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|Thomas Smith II|
|1388 (Feb.)||Richard Hobekyn|
|1388 (Sept.)||William Baggele|
|1390 (Jan.)||Richard Hobekyn|
|1393||Thomas Clerk I|
|Robert atte Rode|
|1397 (Jan.)||William atte Barre|
|1397 (Sept.)||William Baggele|
|1402||Robert Cooper I|
|John Ive II|
|1404 (Jan.)||John Symkyn|
|John Stapleton I|
|1407||Thomas Lucas I|
|1413 (May)||John Vincent|
|Thomas Walsh II|
|1414 (Nov.)||John Walsh|
|1415||John Ive II|
|1416 (Mar.)||John Mousehole|
|Thomas Russell II|
|1421 (May)||William Brereton|
|1421 (Dec.)||William Brereton|
Midhurst, situated 12 miles due north of Chichester, was scarcely more than a village. Returns made for the tenths granted by Parliament in 1332 listed no more than 32 taxpayers, of whom only one was assessed to pay 13s.4d., one 6s.8d. and all the rest less. Fifty-eight persons (20 of them women) contributed to the poll tax of 1379, and on that occasion just two paid 1s., most of the rest being charged the basic sum of 4d. Despite its size, Midhurst enjoyed borough status from quite early times. In 1279, for example, it was said to have been a free borough from time beyond memory. Certainly, a market had been established there by the early 13th century, the burgesses enjoyed the freedom of devising by will all tenements in the borough (at least by 1400), and in the 15th century a common seal was in use.1
The manor of Midhurst had been held by the family of de Bohun since the mid 12th century, and lordship of the borough had descended with it to Sir John Bohun (1363-1433), who held sway throughout our period. Midhurst was at the core of Sir John’s estates, providing him with revenues of at least £40 a year, and it was perhaps for this reason that he engaged in frequent disputes with the burgesses over their respective rights to jurisdiction and its profits—contentions which sometimes led to violence. Bohun was required to find sureties for keeping the peace towards the burgesses on more than one occasion, but his continued oppression of the local people eventually, in December 1401, provoked a concerted uprising by some 70 men from the town and neighbouring countryside, which ended with the deaths of William Baggele, the former MP, and a servant of his. Sir John and his henchmen were indicted for homicide, although in the event it was the leading townsmen who were brought to justice in the King’s bench and fined for assaulting their lord.2This rift was patched up by arbitration in 1403, albeit only temporarily. By a settlement reached on 10 May that year, it was agreed that Bohun’s steward might hold a court every three weeks, there receiving all the tenurial profits and incidents (rents, dues for alienations, wastes and escheats) which fell to Bohun as a manorial lord, together with any amercements imposed on Sir John’s own servants. All amercements charged on others, whether inhabitants of Midhurst or strangers, were to be handed over to the burgesses. Every midsummer the latter were to elect two bailiffs to serve the processes and collect the issues of this court’s jurisdiction, one bailiff being responsible to Bohun and the other to the burgesses themselves. Similarly, they were to choose two tasters for the assize of ale (of whom again one was answerable to the lord, the other to the community). In addition, the burgesses were permitted to hold two law days, at the quindenes of Michaelmas and Easter, and a court called ‘gilden mercatory’ for all servile customs and payments. Furthermore, the steward of their law day might preside over the court of piepowder for the fair on St. Mary Magdalen’s day (22 July), which pertained to Bohun. For these concessions the inhabitants of Midhurst were required to pay a farm of 26s.8d. a year. Bohun conceded that after the following Candlemas he would no longer be entitled to the ‘stannings’ of the frank tenure of the burgesses. Nevertheless, renewed differences between lord and townsmen subsequently reached such a pitch that the latter were obliged to obtain orders from Chancery to have Bohun bound over in £40 to keep the peace towards them; but he put up men of straw as his mainpernors, and went on to threaten the local people with his vengeance so vigorously that, hardly daring to leave their homes or town, they were driven to ask for far heavier securities of £1,000. It was not until 1432, the last year of Bohun’s long life, that he agreed, by mediation of his son-in-law, Sir Stephen Popham*, and others, to forgo the tolls of the town market and the profits of the law days in return for an annual payment of 40s.3
