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|1388 (Feb.)||Sir John Derwentwater|
|Sir John Ireby|
|1388 (Sept.)||Amand Monceaux|
|Sir Robert Muncaster|
|1390 (Jan.)||Amand Monceaux|
|Sir William Threlkeld|
|1390 (Nov.)||William Stapleton|
|1391||Sir Peter Tilliol|
|William Lowther I|
|1394||Sir Clement Skelton|
|1397 (Jan.)||Sir John Ireby|
|Sir Clement Skelton|
|1397 (Sept.)||Sir Peter Tilliol|
|1399||Sir William Leigh|
|1402||Sir William Leigh|
|1404 (Jan.)||(Sir) Robert Lowther|
|William Lowther I|
|1404 (Oct.)||John More I|
|1406||(Sir) Robert Lowther|
|(Sir) John Skelton|
|William More II|
|1410||Sir Peter Tilliol|
|1413 (May)||Sir Peter Tilliol|
|1414 (Apr.)||(Sir) Robert Lowther|
|Sir William Leigh|
|1414 (Nov.)||(Sir) Christopher Curwen|
|1416 (Mar.)||(Sir) John Lancaster I|
|1417||Sir Peter Tilliol|
|(Sir) Robert Lowther|
|1419||Sir William Leigh|
|Richard Restwold I|
|1420||Sir Peter Tilliol|
|Thomas More II|
|1421 (May)||Sir John Lamplugh|
|Richard Restwold II|
|1421 (Dec.)||Sir Peter Tilliol|
|Sir Nicholas Radcliffe|
Returns survive for Cumberland for 28 of the 32 Parliaments which met between 1386 and 1421 (inclusive), those for 1411, 1413 (Feb.), 1415 and 1416 (Oct.) having been lost. The names of 29 shire knights are known, of whom the great majority—20 in all—sat in the Lower House more than once, albeit sometimes for other constituencies. On the whole, however, the general level of parliamentary experience was still not particularly high. The reluctance of more than a few men to make the arduous journey south to Westminster on anything like a regular basis was in part due to the problems of long-distance travel in medieval England. There can, moreover, be little doubt that the gentry of Cumberland and Westmorland regarded themselves as a rather separate, isolated community when it came to dealings with the government, their main concern being to reduce the burden of taxation imposed upon them by the central authorities and to improve the very low standards of law enforcement in the northwest. Even so, five of the 14 men who represented Cumberland in just one Parliament were returned elsewhere, most often for Westmorland, where many Cumbrian landowners held property. Both John Lancaster I and Sir William Threlkeld sat three times for Westmorland, and Christopher Moresby once. William Osmundlaw alone served as a burgess for Carlisle, which sent him to the February Parliament of 1383; and Richard Restwold II, the heir to impressive estates in the Thames valley, was later elected four times for Berkshire and once for Oxfordshire. Only one of the five men who sat twice for Cumberland appears to have been returned by another constituency. This was Sir John Derwentwater, present in two more Parliaments as a shire knight for Westmorland.
Of the remaining MPs, a mere handful could claim to be really experienced Members of the Lower House. Sir John Ireby had three returns for Cumberland to his credit; Sir William Leigh and Thomas More II had four; and Amand Monceaux, William Stapleton and Sir Clement Skelton each had five. (Sir) Christopher Curwen first entered the Commons as one of the burgesses for Appleby in September 1397, but he went on to represent Cumberland six times. Robert Lowther’s seven returns for the county were spread over a period of 26 years; but no one came near to rivalling the remarkable record of Sir Peter Tilliol, who attended no less than 13 Parliaments as a shire knight. Aged just 22 when he first took a seat in 1378, he travelled south to Westminster for the last time in 1428, but continued to serve on the local bench for another six years until his death. So far as we can tell, each of the 29 men here under review attended an average of between two and three Parliaments as a representative for Cumberland, but if experience elsewhere is taken into account this average rises to well over three. Thus, even though parliamentary service was not a regular feature of their lives, a substantial proportion of Members did acquire a reasonable knowledge of Commons’ procedure; and the electors of Cumberland were able to maintain a fairly high level of representative continuity. Allowing for the loss of evidence, which makes it impossible to gauge the relative experience of those MPs who sat towards the end of our period, it appears that on only six occasions, in the Parliaments of 1390 (Nov.), 1393, 1399, 1404 (Oct.), 1414 (Nov.) and 1421 (May), were both men novices. In at least 13 Parliaments, however, two experienced Members sat for Cumberland, while in a further nine one newcomer was chosen to accompany a colleague who had already served before. Instances of immediate reelection were, not surprisingly, most unusual. Indeed, Amand Monceaux, who attended the two consecutive Parliaments of 1388 (Sept.) and 1390 (Jan.), seems to have been unique in this respect.
