Available from Boydell and Brewer
|1388 (Feb.)||John Crowshaw|
|1388 (Sept.)||William Butler|
|1390 (Jan.)||William Butler|
|1397 (Jan.)||Thomas Mapperley|
|1397 (Sept.)||William Gresley|
|1413 (Feb.)||Thomas Mapperley|
|John Hodings 1|
|1413 (May)||Thomas Mapperley|
|1414 (Apr.)||John Tansley|
|1414 (Nov.)||Walter Stacy|
|Henry Preston I|
|1416 (Mar.)||John Alestre|
|1417||Henry Preston I|
|William Burton II|
|1421 (May)||Robert Glade|
|1421 (Dec.)||Richard Samon|
With an estimated population of 2,170, in 1377 Nottingham was similar in size to Northampton, larger than Derby and Newark, but smaller than Leicester. The town’s geographical position, within easy reach of the Fosse Way and commanding the waterway of Trent, which provided easy access to the Humber and the port of Kingston-upon-Hull, gave impetus to its growth as an important commercial centre. From the 13th century two fairs were regularly held there, one lasting eight days around the feast of St. Matthew, the other 15 days around that of St. Edmund the King, although the latter was changed in 1378 to a five-day event in February.2 The most profitable commodity on sale all the year round was wool, purchased by Nottingham merchants from local growers, such as the prior of Newstead, either for immediate shipment down river to Hull and from there to Calais and the Low Countries, or to be made into cloth for the home market or export. Deering referred to many substantial families, such as those of Bingham, Tansley, Mapperley, Alestre, Samon and Plumptre (all represented in the Commons in our period) ‘to which the cloth trade gave rise’, and without doubt these and other successful merchants were highly influential members of the local community. The weavers’ guild, already in existence by 1130, predated the guild merchant (created later in the 12th century), and their trade received additional encouragement from the royal charter of 1200 which so restricted the dyeing of cloth made within ten leagues radius of Nottingham as to give the town’s craftsmen a monopoly. Temporary set-backs to commerce occurred in the late 14th century: in 1382 the burgesses protested against the practice of landowners along the Trent of charging tolls on boats towed up-river from the banks by means of ropes, and ten years later the lord of Colwick even diverted the course of the river and built a weir, so that vessels were unable to reach Nottingham, thereby causing considerable harm to the town’s trade.3
Built high on the sandstone rock above the Leen and standing well back from the Trent, Nottingham castle was for five centuries from 1068 the principal royal fortress in the Midlands. During the Middle Ages several meetings of the King’s Council were convened there. For instance, it was at Nottingham that in August 1387 the important ‘ten questions’ were put to the judges on behalf of Richard II for the second time, thus provoking the Lords Appellant to take up arms in order to restrain the King’s absolutist tendencies; and here, too, Richard made his final plans for revenge on those same Lords to be carried out in the Parliament of September 1397. For much of our period both the castle and the fee farm of the town pertained to Anne of Bohemia or Joan of Navarre as part of their dowers. However, despite the occasional presence of such important visitors, royal influence is not reflected to any notable extent in the parliamentary representation of the borough. True, John Crowshaw served as controller of the works at the castle and in the queen’s lordship of Mansfield and manor of Linby for ten years, in the course of which he was returned to Parliament in 1388, but he was also a leading merchant and burgess of Nottingham, who had been chosen as an MP before he ever took up office, and there is nothing to suggest that on this second occasion his election was engineered by the Crown. More significant is the choice of a royal archer and retainer of Richard II, William Gresley, as one of the Members of the Commons in that politically critical Parliament of September 1397. Even so, the presence of a royal garrison did not prevent Gresley’s parliamentary colleague, John Hodings, from entering Henry of Bolingbroke’s service in August 1399, along with many other Nottingham men, and, indeed, Gresley himself may have joined them, for he was to be confirmed in his status as a crown archer only a few days after Henry’s accession as King.4 The constables of the castle in this period were, with the exception of Sir Thomas Rempston I*, not local men, and they seem to have taken little interest in the affairs of the town.
