Norfolk

County

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
1386Sir Thomas Gerberge
 Sir Stephen Hales
1388 (Feb.)Sir John Strange
 Sir John White
1388 (Sept.)Sir John Strange
 Sir John White
1390 (Jan.)William Rees
 Sir John White
1390 (Nov.)Sir Robert Berney
 Hugh Fastolf
1391Sir Robert Berney
 Sir John White
1393Sir Ralph Shelton
 Sir John Curson
1394William Rees
 Sir John White
1395Sir Robert Berney
 Sir John White
1397 (Jan.)William Rees
 Sir John Curson
1397 (Sept.)Sir Nicholas Dagworth
 Sir Edmund Thorpe
1399Sir Robert Berney
 John Gurney
1401John Payn II
 John Wynter
1402Sir Ralph Shelton
 Sir Robert Berney
1404 (Jan.)John Reymes
 John Wynter
1404 (Oct.)John Gurney
 Edmund Oldhall
1406Sir Edmund Noon
 John Reymes
1407Sir Edmund Thorpe
 John Wynter
1410John Wodehouse
 John Wynter
1411Edmund Oldhall
 John Wynter
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)Edmund Oldhall
 John Wynter
1414 (Apr.)Sir Robert Berney
 John Wynter
1414 (Nov.)Sir John Ingoldisthorpe
 John Wodehouse
1415
1416 (Mar.)Edmund Oldhall
 John Wodehouse
1416 (Oct.)
1417Edmund Oldhall
 John Wodehouse
1419John Lancaster II
 Oliver Groos
1420Sir John Radcliffe
 Edmund Wynter
1421 (May)John Lancaster II
 John Wodehouse
1421 (Dec.)John Lancaster II
 Edmund Wynter

Main Article

Returns have survived for 29 of the 32 Parliaments of the period under review, and the names of 23 knights of the shire are known. Six of them (about a quarter) were elected for Norfolk to no more than one Parliament, but ten sat three or more times, and a few represented the county quite frequently. Sir Robert Berney and Edmund Wynter did so on six occasions, Sir John White and John Wynter on seven, and Sir Stephen Hales on nine. Furthermore, four of the Norfolk shire knights (Sir John Ingoldisthorpe, Sir John Strange, John Lancaster II and John Wodehouse) also represented the neighbouring county of Suffolk at some stage in their careers, Strange doing so in three Parliaments, and Lancaster in four. Lancaster’s total number of Parliaments was thereby increased to eight. Hugh Fastolf, who only represented Norfolk once, had previously sat in the Commons five times as a burgess for Great Yarmouth and once (or possibly twice) as an alderman of London. When all this service for other constituencies is taken into account, the average number of Parliaments per Member rises to four. It would appear that men with some knowledge of the workings of the Commons were preferred to those with none, for to at least 16 Parliaments of the period the shire court elected two representatives of that sort, and even when a novice was returned, on nine occasions a tried man accompanied him. Only in the Parliaments of 1393, 1397 (Sept.), and 1401 was Norfolk represented by two newcomers, and in another similar instance (1420) it is possible that one or other of the Members had in fact been elected previously to a Parliament for which the returns are now lost (in 1413, 1415 or 1416). On seven occasions one of the shire knights was re-elected to the immediately succeeding Parliament, and both Members of the Merciless Parliament of 1388 (Feb.) were sent to the Cambridge Parliament in the September following. Some large measure of continuity in the representation of Norfolk was also provided by the return of Sir Stephen Hales to nine of the 15 Parliaments summoned between 1377 (Jan.) and 1386, of Sir John White to seven of the ten assembled between 1385 and 1395, of John Wynter to all five of the Parliaments between 1407 and 1414 (Apr.) for which returns survive, and of John Lancaster II to all but one of the five which met between 1419 and 1422. Then again, the same pair of MPs might on occasion be elected together: Hales and Sir Thomas Gerberge were companions in three of the Parliaments of the 1380s; White formed partnerships with Strange, Berney and Rees (with each of whom he sat twice); and Edmund Oldhall appeared in two Parliaments with John Wynter and two with John Wodehouse.