Since Cumberland was a border county where, even during periods of official truce, a good deal of skirmishing went on against the Scots, the local gentry were men of considerable military experience. But although they were undoubtedly eligible to receive knighthoods, many leading members of county society chose not to do so, and this fact is reflected in the pattern of representation. An analysis of the 28 Parliaments for which returns survive reveals that an even balance was maintained between the choice of knights by rank and others of lesser social status. Whereas a belted knight served with an esquire or gentleman on 15 occasions, it is interesting to note that two knights were returned together to only six Parliaments and two men of lesser rank to seven. In marked contrast to many other counties, however, fewer esquires were returned during the early 15th century, and none sat together after 1407.
Taken as a whole, the parliamentary representatives of Cumberland possessed an impressive amount of expertise in the field of local government. Whereas only two of their number (William More II and Richard Restwold I) never became involved in administrative affairs at all, the great majority could boast long and diverse records of service. No less than 18 shire knights occupied the shrievalty of Cumberland, and of these all but three did so for two or more terms. No less than seven are known to have been appointed three times, while Thomas More II had four terms to his credit, and (Sir) Christopher Curwen achieved the remarkable total of six. During the early 15th century, Robert Lowther and his brother, William I, enjoyed a disproportionate share of royal office-holding in the north-west, moving on a more or less alternate basis from the escheatorship to the shrievalty and back, with the full encouragement of the Lancastrian regime, of which they were both enthusiastic supporters. A depressing combination of low agricultural productivity, endemic disease, general lawlessness and border warfare made it impossible to raise all the farms and taxes demanded by the government, so it is hardly surprising that only a few senior members of the community were prepared to shoulder the burden of office in this way. Thus, for example, Amand Monceaux, who was three times sheriff of Cumberland, had to spend heavily, in 1384, on defensive measures against the Scots, and soon became embroiled in a long dispute with the authorities over the payment of his arrears.
On the other hand, the shrievalty brought with it a good deal of influence and power, which could be exploited for personal advancement. Perhaps so that he could argue his case in person before the barons of the Exchequer, Monceaux used his official authority to have himself elected to the Parliament of 1386, even though in so doing he was technically in breach of the statute which forbade the return of sheriffs to the House of Commons. Both John Thirlwall and Sir William Leigh actually took up office, in 1386 and 1399 respectively, while Parliament was still sitting, Leigh, in particular, having been marked out for preferment by the new government. Later on, in 1423 and again in 1427, (Sir) Christopher Curwen was likewise made sheriff while attending Parliament at Westminster. William Lowther I seized the opportunity as sheriff of Cumberland to engineer the return of his brother, Robert, in 1401, not least because the two men were anxious to secure the farm of certain crown property in Inglewood forest and needed to be in London to negotiate the best rates at the Exchequer. John Skelton availed himself of a similar tactic in 1406, as he was particularly anxious to recover compensation for the Scottish prisoners who had been taken by him at the battle of Humbleton Hill three years earlier and kept as hostages by Henry IV. Since his own son, Richard, was then sheriff, it was not difficult for him to obtain a seat in Parliament. Only two of our men occupied shrievalties elsewhere: John Lancaster I discharged two terms as deputy sheriff of Westmorland; and Richard Restwold II, whose interests lay almost exclusively in the south, was twice sheriff of Oxfordshire and Berkshire, and likewise of Wiltshire. Even so, the great majority (14 in all) were pricked as sheriffs at least once during the course of their parliamentary careers, with the result that many of the shire knights who pressed the Commons for a reduction in local taxation were able to speak from hard-won personal experience.
