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


1386Walter Niche
 Walter Bixton
1388 (Feb.)William Appleyard
 Walter Bixton
1388 (Sept.)John Moulton
 Walter Bixton
1390 (Jan.)Henry Limner
 Walter Bixton
1390 (Nov.)William Appleyard
 Thomas Gerard 1
1391Walter Bixton
 Thomas Gerard
1393John Moulton
 William Everard
1394Henry Limner
 William Everard 2
1395William Appleyard
 Thomas Gerard
1397 (Jan.)William Appleyard
 Henry Limner
1397 (Sept.)Walter Bixton
 Richard White I
1399Henry Limner
 Roger Blickling
1401Edmund Warner
 Walter Eaton 3
1402William Appleyard
 William Crakeford 4
1404 (Jan.)William Everard
 Walter Eaton 5
1404 (Oct.)
1406Walter Eaton
 John Alderford
1407Walter Eaton
 Robert Dunston
1410Robert Dunston
 William Ampulford 6
1411Bartholomew Appleyard
 Thomas Gerard 7
1413 (Feb.)John Alderford
 Bartholomew Appleyard 8
1413 (May)William Sedman
 John Bixley
1414 (Apr.)Robert Brasier
 John Alderford 9
1414 (Nov.)William Sedman
 Richard Purdance
1415John Bixley
 Robert Dunston 10
1416 (Mar.)Henry Rafman
 William Sedman 11
1416 (Oct.)William Appleyard
 John Bixley 12
1417Robert Brasier
 Robert Dunston
1419William Appleyard
 John Bixley
1420Robert Baxter
 Robert Dunston
1421 (May)Robert Baxter
 Robert Dunston
1421 (Dec.)Henry Piking
 Robert Dunston

Main Article

Norwich was perhaps the fifth largest city in the kingdom, with a population of about 6,000. It had grown in importance as a commercial centre where the wool staple for the area was sometimes sited, as the seat of a bishop whose diocese included Suffolk, and as a base from which the sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk exercised his jurisdiction. Even before being granted the charter of 1404, which made Norwich a shire-incorporate, the inhabitants had countenanced no interference from outside in the day-to-day administration of the city. They had evolved a system whereby civic business was conducted in a general assembly of citizens, of whom the leaders were the four annually elected bailiffs and members of the council of 24. The bailiffs, chosen every September by an electoral committee composed of six delegates from each of the four leets, held office from Michaelmas to Michaelmas and never for consecutive terms.13 When, in 1378, Richard II granted Norwich a charter which confirmed all its many earlier ones, the citizens immediately petitioned the King to be allowed to invest the four bailiffs and the 24 with ‘power to make such ordinances and remedies for good government as might seem necessary to them’, a privilege that had for long been enjoyed by their counterparts in London; and the charter of 1380, which endorsed that of 1378, formally acceded to the request. This body of 28 citizens, with its close concentration of power and inevitably oligarchic character, effectively ruled the city.14

However, on 18 Jan. 1404, while Parliament was in session, the government of Norwich underwent a complete change with the issue of a new charter by Henry IV. The city now became a shire-incorporate, wholly outside the jurisdiction and administration of the county of Norfolk, and with a mayor and two sheriffs in place of the four bailiffs. It was the fourth provincial town to become so privileged. But this was achieved only through protracted and costly negotiations. The charter had been under consideration before January 1399, when, in anticipation of a visit from Richard II, the citizens, meeting in general assembly, had set up a committee to consider how to approach the King in order to attain their goal. They even gave the royal standard-bearer, Sir Simon Felbrigg KG, a local man, a gift of £10 for his ‘counsel and friendship, so that he might be a good mediator against the coming of King Richard’. In the event, however, both effort and money were wasted as the King failed to appear. John of Gaunt, to whom the citizens also appealed, died in February, and further delays resulted, not so much from the period of confusion occasioned by Richard II’s deposition and Henry IV’s accession in September following, as from the attitude of the bishop of Norwich, Henry Despenser. The latter opposed the granting of the new charter because of a personal quarrel with the citizens which they, by an act of singular folly, had provoked. The city had offered Henry of Bolingbroke its wholehearted support on his accession and, to further its own aims, had cultivated the friendship of Sir Thomas Erpingham, a Norfolk knight who, having shared Henry’s exile, was entirely in the new King’s confidence. Norwich made Erpingham a present of 20 marks ‘for bearing his good word to the King for the honour of the city, and for having his counsel’, while on Sir Thomas’s wife they bestowed gifts of wine, swans and capons. But then this otherwise patently invaluable alliance led the citizens to lend their names to a document in which Erpingham accused Bishop Despenser of treason in aiding those supporters of the ex-King (one of whom was the bishop’s nephew), who led a rebellion in January 1400; and the bishop not only long remembered this but, following his reconciliation with Henry IV, obstructed the granting of the charter. Certain other ‘great ones’ at Court, like Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland, whose help the citizens also canvassed, fell from grace in the course of the negotiations. Eventually, however, after receiving a loan of 1,000 marks from Norwich, Henry granted the coveted charter, doing so, indeed, ‘in consideration of his affection for the city and citizens’.15

