Rutland

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
1386John Wittlebury
 Walter Scarle
1388 (Feb.)Sir Hugh Browe
 Sir Oliver Mauleverer
1388 (Sept.)Sir John Daneys
 Walter Scarle
1390 (Jan.)Hugh Calveley
 Sir Oliver Mauleverer
1390 (Nov.)Sir Hugh Browe
 Sir John Calveley
1391Sir John Bussy
 Sir Hugh Greenham
1393(Sir) Walter Scarle
 Sir John Elme
1394Sir John Daneys
 Sir John Elme
1395John Wittlebury
 (Sir) Walter Scarle
1397 (Jan.)Sir Robert Pleasington
 Roger Flore
1397 (Sept.)Sir Oliver Mauleverer
 Sir Thomas Oudeby
1399John Durant
 Roger Flore
1401John Durant
 William Oudeby
1402Sir Thomas Oudeby
 Roger Flore
1404 (Jan.)Thomas Thorpe
 John Pensax
1404 (Oct.)Sir Thomas Oudeby
 Roger Flore
1406John Pensax
 Robert Scarle
1407Robert Browe
 William Sheffield
1410
1411
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)John Pensax
 John Burgh III
1414 (Apr.)Roger Flore
 Robert Browe
1414 (Nov.)Roger Flore
 John Newbold 1
1415Roger Flore
 John Burgh III
1416 (Mar.)Roger Flore
 Geoffrey Paynell
1416 (Oct.)Roger Flore
1417Roger Flore 2
1419Roger Flore
 Robert Browe
1420Sir Thomas Burton
 Sir Henry Pleasington
1421 (May)John Pensax
 William Sheffield
1421 (Dec.)John Culpepper
 Thomas Greenham

Main Article

Returns for Rutland have survived for 27 of the 32 Parliaments here under review, but although no indentures are now available for the rest we know that in both 1416 (Oct.) and 1417 Roger Flore was made Speaker of the Commons while sitting as a Member for the county. At least 27 shire knights were elected during our period, the majority of whom appear to have become fairly experienced. A statistical analysis reveals that each Member represented Rutland in an average of three Parliaments, but if we take into account the fact that four of their number sat elsewhere as well the average rises to nearer four than three. The frequency with which particular individuals were returned for the county varied considerably: eight evidently served just one term in the Lower House, while seven were twice chosen as shire knights. Five men sat three times, and two (Sir John Daneys and John Pensax) four times. Thomas Greenham retired from public life with a minimum of five Parliaments to his credit, and John Wittlebury with six, which he attended between 1372 and 1395. Both Robert Browe and Walter Scarle were returned by the Rutland electors on seven occasions, spread over periods of, respectively, 32 and 27 years. Only Roger Flore, whose parliamentary career lasted for 25 years in all, could boast a more impressive record, since he not only took a seat in 12 Parliaments, if not more, but also occupied the Speakership four times, three of which (1416 (Oct.), 1417 and 1419) were in consecutive order.

Nor should it be forgotten that at least four of our MPs, among whom the most notable is certainly Sir John Bussy, represented other counties too. Sir John served ten terms as a shire knight for Lincolnshire, during which time he was also elected Speaker on four occasions. His one return for Rutland, in 1391, may perhaps be regarded as something of an ‘insurance policy’ designed to secure his presence in the Commons under any circumstances, because he then stood, and was duly elected, for Lincolnshire as well. Such cases of simultaneous, or dual, representation in which a Member served two constituencies at once are extremely rare during our period, and this particular example provides an accurate reflection of Bussy’s growing influence in high places as well as locally. Geoffrey Paynell also sat for Lincolnshire, but not until 1432, when he was a comparatively old man. Both Sir John Calveley and John Burgh III were twice returned for Leicestershire, Calveley in 1385 and 1397 (Sept.), between appearances as a shire knight for Rutland, and Burgh in 1421 (May) and 1433.

