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|1386||Sir Nicholas Haryngton|
|1388 (Feb.)||Sir John Boteler|
|Sir Thomas Gerard|
|1388 (Sept.)||Sir John Assheton I|
|Sir John Croft|
|1390 (Jan.)||Sir John Assheton I|
|Sir Ralph Ipres|
|1390 (Nov.)||Sir Robert Urswyk|
|Sir John Croft|
|1391||Sir Robert Urswyk|
|1393||Sir Robert Urswyk|
|Sir Ralph Ipres|
|1394||Sir Robert Urswyk|
|Sir Thomas Gerard|
|1395||Sir Robert Urswyk|
|1397 (Jan.)||Sir Robert Urswyk|
|1397 (Sept.)||Sir John Boteler|
|Sir Ralph Radcliffe|
|1399||Sir Robert Urswyk|
|Sir Henry Hoghton|
|1401||Sir Robert Urswyk|
|Sir Nicholas Atherton|
|1402||Sir Richard Hoghton|
|Sir Nicholas Haryngton|
|1404 (Jan.)||Robert Laurence|
|Sir Ralph Radcliffe|
|1404 (Oct.)||Sir James Haryngton|
|Sir Ralph Staveley|
|Sir William Boteler|
|1407||Sir Henry Hoghton|
|Sir Ralph Staveley|
|1411||Sir John Assheton II|
|John Booth I|
|1413 (May)||Sir John Assheton II|
|1414 (Apr.)||Ralph Radcliffe|
|1414 (Nov.)||Robert Laurence|
|1416 (Mar.)||Sir John Assheton II|
|John Morley 1|
|John Booth I|
|1421 (May)||Sir Thomas Radcliffe|
|1421 (Dec.)||Richard Shirburne|
|Sir John Byron|
Returns for Lancashire have survived for all but five of the Parliaments which met between 1386 and 1421, giving us the names of 30 shire knights. We do not know who represented the county in 1410, 1413 (Feb.), 1415, 1416 (Oct.) or 1417, so it is difficult to speak with any degree of certainty about the relative experience of the Members elected towards the close of our period. Even so, there does seem to have been some change in the pattern of representation, since far more newcomers put in an appearance after 1399 than before, and the two county seats ceased to be apportioned among such a small group of leading local figures. The reason for this is no doubt in part due to the fact that from the turn of the century onwards the duchy of Lancaster was vested in the Crown, which was thus able to draw upon an even larger body of supporters, anxious for reward but at the same time loyal to the established order. As we shall see, the same type of Member, characterized by his strong commitment to the house of Lancaster, was still returned; but such men were now more numerous, and they tended in consequence to sit in comparatively fewer Parliaments. Thus, whereas between 1386 and 1397 (Sept.) only four newcomers were elected, the years 1399 to 1421 saw the return of 18 men lacking previous parliamentary experience. On no occasion before 1404 (Oct.) were two such novices chosen together, although then and in the subsequent Parliaments of 1411, 1414 (Apr), 1419 and 1421 (May) both Members were apparently sitting for the first time.
Cases of re-election were confined to the earlier part of our period, Sir John Assheton I being returned to the two consecutive Parliaments of 1388 (Sept.) and 1390 (Jan.), and Sir Robert Urswyk, a prominent retainer of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster (d.1399), sitting in all six which met between 1390 (Nov.) and 1397 (Jan.). He was also re-elected in 1401, the date of his 13th and last Parliament. Sir Robert, whose career in the Commons extended over 21 years, was, indeed, the most experienced of our men, few of whom had more than three returns to their credit. Only Sir John Boteler, who also wore Gaunt’s livery, came near to rivalling Sir Robert, for he attended ten of the Parliaments summoned between 1366 and 1397. So far as we can tell, six Lancashire MPs sat only once and 14 (that is almost half) at least twice. A further seven made three appearances in the House of Commons. Sir Nicholas Haryngton’s five returns were spread over a long period of 30 years, during which he, too, distinguished himself in Gaunt’s service. All in all, it seems that each Member sat in an average of between two and three Parliaments. Sir John Byron alone represented another constituency, being returned much later, in 1447, for Lincolnshire, where he held sizeable estates.
