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|1386||Roger de la Chamber|
|1388 (Feb.)||Sir Giles Mallory|
|1388 (Sept.)||John Harrowden|
|1390 (Jan.)||Roger de la Chamber|
|1390 (Nov.)||John Wydeville|
|1391||Roger de la Chamber|
|Sir Nicholas Lilling|
|1393||Sir Giles Mallory|
|1394||Sir Henry Green|
|Sir Giles Mallory|
|1395||Roger de la Chamber|
|1397 (Jan.)||Sir Henry Green|
|1397 (Sept.)||Hugh Northborough|
|1401||Sir Giles Mallory|
|John Warwick I|
|1402||Sir Giles Mallory|
|1404 (Jan.)||Sir John Trussell|
|1404 (Oct.)||Ralph Green|
|1406||Ralph Parles / John Cope 1|
|John Warwick I|
|1410||Sir John St. John|
|1411||Sir John St. John|
|1413 (May)||Nicholas Merbury|
|1414 (Apr.)||Thomas Wydeville|
|1414 (Nov.)||Sir John Trussell|
|1416 (Mar.)||Sir John St. John|
|William Huddlestone 2|
|1420||Sir John Beaufo|
|1421 (May)||Sir John St. John|
|1421 (Dec.)||Sir John Knyvet|
The parliamentary representation of Northamptonshire during our period is comparatively well documented, since only three of the returns made by the electors have been lost. We are thus able to tell who sat in 29 of the 32 Parliaments here under review, during which time a minimum of 28 different individuals were chosen to serve as shire knights. Setting aside for the moment the experience gained by at least four of their number as MPs for other counties, it appears from an analysis of the returns that eight of them may have represented Northamptonshire only once in the House of Commons. It is, however, important to remember that no less than six of the eight entered Parliament after February 1413 when the first gap occurs in the returns, and that some of them were possibly chosen in the three elections for which we have no information. No less than ten of their colleagues saw at least two terms of service in the Commons, although Ralph Parles was evidently replaced by John Cope either during or after the second session of the 1406 Parliament, perhaps because of old age or illness. Three shire knights sat three times, and two (John Mulsho and Sir John St. John) four times. Both John Wydeville and John Cope attended the Lower House on five occasions, and Roger de la Chamber and Sir Giles Mallory on six. By far the most experienced of the shire knights was John Tyndale, who represented Northamptonshire in eight Parliaments between January 1380 and 1407, and was moreover returned once for Cambridgeshire, in September 1397. Three other MPs also sat for more than one county: John Harrowden was chosen by the electors of Oxfordshire three times in the early 1380s, well before he sat for Northamptonshire; Sir Henry Green began his parliamentary career as Member for Huntingdonshire in January 1390, and ended it by representing Wiltshire in September 1397; and Sir Nicholas Lilling, who attended no less than ten Parliaments over the years 1381 to 1393, was returned to seven by the electors of Worcestershire. It appears therefore, that each of the MPs considered here sat for Northamptonshire in an average of between two and three Parliaments, although if returns for other constituencies are taken into account the average rises to just over three.
It was comparatively rare for two evident newcomers to the Commons to be returned together from Northamptonshire during our period. Only in 1404 (Jan.), 1419, 1420 and 1421 (Dec.) do both Members seem to have been novices, and, as we have seen, lack of information makes it difficult to be certain about the relative experience of some of them. We can, however, be quite certain that in at least 13 Parliaments one of the two shire knights had been returned before, and that in a further 12, if not more, Northamptonshire was represented by two men who were already familiar with Commons’ procedure. The pattern of representation underwent something of a change after 1394, when an increasing number of newcomers began to sit for the county. Whereas only one novice (John Mulsho) entered Parliament between 1386 and 1394, no less than ten did so over the next 17 years. Thus, although the electors clearly preferred to maintain a degree of continuity by ensuring that at least one of their representatives usually had some parliamentary experience, from the very last years of the 14th century onwards they were quite prepared, and indeed may actively have sought, to return a newcomer as well. Only six cases of immediate re-election occur during our period, and it was extremely rare for anyone to sit consecutively on more than one occasion. John Mulsho’s record of service in the three Parliaments of 1388 (Sept.), 1390 (Jan.) and 1390 (Nov.) certainly appears unique. The three other MPs to be re-elected were: Sir Giles Mallory, who sat both in 1393 and 1394, and again in 1401 and 1402; Sir John St. John, Member for Northamptonshire in 1410 and 1411; and the Lancastrian retainer, Nicholas Merbury, who was returned to the first two Parliaments of Henry V’s reign. The substitution of John Cope for Ralph Parles during the 1406 Parliament may also be regarded as a case of near continuous representation, because Cope had been successful in the county elections held in the autumn of 1404. So far as we can tell, no instance has come to light of two shire knights being re-elected together during our period.
