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


1386Richard Whitelegh
 Robert More I
1388 (Feb.)William Burlestone
 John Lacche
1388 (Sept.)William Bast
 Roger Scoce
1390 (Jan.)John Hawley I
 Thomas Asshenden I
1390 (Nov.)
1391John William I
 John Brasuter
1393John Ellemede
 John Hawley I
1394William Damiet
 John Hawley I
1395John Bosom I
 Edmund Arnold
1397 (Jan.)John Bosom I
 William Glover II
1397 (Sept.)
1402John Hawley I
 Ralph North
1404 (Jan.)
1404 (Oct.)
1406John Foxley
 John White II
1407Henry Bremeler
 John Pille
1410John Hawley II
 Edmund [Arnold] 1
1411John Hawley II
 John Corp
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)John Hawley II
 John Corp
1414 (Apr.)
1414 (Nov.)John Hawley II
 Edmund Arnold
1415 or 1416 (Mar.)Edmund Arnold
 Walter Wodeland 2
1416 (Oct.)
1420Thomas Asshenden II
 Walter Wodeland
1421 (May)John Hawley II
 Thomas Hankyn
1421 (Dec.)John Burley II
 Henry Sadeler

Main Article

Dartmouth owes its existence to the magnificent deep-water anchorage in the estuary of the Dart. The town resulted from the coalescence in the 12th century of two small riverside settlements, Hardness and Clifton, and was generally known in the medieval period by its full title, Clifton-Dartmouth and Hardness. The suburb of Southtown is first recorded in 1328 and marks the expansion of the population. In 1332 there were said to be 80 free tenants holding property there in socage of the King in chief, and in the later part of the century Dartmouth ranked fourth after Exeter, Plymouth and Barnstaple in the amounts paid by the Devonshire towns towards parliamentary subsidies. At the time of the poll tax of 1377 there were 506 adults living in Dartmouth and 177 more in Southtown. The greatest single factor in the port’s rise to a position of importance had been the English acquisition of Guyenne in 1152. During the period under review a considerable amount of the wine imported for the Vintners’ Company of London was conveyed in Dartmouth ships; the wine fleet left Bordeaux every year in January and provided winter employment for about 700 seamen, mainly from this locality. Of 200 vessels recorded sailing from the Gironde in the winter of 1409-10, 27 belonged to Dartmouth, 13 to London, 11 to Kingston-upon-Hull and nine each to Bristol, Plymouth and Fowey.3 All the cloth exports of Totnes were shipped through Dartmouth. Furthermore, it was a centre for the fishing industry, and also a depot for minerals from Dartmoor. Because Dartmouth ‘above other places in the realm has long been and still is strong in shipping’, at the close of the Parliament of November 1390, Richard II granted the burgesses a monopoly of the export of tin from England over the next three years. This lucrative privilege was not theirs for long, however: many merchants petitioned the very next Parliament of 1391 for the removal of the tin staple to Lostwithiel for their greater convenience, and both they and the men of Dartmouth were disappointed when it was immediately transferred to Calais. Dartmouth might also be of especial importance in time of war: the expeditionary force of 3,000 men sent to Portugal in 1381 under Edmund of Langley, earl of Cambridge, assembled for embarkation there and at Plymouth, and Dartmouth ships played a vital role in the safe-keeping of the seas and defence of the coasts in the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V. The men of Dartmouth seem to have prospered in this period, and some evidently grew rich from prizes taken, legally or otherwise, at sea. The only suggestion of hardship comes from a petition sent to a Parliament of the mid 15th century in which the burgesses complained that they were unable to sustain the ‘full grete and unportable charge’ of ‘a fortresse upon the entre of the haven ... for to enclose gonnes, engynes and cheynes for the savacion therof and especially for the savacion of shippes, bargys, balyngers and other vessels’.4 In 1402 just one of their number, John Corp, had been able to take on this task.

