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


1386Thomas Walbrond
 Walter Byle
1388 (Feb.)Thomas Walbrond
 Walter Byle
1388 (Sept.)Thomas Walbrond
 Robert Calche
1390 (Jan.)Adam Denys
 Robert Calche
1390 (Nov.)
1391Nicholas atte Gate
 Henry Rauf
1393Walter Byle
 Robert Calche
1394Adam Denys
 Thomas Smithfield 1
1395Richard Byle
 Thomas Barbour
1397 (Jan.)Walter Byle
 Adam Denys
1397 (Sept.)Nicholas atte Gate
 Robert Cokeman 2
1399Adam Denys
 Thomas Barbour
1402Robert Calche
 Richard Byle
1404 (Jan.)
1404 (Oct.)
1406Robert Craford
 John Cheverell
1407John Gramford
 William Colyns
1410Robert Craford
 Thomas Walsingham
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)Robert Craford
 Thomas Faringdon
1414 (Apr.)Richard Byle
 John Mayhew II
1414 (Nov.)William Gerard
 John Shoyll
1416 (Mar.)
1416 (Oct.)
1417William Gerard
 Robert Craford
1419William Gerard
 Robert Craford
1420William Gerard
 Walter Reson
1421 (May)William Gerard
 Walter Reson
1421 (Dec.)William Gerard
 Walter Provost

Main Article

There was a settlement at Wareham in Roman times, but the main development of the town took place between the seventh and tenth centuries. Situated on a peninsula with the river Piddle to the north and the river Frome to the south, it then occupied a position of great strength. In the early tenth century Wareham was one of the West Saxon fortified boroughs; and the massive ramparts which still enclose the town on three sides are the remains of the defences of that period. But long before the 14th century Wareham was superseded in importance as a royal stronghold by the development of Corfe castle in the Isle of Purbeck. Its own castle, built within the south-west corner of the defences in the early 12th century, had for long been in ruins by Richard II’s reign, when there was pasture land inside the castle walls. Similarly, as a result of the silting up of the higher reaches of Poole harbour, Wareham, once a flourishing port, had declined in commercial importance. By the early 15th century most seagoing vessels came no further than Poole. Wareham was described as a port in 1372 and as a ‘sea port’ in 1382, but the traffic along the Frome had already become severely restricted, and although Wareham ships were used to transport to Westminster the Purbeck marble for Edward III’s tomb in 1386, they were loaded at Poole.3 There is little evidence regarding the size of the town during the period under review. Only 151 adult inhabitants contributed to the poll tax of 1381; but this can hardly have been the full extent of the local population, for there was then widespread evasion of taxation. Moreover, although in 1435-6 Wareham was to be included in the list of ‘desolated, wasted, destructed and depopulated’ Dorset towns, and accordingly granted a remittance of 13s.4d. on its parliamentary tenths, it none the less seems to have fared better than Dorchester, Lyme Regis and Melcombe Regis, where there was serious depopulation and hardship. Indeed, the annual income from Wareham enjoyed by the lords of the borough evidently rose over the period: in 1361 it had been estimated at £16 0s.3d.; in 1399 it was said to be £18; and in 1422 it amounted to £25 8s10d. It may be that the more serious decline of the town came later: in the reign of Henry VIII Leland was to comment that ‘Wareham is now within the waulles fallen doun and made into gardins for garlike’.4

At one stage in its earlier history, in King John’s reign, Wareham had paid a fee farm of £20 to the Crown, but this was an unusual occurrence for by the late 12th century the town had come into the possession of the earls of Gloucester from whom, like the town of Weymouth, it descended as part of the Clare inheritance to the Mortimers, earls of March. It was to the earls’ receivers of the Cranborne portion of the estate that the bailiffs of Wareham accounted for the profits of the town.5 There is no evidence that the earls of March or their officers sought to influence parliamentary elections at Wareham in any way in the late 14th and early 15th centuries; but the period was an unusual one in the history of the March inheritance since the 4th earl, Roger Mortimer, was a minor in the King’s guardianship from 1382 to 1394, and his son and heir, Edmund, spent the years 1399 to 1413 in Henry IV’s custody. While in the case of Robert Cokeman and Thomas Faringdon their connexions with Weymouth as well as Wareham suggest a possible involvement in the administration of the estate, there is no documentary proof of this. The only occasion where outside influence over the choice of a parliamentary candidate at Wareham seems at all likely was in the election, in the winter of 1409-10, of Thomas Walsingham of London. Walsingham, a successful vintner, was then a victualler of Henry IV’s household and perhaps already serving as a deputy of the chief butler of England, Thomas Chaucer*. He had acted for some years as a gauger in the Cinque Ports, and his position of authority in control of the wine trade no doubt gave him influence in many other ports. Walsingham’s later career reveals a close association with Chaucer’s cousin, Bishop Beaufort of Winchester, and it is conceivable that either Chaucer or Beaufort contrived his election for Wareham. By January 1410 the party of the prince of Wales, whose chief supporters the Beauforts were, was already in charge of the royal administration. The Parliament was opened by Henry Beaufort on 27 Jan.; his brother, Sir Thomas, was appointed chancellor four days later; and in the same week Chaucer was re-elected as Commons’ Speaker. They probably also had something to do with Walsingham’s return for Lyme Regis to the first Parliament of Henry V’s reign.

