Oxfordshire

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 Richard Adderbury I
 Sir Gilbert Wace
1388 (Feb.)William Wilcotes
 Thomas Barantyn
1388 (Sept.)Sir Thomas de la Poyle
 John Rede
1390 (Jan.)William Wilcotes
 Thomas Barantyn
1390 (Nov.)Sir Thomas de la Poyle
 Thomas Barantyn
1391William Wilcotes
 John Rede
1393Sir Thomas Paynell
 Thomas Barantyn
1394William Wilcotes
 John Adderbury
1395William Wilcotes
 William Bruley
1397 (Jan.)John Adderbury
 Thomas Barantyn
1397 (Sept.)William Wilcotes
 John Golafre
1399John Wilcotes
 Thomas Barantyn
1401John Wilcotes
 Thomas Chaucer
1402Thomas Chaucer
 Thomas Wykeham
1404 (Jan.)Sir Peter Bessels
 William Mackney
1404 (Oct.)Sir John Drayton
 John Wilcotes
1406Thomas Chaucer
 John Wilcotes
1407Thomas Chaucer
 John Wilcotes
1410Thomas Chaucer
 William Wilcotes
1411Thomas Chaucer
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)Thomas Chaucer
 John Wilcotes
1414 (Apr.)Sir William Lisle
 John Wilcotes
1414 (Nov.)Thomas Chaucer
 John Wilcotes
1415
1416 (Mar.)Thomas Stonor
 (Sir) Thomas Wykeham
1416 (Oct.)
1417Sir William Lisle
 John Wilcotes
1419Thomas Stonor
 John Wilcotes
1420John Danvers
 Richard Greville
1421 (May)Thomas Chaucer
 John Wilcotes
1421 (Dec.)John Danvers
 Peter Fettiplace

Main Article

Returns for Oxfordshire have survived for all but four of the 32 Parliaments summoned between 1386 and 1421 (those of 1411, February 1413, 1415 and October 1416), and as there can be no doubt that one of the shire knights of 1411 was Thomas Chaucer, the Speaker in that Parliament (who had represented Oxfordshire in the three Parliaments immediately preceding), gaps for only seven seats remain. Besides Chaucer, 20 others are known to have been elected for the county in this period. Two-thirds (14) sat more than once, and the high incidence of repeated election resulted in an average number of four Parliaments per Member. Furthermore, of the seven men who were only elected for Oxfordshire once, three (Sir Peter Bessels, Sir John Drayton and John Golafre) went on to sit for other constituencies later: Berkshire in the cases of Bessels and Golafre (the latter represented that county 12 times), and Gloucestershire in that of Drayton. If we take all this additional parliamentary service into account, as well as that of John Wilcotes (who besides his 11 Parliaments for Oxfordshire sat once for Kent), then the average rises to five.

Certain of the Oxfordshire MPs were returned frequently: Thomas Barantyn and Thomas Stonor six times each, William Wilcotes eight, Sir Gilbert Wace nine, John Wilcotes 11, and Thomas Chaucer 14 all told. Wace, whose service had been concentrated in the years 1372 to 1386, was not to sit in the Commons again in our period; rather, it was William Wilcotes (elected to seven Parliaments between 1385 and 1397) and Barantyn (elected six times between 1388 and 1399), who dominated the representation of the shire in the remaining years of Richard II’s reign, giving way following Henry IV’s accession to John Wilcotes and Thomas Chaucer. These four men (the two Wilcoteses, Barantyn and Chaucer) filled no fewer than 33 of the 57 seats for which we know the Members’ names. Generally, the community preferred to elect men with previous parliamentary experience: in at least 13 Parliaments both shire knights were qualified in this way, and in 12 more one Member who had served before accompanied someone who apparently had not. Then, too, the same two men would be elected together more than once: William Wilcotes and Thomas Barantyn sat as a pair in 1388 (Feb.) and 1390 (Jan.), and John Wilcotes and Thomas Chaucer did so no fewer than six times. Only in the Parliaments of 1388 (Sept.), 1404 (Jan.) and 1420 is it at all likely that Oxfordshire was represented by two as yet untried men; and, in the last of these it is quite possible that one or both of those elected had sat in an earlier Parliament for which the return is now missing. Re-election of individual persons occurred quite frequently (at least 13 times), and in 1407 both Members of the preceding Parliament (Chaucer and John Wilcotes) were chosen again. These two were often re-elected separately, the longest run being that of Chaucer, who sat in all five Parliaments for which the names of the shire knights are known between 1406 and 1413. What is more, they both clearly made a mark in the Lower House, although Wilcotes, whom the Commons included among those Members appointed in December 1406 to oversee the engrossment of the Parliament roll, was never so prominent a figure as his colleague, whose unequalled record of five elections as Speaker (in 1407, 1410, 1411, November 1414 and May 1421) alone makes him one of the most outstanding parliamentarians of our period.

