Gloucester

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
1386William Croke
 John Pope I
1388 (Feb.)Robert Pope
 John Head
1388 (Sept.)Stephen Pope
 John Pope I
1390 (Jan.)William Heyberer
 John Banbury I
1390 (Nov.)
1391Richard Ashwell
 John Bisley I
1393Thomas Pope
 Simon Broke
1394
1395Roger Ball
 William Croke
1397 (Jan.)Thomas Pope
 Richard Baret
1397 (Sept.)Richard Baret
 John Pope I
1399Richard Baret
 Simon Broke
1401
1402Simon Broke
 William Birdlip
1404 (Jan.)
1404 (Oct.)
1406Simon Broke
 John Bisley II
1407Roger Ball
 John Bisley II
1410
1411William Birdlip
 John Bisley II
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)John Strensham
 John Clopton
1414 (Apr.)
1414 (Nov.)John Bisley II
 Thomas More I
1415Robert Gilbert II
 Thomas More I
1416 (Mar.)
1416 (Oct.)
1417William Birdlip
 John Bisley II
1419John Bisley II
 Robert Gilbert II
1420Thomas Stevens
 Thomas More I
1421 (May)Robert Gilbert II
 John Bisley II
1421 (Dec.)Robert Gilbert II
 Richard Dalby

Main Article

The population of Gloucester numbered about 3,360 in 1377, the town being just over a third the size of its neighbour, Bristol, but comparable with Oxford. The town’s promising location for trade, at the head of the Severn estuary, and its long history as a centre of iron production (dependent upon ore from the Forest of Dean) and of the cloth industry (using wool from the Cotswolds) gave its burgesses of the late 14th and early 15th centuries a reasonable prosperity. In 1397 they were able to lend £200 to the Crown, a large sum compared with that offered by other communities. The town’s trade, particularly in corn and wine, enriched a small, albeit influential, group of merchants, but their dependence on Bristol, where their goods were usually trans-shipped for the continent, curtailed the development of a large merchant class. Not long after the period under review, Gloucester appears to have suffered some economic decline. In 1447 the burgesses complained that they were unable to pay the annual fee farm of £60 as several houses in the town had become derelict, and there is some evidence of depopulation at this time as a consequence of plague. The comprehensive rental drawn up in 1455 indicates a fall in the population to probably much less than 3,150, a reduction which is reflected in the fact that various buildings now stood empty.1

Gloucester had long enjoyed a privileged position among English boroughs. As early as 1155 the burgesses were granted the same customs and liberties as pertained at London and Winchester, and soon, from about the end of the 15th century, began to pay their own fee farm. In 1200, on payment of 200 marks, they purchased a royal charter which not only granted them privileges similar to those of the citizens of Winchester, but also allowed them to elect two of their own number as bailiffs. By the mid 13th century the latter had acquired full right of return of royal writs, the sheriff of Gloucestershire being no longer allowed to enter the borough save on business concerning the county. Early in Richard II’s reign (1378) Gloucester’s charters were confirmed on condition that, jointly with the citizens of Worcester, the burgesses would defray the cost of building a balinger for royal service. Then, on 21 Mar. 1398, after payment of 100 marks, the bailiffs were granted the powers of j.p.s in the town. The government of Gloucester was to remain in the hands of the two bailiffs and four stewards (whose task was to administer communal funds), until, under Richard III (1483), the borough was incorporated as ‘the county of the town of Gloucester’, being thereafter ruled by a mayor, two sheriffs and aldermen. Meanwhile, the prestige associated with municipal office had evidently declined. Indeed, in 1447 the burgesses had claimed that ‘in time the town will be without bailiffs’, since these officials had been forced personally to make good a deficit of as much as £20 due on the annual fee farm, with the result that men of means were leaving the town in order to avoid such liabilities. Precisely when these difficulties began to occur is hard to establish, for in our period the community of burgesses was apparently expanding: between 20 and 40 newcomers were enrolled as ‘portmen’ annually, although the low entry fine of 6d. indicates that there was no policy of exclusion of those of small means.2

