Nottinghamshire

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 John Annesley
 Sir John Leek
1388 (Feb.)Sir John Annesley
 Sir John Leek
1388 (Sept.)Sir John Annesley
 Sir Robert Cockfield
1390 (Jan.)John Gateford
 Sir John Leek
1390 (Nov.)Sir John Burton I
 Hugh Cressy
1391Sir Thomas Hercy
 Sir Robert Cockfield
1393Sir Thomas Rempston I
 John Gateford
1394Sir William Neville
 Nicholas Strelley
1395Sir Thomas Rempston I
 Nicholas Burdon
1397 (Jan.)Sir Thomas Rempston I
 Hugh Cressy
1397 (Sept.)Sir Thomas Rempston I
 Robert Morton
1399William Leek
 John Gateford
1401Sir John Burton II
 John Kniveton
1402Sir John Clifton
 Sir Richard Stanhope
1404 (Jan.)John Leek
 Sir Richard Stanhope
1404 (Oct.)Simon Leek
 Sir Richard Stanhope
1406Sir Thomas Chaworth
 Sir Richard Stanhope
1407Sir John Zouche
 Sir Hugh Hussey
1410
1411William Rigmaiden
 Thomas Staunton
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)Sir John Zouche
 Sir Thomas Rempston II
1413 (Apr.)Sir Robert Plumpton
 Henry Sutton
1414 (Nov.)Ralph Mackerell
 Sir Hugh Hussey
1415
1416 (Mar.)William Compton
 Sir Thomas Rempston II
1416 (Oct.)
1417Sir Thomas Chaworth
 Sir Henry Pierrepont
1419Sir John Zouche
 Ralph Hussey
1420Sir Thomas Chaworth
 Ralph Mackerell
1421 (May)Sir Thomas Chaworth
 Sir William Meryng
1421 (Dec.)Sir Henry Pierrepont
 Sir Richard Stanhope

Main Article

Returns for Nottinghamshire survive for all but four of the 32 Parliaments which met during our period, those for 1410, 1413 (Feb.), 1415 and 1416 (Oct.) having been lost. We know the names of 32 of the shire knights who represented the county, and although the gaps in the evidence now prevent us from establishing the precise extent of everyone’s parliamentary experience, it appears that 16 of them sat only once during their lives (this figure does, however, include Sir Robert Plumpton, who was twice—or perhaps even three times—returned for Yorkshire, and Henry Sutton, MP for Warwickshire in 1407). At least five of their colleagues attended two Parliaments, and a further three served three times, although Ralph Mackerell’s third and last return in 1427 was subsequently annulled, having been pronounced ‘in contempt of the King and to the manifest impediment of free election’. Sir Henry Pierrepont alone appears to have discharged four terms of parliamentary service, while Sir John Zouche, John Gateford, and Sir John Burton I could each claim five, and Sir Thomas Rempston I six. Few Nottinghamshire MPs, however, seem to have made careers for themselves in the Lower House, and only three of the men here under review had really impressive records in this respect. Sir Thomas Chaworth’s seven returns for Nottinghamshire and one for Derbyshire spanned almost two decades, while Sir Richard Stanhope attended nine of the Parliaments held between 1402 and 1433. Sir John Annesley, on the other hand, sat more regularly over a shorter period, his nine returns occurring within just over years, largely because he was anxious to win support in the Commons in a personal appeal for justice. Viewed as a whole, therefore, the Nottinghamshire MPs of the late 14th and early 15th centuries were fairly limited in their knowledge of the House of Commons and its procedures. Indeed, even if we take into account the experience of the three shire knights who represented other counties as well, attendance still stands at an average of between two and three Parliaments each.

Despite their evident readiness to return novices to the Lower House, the electors of Nottinghamshire none the less preferred that such newcomers should be accompanied by men who had sat at least once before. Only in 1401, 1402, 1407 and (evidently) 1411 did two apparent novices sit together, whereas in no less than 17 Parliaments, spread fairly evenly throughout the period, one newcomer served with a more experienced colleague; and on a further seven occasions both Members were already familiar with the ways of the Commons. Nor did instances of re-election prove by any means unusual, especially in the case of Sir John Annesley, who sat in four consecutive Parliaments between 1377 (Jan.) and 1379 and a further five between 1384 and 1388 (Sept.); and of Sir Richard Stanhope, whose long period of service included all four Parliaments summoned between 1402 and 1406. Sir John Leek and Sir Thomas Chaworth were each re-elected once, and Sir Thomas Rempston I twice, although only one case of complete representative continuity is known to have occurred, interestingly enough in the Merciless Parliament of February 1388. Re-election became far less common after 1406, perhaps because of an increasing demand for seats. Once, however, Nottinghamshire may have shared an MP with Yorkshire. It has been suggested that Sir Robert Plumpton actually represented both counties at Leicester in 1414 (Apr.), although his expenses were borne solely by Nottinghamshire.

