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


1386Adam Denton
 Robert Bristowe
1388 (Feb.)Robert Carlisle I
 William Aglionby
1388 (Sept.)John Corkeby
 Nicholas Leveson
1390 (Jan.)John Monceaux
 Alan Kirkebridge
1390 (Nov.)
1391John Monceaux
 Robert Bristowe
1393John Redesdale
 John Werk
1395John Monceaux
 John Burgham
1397 (Jan.)John Helton
 John Burgham
1397 (Sept.)Robert Bristowe
 John Bristowe
1399John Helton
 Robert Bristowe
1401Thomas Bolton
 Robert Bristowe 1
1402John Sowerby
 William Boweson
1404 (Jan.)
1404 (Oct.)
1410[Robert] Carlise II 2
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)Robert Carlisle II
 Ralph Blennerhasset
1414 (Apr.)
1414 (Nov.)Robert Carlisle II
 William Cardoile
1416 (Mar.)Robert Lancaster
 William Bell
1416 (Oct.)
1417Robert Carlisle II
 William Cardoile
1419Robert Carlisle II
 Thomas Manningham
1420Thomas Derley
 Richard Muncaster
1421 (May)Robert Carlisle II
 Thomas Pety
1421 (Dec.)William Manchester
 John Thomson

Main Article

Although originally a Roman settlement, Carlisle was not continuously occupied throughout the Dark Ages. It was William Rufus who, in 1092, repaired the fortifications and placed a substantial garrison in the city for defence against the Scots. With the exception of a few years at the beginning of the next century, Carlisle remained directly under the control of the Crown; and its position as a border stronghold moulded its political and economic history for the rest of the Middle Ages and early modern period. Even during times of truce, the citizens were aware of their vulnerable situation, especially as some of the celebrated and often brutual ‘jousts of war’ between rival teams of English and Scottish knights were held beneath the walls. Partly because of repeated devastation by the enemy, but also as a result of poor agricultural conditions, disease and depopulation, the area around Carlisle was extremely unproductive, and the civic authorities found it virtually impossible to keep the castle in an adequate state of repair. In April 1376, for example, they petitioned Parliament about the wretched state of the defences, which were in such decay that the city gates could not even be closed, and the drawbridge was inoperative. The Scots actually laid siege to Carlisle in 1380, and the continuous threat of further invasions over the next few years finally prompted the government to take action. Between 1382 and 1385 a considerable amount of money was spent on improving the fortifications and earth-works, providing two ‘great gunnes’ and three brass cannon to withstand enemy attacks, and increasing the strength of the garrison by as many as 300 armed men when the occasion demanded. Since they were expected to meet part of these costs out of the fee farm of £80 p.a. which they paid into the Exchequer, the citizens now began to protest about their poverty, claiming, with some justice, to lack the resources with which to meet such heavy expenses.3

From 1231 onwards, when they had first contracted to pay a somewhat lower farm of £60 p.a. direct to the King, the people of Carlisle faced serious financial problems. The market tolls, mills and fisheries from which the money derived were at best an irregular source of income, subject to fluctuation during periods of warfare. Successive outbreaks of plague in the north-west contributed further to this decline, as did the general lawlessness of the area. In the late summer of 1385, for example, the city was convulsed by a violent feud between the prior of Carlisle and Bishop Thomas Appleby, who threatened to impose an interdict upon the entire community after an armed mob had occupied the cathedral. Several years later, in 1415, the citizens begged Parliament for redress against Thomas, Lord Dacre, who had destroyed one of their fisheries ‘avec une graunde nombre des gentz ovesquez luy, armes et arraiez a fair de guerre’; and they asked, unsuccessfully in the event, for a reduction in the fee farm. Fires, too, caused a great deal of trouble; and although it is hard to believe the allegation that no less than 1,500 houses were destroyed in the great conflagration of 1391, the government clearly considered the damage sufficiently bad to suspend payment of the fee farm completely for the next four years, so that rebuilding could take place. The entire population of Carlisle (which stood at 678 adults at the time of the poll tax of 1377) is unlikely to have exceeded 1,000, and it may well have fallen appreciably during our period because of disease, warfare and migration southwards. Certainly, by March 1401, matters had reached such a pass that the citizens secured royal letters patent allowing them additional financial help towards the payment of their fee farm. For an initial period of ten years (later extended to 1431) they were accorded the right to hold pleas of debt not exceeding £40, and were also authorized to collect for themselves all fines, issues and amercements previously exacted by the Crown in Carlisle. A grant to the civic authorities of formal powers to receive and endorse statutes merchant was likewise seen as a means of augmenting their revenues.4

