Dorset

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
1386Sir Stephen Derby
 John Frome
1388 (Feb.)Sir Robert Turberville
 John Frome
1388 (Sept.)Sir Humphrey Stafford I
 Sir John Moigne
1390 (Jan.)Sir Humphrey Stafford I
 John Frome
1390 (Nov.)Sir Stephen Derby
 Theobald Wykeham
1391Sir Humphrey Stafford I
 Sir John Hamely
1393Sir Humphrey Stafford I
 Sir John Moigne
1394Sir Stephen Derby
 John Perle I
1395Sir Humphrey Stafford I
 Theobald Wykeham
1397 (Jan.)Sir Humphrey Stafford I
 Sir John Moigne
1397 (Sept.)John Bathe
 William Martin
1399Sir Humphrey Stafford I
 John Frome
1401Sir Humphrey Stafford I
 John Frome
1402Sir William Cheyne
 John Bathe
1404 (Jan.)Sir Humphrey Stafford I
 John Frome
1404 (Oct.)Sir John Devereux
 John Frampton
1406Sir Humphrey Stafford I
 Sir Ivo Fitzwaryn
1407Sir Humphrey Stafford I
 Sir Ivo Fitzwaryn
1410Sir Humphrey Stafford I
 William Stourton
1411
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)Thomas Brooke
 William Stourton
1414 (Apr.)Sir Humphrey Stafford II
 William Filoll
1414 (Nov.)Sir Humphrey Stafford II
 John Chideock
1415
1416 (Mar.)
1416 (Oct.)
1417Sir Humphrey Stafford II
 Robert More III
1419Sir Humphrey Stafford II
 Ralph Bush
1420Sir Humphrey Stafford II
 William Carent
1421 (May)Sir Humphrey Stafford II
 Robert Lovell
1421 (Dec.)Sir John Horsey
 John Roger I

Main Article

Returns for Dorset are missing for five of the 32 Parliaments of the period. From those which survive it appears that two men who had sat before either for this county or for some other constituency were elected on 13 occasions, and on 12 more one such tried Member accompanied a newcomer, but both the shire knights in the Parliaments of 1397 (Sept.) and 1404 (Oct.) would appear to have been novices. Immediate re-election of both Members occurred twice (1401 and 1407) and of one Member a further ten times. Experience was more concentrated in Richard II’s reign (on eight successive occasions between 1381 and 1385 the same two men—Sir Stephen Derby and (Sir) John Mautravers—had been elected together, and, similarly, in seven of the 11 Parliaments between 1386 and 1399 both knights of the shire had previous knowledge of the workings of the Commons), whereas in Henry V’s reign, by contrast, Dorset elected a novice to every Parliament for which returns have survived.

Experience varied widely among the 25 shire knights known. Sir Stephen Derby came first with 14 appearances for this county and one for Somerset, his overall record being equalled only by Sir Humphrey Stafford I, with 12 for this county and one each for Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Somerset. The latter’s son, Sir Humphrey II, was elected ten times for Dorset and once for Staffordshire, and Sir John Hamely sat in ten Parliaments all told, although only four were for Dorset (the rest being for Cornwall or one or other of the Cornish boroughs). Much of this service was given in successive Parliaments: Derby, who first sat in 1379, was re-elected to every Parliament from then until 1388, making 12 appearances running; while Stafford I sat in nine of the 11 Parliaments between 1388 and 1401, in all but one as a knight of the shire for Dorset. On the other hand, 13 of the Members (half of the total) made only a single appearance for Dorset, and ten of these only sat in the Commons on that one occasion throughout their careers. Even so, on average, the Members were returned to just over four Parliaments each.

As many as nine of the 25 sat for other shires in the course of their careers, and in some cases Dorset was not the county which they most frequently represented. William Carent’s service was equally divided between Dorset and Somerset, reflecting the location of his estates, which straddled the boundary between the two shires; William Stourton, with two Parliaments for Dorset (in one of which, 1413 (May), he served briefly as Speaker), sat three times for Somerset and once for Wiltshire; and Thomas Brooke sat four times for Somerset but only once for Dorset. The other shire knights recorded as also representing other counties were Sir Stephen Derby, the Staffords, Sir Ivo Fitzwaryn (once each for Devon and Somerset), John Frome (once for Buckinghamshire) and Sir John Hamely (three times for Cornwall). Three shire knights had sat as burgesses before being elected for Dorset: John Perle I in one Parliament for Dorchester, John Roger I in three for Bridport, and Sir John Hamely in three for various of the Cornish boroughs.

