Leicestershire

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
1386Sir William Flamville
 Sir Thomas Walsh
1388 (Feb.)Sir William Flamville
 Sir Thomas Walsh
1388 (Sept.)Sir William Flamville
 Sir Roger Perwych
1390 (Jan.)Sir John Burdet
 Sir Thomas Walsh
1390 (Nov.)Robert Langham
 Sir Thomas Walsh
1391Sir William Flamville
 Sir Thomas Walsh
1393Sir Robert Harrington
 Sir Hugh Shirley
1394Sir Robert Harrington
 Sir Thomas Walsh
1395Nicholas Colman
 Sir Thomas Walsh
1397 (Jan.)Edmund Bugge
 Sir Thomas Walsh
1397 (Sept.)Sir John Calveley
 Sir Henry Neville
1399Thomas Mandeville
 Sir Thomas Maureward
1401Thomas Derby
 Sir John Neville
1402Sir John Berkeley II
 Sir Henry Neville
1404 (Jan.)William Brokesby
 Edmund Bugge
1404 (Oct.)Sir John Berkeley II
 Robert Veer
1406Sir John Neville
 Sir Henry Neville
1407John Blaket
 Robert Sherard
1410John Blaket
 Bartholomew Brokesby
1411Sir John Berkeley II
 Sir Thomas Maureward
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)James Bellers
 William Belgrave
1414 (Apr.)Thomas Ashby
 John Blaket
1414 (Nov.)John Bellers
 Richard Hotoft
1415
1416 (Mar.)
1416 (Oct.)
1417
1419Thomas Ashby
 William Mallory
1420James Bellers
 Sir Ralph Shirley
1421 (May)John Burgh III
 Richard Hotoft
1421 (Dec.)Sir Laurence Berkeley
 Sir William Trussell

Main Article

Returns for Leicestershire have survived for 27 of the 32 Parliaments of the period; gaps remain for that of 1413 (Feb.) and for the four consecutive assemblies summoned between 1415 and 1417. No fewer than 31 men were returned by the county, 12 of them apparently on only one occasion. Yet certain individuals secured election quite frequently: Bartholomew Brokesby sat in at least six Parliaments between 1410 and 1432 (though only one fell in our period), while Sir William Flamville could boast of 13 elections between 1362 and 1391, and Sir Thomas Walsh of as many as 15 between 1371 and 1397. Five of the shire knights also represented other counties in the course of their careers: John Burgh III, Sir John Calveley and Sir Robert Harrington had all sat for Rutland before their earliest return for this constituency, while Sir Roger Perwych and John Blaket were to be elected for Northamptonshire and Gloucestershire, respectively, after first representing Leicestershire. Nevertheless, even when all parliamentary service is taken into account, the average number of Parliaments per Member did not amount to three. Previous experience of the workings of the Commons would appear to have been a more highly regarded qualification by the Leicestershire electors in Richard II’s reign than by those of the early 15th century: seven of the ten Parliaments in which the county was represented by two experienced Members came before 1399; indeed, not a single newcomer was elected to the six Parliaments assembled between 1386 and 1391. But on 12 later occasions in our period a man who had been returned before was elected in the company of an apparent novice, while both elected Members were almost certainly newcomers in 1399 and 1407, and possibly so in 1413 (May), 1414 (Nov.) and 1421 (Dec.). Instances of re-election also occurred more frequently under Richard II than subsequently; indeed, of the nine instances only one dated from after 1397. Both shire knights of 1386 (Flamville and Walsh) were returned again to the next Parliament summoned (in February 1388), Flamville even going on to sit in three Parliaments in a row. Walsh nearly monopolized one of the Leicestershire seats of that part of Richard’s reign, by securing election to eight of the ten Parliaments summoned between 1386 and 1397.