A surprisingly small number of knights by rank sat for Northamptonshire during the late 14th and early 15th centuries.3 A mere seven of the men returned between 1386 and December 1421 actually fall into that category and only once, in 1394, did two of them serve together in Parliament. One of their number did however, sit with a colleague of lesser rank in at least 14 Parliaments, although on the same number of occasions neither Member had been knighted. If anything, knights were elected slightly more often after 1400 than before, although since several of the esquires with whom they sat were equally rich and influential the only significant conclusion to be drawn from this fact is that many of the leading figures in county society were anxious to avoid the financial burdens of knighthood. Yet they did not shirk other duties, and between them, our 28 MPs possessed a considerable amount of administrative experience. No less than 15 of them served as sheriff of Northamptonshire at some point in their careers, often more than once.4 Thomas Wake and John Warwick I occupied the shrievalty twice, while Roger de la Chamber, Ralph Green and John Mulsho each held office three times. Both Ralph Parles and John Wydeville discharged no less than four terms as sheriff; although it was John’s son, Thomas Wydeville, who achieved the most impressive record, with six terms to his credit. Only five men out of the 15 had, however, been made sheriff of Northamptonshire before their first return to Parliament and another six were pricked during the course of their parliamentary careers. Despite legislation forbidding the return of sheriffs to the Lower House, three of the latter actually sat while in office: Roger de la Chamber was made sheriff exactly one day before the opening of the 1384 (Nov.) Parliament, to which he had been elected; John Mulsho began his third term as sheriff between sessions of the 1397-8 Parliament; and Ralph Green assumed office for the first time during the course of the 1404 (Oct.) Parliament. Both John Wydeville and Ralph Green became sheriffs in other counties as well, the former serving in Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire and the latter in Wiltshire. Although neither Sir John St. John, Robert Chiselden nor Thomas Strange were ever pricked for Northamptonshire, each was active elsewhere, St. John in Glamorgan (where he was appointed by Thomas, Lord Despenser), Chiselden in Rutland and Strange in Shropshire. The same number of MPs (15) also discharged the office of escheator of Rutland and Northamptonshire,5 but a mere four had done so by the date of their first appearance in the Lower House. Five others became escheators before they last took a seat in Parliament: of these John Cope was appointed for a second time while a Member of the Commons of 1404 (Oct.), and John Warwick I was actually holding office at the time of his return to Parliament in 1406. John Wydeville was the only Northamptonshire MP to serve as an escheator in any other part of England, being assigned the two counties of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire in 1379, at the very beginning of his career.
Rather fewer shire knights than might be expected ever sat on the Northamptonshire bench, and of the 13 who did just less than half (six in all) became j.p.s before they ever stood for Parliament.6 Since only three of the rest were commissioned while their parliamentary careers were still in progress, the proportion of Members currently in office as local justices seems to have been comparatively low. Only twice, in 1390 (Nov.) and 1414 (Apr.), were both shire knights then serving on the county bench, whereas in a total of at least 17 Parliaments neither had any experience of this important office. Indeed, none of the men who sat between November 1414 and December 1421 were justices, in marked contrast to the beginning of our period, when a Northamptonshire j.p. customarily took his seat in almost every Parliament. Although three shire knights executed commissions of the peace elsewhere, only one was ever returned for Northamptonshire while doing so. This was Sir Nicholas Lilling, who attended the Parliament of 1391 while on the Worcestershire bench.
