Available from Boydell and Brewer
|1388 (Feb.)||John Palmer I|
|1388 (Sept.)||William Shropshire|
|1390 (Jan.)||Richard Clewer|
|1391||Hugh de la Lynde|
|Nicholas Sambourn I|
|1393||Hugh de la Lynde|
|John Marsh I|
|John Marsh I|
|1397 (Jan.)||Robert Aunger|
|John Marsh I|
|1397 (Sept.)||Hugh de la Lynde|
|1413 (May)||Richard Widcombe|
|1414 (Apr.)||John Marsh II|
|1414 (Nov.)||Richard Widcombe|
|John Marsh II|
|1421 (May)||Richard Widcombe|
|John Marsh II|
|1421 (Dec.)||Walter Rich|
With an estimated population of 855 in 1377, Bath was smaller than its sister city of Wells and completely overshadowed by its neighbour, Bristol. A merchant guild had come into existence before Bath received its first royal charter in 1189. By 1230 a mayor had appeared. In 1256, a further charter gave the citizens the right of returning royal writs, of bequeathing their property by will, and of nominating coroners;1 and from 1341 they were also allowed to appoint their own local assessors and collectors of royal subsidies. By the middle years of the 15th century a mayor, bailiffs, cofferers, constables, aldermen and proctors, elected at the end of August or beginning of September each year, formed the municipal hierarchy.
Bath shared with Wells the distinction of being the cathedral town of the diocese. The charter granted by Edward I to Robert Burnell in 1275 finally settled the bishop’s rights in the city after long dispute, but episcopal overlordship of Bath and its suburbs, with the exception of the Barton, apparently had little effect on the city’s internal constitution. Moreover, the bishop’s income from courts, fairs and markets, supplemented by burgage rents payable by the mayor and commonalty, was comparatively small. The bishop’s influence might be exerted through his steward, who always presided over the hundred court held in the city, and matters such as the removal of the pillory and the change in a street name were referred to this official for approval, but the freeman’s oath was made to the mayor alone.2
A long dispute between the citizens and the prior of Bath during the period indicates the growing strength of the mayor and commonalty vis-à-vis both him and the bishop. By long-established custom the monks had rung the first bell in the morning and the last at night. Such superiority as this implied was challenged in August 1417 when Richard Widcombe, the mayor, Ralph Hunt and a number of other leading citizens proceeded to have bells rung in the city churches both earlier and later than those of the priory. The prior immediately appealed to the King who, by signed warrant from Caen, ordered the citizens to ‘cesse of al suche manere newe and wilfulle gouernance’. In an attempt to arbitrate, Bishop Bubwith and Sir Walter Hungerford* drew up a settlement in November following. This failed to address the issue to the satisfaction of the parties, and in August 1418 two royal judges, William Hankford and Robert Hill, were appointed to adjudicate. A jury at Frome in October 1420 rehearsed the details of the dispute, but three more years were to elapse before a final agreement was reached. This was produced by Bishop Bubwith as a compromise plan, but the claims of the citizens were nevertheless give due recognition.3
Neither bishop nor prior had any demonstrable influence over ordinary civic affairs or, judging by the identity of those Members returned in the period under review, on parliamentary elections. It is not known how these were carried out, though by the middle of the 16th century the choice was restricted to the ‘chamber’, comprised of the mayor, aldermen and council. During our period it became usual for the city to send a delegation of four individuals to the county court. Thus, for example, at Ilchester on 12 Nov. 1414 Ralph Hunt, the then mayor, and three others, ‘de assensu totius communitatis civitatis’, gave the sheriff the names of Richard Widcombe and William Radstock. It is not clear, however, whether these two had been previously elected in Bath, or whether the delegates were left to make the choice themselves when they arrived at the court.4
Twenty-eight men are known to have represented Bath in the 23 Parliaments for which returns survive between 1386 and 1421. Fifteen of them may have sat only once, and a further four just twice. On possibly six occasions the city’s Members were both novices, although the gaps in the returns (and there are as many as eight between 1399 and 1417) make it unlikely that the number was in reality so high. To four Parliaments Bath returned two representatives who had both sat in the Commons previously, and to 13 more a similarly experienced man accompanied an untried one. The appearance of a seemingly considerable number of newcomers before 1414 contrasts with the returns of Walter Rich to at least six Parliaments between 1414 and 1435 and Richard Widcombe to no fewer than nine between 1413 and 1431. Two parliamentary burgesses, Hugh de la Lynde and John Palmer I, both of whom were lawyers, sat for other boroughs as well: de la Lynde for Chippenham, and Palmer for Bridgwater and Wells. Palmer attended 11 Parliaments altogether between 1377 and 1394, but only in two of them did he represent this constituency. Continuity of experience in other Members is evidenced by eight re-elections, although only once (in 1410) were both representatives from the previous Parliament returned again.
What may have been a general reluctance to undertake frequent parliamentary service is reflected in the relative insignificance of the Members. Only two (Aunger and Hunt) had been mayor before they sat, and no more than five others held this office subsequently. Although Hunt, Philipps and Rich all served as mayor for at least six terms in each case, it never happened that someone currently occupying the mayoralty was returned to Parliament in this period. Furthermore, only five MPs are known to have filled lesser positions in the civic hierarchy before their first elections. All but four of the parliamentary burgesses were probably resident in the city, and two of those four, Edmund Ford and John Palmer I, held property in the immediate vicinity. Nicholas Sambourn I and Hugh de la Lynde, however, appear to have had more interests in Wiltshire, although only Sambourn may be considered a genuine outsider. The occupations of citizens as revealed in the poll tax returns and alnage accounts indicate that Bath was a centre of cloth manufacture, and no fewer than 11 Members were engaged in the trade, the most prominent being Ralph Hunt and William Philipps. They and one or two others evidently prospered by it. Rather out of the ordinary were two men with substantial landed interests: Edmund Ford (1388), who could later be called ‘gentleman’, and Nicholas Sambourn I (1391), who owned land in Wiltshire worth at least £20 a year. There were only two lawyers, John Palmer I and Hugh de la Lynde, and since they occupied just four of the 46 seats of our period they clearly played an insignificant part in the representation of the borough. Seven MPs were at some stage singled out for appointment to royal commissions, but five of them only dealt with matters relating to Bath itself, and no more than four of the seven concerned had appeared on such bodies before they first entered the Commons. Nicholas Sambourn I was again unusual in having served as escheator of the neighbouring county of Wiltshire before he sat for Bath, and also in going on to become a j.p. and coroner in that county.
- 1. J.C. Russell, Brit. Med. Pop. 142; Mun. Recs. Bath ed. King and Watts, 3-7, 10.
- 2. CChR, ii. 192; E153/360/1; Lambeth Pal. Lib. ct. roll 2246; Ancient Deeds Bath ed. Shickle, 3/66, 6/42; R. Warner, Hist. Bath, app. p. 47; Mun. Recs. Bath, 45-46.
- 3. Warner, app. pp. 24-25; SC1/43/157; Egerton 3316, ff. 96, 98-99; Reg. Bubwith (Som. Rec. Soc. xxx), 460-5; CIMisc. vii. 282.
- 4. Mun. Recs. Bath, 43; C219/11/5.