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


1386Richard Frye
 Mark Le Faire
1388 (Feb.)Mark Le Faire
 Gilbert Forster
1388 (Sept.)William Wygge
 John Blake I
1390 (Jan.)Mark Le Faire
 John West
1390 (Nov.)
1391Mark Le Faire
 Gilbert Forster
1393Mark Le Faire
 Edmund Picard
1394John Peverel
 Richard Gould
1395Mark Le Faire
 John Blake I
1397 (Jan.)Henry Clerk
 Nicholas Tanner
1397 (Sept.)William Bolt
 Richard Pachford
1399Mark Le Faire
 Edmund Picard
1402John Snell II
 John Steor
1404 (Jan.)
1404 (Oct.)
1406Thomas Smale
 Emdund Picard
1407John Steor
 Robert Archer
1411Mark Le Faire
 Robert Archer
1413 (Feb.)Mark Le Faire
 William Wood II 1
1413 (May)Mark Le Faire
 William Wood II
1414 (Apr.)
1414 (Nov.)Mark Le Faire
 William Wood II
1415Richard Gould
 Richard Bolt
1416 (Mar.)Mark Le Faire
 William Wood II 2
1416 (Oct.)Richard Turnaunt
 William Reson 3
1417Mark Le Faire
 Richard Turnaunt 4
1419Richard Bolt
 Richard Turnaunt
1420William Reson
 William Wood II
1421 (May)John French III
 William Wood II
1421 (Dec.)John French III
 Thomas Cutler

Main Article

The dominant theme in the history of Winchester in the Middle Ages is one of continuous decline. The population fell, the built-up area contracted, and the city successively lost its status as a national administrative centre, a royal residence, and an international, and even a regional, market. The city had achieved its greatest eminence in the tenth and 11th centuries as the political and economic centre of Wessex, then dominant over England as a whole. At that time the city was among the dozen most prosperous English towns. During the 12th century it lost its importance as a centre of government, and the treasury, once located there, was moved to Westminster. As the trade stimulated by the Court declined, Winchester came to depend more exclusively on her position as an international and national market centre. The city lay in the midst of a comparatively thickly settled countryside, which was also a major wool producing area. It had a convenient opening to the continent through Southampton and was astride an important route from the Midlands to the sea; and merchants from all over England and from Ireland, the Low Countries, Gascony, Spain and Provence came to the annual fair of St. Giles held on the hill outside the eastern suburb. In the 13th century the St. Giles fair was one of the four great fairs of England. But the earliest known profits of the fair (over £146 in Richard I’s reign) were also the highest; from then on they fell steadily until, after the pestilence of 1362, the fair came to be of little more than local importance. From the 12th century Winchester steadily lost rank among English towns. The fee farm payable to the Crown became an increasingly heavy burden on the citizens, and in 1228 the assessment was reduced from £142 yearly to £80, only to fall subsequently to 100 marks. Winchester was losing its more distant markets, and its position as the commercial centre for southern England was not only eroded by the expanding smaller towns of the region, but usurped by the spectacular growth of Salisbury. By 1334 Winchester had so far declined that it ranked only 17th among the towns of England in the assessments for the levy of the parliamentary subsidy. The poll tax returns of 1377 suggest that by then its position had deteriorated still further, for its population was now seemingly less than half that of Salisbury. The city’s long decline continued into the 16th century and, although the vigour of its clothing industry in the period under review brought a temporary respite and a new (though short lived) prosperity, the citizens even then did not cease to bewail their poverty. The additional strain of maintaining the city walls in a defensible state was also a cause for complaint. The practice of subsidizing the city out of the royal alnage receipts was initiated in 1389, and from 1400 allowances of as much as 40 marks a year were made on the fee farm. In 1410 the commonalty had been authorized to acquire property for the augmentation of its income, and further permission to do so was to be granted in 1440 in response to specific claims that 11 streets, 17 parish churches and 987 messuages had fallen into ruin in the previous 50 years.5 The citizens’ claims were undoubtedly exaggerated with regard to the number of derelict houses, but the figure for the churches was more or less correct. In 1417 there were 889 separate habitations in the city, and the most recent calculations, based on this figure as well as on estimations of the clerical population and of the number of people living in the Soke, suggest that Winchester’s total population perhaps approached 7,710. However, the more conservation estimates of J.C. Russell, based on the poll taxes, put the city’s population as nearer 2,100.6