Fewer individuals (just 11) occupied the escheatorship of Cumberland, partly because from 1377 to 1397 it was amalgamated with those of Northumberland and Westmorland, thus inevitably curtailing the opportunities for service. From 1400 onwards, the two neighbouring counties of Cumberland and Westmorland generally shared a single escheator, often for quite long periods, so even then the office remained in a few hands. Without exception, those MPs who agreed, or were more probably persuaded, to accept this rather thankless post did so well after they first sat in Parliament. Robert Lowther was actually appointed to the escheatorship of Cumberland and Westmorland during the course of the 1406 Parliament, and, like Amand Monceaux, he was also returned to the Commons on another occasion while holding office. The extent of Richard Restwold II’s holdings in the south has already been noted, and he was the only Cumberland MP to serve there, being twice made escheator of Oxfordshire and Berkshire, and once escheator of Hampshire and Wiltshire.
A sizeable proportion of shire knights (18) received commissions of the peace at some point in their careers, and of these no less than 14 sat on the bench in Cumberland. Robert Lowther was busily employed in both Cumberland and Westmorland, while John Lancaster I, Christopher Moresby, and Sir William Threlkeld were active in Westmorland alone. Once again, Richard Restwold II, who was a j.p. in both Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, concentrated his administrative interests elsewhere. The electors of Cumberland showed no real preference for current members of the county bench when it came to their choice of representatives. Only three times, in 1397 (Jan.), 1401 and 1414 (Apr.), were both shire knights then serving, although one justice was returned to a further 11 Parliaments, over three-quarters of which met before 1410. Almost all our men (24) sat on at least one or two royal commissions of a more specific nature, often of array against the Scots. The level of experience was, indeed, fairly high, since at least 13 MPs were appointed to six or more such bodies during their careers, while some were employed fairly regularly by the Crown. Sir John Derwentwater (15), Richard Restwold II (21, all in the south), Sir William Threlkeld (18) and Sir Peter Tilliol (20) appear to have been the most active. In this instance rather more MPs had acquired some expertise as commissioners before they entered the Lower House, since ten are known to have begun their parliamentary careers with some knowledge of this kind of work. A slightly smaller number of shire knights (21) helped to collect taxes for the government, partly because tasks of this sort often fell upon gentry of lesser status. On the other hand, some of the most influential of our men were happy to act as collectors of customs in Cumberland or Carlisle, since the opportunities for personal profit were so great. Nine of them held office at some point in their careers, although William Bewley and John Skelton were the only ones to do so before entering the House of Commons.1
Throughout our period, relations between the Scots and the English remained extremely tense, since even during times of peace flagrant breaches of truce were common. One third, if not more, of the Cumberland shire knights were involved as envoys and keepers of the west march in attempts to conserve the peace and ensure that proper compensation was awarded to those who suffered from border raids, although few could themselves resist the tempting prospect of booty or ransoms when the opportunity presented itself.2 Sir Peter Tilliol, for example, had faced ‘grave financial difficulties’ when obliged as keeper of the west march to make good certain losses sustained by the Scots, and was himself taken hostage by them, but this did not prevent him from committing ‘many robberies against the men of Scotland’ and falling foul of John, Lord Neville, in the process. While still quite young, Roland Vaux had incurred the wrath of the Scottish earl of Douglas because of his freebooting activities, and although John, duke of Lancaster, the warden of the march, was prepared to excuse him in public he showed no sympathy whatsoever in private for one whose conduct threatened to plunge the border into renewed violence. Vaux, too, was soon to be employed as an envoy for the conservation of the peace. In view of this potentially explosive situation, the need for constant military preparedness was particularly urgent, and at least five individuals held important commands along the border. Both Sir William Leigh and William Osmundlaw took charge of Cockermouth castle, the former for Henry, earl of Northumberland, and the latter for Ralph, earl of Westmorland, who assumed control of it, in 1405, after the second of the Percy uprisings. John Thirlwall, Sir Clement Skelton and Amand Monceaux were deputy keepers of Carlisle castle at various times; and Monceaux was also constable of Lochmaben castle in Scotland. On the other hand, only two of our men spent any appreciable time as the commanders of garrisons across the Channel in France, John Skelton at Bordeaux and (Sir) Christopher Curwen at Danville in Normandy.