On the other hand, all but four of our men were appointed to royal commissions of an ad hoc nature at some point during their lives; and a mere two (John Beaufo and Simon Kynnesman) appear never to have performed any administrative function at all. In this they stand unique among their parliamentary colleagues, some of whom were in great demand as crown commissioners. Indeed, no less than 12 of them were enlisted ten times or more to act in this particular capacity. Both Richard Knightley and Sir Nicholas Lilling received 17 such commissions, John Wydeville 20, John Tyndale 23 and Thomas Wydeville 26. Exactly half (14) of our Members held their first commission before entering the House of Commons, and the great majority had gained some experience in this field before their parliamentary careers ceased. Conversely, of the nine MPs chosen to collect taxes in Northamptonshire, only one (Ralph Parles) was appointed as a young man without any experience of the Lower House. A further three of his colleagues were tax collectors elsewhere, but they too held office in later life. During the Middle Ages much of Northamptonshire lay within the bounds of the royal forest, which explains why nine shire knights were employed by the Crown as verderers or keepers of forest land. The nature of the sources makes it difficult to tell exactly when they took up office, but we can be sure that at least four of them were already active when they first became MPs. In addition to his duties as verderer of the forest of Salcey, John Warwick I also served as coroner of Northamptonshire, and may well have been in office when he took his seat in the 1406 Parliament. Roger de la Chamber was similarly returned in 1395 while acting as alnager of Rutland and Northamptonshire.
A high proportion of our men were either retained or employed by the Crown, and some had close personal links with the ruling monarch. Of the 16 individuals who are known to have enjoyed such marks of royal favour, just over half (9) were actually recruited during their period of parliamentary service, and in certain cases they probably owed their election, in part at least, to their connexions at Court.7 As one of Richard II’s more trusted retainers, John Mulsho was personally involved in the imprisonment (if not the actual murder) of Thomas, duke of Gloucester, and was present when the Commons of September 1397 heard the ‘confession’ which he himself had been instrumental in extracting from the duke. Nicholas Merbury, Thomas Wake, John Warwick I, John Cope and Sir John St. John were all prominent supporters of the house of Lancaster in receipt of substantial fees for their respective services as members of the royal household or occupants of important posts within the King’s gift. Merbury, for example, was one of three brothers noted for their loyalty to Henry IV and his son. His many appointments included those of master of the royal ordnance, usher of the King’s chamber, chief butler of England, chirographer of the court of common pleas and keeper of the royal jewels. Sir John St. John’s distinguished record in the Welsh wars of Henry IV earned him promotion to the two posts of deputy chamberlain and deputy justiciar of South Wales. He was later made mayor of Bordeaux, and was occupying that office when elected to the Parliaments of 1416 (Mar.) and 1421 (May), to which he must have made a valuable contribution when the French wars came up for debate. Both Sir Nicholas Lilling and Thomas Mulsho sat in the Commons while serving the Crown, in a somewhat humbler capacity, as the keepers of royal parks; and Richard Knightley took his seat after becoming one of the tellers of the Exchequer. (Lilling was, however, first and foremost a follower of Thomas, 12th earl of Warwick, while Knightley owed his appointment at the Exchequer to the 13th earl, who had previously employed him as a councillor. Even so, he remained a staunch adherent of the Lancastrian regime, receiving a fee of £10 a year from the government from 1422 onwards.)
The rest of the Members with affiliations at Court established these connexions once they had ceased to sit for Northamptonshire. Sir Henry Green, one of the most powerful and unpopular supporters of Richard II’s absolutist policies, became a crown servant just after representing the county in January 1397 for the second and last time. Thomas Strange likewise went on to hold high office in Ireland once his parliamentary career was over; and Hugh Northborough secured the post of marshal-harbinger of the royal household two years after his one and only appearance in the Lower House. Neither Robert Chiselden nor Ralph Green became esquires of the royal body until later on in their lives, although it is now impossible to tell when Thomas Wydeville first donned the ‘SS’ collar of the duchy of Lancaster, which forms such a notable feature of his monumental brass. An analysis of the surviving evidence shows a growing tendency on the part of the Northamptonshire electorate to choose servants of the Crown. Whereas John Mulsho was the only real adherent of Richard II to be returned during his reign, at least six men closely connected with the government sat repeatedly after the Lancastrian usurpation. Two known courtiers served in the Parliaments of 1406, 1413 (May) and 1417; and one in those of 1401, 1402, 1404 (Oct.), 1407, 1411, 1414 (Apr.), 1416 (Mar.), 1420 and 1421 (May). The reason for this change probably lies in the more effective deployment of patronage by the first two Lancastrian monarchs, most of the MPs in question having been retained by Henry IV within a few months of his coronation. No overt examples of royal interference in the county elections on behalf of placemen or outsiders can be found, however; and it is important to remember that every single MP returned between 1386 and 1421 was currently the owner of at least one manor or substantial holding in Northamptonshire.
