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|1386||Sir John Godard|
|Sir John St. Quintin|
|1388 (Feb.)||Sir William Melton|
|Sir Robert Constable|
|1388 (Sept.)||Sir James Pickering|
|Sir Robert Neville|
|1390 (Jan.)||Sir John Saville|
|Sir Robert Neville|
|1390 (Nov.)||Sir William Elys|
|Sir James Pickering|
|1391||Sir John Godard|
|Sir Robert Neville|
|1393||Sir Ralph Euer|
|Sir Robert Neville|
|1394||Sir John Routh|
|Sir Robert Neville|
|1395||Sir Peter Buckton|
|Sir John St. Quintin|
|1397 (Jan.)||Sir Peter Buckton|
|Sir Ralph Euer|
|1397 (Sept.)||Sir James Pickering|
|Sir David Roucliffe|
|1399||Sir Ralph Euer|
|Sir Robert Neville|
|1401||Sir John le Scrope|
|Sir Gerard Usflete|
|1402||Sir Thomas Colville|
|Sir Robert Rockley|
|1404 (Jan.)||Sir John Routh|
|Sir Richard Tempest|
|1404 (Oct.)||Sir Peter Buckton|
|Sir William Dronsfield|
|1406||Sir Richard Redmayne|
|Sir Thomas Rokeby|
|1407||Sir Edmund Hastings|
|Sir Alexander Lound|
|1411||Sir John Etton|
|Sir Robert Plumpton|
|1413 (May)||Sir Edmund Hastings|
|Sir Alexander Lound|
|1414 (Apr.)||Sir Alexander Lound|
|1414 (Nov.)||Sir Richard Redmayne|
|Sir John Etton|
|1415||Sir Richard Redmayne|
|Sir John Etton|
|1416 (Mar.)||Sir Brian Stapleton|
|Sir Robert Plumpton 1|
|1419||Sir Robert Hilton|
|Sir Halnath Mauleverer|
|1420||Sir Richard Redmayne|
|Sir John Langton|
|1421 (May)||Sir Edmund Hastings|
|Sir William Gascoigne|
|1421 (Dec.)||Sir Richard Redmayne|
|Sir John Etton|
Returns for Yorkshire are extant for all but four of the 32 Parliaments which met between 1386 and 1421, those for 1410, 1413 (Feb.), 1416 (Oct.) and 1417 now being lost. Unfortunately, the identity of Sir Alexander Lound’s colleague in the second Parliament of 1414 is not known either, although the names of 29 shire knights in all have survived. Because of the gaps in the evidence, it is now impossible to speak definitively about the relative parliamentary experience of those who sat towards the end of our period, although it is worth noting that the greatest number of newcomers to the Lower House were returned during the first decade of the 15th century, when no less than ten apparent novices were elected. Otherwise, the pattern of representation remained fairly constant. Save for the five Parliaments of 1401, 1402, 1406, 1407 and 1411, when neither Member had evidently served before, the electors of Yorkshire obviously preferred to be represented by at least one experienced parliamentarian. Indeed, on no less than ten occasions both Members were already well versed in the procedure and ways of the Commons. Cases of representative continuity were rather less frequent, the most notable being that of Sir Robert Neville, who was re-elected three times, in 1390 (Jan.), 1393 and 1394. Sir Peter Buckton served in the consecutive Parliaments of 1395 and 1397 (Jan.); and Sir Alexander Lound in those of 1413 (May) and 1414 (Apr.). Only once, however, was complete continuity achieved by the re-election together, in 1415, of Sir Richard Redmayne and Sir John Etton. Because of the comparatively large influx of novices returned during Henry IV’s reign, the majority of Yorkshire Members had little opportunity (or perhaps no real inclination) to become seasoned parliamentarians. So far as we can tell, just under half (13) sat for the county only once, and a further five no more than twice. Four of our men attended three Parliaments, while Sir Robert Hilton and Sir John Etton both served in four. A group of four knights, comprising Sir Edmund Hastings, Sir James Pickering, Sir Richard Redmayne and Sir John Saville, had five returns for Yorkshire to their credit, but only Sir Robert Neville, who was elected to 12 Parliaments between 1377 and 1399, represented the county on a regular, long-term basis. The overall level of experience was, therefore, rather limited, since each shire knight attended an average of no more than between two and three Parliaments.
