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|1388 (Feb.)||William Maple|
|1388 (Sept.)||Nicholas Sherwind|
|1390 (Jan.)||William Maple|
|1397 (Jan.)||Thomas Appleby|
|1397 (Sept.)||Walter Lange|
|1413 (May)||Thomas Armorer|
|1414 (Apr.)||Thomas Armorer|
|1414 (Nov.)||William Soper|
|1416 (Mar.)||Thomas Marlborough|
|Benedict Wichford 1|
|William Chamberlain 2|
|1421 (May)||Richard Thornes|
|1421 (Dec.)||William Soper|
Although it was one of the busiest ports of later medieval England, Southampton was not populous even by contemporary standards. Its population in 1377 has been estimated at 1,728, some 400 fewer than that of Winchester, and it was probably less than half the size of Salisbury and under a fifth that of Bristol. Established by Saxon times, the town was favoured with a long sheltered harbour, double tides and easy communications inland. Not far away were some of the finest wool producing districts of southern England, and imported raw materials, such as alum and woad, might be carted along a radial pattern of roads to supply the cloth manufacturing districts of the Midlands and the West Country. From an early date Southampton served as an outport for London. The ‘port’ itself stretched from Hurst to Langstone, comprising the ‘members’ of Keyhaven, Lymington Sharprix, Redbridge, Hamble, Hock and, not least, Portsmouth, the latter itself a parliamentary borough. Its international trade had been given impetus by the increased cross-Channel traffic with Normandy following the Conquest, and expanded with the growth of the wine trade with Gascony and the wool trade with Flanders and Italy.3 Southampton’s periods of prosperity have been interspersed with long years of depression, but the 15th century has been held out as its ‘golden age’; certainly, on the evidence of its overseas trade, during the period under review the town was flourishing. In 1353 it had been appointed as the port of embarkation for all merchandise coming from the Staple at Winchester, and was already participating in the trade with the Mediterranean. Venetian and Genoese galleys were frequent visitors in the 14th century, and in 1378 the Italians and Spanish were further encouraged to use this port by the passage of an Act permitting them to ship staple commodities thence directly home without first having to send them to Calais. Indeed, by the mid 15th century the Venetian galleys had almost deserted London, and Southampton and Sandwich were the great places for the export of wool and cloth via the Straits of Gibraltar to the Italian markets, and for the import of luxury goods such as silk, damask, velvets, carpets, fruit, wine, oil and spices from the Mediterranean. In contrast to the usual reception accorded to foreigners elsewhere in England, friendly relations grew up between native and alien merchants, and cases of intermarriage, like that of the widow of John Bigard with a Spaniard, were not uncommon.4
Even so, the general assumption that Southampton was prospering in this period may be contested.5 A port may be busy but still be comparatively poor, and it would seem that the men of Southampton derived their income from servicing its import and export trade rather than from their own direct involvement in commerce. There was little local industry, and the town was never a centre of textile manufacture; no clothier of any note resided there in the late 14th century. The export of cloth and wool, the import of wine and raw materials for the cloth industry, and above all the lucrative trade in luxury goods destined for the capital, mostly remained in the hands of aliens or else merchants from Salisbury, London or the Midlands. Profits from Mediterranean products were not made by Southampton men, for only an insignificant fraction of these imports changed hands inside the town walls. The Southampton merchants themselves appear most frequently sending goods to Winchester and the surrounding villages, the kind of function common to traders in a market town rather than one of the busiest ports in the country. Some, it is true, did take part in the overseas trade, but it is rare to find a local man handling a large cargo or one of great value. With the obvious exceptions of William Soper, Walter Fetplace, and members of the James family, the Southampton merchants were by no means of equal standing with their counterparts of London and Bristol. Although the amount of trade passing through the town in the mid 15th century was greater than at any other time in the Middle Ages, the town itself profited little. It was constantly in trouble over the payment of the fee farm of £200 p.a. In 1376 the burgesses had claimed that the town was only half inhabited as people had moved away to escape the high costs of fortification, defence having been a perennial problem since the famous French attack of 1338. Four years later they obtained total remission of the fee farm for three years. A similar situation was reported in 