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


1386Sir John Derwentwater
 Robert Cliburn
1388 (Feb.)Sir Thomas Blenkinsop
 Thomas Strickland I
1388 (Sept.)Robert Sandford I
 Hugh Salkeld I
1390 (Jan.)John Crackenthorpe
 Hugh Salkeld I
1390 (Nov.)Sir Christopher Moresby
 Hugh Salkeld I
1391Sir William Curwen
 William Thornburgh
1393John Crackenthorpe
 Hugh Salkeld I
1394Sir William Curwen
 William Thornburgh
1395Sir Walter Strickland
 William Crackenthorpe I
1397 (Jan.)John Lancaster I
 Hugh Salkeld I
1397 (Sept.)Sir William Curwen
 William Crackenthorpe I
1399Sir Thomas Musgrave
 John Crackenthorpe
1401William Thornburgh
 Hugh Salkeld II
1402Sir William Threlkeld
 (Sir) William Crackenthorpe I
1404 (Jan.)Roland Thornburgh
 Richard Duckett
1404 (Oct.)Sir Robert Leybourne
 Thomas Strickland II
1406Sir John Beetham
 (Sir) John Lancaster I
1407Sir Alan Pennington
 Thomas Warcop I
1411Sir Robert Leybourne
 Christopher Moresby
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)Robert Crackenthorpe
 John Hutton
1414 (Apr.)Robert Mauchell
 Richard Wharton
1414 (Nov.)Thomas Warcop II
 William Thornburgh
1415Robert Warcop
 Thomas Warcop III
1416 (Mar.)Roland Thornburgh
 Robert Crackenthorpe
1416 (Oct.)
1419Roland Thornburgh
 Robert Crackenthorpe
1420William Beauchamp
 Thomas Green II
1421 (May)Robert Warcop
 Robert Preston
1421 (Dec.)(Sir) John Lancaster I
 William Blenkinsop

Main Article

Returns for Westmorland survive for 28 of the 32 Parliaments which met during our period. No fewer than 35 shire knights represented the county between 1386 and 1421, an unusually large number which illustrates clearly enough how hard it could be to find suitable candidates ready to undertake the long journey from Westmorland to London. The problems of travel (especially in winter) made some of the local gentry reluctant to seek election unless they had strong personal reasons for so doing. Certain individuals were, even so, prepared to serve on a fairly regular basis, so a reasonable level of representative continuity was maintained, especially towards the end of the 14th century. On no less than ten occasions both MPs had already sat at least once before, while an experienced Member accompanied a novice in a further 11 Parliaments. Only in 1388 (Sept.), 1404 (Jan.), 1404 (Oct.), 1413 (May), 1414 (Apr.), 1415 and 1420 were two apparent newcomers returned together, although the gaps in the evidence now make it impossible for us to be definite about this. Instances of re-election are, however, rare; and the case of Hugh Salkeld I, who attended three Parliaments in succession between 1388 (Sept.) and 1390 (Nov.), stands alone. Interestingly enough, at least four shire knights first attended Parliament as Members for either Cumberland or the borough of Appleby, and no less than nine in all sat for one or other of these two constituencies during their careers. Thus, although a strikingly high proportion of 21 out of the 35 men here under review represented Westmorland only once, two of their number were also returned for Appleby and another two for Cumberland. Sir John Derwentwater likewise sought election in both counties, which returned him alternately on four occasions between 1369 and 1388 (Feb.). Of the nine men who represented Westmorland three times in the House of Commons, William Crackenthorpe I and Roland Thornburgh also sat for Appleby, while Crackenthorpe’s son, William II, served as a burgess during our period and later sat for the county as well. No truly outstanding records of attendance were achieved at this time, but a few individuals are worthy of note. Both William Thornburgh and Robert Crackenthorpe, for example, had four returns for Westmorland to their credit, Crackenthorpe being also a Member for Appleby in 1414 (Nov.). His son, John, a lawyer, shared with Hugh Salkeld I the distinction of representing their county in at least five Parliaments. All in all, then, the shire knights for Westmorland served in an average of exactly two Parliaments. If their experience elsewhere is taken into account, however, the average rises to slightly nearer three.

