PARLES, Ralph (1335/6-1420), of Watford and Byfield, Northants.

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



Family and Education

b.1335/6, s. and h. of Walter Parles (d.1361) of Watford and Byfield. m. prob. (1) Joan, da. of John Talbot (1317-55) of Richard’s Castle, Herefs. by Juliana, da. of Roger, 1st Lord Grey of Ruthin, 1 da.; prob. (2) by Jan.1381, Elizabeth, at least 2s. (1 d.v.p.).2

Offices Held

Tax collector, Northants. Mar. 1381.

Commr. to suppress the rebels of 1381, Northants. Dec. 1381, Mar., Dec. 1382; of inquiry Jan. 1384 (claims to the keepership of Whittlewood forest), Dec. 1392 (repairs to the highway between Towcester and Silverstone); to make arrests Feb. 1386, May, Aug. 1408; of array Mar. 1392, Sept. 1403; kiddles bef. Sept. 1399; to proclaim the King’s intention of ruling justly May 1402.

Sheriff, Northants. 1 Dec. 1388-15 Nov. 1389, 24 Sept.-5 Nov. 1403, 15 Nov. 1408-4 Nov. 1409, 3 Nov. 1412-6 Nov. 1413.

J.p. Northants. 12 Nov. 1397-18 Feb. 1412.

Escheator, Northants. 9 Nov. 1406-30 Nov. 1407.

Verderer of the forest of Whittlewood, Northants. to 28 May 1413.


Our MP’s career was remarkably similar to that of his father, Walter Parles, who represented Northamptonshire in at least six Parliaments, and also held office in the county as both escheator and sheriff. At the time of his death, in the summer of 1361, Parles owned the manors of Watford and Byfield, together with rents worth over 20 marks p.a., and these passed almost immediately to Ralph, who was then about 25 years old. It was in 1381 that Simon Daventry conveyed a substantial amount of property in Morecote near Buckby (Northamptonshire) to Ralph and his second wife, Elizabeth, possibly as part of their marriage settlement. We do not, however, know when he acquired the estates in Shutlanger, Helmdon, Wappenham and Yelvertoft (also Northamptonshire) which he eventually left to his young grandson, but most of them appear to have been in his hands by 1412, when his annual landed income was assessed at £40. He ended his days at Shutlanger, where he was licensed, in October 1420, by the bishop of Lincoln, to employ a chaplain of his own to celebrate mass privately.3

There is a strong possibility that Parles spent much of his early life abroad, since hardly any information about his career has survived before he began taking an interest in local government during the 1380S. His first marriage, to Joan, the daughter of John Talbot of Richard’s Castle and grand daughter of the 1st Lord Grey of Ruthin, shows, even so, that he was not without influence among the upper ranks of land-owning society; and their only surviving child, Margery, was herself regarded as a valuable commodity on the marriage market. She became the wife of the distinguished Bedfordshire lawyer, John Hervy*, but although she survived her father, his remarriage and the subsequent birth of her two half-brothers dashed her expectations as an heiress. Parles witnessed two Northamptonshire deeds in the summer of 1371 and October 1376 respectively, but otherwise disappears from the records until May 1380, when he obtained royal letters of protection pending his departure overseas in the retinue of Thomas of Woodstock, earl of Buckingham. The connexion between the two men may well have continued; and it is possible that Parles felt it expedient to buy a pardon from Richard II in June 1398 because of his former association with one of the King’s enemies.4 At all events, he was back in England again by October 1380, and from then onwards he held a variety of offices, most of which came his way after the deposition of King Richard. He was also much in demand as both a witness to local property transactions and a feoffee-to-uses, and over the years he acquired an interest in several neighbouring estates, notably those of his parliamentary colleague, Sir John Trussell.5 Given his almost continuous involvement in the property transactions of others, and his not inconsiderable experience of administrative affairs, it is rather surprising that Parles did not enter the House of Commons until 1404, when he must have been nearing 70 years old. He had by then attended the great councils of August 1401 and 1403, as well as sitting on the local bench and twice occupying the shrievalty of Northamptonshire. Ill health may perhaps account for his sudden replacement as a shire knight during the Parliament of 1406, for although he was evidently still sitting in May of that year, the writ de expensis was made out in favour of John Cope*. Parles was, in fact, one of the six Northamptonshire gentlemen chosen by that Parliament on 25 May to arbitrate in a dispute over the ownership of the manor of Hinton near Brackley. Neither he nor any of the others seem to have taken the assignment very seriously, however, and in March 1410 a special assize was set up to end the quarrel. Despite his advancing years, Parles apparently served two more terms as sheriff of Northamptonshire before his retirement from public life. He was still exercising that office when, in May 1413, he (or perhaps a namesake) received an order from the King to elect a new verderer of Whittlewood forest since he himself, as the current occupant of the post, had (ironcally under the circumstances) become too old to perform the duties properly.6