On the other hand, at least five Yorkshire MPs, if not more, were returned for other counties as well. Of these the most notable was Sir James Pickering, whose six appearances for Westmorland and one for Cumberland (all made before he came to the attention of the Yorkshire electors) contributed to an impressive career in the Lower House. Sir James assured himself a place in parliamentary history by being the first and only Member for Westmorland ever to occupy the Speakership of the Commons (in 1378 and possibly 1379 as well). Two of his colleagues, Sir Ralph Euer and Sir Edmund Hastings, represented Northumberland, while Sir Robert Hilton and Sir Robert Plumpton sat once each for, respectively, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire. Sir Edmund’s experience is particularly interesting, since he was elected in 1407 as representative for both Yorkshire and Northumberland. His expenses were met by the sheriff of the latter county alone, which suggests that the electors of Yorkshire wished to save money by returning someone who had already been given a seat elsewhere. Similar considerations may, perhaps, have obtained in April 1414, when Sir Robert Plumpton was available to act for Yorkshire as well as Nottinghamshire. If we take these other returns into account, the average attendance of our 29 shire knights rises slightly to just under three Parliaments, but still remains relatively low. Yorkshire did, however, provide two Speakers during our period: in 1383 Sir James Pickering was representing the county when the Commons again voted him into office; and much later, in 1415, Sir Richard Redmayne, too, occupied the Speakership.
Just like their neighbours in Lancashire, the electors of Yorkshire showed a distinct preference for knights by rank. Indeed, the county is unique in so far that it never once returned anyone of lesser status during the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Yorkshire was so rich, with such a large and flourishing class of wealthy landowners, that there was no shortage of suitable candidates, often with strong family connexions among the northern baronage. Sir William Elys and Sir John Etton, for example, each married sisters who were directly descended from both John, 1st Lord Grey of Codnor (d.1392), and Adam, Lord Everingham (d.1388), while Sir John Godard and Sir Edmund Hastings took as their wives the two daughters and coheirs of Thomas, Lord Sutton of Holderness (d.1388). Godard’s wife was, moreover, the widow of Peter, 4th Lord Mauley (d.1383), and thus possessed of a substantial dower as well. Sir Robert Hilton and Sir Robert Neville belonged, respectively, to cadet branches of the baronial houses of Hilton and Neville of Raby, Sir Robert Neville being further assisted, in early life at least, by his two brothers-in-law, Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk (d.1389), and Richard, Lord Scrope of Bolton (d.1403), not to mention his kinsman, Thomas Neville, Lord Furnival (d.1407). It is a testimony to his standing in English society that Sir Robert was permitted by Henry IV to marry his grand daughter and heir, Margaret, to Thomas Beaufort, the youngest of the king’s illegitimate half-brothers. Beaufort, who became successively earl of Dorset and duke of Exeter, was in turn able to advance the career of Sir Robert’s grandson, Sir John Langton, another Yorkshire MP. Alone among his colleagues, Sir Brian Stapleton seems to have derived little benefit from the blessings of ancestry, for although his mother, Elizabeth, was the daughter and eventual coheir of William, Lord Aldeburgh (d.1388), her second marriage to the Speaker, Sir Richard Redmayne, effectively deprived him of his rightful share of the Aldeburgh inheritance, which Sir Richard entailed upon his own issue. A good deal of Redmayne’s influence was due to the fact that his father, Sir Matthew, had in later life married Joan, the grand daughter of Henry, 1st Lord Fitzhugh (d.1356), and widow of William, Lord Greystoke (d.1359), thus making him a half-brother of Henry, 3rd Lord Fitzhugh (d.1425), Henry V’s chamberlain and treasurer of England (1416-21).