All but one of the 31 MPs are known to have held landed estates in Leicestershire. The exception was Nicholas Colman, an unusually obscure Member whose only holdings appear to have been in Staffordshire. Twenty-four came by their chief manors in the county through inheritance, most of them belonging to gentry families long established in the locality. Although no single family dominated the representation of the shire, five produced more than one MP in our period. There were the brothers William and Bartholomew Brokesby (whose sister married Edmund Bugge), the brothers Sir John and Sir Henry Neville, who were returned together in 1406, and the half-brothers James and John Bellers; while Sir John Berkeley II was the father of Sir Laurence, and Sir Hugh Shirley the father of Sir Ralph. Six others acquired their principal landed holdings in Leicestershire through marriage to local heiresses (in the cases of Sir Roger Perwych and Robert Veer, the same lady): Thomas Mandeville and Veer had both come from the neighbouring county of Northamptonshire, Sir John Calveley from Cheshire, and John Blaket probably from Gloucestershire. The origins of Perwych and Robert Sherard remain obscure, but both clearly belonged to families of little note; it was they themselves who, by making advantageous marriages, established a place in the community for their progeny. The majority of Leicestershire’s MPs were landowners in other counties, too, usually in one or other of the seven adjacent shires. Some inherited manors even further away: the Berkeleys in Huntingdonshire, Veer in Hertfordshire, Burdet in Wiltshire, and Maureward in Dorset. In most cases it is now impossible to estimate the annual income the knights of the shire could expect to derive from their lands, but to judge from the extent of their possessions the majority must have been moderately affluent. The wealthiest among them were undoubtedly John Blaket, who received at least £128 a year from the estates in the West Country, Wiltshire and Cambridgeshire he had acquired through his first two marriages, in addition to an unknown sum from those held jure uxoris in Leicestershire itself; Sir William Trussell, whose inheritance in eight counties (including Cheshire, Essex and Berkshire) provided him with at least £130 p.a. by the time of his return to Parliament in 1421; and Sir Ralph Shirley, who, according to a valor of his estates compiled in 1414, enjoyed a clear income of £281, derived from gross annual receipts of £386.

With regard to social standing, 14 of Leicestershire’s MPs were knights and 16 ‘esquires’ (of whom one, John Blaket, attained knighthood after his parliamentary service for this constituency had ended). Nicholas Colman was accorded neither such descriptive title in the few records of him traced. Some of the knights were soldiers by profession: Sir William Flamville and Sir Thomas Walsh had both taken part in Edward III’s wars in France; Sir John Calveley fought on the Scottish border as well as in naval engagements, and was to die at the battle of Shrewsbury (1403)—a fate shared by Sir Hugh Shirley, who had previously served in Spain; Sir John Berkeley II held the post of lieutenant of Guernsey, and the Neville brothers were both engaged by Henry IV for military service in Wales, most notably as joint captains of Carmarthen. Two of the ‘esquires’, Bartholomew Brokesby and James Bellers, were certainly men of law, while two more (Thomas Derby and Robert Langham) may have shared the same profession. But lawyers played no more than a small part in the representation of the shire in the period under review: of these four apparently only Bellers sat then in more than one Parliament (although Brokesby was to make five more appearances in the Commons later in the century). There was a noticeable change in the status accorded those representing Leicestershire as the period progressed. Between 1386 and September 1397 all but three of the 11 MPs were knights proper, and they filled 19 of the 22 seats available; while under Henry IV, although there were four knights and eight esquires returned, the knights nevertheless still occupied half of the 18 seats. On the other hand, for the seven Parliaments summoned between 1413 and 1421 for which returns survive, no more than three knights were selected to represent the county, and the nine esquires chosen took 11 of the 14 places. It may be remarked, too, that two of the wealthiest Members, Sir Ralph Shirley and Sir William Trussell, were apparently only returned to one Parliament apiece, an occurrence which cannot be attributed entirely to their periods of absence while serving in France under Henry V.