A large area of Cumberland lay within the bounds of the royal forest of Inglewood, and several MPs held office there. Some of these posts were little more than sinecures, and are thus hard to document, but it is evident that anyone serving as a forester or verderer could expect preferential treatment when it came to the negotiation of leases of pasture land, fisheries or closes within the forest. At least eight shire knights were favoured in this way, the most notable being Robert Lowther, who was not only deputy to Ralph, earl of Westmorland, as keeper of all royal forests north of the Trent, but also lieutenant to Richard II in Inglewood forest, and later verderer there. His brother, William I, was master forester from 1407 until his death in 1421, and between them the two men accumulated an impressive amount of land as tenants of the Crown. Sir William Threlkeld, Sir Peter Tilliol, and Richard Restwold II were also foresters, while William Stapleton, John Thirlwall and Roland Vaux served in the less important post of verderer. Other types of administrative experience were rare. Amand Monceaux, who was particularly active in the field of local government, became both coroner and alnager of Cumberland. William Stapleton replaced him as alnager, through the patronage of the newly crowned Henry IV, but no other Cumbrian MP occupied this post.
Partly because of the long distance between London and Carlisle, few shire knights became attached to the royal court. Those who did so often came to notice because of their military experience, acquired near at hand on the border, or further afield in Ireland or France. Thus, (Sir) Christopher Curwen, a member of Henry V’s second expedition to Normandy in 1417, received the castle of Cany-en-Caux and land in Caux (worth at least 140 marks p.a. in the 1430s) as a reward, and was eventually granted the ‘SS’ livery collar of the house of Lancaster by Henry VI in recognition of his services. Sir William Leigh, who also took part in the 1417 campaign, and had, moreover, fought at Agincourt some two years previously, likewise enjoyed an annuity of 40 marks from the King. William Lowther I was noted both for his feats of arms and his skill as an administrator, two very different accomplishments which earned him a place in the household of Henry IV. The most notable of our men was John Skelton, an esquire of the body to Richard II and a follower of the King’s favourite, Edward, earl of Rutland (cr. duke of Aumâle in 1397). Skelton threw in his lot with the Lancastrian regime in 1399, and helped the Percys defeat the Scots three years later at Humbleton Hill. The enemy commander, Murdoch, earl of Fife, and another prisoner, William, Lord Graham, were actually captured by him, but whereas the earl of Northumberland and his son, Sir Henry Percy, regarded Henry IV’s refusal to let them take ransoms as a welcome pretext for revolt, Skelton remained loyal to the government. Eventually, in 1406, as a result of an appeal made personally by him in Parliament, he was accorded a fee of 100 marks p.a. in compensation for his losses; and he was later made a King’s knight with permission to lease certain royal property as well. John More I and the lawyer, Richard Restwold II, also received pensions from the Crown. More’s was awarded by Richard II as a reward for capturing ‘certain traitors’, but ceased abruptly after Henry IV mounted the throne. Restwold was more fortunate, in so far that he drew 1s. a day from the 1440s onwards, although the office of master of the King’s harriers, granted to him in reversion by Henry VI, never actually came into his hands. Both Amand Monceaux and John Thirlwall had acquitted themselves well on campaigns in France, much earlier, in the reign of Edward III, and both spent years fighting against the Scots as well, but neither was assigned any regular fee or wage by the Crown.
