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|Henry Catchpole I|
|1388 (Feb.)||William Jonet|
|Thomas Chippenham I|
|1388 (Sept.)||William Jonet|
|1390 (Jan.)||John Wych|
|1390 (Nov.)||Henry Catchpole II|
|John Prophet I|
|1397 (Jan.)||Hugh Wigan|
|1397 (Sept.)||Hugh Wigan|
|1402||Thomas Chippenham I|
|Roger ... feld|
|1413 (May)||Henry Chippenham|
|1414 (Apr.)||John Wilton|
|1414 (Nov.)||Henry Chippenham|
|1416 (Mar.)||Henry Chippenham|
|George Breinton 1|
|1420||Thomas Chippenham II|
|1421 (May)||William Buryton|
|1421 (Dec.)||Henry Chippenham|
In 1377 Hereford was inhabited by about 2,850 people, being, therefore, somewhat larger than the more northerly marcher town of Ludlow, but smaller than Gloucester. The city, situated at a bridging point of the river Wye and on the roads from Gloucester and Abergavenny, was potentially a successful trading centre. There had been a guild merchant there since before 1215; the St. Denis fair held regularly from 1227 acquired some importance in the western counties, and in 1331 the inhabitants were granted exemption from all kinds of tolls throughout England. A fairly extensive commerce was conducted in corn, wool, cloth and leather, the most important being wool, since that produced in Herefordshire in the 14th century was especially celebrated for its superior quality. Nevertheless, during the period under review various factors combined to make Hereford’s economic position less promising. In January 1383, more a symptom, however, than a cause, the bridge was reported to be ‘dirutus et confractus’ and a great hazard to anyone entering or leaving the city. Although the citizens were subsequently granted the right to levy tolls for a period of ten years on all articles brought over the bridge for sale, their trade inevitably suffered as a result. Later in Richard II’s reign, too, the men of Hereford claimed that they were impoverished, blaming this partly on their town’s distance from the sea and the fact that no boats could come far enough up stream because of the river’s swift current, and partly on its proximity to the Welsh border which necessitated a constant and potentially costly readiness for defence.2
Indeed, the area around Hereford suffered considerably from the inroads of the Welsh and the lawlessness of the border. In 1377 it had been found necessary to appoint 25 custodians of the city with special powers of array as a defensive measure, and in 1394 the inhabitants complained of many wrongful arrests of local men in Wales. As a consequence of the growing turbulence arising from Owen Glendower’s rebellion, in 1401 it was enacted that no Welshman might hold land in the border towns, of which Hereford was one. By the following year the principality was in general revolt, and Herefordshire was to remain disturbed for much of the first half of the 15th century.3 Hereford itself was often used during Henry IV’s reign as the headquarters of a royal army, but perhaps as strong an influence, both before and after that period, was exerted there by the marcher lords. In September 1393 Roger Mortimer, the young earl of March, informed the stewards of his estates that he had granted the citizens of Hereford exemption from distraint in cases of trespass or debt, and his influence in the parliamentary representation of the city may perhaps be discerned in the election of James Nash, who like his father, Richard*, before him was a lawyer employed by the Mortimers, certainly by the time of his third return to Parliament in 1397. The seat of the Lords Talbot was at Goodrich castle, to the south of Hereford, and they too had connexions with some of those returned to Parliament for the city. John Wych was a retainer of Richard, 4th Lord Talbot, and his son was legal advisor to the 7th Lord, John, who later became first earl of Shrewsbury. John Abrahall’s father had been in the service of Gilbert, Lord Talbot, and he himself was made receiver-general for that lord’s widow in 1420, some years after first being retained by Gilbert’s brother, the future earl. Despite violent altercations with the latter in 1423, Abrahall was again a councillor of his by 1442, so it is possible that this relationship assisted his election both for the city in 1419 and for the shire in 1437, 1439 and 1442, although by the later stages of his career his employment by the house of Stafford may also have been a factor in securing his return.4
The bishop of Hereford, too, may occasionally have exerted some influence over the city’s parliamentary representation, especially if it was the case, as Duncumb claimed, that half the expenses of the MPs were levied on the inhabitants of the King’s fee, the rest on those of the bishop, canons and Hospitallers. However, amicable relations between the ecclesiastical and civic authorities seldom existed for any length of time during the later Middle Ages, since both claimed separate and often exclusive jurisdictions. The bishops, whose fee covered a large district of the city, enjoyed various rights and prerogatives that materially infringed the charters accorded to the citizens. From 1389, for some 20 years, the civic authorities were involved in a major dispute with the dean and chapter, supported by the bishop, which, arising out of questions of jurisdiction and rights of way, led to personal assaults on the dean and his officers. Possibly as a consequence of this, only two of Hereford’s representatives are known to have been connected with the bishops: Hugh Wigan, who, between 1395 and 1407 was elected to no less than six out of the eight Parliaments for which returns survive, was bailiff of the bishop’s fee at the time of his election in 1401; and John Abrahall, who was associated with both Bishop Mascall and Bishop Lacy, was returned in 1419 during the latter’s episcopate. It should be noted, however, that the Members were sometimes connected with more than one magnate, and it would therefore be unwise to allow these associations too much significance. Abrahall, for example, was, in addition to his links with Talbot, Stafford and the ecclesiastical authorities, a feoffee of the estates of Richard, Lord Grey of Wilton, and, in any case, was clearly a figure of independent spirit, who might readily command an affinity of his own. Wigan, too, at any rate later on, was in the service of the prince of Wales. Certainly, if any outside influence was brought to bear on the citizens’ electoral choice it must have been shared among several lords, lay and ecclesiastical, and the direct powers of any one of these over the affairs of the city probably amounted to little.5