Because of constant harassment from across the border, the people of Cumberland and Westmorland were obliged to maintain themselves in a permanent state of defence against the Scots. The gentry of the two counties (which in many respects formed a single community) was dominated by a number of families with distinguished military records, but comparatively few were of knightly rank. In marked contrast to Northumberland, where almost all the parliamentary representatives were knights, the majority of our men were esquires or gentlemen, although many occupied quite substantial estates and figured prominently in the local community. Only twice, in 1402 and 1406, were both Members knights by rank, whereas on no less than 14 occasions two esquires or gentlemen sat together. This tendency is particularly evident towards the end of our period, when an interesting change in the choice of candidates becomes apparent. The return of a few relatively obscure and undistinguished individuals (such as John Hutton, Thomas Green II and the unidentified Robert Mauchell) suggests that it may have become increasingly difficult to find parliamentary spokesmen at this time, partly because the King was overseas, but also as a result of a widespread (and understandable) disenchantment on the part of the marcher gentry with a government whose only apparent interest in them was fiscal. As we shall see, local landowners such as the Warcops and John Lancaster I could easily obtain a seat if they had pressing private business at Westminster; and the election of the two lawyers, Robert Warcop and Robert Preston, in May 1421, may have resulted from a shortage of otherwise suitable candidates. Although Sir James Pickering* had occupied the Speakership of the Commons in 1378 while sitting for Westmorland (and possibly did so again in 1379), no other representative for the county was ever again to enjoy this honour.

In marked contrast to their parliamentary colleagues from other English counties, a sizeable proportion of Members from Westmorland and Cumberland possessed little or no administrative experience. Indeed, seven of the Westmorland men never became involved in local government at all, while another five had no such background on first entering Parliament.1 Certain circumstances did, however, make it rather less easy for gentry in the north-west to pursue a public career. For a start, the shrievalty of Westmorland was an hereditary office held by the Lords Clifford, who appointed nominees acceptable to the Crown as their deputies. The latter were not replaced on an annual basis as the law required elsewhere in England, but remained in office for much longer. John Crackenthorpe’s three terms as deputy sheriff, for example, together lasted for almost eight years, while Sir Walter Strickland served from 1384 to 1390 and again, briefly, in 1392. The post thus remained in a few hands; and only four other shire knights (Robert Crackenthorpe, John Lancaster I, Hugh Salkeld I and Thomas Warcop II) were among those appointed to it. Moreover, the Cliffords naturally preferred to select people whom they could trust, if possible members of their own retinue, and all the men noted above were closely connected with them in one way or another.

It is also important to remember that the office had serious drawbacks. An unfortunate combination of poor and limited agricultural resources, serious outbreaks of disease (notably the plague which killed Sir William Curwen and several of his relatives within less than one week in 1403) and endemic warfare, made Westmorland a poor county; and the deputy sheriffs were often in trouble at the Exchequer over their accounts.2 On the other hand, there were certain compensations to be had, not least at election time. Both Sir Walter Strickland and John Crackenthorpe were technically in breach of the statute forbidding the return of sheriffs to Parliament, since each managed to get himself elected as a shire knight for Westmorland (in 1384 and 1393 respectively) while still in office. Sir Christopher Moresby was actually made sheriff of Cumberland five days before attending the 1390 (Nov.) Parliament; and Sir William Curwen assumed the shrievalty during the recess of the 1397 (Sept.) Parliament, of which he was a Member. Six of our men in all served as sheriffs of Cumberland, Sir John Derwentwater and Sir Christopher Moresby being the most experienced, with three terms each to their credit. John Lancaster I alone held office in both Westmorland and Cumberland, while Thomas Strickland II, whose family had connexions in the south, twice occupied the shrievalty of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

