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|1421 (Dec.)||John Denby II|
This is the only Parliament during our period for which returns for Ludgershall exist. An election was held for Henry V’s first Parliament in May 1413, but the names of the Members have been torn off the return.
Ludgershall was a town of comparative unimportance. Its taxable population of 117 in 1377 made it scarcely more than a large village, much smaller than the neighbouring towns of Amesbury, Andover or Pewsey, though larger than the ‘borough’ of Great Bedwyn, a few miles to the north. As far as can be seen from surviving records, it was not notable for any manufactures, but depended for its survival upon trade. Thus, when in 1350 an enlargement of the royal park blocked the road to Hungerford and north Wiltshire, the burgesses complained in a petition to the King that they were ‘empouvrez et a puy destruite’ because ‘merchauntz et autres estraungeres passauntz’ no longer came to the town ‘pur marchaundiser et estre herbergez’. In the late 14th century the town was far from prosperous: in 1379 only two men (one a merchant and the other the royal parker of Ludgershall) paid more than 6d. towards the poll tax.1
Ludgershall had been part of the royal demesne since the 12th century. It subsequently became customary to grant the manor there, together with other crown estates in Wiltshire, to successive queens, as part of their dower. Thus, in 1382 it was given to Anne of Bohemia, and in 1403 it passed to Joan of Navarre.2 They in turn leased out Ludgershall to various farmers at an annual fee farm of £12 6s.8d. These farmers frequently held, in addition, the office of parker, and were invariably members of the queen’s household. Among their number were Sir William Sturmy*, chief steward of Queen Joan’s lands (who, jointly with two successive parkers, leased the manor from before 1411 until his death in 1427), and William Ludlow†, parker of Ludgershall from 1429 and keeper from 1438. Ludgershall castle had been a popular royal residence in the reign of Henry III, but it appears to have been little used as such during our period, even though repairs were carried out from time to time.3
It was probably Ludgershall’s links with the Crown which won it status as a borough, a status it had perhaps already attained by the middle of the 13th century, and certainly by 1295, the year in which it was first required to send representatives to Parliament. Like Great Bedwyn, Downton and other Wiltshire towns, however, Ludgershall was a borough for parliamentary and tax purposes only, its burghal status resting otherwise solely on prescription. As far as is known, it never possessed a charter, a guild merchant, or a corporation, being ruled by a bailiff chosen annually at the court leet of the lord of the manor (which was presumably supervised by royal officials).4 After 1295 Ludgershall returned Members intermittently until 1330, being represented in at least ten of the 39 Parliaments meeting during that period. The borough was summoned to send burgesses to the Parliament of 1361, but failed to respond. Apart from this, no record remains to show that Ludgershall returned MPs between 1330 and 1377, or, indeed, whether it was even instructed to do so. Members were, however, certainly elected to at least nine of the 11 Parliaments which met between 1378 and 1385. Thereafter, nothing is known about the parliamentary representation of the borough between 1386 and December 1421, when returns again begin to survive in significant numbers.
Ludgershall’s electoral practice was presumably like that of the other Wiltshire boroughs. Returns were made in response to the sheriff’s precept sent, in this case, to the bailiff of the manor. The fact that local men represented the borough on ten out of 18 possible occasions between 1378 and 1385, and that the queen’s parker sat on the other eight, may suggest that, at this early period at any rate, elections were made in a court held in the town and presided over by the royal bailiff. The kind of person who appeared in the Commons for Ludgershall changed very little in the course of the late 14th and early 15th centuries, despite the gap of 36 years in the borough’s representation. All five of those elected between 1378 and 1385 lived in the immediate vicinity. Three of them seem to have been men of little general account, each paying no more than 6d. towards the poll tax of 1379, but Robert Monek, who sat in 1378, 1380 (Jan.) and in each one of the four Parliaments of 1382 and 1383, was a rather more considerable figure. Described as a merchant, and employing a number of servants, he paid 2s., the largest single sum recorded for the town. And more important still was Roger Sottewell, who was elected to every one of the eight Parliaments to which Ludgershall made returns between 1380 and 1385. Although a resident burgess, he was also a royal servant, having been appointed parker of Ludgershall for life in 1364 by Edward III’s daughter, Isabel, who then owned the estate.5 As the lady of the manor’s chief officers in an unprivileged borough, keepers and parkers of Ludgershall must have found it easy to influence, perhaps even control, its parliamentary elections.
MPs actually resident in the town became progressively fewer after 1421, although John Denby II, Richard Shotwell (1426) and John Combe (1437) were apparently all local men. The continued influence of royal officials may be seen in the election in 1422 of John Sturmy and John Seymour, respectively bastard son and grandson of Sir William Sturmy, then chief steward of the queen’s lands and custodian of Ludgershall, and, even more directly, in the frequent return between 1432 and 1455 of William Ludlow, currently employed as parker and keeper. William Gatecombe (1423), John Skillyng (1426), Richard Briggs (1431 and 1433) and William Hawkesock (1435) were all Wiltshire men, but John Gloucester (1431) and Geoffrey Goodlock (1432) both probably came from outside the county. Incidentally, Hawkesock was a servant of the Hungerfords, while Goodlock had links with the Staffords. After 1440, the tendency to non-residence was further accentuated: of the 21 parliamentary burgesses known to have sat between then and 1509, more than half came from outside Wiltshire.6