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|1388 (Feb.)||Robert Sutton|
|John Sutton I|
|1388 (Sept.)||Gilbert Beesby|
|1390 (Jan.)||Nicholas Werk|
|Robert Peck I|
|1397 (Jan.)||Robert Sutton|
|1397 (Sept.)||Seman Laxfield|
|1404 (Jan.)||Seman Laxfield|
|1404 (Oct.)||Nicholas Huddleston|
|Thomas Forster II|
|1413 (May)||John Dalderby|
|Thomas Forster II|
|1414 (Nov.)||John Ryle|
|Thomas Forster II|
|1416 (Mar.)||John Bigge|
|1421 (May)||John Bigge|
|1421 (Dec.)||William Leadenham|
The strategic importance of Lincoln’s position upon a steep hill commanding the river Witham was early recognized by the Ancient Britons and subsequently by the Romans who established a colony there. The construction of Ermine Street, which stretched from London to York, and of the Fosse Way, which linked Exeter with Leicester, proved a great stimulus to the city’s development, since it lay at the intersection of these two major thoroughfares. Moreover, from Roman times onwards, Lincoln was connected by the Fosse Dyke to the rivers Ouse, Trent and Humber; and it was along this network of waterways that the cloth which generated so much prosperity in the 13th century was transported, ready for export to Flanders. The silting up of the Fosse Dyke in the later Middle Ages was seen as a contributory factor in the city’s decline, but by then Lincoln had ceased to be the premier cloth producing town in England, partly because the invention of the fulling mill had caused a major change in the location of the industry. An attempt to enforce the monopoly which Lincoln was supposed to exercise through its guild merchant over trade in the county as a whole was made in 1326 with the setting up of a Staple, but just 43 years later this was transferred to the prosperous and expanding port of Boston. Although several Lincoln merchants were subsequently made mayors of the Boston Staple, the move proved a severe blow; and as late as 1437 the citizens were clamouring for the return of the Staple. Increasing poverty—coupled with the distressing effects of the Black Death—explains why, in the mid 14th century, the streets were allowed to deteriorate so badly that letters patent were issued by Edward III sternly ordering the authorities to make immediate improvements. Plans to replace the old guildhall were certainly delayed because of lack of funds, although the wording of another royal missive sent out in 1390 suggests that financial hardship was not the only reason for this. The general unpopularity of the ruling faction at this time may well have led the less influential citizens to withhold their contributions, and there can be little doubt that the various internal upheavals which then beset Lincoln exacerbated its economic difficulties. Notwithstanding the onset of these problems, the city still remained fairly populous. The poll tax returns of 1377 list 3,412 adult lay inhabitants, so the total population may have been in excess of 5,300, thus making Lincoln the seventh largest town in the country.1
Lincoln obtained its first royal charter in about 1157, by which date the annual fee farm payable at the Exchequer had been increased from £140 to £180. Further grants of commercial and judicial privileges followed: by the beginning of Henry VI’s reign the city possessed no less than 28 charters from which we can learn a good deal about the way in which it was governed.2 From comparatively early times, perhaps even before the Conquest, local affairs were regulated by a guild merchant, to which anyone trading in Lincoln and all ‘foreigners’ with business in Lincolnshire had to belong. As the city became more independent and its administration more complex, a hierarchy of officers gradually evolved. The earliest of these were the two bailiffs, whose chief responsibility was the collection of the farm. This task grew increasingly difficult during the late Middle Ages, and as a result their number was increased to three in 1378 and four in 1401. Because the bailiffs had to make up any deficit in the farm from their own pockets, there was an understandable reluctance on the part of the citizens to occupy the post. Indeed, in 1374, the mayor attempted to enrich himself by selling exemptions from office, although this scheme was later declared illegal. Repeated petitions were addressed to the Crown for the reduction of the farm, but it was not until 1409 that any relief was forthcoming, with the grant of a charter which recognized that
the lands, rents, franchises, liberties, profits and other the commodities whereout the said fee farm was wont to arise and be levied at the present time stand so greatly devastated, reduced, diminished and made void that the same fee farm is not able to be levied within the city.3