Members of the knightly class continued to dominate the parliamentary scene throughout our period, thus reflecting their importance in the local community. Only twice, in 1399 and 1411, were two esquires returned together, the election on the first occasion being probably influenced by the fact that both men were known supporters of the Lancastrian cause. Conversely, two knights by rank served in no less than II of the Parliaments for which evidence survives, while in the remainder a knight was accompanied by a gentleman or esquire. Several of the latter, in fact, belonged to knightly families, and, indeed, three subsequently attained knighthood themselves. Others, among whom the most notable were John Gateford and Ralph Mackerell, had probably decided to forgo the expense and inconvenience which the honour involved, since they already ranked among the richest and most powerful members of the county society. As befitted their status, most of the MPs under review played an active part in local government; and all but two, Nicholas Burdon and Ralph Hussey, held some form of administrative office in the north Midlands. (Burdon’s duties as auditor of the crown estates in Cheshire and the principality of Wales may well have precluded him from employment nearer home.) Almost half of them (15) occupied the joint shrievalty of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, but only four did so before first entering Parliament. Some gained considerable experience of the post, even so, as it was not uncommon for one man to serve a number of terms during his career. Both Sir John Leek and John Gateford had four such appointments to their credit, while Sir Thomas Chaworth, Ralph Mackerell and William Rigmaiden each had three, and Sir William Meryng two. Chaworth, moreover, twice became sheriff of Lincolnshire, where he owned sizeable estates. Strictly speaking, the statute forbidding the return of sheriffs to Parliament was never once breached during this period; but four individuals were actually picked as sheriffs while sitting in Parliament: Sir John Leek (1386), Robert Morton (during the recess of the second 1397 Parliament), Sir Richard Stanhope (October 1404) and Sir Thomas Chaworth (1417).

The escheatorship of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire was usually the preserve of members of the lesser gentry, but five shire knights (including Gateford, Mackerell and Rigmaiden) assumed this office, and a sixth, Robert Morton, served in his native Yorkshire. All but Rigmaiden took up the post after the start of their parliamentary careers, since crown appointments of this type generally went to men of some administrative experience. The same is true of commissions of the peace, for although 16 MPs sat on the Nottinghamshire bench, only three were active at the time of their first Parliament. In marked contrast to the neighbouring county of Derbyshire, where serving j.p.s were regularly returned, the electors showed no particular preference for current members of the bench: indeed, only one (John Gateford) sat during the late 14th century, and just three more (the ubiquitous triumvirate of Rigmaiden, Chaworth and Stanhope) between 1404 and 1421. So far as we know, the Parliament of 1406 alone saw the return of two j.p.s in tandem. Membership of royal commissions in general was a more common experience, shared by at least 26 of the shire knights, some of whom achieved outstanding records of service in this respect. None could rival Sir Thomas Chaworth’s membership of 38 such bodies, although John Gateford, Sir Richard Stanhope and Sir John Leek were appointed to more than 20, both Sir Thomas Rempston I and Sir John Zouche to 18 and Nicholas Strelley to 13. Fewer shire knights (just 19) were employed in the collection and assessment of taxes, but such tasks often fell to less prominent members of the community. Large areas of Nottinghamshire lay within the bounds of the royal forest of Sherwood, and at least nine MPs were employed as verderers or stewards there. It is now difficult to give precise dates for their tenure of office, but some were clearly active for quite long periods. Thomas Staunton owed his appointment as master forester of Dartmoor in the duchy of Cornwall to his connexion with Henry of Monmouth, and performed his duties through a deputy, as did Sir Thomas Rempston II for most of the time that he was sheriff of Flintshire and constable of Flint castle. Other administrative activities seem to have been fairly limited: both John Leek and John Gateford (who were probably lawyers) became coroners of Nottinghamshire, but Gateford was the only MP to be alnager there. William Rigmaiden, a Lancashire man by birth, served for some years as constable of Lancaster castle, and Sir Thomas Rempston I held similar office at Nottingham, where the deputy constableship was occupied first by John Kniveton and later by Ralph Mackerell.