Certain of the Norfolk shire knights could boast of a long acquaintance with the Commons, and their collective experience stretched back to 1361 and forward to 1437. Twenty-nine years passed between Fastolf’s first Parliament in 1361 and his seventh in 1390; Berney’s six appearances were spread over 24 years (1390-1414), Edmund Wynter’s six over 17 years (1420-37), and Lancaster’s eight over 15 years (1407-22). But possibly a more active part in the proceedings of the Lower House was taken by those returned frequently over a shorter period: Hales’s nine elections in nine years (1377-86) and White’s seven in ten years (1385-95) must have given them the opportunity to become well versed in parliamentary affairs. Knowledge of the workings of the Commons might also be passed down in families: Sir Robert Berney, Sir John Curson and Sir Edmund Thorpe were all sons of former knights of the shire for Norfolk; and our period saw the election of John Wynter and his son Edmund, who represented their home county on 13 occasions between them (although as their Parliaments were spread over a long period—1401 to 1437—it is clear that they by no means monopolized one of the two seats available).

Indeed, no single family attained pre-eminence in the parliamentary representation of Norfolk; and by and large the places in the Lower House were shared out among a number of well-to-do members of the shire community. All those elected were resident in the county, having their principal manors there, and the majority (18) came from well-established families from which they had inherited lands. Sir Nicholas Dagworth and Sir Thomas Gerberge were somewhat out of the ordinary in that, not being the direct heirs to their families’ property in Norfolk, they had needed to acquire territorial possessions there for themselves; and Dagworth did so through purchase, Gerberge through marriage. It has not been established beyond doubt that John Payn II and John Wodehouse were Norfolk men by origin. The former owed his important position in the shire as constable of Norwich castle to the patronage of Henry IV, and found no time to amass landed holdings in the region before his early death; and the latter entered local society through the favour of Henry of Monmouth, who made him constable of Castle Rising. However, having become wealthy through service to the Crown, Wodehouse was enabled to purchase substantial estates in the county. Sir John Radcliffe came from as far away as Lancashire, but he acquired valuable manors in Norfolk through marriage to one of the heiresses of Mortimer of Attleborough, several years before his first return to Parliament in 1420. Many of the knights of the shire extended their inheritance in Norfolk and Suffolk by marrying well, but only a few came to hold property beyond the confines of East Anglia. Sir Ralph Shelton inherited interests in Lincolnshire, but subsequently disposed of them. Five others married women with estates in Cambridgeshire, and Wodehouse purchased manors in the same county. It was through their marriages, too, that Fastolf and John Gurney acquired property in London (of considerable value in Fastolf’s case), Sir John Curson in Essex, Edmund Wynter in Herefordshire and Sir John Ingoldisthorpe in Yorkshire. But for all the shire knights, even those with distant possessions, Norfolk continued to be their main concern.

Twelve of the 23 Members were knights proper, the rest being esquires. This latter group included eight who had evidently been trained in the law, as well as Hugh Fastolf, who had become wealthy as a merchant, by trading first as a fishmonger, then as a member of the important Grocers’ Company of London, and who formally attained armigerous rank only at the end of his days. Knights, all claiming some experience of war overseas, dominated the shire’s representation at the beginning of the period: between 1386 and 1397 (Sept.) the ratio of knights to those of lower rank stood at 9:2, and the latter group filled no more than four of the 22 seats available. But under the first two Lancastrian kings this state of affairs was reversed, the ratio being 6:9, and the esquires occupying as many as 28 of the 36 places. Whereas, under Richard II it had been quite usual for two knights to be returned together, this did not happen at all after 1402; indeed, in 11 of the 17 Parliaments for which returns survive from 1401 to the end of the period neither of Norfolk’s Members had achieved this distinction. Some of the knights were of really high standing, being related to members of the lesser nobility of East Anglia: Sir Edmund Thorpe was descended from John Thorpe, who had been summoned to Parliament by personal writ earlier in the century, and one of his own daughters married Lord Clifton of Buckenham; Sir John Curson’s wife was a kinswoman of Thomas, Lord Morley; and Sir John Radcliffe’s son was to marry the wealthy heiress of Lord Fitzwalter, thus securing the title for his heirs. Although none of the esquires boasted similar connexions, the change in representation in the early 15th century in favour of their group did not result in any obvious decline in the quality of the Membership, for despite their inferior status they were as wealthy and influential as any of their knightly predecessors. Indeed, that they ranked only as esquires was in many cases a matter of personal choice: in 1410-11 John Wynter, Wodehouse, Lancaster, Oldhall and Groos all paid fines in order to be excused knighthood.1 Yet, whereas under Richard II knights of the shire tended to be drawn from a group whose early careers had embraced military service in France or Spain, under the Lancastrians most of those elected were professional administrators, exercising their knowledge of law and accountancy both in the sphere of local government and in the supervision of estates belonging to Crown and nobility.

