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


1386Thomas Cryps
 John Jenewyne
1388 (Feb.)John Curteys I
 John Wyly
1388 (Sept.)John Curteys I
 John Wyly
1390 (Jan.)Thomas Calston
 Robert Warner
1390 (Nov.)
1393John Curteys I
 Thomas Lechenore
1394John Curteys I
 Richard Frys
1395John Curteys I
 Robert Drake
1397 (Jan.)
1397 (Sept.)John Canynges
 Nicholas Cley
1399Thomas Cryps
 Thomas Cook I
1402Richard Collingbourne
 John Bird
1404 (Jan.)
1404 (Oct.)
1406Thomas Heose
 Nicholas Tympeneye
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)John Bird
 William Byllyngtre
1414 (Apr.)Thomas Hathaway
 William Alcliff
1414 (Nov.)Thomas Hathaway
 John Bird
1415John Bird
 Thomas Newman
1416 (Mar.)Thomas Newman
 Nicholas Swan 1
1416 (Oct.)
1417William Hungate
 Hugh Gower
1420Hugh Gower
 Nicholas Swan
1421 (May)Hugh Gower
 Laurence Fitton
1421 (Dec.)Hugh Gower
 John Giles

Main Article

Situated on the river Kennet, and at the junction of roads from London to Bristol and from Winchester and the south coast to Gloucester, Marlborough was a route centre and the most important town in east Wiltshire. During the period under consideration it ranked about third in size among the numerous Wiltshire boroughs, its taxable population of nearly 550 (including those who lived in the ‘barton’) being exceeded in 1377 only by Salisbury and Wilton. Although Marlborough had been an important centre of the cloth industry in the 12th century, when it produced a cheap material called ‘burel’, this trade had greatly diminished by the late 14th century, so that of the 82 burgesses whose occupations are given in the poll tax return of 1379, less than a quarter were cloth-workers, these being outnumbered by both leather-workers (the largest single group) and victuallers. The decline in the industry was probably partly due to the repressive laws adopted by the town in the late 12th century for the control of its weavers and fullers, and partly to the increasing dominance in the Wiltshire cloth trade of the towns of the south and west of the county, which produced fabric of higher quality. The prosperity of Marlborough seems to have suffered a permanent set-back: at any rate, during our period the town was apparently not a wealthy one. In 1379 only three men (not counting the mayor, who ex officio had to contribute 6s.8d.), paid more than 1s. each as poll tax. Nor did the position improve: in 1436 the town was to advance only £20 to a royal loan for the equipment of an army for France—less, even, than was furnished by a depopulated and impoverished Wallingford.2 Marlborough castle, formerly much used as a royal residence, and as such a potential source of revenue to the townspeople, was also beginning to fall into decay by the end of the 14th century: an inquisition of 1391 found that the defences were so much damaged that ‘they can hardly be repaired without a complete rebuilding’, and another of 1403 heard reports of great deterioration to the castle in recent years.3

Founded by the Saxons in support of a fortified mound near the Roman settlement of ‘Cunetio’, Marlborough was already a borough, if only of low standing, by the time of the Domesday survey. As part of the royal demesne, it was customarily granted in the 13th and early 14th centuries to the queen as part of her dower. However, after the death of Queen Philippa in 1369 there was a change of practice: the lordship for a while pertained to the constables of the castle, who were made responsible for the borough and that part of the manor, called ‘the barton’, which lay outside it. During the last six years of the reign of Richard II the constable’s office was occupied by Sir William le Scrope (cr. earl of Wiltshire in 1397). After the latter’s execution for treason, in 1399, Sir Walter Hungerford* was awarded custody of the castle for life by Henry IV, only for the King to rescind this grant in 1403 by transferring custody to his own youngest son, Humphrey, while leaving Hungerford in possession of substantial estates in the vicinity. (In 1415 Humphrey was allowed to enfeoff Bishop Henry Beaufort and others of the castle, town and lordship.) The constable doubtless exerted some influence over the affairs of the community. He was, for instance, a witness with the mayor to a number of local deeds.4

Despite the official presence of the constable, the borough enjoyed many liberties and possessed some institutions of its own. As early as 1163 the burgesses were permitted to have a guild merchant, this privilege being confirmed in 1204 in a charter by which King John also granted a twice-weekly market, an annual fair, and exemption from tolls throughout England. A second (Martinmas) fair was granted in 1229 and a third in 1246. These various rights were approved by Edward III, Richard II and all the Lancastrian kings, the additional privilege of a general exemption from murage and quayage being conceded in 1408.5

