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|1386||Sir Nicholas Lilling|
|1388 (Feb.)||Sir Nicholas Lilling|
|Sir Hugh Cheyne|
|1388 (Sept.)||Sir Nicholas Lilling|
|1390 (Jan.)||Sir Nicholas Lilling|
|Sir Hugh Cheyne|
|1390 (Nov.)||Sir Nicholas Lilling|
|Sir Hugh Cheyne|
|1393||Sir Nicholas Lilling|
|Robert Russell I|
|1397 (Jan.)||Richard Ruyhale|
|1397 (Sept.)||Sir John Russell|
|1399||John Blount II|
|1401||Sir John Beauchamp|
|1404 (Jan.)||(Sir) John Blount II|
|1404 (Oct.)||Sir John Beauchamp|
|1407||Sir William Beauchamp|
|1413 (May)||Sir William Beauchamp|
|Sir John Phelip|
|1414 (Apr.)||Sir William Beauchamp|
|Sir John Beauchamp|
|1414 (Nov.)||John Throckmorton|
|John Wood I|
|1416 (Mar.)||Sir William Beauchamp|
|William Russell 1|
|Thomas Morant 2|
|1421 (May)||William Wollashull|
|John Wood I|
|1421 (Dec.)||John Brace|
Returns for Worcestershire have survived for 28 of the 32 Parliaments of the period, leaving gaps for the three consecutive assemblies of 1410, 1411 and 1413 (Feb.), as well as for that of 1416 (Oct.). In all, 27 men are known to have represented the shire between 1386 and 1421. Although over a third (11) were elected just once for this constituency (ten of them only ever being returned on that one occasion), the rest were elected two or more times and some of them appeared quite frequently. John Brace and William Wollashull each sat for Worcestershire five times, Henry Bruyn, John Throckmorton and John Wood I six each, and Sir Nicholas Lilling seven. In addition, six of the Members under consideration supplemented their parliamentary service with appearances for other constituencies. John Weston and John Wood I both represented boroughs, the former Worcester and Warwick (in 1410 both boroughs in the same Parliament), and the latter Worcester: service which brought their total number of Parliaments up to nine in each case. Three of the rest sat for counties which bordered Worcestershire: Ralph Stafford represented Staffordshire in one Parliament after appearing for Worcestershire in three; William Spernore sat three times for Warwickshire as well as four for this county; and Sir Hugh Cheyne was returned for Shropshire on five occasions and Worcestershire on three. Even more outstanding in this respect was Sir Nicholas Lilling, to whose seven Parliaments for this constituency were added three for the more distant county of Northamptonshire. When service for these other boroughs and shires is taken into account the average number of Parliaments per Member rises to nearly four. Certain of the knights of the shire built up considerable experience of the workings of the Lower House by securing election to consecutive assemblies, albeit for different places: Lilling sat in seven Parliaments in a row between 1386 and 1393, in six of them as representative for Worcestershire and in the other for Northamptonshire; Cheyne put in an appearance in five consecutive Parliaments between 1388 and 1391, alternating between Shropshire and Worcestershire; and Spernore obtained a seat in four running between 1393 and 1397 by successfully offering himself as a candidate for either Warwickshire or Worcestershire. Another way in which experience was accumulated was for an individual to secure election to several Parliaments within a comparatively short period: Spernore’s seven Parliaments fell within 17 years; Weston’s nine were fitted into 16 years, and Lilling’s ten were compressed into 12 years (between 1381 and 1393). Others extended their parliamentary careers over longer periods: Wood’s nine Parliaments covered 21 years (1414 to 1435); Cheyne’s eight covered 23 (1378 to 1401); John Throckmorton’s six were spread out over 25 years (1414 to 1439); and Henry Bruyn’s extended over 36 (1368 to 1404) and into three reigns. Collectively, this group of Worcestershire MPs had a knowledge of parliamentary affairs going back to 1368 and forward to 1439.
