Bishop's Lynn


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


1386Edmund Beleyeter
 Thomas Morton
1388 (Feb.)Henry Betley
 Thomas Morton
1388 (Sept.)Edmund Beleyeter
 Thomas Drew
1390 (Jan.)Robert Waterden
 John Wace 1
1390 (Nov.)John Wentworth
 Thomas Waterden 2
1391Robert Botkesham
 John Kepe
1393Thomas Morton
 Thomas Brigge 3
1394Thomas Morton
 Thomas Drew 4
1395Thomas Waterden
 John Brandon
1397 (Jan.)Thomas Drew
 John Brandon
1397 (Sept.)John Wentworth
 Roger Rawlin
1399Robert Botkesham
 Thomas Waterden
1401Robert Botkesham
 Thomas Waterden 5
1402Thomas Fawkes
 Robert Brunham 6
1404 (Jan.)Thomas Drew
 John Wentworth 7
1404 (Oct.)John Brandon
 Thomas Drew 8
1406Thomas Brigge
 Thomas Derham
1407William Lok
 John Wesenham
1410John Spicer II
 John Brown II
1411Bartholomew Sistern
 Philip Frank 9
1413 (Feb.)William Halyate
 John Tilney 10
1413 (May)William Halyate
 John Tilney
1414 (Apr.)John Bilney II
 John Tilney 11
1414 (Nov.)John Spicer II
 Andrew Swanton
1415Thomas Brigge
 John Tilney 12
1416 (Mar.)John Spicer II
 Thomas Brigge 13
1416 (Oct.)William Herford
 John Warner 14
1417Robert Brunham
 Thomas Hunt I
1419Philip Frank
 Walter Curson
1420Thomas Brigge
 Andrew Swanton
1421 (May)Bartholomew Sistern
 John Parmenter
1421 (Dec.)John Waterden
 Robert Brandon 15

Main Article

The population of Bishop’s Lynn in 1377 has been estimated as 4,691; about 1,300 less than that of Norwich. A large port by contemporary standards, it was slightly bigger than Boston, nearly twice the size of Great Yarmouth and double that of Southampton and Kingston-upon-Hull. The town had been founded at the end of the 11th century by the bishop of Norwich, at the request of a group of traders already established on the western boundaries of his manor of Gaywood, and situated where road, river and sea transport met on the southern shores of the Wash. When, in 1373, Lynn was constituted a staple port, it was claimed in Parliament that it supplied the counties of Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Rutland, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire with imported goods (timber, iron, fish, foodstuffs, wine, spices, furs and Flanders cloth), but the town’s prosperity depended, too, on the agricultural produce of this hinterland, which its people exported to the Low Countries, the Baltic, Scandinavia and Gascony. Trading activities, which had reached their peak in the 13th century, had suffered a decline in the 14th due, at least in part, to the encroachments of Hanse merchants into the North Sea and Baltic trade. Although at the beginning of our period a fleet from Lynn regularly made an annual voyage to Iceland in February, returning in August or September with cod or herring, from about 1409 onwards increasingly violent attacks on English merchantmen and heavy losses from other causes rendered these ventures less attractive, with the eventual consequence that trade with Iceland was prohibited. However, this was by no means the full picture; other evidence, including a notably high level of investment in building, both public and private, suggests that in the 15th century Lynn may have returned to its former prosperity. Lynn ranked high in the list of wealthy towns: in 1386 its loan of £100 to Richard II equalled Norwich’s contribution and was less than that of only five other urban centres; and the contribution required of it in 1397 (400 marks) was smaller only than those of London, Norwich, Boston and Bristol. The town made a loan of 500 marks to Henry IV in 1402 and, later on, another to his son.16

By royal charter dated 1204 the burgesses of Lynn secured the same liberties and privileges as were enjoyed by the citizens of Oxford, a fact which Henry Betley put forward in 1383 to justify his defiance of the royal escheator. But they were to a large extent still subject to their episcopal lord: that charter and most subsequent ones included clauses saving the rights of the bishop of Norwich; and it was he, not the burgesses, who in 1315 was granted the privilege of return of writs in Lynn and, later, the keeping of a gaol there. Lynn had been governed originally by a reeve appointed by the bishop, and although the burgesses elected their own mayor from at least 1212, a final concord made between the bishop and the townspeople in 1234 reveals that the former had hitherto never granted this officer formal recognition. At Lynn the mayoralty was undoubtedly the result of communal self-assertion. Even so, when royal agreement to the concord was obtained in 1268 it was only with the proviso that the mayor-elect would always be presented to the bishop and the cathedral chapter; and in 1352, while settling a dispute over local elections, the bishop insisted that the burgesses were only allowed to choose a mayor for themselves on condition that every person so selected did, within three days, swear allegiance to him or his steward.17 This practice was still being followed in the period under review: for example, in 1420 the newly elected mayor, John Spicer II, was presented at Gaywood to the bishop’s steward, Thomas Derham.