Little can be discovered about the internal administration of the borough. In 1179 the burgesses, ‘men of the earl of Gloucester’, had been fined five marks for establishing a guild without royal licence, but whether such a body was subsequently re-founded is not known. During the period under review the town was governed by a mayor and two bailiffs. Some difficulties were created by the minority of Roger, the 4th earl of March. From 1382 until the earl came into his inheritance in 1394 the mayor and seven burgesses (among them Walter Byle and Adam Denys) were held responsible for the tolls and customs collected in the town, as well as for the weirs and fisheries, being required to pay £7 13s.4d. a year to the royal receiver of the estate. During the minority the ‘poor commons’ of Wareham sent a petition to the Merciless Parliament of 1388 complaining that for the past 24 years the ‘portreeves’ (perhaps to be identified with the bailiffs), who were elected annually to collect rents for which they were accountable to the earls’ receivers, had been seriously inconvenienced by repeated demands from the Exchequer that they should render account there instead; and they asked that the Exchequer ‘surseere desormez de tielx demaundez et distresses’, for none of the profits of the town were due to the King. Copies of the ordinances drawn up for the government of Wareham during the mayoralty of Robert Cokeman in 1406 no longer survive, and a second set of 41 regulations, known to have come into force in 1450, has been missing since the 18th century. The latter apparently included a decision that 12 burgesses, sworn to observe the constitutions, should be chosen to form, together with the mayor, a type of council. In 1623 it was stated that according to ‘old custom’ the mayor was chosen at the Michaelmas court leet by a jury of 15, and that he and two constables governed with the assistance of six other burgesses. But for how long this had then been the practice is not known.6

Wareham is first recorded sending representatives to Parliament in 1302, but from then until 1360 it only rarely made returns. The practice became more regular from the 1360s onwards. Even so, details of the Membership of only 23 of the 32 Parliaments convened between 1386 and 1421 are now available, providing the names of 21 men who sat for the borough in this period. Although more than half of them, 14, sat for Wareham only once, twice or three times, the record of some of the parliamentary burgesses is quite impressive. Robert Calche and Richard Byle were both returned four times, and Robert Craford and Adam Denys five. Three Members, each of whom sat eight times for Wareham, were quite outstanding: Thomas Walbrond’s eight returns took place within 11 years, 1377 to 1388; William Gerard sat in every Parliament for which returns are extant between 1414 and 1423; and Walter Reson sat for Wareham almost without a break between 1420 and 1432. Nor was it unusual for Wareham men to sit for other Dorset boroughs. Three such represented the impoverished borough of Melcombe Regis: Robert Calche in three Parliaments running (1394-7) in between his four elections for Wareham; Walter Reson in 1419, before sitting eight times for the same; and William Gerard in 1425, after doing so eight times. Three ‘outsiders’ who sat for Wareham in this period were also returned by other boroughs: Henry Rauf of Bridport was twice returned for his home town after sitting once for Wareham; John Cheverell of Chilfrome sat for Dorchester in 1407, the next occasion after his only return for Wareham; and Thomas Walsingham of London was returned once for Lyme Regis after sitting once for Wareham. Despite the gaps in the returns, it is clear that the burgesses preferred to send to Parliament men with previous experience. At 11 of the 23 elections for which evidence survives both of the successful candidates had been Members of the Commons before, and in another eight Parliaments one of the representatives was experienced in this way. In only four Parliaments (1395, 1406, 1407 and 1414 (Nov.)) is there any possibility that both men returned were newcomers to the parliamentary scene, and only in 1395 is there any real likelihood that this was in fact the case. There were no fewer than 11 instances of re-election (in the sense of election to consecutive Parliaments). Thomas Walbrond sat in every Parliament from 1385 to September 1388 (four running), with Walter Byle as his companion in 1386 and 1388 (Feb.); Robert Calche was re-elected in 1390 (Jan.); William Gerard sat in every Parliament from 1417 to 1423 (seven in a row) and then represented Melcombe Regis in the next (1425); and Walter Reson sat in 1419 for Melcombe, then in the next two Parliaments (1420 and May 1421) for Wareham, and in three more consecutively from 1422 onwards. Several of the Wareham representatives of the 14th and 15th centuries were related and no doubt shared their experiences of parliamentary service. The Byles included Walter, Richard, Thomas and William, who between them sat in 16 Parliaments between 1384 and 1437; John Mayhew II was related to Roger Mayhew, who had been returned for Wareham in the 1360s; Thomas came from the same family as James Walbrond, his fellow Member on three occasions; and William Gerard’s kinsman, John, was to sit for Wareham in 1435 and Dorchester in 1442, and John Cheverell’s son, Walter, for Weymouth in 1442.