At least 13 years were to pass before a system of municipal elections satisfactory to all parties was established. The earliest mayoral elections were frequently marked by major disturbances—as, for example, in 1406, when the ‘commons’ wanted William Appleyard to serve for a third consecutive term, only for the prudeshomes (of whom Appleyard was one) to insist on the election of another man. Attempts at reform included an ordinance made in February 1414, providing for the nomination by the common council of 80 of two persons as candidates for the mayoralty, the final selection to be made by the prudeshomes. But, later that same year, ‘the greater part of the citizens and the commonalty of the city’ presented a list of grievances against ‘les prudeshomes, qui sont appelez gentz destat’, to Sir Thomas Erpingham, who had been asked to act as arbitrator between them. The commons objected to the powers, first vested in the bailiffs and the 24 in 1378 and, since 1404, exercised by the mayor, sheriffs and the 24, on the ground that the assent of the ‘commonalty’ was never obtained. In reply, the prudeshomes asserted that the commons were seeking to introduce into the assembly persons ‘de le pluis meindre reputation’ - not even freemen of the city. Then, in February 1415, a further effort was made to resolve these differences, and a ‘composition’ was arrived at, taking the form of a tripartite indenture drawn up between the mayor, the sheriffs and the commonalty. Henceforth, the mayor was to be elected on May Day at an assembly in the guildhall which was to be freely open to all citizens and attended by the outgoing mayor, the 24 and a common council now made up of 60 members. The retiring mayor and the 24 were to go apart into ‘the chamber of the Halle’, while the commons nominated ‘by the most voys’ two sufficient persons, both of whom were required to have served previously as mayor or sheriff. These names were then notified to the mayor and the 24, who cast votes individually and out of the hearing of their fellows, the mayor being left with the deciding vote in the event of a tie. The two sheriffs were to be elected every year on 8 Sept., with the mayor, outgoing sheriffs and the 24 choosing one, and the common council and remaining citizens the other. Once a man had served as sheriff, he could not be elected for a second term. Elections to the councils of the 24 and the 60 were held in the fifth week of Lent: the 24, selected in equal numbers from each of the four leets, were to retain their membership for life, vacancies caused by death being filled from the leet concerned; and the common council was to be chosen by all male householders who had been duly admitted as citizens, a specified number of common councillors being drawn from each leet. The mayor, the 24 and the 60 all had the right to nominate certain minor officials. The recorder, however, was to be chosen in general assembly. Nevertheless, despite these elaborate arrangements disputes continued at Norwich to such an extent that in 1417 Erpingham brought the situation to the attention of Henry V, and a representative from each side (Robert Dunston acting for the prudeshomes) was ordered before the King’s Council. The outcome was a confirmation of the charter of 1404, with a mandate for regulating civic elections, for the most part as contained in the ‘composition’, save for the new provisions that no mayor was to be re-elected within three years, and that the 24 were now to be dignified by the name of aldermen.16Yet more regulations, intended to improve the running of the city’s administration, and especially aimed at making the aldermen ‘set a good example to the commons’ by stopping their own quarrelling, were formulated in December 1424 and ratified by royal letters patent five years later. Even so, the disruptive influences continued, and amid steadily worsening conditions—including riots at the mayoral elections of 1433—the Crown was forced to intervene once more. For four months in 1437 the city was deprived of its normal government and placed under the absolute control of a warden, a post for which John Welles III*, a London alderman of Norwich extraction, was chosen.17