Not surprisingly, in view of Gaunt’s evident desire that his most important Lancashire retainers should be elected, knights by rank tended to dominate the representation of the county during the late 14th century; and it was, indeed, only during the reign of Henry V that esquires and gentlemen entered the Commons in significant numbers, possibly because so many local members of the knightly class were engaged in military service abroad. Certainly, in no less than two-thirds (12) of the 18 Parliaments which met between 1386 and 1407 both representatives were belted knights: it was not until April 1414 that the electors chose to return two esquires. The Parliaments of November 1414, 1419 and 1420 were also marked by the absence of knights by rank, although all the newcomers were landowners of consequence who could, no doubt, have supported the honour had they wished.
The grant of jura regalia in the county palatine to John of Gaunt in February 1377 not only gave him the right to return to every Parliament two knights ‘pro communitate comitatus’, but also enabled him to appoint the local sheriff, escheator, j.p.s and other officials who would otherwise have been chosen by the Crown. These impressive reserves of patronage were, moreover, supplemented by a formidable number of important administrative posts on the duchy of Lancaster estates in the palatinate, including stewardships, receiverships, constableships, a variety of lucrative offices in the ducal forests and the inevitable range of legal appointments. Given that almost all the leading members of the county community during the first half of our period were either employed by Gaunt (often in several capacities at once) or else belonged to his large and well-paid retinue, it seems unlikely that in order to secure the return of these men to Parliament he had commonly to apply any strong, arbitrary pressure on the county court at election time. Such men already occupied a dominant social position, and were thus quite able to influence the elections on their own account. Yet the representation of the county palatine remained, without question, ‘in Lancaster’s pocket’, not least because his network of clientage was cast so widely and on such a scale that few did not owe him thanks for their advancement.2 Moreover, because of the indirect transmission—through Gaunt and his chancellor—of the parliamentary writs of summons, there was ample scope for the duke’s personal intervention in the choice of knights of the shire should circumstances require the presence in the House of Commons of one retainer rather than another. There were, indeed, occasions (notably in the early years of Richard II’s reign) when Gaunt exploited this opportunity. He did so in 1378 and again in 1383 (Oct.) by himself returning the names of his own followers without any reference to the county court; and when the latter body assembled to select parliamentary representatives he may sometimes, as in November 1380, have nominated, through the sheriff, those he wished to be chosen. Once, in 1393, following the election of Thomas Radcliffe in the county court, he actually went so far as to substitute the name of Sir Ralph Ipres, although since both men then belonged to his affinity some element of consultation or compromise probably obtained.3
Henry of Bolingbroke’s seizure of the throne in 1399 made little real difference to this pattern of affiliation, for the palatinate remained part of the duchy of Lancaster, which was henceforth administered separately as a royal appanage. The first two Lancastrian Kings kept up a strong personal connexion with the county, rewarding their supporters with substantial fees and annuities. Furthermore, such figures as Sir Ralph Staveley (drawing £70 p.a.), Sir William Boteler (drawing £66 13s.4d. p.a., increased to £106 13s.4d. p.a. in 1413), Sir James Haryngton (drawing £86 13s.4d. p.a.), Sir Richard Hoghton (drawing £66 13s.4d. p.a.), Sir Ralph Radcliffe (drawing £40 p.a.) and Sir Thomas Radcliffe (drawing (£33 6s8d. p.a.) could also rely on the wages and perquisites of various duchy offices, as well as more occasional grants of money, wardships and land, and such preferential leases as came their way in the general disposal of crown patronage. The gift of £120 made to Sir Nicholas Atherton in 1403, for example, supplemented existing annuities amounting to £32, in addition to his wages as bailiff of West Derby, and consequently increased his dependence upon the house of Lancaster. A statistical analysis of the 30 Members here under review reveals the full extent of this symbiotic relationship. No less than 26 of their number were retained or employed by John of Gaunt, Henry IV or Henry V, many wearing the ducal or royal livery for upwards of two or three decades. Thus, in 20 of the 27 Parliaments for which returns survive, both members were ‘duchy’ men currently in receipt of fees or annuities often well in excess of £20 a year. In each of the other seven Parliaments—those of 1388 (Feb.), 1394, 1397 (Jan.), 1414 (Apr), 1419, 1420 and 1421 (Dec.)—one such retainer was accompanied by a colleague whose Lancastrian allegiance seems usually to have been quite strong even when not yet formalized by the award of a pension or salary. Sir Thomas Gerard, who sat in 1388 (Feb.) and 1394 was, for instance, later to prove one of Henry IV’s most devoted servants, being retained by him for life after the close of his parliamentary career. Nicholas Blundell, Richard Shirburne and Nicholas Boteler each moved in circles dominated by senior employees of the duchy of Lancaster; and each, to an extent, owed his election to Parliament to the efforts of such officials. Boteler, indeed, was later to receive a pension of £10 p.a. from Henry VI, and he also established relations by marriage with two families noted for their service to the regime. Even Richard Molyneux, a Ricardian partisan, who represented Lancashire in January 1397, may well have had to thank his father-in-law and parliamentary colleague, Sir Robert Urswyk, for his seat in the Commons. As we have already seen, Urswyk was one of Gaunt’s most influential followers, so in practice the Lancastrian connexion was virtually ubiquitous.
