Constituencies 1386-1421

Published in 1993

There were 135 constituencies represented in Parliament during this period. All of the 37 counties (except the two palatinate counties of Chester and Durham) returned two knights each. The number of towns represented fluctuated. In 1384, for example, 88 towns sent burgesses; in 1399 81 towns did; in 1421, it was 87 towns. All towns sent two burgesses, except London, which returned four.

Shire elections were held at meetings of the county court. The conduct of elections in the towns varied according to the system of government adopted in each town. The sheriff, as the chief royal official in the county had a powerful role in elections, and was able to influence their outcome. The writs of summons sent out from the royal chancery were normally addressed to him, and he was responsible for making the 'returns' showing who had been elected.

Little is known about how elections were held, although a series of fifteenth-century statutes, most of which were passed in this period, was designed to reduce the interference of sheriffs in the process by making more detailed regulations concerning polling in the counties. The first was a 1406 statute which set out how the election should be announced, and the way in which the results should be recorded and returned to the royal Chancery. Two further statutes of 1410 and 1413 introduced penalties to be imposed on sheriffs who did not comply with the 1406 provisions, and confirmed that electors had to be resident in the shires in which they voted.

A statute after this period (1430) laid out the famous qualification for the county franchise, of '40 shilling freeholders'. Another later statute, of 1445, laid down other detailed provisions concerning the holding of county elections.