The majority of the 31 shire knights were prepared to take on tasks of local administration as office-holders or royal commissioners; and only John Bellers and Nicholas Colman are not recorded serving in any official capacity whatsoever. Thirteen occupied the post of sheriff of the joint bailiwick of Warwickshire and Leicestershire (Sir Thomas Maureward and Sir Henry Neville both doing so for three annual terms); and half of them (seven) had held the shrievalty before their earliest elections to Parliament for this constituency. Of those 13 one, Sir John Calveley, had also been appointed as sheriff of Rutland earlier in his career, while four others (who never held the local shrievalty) were at some stage made sheriffs elsewhere.1 A breach of the statute which forbade the election to Parliament of anyone currently holding office as sheriff occurred in 1420, when Leicestershire returned as one of its representatives James Bellers, then serving as such in the neighbouring county of Rutland. Of course, there was no such bar to the election of escheators: earlier, in 1413, Bellers had been elected while occupying the escheatry of Warwickshire and Leicestershire, and in 1421 John Burgh III was to be returned while acting in the same capacity. Four others also served at some time in their careers as escheators. Appointment to royal commissions more usually preceded entry to the Commons than otherwise: 18 of the 27 placed on such bodies had some such experience of local administration behind them when first returned for Leicestershire. Yet only four of the 17 shire knights ever made j.p.s had sat on the bench before their earliest elections. The shire returned one of its justices to ten Parliaments of the period; indeed, both knights-elect of 1394, 1411 and 1420 were currently serving on the bench. Four of Leicestershire’s Members acted as j.p.s in other counties.2

Substantial parts of Leicestershire were owned by John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, by far the most important landowner in the locality. The county town, Leicester, was the caput of the honour of that name, and its castle was one of the duke’s favourite residences; he visited the town regularly and undertook a considerable amount of building there. Not surprisingly, Lancastrian influence made itself felt in the parliamentary representation of the shire. Five of John of Gaunt’s retainers (Sir Edmund Appleby, Sir Thomas Walsh, Sir Roger Perwych, Sir Hugh Shirley and Edmund Bugge) between them held 21 of the 48 parliamentary seats available between Richard II’s accession and deposition. Walsh, steward of the honour and keeper of Leicester castle in the 1390s, was returned to 13 Parliaments of the reign, eight of them assembled in our period. Perwych was probably selected in September 1388 largely because of the status given him by a position in the duke’s retinue (he had been retained as John of Gaunt’s esquire just after his second Parliament in 1382), for his family was undistinguished, and he himself held no land in the county beyond that won through his abduction and marriage of an heiress. Shirley, once the duke’s ward, had served him in Castile, and by the time of his only election to Parliament in 1393 was probably already in receipt of those substantial annuities amounting to £86 13s.4d. which Lancaster, at some unknown date, awarded him for life in token of his regard. Bugge was attached to the duke’s eldest son, Henry of Bolingbroke, in whose ‘crusades’ of the early 1390S he participated, and by whom he was granted an annuity of ten marks before he sat in the Commons of January 1397; furthermore, he subsequently accompanied Henry into exile in France, even acting as his personal messenger to Richard II in the spring of 1399.

Retainers of King Richard himself found no place in the representation of Leicestershire until what proved to be the final Parliament of the reign—that of 1397-8. The shire then returned as one of its Members-elect Sir John Calveley, a ‘King’s knight’ to whom three years earlier Richard had granted the manor of Shotwick (Cheshire) rent-free for life (a property which he later exchanged for an annuity of £30). It should also be noted that Calveley was connected with two of the King’s most prominent supporters in this Parliament, the ‘counter-appellants’ Edward, earl of Rutland (whom he was currently serving as steward of the lordship of Oakham), and Thomas Mowbray, the Earl Marshal, both of whom were promoted to dukedoms during the first session. Clearly, the election to the Commons of anyone predisposed to favour the King and his friends and most unlikely to oppose their policies, would have been welcomed at Court, but no evidence has been found that the Crown went so far as to interfere in the electoral procedures to secure such a favourable outcome. Probably it was not found necessary to do so: Calveley was no outsider; he was well qualified to represent Leicestershire by virtue of his wife’s estates in the county, and, indeed, had already done so 12 years earlier.

