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|1386||Sir John Chetwode|
|Sir Thomas Sackville I|
|1388 (Feb.)||Sir Robert Luton|
|Sir Philip de la Vache|
|1388 (Sept.)||Roger Dayrell|
|Sir Thomas Sackville I|
|1390 (Jan.)||Sir John Aylesbury|
|Sir Robert Luton|
|1390 (Nov.)||Roger Dayrell|
|1391||Sir Thomas Aylesbury|
|1393||Sir Edward Missenden|
|Sir Thomas Sackville I|
|1395||Sir John Chetwode|
|1397 (Jan.)||John Barton I|
|1397 (Sept.)||Sir Thomas Aylesbury|
|1401||John Barton I|
|1402||Sir Richard Arches|
|1404 (Jan.)||John Barton I|
|1404 (Oct.)||Roger Cheyne|
|1407||John Barton I|
|1413 (May)||John Cheyne|
|1414 (Apr.)||John Barton II|
|1414 (Nov.)||John Barton I|
|Richard Wyot 1|
|1417||John Barton II|
|1419||John Barton II|
|1421 (May)||Robert James|
|1421 (Dec.)||Sir John Cheyne II|
Six of the returns for Buckinghamshire are missing, leaving gaps for the three consecutive Parliaments of 1410, 1411 and 1413 (Feb.), and for the three consecutive Parliaments of 1415 and 1416 (Mar. and Oct.); and although the latter gap may be partially filled by relying on the evidence of Prynne and Lipscomb, the names of both the county’s representatives in five of the 32 Parliaments of the period remain unknown. The majority of the 27 men recorded as elected to 27 of the Parliaments meeting between 1386 and 1421 (Dec.) were chosen to represent the shire on more than one occasion: 21 were returned twice or more often, and, since several of the shire knights were elected quite frequently, the overall average number of Parliaments per Member amounted to three. The brothers John Barton I and John Barton II were returned at least five times each, Sir John Aylesbury and Sir John Cheyne II six, and Richard Wyot seven; while Sir Thomas Sackville I was elected to represent the shire in no fewer than 14 of the 21 Parliaments summoned between 1377 and 1394. In addition to their parliamentary service for this county, Richard Wyot, Thomas Durant and Robert James also sat for neighbouring constituencies: Wyot doing so once for Middlesex, Durant twice for Bedfordshire, and James four times for Berkshire; and William Whaplode was elected for the Buckinghamshire borough of Chipping WyCombe in 1425, five years after he had represented the shire.
Owing to the loss of returns in the latter part of Henry IV’s reign and in 1416, any analysis of the Membership in terms of parliamentary experience for the period after 1407 must be tentative. However, there can be no doubt that before that date it was normal practice for those gathered at the shire court to elect to Parliament at least one man who had some previous knowledge of the workings of the Commons; for to 13 of the 18 Parliaments summoned from 1386 to 1407 they sent one such person in company with a newcomer, and to four more they returned two men qualified in this way. Only in the Parliament of January 1397 was the shire represented entirely by novices, and this was a most unusual occurrence—something, in fact, which had not happened at any of the 25 elections held since 1376. Even despite the gaps in the returns, it is clear that a preference for men of experience continued after 1407; for in the nine Parliaments of Henry V’s reign for which the names of Members are known, no more than a third of the seats (six)—and perhaps a smaller proportion still—were taken by untried men; and only in 1420 is it possible (though by no means certain) that both shire knights were newcomers to the Lower House. A remarkable continuity of representation had been ensured in the early years of Richard II’s reign by the election of Sir Thomas Sackville I to 12 of the 14 Parliaments summoned between 1377 and 1386, accompanied on three of these occasions by Sir John Aylesbury. However, later in the reign re-election—in the sense of election to consecutive Parliaments—happened only once, that is in September 1397, when Thomas Shelley, one of the Members of the January Parliament of that year, was again returned. No such occurrence is recorded during Henry IV’s reign; but then, in Henry V’s, Richard Wyot was elected to three Parliaments running (in 1414 and 1415), and John Barton II to the consecutive assemblies of 1417 and 1419. In addition, some measure of continuity of representation might well have been achieved by repeated election over longer periods of time: Sir John Aylesbury’s parliamentary career stretched over 14 years (1376-90), John Barton I’s over 17 (1397-1414), Richard Wyot’s over 19 (1407-26) and Sir John Cheyne II’s over 24 (1421-45).