From 1377 to 1400 the escheatorship of Cumberland and Westmorland was joined with that of Northumberland, so here, too, the opportunities for service were somewhat limited, simply because the Crown could draw on the gentry of three counties. During this period, Sir Walter Strickland and William Thornburgh each discharged one term in office and Sir John Derwentwater two, but it was only after 1400 that our men began to appear regularly as escheators. From then onwards eight in all occupied the escheatorship of Cumberland and Westmorland, Robert Crackenthorpe being appointed twice and Roland Thornburgh three times.3 Once again, Thomas Strickland II alone held office elsewhere as escheator of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire. The problems faced in 1391 by Sir Walter Strickland and his deputy, Hugh Salkeld I, in raising the farms, taxes and other levies demanded by the government, reveal clearly enough how onerous the burden of office could be; and there was almost certainly some unwillingness to shoulder these responsibilities. In addition, the escalating level of violence among the local gentry sometimes made it positively dangerous to work as an agent of law-enforcement, and Salkeld (who had in his time terrorized the border with a gang of armed ruffians) appears to have sustained fatal injuries while carrying out his duties.

Far more MPs received commissions of the peace, although comparatively few were actually returned to the House of Commons while sitting on the county bench. Whereas half our men (17 in all) became j.p.s for Westmorland some point in their lives, the county electors returned a current member of the bench to just eight Parliaments, four of which fell in the earlier years of Henry IV’s reign. Somewhat surprisingly in view of the close links between the two counties, only three men (Hugh Salkeld II, Robert Sandford and Robert Warcop) held commissions of the peace in both Cumberland and Westmorland, but a fourth, Sir John Derwentwater, was appointed in the former county alone. Membership of royal commissions of an ad hoc nature was far more common, this being an experience shared by no less than 23 shire knights. The majority were nominated five or six times at most during their lives, but a few remained very active, largely as a result of the need to array men in the north-west for peace-keeping and defensive purposes. Sir John Derwentwater, Hugh Salkeld II and Thomas Strickland II each served on 11 commissions, while Sir William Threlkeld was appointed to 18 over a period of almost 30 years.

Although the assessment and collection of taxes was often carried out by men of rather lower social status than those who customarily sat in Parliament, just over half (18) of the Members for Westmorland were involved in raising money for the government on various occasions. Perhaps because such posts more usually went to merchants, only John Crackenthorpe and Roland Thornburgh were ever employed as collectors of customs. Crackenthorpe in particular seems to have had an interest in commerce, as he and Roland’s father, William Thornburgh, both spent some years as alnagers of Westmorland. Neither of the two coroners, Robert Preston and Hugh Salkeld I, held office for long: the former was replaced for failing to fulfil the necessary requirements of office, and the latter had to resign all his posts (including the deputy shrievalty of Westmorland) because of the brutal vendetta waged by him against the abbot of Shap. Nor did Thomas Strickland II or Sir William Threlkeld serve for very long as keepers of the royal forest of Inglewood in Cumberland, largely because the Crown wished to reward other, more powerful supporters, and so revoked their letters of appointment.