Following the accession to the throne of Henry, duke of Lancaster, Leicester lost some of its former importance, becoming no more than the administrative centre of an estate to which royalty paid occasional visits. Even so, seven of the 12 men elected by Leicestershire during Henry’s reign may be described with some justification as his retainers; and they occupied ten of the 18 seats available. To the Parliament which acclaimed Bolingbroke as King the shire returned two novices for the first time in 23 elections. They were Sir Thomas Maureward, later to be officially thanked for doing Henry ‘good service after his coming into England’, and Thomas Mandeville, former avener to John of Gaunt (from whom he had received grants and an annuity worth about £15 a year), who was shortly to be made a ‘King’s esquire’. Sir Henry Neville, elected in 1402 and 1406, was a ‘King’s knight’. Between Neville’s elections the county sent to the Parliament of 1404 (Jan.) two members of the royal household: William Brokesby, marshal of the King’s hall (retained with an annuity of 40 marks) and Edmund Bugge—the same as had shared Henry’s exile—who was by then master forester of the honour of Leicester for life and recipient of annuities and fees amounting to some £54 a year. Another member of the Household was elected in 1407 and 1410: this was John Blaket, whose services to Henry IV had already earned him annuities of as much as £80. Blaket was accompanied on the former occasion by Robert Sherard, duchy of Lancaster bailiff of Stapleford, from which estate the latter received £20 a year. His colleague in 1410, Bartholomew Brokesby, though not actually retained by the King himself, was nevertheless closely attached to Henry’s principal councillor, Thomas Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury (whom he later served as estates’ steward and executor). Together, Blaket and Brokesby may have joined others in the Commons in offering some kind of opposition to the party of Henry of Monmouth and his allies, the Beauforts, which at that time was in the ascendant.

None of the shire knights elected for Leicestershire after Prince Henry succeeded to the throne are known to have been members of his household, nor to have been personally attached to him in the same way as had been certain of their forerunners to his grandfather and father. Only two were duchy of Lancaster officials: William Belgrave (May 1413), who had previously been employed as duchy bailiff of Sileby, and was perhaps already discharging the office of receiver of the honour of Leicester; and Sir Ralph Shirley (1420) who, having been one of those selected for knighthood on the eve of Henry V’s coronation, had been appointed by him as master forester of the same honour for life. Henry summoned his second Parliament, that of April 1414, to assemble at Leicester, where he ordered a hall to be built specially for the occasion,3 but the choice of location would seem to have been made in response to the threat posed by lollard activity in the area, rather than because the King felt any particular affection for the place.

Parliamentary elections were held in the shire court which invariably met at Leicester. The number of electors named on the indentures between 1407 and 1421 ranged from eight to 36, but was usually about a dozen. It was quite common practice for the election of the parliamentary burgesses for Leicester to be recorded on the county indenture, although when this happened the names of the attestors for the borough were generally distinguished from those for the shire. The parliamentary returns provide no evidence of electoral management either by the Crown or by John of Gaunt: such was the influence of the latter in the shire that he and his son, Henry IV, had no need for manipulation. On occasion, however, the sheriff appears to have taken a decisive part in the choice of representatives. It can hardly have been coincidental that Sir Henry Neville was sheriff in 1401 when his brother, Sir John, was elected after an absence from the Commons of nigh on 20 years; nor that William Brokesby was sheriff at the time of his brother Bartholomew’s first election to Parliament in 1410.

Author: L. S. Woodger

Notes

  • 1. James Bellers in Rutland, Trussell in Staffs., Sir Ralph Shirley in Notts. and Derby. and Blaket in Glos.
  • 2. James Bellers and John Burgh III in Rutland as well as in Leics.; Sir Hugh Shirley in Notts., Derbys. and Warws., and Blaket in Wilts. and Glos.
  • 3. RP, iv 15.

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