Nottingham was divided administratively into two parts: a ‘French’ borough had grown up after the Norman Conquest between the original Danish settlement and the castle, and this preserved a separate identity from the older town until the 18th century. Nevertheless, in its relations with the Crown Nottingham was always treated as one unit. As such, it benefited from several royal charters, the earliest known being granted by Henry I. By the provisions of those of 1189 and 1255, respectively, the burgesses were permitted to elect their own reeve to answer at the Exchequer for the fee farm, and acquired the right of ‘return of writs’ independently of the sheriff of Nottinghamshire. Although, in 1281, as a result of transgressions committed by the townspeople ‘out of confidence in their liberties’, these concessions were forfeited and the town placed under direct royal rule, three years later not only were the privileges restored, but the burgesses were also granted the right to elect, every Michaelmas, their own mayor and two bailiffs. The latter were to be drawn one each from the two boroughs of which Nottingham was composed, but this requirement evidently sometimes caused difficulties: in 1330 the burgesses claimed that because of the insufficiency and poverty of the inhabitants of one of these townships no suitable candidate for bailiffship could be found there. The most important change in the government of Nottingham in our period came as a consequence of the grant made by Henry IV at the very beginning of his reign (and perhaps as a reward for local suport proffered at the time of his usurpation), which gave the mayor and recorder, along with four other upright and lawful burgesses, chosen by the former, the powers of j.p.s within the town walls. The general tendency was for municipal offices to be restricted to a small, select group, and the possibility of conflict as an outcome of the exclusion of the majority of the townspeople from participation in local government was especially strong in the period under review. This is revealed by the depositions of two local juries made in the autumn of 1413. They stated that whereas only individuals who had previously filled the positions of mayor or bailiff had the right to elect the borough officers, this limited franchise had quite recently been subject to challenge. Apparently, on the election day at Michaelmas 1412 there had been an attempt by other persons of the commonalty to influence the choice: the ‘burgesses’, numbering just 49 men, assembled in St. Mary’s church where they elected Henry Wilford as mayor, but an armed gathering of about 100 other townsmen, proclaiming that they wanted their candidate, John Alestre, to have the post, barricaded the church for two hours, threatened to starve those inside, and, when the latter managed to escape by a secret door, violently assaulted Wilford.5
Nottingham sent representatives to Parliament from 1283 onwards. In the 15th century the electoral procedure would appear, taking the returns at their face value, to have undergone some experiment. Before 1407 a brief endorsement of the royal writ of summons addressed to the sheriff of the joint bailiwick of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire listed the names of the knights of both shires and the burgesses of the boroughs of Nottingham and Derby, along with their mainpernors (usually fictitious). From then on, in accordance with the statute of 1406, indentures accompanied the writs in order to authenticate the shire elections, and on occasion a separate document was sent in respect of Nottingham’s representatives. The earliest, dated 1411, indicates that the Nottingham election took place in full borough court on 21 Oct., nine days after that for the county, which was also held in the town, and specifically by eight named burgesses and ‘many others of the community of the borough’. In 1417 borough and shire elections were both recorded on the same indenture, the electors being named as one knight, one esquire and 16 others, some of whom were townsmen, and a similar procedure was followed on all subsequent occasions until 1425. From then until 1431 separate indentures for shire and borough appear once more, the latter being drawn up between the sheriff and eight named participants, or, as in 1429, the mayor, bailiffs and six others. Without doubt, despite these different ways of recording them, the elections were invariably held ‘in plena curia burgi’ and merely reported in the shire court. This view is, in fact, borne out by the report of a disputed parliamentary election which took place early in 1413. Local juries then stated that ‘from time immemorial’ only the mayor, bailiffs and burgesses proper had enjoyed the right to choose the borough’s MPs but, whereas by the assent of 120 of these ‘more sufficient’ persons of the town they had elected on 17 Jan. two of the ‘better and more discreet’ burgesses, Thomas Mapperley and John Hodings, for the forthcoming Parliament, a large and armed gathering of other townspeople, declaring that they would have Robert Sutton as their representative, demanded from the mayor the town seal, so that they could draw up the indenture to this effect. Which of the factions triumphed does not appear, for the official return has been lost. Later in the 15th century, the borough was not over-generous in the payment of its representatives; an ordinance of 1437 stated that they were to receive 16d. a day each, and no more, but presumably in our period the more normal rate of 2s. had obtained.6
