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|1386||Sir Bertram Monbourcher|
|Sir Robert Clavering|
|1388 (Feb.)||Sir Thomas Umfraville|
|1388 (Sept.)||John Mitford|
|1390 (Jan.)||Sir Thomas Umfraville|
|1390 (Nov.)||Sir John Felton|
|1391||Sir Gerard Heron|
|1393||Sir Gerard Heron|
|1394||Sir Gerard Heron|
|1395||Sir William Swinburne|
|1397 (Jan.)||Sir Thomas Gray|
|1397 (Sept.)||Sir Gerard Heron|
|Sir Robert Lisle|
|1399||Sir Thomas Gray|
|1401||Sir Gerard Heron|
|1402||Sir Gerard Heron|
|1404 (Jan.)||Sir John Widdrington|
|1404 (Oct.)||Sir William Carnaby|
|Sir Robert Lisle|
|1406||Sir John Clavering|
|Sir Robert Lisle|
|1407||Sir Edmund Hastings|
|1413 (May)||John Bertram|
|1414 (Apr.)||Sir John Middleton|
|Sir Robert Lisle|
|1414 (Nov.)||Sir John Widdrington|
|1416 (Mar.)||Sir Robert Ogle|
|1417||Sir John Middleton|
|Sir Robert Lisle|
|1419||Sir Robert Ogle|
|1420||Sir Robert Ogle|
|1421 (May)||John Manners|
|1421 (Dec.)||Sir Robert Ogle|
Returns for the county of Northumberland survive for 27 of the 32 Parliaments which met between 1386 and 1421, those for the other five having been lost. We know the names of 21 of the shire knights elected during this period; and although the gaps in the evidence now make it impossible to assess the relative experience of them all, we can be reasonably sure about the general pattern of representation. On the whole, the local electors showed a distinct preference for men who had already sat in the House of Commons. Only twice, in 1407 and 1413 (May), do both Members appear to have been novices; and there is a strong possibility that at least one of the knights returned on the latter occasion had represented Northumberland not long before. The element of continuity is, in fact, quite striking, because so far as we can tell a newcomer was accompanied by a more experienced colleague in 14 Parliaments; and on at least ten occasions both Members were well versed in the ways of the Lower House. Once, in 1388 (Sept.), when Parliament met at Cambridge, Northumberland chose only one representative, the prominent lawyer and administrator, John Mitford, who dominated the county elections for two decades. During the course of a career in the Commons which lasted from 1372 to 1402, Mitford was returned no less than 13 times, often to successive Parliaments. He attended all seven of those summoned between 1388 (Feb.) and 1394, sitting on three consecutive occasions with his friend, Sir Gerard Heron. The two men again served together in 1401, and were re-elected to the next Parliament in the following year as well. Other pairs of shire knights who tended to be returned as colleagues were Sir Robert Ogle and William Mitford, Sir Robert Lisle and Sir John Middleton, and, in his younger days, John Mitford and Sir Thomas Umfraville.
Even so, nine Members, a fairly high proportion of the total number, seem to have attended only one Parliament, while a further three sat only twice. Two were elected three times, and another two had four returns to their credit. Sampson Hardyng, who alone also represented a borough, first entered Parliament in 1382 (Oct.) as Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which elected him six times in all. His five additional returns for Northumberland gave him an impressive record of attendance, which spread over almost 40 years. Both Sir Gerard Heron and Sir Robert Ogle served six times. So too did Sir Edmund Hastings who, although he only once represented Northumberland, was present in five Parliaments as Member for Yorkshire. Indeed, in the Gloucester Parliament of 1407 he represented both counties, possibly because the Yorkshire electors hoped to avoid paying his expenses. They elected him on 3 Oct., five days after the Northumbrians had done, so that he was already assured of his wages. In fact, since Northumberland was the more distant county of the two, Hastings could expect to make a somewhat higher personal profit to boot. An analysis of these statistics reveals that, in the period under review, the knights for Northumberland attended, on average, exactly three Parliaments each, although if the experience of Sampson Hardyng and Sir Edmund Hastings is taken into consideration the average attendance obviously rises slightly.
