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|1388 (Feb.)||Robert Norton|
|1388 (Sept.)||John Raines|
|John Russell I|
|1390 (Jan.)||John Buckmore|
|1391||Henry de la Chamber|
|1393||Maurice de la Chamber|
|John Russell I|
|1395||Maurice de la Chamber|
|1397 (Jan.)||Henry Trymenell|
|1397 (Sept.)||John Brome|
|?William Hopkins 1|
|1404 (Jan.)||Simon Bennett|
|Richard Ferrour alias Barkes|
|1413 (May)||Nicholas Rody|
|1414 (Apr.)||John Brome|
|1414 (Nov.)||Nicholas Rody|
|1421 (May)||Nicholas Rody|
|1421 (Dec.)||Nicholas Rody|
Little is known about the size of the medieval population of Warwick. The lay subsidy roll of 1332 provides 92 names of the more affluent inhabitants, but these can represent only a fraction of the total number of householders. There can be no doubt, however, that the place was less populous and wealthy than its thriving neighbour, Coventry; there, the 134 taxpayers paid £47 2s., in comparison with Warwick’s £17 16s. The Avon was not navigable as far up as Warwick, and the town’s situation away from important roads denied it a share in long-distance trade. Even within the shire it suffered from the competition of numerous other markets and fairs. Attempts made by the earls of Warwick to encourage the trade of the town (of which they were overlords) by building a booth hall, reducing tolls and (in 1413) switching the Michaelmas fair to a less competitive date, all had little effect. Nothing came of the ambitious scheme of Earl Richard (d.1439) for the dredging of the river to facilitate communications with Bristol. Always overshadowed by Coventry in matters of trade and industry, Warwick owed its importance to other factors. Its strategic position in the heart of England had given it considerable military significance in the tenth century, and it had subsequently housed a royal mint and a Norman castle. As a shire town it had acquired a gaol and a hall of pleas, and by the later Middle Ages it was the normal meeting place for the county sessions of the peace. From 1295 Warwick regularly returned two of its burgesses to Parliament, whereas Coventry (although it had sent Members in Edward I’s reign and was to do so again after 1450) was not represented at all in our period.
It was Coventry, rather than Warwick, which was favoured by the Lancastrian kings (Henry IV summoned a Parliament to meet there in 1404, and for Henry VI it became an alternative seat when London proved untenable). This was undoubtedly because Warwick was the caput honoris of the influential earls of Warwick and to a large extent subject to them. The very presence of these magnates, their castle and retainers, imposed a curb on such moves as the townspeople made towards independence. Indeed, even by the late 14th century the town had failed to develop corporate organs of government of more than a rudimentary nature. Administration of its affairs was still largely in the hands of three of the earl’s officials: a steward (who was responsible for holding courts), a bailiff (who accounted for judicial profits and stallage), and a rent collector (also sometimes styled ‘bailiff’). Royal writs might occasionally be directed to the ‘mayor’ of Warwick, but there is no evidence for the existence of such an official, and it seems likely that the term was loosely applied to the senior bailiff. During our period there are indications of the emergence of a group of influential burgesses who shared some of the bailiffs’ responsibilities; for example, they obtained royal grants of pontage, and were named on the parliamentary election indentures. In 1383, with the help of their lord the earl, this group founded a guild in honour of the Holy Trinity and St. Mary which (later amalgamated with the guild of St. George) was to achieve some importance in local affairs. In the 15th century pre-eminence was accorded to the master of the guild, his name preceding that of the senior bailiff as a witness to deeds. Nevertheless, these were but small steps towards self-government.2
It would appear that the election of Warwick’s MPs took place in the county court held in the town and on the same day as that of the knights of the shire; and the wording of some of the electoral indentures implies that all those named as present had chosen both the knights and the burgesses. However, the existence of separate indentures for shire and borough for the Parliaments of 1407, 1413 (May) and 1425, and the clear distinction made on certain other indentures (for instance those of 1419, 1420, 1422, 1423 and 1426) between the men who were party to the choice of county Members and those party to the selection of the borough’s representatives, suggests that a group of burgesses attended the county court either to make a formal election of their own MPs there, or to report on an election which had already taken place elsewhere. The number of burgesses listed on the electoral indentures was usually six.3
The names of Warwick’s MPs are known for only 25 of the 32 Parliaments summoned between 1386 and 1421, there being gaps for those of 1390 (Nov.), 1404 (Oct.), 1413 (Feb.) and, more seriously, for all four Parliaments summoned between 1415 and 1417. Of the 26 men recorded as representing Warwick, as many as 14 were apparently returned on only one occasion, and four more may have sat but twice. It may have been the case that in six Parliaments the borough was represented entirely by novices, and the average service of two or three Parliaments per Member hardly suggests that previous experience of the workings of the Commons was an important factor in their selection. Yet, despite the gaps in the returns, which distort the pattern of representation, it is certain that in 17 of the 25 Parliaments Warwick was represented by at least one man with previous parliamentary experience; indeed, in nine of these both Members were so qualified. Furthermore, re-election occurred no fewer than eight times: both representatives of 1386 and 1410 and one of 1401 and 1421 (May) were elected to the Parliaments immediately following; Nicholas Rody sat in three of the last four Parliaments of Henry V’s reign, and Roger Wootton sat in all six for which returns are extant between 1410 and 1419. There was, therefore, a certain degree of continuity in the borough’s representation. Moreover, some of Warwick’s MPs offered themselves quite regularly at the hustings: Robert Norton was returned five times, John Rody six, Roger Wootton and possibly also John Brome at least eight apiece, and Nicholas Rody nine. Two members of the Rody family (John and Nicholas) occupied 15 seats between 1413 and 1437, and in six of the seven Parliaments of Henry V’s reign for which there is evidence one or other of them was in attendance in the Lower House. Another who became well acquainted with the procedures of the Commons was John Weston, who besides his four Parliaments for Warwick sat in five for Worcester (in 1410 he was returned by both boroughs) and one for Worcestershire.