Then again, inside information about the workings of the Commons might be passed down from generation to generation, and although no single family or group of families actually dominated the representation of Buckinghamshire in our period, something of a tradition of parliamentary service may be discerned. It was so with the Aylesburys (Sir John was the grandson of a former shire knight and father of Sir Thomas, who also sat in the late 14th century); with the Cheynes (John of Chenies was the son of a former MP, and Roger and Sir John II, of the branch seated at Drayton Beauchamp, were father and son); with the Sackvilles (Sir Thomas was the grandson of one shire knight and grandfather of another, all three bearing the same name); and with the Hampdens (Edmund of Great Hampden was the son of one shire knight and father of two others, while his distant kinsman, John Hampden of Great Kimble, also sat in our period). Although Sir Philip de la Vache and Sir Edmund Missenden were both sons of former knights of the shire for Buckinghamshire, their lines were extinguished when, or shortly after, they themselves died. And in other instances, too, the predominance of a particular family was only short lived, as in the case of the two Barton brothers, who filled seats in ten Parliaments between 1397 and 1423, and yet, since neither left issue, proved to be the first and last of their family to excel in this way.
At least two out of three (18/27) of those who are known to have sat for Buckinghamshire in the period under review, came from families of ancient lineage, established in the county for two or more generations, and seven others inherited land there which their parents or other kinsfolk had acquired more recently. A majority, therefore, are likely to have been natives of the shire, and, in fact, only two entered the local community through marriage. Hardly a year before his first return to Parliament for Buckinghamshire in January 1397, Thomas Shelley (whose background is obscure) had married Sir Edmund Missenden’s widow; and several years before his first return for the county in 1404, Robert James, who came from Wallingford in Berkshire (and had already sat for that county in three Parliaments), acquired sizeable landed holdings in Buckinghamshire by marrying the co-heiress of the Handlo estates. There remains some doubt, however, as to whether these two were actually resident in Buckinghamshire at the time of their elections: in Shelley’s case, he and his wife were still engaged in litigation to reclaim the local Missenden estates from the Crown; and James’s official career, being concentrated in Berkshire and Oxfordshire, suggests that his principal concerns were there rather than in this county. There is also doubt about whether George Longville complied with the residential qualifications, as laid down by the statute of 1413, on the occasion of his election to the Parliament of May 1421, for at that time his father still retained ‘by the courtesy of England’ all the lands in Buckinghamshire which George was destined to inherit from his mother, and only a year or so earlier he had been listed as a member of the gentry of Warwickshire, where he held property jure uxoris. However, it seems likely that he sometimes lived at his mother’s manor of Wolverton, and thus conformed to the statutory requirements. These three (Shelley, James, and Longville) apart, and with the further possible exception of Sir John Chetwode (who evidently preferred to live at his seat at Warkworth in Northamptonshire to that across the border in Buckinghamshire), the men who represented this county in Parliament belonged to the local community and devoted themselves to its affairs.
This said, it should nevertheless be noted that few of the knights of the shire restricted their ownership of land to Buckinghamshire; at least 21 of them were possessed of property beyond the borders of the county. For the most part, such holdings were situated in adjacent shires, but in some instances they were as far away as Lincolnshire (Missenden), Staffordshire (Longville), Devon (Hampden) or Cornwall (Shelley), and half a dozen shire knights are known to have owned property in the city of London. Since the tax returns compiled in Buckinghamshire in 1412 for the assessors of the subsidy based on income from land have not survived, a useful guide to the comparative wealth of our MPs is lacking. Even so, it may be deduced from other evidence that a number of them were quite affluent by contemporary standards: at least ten could expect an annual income in excess of £60—the richest among them being undoubtedly the courtier Sir Philip de la Vache. Thomas Shelley’s annual receipts from land are known to have exceeded £150, but only because a thorough survey of his possessions was made immediately after his execution for treason. Others for whom comparable information is not available, may well have been wealthier. Fifteen MPs might be best described as of moderate competence, with perhaps £20 to £60 a year each. It would seem that Buckinghamshire returned neither men who could rival the lesser baronage in terms of wealth (and one such, Sir William Moleyns*, did live in the county, at Stoke Poges, but is only recorded as representing Wiltshire); nor any who lived in reduced circumstances (with the possible exception of Edward Durdent).