The dates of birth or the exact ages of only a very few of the Members for Norfolk may be ascertained accurately. Nevertheless, it is apparent that the majority were in or approaching middle age at the time of their first elections to Parliament, for nearly all of them were by then established in their chosen walks of life. None are known to have been much under 30, and most were probably aged between 35 and 55. The oldest were Hugh Fastolf, who must have been at least 65 when returned for the shire for the first and only time in 1390 (although his parliamentary career had begun nearly 30 years earlier, as a burgess of Great Yarmouth), and Sir Nicholas Dagworth, who was in his late sixties when elected to the Parliament of 1397 (Sept.) and had actually made his will a year earlier, in the belief that he was dying.

All of the shire knights participated to a certain extent in local government, in so far as they served on royal commissions; indeed, 19 of them could claim experience of such involvement when first elected to Parliament. Furthermore, Sir Thomas Gerberge was alone in having been appointed neither to royal office nor commission prior to his earliest return. Of the 16 Members who were named as j.p.s in Norfolk, half of them had served as such before they ever entered the Commons. A current member of the local bench was elected to 13 of the 29 Parliaments for which returns survive; and in 1411 and in five of the Parliaments of Henry V’s reign the county was represented by two j.p.s, a fact which reflects the preponderance of lawyers among the shire knights of that time. Six of the Norfolk MPs served occasionally on the bench in other counties.2 The post of sheriff of the joint bailiwick of Norfolk and Suffolk was becoming increasingly less attractive to the region’s landowners (owing to severe financial losses suffered by incumbents), and yet ten of our MPs were persuaded to take it on, half of them doing so before their first election to Parliament for Norfolk.3 There were two instances involving our Members when the writs of summons, which prohibited the return of sheriffs to the Commons, were apparently contravened: in the autumn of 1379 Sir Stephen Hales had been responsible as sheriff for holding the elections at which he himself was chosen for the Parliament of 1380 (Jan.); and in 1390 Hugh Fastolf returned himself to the November Parliament. Neither Hales nor Fastolf, however, were still actually in office when their parliamentary sessions opened. Eight shire knights were, at some stage in their careers, appointed as escheators of Norfolk and Suffolk, but only one (John Wynter) held the post prior to his first return to Parliament. Ingoldisthorpe and Oldhall were elected (in November 1414 and 1417, respectively) during their terms of office, Oldhall and the two Wynters were each made escheator for three terms in all, while Strange occupied the escheatorship for four years. Berney and John Wynter served in the same capacity in other shires, too.4