The pattern of representation seems to have remained fairly constant over the years 1386 to 1422, in so far that no significant change in the proportion of experienced Members to novices apparently took place. Although the surviving evidence suggests that two complete newcomers to the House of Commons were returned on six occasions (1388 (Feb.), 1397 (Jan.), 1404 (Jan.), 1407, 1420, 1421 (Dec.)), it may well be that some of these men had already served in the Parliaments for which we have no information. We can, however, be sure that in 11 Parliaments, if not more, both Members had sat before, and that in a further 12 at least one of the successful candidates had gained previous experience of the Lower House. With the striking exception of Roger Flore, who attended all seven of the Parliaments summoned between April 1414 and 1419 (inclusive), only two other cases of election to successive Parliaments can now be documented. Sir John Elme, an obscure figure about whom hardly anything is known, was re-elected in 1394, and John Durant in 1401. Many candidates may well have been reluctant to serve continuously in the Commons unless, like Flore, who was an extremely successful lawyer, they owned a house in London and had professional reasons for wishing to spend long periods there.

One of the more remarkable features of the county representation is the change in the rank of Members which suddenly becomes noticeable at the very end of the 14th century. Ten of the 13 individuals returned before 1399 were belted knights, and on at least six occasions two of them sat together as parliamentary colleagues. In a further four Parliaments one knight sat with a companion of lesser rank, and only once, in 1386, did neither Member then hold a knighthood (although Walter Scarle was dubbed quite soon afterwards). From 1399 onwards, however, we are presented with a completely different picture. Of the 14 new men who sat after this date only two—Sir Thomas Burton and Sir Henry Pleasington—were knights, and the latter almost certainly owed his election to the intervention of his father-in-law, Roger Flore. Burton and Pleasington were returned together in 1420, but, so far as we know, this was the only early 15th-century Parliament in which both the Rutland Members were knights. With the exception of Sir Thomas Oudeby, who was elected in 1402 and 1404 (Oct.), all the other representatives were of the rank of gentleman or esquire, and many are so described in the returns.

Although a few of our Members managed to avoid any kind of administrative posts or official responsibilities, the majority appear to have been quite experienced in the business of local government. Rutland’s small size, coupled with its lack of any marked geographical boundaries to separate it from the adjacent counties of Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire, seems to have prevented the growth of a topographical sense of community among the leading landowners, most of whom owned estates on both sides of the Rutland border. Because of this diversity of interests several prominent figures such as John Burgh III, Sir John Bussy, Sir John Calveley, John Culpepper, Geoffrey Paynell and Sir Thomas Oudeby were called upon to hold offices and commissions in two counties at least, and some found themselves in demand right across the Midlands. Almost half (12) of the men considered here became sheriffs at some point in their careers, often more than once.3 John Wittlebury’s record of five terms in this important post went unrivalled during our period, although Sir Thomas Oudeby managed to serve three times in Rutland and once in Warwickshire and Leicestershire; and no less than six of his other colleagues held office on three separate occasions for a variety of midland counties. Sir John Bussy, for example, was three times sheriff of Lincolnshire, while (Sir) John Culpepper served twice in Rutland and once in Northamptonshire. It appears that six of our Members had already held at least one shrievalty by the time of their first return to the Commons, and that a further five came to office during the course of their parliamentary careers. The case of Thomas Thorpe is particularly interesting, because he was made sheriff of Rutland in February 1404 while still sitting in the Lower House, although, as we shall see, the circumstances of his appointment were somewhat exceptional. John Wittlebury also contravened the statute prohibiting the return of sheriffs to Parliament, and twice entered the Commons (in 1372, when that very statute was enacted, and again in 1381) during a term in office.

By contrast, only four shire knights ever became escheators. Both Roger Flore and John Burgh occupied the post twice, Flore serving as escheator of Rutland on both occasions, while Burgh was once appointed there and once conjointly in Leicestershire and Warwickshire. Sir Thomas Oudeby also held office in the latter two counties. Walter Scarle sat as Member for Rutland during his tenure of the escheatorship, which covered an unusually long period from December 1386 to November 1388; but neither he nor any of his colleagues had any experience of the post before their first election to Parliament. On the other hand, seven of the 20 Members who ever became j.p.s were already in office at the start of their parliamentary careers, and a further ten began serving on the bench (albeit not necessarily in Rutland) before they last entered the House of Commons. During the period under consideration nine current members of the Rutland bench were chosen to sit for that county, although not usually together. The electors did not evidently follow any conscious policy regarding the return of justices: it is hard to see why they decided to send two to the Parliaments of 1395, 1402, 1404 (Oct.), 1414 (Apr.) and 1419, but none to, say, the two Parliaments of 1397, when the Crown was deliberately attempting to marshal its forces. Given the limitations of the evidence, it seems that one representative of the local bench served in at least 14 Parliaments,4 leaving a further ten when neither Member held a commission of the peace.