The names of 21 Members, occupying seats in 23 Parliaments, are known for this period. Returns have not survived for the Parliaments of 1390 (Nov.), 1394, 1401, 1402, 1404 (Jan. and Oct.), 1410, 1415 and 1416 (Oct.), but, taking account of these gaps, it is none the less clear that Nottingham preferred to send to the Commons persons with previous parliamentary experience. This was the case on 19 occasions; indeed, on ten of these both Members had entered the House before. Although five of the 21 are not known to have sat more than once, seven were returned at least twice, three three times, two four times and another two five times. Thomas Mapperley was elected to no fewer than seven Parliaments, all summoned in this period, while Robert German was a successful candidate no less than ten times in 20 years. There are as many as eight known instances of re-election: William Butler was selected for the consecutive Parliaments of September 1388 and January 1390, and again for those of 1391 and 1393; John Tansley appeared in May 1413 and April 1414; Mapperley and German sat together in 1395 and January 1397; and Mapperley and John Hodings served in 1411 and, presumably, in 1413 (Feb.) as well. Mapperley then went on to sit in a third Parliament running, that of May 1413. There is little evidence of the emergence of a family tradition of parliamentary service, save in the cases of John Alestre, who was a son of Nicholas and father of Thomas†, and John Bothall, who was the son of an MP of the 1380s. Some other Members were connected by marriage: Walter Stacy and John Bingham married sisters; Robert Howden and John Tansley were both kinsmen of the Marteneys of Bradmore; and Thomas Alestre was the son-in-law of Richard Samon.
The large majority of Nottingham’s representatives were resident burgesses, and 19 out of the 21 are known to have posessed shops and houses in the town at the time of their election. Moreover, since these holdings of theirs were considerable both in extent and value, it would appear that the MPs came from the wealthiest section of the community. With regard to residence there remains some doubt about two Members: John Bingham may have been one of the Binghams of Car Colston, and John Jorce possibly came from Burton Joyce, but the former did have at least some property and trading interests in Nottingham, and the latter certainly became involved in borough affairs. As many as 17 parliamentary burgesses held office of some sort in the town at one time or another. Fourteen were chosen as bailiff, for the most part before they successfully entered the Commons for the first time, but on no recorded occasion was someone actually engaged in the bailiffship returned to Parliament. Nine MPs were sometime mayors (two of them, Thomas Fox and Thomas Poge, apparently without previously discharging the lesser office of bailiff), and usually for more than one term: John Crowshaw occupied the mayoralty four times, John Alestre, Robert Glade and John Plumptre five each, and Richard Samon six. In most instances their first election as mayor preceded their earliest appearance in the Lower House. On five occasions the men of Nottingham chose their current mayor to represent them in Parliament: John Tansley in 1399, Robert Glade in 1414 (Apr.) and 1419, John Alestre in 1421 (May) and Thomas Poge in 1421 (Dec.), whereas, conversely, one of the Members of the Commons of 1406, Thomas Fox, was elected mayor before the Parliament entered its final session. In 1419 the outgoing mayor, Richard Samon, was elected to Parliament only three days after relinquishing office. This tendency to send former mayors to the House was to be made into a rule later in the century, for an ordinance of 1437 established that in future no burgess was to be elected to Parliament ‘unless he be of the mayor’s livery’. Thomas Mapperley, who acted as recorder of Nottingham from about 1407 to at least 1410, had probably been employed by the borough in some other legal capacity at the time of his elections to Parliament, similar to that of Henry Preston I, who was the town attorney when returned to the Parliament of November 1414. Only four parliamentary burgesses are not known to have ever been appointed to municial office: William Butler, William Gresley, John Bothall and John Jorce.