Although no reduction was actually made in the farm, certain measures, of which the incorporation of the city as a shire was the most important, were taken in the hope of improving administrative efficiency. The bailiffs were replaced by two sheriffs, the citizens were permitted to elect four j.p.s annually, and a second fair was allowed each November. None of these innovations proved particularly effective, however, and the commonalty continued with their protests, which grew particularly vociferous once Henry V resumed hostilities against the French.4
The first reference to the mayor of Lincoln occurs in 1206, but in fact the office, if not the title, was far older, since the guild merchant had previously been headed by an ‘alderman’ or chief citizen who performed a similar role. The beginning of the 13th century saw the introduction of a common seal and the appearance of other civic officers, including four coroners, four beadles and two clerks. We do not know precisely when the tronager (or weigher of goods), the four chamberlains and the parish constables became active, but they probably started to function not long afterwards. It was also at this time of rapid economic expansion that the council began to play a major part in local government. This body comprised 24 leading citizens, from whom were chosen a more select group of 12 juratores or inner caucus. The selection of this ruling faction was a matter of some concern to the citizenry as a whole, who, like their peers in York and Norwich, were divided into three main social groups based largely on their comparative wealth. The minores (lesser citizens) and secondarii (persons of middle rank) tended to form a natural alliance against the potentiores (rich and powerful), which on occasion gave rise to outbreaks of disorder. Corruption and mismanagement on the part of the dominant hierarchy provoked such a violent reaction in 1290 that Edward I was obliged to suspend the city’s liberties. These upheavals led to the introduction of provisions for the better government of Lincoln in which it was established that the main office-holders would henceforth be elected annually on 14 Sept. Yet although all the freemen were allowed to take part in these elections, a small ‘secret council’ retained the right to choose the candidates for the mayoralty.5
That the potentiores were still believed to exercise undue influence over civic appointments is evident from the increasing volume of complaints voiced during the 14th century. The dean and chapter of Lincoln cathedral were partly to blame for the spread of unrest, since they seized every opportunity to undermine the ruling elite and thus protect their own disputed franchises. The Crown was once again driven to intervene in the early 1390s, when the quarrel was referred first to the arbitration of the chancellor and then to a royal commission composed of local landowners, among whom was Sir John Bussy*. In October 1392 this group drew up regulations for the use of the common seal in which they attempted to involve all three classes of the community; and at some point before the following September John of Gaunt stepped in to effect a reconciliation between the potentiores and four of their leading opponents. Bussy alone was entrusted with the delicate task of supervising the civic elections of September 1393, so that ‘by his good counsel and guidance with due information’ a choice of officers might be made ‘pleasing to God and good for the King’. He was clearly expected to use his influence in support of the dominant mercantile elite; and his success may be judged from the favour and preferment henceforth shown to him by Richard II.6
From the early Norman period onwards Lincoln was dominated by its castle and its cathedral. Both the military and the ecclesiastical authorities clung jealously to their respective jurisdictions, much to the annoyance of the citizens, who for long periods were involved in bitter and often violent quarrels over these economic and judicial privileges. The transfer of the see of Dorchester, a combination of several ancient dioceses, including that of Lindsey, to Lincoln in 1072-3 made it the episcopal seat of the largest diocese in England, and resulted in the building of a minster which was completed 20 years later. This was replaced by a more imposing Gothic cathedral begun in 1192; and from then onwards there followed a period of expansion which greatly increased the power of the dean and chapter. The latter’s claim to total exemption from all civic dues within the confines of the cathedral close was deeply resented by the mayor and commonalty, especially as the stallage and other amercements paid by the merchants who traded there would otherwise have made an important contribution towards the increasingly burdensome fee farm. An attempt to begin quo warranto proceedings against the dean in 1375 proved a dismal failure, and for a while the leading citizens resorted to rent strikes and other forms of collective protest. In June 1382 the civic authorities were summoned to appear in Chancery on a charge of disrupting