We cannot now tell exactly how many of our men were connected in one way or another with members of the English nobility, although we can be certain that 17, if not more, had strong links with various baronial houses. Thomas Beauchamp, 12th earl of Warwick, and his son, Richard, the 13th earl, appear to have been the most notable patrons in this respect, for between them they employed four Northamptonshire MPs and retained one other. Sir Nicholas Lilling and Sir Giles Mallory served successively as chief stewards of the Beauchamp estates; Thomas Wydeville was steward of Earl Richard’s manor of Hanslope in Buckinghamshire; and, as we have already seen, Richard Knightley not only acted as a councillor to the earl but was also employed by him both on his estates and at the Exchequer. Like his brother, Sir Alfred*, Sir John Trussell received an annuity from Earl Thomas, although his association with the Beauchamps evidently ceased well before he first entered Parliament. John Wydeville was also involved in the affairs of this distinguished family, and may possibly have owed his return to the Merciless Parliament of February 1388 to the influence of the 12th earl. There can be no doubt that Sir Giles Mallory took his seat on this occasion as a committed supporter of the Lords Appellant, nor that he was subsequently victimised by Richard II for his loyalty to the Beauchamps.
The Lords Zouche of Harringworth also exercised considerable authority in Northamptonshire, where part of their estates lay. John Tyndale, who married into their family, was greatly helped during the early stages of his career by the support of his powerful kinsmen, although in later life he, in turn, proved useful to them as an advisor and trustee. A number of his parliamentary collegues, including Sir Henry Green and his son, Ralph, John and Thomas Wydeville, and John Mulsho, also established fairly close connexions with the Zouches, usually, but not always, as feoffees or executors. Edward, earl of Rutland (and future duke of York), numbered among his friends and well-wishers in Northamptonshire John Mulsho and his son, Thomas, Hugh Northborough and Thomas Wydeville. The Mulshos were also noted for their attachment to the earls of Stafford, who owned some land in Northamptonshire and from time to time called upon their services as lawyers.
Among the other notable links forged by our Members was John Mortimer’s long and profitable association with Reynold, Lord Grey of Ruthin, who paid him an annuity of 40 marks from the very beginning of the 15th century onwards. Before he became an esquire of the body to Henry IV, Nicholas Merbury had been a retainer of Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland, and had fought as such in 1402 against the Scots at the battle of Humbleton Hill. Sir Henry Green, likewise, entered the royal household after wearing another livery—in his case that of John of Gaunt, from whom in 1391 he received a handsome fee of 50 marks a year. Ralph Parles, on the other hand, was closely connected with Gaunt’s brother, Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester, while Sir John St. John appears to have been much sought after as an administrator by four of the leading Welsh marcher families, the Mortimers, the Despensers, the Greys of Ruthin and the Mowbrays. At various times in his career, St. John was employed by Thomas Mowbray, duke of Norfolk, his widow, Elizabeth, and his two sons, Thomas and John, by Thomas, Lord Despenser, by Reynold, Lord Grey of Ruthin, and by Edmund Mortimer, earl of March, but his first loyalty still lay with the house of Lancaster. John Tyndale appears to have been the only MP to be enlisted into the service of that great religious house, Peterborough abbey, being appointed bailiff of the abbot’s liberty, and also acting twice (in 1394 and January 1397) as a parliamentary proxy for the abbot. Two shire knights maintained particularly close links with the aristocracy, since they actually belonged (albeit as members of cadet branches) to baronial families. Thomas Strange was descended from John, 1st Lord Strange of Knockin, although his relations with Richard, the 7th Lord, deteriorated rapidly once the two men became embroiled in a dispute over the manor of Middle. Thomas Wake’s dealings with his kinsmen, the Holands, earls of Kent and Lords Wake, were rather more amicable, but the political vicissitudes of the late 14th and early 15th centuries deprived the family of much of its previous importance, and he seems not to have been able to exploit his connexion.
