locally based customers being made responsible for the whole coastline from Southampton Water to Seaford. As one of the wool ports named in the Statute of the Staple in 1353, Chichester also became the seat of the Staple for Sussex, its leading merchants habitually filling the posts of mayor and constable. The returns for parliamentary subsidies levied in the 1330s reveal Chichester to have then been by far the wealthiest town in Sussex; and that it continued to be quite prosperous is suggested by the returns for the poll tax of 1379, for of the 248 persons assessed as many as 53 were taxed at more than 1s. a head. It was also the most populous place in the shire: 869 adults had contributed to the poll tax of 1377, a figure suggesting a total population of more than 1,300.1 Even so, Chichester never rivalled Southampton in size or importance as a mercantile centre, nor could its merchants compete with those of the larger port, either in terms of the value of their shipments or the range of their interests.
During the 13th century Chichester, Lewes, and Shoreham had all laid claim to be the best place for holding the county court of Sussex, but in 1336 Edward III finally decided on Chichester as being the most conveniently sited. Nevertheless, the city’s status as the administrative centre of the shire did not escape further challenge. In 1376 complaint was made to the King in Parliament by the inhabitants of Surrey and Sussex that Richard, earl of Arundel, to whom had been granted the sheriff’s tourns of the rapes of Chichester and Arundel, had begun to hold a new court, called ‘shire court’ every three weeks at Arundel, and it was at this court that all suits from these rapes which had formerly been pleaded at the county court at Chichester were now being determined. To what extent the volume of business in the county court was permanently reduced is unclear, although the court continued to be held at Chichester, save when, in May 1378, the sheriff, Sir William Percy*, obtained its removal to Lewes after certain of his officers had suffered assault at the hands of the mayor and citizens. (It was reinstated the following year, but not until the citizens had secured royal confirmation of the letters patent of 1336.)2
Since the removal of the seat of the bishop from Selsey to Chichester in 1075 and the later canonization of Bishop Richard Wych (d.1253), Chichester had been an ecclesiastical centre and popular place of pilgrimage. However, the jurisdiction which the bishop and the dean and chapter exercised, particularly over the south-western quarter of the city, inevitably led to disputes with the civic authorities. In the 1350s both bishop and dean entered into formal agreements with the citizens in an attempt to avoid such conflicts as had earlier led to bloodshed, but even so there were clashes in 1380, over the exercise of a royal commission of array, and in 1392, over a proposed visitation of the city churches during Bishop Metford’s absence. The citizens deeply resented the judicial privileges the bishop enjoyed for the duration of the fair at the feast of St. Denis, and in 1407 their grievances came to a head when an unusually outspoken mayor, Thomas Patching, undermined Bishop Rede’s authority by imposing an ordinance whereby any townsmen discovered introducing a plea at the episcopal court of piepowder would be fined or imprisoned. The bishop reckoned his losses that October at £100, but he seems to have been ultimately successful in his appeal to the chancellor for redress.3
A number of royal charters, dating from the early 12th century and confirmed by successive monarchs of our period, gave those citizens of Chichester who belonged to the guild merchant trading privileges, and to a certain extent the right to govern their city free from royal interference. Even so, not until Edward II’s reign had they formally obtained a royal grant of their city at a fee farm, eventually fixed at £36 a year. This farm was subsequently, in 1327, allotted to the earls of Kent to hold in tail, and in their line it accordingly remained until, following the rebellion of Earl Thomas in 1400, it was awarded to one of the King’s knights. However, neither the earls of Kent nor later grantees of the fee farm are known to have taken any personal interest in the administration of the city or in its representation in Parliament.4 Chichester had long been governed by a mayor (first mentioned as such in 1239), and two bailiffs, but little is known about its internal government owing to the loss of local records and the absence of an early custumal. Nevertheless, it is certain that the mayor was elected every year on the Monday before Michaelmas. A disturbance in 1408 when the