But other interests, too, made themselves felt in late 14th and early 15th-century Lancashire; it is certainly worth noting that although the men of the county in general stayed loyal to Gaunt and his son during the political vicissitudes of Richard II’s last years, seven of our MPs were, in fact, then retained by the King. By the summer of 1398, Sir Ralph Radcliffe (a former victim of the Lords Appellant of 1388, who bore a personal grudge against the house of Lancaster) was in receipt of £40 p.a. from the Crown; Sir John Croft drew £30 p.a.; and Sir Richard Hoghton and Sir John Assheton I could both rely on annuities of 20 marks. Thomas Radcliffe netted a similar sum as constable of the royal castle of Lancaster, while Nicholas Blundell and John Booth were paid smaller fees of ten marks a year. Yet, if the King hoped thus to undermine the solid bedrock of support hitherto provided by the local gentry for the house of Lancaster he was doomed to disappointment. Even Sir Ralph Radcliffe, whose past history predisposed him to approve the measures of the second 1397 Parliament, of which he was a Member, welcomed Bolingbroke’s usurpation with evident enthusiasm, and continued to play an important part in the conduct of government business.
Every single one of the 30 MPs under consideration discharged some administrative office during his career; and the majority could boast long and varied experience in posts which were often quite demanding. As already noted, both the shrievalty and escheatorship of Lancaster lay until 1399 in Gaunt’s gift, and even when, thereafter, it was the King who made these appointments as heir to the duchy of Lancaster, particular individuals still tended to remain in office for quite long periods. (This was not, of course, generally the case in other English counties, where the law made provision for sheriffs to be replaced annually, so extending the opportunity for service to a wider proportion of the local gentry.) The case of Robert Laurence, who was escheator of Lancashire from 1402 to 1410, and later spent 12 consecutive years as sheriff, is somewhat exceptional, although Sir John Byron obtained the latter post for life in 1439, and was eventually succeeded by his son in about 1450. Roughly one out of three of our men (nine) occupied the shrievalty, and of these only Sir Ralph Radcliffe served more than one term.4 His three periods as sheriff (which altogether lasted just over six years) were marked by such a sorry history of financial problems, occasioned largely by his difficulties in raising the increased county farm, as to suggest that one of the reasons for these extended spells of office was a general reluctance on the part of others to assume such a potentially crippling burden. The sheriff did, however, exercise a great deal of influence, not least in the holding of parliamentary elections. Sir Richard Hoghton, for example, was able to return his own younger brother, Sir Henry, to Westminster in 1399; and Sir Ralph Staveley ensured that during his term as sheriff his nephew, Sir John Assheton II, twice sat in the House of Commons. Both Sir John Boteler and Sir Nicholas Haryngton went even further, returning themselves to, respectively, the Parliaments of 1372 and 1379, although the law categorically forbade such an abuse.