Yet Chaucer, whose parliamentary service for Oxfordshire was to span 30 years, and whose escalating interests as a landowner and office-holder gave him considerable influence in and between the Cotswolds and the Chilterns, was nevertheless a newcomer to the community—one, furthermore, who had settled in the county no more than six years before his first return to Parliament, in 1401. Nor was he out of the ordinary in this particular respect: although all 21 of the knights of the shire possessed land in Oxfordshire (or else, as in William Mackney’s case, had other financial interests there), only half of them (11) came from established local families. Of the rest, six entered the community through marriage to Oxfordshire heiresses or widows: Chaucer himself, who originally came from London, Peter Fettiplace from Berkshire, Sir William Lisle from Cambridgeshire, John Rede from Buckinghamshire, and William and John Wilcotes from Gloucestershire. Thomas Wykeham, most likely born in Hampshire, became one of the wealthiest landowners in Oxfordshire by inheriting the estates only recently purchased by his great-uncle William of Wykeham, bishop of Winchester; and Sir John Drayton, who belonged to a Bedfordshire family, settled in the county on obtaining property there from a distant kinsman, Sir Hugh Segrave. The remaining two were more at home in Berkshire: Sir Thomas Paynell is recorded merely as a lessee of land in Oxfordshire, and William Mackney’s apparently sole interest there was his annuity of £10 charged on the royal mills at Oxford. None of these men were outsiders to the community (even Paynell and Mackney had formed close contacts with the local gentry); and yet it is still the case that the newcomers—men who were not indigenous to Oxfordshire—increasingly dominated the county’s parliamentary representation as time went on: they filled ten of the 24 seats between 1386 and 1399, and as many as 27 of the 33 thereafter.

The Stonors provide the only instance in Oxfordshire of a continuing tradition of parliamentary service, but as their family suffered from early deaths and long minorities during the medieval period, there were considerable gaps between the elections of Edmund Stonor in 1380 and his grandson Thomas in 1416, and between the latter’s last return in 1431 and his son Thomas’s first in 1447. True, the fathers of Sir Peter Bessels, Sir Thomas le la Poyle, and Thomas Chaucer had each entered the Commons, as had the uncles of John Golafre and Richard Greville, but all had done so for other constituencies. County boundaries were also crossed in the cases of Thomas Barantyn’s younger brother, Drew*, who represented London, and Sir Richard Adderbury I’s son, Sir Richard II, who sat for Berkshire; while out of the four sons of John Danvers returned to Parliament later in the 15th century, only one (Robert) was elected by Oxfordshire. Danvers apart, just two others produced sons who represented this county: Thomas Stonor and Thomas Wykeham. The predominance of John and William Wilcotes, most likely brothers, came about as a consequence of their personal attributes, rather than because their family was important locally. In Oxfordshire the individual and his achievements counted for more than family background.