trade in the close, but it was not until the spring of 1390 that matters really came to a head. Securities totalling 30,000 marks were then taken from the entire community of Lincoln as a guarantee that they would launch no further attacks upon the staff of the cathedral. At least 14 of the MPs returned between 1386 and 1421 were required to give personal pledges of good conduct, usually to the value of 100 marks, although Robert Sutton had to surrender recognizances worth five times that amount. The dispute was subsequently referred to John of Gaunt, who proved a less than impartial arbitrator. Since, as we shall see, the duke was himself then embroiled in a similar controversy with the citizens, he produced an award entirely favourable to the dean; and for a while an uneasy truce was maintained.7
Lincoln castle was begun not long after the Norman Conquest for the pacification of surrounding countryside. According to the Domesday survey, 166 messuages were destroyed to make room for its construction, but some authorities believe that as many as 500 homes may have been lost. The Bail, or area around the castle, traditionally constituted an exempt jurisdiction, the constables being free to collect stallage and also hold their own courts there. Once again, the citizens objected to what they regarded as an intrusion upon their own privileges; and the sense of grievance became particularly acute during the 14th century, when declining trade made it necessary for them to seek profits elsewhere. John of Gaunt’s tenure of the constableship was marked by several incursions into the Bail by civic officials bent upon enforcing their claims. In the long term, however, they could not hope to prevail over so powerful an adversary; and in 1390 Gaunt appealed to his nephew, Richard II, for help in settling the affair. A royal commission of oyer and terminer was set up to examine his complaints and several former office-holders (including six of our MPs) were bound over in heavy securities to keep the peace in future. Gaunt’s hostility towards the commonalty (which was further manifest in his settlement of the dispute with the dean and chapter) may well have been increased by the dislike shown locally towards his mistress, Katherine Swynford. In 1384 a group of quite prominent citizens had done considerable damage to her property in the city, and this event clearly remained fresh in Gaunt’s memory.8
Lincoln first sent Members to Parliament in 1265, although no returns are extant until the end of the century, after which date representation was continuous. The Parliament of 1301 actually met in the city, when the opportunity was taken to petition Edward I for the restoration of those liberties which had been confiscated 11 years before. Returns survive for 26 of the 32 Parliaments held during our period, the rest having been lost. Despite the gaps in the evidence, a striking feature of the representation of the city is the degree of continuity ensured by the election of men who were already experienced parliamentarians. On only four occasions—1393, 1397 (Sept.), 1406 and 1414 (Nov.)—were both MPs apparent newcomers to the Lower House, and it is quite possible that one or two of them had actually sat before in Parliaments for which we have no information. A novice served with a more seasoned colleague in at least 14 Parliaments; and in a further eight, if not more, two men already familiar with Commons’ procedure were returned together. All in all, there was little change in the pattern of representation during the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Notwithstanding the obvious preference shown by the voters of Lincoln for experienced candidates, cases of re-election seem to have been comparatively rare. Robert Sutton sat in all four of the Parliaments summoned between November 1384 and February 1388, and Richard Worsop was re-elected in 1407; but complete representative continuity occurred only once, in May 1421.
We know the names of 29 of the burgesses returned during the period under review, and of these 11 seem to have made only one appearance in the Lower House. So far as we can tell, nine of their colleagues sat twice and four three times. John Bigge served in four Parliaments, and John Sutton I in five. The Sutton family maintained a particularly strong tradition of parliamentary service, for John’s younger brother, Robert (with whom he attended the Merciless Parliament of 1388), was returned on no less than 11 occasions between 1381 and 1399. The latter’s son, Hamon, subsequently represented Lincoln seven times before going on to serve as a shire knight in a further three Parliaments. Only Robert Walsh, who had ten returns to his credit, rivalled the Suttons in this respect. All in all, each of the Lincoln MPs sat in an average of between two and three Parliaments, Hamon Sutton being the only one to represent another constituency at any time.
