Shropshire

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
1386Edward Acton
 Hamon Peshale
1388 (Feb.)Sir William Hugford
 Sir Richard Ludlow
1388 (Sept.)Edward Acton
 Sir Hugh Cheyne
1390 (Jan.)Thomas Lee I
 Sir Richard Ludlow
1390 (Nov.)Thomas Whitton
 Sir Richard Ludlow
1391Sir Hugh Cheyne
 Sir Roger Corbet
1393John Darras
 Sir William Hugford
1394Sir Adam Peshale
 Sir William Hugford
1395John Longford
 Thomas Young I
1397 (Jan.)William Lee I
 Fulk Sprenghose
1397 (Sept.)Richard Chelmswick
 Sir Fulk Pembridge
1399John Burley I
 Thomas Young I
1401John Burley I
 Sir Hugh Cheyne
1402Sir John Cornwall
 Sir Adam Peshale
1404 (Jan.)John Burley I
 George Hawkstone
1404 (Oct.)John Burley I
 John Darras
1406David Holbache
 Thomas Whitton
1407Sir John Cornwall
 David Holbache
1410John Burley I
 David Holbache
1411John Burley I
 Sir Adam Peshale
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)Robert Corbet
 Richard Lacon
1414 (Apr.)David Holbache
 John Wele
1414 (Nov.)David Holbache
 Richard Lacon
1415Hugh Burgh
 George Hawkstone
1416 (Mar.)Hugh Burgh
 Edward Sprenghose 1
1416 (Oct.)
1417William Burley
 Richard Fox
1419William Burley
 Robert Corbet
1420William Burley
 John Wynnesbury
1421 (May)William Burley
 Hugh Burgh
1421 (Dec.)(Sir) Richard Lacon
 John Stapleton II

Main Article

There are gaps in the returns for Shropshire for the Parliaments of 1413 (Feb.), 1416 (Mar.) and 1416 (Oct.). One has been filled by Prynne, so the names of 29 knights of the shire are known for 30 of the 32 Parliaments of the period. To 26 of these Parliaments the shire returned men with some previous parliamentary experience; indeed, in 12 of them neither Member was a newcomer to the Commons. It was then quite rare for two novices to be elected together, but this almost certainly happened for both the Parliaments of 1397 and apparently occurred again in May 1413 and 1417. Re-election took place at least 12 times, becoming more common practice after the turn of the century, for John Burley I was elected to six of the ten Parliaments of Henry IV’s reign for which returns have survived; David Holbache sat in three consecutive Parliaments between 1406 and 1410; and William Burley in four between 1417 and 1421. As many as ten shire knights (a third of the total) only ever appeared in one Parliament each, but this group was balanced by another of similar size; ten MPs were all elected four times or more. Indeed, Hugh Burgh represented Shropshire in five Parliaments, and Edward Acton, John Burley I and Richard Lacon in six each. Furthermore, three of Shropshire’s Members added to their parliamentary experience by sitting on other occasions for different constituencies: Holbache represented Shrewsbury twice besides his five Parliaments for the county; Sir Adam Peshale was elected four times for Staffordshire as well as a like number for Shropshire; and Sir Hugh Cheyne interspersed his five appearances for Shropshire with three for Worcestershire. But even they did not begin to rival the record of William Burley, the lawyer of high repute who sat in the Commons for Shropshire in no fewer than 19 Parliaments between 1417 and 1455, in two of which (1437 and 1445), he had the distinction of being chosen Speaker. Overall, the average number of Parliaments per Member came to almost four. In terms of length of service Acton, Burgh, John Burley I and Holbache all compressed their appearances in between five and seven Parliaments each into 12 years or less. On the other hand, Lacon’s six Parliaments were spread over 20 years, Cheyne’s eight over 23, and Peshale’s eight over 38. William Burley’s impressive parliamentary career lasted nearly 39 years.