All but six of our men received other royal commissions of various kinds at some time or another, although only four of them (Sir Thomas Burton, Sir John Bussy, Sir Thomas Oudeby and John Pensax) did so before they stood for Parliament. None could rival the impressive record of Sir John Bussy, who was appointed to a minimum of 32 such bodies, yet many were quite active in this respect. Roger Flore sat on some 15 commissions, John Wittlebury on 14, Sir Hugh Browe on ten and Geoffrey Paynell on eight. The assessment and collection of taxes were two equally important administrative tasks in which II shire knights became involved—generally, but not always, after they had attended at least one Parliament. Other offices requiring specialist qualifications were less frequently held by our men. Only two (Roger Flore and John Burgh) ever served as coroners of Rutland, and apparently none ever occupied the post of alnager. Indeed, five of their number took no known part in public affairs of any kind, although of this small group one (Sir Robert Pleasington) may be excused on the grounds of his intermittent insanity, and another (Hugh Calveley) because of pressing military commitments.

Seven of our Members found employment with the Crown as salaried officials at some point in their lives, although only two, Sir John Bussy and Roger Flore, are now chiefly remembered because of this. At the time of his one return for Rutland, however, Bussy was still a loyal servant of the house of Lancaster, until recently viewed with some suspicion at Court because of his previous attachment to the Lords Appellant of 1388. His subsequent betrayal of Henry of Bolingbroke, his erstwhile friend and patron, proved the inevitable consequence of a remarkable volte face, whereby he became one of the chief agents of Richard II’s tyranny and the recipient of many rich rewards. One of his successors in office as chief steward of the duchy of Lancaster north of Trent was Roger Flore, who also acted as steward of the duchy estates in Lancashire and Cheshire. By this date the duchy was held as the personal inheritance of the reigning monarch, and in the three Parliaments of 1417, 1419 and 1422 Flore’s position as Speaker was considerably reinforced by the influence which he possessed as one of the King’s senior employees. Another Rutland MP to prosper through his attachment to the Lancastrian cause was Sir Thomas Burton, a distinguished soldier, who was made keeper of the two castles of Cardigan and Aberystwyth by Henry IV during the wars against the Welsh. Burton eventually became launder of Plumpton in Cumberland and also custodian of Fotheringay castle in Northamptonshire where he took charge of several important French prisoners of war. He held both these posts at the time of his first return to Parliament in 1420, by which date he must have been at least 50 years old. A forceful and energetic character, Burton spent his last years in France, serving Henry VI as mayor of Bayonne until 1435, and also taking part in two diplomatic missions to Spain. Sir Oliver Mauleverer may have owed his appointment as deputy marshal of England to the patronage of Henry IV, but in view of his northern connexions it looks very much as if Ralph, earl of Westmorland, the then marshal, was in fact his ‘good lord’. A certain degree of ambiguity also surrounds John Wittlebury’s appointment as steward of Oakham, since although this office then lay in the King’s gift, we may be reasonably sure that Wittlebury received it in 1388 as a reward for his services to the Lords Appellant. The lawyer, William Oudeby, was made keeper of the ‘Prince’s Court’ in Leicestershire by Richard II in 1393, and despite a challenge to his title posed just after the Lancastrian usurpation, he managed to stay in office until his death several years later. Geoffrey Paynell’s position in local society was greatly enhanced by his connexion with Henry IV’s queen, Joan of Navarre, first as receiver of her estates in the north Midlands, and then, briefly in 1412, as her treasurer and receiver-general. Two other MPs, Sir Hugh Browe and Sir John Calveley, received substantial fees from the Crown, but the award to him of £40 a year by Henry IV did not prevent Browe from throwing in his lot with the rebel lords at the battle of Shrewsbury, where he fell in 1403. Calveley, on the other hand, was quite prepared to follow the Lancastrians as loyally as he had served Richard II, whose household he had joined in 1394 as a knight of the body.

