Appendix B3: The Question of Residence of Members

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

From 1375 onwards the writs of summons sent to the sheriffs stated in general terms that those elected as knights of the shire should be ‘of the county’ concerned. No more specific requirement with regard to residence was introduced until a petition submitted during the Parliament of May 1413 asked that ‘les chivalers esluz pur Parlement soient receantz et demurrantz a temps de l’Election es countes ou ils sont esluz’, and that the men chosen as parliamentary representatives by the cities and boroughs should henceforth be ‘citeins et burgeys, receauntz, demurrauntz et enfraunchisez en mesmes les cites et Burghs et nulles autres en nulle manere’. The statute to which the petition gave rise added the further stipulation that the shire knights were to be resident in their counties on the date of the writ of summons (thereby seeking to rule out the opportunity for individuals who did not normally live there from taking up residence merely for the period of the election). The petition, as entered in the rolls of Parliament, is brief and to the point, and contains no preamble setting out reasons why legislation was considered necessary.1 Since the original apparently no longer survives, we can only speculate as to why the place of residence of Members became a controversial issue at this particular stage in the history of Parliament, and about the specific malpractices it sought to end.

The first table below shows the numbers of Members thought to have been non-resident at the time of their election to Parliament over the period 1386 to 1421 as a whole, providing inter alia a means of comparing the relative state of affairs before and after the statute was promulgated. It is necessary, however, to offer a word of caution before the figures in the table are accepted at their face value. Certain difficulties were encountered in the compilation of the table. In part these stemmed from lack of evidence, since it is not always possible to decide from the sources available whether or not particular individuals actually lived in the counties or towns which returned them. (All Members who remain unidentified have of necessity been excluded from the survey on the basis that they were just as likely to be obscure local men as complete outsiders.) Further complications arise from attempting to differentiate between ownership of property in a town or county and permanent residence there, for the two were clearly not synonymous in all cases. Many knights of the shire owned substantial estates in more than one county, but where they were actually living at any particular time (and more significantly on the day that the writ of summons was issued) is nigh on impossible to discover.2 We might, for example, count Lewis John, elected to the Parliament of November 1414 for Hampshire, as a non-resident, on the unequivocal documented evidence that he was a very recent newcomer to the county. Undoubtedly, from the point of view of the community of the shire he was an outsider, yet he might well have fulfilled the statutory requirement by paying a visit to one of his wife’s manor-houses at the relevant time. Similar examples may be readily provided of shire knights who owned land in the counties they represented, yet failed to show any interest in the affairs of the indigenous gentry, with whom they formed no connexions worthy of notice. But there is always the possibility that technically they complied with the legal requirements of the statute, and for this reason they have had to be excluded from the table.

Various complications also arise over the question of residence of the representatives of the parliamentary boroughs. For instance, when John Fruysthorp was returned for the virtually deserted town of Old Sarum to the Parliament of 1421 (Dec.), he was in possession of an Exchequer lease of a messuage there, yet, as he hailed from Hertfordshire and evidently never became involved in the affairs of the local community, or even in those of the inhabitants of nearby Salisbury, he ought really to be counted as an outsider. Then there were a number of lawyers (like Thomas Raymond, who sat for Exeter, and John Hody, Member for Shaftesbury), who certainly owned property in the boroughs they represented, and undoubtedly spent at least some of their time working and presumably living there, even though their principal places of residence were situated a short distance away in the country. Strictly speaking non-residents, they were, nevertheless, well known to the local electorate and sympathetic to its needs. In fact, most of the Members who apparently failed to come up to the requirements of the 1413 statute were men similar to Raymond and Hody who lived in the near neighbourhood of the borough they served and had property in it sufficient to justify their designation as ‘foreign’ burgesses. A different complication is created by the likes of William Halyate and John Tilney. These two were elected to represent Bishop’s Lynn in the years 1413-15, but, being expressly described in local records as ‘inferiores, non burgenses’, they were undoubtedly in breach of the clause in the statute which forbade the election by parliamentary boroughs of any persons who had not been enfranchised. Yet there is no doubt that both Halyate and Tilney lived in Bishop’s Lynn; nor that they had amply demonstrated their concern about the future welfare of the community and determination to change the way it was being governed. So, for a number of reasons, in seeking to establish reliable statistics for non-residence, the tables below have erred on the side of caution. It is likely that the figures supplied fall short of the historically correct totals.