Several other MPs could boast notable if not noble ancestors. At least eight were, for example, the sons of men who had themselves been returned to the House of Commons. Hugh Northborough could include the two prominent churchmen, Roger Northborough, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, and Michael Northborough, secretary to Edward III, among his forbears; while both Sir Henry Green and Sir John Knyvet were descended from famous lawyers. Green’s father and namesake ought more accurately to be described as notorious, since he was dismissed in 1365 for ‘heinous breaches of trust’; but there is no doubting the eminence of Sir John Knyvet (the MP’s grandfather), who rose to become the second lay chancellor of England and married into the distinguished Basset family of Weldon. Sir John Knyvet the younger took as his wife Elizabeth, the daughter and eventual heir of Constantine, 2nd Lord Clifton, and it was thus that his family acquired Buckenham castle in Norfolk. Sir John Trussell also had a celebrated grandfather in Sir William Trussell, who, as ‘proctor of the whole realm of England’, had informed the captive Edward II that his former subjects chose to renounce their allegiance. Also worthy of note is Robert Chiselden’s marriage to the daughter of William Burgh, sometime justice of the court of common pleas, whose condemnation by the Merciless Parliament of 1388 proved but a temporary set-back in the family’s fortunes. As a young man, Sir Giles Mallory was released from prison at the intercession of David, King of Scotland, a close friend of his father, Sir Peter. The two men may have got to know each other while they were both prisoners in the Tower, for Sir Peter was a colourful character with a somewhat chequered history of violence and disorder.
Although all the MPs under consideration owned Northamptonshire estates by the time of their first election to Parliament, only 16 of them are known to have belonged to well-established county families. At least nine of the rest came originally from other parts of England and acquired their Northamptonshire property through marriage.8 Roger de la Chamber seems to have been a Londoner, Richard Knightley was born in Staffordshire, and Sir Nicholas Lilling hailed from Yorkshire. Nicholas Merbury’s family was based in Cheshire, Sir John St. John’s in Glamorgan, Thomas Strange’s in Warwickshire, John Mortimer’s in Buckinghamshire and Sir John Beaufo’s in Rutland. Given this wide range of geographical backgrounds, together with the distinguished ancestry of certain MPs, it is hardly surprising to discover that all but two of them (Ralph Parles and Simon Kynnesman) had estates in other counties besides Northamptonshire. Between them, our men owned land in no less than 26 English counties as well as Glamorgan and Monmouthshire in Wales and across the Channel in Calais. Although the territorial interests of many were confined to the Midlands, some (such as Sir Henry Green and his son, Ralph, Thomas Wake and Sir John St. John) owned land and manors scattered right across the country. At least eight Members were landowners in Buckinghamshire, six in Rutland, five in both Lincolnshire and Bedfordshire and four in Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Cambridgeshire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. Information about the actual value of these estates is unfortunately far less easy to find, and we can only estimate the minimum income enjoyed by a few individuals. Sir Henry Green and his son, Ralph, were, for instance, sure of at least £180 a year from property spread over nine counties, while Thomas Wake’s estates produced £150 p.a., if not more. Thomas Mulsho’s annual revenues from land came to about £54, Nicholas Merbury’s to £47, Ralph Parles’s to £40 and Robert Chiselden’s to a bare minimum of £35. We know that Thomas Wydeville’s holdings in Bedfordshire and Somerset alone brought him £120 a year, so he must have been very affluent indeed. Despite the limitations of the evidence, it is, therefore, quite clear that throughout our period Northamptonshire was represented by men of considerable substance, several of whom were experienced in the management of quite large estates of their own.
