This period witnessed several changes of government as the conciliar rule of Henry VI’s minority gave way to the ascendancy of the royal household, and then to protectorates while the King was incapacitated. The emergency measures of the civil war as Lancaster succumbed to York and York to Tudor had a noticeable effect on the personnel of the Commons and the business of the Parliaments, most notably in the passing of Acts of Attainder. Charting the changing political allegiances of MPs in response to local conflicts and the rivalry between magnates at the centre lies at the core of many of the biographies. Another theme is the MPs’ participation in attempts to prevent the loss of English possessions in France, and their involvement in measures to cope with recurrent crises at the Exchequer. These prompted the passing of successive Acts of Resumption. Increasing demand for seats in Parliament led to developments in electoral law, marked by the statutes of 1430 and 1445, and the Commons’ sense of solidarity was strengthened by confirmation of Members’ privileges of protection from assault and freedom from arrest.
Thirty-seven Parliaments met between the accession of Henry VI and the death of Henry VII, and the names of nearly 4,000 MPs are recorded. There is, however, a severe imbalance in our knowledge about the Membership of the Commons in this period, as although the parliamentary returns are almost complete for Henry VI’s reign, after 1461 there are serious lacunae in the records, with no returns surviving for 11 of the Parliaments of the late 15th century.
The Section will be published as two sets of volumes, covering 1422-61 and 1461-1504. So far our efforts have been concentrated on the reign of Henry VI, and we are nearing publication of the first set. We have completed the 2844 biographies of the known MPs in the 22 Parliaments summoned before Henry’s deposition in 1461, and written the 144 constituency surveys. The process of revision is nearly at an end. All that remains is to analyse the findings of our research to write a comprehensive Introductory Survey.