Five of the 21 parliamentary burgesses returned for Wareham between 1386 and 1421 remain unidentified, which in itself suggests that they were obscure local men. The majority of the rest (12) were certainly resident in the town or at least owned property there. Several of these also established themselves as landowners elsewhere in Dorset, for the most part by acquiring lands in east Purbeck, but Robert Calche held property in Dorchester and Melcombe Regis, Walter Reson owned land in Blandford, Stapleton Iwerne and Winterbourne ‘Quarrelston’, and Robert Craford acquired, by marriage, estates not only in Dorset but also in Wiltshire and on the Isle of Wight. Four of the parliamentary burgesses were ‘outsiders’, though only one of them did not live in the shire. Thomas Faringdon, esquire, was seated at Tincleton near Dorchester; Henry Rauf came from Bridport; and John Cheverell owned substantial estates in west Dorset as well as the property which his wife brought him nearer to Wareham. Thomas Walsingham had no landed interests whatsoever in Dorset; his holdings, valued in 1436 at £90 a year, were by then mainly situated in Kent. Nevertheless, the election of outsiders was in our period a comparatively rare event, occurring only in 1391, 1406, 1410 and 1413 (May).

The principal occupations of the inhabitants of Wareham, as revealed by the poll tax return of 1381, involved the victualling trades, and only one or two weavers and a dyer were engaged in the small local cloth industry. Not surprisingly, several of the parliamentary burgesses of the first half of the period under review traded in foodstuffs: Adam Denys, for example, was a fisherman and probably sold salmon caught locally; Walter Byle was a brewer; and Richard Byle, Robert Calche and Thomas Barbour alias Frye, who were merchants of greater standing, became involved to a certain extent in overseas trade. Later on in the period the burgesses preferred to send local landowners to Parliament rather than tradesmen. Robert Craford, William Gerard and Walter Reson, who dominated the representation of the borough after 1406, may be put in the category of country gentleman rather than that of ordinary burgess. Both Gerard and Craford were lawyers and so, too, was one of the outsiders, John Cheverell. Their elections to the Lower House are indicative of a trend, for in all but two Parliaments between 1406 and 1425 for which the returns have survived (1407 and 1414 (Apr.)) one of the Members was a lawyer, and in three of them (1406, 1417 and 1419) both were of this profession. These lawyers were all well connected with the gentry of the shire: Robert Craford married two heiresses, the second of whom was one of the Russells of Tyneham; William Gerard was associated with the Newburghs of East Lulworth and with the future chief justice, John Hody*; and John Cheverell married a Chantmarle heiress who came into some of the Estoke family estates. The last named was on good terms with William Filoll, Robert Lovell and Ralph Bush, who all sat for the shire on occasion, and among his clients was Sir James Ormond (later earl of Wiltshire).

Since very few strictly local records are extant, the names of the mayors and bailiffs of Wareham are rare survivals. Only five MPs are known to have served a term as bailiff, and in no instance did this coincide with election to the Commons. Three of the five sometime bailiffs were subsequently elected mayor, but only in the case of Walter Reson (in 1422) was the standing mayor ever returned to Parliament. As many as ten Members were appointed to royal commissions or, more important, held offices in the Crown’s appointment. Four (Walter Reson, Thomas Barbour, Walter Byle and Adam Denys) acted as commissioners for the collection of fifteenths and tenths in the shire at large, and William Gerard was named as an assessor of the contributions from Dorset to a parliamentary grant. Five were made royal officers in the Dorset ports. Of these, four served as customers in Melcombe Regis: Thomas Barbour (1401-17), Walter Reson (1408 and 1417-27), Robert Calche (1412-13) and Walter Provost (1419-22); two as deputy butlers (Reson and Calche); and another, Thomas Walbrond, as searcher of the coasts from Lulworth to Wareham. Thomas Barbour acted as alnager of the shire in 1405-10, and Thomas Faringdon did likewise for some time as coroner. But none of the Dorset men equalled the achievements of Thomas Walsingham. In eight of the 23 Parliaments Wareham was represented by at least one man currently occupying a royal office: Walbrond was probably still searcher at the time of his elections in 1388; Calche was returned to the Parliaments of 1388 (Sept.), 1390 (Jan.) and 1402 when deputy butler of one or other of the Dorset ports; Provost sat in 1421 (Dec.) when customer of Melcombe; and Reson was elected to six Parliaments for Wareham while serving concurrently as customer and deputy butler at Melcombe.

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iv. 1146.
  • 2. The return is now torn and illegible apart from Robert Co (219/9/13), but J. Hutchins, Dorset, i. 85, gives Cokeman.
  • 3. RCHM Dorset, ii. 303-4; SC6/834/5; CCR, 1369-74; p. 449; CFR, ix. 313; CPR, 1385-8, p. 127.
  • 4. E179/103/48; VCH Dorset, ii. 246; Hutchins, i. 81; CCR, 1396-9, p. 452; SC11/23; E142/38; J. Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, i. 254.
  • 5. Hutchins, i. 82; SC6/1112/3.
  • 6. Hutchins, i. 82, 124; CFR, ix. 313; SC8/21/1014; RP, iii. 255.