It is clear that generally candidates with such impressive reserves of experience were preferred to those with none. In 13 of the Parliaments of the period Worcestershire was represented by two men who had sat in the Commons previously, and in another 11 certainly one of the Members had done so. However, on probably three occasions (1401, 1402 and 1406), and possibly also in 1417 (although the large gap in the returns between 1407 and 1413 makes this less likely), both knights of the shire were newcomers to the House; and the pattern of representation suggests that less importance may have been attached to the factor of experience at certain times during the period. Thus, although no novices at all were elected between 1384 (Apr.) and 1394, nor to the three consecutive Parliaments of 1419, 1420 and 1421 (May), between 1394 and 1419 it would appear that newcomers outnumbered experienced men by 18 to 16. Similarly, re-election to successive Parliaments occurred most often in Richard II’s reign and occasionally in Henry V’s, but seemingly never under Henry IV. Thus, Sir Nicholas Lilling was returned to five Parliaments in a row between 1386 and 1390; both of the Members of 1390 (Jan.)—Lilling and Sir Hugh Cheyne—were re-elected to the second Parliament of that year, and Richard Ruyhale sat in both the assemblies summoned in 1397. Then, under Henry V, Sir William Beauchamp was re-elected to the Parliament of 1414 (Apr.), and Thomas Morant to that of 1419. Nevertheless, the impression that between 1399 and 1413 parliamentary experience counted for little, may well be a false one, the true picture being distorted by the loss of returns at the end of Henry IV’s reign.
Over two-thirds of the shire knights (19 out of 27) are known to have been natives of Worcestershire and to have acquired their lands there by inheritance. Several families, such as the Ardernes, Russells and Staffords, established something of a tradition of service for this constituency in the Commons, providing three or more generations of Members. Often related by marriage, the shire knights formed a closely knit group sharing common interests. Two examples will serve as illustration of the network of relationships existing between those elected in our period: Thomas Hodyngton was the son-in-law of Richard Thurgrim, the father-in-law of William Russell, and the uncle of Thomas Morant, who was himself the brother-in-law of William Wollashull; while Thomas Throckmorton was the son-in-law of Alexander Besford and father of John Throckmorton, who in turn married one of the daughters of the Warwickshire MP, Guy Spyne. Nearly all of the Members native to Worcestershire may be shown to have had connexions similar to Hodyngton’s and Throckmorton’s. Four of the knights of the shire—Robert Russell I, William Spernore, Richard Thurgrim and John Weston—apparently acquired their landed holdings in Worcestershire through purchase. It is not recorded how Sir Hugh Cheyne came to possess all his property there (although he owed some to the grant of the earl of March), and Sir Nicholas Lilling secured his through the generosity of the earl of Warwick. These six, with the exception of Russell, probably came from outside the county: Spernore and Weston from Warwickshire, Thurgrim from Herefordshire, Cheyne from Shropshire, and Lilling from Yorkshire. The remaining two shire knights entered the local community of Worcestershire through marriage: Sir John Phelip, a Suffolk man by birth, took as his wife the wealthy widow of Walter Cokesey, thus acquiring an interest in substantial estates in the county; and Ralph Stafford, who came from Staffordshire, wedded one of the Hastang heiresses, thus acquiring Grafton and other properties. None of the men who represented Worcestershire were outsiders in the sense that they owned no land whatsoever in the locality, although some of them—Sir Nicholas Lilling and Sir Hugh Cheyne being the most important—possessed comparatively insignificant holdings there, and it is clear that their interests were centred elsewhere, in Lilling’s case in Warwickshire and Northamptonshire, and in Cheyne’s in Shropshire.
There is insufficient evidence to assess with any degree of accuracy the annual revenues received by the knights of the shire from their landed estates, especially given that the 1412 taxation returns for Worcestershire no longer survive. However, it is clear that there were some MPs whose income from land in the west midlands as a whole was substantial, perhaps exceeding £100 a year, the most notable in this respect being Ralph Arderne, Sir William Beauchamp, Sir Nicholas Lilling, Sir John Phelip and the Staffords (Ralph and Humphrey). All of these held extensive properties outside Worcestershire too, for the most part in neighbouring shires. Sir John Russell may also be accounted a member of this comparatively wealthy group, although his holdings at the time of his elections were, with the exception of property in London, limited to within the borders of this county. At the other end of the scale were a few MPs, such as Robert Russell I and Thomas Morant, whose incomes from land must have been small, perhaps less than £10 a year. No clear pattern of parliamentary representation relating to wealth and substance may be discerned, although towards the end of the period it would appear that men with only small to middling sized incomes predominated.
