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


1386Sir Philip Courtenay
 Sir John Stretch
1388 (Feb.)Sir Philip Courtenay
 Sir John Prideaux
1388 (Sept.)Sir John Stretch
 Sir John Grenville
1390 (Jan.)Sir Philip Courtenay
 Sir James Chudleigh
1390 (Nov.)Sir James Chudleigh
 John Prescott
1391Sir James Chudleigh
 Sir William Sturmy
1393Sir Philip Courtenay
 Sir James Chudleigh
1394Sir John Grenville
 Sir James Chudleigh
1395Sir Philip Courtenay
 Sir Hugh Courtenay
1397 (Jan.)Sir William Bonville I
 Sir John Grenville
1397 (Sept.)Sir Hugh Courtenay
 Sir William Bonville I
1399Sir Philip Courtenay
 John Stretch
1401Sir Philip Courtenay
 Sir John Wadham
1402Sir William Bonville I
 Sir John Grenville
1404 (Jan.)Sir Thomas Pomeroy
 Edmund Pyne
1404 (Oct.)Sir William Sturmy
 Walter Reynell
1406Sir Hugh Luttrell
 Sir Thomas Pomeroy
1407Sir Hugh Luttrell
 Robert Cary
1410Sir Thomas Pomeroy
 Robert Cary
1411Edmund Pyne
 Robert Cary
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)Sir Thomas Pomeroy
 Robert Cary
1414 (Apr.)John St. Aubyn
 Robert Cary
1414 (Nov.)Richard Hankford
 John Arundell II
1416 (Mar.)Richard Hankford
 Robert Cary 1
1416 (Oct.)
1417John Cole IV
 Robert Cary
1419Edward Pomeroy
 Robert Cary
1420Sir Robert Chalons
 Thomas Archdeacon
1421 (May)Sir Hugh Courtenay
 Robert Cary
1421 (Dec.)John Copplestone
 Henry Fortescue

Main Article

Since returns for the county of Devon to the Parliaments of 1413 (Feb.), 1415 and 1416 (Oct.) are missing, only the names of Members in 29 of the 32 Parliaments of the period under review are now known. There were 17 occasions when both shire knights were men with previous parliamentary experience, and a further eight when an experienced Member accompanied an apparent newcomer. Seemingly, no more than four times did the county court elect two novices, namely to the Parliaments of 1404 (Jan.), 1414 (Nov.), 1420 and 1421 (Dec.), and were there not gaps in the returns such occasions might be shown to have been fewer. It is noticeable that greatest experience was concentrated in the period 1386 to 1402, when only three novices appeared (in 1388 (Sept.), 1395 and 1399), and there were eight cases of re-election. Continuity of service is emphasized in Sir James Chudleigh’s five successive elections between January 1390 and 1394 and Robert Cary’s three between 1407 and 1411. Cary also stands out for having been elected to 12 of the 16 Parliaments for which returns have survived between 1407 and 1426. Re-election occurred, in all, 13 times, though it never involved both Members in this period. In addition, Sir William Bonville I’s appearance for Devon in January 1397 immediately followed service in the Commons for Somerset; and this also happened in 1391 in the case of Sir William Sturmy, Member in the preceding Parliament for Hampshire, and in 1406 in that of Sir Hugh Luttrell, who had sat for Somerset in the previous assembly.