Local men, either from the town of Warwick itself (some 16 of the 26) or from places not far away (five more), predominated in the parliamentary representation of the borough, and it seems likely that the five Members who have not been identified were townsmen too. No real ‘outsiders’ were returned, although a small number of the MPs owned property elsewhere, even (like Robert Walden and John Weston) over the county border in Worcestershire.
Few of the estate papers of the lords of the borough, the Beauchamp earls of Warwick, have survived, and the names of the men they appointed to govern the town are but rarely known. Of the MPs only William Hopkins and John Upton are recorded as bailiffs of Warwick, in Hopkins’s case after his parliamentary service had ended. Yet, scanty though the evidence is, there can be no doubt that the earls exerted considerable influence over the parliamentary representation of Warwick. No fewer than 14 of the 26 Members are positively known to have been connected with the Beauchamps in some way, and those 14 occupied 30 out of a possible 49 seats in this period. Parliamentary burgesses associated with Earl Thomas (d.1401) included John Brome (whose father was the earl’s steward in Warwickshire), Henry Trymenell and Henry and Maurice de la Chamber (all members of his household), William Ruding (joint parker of his park at Wedgnock), John Russell I (who held posts on his estates in Wales), and, most important, Robert Walden (a member of his council closely involved in his financial dealings, who nearly shared his disgrace and forfeiture in 1397). Earl Thomas would have found it especially useful to have supporters in the Commons for the Parliament of 1388 (Feb.)—when as one of the Lords Appellant he was seeking to control the government—and for both those of 1397, in the second of which he was faced with Richard II’s implacable hostility and the prospect of excecution for treason. Among those returned for Warwick in the lifetime of his successor, Earl Richard, were Simon Bennett (who when elected in 1404 was either clerk of his accounts or his receiver-general), John Rody (an attorney who acted for members of the Beauchamp circle), Nicholas Rody (later to be the earl’s steward in Warwick and an executor of his will), John Upton (known to have been active in his service and to have been made bailiff of Warwick), John Usk (his warrener at Warwick) and, most important, John Weston (a lawyer who received the earl’s fee for his counsel and later held office as deputy sheriff of Worcestershire by his appointment). It is worth remarking that Weston also probably owed his election for Worcestershire to his connexion with the earl of Warwick. These members of the Beauchamp affinity were elected at regular intervals and clearly dominated the representation of the borough.
Although there was little room for other influences to make themselves felt in Warwick, it would appear that on a few occasions followers of other local landowners did secure election for the borough. When Henry Filongley was returned in 1390 he may have already been a servant of Henry of Bolingbroke at nearby Kenilworth castle, for immediately after Henry’s accession to the throne he was made serjeant of the royal scullery. Another interesting connexion was that formed between William Ilshawe and Sir William Bagot*, for Ilshawe—under sheriff of Warwickshire at the time of his only election in 1397 (Sept.)—was allegedly ‘maintained’ by Bagot. Of course, the latter was one of Richard II’s most trusted councillors, and, sitting in this Parliament as a shire knight, he gave the King invaluable support in his quest for vengeance against the leading Appellants of 1387-8. He would have found it a simple matter to secure the return for Warwick of one of his own followers at a time when the lord of the borough, Earl Thomas, was in the Tower awaiting trial.
Richard Ferrour may have been holding the crown office of keeper of Warwick gaol at the time of his only Parliament in 1407, and, as already noted, William Ilshawe was under sheriff when elected in 1397, but in all other instances where a MP occupied a post by royal appointment such service never coincided with a session of Parliament, and always occurred after that person’s first appearance in the Commons. John Brome was sometime under sheriff of Warwickshire, William Ilshawe and Nicholas Rody served as escheators, and John Upton likewise as a coroner. John Buckmore and Robert Walden were made collectors of subsidies in the shire, and six others were placed on royal commissions of a different nature. The most outstanding in this respect was John Weston who (after his earliest returns for this constituency) served as a j.p. in Warwickshire for 25 years, being a member of the bench when returned for Warwick in 1410 and 1411. A prominent figure among the commissioners of oyer and terminer and gaol delivery, later in his career he was to be made recorder of Coventry and a royal serjeant-at-law. Besides Weston, possibly six other MPs were lawyers—John Buckmore, Roger Wootton, John and Nicholas Rody, and perhaps William Ilshawe and John Brome. From 1404 to 1422 men trained in the law played a significant part in the representation of the borough: at least one lawyer was elected to 11 of the 12 Parliaments of that period for which returns survive, and in as many as six of them both those selected were of this profession. Little is known about the occupations of the other parliamentary burgesses, save that Richard Ferrour and William Hopkins both had interests in the local cloth industry.