1414, when Henry V was convinced by his Council that the content of a petition, presented in the second Parliament of that year, was essentially true, and released the town from 140 marks of the farm for the next ten years, at the same time licensing the burgesses to acquire in mortmain lands worth £100 annually to help support local costs. During Henry’s reign considerable shipbuilding went on in the town and its immediate vicinity: part of the King’s fleet was constructed at Bursledon, and the port of Southampton was the point of embarkation for the great military expeditions to Normandy of 1415 and 1417 as well as those of subsequent years. But although the townsmen witnessed scenes of intense activity, and a constant traffic of armed forces, reinforcements and stores, there is little sign that they personally profited to any great extent. After the loss of Gascony in 1453 and the collapse of the Mediterranean trade later on, Southampton was badly hit, for it had nothing to fall back on.6
By 1386 Southampton had acquired many of the privileges enjoyed by Winchester. In 1154 the existence of the guild merchant and certain liberties as held under Henry I were confirmed to the townsmen by his grandson; in 1189 they were granted freedom from toll throughout England, and ten years later permitted to pay their own fee farm. The charter of 1252 gave the burgesses formal protection from incursions on the part of the barons of the Cinque Ports, and four years afterwards the powers of the sheriffs of Hampshire within the town were considerably curtailed. The most important innovation of the period 1386-1421 was contained in the charter granted by Henry IV in 1401 which among other things allowed the burgesses to elect their own j.p.s.7 Since the 13th century the guild merchant had been the dominant authority in the town. Its ordinances, as compiled in about 1300, professed to regulate both the guild and the borough itself, and although the two were kept nominally separate, by the late 14th century they had merged their identity. Certain of the guild’s officers, who included an alderman, steward and four scabins, acquired functions beyond the confines of their society. The alderman was by now head of both the borough and the guild, and the steward served as treasurer for both. A place in the guild was inherited or else purchased on satisfaction of certain requirements, of which one was residence, but entry was roughly equated with admission to the freedom of the borough, for right up to Elizabethan times such admissions were made ‘into the guild’. The guild offered mutual aid and trading privileges: no one except a member or ‘one of the franchise’ (a person living in the town to whom the guild had given permission to trade), was allowed to buy or sell goods in Southampton, and the guild membership also had certain rights of pre-emption as well as a monopoly of particular products such as honey, herring, oil, millstones and hides, of keeping taverns and of selling cloth by retail. In much earlier times the borough had been headed by a reeve, initially appointed by the King but from about the reign of Henry II elected by the burgesses. The reeve’s status was subsequently, by 1217, upgraded to mayor, but in 1249 the guilds-men, finding that this office detracted from their alderman’s position, obtained a royal grant that ‘neither they nor their successors should at any time be governed by a mayor’. The alderman took over the mayor’s functions and after 1270 adopted his title.8
Borough elections were held at a different time of year from the guild elections of June or January, that is, on the morrow of Michaelmas. The burgesses, meeting in a general assembly, elected 12 substantial ‘prodes hommes’ as jurats, to ensure the execution of the King’s commands, maintain the peace and assist the bailiffs. The 12, with the assembly’s assent, then chose two from among themselves or other men, ‘profitables et sachaunz’, to be bailiffs, and others to serve as clerk and sergeants. Their tenure of office commenced the same day. According to the ordinances the mayor had the first voice in all elections. So far as mayoral elections went, the practice followed was no doubt as described in 1460, when the outgoing mayor nominated two burgesses, of whom the assembly then chose one as his successor. This procedure did not, however, rule out the possibility of a mayor being re-elected.9 By the mid 14th century there may have developed some division of duties between the two bailiffs, by which one of them was given particular responsibility for the collection of local customs. The defective nature of the surviving list of town officers makes it impossible to draw conclusions as to the respective status of the two in the second half of the 14th century. By the 15th, however, it is clear that one bailiff had acquired seniority over the other. Between 1400 and 1440 the senior bailiffs were mostly prominent merchants, few of whom