The town had been purchased by the Crown in the late 13th century, and from 1335 to 1537 passed through the hands of 14 different lords who held it by virtue of royal grants. They took varying degrees of interest in the place. The Carew family were for long influential there: Joan Carew was granted the lordship for life in 1335 and, in the period under review, her kinsman, Sir Thomas Carew, was often involved in local affairs, becoming well acquainted with Thomas Asshenden II, John Hawley II, John Corp and John Foxley. In 1341 the lordship was conceded to Joan Carew’s son, Guy, Lord Bryan (d.1390), and his heirs, and it may be of relevance that John Hawley I used the black bugle horn which Bryan had as his crest on his own heraldic arms. After Bryan’s death the lordship passed to one of his grand daughters, Elizabeth (d.1437), wife of Robert Lovell* of Rampisham, Dorset, and although she herself is not known to have taken much interest in the town, her guardian, John Holand, earl of Huntingdon (d.1400), certainly did; indeed, the steward of the earl’s estates in Devon was a sometime parliamentary burgess of Dartmouth, William Burleston. The princes of Wales as dukes of Cornwall were also influential in the locality. In 1338 the waters of Dartmouth had been granted to the Black Prince;5 and as a consequence in the later part of the 14th century and throughout the 15th the office of water bailiff was in the gift of the holder of the duchy. Five of the parliamentary burgesses of the period under review are known to have filled offices in the duchy administration: John Corp, Edmund Arnold and William Glover II were all at some time water bailiffs of Dartmouth, the first of them, Corp, occupying the office by grant of Henry of Monmouth at the time of his elections to the Parliaments of 1411 and 1413; Thomas Asshenden I, by appointment of the Crown, was havener of the duchy in 1376-7, and was elected to Edward III’s last Parliament during his brief term of office; and John Hawley II was made feodary and escheator of the duchy estates in Devon and Cornwall by the prince of Wales in 1402 and continued to hold the post until his death in 1436, sitting in as many as 12 Parliaments for Dartmouth in the meantime. In addition, Hawley served as under sheriff of Cornwall by Henry’s appointment in 1411-12. It is possible that the earls of Devon, who held the adjacent manor of Norton, also took an interest in the affairs of Dartmouth. John Ellemede was evidently associated with Edward Courtenay, earl of Devon, and certain of his retainers; John Hawley I wore the earl’s livery in the 1380s, and his son served at sea in 1419-20 under Earl Edward’s successor. It is, however, debatable whether any of these lords ever influenced the burgesses’ choice of representatives in Parliament. All of the ten men noted here as having been connected in some way with one or other of the powerful landowners of the shire had personal qualities which would have recommended them to the men of Dartmouth and ensured their election to the Lower House quite independently of such contacts.

By 1386 the inhabitants of Dartmouth had achieved some measure of independence from the Crown and their feudal lords. In 1337 Edward III had granted them freedom from tolls throughout the realm, and, four years later, to compensate them for their great expense and loss suffered by reason of the war with France, and because they had undertaken to supply two vessels for the King’s service whenever he needed them, they were permitted to choose their own mayor, to devise their property by will, and to have the privilege of ‘return of writs’. Thereafter a mayor was elected annually, at Michaelmas, being assisted in his duties by one or two bailiffs. In 1343 for a payment of £40 the burgesses agreed to Lord Bryan’s request that he might continue to appoint a steward to preside, with the mayor, over local courts, and to receive his accustomed dues from the lordship. The mayor and bailiffs would be sworn in before the lord or his steward. It seems, however, that this practice ceased before the end of the century. In 1393 Richard II granted to the burgesses, in view of their continued obligation to provide him with warships, that the mayor might have cognizance of all pleas and assizes relating to property within the liberties of the town, and also that they might elect a coroner.6

Dartmouth first appeared among the boroughs returning Members to Parliament in 1298. Then for over 50 years it was omitted, and only from 1351 did the borough send representatives with any regularity. The surviving returns provide little guidance about electoral procedure. Up to 1421 the names of the parliamentary burgesses from all the Devonshire boroughs were sent to Chancery on a schedule accompanying the parliamentary writ returned by the sheriff of the county. An endorsement to the writ of 1407 noted that the elections had been made with the assent of the mayors and bailiffs of the respective towns, and it seems clear from other endorsements that the elections were held locally and the sheriff notified of the outcome at the next meeting of the shire court. The Act of 1406 required that indentures be returned to Chancery authenticating the county elections, but the returns for the boroughs of Devon were not recorded in that way until 15 years later. Even then they shared the same indenture as verified the elections of the knights of the shire, so giving the impression, most probably false, that the parliamentary burgesses were elected in the shire court by the same persons who had chosen the knights.7

Returns for Dartmouth have survived for no more than 20 of the 32 Parliaments convened between 1386 and 1421. The names of 27 Members are known. Of these as many as 15, more than half, appear to have sat in Parliament for Dartmouth only once. But some did build up parliamentary experience: four men (the two Thomas Asshendens, Edmund Arnold, and the elder John Hawley), each sat in four Parliaments; John Lacche sat in five, and the younger John Hawley in at least 12. In the second half of the 14th century it was quite a common occurrence for some men, lawyers for the most part, to represent more than one Devonshire borough in the Commons in the course of their careers. Thus, five Dartmouth MPs also sat for the neighbouring borough of Totnes (John Bosom I, John Brasuter, Henry Bremeler, William Burlestone and Richard Whitelegh), one of them for Plympton Erle (Burlestone) and another for Barnstaple (John Foxley). Burlestone appeared, altogether, in nine Parliaments (representing Totnes and Dartmouth five times each and Plympton once) although in two of these (1381 and 1383) he sat for two boroughs simultaneously. The gaps in the returns make it impossible to analyse the patterns relating, still less appreciate the importance locally attached, to parliamentary experience. Even so, the surviving evidence, such as it is, reveals that in three Parliaments both Members did have previous experience of the Commons, that in 12 more one of the Members was so qualified, and that the re-election of one Member occurred perhaps four times, but of both never.