In several instances prominence in the locality was achieved largely as the outcome of service to the Crown: as many as nine of the 21 shire knights were royal retainers or had personal attachments to members of the King’s family, and this group accounted for 35 of the 57 seats. There was a noticeable royal presence in the county, not only owing to the proximity of Wallingford castle, caput of an honour which, together with other estates in the region, pertained to the prince of Wales, but also because Woodstock was a favourite residence of successive monarchs (given in dower by Richard II to his first queen, Anne of Bohemia, and by Henry IV to his consort, Joan of Navarre). At the very beginning of our period, in 1386, the shire returned two men who had been closely attached to the King’s parents: Sir Gilbert Wace, then elected to his seventh consecutive Parliament, had been among those assigned in the previous year to safeguard the King’s mother, Joan of Kent, at Wallingford during Richard’s absence in the north; and his companion Sir Richard Adderbury I, previously a retainer of the Black Prince, executor of Joan of Kent’s will and tutor to Richard himself, was currently a knight of the King’s chamber and most likely still holding office as chamberlain to Queen Anne. Royal patronage had made a marked difference to Adderbury’s wealth and standing. To seven other Parliaments of the reign Oxfordshire elected William Wilcotes, who, retained as a ‘King’s esquire’ by 1391, was made chief steward of Queen Anne’s estates and granted for his services annuities initially set at £20 though subsequently raised to £38. He was accompanied to the Parliament summoned for September 1397 by another ‘King’s esquire’, John Golafre, a young man who had been retained for life barely two years earlier with a fee of 40 marks a year. Golafre, as yet untried in local administration, was nevertheless to be made sheriff of Oxfordshire and Berkshire during the parliamentary recess, and at the end of the brief second session held at Shrewsbury in January 1398 was to be included in the select commission then empowered to exercise parliamentary powers. There can be no doubt that he and Wilcotes both lent their full support to the King, not only during that Parliament, when Richard exacted his revenge against the former Lords Appellant, but right up to the last days of his reign. Yet it should not be assumed that their election in 1397 was made in response to a royal directive to the sheriff; probably none such was needed. There is no sign that the gentry of Oxfordshire were disinclined to gratify the King by returning men personally acceptable to him.

The four royal retainers elected under Henry IV occupied nine of the 15 recorded seats between 1401 and 1411. Most prominent among them was Thomas Chaucer who, having spent his youth in the service of Henry’s father, John of Gaunt, and in close proximity to Henry’s half-brothers, the Beauforts (his own cousins), received from Henry at his accession to the throne in 1399 appointments for life to the prestigious posts of constable of Wallingford castle and steward of the honours of Wallingford and St. Valery and of the Chiltern hundreds. By the time of his first appearance in the Commons he was in receipt of royal fees worth more than £60 a year, and during his second Parliament, in 1402, his position in the Household was strengthened further by the grant, also for life, of the office of chief butler of England. (Although changes in the terms of the letters patent meant that there were two brief periods of his life when Chaucer was not chief butler, he was holding the office when elected to all his later Parliaments, save only those of 1407 and May 1421.) Yet, despite all he owed to Henry of Bolingbroke, Chaucer was not the King’s placeman; indeed, his friendship with the Beauforts led him to join them in 1410 in supporting Henry of Monmouth’s bid to take control of the government from the King’s ministers, and various aspects of his Speakership in that and the next Parliament are known to have provoked the King’s displeasure. Chaucer’s companion in the Commons in 1410 was perhaps more amenable to the royal court. William Wilcotes, sitting after an absence of 12 years, had not only been kept on by Bolingbroke in 1399 as a ‘King’s esquire’ and chief steward of the late queen’s estates, but had also been made joint lessee of Henry’s own consort’s manors in Oxfordshire (including Woodstock), employed as counsel to the duchy of Lancaster, and granted handsome rewards for his services. Two other royal esquires were elected in Henry IV’s reign: Wilcotes’s son-in-law, Thomas Wykeham, in 1402, and William Mackney in January 1404, the latter being in receipt of a retaining fee of £10, first granted to him by Richard II.

It is very likely that John Wilcotes (elected to five Parliaments in Henry IV’s reign) had early on formed an attachment to Henry of Monmouth, for immediately after the latter’s accession to the throne he was made steward of the duchy of Cornwall and given other offices with fees amounting to £40 a year. (Perhaps he had been recommended by Bishop Beaufort, whose service he had entered before 1406.) His subsequent nomination as a member of the King’s Council in England (while Henry was in Normandy), and eventually as an executor of his royal master’s will, is proof enough that the King had the utmost confidence in his loyalty. Wilcotes represented Oxfordshire in six of the nine Parliaments of Henry V’s reign for which there are extant returns, while Thomas Chaucer—who retained his royal offices, and so enjoyed the King’s trust as often to act as intermediary between him and his uncle, Bishop Beaufort—sat in three. (Chaucer’s more frequent absence from the Commons than hitherto was in part a consequence of his employment elsewhere on diplomatic missions undertaken on Henry’s behalf.) Finally, Sir William Lisle, elected in April 1414 and 1417, was still in receipt of a royal annuity of £30 granted him when a knight of the King’s chamber in Richard II’s reign (although he had relinquished another, larger, one of £40 in 1409). Lisle was evidently another of those on whom Henry V could depend, for on the eve of his invasion of France in 1415 he entrusted him with delicate negotiations with the duke of Burgundy, intended to secure the latter’s neutrality.

