Herefordshire

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
1386Kynard de la Bere
 Sir Thomas de la Barre
1388 (Feb.)Leonard Hakluyt
 Richard Nash
1388 (Sept.)Malcolm de la Mare
 William Seymour
1390 (Jan.)(Sir) Kynard de la Bere
 Thomas Oldcastle
1390 (Nov.)Roger Wigmore
 Richard Nash
1391Sir Robert Whitney I
 Roger Wigmore
1393Sir John Chandos
 Thomas Oldcastle
1394(Sir) Leonard Hakluyt
 Thomas Clanvowe
1395Sir John Chandos
 Thomas Walwyn I
1397 (Jan.)(Sir) Thomas Clanvowe
 Thomas Walwyn II
1397 (Sept.)(Sir) Thomas Clanvowe
 John Skydemore
1399(Sir) Kynard de la Bere
 Thomas Walwyn II
1401Sir Walter Devereux
 Sir John Greyndore
1402Sir Thomas de la Barre
 Philip Holgot
1404 (Jan.)Sir John Oldcastle
 Thomas Walwyn II
1404 (Oct.)Sir John Greyndore
 Thomas Walwyn II
1406John ap Harry
 Thomas Holgot
1407John ap Harry
 Thomas Holgot
1410John ap Harry
 Thomas Holgot
1411
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)Thomas de la Hay
 Thomas Holgot
1414 (Apr.)(Sir) John Skydemore
 John Russell III
1414 (Nov.)(Sir) John Skydemore
 Thomas Holgot
1415
1416 (Mar.)Sir Thomas de la Barre
 Sir Robert Whitney II 1
1416 (Oct.)
1417John Russell III
 Thomas Holgot
1419John Russell III
 John Merbury
1420John Russell III
 John Brugge
1421 (May)John Russell III
 John Merbury
1421 (Dec.)John Russell III
 John Merbury

Main Article

The Herefordshire county elections were invariably held at Hereford castle. After 1406 the return took the form of an indenture between the sheriff and some of the electors, those named varying in number between seven (in 1417) and 17 (in 1420). Early in the reign of Henry VI the number of participants recorded showed a tendency to increase, and in 1429 fifty were listed, while in 1432 the exceptionally large number of 179 attested the indenture.2

As many as 27 electoral returns survive for the 32 Parliaments under review, and in addition Prynne supplies the names of the pair who sat in March 1416. Twenty-five men in all are thus known to have sat as knights of the shire, and on average three out of every four of these were returned more than once. Six of them sat twice, and another six three times. Furthermore, members of this last group also represented other constituencies: Richard Nash had previously been elected by the city of Hereford five times; (Sir) Leonard Hakluyt went on to appear twice for Somerset and Sir Thomas de la Barre interspersed his Parliaments for Herefordshire with three for Hertfordshire. The elder Sir Robert Whitney, Thomas Walwyn II and (Sir) Kynard de la Bere each sat four times for this constituency alone, John Merbury five, and (Sir) John Skydemore six. John Russell III, returned on no fewer than 13 occasions (although seven of these came after 1421), clearly stood out in the House of Commons, for his fellow Members twice elected him Speaker, in 1423 and 1432, after rejecting him in a straight contest in 1420.

Re-election (to consecutive Parliaments) was by no means unusual, occurring at least ten times during our period. Roger Wigmore was re-elected in 1391, (Sir) Thomas Clanvowe in 1397 (Sept.), Thomas Walwyn II in 1404 (Oct.), (Sir) John Skydemore in 1414 (Nov.) and John Merbury in 1421 (Dec.); and the same pair, John ap Harry and Thomas Holgot, were chosen for three Parliaments running from 1406 to 1410. Most impressive was the record of John Russell III, who was returned to no less than seven successive Parliaments between 1417 and 1423. Certainly, it was customary for the county to elect at least one shire knight with experience of the workings of the Commons, for on 15 occasions during the period one of the two had been returned previously, and on ten neither was a newcomer. In no more than three Parliaments—those of September 1388 (the only occasion when either Malcolm de la Mare or William Seymour was returned), 1401 and 1406—were both knights novices.

