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


1386Geoffrey Starling
 Robert Waleys
1388 (Feb.)Geoffrey Starling
 Robert Waleys
1388 (Sept.)John Arnold I
 Robert Waleys
1390 (Jan.)Geoffrey Starling
 Robert Hethe
1390 (Nov.)
1391Geoffrey Starling
 Robert Andrew I
1393?Geoffrey Starling
 ?Robert Andrew I 1
1394John Arnold I
 Henry Wall
1395Geoffrey Starling
 William Master 2
1397 (Jan.)John Arnold I
 John Bernard III
1397 (Sept.)William Debenham I
 John Bernard III
1399John Arnold I
 John Lewe
1402Richard Church
 John Starling
1404 (Jan.)
1404 (Oct.)
1406Robert Lucas
 John Starling
1407John Felbrigg
 John Bernard III
1410John Rous II
 James Andrew
1411John Bernard III
 John Starling
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)James Andrew
 John Starling
1414 (Apr.)
1414 (Nov.)William Debenham II
 John Rous II
1416 (Mar.)
1416 (Oct.)
1417William Debenham II
 James Andrew
1419William Debenham II
 James Andrew
1420John Knepping
 John Wood II
1421 (May)William Debenham II
 James Andrew
1421 (Dec.)Thomas Kempston II
 William Weathereld

Main Article

By 1377 Ipswich had a population of about 2,260; but although it was probably the largest town in Suffolk, it was only half the size of Colchester, its geographically nearest rival as a port. Its charter of 1200 permitted the burgesses to elect two bailiffs (who until 1317 were required to take their oaths of office in the Exchequer), two coroners, and 12 portmen to govern the town. In 1256 the bailiffs were granted the right of return of royal writs, and after 1291 they became responsible for payment to the Crown of the fee farm, then fixed at £60 a year. Most of the local officials were replaced every year on the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary (8 Sept.), apparently being elected by the whole community of burgesses; but portmen held their status until death, a new portman being chosen by the surviving members of that body. In June 1397 Richard II appointed j.p.s specifically to hold sessions in Ipswich, but this was so far a unique event, probably prompted by the political circumstances of the time, and no similar appointments were made thereafter until 1424. By the mid 15th century the townspeople were experiencing some difficulty in raising the fee farm, but there are no earlier signs that Ipswich was other than a fairly prosperous trading centre.3

Ipswich had sent representatives to the Council of 1268 and to most of the Parliaments summoned after 1295. Parliamentary elections were held in the town itself. Before 1407 the usual practice when a summons was received was for the sheriff of the joint bailiwick of Norfolk and Suffolk to direct a precept to the bailiffs of Ipswich instructing them to make returns, and after they had done so the names of the parliamentary burgesses and their mainpernors would be sent into Chancery in the schedule listing all the representatives from both shires and all their boroughs. In and after 1407, in accordance with the statute of the preceding year, indentures were drawn up at Ipswich as between the bailiffs on the one part and the two coroners, 12 or 13 named burgesses and ‘the rest of the burgesses’ on the other. From 1421 the coroners joined the bailiffs as first party to the indentures, and for several years after 1423 the practice of naming any others present was discontinued. Elections of parliamentary burgesses always took place on a different day from those of the shire knights for Suffolk, these also being held at Ipswich but at meetings of the county court.

Returns survive for no more than 23 of the 32 Parliaments of the period, and the names of only 21 Members are known. It would appear that over a third (nine) sat for the borough just once, but quite possibly some of these were returned on other, now undocumented occasions. Even allowing for the incompleteness of the evidence, the average number of Parliaments per Member was no less than three. Certainly, some individuals were elected quite frequently: James Andrew and William Debenham II sat in at least five Parliaments each, Robert Waleys in no fewer than ten between 1373 and 1388, and Geoffrey Starling in perhaps as many as 12 between 1377 and 1395. Despite the gaps in the returns, it is certain that in ten Parliaments of the period both the men who represented Ipswich had previous experience of the workings of the Commons, and that in nine more one of the two Members was so qualified. Nine instances of re-election are recorded, and both representatives in 1386, 1391 and 1417 were returned to the next Parliaments to be summoned. Robert Waleys sat in five consecutive assemblies between 1384 and 1388 (Sept.). In four Parliaments of the period Ipswich was apparently represented by two novices, but the gaps in the returns make this an unlikely occurrence on every one of these occasions.