Obviously not all Members appeared exclusively for Devon: four sat for another county or other counties, and two had previously represented Devonshire boroughs.2 All this added to the parliamentary experience of the 25 men returned for Devon during the period. Bonville comes first in terms of the numbers of appearances—20 in the course of 36 years (1366-1402)—representing Devon 12 times, and Somerset nine. (In April 1384 he was elected by both shires.) Sturmy, over a slightly longer period (1384-1422), had 12 Parliaments to his credit, representing Devon twice, Hampshire twice, and Wiltshire eight times. But Robert Cary’s 12 returns were all for Devon, and the nine of Sir James Chudleigh (1381-94) and eight of Sir Philip Courtenay (1383-1401) were likewise limited to this one constituency. John Prescott, who sat in eight Parliaments between 1361 and 1390, appeared only once for Devon, but four times for Exeter and three for Totnes. A further seven Members sat only once, four just twice, and three three times. Even so, the average number of Parliaments per Member, taken overall, came to four. Apart from Sturmy and Bonville, with parliamentary service spread over 38 and 36 years, respectively, three others could claim more than 20 years between their first and last returns.3 Sturmy was unique in being the only knight of the shire for Devon to be chosen to act as Commons’ Speaker before the 17th century.

At first, knights by rank almost monopolized the county’s representation. Thus in ten out of the 11 Parliaments between 1386 and 1397 (Sept.) both Members were of this standing. But in the 15th century the trend was reversed: in six out of the seven Parliaments between 1411 and 1419 Devon was represented by two esquires; and at least one man of such lower rank was elected to every Parliament between 1407 and 1421 for which returns are extant. To the nine Parliaments of Henry V’s reign for which there is evidence only three belted knights were elected all told, and never more than one per Parliament.

A relatively small proportion of Members was active in the more important offices of the county administration. Only 11 out of 25 were ever appointed sheriffs of Devon (although two more were sheriffs in other counties);4 only three were ever escheators of Devon and Cornwall (Robert Cary, John Copplestone and Walter Reynell); and no more than 15 were ever j.p.s. (One of the latter, Sir William Sturmy, sat on the bench in Hampshire and Wiltshire, but never in Devon.) Of these, comparatively few had experience of such administrative duties at the outset of their parliamentary careers. Only six had held office as sheriff before their first elections for Devon, only two as escheators (Copplestone and Reynell), and three as j.p.s (Sir Robert Chalons, Sir Philip Courtenay and Sir John Wadham). Bonville was holding the office of sheriff of Somerset and Dorset when up in Parliament for Devon in 1381 and actually at the time of his election for this county in 1382 (May); Chudleigh was appointed to the shrievalty of Devon during the Parliament of 1384 (Nov.), of which he was a Member; and Chalons was made sheriff within a few days of his election in 1420, and so was in office throughout the Parliament. In all three cases the spirit, if not the letter, of the statute prohibiting the return to Parliament of sheriffs was being disregarded. There was, of course, no such law with regard to j.p.s, and one or another member of the Devon bench was returned to 13 of the 25 Parliaments between 1390 and 1421. Seventeen out of the 25 knights of the shire had some experience, too, of ad hoc commissions before their first election. The public service of a few was, however, very limited: John St. Aubyn does not appear to have been appointed to any royal commissions at all; Thomas Archdeacon served on but one; John Arundell II on no more than two; and Sir John Grenville, Richard Hankford, Sir Hugh Luttrell and several others had had precious little such experience when they first sat in the Commons. But a distinction should be drawn between, on the one hand, such a man as Luttrell and, and on the other, Hankford, for the former had at least built up administrative experience in other counties and, moreover, had done service abroad. Indeed, Luttrell was one of no fewer than 11 of the 25 knights of the shire who had fought on military campaigns overseas before their earliest elections.

All the Members shared one basic, although informal, qualification: possession of land in the county. All but three had inherited their Devonshire property, several of them as the representatives of long-established families.5 Each one of the three exceptions, however, Sir Hugh Luttrell, Sir William Sturmy and John Arundell II, acquired interests in the shire through marriage. Certainly, in Sturmy’s case, it was his wife’s estates which qualified him for election in Devon. No fewer than 15 out of the 25 Members were landowners in other counties also, for the most part in the adjacent shires of Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset. But John Stretch possessed holdings as far away as Norfolk, Walter Reynell in Cambridgeshire, and Sturmy in Hampshire and Wiltshire, while others owned land in Gloucestershire, Middlesex and Essex. Several (notably Bonville, the Courtenays and Sturmy) were very wealthy men by contemporary standards, and nearly all of the Members for Devon received incomes from land well in excess of £40 a year.