The burgesses’ attitude to their episcopal lord was frequently antagonistic. Between 1346 and 1350 they had disputed rights to the profits of a view of frankpledge, but the bishop won. Bishop Despenser’s arrogant treatment of the municipal officers led in 1377 to a clash in the streets of Lynn between his men and the inhabitants. Despenser alleged that Thomas Morton, John Kepe and certain others had even assaulted him with intent to murder, and after chasing him to St. Margaret’s priory, had besieged him there, atacked his servants, and killed 20 of his horses. The burgesses had consequently to outlay £116 9s.9d. for the expenses the mayor and jurats incurred travelling to London to appear before the royal council in order to answer the bishop’s accusations. Their feelings are clearly demonstrated by the handsome compensation of £100 awarded by the commonalty to two persons injured in the fray by Despenser’s men. Relations had perhaps improved by 1384-5, when the town sent gifts of wine and lampreys to the bishop; and in 1392 the latter remitted to the burgesses a fee farm rent of £1 due every year from a mill site in the ‘flete’ near the Friars Minor, where they intended to build watermills, subject, of course, to the supervision of the bishop’s steward and bailiffs. But less than ten years later there was evidently a recurrence of trouble: in December 1401 a royal commission was set up to investigate alleged trespasses and oppressions on the part of the bishop, who had seemingly been preventing the burgesses from enjoying liberties granted by the Crown. But, after Despenser had appealed to the King in person, the sheriff of Norfolk was ordered to have the 24 leading townsmen provide securities of £100 each as an earnest of their undertaking not to do their lord harm. Early in 1403 the earls of Northumberland and Worcester (the brothers Henry and Thomas Percy), along with the keeper of the privy seal, were instructed to treat between Despenser and the commonalty in a dispute over the maintenance of ‘le Bysshopstathe’, and, in the following year, the sheriff was ordered to execute judgement in an assize of novel disseisin whereby the bishop not only recovered possession of 100 acres of arable land and 20 of pasture from the burgesses, but was also awarded crippling damages of 1,000 marks.18

Although the bishop regulated the parliamentary franchise of the borough and enrolled the regulations in his chancery,19 during the period under review there is no evidence of his direct interference with elections at Lynn. However, during the political upheavals which divided the townspeople themselves between 1411 and 1415, the party composed of the mediocres and inferiores gained the good will of Bishop Courtenay, and it may not have been mere coincidence that John Tilney, the man elected most often in that period, was in the bishop’s service as a clerk. Thomas Derham acted as Bishop Wakeryng’s steward at Gaywood in 1420, but this was over 14 years after his only return for the borough. There is no evidence to suggest that any of the stewards of the liberty of Lynn, who included William Paston (afterwards j.c.p.) in 1419-21, ever influenced, still less controlled, the elections. Normally, the burgesses treated their overlord with all due reverence, referring to themselves, as in 1416, as ‘your owen humblest tenants and devout Bedesmen, mayre and good men of your towne of Lenne Bishopp’; and they continued to ply him with gifts. When it suited them, as is witnessed by the speech made in the guildhall by Thomas Hunt in 1419, the potentiores would invoke his authority to uphold their own in the face of local opposition. Nor were the bishops prepared to relinquish their rights over the town: in 1446 Henry VI on a visit to Lynn granted that the mayor’s sword could be borne before him with the point upward, but when the bishop protested that this was to his prejudice, the King sent order that the mayor should ‘ceese from hens forwarde to have any swerde or mace to be bore before [him] otherwyse than was used before oure beyng there’.20

During the period under review Bishop’s Lynn received many distinguished visitors, including royalty. Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V all went there, and among the nobility who received hospitality were the duke and duchess of Clarence, and the chancellor, Sir Thomas Beaufort. The royal visits proved particularly expensive: in 1382-3 personal gifts to Richard II cost £162; and in 1421 the town made Henry V a present of £150. The dukes of Lancaster, the earls of Arundel and the Lords Scales all held property in Lynn, and the King’s purparty of the tolbooth, worth £100 p.a. in 1378, was in the hands of the dukes of Britanny from then until 1396 and in the duke of York’s possession two years later.21 But these associations had no apparent influence on the town’s choice of parliamentary burgesses.

