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|1386||Sir William Moigne|
|1388 (Feb.)||Robert Waryn|
|1388 (Sept.)||Robert Waryn|
|1390 (Jan.)||Sir William Moigne|
|Sir Henry Green|
|1390 (Nov.)||Sir William Moigne|
|1391||Sir William Moigne|
|1393||Sir John Peckbridge|
|Sir Robert Stokes|
|1397 (Jan.)||John Styuecle|
|1397 (Sept.)||John Knyvet|
|1404 (Jan.)||Robert Scott|
|Sir John Tiptoft|
|1404 (Oct.)||Robert Scott|
|Sir John Tiptoft|
|Sir John Tiptoft|
|John Burton I|
|1413 (May)||Roger Hunt|
|Thomas Beville II|
|1414 (Apr.)||Roger Hunt|
|1414 (Nov.)||Nicholas Styuecle|
|Thomas Beville II|
|1416 (Mar.)||Nicholas Styuecle|
|1416 (Oct.)||(Sir) Nicholas Styuecle|
|John Hore I 1|
|Thomas Beville II|
|1420||(Sir) Nicholas Styuecle|
|(Sir) Thomas Waweton|
|1421 (May)||(Sir) Nicholas Styuecle|
|1421 (Dec.)||Robert Stonham|
Electoral returns for Huntingdonshire have survived for all but three of the Parliaments which met between 1386 and 1421, those for 1410, 1413 (Feb.) and 1416 (Oct.) now being lost. Exchequer records can, fortunately, be used to fill the last of these gaps, so we know the names of 24 of the men who represented the county during this period; and although it is still impossible to speak with complete certainty about the relative parliamentary experience of some individuals, certain facts can be deduced from an analysis of the evidence. Whether or not the electors of Huntingdonshire displayed a conscious preference for candidates already familiar with the House of Commons must remain a matter of speculation, but it is clear that they often either chose, or else were obliged to return, men who had sat before. In only three of the Parliaments here under review were both Members evident newcomers to the Lower House, and on the last of these occasions (December 1421) it is, indeed, quite possible that at least one of them was not a novice. Sometimes (in a total of nine Parliaments) one newcomer was selected along with a more experienced colleague, but it was far more usual for two men already familiar with the parliamentary scene to sit together. This is known to have been the case in over half (at least 18) of the 32 Parliaments summoned during our period. The comparative frequency of immediate re-election is also worthy of remark, the most notable examples being those of Robert Scott’s attendance in all four of the Parliaments held between 1401 and October 1404, and Nicholas Styuecle’s in the four which met later, between November 1414 and October 1416. Styuecle’s record is particularly striking in so far that he was also re-elected in May 1421, but he was not alone in acquiring this fund of parliamentary experience, for both Sir William Moigne and Sir John Tiptoft each served three times in a row. Roger Hunt, who sat almost continuously throughout the second and third decades of the 15th century, tended to represent Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire alternately, but he, too, was twice re-elected for the latter county. As far as we can tell, a relatively large number of eight Members in all were re-elected at least once, instances of complete representative continuity occurring in 1395, 1402 and 1404 (Oct.) and partial continuity (that is the re-election of just one Member) in a further 12 Parliaments.
It is thus not surprising to discover that several of our men were seasoned parliamentarians, especially as at least seven of them sat for other counties as well at various points in their careers. Turning first to the representation of Huntingdonshire alone, we find that 13 shire knights appear to have served three times or less. Sir Robert Stokes sat in five Parliaments, and Robert Waryn and John Herlyngton in six. A further three shire knights—(Sir) Thomas Waweton, Robert Scott and Robert Lovetot—had seven returns to their credit, while Sir William Moigne achieved nine. Both John Waweton and Robert Stonham sat ten times in all, although Stonham was also returned at the contested election of 20 Aug. 1429, when a group of ‘outsiders’ from Bedfordshire temporarily forced their own candidates upon the county. Another poll was held at the next meeting of the shire court, Stonham and his colleague then being replaced by (Sir) Nicholas Styuecle and Roger Hunt. These two men were by far the most experienced to represent Huntingdonshire during the late 14th and early 15th centuries, the former sitting in 12 Parliaments spread over a period of 24 years, and the latter in no less than 15 of the Parliaments which met between 1407 and 1433. Partly because of this combined achievement, the average attendance of the 24 Members elected for Huntingdonshire in our period stands at between five and six Parliaments, being considerably higher than comparative statistics compiled for all other English counties. Indeed, if we take into account the experience gained by those men who also sat elsewhere, an average of slightly more than six returns per individual is reached: an impressive figure by any standard, equalled only by the representatives for Somerset.
