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|1388 (Feb.)||Walter Tropenell|
|1388 (Sept.)||Walter Tropenell|
|1390 (Jan.)||Walter Tropenell|
|John Stikelane 1|
|John Wade II|
|1397 (Jan.)||Thomas Bathe|
|1397 (Sept.)||Ralph Stikelane|
|John Baker III|
|1410||Thomas Haseley 2|
|1413 (May)||Thomas Walsingham|
|1414 (Apr.)||John Tynham|
|1414 (Nov.)||John Tynham|
|William Taverner II|
|1419||[Thomas] Stikelane 3|
|1421 (May)||Thomas Lond|
|1421 (Dec.)||Thomas Richman|
|Richard Parker II|
The history of Lyme Regis in the later Middle Ages is one of decline and depopulation. The town had been fairly prosperous in the 13th and early 14th centuries, with an economy based on fishing and the sale of cloth and salt. The burgesses had won a measure of independence: in 1284 they had been granted the liberties conferred on their peers at Melcombe four years before, including the right to form a guild merchant; a second charter, dated 1285, allowed them a general freedom from tolls; and in 1331 they were granted the town at farm, paying £21 6s.8d. a year at the Exchequer.4 At the last date there were 77 merchants living in Lyme, each possessed of a house and owning between them 15 ‘large ships’ and 40 boats. It was they who built the Cobb, a prerequisite of the growth of local trade. However, in the later years of Edward III’s reign, and also at the beginning of Richard II’s, the town was struck by a series of natural catastrophies, so much so that in the spring of 1378 it was reported to royal commissioners that several buildings had been swept away by the sea in violent storms, that the merchants who had been living in the town in 1331 were all now dead and their ships destroyed, that 71 dwellings stood empty and derelict as a result of the death or withdrawal of the tenants, and that at the previous Martinmas the Cobb had been so battered in a gale that it was now impossible to unload ships at Lyme, with the result that no customs duties could be levied. There were then only eight burgesses and 21 poor tenants living in the town. The commissioners confirmed the testimony of the local jury. Two years later the King appointed bailiffs to answer for the fee farm, but they were able to levy only £7 18s.4d. Further inquiries found that since 1368 as many as 77 tenements had been demolished by the sea, and that 80 more had been vacated when the occupants found it impossible to pay the fee farm and the parliamentary subsidies. It would seem that the town did not recover during the period under review. In 1396 Richard II granted custody of Lyme to Thomas Bathe of Wanstrow, Somerset, and John Cullyford, clerk, for ten years, so long as they paid a farm of £8 p.a.5 Admittedly, the inhabitants resumed responsibility for the fee farm by 1402, but when they then petitioned Parliament it was to plead poverty and ask pardon for being unable to meet the Crown’s demands. In 1405, when another royal investigation showed that there were only 26 burgages left, the townspeople were permitted to pay only £2, instead of £8 10s., towards each of the two tenths granted by the Coventry Parliament. The Parliaments of 1407 and 1410 were presented with similar petitions from the men of Lyme, asking that the town might be discharged of arrears and held at a farm of only £5 a year, and might pay only 13s.4d. towards each parliamentary tenth. Although these requests achieved the royal assent in May 1410, the burgesses subsequently surrendered all corporate rights to Henry V, who in May 1415 granted custody of the town to Sir Thomas Brooke* of Holditch, Dorset, and his wife for life, and in fact it was not to be until 1444 that they recovered their liberties. But they were evidently still in desperate case: the arrears for the farm then amounted to 800 marks and for the parliamentary tenths to £58.6 Lyme was to remain underpopulated and economically disabled until the 17th century.
It was inevitable that such a state of affairs would be reflected in some way in the parliamentary representation of the borough. As the 15th century wore on, it became increasingly the norm for Lyme to send to the Commons men who had little or no personal interest in the town, or even in the county, but who were probably prepared to pay their own expenses. Certainly ten of the 24 men who sat for Lyme between 1386 and 1422 were not burgesses in any strict sense. A change in the type of Member returned is first clearly noticeable from 1410. With the exception of the Parliament of 1397 (Jan.), when two outsiders (Thomas Bathe of Wanstrow and Hugh Sampford of Bakhey, Somerset), had been returned, up to the end of the first decade of the century Lyme had managed to send local men as its representatives. In other words, in 13 out of the 14 Parliaments for which returns have survived from 1386 to 1407 Lyme was represented by persons who held property in the town or were concerned in its affairs. But from 1410 to 1421 in all but three documented Parliaments at least one of the Members for Lyme was an outsider: in 1410 Thomas Haseley, who came from Oxfordshire; in 1413 (May) Thomas Walsingham of London; in 1417 Thomas Est of London and William Taverner II, perhaps of Somerset; in 1420 a Somerset lawyer, Edward Cullyford; in 1421 (May) Thomas Lond and Nicholas Radford of Poughill and Upcott Barton, Devon; and in the following Parliament Richard Parker, who perhaps normally lived in Surrey.
