Somerset

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 William Bonville I
 Sir Thomas Brooke
1388 (Feb.)Sir William Bonville I
 Sir Thomas Brooke
1388 (Sept.)Sir Thomas Hungerford
 Sir John Burghersh
1390 (Jan.)Sir Stephen Derby 1
 Thomas Beaupyne
1390 (Nov.)Sir John Berkeley I
 Sir Thomas Hungerford
1391Sir John Rodney
 Sir Thomas Brooke
1393Sir Thomas Brooke
 Sir William Bonville I
1394Sir Humphrey Stafford I
 Sir John Berkeley I
1395Sir William Bonville I
 Sir Thomas Brooke
1397 (Jan.)Sir Thomas Brooke
 Sir Thomas Arthur
1397 (Sept.)Sir Ivo Fitzwaryn
 Sir Thomas Brooke
1399Sir Thomas Brooke
 Sir William Bonville I
1401Sir Thomas Beauchamp
 William Stourton
1402Sir Thomas Brooke
 William Stourton
1404 (Jan.)Sir Thomas Brooke
 William Stourton
1404 (Oct.)Sir Hugh Luttrell
 (Sir) Leonard Hakluyt
1406Sir Walter Rodney
 (Sir) Leonard Hakluyt
1407Sir Thomas Brooke
 Richard Cheddar
1410Sir Walter Hungerford
 Sir Thomas Brooke
1411
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)Sir Thomas Brooke
 Richard Cheddar
1414 (Apr.)Sir John Tiptoft
 Sir Hugh Luttrell
1414 (Nov.)Sir Hugh Luttrell
 Robert Hill
1415Sir Hugh Luttrell
 Robert Hill 2
1416 (Mar.)Robert Hill
 Richard Boyton 3
1416 (Oct.)
1417Thomas Brooke
 Richard Cheddar
1419Robert Hill
 John Stourton I
1420Sir Thomas Stawell
 John Stourton I
1421 (May)Sir William Bonville II
 (Sir) Thomas Brooke
1421 (Dec.)Richard Cheddar
 John Stourton I

Main Article

Of the 32 Parliaments convened during the period 1386 to 1421 returns for Somerset are missing for five, and the names of the knights of the shire in the Commons of 1415 and 1416 (Mar.), have been supplied solely on the authority of Collinson, the county’s historian. Assuming that these particular names are correct, 25 individuals are known to have sat for Somerset in this period. The immediate re-election of both Members occurred three times (1388 (Feb.), 1404 (Jan.) and 1415), and of one of the two Members nine times (making a total of 15 instances where the same man sat in consecutive Parliaments). In terms of previous experience of the workings of the House, both shire knights in 17 out of 29 Parliaments had appeared there before, and in a further II a tried individual accompanied an apparent newcomer. Examples of re-election occurred fairly evenly throughout the period, and (mainly because of the experience gained by nine of the 25 in sitting for other places before being first returned for Somerset) novices were quite rare, especially in Richard II’s reign, when a mere three were successful at elections to the 12 Parliaments between 1386 and 1399. Only in 1401 is it possible that neither Member had been returned before. Half of the shire knights (12 out of the 25) sat for this constituency only once, and three of them just twice, so that in terms of the representation of Somerset alone Sir Thomas Brooke and Sir William Bonville I clearly stand out with their 13 and nine appearances, respectively. The general average of between three and four Parliaments per Member is comparatively low, but then this does not take into account representation of other constituencies. Indeed, no fewer than 14 of the 25 were elected at one time or another from elsewhere, a factor which raises the overall average to between six and seven Parliaments apiece. And not only did most shire knights have experience of several Parliaments; some of them were acquainted with the doings of the Lower House over very long periods of time. Thus Bonville I, who was also returned for Devon, made 20 appearances in Parliament in 36 years, and Sir Thomas Hungerford, who also sat for Wiltshire, was elected to 16 Parliaments in a period of similar duration. Sir Thomas Beauchamp’s parliamentary career (for Somerset alone) covered 31 years, and four others saw at least two decades pass by between their first and last elections.4