Certain Shropshire families maintained a tradition of parliamentary service in this period. Sir Hugh Cheyne, Sir John Cornwall, Sir William Hugford, Sir Richard Ludlow and Sir Fulk Pembridge were all members of old-established families which had provided parliamentary representatives for the shire in the past. Similarly, Sir Adam and Hamon Peshale carried on a practice begun by their uncle, Sir Richard and their father, Adam and continued by their brother, another Sir Richard in the neighbouring county of Staffordshire. The Corbets, having provided knights of the shire in several Parliaments dating from 1290, were represented in our period by Sir Roger Corbet of Moreton and his sons, Robert and Roger (the latter sitting for Shrewsbury in 1419 when his brother sat for the shire). The son of Sir Robert Corbet Sir Roger was the grandfather both of Thomas and of another Sir Roger and brother-in-law of John Darras, while the family circle widened to include other shire knights when his nieces married Hamon Peshale and Hugh Burgh and his great-niece was wedded to Richard Lacon. But although members of the old gentry families continued to sit in Parliament for Shropshire, they ceased to dominate the county’s representation; indeed, the first half of the 15th century saw a marked change in the type of man selected by the local community. Whereas, during Richard II’s reign it only happened occasionally that the shire elected a lawyer (Thomas Young I in 1380, 1383 and 1395, Thomas Lee I in 1385 and 1390 and William Lee I in 1397), in 14 of the 19 Parliaments for which returns have survived between 1399 and 1421 Shropshire was represented by at least one man trained in the law, and in four of these (1399, 1410, 1417 and 1420) both the MPs were drawn from the legal profession. The change is best exemplified in the fact that two lawyers, John Burley I and his son William, represented the shire in 25 out of the 38 Parliaments for which we know the names of MPs between 1399 and 1455. There can be no doubt that all eight of the men of this profession returned in our period were able practitioners of the law in their different spheres: David Holbache and Thomas Lee I in the implementation of justice, the Burleys and Richard Fox in the administration of great estates, William Lee I as an apprentice-at-law, and John Wynnesbury as a j.p. of very long standing. There seems to have been an increasing inclination on the part of the higher ranks of the Shropshire gentry to leave the representation of the shire to such capable lawyers and to others who had similarly failed to take up knighthood. The proportion of knights to those of lesser rank altered drastically in the course of the period: between 1386 and 1397 (11 Parliaments) 11 belted knights shared the seats with an equal number of esquires, but between 1399 and 1411 (nine Parliaments) the ratio was 5:13, and between 1413 and 1421 (ten Parliaments) 1:19. At the same time, those of knightly rank were only rarely coming to attend elections at Shrewsbury castle; no one of this standing witnessed the electoral indentures between 1407 and 1426.

These changes do not indicate that outsiders were taking over the representation of Shropshire. On the contrary, the vast majority of the shire knights were most probably born in the county, and all, without exception, owned land there. Hugh Burgh possibly came from a Westmorland family, the Peshale brothers hailed from Staffordshire, and David Holbache was Welsh, but all four had acquired landed interests in Shropshire before their first election to Parliament, Burgh and the Peshales doing so through opportune marriages, Holbache by a combination of purchase and royal grant. All of the rest inherited some property in the shire, to which several of them added more by marrying heiresses or widows. Nearly half of the MPs also amassed holdings elsewhere, for the most part in the neighbouring counties of Cheshire, Staffordshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, but some over the border in Wales, and one or two as far away as Somerset, Bedfordshire or Essex. Even so, with one exception, their interests remained centred on Shropshire. In this respect, Richard Fox, who quite early on in his career as a lawyer moved to Essex, was out of the ordinary, although it should be noted that he seems to have finally severed his connexions with Shropshire only after sitting for his native county in the Parliament of 1417. So far as may be judged, given the paucity of evidence, the wealthiest among the shire knights were Sir John Cornwall, Sir William Hugford, Sir Richard Ludlow, Sir Fulk Pembridge and Sir Adam Peshale. However, after the turn of the century these substantial landowners gave way to men of apparently lesser means, who derived the bulk of their incomes from fees and annuities.

The majority of the 29 MPs held royal office only in Shropshire. Fifteen of them served as sheriff, and Edward Acton, Sir John Cornwall and Sir William Hugford each filled this post for three terms, but only three Members occupied the shrievalty before they first entered the Lower House. Occasionally there were technical breaches of the statute prohibiting the return of sheriffs: in November 1384, when Acton was appointed sheriff on the day before Parliament assembled; in November 1390, when Thomas Whitton was so nominated five days before the opening, and in 1406 when the latter was re-appointed while the Commons were still in session. Nine MPs served as escheators, of whom William Burley did so for three terms, and George Hawkstone and David Holbache for two. Of the nine, only Burley had any experience of the escheatry before his first election to Parliament. The current escheator of Shropshire was sent to the Commons in 1393, 1394 (Sir William Hugford), 1410, April and November 1414 (Holbache) and 1417 (Burley). Thomas Whitton, and possibly also William Lee I, held office as coroner, and Edward Acton served a term as alnager. Sir Adam Peshale, Richard Chelmswick, John Darras and Sir John Cornwall were successive keepers of the royal forests of Morfe and Shirlet (Peshale, Chelmswick and Darras being all elected to Parliament while so employed). Sir Hugh Cheyne, who had been granted the keepership of Shrewsbury castle as far back as 1365, was elected to represent the shire on four occasions before being removed from the post by Henry IV in 1399. All but two of the shire knights (Hamon Peshale and John Stapleton II) were placed on royal commissions at some stage in their careers, although Fulk Sprenghose and John Longford were each apparently only ever appointed once. Of the rest, 22 had at least a modicum of experience of service on such bodies before their earliest appearances in the Commons, although in the case of Richard Fox this had been restricted to Essex, and in that of Hugh Burgh to Ireland. As many as 20 of the 29 MPs were sometime j.p.s in Shropshire, and Sir John Cornwall served on the bench in Worcestershire; but only seven had been appointed before their parliamentary careers began. Membership of the bench most probably carried some weight with the electors, however, for justices were sent to 15 out of the 30 Parliaments for which we have returns, and in six of these (1391, 1399, 1410, 1414 (Apr.), 1416 (Mar.), and 1421 (May)) both MPs were selected from their number.

