New Romney

Borough

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
1386Simon Lunceford
 John Salerne II
1388 (Feb.)William Holyngbroke
 John Salerne II
1388 (Sept.)William Holyngbroke
 John Ellis I
1390 (Jan.)John Ive I
 James Tiece
1390 (Nov.)Edmund Huchoun
 James Tiece 1
1391John Ellis I
 John Salerne II
1393Andrew Colyn
 Robert Geffe
1394
1395John Gardener I
 William Child
1397 (Jan.)John Yon
 Robert Geffe
1397 (Sept.)
1399John Gardener I
 John Talbot
1401William Clitheroe
 John Gardener I 2
1402John Lunceford
 John Ive I
1404 (Jan.)
1404 (Oct.)
1406Robert Geffe
 Thomas Rokeslee
1407John Roger II
 Brice Scherte
1410John Adam
 John Lunceford
1411William Clitheroe
 James Lowys 3
1413 (Feb.)William Clitheroe
 John Adam 4
1413 (May)William Clitheroe
 James Lowys
1414 (Apr.)Richard Clitheroe II
 John Lunceford 5
1414 (Nov.)William Clitheroe
 John Maffey
1415Richard Clitheroe II
 James Lowys 6
1416 (Mar.)Richard Clitheroe II
 John Adam 7
1416 (Oct.)Stephen Harry
 Thomas Sparwe 8
1417William Clitheroe
 James Tiece
1419Thomas Rokeslee
 Thomas Smith III 9
1420Richard Clitheroe II
 Stephen Harry
1421 (May)Richard Clitheroe II
 James Lowys
1421 (Dec.)Thomas Sparwe
 Peter Newene

Main Article

New Romney had been founded in the tenth century to take the place of the port of Old Romney, which had silted up. The retreat of the sea from New Romney in its turn, hastened in the late 13th century by the effects of great storms which blocked the mouth of the river Rother, so causing it to break through to the sea at Rye instead of at Romney, meant that by 1400 the silting up of the harbour had become irreversible, despite the efforts of the local people to dredge channels. Nine hundred and forty-one adults were assessed for the poll tax of 1380 as living in New Romney, although widespread evasion probably means that the population was in fact somewhat larger than this figure suggests.10 Romney declined sharply in wealth in the early 15th century, as appears from the state of its finances. Under Richard II the general maltolts brought in an average of £33 a year, and as revenue normally exceeded expenditure, the jurats were able to hand on from year to year a favourable accumulated balance in cash, frequently more than £100. A number of untoward factors affected this prosperity: the town’s common barge was wrecked after being used to bring Anne of Bohemia over from France for her marriage to Richard II late in 1381; the jurats ran up substantial legal costs in their attempts to gain a greater degree of independence from their lord, the archbishop of Canterbury, in the 1380s and 1390s; provision of shipping in 1396 for the King’s voyage to Calais for his second marriage proved unduly expensive; and a new common ship in which the town invested heavily failed to recoup in trading ventures the large outlay on equipment and repairs. Recovery was prevented by the burden of ship-service for Henry IV’s Scottish expeditions and a long-term slump in trade. By 1413 the general maltolt had fallen to £20 and by 1422 to barely £5, while the scots, vainly doubled and tripled to bolster Romney’s revenue, sank from £76 18s.5d. in 1397 to £10 8s.2d. in 1422, revealing widespread evasion or impoverishment.11