As a county dominated by a knightly class whose members were, quite literally, a military elite constantly engaged in open warfare or illicit raiding parties against the Scots, Northumberland naturally preferred to return men who were knights by rank. By and large, one such individual usually sat with someone of lesser social status, although in six Parliaments spread fairly evenly over our period both Members were belted knights. Only in 1413 (May) and 1421 (May) did two esquires attend together. It is, moreover, worth noting that, although they were returned with great frequency, Sampson Hardyng and John Mitford were the only esquires to represent Northumberland between 1386 and 1407; and that both were men of considerable wealth and influence, not least because of their constant employment by the Crown. Mitford was eventually knighted early in Henry IV’s reign, either during, or just before, he sat in his 13th and last Parliament. Indeed, only four of the other shire knights did not obtain knighthoods at some point in their careers, one being Mitford’s son, William, who could certainly have afforded to do so had he wished. Not surprisingly, given the social status of our men, a large proportion became experienced administrators with impressive records of service in local government; and all of them held some kind of office in the north. Over half their number (12) occupied the shrievalty of Northumberland at least once, although only three did so before first entering Parliament.1 One of the latter was John Bertram, who discharged no less than six terms in all. Sir Bertram Monbourcher was sheriff four times, and Sir John Widdrington three. Sir Edmund Hastings, Sir Robert Lisle and Robert Harbottle each served twice, Hastings being the only man to hold office elsewhere, which he did on two occasions, in his native Yorkshire. The parliamentary statute forbidding the return of sheriffs to the House of Commons was technically breached by Sir John Felton, who assumed the shrievalty of Northumberland just five days before the opening of the second 1390 Parliament, to which he had previously been elected. Similar technical infringements occurred in 1402, 1406 and 1407, when John Mitford, Sir Robert Lisle and Robert Harbottle were, respectively, pricked as sheriffs while sitting in the Lower House. From 1377 to 1397, the three counties of Cumberland, Northumberland and Westmorland came under the authority of a single royal escheator, whose term of employment usually lasted for two or three years. John Mitford, for example, acted from 1383 to 1386, and Sampson Hardyng from 1394 to 1397. Both men later occupied the escheatorship of Northumberland alone, as did seven of their colleagues.2 Robert Harbottle had four such terms to his credit, and John Mitford’s son, William, three. Sir Edmund Hastings was not appointed escheator in Northumberland, but he did spend a year in that office in Cumberland and Westmorland.
An even higher proportion of shire knights (13 in all) sat on the Northumbrian bench at some point in their lives; and at least six of their number were also chosen by the bishop of Durham to act as j.p.s in the episcopal liberty of Norhamshire and Islandshire on the Scottish border. So far as we can tell, five men had already been appointed before the start of their parliamentary careers, and a further seven received commissions of the peace while continuing to sit in the Commons. Generally speaking, the electors of Northumberland tended to return at least one serving j.p. to each Parliament; and on five occasions (1390 (Jan.), 1390 (Nov.), 1399, 1401 and 1402) both Members were currently sitting on the county bench. Sir Thomas Gray and Sir Gerard Heron actually received their commissions of the peace while they were attending Parliament, so it was only in 1386 and 1420 that Northumberland was not represented by one of its own justices. On the other hand, a mere three shire knights actually took up office elsewhere: Sir John Middleton in Westmorland, Sir Robert Ogle in the palatinate of Durham and Sir Edmund Hastings in Yorkshire. With the exception of Nicholas Turpin, whose only known appointment was as coroner of Northumberland, all the shire knights served on royal commissions of a more general nature. Some devoted a great deal of time to this aspect of work in local government; and although none could rival John Mitford’s membership of at least 57 such bodies, many were very active indeed. Sampson Hardyng (37), Sir Gerard Heron (26), John Bertram (16) and Sir John Widdrington (14) all played a notable part as crown commissioners in an area where the maintenance of law and order posed insuperable problems.
