Wiltshire

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 Thomas Hungerford
 Sir Ralph Cheyne
1388 (Feb.)Sir John Dauntsey
 John Bettesthorne
1388 (Sept.)Sir Ralph Cheyne
 Richard Horne
1390 (Jan.)Sir Thomas Hungerford
 Sir William Sturmy
1390 (Nov.)Sir John Roches
 John Wroth
1391Sir Bernard Brocas
 Robert Dingley I
1393Sir Thomas Hungerford
 Sir William Sturmy
1394Sir John Roches
 John Gawen
1395Sir John Lilborne
 John Gawen
1397 (Jan.)Sir John Roches
 Sir Robert Corbet
1397 (Sept.)Sir Henry Green
 Sir Thomas Blount
1399Sir William Sturmy
 Sir John Roches
1401Sir William Sturmy
 Sir Walter Hungerford
1402Sir John Berkeley I
 Thomas Calston
1404 (Jan.)Richard Mawarden
 Peter Stantor
1404 (Oct.)Sir Walter Hungerford
 William Worfton
1406Thomas Bonham
 Thomas Calston
1407Sir Walter Hungerford
 William Stourton
1410
1411Sir Walter Hungerford
 Henry Thorpe
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)Sir William Sturmy
 Sir Walter Hungerford
1414 (Apr.)Sir William Moleyns
 Sir Walter Hungerford
1414 (Nov.)Sir William Sturmy
 Thomas Bonham
1415William Alexander
 Thomas Bonham
1416 (Mar.)Sir Walter Beauchamp
 Robert Andrew II 1
1416 (Oct.)
1417Sir William Sturmy
 John Westbury
1419Robert Ashley
 John Westbury
1420John Persons
 John Rous III
1421 (May)Robert Long
 Richard Milbourne
1421 (Dec.)John Stourton II
 Robert Long

Main Article

For the 32 Parliaments assembled during the period 1386-1421, returns for Wiltshire are missing for only three, and the names are known of 35 Members. Of these, as many as 20 represented the county just once, no fewer than 12 of them only ever being elected to Parliament that one time. But although these figures might suggest that the Wiltshire electors set little store by parliamentary experience, other factors point to the opposite conclusion. In 18 of the 29 Parliaments for which returns have survived, one of the knights of the shire had been returned previously, and in ten more Parliaments both had been. The election of two novices together can only have happened a single time, in 1420. Novices were spread fairly evenly over the period, although a higher proportion of untried men were elected during the latter part of Henry V’s reign: six were returned to the five Parliaments between 1417 and 1421 (Dec.). Despite the apparent preference for men familiar with the workings of the Commons (whether such experience had been obtained while sitting for Wiltshire itself, or, as sometimes happened, while representing another constituency), re-election (in the sense of election to two successive Parliaments) occurred infrequently: in 1395, in 1401, and four times between 1414 and 1421; and not once were both Members in one Parliament chosen again for the next.

Certain of the 35 Wiltshire MPs were returned for the county several times: Robert Long represented it in five Parliaments, Sir John Dauntsey and Sir Walter Hungerford in six, Sir William Sturmy in eight, Sir John Roches in nine, and Sir Thomas Hungerford in 12. Furthermore, as many as 16 Members (including Long, Sturmy and both Hungerfords), at some time in their careers represented other constituencies too (ten of them doing so before they ever sat for Wiltshire). William Alexander, Robert Andrew II, Thomas Calston, and Robert Long all appeared in the House for Wiltshire boroughs (only Alexander after sitting for the county), while seven of the MPs elected for Wiltshire just once supplemented such service by representing other shires: John Bettesthorne sat once for Hampshire, John Wroth twice for Middlesex, Richard Mawarden once for Herefordshire and once for Gloucestershire Sir Henry Green once for Huntingdonshire and twice for Northamptonshire, William Stourton twice for Dorset and three times for Somerset, Sir John Berkeley I once for Hampshire, twice for Somerset and three times for Gloucestershire, and Sir Bernard Brocas eight times for Hampshire. In addition to his three Parliaments for Wiltshire, John Stourton II appeared once for Dorset; to his two Parliaments for Wiltshire Sir Robert Corbet added two for Herefordshire and two for Suffolk; Sir Walter Hungerford supplemented his six with another for Somerset; to his eight Sir William Sturmy added two for Hampshire and two for Devon; and Sir Thomas Hungerford’s 12 were increased by four in which he represented Somerset. Thus, taken altogether, Sturmy sat in no fewer than 12 Parliaments, and Sir Thomas Hungerford in as many as 16. When all such service for other constituencies is taken into account, the average number of Parliaments for each Member amounted to just over four.