All of the 21 MPs held property in Ipswich, and the majority lived there. Furthermore, certain local families established something of a tradition of parliamentary service: three members of the Starling family represented the borough between 1377 and 1413, sitting in 16 Parliaments all told; John, Robert I and James Andrew, probably brothers, were returned to a total of 15 Parliaments between 1382 and 1421; and it seems likely that there were two William Debenhams elected in our period. Some of the parliamentary burgesses were not natives of the town, but had come to settle there from other Suffolk towns or villages: for example, John Arnold I came from Blaxhall, Richard Church from Gislingham and Robert Waleys from Kersey. But, with one exception, they had all become accepted members of the local community some time before their earliest elections to the Commons. The only ‘outsider’ was Robert Hethe, who came from an old Suffolk family with landed interests near Bury St. Edmunds, and even he was admitted to the freedom of Ipswich, although not until the year following his first return for the borough in 1383. Hethe was one of the very few lawyers to be elected by Ipswich in this period. James Andrew (who was engaged as legal counsel to the town authorities) was another, and Robert Andrew I and Thomas Kempston II were probably also trained in the law. One or another member of this small group was returned to nine of the 23 Parliaments for which returns survive; but so far as we know two lawyers were never elected together. The remaining 37 seats were filled by local merchants, men who lived by shipping wool, cloth and other commodities from Ipswich to the Low Countries and also traded with the Baltic ports, or who, like the vintners John Wood II and the younger William Debenham, imported wine from France. Perhaps the most important of this group was John Rous II, who became a merchant of the Staple of Calais and is known to have been party to substantial loans made to Henry IV. Eight parliamentary burgesses are recorded acquiring landed interests in Suffolk, and a few came to be regarded as members of the gentry: for example, one of the merchants, Robert Lucas, was called ‘gentleman’ towards the end of his life, and James Andrew, the lawyer, was even to be elected as knight of the shire for Suffolk in the last Parliament of our period, having represented his home town of Ipswich on five earlier occasions.

The office of bailiff of Ipswich was restricted to a select group of burgesses; no more than 24 individuals held this post in the 36 years between 1386 and 1422. Fifteen of the parliamentary burgesses of this period occupied the bailiwick at some stage in their careers, ten of them doing so before their first recorded entry into the Lower House. They discharged the office an average of four times each, but Robert Waleys served for ten terms and Geoffrey Starling for 13. It was a regular practice for one of the two bailiffs to be returned to Parliament: this happened on 24 occasions between 1377 and 1421 (Dec.)—that is in more than two out of three of the 23 assemblies for which returns have survived. Indeed, in 1386 and 1388 (Feb.) both bailiffs were absent from Ipswich representing their borough in the Commons. Ten parliamentary burgesses served as coroners of Ipswich, and one such official was returned in 1394, 1407, 1420 and 1421 (Dec.). The borough was therefore nearly always represented by someone who was currently a member of its governing body. Of the 21 MPs, only the four lawyers never held the posts of bailiff or coroner, and quite possibly even they were town clerks or else were formally employed as attorneys.

Thirteen parliamentary burgesses were appointed to Crown offices concerned with the collection of revenues in the port of Ipswich (as tronagers, collectors or controllers of customs and subsidies, deputy butlers, or searchers). Nine of them had some experience of that sort of administrative role before first being elected to Parliament. And it was not at all unusual for a man occupying one of these posts to be returned: this happened on 14 occasions in the course of our period, and both representatives in the Parliaments of 1388 (Feb.), 1395, 1397 (Jan. and Sept.) and 1406 were then serving as crown officials. It may also be remarked that John Arnold I was acting as alnager of Suffolk when elected by Ipswich in 1399, and immediately after the dissolution of this, the first of Henry IV’s Parliaments, he secured appointment as a royal serjeant-at-arms; and that John Starling served for a time as clerk of the King’s ships. Nevertheless, no evidence has been found to suggest that any one of those 13 individuals was returned to Parliament simply because he was a servant of the Crown. Indeed, after becoming a royal serjeant Arnold was apparently never sent to the Commons again, and Starling’s parliamentary service only resumed after he had been replaced in his naval appointment. Ten MPs were named on royal commissions, for the most part concerned with matters directly affecting Ipswich, and six were made j.p.s in the town.

Ipswich would generally appear to have been free from the intervention of local magnates in its affairs. Yet it is possible that the choice of Robert Hethe as one of the parliamentary representatives in 1383 and again in 1390 was not altogether unaffected either by the position of Hethe’s father as a retainer of the duke of Lancaster or by his own close connexions with Sir Thomas Morieux, the duke’s son-in-law, and with Sir Thomas Mortimer, the earl of March’s uncle. Certainly, when first returned, Hethe was not a burgess of Ipswich. When elected in 1410 and 1413 (May) James Andrew was a retainer of Michael de la Pole, 2nd earl of Suffolk, and he remained closely attached to the earl’s family for the rest of his life. Coming from a local family and being an able lawyer, he was an obvious candidate for election to Parliament for Ipswich; his connexion with the de la Poles may have been viewed as likely to further the town’s interests.

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iv. 993, possibly in mistake for the Parliament of 1391.
  • 2. Ibid. iv. 993.
  • 3. J.C. Russell, Brit. Med. Pop. 142; HMC 9th Rep. i. 230-1; CChR, ii. 402; iii. 344; v. 249; vi. 54-55; N. Bacon, Annalls of Ipswiche ed. Richardson, 7, 48, 54-56, 93-94; CPR, 1396-9, p. 99.