had served as junior bailiff, and each of whom subsequently occupied the office of mayor. The junior bailiffs seem to have been men of lesser standing: few of them rose to the senior bailiffship or mayoralty, and most, like Thomas Armorer and Benedict Wichford, held the office for several years. The chief receipts and disbursements of the borough passed through the hands of the steward. In addition to the officers already mentioned, there were two coroners (elected by right of the charter of 1256), four ‘discreets’ of the market, and a broker, the latter being sworn to advance the interests of the burgesses before all other merchants. The 12 aldermen, distributed over the five wards, who had view of frankpledge and also controlled the sanitary regulations of the town, should be distinguished from four others, confusingly called aldermen too, who were first named by the charter of 1401. By this grant the burgesses were allowed to choose from among themselves four aldermen, three or two of whom along with the mayor and four, three or two other honest persons of the community (to be chosen by the mayor and burgesses), were to serve as j.p.s in the town, hearing pleas that hitherto had come before the county bench. These four aldermen, who occasionally appeared with the mayor and bailiffs as witnesses to local conveyances, were usually former mayors.10
From Edward I’s reign onwards Southampton had been regularly called upon to elect burgesses for Parliament, but it frequently failed to make returns, defaulting, for instance, in 1307, 1309, 1311 and 1321. Up to and including 1406 it was customary for the names of those elected to be forwarded to the sheriff at Winchester, who in his endorsement of the parliamentary writ stated that he had directed the bailiff of Southampton (responsible for executing writs in the town) to hold the election, and that he had responded with the names of those listed. Occasionally, as for the four Parliaments of 1382 and 1383, and again in 1386, 1390, 1393, 1399, 1402 and 1406, the sheriff sent to Chancery, along with the endorsed writ, a schedule containing the names of the Members for the shire and the three Hampshire boroughs. In 1395 and 1397 (Sept.), however, he forwarded the actual replies of the Southampton bailiffs: brief statements of the names of the parliamentary burgesses and their mainpernors. No separate indentures of election have survived for Southampton, and it seems likely that none were drawn up before 1449. In 1411, 1413 (May), 1414 (Nov.), and 1419 an indenture recording the shire election was sent to Chancery along with the three separate responses from the boroughs (similar to those of 1395 and 1397). However, in 1415, 1420 and 1421 (May), and then for every Parliament up to 1432, a single indenture certified the election of both knights of the shire and all the burgesses, in terms suggesting a common election in the shire court. But this was almost certainly not what actually happened. The elections were doubtless made in the boroughs and the sheriff merely notified of the results. As regards payment of wages, Southampton generally adhered to the standard daily wage of 2s. for its parliamentary burgesses.11 But it might occasionally deviate from this practice: it was to pay its recorder, William Chamberlain, as much as 3s.6d. per day for his services in the Parliament of 1439-40.
The names of Members are known for only 24 of the 32 Parliaments convened between 1386 and 1421. As a result, complete statistics regarding the frequency of the election of individuals cannot be compiled. But there is no question that in 19 of the 24 Parliaments one of the representatives had sat in the Commons before, and in as many as 11 of these both had done so. On possibly five occasions both Members may have been newcomers, but only for the three consecutive Parliaments of 1386 and 1388 is it at all likely that this was in fact the case. Re-election happened on at least 14 occasions: Thomas Appleby sat in every Parliament for which returns have survived between 1390 and 1397 (six in all); John Dering was elected to both Parliaments of 1397; Thomas Armorer to those of 1413 (May) and 1414 (Apr.); Thomas Marlborough to four consecutive Parliaments from 1414 (Apr.) to 1416 (Mar.); Benedict Wichford in 1415 and 1416 (Mar.); William Soper in 1419 and 1420; and William Chamberlain three times running between 1417 and 1420. Nor were experienced partnerships rare: William Maple and Thomas Appleby were returned together in 1390, 1391 and 1393, Thomas Marlborough and Benedict Wichford in 1415 and 1416, and William Soper and William Chamberlain in 1419 and 1420, not to mention their companionship in five more Parliaments after 1422. Certain of the 20 MPs of this period made many appearances in the Commons: Appleby sat seven times between 1383 and 1397, Marlborough II between 1395 and 1426, Soper as many as 13 between 1413 and 1449, and Chamberlain ten between 1417 and 1442.