A number of our men owed much of their wealth and status to their wives. Sir Robert Rockley, for instance, was related by marriage to Ralph, 1st Lord Cromwell (d.1398), and Sir John St. Quintin to the Lords Grey of Rotherfield. Through three successive marriages, Sir Ralph Euer established close links with the earls of Atholl, Westmorland and Northumberland, and the Lords Greystoke, Fitzhugh, Clifford, Aton and Vescy. His colleague, Sir John le Scrope, shared some of these connexions, for he was married to Elizabeth, daughter of David Strathbogie, earl of Atholl, heir-general to Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke (d.1324), and sometime daughter-in-law of Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland. He was, moreover, himself the younger son of Henry, 1st Lord Scrope of Masham; and thus brother of Richard Scrope, archbishop of York, who was executed in 1405 for mounting a rebellion against Henry IV. Le Scrope’s great-nephew, Sir Robert Plumpton, lost his father during the uprising, although despite this taint of treason he later came to enjoy every mark of favour from the Lancastrian regime. A substantial proportion of Yorkshire MPs, therefore, occupied a place in society somewhere between the lower ranks of the parliamentary peerage and the upper ranks of the gentry, and were consequently able to exercise considerable influence not just at home but throughout the north.
An analysis of the administrative duties performed by the 29 individuals here under review confirms this impression, for the great majority played a leading part in local government. Only Sir Brian Stapleton and Sir William Gascoigne (both of whom died young while campaigning in France) had no experience of this kind. Of the rest, well over half (17 in all) served as sheriffs of Yorkshire, often for more than one term. Eight members of this group occupied the shrievalty twice, while four knights, Sir Robert Hilton, Sir William Melton, Sir James Pickering and Sir John Saville, were chosen three times in all. At least six of their number also held office elsewhere: Sir Ralph Euer and Sir Edmund Hastings both discharged two terms in Yorkshire and two in Northumberland, and Sir Thomas Rokeby entered Parliament in 1406 after spending just under a year as sheriff in the latter county. Sir Robert Hilton was similarly employed in Lincolnshire before he first sat in the Commons, and Sir James Pickering gained valuable early training during the six years which he spent as deputy to his patron, Roger, Lord Clifford, hereditary sheriff of Westmorland. Sir Richard Redmayne’s impressive record of six terms as sheriff of Cumberland and two as sheriff of Yorkshire is all the more notable in view of repeated infringements of the statute of 1371, which required that a term of at least three years should elapse before a former sheriff was reappointed. Nine Yorkshire MPs had already held office at least once before they embarked on their parliamentary careers; and a further five were to do so by the time of their last appearance in the Lower House. On the other hand, the escheatorship of Yorkshire was by and large occupied by men from the lower or middle ranks of the county gentry, although seven MPs did serve for a single year, and the indefatigable Sir James Pickering managed three terms over a decade ending in 1391. Sir Edmund Hastings alone was appointed elsewhere, being made escheator of Cumberland and Westmorland by Henry IV.