For all but a few months of Richard II’s reign the most important landowner in Norfolk was the King’s uncle, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, who possessed jurisdictional rights in five hundreds in the north of the county, as well as a large number of manorial estates in other parts. It is not surprising, therefore, to find the duke’s territorial power reflected in the parliamentary representation of the shire. Robert Cayley had been serving as steward of Lancaster’s lands in Norfolk when returned to the three consecutive Parliaments of April and November 1384 and October 1385. His fellow Member on the last occasion was Sir John White, who had previously acted as the duke’s feodary in Norfolk and continued to be one of his retainers. Along with Sir John Strange (who had married the niece of Gaunt’s son-in-law, Sir Thomas Morieux, and had been retained by the duke initially as his esquire and then as his knight bachelor), White represented Norfolk in both Parliaments of 1388. Furthermore, he and Sir Robert Berney (almost certainly another of the duke’s bachelors) filled seven of the 12 Norfolk seats in the Parliaments meeting between January 1390 and 1395, inclusive. Berney enjoyed an annuity of £20 charged on the estates of the duchy. In other words, from 1384 until 1395 over half of the Norfolk Members were in the service or pay of John of Gaunt.

Before the next duke of Lancaster, Henry of Bolingbroke, became King, the direct influence of the Crown in East Anglia was comparatively weak. During the reign of Edward III, the Black Prince, who held the castle and lordship of Rising, had to a certain extent rivalled his younger brother, John of Gaunt, in the size of his local affinity; and the ascendancy of his retainers, who subsequently attached themselves to Richard of Bordeaux, may be seen in the parliamentary representation of Norfolk in the years immediately following his death. For example, Sir Stephen Hales, recipient of an annuity of 100 marks by grant of the prince, in whose armies he had campaigned for a number of years, was elected to the first Parliament of 1377 (during which his annuity was confirmed by Prince Richard), and then to eight later assemblies. Hales was relied on heavily by Richard II’s government for the preservation of order in East Anglia, especially in the aftermath of the Peasants’ Revolt. To the Parliament of 1390 (Nov.) the shire returned the merchant, Hugh Fastolf, a ‘King’s esquire’ at the end of a long and successful career in which he had served the Crown as lieutenant to successive admirals of fleets patrolling the North Sea, and had represented his royal master on diplomatic missions to the Low Countries. Fastolf had not only established close contacts with the King’s beloved tutor, Sir Simon Burley, by whom he had been engaged as deputy constable of Dover castle and warden of the Cinque Ports, but his name had also been linked with that of Sir Nicholas Brembre, another intimate of the King; and at the time that both Burley and Brembre were executed by judgement of the Merciless Parliament of 1388 he himself had been rumoured to be at odds with the Lords Appellant, who engineered their trials. That the King regarded him with favour is indicated by the personal gift of 50 marks which he made him shortly after the autumn Parliament of 1390 was dissolved. Sir John Curson (1393) may have been connected with the royal household, too. But the only occasion in Richard’s reign when two shire knights associated with the Court were elected together happened in anticipation of the politically crucial Parliament of 1397 (Sept.). On that occasion the shire returned two novices—Sir Nicholas Dagworth and Sir Edmund Thorpe—both of whom were in all likelihood predisposed to back the King when he took his revenge against the chief of the Appellants of 1388. Indeed, Dagworth had strong personal reasons for bitterness against those Lords. At the time of the crisis of 1386-9 he had been a knight of the King’s chamber, having served long in France as a professional soldier (for which he earned an annuity of 100 marks granted by Edward III and confirmed by Richard), and also having proved himself an able diplomat in a series of important missions to Aquitaine, Ireland (1375-8), Rome (1381-2 and 1385-7) and elsewhere. Because of this close association with the Court, from January to May 1388 he had been kept in prison by the Lords Appellant under threat of execution, only to be released when his skills were deemed useful for difficult negotiations with France and Scotland. Now coming out of retirement to sit in the Commons for the first time, Dagworth may well have given Richard vocal support in the House; certainly, in the interval between the two sessions of the Parliament of 1397-8 a royal letter was directed to the bailiffs of Cambridge ordering them to pay the arrears on his annuity. Dagworth’s fellow shire knight, Thorpe, had been retained by the King in 1393 with an annual fee of 50 marks, perhaps owing his introduction to the royal court to his friendship with Sir Thomas Percy, the steward of the Household, who was currently acting as one of the feoffees of his estates in Norfolk. (During the first parliamentary session, Percy was to be elevated to the earldom of Worcester as a reward for his unequivocal promotion of Richard’s absolutist policies.)