In March 1390, the castle, town and lordship of Oakham were settled by royal grant upon Edward, earl of Rutland (later duke of Aumâle and from 1402 duke of York), who until 1397 also acted as sheriff of Rutland. Sir John Calveley had previously been chosen by Richard II to replace John Wittlebury as steward of Oakham: he was retained in office by the earl, and sat in the second Parliament of 1390 while still occupying the post. King Richard’s gift proved generous in more than just the financial sense, since it brought the earl additional reserves of patronage which he evidently used to great advantage. One of the men whom he singled out for preferment was Roger Flore, whose early success was achieved in his employment. While still a comparatively young man, Flore was made keeper of the earl’s park at Flitteris in the Leighfield forest and of the warrens at Oakham, as well as becoming verderer of the two forests of Rockingham and Rutland. He may even have had the earl to thank for his first return to Parliament in January 1397, although this now remains a matter of conjecture. There can be no doubt, however, of Flore’s longstanding attachment to his first patron. Indeed, it was only after York’s death at Agincourt in 1415 that he assumed the Lancastrian livery and became a servant of the Crown. Sir Thomas Burton likewise began his career as one of the then earl’s retainers, and if his fee (which had risen by 1404 to 100 marks p.a.) is any guide, an unusually high valuation was placed upon his services. Predictably, in view of York’s influence in the county, other Rutland MPs became associated with either him or his father, Duke Edmund (d.1402), at some point in their lives. Walter Scarle, for example, obtained the post of verderer of the forest of Rutland with Edmund’s help, while Sir Thomas Oudeby (who served both dukes as an attorney) attended upon the latter, in his capacity as King’s lieutenant, with a personal retinue during the troubled summer of 1399, although both men soon recognized the impossibility of offering any sustained resistance to the invading Lancastrian forces. Robert Browe, who, like his father, temporarily allied himself with the Percys in 1403, also became reconciled with the new regime and fought under Duke Edward’s banner at Agincourt.

Some of our Members looked elsewhere for support, however, and it is interesting to observe the diversity of their connexions. Sir Hugh Browe was a staunch adherent of Richard, earl of Arundel, who probably got him returned to Parliament in February 1388, and certainly rewarded him for his services to the Lords Appellant. Browe’s kinsman, Sir John Calveley, is also known to have had some dealings with Arundel, although his main attachment was evidently to Thomas, Earl Marshal, the youngest of the Appellants. Sir John Daneys, who spent his early years at Court, fought at sea with Arundel in 1387, but subsequently threw in his lot with yet another of King Richard’s enemies, Henry of Bolingbroke. In addition to Sir John Bussy, whose early association with Bolingbroke and his father, John of Gaunt, has already been noted, Hugh Calveley stands out as a prominent Lancastrian retainer. He campaigned in Spain with Gaunt, whose help he subsequently enlisted during the course of a private quarrel. In later life, Sir Thomas Oudeby established close links with the Lords Zouche of Harringworth, while Geoffrey Paynell maintained a long and rewarding relationship with William, Lord Roos of Hamlake and his descendants. Among his many titled friends Roger Flore numbered Richard, earl of Warwick, and his kinsman, Richard, Lord Abergavenny. Sir John Bussy also attracted several well-wishers from the ranks of the English baronage, although as a young man he had himself deliberately set out to cultivate such families as the de la Poles and the de la Warrs. It is now impossible to tell how far Thomas Greenham prospered as a result of his years in the custody of Nicholas Bubwith, bishop of Bath and Wells, but he remained friendly with his former guardian and, possibly as a member of his household, was even present when the latter drew up his will.