No more than nine of Buckinghamshire’s representatives were knights by rank at the time of their elections to Parliament in our period, although one more (Thomas Shelley) was to be knighted subsequently. These were for the most part men who had taken an active part in military campaigns overseas: Sir Thomas Sackville had first served in France in the 1350S; Sir Philip de la Vache, having been knighted in 1366 before he was 18, went on to command the garrisons of Calais and Guînes, and to be installed as a knight of the Garter 33 years later; and Sir Thomas Aylesbury and Sir Edmund Missenden had both served in a military capacity in naval engagements, the one under the command of Thomas of Woodstock in 1378, and the other under the earl of Arundel in 1387. As an esquire, Sir Richard Arches had joined Richard II’s first expedition to Ireland in 1394. And, according to his epitaph, Sir John Cheyne II, before first being elected to Parliament, had travelled to the Holy Land to wage war against the Turks. However, though, all told, they amounted to a third of the shire’s representatives, this group of nine knights filled less than a third of the number of parliamentary seats available during the period as a whole (just 14 out of 54). True, to start with, belted knights were numerically superior, for in the Parliaments summoned from 1386 to September 1397 they outnumbered the elected representatives of lesser rank in the ratio of 6:5, and on certain occasions (as in 1386, February 1388 and January 1390) it was they who were chosen to fill both seats. By contrast, in the whole of the rest of our period (from 1399 onwards), only two knights proper were returned—Sir Richard Arches in 1402, and Sir John Cheyne II in December 1421—the remaining 30 seats in Henry IV’s and Henry V’s reigns being taken up by esquires or lawyers. Whereas before 1399 it had only happened twice (in November 1390 and January 1397) that both of Buckinghamshire’s MPs were of such lower status, thereafter this was usually the case. Nor was it merely a question of nominal distinction, for none of the ‘esquires’ elected in the early 15th century are recorded as ever taking part in the military campaigns ordered by Henry IV or Henry V, with the possible exception of George Longville, who was at least considered eligible to do so.
In some cases the reason for non-involvement in military affairs was concern for the business of the lawcourts; at least eight of the 18 ‘esquires’ were professional lawyers, and evidently some were both able and successful. Edmund Brudenell, when first elected for Buckinghamshire in 1404, had only recently retired after more than 20 years’ service under Richard 11 as a clerk of the Crown in Chancery and then as King’s attorney in the King’s bench. The brothers Barton, members of Lincoln’s Inn, were both so highly regarded as apprentices-at-law as to be summoned (repeatedly in the case of John Barton II), to take the coif; moreover, John Barton I was to be made recorder of London in 1415, the year following his last Parliament, and his younger brother was sought after by many influential clients from among the nobility, and also by important monastic houses, such as St. Albans abbey (for which he acted as steward for the greater part of his career). Richard Wyot successfully retained the stewardship of the estates of Bishop Beaufort of Winchester from 1405 until his death 26 years later, in 1431. And William Whaplode’s devotion to duty while occupying the same post after Wyot, is surely attested by his appointment as one of Beaufort’s executors. Although lawyers were given only a small share in the parliamentary representation of Buckinghamshire before 1399—filling at most three seats out of the 22 available—their importance increased under the Lancastrians. So much so that in Henry IV’s reign they occupied seven out of 14 seats, and in Henry V’s, 12 out of 18. In fact, in six of the Parliaments assembled between January 1404 and 1422, both shire knights were men of law. Even so, it should not pass unnoticed that the electors were careful to comply with the express instruction contained in the writs of summons to the Parliament of October 1404 that apprentices-at-law and other lawyers were not to be elected. The period of the late 14th and early 15th century thus saw significant changes in the main social characteristics of the representatives for Buckinghamshire: in just a short while the belted knight, with his background of military service, gave way to the lawyer, well versed in the arts of advocacy or estate management.