Gloucester had regularly sent representatives to Parliament since Edward I’s reign. In 1378 Parliament was summoned to Gloucester itself and, although the writs issued on 1 Jan. 1406 again requiring Parliament to meet there were finally cancelled in favour of Westminster, it did once more assemble in the town in October 1407. Gloucester was one of the boroughs which, not being shires-incorporate themselves, appear to have elected their representatives at county courts customarily held in the town. At such a meeting burgesses as well as the freeholders of the shire were present; and if the formulae used in the writs and indentures of return were to be literally interpreted, the election of representatives for both shire and borough alike would sometimes seem to have been made by such a mixed assembly. However, what most probably happened in practice was that the burgesses, or the most influential of them, agreed among themselves as to their representatives and merely presented their names at the county court. Between 1386 and 1421, in fact, the form of the return to the writ of summons underwent several changes. At the beginning of the period a brief endorsement listed the names of the Members for both shire and borough, along with those of their mainpernors. In 1395 a separate schedule recorded how, in open county court, two knights of the shire had been elected (incidentally, three of their four mainpernors being burgesses), the sheriff also reporting that, because nothing could be done in the town save through the bailiffs of the liberty, he had sent them his precept, to which they had replied that an election had been held and two burgesses chosen. Similar statements appear on the returns to subsequent Parliaments down to 1406. In 1407, however, in pursuance of the statute of the previous year, an indenture was drawn up between the sheriff and 33 named individuals, including a number of townspeople, who to all appearances had elected both the knights of the shire and the parliamentary burgesses. Then, in May 1413, the sheriff’s precept to the bailiffs of Gloucester produced a certificate, commencing ‘We, William Birdlip and Roger Ball on 8 May, by the assent of the whole community of the town, elected two burgesses’. This document was then forwarded to Westminster along with the indenture drawn up in the county court, similarly on 8 May. Certificates have also survived with the returns to the Parliaments of November 1414 and 1420. On this last occasion the borough election apparently took place a week after the shire court met; and later, in 1449 and 1450, there was again to be a difference of date as between the certificate and the indenture. However, what probably happened was that the bailiffs, on receipt of the sheriff’s precept, held an independently conducted election in the borough, reporting the result in a certificate which a number of the burgesses presented in the county court, where they would then be on hand to attest the indenture embodying the return for both borough and shire. It is possible that the bailiffs sometimes influenced the choice of Members; certainly there were occasions when one of them was himself returned.3

Returns for Gloucester have survived for only 22 of the 32 Parliaments convened in this period, providing the names of 21 representatives. The gaps make any statistical analysis extremely tenuous. However, there can be no doubt that the majority of Members sat on more than one occasion and, indeed, it was usual for the town to send at least one experienced man to each Parliament. And, whereas on possibly two occasions (1393 and May 1413) both representatives may have been novices, in as many as ten Parliaments they were both men who had been tried before. Only four of the 21 MPs apparently sat just once. Of the rest, four appeared at least twice, four three times, four more four times each and one five times. John Bisley II was returned on seven occasions between 1406 and 1421, and Thomas Stevens on the same number between 1420 and 1442. Robert Gilbert II was elected no fewer than eight times between 1415 and 1432. But the most frequently elected burgess was William Heyberer, who represented Gloucester on nine occasions, and in addition was five times returned as a knight of the shire. Re-election, in the sense of return to consecutive Parliaments, is known to have occurred seven times, and Richard Baret was elected to three Parliaments on the run (January and September 1397 and 1399). There seems, too, to have been something of a tradition of family service at this time. Four members of the Pope family represented Gloucester in a total of ten Parliaments between 1376 and 1397, and in September 1388 two of them, John I and Stephen, were returned together. Two John Bisleys, probably father and son, sat for the borough 11 times between 1382 and 1421, and the tradition continued with a third John and a Thomas Bisley, who served in the Commons in 1426 and 1429, respectively. Richard Baret was probably the brother of the MP of October 1383, William Baret.

The majority of the parliamentary burgesses for Gloucester in the period under review filled offices at some time in the town. Eight are known to have been stewards, and all but three served a term as bailiff. Of the exceptions (John Clopton, Thomas Stevens and Stephen Pope), the last was the local coroner for at least 11 years (1384-95) and so was in office on the sole occasion of his return to Parliament in 1388. Roger Ball was chosen bailiff possibly as many as 14 times (between 1394 and 1428), and William Heyberer and William Croke each held this office for eight terms. Although these three were exceptional for the number of terms they served, it was by no means unusual for a parliamentary burgess to be elected bailiff more than once. One or another member of the Pope family occupied the post for 11 out of the 20 years between 1377 and 1397, and at least one of them was always bailiff between 1391 and 1397. There was undoubtedly a close relationship between tenure of office in the town and election to Parliament, because one of the two bailiffs was quite often returned. Indeed, a bailiff sat in the Commons on nine occasions between 1386 and 1421, and the parliamentary burgesses of this period were returned while in office on a further ten occasions before 1386 or after 1421. However, the election of bailiffs to Parliament had been a more usual occurrence earlier in the 14th century. For example, William Heyberer had been discharging office when returned in 1361, 1362, 1365, 1371 and 1372. Later, it more often happened that a bailiff would be elected to the Commons immediately after the end of his term of office, particularly if the Parliament was to meet at Westminster, where he had to go to render account at the Exchequer for Gloucester’s farm.

