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


1413 (May)John Brut
 Thomas Knyf

Main Article

This is the only Parliament of our period for which the names of Downton’s representatives are recorded. The borough is known to have been required to elect to the Parliaments of 1388, 1402, 1415, 1419, 1420 and 1421 (Dec.), but in every instance no return was made.1

Downton, which stands on the river Avon some six miles south of Salisbury, was one of the less important Wiltshire boroughs in this period: its taxable population of just over 200 in 1377 made it much smaller than Salisbury, Wilton or Devizes, but somewhat larger than Cricklade, Calne and Ludgershall. Little is known about its economic status, although it was the centre of a sheep farming area, the adjacent pastures being grazed by vast flocks belonging to the bishop of Winchester and his tenants; and a weekly market promoted by the bishops of the 13th century was apparently still being regularly held in this period.2

The manor and hundred of Downton had belonged to the see of Winchester from perhaps as early as the seventh century. The borough was planned in the early 13th century by Bishop des Roches, who offered plots on the west bank of the river in free burgage tenure (with which the right to vote in parliamentary elections later passed). By the 1230s some 120 plots had been taken and presumably built on, but there are no signs of much growth between then and the late 14th century. Like Great Bedwyn and Ludgershall, Downton was a borough for parliamentary and tax purposes only, its burghal status being dependent on prescription: it never possessed a charter, a guild merchant or a corporation. Divided into two aldermanries (areas corresponding to the new settlement and the old village), it was, moreover, only one of seven administrative units in the locality, all of which were effectively controlled by the bishop’s bailiff. This official was responsible for making the returns of the local parliamentary elections.3

Downton had first elected burgesses to Parliament in 1275. Having been again required to make a return in 1295, the borough thereafter sent Members intermittently until 1330, doing so as regards 17 of the 39 Parliaments which met during that period. In 1330 began a 30-year gap in the town’s representation, followed by elections in 1361, 1362 and 1365. Then, however, apart from the single return of May 1413, there is no evidence that Downton was actually represented in the Commons until 1442, though on 16 occasions in the meantime it was definitely called upon to make a return, but failed to do so. After 1442 the borough was once more represented with some regularity. Electoral practice at Downton was presumably like that of the other Wiltshire boroughs. The sheriff of the county, on receipt of a royal writ of summons, sent his precept to the bishop’s bailiff of the borough and hundred, requiring an election to be made.4 The bailiff would return the names of those chosen to the sheriff, who then forwarded them to Chancery. When, where, how and by whom the Downton elections were held is obscure, but it is probable that they took place in the lord’s court leet, the electors being (as was still the case in the 18th century) the occupiers of burgage tenements.

About one of the men returned to Henry V’s first Parliament, Thomas Knyf, nothing whatever is known. The other, John Brut, was a member of the lesser gentry of the county and an important tenant of the bishop of Winchester, living, however, at a distance of 14 miles from Downton, at another of the bishop’s boroughs, namely Hindon, which was a detached portion of the hundred of Downton. There can be no doubt that Brut owed his election to the influence of Bishop Henry Beaufort, who as chancellor was to open this Parliament of May 1413, for he was then holding office as Beaufort’s bailiff of the liberty of Bishopstone, elsewhere in the same hundred.

Author: Charles Kightly


  • 1. OR; W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iv. 965.
  • 2. VCH Wilts. iv. 19-25, 308; xi. 41.
  • 3. Ibid. xi. 19, 23, 27, 43-44.
  • 4. C219/9/5.