Elections to Parliament seem never to have excited such partisan fervour as did those for the civic officials. During the later 14th century they took place in the city’s general assembly. For example, the first election of Richard II’s reign, held on 2 Oct. 1377, was made in the presence of the four bailiffs, 15 named citizens and ‘others of the commonalty’. The bailiffs then returned the writ to the sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk, who recorded their response in a schedule containing the names of all the elected representatives from both shires and every borough in his bailiwick, which he sent into Chancery. Writs for the Parliament of 1404 (Jan.), in the course of which Norwich was to receive its long-awaited charter, instructed the city to return four Members instead of the usual two, an obligation until then fulfilled only by London, which could better afford it; and the citizens, apprehensive of the doubled expense, immediately sent their lawyer, John Alderford, to Westminster to get the writ amended. From that time, Norwich received a separate writ, directed, under the new constitution, to its own two sheriffs, who made their return by endorsing it with a brief note of the names of those elected and their mainpernors. In and after 1407 electoral indentures were drawn up ‘in pleno comitatu civitatis Norwici’ in the guildhall, as between the two sheriffs of the one part and the two coroners and a number of named citizens (ranging from ten in 1407 to 22 in November 1414) of the other, it being stated that the election had been made in the presence of those named. A provision in the ‘composition’ of 1415, inserted somewhat haphazardly in a clause otherwise concerned with apprenticeships, admissions to the freedom, and suchlike matters, held that ‘burgesses that shul be chosen for knyghtes of the shyre of the cite shuln be chosen by the comon semble [assembly] and, the persons so chosen, her [their] names shul be presented and publysshed in pleyn shire wit inne the cite to the meire, shireves, and to her counseil ther beande [being] in the gyldhalle’. Thus, there was a real election by the assembly—one in which the mayor, sheriffs and 24 apparently did not participate—and a formal one ‘in pleyn shire’, in which they did. It is to the latter that the electoral indentures invariably refer, and those named as party to them always included members of the 24. From 1426 certain of those present were actually described in the indentures as aldermen: and in that particular year nine aldermen and six other citizens were named.18 Norwich was liberal in its payments to parliamentary representatives, giving each Member 3s.4d. per day throughout our period—up to and including the Parliament of 1421 (Dec.). However, in 1422 the Members were to be paid no more than 2s. per day each, and this was the wage offered for the next three Parliaments, too. As at Bishop’s Lynn, the practice appears to have grown up whereby, at the end of a Parliament, the city’s representatives would make a full report in the general assembly about the business transacted.19

Of the 32 Parliaments summoned during our period, formal returns for Norwich to as many as 13 have not survived; but local records supply the missing names, save those of the pair elected to the Parliament of 1404 (Oct.). The list is thus complete for 31 Parliaments, to which 23 men in all were returned. Nine only ever represented Norwich just once, yet the parliamentary service of the others brings the average up to three. Robert Dunston sat in eight Parliaments, William Appleyard in ten, and Walter Bixton in as many as 15. The only one of Norwich’s representatives to serve another constituency in this period was Henry Rafman, who had sat for Great Yarmouth before taking up citizenship of Norwich. There can be little doubt that the city recognized the advantages of some continuity in its representation, for it generally selected, and as would appear in preference, men with experience of the workings of the Commons: in 15 of the 31 Parliaments both Members were so qualified, and in 14 others a newcomer was accompanied by someone who had already been tried. Only in the Parliament of 1401 and, less certainly, in that of 1413 (May), was the city represented by two novices. It may be remarked, too, that not a single newcomer was elected to the five Parliaments summoned between 1415 and 1419. Continuity of representation was also provided by the not uncommon practice of re-electing Members to consecutive Parliaments. Thus, in ten of the Parliaments of our period the city was represented by someone who had sat in the assembly immediately preceding. Only once, however, in 1421 (May), were both Members re-elected. Bixton sat in five of the six Parliaments meeting between 1386 and 1391, and, similarly, Dunston sat in five of the six summoned in the period 1417-22—both men serving in four Parliaments running. Two of Norwich’s parliamentary citizens were notable for the length of their service: Bixton, first elected in 362, was chosen for the 15th time 35 years later, in 1397; and 36 years separated William Appleyard’s first return in 1383 from his tenth in 1419.