Apart from consideration of the interests of the duke of Lancaster and the King, other influences may be discerned in the representation of Norfolk during Richard II’s reign. Sir Roger Welesham and Sir Thomas Gerberge, successive stewards of the estates of the King’s uncle, Edmund of Langley, earl of Cambridge and duke of York, were knights of the shire in the early 1380s on six occasions all told. It is difficult to account for this, because such territorial interests as Edmund ever possessed in East Anglia did not pertain at the time Welesham and Gerberge were elected. But it is significant that, when returned for the third time, in 1386, the latter was a prominent figure in the household of one of the magnates who, whether or not involved in that Parliament’s opposition to the King’s ministers, then became a member of the parliamentary commission appointed to take control of the government, to Richard’s lasting chagrin. Two of those already identified as Lancastrian retainers were also connected with Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel, lord of the castle and honour of Castleacre in Norfolk. Sir John Strange, who was distantly related to the earl and held property as his tenant, witnessed deeds for him on occasion, and it is worth nothing that, shortly after the dissolution of the Merciless Parliament, of which Strange was a Member, he was rewarded with £100, purportedly for prosecuting a suit against a Genoese merchant two years earlier. We may readily suppose that he had given positive support in the Commons to the policies of Arundel and his fellow Lords Appellant. Sir Robert Berney acted as a trustee of Fitzalan estates in the 1390s, a period in which he was elected to three Parliaments. How the quarrel between his two lords, Lancaster and Arundel, affected him, is not known, though clearly his ties with the former were to be of more use for his personal advancement in the long run. William Rees had been retained by Arundel, too, but his attachment to the house of Mowbray, which he had served from his youth, proved the stronger tie, and by 1390 he had ceased to receive the revenues of the manor Arundel had granted him for life. Rees may be seen as serving the interests of Thomas Mowbray, earl of Nottingham, in the Parliaments of 1390 (Jan.), 1394 and 1397 (Jan.), for by the time of his lord’s banishment in 1398 he had obtained from him annuities worth £23 6s.8d. as well as tenure for life of a manor in Kent.

Following the accession of Henry IV, when the interests of the Crown and the duchy of Lancaster became coincident, satisfaction of those interests seems to have dominated the parliamentary representation of Norfolk. Of the 15 knights of the shire elected after the deposition of Richard II and before the death of Henry V, six (Berney, Reymes, Wodehouse, Groos, Payn and Radcliffe) were entitled to annuities fixed on the issues of duchy estates in East Anglia, and three more held local duchy offices: Oldhall as receiver, acting from before Henry IV’s accession until his own death in 1417 (during which period he sat in at least five Parliaments); John Wynter as steward from 1408 until his death in 1414 (sitting in all the Parliaments of that period); and Wodehouse, Wynter’s successor as steward, coupling this local post with the important position of chancellor of the duchy (occupying both offices on four of the five occasions he represented Norfolk). John Payn II (MP in 1401), who had served Henry of Bolingbroke as butler of his household for at least nine years before his accession, had been appointed by him as chief butler of England and constable of Norwich castle even before Richard II resigned the Crown. He was succeeded in the constableship by John Reymes (Member in 1404 and 1406), an esquire of the King’s household. Sir Ralph Shelton (1402) was connected with Henry IV’s court less directly, but even so he received a gift of wine every year from the King. Sir Edmund Noon (1406) had served as steward of the household of the King’s second son, Thomas of Lancaster, during his lieutenancy of Ireland, and it was as a ‘King’s knight’ that he continued to receive the annuities (amounting to 40 marks) and to occupy the sinecure posts granted to him by the Black Prince and Richard II. Sir Edmund Thorpe (1407) had obtained from King Henry an annuity of 100 marks (double the one authorized on his behalf by Richard II), and had served the new King as mayor of Bordeaux. Besides being chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster and ex officio feoffee of Henry V’s estates, Wodehouse was also royal chamberlain of the Exchequer at the time of his elections in 1416 (Mar.), 1417 and 1421 (May), chancellor to Queen Katherine (probably by the time Henry V met the last Parliament he attended) and executor-designate of the King’s will (as nominated in 1415). When returned in 1420 Sir John Radcliffe was in receipt of royal annuities amounting to at least £65, and had served the house of Lancaster as a professional soldier for nearly 20 years, initially under the command of Thomas of Lancaster in Ireland, then, having been knighted by Henry V on their landing in France in 1415, throughout the conquest of Normandy. He was currently holding the vital military posts of constable of Bordeaux and captain of Fronsac.