All three of the MPs who represented the neighbouring county of Bedfordshire did so after the start of their parliamentary careers, Robert Scott being elected once, Roger Hunt three times, and (Sir) Thomas Waweton no less than five times in the course of a period of service in the Lower House which lasted from 1397 to 1432. Having sat for Huntingdonshire in the one Parliament of 1390 (Jan.), Sir Henry Green was later returned twice for Northamptonshire and once for Wiltshire. Sir John Tiptoft made his fourth and last appearance in the Commons as MP for Somerset, while Sir Robert Peckbridge, who had already represented Middlesex in four Parliaments, retired from public life after sitting once for Huntingdonshire. In the light of all this activity, it is surprising to discover that only one man, John Hore I, seems to have offered himself as a candidate in the neighbouring county of Cambridgeshire. Interestingly enough, three of the Members who sat for more than one county also served as Speaker of the Commons, but only two, Sir John Tiptoft and Roger Hunt, did so during our period. The former’s election to the Speakership of the 1406 Parliament was effected despite his request for exoneration, ‘par cause de sa juvente et pur defaute de seen et discretion come par plusours autres voies’,2 and clearly owed much to his close connexion with Henry IV, whom he had to thank not only for high office but also for the income of over £125 p.a. upon which he could then rely in the absence of landed revenues of his own. The King’s influence is all the more apparent in view of the fact that Tiptoft himself was then a relative newcomer to the Commons, having only served twice before, in the preceding two Parliaments of 1404. This was in marked contrast to Roger Hunt, who occupied the Speaker’s chair in both 1420 (as Member for Bedfordshire) and 1433. On the first occasion he was challenged by John Russell III* in the only known contest for the Speakership to occur during the Middle Ages. His rival commanded a sufficiently large body of supporters for a scrutiny (examinacio) of votes to be found necessary, although Hunt’s reputation as a lawyer and experienced parliamentarian, no less than his wide circle of important friends and patrons, enabled him to carry the day.3 (Sir) Thomas Waweton also seems to have obtained this office on the strength of a long and distinguished career in the Commons, being chosen in 1425, at the start of his 11th and penultimate Parliament, to which he was returned by the electors of Bedfordshire.
Despite the evident wealth and comparatively high social standing of most of our MPs, a surprisingly small proportion of less than one-third ranked as knights proper. A mere five achieved knighthood before they ever sat in the House of Commons, and only two more were actually knighted during the course of their parliamentary service.4 As a result, Huntingdonshire sent two belted knights, simultaneously elected, to a mere three Parliaments, although in at least eight more one of the Members did possess a knighthood.5 Conversely, men of lesser rank (but equivalent wealth) dominated the returns to 19, if not more, of the 32 Parliaments summoned between 1386 and 1421, most notably during the later 1390s and again throughout the second decade of the 15th century.