Several of our men were singled out for royal patronage and promotion, the most notable being Sir Thomas Rempston I, whose loyal service to Henry of Bolingbroke found ample reward from 1399 onwards in a series of important appointments including those of constable of the Tower of London (where he was responsible for the custody of Richard II when under arrest pending his deposition), steward of the royal household, admiral of the west and steward of various duchy of Lancaster lordships. Both he and his son, Sir Thomas II, were employed on a variety of diplomatic missions, the son gaining valuable knowledge of foreign affairs during his years in France as the holder of a wide range of military and administrative posts, culminating in his tenure of first the lieutenancy of Calais and then the office of seneschal of Gascony. Despite his early association with Richard II and his involvement in the Mortimer plot of 1405, Robert Morton did well for himself under Henry V, who made him master of the ordnance during his second invasion of Normandy and also, incidentally, stood godfather to one of his sons. As we have already seen, Thomas Staunton was regarded with favour by King Henry when prince of Wales, and, in common with William Leek and Sir Robert Plumpton, he later obtained a lucrative office on the duchy of Lancaster from his royal patron.

At least 17 of the MPs here under review received additionional pensions or annuities from the Crown, although only four were retained by Richard II. The award of £40 p.a. to Sir John Annesley in 1380 was, moreover, forced upon the King by his dramatic defeat of Thomas Caterton in single combat and the manifest justice of his appeal for compensation over the sale of one of his castles to the French; and Annesley was quite prepared to change sides in 1399. So, too, were Nicholas Burdon, Robert Morton and John Gateford (a royal serjeant-at-arms), each of whom was duly confirmed in his annuity. The newly crowned Henry of Bolingbroke actually increased the pensions paid to Annesley and Morton (who had married one of the ladies-in-waiting of Richard’s queen, Anne of Bohemia), although through his previous association with Nottinghamshire he could already rely upon an existing phalanx of supporters, and thus had no real need to win over Richard’s men. William Rigmaiden, Sir John Clifton and Sir Thomas Rempston I had together accompanied him in 1390-1 on his first expedition to Prussia, the two knights being thrown into prison by the king of Poland and only released through the good offices of Bolingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt. Sir John Burton I, Sir William Neville and Sir Hugh Hussey were all retainers of Gaunt; and Hussey was present along with Sir Thomas Hercy and Sir Richard Stanhope to welcome Bolingbroke when he landed at Ravenspur in the summer of 1399 after months in exile. An analysis of the return to the House of Commons of household personnel and royal annuitants between 1386 and 1421 reveals exactly how influential the first two Lancastrian monarchs were in Nottinghamshire, for whereas a single crown employee or pensioner sat in no more than six of the II Parliaments which met between 1386 and September 1397, two were returned together in 1399, 1401, 1402, 1404 (Jan.) and 1406; and from then until the end of Henry V’s reign a placeman was elected to almost every Parliament. Furthermore, if we allow for the fact that such men as Sir John Leek and his son, Simon, Sir William Meryng and Sir Thomas Rempston II were all loyal in their attachment to the house of Lancaster, even though not evidently in receipt of fees when serving as shire knights, the extent of this support appears all the more impressive.

No other members of the English nobility could even begin to compete with the dukes of Lancaster as ‘good lords’ to the Nottinghamshire gentry, whose secondary loyalties were very much divided between a number of patrons. Sir John Burton II, Sir John Clifton and Simon Leek were each closely connected with Edward III’s younger son, Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester; and both Sir Robert Plumpton and Sir Thomas Rempston II were retained in the service of Henry V’s brother, John, duke of Bedford. Sir Robert also accepted a fee from Henry V’s uncle, Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester, and Rempston later became friendly with the earls of Suffolk and Huntingdon, under whom he fought in France. Robert Morton’s longstanding attachment to Richard II’s favourite, Edward, earl of Rutland and afterwards duke of York, led to his temporary disgrace and forfeiture at the time of the Mortimer plot in 1405, but both he and York were rehabilitated, and actually fought together at the battle of Agincourt ten years later. All four members of the Leek family returned during our period had protracted dealings with both the Lords Roos and the Lords Bardolf, while John Gateford seems to have been an intimate of William, Lord Furnival. Sir Henry Pierrepont was able through the support of the dowager countess of Kent to establish himself as a dominant figure in the Derbyshire town of Chesterfield, although his success there was later to cost him dear. Pierrepont was also associated with the dowager duchess of Norfolk, Henry, earl of Northumberland, and Richard, Lord Grey of Codnor, but he was too shrewd to commit himself exclusively to any one family or interest. The same is true of Sir Thomas Chaworth, although his elder daughter did become the wife of John, Lord Scrope of Masham, at some point before 1418; and in later life he was prevailed upon to play a less than creditable part in the property transactions of his distant kinsman, Humphrey, earl of Stafford. The relationship between the Plumptons and the Scropes of Masham almost led to their ruin, for Sir Robert Plumpton’s father, Sir William, was executed in 1405 because of his part in the rebellion of his uncle, Archbishop Richard Scrope. Sir Richard Stanhope, too, had baronial relatives through his marriage to the daughter of Ralph, 2nd Lord Cromwell. There is, however, nothing to suggest that he derived any particular benefit from his position as brother-in-law to Ralph, 3rd Lord Cromwell, who in Henry VI’s reign was to become the treasurer of England, although his two daughters and coheirs were able to marry into the baronage on the strength of this connexion, and, eventually, shared their uncle’s impressive estates between them. Only Sir John Zouche was actually born into a noble family, being the younger son of William, 3rd Lord Zouche of Harringworth, who settled upon him estates in six English counties.