A feasible explanation may be put forward for the selection of most of these men. Thomas Bathe was holding the borough at farm at the time of his return in 1397. Edward Cullyford’s election in 1420 may have been engineered by the then sheriff of Somerset and Dorset, Robert Hill* of Spaxton, who employed him in the administration of his estates. Nicholas Radford, the ill-fated lawyer, may have come to the notice of the burgesses of Lyme either through professional work in the area or because of his association with the influential Sir William Bonville II*, who owned property in Lyme. Four of the other outsiders (Hugh Sampford, Thomas Est, William Taverner II and Thomas Lond) were all friends of the Brookes of Holditch, who possessed estates at Lyme and Colway and from 1415 held the town itself at farm. Particularly interesting in this connexion is the election of two of the feoffees of the Brooke estates (Est and Taverner) to the Parliament of 1417, in which Sir Thomas’s son sat for Somerset and his kinsman by marriage, Sir John Oldcastle*, the lollard, was brought to trial for treason. Similarly, Richard Parker II may have been returned in 1421 because of his association with the Brookes, but it is more likely that his position as a yeoman of the Household influenced his election.
Explanations for the choice of Thomas Haseley and Thomas Walsingham are less clear cut. The former was probably acting as deputy to the under clerk of the Parliaments (the Commons’ clerk) in 1410 and 1413 (May), when he sat in the Lower House for Lyme and Barnstaple, respectively. Walsingham, who sat in the very same Parliaments for Wareham and Lyme, respectively, was, on the other hand, a prominent vintner and a victualler of the royal household. Apart from being mutually and amicably acquainted, Haseley and Walsingham had one other thing in common: they formed part of the ‘circle’ of the chief butler of England, Thomas Chaucer of Ewelme (the Speaker of the 1410 Parliament and a Member for Oxfordshire in 1413), and his cousin Bishop Beaufort of Winchester, who preached at the opening of Parliament in 1410 and was chancellor at the later date. Both Chaucer and Beaufort were closely attached to Henry of Monmouth, and lent him invaluable support not only in 1410, after he had taken over control of the government, but also during his first Parliament as King. It is perhaps not going too far to suspect Chaucer of having had a hand in the election of Haseley and Walsingham. There is clear evidence of his influence in other elections to the two Parliaments in question. For example, in 1410 at Taunton, where he was constable of Beaufort’s castle, an associate of his, Thomas Edward, and the bailiff of the bishop’s liberty, Thomas Bacot, were elected; and at Wallingford a colleague, John Coterell, the receiver of the honour of Wallingford, was one of the successful candidates. Then, in 1413, his friend, Lewis John, another London vintner (and again a colleague of Walsingham’s), was returned for both Taunton and Wallingford. But Lyme, Barnstaple and Wareham were neither a part of the bishop of Winchester’s estates, as was Taunton, nor open to direct pressure from Chaucer, as was Wallingford, where he was constable of the castle too. Moreover, the returns of 1410 and 1413 themselves offer no clues. So, that Chaucer in fact influenced the elections at either Lyme, Barnstaple or Wareham must remain suppositious.7
Returns for Lyme have survived for only 23 of the 32 Parliaments convened between 1386 and 1421, and for two of these (1410 and 1419) the name of only one of the Members is now known. In this period the outsiders by no means dominated the representation of the borough, for none of them was chosen more than once. All told, they occupied no more than ten out of the total of 44 seats. And if Lyme elected only 12 (possibly 14) of its burgesses proper, seven of them sat on more than one occasion: Walter Tropenell, indeed, sat in eight Parliaments between 1377 and 1391; Roger Crogge was returned six times between 1393 and 1414; John Dorset, Robert Membury and Ralph Stikelane each appeared four times, Thomas Stikelane three, and John Tynham twice. Election to consecutive Parliaments occurred no fewer than nine times in the period under review: Walter Tropenell sat in all five Parliaments between 1385 and 1390; and Robert Membury was re-elected in 1388 (Feb.) and 1394, John Dorset in 1390 (Jan.), Ralph Stikelane in 1399, and John Tynham in 1414 (Nov.). Nor was it unknown for the borough to return a pair of Members who had previously served together: Tropenell and Membury were twice elected in tandem; and Tropenell and Dorset joined forces three times, as also did Crogge and Ralph Stikelane. In 15 out of the 23 Parliaments for which the evidence remains, at least one Member had previous experience of the workings of the Commons, and in eight Parliaments both had been returned before. Indeed, taking into account the gaps in the series of returns, it is most likely that untried men were very few and far between. None of the burgesses proper are known to have represented another borough in Parliament. Some of the outsiders, however, did so: Thomas Haseley sat for Barnstaple, Thomas Walsingham for Wareham, Thomas Lond for Melcombe Regis, and Edward Cullyford for Bridgwater. Only Nicholas Radford, who was to represent Devon in 1435, was of sufficient standing in the region to be elected as a knight of the shire.