Wiltshire also produced a few men of long parliamentary service, such as Sir John Roches (whose appearances covered almost 20 years), Sir Bernard Brocas (26) and Sir Robert Corbet (29). Sir Thomas Hungerford’s 16 Parliaments were spread over 36 years (1357-93), and Sir William Sturmy’s 12 over 38 (1384-1422), extending into four reigns. Moreover, among those who represented Wiltshire in this period were some who clearly made their mark in the Commons. No fewer than five were elected as Speaker: Sir Thomas Hungerford in 1377 (Jan.), his son, Sir Walter Hungerford, in 1414 (Apr.), and Sir Walter Beauchamp in 1416 (Mar.)—all three while actually sitting for this county—Sir William Sturmy in 1404 (Oct.) when representing Devon, and William Stourton in 1413 (May) when Member for Dorset.

All 35 MPs were landowners in Wiltshire to a greater or lesser extent. Well over half (24) inherited estates there, and most were members of local families with predominantly local interests (even though the Stourtons, Sturmy and Sir John Berkeley I may have had greater concerns in Somerset, Devon and Gloucestershire, respectively). Nine others came into the county after marrying local heiresses: Sir Walter Beauchamp, Sir Thomas Blount, Sir Bernard Brocas (whose administrative activity had long concerned Wiltshire, even though his landed interests were essentially in Hampshire), Sir Ralph Cheyne, Sir Robert Corbet, Sir Henry Green, Richard Horne, Richard Mawarden and Peter Stantor. The remaining two, Robert Dingley I and Robert Long, established themselves in the community of the shire through the purchase of property in the area, although Long was evidently a local man by birth. No more than four of the knights may, despite their holdings in Wiltshire, be properly described as ‘outsiders’, since they had no local concerns or associates among the gentry of the shire. These were Sir Robert Corbet, who came from a Shropshire family and stood to inherit estates as far flung as Gloucestershire and Suffolk; Sir Henry Green, whose principal holdings were in Northamptonshire; Sir Thomas Blount, whose family came from Dorset but was by this period established in Oxfordshire; and Sir William Moleyns, who, although he had inherited a number of Wiltshire manors, lived in Buckinghamshire and took no known part in Wiltshire affairs. Corbet, Green and Blount owed their property in the county to fortuitous marriages. As many as 23 MPs also held estates outside Wiltshire, for the most part in neighbouring counties, and some of them were among the wealthiest gentry in the land. Fourteen are known to have enjoyed incomes of over £100 a year, among them Sir William Sturmy, Sir Walter Beauchamp, William Stourton (whose revenues were assessed at about £200 p.a. in 1412), Sir John Berkeley I (whose income exceeded £333 p.a.) and Sir William Moleyns (who received more than £350 in 1400-1). By 1436 Stourton’s son, John II (afterwards Lord Stourton), could count on revenues in excess of £600 a year, while those of Sir Walter Hungerford had exceeded £650 by 1420 and were to treble before his death. Nine others, while being less well-off, nevertheless received substantial sums of between £30 and £100 a year. On the other hand, no fewer than ten knights of the shire had comparatively small incomes, nearly all derived from property limited to within the shire bounds. Among the poorest were John Westbury, John Persons and John Rous III, who all sat (as novices) in the Parliaments of 1417-20. The unreliable nature of the evidence relating to revenues from land renders suspect any attempt to draw firm conclusions about changes in the parliamentary representation of the shire over the course of the period in this respect, but it would appear that the wealthiest Members (and those who held estates beyond the perimeters of Wiltshire) predominated in the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV, while those of lower income gained a much larger share of the county’s representation under Henry V.