Of even greater importance to our Members was the network of family relationships and personal friendships between particular individuals. Despite the lack of any strong sense of ‘county’ (such as is to be found in the remoter parts of late medieval England), the men who sat for Rutland were none the less bound together by connexions which, although less tangible, seem almost to have taken the place of geographical boundaries. The most striking example of kinship at work is to be found among the small group of Cheshire landowners who, as a result of Sir John Calveley’s marriage to a wealthy local widow, came to predominate in the county elections during the late 1380s and 1390s. Sir John, who was a nephew of the celebrated captain, Sir Hugh Calveley, and himself a soldier of no little repute, used his growing influence in the Midlands to secure the return of his cousin (also named Hugh Calveley) and another of his kinsmen, Sir Hugh Browe. Both these men may in a sense be described as ‘carpet-baggers’, since it was through marriage to two of Sir John Calveley’s step-daughters (each of whom was herself an heiress of note in the county) that they established themselves among the Rutland gentry. Perhaps the most distinguished of all the military men here under review, Browe became famous for his exploits in Brittany where he and his uncle, the notorious condottiere, Sir Robert Knolles, fought with particular brutality against the French. As we have already seen, Browe’s son, Robert, also sat in Parliament, being by then regarded as a resident of long standing in the county.

It is not always so easy to discover how some of our other Members were related. We know that Sir Robert and Sir Henry Pleasington were father and son, and that Sir Hugh Greenham was Thomas Greenham’s grandfather, but the precise degree of kinship between Sir Thomas and William Oudeby, and Robert and Walter Scarle remains a matter of guesswork. On the other hand, Sir Thomas Burton and Sir Hugh Greenham, who were cousins, appear on circumstantial evidence at least to have been the grandchildren of Sir Thomas Greenham of Ketton. Sir Henry Pleasington probably owed his first return to Parliament in 1420 to the efforts of his father-in-law, Roger Flore, yet he must also have derived some advantage from the family ties which bound him to two former shire knights, Thomas Thorpe and John Wittlebury. His decision to take the latter’s grand daughter, Isabel, as his second wife was perhaps influenced by a desire to strengthen this existing connexion. Marriage certainly helped William Sheffield to gain acceptance in the local community, for besides acquiring a half-share in the valuable St. Liz estates, he became stepfather to one MP (John Durant) and brother-in-law to another (John Burgh). Both the Oudebys and the Scarles were fortunate in having influential government officials among their relatives. Sir Thomas Oudeby’s brother, John, became chamberlain of the receipt of the Exchequer in 1397, and may well have had a hand in engineering his return to the September Parliament, especially as the Crown was then anxious to build up support in the Lower House. (Sir) Walter Scarle did not apparently derive much immediate benefit from his links with John Scarle, another Exchequer official and clerk of the Parliaments during part of Richard II’s reign, for although their careers followed a similar pattern, John’s rise to the chancellorship of England in 1399 occurred when his kinsman was already too old.

However they may have acquired it, all our Members owned land in Rutland when they first stood for election, although, as we have seen, not all of them came from local families. Whereas at least 16 of our men inherited property in the county5 others, including Sir Hugh Browe, John Burgh, Hugh Calveley, Sir John Calveley and Sir Oliver Mauleverer, acquired holdings there through marriage. Geoffrey Paynell held his estates at Little Casterton by virtue of a gift made to him for life by Roger, Lord Scrope of Bolton. As was the case with Sir John Bussy, the bulk of Paynell’s possessions lay across the border in Lincolnshire, where Roger Flore, Sir Henry and Sir Robert Pleasington and John Wittlebury also had extensive territorial interests. It is hardly surprising to discover that nine, if not more, shire knights were landlords in Leicestershire as well as Rutland, or that six derived part of their revenues from rents or tenements in Northamptonshire. Some, however, were the owners of property scattered as far afield as Kent, Essex, Middlesex, Berkshire and Huntingdonshire. The presence of three Cheshire landowners among the parliamentary representatives of Rutland has already been noted, and a further four Members (Sir John Bussy, Sir Oliver Mauleverer and Sir Robert and Sir Henry Pleasington) had strong connexions with Yorkshire. So far as we can tell, all but five of the 27 men whose careers are here under review held land in at least two English counties.