No more than six of the 27 MPs had been knighted before they entered the Commons for the first or only time; and although three more, Ralph Arderne, John Blount II and Humphrey Stafford, attained knighthood subsequently at no time in the period did belted knights dominate the representation of the shire. In fact, over the years fewer seats came to be filled by men of this social standing. In the 11 Parliaments assembled between 1386 and 1397 (Sept.) the ratio of knights to others (esquires and lawyers) was 5:6; in the seven of Henry IV’s reign it came to 2:5 and in the ten summoned between 1413 (May) and 1421 (Dec.) it was 1:3. Furthermore, in only five Parliaments—those of 1388 (Feb.), 1390 (Jan. and Nov.), 1413 (May) and 1414 (Apr.)—were both of Worcestershire’s representatives knights. Clearly, the lawyers were a more influential group in the representation of the county: 11 of the 27 (over a third) are known to have belonged to the legal profession, and towards the end of the period they all but monopolized the county’s seats. In the Parliaments for which returns have survived between 1386 and 1413 lawyers occupied no fewer than 12 of the 36 places, a third of the totals, and between 1413 and 1421 (Dec.) they filled 12 out of 20, over half. Two lawyers were returned to the Parliaments of 1391, 1395 and 1414 (Nov.), and, more significantly, to the consecutive assemblies of 1417, 1419, 1420 and 1421 (May). There is no obvious explanation for this trend, although the absence of several members of the knightly class overseas in Henry V’s armies from 1415 onwards may well have been a factor. The lawyers were nearly all men of some standing within their profession, entrusted with important administrative and judicial tasks. For example, Alexander Besford was employed as steward of the western estates of Westminster abbey at the time of his elections in 1388, 1391 and 1395. Others must have been well known for their work on the Worcestershire bench: John Brace served as a j.p. for 16 years, Henry Bruyn for about 30, John Throckmorton for 31, William Wollashull for 34, and John Wood I for over 40. The last named, Wood, was custos rotulorum of the shire, a serjeant-at-law and a member of Middle Temple, while John Weston, an apprentice-at-law, was a member of Lincoln’s Inn and recorder of Coventry at the time of his election in 1420. From the beginning of Henry V’s reign a group of lawyers, headed by Throckmorton, Wood, Brace and Wollashull, virtually took control, at that level, of the administration of justice in Worcestershire.
As many as 22 of the 27 (about three-quarters of the total) were at some stage in their careers appointed to commissions of the peace in Worcestershire, and current members of the bench were chosen to represent the shire in 18 of the 28 Parliaments for which returns have survived. Indeed, the shire elected two j.p.s to the assemblies of 1386, 1388 (Sept.), 1397 (Sept.), 1404 (Oct.), 1419 and 1421 (May). Six shire knights also served as j.p.s in other counties: Sir William Beauchamp and Richard Ruyhale in Gloucestershire, Sir Hugh Cheyne in Shropshire, John Throckmorton and John Weston in Warwickshire, and Sir John Russell in four other places (at a time when he was a member of the King’s Council). All but one of the 27 knights of the shire were named at some time on other royal commissions, set up to deal with aspects of local government, 20 of them gaining experience of such tasks before their first elections to the Commons. Only William Russell is not known to have ever occupied an official post of any kind. Ten MPs discharged the office of escheator of Worcestershire, six doing so before their first Parliaments, and two of them were even sent to the Lower House while they were so employed: Thomas Throckmorton in 1402 and Sir John Beauchamp in 1414. The shrievalty of Worcestershire belonged to the Beauchamp earls of Warwick by hereditary right and only during the period when their estates were forfeit (July 1397 to February 1400), and while Earl Richard was still a minor (May 1401 to February 1403) was this office in the Crown’s grant. In those years four sometime knights of the shire—Robert Russell I, John Brace, Sir William Beauchamp and Thomas Hodyngton—were appointed as sheriffs. Sir Nicholas Killing occupied the shrievalty of Northamptonshire and Sir William Beauchamp that of Gloucestershire, both of them contravening the statute which prohibited the election of sheriffs to Parliament by sitting for Worcestershire during their terms of office, the former shortly before our period, in 1383 (Oct.), and the latter in 1414 (Apr.). Five shire knights took on the post of alnager of Worcestershire, two of them being returned while in service: John Brace in 1402, and John Wood I in 1414 and 1421. All but four of the 27 had been given responsibility for some aspect of local administration before they were successful at the hustings.