Only three Lancashire MPs became escheators of the palatinate: namely Robert Laurence, Sir Robert Urswyk and Sir Richard Hoghton, although since Urswyk discharged two terms in office, and Hoghton three, they did tend, none the less, to monopolize the post. Hoghton was actually serving when he sat in the first Parliament of 1383, as was Laurence at the time of his return in January 1404. A far higher proportion of Members had seats on the county bench, for just over two-thirds (21) received commissions of the peace at some point in their careers, and although Sir Henry Hoghton never served in his native Lancashire he did become a justice across the border in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Whereas only seven of these men took up office before they first entered Parliament, another seven were made j.p.s during the course of their careers in the Commons, so on the whole the level of experience was fairly high. Membership of other royal commissions in the north-west appears even more widespread, since all but four shire knights served on at least one such body, and some had quite impressive records in this respect. Both Sir Robert Urswyk and Robert Laurence were appointed to ten commissions, John Stanley and Sir John Boteler to 11, Sir Nicholas Haryngton to 12, Sir Ralph Radcliffe to 16 and Sir Richard Hoghton to 18. Conversely, less than half of their colleagues became involved in the collection of parliamentary taxes, a task more frequently assigned to the lower ranking gentry than to the leaders of county society. Two MPs, the brothers John and Robert Laurence, who were evidently lawyers, undertook to act as coroners of Lancashire; and John Stanley inherited his father’s office as steward and justice of Macclesfield in Cheshire. On the whole, however, this type of local crown appointment did not become the preserve of our Members. It was in the service of the duchy of Lancaster in Lancashire and Cheshire that the majority (19 in all) gained their most useful and thorough training in administrative affairs, some holding three or four important offices simultaneously and for comparatively long periods. A few, even so, rose to positions of some eminence outside the region. Sir John Assheton II and Sir John Croft, for instance, were made custodians of English-held castles in France, and both acted as royal ambassadors overseas. Sir James Haryngton did service nearer home, as deputy warden of the east march; and he, too, discharged various diplomatic functions on behalf of the government.
The gentry of Lancashire had long enjoyed a reputation for martial prowess, the profession of arms being embraced with zeal throughout their ranks, often as a means of supplementing quite modest incomes from land. Such enthusiasm was certainly shared by many of our men, at least 18 of whom performed some protracted type of military service. Seven, if not more, took up arms against the Scots, although it was at the battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 that Sir James Haryngton captured the earl of Douglas. Sir James, who was one of the six Lancashire MPs known to have served in France with Henry V, himself fell at the siege of Caen, his comrade-in-arms, Sir William Boteler, having died at Harfleur some two years previously. The sizeable group of shire knights who accompanied John of Gaunt on his expeditions to France and Spain included Sir John Assheton I, an indefatigable campaigner against the Irish and the Scots, and Sir John Boteler, a soldier of repute who is even said to have fought under the Genoese banner against corsairs on the Barbary Coast. John Morley, Sir Ralph Staveley and Sir Henry Hoghton had all set sail with Henry of Bolingbroke when, in 1390, he went on crusade against the Lithuanians, Morley being responsible for forage and provision, and Staveley acting as steward.
One characteristic shared by all our men is their ownership of estates in Lancashire and their residence in the palatinate when first elected to Parliament. Many belonged to families domiciled in the county for two centuries or more; and at least 12 were the immediate heirs to a parliamentary tradition, being themselves the sons of shire knights. Only Sir Ralph Staveley, a native of Cheshire, appears to have acquired all his property in Lancashire by marriage rather than inheritance (he was the son-in-law of Sir Ralph Radcliffe and the brother-in-law of Sir John Assheton I), but several of his colleagues were able greatly to augment their holdings in this way. In the Middle Ages and the early modern period Cheshire and Lancashire together formed a distinct and somewhat isolated region, access to which was hampered by its surrounding geographical features. To the west lay the Irish Sea, to the east the Pennines and the High Peak, to the north the mountains and lakes of Cumbria, and to the south the Staffordshire uplands and the Ellesmere Moraine. Taken together, these features inevitably gave rise to a strong feeling of communal identity, even separateness.5 The gentry of the two counties (both of them palatinates) tended, as a result, to maintain far closer—and consequently more complex—family relationships with each other than are generally to be found among their social counterparts in the Midlands and south of England, where communications were much easier.