Not surprisingly, most shire knights figured prominently on commissions of the peace for the three Ridings of Yorkshire and the special liberties of the archbishop of York and the duke of Lancaster in the county. Just over two-thirds (20) of them sat as justices, sometimes in two or more areas at once, although only three were active in other parts of England as well. Sir Ralph Euer served in Northumberland and Durham, Sir James Pickering in Cumberland and Westmorland, and Sir Richard Redmayne in his native county of Westmorland. Sir Alexander Found never held office in Yorkshire, although in later life he took a seat on the Northumberland bench. The electors of Yorkshire do not, even so, seem to have been particularly anxious to return serving members of the benches in the three Ridings. In only five of the 32 Parliaments which met during our period were both representatives currently in office as j.p.s, and one justice alone was elected on a further 12 occasions. It is, however, worth noting that well over a third of all shire knights had already spent some time on the bench before their first Parliament, so the general level of experience was actually quite high. Even more noteworthy is the list of appointees to various royal commissions of a less permanent nature: all but two men (Stapleton and Gascoigne) were thus employed by the Crown, and some achieved remarkable records of service. None could rival Sir Ralph Euer, who received no less than 53 commissions during a long and impressive career, although 15 of his colleagues served on ten or more such bodies: some, like Sir Peter Buckton (23), Sir William Melton (22), Sir Robert Neville (34), Sir Richard Redmayne (28) and Sir John Sackville (26) distinguished themselves in the field of local administration. With very few exceptions, the Members here under review had all discharged one or two commissions by the time they stood for Parliament. As with the escheatorship, the task of assessing and collecting taxes tended to be performed on a regular basis by less important gentry families than those who provided Yorkshire with parliamentary candidates, although at least 17 individuals did become involved (albeit sporadically) in government finance at a county level. Interestingly enough, however, their services were most in demand during the years 1379 to 1381 and at the beginning of the 15th century, when the Crown was heavily reliant upon parliamentary taxation and needed to reinforce its authority.
Comparatively few MPs held other royal appointments in Yorkshire, and those who did occupied their posts as virtual sinecures. Sir Peter Buckton, Sir Thomas Colville and Sir John Etton, for example, each engaged deputies to perform their duties as stewards and constables of the royal forests in the county, while Sir William Elys, likewise, had little to do with the royal manor of Strafforth where he was bailiff. Conversely, the eight men who were employed by the government elsewhere seem personally to have discharged the responsibilities of office. Both Sir John Etton and Sir Richard Tempest served as keepers of the important border stronghold of Roxburgh, Sir Richard being also active at various times in his busy career as deputy warden of the west march, commander of the garrison at Berwick-upon-Tweed and ambassador to Scotland. Sir John St. Quintin and Sir Alexander Lound were, respectively, keepers of the castles of Scarborough and Bamburgh, and Sir Peter Buckton travelled overseas to become mayor of Bordeaux. Buckton’s other appointments included those of chirographer of the court of common pleas, guardian of the English estates of Henry IV’s second son, Thomas of Lancaster, bearer of the royal standard and envoy to the court of Castile—all of which he received from a grateful monarch after the Lancastrian coup d’état of 1399. Sir Richard Redmayne, too, went on diplomatic missions for King Henry, having previously been retained as master of the horse by Richard II. Whereas Sir James Pickering’s term as chief justice in Ireland ended in disgrace in 1371, and subsequently led to an investigation on charges of corruption, Sir Ralph Euer earned considerable distinction as an envoy on repeated missions to Scotland. Euer briefly, in 1411, deputized for John of Lancaster (later duke of Bedford) as constable of England, although he devoted most of his time to affairs on the border.
The influence of the duchy of Lancaster (which after 1399 was administered separately as part of the Crown estates) was not quite as pervasive in Yorkshire as it was across the border in Lancashire; but, even so, at least eight MPs held senior posts on the local duchy estates. Sir Peter Buckton, who spent ten years as steward of the household and councillor to Henry of Bolingbroke, also occupied the constableship of Knaresborough, an office held at various times by Sir William Gascoigne, Sir Robert Plumpton (who was also steward of Staincliffe) and Sir Robert Rockley. Sir William Dronsfield acted as bailiff of Staincross towards the end of his life, while Sir Robert Neville and Sir John Saville were both constables of Pontefract castle and stewards of the surrounding lordship. Sir David Roucliffe, who lived at Pickering, managed to accumulate an impressive monopoly of offices in this important duchy receivership. Only Sir Ralph Euer, a resident of Witton-le-Wear in the palatinate of Durham, served the bishops of Durham. His years spent as steward, auditor and justice of assize for Bishop Fordham and his successors, Walter Skirlaw and Thomas Langley, did, however, establish him as an important figure in the north-east, whose support was actively sought by such influential noblemen as Ralph, earl of Westmorland, and Thomas, earl of Warwick.