Another interesting feature of the careers of many of our shire knights is the amount of military experience gained by them either in France, during the Hundred Year’s War, or nearer home, fighting against the Welsh, the Scots or the Irish. At least 12 of their number saw active service of one kind or another, and some may even be described as soldiers by profession. Nicholas Merbury, for example, first fought under the banner of the earl of Northumberland, and subsequently distinguished himself as master of the royal ordnance during Henry V’s campaigns against the French. Sir John Knyvet also took part in the invasions of 1415 and 1417, although his success then was dramatically reversed much later, in 1438, when his capture by the enemy in Picardy proved a crippling blow from which his finances never recovered. Both Ralph Green and Sir John St. John obtained their first taste of warfare during the Welsh campaigns of Henry IV, and both went on to fight in France, Green in Normandy and St. John in the Bordelais. Thomas Strange also took part in the pacification of Wales, where his years as constable of Chirk castle taught him many lessons which he doubtless later put to good use in Ireland. The experience of other MPs seems to have been confined to single campaigns or expeditions, such as the great chivauchée of 1373 led across France by John of Gaunt, whose followers included Sir Henry Green and Sir Nicholas Lilling. Ralph Parles was a member of Thomas of Woodstock’s expedition to France (1380), John Cope joined the small army which Henry of Bolingbroke took crusading in Prussia (1390), and Sir Giles Mallory fought against the French under the earl of Huntingdon (1395). Thomas Wydeville was evidently the only Northamptonshire MP to accompany Richard II’s ill-fated Irish expedition of 1399, just as John Mortimer, alone among his parliamentary colleagues, marched with Henry IV against the Scots in the following year. By contrast, only two of our shire knights seem to have been lawyers, and even here definite evidence that they were trained members of the legal profession remains wanting. The careers of John Mulsho and his son, Thomas, certainly suggest that they kept up a flourishing practice in the Midlands, since they were constantly in demand as trustees, mainpernors and witnesses at all levels of society.
During our period, and indeed throughout the later Middle Ages, the Northamptonshire parliamentary elections were held in the county court at Northampton. From 1406 onwards (when the returns take the forms of indentures with partial lists of witnesses), and probably long before, several of the men who attended shire elections were knights or gentlemen who themselves had either been elected as MPs or were subsequently to be chosen. Thus, when Sir John St. John and William Huddlestone were returned in 1411 Sir John Trussell and Thomas and Henry Mulsho† each attested the indenture certifying the validity of the election; and John Warwick likewise helped to choose the representatives sent to the Parliament of November 1414. At the same time it should be noted that the returns contain the names of a number of men who, though prominent as landowners or local administrators, were never themselves sent to Parliament. In 1392, for example, John Fossebroke, the then escheator of Northamptonshire and a figure of some consequence in the county, went surety for John Tyndale as one of the two successful parliamentary candidates. So far as we know, Fossebroke never himself sat in the House of Commons, although he was certainly well qualified to do so. Nor did John Mauntell, who guaranteed the attendance of Ralph Parles at the Parliament of 1406, and who later served a term as sheriff of Northamptonshire. No evidence has survived of any electoral malpractices such as those perpetrated by the sheriff of Rutland in January 1404, and even though we cannot be certain that attempts were never made to influence the return of Members, there is certainly nothing to suggest that the Northamptonshire electors were ever subject to overt outside pressure from either the Crown or the nobility during the late 14th and early 15th centuries.9
- 1. The names of John Warwick I and John Cope appear on the writ de expensis (CCR, 1405-9, p. 282).
- 2. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iii. 122.
- 3. Namely, Beaufo, Henry Green, Knyvet, Lilling, Mallory, St. John and Trussell.
- 4. These were de la Chamber, Cope, Ralph Green, Harrowden, Knyvet, Lilling, Mallory, John Mulsho, Thomas Mulsho, Parles, Tyndale, Wake, Warwick, John Wydeville and Thomas Wydeville.
- 5. De la Chamber, Chiselden, Cope, Ralph Green, Harrowden, Knightley, Mortimer, John Mulsho, Thomas Mulsho, Parles, Strange, Tyndale, Warwick, John Wydeville and Thomas Wydeville.
- 6. De la Chamber, Henry Green, Ralph Green, Harrowden, Knightley, Merbury, John Mulsho, Thomas Mulsho, Parles, Tyndale, Wake, John Wydeville and Thomas Wydeville were all Northamptonshire j.p.s. Ralph Green also served in Wilts. and Harrowden in Oxon. Although he was never appointed in Northants. Lilling sat on the Warws. and Worcs. benches.