The parliamentary representatives of Nottinghamshire were, on the whole, drawn from a close-knit group of socially and financially dominant local gentry, many of whom were further linked by ties of kinship. The most notable example of this characteristic is to be found in the return of Sir John Leek, his son, Simon, his brother, William, and his nephew, John, to six of the Parliaments summoned between 1386 and 1404. Sir John Burton I and his son, Sir John II, both sat in the House of Commons, as did the two Sir Thomas Rempstons; and two sets of brothers-in-law (Sir John Leek and Sir Thomas Rempston II, and Nicholas Strelley and Sir Henry Pierrepont) also served in our period. Strelley married his son, Sir Robert*, to Sir Richard Stanhope’s daughter, and a similar alliance was contracted between the children of Sir Thomas Hercy and Simon Leek. Dynastic ambition, always an important factor in such arrangements, can clearly be discerned in the double marriage between Sir John Zouche’s two grand daughters and the two sons of Sir Thomas Chaworth, who thus acquired for themselves estates in ten counties. Sir John Leek made a considerable profit by selling the marriage of his niece and ward, the wealthy Alice Foljambe, to Sir Robert Plumpton, whose acquisition of her Nottinghamshire estates made him eligible to represent this county in Parliament. At least two of our men married the widows of other MPs, thus consolidating their possessions and at the same time strengthening their influence in the community: Millicent, the relict of Nicholas Burdon, later became the wife of Sir William Meryng, and Sir John Clifton’s widow married Ralph Mackerell, to whom she brought a half-share of the Cressy inheritance. Interestingly enough, both women shared a connexion with the important Markham family, and thus, indirectly, with Sir Richard Stanhope and the Leeks as well. More complex relationships, again as a result of marriage alliances, existed between Sir Thomas Rempston II and Sir John Zouche, Sir Hugh Cressy and Sir John Clifton, and Sir Robert Cockfield and the Rempstons, Leeks and Plumptons.

These important family connexions were, as we have seen, further reinforced by years of common involvement in local and central government; by a widely felt attachment to the Lancastrian cause; and, in the majority of cases, by a camaraderie born of shared military experience. At least 20 of our men, if not more, took part in full-scale expeditions or similar ventures at various times in their lives, and some, such as Sir John Clifton, Sir Robert Plumpton, Sir Thomas Rempston II and Sir William Meryng, may properly be described as professional soldiers. Indeed, both Clifton and Plumpton fell in battle, and Sir Thomas was twice ransomed by the French, becoming virtually bankrupt as a result. Besides service in Wales, Scotland and Ireland, several shire knights saw action overseas in Prussia, Brittany, Normandy and Spain, thus acquiring valuable insights into foreign policy which could be put to good use in Parliament.

One common feature alone, however, was shared by all of the 32 MPs here under review—namely, the fact that each owned land in Nottinghamshire at the time of his election, thus enabling every one of them to comply with the writs of summons which after 1413 specifically demanded that shire knights should be resident in the counties which returned them. Indeed, about three-quarters of their number (26) belonged to families which had been established in the county for upwards of a generation (several coming from 12th or 13th-century Nottinghamshire stock). Of the rest, not enough is known of the backgrounds of Sir John Burton I or William Compton, but each of the remaining four (William Rigmaiden from Lancashire, Sir Robert Plumpton from Yorkshire, John Kniveton from Derbyshire and Sir John Zouche from Northamptonshire) acquired their estates in the county by marriage to local heiresses, and were well-known figures in the community before being returned to the House. Approximately two-thirds (21) of the shire knights are on record as holding property in other parts of England, either through marriage, purchase or inheritance. Most outstanding in this regard was Sir John Zouche, who had both birth and marriage to thank for an impressive network of estates which extended across ten counties from Wiltshire to Suffolk and thence to Yorkshire. Another leading rentier was Sir Thomas Chaworth, whose patrimony alone brought him £100 p.a., at least, and whose second wife, Isabel Aylesbury, enabled him to double his landed income, which from 1416 onwards derived from eight counties as far apart as Hertfordshire and Yorkshire. Most of his colleagues, however, were landowners on a more modest scale, with interests confined to central England, most often in the four counties which bordered on Nottinghamshire. At least 11 had estates in Derbyshire, eight in Lincolnshire, six in Yorkshire and four in Leicestershire. On the other hand, five had property further afield in Warwickshire and two in Norfolk. Sir Richard Stanhope, whose grandfather had been a leading burgess in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, inherited tenements there; and Sir John Annesley’s share of the great Chandos inheritance included land in Oxfordshire (as well as a title to holdings in France, which gave rise to a dramatic conflict in the Good Parliament of 1376, and eventually resulted in a judicial combat with Thomas Caterton, fought to the death at Smithfield four years later). Thanks to the patronage of Henry IV, William Rigmaiden—born a younger son with little in the way of prospects—was able to build up a sizeable network of farms and manors in Lancashire.