Not surprisingly, a number of Gloucester’s Members were merchants, of whom the most notable examples were John Banbury I (who had interests in the corn, wine and cloth trades, and developed useful connexions with the Cirencester woolmen), Thomas Pope (a goldsmith’s son, who traded in the north of England and owned a ship based at Bristol) and Roger Ball. As many as five parliamentary burgesses were involved locally in the cloth industry, and two others, Thomas More I and Thomas Stevens, were described as mercers, the latter, furthermore, having such extensive trading connexions as to warrant his membership of the Mercers Company of London. More of the parliamentary burgesses than might have been expected tended to be socially comparable with knights of the shire than were their counterparts at Bristol, where the merchants predominated. At Gloucester the county lawyer, even the lesser county gentleman, was already pushing his way into the borough seats. William Heyberer, if not actually described as an esquire, must have ranked as such. Robert Gilbert II, who sat on the Gloucestershire bench as a member of the quorum for over 20 years and was a duchy of Lancaster official in the locality, achieved the distinction of being made governor of Lincoln’s Inn; and at least two other Members were successful lawyers, one of them, William Croke, regularly acting as attorney for the sheriffs of Gloucestershire at the Exchequer. While all the parliamentary burgesses are known to have held property in the town, and were probably resident there at the time of their elections, several of them purchased or otherwise acquired landed interests elsewhere in the shire. John Banbury I held property in Cirencester and Richard Baret in Cheltenham, while Robert Gilbert II probably lived at Eastington towards the end of his life. Gilbert, Roger Ball and John Bisley II were all said to own lands worth £20 a year. At least two Members even developed interests outside the county: Thomas More I acquired property in Berkshire, and Thomas Stevens long retained business links with London.

Certain of the Gloucester MPs secured royal appointment to offices within the town itself, for example as surveyors of the expenditure of royal grants of pavage: John Head and William Heyberer in 1376-7, and Robert Gilbert II for ten years from 1429. Heyberer and Head were also appointed as surveyor and controller, respectively, of the works at Gloucester castle from 1377 for some 13 years, and three parliamentary burgesses—John Pope I, John Bisley I and William Birdlip—were successively named as alnagers in the town. At least two Members were closely connected with religious houses in the area: John Bisley I became concerned with the administration of the alien priory of Deerhurst, and from 1398 was appointed steward and receiver of St. Oswald’s priory, while Robert Gilbert II was chosen as a parliamentary proxy in October 1416 by the abbot of St. Peter’s, and served as steward of Llanthony priory at least from 1417 to 1434. In addition, several parliamentary burgesses took up posts outside Gloucester. John Clopton was probably the man of that name who, from 1396, was constable of Caldicot castle by appointment of Thomas, duke of Gloucester, at that time himself constable of Gloucester castle. He and Stephen Pope both acted as coroners for the shire, and Robert Gilbert II was three times made escheator between 1412 and 1430. Thomas Stevens held the office of controller of customs and subsidies at Bristol for over eight years from 1434. It was not at all unusual for the Gloucester Members to be named on royal commissions directly concerning the town itself, but some of them also served on bodies touching the shire as a whole. As many as three were j.p.s for Gloucestershire: William Heyberer (1380-9), John Bisley I (1397-1400) and Robert Gilbert II (1416-37), but only the last named was a member of the bench when returned to Parliament. Gilbert was also frequently appointed to commissions of array or for the raising of royal loans, and Heyberer was continually active, not only on commissions of arrest, oyer and terminer, array and inquiry in this shire, but also occasionally in other counties too. Thomas Stevens was placed on a commission to investigate wool-smuggling as far away as the east coast.

Some of the most important of the parliamentary burgesses came to be closely associated with the gentry of their region. John Bisley II married into the Guise family of Elmore. At least three MPs were associated with the Berkeleys: John Banbury I was recompensed for his services to Thomas, Lord Berkeley, with a grant of the manor of Upton St. Leonard’s for life; Richard Baret is known to have gone hunting in the Forest of Dean with the same Lord; and William Croke acted as a feoffee of the widow of Sir Nicholas Berkeley of Dursley. Robert Gilbert II’s practice as a lawyer brought him into contact with Edmund, Lord Ferrers of Chartley, and Sir John Beauchamp (later Lord Beauchamp of Powick); and William Heyberer established personal links with several of the local gentry, including Sir John Thorp,