Although the parliamentary careers of certain of the Members for Dorset were of very long duration, this can give a misleading impression of commitment. For example, Hamely’s service extended over 36 years, but in that period he sat in no more than ten Parliaments; similarly, Carent’s covered 30 years, but comprised only six appearances. Twenty or more years separated the first and last elections of Sir Ivo Fitzwaryn, the Staffords and John Roger I, but more impressive was the record of Sir Stephen Derby, whose 15 Parliaments were concentrated into 15 years. There were also wide differences in age and breadth of experience of public office. The ages of most of the 25 shire knights at the time of election can be computed with reasonable accuracy, and it is clear that while the majority (at least 15) were between 30 and 45 when they made their initial appearances in the Commons, a few were unusually young, and one or two were at the very end of their careers when they did so. Thomas Brooke had barely turned 21 when elected in 1413; Sir William Cheyne (1402) was 28; and William Carent (1420) must also have been still in his twenties. By contrast, Sir John Horsey was 56 when he sat in 1421 for the first and only time. There were similar differences with regard to the extent Members had been involved in the business of local administration. Three shire knights (John Bathe, Sir John Horsey and Sir Humphrey Stafford I) had held office as sheriff of the joint bailiwick of Somerset and Dorset, and Sir Humphrey Stafford II as sheriff of another county (Staffordshire), before they came to sit in Parliament for this constituency. Six more were to occupy the local shrievalty subsequently, and two elsewhere (Thomas Brooke in Devon and Sir William Cheyne in Devon and Wiltshire). It should be noted that Stafford I, who was appointed sheriff of Somerset and Dorset on 21 Oct. 1391, nevertheless sat for the latter county in the Parliament which assembled on 3 Nov., thus (even though he did not personally conduct the elections), contravening the ordinance which prohibited the return of sheriffs. Three Members served as escheators: William Carent, Robert More III and Sir John Moigne; and Carent was occupying the post when returned to his first Parliament, in 1420. Similarly, Sir John Hamely may have been discharging the tasks of coroner in the shire when elected to his last Parliament, in 1391. As many as 17 of the 25 shire knights were at some time in their careers appointed as j.p.s although three of these (Thomas Brooke, Sir William Cheyne and Sir John Horsey) appeared only on the benches of other counties. Only six (Derby, Filoll, Stourton, Horsey and the two Staffords) had served as j.p.s before being first returned for Dorset. Current members of the local bench were elected to 16 of the 27 Parliaments for which returns have survived; and in 1393, 1401, 1404 (Jan.), 1406 and 1414 (Apr.) both shire knights were then justices. All but two of the Members acted at some point as royal commissioners in the county or elsewhere; but as many as eight had no such experience before their first elections, John Chideock and Theobald Wykeham were only named on one commission each throughout their careers, and no trace whatsoever of such employment has been found for William Martin and Robert More III.