Before turning to the structure of local government at Lynn, it is necessary to examine the power exercised by the guild merchant of the Holy Trinity, an institution which predated the charter of 1204. Although officially distinct bodies so far as membership went, the commonalty of burgesses and the guild might almost have been one and the same. The latter was a wealthy organization whose assets frequently exceeded those of the town. It was headed by an alderman, who usually acted for an indefinite period which was only terminated by either death or illness, and served by five scabins (elected annually on Trinity Sunday), a dean, a clerk, a treasurer and 13 chaplains. The alderman played a leading role in mayoral elections in the borough, by ex officio appointing the first four electors. He also stood ready to discharge the mayor’s duties should the latter be absent from the locality or die in office. Indeed, he enjoyed a position of superiority, since, being himself always a former occupant of the mayoralty, throughout his aldermanship he was placed first among the 24 jurats, and next to the mayor in importance. Moreover, his influence may well have exceeded the mayor’s, for the latter’s appointment was an annual one, and re-election, in the strict sense, occurred but rarely. The alderman and mayor are generally to be found administering the affairs of the borough side by side. The guild merchant acted as the chief bank of the community, and so long as this was the case the leading members of the guild were bound to be the most influential of the potentiores of Lynn.22

In theory the chief legislative organ at Lynn was the common assembly, which when important business was on hand might number from 70 to 110 persons or more. However, at the annual elections of borough officials (which took place on 29 Aug., a month before they assumed their duties), the possibility of disorder was offset by use of the device of an electoral committee. The election of the mayor and of the other officers (the four chamberlains, the town clerk, the serjeant-at-mace, the keeper of the gates and the bellman) and, down to 1395 at least, of the council of 12 chosen to advise the mayor, was entrusted to 12 burgesses, of whom the first four, chosen by the alderman of the guild, co-opted eight others. (This system of election was widely practiced in Lynn, being similarly applied to the less regular appointment of coroners, constables, and, as will be seen, parliamentary burgesses.) By our period the council of 24, commonly called jurats, were empowered to make good any deficiencies in their own number, and appointments were always for life. They were drawn from among the potentiores. And it was this very same class which, virtually in control of the administration, taxation and appointments,23 used its influence in the guild in such a way as to sustain the corporation in a career of financial extravagance which led to the collapse of internal order in Henry IV’s reign.

It was very likely the restriction of membership of the council of 24 to the potentiores which, along with its consequences, provoked agitation for a less oligarchical constitution among the mediocres. In the years 1411-16 they joined with the inferiores, non burgenses in resisting the financial burdens laid upon them by the ruling class without their assent. They first obtained (by force, their opponents later alleged) the election as mayor of one of the mediocres, Roger Galion. Then, in December 1411, the contending parties agreed to submit to the arbitration of 18 persons, who were representative of all three groups, various members of the different parties each entering into bonds, for £100, £50, or £5 11s.2d. according to rank, as guarantee that they would abide by the delegates’ ruling. But the 18 were themselves unable to agree, and although it was decided that a majority decision should prevail, a committee of nine, composed in the event only of mediocres and inferiores, took over in May 1412, and not only drew up governmental ordinances but also controlled administrative expenditure for the following year.24 As part of their programme of reform, they disallowed the claims of several of the potentiores to large sums of money said to be owing them, and proclaimed the restoration to the inferiores of privileges held to have been granted them by the bishops of Norwich long before.

The governmental ordinances set up a new system of election of officers and councillors. It was decreed that the committee of 12 electors be abolished and that henceforth the burgesses would collectively name two sufficient jurats, from whom the sitting mayor and the remaining jurats might select one to be the next mayor. The burgesses as a body would also elect two non-jurats as chamberlains, the other two chamberlains being appointed by the mayor and 24. The life tenure of the jurats was left untouched, but vacancies by death were now to be filled by nomination on the part of the burgesses of two persons from whom the surviving jurats would choose one. This new procedure was of course still far from democratic, for jurats were selected only from those with an annual income of at least 100s., and common victuallers were excluded. These forms of election were used in August 1412, when Galion was re-elected for a second term in the mayoralty by as many as 148 burgesses and non-burgesses, and in 1413, when no fewer than 400 persons chose Bartholomew Petipas as mayor. But, whatever the manner of election, the governing body was dominated, as before, by a small group of men, notably Galion (who became alderman during Petipas’s mayoralty), Petipas, William Halyate and John Tilney. Indeed, the last two, who were inferiores, were actually returned to both Parliaments of 1413. Moreover, not all was well in other respects. It was alleged, for example, that during this period outsiders of little note and less wealth were admitted as freemen of the borough; that the ringleaders of the new party in power gave acquittances of debts owing to the community without the consent of the burgesses as a whole; and that they had held illegal elections and assaulted a number of potentiores. The dissensions necessitated many journeys for legal advice to London, Norwich, and elsewhere, suits in Chancery, and appeals to the chancellor and the King’s Council, and inevitably resulted in large expenditure for the town. The mediocres and inferiores apparently won the support of the new bishop of Norwich, Richard Courtenay: not only did Petipas, writing a letter to his friends in 1413 complaining of the activities of the potentiores, require them to inform the bishop ‘be bille and be mouthe’, but, before October 1414, Tilney entered Courtenay’s employment, as his clerk.25