By and large, the gentry of the north-west gave their first allegiance to the local baronial families who were better placed to provide the rewards and ‘good lordship’ required of them. Unfortunately, very little documentary evidence survives about the retinues of the Nevilles, earls of Westmorland, and the Lords Clifford in this period, so it is impossible to discover how many of our men belonged to their affinities. Even so, other evidence, in the form of deeds, wills, inquisitions post mortem and fines, suggests that at least five shire knights were on extremely close terms with Ralph, earl of Westmorland (d.1425). Robert Lowther and Sir Peter Tilliol were both named as the earl’s executors, while Robert’s brother, William I, received a handsome grant of land in Yorkshire from him. William Osmundlaw served for some time as bailiff of Cockermouth castle, which Westmorland received as a reward after the earl of Northumberland’s uprising of 1405, and Christopher Moresby was also numbered among his intimates. But Moresby’s strongest connexion was with John, Lord Clifford (d.1422), who made him one of his principal trustees. Sir John Derwentwater had served Clifford’s grandfather, Roger, the 5th lord (d.1389), in various capacities. He did not, however, live long enough to enjoy the good fortune of his widowed father-in-law, William Strickland, who was made bishop of Carlisle by papal provision in 1399, and was thus well placed to advance the career of his only daughter’s second husband, Robert Lowther. Without doubt, Lowther owed much of his success to his influential kinsman, and on Bishop Strickland’s death, in 1419, he assumed the task of executing his will. So far as we can tell, only two Cumbrian MPs appear to have been recruited by the Percys. (Sir) Christopher Curwen’s father, Sir William*, had no alternative, in 1401, but to accept the earl of Northumberland’s offer of an annuity of £5 for his son, since he had just been forced into settling a reversionary interest in his estates upon the earl and his issue. Not surprisingly, in view of this high-handed behaviour, (Sir) Christopher remained aloof from the Percy rebellions of 1403-8, as did Sir William Leigh, who was then constable of Cockermouth castle for the earl, but who had no desire whatsoever to become involved in acts of open insurrection. Of the other MPs, John Skelton could claim a long association, already noted above, with Edward, earl of Rutland; Sir Peter Tilliol received an annuity of £20 from John Holand, duke of Exeter, in 1398; and Richard Restwold II established a useful connexion with William de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, through his own powerful neighbour, Thomas Chaucer*, who was the earl’s father-in-law.
Without exception, all the men who represented Cumberland during our period owned land in the county at the time of their election to Parliament. Indeed, all but three belonged to well-established county families, many of which had been settled in the north-west for generations. John Lancaster I, Amand Monceaux, and Sir Nicholas Radcliffe came, respectively, from Westmorland, Lancashire and Yorkshire, each acquiring his estates in Cumberland by marriage. So far as we can tell, about half of the shire knights here under review (13) held land in other parts of England. At least II of them had interests in the neighbouring county of Westmorland, which, as noted above, was often combined with Cumberland for administrative purposes. Sir Peter Tilliol inherited some property across the Scottish border near Berwick-upon-Tweed, and decided to consolidate his wife’s holdings in the palatinate of Durham by buying more land there. He also owned estates in Yorkshire, as did William Lowther I, who was granted a competence by the earl of Westmorland. Only the Restwolds, father and son, had significant holdings in the south. They were, however,rentiers on an impressive scale, with land and manors in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire. They were probably the wealthiest men to sit for Cumberland in our period, since although several other MPs owned extensive estates in the north-west, the land was far less productive, and agriculture also suffered as a result of endemic violence along the border. Amand Monceaux, who, as a private individual faced the problem of declining revenues, and as an employee of the Crown had to shoulder an intolerable burden of financial demands, joined with his own son, John (burgess for Appleby), and Sir William Threlkeld, another harassed landowner, in presenting an appeal for a reduction in taxes to the Parliament of January 1390. It was, indeed, claimed that the people of the north ‘sont sovent foitz ars et destruitz, si bien par Gentz Franceys come Escotz, ensy q’ils sont grantment empoveriz, et plusours de eux outrement anientiz’, and that depopulation was also accelerated by the downward economic spiral.3