Few of the 23 MPs could draw on parliamentary experience of other members of their families, although John Alderford, Roger Blickling and Thomas Gerard were probably closely related to men who had represented the city earlier in Richard II’s reign. Only among the Appleyards is parliamentary service known to have extended to the third generation: William Appleyard, the city’s first mayor, was the son of one Bartholomew Appleyard and probably father of the other Bartholomew, who sat in 1411 and 1413, the last named being an obscure figure, evidently elected on the strength of his kinsman’s authority. Without exception the 23 parliamentary citizens were freemen of Norwich at the time of their elections, though by no means all of them were natives of the city. Henry Rafman and Edmund Warner had come from elsewhere in Norfolk—Wymondham and Gimingham, respectively—while Richard Purdance and Richard White I hailed from Suffolk, the former from Ipswich, the latter from Bury St. Edmunds. All Members, with the possibly exception of Bartholomew Appleyard, held property in Norwich, most of them clearly belonging to the wealthiest section of the community whose prosperity was founded on trade. No fewer than 15 of the city’s representatives are known to have been merchants, who, using Norwich as a centre for their enterprises, shipped wool and cloth overseas via Great Yarmouth and imported from the Low Countries and the Baltic a wide variety of merchandise for the consumption not only of the citizens themselves but also of the inhabitants of a wide hinterland. This group dominated the representation of Norwich—before 1401 to the exclusion of all others. It is no doubt a reflection of the difficulties experienced by the city, first in securing the new charter and then in establishing a satisfactory constitution, that to seven of the ten Parliaments summoned in its internally troubled years between 1401 and 1414 it returned someone trained in the law as one of its representatives, and that in the usually long Parliament of 1406 both MPs belonged to the legal profession. In the first two decades of the 15th century Norwich retained a number of lawyers: the recorder, with an annual fee of five marks, the town clerk with £4, and the common attorney with two marks, as well as legal counsellors of the calibre of John Wodehouse*, the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, William Paston, the future judge, and Thomas Derham*, to all of whom it regularly paid fees. The three men of law returned to Parliament by Norwich in our period all held permanent offices in the city: John Alderford was common attorney when elected in 1406, 1413 and 1414; William Ampulford was town clerk when elected in 1410; and Walter Eaton became recorder shortly after representing the city for the fourth time in 1407. From November 1414 to the end of the period, the lawyers were once more eclipsed by the merchants. All of those 20 who were not trained in the law, with the single exception of Bartholomew Appleyard, filled posts in the government of the city. Sixteen were bailiffs and, after the charter of 1404, eleven became sheriffs and eight mayors. With the exception of the two Appleyards no man was elected to Parliament unless he had first served in a civic office, generally as a bailiff or sheriff, although only one of the eight who held the mayoralty had done so before his first appearance in the Commons. It was, however, not the custom for those actually involved in civic administration to be returned; indeed, in our period this only happened in 1391, when one of the bailiffs (Bixton) got elected.