Not all of the shire knights were landowners first and foremost, however. Four were lawyers: John Prescott (November 1390), Sir John Wadham (1401), Henry Fortescue and John Copplestone (both December 1421). The first two were, in their different ways, leading members of their profession by the time of their election for Devon. Prescott was experienced in estate management and had been (and continued to be) steward to several important figures in the locality. Only three years before his election, Wadham had retired from the common bench after nine years’ service as a judge and more than 30 spent practising in the courts; and, although he had only sat in the Lower House once before (for Exeter in 1379), as one of the judiciary he had not only been summoned to the Lords, but also appointed in six of the Parliaments of the 1390s as a trier of petitions. The election of Fortescue and Copplestone together in 1421 is less easy to explain. Both were comparatively inexperienced in their profession, and were indeed, only at the start of their careers, although Fortescue was already a member of Lincoln’s Inn and his colleague had made something of a reputation for himself in the service of the bishops of Exeter. The election of lawyers rather than county landowners was, even so, an unusual occurrence in this period.

There was also another group of men for whom possession of land was not a primary consideration in the furtherance of their careers, individuals whose interests spread beyond Devon and impinged upon national and even international affairs. The most outstanding in this respect were Sir Hugh Luttrell, Sir Philip Courtenay and Sir William Sturmy. These three, who were related to each other by marriage, became engaged in similar activities. Sturmy, a knight in the household of Richard II, emerged as a competant diplomat, as such playing an important role under Henry IV in the search for continental recognition for the house of Lancaster. Courtenay, distantly related by birth to both these Kings, served the former as admiral of the West, lieutenant of Ireland, and steward of Cornwall, and the latter as a councillor. Luttrell, similarly a kinsman of both Kings, was first one of John of Gaunt’s esquires and then in the personal service of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia, and he became, under Henry IV and his son, an important figure initially as lieutenant of Calais and an ambassador, then as lieutenant of Harfleur and seneschal of Normandy.

There were other, lesser men who had connexions with Crown and magnates both in Devon and further afield. Walter Reynell served as controller of the stannaries of the duchy of Cornwall, although this was many years before his only election to Parliament (in 1404). Before his only election, in 1420, Sir Robert Chalons had spent many years in the employment of John of Gaunt and Henry of Bolingbroke, and enjoyed an annuity charged on duchy of Lancaster revenues. Similarly, Sir Thomas Pomeroy was a Lancastrian retainer who evidently enjoyed the favour of Henry IV. Both Chalons and Pomeroy owed their knighthoods to active support for the house of Lancaster. Whether John Stretch had also been retained by Henry of Bolingbroke before the deposition of Richard II remains unclear, but this is at least a possibility in view of his appointment as steward of the duchy lands in Devon and Somerset during Henry’s very first Parliament, when Stretch made his only appearance in the Commons. John Prescott, a member of Bishop Stafford’s household, became estates steward, successively, for Guy, Lord Bryan, the earl of Devon, and the dean and chapter of Exeter. John Copplestone, who succeeded his father in the stewardship of Bishop Stafford’s lands in Devon, continued to act as such under Bishop Lacy, served briefly as joint receiver-general and steward of the duchy of Cornwall, and then went on to act in similar capacities for the earl of Devon. At the beginning of his career, Robert Cary had been an esquire in Richard II’s household and also in the retinue of the King’s half-brother, John Holand, earl of Huntingdon; but these connexions can have had little bearing on his elections to Parliament from 1407 onwards. But the most important ‘connexion’ was a local one: that of the county’s largest landowner, the earl of Devon.