Even in times of peace the border regions were hard to govern. A combination of bad communications, most notably with London and the south, but even across the county of Northumberland itself, the general remoteness of the area and the extreme poverty of all save a small proportion of the local population encouraged a general feeling of insularity and instability. This, in turn, was aggravated by the existence of numerous franchises where the King’s writ did not run, and by the virtually unassailable power of the local magnates, whose interests were often served by the encouragement of incessant feuding.3 The difficulties facing agents of law enforcement are well illustrated by the celebrated dispute between Sir Robert Ogle and his younger brother, John Bertram, over the ownership of Bothal castle. Within a few hours of their father’s death, in 1409, Sir Robert appeared outside the castle with a large force of armed men (including a rabble of Scots from across the border) and was able to ignore with impunity the protests of Sampson Hardyng and Sir John Widdrington, both of whom were then serving on the county bench. Bertram later became embroiled in another quarrel with William Mitford, who had little difficulty in recruiting the support of Sir Rogert Ogle and thus perpetuating the dispute between the two brothers. Little wonder, then, that endemic violence along the Scottish march was a constant cause of concern to the government at Westminster.4 Protests about the high level of crime were frequently voiced by the Commons in Parliament, particularly during the aftermath of the three major northern uprisings of 1403, 1405 and 1408. In 1410 (the year in which John Bertram himself petitioned Parliament for help) requests were made for a commission of oyer and terminer to be sent north to suppress ‘les rumours et riotes faitz et perpetrez de jour en autre encontre la Corone, la Pees et la Lay’; and in the following year the people of Northumberland complained:
coment ils sount enpoverez et anientisez, et ascuns destruitz de lour biens et chateux; par commune Larcyne, et orible Larouns et leur maintenours deins mesme le Counte, et deins les Fraunchises des diverses Seigneurs a ycell Counte annexez; et de noun-venue de les Justices pur faire due execution; a grand damage et anientisment del povere poeple nostre Seigneur le Roy, et a cause de abettance et mainteignance sus dit.
Not long afterwards, in the Leicester Parliament of April 1414, when the wider question of national peace-keeping was under review, specific allegations were made against the freebooters of the Northumbrian liberties of Tynedale, Redesdale and Hexhamshire, where the King’s writ did not run, and where disorder was rampant. Certain lords, indeed, had not merely abandoned their responsibilities, but were actually abetting their followers in a life of crime. But although the Crown promised to enact stern measures for the arrest and punishment of offenders, nothing positive seems to have been done. Certainly, by 1421, the chorus of protests over lawlessness in general and the ‘larons and felons’ of the three liberties in particular had again reached a crescendo, and another long petition was presented to the May Parliament in the hope that something could be done to impose a semblance of good government in the north.5
As in other parts of England, the assessment and collection of taxes was often undertaken by persons of slightly lesser rank than those who represented the county in Parliament. Of the 11 men who did help to raise money for the government only John Mitford was involved on a long-term basis. His career was, indeed, quite remarkable, for in addition to serving as alnager of Northumberland (a post also occupied by Sampson Hardyng), he held a wide variety of other local offices. Both Hardyng and Sir Gerard Heron acted as collectors of customs on the Northumbrian coast, while the former also served two terms as bailiff and two as mayor of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Robert Harbottle was employed for some time as deputy butler there, but on the whole our men regarded such posts as the preserve of the burgesses, with whom they rarely close to compete.
Although our period witnessed some major offensives on the part of the Scots and English alike (resulting in the battles of Otterburn (1388) and Humbleton Hill (1402), the ‘Foul Raid’ of 1417 and the siege of Wark in 1419, all of which took place on English ground), for most of the time a state of uneasy truce obtained along the border, disturbed by raiding parties, private feuds and other almost institutionalized acts of violence, often pursued regardless of nationality. In theory, at least, the machinery existed for settling such local squabbles before they escalated into full-scale warfare; and meetings, or ‘March Days’, were regularly held at which injured parties on both sides could voice their grievances. As the surviving correspondence of Sir William Swinburne reveals, most of our men were expected to put in an appearance at these gatherings, either on their own account or in the retinues of the great marcher landowners, such as Sir William’s ‘good lord’, Henry, earl of Northumberland. In addition, however, at least 12 of them were commissioned by the Crown to supervise matters ranging from the settlement of complaints over the infringements of existing truces to the negotiation of new treaties and trade agreements with the Scots. The most indefatigable envoys were John Mitford and his friend, Sir Gerard Heron, each of whom served on over 30 such missions, often together.