Parles and his son, Walter, were involved in an unsuccessful attempt, staged at the Northampton assizes in February 1417, to establish rights of common on Thomas Wydeville’s* manor of Grafton Regis (Northamptonshire). Walter’s death shortly afterwards led Parles to make a general settlement of his estates upon a group of trustees, including John Mortimer* and Thomas Wake*, who continued to act during the minority of Parles’s young grandson and heir, Ralph. On 16 Nov. 1420, barely a few weeks after the MP’s death, the wardship and marriage of the boy (who was then just II years old) were farmed out to three Northamptonshire gentlemen for a lump sum of £100, payable at the Exchequer. Parles had a second son, named William, whose descendants eventually succeeded to the family property.7

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


The apparent longevity of this Member (who did not enter Parliament until the age of 69, and last served as sheriff when he was 78) is certainly remarkable. The possibility that we are dealing with two men of the same name, one of whom was born in 1335/6 and was the father or elder kinsman of the MP who died in 1420, cannot be entirely dismissed; but any such evidence remains wanting. We are told that by 1413 Parles had ‘become blind and too aged’ to exercise his duties as verderer of Whittlewood (CCR, 1413-19, p. 12), an item of information which naturally casts doubt on his ability to undertake the far more demanding role of sheriff.

  • 1. Although named in the return to the Parliament of 1406 as a Member for Northamptonshire, Parles was evidently replaced either during or after the second session by John Cope (OR, i. 269).
  • 2. C138/53/107; C139/102/23; CP25(1)178/86/28; Mon. Brasses ed. Mill Stephenson, 5; CIPM, xi. no. 173; xiv. no. 213; VCH Beds. iii. 283; CP, xii (1), 630-2.
  • 3. PRO, List ‘Escheators’, 98; ‘Sheriffs’, 92; CIPM, xi. no. 173; CFR, vii. 172; J. Bridges, Northants. i. 172, 609, 628; CP25(1)178/86/28; Feudal Aids, vi. 493; Lincs. AO, Reg. Flemyng XVI, f. 209v.
  • 4. CCR, 1369-74, p. 312; VCH Beds. iii. 283; CP, xii (1), 630-2; Northants. RO, Knightley ch. 107; Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ed. Carte, ii. 132; C67/30 m. 12.
  • 5. C1/11/40; CP25(1)178/88/26, 91/50-51; CAD, iv. A8302; CPR, 1396-9, p. 338; CCR, 1377-81; p. 485; 1413-19, p. 370; 1419-22, p. 43; Add. Chs. 21797, 22409; Northants. RO, Knightley chs. 116, 120.
  • 6. PPC, i. 160; ii. 88; RP, iii. 573, 633; CCR, 1405-9, pp. 188-9; CCR, 1413-19, p. 12.
  • 7. C138/53/107; C139/102/23-24, 146/15; JUST 1/1524 rot. 37; CPR, 1416-22, p. 308.