For most of our period the earldom was held by Edward Courtenay, who was only succeeded by his younger son, Hugh, in 1419. Both earls established close contacts with several of the men who represented the shire and its boroughs in Parliament. A roll of liveries granted by Earl Edward in 1384-5 lists the names of those with whom his ties were symbolized by an annual issue of cloth in his colours. It began with eight knights, including Sir John Stretch, Sir John Prideaux, Sir William Bonville I, Sir John Daumarle and Sir Robert Cornu, together with Sir Peter Courtenay, the earl’s uncle. Among the 44 esquires listed next were Hugh Courtenay (the earl’s brother), Martin Ferrers, Robert Chalons and Alexander Merle, along with at least four men who sat in Parliament for local boroughs ( John Hawley I*, Thomas Creedy, Robert Wilford and John Grey I*). The earl’s legal counsellors, appearing lower in the list, included (Sir) John Wadham and John Prescott (later on, if not already, steward of his estates), and Robert Hill, Robert Hill, junior, John Hill and Thomas Raymond*, who all sat as burgesses.6 To this group of men, who all received Earl Edward’s livery, may be added Sir Philip Courtenay, another of the earl’s uncles (then in Ireland) and Sir John Grenville and Sir Hugh Luttrell, the earl’s cousins, who were to become more closely associated with him in later years. The nature of the relationship between the earl and his most prosperous tenant, Sir James Chudleigh, was less clear, for Chudleigh did not always give the earl his support. Of course, the significance of such connexions should not be exaggerated: for example, Earl Edward was not always on good terms with his uncle, Sir Philip; and is known to have engaged in violent altercations with Sir William Sturmy.7 Altogether, Earl Edward’s ‘connexion’ included no fewer than 14 knights of the shire and 16 burgesses of the period 1377 to 1419. No livery roll giving a similar insight into Earl Hugh’s following has survived, but even so there is evidence that he came into close contact with as many as four knights of the shire and seven burgesses in the Parliaments of 1419-22: Edward Pomeroy enlisted in his company at sea only shortly before he entered the Commons in 1419; John Copplestone was part of the Courtenay circle before his return in 1421, and later served as steward and receiver-general of the estates of the earldom; Henry Fortescue was the son of Earl Hugh’s steward, saw service in his naval retinue and acted as the feoffee of his estates; and Sir Hugh Courtenay, re-elected to Parliament in 1421 (May), was the earl’s uncle. Earl Hugh also retained the connexions fostered by his father, and he even made a special grant to Sir Hugh Luttrell permitting him to display the heraldic arms of the earldom. In addition to those already mentioned, another member of the Courtenay circle was Robert Cary, who had married one of Earl Edward’s cousins (Sir Philip Courtenay’s daughter) and clearly owed much to his consequent relationship with Bishop Courtenay of Norwich. Altogether no fewer than 42 Devonian MPs (of whom 19 were knights of the shire) elected between 1377 and 1421 (inclusive) had close connexions with the earls of Devon, and at least five were their kinsmen.

The existence of this large group does not by itself confirm the supposition that the influence of the earls at the elections of these men was of any, much less paramount, importance. It would, however, be unrealistic to rule out the possibility of such an influence altogether, and the activities of Earl Edward, at least, in other directions, as revealed in the surviving accounts of his receiver,8 suggest that he might well have attempted to exert pressure on those attending the county court for parliamentary elections, just as he did on j.p.s and other royal commissioners. Certainly, on more than one occasion his steward was present, and expressly in that capacity, at the hustings. Whether or not pressure was exerted is an open question, but the two earls’ ‘connexion’, to put it no stronger, with at least 42 men who sat in Parliament for Devon and its boroughs, is noteworthy; especially given the fact that at least one member of this affinity was sitting in the Commons in 40 of the Parliaments convened between 1377 and 1421. Indeed, in 33 of those Parliaments more than one of this group was present: in eight there were at least three, in three at least four, in five at least five, and in two no fewer than six. It is notable, too, that comparatively few members of the Courtenay ‘connexion’ were returned in the years between 1399 and 1419, years in which the influence of Earl Edward (who was inflicted with blindness) might have been expected to wane. Perhaps we may postulate the creation of a core of sympathy which might, if occasion arose, be used in the Courtenay interest. That Sir Philip Courtenay was able to brush aside the serious charges brought against him in Parliament in 1393, perhaps owed something to his family’s influence.