Apart from Roger and John Mascall, who were probably father and son, there is no evidence of a family tradition of parliamentary service for the borough. Few of the representatives, in fact, came from families with deep roots in Southampton. (The town’s population was constantly shifting and property often changed hands rapidly.) Probably only half of the 20 were even natives of the town. Seven others almost certainly originated elsewhere, some coming from no further away than Lymington (John Bigard), Romsey (Benedict Wichford), Hamble (William Maple) or Winchester (William Soper), but others arriving from more distant places such as Weymouth (Walter Lange), the Channel Islands (Thomas Appleby) and Cornwall (William Chamberlain). But all these seven, along with the ten who were certainly local men, were resident in Southampton prior to their first returns to Parliament. Moreover, their holdings in the town were often considerable, including mansions like West Hall, Bugle Hall and the ‘Woolhouse’. Of the remaining three, little is known about John Lucas, but he certainly held property in Southampton in the year following his only election in 1417; Richard Thornes traded from the port, but there is no positive proof of his residence in the town; and John Shipton was quite likely an outsider, who at the time of his only election in 1411 probably held the manor of Pittleworth, some 15 miles away. However, these three only accounted in all for three seats in the Parliaments of this period. In cases where resident burgesses acquired lands outside the town, these were usually situated nearby, or at least within the bounds of the shire: Walter Lange took possession of the manor of ‘Sutton’s Place’ in Shirley; Roger Mascall purchased tenements around Titchfield; and Thomas Armorer acquired (through marriage) smallholdings in Alton, Petersfield and Winchester. Only Benedict Wichford inherited land further away, in Wiltshire. Of higher standing than these were two men, both of them frequently returned to Parliament, who joined the ranks of the county gentry: William Soper, who bought several properties along the west side of Southampton Water and a house in London, and William Chamberlain, whose holdings (obtained through marriage and purchase) included the manor of Hinton Daubnay, houses in Winchester, and land at South Tidworth. The former, although a merchant, achieved armigerous rank; the latter, a lawyer, was known as ‘gentleman’.
As might be expected, the majority (about 13) of the parliamentary burgesses of Southampton were merchants of one sort or another. Two of these also manufactured cloth on a small scale, and some, like Richard Bradway, Walter Lange and the Mascalls, were involved in overseas trade, dealing in cloth and wine, or, like Thomas Middleton, in wool. Richard Thornes obtained royal licences to export grain to France. Nicholas Sherwind had trading connexions with Winchester, Salisbury, London and Colchester. William Maple became associated with London businessmen. Walter Lange owned at least three ships. But for the most part they were small traders and shipowners, and their business was mainly confined to the immediate locality. They were not in the same league as the merchants of Bristol and London and, indeed, some of them lacked substance even in comparison with their fellow townsmen. There is little sign of great wealth, although Bradway was party to a loan of 160 marks to the abbey of St. Mary Graces, and Thomas Middleton and Thomas Armorer joined in extending another, of £200, to the earl of Kent. Middleton, apparently wealthier than most of his local contemporaries, indulged in several building projects, notably the wharf at the Watergate and, for his own use, a sizeable mansion which, however, was taken over by the royal customers to house the wool-beam. By far the most substantial merchant among the MPs was William Soper, who was actively engaged in trade with Spain, France and Italy for more than 30 years, his main interests being in wool, cloth, corn and wine. But it was those of lesser standing who dominated the representation of the borough until the turn of the century, while from then on Soper and one or two other merchants shared the seats with a number of lawyers. Of the latter group there were perhaps five: Thomas Armorer, William Chamberlain, John Lucas, Thomas Marlborough and Benedict