A surprisingly large number of Herefordshire families had established a tradition of parliamentary service. At least nine and possibly ten of our Members were the sons of earlier representatives, while Malcolm de la Mare was the younger brother of Sir Peter, the famous Speaker. Others, moreover, were fathers or grandfathers of men who were to represent this county later, while Sir John Greyndore’s son, Robert, sat for Gloucestershire and Richard Nash’s illegitimate son, James, for the city of Hereford in our period. Many of the families of Herefordshire MPs were also interconnected by other means: John Merbury, for instance, successively married the widows of Thomas Oldcastle and Sir Walter Devereux, and Malcolm de la Mare was the cousin by marriage of his fellow Member, William Seymour. Perhaps the best demonstration of the close relationships existing among the parliamentary families, however, is provided by the younger Sir Robert Whitney. The son of Sir Robert I and the grandson of Sir Eustace, he was father of another Eustace, brother-in-law of (Sir) Thomas Clanvowe, son-in-law of Thomas Oldcastle, stepson-in-law of John Merbury, uncle of (Sir) John Skydemore, and, if more distantly, also kin to the Hakluyts, de la Barres, Abrahalls and Pembridges.

All but one of the 25 Herefordshire MPs of this period held land in the county, the exception being Sir John Greyndore, whose estates were over the Gloucestershire border in the Forest of Dean. The properties of the remainder were scattered throughout the shire, but with a definite preponderance in its south-western corner, where de la Bere, Brugge, Clanvowe, Devereux, ap Harry, de la Hay, the Oldcastles, Skydemore and the Whitneys were all near neighbours. Nineteen of the 25 came from well-established county families, and Nash and the Holgots were lawyers who lived in Hereford. The only strangers to the community were Greyndore, William Seymour (who acquired an estate in the shire by marriage) and John Merbury. The last came from Cheshire, but by marrying two local heiresses he made himself an important figure in the area. (Incidentally, his brother, Nicholas Merbury*, followed his example in Northamptonshire.) So far as is known, the great majority of the Members were resident in the shire when elected.

Half the Herefordshire knights (13) also owned land in other counties, if only, for the most part, on a small scale. However, Sir Thomas de la Barre’s estates in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire and (Sir) Leonard Hakluyt’s in Somerset and Dorset (in both cases acquired by a combination of inheritance and marriage) exceeded their holdings in Herefordshire in value, and it is not surprising, therefore, to find Sir Thomas also being elected to Parliament for Hertfordshire and (Sir) Leonard for Somerset. The marriages of (Sir) Kynard de la Bere and Malcolm de la Mare gave them an interest in property in Warwickshire and Worcestershire, and Sir Walter Devereux and John Merbury held, successively, the estates in the east Midlands belonging to Agnes Crophill whom they married in turn. The most extensive lands held jure uxoris, however, comprised the Cobham and Hemenhale inheritances which Sir John Oldcastle acquired when he married Joan de la Pole, but although this windfall led to Oldcastle’s summons to the House of Lords as a baron, it can have had no bearing on his earlier elections to the Commons.

As might be expected in so close-knit a group, all but two of the Members (the ‘outsider’, William Seymour, and the royal servant, Roger Wigmore), were closely involved in the administration of the county. Indeed, 19 of the 25 served as sheriff of Herefordshire in the course of their careers, five of them doing so twice and two on three occasions, while the younger Sir Robert Whitney held office four times and John Merbury no less than seven. Twelve were appointed as escheators and 19 as j.p.s. All but Seymour and, possibly, Thomas Walwyn I, were named on ad hoc royal commissions (usually relating to Herefordshire or the marches), the most outstanding in this respect being John Merbury and John Russell III. Generally, involvement in some administrative duties preceded an initial election to Parliament, and only six MPs are not known to have had at least a modicum of experience of such matters when they first entered the Commons. (Sir) Thomas Clanvowe was discharging office as sheriff while sitting in the second session of the Parliament of 1397 (Sept.), and John Russell III was appointed to the same post six days before the opening of the Parliament of 1417, in which he represented Herefordshire, both thus being in technical breach of the statute prohibiting the return of sheriffs. To 18 out of the 28 Parliaments for which returns have survived at least one current member of the Herefordshire bench was elected; and in half of these both shire knights were j.p.s. It is striking that in seven out of the eight Parliaments for which returns have survived between 1414 and 1422 both men elected were members of the bench. A handful of the knights of the shire filled similar offices in other parts of England: de la Barre became sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire and a j.p. in the latter county; Greyndore occupied both positions in Gloucestershire, where Russell also sat on the bench; and Roger Wigmore appeared as a j.p. in Kent, besides playing a part in the administration of the Cinque Ports.