The Crown had, of course, other reserves of patronage at its disposal in the way of annuities, gifts of land and rents, and the sale of wardships or rights of marriage. Well over two-thirds (22) of the Yorkshire Members received either fees or rents from successive kings of England, over and above whatever wages they drew as employees of the government. Some men, such as Sir David Roucliffe (whose annual income of £64 as a servant and retainer of Henry IV far exceeded the modest sum of just over £10 p.a. produced by his estates), were particularly dependent upon this source of revenue. But the amounts involved were often so large that even far richer landowners came to rely heavily upon their royal patrons. Sir Robert Rockley, for example, could count upon at least £117 p.a. in fees, rents and wages, while by the end of his career Sir Richard Redmayne was drawing three separate annuities totalling £83. The handsome pension of £100 p.a. awarded to Sir Peter Buckton by Henry IV, supplemented his wages in various duchy of Lancaster and crown posts, as did that of £40 p.a. enjoyed at the same time by Sir John Etton. Largely because either they or their fathers had been previously retained by John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, far more of our men became King’s knights after his son, Henry of Bolingbroke, seized the throne in 1399 than had done so before, during the reign of Richard II. Even so, at least six were closely identified with King Richard through the receipt of substantial fees. Sir William Elys, Sir James Pickering, Sir Richard Redmayne and Sir John Routh each drew 40 marks a year as members of the royal household, while Sir John Godard was paid at the rather higher rate of £40 p.a. Sir John St. Quintin, on the other hand, earned his salary of 40 marks a year as keeper of Scarborough castle, a post which he occupied at the time of his election to the 1386 Parliament.
In marked contrast to the still somewhat limited opportunities available to the Yorkshire gentry at King Richard’s court, there was a general rush for preferment after Bolingbroke’s coup d’état. The three Lancastrian monarchs recruited no less than 18 of our men (including Routh and Redmayne, whose annuities were confirmed), the majority of whom benefited from the wholesale redistribution of patronage following Richard’s deposition. By and large, the newly crowned Henry IV proved more generous than his predecessor, if only because his position as a usurper made it necessary for him to bestow lavish rewards on his supporters. In addition to the sizeable fees already noted above, he granted £50 p.a. each to Sir Ralph Euer and Sir Richard Tempest, £46 p.a. to Sir Robert Neville, and 40 marks p.a., along with a large annual consignment of wine, to Sir Alexander Lound. An analysis of the parliamentary returns made during our period reflects this changing pattern of political sympathy in Yorkshire, for whereas comparatively few retainers or employees of the Crown sat before 1399, the great majority of representatives who served during the reigns of Henry IV and Henry V were committed supporters of the Lancastrian cause. Richard II had the limited satisfaction of seeing one of his adherents returned in 1386, 1394 and 1397 (Sept.); but only once, in November 1390, did both men possess strong links with his household. Conversely, all of the 16 Parliaments which met between 1399 and 1421, and for which returns survive, contained at least one Yorkshire Member who wore the livery of the house of Lancaster; and on a minimum of ten occasions both men were closely identified with the government. The strength of this attachment on the part of the local gentry was largely due to a combination of geography and tradition, for the dukes of Lancaster were the most influential landowners in Yorkshire, and had, consequently, built up a strong power base in the county. Indeed, at least 12 of the 29 MPs here under review had themselves established a stable bond either with Gaunt or his son, Henry of Bolingbroke, well before 1399, while a further four belonged to families noted for their past services to the duchy of Lancaster. Of the former category, the most notable were Sir Peter Buckton (steward and councillor to Bolingbroke for many years), Sir David Roucliffe (whose father, elder brother, and wife were also on Gaunt’s pay-roll) and Sir Robert Neville (one of the duke’s trustees). Sir Robert and his two colleagues, Sir Gerard Usflete and Sir William Dronsfield, gave practical expression to their loyalty in 1399 by raising troops in support of Bolingbroke’s claims. Dronsfield was probably married to a daughter of Chief Justice Gascoigne, who, together with his brother, Richard, enjoyed Henry IV’s particular favour. The judge’s son, Sir William, was, like Sir Thomas Colville, Sir Alexander Lound and Sir Robert Plumpton, one of those Yorkshire MPs who inherited—and followed—a strong family tradition of loyalty to the house of Lancaster, even though they were too young themselves to have served John of Gaunt.