Nevertheless, Romney’s status in the confederation of the Cinque Ports, of which it was one of the five original members, was unaffected by these economic changes. The town continued to be used as the general meeting-place for the Brodhull, and the Ports’ charters were always kept there. The barons of Romney enjoyed considerable power of self-government by virtue of their liberties as Portsmen. However, the town was still under the lordship of the archbishop of Canterbury, who like most ecclesiastical overlords was anxious not to relax his grip on the property of his church. The archbishop’s bailiff governed the town in conjunction with the 12 jurats chosen by the commonalty. The determination of the former to preserve the archbishop’s rights, faced with the attempts of the latter to assert their independence, inevitably led to conflict. Down to 1386 confrontation had been largely avoided as the archbishops had usually selected their bailiffs from among the townsmen, but a crisis occurred when Archbishop Courtenay, objecting to previous encroachments on the rights he claimed at Romney, appointed an outsider, Edmund Middleton, in the expectation that he would bring the jurats into line. Predictably, this only exacerbated the barons’ hostility. The archbishop was driven to complain that they had refused to let his bailiff hold judicial inquests, and had prevented him taking reliefs from the inhabitants as the archbishop’s tenants and also from punishing breaches of the peace. Instead, the jurats had performed the bailiff’s functions, keeping the proceeds to their own use, and thus depriving Courtenay of revenues amounting to £77 6s.8d. Furthermore, the jurats claimed (in accordance with their custumal) that they were entitled to fine the bailiff £10 every time he failed to do speedy justice and, when Middleton was unable through sickness to hear one particular suit, they applied this rule and confiscated his goods. The jurats also insisted that the bailiff could not hold his court unless they were present, and even used force to prevent Middleton sitting without them. The archbishop, having summoned the ringleaders, William Holyngbroke and William Child, to appear before him at Slindon (Sussex) on 8 June 1388, confronted them with a whole series of charges, and on hearing their admission of guilt, on the 25th he not only ordered their excommunication but also laid an interdict upon the town. The barons’ appeals to the government failed owing to Courtenay’s influence at the royal court, and the townspeople were forced to submit to his grace in October. Perhaps as a gesture towards conciliation, Courtenay subsequently replaced Middleton with a townsman, John Talbot. Nevertheless, the jurats continued to try to impose penalties on the bailiff for failure to comply with their customs (even attempting to fine Talbot £40). In the last year of Courtenay’s life (1395-6) the barons sought unsuccessfully to persuade him to let them farm the bailiwick, at the same time conducting expensive suits at Westminster to preserve their liberties. They went so far as to answer an inquest, held after the forfeiture of Archbishop Arundel’s estates in 1397, with the claim that the King was true lord of the town, because of the ship-service due to him, and that the archbishop only owned a franchise there, so his bailiff had been holding courts and receiving profits without proper title.12

In the 15th century direct conflict was largely avoided. Although the archbishops generally named their servants as bailiffs, these men seldom visited the town, leaving their powers in the hands of a senior jurat, who fulfilled the duties and carried the style of bailiff.13 The jurats were elected annually on 25 Mar. by the commonalty assembled in St. Nicholas’s church (until a common house was acquired in about 1413), They received ample powers to govern the town and manage its finances, punishing those who disobeyed their instructions and collecting the maltolts or levying the scots which had, however, to be imposed ‘per consideracionem communitatis’. (In fact, local resistance to their levies, especially those for the King’s service, was not unknown.)14 In due course the customary methods of consulting the townspeople were formalized: on 25 Mar. 1411 it was ordained that in future each ‘vintener’ (an official corresponding to a constable of a ward), should bring five or six men from his vintenary to the assembly that day to hear the accounts of the retiring jurats and elect their successors. The same method was to be employed whenever the jurats ‘colloquium cum communitate habere voluerint’. This embryonic common council may thenceforth have similarly superseded the general assembly as the scene of parliamentary elections.15

Although returns have survived for no more than 20 of the 32 Parliaments of the period, the names of Romney’s Members in eight more Parliaments are to be found in the town’s assessment books. These also reveal that the two men returned in 1419 were replaced before the Commons assembled by two others, who were in fact paid for attending. Gaps remain for four Parliaments: 1394, 1397 (Sept.) and 1404 (Jan. and Oct.). Twenty-six men are known to have sat, of whom seven were apparently returned just once. The majority were elected several times (on average more than three times each). It would seem that the distribution of Romney’s seats in Parliament was affected by the economic changes the town suffered during the period. Under Richard II seats were shared fairly evenly among the barons, although re-election to successive Parliaments did occur three times, and William Holyngbroke was returned on five occasions. But the town’s decline opened greater opportunities to the few men who had connexions with influential patrons from outside, or could fall back on the revenues of substantial landed property to offset commercial losses. William Clitheroe and his presumed son, Richard Clitheroe II, John Adam and James Lowys, who all enjoyed such support, became the leading men of Romney in the early 15th century. All four acted as bailiffs, and when not bailiffs figured at the top of the list of jurats. Between them they sat in Parliament 35 times between 1401 and 1447, and, perhaps more significantly, they took 17 of the 28 places available between 1410 and 1421. It is worth remarking, too, that in all but two of the 12 Parliaments summoned between 1411 and 1421 (May), one or other of the Clitheroes was present as Romney’s representative.

