Rochester

Borough

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
1386John Fleming
 Peter Pope
1388 (Feb.)William Gillingham I
 John Marchaunt I
1388 (Sept.)Richard Crowborough
 Thomas White I
1390 (Jan.)Richard Bolour
 John Mateshale
1390 (Nov.)
1391Thomas Dudmere
 William Gillingham II
1393William Chylynden
 William Osbourne
1394
1395Richard Broke
 Thomas Taverner
1397 (Jan.)John Plomer II
 John Precy
1397 (Sept.)
1399William Frere
 John Precy
1401Richard Berde
 Reynold Shrewsbury
1402Thomas Dudmere
 Reynold Shrewsbury
1404 (Jan.)Thomas Dunston
 William Frere
1404 (Oct.)Thomas Dudmere
 Richard Lorkyn
1406Thomas Chertsey
 Reynold Shrewsbury
1407John Everard I
 John Bosom II
1410John Alcote
 Thomas Chertsey 1
1411John Everard I
 Roger Landford
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)John Deeping
 Roger Landford
1414 (Apr.)
1414 (Nov.)John Deeping
 Richard Lorkyn
1415
1416 (Mar.)Robert Bury
 John Potager
1416 (Oct.)
1417Thomas Bolour
 John Marchaunt III
1419William Hunt I
 Robert Kela
1420John Draper II
 Thomas Turner
1421 (May)
1421 (Dec.)John Deeping
 John Marchaunt III

Main Article

By the late 14th century Rochester’s population was less than a quarter the size of Canterbury’s, being estimated at 855 on the basis of the poll tax returns of 1377. Yet the city rivalled Canterbury in antiquity, having been developed in Roman times as a station at the point where Watling Street crossed the Medway. Within a very few years of his conversion to Christianity at the close of the sixth century, King Ethelbert of Kent built a church in Rochester, which soon shared with London the distinction of being the earliest bishop’s see, as created by Augustine in 604. Rochester castle, built by the Norman kings, became one of the most important in south-east England, and was still of such strategic worth as to cause Edward III and his successor to authorize massive expenditure on works there; between 1367 and 1370 about £2,262 was spent, to which Richard II contributed a further £500. These sums ensured the continued use of the castle as a royal residence and an occasional administrative base for the sheriff of Kent. During the Peasants’ Revolt the castle was attacked by insurgents from outside the city, assisted (against their will, it was afterwards claimed) by townspeople, including at least two of Rochester’s parliamentary burgesses—Thomas atte Raven and Thomas Dudmere.2 Otherwise, the event of most importance to the inhabitants of Rochester in our period was the construction of a new stone bridge across the Medway between Rochester and Strood, to replace the old wooden structure rendered unsafe by decades of heavy traffic. This work, the product of local enterprise and private munificence (as provided by John, Lord Cobham, and Sir Robert Knolles), was undertaken between 1383 and 1393. In view of the strategic importance of the Medway crossing, Richard II assumed responsibility for the construction of a drawbridge between the sixth and seventh piers from the Rochester end of the bridge, a project which was completed in 1399. It was on this bridge (maintained for nearly five centuries afterwards) that many of the local people depended for their livelihood, as is clearly shown by the contents of a custumal of a somewhat later date which laid great stress upon the regulation of hackneymen and victuallers in the conduct of their trades. Rochester’s prime importance was as a resting place on the great highway linking London with Dover and the continent.3