Of Winchester’s three greatest ecclesiastical dignitaries, the bishop, the prior of St. Swithin’s and the abbot of Hyde, the first exerted the most influence over the citizens and their affairs. An important part of the town, the Soke, was under the bishop’s own direct rule, and, save that the two coroners appointed for the city did duty there also, the city had no voice in its administration. Disputes between the civic authorities and the bishop were not at all unusual: in 1377 three citizens were sent to Bishop Wykeham’s manor at Esher to ‘speak and treat about having peace with the bishop’, perhaps in connexion with a dispute over the inhabitants’ blockage of Durnegate; and encroachment by the citizens in about 1410 provoked a sharp letter from Bishop Beaufort peremptorily ordering them to cease from meddling with his tenantry on the far side of the river. In 1411 five citizens, among them the recorder, William Wood II, were appointed to treat with the bishop’s council on behalf of the community ‘de diversis causis in lite pendentibus’. The bishop was a powerful neighbour; the city’s efforts to win his favour are shown by the number of presents given to him and his officers: for example, in 1394, a gift of fish worth £3 6s.8d. The mayor and his fellow officers had to abdicate their power during the fortnight of the St. Giles fair, for all legal business was then transferred to the bishop’s court, the ‘Pavillion’. A major cause of difference between the commonalty and the prior of St. Swithin’s arose over ‘Godbegot House’, an enclave of separate jurisdiction which the prior retained in the middle of the town, and this may have been the cause of the suit in Westminster in 1395 which cost the city over £6 in legal expenses. Similarly, friction between the local authorities and the abbot of Hyde, resulting in a lawsuit in the King’s bench in 1409, was due in part to contiguity of areas of jurisdiction.7 But on the whole relations between the corporation and its ecclesiastical neighbours remained peaceable. There is no evidence of interference in the government of the city by the bishop in the period under review, and certainly none of his officers were ever then returned to Parliament for Winchester.

Winchester’s early importance had secured many privileges for the citizens from the Crown, so that by the 14th century the city was near to being autonomous, appointing its own officers, collecting its own dues and holding its own courts; in fact, it enjoyed direct financial, judicial and political relations with the Exchequer and Crown, free from interference by the sheriff of Hampshire. The citizens had paid their own fee farm since 1208, and they obtained the privilege of return of writs in 1327. Winchester’s charters were subsequently copied by as many as 23 other boroughs. The guild merchant, first mentioned in a charter of Henry II, though not then spoken of as newly created, was the body representing the commercial community of the city and the one to which immunities and security of trade were guaranteed. It was only possible for members of the guild to buy or sell goods in the city, and this monopoly was strictly maintained. Admission to the guild implied admission to the freedom of the city also, and breach of the oath taken at entry could result, as in the case of Thomas Cutler, in expulsion from the freedom as well as the guild. In the 15th century possession of personal property worth £4 was required as a qualification for admission. But, despite the virtual identity of citizenship and guild membership, it was not the guild which governed the city: the city magistrates were the mayor and bailiffs, not officers of the guild. Similarly, the ‘Burghmote’, the governing body of the city, although limited to guildsmen, was a separate institution. Meeting three times a year, this assembly transacted a variety of business, for apart from its involvement in the election of the principal officers of the city and also of the Members of Parliament, it elected the panel of 12 who appointed to minor offices, voted subsidies for civic purposes, authorized the rate of murage for the year, issued ordinances regarding commercial practice, and arranged for the purchase or lease of communal property. The 24 members of the ‘Burghmote’, elected from ‘les plus prudeshomes et ... plus sages de la vile’, had originally served as advisors to the mayor, but by the 15th century they had become more of an order or estate within the community than a council, for citizens were then being spoken of as having the ‘status’ of the 24.

In the first half of the 13th century the office of mayor had often been held for quinquennial periods, but the ‘Usages’ of Winchester represent the mayor as removable from year to year, and this was what always happened during the period under review; there is, in fact, no single instance of a mayor being elected for two terms running. The mayor was chosen at the Michaelmas ‘Burghmote’, the 24 jurats making a single nomination to which the commons assented. Following his election the mayor was obliged to travel to Westminster to take his oath before the barons of the Exchequer, a regular allowance of £2 being provided by the city for this purpose. The two bailiffs (one for the 24 and the other, his inferior, for the commons), were elected at the same time, only by a different method: in the 13th century the jurats had nominated four ‘prudeshomes’ of whom the commons chose two, but by the late 14th century one of the bailiffs was directly chosen by the 24 from among themselves. The bailiffs’ duties were to act as magistrates and tax gatherers, and in the latter capacity they paid the fee farm at the Exchequer. These duties were onerous, and since there was little if any financial inducement to take office, it is not surprising to find citizens occasionally seeking to escape the burden by paying as much as £2 10s. for exemption from one bailiffship, £3 10s. from the other, and £6 13s.4d. from both. Other important officers were the two coroners (who of course kept the pleas of the Crown), and the clerk. The latter’s more important functions were seemingly taken over by the recorder, who, from the early 15th century, was usually a man with legal qualifications and employed a deputy to do the routine work of record keeping. There was also a host of lesser officials, among them the aldermen, who, unlike their counterparts in London, appear to have exercised no judicial function. By 1417 there were only six aldermen, responsible for keeping order in the neighbourhoods.8