same Thomas Patching as had earlier on in his mayoralty challenged the bishop’s jurisdiction tried to admit craftsmen, servants, workmen and labourers to share in the mayoral elections for his successor, shows that normally the franchise for this purpose was restricted to the more reputable persons who held the freedom of the city. It seems likely that civic affairs were usually dominated by members of the guild of St. George, of which the mayor was in later times the master. Although not officially incorporated until 1446 (when it was entirely remodelled at the instigation of a number of its more prominent members), this guild already existed in the 14th century. Chichester had two coroners, both elected in the city court, although their right to hold inquests had been usurped rather than formally acquired by royal grant.5
Chichester had sent representatives to Parliament regularly since 1295, although on at least three occasions during the early part of the 14th century the citizens had neglected to hold elections when so required by the sheriff. Returns are now missing for as many as nine of the 32 Parliaments assembled between 1386 and 1421, five of the gaps belonging to the reign of Henry IV. Of the 23 Members whose names are recorded, as many as ten represented the city just once and another four sat in two Parliaments each. Even so, the citizens evidently preferred to send to the Commons men with some experience of the workings of the House, for on seven occasions neither Member was a newcomer, and on no fewer than 13 more a tried individual accompanied an apparent novice. Only in the Parliaments of January 1397, 1406 and 1420 is it possible that Chichester was represented entirely by novices, and the gaps in the returns make this unlikely in all three cases. Continuity of representation was best provided during Richard II’s reign by the election of John Sherare to 13 Parliaments; in fact, Sherare, who also sat once for Lewes, missed only five of the 19 Parliaments summoned between October 1377 and 1395 for which returns for the Sussex boroughs are extant. On four occasions Sherare’s companion was Thomas Patching (who himself went on to represent the city three times more); indeed, this experienced pair was even chosen for consecutive Parliaments, in 1391 and 1393. Despite the gaps in the returns, re-election is known to have happened five more times: namely, when Sherare was returned in 1386, Patching in February 1388 and 1399, Thomas Neel in 1407, and William Farnhurst in March 1416. Like Sherare, John Vincent and Thomas Russell II also represented other boroughs in the course of their careers: Vincent sat once for Midhurst before his single election for Chichester in 1416, and Russell went on to sit once each for Midhurst, Reigate and East Grinstead, following his appearance for the city in the Parliament of 1417.
Few Chichester families of the medieval period can be said to have established much of a tradition of parliamentary service, although Sherare was probably a descendant of an earlier MP; Geoffrey Hebbe, who was certainly the grandson of a namesake who had sat in 1363 and the son of John Hebbe†, the Member of 1379, was quite likely a kinsman of John Hebbe of Fishbourne who entered the Commons in 1397; and William and Thomas Neel and Simon and John Vincent, all returned in our period, also shared a close, albeit undocumented, relationship. Richard Fust and John Okehurst both fathered men who were to be chosen to represent the city in Parliament later in the 15th century. Seventeen of the 23 representatives are known to have lived in Chichester, most of them undoubtedly being citizens proper. However, this group included some who were not natives of the place: men like Richard Fust who, coming from Warnham, had married an heiress of property at Bosham, and William Neel, who perhaps hailed from London. None of the six who may be loosely classed as ‘outsiders’ originated from beyond the borders of Sussex. John Hebbe lived no further away from the city than Fishbourne; John Okehurst, who resided at Kirdford, acquired the manor of Ham on Selsey Bill before his election to Parliament in 1397; and Richard Sherter held land in West Wittering, on Chichester harbour, which had come to him by marriage. Simon and John Vincent, whose principal landed interests lay in east Sussex and the Arun valley, respectively, are, nevertheless, both recorded in close association with inhabitants of Chichester, and although the place of residence of Thomas Russell II is not recorded, the fact of his holding office as bailiff of the liberty of Chichester in 1417, at the time of his only election to Parliament for the city, is proof enough that he was no stranger there.