Apart from the fact that John Baker III had an interest in the cloth trade, Roger Crogge and possibly Thomas Richman were mariners, and Thomas Stikelane was some sort of merchant, the occupations of those of the Members who actually lived in Lyme are not known. Nor is there much evidence that they served in the administration of the borough. According to Hutchins, Lyme had a mayor, bailiffs and coroners from 1288.8 References to any officials of the late 14th and early 15th centuries, however, are extremely rare, and not even the date of the mayoral election is known. Only four MPs (Ralph Stikelane, John Dorset, Roger Crogge and John Tynham) are recorded as having served as mayor. Similarly, only one of the local men (Crogge) ever acted as a royal commissioner, and none of the burgesses proper held any kind of office by royal appointment.
A disproportionately large amount of evidence is available about the careers of the outsiders sitting for Lyme in this period. Four of them were lawyers (Thomas Bathe, Edward Cullyford, Nicholas Radford and Hugh Sampford). Of these, Cullyford officiated as clerk of the peace for Somerset for at least six years; and Radford, too, came to be highly regarded, later acting not only as one of the apprentices-at-law retained by the duchy of Lancaster (1439-55) but also as recorder of Exeter (1442-55). Four more—Thomas Est, Thomas Haseley, Thomas Walsingham and Richard Parker II—may be best described as royal servants, although Walsingham made a comfortable living as a London vintner and merchant stapler, and Haseley was also something of a financier. Between them the group of outsiders occupied an impressive array of offices in the Crown’s appointment. Three were sometime escheators (Bathe in Somerset and Dorset within a year of his return for Lyme in 1397, Haseley later on both in Kent and Middlesex and Surrey and Sussex, and Radford in Devon and Cornwall). Sampford and Cullyford served in Somerset as coroners, and the latter also discharged office for about 15 years as controller of customs and subsidies at Bridgwater. Est and Parker, yeomen of the Household for most of their careers, held several sinecure posts, which in Est’s case eventually gave him an income of about £40 a year. But none of these officials’ appointments were in any way directly connected with their election to Parliament for Lyme. Haseley, for example, had been a Chancery clerk for at least six years before his return in 1410, and his successive appointments as clerk of the Commons, keeper of the Exchange, deputy butler in the ports of London, Chichester and Shoreham, steward of Kennington and Byfleet, and under marshal of England, owed nothing whatsoever to his brief occupation of a seat in the Lower House. Walsingham had been a victualler of Henry IV’s household for 14 years, and a gauger of wines in the Cinque Ports for five, before his election for Lyme in 1413. His posts as under butler of England in Henry V’s reign and collector of customs in London from 1421 to 1447 were due to his connexion with Thomas Chaucer and Cardinal Beaufort rather than to any parliamentary service. Such men were, however, of considerable use to the Crown in the administration of the regions, though not, as it happens, in Dorset. Radford appeared on numerous commissions covering the West Country, and in Devon in particular, holding judicial inquiries and sessions of oyer and terminer and gaol delivery. He was a j.p. for over 30 years. Similarly, Haseley served on many commissions covering various aspects of local government, only in his case in Surrey, Sussex and Middlesex; and he filled a place on the Surrey bench for 18 years, and on that for Middlesex for 20. In their individual ways, through financial speculation, trade, royal service and expertise in the law, Haseley, Walsingham and Radford all became wealthy men: Haseley purchased substantial estates in Berkshire, Middlesex and Surrey, as well as urban properties in London; Walsingham’s income from land was assessed at £90 a year; and Radford’s hoards of plate, jewels, and money provided a motive for his horrifying murder.
The standing of some of the outsiders who represented Lyme in the Commons is reflected both in their changing rank (Radford and Est became ‘gentlemen’, Parker and Walsingham esquires, and Haseley achieved knighthood), and in their connexion with men in high places, but for each of these ambitious individuals election to Parliament was but a minor event at the very beginning of his promising career.
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iv. 1050.
- 2. The Christian name has been torn off the return, but Thomas Haseley seems the most likely candidate.
- 3. The Christian name has been torn off the return; Thomas seems the most likely member of the Stikelane family to have been returned on this occasion.
- 4. VCH Dorset, ii. 184, 327, 353-4, 360; CChR, ii. 282; iv. 215; J. Hutchins, Dorset, ii. 37-39.
- 5. CIMisc. iv. 44, 107; CPR, 1377-81, pp. 131, 475; CFR, ix. 195; xi. 182; SC6/832/22.
- 6. CPR, 1401-5, pp. 482, 510; 1408-13, p. 202; 1413-16, p. 325; 1441-6, pp. 230, 323, RP, iii. 515, 618; 640; CIMisc. vii. 165.
- 7. It is clear, however, that the name of one of the Lyme representatives was erased from the indentures and the schedules listing the Members for Somerset and Dorset for the Parliaments of 1420 and 1421 (May), and the names of Edward Cullyford and Nicholas Radford inserted in their place (C219/12/4, 5). On the first occasion this may have been the work of Cullyford’s employer, Robert Hill, the returning officer.
- 8. Hutchins, ii. 41.