Wichford. Although a member of this profession was rarely elected for Southampton before 1401, at least one lawyer sat in every Parliament for which returns have survived between 1411 and 1421 (May), and in four of these (1414 (Apr.), 1415, 1416 (Mar.) and 1417) it is very likely that both representatives were of this calling. Southampton may not be classed with other centres of mercantile activity which held on to their traditions of representation by members of their own merchant oligarchies. Its increasing employment of lawyers, and the appearance of William Soper in 1413 and William Chamberlain in 1417, the one a talented administrator and enterprising merchant, the other a lawyer of some note, who together went on virtually to monopolize the borough seats for the next 20 years, are indications of a break with the town’s past practice of sharing its representation in Parliament among the local traders. Four of the 20 MPs, John Bigard, John Lucas, John Shipton and Richard Thornes, never, so far as is known, held any of the town offices, but then none of them, apart from Thornes, sat in the Commons more than once. Seven of the rest occupied the steward’s post, all before their earliest return to Parliament and, with one exception, all before occupying any other office in the town. John Dering was steward when returned to both Parliaments of 1397. Eleven Members served as bailiff, Thomas Armorer doing so for as many as ten terms and Benedict Wichford for seven. There was no obvious connexion between service as a bailiff and election to Parliament, for sometimes a bailiffship preceded election, but on other occasions it succeeded it; and, save Armorer in 1413 and 1414, no bailiff was sent to the Commons while actually discharging office. Only five parliamentary burgesses of this period ever acted as mayor. But all were appointed more than once: Walter Lange twice, John Mascall and William Soper three times, Thomas Middleton four, and William Maple five. Four of them were at some time elected to Parliament during a mayoral term: Maple in 1388 (Feb.), Middleton in 1402, Mascall in 1421 (Dec.), and Soper in 1425; and there were three occasions when the outgoing mayor was returned: 1391 (Maple), 1419 (Soper) and 1422 (Mascall). But it should be noted that 12 other merchants served as mayor of Southampton between 1386 and 1422, and only two of these (so far as is known) ever sat in the Lower House, one before 1386, the other after 1422. It would appear, therefore, that some of the most prominent men of the town were never chosen as its parliamentary representatives, whereas lesser men, who rose to no higher local office than the junior bailiffship or the stewardship, were. Six parliamentary burgesses are known to have acted as aldermen, and, consequently, as j.p.s. Three of the group of lawyers held such positions in Southampton as were reserved for members of their profession: Thomas Marlborough served as town clerk, Benedict Wichford as borough attorney in the court of common pleas and William Chamberlain as recorder. Chamberlain was discharging this office when returned to no fewer than five of his ten Parliaments.
As many as 12 Members were appointed to royal commissions. In the case of four their charge was to investigate local affairs or deal with matters concerning only the town, but the rest were named in connexion with more important matters, like piracy, shipping, and crown revenues, and/or covered a wider area. For instance, Thomas Appleby served in the Channel Islands and the West Country, Walter Lange commandeered ships for royal service, and Lange, Thomas Middleton and William Maple also made inquiries into allegations of piracy in the West Country, Sussex and Hampshire. Maple and the Mascalls were collectors of parliamentary subsidies in Hampshire at large, while William Chamberlain appeared on commissions to array the men of the shire and to deliver the gaol in Winchester castle, and also figured as one of the quorum on the county bench for about six years. William Soper outdid them all with his appointments to innumerable commissions involving the building and repair of ships, the suppression of smuggling and piracy, the array of local forces, the muster of retinues, and arrangements for the movement of armies over to France. His powers were often extended all along the south coast, to the south-west, and even to Normandy.