When serving the Crown outside their own county, however, the shire knights were most frequently associated with South Wales. Here 12 of the 25 Members were employed at one time or another. The office of justiciar in South Wales (the principal administrator of the royal estates there) was held by Richard Nash from 1389 to 1390 and from 1393 to 1394, and in the same period (from 1389 to 1395) Roger Wigmore, as chamberlain of South Wales, was the chief royal financial officer (the latter sitting in the consecutive Parliaments of 1390 (Nov.) and 1391 while so engaged). John Merbury was a dominating influence in the region for over 20 years, serving as chamberlain from 1400 to 1421 and as justiciar from 1421 to 1423, during which period he represented Herefordshire in Parliament three times. From 1417 to 1423 he was also steward of Kidwelly, a post which was occupied for 24 years (1401-15, 1423-33), by (Sir) John Skydemore, five of whose six returns occurred while he was holding office. Other Herefordshire MPs secured posts on the Welsh lands of the duchy of Lancaster, especially after these became attached to the Crown in 1399. The stewardship of Monmouth, the principal duchy office in Gwent, was granted in turn to Sir John Greyndore, Thomas de la Hay and (Sir) John Skydemore, though only the last sat in the Commons while so employed. Merbury and John ap Harry, however, were both acting as deputy steward of Brecon at the time of their first returns. John Russell III, moreover, served the duchy as a justice in South Wales throughout his long parliamentary career. During the reigns of Henry IV and Henry V, indeed, there were only a very few Parliaments (those of 1399, 1402 and March 1416) to which a duchy of Lancaster official of some sort was not elected.

Many knights of the shire were made captains of royal or duchy castles in Wales and the marches during Owen Glendower’s uprising (1401-c.1410) when Herefordshire found itself a base for the English military effort and, at times, even a theatre of war. Living as they did in a marcher county, the gentry had for many centuries been soldiers by necessity and headed a local militia, so that it is not surprising that at least 19 of our 25 saw service in the field. Seventeen of them fought against the Welsh, most notably (Sir) John Skydemore, Sir John Oldcastle and Sir John Greyndore, and the last named actually received the thanks of the Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament for his part in the battles of Grosmont and Usk in 1405. Less fortunate were (Sir) Kynard de la Bere, Sir Walter Devereux, and Sir Robert Whitney II, who were all killed when the county levies were disastrously defeated at Pilleth in 1402, and Roger Wigmore, who lost Carmarthen (and probably his life) in 1403. Skydemore, incidentally, was Glendower’s son-in-law, and two of John ap Harry’s brothers joined the rebels, but the shire knights themselves remained loyal to the English Crown. Nine of the 25 Members took part in the warfare in Ireland, usually under Mortimer lieutenants there, and seven campaigned in Scotland, under Richard II or Henry IV. However, the troubled state of the marches, even after Glendower’s rebellion had been crushed, meant that few Herefordshire men could be spared for Henry V’s French ventures, and only four MPs are known to have embarked for Normandy.

Surviving returns reveal no direct evidence of outside interference with the county elections themselves, although the affiliations of both electors and successful candidates must, of course, be taken into account. Fourteen of the 25 had links with the Crown. Sir Thomas de la Barre began his career in the household of Edward III, and the elder Sir Robert Whitney in that of Lionel, duke of Clarence. Seven Members were returned while serving in Richard II’s household: Whitney I, the King’s harbinger, the latter’s son-in-law, (Sir) Thomas Clanvowe, a favoured courtier and attendant on Queen Isabella, (Sir) Kynard de la Bere and Sir Thomas de la Barre, both ‘King’s knights’, and John Skydemore, Thomas Walwyn I and Roger Wigmore, all ‘King’s esquires’. Of those sitting in the Lancastrian Parliaments, John Merbury and John ap Harry, veteran retainers of the ducal family, both did well under the new dynasty: the latter was the son-in-law of Sir Hugh Waterton, a high official in Henry of Bolingbroke’s household both before and after his accession. Sir John Greyndore, Sir John Oldcastle and (Sir) John Skydemore were comrades-in-arms and members of the household of Prince Henry of Wales, and Thomas de la Hay and Thomas Holgot were otherwise retained by the prince. Indeed, during Henry IV’s reign close friends or personal retainers of the prince were returned in nine instances out of the 16 when the names of the knights of the shire are known. This group clearly remained to the fore after their lord succeeded to the throne, for Holgot, de la Hay, Skydemore and Merbury were elected on half of the possible 20 occasions before Henry’s death in 1422.