The new system collapsed when this group was ousted and Tilney was imprisoned in the Marshalsea. In May 1415, following the appearance of representatives from the two parties before Henry V and his council and failure to reach a compromise, a royal commission was set up to investigate all the circumstances, and in October the chancellor resorted to appointing the mayor himself, charging his nominee, Thomas Hunt I, to assume office under pain of £1,000 penalty, and the burgesses, under a like penalty, to accept him. In June 1416, probably owing to the unsettled state of the borough, the potentiores succeeded in both getting the new system revoked and obtaining royal approval for their actions, with the result that for a while elections were once again conducted by committees nominated in the old way, the burgesses at large retaining no voice in such matters. Naturally, dissension erupted again, notably at the election held in 1419, with the consequence that the potentiores slightly relaxed their hold. Although it was not until 1420-1 that the bishop ratified an agreement giving the town a common council, this body had come into existence about three years previously, under a fresh scheme whereby each of the nine constabularies of Lynn was to elect yearly three of its more competent burgesses to take part in the affairs of the town. These concessions, however, were carefully restricted to purely financial matters. Moreover, the basis of membership of the common council was not very broad, even so far as the proper burgesses were concerned.26

Now to turn to the past parliamentary history of Bishop’s Lynn. The borough had regularly sent representatives to Parliament since the late 13th century, although in 1302 and 1320 the burgesses failed to reply to the sheriff’s precept.27 Fortunately there has survived in the local records a wealth of information about this particular aspect of its affairs, and so we are able to describe the procedure followed. Possibly from before 1334, certainly after that date, what the mayor did after receiving the sheriff’s precept ordering him to elect Members, was to publish it in the guildhall. He then nominated four burgesses, who, in their turn, chose four others; and the eight nominated four more. During the earlier part of our period, this panel of 12 was drawn entirely from jurats and other potentiores, and it was only under an arrangement made in 1418 that six had to be members of the common council of 27. Whatever the basis for their choice, the 12 withdrew from the hall to make their election: when this was done, and they returned with a note of the names of the MPs chosen, the result was ratified by all assembled. Admittedly, protest was made in 1419 that, because the assessment and levy of the parliamentary burgesses’ expenses fell on all the townsmen, the elections ought to be conducted openly in the guildhall and the whole community given a voice. But this proposal was rejected by the mayor, who said that he would proceed according to the terms of their charter; and the method in current use continued to be applied throughout the remainder of the century.28

Despite the fact that the system of indirect election had long been operative at Lynn, no mention of the actual procedure used was made in the writs or indentures of return, which were always rather simple and formal in style. The results were normally transmitted in the first instance to the sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk. This duty, again automatically, because of the bishop of Norwich’s privileges of returnus brevium, fell upon the latter’s steward of the liberty of Lynn. Up to 1407 the election was recorded in a schedule attached to the parliamentary writ and sent back to Chancery. Thereafter, an indenture which, having given the date of the election, otherwise only stated that it had the community’s assent and supplied the names of the representatives, the mayor and some 12 other burgesses present, was remitted to the sheriff. In 1411 the return took the form of a letter which, addressed to the King in obsequious terms, simply gave the names of the burgesses elected. Where the indentures did name witnesses, these by no means corresponded with the actual electors as listed in the local records. An interesting example of this discrepancy is provided by the election held in April 1413 when, as we have noted, the popular party had gained control over the town: the 12 electors were all mediocres or inferiores, but the names recorded on the indenture were those of 12 potentiores, who thus formally ratified the election of two inferiores, Halyate and Tilney.29 From 1413 onwards the indentures were drawn up between the steward of the liberty on the one hand and the mayor and a number of named burgesses on the other. The indenture of 1420 stated that the steward and burgesses together, by their unanimous and common assent, had chosen the representatives, but whether this was actually the case seems doubtful. There is no positive evidence that a steward ever attended an election, nor was even in the town at the time. Certainly, much earlier, in 1384, instead of the steward, a servant of the town clerk (one of the Members-elect, Thomas Morton), travelled to Norwich with the document recording the names of those chosen. The indenture of May 1421 stated that the election had been made by the mayor, coroner and eight named burgesses along with ‘conburgenses ville’ by common assent, while that of the next year merely certified that they had been made by the mayor, three named attestors, and ‘alii burgenses’.30