All of the 29 men here under consideration had strong connexions with Lincoln; and only three of them (John Dalderby, William Leadenham and Robert Peck I) seem to have escaped any kind of involvement in the government of the city. Indeed, a remarkably large proportion (21) served as mayor; and of these eight had already done so before entering Parliament. Both John Thorley and William Blyton were actually returned while in office, in 1397 (Sept.) and 1402 respectively. Although it was not considered essential that the mayor of Lincoln should have gained some initial administrative experience as bailiff, 16 of our MPs did, in fact, progress from the one post to the other, all having acted as bailiff before the start of their parliamentary careers. Neither Nicholas Werk nor Richard Worsop achieved higher municipal office than that of bailiff, but they also served while comparatively young men. One of the bailiff’s duties was to hold the parliamentary elections, but Robert Appleby was the only one to engineer his own return, which he did in January 1397. At least five of our men discharged the duties of coroner. Richard Worsop may, perhaps, have been appointed just after he last stood for Parliament, but each of the remaining four is definitely known to have been elected while in office. Nicholas Werk, Thomas Thornhagh, William Dalderby and John Belasise all represented Lincoln during their time as coroners; and it may even have been a common practice for this to happen. Only one Member (John Bigge) apparently ever became recorder of Lincoln, and Thomas Teryng alone served as sheriff of the city. Four of their colleagues were, however, the recipients of local commissions of the peace; and both Hamon Sutton and Robert Walsh acted in a similar capacity in Lindsey.
The collection of royal taxes and the execution of crown commissions was a responsibility shared by at least 20 of the Lincoln burgesses, although Hamon Sutton alone was regularly employed in this way. Between 1422 and 1460 he received a total of 25 commissions as well as serving as escheator and sheriff of Lincolnshire, and as mayor of the Calais Staple and deputy butler of Kingston-upon-Hull. Interestingly enough, Sutton was the only Lincoln MP to receive a legally valid exemption from holding civic office, presumably on the ground that his other administrative commitments already made undue demands upon his time and energy. Despite the general interest shown locally in the cloth trade, only two of our men were made alnagers of Lincoln, although Thomas Thornhagh did for a brief while collect the cloth subsidy in Lincolnshire as a whole. On the other hand, at least five MPs were closely involved in the affairs of Boston, the outport of Lincoln. William Dalderby, Robert Ledes, and Robert and John Sutton I were each mayors of the Boston Staple, while the two Sutton brothers also acted as collectors of customs there. Thomas Teryng likewise obtained the post of tronager and pesager of wool in the port.
Although a few of their number now seem shadowy figures about whom little is known, we can be reasonably sure that all of the Lincoln MPs here under review owned property in the city, and that some were rentiers on an impressive scale. Notwithstanding the protests about poverty and depopulation made by the citizenry during the later Middle Ages, several merchants continued to prosper; and it was largely from this group of rich and successful men (the great majority of whom were indisputably potentiores) that parliamentary representatives were chosen. At least two-thirds (20) of our Members were merchants, and of these 14 dealt principally in wool and cloth. The mercer, Robert Appleby, the skinner, Gilbert Beesby, and the goldsmith, John Ryle, were, moreover, all active in this branch of commerce, even if it did not provide their staple source of income. Some idea of the comparative wealth of these men may be gained from the bequests made in their wills: even though we cannot now tell if Robert Sutton’s estate actually realized £2,371 in cash, or that of his brother, John I, £1,302, the very scope of their legacies certainly presupposes a striking degree of affluence. Robert Messingham (whose business dealings with certain Florentine bankers were conducted on a high financial level) left £1,026 to his family and friends, while Robert Appleby and Richard Bell were evidently able to dispose of sums in the order of, respectively, £230 and £60, in addition to plate and other valuables. John Balderton’s marriage to the widow of his former employer, the merchant William Snelleston†, brought him £300 to invest in trade. Robert Saltby likewise benefited by marrying another wealthy widow, who, even further enriched after his death, went on to become the wife of Robert Appleby. As leading members of the mercantile community, several of these men came forward as government creditors, particularly during wartime. William Dalderby, Robert Ledes and John Sutton I, for example, were parties to the huge loan of £60,000 made by a consortium of English merchants towards national defence in 1377; and no less than seven others helped to raise the two sums of £200 which Lincoln contributed towards the cost of the Welsh wars of 1404. Hamon Sutton, who was probably the richest man to represent Lincoln in our period, not only took part in the corporate loans made by the staplers of Calais to Henry VI, but also, in 1436, advanced £200 to the Crown on his own account. Robert Peck I is the only MP known to have trained at one of the inns of court, being sufficiently distinguished to serve for a time as common pleader of the City of London. Three of his colleagues (John Bigge, Robert Walsh and Nicholas Werk) also appear to have been lawyers, and they too derived sizeable incomes from the exercise of their profession.