The survival of the Nottinghamshire tax returns for 1412, which were based upon a rough estimate of annual landed income, means that we can assess the relative wealth of some 15 MPs within the county itself. Sir Henry Pierrepont headed the list with £80 a year, followed by Sir John Leek, Margaret, the widow of Sir Thomas Rempston I, and Sir Richard Stanhope, each of whom could rely on £60 p.a. Four shire knights were assessed at £40 p.a. and five at £20 p.a., while John Leek (£15 p.a.) and John Kniveton (£14 p.a.) appear to have been the poorest.1These figures are clearly approximate, and they do not, unfortunately, take any account of receipts from elsewhere in England. Here, evidence is harder to find, and we are thrown back upon guesswork. Only Sir John Zouche can have come near to raising the £200 p.a. or more enjoyed by Sir Thomas Chaworth, although others, such as Sir Henry Pierrepont, Ralph Mackerell, Robert Morton and Sir Robert Plumpton were probably worth at least half this sum. Sir Thomas Rempston I earmarked part of the £200 p.a. which he received in royal fees and annuities for investment in land, and thus died a rentier of some consequence; but his son, as we have seen, was crippled by debts as a result of his capture by the French, and had to release some of this capital.

The Nottinghamshire parliamentary elections were held during our period at sessions of the county court in Nottingham. The indentures of return, imposed by statute from 1407 onwards, reveal that at least one or two former MPs (and sometimes, as in 1411 and 1413, up to seven) were present; and that the number of persons who actually attested the return could range from an average of about 15 or 16 up to 32 (in 1411) and even as many as 58 (in May 1413, for the first Parliament of Henry V’s reign).2 These individuals were largely drawn from the ranks of the upper and lesser gentry, many belonging to the families which provided shire knights, although as uncles, cousins or younger sons they themselves did not sit in Parliament. No cases of overt malpractice (such as that recorded in 1427, when the sheriff, Sir Thomas Gresley*, dispensed altogether with the troublesome business of holding an election and simply returned two of his friends)3 are known to have occurred between 1386 and 1422; but pressure may, occasionally, have been brought to bear upon the electors to endorse a particular candidate. Richard II’s determination to pack the second Parliament of 1397 with Members sympathetic to the court party is already well enough known, and the return (for the first and only time) of Robert Morton, a member of the King’s household who was married to one of the late Queen Anne’s ladies-in-waiting, certainly suggests that he was a royal placeman. His appointment as sheriff during the parliamentary recess tends to confirm this supposition, although we must not forget that he was a local landowner of some consequence, whose father had wielded great influence as a retainer of John of Gaunt. The return of William Leek in 1399 must have owed at least something to the efforts of his brother, Sir John, the then sheriff, just as the presence of the formidable Sir Edmund Pierrepont and one of his kinsmen at the election of 1417 may well have helped to win his son, Sir Henry, a seat in Parliament.4 Some of our men had personal reasons for seeking election, notably when they were directly involved in an item of Commons’ business. The most obvious instance of this is to be found in the case of Sir John Annesley, whose chief motive for seeking re-election throughout the 1370s and 1380s was that of gaining redress for a variety of grievances experienced by him as occupant of part of the Chandos estate. Sir William Meryng, likewise, seized the opportunity offered by his attendance at the first Parliament of 1421 (when Henry V was present for the last time) to agitate for the payment of certain outstanding royal debts; and a few months later Sir Richard Stanhope took his seat at Westminster with the clear intent of winning support for his claim to the manor of Packington in Warwickshire.

Author: C.R.

Notes

  • 1. E179/159/48.
  • 2. C219/10/4, 6, 11/2, 5, 12/2-6.
  • 3.