The second table lists the numbers of presumed non-residents according to their constituencies. Among other things this reveals that, so far as we can tell, the shires nearly always elected representatives from among the landowners of their locality. On the other hand, the inhabitants of certain of the smaller boroughs were much more inclined to elect outsiders than were the larger mercantile centres, where established members of the burgess community were nearly always preferred. The majority of non-residents were returned by the boroughs of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and, less markedly, Wiltshire. Of the boroughs in the north of England, only Appleby elected individuals who were not townsmen with any degree of regularity. A few other towns and cities transgressed on rare occasions and evidently only in order to cope with unusual circumstances. (For instance, the escalation of a local dispute involving conflicting jurisdictions might lead the authorities to look favourably on the candidature of an experienced advocate, ensuring there would be on hand at Westminster someone able to conduct complicated legal business on the community’s behalf.) Full information about issues prompting untoward changes in patterns of representation is provided in the individual constituency surveys.

The figures in the first table may offer a hint about the immediate motivation behind the parliamentary legislation. Although many of the returns for the Parliaments of 1410 and 1411 have been lost, thus preventing the identification of a large number of the Members, it appears that of the 121 recorded in 1410 at least 13 (11%), and of the 147 recorded in 1411 no fewer than 15 (10%), were non-residents. Of course, it may have been merely a coincidence that the constituencies for which returns have survived were ones that elected outsiders, and it would be imprudent to reach firm conclusions on such comparatively slim evidence. However, the Parliament of 1413 (May), which introduced the statute, contained at least 26 non-residents out of a known Membership of 251—again just over 10% of the total, and more than have been noted in any Parliament prior to 1410. This raises the possibility that the petition asking that Members should live in their constituencies was presented in direct response to the increase in the number of outsiders elected in recent years. It may even have been aimed specifically against certain notorious carpet-baggers who had entered the House in the Parliaments of 1410-13. Over the period as a whole instances of unashamed carpet-bagging were very few indeed. No more than one or two Members in any of the Parliaments up to September 1397 are thought to have fallen into this category of complete outsider, although in Richard II’s last assembly there were perhaps four or more, and about five were elected to the Parliament of 1406. Yet four have been identified in 1410 and six in May 1413, the most flagrant offenders in these years all being close associates of the influential Thomas Chaucer*: namely, Thomas Edward (Taunton, 1410), Thomas Haseley (Lyme Regis, 1410 and May 1413), Thomas Walsingham (Wareham in 1410 and Lyme Regis in May 1413) and Lewis John (both Wallingford and Taunton in May 1413). However, firm evidence pointing to a movement directed against a specific clique within the House is lacking. In any case, if, as we might reasonably suppose, the objection to non-residents was being made on the ground that outsiders did not properly represent their constituencies’ interests, such an argument might be refuted by citing the success of the petition presented in the Parliament of 1410 on behalf of Lyme Regis (and presumably, therefore, promoted by the Chancery official Thomas Haseley as one of the borough’s Members). Another possibility is that the legislation was indirectly aimed at the growing number of lawyers in the House. The third table correlates Members identified as lawyers with those thought to have been non-residents, showing that in 14 of the 32 Parliaments of the period at least half of the non-residents were men of law, and in certain assemblies (January 1390, 1394, January 1397 and April 1414) members of the legal profession accounted for two-thirds of the outsiders present. Then again, the proposers of the statute may have hoped to put an end to the circumstances where one man might be elected to the same Parliament by two constituencies. Between 1386 and 1413 this is known to have happened 13 times, and in 1407 no less than three of the Members (one of them a shire knight) apparently represented two constituencies simultaneously. The Commons of May 1413 had an obvious example of this in their midst in the person of Lewis John, who had been returned by two boroughs in different counties. Furthermore, John had no connexion whatsoever with the townspeople of either place; he owed his success at the hustings entirely to the recommendation of Thomas Chaucer. If such was the aim of the legislators, then in this respect they were successful to a limited degree: double returns were not to occur again until 1426.