A similar pattern may be discerned with regard to the social status of Wiltshire’s representatives. Certain of the knights of the shire were of almost equal standing to the titled nobility: Sir John Berkeley I was a younger but well-favoured son of the 8th Lord Berkeley; Sir Walter Beauchamp’s nephew and elder son were both to be summoned to the Lords after his death; and the husband of Sir William Moleyns’s grand daughter and eventual heir was to be summoned as Lord Moleyns by virtue of his wife’s substantial estates. Furthermore, Sir Walter Hungerford and John Stourton II were themselves to be later elevated to the peerage, in recognition of their great wealth and service to the Crown. Such men were clearly outstanding. Yet only 13 of the 35 MPs of this period were of knightly rank when elected, the majority being esquires or lawyers; and as the years passed so the number of belted knights diminished. Thus, in the 11 Parliaments assembled between 1386 and 1397 (Sept.) the ratio of knights to men of lesser rank was 8:3; in the eight Parliaments between 1399 and 1411 it evened out to 1:1; and in the ten between 1413 and 1421 it reversed to 7:13. The change was at first a gradual one (although in the four Parliaments between 1402 and 1406 six of the eight Members were esquires or lawyers), but after 1415 there was a more marked decline in the number of knights. When taken together with the information about parliamentary experience and comparative incomes, the contrast between the type of man most often returned during Richard II’s reign, and that chosen during Henry V’s becomes more pronounced. Of the 14 Members sitting in the ten Parliaments of Henry’s reign only five had appeared in the Commons before. If we confine our attention to the last five Parliaments of the period we find that of the eight men returned only Sir William Sturmy and Robert Long had ever sat previously; and that three of the others (John Rous III, John Persons and Robert Ashley) were only ever elected once in their lives, and John Westbury a mere twice. Furthermore, John Stourton II was aged just 21 and had not even begun what was to be an important career in royal service. Sturmy was the only knight to be sent to the Lower House from Wiltshire between 1417 and 1421 (Dec.). The alteration was due to more than the accidental fact that men of knightly estate no longer cared to take up the appropriate rank (John Bettesthorne, who sat in 1388, had refused to do so, even though his income and experience in the field clearly warranted it); it was the type of person that changed. Before 1399 a considerable number of the Wiltshire MPs were important men outside the county too: they included such as Sir Ralph Cheyne (one-time chancellor of Ireland and deputy warden of the Cinque Ports), Sir John Roches (sometime admiral), Sir Bernard Brocas (the queen’s chamberlain), Sir Henry Green (a leading politician), and Sir Thomas Hungerford (a dominant figure in the administration of the duchy of Lancaster), all talented individuals whose careers took them overseas on military service or diplomatic missions, and involved them in affairs of state. But after 1400 men of this calibre—Sir Walter Hungerford, Sir William Sturmy, Sir Walter Beauchamp and William Stourton—were outnumbered by those with narrower, more purely local interests, some of whom had even sat for boroughs (Calston, Andrew and Long), or were to do so later (Alexander). Only six of the 35 MPs were lawyers by profession: Alexander, Andrew, Bonham, Gawen, Long and William Stourton, and only one of these (Gawen), sat before 1399. All were experts in their chosen fields, whether as stewards on the great estates of ecclesiastical or noble patrons, or as attorneys in the lawcourts. Nevertheless, the county returned a lawyer to no more than eight Parliaments of the period, and all of these assembled after 1393. The only occasion when two members of this profession were elected together happened in 1415; and their appearance is further indication that the traditional representation of the county was undergoing change.

It seems, therefore, that during Henry V’s reign the Wiltshire men of higher social rank and greater wealth showed less interest in parliamentary affairs. Certainly, although two knights attended the elections at Wilton to the first Parliament of the reign, that of 1413 (May), no other person of their status figured among the named electors (who usually numbered between 20 and 30, though, exceptionally, as few as 13 in 1421 (May) and as many as 53 in 1422), from that date until 1433. The principal reasons for this and for the changes in the type of individual being sent to the Commons may have stemmed from national rather than local causes. In and after 1417 Henry V spent long periods in France, and he attended but one of his later Parliaments, that of 1421 (May). The Parliaments which met during his absence were important assemblies only in that they voted money to pay for the military campaigns; there was little of political interest to tempt any of the more distinguished persons who had remained behind to travel to Westminster. At the same time many of the gentry (including such prominent figures as Beauchamp and Hungerford) were abroad in the royal armies.