By this period the citizens had won several privileges from the Crown, having, for example, paid their own fee farm since 1189, and, in fact, Hereford’s form of government had attracted respect and attention. Many applications had been made by the inhabitants of Welsh towns for the same laws and customs, and by the late 14th century no fewer than 18 such places enjoyed a similar constitution. The ancient book in which the city’s customs were recorded figured in certain of its most important procedures: in the 15th century every new mayor took an oath upon it, and every incoming freeman kissed it. But despite the evident attraction of their ways for other boroughs, the citizens felt that certain liberties were still denied them, and in Richard II’s reign they themselves petitioned for the rights already accorded to the townsmen of Worcester and Gloucester. Up to this time the government of their city had been vested in an annually elected bailiff and, usually (for the number had varied), two under bailiffs, distinguished from the bishop’s officers by the term ‘bailiffs of the King in the city of Hereford’. In 1383, however, through the intercession of one of the King’s knights, Sir John Burley, they obtained letters patent allowing them to name the chief bailiff mayor. The latter was elected at ‘Lukestide’ (18 Oct.), and in this period it was not unusual for the outgoing mayor to be chosen for another term. In addition, there was a council of 36 and two panels of jurors, composed respectively of the most substantial citizens living within the walls, and persons resident in the suburbs. Shortly before the end of Richard II’s reign, on 23 June 1399, a new charter was acquired in return for a loan to the King of £100, this granting the civic authorities the powers of j.p.s, and the citizens freedom from interference from any royal officials in the county at large.6
Hereford had regularly sent representatives to Parliament from the beginning of Edward I’s reign. Although a county town, its elections were always held at a different location from those of the shire, the former taking place at the guildhall, the latter in the castle. They also took place at different times: in 1414, for instance, the city elections were held on 6 Nov., the shire’s four days later; in 1417 there was a lapse of one day, in 1419 of three. Up to 1407 the sheriff endorsed the writ of summons with the result of both elections, occasionally stating that he had sent his precept to the mayor of Hereford, who had returned to him the names of the MPs chosen. In 1395 and September 1397 this information was conveyed to Westminster in a separate schedule. After 1406 a certificate of election, drawn up at the guildhall and forwarded to the sheriff, was then sent on by him to Chancery along with the statutory indenture relating to the hustings for the shire. On some occasions, as in 1407, this certificate was itself in the form of an indenture, the parties being, on one side, the mayor, and, on the other, a number of persons (in this instance six), described as citizens and burgesses, who, it was said, had chosen the two Members with the assent of the whole community. More often, however, as in 1414, 1417, 1420, 1421, 1422 and 1423, it was merely a statement to the effect that the mayor and certain named citizens had elected the representatives. The city election of 1419 was unusual since it involved as many as 31 named individuals, a much larger group than the normal one of between six and 13 people, there being among them some who were not citizens at all—notably Thomas Holgot*, then sheriff (but not so described), and Richard de la Mare, esquire. It is possible that this departure from usual practice reflects an attempt by influential members of the gentry of Herefordshire to secure the election of one of themselves, and certainly one of those chosen, John Abrahall, was not himself a citizen. From 1425 on, with few exceptions, the return took the form of an indenture made between the sheriff and the civic authorities, which may indicate some loss of independence.7
Of the 32 Parliaments which met in this period, only for 24 are the names of those who sat for Hereford known, and they, too, number 24. Obviously, there are considerable gaps in the returns, notably for the two Parliaments of 1404 and the last three of Henry IV’s reign, which render any attempts at statistical analysis unreliable. Even so, it was evidently usual for certain individuals to be returned more than once: five sat twice, three three times, two four times, three five times, three (Hugh Wigan, Henry Chippenham and George Breinton) six times, and one, Henry Catchpole I, as many as seven times. In addition, Hugh Wigan represented Shrewsbury in five Parliaments before being elected for Hereford, and John Abrahall, after representing the city once, went on to become a knight of the shire. Re-election is known to have happened on eight occasions, most notably in the case of Wigan, who was returned to three consecutive Parliaments, 1395, 1397 (Jan.) and 1397 (Sept.), and later to two more, in 1406 and 1407. The city customarily sent at least one man with experience of the workings of the Commons: on 13 occasions one such tried individual accompanied a newcomer, and on nine more both Members had sat before. Only in two instances (1414 (Apr.) and 1420) is it possible that both those chosen were novices, and some or all of the four Members concerned may have in fact been elected on earlier occasions, for which the returns are now missing. That there was sometimes a strong tradition of family service is seen in the story of the Burytons, Catchpoles and Falks. Moreover, James Nash was the illegitimate son of Richard, the shire knight, and William Breinton the father of George, grandfather of Thomas†, and great-grandfather of John†. All told, four members of the Chippenham family sat for Hereford in this period, in 1421 (Dec.) and 1426 two of them together.