All but two of the 27 knights of the shire participated to some extent in the business of local government as appointed by the Crown. The two exceptions were Edward Durdent, an impecunious esquire elected in 1390 and 1395, who never, so far as is recorded, served on a royal commission (although, after his parliamentary career had ended he did hold office as keeper of the royal park at Langley Marish); and Sir Edmund Missenden, who barely a year before his one and only return to Parliament in 1393, had been elected as a coroner in the shire, only to be dismissed as having no land there (his inheritance being then in all probability still in the possession of his widowed mother). Of the 25 who served on royal commissions, all but seven had been appointed before their earliest elections to Parliament. More than half of the shire knights—15 in all—were included at one time or another in the commission of the peace in their county, four of them also being appointed to the benches of other shires.2 There is now no way of ascertaining whether or not appointment as a j.p. was ever a decisive factor in the election of a knight of the shire; and it may have been purely coincidental that on five such occasions both shire knights were chosen from the county bench. At some stage in their careers ten knights of the shire served as sheriff of the joint bailiwick of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and three more were sometime sheriffs of other counties.3Edmund Hampden, who discharged the duties of sheriff locally for as many as five annual terms between 1390 and 1415, was clearly outstanding in this group, and even his achievement fell short of Sir John Aylesbury’s II annual terms in office between 1365 and 1387, a series of appointments which frequently contravened the statutes forbidding sheriffs to serve for more than one year at a time. Only once, however, did it happen that Aylesbury was simultaneously sheriff and knight of the shire, and that particular breach of the spirit of the statute occurred through no fault of his own, for his election to the Parliament of 1381-2 predated his appointment as sheriff. Eight of Buckinghamshire’s MPs held office as royal escheator of the joint bailiwick, but only on two occasions did the then escheator sit in Parliament: in 1417 (John Barton II) and 1420 (William Whaplode). The latter, Whaplode, was then also serving as feodary of the duchy of Lancaster estates in the area, a post he held for more than 30 years. Roger Dayrell was appointed as alnager and Thomas Durant and Sir Edmund Missenden as coroners (although Missenden may never have actually officiated). Generally, the community of the shire preferred to return to Parliament men who had a certain amount of experience of local administration: in 18 of the 27 Parliaments for which returns survive, both shire knights and, in seven more, one shire knight had some such past experience of serving on royal commissions or in local offices. In fact, only in the consecutive Parliaments of 1395 and January 1397 was the shire represented solely by men who as yet had received no appointments of this kind.
It might well be expected, given all this information relating to the shire knights’ experience of office-holding, that the majority of them were of mature years when first returned to Parliament. This would, indeed, appear to have been the case, so far as evidence of their ages permits us to go. Although the dates of birth of only about half (13) of the MPs are known, or may be approximately estimated, most of them were in their thirties or forties when first elected, the exceptions to this general rule being on the one hand Sir Robert Luton, who was aged about 25 when returned in 1380, and on the other Edmund Brudenell, who was 50 years old or so when returned in 1404. As might also be expected, none of the shire knights was excessively elderly when elected for the last time: the oldest such would seem to have been Sir John Aylesbury and Sir John Cheyne II, who were both about 55 when they attended their last Parliaments in 1390 and 1445, respectively, and Sir Thomas Sackville who was about 58 at his final appearance in 1394.