Lawyers and merchants alike recognized the value of investment in land; and although most of our MPs confined their purchase of property to Lincoln, its suburbs and surrounding pastures, some ventured further afield. The brothers Robert and John Sutton I consolidated the estates in Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire which they inherited from their father (a Lincoln merchant who had made his fortune through the wool trade). Robert’s holdings in Lincolnshire alone were valued at £57 a year just before his death, and by the 1430s his son and heir, Hamon, ranked among the five richest non-baronial landowners in the county, with a rent-roll of at least £105 p.a. William Dalderby, who was mayor of the Boston Staple, found it convenient to acquire various holdings in the port, while Nicholas Werk decided to build up a small estate at Nettleham. Gilbert Beesby leased 80 acres of woodland from the earl of Kent’s manor of Thorley in 1396, hoping to make a profitable return on a total outlay of 340 marks—a sum which no other competitor for the lease was able to raise. William Blyton’s extensive Lincolnshire estates (worth £33 p.a. in 1412) had been accumulated by his father, Sir John, a former mayor of Lincoln; and it was thanks to his position as a local landowner that he was able to contract a particularly advantageous marriage with Mary, the daughter and coheir of Sir John Dengaine*. Her inheritance comprised half the de la Hay manors of Foxton, Shepreth and Papworth Everard in Cambridgeshire, and it thus greatly extended Blyton’s territorial interests. Hamon Sutton’s marriage to one of the daughters of the influential Yorkshire knight, Sir Henry Vavasour, was socially more prestigious, although it brought him little, if anything, in the way of land.
Parliamentary elections were held at the full county court of the city at the guildhall. Prior to Lincoln’s incorporation as a shire in 1409, the sheriff of Lincolnshire was technically responsible for making the city’s return, although the task was often carried out by the bailiffs. From then onwards, however, the two civic sheriffs assumed control of proceedings. During the early 15th century the indenture of return was attested by the mayor and several of the leading citizens, ranging in number from 45 in 1411 to 17 in May 1421, but the election itself was evidently sanctioned in plena communi congregatione civitatis and must therefore have involved participation on a far wider scale.9 There is nothing to suggest that any attempts were made by outsiders to influence or direct the choice of candidates: on the contrary, the 29 men returned between 1386 and 1421 were all well known members of the local community. On the other hand, we cannot now tell how far the potentiores were able to further the cause of their own nominees. Certainly, it was from this dominant social group that most of Lincoln’s parliamentary representatives were drawn during the later Middle Ages.
- 1. J.C Russell, Brit. Med. Pop. 142; E.M. Carus-Wilson, Med. Merchant Ventures, 198, 209, 211-12; CPR, 1364-7, p. 89; CCR, 1389-92, p. 135; SC8/121/6024.
- 2. R. Chs. Lincoln ed. Gray Birch, pp. x-xxxiv.
- 3. Ibid. 76.
- 4. RP, iii. 438, 447; SC8/121/6033.
- 5. J.W.F. Hill, Med. Lincoln, 255, 293-302.
- 6. CPR, 1391-6, pp. 240, 355; CCR, 1392-6 pp. 133, 162.