Carlisle’s two earliest charters were both destroyed by fire. The first, granted by Henry II, was burnt in 1251; and the replacement was itself lost in 1292, along with a large part of the city. These two documents were, however, confirmed by a new charter, obtained in 1293, which reveals that Carlisle had for some time possessed a guild merchant. The first known reference to a mayor occurs in certain quo warranto proceedings of the previous year, but it looks as if this office was also of long standing. A later charter of 1352 made specific provision for the free election of a mayor, baliffs and two coroners, as well as the holding of two markets every week and an annual fair for a fortnight in August. No major changes to this system of civic government were made until 1445, evidently then taking place in response to a feeling that the mayor had become far too powerful. Henceforward two bodies of 12 and 24 persons respectively were not only to elect a new mayor every year, but also to exercise full powers of veto over any decisions made by him alone.5

So far as we can tell, Carlisle first returned representatives to Parliament in 1295, and from 1306 (when only one burgess was elected) it continued to send the customary two Members to the Lower House. The paucity of local evidence for the late 14th and early 15th centuries, together with the fact that it was sometimes difficult to find anyone ready to make the long and arduous journey to Westminster, creates major problems of identification, and many MPs remain shadowy figures about whom little, if anything, is known. Only 21 returns survive for the 32 Parliaments here under review, the rest having been lost. The return to the Parliament of 1410 is, moreover, badly damaged, and only one of the two names can be made out. Even so, 27 burgesses are on record as sitting for Carlisle during our period, although it is now impossible to speak with any degree of certainty about their relative parliamentary experience. Well over half (16) appear to have represented the city only once in the Commons, but the gaps in the returns are so numerous that some of them may actually have done so twice or even more. Thomas Manningham, who attended the Parliament of 1419 as a Member for Carlisle, and had, perhaps, already sat for Appleby three years earlier, is particularly interesting, because he alone went on to become a shire knight. A Yorkshireman by birth, he acquired land in both Bedfordshire and Cumberland by marriage, and was returned to the second 1421 Parliament by the former county, where he made his home. John Sowerby, who like him had also received some legal training, sat once for Carlisle and three times for Appleby. The fact that lawyers often had business of their own in hand at Westminster, and might even be prepared to forgo some of their parliamentary expenses, made them a popular choice with all the smaller northern boroughs. It is, indeed, worth noting that out of the seven men returned at least twice for Carlisle, the two who represented Appleby as well were both lawyers with flourishing local practices. John Helton was three times MP for Appleby and Thomas Pety twice Member for this borough. Indeed, in January 1397, Helton was actually selected for both Carlisle and Appleby, in a move clearly intended to save on expenses and, no doubt, capitalize upon the fact that he had business of his own to deal with in the central lawcourts. Few men are known to have served on a more regular basis. John Monceaux was sent to three Parliaments by the electors of Carlisle (who were for a time very much under the influence of his father, Amand Monceaux*, a leading Cumbrian landowner), and Robert Bristowe to five. Between them, the kinsmen, Robert Carlisle I and Robert II, attended at least 11 Parliaments, Robert I sitting in four, and his younger relative in seven; but again these figures represent a bare minimum and their records of service may well have been even more impressive.

Lack of evidence also makes it hard to assess the degree of continuity maintained by the electors in their choice of representatives. But they must often have been hard pressed to find suitable candidates and two novices evidently sat together in seven of the 32 Parliaments under consideration. We do not know who accompanied Robert Carlisle II to his first Parliament, in 1410, but he was probably a newcomer as well. Two experienced Members were returned on five occasions, in 1388 (Feb.), 1391, 1399, 1401 and 1421 (May), leaving a further eight Parliaments in which a novice sat with a colleague who had served at least once before. A minimum of three Members were prepared to offer themselves for immediate reelection: John Burgham in 1397 (Jan.), Robert Bristowe in both 1399 and 1401, and Robert Carlisle II in 1419. No cases of complete representative continuity are, however, known to have occurred in our period, which is hardly surprising in view of the physical demands made upon those concerned. Each of our men represented Carlisle in an average of just under two Parliaments, but if the experience of those who sat elsewhere is taken into account this figure rises slightly. Even so, it is low in comparison with other boroughs, especially further south.