All but one of the individuals here under consideration became involved in the business of local government at some time or another. (Even the enigmatic John Burton I, who cannot now be identified with any degree of certainty, may possibly have served as a tax collector in Cambridgeshire.) Between them, the parliamentary representatives of Huntingdonshire possessed a striking amount of administrative experience, for although such men as Sir John Tiptoft, the great military commander and mainstay of the house of Lancaster, and Roger Hunt, one of the leading lawyers of his age, stand out as by far the most celebrated and influential, their other colleagues were by no means without stature in the county community. Nine of them held office as sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, John Knyvet being the only one to do so before he first sat in the House of Commons, while the rest were picked during the course of their parliamentary careers.6 Roger Hunt was actually serving as Speaker when he heard of his appointment in November 1433, but notwithstanding his protests about ‘the longe labour coost and travaill’ that he had already sustained in the Speakership, Henry VI refused to grant him exemption, with the result that he was obliged to discharge two consecutive terms as sheriff at considerable personal expense. Thomas Beville II, Sir William Moigne and Robert Stonham also occupied the shrievalty twice, but none could rival Robert Scott, who was four times sheriff of the two counties. Although his experience was confined to the joint bailiwick of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, (Sir) Thomas Waweton also had four terms to his credit, one being marked by a particularly flagrant breach of electoral law when, having already forced two unwelcome candidates on the electors of Huntingdonshire, he attempted to alter the Buckinghamshire return to the Parliament of 1429 in favour of his own nominees. Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire were also united in a joint escheatorship, a post which six of our men held at some point in their careers, although Henry Hethe alone began to stand for Parliament after having done so. John Botiller, John Herlyngton, Robert Scott and (Sir) Nicholas Styuecle each performed two terms as escheator, Scott and Styuecle being appointed to the office while attending, respectively, the Parliaments of 1404 (Oct.) and 1411.
A notable feature of the representation of Huntingdonshire during our period is the unusually high proportion of men who had either obtained a seat on the county bench or else were to do so in later life. No less than 17 shire knights became j.p.s, and of these at least nine had already received commissions of the peace before the onset of their careers in Parliament.7 Moreover, although he never held such a commission in Huntingdonshire, Sir Henry Green had spent nine years as a member of the Northamptonshire bench when he entered the Commons in 1390 (Jan.), and he later went on to serve in Wiltshire too. Sir John Tiptoft, (Sir) Thomas Waweton and Roger Hunt were also active in other counties besides Huntingdonshire. In 1406, while Speaker, Tiptoft appeared as a justice both there and across the border in Cambridgeshire; and over the years he served in Somerset, Shropshire and Worcestershire as well. Roger Hunt likewise received other commissions in Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire, Waweton being appointed with him, in 1422, in the latter county. It may well be that the electors of Huntingdonshire showed a conscious preference for current members of the local bench, since in three of the Parliaments here under review (1386, 1391 and 1406) both of their representatives were j.p.s, and in a further 15 one of the men returned then held a commission of the peace. This tendency seems to have been particularly strong between 1390 and 1406, during which period the bulk of these Parliaments were held. Service on royal commissions in general was even more common, all but two of our Members (John Burton I and John Hore I) being chosen to assist the Crown in this way at least once. Some were regularly appointed to hold inquiries and perform other valuable administrative functions: almost half their number (11 in all) received at least ten commissions of one kind or another. The more experienced included John Waweton, with 18 such appointments to his credit, Sir William Moigne with 20, Roger Hunt with 28, and Sir John Tiptoft with 35, many of which were sent to him in France. We also know that 17 of the Huntingdonshire MPs were employed as tax collectors or assessors by the Crown, and that of these both John Botiller and Robert Waryn also held the more specialist office of coroner, a post occupied by Waryn throughout his six terms of parliamentary service. John Herlyngton and (Sir) Thomas Waweton likewise sat while employed as alnagers, the former in Huntingdonshire and the latter in Bedfordshire; while a further five MPs helped to administer the royal forests of Sapley and Weybridge, four as verderers and one, the ubiquitous Sir John Tiptoft, in the more prestigious office of keeper. The verderership was no sinecure, as can be seen from the fact that all four were eventually replaced either because they were too busy elsewhere or for want of the proper qualifications.
With the notable exception of Tiptoft, who gave up most of his life to the service of successive Lancastrian kings, few shire knights were retained by the Crown on a formal basis. Sir Henry Green achieved posthumous notoriety as one of the chief, and most unpopular agents of Richard II’s absolutist policies, but he did not rise to power until 1397, having previously owed much of his success to the patronage of John of Gaunt, from whom he received an annuity of 50 marks. Sir William Moigne married one of Queen Philippa’s ladies-in-waiting and fought for many years with the Black Prince in France and Spain, but this connexion was already a thing of the past when he retired to his country estates and began to take part in local government. The John Burton I who was elected to the Gloucester Parliament of 1407 was possibly a victualler of the royal household; and Robert Scott is certainly known to have served Henry IV as an esquire of the body. We are told that Robert Stonham was elected to the Parliament of 1450 because he occupied a similar position, and in view of his longstanding connexion with the Lancastrian establishment it may well be that he had already entered the royal household by 1421, the date of his first return to the Commons.