The most important personal agent linking a number of the Norfolk MPs to Henry of Bolingbroke and thus helping them to make their fortunes, was Sir Thomas Erpingham, a local knight of comparatively small means to start with who, having shared Henry’s exile in 1398-9, found his loyalty amply rewarded on their return home.5 Sir Thomas was appointed constable of Dover castle and warden of the Cinque Ports shortly after Richard II fell into Bolingbroke’s power, and subsequently served the latter as King’s chamberlain (1399-1401) and steward (1404). In East Anglia, by judicious grants of estates temporarily in the Crown’s control, Henry elevated Erpingham to a position from which he might exert immense territorial influence on his behalf; accordingly, during the early years of the new dynasty Sir Thomas proved to be as powerful in the local community as any member of the higher nobility. The ten shire knights returned to Parliament for Norfolk under Henry IV included three of the men Erpingham had made trustees of his manors in 1398—Berney, Gurney and John Wynter—and four others with whom he engaged in similarly amicable dealings afterwards. His friendship with Wynter and Berney seems to have been particularly close, and he named them as his successive deputies at Dover castle (Berney being returned to his fifth Parliament, in 1402, while occupying this post). To Sir Thomas’s circle must be also added John Payn II and John Reymes, both of whom were brothers-in-law of Wynter. Payn had probably been with Henry of Bolingbroke and Erpingham in exile, and certainly accompanied them on the march southwards after their landing in Yorkshire; and before Richard II’s deposition their party had been joined by Wynter, Reymes and Oldhall.

Thus all the places in Parliament for Norfolk shire knights during Henry IV’s reign were, without exception, occupied by royal annuitants, office-holders and friends of Erpingham, many of whom owed a great deal to the change of monarch. But it should not be presumed that they were all, for these reasons, reluctant to criticize the King’s policies; on the contrary, when Henry fell ill and political factions emerged, it looks as if some of our Members supported the party of the prince of Wales, Henry of Monmouth. To the Parliament of 1410, summoned at a time when the prince was striving to take control over the government, Norfolk returned two of his retainers: John Wodehouse had occupied the post of constable of Henry’s castle at Rising for the previous seven years, and currently enjoyed annuities and fees of at least £32 by his grant (indeed, he owed his position in the local community entirely to his royal master); and his companion, John Wynter, had been appointed as Prince Henry’s first steward of the duchy of Cornwall (1399-1402) and then had been made receiver-general of his estates at a fee of £50 a year. Wynter was re-elected to the Parliament of 1411, summoned when the prince and his allies the Beauforts still dominated the administration, although the session was to witness their ejection from the Council and a re-assertion of the King’s authority.

All but three of the 15 men returned by Norfolk between 1399 and 1421 (Dec.) had close links with the house of Lancaster, and this group completely monopolized the county’s representation up to the a autumn of 1414. The others, Sir John Ingoldisthorpe, John Lancaster II and Edmund Wynter (all returned under Henry V), shared an attachment to John Mowbray, earl and later duke of Norfolk. Ingoldisthorpe had been retained by the earl’s father in 1396, and may still have been receiving his annuity of £20 from the Mowbray estates at the time of his only election for Norfolk in 1414 (Nov.). Lancaster’s lifelong attachment to the Mowbrays, begun in the 1380s, had resulted in him becoming the highest paid councillor of Earl John (earning at least £56 a year), a trustee of