In the high proportion of its Members who sat for other constituencies, Somerset presents an interesting phenomenon. On the whole a firm distinction may be made between such men and those whose service was for Somerset alone. Of the latter there were 11, but (with the exception of Sir Thomas Brooke and one or two others) their service lacked any real continuity, half of them (five) sitting only once. The other 14 MPs all had interests spanning more than one county, and the affairs of Somerset commanded no more than a share of their attention. Thus, for example, Thomas Beaupyne sat six times for Bristol but only once for Somerset; and similarly John Tiptoft, who represented Huntingdonshire in three Parliaments, made just a single appearance for this county. (Sir) Leonard Hakluyt sat three times for Herefordshire and twice for Somerset; Sir Ivo Fitzwaryn three times for Dorset, once for Devon and once for Somerset; and Sir John Berkeley I three times for Gloucestershire, once for Hampshire, once for Wiltshire and twice for Somerset. Even more extraordinary were the careers of Sir Stephen Derby and Sir Humphrey Stafford I, each of whom sat once for Somerset and 14 times for other counties (in Derby’s case always for Dorset, in Stafford’s 12 times for Dorset, once for Warwickshire, and once for Wiltshire). Even so, none of these 14 should be dismissed as ‘carpet-baggers’: all were substantial landowners whose property knew no county divisions. Nine of them had inherited manorial estates in Somerset; four acquired similar properties through marriage;5 and the last built up extensive holdings there by purchase.6 All 14 were, therefore, in their different ways, qualified by virtue of their landed possessions to represent the shire in Parliament. It was simply that none of them restricted his interests to this locality. This phenomenon may be interpreted in opposite ways: a county seat was either considered to be so unimportant that few were ready to occupy it more than once or twice, or else of such great value that prominent individuals vied with one another to secure one. How are we to interpret the fact that on occasion the same person was selected for a particular Parliament by two shires? Thus, Sir John Mautravers was elected for both Dorset and Somerset in 1383 (Feb.), and in April 1384 both Somerset Members—Sir William Bonville I and Sir Thomas Hungerford—were also returned elsewhere (by Devon and Wiltshire, respectively). The elections for the Parliament of 1390 (Jan.) again saw Hungerford returned for both Somerset and Wiltshire, only on this occasion he apparently chose to represent Wiltshire alone, so that Sir Stephen Derby, who had never previously sat for Somerset (although he had already appeared in the Commons 12 times for Dorset) was evidently substituted. It may well be that a seat in the Commons was of such importance to certain individuals that they took steps to get themselves elected in more than one shire court, in order to be sure of a place; and the representation of two counties by the same man may only have happened on occasions when there was insufficient time to hold a second election before Parliament met. On the other hand, it is clear that in some cases the initiative for election of a particular person did not come from the man himself: thus, in Devon in 1377 Sir William Bonville I had been returned to Parliament while absent overseas, quite likely when he had no knowledge of what was afoot.

The seeming distinction between the two types of Member for Somerset, that is, between the local landowners who sat in Parliament only for this county, and the men to whom shire boundaries counted for little in this respect, may also be seen in a comparison of their standing in economic terms. Although all of those who sat for Somerset alone enjoyed substantial incomes of upwards of £50 a year (nine of the 11 received between £50 and £100 and the other two considerably more: Robert Hill approximately £200, and Sir Thomas Brooke over £400), most of them were considerably less wealthy than the 14 who sat for other counties too. Three of the latter (Sir William Bonville II, Sir Walter Hungerford and Sir John Tiptoft) were possessed of estates large enough to permit of their rise to the peerage, and during the period under review Sir Humphrey Stafford I’s income, conservatively estimated at £570 p.a., was evidently on a par with theirs. The stature of certain of the men concerned is suggested, too, by the fact that two of them had been elected as Speaker before they ever sat for Somerset (Sir Thomas Hungerford in 1377 (Jan.), when representing Wiltshire, and Sir John Tiptoft in 1406 when Member for Huntingdonshire); and two more—William Stourton and Sir Walter Hungerford—were to be chosen later in our period, in the successive Parliaments of 1413 (May) and 1414 (Apr.).