One striking feature, common to almost all our men, is their detachment or aloofness from the Court and political events at Westminster. Perhaps because of the great distance which separated them from the centre of government, only a handful of shire knights reaped the benefits of royal patronage, while the rest were mainly concerned with matters of immediate regional interest. Sir William Curwen was briefly constable of Lochmaben castle, Sir Thomas Blenkinsop commanded the garrison at Roxburgh (and died a prisoner of the Scots during the recess of the Merciless Parliament of 1388) and Christopher Moresby occasionally served on embassies to Scotland, but only Thomas Strickland II can properly be described as a permanent employee of the Crown. At first a member of the retinue of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, he moved with ease into court circles after the Lancastrian usurpation of 1399, and proved a loyal servant to the new regime. His prowess as a soldier is not only reflected in the many rewards bestowed upon him by Henry IV for service in the field, but also in his appointment, during Henry V’s first expedition to France in 1415, as bearer of the royal standard of St. George. No other Westmorland MP pursued such a career, however, and the great majority were content to seek advancement nearer home in the employment of the Cliffords. At least 14 of them were closely attached to this important baronial family as tenants, trustees, annuitants or estate staff. The most notable was the lawyer, John Crackenthorpe, who, with his son, Robert, was closely involved in their affairs for years. Both he and Sir Thomas Blenkinsop served as constables of the Cliffords’ castle at Brough, while Sir William Curwen and Robert Cliburn were each formally retained by Roger, Lord Clifford (d.1389). Given that comparatively little documentary evidence survives about the house of Clifford for our period, it seems likely that other shire knights, too, were connected with it. Even less is known about the Nevilles, earls of Westmorland, whose local influence burgeoned after the death of Thomas, Lord Clifford, in 1391, but whose muniments have unfortunately been lost. Robert Crackenthorpe worked for the Nevilles as well as the Cliffords, and was actually returned to Parliament in 1427 so he could help to present a petition regarding the young earl of Westmorland’s estates. No doubt some of his colleagues maintained this kind of dual connexion, thus securing for themselves an additional source of patronage.

Although it was occasionally difficult to find parliamentary representatives from the upper ranks of the landed gentry, no less than 32 of the Members returned for Westmorland in our period did in fact own property there. This only leaves William Beauchamp and John Hutton, whose territorial interests were confined to Cumberland, and Robert Mauchell, who remains unidentified (but almost certainly belonged to a local family). Of the rest, the great majority (29 in all) came of stock long established in Westmorland, while the three knights, Sir William Curwen, Sir John Derwentwater and Sir Alan Pennington, although mainly resident across the county border in Cumberland, were all rentiers on a substantial scale in Westmorland too. With the exception of Thomas Strickland II, who bought holdings in Buckinghamshire, none of our men is known to have held property in southern England. Sir John Beetham and Sir Alan Pennington were landlords in Yorkshire, and Sir Thomas Blenkinsop was able to pass on to his grandson, William, the possessions he acquired by marriage in Northumberland. Sir Alan also owned holdings in Lancashire, as did John Lancaster I and Roland Thornburgh; but on the whole a combination of geographical and social factors meant that most of our men with estates outside Westmorland held them to the north, in Cumberland, rather than anywhere else. At least 15 shire knights, if not more, were landowners there, and, as we have seen, many played an important part in local government. Compared with other parts of England, the border counties were comparatively poor, and although several MPs occupied quite extensive estates, few could rival the landed incomes enjoyed by their colleagues further south. The loss of so many inquisitions post mortem for Westmorland makes it impossible to produce even a rough estimate of average wealth, but the tax assessments of 1436 do provide evidence for seven of our men. The most affluent of these was Christopher Moresby, who, with £60 p.a., then ranked as the second richest landlord in Westmorland. (Other evidence does, however, suggest that Sir Walter Strickland and his son, Thomas II, outdid him with a net annual income of about £80 at their disposal.) Sir Robert Leybourne could evidently rely on £53 p.a., even after land worth £13 p.a. had been settled on his son, while Hugh Salkeld II received at least £46 p.a. from his estates. It seems likely that (Sir) John Lancaster I was worth rather more than the £35 p.a. at which he was then assessed, but we have no means of telling if William Blenkinsop, Richard Duckett and Robert Warcop did, indeed, each draw profits of £26 p.a. from their property.