For the majority of the MPs there is no definite evidence as to their ages at the time they first appeared in the Commons, but it looks very much as if they were by then in their thirties or forties and already well started in their careers. The youngest shire knight was undoubtedly Sir John Beauchamp, who was only 24 when first elected in 1401 and 27 at his second return in 1404, and it is clear that he owed these early elections to the prestige of his name and to his kinship with Thomas, earl of Warwick, his former guardian. By far the most influential family in the area was that of Beauchamp, headed by Earl Thomas (d.1401) and his son Richard (d.1439). Both these magnates took a prominent part in national affairs, the former as a strong opponent of policies of Richard II (notably as one of the Lords Appellant of 1388), and the latter as a friend to Henry V, the governor of Henry VI, and an outstanding military commander. A very high proportion of the knights of the shire for Worcestershire (no fewer than 21 of the 27) are known to have been closely connected with one or other of the two earls. Thus, among Earl Thomas’s retainers were ranked Sir Nicholas Lilling, his most trusted councillor and sometime chief steward, William Spernore, an esquire of his household, Henry Bruyn (steward of his estates in Worcestershire and member of his council) and Alexander Besford (one of his advisors in legal matters). Even though the names of comparatively few members of Warwick’s household and retinue are known from the estate papers which survive, it is certain that at least one man from the Beauchamp affinity was returned for Worcestershire to every Parliament meeting between 1385 and 1397 (Jan.); and that in the assemblies of 1386, 1388 (Sept.), 1391 and 1393 both shire knights belonged to this circle. Especially useful to Earl Thomas must have been the presence of his councillor, Lilling, in the Lower House in ten of the Parliaments assembled between 1381 and 1393, notably in the case of the Merciless Parliament, in which the Lords Appellant needed the Commons’ support to put through their programme for the removal of Richard II’s favourites. It is perhaps in the context of the King’s desire for revenge against Warwick that Lilling’s imprisonment during his last Parliament, that of 1393, should be viewed, especially as the man who launched the attack was Richard’s master of the horse, Sir John Russell, a former retainer of Earl Thomas who had chosen in 1387 to leave his service in order to become a knight of the King’s chamber. Significantly, after Warwick’s arrest in July 1397 it was Russell who was elected to represent Worcestershire in the Parliament called to try him and his fellow Appellants for treason. There can be little doubt that the King welcomed Russell’s presence in the Commons, especially as Sir John was by this time a prominent member of his Council. While there is no evidence that the Crown actively interfered on that occasion with the elections in Worcestershire, it should be noted that the sheriff was, for once, a royal nominee (appointed directly after Warwick had been seized), and that Russell had not been chosen as a Member since 1379. He was accompanied to Westminster and Shrewsbury by Richard Ruyhale, a lawyer who, once retained by Warwick as a counsellor, had recently strengthened his connexions with Richard II’s court and also, significantly, with Thomas, Lord Despenser, one of the eight counter-appellants employed by Richard in this Parliament to secure the condemnation of Warwick and his fellows.