Sometimes these encounters proved extremely sensitive and difficult, not least, one suspects, because the commissioners themselves sometimes had blood on their hands. The most highly placed and influential members of local society certainly regarded private raiding parties as ‘a respectable business venture’. Sir William Swinburne and Sir Thomas Gray, who were also named as envoys to treat with the Scots, apparently made regular sorties across the Tweed in search of booty and valuable hostages, so they must have shared with the border magnates a general disinclination to make lasting peace with the enemy. Even allowing for the customary tendency towards undervaluation, the inquisitions post mortem held on the estates of our men and their relatives show clearly enough how far the Northumbrian gentry suffered from the depredations of the Scots. Several were actually made prisoner and carried off across the border until a suitable ransom could be paid. Sir William Carnaby, Sir John Middleton (and his mother), Sir Robert Ogle and Sir William Swinburne each shared this misadventure: Ogle was particularly unlucky, because his son was later ransomed as well, at a cost to him of 750 marks, which had to be paid in cash. Although Sir Thomas Gray did not himself fall into Scottish hands, his father spent a long period in captivity in Edinburgh, his mother was taken hostage in 1389 and several members of his family were seized ten years later on the capture of Wark castle. On the latter occasion the enemy demanded 1,000 marks in ransom money, over and above the value of the goods apparently worth twice that sum which Gray (who was anxiously seeking recompense at Westminster) claimed had been carried off as booty. In certain cases, the loss of an important border stronghold such as Wark could lead to the imposition of a heavy fine by the Crown, so it is hardly surprising that the English employed every means of reprisal to recover their losses.
The ever-present threat of invasion from Scotland made it imperative that both the government and all the local landowners should maintain their castles and fortalices in a regular state of defence. The men and equipment at the royal castles of Berwick-upon-Tweed and Roxburgh often left much to be desired; and, as several MPs found to their cost, the wages of the keepers and constables were rarely paid on time. Even so, at least ten shire knights commanded garrisons along the border, while both Sir Thomas Gray and Robert Harbottle briefly deputized as wardens of the east march. John Bertram, Sir Robert Ogle and Sir Thomas Umfraville each served as constables of Roxburgh, Ogle being also appointed at Wark and Berwick-upon-Tweed. Sir William Swinburne had previously held Wark for John, earl of Salisbury, and it was here, in 1386, that he fell into the hands of the Scots. The offices of chamberlain and chancellor of Berwick-upon-Tweed were occupied at various times by Sir Robert Clavering and Sir Gerard Heron. How seriously John Mitford took his duties as constable of Sir John le Scrope’s* castle at Mitford it is impossible to say, but both Sir William Carnaby and Robert Harbottle were assiduous in serving as keepers of the fortress at Dunstanborough which protected the most northerly lordship of the duchy of Lancaster. Carnaby, Gray, Heron and Ogle also appear on the list of influential county gentry appointed by successive bishops of Durham to act as constables of Norham castle, and as sheriffs, justices, escheators and stewards of the episcopal liberties of Norhamshire and Islandshire. Bishop Skirlaw of Durham so valued Sir Thomas Gray’s services that he made him steward of all his estates in Durham and Northumberland as well. Among the other MPs who gained useful administrative experience as the employees of their more powerful neighbours were Sir William Carnaby, Sir John Clavering, John and William Mitford, and Sir William Swinburne, each of whom occupied the stewardship of the archbishop of York’s liberty of Hexhamshire in Northumberland, and Sir Robert Ogle, who was briefly sheriff there. The two Mitfords also held office on the Percy manors of Corbridge and Morpeth, since as lawyers they were very much in demand in the field of estate administration.