Winchester had been among the 27 towns selected in 1268 to send representatives to treat with the King’s Council of matters concerning the realm. The city elected Members to all seven of Edward I’s Parliaments to which representatives were summoned, and from then on regularly throughout the medieval period.9 The large assembly of 1285, the Parliament of 1330, the ‘retro-Parliament’ of June 1371 (to which was summoned one of the two knights for every shire who had sat in the previous Parliament and, similarly, one of every pair of burgesses), and the Parliament of 1393, all actually met at Winchester. The city’s parliamentary returns for most of the period under review consisted only of the bailiffs’ reply to the sheriff’s precept, simply giving the names of those who had been elected and of their mainpernors. Endorsements to this effect were made on the writs of summons by the sheriff, who often also sent to Chancery schedules listing all those elected for the shire and the three Hampshire boroughs. In 1395 and 1397, however, the sheriff forwarded the actual responses of the bailiffs of Winchester themselves, and this happened again in 1411, 1413 (May), 1414 (Nov.), 1416 (Mar.) and 1419.10 In accordance with the statute of 1406, from then onwards the sheriff drew up indentures recording the shire elections, as held at Winchester; and in 1415 and from 1420 to 1431 he included the names of the parliamentary burgesses on the same document, in terms suggesting that both shire and borough elections had taken place in the county court.11 But since, from then until 1449, the former practice was resumed, with the information regarding the borough elections being once more forwarded on schedules or contained in the bailiffs’ own responses, we may reasonably assume that throughout the period the elections were always held in the boroughs’ own separate assemblies, the results being communicated at the shire court subsequently. That this was indeed the case at Winchester is indicated by details of ‘Burghmote’ meetings registered in the ‘Black Book’. These show that the borough elections for the last Parliament of Henry IV’s reign (February 1413) were held (on 7 Jan.) in the ‘Burghmote’, ‘per maiorem et ballivos necnon per totam communitatem eiusdem civitatis’.12 If this is taken to mean that only freemen of the city elected Members of Parliament, the franchise can have numbered no more than 200.

During Richard II’s reign Winchester normally paid its parliamentary representatives at the customary rate of 2s. a day, with additional payments if they did extra business for the city at Westminster or elsewhere. So, for example, in 1379 Stephen Haym received £3 0s.4d. on top of his basic wages, and in 1406 the Members were paid 3s.8d. for obtaining ‘scriptura statutorum parliamenti’. The civic authorities were unusually generous in 1395, when they paid Mark le Faire and John Blake I £10 15s. for attending a Parliament which lasted only 20 days; but from the turn of the century they contrived to economize. For his service in the unusually long Parliament of 1406, the three sessions of which totalled 131 days, Edmund Picard received no more than £9 10s., and his fellow Member, Thomas Smale, even less (£3 6s.8d.), instead of at least £13 10s. each, to which they would normally have been entitled. It may be that they had agreed to divide one Member’s salary between them, or that neither representative attended every session all the time. The wage rate could be a matter for bargaining: in January 1413 one parliamentary burgess, the wealthy merchant Mark le Faire, negotiated in the ‘Burghmote’ for the full 2s. a day, but the other, the city’s recorder William Wood II, generously agreed to accept a bare 3s.6d. a week. For their services in the second Parliament of 1421, John French III and Thomas Cutler were each paid only 1s. a day, though the former did receive an additional 10s., ‘in rewardo parliamenti’.13