Buckinghamshire contained no royal castles or great estates; moreover, the only royal residence in the county—the manor-house at Langley Marish—was rarely used by the King, it being customarily let out at farm.4 Perhaps this helps to explain why the shire rarely elected one of the King’s retainers to Parliament. Indeed, only three such retainers are known to have been chosen in our period (and, all told, to no more than five Parliaments)—Sir Philip de la Vache, Edward Durdent and Thomas Shelley—and even in these few cases there is nothing to indicate that their connexion with the King was ever the most significant factor in the success of their candidacy. De la Vache was the most prominent of the trio, for before his single election to the Merciless Parliament of 1388 he had spent marry years as a successful courtier, in close attendance upon Edward III (as knight of the Chamber and its receiver) and as personal servant of Richard II’s mother, Joan of Kent, and of Richard himself. However, de la Vache was evidently not so intimate with King Richard as to be among those courtiers brought to judgement by the Lords Appellant in that Parliament, or even to be expelled by them from court (as were certain of his friends); on the contrary, before the Commons departed, he was appointed by those same Lords to the post of captain of Calais castle. Edward Durdent, returned in November 1390 and again in 1395, had seemingly little to commend him to the electorate, for he had spent his youth heavily in debt to Westminster abbey, and had taken no part in local administration. It might be supposed from his appointment as keeper of Langley Marish park a few months after the latter Parliament, that he was already a royal retainer, were it not for the fact that he had failed to take part in the King’s expedition to Ireland (1394-5), and in any case the custody of Langley Marish park was of little consequence. Finally, we come to Thomas Shelley, who, although called ‘King’s esquire’ in October 1396 (barely three months before his first return to Parliament), was more strictly speaking a retainer of Richard’s half-brother, John Holand, earl of Huntingdon, whom he served devotedly as steward of his household and councillor. Shelley owed his rise from obscurity entirely to Huntingdon, and his frequently recorded appearances with the earl, when put beside the reports of their intimate association provided by contemporary chroniclers, make it clear that their relationship was one of mutual dependence (so much so that, when the time came, in January 1400, Shelley readily conspired with his lord to commit treason against Henry IV, in the hope that Richard might be restored to the throne). There can be no doubt that, during Shelley’s second Parliament, which met in September 1397, he was among those Members of the Commons who firmly supported the King’s policies, in the promotion of which Huntingdon played so useful a part as to be awarded the title of duke of Exeter. Certainly, in December following the first session of the Parliament, Shelley himself obtained the post of warden of the stannaries in Cornwall; and no doubt that appointment, too, was a reward for services rendered.
That the earl of Huntingdon had been instrumental in securing Thomas Shelley’s two elections to Parliament in 1397 seems highly likely: Shelley was a stranger to the community of Buckinghamshire; his territorial stake there was not yet firmly established, and he had taken no part in local administration. Interesting to relate, his fellow MP in January 1397 was John Barton I, an up-and-coming lawyer, who also may well already have been connected with Huntingdon. Certainly, in 1399 he was to serve him in the capacity of attorney during his absence in Ireland with the King. Both Shelley and Barton were newcomers to the Commons, this being the first time in 21 years that Buckinghamshire had elected two novices together. Nevertheless, if Huntingdon did indeed exert influence at the elections of 1397 in order to secure the return of men who could be trusted to do his bidding, it was not from any position of territorial strength he himself occupied in Buckinghamshire, for he was not one of the county’s landowners. Of the 13 members of the titular nobility listed later, in 1404, as being possessed of estates there (chief among whom was the duke of York with property valued at £80 a year),5 only one is known to have had a close association with any shire knight of the period. He, Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, had on his pay-roll the apprentice-at-law, John Barton II, who, by the time of his second election to Parliament in 1417, was a member of the earl’s council as well as being engaged in the legal business arising out of the countess of Warwick’s claim to the estates of her late father, Thomas, Lord Berkeley. Barton’s attendance in the Commons in this and the next Parliament, that of 1419, may well have proved especially useful to Warwick, since he himself, being absent in France with the King, was unable to participate.