Without exception all the representatives were resident or held property in Hereford. Two, however, were probably neither citizens nor connected in any way with town affairs: William Jonet’s interests were centred on the marches of Wales, and John Abrahall’s on his own estates, which lay in south-west Herefordshire. Surprisingly, only 12 out of the 24 are known to have taken a prominent part in civic government. Five were bailiffs, including William Breinton, who held office for no fewer than eight annual terms, and John Troney who served for seven. Ten were chosen as mayor, often for more than one term: George Breinton and Thomas Chippenham both occupied the mayoralty four times, and John Falk seven. Moreover, parliamentary service was not closely related to the tenure of such offices, save that the citizens returned their mayor in 1386 (Henry Catchpole I) and again in 1420 (Thomas Chippenham II). No more than three of Hereford’s Members were men of law: James Nash, John Wych and William Jonet. It is not surprising to find others (at least seven) involved in the local cloth industry or in associated processes such as dyeing; and there was one ‘merchant’, one grocer and one mercer. The majority of the rest were probably small landowners or tradesmen, but four achieved a higher status, being described as esquires: Henry Chippenham, John Falk, William Buryton and John Abrahall. These, with the addition of George Breinton, all acquired landed holdings in the county at large: Breinton, indeed, owned property as far away from the city as the Shropshire border; and through his marriage Falk was to come into possession of land not only in Worcestershire and Shropshire, but also in Kent, Essex and Middlesex. Abrahall held extensive property in Archenfield, Shropshire and Gloucestershire and certainly was of equivalent standing with the knights of the shire.
Indeed, several of the parliamentary burgesses were well connected in county society: James Nash was associated with Thomas Oldcastle*, Thomas Walwyn II* and Philip Holgot*; and George Breinton acted as a feoffee for Sir John Chandos* and John Merbury*. As many as four of the Hereford MPs were themselves appointed as j.p.s in the shire: William Jonet, Thomas Buryton, Thomas Whitefield and John Abrahall. Five more were in 1434 listed among the gentry of the region required to take the oath not to maintain those who broke the peace. Six served on county commissions, and four were appointed to offices by the Crown. On the day after he attended the Westminster assembly which formally deposed Richard II, James Nash was nominated by Henry IV as coroner and King’s attorney in the court of King’s bench. William Breinton acted as a coroner in both the city and the shire of Hereford. But both Nash and Breinton were outshone by William Jonet and John Abrahall. In 1374 Jonet, an experienced administrator and estate manager, secured royal appointment as steward of the de Bohun lordships in Wales for the duration of the minority of the elder heiress, which lasted some six years; and from 1382 to 1393, twice representing Hereford in that time, he served not only as steward of the Mortimer marcher lordships, but also as constable of the castles of Narberth, Mellenyth and Builth. He later held office as escheator of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and the adjacent marches. Abrahall was to be twice made escheator of Herefordshire, and to be appointed as steward and receiver-general of those parts of the de Bohun estates in Wales where the question of partition was still under arbitration, although not until several years after he sat in the Commons for Hereford.
Despite their appointments to responsible positions requiring them to enforce the law, several of the Hereford MPs were party to violent crimes. Thomas Buryton was alleged to have assaulted a royal councillor, Master John Prophet, the dean of Hereford; John Orchard broke into and stole from the sub-treasurer’s room in the cathedral; and William Buryton was charged with breaking into Sir William Lichfield’s† house to seize muniments. Before he represented Hereford in Parliament, John Abrahall had been implicated in no fewer than two murders, and later went on to lead his followers in lootings, larceny, horse stealing and abduction. Perhaps it was no wonder that Henry VI, when writing to Pope Engenius IV in 1438, described the inhabitants of Herefordshire as wild and untameable by nature.8
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iv. 1001.
- 2. J.C. Russell, Brit. Med. Pop. 142; J. Price, Hereford, 64-65, 68; SC8/251/12518; R. Johnson, Ancient Customs Hereford, 115-34; E. Power, Wool Trade in Eng. Med. Hist. 21, 23.
- 3. RP, iii. 472-3; VCH Herefs. i. 368; PPC, i. 224, 230-2, 235; CPR, 1377-81, p. 5; 1391-6, p. 503; Letters Hen. IV ed. Hingeston, ii. 19-20.
- 4. HMC 13th Rep. IV, 303; A.J. Pollard, ‘The Talbots’, (Bristol Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1968), 241.