Only a very few of the knights of the shire were ever promoted to offices in the Crown’s gift outside their home county. David Holbache, named as Richard II’s pleader and attorney in Wales, also acted for a while as joint justiciar of the southern parts of the principality, and although this was several years before he sat in Parliament under Henry IV, he took to the House useful personal knowledge about Welsh affairs. Similarly, Thomas Lee I and William Burley both served as deputy justiciars of Chester and North Wales, the former actually discharging the office when returned for Shropshire for the second time in 1390, the latter when returned in 1429 and 1439. Richard Chelmswick, Sir John Cornwall and Edward Sprenghose all occupied constableships of Welsh castles, though, with the exception of Chelmswick, never coincidentally with their parliamentary service. Further afield, Sir Hugh Cheyne was engaged as steward of Ulster, and Hugh Burgh as treasurer of Ireland, the latter representing Shropshire in two Parliaments during his term of duty.

Taken altogether, all but five Members had some experience of the tasks of royal administration either in the locality or elsewhere before being elected to Parliament, and for the most part they were men already well launched on their careers and aged between 30 and 45 when first returned. So far as is known, the youngest Members were Sir Richard Ludlow, aged about 27 when elected in 1388, and Robert Corbet, who was 29 on the occasion that he first entered the Commons in 1413.

The majority of the knights of the shire for Shropshire were connected in some way with one or more of the marcher lords who possessed estates in the county or on its borders. Of these noblemen the most influential in this period were the earls of Arundel, Stafford and March, and the Lords Talbot, Furnival and Burnell. Given the loss of many of the Fitzalan estate papers, it is impossible accurately to assess the full scope of the affinity of the earls of Arundel, undoubtedly the most important magnates in the region at this time. Even so, 14 MPs (half of the total) are known to have entered the service of Richard Fitzalan and his successor in the earldom, Thomas. Seven of them served in Earl Richard’s retinue enlisted to fight the French at sea in 1387, only a few months before the meeting of the Merciless Parliament, in which he was to play a crucial role as one of the Lords Appellant. Indeed, both the men returned on that occasion for Shropshire (Hugford and Ludlow) had so recently taken part in naval engagements under his command. When elected in 1395, for the third time, Thomas Young I had already been named by Arundel as an executor of his will, and while the Parliament was actually in session he was made a feoffee of his estates. In fact, between 1386 and 1397 (Jan.) men known to have been connected with Arundel in these or other ways occupied 11 of the 20 seats. By contrast, to the second Parliament of 1397, which met after the earl’s imprisonment and was destined to condemn him to death for treason, Shropshire returned two individuals with no known association with the Fitzalans. They were unusual in other ways, too. Both were newcomers to the Lower House, and neither was ever to be elected again. One, Sir Fulk Pembridge, had, despite his substantial estates in Shropshire and elsewhere, taken no part in the administration of the shire for nearly 20 years; and the other, Richard Chelmswick, a man of small means, was unique among the Shropshire Members of the reign in being named a ‘King’s esquire’. Chelmswick had already benefited considerably from Richard II’s patronage: at that very time he was holding the constableship of Kilgerran castle, the keepership of the forests of Morfe and Shirlet, and the stewardship of the Cornish estates of the duchy of Cornwall, all for term of his life by the King’s grant. There can be little doubt that he owed his election to this crucial Parliament to his proximity to the King, who not only appointed him as a j.p. in between the two parliamentary sessions, but also, at the dissolution, named him as one of just six commoners to serve on the important commission set up to complete unfinished parliamentary business and to determine the charges of treason brought, each against the other, by the dukes of Hereford and Norfolk. Incidentally, the second session of this Parliament met at Shrewsbury, near the vast Fitzalan estates in the northern marches of Wales and Shropshire which the King, now that they were forfeit to the Crown, had annexed to his newly formed principality of Chester.