In the almost complete absence of local records, little is known about the internal government of the borough, save that it was ruled by a mayor (possibly elected by the guild merchant), who was assisted by two bailiffs. Among his duties was the keeping of the assize of wine and victuals in the town. There were also two coroners, but these were chosen by the sheriff of Wiltshire. During the 16th century the borough had four courts, at least some of which may well have existed in earlier times. These were the mayor’s court, the court of piepowder, the court leet and the court of morning speech. This last was the most important, for it was there that the mayor and other officials were elected, new burgesses were sworn in, and enfeoffments and other conveyances were registered.6

Marlborough’s representation in Parliament dates back to Edward I’s reign. The names of its Members are known in roughly two out of every three of the Parliaments summoned between 1295 and 1386. There were times in the 14th century, however, when the borough was called upon to elect but failed to do so. (This failure occurred, in fact, on as many as 13 occasions.) Representation would, furthermore, appear to have been complicated (possibly on occasion obstructed) by the practice whereby the sheriff of Wiltshire, on receipt of the royal writ of summons, sent his precept not directly to the borough of Marlborough, but to the queen’s bailiff in the county who, as responsible for the liberties of Devizes, Malmesbury and Marlborough, made return of the names of MPs elected by these places. After the electoral statute of 1406, which provided for returns for all shires to be made in the form of an indenture, a new system was adopted: the Wiltshire boroughs sent delegates to the county court to announce the names of their Members, who were then recorded in the indentures for the shire as having been chosen by the ‘community of the burgesses’ of each place.7 Perhaps as a result of this, no separate indentures of election for the Wiltshire boroughs exist for the period under consideration, so that we know nothing about how Marlborough’s MPs were chosen, nor who was involved in their election.

The paucity of local records, and the complete lack of electoral indentures relating to Marlborough make it difficult to discover what (if any) external influences were brought to bear on the election of MPs. Interest on the part of the constables of the castle is not apparent, although Robert Warner, who had been lieutenant constable in 1371-2 and may have continued to hold that post, was elected in January 1390. However, Warner was a resident burgess, and had by then served at least one term as mayor. A more important royal servant was John Bird, who at the time of seven of his eight elections was acting as steward, receiver and bailiff of Queen Joan’s extensive liberties in Wiltshire; nevertheless, he too lived in Marlborough, and not long before his first election, in 1402, had served as bailiff there. No such connexion with the borough is known regarding Laurence Fitton, an esquire in the service of Bishop Chandler of Salisbury at the time of his only recorded return to Parliament in May 1421. If any outside influence at all over the outcome of the Marlborough elections is to be discerned in this period, it is that of Sir William Sturmy* of Wolf Hall near Great Bedwyn, the hereditary warden of Savernake forest (of which Marlborough was the administrative headquarters). John Wyly and Richard Collingbourne were both closely associated with Sturmy, Thomas Newman and Nicholas Swan were probably his servants, and John Bird was connected both publicly and privately with him, for Sir William was for many years his administrative superior in his capacity as chief steward of the queen’s lands. Over the period as a whole 11 seats in the Commons out of a possible 40 were filled by men from Sturmy’s circle, Sir William’s interest being best represented in 1402 and in the Parliaments of 1415 and 1416 (Mar.), when both places were taken by his associates. This interest in the Marlborough elections becomes even clearer after 1421: in 1423 Sturmy’s bastard son, John, sat for the borough, and in 1425 his kinsman and executor, Robert Erle, was returned. John Bird, by now a relation by marriage of John Seymour, Sturmy’s grandson, continued to represent the borough, doing so in 1426, 1429, 1435 and 1437, and Robert Collingbourne, another friend of the family, sat in 1435.

Only 19 returns for Marlborough survive for the 32 Parliaments between 1386 and 1421, although the names of the Members in one more, that of 1416 (Mar.), are furnished by Prynne. There is no information as to who represented the borough in 11 Parliaments; and in January 1397 the borough failed to make a return to the queen’s bailiff, a fact which is recorded in the county return. The number of burgesses known to have been elected during the period is 25, of whom 15—so often is evidence lacking—are not recorded as sitting more than once. Among those 15, however, were John Canynges, who had appeared in the Commons previously for Bristol, Thomas Calston, who later on twice secured election as a shire knight for Wiltshire, and John Giles who, having previously represented Old Sarum, went on to sit a further six times, for one or other of the boroughs of Calne, Wilton and Devizes. Even disregarding the gaps in the returns, John Bird sat eight times and John Curteys I and Hugh Gower five each. In six of the 20 Parliaments for which the names of Marlborough’s Members are known, the borough was represented entirely by men with experience of the workings of the Lower House, and in eight more one such experienced individual accompanied an apparent novice. There were also several cases of re-election in the strict sense of the word: John Curteys I and John Wyly were elected together to both Parliaments of 1388, and Curteys was again chosen for the consecutive Parliaments of 1393, 1394 and 1395. Thomas Hathaway was sent to both the assemblies of 1414, John Bird to those of 1414 (Nov.) and 1415, Thomas Newman in 1415 and 1416 (Mar.) and Hugh Gower to all five for which returns survive between 1417 and 1422. A certain continuity of representation was thus assured.