Three of the MPs returned by Buckinghamshire under the Lancastrians were close associates of Thomas Chaucer* of Ewelme, an influential figure in the region of the middle Thames valley. True, the connexion between Chaucer and Edmund Hampden does not come to light until after the latter had sat in the Parliaments of 1399 and 1402 (on which occasions he most likely followed the lead of his cousin, Robert Braybrooke, bishop of London). But Chaucer’s friendship with Robert James was well established before the first of James’s three elections for Buckinghamshire in 1404, 1421 and 1422, and Richard Wyot (returned to seven Parliaments for the county between 1407 and 1426) was also known to Chaucer as steward of the estates of his cousin, Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester. Doubtless, James and Wyot lent Chaucer their support in the Commons, particularly on those occasions when he was Speaker, and both men would, as need arose, have rendered assistance to the party of Bishop Beaufort. William Whaplode, Wyot’s successor in the stewardship, is known to have been a member of Beaufort’s entourage long before 1420, when returned for Buckinghamshire for the first time, and as feodary of the duchy of Lancaster estates in the locality, of which Beaufort was a trustee, he had continued to come within the bishop’s sphere of influence. Sir John Cheyne II may well have been of Beaufort’s circle by 1421, for not so long afterwards he was on good terms with the husband of the bishop’s bastard daughter, and on one occasion even acted as a mainpernor for Beaufort himself.
Perhaps because of its distance from Lincoln, the cathedral city of the diocese, Buckinghamshire had long been an area infected with heresy. It may be suspected, but not proven, that Sir Philip de la Vache shared the religious beliefs of his father-in-law, Sir Lewis Clifford, and of other ‘lollard knights’ of Richard II’s reign with whom he was so intimately connected. More convincingly, it can be argued that Roger Cheyne was one of those Members of the Commons of October 1404 who, with his kinsman Sir John Cheyne I* as their spokesman, urged the appropriation of the temporalities of the Church, for he and his son (Sir) John Cheyne II were to be the leaders of the contingent from Buckinghamshire which joined the lollard rising of January 1414, and as a consequence were imprisoned in the Tower (where Roger died). It is likely, too, that Sir John Cheyne II helped to promote the petitions of a distinctly lollard flavour which the Lower House presented in the Parliament of 1425; and certainly, six years later, he was to be again arrested as a suspect lollard, and his house searched for heretical writings.
The shire elections of this period were invariably held in the county court meeting at Aylesbury. Surviving parliamentary indentures drawn up between 1407 and 1421 record the names of between 15 and 24 electors, and no greater number of named participants was to be listed until 1429. Then, however, on 31 Aug., the sheriff (Sir) Thomas Waweton* returned to Chancery an indenture recording that 82 men, gathered in the shire court, had elected Sir John Cheyne II and Walter Strickland. This result was disputed: on 24 Sept., only two days after the Commons assembled, a royal commission of inquiry was set up to investigate allegations that Waweton had made a false return after the voice of the community had gone in favour of John Hampden† of Great Hampden and Andrew Sperlyng. Even so, it was not until 1 Mar. 1430, a week after the Parliament was dissolved, that the justices of assize found Waweton guilty of offences under the statute of 1406. The original indenture of return, electing Hampden and Sperlyng, which was presented as evidence, listed as many as 128 electors. It may perhaps be inferred from the incident that whenever such large numbers of electors were named on the parliamentary indenture, it was a sign of a contested election. If so, we may guess that Sir John Cheyne II’s candidature of 1432 also provoked opposition, for on that occasion once more very many men (137) are recorded as attending the county court.6
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. G. Lipscomb, Bucks. i. p. xxii, probably following W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iii. 106.
- 2. Sir Thomas Aylesbury in Cambs. and Hunts., John Barton I in Oxon., John Barton II in Northants. and Sir John Cheyne II in Herts. Another four served as j.p.s elsewhere, though never in Bucks.: Sir Richard Arches, Robert James and Sir Philip de la Vache in Oxon. and Thomas Durant in Beds.
- 3. Sir John Chetwode and George Longville in Northants. and Robert James in Oxon. and Berks.
- 4. Hist. King’s Works ed. Brown, Colvin and Taylor, ii. 979.
- 5. E179/77/35.
- 6. C219/14/1, 3.