A small proportion of the Members for Dorset (a fifth) did not inherit their landed holdings in the county; rather they owed their place in the community of the shire to estates acquired by marriage. Most notable in this group were John Bathe, Sir Stephen Derby (a native of Essex), Sir John Hamely (a Cornishman), Robert Lovell (who probably came from Northamptonshire) and Sir Humphrey Stafford I (a native of Staffordshire); and it is interesting to note that two of the county’s most prominent MPs, Derby and Stafford, were newcomers to the region. Although Ralph Bush and Robert More III both inherited parcels of land in Dorset, they nevertheless owed their prominence to the much larger holdings brought them by their wives. John Roger I, originally a Bridport merchant, acquired ‘county’ status by purchase, having invested heavily in land not only in Dorset but also in Somerset, Hampshire, Wiltshire and Berkshire. But all the shire knights owned property in the county, however variously acquired, and all were therefore in that sense ‘qualified’ to represent it in Parliament. Even so, they differed widely with regard to their incomes from land: while four apparently had holdings worth less than £15 a year, eight could expect annual revenues of between £40 and £70, and as many as 13 enjoyed upwards of £120. Three of the first group (William Martin, John Perle I and Theobald Wykeham) were surprisingly obscure figures, and it is even doubtful whether they were ever accorded armigerous rank. William Stourton added substantially to his prosperity through earnings as a lawyer, and William Carent may have followed the same profession, while John Roger I became rich through mercantile ventures; but these three, at least, were accepted members of county society. Clearly, the group with the highest income dominated the representation of Dorset in this period, and one or other of the wealthiest of all, the two Sir Humphrey Staffords (whose estates gave them, successively, an annual income of over £570), was returned to 18 of the 27 Parliaments for which returns have survived. Categories of wealth may not be equated with those of social rank, however; eight of the 13 of the wealthiest group never attained knighthood. Indeed, a higher proportion of esquires to knights sat for Dorset than for the neighbouring counties of Devon and Somerset. Between 1386 and 1399 (12 Parliaments) the ratio was nine to 15; between 1401 and 1410 (seven Parliaments) five to nine, and between 1413 and 1421 (eight Parliaments) nine to seven. Clearly, as in the neighbouring counties, there was a tendency for men of lesser rank to secure a larger share of the available seats during the last nine years of the period than previously. However, it may be deceptive to draw a sharp distinction between knights and esquires, for eight of the nine ‘esquires’ returned to the Parliaments of Henry V’s reign came from the wealthiest section of society. No doubt lack of personal inclination alone accounts for their lower status.

The duchy of Lancaster had extensive estates in Dorset, and this interest is reflected in the careers or circumstances of some of the shire knights. John Frome, Sir John Horsey and Sir Robert Turberville were all tenants of duchy property, and certainly two of them came to be closely connected with the house of Lancaster: Frome was appointed a member of Henry IV’s council on the last day of the Parliament of 1401 (in which he had represented Dorset); and Horsey, who served as an esquire in the same King’s household, received substantial annuities, the parkership of Guildford, and the lieutenancy of Windsor castle, before his election in 1421. Others established close links with Henry of Monmouth: William Stourton served him as steward of the principality of Wales; Sir Humphrey Stafford II received from him an annuity of £40; and Robert Lovell, probably a member of his household, became intimately involved in his financial dealings. Some of the shire knights had ties with members of the nobility: John Bathe had entered the service of the earl of Kent by 1392 and remained on good terms with this branch of the Holand family until his death in 1409; Sir William Cheyne may have been a retainer of Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester; Sir Stephen Derby had been the first duke of Clarence’s steward; Sir John Hamely was connected with the earls of March; Robert Lovell acted as lieutenant at Clarendon for Humphrey, duke of Gloucester; William Filoll was addressed by Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester, as his ‘good friend’; and the Staffords were related not only to the earls of Stafford but also to other noble houses. Yet there is no evidence to suggest that any of these aristocratic connexions carried much weight when it came to the selection of parliamentary representatives.

There is, however, a suggestion that royal pressure may have been used in a number of shires prior to the Parliament of 1397 (Sept.), to secure the return of Members sympathetic to the King;1 and while there is no conclusive evidence for this with regard to Dorset, it may well be significant that those returned for the county (John Bathe and William Martin) were both novices (and no two novices had been elected together for nearly 20 years), and that neither was of high standing in the community; indeed, Martin was seemingly a nonentity, of illegitimate birth. Significantly, too, Bathe was closely connected with Richard II’s nephew and firm supporter, Thomas Holand, earl of Kent, who in this Parliament was to be one of those who appealed the King’s political opponents for treason. There is no evidence of royal interference in any other election, and although it may be conjectured that Henry of Monmouth would have welcomed the appearance of his steward, William Stourton, in the Commons of 1410 (at a time when he and the Beauforts were taking control over the government) and May 1413 (his first Parliament as King), a man of Stourton’s calibre and social standing was an eminently suitable choice as Member, even without such a connexion to support his candidacy.

A characteristic of the returns for Dorset was that there were few witnesses listed in the indentures, compared with those of the neighbouring county of Somerset. The highest number, 33, occurred in 1410, but there were only a dozen in 1414 (Nov.).2 Like Somerset, however, the men involved were, on the whole, from the lower ranks of the gentry, the most regular attender being Robert More III. Knights, if they came to the shire court at all,