In 1227 the citizens of Rochester had been granted the city to hold at a fee farm then set at £5 p.a., but subsequently (in 1266) fixed at £12 as compensation for damage suffered in two sieges. By their charters they also received such privileges as the right to have a guild merchant, be free from intervention by royal officials, and make return of writs. These liberties were confirmed by Richard II in 1378, Henry IV in 1410 and Henry V in 1414.4 Little is known about the internal government of the city, although its principal officer was the bailiff. Rochester had regularly made returns to Parliament throughout the 14th century. Until 1411 the names of the two elected representatives were sent to Chancery listed on the dorse of the writ addressed to the sheriff of Kent, together with the names of two mainpernors for each Member. In and after that year a single indenture recorded the election of the knights of the shire and the citizens for Canterbury and Rochester in terms suggesting a common election held in the shire court, meeting either at Rochester itself (as in November 1414, 1417, 1419, 1420, 1422 and more regularly thereafter), or else at Canterbury. On rare occasions citizens of Rochester would even be party to the electoral indentures. In fact, as is made clear from other evidence, Rochester’s representatives were chosen before the shire court met, and by the citizens assembled alone. This appears from the bailiff’s response to a writ sent to him in October 1410 requiring his compliance with an order for the payment of expenses amounting to £9 2s. still owing to John Alcote and Thomas Chertsey, the city’s representatives in the Parliament which had assembled between 27 Jan. and 15 Mar. that year: in his reply the bailiff stated that the city’s debt had already been discharged since, in accordance with a long-established custom, Alcote, who was a ‘stranger’ to the community (not having been born in the city), had promised that in return for admission to the freedom he would serve in the Commons at his own expense; and Chertsey had made an agreement with the bailiff and commonalty to take his wages at a flat rate of 4s. for each week Parliament was in session. The custom as revealed in Alcote’s case, if regularly put into practice, might on occasion have done away with the necessity for an election altogether, although there is no evidence to show that this ever happened in our period.5

Returns have survived for no more than 23 of the 32 Parliaments summoned between 1386 and 1421, although one of the nine gaps is filled from the bailiff’s response of 1410, just mentioned. The names of 35 citizens-elect are known, but the lack of information about Rochester’s representatives in eight Parliaments of the period makes any attempt at an analysis of parliamentary experience rather tenuous. All that can be said is that 19 of the Members were apparently elected only once in the course of their careers, and ten others just twice. Of the remainder, Thomas Dudmere, with five returns to his credit, and John Deeping, with seven, are the only ones worthy of special mention for their parliamentary service. In no more than four Parliaments are both of Rochester’s representatives known to have sat in the Commons previously (although in 11 other Parliaments one of the Members was so qualified), and on perhaps as many as nine occasions both men returned were newcomers to the parliamentary scene. The highest incidence of novices would appear to have occurred during Henry V’s reign, when possibly nine of the 14 seats were filled by untried men. Furthermore, re-election is only known to have happened once throughout the period under review, on the occasion of Reynold Shrewsbury’s second return to Parliament in 1402.

As many as six of the 35 parliamentary burgesses have not been identified, and several of the rest remain largely obscure. Nevertheless, 28 may be shown to have lived in Rochester and another (Peter Pope) came from no further away than Strood. Three—Richard Berde, William Frere and William Gillingham I—were quite likely descended from earlier representatives of Rochester, while in our period the city returned more than one member of the families of Bolour, Marchaunt and Gillingham. None of those identified were outsiders to the community in the full sense, although Roger Landford probably hailed from the north of England, and had taken up citizenship of London before he acquired property in Rochester. Owing to the lack of local records only one MP—William Frere—is known to have served as bailiff. Nor, for the most part, have the occupations of the parliamentary burgesses been discovered. However, it seems likely that many of them were engaged in the victualling trades (like Peter Pope, who was employed to buy provisions for the garrison at Calais) or else were hackneymen, like Reynold Shrewsbury. Thomas Bolour was a chapman, and Roger Landford an ironmonger. Others were associated with the large-scale building works then in progress in the city: John Plomer II was employed to lay lead on the roof of Rochester castle, and Thomas Dudmere was a contractor for men and materials for the building of the new bridge. Only one of Rochester’s Members—John Deeping—has been identified as a lawyer, but no firm conclusions may be drawn from the fact that he was the man elected most often to Parliament in the first half of the 15th century, being returned three times in Henry V’s reign and four more subsequently.

No more than three of the parliamentary burgesses were ever appointed to royal commissions, and in two of those cases (Dudmere and Fleming) it was merely to act as collectors of a poll tax in Rochester itself. Similarly, just three held offices by the Crown’s appointment: Thomas White I, who served as deputy to Sir John Newenton, the constable of Rochester castle (although it is uncertain whether he was so engaged at the time of his returns in 1378 and September 1388); Roger Langford, who was elected to Parliament in 1411 and 1413 (May) when serving both as royal weigher of wool at Sandwich and as alnager of Kent; and John Keeping, who held the post of coroner in the county for at least 25 years, in the course of which he sat in no fewer than six Parliaments, including those of November 1414 and December 1421. Save for Thomas White, none of Rochester’s parliamentary burgesses are recorded in connexion with any of the constables of the castle.

Author: L. S. Woodger

Notes