Appendix B1: Knights by rank as Members of Parliament

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

On five earlier occasions in the 14th century the writs of summons sent to the sheriffs had specifically required that all those elected as representatives of the counties should be belted knights (‘milites gladio cinctos’) well versed in the profession of arms. This directive was not to be re-iterated after 1373 (when, indeed, the election of armigeri was permitted, provided they, too, were qualified by expertise in military matters),1 and thereafter the possession of a knighthood assumed less importance when it came to elections to Parliament. The table below clearly demonstrates that as the period now under review progressed so the numbers of proper knights returned to the House of Commons decreased. Whereas, between 1386 and 1397 (Sept.), inclusive, on average 56% of the knights of the shire in each assembly were knights by rank, in the last four Parliaments of Henry V’s reign (1419-December 1421) the average fell to 27%. In 1419 (when many belted knights were inelegible, being with the King in France), no more than a dozen of the 72 county Members whose names are known had taken up knighthood. Several other possible reasons for this change are discussed in the individual constituency surveys, but it may be remarked here that of the 37 counties represented in Parliament in this period, only one, Yorkshire, consistently elected knights by rank, never choosing anyone of inferior status. (Nor were the Yorkshire electors to change their policy until Henry VIII’s reign.)

The first belted knight ever to be elected by a borough was Sir Henry Ilcombe, who was returned by Lostwithiel in 1402 and once more in 1407. What made his election all the more extraordinary was the fact that he had previously entered the Lower House as a knight of the shire. He was joined in the Commons of 1407 by Sir John Pomeroy, representing the Devonshire borough of Totnes, but this phenomenon was not to occur again until 1439, when Sir William Estfield (a merchant by trade, not a country gentleman), was selected as one of the four Members for the City of London, and following Estfield’s final return in 1442 was not to be repeated until Edward IV’s reign.2



Shire knights known                                 

Belted knights                               


a percentage                  

1388 (Feb.)745068%
1388 (Sept.)734156%
1390 (Jan.)744662%
1390 (Nov.)743851%
1397 (Jan.)743446%
1397 (Sept.)743851%
1404 (Jan.)743345%
1404 (Oct.)733649%
1413 (Feb.)---
1413 (May)741824%
1414 (Apr.)732534%
1414 (Nov.)742230%
1416 (Mar.)601728%
1416 (Oct.)5240%
1421 (May)722231%
1421 (Dec.)742230%

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: J. S. Roskell

End Notes

  • 1. J.S. Roskell, Introductory Survey, above, pp. 55-56.
  • 2. In 1467 two knights represented boroughs (Sir John Fogge, Canterbury, and Sir Ralph Josselyn, London); in 1472 four did so; in 1478 three and in January 1483 two.