The remarkable series of records at Lynn affords definite proof of the representatives’ attendance in the Parliaments of 1402, 1404, 1407, 1410, 1413, 1414 (Nov.), 1416 (Oct.), 1420 and 1421; and they also contain ample evidence of the remuneration awarded its MPs by the town. From about 1350 the wage rate, fixed by local ordinance, was comparatively high: it then stood at 3s.4d. per day, and this rate was not to be abandoned until 1442, when an agreement reached in the assembly of burgesses established that only 2s. per day should henceforth be paid. (This was at a time when many boroughs were ceasing to pay anything at all.) There are several examples of the town being kept in touch with events in Parliament, the Members writing home for advice, and messengers being sent from Lynn to the Commons to inquire as to their progress, in particular regarding the grant of subsidies. The parliamentary burgesses were often entrusted with the promotion of local petitions. In fact, all sorts of business of concern to the commonalty came their way: Henry Betley and Thomas Morton at the time of their election in January 1377 were instructed to press the Council for the repayment of money lent to Edward III by the town; in 1413 William Halyate and John Tilney set their seals to an indenture by which they undertook, in addition to their ordinary parliamentary duties, to present petitions from the men of Lynn complaining about certain dubious practices of the merchants of Prussia and Southampton, and to press for the payment of debts owing to the community, taking with them a copy of Henry IV’s charter to the Hanse merchants, a charter granted to Lynn by a former bishop of Norwich, and five accounts of tallage paid; and in 1442 the borough charter was to be confirmed through ‘the labour and industry of Walter Curson’, one of the then Members. Another important service rendered by the MPs was that of providing some account of parliamentary proceedings to those at home; and there have survived reports made to the burgesses assembled in the guildhall of events at the Parliaments of 1413 (May), 1414 (Nov.), 1416 (Oct.), 1420, 1421 and 1425, providing inter alia a unique description of the election of a Speaker.31

Such unusually full borough records have also filled gaps in the list of Members. These notices supply the returns for the Parliaments of 1390 (Jan. and Nov.), 1393, 1394, 1401, 1402, 1404 (Jan. and Oct.), 1413 (Feb.), 1414 (Apr.), 1415 and 1416 (Oct.), so providing names which would not otherwise be known. In addition, they correct the Christian name of one of the MPs, Robert Brandon, given in the schedule returned to Chancery in December 1421. And they even contain the names of those elected to the Parliament summoned for January 1402, which never met. In fact, these records supply a complete list of MPs for Lynn between 1386 and 1421 (making this borough unique among all the constituencies of the period), and enable a confident analysis of its representation to be undertaken. It is clear that the borough generally preferred to send to each assembly at least one man with previous parliamentary experience: in 23 out of the 32 Parliaments one representative had been returned before, and in 13 of these instances, both. Re-election took place on at least ten occasions: Thomas Morton sat in 1386 and 1388 (Feb.), and again in 1393 and 1394, John Brandon in 1395 and 1397, both Robert Botkesham and Thomas Waterden in 1399 and 1401, Thomas Drew in the two Parliaments of 1404, both William Halyate and John Tilney in the Parliaments of 1413, Tilney again in 1414 (Apr.), and Brigge in 1415 and 1416 (Mar.). But it should not be overlooked that on no fewer than nine occasions both Members were newcomers to the Commons: in 1390 (Jan. and Nov.), 1402, in four consecutive Parliaments between 1407 and 1413, and in 1416 (Oct.) and 1421 (Dec.). Of the 33 parliamentary burgesses of this period 13 sat only once, nine twice, and three three times; but four were returned six times, Thomas Drew seven times, and Thomas Morton to as many as 11 Parliaments between 1377 and 1394. Several instances of a family tradition of parliamentary service may also be discerned: Robert Botkesham was the son of Thomas and Thomas Drew the son of Geoffrey, the Waterdens, John, Thomas, Robert and Richard were clearly related, and so was Robert Brunham to John, Robert Brandon to John and Philip Frank to Richard.