The political reversals of 1399 were again reflected in the parliamentary representation of Shropshire. Thomas Fitzalan, the disinherited son of Earl Richard, was with Henry of Bolingbroke when he returned from exile and was restored to the earldom and to his landed inheritance (although still a minor) in Henry’s first Parliament. To that assembly the community of the shire returned Thomas Young I, the late earl’s executor, and John Burley I, a trustee of the Fitzalans’ estates and former steward of their lordship of Oswestry. During Henry IV’s reign Burley sat in five more Parliaments, while David Holbache, a Welsh lawyer who had long been involved in the administration of the Fitzalan lordships in the marches, was returned on three occasions. In 1410 Burley and Holbache, by now made feoffees of the Arundel estates at the new earl’s request, sat together. On the day that Henry V succeeded to the throne, his friend Earl Thomas was appointed treasurer of the Exchequer, and a few weeks later, to the first Parliament of the reign, Shropshire returned two of the earl’s esquires: Robert Corbet and Richard Lacon, both of whom were newcomers to the Commons. Furthermore, in 1414 (Apr.) the shire was represented by Holbache and John Wele, the latter being then ‘lieutenant of the earl’s lordships’; and in 1414 (Nov.) by Holbache and Lacon. There can be little doubt that the place held by these men in the confidence of the treasurer was of paramount importance in deciding the success of their candidacy. Whether Arundel directly interfered with the elections themselves or, indeed, whether there was any need for him to do so, is a different matter. Such evidence as is provided by the electoral indentures themselves is inconclusive, although in 1407 four known members of Arundel’s affinity were among the eight named electors at the county court held at Shrewsbury castle, and in 1410 the list of witnesses on the damaged indenture was headed by John Wele, and included Corbet and his brother Roger, who was yet another of the earl’s esquires.

Certainly, for the time being the retainers of the earl of Arundel dominated the representation of Shropshire to the exclusion of those of other magnates. In 1413 there erupted a struggle for local hegemony between the earl and John Talbot, Lord Furnival (afterwards earl of Shrewsbury), leading, in November, to Talbot’s committal to the Tower and to both men being bound in large sums of money to keep the peace. When, in the Trinity term of 1414, Henry V himself presided over sessions of the King’s bench at Shrewsbury (in response to the complaints of the Commons in the Leicester Parliament about the bad governance of Shropshire and the number of homicides committed there, exceeding those in ‘the rest of the counties of England’), it was Arundel’s men who bore the brunt of the charges, some of which were clearly inspired by his rival. Nevertheless, the earl’s influence prevailed; his men were pardoned and Talbot was removed from the scene by being sent to Ireland as the King’s lieutenant.2 However, the situation was reversed in October 1415, following Arundel’s death. The men returned to the Parliament which assembled a month later were both of Talbot’s affinity: Hugh Burgh, who had been closely attached to him for at least ten years and was currently serving under his command as treasurer of Ireland; and George Hawkstone, who was later (if not already) a member of his council. To the next Parliament (March 1416) Burgh was re-elected along with Edward Sprenghose, a retainer of Talbot’s elder brother, Gilbert, Lord Talbot. Some significance may be attached to Lord John’s visit to Burgh’s home at Wattlesborough in April 1421, at the time that the latter was seeking election again, although there is no definite evidence of active interference on his part in any of the elections of this period. Arundel’s men were now eclipsed: Wele was never returned to Parliament again, and after 1415 Holbache only ever sat for Shrewsbury. Only the Corbets’ and Lacon’s standing as landowners in Shropshire enabled them eventually to recover their former places. Another of Arundel’s retainers, William Burley, recognizing that the future lay with Talbot, entered his service, and perhaps as a consequence secured election to the four Parliaments summoned between 1417 and 1421 (May) and again in 1422 and 1425, on the last three occasions in the company of Hugh Burgh. Burley long retained his connexion with Talbot, and there is evidence that in 1435 he and the latter’s receiver-general distributed gifts of fish among the Shropshire electors, their efforts being rewarded with Burley’s twelfth election to the Commons.3 It is, however, debatable as to how much emphasis should be placed on Burley’s association with Talbot as a factor in his election to so many Parliaments, for in the course of his long career he acted as legal advisor to several other noblemen, and in later years received fees from the earl of Stafford and the duke of York as well as from his erstwhile lord, the then earl of Shrewsbury. An experienced and capable lawyer, whose counsel was greatly in demand, it seems likely that he would have all but monopolized one of the Shropshire seats in Henry VI’s reign even without Talbot’s backing.

During the period under review the house of Stafford suffered a series of minorities, and only in the years between 1395 and 1403 is it possible that the earls themselves could have influenced parliamentary elections in Shropshire. Even so, the only known link between them and the Members of that period was John Burley I’s stewardship of the Stafford lordship of Caus at the time of his first return in 1399, and it seems clear that Burley’s association with the earl of Arundel was of greater significance at that time. Sir Adam Peshale received an annuity charged on the Stafford estates, but it is unlikely that this had any effect on his four elections for Shropshire. Only one of the shire knights is specifically recorded as a retainer of the earls of March, whose stronghold of Ludlow was sit