The ‘society’ of Somerset was in some ways peculiar: the baronage was represented there by the earls of Salisbury and Somerset and the Lords Botreaux and Poynings, but in terms of income derived from land in the county, these nobles were no more wealthy than commoners like Tiptoft, Brooke, Bonville and Stafford. Certainly, there is no evidence to suggest that these or other members of the peerage were ever responsible for the election of any shire knights of our period. The connexions of (Sir) Leonard Hakluyt with the Mortimers, Robert Hill and John Stourton I with the bishops of Bath and Wells, William Stourton with the earl of Salisbury, Sir Thomas Arthur with the Despensers, Sir Stephen Derby with the duke of Clarence, and the Hungerfords, Sir John Tiptoft, and Sir Hugh Luttrell with the duchy of Lancaster, may well have enhanced the local position of these individuals, but such affiliations, however prestigious, were not the source of the landed endowment by which they had risen to eminence in the county. Perhaps an exception to this general rule was Richard Boyton, who sat in the Commons for the only time in 1416. Boyton’s lands in Somerset were of comparatively little value and in any case had been acquired through marriage; nor, apparently, was he a Somerset man by birth. Earlier on in his career he had formed close links with John of Gaunt and his sons, Henry of Bolingbroke and John Beaufort, earl of Somerset, but by 1416 such past connexions cannot have counted for much, if for anything at all. What was possibly of significance as a factor in his election was his office, held by appointment of Thomas Chaucer* (a cousin of the Beauforts) as deputy butler in the Somerset ports of Bridgwater, Combwich and Dunster; and he was very likely then also acting as Chaucer’s lieutenant at Taunton castle. Otherwise, community of action and interest united the Members returned in the county court, and if some of them had links with the titular nobility or with other people politically influential, there is no evidence that this ever carried especial weight in determining the outcome of any particular election. It is possible, however, that the returns of 1401 had, exceptionally, been affected by extraneous matters. Both the shire knights chosen, although lacking in parliamentary experience, were noted for their attachment to Henry IV: Sir Thomas Beauchamp, a younger son who had not as yet served on any royal commissions, had given active military support to Bolingbroke and was now a ‘King’s knight’; and William Stourton, who was unusual among the MPs for Somerset in being a lawyer by profession, was shortly to be made (if he was not already so) steward of the principality of Wales for Henry of Monmouth. On the question as to whether any elections were unduly influenced, the local standing of Sir Thomas Brooke must also be taken into account. It seems safe to assume that Brooke’s opinion held sway at the county court, at least on occasion. How else are we to explain the election, along with himself, of his stepson, Richard Cheddar, to the Parliament of 1407? Cheddar was then only 28 years old and had never taken part in local administration or served in any official capacity either within the county or elsewhere. He was returned again with his stepfather in 1413, and then, four years later, elected in the company of his half-brother, the younger Thomas Brooke, who, aged no more than 26, was similarly lacking in experience of public affairs. The Brookes would appear to have had some influence in elections held in Dorset, too (Thomas had been returned for that county in 1413, having barely attained his majority); and there can be little doubt of their interest in the parliamentary representation of Lyme Regis. Then, too, Edmund Pyne*, a very close associate of the family, sat for the neighbouring county of Devon, where his lack of social standing made him otherwise a somewhat unlikely candidate. But the Brooke ‘connexion’, if such there was, never assumed the proportions of the Courtenay interest in Devon or that of the Hungerfords in Wiltshire.

The administrative experience of the Somerset MPs seems generally to have been consonant with their social position. Twelve of the 25 were sometime sheriffs of the joint bailiwick of Somerset and Dorset, four of them (Richard Boyton, Robert Hill, Sir John Rodney and Sir Humphrey Stafford I) before being first elected for this county; and 11 were made sheriffs elsewhere, four of them (Thomas Beaupyne in Bristol, Sir Humphrey Stafford I in Staffordshire, and Sir Thomas and Sir Walter Hungerford in Wiltshire) previous to their earliest election for Somerset. Only two Members (Robert Hill and John Stourton I) ever filled the post of escheator of the shire, although (Sir) Leonard Hakluyt and Sir Thomas Hungerford did so in other places (Herefordshire and Wiltshire, respectively). There was no case of a sheriff or escheator being sent to the Lower House when actually in office, although when Parliament assembled on 12 Nov. 1390 one of the Somerset Members, Sir John Berkeley I, had been appointed sheriff of the county only five days before, and was therefore occupying the shrievalty, strictly in contravention of the statute, throughout the session. Less serious was the case of Sir Walter Rodney, who was made sheriff of Somerset and Dorset towards the end of the long Parliament of 1406. Fourteen of the 25 MPs were at some stage of their careers j.p.s in Somerset, seven of them serving on the commission before they first entered the Commons; and 14 sat as j.p.s in other shires, eight of them being so appointed before they appeared in the House for this constituency. Thus, allowing for duplication of service, 13 of the 25 shire knights had sat on the bench before they were chosen to represent Somerset. The electorate returned local j.p.s to 21 of the 29 Parliaments for which we know the MPs’ names, and in four of these (1410, 1414 (Nov.), 1415 and 1419) both Members were in fact qualified in this way. All 25 gave at least some service in other royal commissions, too, men like Tiptoft, the Hungerfords, the Bonvilles and Stafford being outstanding in this respect. But although the frequency of nomination to such bodies was generally high, it is interesting to note that three men were not to be so appointed until after they had appeared in Parliament for Somerset at least once: Sir Thomas Beauchamp, Thomas Brooke and Richard Cheddar. Then, too, Sir Thomas Stawell’s record of participation in local government, dating from many years before his only election in 1420, was singularly unimpressive; and Sir William Bonville II had scant experience of administration, being only 28 when returned in 1421.