Roger Blickling, apparently of merchant stock, was retained as a squire by the countess (later duchess) of Norfolk, Margaret Marshal, who made him custodian of her park at Lopham for life; and the styles ‘esquire’ and ‘gentleman’ were on occasion given, respectively, to the lawyers John Alderford and Walter Eaton, the use of such descriptions denoting the rise of a new social division with an eye upon the acquisition of landed estates. Indeed, several of Norwich’s MPs became substantial landowners, not only by purchase, but even by inheritance. At least ten acquired land well beyond the city walls: Alderford possessed three or more manors, Henry Limner at least four, and William Appleyard five. Robert Brasier acquired through marriage property as far away as Colchester, while William Ampulford purchased a small estate in Suffolk. Furthermore, Appleyard, Alderford and Ampulford all married into the ranks of the gentry of Norfolk; and Appleyard, the only one of these three whose children survived him, established a line of landed esquires. Alderford and Appleyard were of sufficient standing in the community of the shire as to be appointed to the royal office of escheator of Norfolk and Suffolk. Otherwise, Henry Rafman was the only Member to hold an office by crown appointment, and his service as a customer at Yarmouth had ended before he moved to Norwich. However, no fewer than 15 of the 23 parliamentary citizens were nominated to royal commissions, although all but two served only on bodies concerned with matters relating to the city alone. The commissions issued to the two exceptions—Alderford and Limner—authorized them to deal with more general matters affecting other parts of East Anglia as well. The Crown did not appoint j.p.s for Norwich as distinct from the county at Norfolk, save on rare occasions. However, six MPs were among those so named in the last decade of the 14th century, and current members of the local bench were elected to Parliament in 1395, 1397 (Jan.) and 1399. After January 1404, and in accordance with the provisions contained in the charter, the mayor was permitted to choose four of the ‘probiores et legaliores’ citizens to act with him as justices for the duration of his mayoral year, but for the most part the names of those so selected are not known.

There is no evidence of any outside interference with the parliamentary elections for Norwich. But this is not to suggest that there were no instances of connexions between MPs and influential magnates and gentry of the region. Indeed, such links were regarded as a potential cause of disputes within the city—so much so that the ‘composition’ of 1415 forbade the mayor, sheriffs and members of the 24 to accept livery from a lord upon pain of forfeiting their citizenship.20 Even so, the citizens must have been well aware that their interests might be usefully promoted by those able to gain the attention of magnates. Walter Bixton, who joined the duke of Gloucester at Harringay when he rose in rebellion against Richard II, was returned to both the Parliaments of 1388, which the duke and his fellow Lords Appellant controlled. William Ampulford, the town clerk, may have been elected to his only Parliament in 1410 largely because his wife’s father, the King’s esquire, John Reymes*, was then constable of Norwich castle, and her uncle, John Wynter, one of the knights-elect for Norfolk, was then receiver-general of the estates of Henry of Monmouth—doubtless considered very useful connexions at a time when Prince Henry was head of the government. John Alderford, engaged as the common attorney, was employed on occasion not only by the city’s friend, Sir Thomas Erpingham (for whom he stood surety at the Exchequer in the year before his first election to Parliament in 1406, and later served as a trustee of his wife’s estates), but also with Erpingham’s influential nephew, Sir William Phelip*, who was constable of Norwich castle at the time of this MP’s elections in 1413 and 1414. In those years Alderford may also have been retained by John Mowbray, the Earl Marshal (afterwards duke of Norfolk), from whom, certainly in 1422-3, he received fees as an apprentice-at-law and member of his council.

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. Norf. Official Lists ed. Le Strange, 136.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Norf. RO, Norwich chamberlains’ acct. 2-3 Hen. IV.
  • 4. Norf. Official Lists, 136-7.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. M. McKisack, Parl. Repn. Eng. Bors. 149.
  • 7. Norf. Official Lists, 137.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. Ibid.
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. Ibid.
  • 12. Ibid.
  • 13. Norwich assembly rolls 47 Edw. III, 6 Ric. II.
  • 14. CChR, v. 238, 264.
  • 15. CChR, v. 421-3; F. Blomefield, Norf. iii. 114-15, 118, 120; Recs. Norwich ed. Hudson and Tingey, ii. 52-53; Norf. Arch. xxxv. 101.
  • 16. Recs. Norwich, i. 67-108, 273-5; CChr, v. 485-6.
  • 17. CPR, 1429-36, pp. 29-32; 1436-41, pp. 76, 123.
  • 18. Norwich assembly roll I Ric. II; Recs. Norwich, i. 107; McKisack, 35-36, 52.
  • 19. Norwich treasurers’ rolls; Recs. Norwich, i. 276, ii. 44, 48, 51, 62; McKisack, 87.
  • 20. Recs. Norwich, i. 98.