The names are known of 23 men returned for Winchester to 26 of the 32 Parliaments convened between 1386 and 1421, inclusive. The city (whether this was intentional or not) usually elected at least one representative with previous parliamentary experience. This happened in a minimum of 21 instances and in 11 of these neither Member was a newcomer to the Commons. On possibly only five occasions were both parliamentary burgesses novices (in September 1388, January and September 1397, 1402 and October 1416). The majority of the MPs of this period were returned only once, twice or three times. But some stood out: William Wood sat eight times in ten years (1413-23), and Mark le Faire no fewer than 14 between 1385 and 1417. These two, in fact, established something of a partnership, being elected together on at least four occasions. Re-election (in the strict sense of the term) occurred ten times: le Faire was re-elected in 1386, 1388, 1393, February 1413 and May 1413, Wood in May 1413 and May 1421, Richard Turnaunt in 1417 and 1419, and John French III in December 1421. There are two examples of parliamentary service by both father and son: William and Richard Bolt, and Richard and William Wygge; and John Snell II was perhaps the stepson of Edmund Picard. Thomas Cutler and Richard Turnaunt stepped into the shoes of earlier Members (Picard and Gilbert Forster) by marrying their widows.

Without exception the 23 parliamentary burgesses for Winchester resided in the city. The majority (16) were men whose first interest was in the manufacture of cloth, and for the most part they were among the elite of the industry, namely, the fullers (such as William Bolt and Henry Clerk) and dyers (such as Gilbert Forster). From the mid 14th century cloth finishing had become relatively more important to the economy of the city as a whole. This had resulted in significant social changes, for the craftsmen and entrepreneurs in the clothing industry succeeded to the position in the city which merchants engaged in trade at a national and even international level had occupied a century before. The industry was largely controlled by a small number of entrepreneurs, such as the Bolts, the Wygges, Gilbert Forster and Richard Turnaunt, all of whom, albeit only once or twice, were returned to Parliament. Such men could be very well-off: Turnaunt, in 1430 the wealthiest layman living in the city, left over £450 in his will. By the early 15th century Italian merchants appear to have been purchasing large quantities of cloth in Winchester, and it was they who were chiefly responsible for its export, mainly through Southampton. Even so, at least six of the Winchester MPs of this period (Robert Archer, Henry Clerk, Mark le Faire, John French III and William Reson) themselves shipped cloth through that port. Nor was their trade limited to the products of Winchester’s looms: Archer, a mercer and grocer, imported wine, as also did Nicholas Tanner and John French III, while Clerk exported grain and other foodstuffs. But the only merchant among them with substantial interests in trade overseas was le Faire, who exported large quantities of cloth and imported woad, wine, oil, dates, wax, salt and iron, from Spain, Portugal and Gascony. The same man also conducted a busy inland trade, not least among his customers being Richard II and Henry IV, whose households he supplied with both cloth and wine. Of the remaining five Winchester MPs involved in trade, but whose main commercial concern was not locally produced cloth, three were mercers, one, Richard Pachford, was a goldsmith and the other, Edmund Picard, was a skinner. Only two Members were lawyers: Richard Gould, the city’s attorney in the court of common pleas in the year of his first return to Parliament (1394), whose practice kept him busy at the Winchester assizes and in the central courts on behalf of many local clients, and William Wood II, the recorder of the city.

Over the years the character of the parliamentary representation of Winchester changed significantly. In eight of the 15 Parliaments before 1413 for which the returns have survived, one of the seats was occupied by the leading merchant of the town, Mark le Faire, and on other occasions the seats were mainly filled by men with interests in the cloth industry. Throughout these years (1386-1411), the clothiers and merchants of Winchester dominated its parliamentary representation; indeed, on only one occasion (1394) was a lawyer elected. But from 1413 to 1422 in seven of the 11 Parliaments for which returns have survived one seat was taken by a member of the legal profession (usually Wood); and in 1422, for the first time, both parliamentary burgesses (Wood and John Bye) were men of law.

At the end of the 14th century fewer Winchester merchants than before had country estates. Le Faire, with his manor of Freefolk and lands in Hampshire and Wiltshire worth at least £46 a year, was an exception. One of the lawyers, Richard Gould, also acquired holdings outside the city, in his case situated at South Langley. Moreover, these two were the only parliamentary burgesses to establish connexions of any importance outside Winchester. Le Faire’s son-in-law, Henry Somer*, a knight of the shire for Middlesex and Cambridgeshire, served for many years as a high-ranking officer in the Exchequer.