Thirty-one out of the 33 MPs actually lived in Bishop’s Lynn, although two of these residents, John Brandon and John Wace, were not natives of the town. The two outsiders were both lawyers, who lived no more than 30 miles away, and within the bounds of the shire: Thomas Derham’s seat was at Crimplesham, and Roger Rawlin dwelt at Wood Norton. Certain of the resident burgesses, notably Edmund Beleyeter (who acquired a manor in Great Massingham), purchased property elsewhere in Norfolk, but this was usually within a short distance of Lynn. As might be expected of such a town, the large majority of the Members, 27 out of 33, were merchants, trading with the Baltic, Iceland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Gascony, in timber, pitch, dyes, soap, glass, oil, wine and fish, and exporting such commodities as grain, cloth, hides and leather goods. John Brandon, Robert Waterden and Thomas Brigge were merchant staplers of Calais, regularly shipping wool thence from their home port. Robert Brunham and Robert Waterden are known to have owned ships. Edmund Beleyeter secured a contract under Richard II as victualler of a royal army, John Wace supplied provisions for Henry of Bolingbroke’s expeditions before he come to the throne, and John Spicer II sold wine to the latter’s household. John Kepe entered Richard II’s service as master of one of the King’s vessels, while John Brandon’s exploits, both legitimate and piratical, as commander of a small fleet which put to sea against the Scots, earned him at least notoriety. Three merchant MPs were dispatched as royal envoys to negotiate with their foreign counterparts regarding disagreements over trade: in 1394 John Wesenham was sent to certain north German towns; and in 1409 John Brown II and John Brandon assisted the King’s delegates in their discussions with the Hanse. Walter Curson, as proctor for the merchants of Lynn, travelled to Bruges and Calais in 1435 and 1436 for preliminary talks in advance of the arrival of the royal ambassadors. So successful were our MPs in their mercantile ventures, that some of them were able to make personal loans to the Crown, purchase valuable property and found guilds. Edmund Beleyeter established the guild dedicated to St. Giles and St. Julian, and John Brandon and Bartholomew Sistern that of St. George. These, like many others of the 31 fraternities existing in Lynn in the Middle Ages, whose members were involved in trading or commercial ventures, provided mutual assistance in time of hardship, or losses at sea.32

Of the few MPs who were not merchants, Robert Brandon, whose principal occupation is unrecorded, appears to have joined the ranks of the Norfolk gentry within four years of his only return to Parliament in 1421, being then described as ‘esquire’, and the remaining five were all members of the legal profession. Thomas Morton was serving as town clerk of Lynn when returned to each one of his 11 Parliaments; it is likely that Roger Rawlin was occupying the same post when elected in 1397; and John Tilney, who held the degree of B.C.L., was acting town clerk when sitting in the two Parliaments of 1413. John Waterden was retained as legal counsel by the mayor and commonalty soon after he first entered the Commons in 1421. But by far the most important of this group was Thomas Derham, a highly energetic lawyer with a busy practice as well as a record of long service to the Crown. For a while he was employed, as an apprentice-at-law, by the council of the duchy of Lancaster. A man of law (most often Morton) was returned to 11 of the 32 Parliaments of our period. Even so, there can be no doubt that the merchants controlled the parliamentary representation of the borough, for the franchise was almost exclusively in their hands, more especially those of the potentiores, who ipso facto were members of the Trinity guild. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the parliamentary burgesses between 1386 and 1422 were potentiores and jurats. Only in the period of constitutional upheaval from 1411 to 1416 did anyone belonging to the popular parties secure election. The overthrow of the potentiores resulted in the return of a mediocris (Frank) in 1411, of two inferiores (Halyate and Tilney) to the two Parliaments of 1413, and of a mediocris (Bilney) accompanied by an inferioris (Tilney) in 1414 (Apr.). The potentiores controlled the elections of 1414 (Nov.), but to the Parliament of 1415, having been forced to compromise with their opponents, they returned one of themselves (Brigge) and one ‘for the other party’ (Tilney). Two potentiores elected to the Parliament of 1416 (Mar.) were followed by two mediocres in that of the following October. In fact, after the disturbances of those years and the changes made in electoral procedure in 1418, it proved easier for a non-jurat to obtain election: Walter Curson, for instance, only became a member of the 24 in late career, and Bartholomew Petipas, MP in 1422, was a mediocris.