Although the parliamentary representation of Marlborough did not usually run in families, there appears to have been exceptions: John Bird was probably the son of the man of the same name who had sat in 1383; Thomas Cook I may well have been the father of William, the Member of 1426, and Richard Collingbourne was certainly the father of Robert, who was to enter the Commons in 1435. Of the 20 MPs who have been identified, 12 most probably lived in the borough, and two more (Thomas Calston and Nicholas Swan) owned houses there, but an increasing tendency to non-residence among Members is observable during the period. Richard Collingbourne, John Giles, Thomas Newman (all three lawyers) and Nicholas Tympeneye, sometime coroner in the county, apparently lived elsewhere in Wiltshire, and it may be presumed that the duties of Laurence Fitton as a retainer of the bishop of Salisbury would have kept him in the cathedral city for much of the time. John Canynges, the Bristol merchant who is thought to have sat for Marlborough in 1397 (Sept.), had no recorded connexion with the town.

It is clear that the MPs of this period fell into three main categories: the burgesses proper (a group of seven, to which another seven, wholly or partially unidentified, may be added); a group of five who each held property in the town yet whose interests and official activities set them apart from mere burgesses; and a third group of six ‘outsiders’. The resident burgesses included a tanner, a fishmonger, a carpenter and a weaver, and among them were two sometime mayors of Marlborough: Thomas Heose and John Jenewyne. These mostly obscure men of humble station occupied a total of 23 places, mainly in the earlier part of the period. The second group consisted of Robert Warner, the former lieutenant of the castle, who made a living as an inn-keeper; John Wyly, employed for some 30 years before his elections to Parliament in 1388 as deputy warden of Savernake forest; John Bird, who was for at least 28 years a full-time royal servant as bailiff for Queen Joan; Nicholas Swan, who was probably a retainer of Sir William Sturmy; and Thomas Calston, a country gentleman whose estates in Wiltshire and elsewhere, for the most part acquired by inheritance, were to be valued later in his career at over £70 a year. These five filled ten of the available seats. The third group, consisting of ‘outsiders’—Canynges, Collingbourne, Fitton, Giles, Newman and Tympeneye—occupied seven parliamentary seats, in and after 1397. Of these, Collingbourne, Giles and Newman were lawyers; indeed, Collingbourne and Giles were successively discharging the office of clerk of the peace in Wiltshire when returned, respectively, in 1402 and 1421 (Dec.). The more obscure Tympeneye may also have been of this profession, and was possibly still acting as county coroner when elected to Parliament in 1406.

Only two resident burgesses—Thomas Cryps and John Jenewyne—are known to have served the Crown outside Marlborough, and then only as tax collectors in the county. Four of the rest were appointed to royal commissions of different sorts, the busiest in this respect being John Bird and Thomas Calston. Before his election for Marlborough in 1397, John Canynges had filled the principal municipal offices at Bristol, and was currently serving as royal alnager there. Bird, Calston and Collingbourne were all made escheators of Hampshire and Wiltshire at some time in their careers, but not before being elected for Marlborough for the first (or, in the cases of Calston and Collingbourne, the only recorded) time. Calston, the landowner, also later secured appointment as j.p. and sheriff in Wiltshire.

The increasing domination of Marlborough’s parliamentary representation by outsiders, and particularly by associates of Sir William Sturmy, can be clearly seen in our period, especially after 1400. The tendency was continued, accentuated indeed, in the years from 1422 to 1450, during which only four of the 22 recorded Members are known to have been residents.8

Author: Charles Kightly


  • 1. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iv. 1060.
  • 2. VCH Wilts. iv. 119-22, 312; Wilts. Arch. Mag. liii. 116; Beverley Town Docs. (Selden Soc. xiv), 134; E179/196/44; PPC, iv. 321.
  • 3. CI-Misc. v. 284; vii. 236.
  • 4. VCH Wilts. xii. 205; CPR, 1391-6, p. 309; 1399-1401, p. 62; 1401-5, pp. 320-1; 1413-16, p. 338; CAD, i. C30, 340; ii. C2590.
  • 5. VCH Wilts. xii. 208, 212; Rot. Chart. ed. Hardy, 135; CChR, i. 91, 291; v. 438; CPR, 1381-5, p. 402; 1399-1401, p. 320; 1413-16, p. 185; 1422-9, pp. 285-6.
  • 6. VCH Wilts, xii. 212-14; CCR, 1413-19, p. 153; CPR, 1405-8, p. 308.
  • 7. C219/7/2, 9/12, 12/2.
  • 8. J.T. Driver, ‘Burgess Repn. Wilts.’ (Oxf. Univ. B. Litt. thesis, 1951), and HP ed. Wedgwood 1439-1509, Biogs., both sub nomine.