It has been possible to identify 18 of the 27 Carlisle MPs with a reasonable degree of accuracy, but of the rest both William Bell and Adam Denton remain very shadowy figures indeed, while the other seven are entirely unknown. That they were local men from modest backgrounds seems more than likely, however, since the electors of Carlisle usually returned candidates with property or strong personal interests in the city. Their choice often fell upon landowners whose family estates included tenements or rents there, but who also owned other holdings in Cumberland or Westmorland as well. William Aglionby, Robert Bristowe, John Burgham, John Helton, Robert Lancaster, Thomas Manningham and John Monceaux all fall into this class. Manningham was the only rentier with extensive property in the south (where he eventually came into an inheritance in Huntingdonshire, Bedfordshire and London), but Ralph Blennerhasset, too, had some holdings in London. So far as we can tell, experience of office-holding was fairly limited, only six Members being involved in either civic or royal administration. John Burgham served as a collector of portage in the north-west before representing Carlisle in Parliament, and John Monceaux went on to become a controller of customs in Cumberland. Besides discharging 12 terms as bailiff of Carlisle, William Cardoile was coroner of Cumberland, while Robert Carlisle I not only held office as mayor on at least ten occasions, but also appears at various times as a customs official, royal commissioner and j.p., besides acting as bailiff for Roger Whelpdale, bishop of Carlisle (d.1423). His kinsman, Robert II, succeeded him on the county bench and was made a verderer in the royal forest of Inglewood. Thomas Manningham’s impressive clutch of offices in Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire (where he occupied the escheatorship twice, as well as holding the commission of the peace) all came to him after he sat for Carlisle, and his experience of local government was entirely confined to the south. At least five MPs were lawyers with a wide range of influential local connexions. John Corkeby was involved in dealings with Henry Bowet (the future bishop of Bath and Wells and archbishop of York) and John Fordham, bishop of Durham, while John Sowerby and John Helton both worked for William Strickland, bishop of Carlisle, and his kinsmen, the Lowthers.

Elections for Carlisle were held in the county court at the same time as the elections for Cumberland; and after the promulgation of the statute of 1406, whereby all returns for counties were henceforth to take the form of an attested indenture, the names of both the shire knights and the citizens-elect were noted on the same document. Sometimes (as was also the case at Appleby) a list of the more notable persons who had assisted in the Carlisle elections was also included on the return, headed by the names of the mayor and bailiffs; but this was not always the case, and on occasion the names of the successful candidates alone were recorded by the sheriff. Since there can be little doubt that the choice of Members for Carlisle was made in advance of the meeting of the county court by the leading citizens and other interested parties, the actual noting down of electors was largely a formality, which might well be overlooked.6 Because it was so often difficult to find suitable representatives, anyone actively seeking election for personal reasons encountered little, if any, opposition. Thus Robert Bristowe and his kinsman, John Bristowe, were returned in September 1397 so that Robert could more effectively pursue his quarrel with John Monceaux in the court of Chancery. Monceaux himself had previously been elected through the influence of his father, Amand, against which there appears at this time to have been a fairly marked reaction. His first appearance in the Lower House, in January 1390, coincided with Amand’s fifth and last term of service as a shire knight for Cumberland, and it looks very much as if the latter wanted the support and help of his son in petitioning for a reduction in the heavy fiscal demands made upon him and other local administrators in the north-west. Amand was actually in office as mayor of Carlisle at the time of John’s second return to Parliament, so there can be little doubt that he was instrumental in furthering the young man’s career. Even so, he was evidently unable to prevent the Bristowes from monopolizing the two seats in the second 1397 Parliament, during the recess of which they managed to get John Monceaux bound over to keep the peace. Robert Carlisle II also owed a great deal to the efforts of his kinsman, Robert I, who was present at the county court each time that he was elected to Parliament, and must have exerted considerable influence over the choice of representatives. Robert Lancaster’s Membership of the first Parliament of 1416, which he attended along with his powerful brother, John Lancaster I (as shire knight for Cumberland), also suggests that similar efforts were made on his behalf, although it is unlikely that much, or any opposition was offered by the citizenry to such occasional interference on the part of the more prominent local landowning families. No attempts at electoral management seem to have been made at a higher level, however; and there is nothing to suggest that either the Crown or any of the northern baronage sought to impose their candidates on the citizens.

Author: C.R.


  • 1. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iv. 1017.
  • 2. C219/10/5. This return is mutilated.
  • 3. VCH Cumb. ii. 263; Cal. Scots Docs. iv. nos. 320, 326, 331, 339, 340; SC8/101/5046; RP, ii. 345 (Cal. Scots. Docs. iv. no. 347 misdates the petition of 1376, stating, wrongly, that it was drawn up in 1385); R. Chs. Carlisle ed. Ferguson, pp. xiii-xviii.
  • 4. CChR, i. 142; v. 415; VCH Cumb. ii. 134, 146; CPR, 1388-92, pp. 430, 446; 1408-13, p. 192; E179/58/28; SC8/24/1154; RP, iv. 92.
  • 5. CChR, i. 368; Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. xiv. 17-18; R. Chs. Carlisle, pp. xviii-xx, 10-11, 13-15, 17-19, 20-23, 27-32, 34-41; A. Caiger, ‘Pre-1835 Recs. Carlisle’ (London Univ. Dip. Arch. Admin. 1964, rev. 1980), 13-14.
  • 6. M. McKisack, Parl. Repn. Eng. Bors. 55.