As many as 16 of the 27 known representatives of the period were residing in Dartmouth or held property there when elected to Parliament. Precisely where seven of the others lived remains uncertain, but only four MPs (John Bosom I, William Burlestone, John Ellemede and Richard Whitelegh) were true outsiders and they were all at least Devonshire men. Bosom lived at Bosomzeal in Dittisham and Burlestone at Harberton, both places situated only a short distance from the two boroughs they represented in the Commons (Dartmouth and Totnes); Ellemede lived no further away than Cornworthy; and Whitelegh dwelt at Churchstow in south Devon. Bosom, Burlestone and Whitelegh all possessed substantial holdings, valued at between £13 and £40 a year, but their wealth was eclipsed by that of a native burgess of Dartmouth, the famous John Hawley I, whose estates in Devon and Cornwall were worth more than £110 p.a., and who was able to spend more than £1,000 on land. It was perhaps predictable that the parliamentary representation of a borough like Dartmouth, essentially a port and trading centre, should be found to have been dominated by mariners and merchants; and, indeed, in the period under review the great majority of the Members were men of this kind, for the most part sea captains with personal experience of voyages to Ireland, Brittany, the Iberian peninsula and the Mediterranean, and as ready as able to take advantage of a state of war with France and make piratical assaults on shipping in the Channel. Some of them, like the two John Hawleys, proved successful enough to be able to purchase estates and establish themselves as members of the gentry; both Hawleys attained armigerous status. As many as five of the Dartmouth MPs are known to have been lawyers: John Bosom I, William Burlestone, John Burley II, John Lacche and John Ellemede. But, although it had been quite usual for the burgesses to elect lawyers in the 1370s and early 1380s, after 1386 they evidently preferred men more like themselves. In the period under review, only in the first Parliament of 1388 were both MPs from the legal profession, and thereafter a man of law was elected only in 1393, 1395, 1397 and, after a long gap, to Henry V’s last Parliament.

The lists of occupants of local offices are incomplete, but three parliamentary burgesses are known to have served a term as bailiff and as many as nine as mayor. In every case election as mayor came after service in Parliament. There was no bar to re-election to municipal office, and John Hawley I was chosen mayor on as many as 14 occasions between 1374 and 1401. He was returned to Parliament during his mayoralties in 1393 and 1394, but otherwise, apart from Edmund Arnold’s election when mayor in 1414 and Thomas Asshenden’s II when bailiff in 1422, officers were (as far as the evidence allows us to say so) never returned.

A surprisingly large number of the Members for Dartmouth of this period held offices by Crown appointment at some time in their careers, and even for long stretches of time: eight served as either controllers or collectors of customs and subsidies in the ports of Devon and Cornwall, most often in Dartmouth itself; two of these eight as searchers of the neighbouring coasts; and five of them as deputies to the chief butler of England in one or more of the west country ports. As many as eight Dartmouth MPs are known to have acted as lieutenants to admirals of the south and west, John Hawley I and Edmund Arnold also serving as lieutenants to admirals of England, Thomas Percy, earl of Worcester, and Sir Thomas Beaufort (afterwards duke of Exeter), respectively. The burgesses often chose as their representatives in the Commons men currently occupying such posts: Thomas Asshenden I, who was deputy butler in Devon for over 20 years, was returned to all four of his Parliaments (in 1377, 1384, 1385 and 1390), while in office; and one or both representatives in the Parliaments of 1394, 1402, 1407, 1410, 1411, 1413 (May), 1414 (Nov.), 1416 (Mar.), 1422, 1423 and 1425 were then serving in similar positions. Certain of the Members held even more prestigious offices: John Hawley I served as royal escheator of Devon for a year, and was the King’s receiver in Devon and Cornwall between 1390 and 1398, in which period he twice sat in the Commons for Dartmouth; and Richard Whitelegh and John Bosom I both served as sheriff of Devon, the former returning himself for Dartmouth in 1386. In no fewer than 12 of the 20 Parliaments for which we know the names of Members Dartmouth was represented by one or two officers currently in the employment of the Crown or of the duchy of Cornwall. It should be noted, too, that an unusually large number of parliamentary burgesses for Dartmouth, 14 in all, were appointed to royal commissions. In this respect the most outstanding were the two John Hawleys and the two most successful lawyers, William Burlestone and John Bosom. All four were appointed j.p.s in Devon or Cornwall, the younger Hawley being a member of the Cornish bench when elected to each of his last six Parliaments.

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. Only the Christian name, Edmund, survives on the return (C219/10/5).
  • 2. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iv. 960.
  • 3. H.R. Watkin, Dartmouth, 32, 366; E179/95/35; P. Russell, Dartmouth, 36; E.M. Carus-Wilson, Med. Merchant Venturers, 34.
  • 4. CPR, 1388-92, p. 338; RP, iii. 295-6; P.E.L. Russell, Eng. Intervention in Spain and Portugal, 304; SC8/107/5301; TRHS, 4th ser. viii. 104.
  • 5. Watkin, pp. vi, 35, 288; Devon and Cornw. N. and Q. xix. 247-50; CCR, 1392-6, pp. 388-9; Trans. Devon Assoc. xcii. 254; CPR, 1391-6, p. 218; CIMisc. vii. 88-89.
  • 6. CChR, iv. 389; v. 3, 338-9; Watkin, 42-43, 82, 182.
  • 7. C219/12/2, 5.