On the whole, however, the men who represented Huntingdonshire in Parliament at this time had remarkably little to do with the court at Westminster, and even those two eminent figures, Hunt and Tiptoft, were by no means at the peak of their careers when they sat in the Lower House. Roger Hunt’s period in office as the King’s attorney-general in the court of common pleas and his subsequent appointment to the deputy stewardship of the duchy of Lancaster south parts did occur during the course of his years as a parliamentarian, but these were long over, when, in 1439, he finally rose to become second baron of the Exchequer. As regards Tiptoft, it was not until after his last appearance as MP for Huntingdonshire, in 1406, that royal patronage turned from a steady stream into a virtual flood, bringing him, inter alios, the offices of treasurer of the Household (1406-8), chief butler of England (1407), treasurer of the Exchequer (1408-9), seneschal of Aquitaine (1415-23), treasurer of the duchy of Normandy (1417-19), steward of the Household (1426-32) and councillor to each of the Lancastrian monarchs. His elevation to the peerage in 1426 came as further recognition of his loyalty—and usefulness—to the dynasty. He had, moreover, by then established himself as a dominant figure in Huntingdonshire, being the centre of a group which comprised six other leading landowners and shire knights. So far as we can tell, Roger Hunt alone was actually employed by Tiptoft (as a general agent and receiver while Sir John was abroad on official business), although each of the remaining five became caught up in his affairs at some time or another. The close personal relationship which existed between Hunt, Tiptoft, (Sir) Thomas Waweton, Thomas Beville II, John Botiller, Robert Scott and (Sir) Nicholas Styuecle is indeed remarkable, for between them they exercised a virtual monopoly over the parliamentary representation of Huntingdonshire during the early 15th century. Much of the surviving evidence concerns the continuous involvement of these men in each other’s business dealings, and although there is nothing to suggest that Tiptoft was engaged in any kind of electoral management or ‘engineering’ to secure the return of his friends, there can be little doubt of the benefits which each gained from belonging to his circle.
Tiptoft’s influence in the county does not seem to have been rivalled by any other nobleman during our period, for one of the most striking features of society in late medieval Huntingdonshire is the absence of any great magnate, either lay or ecclesiastical, with an overriding control. This is clear from the wide variety of lords, patrons and ‘well-wishers’ with whom our men were connected at various times, there being no really discernable ‘faction’ or pattern of service, save among Tiptoft’s small, but influential, political coterie. Tiptoft himself was connected with John, earl of Huntingdon, who also numbered Robert Scott (his deputy as constable of the Tower of London) and (Sir) Thomas Waweton among his adherents. The earl’s violent quarrel with John, duke of Norfolk, which came to a head in 1428, caused a serious, albeit temporary split in the upper ranks of county society, but it is unlikely that this dispute alone led Waweton to invade the county court at Huntingdon with a body of armed men in the following year and impose his own choice of parliamentary candidates on the terrified electorate. As a result of vociferous protests on the part of (Sir) Nicholas Styuecle and 13 other local ‘homines generosi’, a fresh election was held at the next meeting of the shire court, when he and Hunt were returned, evidently (despite Hunt’s close relationship with the duke) as leaders of an independent faction among the local gentry.8 As a successful lawyer, Hunt attracted other important clients, including Reynold, Lord Grey of Ruthin, William, Lord Bardolf, Sir Walter Hungerford*, Richard, Lord Grey of Wilton, and the abbot of Ramsey. He also appears to have won the respect of Cardinal Beaufort, who had once helped to secure his appointment as King’s attorney, and much later suggested that he should be made a baron of the Exchequer. (Sir) Thomas Waweton’s primary allegiance was to Edmund, earl of March (d.1425), another of Tiptoft’s kinsmen, who paid him an annuity of 40 marks. Towards the end of his life Waweton also became involved in the power struggle between Reynold, Lord Grey of Ruthin, and the parvenu Lord Fanhope for ascendancy in Bedfordshire, being interrogated before the royal council in 1439 for his all too energetic partnership in Grey’s cause at the riots in the Bedford county court.