Roughly two out of every three knights of the shire had connexions with one or other of the great marcher families, though such links were by no means exclusive. Ten of them (who were mostly elected early in our period), were associated with the Mortimer earls of March, one of whose chief castles was at Wigmore in north-western Herefordshire. Of these, (Sir) Kynard de la Bere, (Sir) Leonard Hakluyt, Philip Holgot, Richard Nash, Thomas Walwyn II and Thomas Oldcastle are all known to have been retained by the Mortimers, while Walwyn was actually receiver-general of the estates of the earldom at the time of his first return in 1397. Thomas Holgot, Malcolm de la Mare, Sir John Oldcastle and Roger Wigmore had less clearly defined links with the family. It is noteworthy that retainers or associates of the earl of March (including Sir Peter de la Mare and Sir John Eynesford) were elected on at least half of all possible occasions (26) between 1377 and 1386. This Mortimer interest continued to be deployed, albeit on a diminished scale, during the early part of our period proper, with those associated with the family securing election to nine of the 22 available seats between 1386 and 1399. With the beginning of Henry IV’s reign, but more especially because of the long minority (1398-1413) of Edmund, 5th earl of March, Mortimer influence apparently gave way to that of Henry of Monmouth, prince of Wales, who for long periods of his father’s reign used Herefordshire as a base for his operations against the Welsh rebels. However, John ap Harry and perhaps Thomas Holgot, too, were linked with the 5th earl, who died in 1425, when the Mortimer lands, and with them the family’s influence, passed to his nephew, Richard, duke of York. John Russell III had close dealings with the latter, being an executor of Richard’s other uncle, Duke Edward of York, and a trustee of his estates, and he was also associated with Earl Edmund’s widow, Anne, her brother, Humphrey, earl of Stafford, and her second husband, John Holand, earl of Huntingdon.

Other MPs were connected with the Talbots of Archenfield, although that family’s influence was not nearly so great in Herefordshire as it was in Shropshire. Sir John Greyndore was retained by Gilbert, Lord Talbot (d.1387). (Sir) John Skydemore was associated with four successive heads of the family, and John Brugge was a retainer of John Talbot, Lord Furnival (later earl of Shrewsbury), whose sister married the son of Sir Thomas de la Barre. Sir Robert Whitney II and Thomas Walwyn II may also have had links with the Talbots. Others again were associated with William Beauchamp, Lord Abergavenny (d.1411), and his influential widow, Lady Joan (d.1435), whose chief estates were in Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Monmouthshire: such were Sir John Greyndore, (Sir) John Skydemore, Thomas Holgot, John Russell III and, most notably, Thomas Walwyn II. Three of our 25 are known to have served the bishops of Hereford: Thomas Walwyn I was an esquire and advisor to Bishop John Trefnant (1389-1404); Richard Nash served this same bishop as a counsellor on legal matters, and John Merbury was steward of the lands of Bishop Mascall.

Of the social status of the Members for Herefordshire little remains to be said. Only the ‘outsider’ William Seymour (grandson of John, Lord Beauchamp of Somerset) had noble blood, although Sir John Chandos and Sir John Oldcastle both married into baronial families. No more than 11 of the 25 received the honour of knighthood, and it is clear that the proportion of knights to esquires, always quite low, decreased in the course of the period. Thus, in the 11 Parliaments between 1386 and 1397 (Sept.) the ratio was 8:14, in the eight Parliaments of Henry IV’s reign 6:10, and in the nine of Henry V’s 4:14. Richard Nash, Philip and Thomas Holgot and the outstanding John Russell III all achieved distinction through careers in the law, though the last came of a good family. These men of law sat on only 15 of a possible 56 occasions during our period, but it should be noted that a lawyer was elected for Herefordshire to all but one of the 12 Parliaments between 1406 and 1422 for which returns have survived, and that in 1417 both Members were of this profession.

Author: Charles Kightly

Notes

  • 1. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, i. 114.