Midhurst had sent two Members to Parliament in 1301, but was not again represented until 1311, from when until 1384 returns were made only intermittently. Thereafter, however, Midhurst figures regularly in returns, and in our period it only happened on one occasion, in 1391, that it failed to send representatives when other Sussex boroughs are known to have complied with the sheriff’s precepts. The names of 36 MPs for Midhurst are recorded for the 23 Parliaments assembled between 1386 and 1421 for which returns have survived. As many as 22 of them apparently only sat for the borough once, and few of the rest did so very often, with the exceptions of William Chyngford (elected five times between 1417 and 1429) and Richard Hobekyn (six between 1372 and 1390). Only twice (in September 1397 and May 1421) did both men chosen have some previous experience of the workings of the Commons, although on 12 other occasions someone qualified in this way accompanied an apparent novice. In perhaps as many as nine Parliaments both representatives were newcomers to the House, although in view of the gaps in the returns this may be an exaggerated number. Possibly three of Midhurst’s Members were also returned by Chichester to other Parliaments: William Brereton, who represented Midhurst three times, may have been he who later sat for the city; John Vincent was elected once by Chichester after his single appearance for Midhurst; and Thomas Russell II sat in the consecutive assemblies of 1417 and 1419, the first as Member for the city, the other for this borough. Russell later went on to gain election to one Parliament apiece for Reigate and East Grinstead. Even so, when all such additional experience is taken into account, the average number of Parliaments per Member still scarcely amounted to two.
The lack of surviving local records means that 12 of the 36 (a third) have not been identified, and very little is known about the majority of the rest. Nevertheless, it may be reasonably assumed that nearly all those elected were resident burgesses of Midhurst; certainly 17 lived there, and seven others did so in all probability. In a few cases more than one member of a local family served their town in the Commons: Henry Exton was probably related to the other 14th-century MPs for Midhurst; and in our period there were returned two Lucases, two Sarcellers and two Walshes. The ill-fated William Baggele was the father of Michael, who entered Parliament before the rising of 1401. The Baggeles were more prosperous than their fellows, for besides their property in Midhurst they owned a shop in Chichester, a lease on the mill at Woolavington, and land in the east of the county and in Hampshire too. But none of the other resident burgesses are known to have had landed possessions elsewhere, with the exceptions of John Grenettour, reputed to be a 40s. freeholder, and Gregory Fuller. Only two of Midhurst’s Members have been convincingly identified as ‘outsiders’: namely, John Vincent, whose property was situated mainly in the Arun valley, and Thomas Russell II, who probably lived in Chichester. Both were attorneys — Vincent being an able advocate who before his election for Midhurst had been employed as such by the prior of Hardham and the dean and chapter of Chichester cathedral, and Russell being linked with John Arundel, Lord Mautravers, to whom he was probably beholden for his appointment as bailiff of the rape of Arundel (an office he was perhaps occupying when returned for Midhurst in 1419).
No record has been traced of the names of Midhurst’s bailiffs or lesser officials, with the exception of that of the constable of December 1401, Robert Cooper I, who was possibly still holding the post when elected to Parliament for the third time in the following autumn. No more than four of the MPs were ever appointed to royal commissions, and those were merely for the collection of fifteenths and tenths in the locality, and not until long after their parliamentary service was over.
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. Suss. Rec. Soc. x. 225-9; Suss. Arch. Colls. xx. 11; Cat. Cowdray Archs. ed. Dibben, i. p. xix; West Suss. RO, Cowdray ms 4455; CCR, 1429-35, p. 142.
- 2. VCH Suss. iv. 77; CP, ii. 200-1; Suss. Arch. Colls. xcv. 50-53; Feudal Aids, vi. 523.
- 3. Cowdray mss 4734/4, 5; C1/7/269. VCH Suss. iv. 76 misdates the agreement of 1432 to 1409.