Whatever their social background, the great majority of those returned for Wiltshire had some experience of local government. Thirty-two of the 35 served on royal commissions in Wiltshire itself at some time or other in their careers. Of the rest, John Wroth acted in this way only in Middlesex, and Sir Thomas Blount only (and that but once) in Hampshire; while John Rous III was exceptional in that he was never appointed to carry out any duties whatsoever on behalf of the Crown. Thirty-three MPs had appeared on at least one commission before their first elections for Wiltshire, the exception (besides Rous) being Peter Stantor who, however, had at least 20 years’ service in the King’s household behind him when he entered the Lower House for the first and only time in 1404. As many as 24 of the 35 Members (two out of three) were sometime j.p.s in Wiltshire, and eight of these sat on the bench in other counties, too. In addition, Sir Robert Corbet, Sir William Moleyns and John Wroth were j.p.s in Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Middlesex, respectively, although they never served in this capacity in Wiltshire. Fifteen of these 27 men had gained experience of such judicial work before their earliest elections for Wiltshire; and that the electorate preferred candidates qualified in this way is suggested by the fact that to 15 of the 29 Parliaments for which returns have survived the county returned a current member of the local bench, and to five more (1388 (Feb.), 1404 (Oct.), 1413 (May), 1414 (Nov.) and 1416 (Mar.)) it elected two. Nine MPs were sometime escheators of Wiltshire (five of them serving in this capacity before their first appearances in the Lower House), while Richard Milborne occupied that office in Somerset and Dorset. Nineteen of the Members (over half) were appointed sheriff of Wiltshire (13 of them before they ever sat in the Commons for the shire), and seven of these also held shrievalties elsewhere. In addition, John Bettesthorne served as sheriff in Hampshire, although never in Wiltshire. Certain of them were evidently constantly employed as administrators: John Gawen officiated as escheator for six terms, and Sir Thomas Hungerford for no fewer than 12; while Sir John Berkeley I was appointed sheriff of various counties no less than eight times. On occasion the Wiltshire Members contravened the statute prohibiting the return of sheriffs to Parliament: thus, Sir John Roches sat in the Parliament which met five days after his appointment as sheriff of Wiltshire on 7 Nov. 1390; Robert Dingley I did likewise in the very next Parliament, meeting a fortnight after he succeeded Roches in the shrievalty; while a slightly different case was that of Sir Walter Hungerford, who was elected to the Parliament of 1414 (Apr.) for Wiltshire while actually holding office as sheriff of Somerset and Dorset. To this weight of administrative experience should also be added Sir John Lilborne’s term as coroner, the service of Thomas Bonham, Robert Long and Sir John Roches as alnagers, and the involvement, as keepers and verderers, of 11 MPs in the supervision of the royal forests in Wiltshire.

These statistics clearly demonstrate that involvement in local government was an important factor in the selection of MPs, and the impression that most men elected were already embarked on their careers is borne out by an examination of their ages when they entered the House. So far as may be ascertained (given the inaccuracies of contemporary evidence), 31 of the shire knights were at least 30, 22 at least 40, and six at least 50 at the time of their first returns. John Bettesthorne was about 60 when elected as a novice in 1388, and Sir Bernard Brocas was about 61 when he sat for Wiltshire for the first and only time in 1391 (although he had appeared in the Commons several times previously for Hampshire). But there were young men returned, too: Sir Walter Hungerford was only 22 at his initial entry in 1401; and John Stourton II attained his majority just five months before his successful candidacy for the Parliament of 1421 (Dec.). Both men came from wealthy and influential families, and Hungerford had already demonstrated that the family attachment to the Lancastrians, exemplified in the career of his father, was no less strong in himself. More surprising was the election in 1420 of John Persons and John Rous III (neither of whom can have been much older than 25), for neither possessed much wealth or influence, coming as they did from very minor gentry families, and Rous was a younger son with no experience whatsoever of local administration.

Few of the MPs seem to have owed their election for Wiltshire to any connexion either with the King or with some member of the titular nobility, although such connexions (and there were many) may well have helped to recommend them to the shire community. Several of the MPs of the 1390s were closely connected with Richard II: Sir William Sturmy, Sir John Roches and Sir Bernard Brocas were all ‘King’s knights’ and had long served him in military and diplomatic capacities, while Robert Dingley I was a ‘King’s esquire’ and had spent much of his life in the employment of Richard’s father and grandfather. The connexion of John Gawen with the King was more indirect; he was closely associated with Richard’s friend and counsellor, John Waltham, bishop of Salisbury, who was treasurer of England at the time of Gawen’s only elections to Parliament in 1394 and 1395. Although Dingley was not a native of Wiltshire, he, like the other four, held property in the county and had built up interests there; and it seems likely that he and Gawen were of sufficient standing in the shire to secure election even apart from their links with the King and bishop. This was certainly true of the three knights. But the same may not be said with regard to the men elected to the Parliament of 1397 (Sept.): Sir Henry Green and Sir Thomas Blount. Both were ‘outsiders’ who had acquired property in Wiltshire through marriage; neither had represented the county before or were to do so again (for Blount, indeed, this was his only Parliament); and neither had served on any commissions in the shire. More significantly, they shared a strong personal attachment to Richard II (so strong, in fact, as to lead ultimately to their executions): in the months immediately before the elections took place Green had become one of Richard’s most trusted advisors, and both during and after the Parliament he was to play a prominent part in the implementation of his extreme policies; and Blount was one of the select band of the knights of the King’s chamber. That Richard needed supporters in the Commons of 1397 (Sept.) goes without question, for it was then that his vengeful measures against the Lords Appellant of 1387-8 were to be cloaked with parliamentary authority. Precisely how the election of Green and Blount was arranged is not revealed, but it can hardly have been coincidental that the sheriff who made the return was Richard Mawarden, a King’s esquire of long standing.