There is little sign of any local or other aristocratic influence on the election of Members of Parliament for Oxfordshire. True, several of the shire knights were connected with John, Lord Lovell, and three are known to have served Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick. William Wilcotes was engaged as a feoffee of the earl’s estates, William Mackney as the keeper of his inner household, and Sir William Lisle as his lieutenant at Calais. Yet, as is best illustrated in the case of John Wilcotes, whose early career was remarkable for the succession of noble patrons willing to accept his services—no fewer than five gave him retaining fees before he came to the notice of Henry of Monmouth—undue significance should not be attached to these connexions.

Almost all the 21 Members took some part in local administration. In fact, Richard Greville and William Mackney were the only ones who did not. (Greville’s youth and early death were doubtless the reason in his case.) Twelve served as sheriff of the joint bailiwick of Oxfordshire and Berkshire (three of them also holding this office elsewhere);1 ten were made escheators in the same counties; two (Wace and Fettiplace) were chosen coroners of Oxfordshire, and three (John Adderbury, Thomas Baratyn and William Bruley) alnagers. On occasion, election to Parliament coincided with tenure of such posts: the escheator was returned in January 1390 (Barantyn), October 1404 (John Wilcotes) and 1407 (Chaucer); the alnager in January 1397 (Adderbury) and a coroner in December 1421 (Fettiplace). Sir Gilbert Wace had returned himself to Parliament when sheriff in 1372; and, notwithstanding the ordinance promulgated in that same Parliament, which prohibited the election of sheriffs in future, Thomas Chaucer sat for Oxfordshire during his shrievalty of 1400-1. John Wilcotes twice disregarded the writ of summons in this respect, that is in March 1416 when, although sheriff of Oxfordshire and Berkshire, he accepted election as shire knight for Kent, and in May 1421 when, while occupying the shrievalty of Gloucestershire, he did likewise in Oxfordshire. Eighteen of the 21 were appointed to royal commissions of an occasional sort, and all but two of these also served on a regular basis as j.p.s in the county.2 Membership of the local bench may even have been a significant factor in parliamentary elections, for it can hardly have been coincidental that j.p.s were returned to 22 Parliaments, and that in eight of these both knights-elect were so employed. Two-thirds (14) of the knights of the shire had at least some experience of local administration before their earliest appearances in the Lower House, although only four of them had already served as sheriff.

Such evidence as there is regarding the age of Members when first elected, suggests that in most cases they were no longer young; indeed the majority must have been in their forties or even older. Thomas Stonor, who was only 21 when elected in 1416, was clearly an exception. Indeed, there can be little doubt that he owed his return at such an early age to his former guardian, Thomas Chaucer, with whom he was to retain intimate links for the rest of his life. Stonor was just one of many of Chaucer’s friends and associates returned to the Commons during the first three decades of the 15th century, for Chaucer evidently exerted considerable influence in the mid Thames valley. However, Stonor apart, it was more usually for Berkshire and the borough of Wallingford than for Oxfordshire that Chaucer’s associates were elected.

Chaucer was undoubtedly the wealthiest of those returned for Oxfordshire in this period, although Sir Richard Adderbury I, Sir John Drayton, Thomas Stonor and Thomas Wykeham might all expect annual incomes of more than £200 from their manorial holdings in this county and elsewhere. Others, such as William Wilcotes, Sir Peter Bessels and John Danvers, are likely to have enjoyed £100 a year, but the absence of returns for Oxfordshire for the subsidy levied in 1412 on revenues from land leaves any detailed analysis of th