Other noblemen, too, numbered leading members of the Yorkshire gentry among their affinities. The Percys and Nevilles, who, for the first part of our period were locked in a bitter struggle for hegemony in the north, each had their supporters, although none of the Yorkshire MPs who had sided with the earl of Northumberland during the late 14th century were actually prepared to risk joining him in open revolt against Henry IV. Notwithstanding their former connexions with the Percys, neither Sir Ralph Euer, Sir Edmund Hastings, Sir Robert Hilton nor Sir Richard Tempest showed the slightest hesitation in helping the government to suppress the rebellions in Wales and the north mounted by Northumberland and his adherents. Only Sir John le Scrope, whose brother, the archbishop of York, led his own uprising in 1405, may perhaps have been implicated in plans to overthrow the Lancastrian regime, although no definite charges of conspiracy were levelled against him. As we have seen, Sir Robert Plumpton’s father, Sir William, was executed for treason at the same time as his uncle, the archbishop, but Sir Robert himself proved a loyal subject, and met his death in battle, fighting under Henry V’s banner against the French. Sir Thomas Colville, Sir Thomas Rokeby and Sir John Etton had from youth been close to the Nevilles, who proved generous patrons. Unfortunately for Colville, his partisanship led to his murder, in 1405, by a group of Percy retainers out for revenge. The loss of so valuable a follower must, however, have been more than offset by the defection of both Sir Edmund Hastings and Sir Ralph Euer from the earl of Northumberland’s camp. Euer’s growing friendship with Ralph Neville, earl of Westmorland, led to a marriage contract between the two families; and it is worth noting that Euer was at Westmorland’s side in 1405 when Archbishop Scrope was tricked into surrender. By and large, then, our men presented a united and formidable front when it came to the suppression of open rebellion. Indeed, Sir Alexander Lound and Sir Thomas Rokeby were together responsible for the crushing defeat inflicted upon Northumberland at Bramham Moor in 1408, and it was Rokeby who, as sheriff, personally dispatched the earl’s head for public display on London Bridge.
The affiliations of other MPs reflect the underlying strength of the Lancastrian cause in Yorkshire, although the network of clientage was in fact spread right across the ranks of the English baronage. Sir Ralph Euer, Sir Halnath Mauleverer and Sir Robert Plumpton were close to Henry V’s chamberlain, Lord Fitzhugh (who actually married one of his daughters to Euer’s son and heir, William†), while Plumpton also took a fee from Henry IV’s half-brother, Bishop Beaufort of Winchester. Furthermore, he and his two kinsmen by marriage, Sir Brian Stapleton and Sir Richard Redmayne, moved in the circle of John, duke of Bedford, who almost certainly used his influence to secure Redmayne’s election as Speaker of the Lower House in 1415. At a much earlier date, both Redmayne and Sir John Routh had been intimately involved in the affairs of Richard II’s favourite, Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford, and later duke of Ireland. Sir William Elys and Sir Robert Constable had, respectively, served Richard’s two uncles, Edmund of Langley, duke of York, and Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester, and Sir James Pickering began his career as legal advisor to Roger, Lord Clifford. Pickering is now chiefly remembered for his dubious conduct as one of the secretum consilium of Sir William Windsor, Edward III’s lieutenant in Ireland, although their relationship evidently survived the vicissitudes of Irish politics. Indeed, both Pickering and Sir William Melton together performed the difficult and demanding task of executing their friend’s will.