Without exception all 26 MPs were resident barons of Romney, and all of them paid maltolts. Six were probably the sons of earlier parliamentary representatives. Most of the few who did move to Romney from elsewhere came from other Cinque Ports: John Ellis from Dover, Simon Lunceford from Rye (which he had represented in the Commons before his departure), Thomas Sparwe probably from Hythe, and John Salerne II from Winchelsea (whence he returned later to serve as mayor and MP). However, the Clitheroes came from as far away as Lancashire, following in the wake of their influential kinsman, Richard Clitheroe I*, who in 1406 and 1407 sat as a knight of the shire for Kent. Many of the 26 made a living through trade and shipping. For example, Andrew Colyn dealt in nautical stores, and Thomas Sparwe in wine, wool and wood, while Simon Lunceford was described as a vintner, Stephen Harry as a butcher, and Thomas Smith III as a draper. With few exceptions they also owned land in the vicinity, the most outstanding, in terms of income derived from farming, being the Clitheroes, Adam, Holyngbroke and Salerne. John Adam and Richard Clitheroe II even attained armigerous rank: the former, having acquired property worth more than £40 a year, married into the lesser baronage, and Clitheroe, whose brother became bishop of Bangor, was on good terms with two lieutenant wardens—Geoffrey Lowther and Sir Thomas Kyriel—as well as with John Darell*, Archbishop Chichele’s steward.

It seems likely that all of Romney’s MPs served for part of their careers as jurats, although deficiencies in the records before 1400 mean that only 23 of the 26 are definitely known to have done so. Indeed, the town frequently returned two jurats to Parliament. This happened on 13 occasions between 1397 and 1421, and on four more one of the elected Members held that rank. To the Parliament of 1414 (Nov.) Romney returned its common clerk, John Maffey. Seven parliamentary barons are known to have held office as bailiff or deputy bailiff of Romney, although only in the case of William Clitheroe (in 1401 and November 1414) did tenure of the bailiffship coincide with election to the Lower House.

Romney paid its Members 2s.6d. a day at the beginning of the period, with horse-hire and wages of servants in addition, and this remained the standard rate until 1427, when wages were reduced to 2s. a day (in line with similar reductions by the other Ports). Sometimes, particularly in the course of Parliaments of more than a few weeks’ duration, one or other of the MPs for Romney and Dover would double up for his companions. When that happened each of the two Ports paid the Member concerned 1s.8d. a day, so that he received altogether 3s.4d. daily. Otherwise, attendance was good, although James Tiece left the Parliament of January 1390 early, on 1 Feb., leaving John Ive I there alone until 3 Mar.; and in that which assembled in February 1413 William Clitheroe stayed on for as many as 33 days after John Adam had gone home.16In the 14th century it had been customary for Romney, as for other parliamentary boroughs, to give its MPs a commission, drawn up as a power of attorney to consent to whatever the King should ordain in Parliament. This may explain the occasional discrepancies between the names of Members given in the official returns, and those whom Romney paid for attending sessions (as in 1419); for there would, presumably, be no difficulties in substituting a new man for an elected Member who died or resigned, provided that his commission could procure his admission to the Commons.17 Little is known of what Romney’s barons did in the House, although the accounts regularly record the gratuities they gave to the clerk and usher of Parliament, and also the charges made for obtaining copies of proceedings for the benefit of the commonalty.

Authors: A. P.M. Wright / L. S. Woodger

Notes

  • 1. Romney assmt. bk. 2, f. 24.
  • 2. Ibid. f. 51.
  • 3. Ibid. f. 74.
  • 4. Ibid. f. 76.
  • 5. Ibid. f. 82.
  • 6. Ibid. f. 85.
  • 7. Ibid. f. 88.
  • 8. Ibid. f. 88.
  • 9.