Between them the parliamentary burgesses of Southampton accumulated a considerable number of royal offices, which for the most part were concerned with the collection of revenues. Three, Thomas Appleby, Thomas Middleton and William Soper, served as customers in Southampton, Appleby sitting in the Parliament of 1391 while so employed, and Soper occupying the post in question for as long as 30 years, during which period he was elected 11 times. John Shipton acted in the same capacity for one year at Melcombe Regis, being appointed just a month after his only return in 1411. Three MPs were controllers of the customs at Southampton: Appleby (who sat in two Parliaments, 1383 and 1390, during his term), Middleton and John Penkestone. Nicholas Sherwind occupied the post of searcher of Southampton Water for ten years, in the course of which he sat in his only Parliament. Four of the parliamentary burgesses (Penkestone, Shipton, Thornes and Soper) served as deputy butler in the port of Southampton, Thornes being so employed at the time of his second Parliament (1425) and Soper being thrice elected during his term. Before settling in Southampton Appleby had officiated for three years as receiver and approver of the Channel Islands, and afterwards, on the very first day of his first Parliament in 1383, was made controller of the King’s works at Southampton. In addition, by the time of his sixth election in 1395, he had been made a royal sergeant-at-arms, one of the three Members to achieve this position, the others being Roger Mascall, who had been appointed just before his only election in 1386, and William Soper. Walter Lange received wages from Henry IV for conveying certain notables over to France; and four of his fellows were annuitants of the Crown: Appleby was granted £10 p.a. by the same monarch; John Shipton, who had served as royal escheator of Hampshire and Wiltshire some six years before his return, was described as a ‘King’s servant’; Richard Thornes was appointed by Henry V as a yeoman of the Crown and received 6d. a day from the Exchequer (although not until after his first Parliament in 1421); and William Soper was granted annuities of 20 marks by both Henry V and his son in reward for his many services to them and Henry IV. In addition, the last named also acquired a verderership in the New Forest, undoubtedly a sinecure. Soper was, of course, the most outstanding crown servant of them all; and he was actively engaged in the organization of the royal fleet, most of the time as clerk of the King’s ships (for which his annual salary amounted to as much as £40), when returned to 12 of his 13 Parliaments. For more than 40 years he was constantly busy performing administrative tasks for the Crown.
Despite the impression gained from the array of offices held by Southampton’s MPs, to only ten of the 24 Parliaments of this period was there returned someone currently engaged in royal employment, and there can be no grounds for suggesting that the Crown ever influenced the result of elections in the borough. Nor is there more than a hint that any members of the noblity took an interest in the outcome. Before his return William Maple had served as lieutenant for the admiral of the west, Edward Courtenay, earl of Devon, and Thomas Marlborough was appointed by Queen Joan as one of three attorneys to act for her in the Exchequer and other royal courts, although this appointment by Henry IV’s widow did not occur until the time of his ninth Parliament (1422). Yet it cannot be assumed, just because they were employed by the earl or the queen in some way, that the latter contrived their election to Parliament. There was no need: Maple and Marlborough were sufficiently important locally to be chosen without any such intervention from outside. But the same stricture did not necessarily apply to John Lucas and Richard Thornes, for neither of them ever held much in the way of property in Southampton, nor occupied any of the town offices. What distinquished these relatively obscure men was that both of them were at some time in their careers in the service of Bishop Beaufort of Winchester. Indeed, Thornes had started off as keeper of one of Beaufort’s parks, and owed such prominence as he afterwards attained in Southampton, as deputy butler in the port, to the bishop’s cousin, Thomas Chaucer*.
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. C219/11/8.
- 2. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iv. 1126.
- 3. J.C. Russell, Brit. Med. Pop. 142; Surv. Southampton ed. Monkhouse, 208, 212.
- 4. A.A. Ruddock, ‘Alien Merchants in Southampton’, EHR, lxi. 1-17; Italian Merchants in Southampton (Soton Rec. Ser. i); E.M. Carus-Wilson, Med. Merchan