Judging from the careers of the MPs of this period, progress through the civic hierarchy was upward and step by step. The first stage in a career of public service was often marked by tenure of the office of alderman; and service as a commons’ bailiff, then as bailiff of the 24, and finally as mayor, represented later stages of advancement. No Member who held such office ever descended in the scale, even though he might use his wealth or influence to avoid the burdensome tasks attached to the bailiffship. Parliamentary service would generally appear to have been a high honour, although it usually preceded election to the mayoralty. All of the parliamentary burgesses of 1386-1421 held office of some sort in the city. Fourteen of the 23 served as bailiff of the commons, the majority (all but Thomas Cutler and John Peverel) before their first election to Parliament. Of those 14 only one, Robert Archer, did not go on to fill a higher post: the rest, with the exception of Cutler, Richard Frye and Richard Turnaunt, who all obtained exemption, were elected as bailiff of the 24. In fact, 16 Members occupied the higher bailiffship, for Richard Bolt, Henry Clerk, Mark le Faire, Thomas Smale, John Snell II and Nicholas Tanner, who apparently never served as the inferior bailiff, did accept the superior office. Ten of the 16 were bailiffs of the 24 before they first sat in the Lower House. The claim made by J.S. Furley that ‘during the 14th century Winchester was never represented in Parliament by anyone who had held more than a minor office at home’,14 is not upheld by the evidence. For, of the 12 parliamentary burgesses of this period who served as mayor at some point in their careers, four (John Blake I, William Bolt, Richard Frye and William Reson) did so before their earliest appearance in the Commons. Furthermore, most of those 12 occupied the mayoralty for more than one term: Blake did so for four, and le Faire and William Wygge for five. It was not, however, usual practice at Winchester for those actually discharging office to be elected to Parliament. This happened only twice during the period under review: in 1402, when the bailiff of the commons, John Steor, was returned, and in 1419, when the mayor, Richard Turnaunt, was elected. At the end of the official year in 1416, the recently discharged commons’ bailiff and the mayor whose term had similarly just expired were together elected to the Parliament summoned for October, and in 1419 Richard Bolt sat in the Commons within a few days of the end of his mayoralty. Ten Members filled minor offices in the city, as alderman, chamberlain, coroner or town clerk, but their term of employment likewise rarely coincided with service in Parliament. The two lawyers, Richard Gould and William Wood, occupied only such civic posts as were naturally reserved for members of their profession, and in their case absence from the city was not discouraged. Indeed, Wood was recorder when returned to at least five of his eight Parliaments.

Only five of the representatives for Winchester of this period were appointed to royal commissions, and of those five two were merely authorized to collect taxes in the city itself, although Mark le Faire and William Wood both served on commissions of inquiry covering the shire as a whole, and Richard Frye sat on the Hampshire bench for two years, his appointment dating from midway through his first Parliament (1381). Only six parliamentary burgesses held permanent offices by royal appointment, all of which were to do with the cloth trade. Two of the six (Robert Archer and Nicholas Tanner) served as alnagers in Winchester and the Soke alone, but the rest occupied the same office in other parts of the shire as well: John Steor only briefly, in 1403-4; le Faire from 1408 to 1415 (during which period he was elected to four Parliaments); Thomas Smale from 1415 to 1422; and William Wood from 1415 to 1431 (between which dates he was five times an MP).

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. Black Bk. Winchester ed. Bird, 17.
  • 2. C219/11/8.
  • 3. M. McKisack, Parl. Repn. Eng. Bors. 151.
  • 4. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iv. 1072.
  • 5. D.J. Keene, Surv. Winchester (Winchester Studies 2), i. 86-105; CPR, 1388-92, p. 115; 1399-1400, pp. 225, 280, 533; 1436-41, pp. 400, 507.
  • 6. Winchester RO, D3; Keene, i. 366-7; J.C. Russell, Brit. Med. Pop. 142.
  • 7. J.S. Furley, Govt. Winchester, 86-93, 187; Town Life in 14th Cent. 60; C260/94/62.
  • 8. Keene, i. 67-85; C. Gross, Gild Merchant, i. 255; Black Bk. 1; Furley, Govt. 13, 20, 22-23, 44-45, 47, 49, 62-63, 65, 67-68, 70, 73, 113-14; Winchester RO, chamberlains’ acct. 7-8 Hen. V; ct. roll 10 Ric. II m. 1.
  • 9. McKisack, 3, 6, 19.
  • 10. C219/9/11, 13, 10/6, 11/2, 5, 8, 12/3.
  • 11. C219/11/7, 12/4-6, 13/1-5.
  • 12. Black Bk. 17.
  • 13. Winchester RO, mayors’ accts. 1, 2 Ric. II; chamberlains’ accts. 18-19, 21-22 Ric. II, 8-9 Hen. IV, 4, 5-9 Hen. V; Black Bk. 17.
  • 14. Furley, Town Life, 42-43.