The sense of cohesion and unity which clearly bound most of our men together as a group was not only fostered by shared administrative duties and a common feeling of loyalty to the Lancastrian regime. A distinct esprit de corps born of months, or even years, spent on military campaigns certainly did much to give the upper echelons of the Yorkshire gentry a sense of solidarity. Evidence of protracted involvement in warfare either overseas or on the Scottish border, is wanting for only eight of the shire knights. Between them, the other 21 could boast a wide variety of experience, ranging from Henry of Bolingbroke’s crusade in Lithuania in the 1390s to engagements in Spain, France, Brittany and even, in the case of Sir John Godard, the Near East. Well over half of them (at least 16) campaigned in France, either during the latter part of the 14th century or in the great English armies recruited by Henry V. Indeed, three shire knights actually died in the field—Sir Brian Stapleton fell while campaigning in 1417, and Sir Robert Plumpton and Sir William Gascoigne in the following year at the siege of Meaux. Naturally enough, a sizeable proportion of Yorkshire MPs, especially those with estates further north, became involved in the sporadic outbreaks of warfare against the Scots which occurred throughout our period. Even when the two countries were theoretically in a state of truce, relations between England and Scotland remained tense because of border raids, disputes over prisoners and personal vendettas. Hostilities were sometimes formalized through the organization of tournaments, in which leading marcher figures, such as Sir John Etton, Sir Richard Redmayne and Sir Richard Tempest were frequent participants. All in all, some 11 or more of our MPs took up arms against the Scots, and a few played a major part in defending the marches from attack. Sir Ralph Euer was one of the captains who inflicted a major reversal on the Scots at the battle of Humbleton Hill in 1402: Sir John Etton (keeper of Roxburgh), Sir Alexander Lound (keeper of Bamburgh) and Sir Richard Tempest (deputy warden of the west march and keeper of Roxburgh and Berwick-upon-Tweed) each bore a heavy load of responsibilities in this area.
The sheer size of Yorkshire, the largest county in England, no less than the geographical barriers which made communications difficult between areas of pronounced upland and lowland, or fell and dale, clearly hindered the development of a strong sense of county community; and as a result local feeling tended to centre upon the smaller units of the three Ridings.2 With a few exceptions most of our men held the bulk of their possessions either in the East Riding (where the most agriculturally productive land lay), the central or eastern part of the West Riding, or the south-eastern borders of the North Riding, nearest to the city of York. All the MPs returned during this period were landowners of note in the county at the time of their first election, and the majority came of families which had been resident there for many generations. Only three men were ‘outsiders’, whose early life had been spent further north. The two Speakers, Sir James Pickering and Sir Richard Redmayne, both grew up in Westmorland, while Sir Ralph Euer was born and bred in the palatinate of Durham. All three acquired extensive estates in Yorkshire through marriage, Euer having already inherited a number of manors there from his father. Sir Robert Neville was quite probably a native of Lancashire, since his family seat lay at Hornby, although he too owned a great deal of property across the border, and had lived in Yorkshire during his youth.
The great majority of shire knights (23, if not more) held land in other parts of England as well, often in the right of their wives. Indeed, some of the wealthiest and most influential figures had derived great profit from marriage to heiresses. Sir Robert Constable, Sir Ralph Euer, Sir John Etton, Sir William Elys, Sir John Godard (whose impressive income of at least £213 p.a. derived almost entirely from his wife’s estates), Sir Edmund Hastings, Sir John le Scrope, Sir William Melton, Sir James Pickering, Sir Robert Plumpton, Sir Richard Redmayne, Sir John St. Quintin and Sir John Saville each added appreciably to their original holdings in this way. A study of the geographical distribution of these estates reveals how truly outstanding many of our men were as property owners, and how far afield their possessions lay. At least 13 of them had sizeable interests in Lincolnshire, four in Northumberland and the same number in Westmorland, three in Nottinghamshire, and two in one or other of the counties of Wiltshire, Northamptonshire, Lancashire, Suffolk and Cumberland, and the palatinate of Durham. Sir John le Scrope’s wife brought him manors in Kent, Essex and Norfolk; from his great-uncle, the archbishop of York, Sir William Melton inherited estates in Hampshire; Sir John St. Quintin acquired holdings in Buckinghamshire and Dorset by marriage; and Sir Robert Plumpton likewise gained possession of the Foljambe estates in Derbyshire and Warwickshire. It is now impossible to achieve a reasonable estimate of the annual landed incomes of more than a few men, and even here no precise figures are readily available. Yet there is every reason to believe that most MPs could rely on a bare minimum of £40 p.a. net as rentiers, while some were very rich indeed by any standards. Although burdened by his father’s debts as a young man, Sir Robert Neville derived well over £280 p.a. from his estates in later life, and Sir Ralph Euer seems to have been more affluent still. Even after dower had been assigned to his mother (who later became the wife of Sir Richard Redmayne), Sir Brian Stapleton received well in excess of £116 p.a. which was probably rather less than the net annual income of many of his colleagues. All in all, then, we are dealing with a group of men whose connexions, experience and wealth together made them a force to be reckoned with in the Lower House.