Few of our men led such eventful lives as Waweton, although many established connexions with members of the baronage. Sir Henry Green and John Styuecle were both active as trustees of William, Lord Beauchamp of Abergavenny, in whose affairs they played a prominent part. Green also maintained close links with two of the Lords Appellant of 1387-8, Richard earl of Arundel (Beauchamp’s father-in-law), and Thomas, duke of Gloucester, although like Robert Beville, another Lancastrian retainer, he sat for Huntingdonshire while in the pay of John of Gaunt. Beville’s son, Thomas II, served in France with Thomas, duke of Clarence, as, at a rather earlier date, did John Botiller, who also kept on amicable terms with the Greys of Ruthin. Other MPs derived considerable prestige from their links with the Church. Robert Waryn, for example, included a canon of Lincoln and an archdeacon of Huntingdon among his circle of intimates, while also acting as both a justice of assize and a parliamentary proxy for the abbot of Ramsey. John Herlyngton frequently performed the latter service for the abbot of Thorney; Sir Robert Stokes was a friend of Peter Dalton, treasurer of Lincoln cathedral; and Henry Hethe came to rely heavily upon the help of his brother, Richard, one of Huntingdon’s more celebrated archdeacons. He was not the only shire knight to profit from ties of kinship, the most notable being Robert Stonham, whose widowed mother’s second husband was John Spencer*, keeper of the great wardrobe to Henry V. On Spencer’s death she married the distinguished parliamentarian, John Tyrell*, who used his position as treasurer of the royal household to advance his stepson’s career, not least by securing him a position at Court. As the son of a former chancellor of England who had married into the lesser nobility, John Knyvet commanded a good deal of authority, which was further augmented by an advantageous marriage of has own.
At least ten other Huntingdonshire MPs owed much, and in some cases all, of their influence as landowners to their wives. Sir John Tiptoft, whose own inheritance formed but a comparatively small and disappointingly late addition to the property which he acquired by marriage, obtained land worth over £360 from his first wife, Philippa Talbot, although it was thanks to her successor, the daughter and coheir of Edward, Lord Charlton of Powis, that he became one of the richest and most widely connected commoners in England. His creation as Lord Tiptoft followed within a few years of the marriage, since with an income conservatively estimated at £1,098 a year, he was well able to support such a dignity. Sir John Peckbridge’s two marriages also proved extremely lucrative: his first wife enjoyed a life interest in the estates of Sir John Poultney† (one of the richest London merchants of Edward III’s reign), the ownership of which entitled him to sit for Middlesex in Parliament; and the second brought him land in Huntingdonshire and so qualified him there too. Sir Robert Stokes likewise acquired his Huntingdonshire estates through marriage, as did Sir Henry Green (whose wife also owned manors in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire). Sir William Moigne’s wife, Mary, was not only a cousin of Richard II’s first queen, Anne of Bohemia, but also the thrice-widowed occupant of land in five English counties. By the time of her marriage to Robert Scott, Joan Hampton had also become very rich, partly as a result of two handsome dower settlements of land in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and London, which formed a valuable addition to her own inheritance in Norfolk and Herefordshire. (Sir) Thomas Waweton, (Sir) Nicholas Styuecle and Robert Lovetot were able to consolidate their holdings through marriage, but each had reason to envy Robert Stonham, whose wife, Mary, succeeded, against all expectations, to the entire Bernak inheritance, which extended across southern England from Norfolk to Bedfordshire.
At least 15 of the men here under review were either the sons or next of kin of Huntingdonshire landowners, and some, such as Sir William Moigne and Robert Lovetot, belonged to families which had lived in the county for centuries. A strong element of continuity can certainly be detected among the shire knights themselves, many of whom were related. Robert Beville and Thomas Beville II, Richard and John Botiller, and John and (Sir) Thomas Waweton were, in each case, father and son, while (Sir) Nicholas Styuecle was either the son or grandson of John Styuecle, who, in turn, was Sir William Moigne’s cousin. Robert and Henry Waryn were clearly kinsmen as well, the latter being sufficiently obscure to owe his return to family influence.