Predictably, the merchant class of the town dominated the representation of Nottingham. At least 16 Members traded in cloth, 13 of them being involved in the production of this commodity, which the most enterprising, such as John Crowshaw, John Plumptre and John Tansley, exported from Hull to the Netherlands and the Baltic countries. Many of them were also engaged in the lucrative trade in wool, shipping the same to the Staples at Middleburg and Calais, and establishing business connexions in York, Lincoln and London. There can be no doubt that a few became highly successful in their mercantile dealings: some made personal loans to the Crown; John Alestre left more than £600 in bequests in his will; and John Plumptre, whose production of cloth far exceeded that of any other manufacturer in the shire, and whose profitable cargoes shipped to and from Hull included wool, wine, oil and herring, was able to found a hospital on the proceeds. As many as ten Nottingham MPs took part in ventures overseas. Three others had an interest in ironmongery, but more specifically for the home market. In fact, only four parliamentary burgesses had no recorded mercantile concerns: William Gresley, who was something of a military man, and John Jorce, Thomas Mapperley and Henry Preston I, who were all members of the legal profession. Surprisingly, one or other of these lawyers (usually it was Mapperley) was returned to ten of the 23 Parliaments for which returns survive, thereby taking a much greater share in the borough’s representation than might be expected—nearly a quarter of the seats available. Nevertheless, it seems clear that this centre of mercantile activity was for the time being managing to hold on to its tradition of representation largely by members of its own merchant oligarchy, excluding any outsiders.
Certain of the merchants invested in land, perhaps even seeking an entry into the ranks of the county gentry. John Tansley, Robert Howden and Walter Stacy each obtained several acres through marriage; John Crowshaw was the legatee of a Derbyshire manor; and the Samons purchased part of the manor of Gotham, as well as notable estates to the north-west of Nottingham. The most important of the three lawyers, Thomas Mapperley, as well as expanding his property interests in the town, came to possess quite considerable tracts of farmland elsewhere in the shire. Not surprisingly, some of the parliamentary burgesses established close associations with members of the Nottinghamshire gentry: John Alestre could call upon the sometime shire knight Ralph Mackerell* to oversee the administration of his will; William Burton II struck up a friendship with Hugh Willoughby† of Wollaton; and John Tansley was acquainted with William Babington, the future chief justice. It is quite likely that Richard Bingham, j.KB from 1447 to 1476, was the son of the one of our Members, John Bingham. Thomas Mapperley certainly made some social advance: he had several important clients, among them the widow of Henry, Lord Grey of Wilton, and his daughter married the heir to a large estate. Moreover, himself described as a ‘gentleman’, he produced one son who, ranked as an esquire, fought at Agincourt, and another who became sub-dean of York.
Naturally, the parliamentary burgesses would sometimes be required to serve on royal commissions, particularly those concerning the affairs of Nottingham itself. Only one or two were appointed to such bodies as concerned the shire as a whole, but John Crowshaw was included in an investigation into breaches of the statutes regarding the sale of cloth, with a brief extending to four counties, and Henry Preston I was nominated during his second Parliament (1417) as a j.p. in Nottinghamshire, where he served on the bench for the next three years. Between them this group of MPs occupied at one time or another a wide selection of royal offices, including the post of controller of the works at Nottingham castle (taken by Crowshaw) which has already been mentioned. Four other positions related to the administration of the shire: the clerkship of the peace had been filled by Walter Stacy for three years before he first entered the Commons; the office of alnager was held in succession by three MPs, Stacy from 1392 to 1403, John Bothall in 1403-4 and 1406-11 (he being returned to Parliament in 1407 during this second term), and Henry Preston I from 1411 to 1417 (sitting, in the meantime, in the second Parliament of 1414) and from 1423 to 1431; John Bingham was made coroner; and the under sheriff from about 1387 to 1391 was Thomas Mapperley, who represented Nottingham in his first two Parliaments (1388 and 1391) while discharging this office. John Bothall and John Tansley both obtained appointments further afield, probably as a consequence of their mercantile interests, the former serving as controller of customs in the port of Kingston-upon-Hull for six years from 1399, the latter as deputy butler there in 1401-3.
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. CIMisc. vii. 469. There is the possibility, however, that the mayor, in acceding to the demands of the rioting townsmen, returned Robert Sutton instead of either Mapperley or Hodings.
- 2. J.C. Russell, Brit. Med. Pop. 142; VCH Notts. ii. 340-1, 344-5; Nottingham, Recs. ed. Stevenson, i. 57, 193, 225.
- 3. Nottinghamia, 92; Nottingham Recs. i. 3, 8, 12, 413-21; ii. 102-4.
- 4. CPR, 1381-5, p. 192; 1401-5, p. 234; Nottingh