Russell, as a member of the legal profession, may have been first drawn to Chichester in order to practis e in the local courts. Nor was he the only man of law elected by the citizens as an MP, for Robert Jugler, John Okehurst, John Sherare and John Vincent all made appearances as attorneys at the Sussex assizes (generally held at Lewes or East Grinstead) and, on occasion, also in the central courts at Westminster. Lawyers occupied 12 of the 46 available seats, being returned at fairly regular intervals throughout the period, although it is clear that, following Sherare’s retirement, after 1395 men of law figured less conspicuously than before. The remainder of the seats were taken predominantly by merchants and tradesmen, no doubt reflecting the main interests of the electorate. None of them particularly wealthy, or of much note, save perhaps for Geoffrey Hebbe, who attempted to recover from financial losses by undertaking to victual English garrisons in Normandy under Henry V and Henry VI, and William Neel, whose principal trading concerns led to his admission as a member of the powerful Vintners’ Company of London. Although seven of Chichester’s representatives are known to have been landowners in Sussex, none were ranked among the gentry, not even Neel, whose marriage had brought him valuable properties in London and Surrey, and whose successful mercantile ventures had enabled him to acquire a manor on the outskirts of Chichester.
The lack of local records, and the fact that the city’s fee farm was not paid into the Exchequer, makes it impossible to draw up anywhere near complete lists of mayors and bailiffs of Chichester. No conclusions may, therefore, be drawn from the fact that no more than seven of the 23 MPs are known to have ever been mayors and just three bailiffs (William Combe being the only one recorded as filling both posts in the course of his career); nor, indeed, that an officiating mayor was elected to Parliament just once in our period (John Cok in 1420). Five parliamentary burgesses are recorded as being elected constables of the local Staple, four of them, together with two others, going on to serve as mayor of the same; but in no known instance was an official of the Staple returned to Parliament during his term of office.
No more than two of the Members ever held offices in the Crown’s appointment: William Neel and Thomas Patching, both of whom served as collectors of customs in the port of Chichester, Patching having also acted for a term as controller of the same. However, five others were named on royal commissions in the shire at large, albeit for the most part either to collect parliamentary subsidies or to investigate incidents of smuggling in the immediate locality. Generally, election to Parliament preceded nomination to such official bodies, but in the case of Robert Jugler he received appointment to a commission of inquiry two years before his first return in 1402. This commission authorized him to trace the moveable goods forfeited in 1397 by Richard Fitzalan, late earl of Arundel, on behalf of the earl’s executors and heir, and, indeed, it seems likely that he, a retainer of Earl Richard (whose final imprisonment in the Tower he had shared), owed his four elections to Parliament for Chichester (1402, 1407, May 1413 and November 1414) largely to his connexion with the new earl, Thomas, for whom he acted as a trustee. Clearly, Jugler drew his closest associates from among his fellow Fitzalan retainers, rather than from the citizenry of Chichester; and it is worth remarking that after Earl Thomas’s death in 1415 he was apparently never returned to the Commons again. Similarly, Thomas Russell II’s election in 1417 may be at least in part attributed to his connexion with Earl Thomas’s successor in the castle and lordship of Arundel, John Arundel, Lord Mautravers, who employed him not only as an attorney but also as bailiff of the rape of Arundel.
There are no other hints that the citizens of Chichester may have been influenced from the outside in their choice of MPs. Certainly, the parliamentary returns themselves are as uninformative in this as in other respects. In the late 14th century the names of the men elected for Chichester were generally listed, along with those of the representatives of the other boroughs of Sussex and Surrey and their mainpernors, on the dorse of the writ of summons directed to the sheriff of the joint bailiwick; although occasionally (as in 1399) the returns for the two counties might be given separate schedules. For the most part the mainpernors were fictitious (as, most obviously, in October 1383, when their names formed rhyming couplets), and sometimes they were omitted altogether. No indentures of this period have been found for any of the Sussex boroughs, and it seems likely that none were ever drawn up. However, several of the citizens are listed as attesting the indentures which recorded the shire elections to Parliament, evidently being present at the county court held in Chichester when those elections took place, so it may be the case that they had attended in order to bear witness, also, to the authenticity of the city’s parliamentary return.
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. Chichester Pprs. vii. 9-11; VCH Suss. iii. 97-98, 100-2; Suss. Rec. Soc. x. 225-9, 250; Suss. Arch. Colls. xxiv. 67-69; lxxviii, 212, 2