What is known of those who attended county elections also suggests that the earls (although not alone in this) may well have taken an interest in their outcome. At none of the elections in any of the neighbouring counties was ever gathered such an impressive array of officials as in Devon. Thus, in 1407 those named as present at the court at Exeter castle included the stewards of the bishop of Exeter, the earl of Devon, the abbots of Tavistock, Buckland and Forde (Thomas Raymond, formerly the earl’s attorney), the dean and chapter of Exeter (John Prescott), the abbot of Buckfast, the prior of Plympton, Sir John Dynham and Sir Thomas Carew. Considering the earl of Devon’s interest it is important to remark that to the ensuing Parliament were returned Sir Hugh Luttrell, his cousin, and Robert Cary, the husband of one of his kinswomen. A similarly impressive array of agents was present at the elections to Henry V’s first Parliament of 1413, including the earl’s steward and Thomas Raymond, and Robert Cary was again one of the elected Members. In other indentures of return, the names follow the pattern more generally in use in other counties, the numbers of electors varying widely, from four (on Christmas Eve 1409) to 68 (in November 1421). Among the 28 so named in October 1414 were Robert Cary, Henry Fulford (lately Earl Edward’s steward), John Fortescue (the current steward), and Thomas Raymond and Thomas Norris II* (both employed by the earl as legal counsel). The same number of men attached to the Courtenays was present in 1417.9 Two years later the county court which returned two members of the Courtenay circle as knights of the shire was held, in his capacity as sheriff, by Sir Hugh Courtenay.

The impression of Courtenay dominance in Devon politics must remain no more than that; but even were the case proven, and it could be more positively asserted that the earls’ dominance extended to parliamentary elections, it would still remain true that the men returned for the county were a fair cross-section of the local gentry, individuals who even without such associations with the earls and their family could have expected election to Parliament. This could not be said, on the other hand, about John Arundell II, who was returned in November 1414. On that occasion the elections were held by Arundell’s father, (Sir) John Arundell I* of Lanherne, in his capacity as sheriff, and John junior, although possessed of lands in Devon through his marriage, had yet to establish a place in the community. Furthermore, he was at the time little more than 22 years of age; and his return in a period in which the majority of Devonian knights of the shire were aged over 40 at the time of election, was, therefore, extraordinary. While the sheriff’s actions were, in this instance, highly suspect, there was, nevertheless, no case of interference in the shire elections so blatant as that in the elections for Barnstaple in 1385, when Sir James Chudleigh was the culprit.


  • 1. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iii. 110.
  • 2. John Arundell II sat three times for Cornw.; Bonville nine times for Som.; Sturmy eight times for Wilts., twice for Hants; Wadham once for Exeter; and Prescott four times for Exeter, three for Totnes.
  • 3. Prescott 29, Sir Hugh Courtenay 26 and Wadham 22.
  • 4. Bonville, Chalons, Chudleigh, Cole, Sir Hugh Courtenay, Fortescue, Grenville, Edward and Sir Thomas Pomeroy, Pyne and Sir John Stretch were sometime sheriffs of Devon. Arundell was sheriff of Cornw. and Sturmy of Wilts. Bonville, Sir Thomas Pomeroy and Stretch were also sheriffs in Som. and Dorset, and Fortescue and Grenville were also sheriffs in Cornw.
  • 5. For example those of Bonville, Chalons, Courtenay, Grenville and Pomeroy.
  • 6. Add. Ch. 64320.
  • 7. Witness the case of Sturmy v. Courtenay brought before the Council in 1392: Sel. Cases before King’s Council (Selden Soc. xxxv), 77-80.
  • 8. Add. Chs. 13972, 64317, 64321-2.
  • 9. C219/10/4, 5, 11/1, 4, 12/2, 6.