Yet in other respects it is clear, even from the essentially conservative figures provided in the first table, that the statute of 1413 was never strictly observed in our period. Although the relatively full House of Commons (250 Members) which assembled in November 1414 contained only about 16 non-residents, at least 8% of the Members in each of the last four Parliaments of the period apparently disregarded the legal requirements, and as the century progressed so the problem was to become more acute. Perhaps the failure of the authorities to change the form of the writs of summons to take account of the new legislation had something to do with its steadily increasing rate of failure. (New clauses were not to be introduced until 1430, and then only regarding the election of shire knights.)


Members known Non-residents      
As a percentage
1388 (Feb.)259197%
1388 (Sept.)250104%
1390 (Jan.)23994%
1390 (Nov.)9011%
1397 (Jan.)251156%
1397 (Sept.)203157%
1404 (Jan.)12033%
1404 (Oct.)9911%
1413 (Feb.)24
1413 (May)2512610%
1414 (Apr.)16032%
1414 (Nov.)250166%
1416 (Mar.)176127%
1416 (Oct.)30
1421 (May)249239%
1421 (Dec.)260208%




Parliament      Boroughs     Shires
138653       Kent 1
1388 (Feb.)7512 1 12 
1388 (Sept.)33 1  1 2 
1390 (Jan.)42 1 1 1  
1390 (Nov.)         Cornw. 1
13914611    3 
13936311    1 
1394 421   2  
13954521 1 2 Leics. 1
1397 (Jan.)7 1   212Berks. 1
1397 (Sept.)3    1131Glos. 1
13993    1131 
1401         Berks. 1
140252    112Herefs. 1
1404 (Jan.) 11  1    
1404 (Oct.)         Herefs. 1
1406534 1  23 
1407461  1  1Cambs. 1
14104341    1Hunts. 1
141165      4 
1413 (Feb.)          
1413 (Mar.)633122134Westmld. 1
1414 (Apr.)  1    2  
1414 (Nov.)10   2 112 
1415     1 21 
1416 (Mar.)8     111Kent 1
1416 (Oct.)          
14177 4   131 
14197 41211 3 
142073411  24 
1421 (May)924  1 34 
1421 (Dec.)733 2  23 




Half or more of the total  
1388 (Feb.)1912*
1388 (Sept.)103 
1390 (Jan.)96*
1390 (Nov.)1 
1397 (Jan.)1510*
1397 (Sept.)155 
1404 (Jan.)31 
1404 (Oct.)1 
1413 (Feb.) 
1413 (May)268 
1414 (Apr.)32*
1414 (Nov.)165 
1416 (Mar.)126*
1416 (Oct.) 
1421 (May)2314*
1421 (Dec.)208 




Member Constituencies
1386Hadley, PeterExeter and Plympton Erle
1390 (Jan.)Cokeworthy, John I                 
Launceston and Liskeard                
1391Bussy, Sir John
Grey, John I
Lincs. and Rutland
Exeter and Totnes
1395Norris, Thomas IIBarnstaple and Plympton Erle
1397 (Jan.)Helton, JohnAppleby and Carlisle
1399Salman, RobertMalmesbury and Calne
1406Frye, Robert IIWilton and Shaftesbury
1407Hastings, Sir Edmund
Hurston, Richard
Pengersick, John
Northumb. and Yorks.
Plympton Erle and Ashburton
Helston and Launceston
1410Weston, JohnWarwick and Worcester
1413 (May)John, LewisTaunton and Wallingford

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger

End Notes

  • 1. J.S. Roskell, Introductory Survey, above, p. 58.
  • 2. See Appendix D3.