Available from Boydell and Brewer
|1388 (Feb.)||Robert Caldebrook|
|1388 (Sept.)||John Aston II|
|1390 (Jan.)||Hugh Aston|
|John Hood I|
|1395||Thomas Barber I|
|1397 (Jan.)||Thomas Reynold|
|1397 (Sept.)||William Taverner I|
|1399||John Hood I|
|Thomas White II|
|1402||William Taverner I|
|1406||William Taverner I|
|1407||William Taverner I|
|1413 (May)||John Salisbury|
|1414 (Nov.)||William Colle|
|1416 (Mar.)||John Salisbury|
|Reynold Smith 1|
|1421 (May)||William Stokes|
|John Hood II|
|1421 (Dec.)||Thomas Hood|
Whatever prosperity Leominster has enjoyed may partly be attributed to its situation on a fertile plain fed by three rivers. Although the size of its population in the period 1386-1422 is not recorded, it seems likely that, containing only one parish church, the town was then quite small and had much about it that was rural in character. Over a century later, in 1534, there were only 215 householders living in Leominster which, however, John Leland, writing about the same time, considered to be ‘meatly large’, with ‘good buyldinge of tymbar’. What distinguished its economic standing in the 14th and 15th centuries was its position as the centre of a district notable for the production of wool of exceptionally fine quality. The wool grown in the vicinity was so celebrated as to have a name of its own, ‘Lemster Ore’, and was valued higher than that of any other area in England; in 1454, when an Act of Parliament fixed wool prices, ‘Herefordshire woll in Lemyst’ was to be sold at not less than £13 per sack, in comparison with the good quality Cotswold product, set at £8 6s.8d. Leland also remarked that ‘the towne of Leominster, by reason of theyr principall wolle, usyd great drapinge of clothe, and thereby it florishid’, but also recorded that, following complaints by the citizens of Hereford and Worcester ‘of the frequency of people that cam to Leonminstre, in prejudice of bothe their markets in the shyre townes and also in hinderinge their drapinge’, the Saturday market in the town had been changed to Friday, and ‘syns that tyme the toun hathe decayed’.2 During the period under review Leominster’s trade was adversely affected by its proximity to the Welsh border. In 1401, following the outbreak of Owen Glendower’s rebellion, Welshmen were forbidden by statute to hold property in the town; and although in July of the following year the burgesses obtained a royal licence to fortify it, their measures proved ineffective, and Leominster fell to the rebels, albeit only temporarily. Between July and November 1404 the prince of Wales and his army were based at Leominster or else at Hereford, only 13 miles away.3
Since the manor of Leominster had been granted by Henry I to the Benedictine abbey of Reading, and remained in the abbey’s possession for the following four centuries, the inhabitants secured privileges from the Crown only as tenants of the abbot. So, for example, in 1235 they and the monks of Reading obtained immunity from toll throughout England. It is possible that, like the townsmen of Reading, a borough which also belonged to the abbey, those of Leominster waged a long struggle for liberty against the abbot, but the only recorded incident of this period, an attack in 1394 on the abbot’s officers in Leominster by Walter Brute and his followers (possibly including John Aston II), may have been more a lollard uprising than an attempt to secure a greater measure of local independence. The overall authority of the abbot was exercised in the town by the prior of Leominster, for it was he who appointed to the four main offices: two stewards, chosen from among the monks, and two bailiffs, who were laymen. The more important of the latter, entitled the bailiff of the abbot of Reading’s liberty of Leominster, usually held office for life, exercised the franchise of return of royal writs in the liberty, and presided over local courts as the abbot’s deputy; the other, the under bailiff, was sometimes described as bailiff of the town. Both bailiffs swore service and obedience to the abbot, promising ‘indifferently [to] execute all maner attachements, leveys and other preceptes of the courtes within the seyde Borough and Liberte, without sparyng oon to hurt another’. It was not until the dissolution of Reading abbey, or rather until 15 years afterwards (1554) that the burgesses of Leominster obtained a charter of incorporation. Although they then stated that the government of the town had long rested with one bailiff and 24 burgesses elected from among themselves, the evidence suggests that in the early 15th century a smaller body of 12 burgesses exercised authority in local affairs.4
