Appendix B1: Knights by rank as Members of Parliament

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

On five earlier occasions in the 14th century the writs of summons sent to the sheriffs had specifically required that all those elected as representatives of the counties should be belted knights (‘milites gladio cinctos’) well versed in the profession of arms. This directive was not to be re-iterated after 1373 (when, indeed, the election of armigeri was permitted, provided they, too, were qualified by expertise in military matters),1 and thereafter the possession of a knighthood assumed less importance when it came to elections to Parliament. The table below clearly demonstrates that as the period now under review progressed so the numbers of proper knights returned to the House of Commons decreased. Whereas, between 1386 and 1397 (Sept.), inclusive, on average 56% of the knights of the shire in each assembly were knights by rank, in the last four Parliaments of Henry V’s reign (1419-December 1421) the average fell to 27%. In 1419 (when many belted knights were inelegible, being with the King in France), no more than a dozen of the 72 county Members whose names are known had taken up knighthood. Several other possible reasons for this change are discussed in the individual constituency surveys, but it may be remarked here that of the 37 counties represented in Parliament in this period, only one, Yorkshire, consistently elected knights by rank, never choosing anyone of inferior status. (Nor were the Yorkshire electors to change their policy until Henry VIII’s reign.)