It has already been suggested that the elections of Beauchamp, Brooke and Cheddar owed something to unusual circumstances, and, these men apart, it is clear that the county electors usually preferred individuals important enough to have already discharged a royal office of some sort. Indeed, several of those returned were very well qualified in this way: thus, for example, when a candidate in 1390, Thomas Beaupyne could have made much of his many years’ work as farmer of the cloth subsidies, borough official in Bristol, deputy butler, collector of customs, and receiver of special parliamentary subsidies, besides drawing attention to his current position not only as customer of Bristol but also as farmer of the cloth subsidies in six counties of the south-west; Sir Hugh Luttrell had served as constable of Leeds castle (Kent) and lieutenant to the captain of Calais before his first election, and was possibly steward of Queen Joan’s household and certainly constable of Bristol when returned in 1414 and 1415; when Sir Thomas Hungerford was elected to all five of his Parliaments for Somerset he was chief steward of the duchy of Lancaster south of Trent; William Stourton was steward of the principality of Wales when returned in 1402 and January 1404 (and possibly in 1401, too); and, most important of all, before he was elected for Somerset Sir John Tiptoft had held the prestigious posts of treasurer of the Household, chief butler, and treasurer of the Exchequer. Both Beaupyne and Luttrell had served abroad on royal embassies thus gaining personal insight into foreign affairs before they entered the Commons as Members for Somerset. Several of the men returned were evidently of the highest calibre: Sir William Bonville II went on to become steward of the duchy of Cornwall and seneschal of Aquitaine, Luttrell to be made seneschal of Normandy, and Tiptoft seneschal of Aquitaine, president of the Exchequer in Normandy, and steward of Henry VI’s household. Sir Walter Hungerford rose not only to the stewardship of the Household but also to hold the influential positions of chamberlain and chief steward of the duchy of Lancaster and treasurer of the Exchequer. Tiptoft and Hungerford were clearly outstanding as administrators and diplomats, able to exert a positive influence on the decisions of government. Generally speaking, the shire knights for Somerset were mature individuals already embarked on successful careers; rarely younger than 30, they were usually over 40 when returned to Parliament. The elections of Sir Thomas Beauchamp, Richard Cheddar and Thomas Brooke were at least in this respect very much out of the ordinary.

The electoral indentures provide no indication of any particular outside influences at work. The numbers of named electors varied widely: from over 80 in 1419 to 20 in April 1414 and 16 that November.7 When returns by indenture were first adopted in 1407, a number of prominent figures put in an appearance at the county court to append their seals, among them Bonville I, Beauchamp, Thomas Chaucer and John Stourton I. But although Stourton and Beauchamp did attend elections again later, as did also Robert Hill and William Stourton, as time went on the majority of electors named came to be men of lesser standing, and so far as the indentures go it would appear that they had taken over control. If this were so, in fact, it might help to explain why a higher proportion of the Members elected during the reigns of Henry IV and Henry V were of lower social rank than previously. Between 1386 and 1399 (12 Parliaments) the proportion of knights to esquires was 23 to one; between 1401 and 1410 (seven Parliaments) it was ten to four; but between 1413 and 1421 (ten Parliaments) it was eight to 12. All of the seven esquires represented by these statistics were unusual in some other way: William Stourton and, possibly, Robert Hill and John Stourton I were lawyers; Richard Boyton was quite likely a protégé of Thomas Chaucer; Thomas Beaupyne was a merchant and able royal official; and Richard Cheddar and Thomas Brooke may have owed their elections to the influence of Sir Thomas Brooke. These factors apart, the increased incidence of the election of esquires during Henry V’s reign, and also the predominance of men from the lower sections of the gentry at the elections, may perhaps be accounted for by the absence in France of many of the foremost figures of the shire, possibly too by the diminished attraction Parliaments offered when the King and the greatest of his magnates were overseas.

Notes

  • 1. Sir Thomas Hungerford had been elected, but Derby was named on the writ de expensis: OR, i. 238.
  • 2. J. Collinson, Hist. Som. i. p. xxxi.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Sir Ivo Fitzwaryn 29 years, Sir Thomas Brooke and Sir Humphrey Stafford I 27 years, (Sir) Leonard Hakluyt 21 years.
  • 5. Sir Stephen Derby, Sir Humphrey Stafford I, Sir Thomas Hungerford and Sir John Tiptoft.