Leominster had sent representatives to Parliament ever since the reign of Edward I. Its elections seem always to have been held in the town itself, from about 1426 in the local guildhall. Until 1406 the names of the Members and their mainpernors were conveyed to Chancery along with those for the shire and city of Hereford, being inscribed on the dorse of the parliamentary writ addressed to and returned by the sheriff. In this endorsement the sheriff occasionally stated that he had directed his precept to the bailiff of the abbot of Reading’s liberty of Leominster, who was responsible for conducting the town’s election. Thereafter, a separate document was drawn up at Leominster, which in 1407, 1410 and 1414 (Nov.), took the form of a certificate stating that the abbot’s bailiff and certain named burgesses had chosen the representatives ‘ex assensu totius communitatis burgi’. From 1419 it took that of an indenture, either between the abbot’s bailiff and named burgesses on the one part and the sheriff on the other (as in 1419, 1420, 1421 (May), 1422 and 1425), or simply between the abbot’s bailiff or both bailiffs and the burgesses (as in 1421 (Dec.) and 1423). The burgesses listed usually numbered 12 (exceptionally six in 1407, 26 in 1422), and there can be little doubt that the electoral function was discharged by a select body of townsmen acting on behalf of the rest.5
The names of the MPs for Leominster are known for only 22 out of the 32 Parliaments of the period under review, and number 26. Despite the many gaps in the returns, it seems clear that a majority of the Members sat in more than one Parliament: although 12 were possibly elected only once, ten were elected twice, three were returned four times, and one, William Raves, as often as five times. At least one Member with earlier parliamentary experience is known to have been returned to 15 of the 22 Parliaments for which the returns are extant, and on four of these occasions (1391, 1407, 1414 (Nov.), and 1421 (Dec.)), neither representative was a newcomer to the Commons. Re-election in the strict sense of return to consecutive Parliaments, occurred three times in the case of one Member, but only once in the case of both, William Taverner I and William Tiler being returned together in 1406 and 1407. On as many as seven occasions both MPs now appear to have been novices, but (given the gaps in the returns) that this was actually so is extremely unlikely.
In any attempt to pronounce upon the parliamentary representation of Leominster, difficulties arise from the almost total absence of contemporary local records. The Coningsby manuscripts6contain translations of deeds dating from the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV ‘from a leger book belonging to the cell of Leominster’, but the compiler neglected to transcribe the names of the participants, contenting himself with their initials, and the ‘leger book’ itself cannot now be traced. Consequently, it has not proved possible to identify as many as six of the Members. Nevertheless, we can discern a tradition of parliamentary service in no fewer than five Leominster families: the Astons (Walter, John II and Hugh), the Hoods (John I, John II and Thomas), the Bradfords, the Romayns and the Salisburys. Evidence of the Members’ places of residence is sometimes lacking, but certainly 19 out of the 26 were local men, and so too were probably the six who remain unidentified. Thomas Barber I, although a native of Ireland, had settled in Leominster by the time of his election in 1395. Only one parliamentary burgess, Edmund Morris, certainly did not reside in the town, but he lived no more than three miles away, at Kingsland. The occupations of the MPs are for the most part unknown, although John Aston II may have been a butcher and John Hood II a mercer. Thomas Hood was described alternately as a merchant, yeoman or husbandman; William Raves was a barber; Reynold Smith a smith, and Edmund Morris, who alone out of the 26 achieved armigerous rank, a lawyer. William Raves and John Salisbury, each of whom had by then represented Leominster in Parliament four times, were included among the notables of the county of Herefordshire required in 1434 to take the oath not to maintain malefactors. It is not even known whether any of the parliamentary burgesses held office in the borough, but certainly none of them was ever appointed bailiff of the abbot of Reading’s liberty of Leominster in this period, although Edmund Morris did act as the abbot’s attorney. The only one of our men to obtain appointment to a royal office was Morris, who was alnager in Herefordshire for nine years (during which term he sat for the borough in 1410), and in Shropshire for 21. Having assisted in a small way in the establishment of order in Normandy under Henry V, Morris acquired some standing in Herefordshire at large, serving as escheator in 1426-7 and as a j.p. for about 13 years. He was frequently named on royal commissions in the locality, sometimes as a member of the quorum. Morris may have owed his single return to Parliament to his friendship with the abbot of Reading’s attorney and later bailiff of Leominster, Richard Winnesley†, but he was also well acquainted with other members of the Herefordshire gentry.
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iv. 1127.
- 2. E. Power, Wool Trade in Eng. Med. Hist. 21, 23; RP, v. 275; J. Price, Leominster, 46, 196; J.B. Hurry, Reading Abbey, 91; J. Leland, Itin, ed. Toulmin Smith, ii. 73-74.
- 3. RP, iii. 472; CPR, 1401-5, p. 139; Price, 81.
- 4. VCH Berks. ii. 62; CCR, 1413-19, p. 13; G.F. Townsend, Leominster, 23, 29-38, 284; KB27/537 m. 3; Cott. Domitian A iii, ff. 44-45.
- 5. M. McKisack, Parl. Repn. Eng. Bors. 19, 158-9;
- 6. Add. 6693.