Despite the recurrent outbreak of internecine feuds, the gentry of Northumberland formed a very close-knit group, united by ties of blood and marriage, and deeply suspicious of outsiders. Sir Edmund Hastings, who came from Yorkshire, owed his one return for the county to the fact that he had married Sir John Felton’s daughter, Elizabeth, and had thus become a local landowner of note. The other 20 shire knights returned in our period belonged without exception to established Northumbrian families, some of which, like the Ogles, the Grays, the Lisles, the Umfravilles, the Middletons and the Widdringtons, could trace their ancestry back for many generations. The remoteness of the county and the general difficulty of travel encouraged intermarriage among local landowners, with the result that strong bonds of kinship existed between most of our men. Two pairs of fathers and sons (Sir Robert and Sir John Clavering and John and William Mitford) were returned between 1386 and 1421, while Robert Harbottle, Sir Robert Ogle and William Mitford were, respectively, the sons-in-law of Sir Bertram Monbourcher, Sir Thomas Gray and Sir Robert Lisle. Furthermore, as we have already seen, Sir Edmund Hastings took Sir John Felton’s daughter as his wife. Several MPs arranged marriages between their children. Sir Robert Ogle’s four daughters, for example, were married to the sons of William Mitford, Sir John Middleton, John Manners and Robert Harbottle; Sir William Swinburne’s son and namesake became the husband of Sir John Widdrington’s daughter, Elizabeth (to whom he was already related), and his sister, Joan Swinburne, married Sir Robert Lisle’s son and heir, John. Roger Widdrington, elder son of Sir John, was eventually betrothed to one of Sir Thomas Gray’s grand daughters, thus adding even further to the complex network of alliances built up by their two families. John Manners and Sir John Middleton were brothers-in-law, as also were Sir Bertram Monbourcher and Sir John Widdrington. Sir William Swinburne was doubly related by marriage to Sir Robert Ogle and his brother, John Bertram, whose protracted and distinctly unfraternal quarrel over the ownership of Bothal castle split the family (and most of their neighbours) into rival camps for several years.
The richer and more influential of our men could also boast connexions with the northern baronage. Sir Thomas Umfraville was, indeed, a nephew and eventual heir of Gilbert, earl of Angus (d.s.p. 1381), whose widow, Maud, married as her second husband Henry, earl of Northumberland. Both William Mitford and his father-in-law, Sir Robert Lisle, were related to Earl Gilbert’s kinsman Sir Aymer Atholl, and thus distantly to Umfraville himself. The latter’s son, another Gilbert, married one of Ralph Neville, earl of Westmorland’s daughters, as also did Sir Thomas Gray’s son and heir. The Grays were particularly fortunate in the scope and importance of their links with the nobility, for Sir Thomas could not only claim kinship with the Nevilles, but was, moreover, the brother-in-law of both Philip, Lord Darcy, and Thomas Mowbray, earl of Nottingham (cr. 1383), Earl Marshal (cr. 1386) and later duke of Norfolk (cr. 1397). Mowbray’s exile in 1398 and death a year later must have proved a bitter blow to the Grays, as until then Sir Thomas had enjoyed great authority as his kinsman’s trustee and councillor. Although his own son, Sir Thomas, was executed for his treasonable involvement in the Southampton plot of 1415, his other offspring all did well for themselves: his younger son, William, served successively as bishop of London (1426) and of Lincoln (1431), and his grandson, Richard, was elevated to the peerage as 1st Lord Gray of Powis. Sir Gerard Heron’s brother, Sir William, acquired the title of Lord Say through his first wife, Elizabeth, and then married a daughter of Sir Thomas Butler*. Sir William’s brief appointment to the stewardship of the royal household in 1402 must have proved of great help to Sir Gerard, who received many rewards from Henry IV. Sir John Felton’s kinship with Thomas, Lord Fauconberg, proved something of a mixed blessing, since the latter deteriorated sadly after years of imprisonment for treason, and had to be looked after by a group of friends and relatives, among whom were Sir John, his nephew, William, Lord Hilton, and his son-in-law, Sir Edmund Hastings.
Although they were bound together by ties of kinship and mutual dependence, the nobility and the gentry did not always see eye to eye, and clashes of interest often occurred. Besides quarelling openly with Edmund, duke of York, the strong-minded Sir William Swinburne quite evidently resented the demands made upon him by Henry, earl of Northumberland, the most powerful landowner in the northeast; and the earl, in turn, was sometimes driven to threaten him into obedience. Relations between Swinburne and his feudal overlord can hardly have been improved by his membership of the retinue of Northumberland’s great rival, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, who paid him £20 a year for his services. Sir William Carnaby, too, was one of Gaunt’s followers, but on the whole the duke had little success in winning over the Northumbrian gentry, since even during his time as lieutenant of the Scottish marches (1379-84) he lacked an adequate territorial base in the county for the effective deployment of patronage. Until their rebellion, in 1403, the Percys exercised the greatest authority in Northumberland, notwithstanding attempts by Richard II to counterbalance their influence by cultivating their great rivals, the Nevilles. Most of our men were associated with the 1st earl of Northumberland and his son, ‘Hotspur’, in one way or another, the most notable being Sir William Swinburne (who, after Gaunt’s death, was sufficiently reconciled with the Percys to hold a variety of offices in North Wales under Hotspur, and, on the latter’s recommendation, in Chester under Henry, prince of Wales, as well), and John Mitford (one of the earl’s principal trustees). In common with the rest of our men, however, neither showed the slightest inclination to support the Percys in their various uprisings against Henry IV. Mitford was actually appointed by the royal council in the autumn of 1403, along with Sir Gerard Heron and Sir Robert Lisle, to take possession of the castles which had been confiscated from the rebel earl. John Harbottle, as constable and steward of Dunstanburgh, also made a firm stand against the insurgents, and was suitably rewarded for his loyalty.