Given the remote and relatively isolated community in which they lived—with the Scottish border to the north, the Pennines to the east, Furness to the south and the sea to the west—the gentry of Cumberland and Westmorland formed a rather inward-looking and closed society, bound together by innumerable ties of kinship and interest. The network of family connexions which existed between most of the 35 shire knights clearly illustrates how wide ranging and complex these relationships could be. At least six, if not seven, sets of fathers and sons represented Westmorland during our period, which saw the return of John and Robert Crackenthorpe, the two Christopher Moresbys, the two Hugh Salkelds, Sir Walter Strickland and Thomas Strickland II, William and Roland Thornburgh, and Thomas Warcop II and Thomas III. Robert Warcop was quite possibly the son of Thomas I, whose property eventually descended to him. Other close family ties abounded. Sir Thomas Blenkinsop and his grandson, William, both sat for Westmorland, as did the brothers John and William Crackenthorpe, and Sir Walter Strickland and Thomas Strickland I. Sir William Threlkeld’s son-in-law, John Lancaster I, was himself the father-in-law of Robert Crackenthorpe, while Thomas Strickland II married Sir John Beetham’s daughter. Sir William Curwen and Sir Christopher Moresby were stepbrothers, although, as we shall see, their relationship was anything but fraternal. The widows of Sir Walter Strickland and Robert Sandford I married, respectively, Thomas Warcop II and Sir Robert Leybourne; and after the death of Sir Christopher Moresby, his relict became the wife of John Crackenthorpe’s son. Sir Thomas Musgrave and Sir Thomas Blenkinsop married two sisters; Hugh Salkeld II took one of Sir John Derwentwater’s nieces as his wife; and his sister was betrothed to Robert Cliburn’s son and heir. Roland Thornburgh arranged a marriage alliance between his daughter and Sir William Threlkeld’s son and heir, Henry, whose own son, Lancelot, was considered a suitable husband for Thomas Strickland II’s daughter.

In this way, the landowners of Westmorland hoped to consolidate their estates and forge closer alliances, although their plans sometimes went badly awry, resulting in protracted family feuds and fierce vendettas. Thomas Warcop II wished to marry his son, Thomas III, to Robert Sandford I’s young daughter and coheir, Margaret, whose inheritance lay near his own property at Lammerside. Using his influence as deputy sheriff, he persuaded Roland Thornburgh and a band of ruffians to abduct the girl from her stepfather, Sir Robert Leybourne. Although she was, indeed, forcibly married at the age of nine and kept prisoner by her captors, Leybourne took his complaint to the second Parliament of 1404 (of which he was a Member), and eventually succeeded in getting an annulment. The dispute between William Thornburgh and John Lancaster I was far more brutal in its outcome since Thornburgh’s sons made repeated attempts upon their adversary’s life, terrorizing the area around Appleby, and even disrupting the sessions of the peace as a result. This veritable war of attrition seems to have been fought for control of the late Sir William Threlkeld’s estates, and illustrates graphically how even the most carefully planned marriage alliances could degenerate into sordid squabbles over property. Lancaster himself, however, is not a figure deserving of much sympathy, since he had previously pursued a vendetta against Richard Duckett and Sir John Beetham’s sons, and was to end his days locked in a vicious quarrel with his own son-in-law, Robert Crackenthorpe. The latter was, in fact, murdered, in 1438, at the instigation of Lancaster’s widow, who seems to have been related by marriage to both the Crackenthorpes and the Thornburghs. Sir William Curwen was an equally ruthless character, who not only plundered the estates of his stepbrother, Sir Christopher Moresby, during the course of a property dispute, but also murdered one of his adversaries. Private wars certainly gave rise to private armies: Hugh Salkeld I and his son, Hugh II, mobilized a large body of supporters in their feud with the abbot of Shap, whose complaint to the government led to Hugh I’s removal from local office; and Richard Wharton, reputedly one of ‘lez graundez meyntenours et maleffesours’ in Westmorland was abetted in his career of arson, mayhem, and attempted murder by Thomas Warcop II and William Blenkinsop, who were both accused with him of these crimes in the court of Chancery. Blenkinsop’s past history of violence was even more striking than Warcop’s, including as it did a number of ‘graundez assemblez, riottes, et routez de gentz’.