No blatant case of interference in the parliamentary elections for Wiltshire under Henry IV and Henry V has been discovered. Clearly, the return of such men as Sir William Sturmy to five Lancastrian Parliaments, Sir Walter Hungerford to six, William Stourton to that of 1407 and Sir Walter Beauchamp to that of 1416 (Mar.), would not have been unwelcome to the Crown, for in the course of his career Sturmy served as Henry IV’s ambassador, steward of the household of Princess Blanche and chief steward of Queen Joan’s estates; Hungerford had been knighted on the eve of Bolingbroke’s coronation and was appointed to one of the chief stewardships of the duchy of Lancaster immediately after Henry V’s accession; Stourton was probably still holding office as steward of the principality of Wales; and Beauchamp, who had supported Henry IV before he mounted the throne, became a King’s knight under his successor. No active interference in elections would have been necessary to secure the return to the Commons of these particular individuals, who were all substantial landowners and influential in local affairs. But this was not so in the cases of Peter Stantor and Richard Mawarden, who were elected together to the first Parliament of 1404. Both had been King’s esquires and royal annuitants since the early 1380s, but had nevertheless been formally retained by Henry IV. Neither was a native of the county, for they held land there only through marriage or royal grant. Their unusual background and the fact of their simultaneous election to what was to be for each the only Parliament in which he sat for Wiltshire, suggests that the electors may have been prompted from outside. Perhaps Walter Beauchamp, then a King’s esquire, who presided over the hustings as sheriff, had something to do with it.

Several of the Wiltshire MPs established connexions with members of the titular nobility, but whether any of these associations helped them secure seats in the Lower House is open to doubt. Three, at least, were linked with the earls of Salisbury: Sir Thomas Hungerford was employed as steward of Earl William’s estates for over 30 years, during which period he sat for Wiltshire in nine Parliaments; Richard Horne was a feoffee of the same earl at the time of his only election in 1388, having already been in his service for over 20 years; and Sir John Roches actively supported Earl John during the Parliament of 1399 (Roches’s ninth and last appearance), when Salisbury was accused of complicity in the murder of the duke of Gloucester. At the time of Sir John Dauntsey’s sixth and last return, to the Merciless Parliament of 1388, he was in receipt of an annuity from Richard, earl of Arundel, one of the Lords Appellant then in control of the government. Of less political significance, when John Persons entered the Commons for the only time in 1420 he was probably already a feed retainer of John Arundel, Lord Mautravers (de jure earl of Arundel); and among the associates of John, 5th Lord Lovell, were Thomas Calston, who was elected in 1402 and 1406, and Thomas Bonham, who was first returned in 1406. The latter’s successful candidacy may have also owed something to his duchy of Lancaster stewardship or to his similar position on the estates of Bishop Metford of Salisbury. The connexions of the ‘outsider’ Sir William Moleyns with Thomas Chaucer of Ewelme, Bishop Beaufort’s cousin, possibly played some part in his only election in 1414; and certainly Beaufort’s steward, Richard Wyot, made an unprecedented appearance at the Wiltshire elections to act as mainpernor on his behalf.

The connexions of five of the MPs with the duchy of Lancaster should not be overlooked. Sir Thomas Hungerford sat in nine Parliaments for Wiltshire while engaged as John of Gaunt’s chief steward of the southern parts of the duchy, and his position as one of the duke’s most trusted councillors undoubtedly secured him the Speakership of the Commons in 1377; Thomas Bonham was serving as duchy steward in nine counties at the time of his first return in 1406; and Sir Walter Hungerford was holding office as chief steward in the south of England (as his father had done before him) when returned in 1413 (May) and 1414 (Apr.). There can be little doubt that the las