The Yorkshire parliamentary elections were held in the county court at York. From 1407 onwards (as a result of legislation passed in the previous year) the returns took the form of indentures, attested by a varying number of the electors present at the guildhall. The Yorkshire returns are unusual, in that they record the names of attorneys acting on behalf of leading members of the local aristocracy and a few prominent knights, such as Sir Alexander Metham, Sir Henry Brownflete, Sir Henry Percy of Humnanby and even Margaret, the widow of Sir Henry Vavasour. On many occasions the archbishop of York also sent an attorney, while the lay peers most frequently represented were Ralph, earl of Westmorland (d.1425), Ralph, Lord Greystoke (d.1418), and his son, John (d.1436), William, Lord Hilton (d.1435), John Mowbray, the Earl Marshal (d.1432), and, after 1416, the newly restored earl of Northumberland (d.1455).3 These distinguished figures were collectively described in the Yorkshire indentures as ‘common suitors to the county court’ (sectatores communes ad comitatum); and, even after the statute of 1430 required electors in all counties to be resident 40s. freeholders, their attorneys continued to witness the returns, albeit along with the knights, esquires, gentlemen and ordinary freeholders of Yorkshire who now officially played a part. The attorneys of the ‘common suitors’ had probably grown used to taking the lead in the elections, and after settling matters privately among themselves must often have chosen as knights of the shire men who were closely connected with their employers. Even so, due deference had also to be shown to the duchy of Lancaster interest (which can hardly have been negligible, as we have seen); and it is important to bear in mind that other members of the county community attended parliamentary elections well before the reforms of 1430. Indeed, from 1407 onwards the returns state clearly that the choice of candidates by the various attorneys remained subject to ‘the assent and consent’ of the whole county court, which cannot simply be dismissed as an empty formula.
Aristocratic influence on elections was certainly a major consideration, but the process may still have been complicated by competition at a lower level among the retainers and adherents of individual noblemen, not all of whom necessarily saw eye to eye. In fact, far from lacking authority of their own, many of our men were all too ready to bring pressure to bear at elections to their own private advantage or to the immediate benefit of kinsmen or associates. Such an independent attitude can be detected on quite a few occasions: Sir Robert Neville’s decision to emerge from retirement and offer himself as a candidate in 1399 may well have been prompted by the likely arraignment before Parliament of Edward, duke of Aumâle, who had deprived him of a valuable office he was hoping to recover; Sir Richard Tempest’s election in 1404 and Sir Thomas Rokeby’s in 1423 provided each of them with a valuable opportunity to press for the repayment by the Crown of long-overdue expenses for military service; Sir Richard Redmayne was keen to stand in 1406 so that he could negotiate the terms of the grant of a royal wardship; and Redmayne’s influence, which, as sheriff, he was able to use when holding the election to the Parliament of March 1416, resulted in the return of his own stepson, Sir Brian Stapleton, and the latter’s friend, Sir Robert Plumpton, both of whom shared his own close connexion with John, duke of Bedford.
- 1. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iii. 112.