There was also a natural limit to territorial expansion, and comparatively few of our shire knights owned extensive property far from their place of origin. A minimum of five had significant interests in Cheshire, the most notable being John Stanley, whose father and namesake, a distinguished courtier and sometime lieutenant of Ireland, had used the profits and perquisites of office to extend his influence in the north-west. A grateful Henry IV had, indeed, bestowed upon him and his heirs the lordship of the Isle of Man, which posed considerable administrative and logistic problems, but at least produced revenues in the order of £400 p.a. The Stanleys were already a force to be reckoned with in our period, not least because the absence of a strong resident noble family in either Lancashire or Cheshire created a power vacuum which they had every opportunity and encouragement to fill. Indeed, in 1422, Nicholas Blundell, (Sir) John’s neighbour at Lathom, and himself the head of a prominent gentry family which had been in residence for over a century before the arrival of the Stanleys, referred deferentially to him as his ‘sovereign master’.6 Four Lancashire MPs held estates to the north in Westmorland, and three were landowners in Yorkshire. Sir John Byron inherited from his mother quite substantial holdings in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire; and Sir John Boteler and his son, Sir William, were also rentiers in the latter county. Sir Nicholas Haryngton acquired land in Cumberland and Cambridgeshire through marriage, while Sir William Boteler’s wife brought him manors in Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire. On the whole, however, our MPs were possessed of fairly compact estates which they sought to consolidate through exchange, purchase or marriage into neighbouring families.
The availability of large areas of rentable property from the duchy of Lancaster proved extremely useful too, and most landowners of note leased out additional arable, grazing land, vaccaries or rights of pannage, often at favourable rates. Although Lancashire itself was comparatively poor in terms of agricultural productivity, several of our men enjoyed quite a high level of affluence. Insufficient evidence has survived for us to establish the scale of their landed incomes, but a number were rich by any standards. Payments from the Isle of Man (which may have been almost equalled by rents from Lancashire and Cheshire) made John Stanley by far the wealthiest landowner here considered. Yet Sir John Boteler and his son, Sir William, derived an impressive sum of at least £195 p.a. from their barony of Warrington, in addition to other revenues from elsewhere in England; and Sir Thomas Gerard could rely on net profits of about £148 p.a. from Lancashire alone. It seems likely that their estates provided the two Sir John Asshetons with slightly less than £100 in annual receipts. Sir Richard Hoghton was heir to land worth £200 a year or so, leaving comparatively little for his younger brother, Sir Henry, whose slender allowance was, fortunately, supplemented by £40 p.a., if not more, from his wife’s inheritance. It looks very much as if Sir John Croft enjoyed about the same income from property, as well. Given that most of the shire knights returned in our period were also the recipients of fees, wages and other largesse from the coffers of the duchy of Lancaster, they must have constituted a financial as well as a social elite.
The unusually complicated network of kinship which developed among the upper ranks of the Lancashire gentry meant that a high proportion of MPs were related to one another, thus strengthening the sense of union fostered by shared administrative and military duties and the common attachment to the house of Lancaster. No less than five sets of fathers and sons (the two Sir John Asshetons, Sir John and Sir William Boteler of Warrington, Sir Nicholas and Sir James Haryngton, the two Ralph Radcliffes of Smithills, and Sir Robert and Thomas Urswyk) represented the county during our period, which is also notable for the appearance of two pairs of brothers, namely Sir Henry and Sir Richard Hoghton, and John and Robert Laurence. Thomas Radcliffe of Winmarleigh and his grandson, Sir Thomas, also kept up a tradition of parliamentary service. Marriage alliances created an even wider range of connexions: Sir Ralph Staveley was brother-in-law to both Sir John Assheton I and Ralph Radcliffe; Sir Robert Urswyk’s daughter, Ellen, took Richard Molyneux as her first husband and Sir James Haryngton as her second; John Morley married John Booth I’s sister; and Booth himself numbered among his sons-in-law the three MPs, Sir John Byron, Sir Thomas Radcliffe and Nicholas Boteler. Radcliffe and Boteler further united their families by a complex series of marriage contracts extending over three generations; and they were similarly connected with the Botelers of Warrington as well as being kinsmen of the two Laurence brothers. John Booth I and Sir Ralph Radcliffe both married into the Trafford family; Sir Robert Urswyk and the Hoghtons were linked through Sir Thomas Southworth, another prominent duchy official, while Robert Worsley and the two Ralph Radcliffes were closely related to the influential Cheshire knight, Sir John Massey of Tatton.