The high level of crime and unrest along the border had a direct effect upon the parliamentary representation of Westmorland, since several of our men were either anxious to secure the help of the Lower House in avenging themselves against their enemies, or else, as was often the case, they had other pressing business in the lawcourts at Westminster. At least 11, if not more, shire knights sat in Parliament while appearing as plaintiffs or defendants in the courts, and were thus able to recover some of their travel and living expenses. Given that few people wanted to make the long and arduous journey south, it made sense all round to return as MPs men who already had commitments in London. Some of them, such as Sir Walter Strickland (1384), Sir William Curwen (1394), Sir Robert Leybourne (1404) and (Sir) John Lancaster I (1421) actually presented petitions to Parliament, while others were clearly anxious to win support for themselves in less direct ways. The return of Richard Wharton, Thomas Warcop II and his son, Thomas III, and their kinsman, Robert Warcop, to the Parliaments of 1414 (Apr. and Nov.) and 1415 coincided with the hearings in Chancery mentioned above; and shows, incidentally, how easy it was for one particular family to dominate the elections, largely because there was so little actual competition for seats. Although he did not himself represent Westmorland at this time, Thomas Warcop I was on hand with other members of the Warcop clan at the county court to make sure that their interest carried the day.

Throughout our period, the elections for Westmorland were held by the deputy sheriff while the county court was in session at Appleby. In accordance with parliamentary statute, from 1407 onwards the return (which also recorded the names of the two burgesses chosen to represent Appleby) took the form of an indenture, bearing the names of those notables prepared to attest it. The majority of them came from the leading local families, such as the Crackenthorpes, Lancasters, Salkelds and Thornburghs, who provided Westmorland with its shire knights, and there were always at least a few past or future Members of the Commons among them. In 1407, for example, one third of the named persons (eight) sat in Parliament, in 1411 one quarter (four), in 1413 (May) one third again (six), and in 1415 no less than half (eight). The number of individuals listed on the return ranged from 24 in 1407 to 13 in 1421 (May), but we have no means of telling how many people actually took part in the elections.4 Although, as we have seen, certain members of the local gentry used their influence to obtain seats in the Commons when it suited their purposes to do so, neither the nobility nor the Crown appears to have brought undue pressure to bear on the electors. Whether it was by choice or simply through the lack of any real opportunity, neither Richard II nor the first two Lancastrian Kings did much to cultivate a following in Westmorland, and only one of the 35 MPs here under review ever held any sort of position at Court (Thomas Strickland II). It may, conversely, be argued that with so many members of their affinity already in positions of local authority, the Cliffords, at least, were sure of getting their men returned, and thus had no need to interfere. But not even they could always rely upon their retainers, employees or tenants to seek election, especially when (as was so often the case) the business of Parliament, save for taxation, seemed so remote from the concerns and preoccupations of an isolated community, far from Westminster. This feeling of remoteness is made plain in several of the petitions presented by the border counties in the Lower House; and it must almost certainly have influenced the attitudes of those who pressed, repeatedly but unsuccessfully, for better law enforcement and good governance. Paradoxically, the main problem facing the electors in Westmorland was that of finding willing candidates of any political persuasion rather than resisting an unwelcome candidate from outside.

Author: C.R.


  • 1. Those who never held office were William Beauchamp, Thomas Green II, John Hutton, Robert Mauchell, Thomas Strickland I, Thomas Warcop III and Richard Wharton. Of the others, William Crackenthorpe I, Richard Duckett, Christopher Moresby, Hugh Salkeld II and Thomas Warcop II had no such experience when first returned to Parliament.
  • 2. RP, iii. 80-81, 270-1, 280, 447-8; iv. 143. For complaints regarding these problems, see the survey for Northumb.
  • 3. The other six were John Crackenthorpe, William Crackenthorpe I, Sir Robert Leybourne, Hugh Salkeld II, Thomas Strickland II and Robert Warcop.
  • 4. C219/10/4, 6, 11/2, 5, 6, 8, 12/3, 4, 5, 6, 13/1.