Although insufficient evidence has survived to make possible a comparative analysis of their landed incomes, several of these Members must have received at least £100 p.a. from property alone. Sir John Bussy, Sir Thomas Burton, John Culpepper, Roger Flore, Sir Thomas Oudeby and the Pleasingtons were all rentiers on an impressive scale, and of these at least two (Bussy and Flore) were able to supplement their revenues by engaging in the wool trade. As illustrated above, a small but influential group of men profited from royal and baronial patronage, sometimes because of special skills which they had to offer. Roger Flore stands out as a particularly fine example of the successful lawyer-bureaucrat; and although he was a rather less distinguished member of the legal profession, William Oudeby did not lack influence in his native Leicestershire. During the last years of the 14th century in particular the electors of Rutland returned a number of soldiers, some of whom had clearly done very well for themselves out of the Hundred Years’ War. At least seven of our Members saw active service overseas at some point before their last return to Parliament,6 and were thus able to bring practical experience of the effects of English foreign policy to the Lower House.

The Rutland parliamentary elections were held in the county court at Oakham in the presence of a distinguished group of local figures. Although incomplete, the lists of witnesses extant from 1406 onwards (at which date all sheriffs were instructed to draw up an indenture between themselves and the county electors certifying the validity of the proceedings) show that several of those regularly in attendance at the shire elections were knights or gentlemen who had either previously served as MPs or were later to be upper echelons of Rutland society, and some held important local offices even though they never entered the House of Commons. So far as we can tell, the elections themselves were free from outside intervention on the part of either the Crown or the nobility, although on one occasion at least the sheriff was found guilty of a flagrant breach of electoral practice. John Arblaster’s attempt to secure a place for his own candidate, William Oudeby, in the first Parliament of 1404 by falsifying the actual return provoked a storm of protest in the Lower House, which demanded immediate disciplinary action ‘que purroit tournir en ensample as autres de trespasser autre foitz en tiel manere‘. As a result of the ensuing inquiry, Thomas Thorpe, the victim of these gerrymandering tactics, not only obtained his rightful seat in the Commons, but also replaced Arblaster as sheriff during the course of the parliamentary session.7 Arblaster’s disgrace and imprisonment pending the payment of a heavy fine may in part have prompted the introduction of the above-mentioned statute of 1406, which, together with an Act of 1410, was intended to promote the holding of free and fair elections. It is, however, important to remember that abuses of this kind must have occurred quite often during our period, even though comparatively few have come to light.

Author: C.R.

Notes

  • 1. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iii. 125.
  • 2. Flore’s Membership of the Parliaments of 1416 (Oct.) and 1417 is known only because he occupied the Speaker’s chair on both occasions. The name of his colleague is not recorded.
  • 3. Robert Browe (1), Sir Thomas Burton (3), Sir John Bussy (3), Sir John Calveley (3), John Culpepper (3), Roger Flore (2), Sir Thomas Oudeby (4), John Pensax (2), Sir Henry Pleasington (3), (Sir) Walter Scarle (3), Thomas Thorpe (1), John Wittlebury (5).
  • 4. 1386, 1388 (Sept.), 1390 (Nov.), 1391, 1393, 1401, 1404 (Jan.), 1406, 1414 (Nov.), 1415, 1416 (Mar.), 1416 (Oct.), 1417, 1420.
  • 5. Robert Browe, Sir John Bussy, Sir Thomas Burton, John Culpepper, Sir John Daneys, John Durant, Roger Flore, Sir Hugh Greenham, Thomas Greenham, Sir Thomas Oudeby, Sir Henry and Sir Robert Pleasington, Robert and Walter Scarle, Thomas Thorpe and John Wittlebury all inherited some property in Rutland even though this did not necessarily constitute the bulk of their estates. Sir John Elme, John Newbold, William Oudeby and John Pensax each held land in the county, but we do not know how they acquired it.
  • 6. Namely, Sir Hugh and Robert Browe, Sir Thomas Burton, Sir John and Hugh Calveley, Sir John Daneys and Sir Oliver Mauleverer. It is possible that John Durant served in Normandy under Henry V, but we cannot be entirely certain.