Throughout our period the Crown tried with varying degrees of success to assert its authority over the border magnates who so effectively dominated the political and military affairs of the Scottish march. In the hope of building up a faction whose first loyalty would be to himself, Richard II offered fees to a number of Northumbrian gentlemen, among whom were Sir Thomas Gray (£50 p.a.), Sir Gerard Heron (40 marks p.a.), John Mitford (£20 p.a.) and Sir John Widdrington (£10 p.a.), although in the case of Heron and Mitford the money was really intended to help cover their expenses as envoys to Scotland. Henry IV, whose need for support was in many ways far greater, not only confirmed these annuities but also agreed to pay Gray 100 marks a year more, while at the same time giving Heron an additional £20 p.a. and promising Mitford 100 marks in cash to cover his ‘time and labour’ on diplomatic missions. Nor were loyal servants of the house of Lancaster forgotten: Robert Harbottle, who already drew 50 marks p.a. from Dunstanburgh, received a second annuity of £10; Sir Robert Ogle obtained 20 marks a year; and in 1405 an assignment of £20 p.a. was made to Sir Edmund Hastings from the lordship of Pickering in Yorkshire. Even so, the new regime demonstrably lacked the body of enthusiastic support which it traditionally commanded in Lancashire and Yorkshire by virtue of the long-established authority of the duchy of Lancaster. Although unsuccessful, the earl of Cambridge’s plot against Henry V, in 1415, throws into relief the large measure of disaffection then prevalent in the north-east. The ringleaders, including Sir Thomas Gray’s son and heir, were executed, but the King was too astute to begin reprisals against such lesser conspirators as Sir John Widdrington, who lost no time in saving his own skin by betraying the other malcontents.
All of the shire knights here under review owned extensive estates in Northumberland at the time they were elected to Parliament, although the general poverty of the terrain, coupled with the long-term effects of chronic disorder and warfare, meant that few were as rich as their peers among the gentry in the Midlands and the south. Repeated outbreaks of plague before and during our period contributed further to the general decline of the area, leaving the Crown no alternative but to accept parliamentary petitions from the local people for exemptions from farms and taxes. In the first Parliament of 1380, for example, the ‘povres liges’ of Northumberland drew attention to ‘les tres grantz meschiefs et damages queux ils ... ont soeffretz, et soeffront de jour en autre, si bien par Pestilence, come par continuele destruction des Enemys d’Escoce’, a refrain taken up at regular intervals throughout the rest of the Middle Ages.6 Most agricultural activity was given over to the raising of sheep and cattle, although some arable farming was carried out on the less infertile areas near the coast, and here the majority of our men held the bulk of their property. Some of the more affluent, such as Sampson Hardyng and John Mitford, engaged in trade from the ports of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Berwick-upon-Tweed, while Mitford, his son, William, and Nicholas Turpin also maintained fairly profitable legal practices with clients drawn from the northern gentry and nobility. At least 14 Northumbrian MPs owned land elsewhere, most commonly in the neighbouring palatinate of Durham, where ten, if not more, had manors or sizeable areas of farmland. Marriage brought John Bertram estates in seven other English counties, from Kent to Yorkshire; and Sir John Middleton, too, was a rentier of note, with property in Cumberland, Durham, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. No fewer than five men were landowners in Lincolnshire, four in Yorkshire, three in Nottinghamshire, and