With the exception of John Burton I, about whom hardly anything is known for sure, all of the Members returned during our period currently owned some property in Huntingdonshire, all but a very small number being resident for most of the time. Landowning in other counties, especially those sharing a common border with Huntingdonshire, was by no means unusual: of the 19 individuals with such additional estates, 12 had interests in Cambridgeshire, six in Bedfordshire, and four in Northamptonshire. Several owned farms or manors in more distant regions, such as Sussex (the Bevilles) Wales (Sir Henry Green), Yorkshire (Sir William Moigne) and Kent (Sir John Peckbridge). It is now impossible to give more than a general idea of their relative wealth, since the surviving tax assessments and inquisitions post mortem (neither of which can, in any event, be used with much confidence) are largely incomplete. Sir John Tiptoft’s annual income of £1,098 is, of course, exceptional, but there can be little doubt that most of the Huntingdonshire MPs returned between 1386 and 1422 were fairly well to do. Robert Stonham’s estates produced at least £150 a year, (Sir) Nicholas Styuecle’s were worth over £133, and John Knyvet’s brought him a sum well in excess of £70. We know that Roger Hunt could rely on a minimum of £68 (in addition to his not inconsiderable professional fees), and that several of his colleagues (including Henry Hethe, (Sir) Thomas Waweton and John Botiller) were able to purchase new estates from the profits of the old.
The Huntingdonshire parliamentary elections were held at the county court in Huntingdon, which was the scene of at least two flagrant breaches of electoral law during the first half of the 15th century. Although it occurred long after the close of our period, the contested election of 17 Oct. 1450 is none the less of particlar interest, in so far that it provides us with a full and detailed account of the way in which elections were held then, and, no doubt, at an earlier date as well. A petition successfully addressed by the electors of Huntingdonshire to the King makes clear that whereas only 20 or so names customarily appeared on the indentures of return, the county elections were, at least if a contest seemed likely, attended by a far larger assembly of people, many of whom were of yeoman stock. In the course of their strongly worded and indignant protest, (Sir) Nicholas Styuecle (whose son then seemed in danger of losing his seat) and 124 other named ‘freholders duellyng with inne the same shire of Huntyngdon, havyng frehold to valewe thereby over all charges yerely xls.’ claimed that they and ‘a three hundred moo good comuners of the same shire’ had been prevented from holding a free election by the supporters of an ‘outsider’ named Henry Gymber. These latter, to the number of about 70, had been mobilized ‘be labour of dyvers gentilmen of other shires and of youre said shire of huntyndon’, and, according to the petitioners, had threatened to cause a riot when examined by the under sheriff.9 The county’s sensitivity to intervention of this kind had previously been manifest in the local electors’ uncompromising reaction to the events of 20 Aug. 1429, when (Sir) Thomas Waweton’s gerrymandering tactics had proved equally unsuccessful—despite the fact that both he himself and one of his nominees had represented the county in Parliament several times before.
The freeholders of Huntingdonshire were, however, quite prepared to ignore the regulations concerning residential qualifications when it suited them to do so, and there are many cases of individual infringements of the statute of 1413 which demanded that the electors as well as the elected should actually be living in the county when the return was made. The four friends and parliamentary colleagues, John Botiller, Roger Hunt, Robert Scott and (Sir) Thomas Waweton were all notorious offenders in this respect, appearing regularly at both the Huntingdonshire and Bedfordshire elections, even though they might well be standing as candidates in one or other of the two constituencies at the time. Waweton, whose blatant disregard for established electoral procedure was remarkable, even by contemporary standards, went so far as to attend the Huntingdonshire elections to the Parliament of March 1416 while serving as sheriff of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, where he was, of course, returning officer. However, since he was so well known in all three counties, it might be thought that on this occasion, if not later, his offence was more against the letter than the spirit of the statute.