Blood did not always prove thicker than water, however, especially where territorial ambition was concerned, and Worsley was obliged to endure a long period of imprisonment in the Tower as a result of Massey’s machinations. Most alliances between leading gentry families—such as the marriage of Sir John Boteler’s daughter to Sir Thomas Gerard’s son and heir, or that of Richard Shirburne’s grandson to a daughter of Sir Thomas Radcliffe, or, again, the betrothal in 1415 of Sir John Byron’s infant daughter to Sir John Assheton II’s baby son—were doubtless undertaken with an eye to the descent and accumulation of property, although they clearly served to strengthen other bonds as well. Sir John Byron, for example, had been a ward of Sir John Assheton II before their two children married, while Sir John Boteler was feudal overlord of Sir Thomas Gerard’s manor of Windle and his associate over the years on various administrative bodies. The general ubiquity of these and similar ties, notably among the quarrelsome and prolific Radcliffe clan, meant that certain relationships became so commonplace that they ceased to carry much weight, or else cancelled each other out where local politics were concerned. On the other hand, some Members, such as Richard Molyneux, Sir Henry Hoghton, Sir John Assheton II, Sir James Haryngton, John Laurence and Thomas Urswyk, might never have entered the Commons at all but for the efforts of their more influential kinsmen.
During our period, parliamentary elections for Lancashire were normally held at Lancaster, but occasionally they took place elsewhere (at Wigan in 1413, and Croston in 1421). Before 1399 the writ of summons requiring an election was directed personally to John of Gaunt in his capacity as hereditary sheriff of the palatinate—an office bestowed by grant of the jura regalia made in 1377—or the chancellor, his representative in the county. In practice the proceedings were supervised by Gaunt’s appointee as sheriff, the latter acting upon orders received from the ducal chancery. The continuance of this intermediary body after Henry IV’s accession meant that electoral proceedings still took place in two stages. The writ was now addressed straight to the chancellor of the county palatine of Lancaster, where a copy was made for the sheriff, explicitly ordering him to take action in the county court. Once he had done so, the sheriff returned the writ, endorsed with the names of the shire knights elected, to the Lancaster chancery, whence it was duly dispatched to the royal Chancery at Westminster, along with the original writ of summons endorsed in the same way.7 From 1407 onwards (as required by the 1406 statute providing for indentures between sheriffs and those attesting the legality of all such elections in the county courts), we know the names of some of the men who helped to choose the parliamentary representatives for Lancashire. Nowhere, and Lancashire was no exception, did all those attending parliamentary elections affix their seals to the indentures, so it is never possible to establish precisely how many people took part. Indeed, the number of attestors varied considerably, standing in Lancashire, for example, at 11 in 1407, 36 in 1413 (May), 7 in 1416 (Mar.) and 18 in 1421 (Dec.).8 Clearly, however, the persons named can only have constituted a small minority of those involved. Sometimes special circumstances affected the quality of the turnout, and quite possibly its size. This was evidently the case in Lancashire when the county court met to select representatives for the autumn Parliament of 1414. On that occasion most of the 16 knights and 19 gentlemen who are known to have assembled at Lancaster for the election rode on to Wigan for an impressive church ceremony held on the following day to mark the end of a feud between Sir Thomas Gerard and the Standish family. Gerard and two of the Standishes actually witnessed the electoral return, along with many of their respective supporters, who apparently found this a convenient way of combining two important local events.9
By and large, however, the electorate was composed of lesser gentry, often related to, or otherwise connected with, the leaders of county society, but not generally drawn from that comparatively restricted group which provided Lancashire with its sheriffs, justices and MPs. One or two of the latter (such as the indefatigable Nicholas Boteler, who attended at least 11 elections) usually put in an appearance, but the majority were ‘small country esquires’ of the type who held minor administrative posts and owned modest estates near to the place of election. How far their collective voice really made itself heard in the choice of Members is hard to determine. There were, as we have seen, a number of occasions on which the sheriff seems to have exploited his position as returning officer