As members of a somewhat beleaguered and isolated community, the gentry of Cumberland and Westmorland formed a cohesive group, brought closer through ties of kinship. A complex network of family relationships existed among the shire knights for both counties, although this could, on occasion, give rise to bitter quarrels and protracted vendettas over the ownership of property. Two sets of brothers, Sir Peter and Geoffrey Tilliol and Robert and William Lowther I, were returned during our period. Richard Restwold I and Richard II appear to be the only father and son to have sat, but John More I may, perhaps, have been Thomas More II’s father, and was certainly a very close relative of his and also of William More II. Since few local landowners took wives from other parts of England, the great majority were connected by marriage. Sir John Derwentwater’s daughter, Isabel, married Richard Restwold I, and was mother of Richard II. One of Sir John’s grand daughters became the wife of Sir Nicholas Radcliffe, while another married Robert Lowther’s son, Hugh. Since Lowther was himself the husband of Sir John’s widow, Margaret Strickland, it is easy to see why papal indults permitting marriages within the prohibited degrees were so much in demand. It looks very much as if Sir John Ireby was Sir William Leigh’s stepfather, but evidence on this point is largely circumstantial. Leigh, Christopher Moresby and John Lancaster I were, respectively, the sons-in-law of Sir Clement Skelton, Sir Peter Tilliol and Sir William Threlkeld, while Sir John Ireby’s daughter, Alice, married Geoffrey Tilliol as her first husband and John Skelton as her second. Skelton’s son was betrothed to Margaret, the daughter and coheir of William Bewley; Sir John Eaglesfield’s daughter became the wife of a grandson of Sir John Lamplugh; and Robert Lowther and Sir William Leigh arranged a similar alliance between two of their offspring. Another of Lowther’s daughters, meanwhile, married (Sir) Christopher Curwen’s son and heir. Most, if not all, of these contracts were made in the hope of consolidating property, although few shire knights were blessed with the same opportunities as John Skelton, who not only married Geoffrey Tilliol’s widow, but also arranged for one of Tilliol’s daughters (a wealthy heiress for whom he helped to secure 250 marks in cash after her father’s death) to become the wife of Richard, his own son and heir. His plans to retain control of her patrimony were, however, dashed by Richard Skelton’s early death and the remarriage of his daughter-in-law to an equally ambitious and land-hungry young man. It is, indeed, worth noting that matrimonial politics of this kind (such as John Lancaster I’s attempt to secure half Sir William Threlkeld’s estates for himself) were at best a rather hit and miss affair, sometimes resulting in bloodshed rather than territorial expansion.
During the later Middle Ages, elections for Cumberland were held at the county court in Carlisle. In accordance with the statute of 1406, returns from then onwards took the form of an indenture, attested by the more important persons present. The election of burgesses for Carlisle took place at the same time, and the names of the successful candidates, together with those of the leading residents of the borough (headed by the mayor and two bailiffs) as witnesses were recorded on the lower portion of the return. It is not known whether the latter played any part in electing the shire knights, nor is there any means of telling how many people altogether participated in either the county or borough elections. The named witnesses to the return of shire knights varied considerably in number from 12 in 1420 to 35 in 1421 (Dec.) At least two or three past or future shire knights were always included in the list of witnesses, although sometimes more were present. In 1414 (Nov.) for example, five of the 16 witnesses sat in Parliament at some point in their careers; and in 1416 (Mar.) six out of the 25 did so. Once, in 1419, the two shire knights named on the return actually attested their own election, a practice which was to become more common later on in the century. No evidence has survived of any overt attempt by the Crown or nobility to influence the course of elections. The return for 1421 (Dec.) records the presence of Ralph Neville, the son of the earl of Westmorland, in the county court, but there is nothing to suggest that he exerted pressure of any kind on the voters.