For the greater part of the period under review the potentiores controlled borough and guild appointments, so it is not surprising to find 17 MPs serving at some point in their careers as chamberlains, six as local coroner, and 15 (nearly half the total) as mayor (ten of them holding this office two or three times, and John Parmenter for six terms in all). It was extremely rare for an official to be returned to Parliament while so employed, and only three such instances have come to light: Robert Botkesham was elected in 1391 when chamberlain, but relinquished the post before the Parliament met; Thomas Waterden sat in 1390 when chamberlain, and Bartholomew Sistern was coroner when returned in 1421. No officiating mayor was sent to the Commons, with the sole exception of Thomas Hunt I in 1417; but then he was also exceptional in the manner of his appointment, for he had been made mayor by the chancellor instead of being elected by normal procedure. In each case the 15 Members promoted to the mayoralty had first served in the Commons at least once. From the ranks of ex-mayors came the alderman of the guild, a post which between 1370 and 1446 was almost invariably occupied by sometime parliamentary burgesses. The careers of seven MPs of our period culminated in this way (in order of service, Henry Betley, Edmund Beleyeter, Robert Botkesham, Robert Brunham, Thomas Hunt I, John Wesenham and John Parmenter). But only one of these, Brunham, was elected to Parliament when alderman (in 1417), and this again was at a time of constitutional upheaval. (Indeed, as we have seen, his companion in the House was none other than the mayor.) Like guild officers, the mayor and constables of the Staple at Lynn were chosen by the merchants: four sometime mayors and constables sat in Parliament in this period, and John Wentworth was actually serving as constable when elected in 1397. Two others, William Halyate and Andrew Swanton, held the minor office of bailiff of Lynn, and, as has already been noted, two of the lawyers, Thomas Morton and Roger Rawlin, were town clerks and another, John Tilney, deputized in the same post. Only seven MPs are not known to have been officials in Lynn of one sort or another, and of these the other two lawyers were in fact employed as counsel to the mayor and commonalty, receiving fees for their service. Only William Herford, William Lok, John Warner, John Bilney II and John Brown II are not recorded as filling a local office, although Herford and Warner did become jurats after their election to Parliament together in 1416.

The parliamentary burgesses of Lynn in this period discharged between them a considerable number of royal duties, though nearly all such tasks were related to the collection of revenues in the port rather than involving them in the administration of the shire as a whole. By contrast with borough officials, it was not at all unusual for a man currently holding royal office to be elected to Parliament. Of the nine MPs who served as collectors of customs and subsidies in Lynn, John Brandon was returned to his second and third Parliaments (1395 and 1397) during his term of office, and Thomas Drew, similarly, to his first two (1382 and 1383). Two of their fellows obtained appointment before they first sat in the Commons, and five afterwards. Of the six representatives appointed as controllers of customs and subsidies in the port, Thomas Drew was so employed when elected in 1388, and Thomas Morton, likewise, when returned to three of his Parliaments. Bartholomew Sistern had done duty as royal searcher along the coast between Lynn and Blakeney before his first appearance in the Lower House (in 1411). Edmund Beleyeter and John Spicer II were named as deputies to the chief butler of England in their home port, Beleyeter sitting in both his Parliaments (1386 and 1388) in the course of his term of office, and Spicer, who held the post for 19 years (1399-1418), being returned during that period three times, the total of his parliamentary service. In addition, three MPs of Lynn served as customers at Great Yarmouth, but for brief spells only. John Kepe sat in two Parliaments while royal troner of wools at Lynn, the post (which was something of a sinecure) having been first awarded him in 1374 during good behaviour, and later confirmed to him by Henry IV, for the rest of his life. Incidentally, Kepe had also acted as a controller of the accounts of the admiral of the north. The only office concerned with the administration of Norfolk in general to be obtained by a Lynn MP was a coronership of the shire, and Thomas Drew, who held it, did so only briefly because of his commitments as customer.

Similarly, 16 of the parliamentary burgesses of the period sat on royal commissions of a temporary and purely local nature: to collect taxes, make inquiries, conduct musters of townsmen, impress mariners, or arrest pirates. By contrast, Thomas Derham’s numerous commissions covered Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, touched on four neighbouring shires, and required him not only to hold sessions of oyer and terminer and of gaol delivery but also to raise loans for the Crown, tasks which had little or nothing to do with the affairs of Bishop’s Lynn. Then again, 12 Members were made j.p.s merely in the borough itself, but Derham, who served in Lynn for far longer than any of the MPs who were merchants (27 years in all), also sat for a long period on the bench in Norfolk (having been first appointed in March 1406, when representing Lynn in Parliament), and on that of Suffolk as well.

Members of the merchant community of Lynn established few acquaintances among the gentry of the shire, but the local lawyers who sat in Parliament for the borough were rather different, for they certainly built up important connexions. For example, Roger Rawlin acted as a feoffee of Constantine, Lord Clifton’s estates, and John Tilney (admittedly, some years after he served in the Commons) was made lieutenant to Thomas Beaufort, duke of Exeter, when the latter was admiral. Robert Brandon, too, was known to the duke, for whom he once stood surety at the Exchequer. Thomas Derham’s connexions were both many and important, and before his election in 1406 he had become acquainted with Sir Simon Felbrigg KG and Sir Thomas Erpingham KG. The possibility that they influenced Derham’s election is not, of course, in question: he was most probably chosen because a royal commission was currently investigating riotous assemblies in the town, and the burgesses felt that their case might be most convincingly put before the central courts and the royal council by a competent lawyer.

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. Red Reg. King’s Lynn ed. Ingleby, ii. 45.
  • 2. Ibid. 48.
  • 3. Ibid. 4.
  • 4. Ibid. 8.
  • 5. M. McKisack, Parl. Repn. Eng. Bors. 148. Thomas Drew and John Bolt had been elected previously, on 8 Oct. 1400, but a second election was held when the venue of the Parliament was changed from York to Westminster: Norf. Official Lists ed. Le Strange, 208.
  • 6. Norf. Official Lists, 208. Roger Galion and Thomas Brigge were elected for the Parliament summoned for Jan. 1402, which never met.
  • 7. McKisack, 149.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. James Nicholasson and John Bilney II had been elected on 24 Oct. 1411, but were replaced by Sistern and Frank subsequently. On 26 Dec., after the Parliament had been dissolved, William Halyate and John Tilney were elected, presumably in anticipation of another summons: Norf. RO, KL C/10/2 (Wm. Asshbourne’s bk.), ff. 1, 18, 121.
  • 10. McKisack, 150, although on p. 136 she erroneously gives John Spicer and John Brown, the MPs of 1410.
  • 11. KL C/10/2, f. 5.
  • 12. Ibid. f. 121v.
  • 13. Ibid. f. 90v.
  • 14. Ibid. f. 113. Not Warren as given by McKisack, 150.
  • 15. The return (C219/12/6) has John Brandon, but local records name Robert (King’s Lynn Town Hall, Ca 6 m. 1; McKisack, 143).
  • 16. J.C. Russell, Brit. Med. Pop. 142; V. Parker, Making of King’s Lynn, 1-12; RP, ii. 319; HMC 11th Rep. III, 160, 203; CPR, 1385-9, p. 227; 1396-9, p. 180; 1408-13, pp. 383-5; E404/18/265; McKisack, 136-7.
  • 17. CIMisc. iv. 227; CChR, ii. 92; iii. 52, 284; HMC 11th Rep. III, 185-204; J. Tait, Med. Eng. Bor. 298.
  • 18. HMC 11th Rep. III, 205, 223; CPR, 1374-7, p. 502; 1385-9, p. 190; 1391-6, pp. 147-8; 1401-5, pp. 67, 274; Recs. King’s Lynn ed. Harrod, 5; CCR, 1399-1402, p. 575; 1402-5, p. 358.
  • 19. McKisack, ‘Parl. Repn. King’s Lynn’, EHR, xlii. 584.
  • 20. W. Richards, Lynn, i. 367; HMC 11th Rep. III, 163, 165; Recs. King’s Lynn, 98-99.
  • 21. Recs. King’s Lynn, 3, 16, 104, 106; HMC 11th Rep. III, 220-1, 245; CPR, 1377-81, p. 284.
  • 22. Tait, 299; C. Gross, Gild Merchant, i. 28; ii. 151-70; HMC 11th Rep. III, 211, 222, 227-8; Red Reg. i. pp. i, ii.
  • 23. Tait, 318-21; HMC 11th Rep. III, 160, 194-6.
  • 24. HMC 11th Rep. III, 190-4; Lynn Town Hall, Ae 17.
  • 25. HMC 11th Rep. III, 196-8; Recs. King’s Lynn, 101-2; Lynn Town Hall, Be 397, Ca 3, Ea 46, 86; Norf. Arch. ii. 183; CIMisc. vii. 517; Richards, i. 365.
  • 26. CPR, 1413-16, pp. 345, 411; CCR, 1413-16, p. 232; Recs. King’s Lynn, 98-99; HMC 11th Rep. III, 245.
  • 27. McKisack, Parl. Repn. Eng. Bors. 3, 6, 10.
  • 28. McKisack, EHR, xlii. 584; Recs. King’s Lynn, 102.
  • 29. Recs. King’s Lynn, 95-96; C219/11/1.
  • 30. C219/11/4, 12/4, 5, 13/1; Lynn Town Hall, Ea 38.
  • 31. McKisack, Parl. Repn. 72, 89-91, 130-1, 140-5; Norf. RO, KL C/10/2, ff. 113, 127; Red Reg. ii. 128.
  • 32. Richards, i. 416-17.