After Earl Thomas’s release in 1399, Worcestershire returned to the assembly which deposed Richard II and acclaimed Henry of Bolingbroke as King the earl’s esquire, William Spernore, along with John Blount II, whose brother Sir Walter* was a staunch supporter of the house of Lancaster. To the second Parliament of Henry’s reign (1401) was elected the earl’s former ward and distant kinsman, the young Sir John Beauchamp. However, accompanying him was Ralph Stafford, a retainer and kinsman of Edmund, earl of Stafford, and it may be conjectured that Warwick’s illness (he was close to death) and withdrawal from participation in national affairs had left more room for followers of other magnates to secure election. Significantly, Ralph Stafford had not been elected since 1384, 17 years before, even though his position as a substantial landowner in the area would seem to have warranted a prominent place in the local community, and it was only now, when the earldom of Stafford was no longer troubled by minorities, that he was returned. But the Stafford interest, if such there was, proved short-lived. To the Parliament of 1402, which met during the minority of Earl Richard of Warwick, Worcestershire returned Thomas Throckmorton, a former retainer of Earl Thomas and possibly already ensconced as constable of the Beauchamp castle of Elmley, together with John Brace, a lawyer once in Earl Thomas’s employ and shortly to become (if he was not already) a retainer of that earl’s brother William, Lord Beauchamp of Abergavenny. Between 1404 and 1421 (Dec.) no fewer than 14 men closely associated with the new earl of Warwick were elected for the shire, and they filled 24 out of a possible 28 seats. This group was composed of the earl’s distant kinsmen—Sir John Beauchamp of Holt and Sir William Beauchamp of Powick; his retainers (three esquires who all served under him in France) Ralph Arderne, William Russell and Humphrey Stafford; and his advisors—John Brace, Henry Bruyn, Thomas Hodyngton, Thomas Morant, John Throckmorton, John Washbourne, John Weston, William Wollashull and John Wood I. Of these Throckmorton was the most important, for he served Earl Richard and his family throughout his entire career, as an attorney, feoffee, councillor and executor, receiving from him substantial annuities and holding by his grant the Warwick chamberlainship of the Exchequer. There can be little doubt that in all of his six Parliaments between 1414 and 1430 Throckmorton was active in the Commons in the interests of the Beauchamps. He, Wood, Weston, Morant and Wollashull, with the addition of John Vampage†, who sat in 1422 and was also legal counsel to the earl, formed a closely knit group which dominated the representation of Worcestershire from 1414 onwards and particularly between 1417 and 1422. In ten of the 14 Parliaments for which returns have survived from 1404 to 1421 (Dec.) both Members for Worcestershire belonged to the Beauchamp affinity. Thereafter, the Beauchamp interest remained strong until Earl Richard’s death in 1439, known members of his circle occupying at least 14 out of the 20 available seats.
In considering the influence of the earls of Warwick over the parliamentary representation of Worcestershire, it is important to recall that they held the shrievalty in fee and were therefore responsible for conducting all the elections of the period (with the exception of those for the Parliaments summoned to meet in September 1397 and 1402). No doubt much of the routine work and the actual conduct of elections was left to the deputy sheriffs, who were nominees of the earls. Only one knight of the shire (John Washbourne) is known to have served as deputy sheriff to Earl Thomas, but the list is incomplete. Seven others (Ralph Arderne, Humphrey Stafford, John Weston, William Wollashull, John Wood I and Sir John Beauchamp) were appointed to the office by Earl Richard, all of them being already connected with him in other ways. The electoral indentures were nearly always drawn up in the name of the earl, and on one occasion, in 1420, this concealed the fact that the then deputy sheriff, John Weston, had virtually returned himself. Another interesting feature of the Worcestershire elections was the presence there of a hard core of esquires and lawyers who had ties with Earl Richard; and such names as Arderne, Throckmorton, Wood, Wollashull and Washbourne appear frequently as witnesses to the electoral indentures. Although there is no direct evidence of interference in the choice of Members by the powerful earl, yet it cannot be without significance that among the comparatively small group of men (never more than 26 and usually much fewer) of sufficient standing to be mentioned as witnesses to the indentures, there were generally two or more who were closely attached to him.
The Warwick interest clearly had no equal, but there were some links between the knights of the shire and other magnates, both temporal and ecclesiastical, not lacking in significance. It is possible that Richard Thurgrim’s connexions with Bishop Wakefield of Worcester, from whom he received an annuity and for whom he was to act as an executor, helped him to succeed as a candidate in 1394. Sir Hugh Cheyne was a retainer of the earls of March, and although the earldom was suffering from a minority at the time of his elections for Worcestershire in 1388 and 1390, he may still have represented the family’s interests when matters affecting them were raised in the Commons. Sir William Beauchamp was closely associated with Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, whom he served as chamberlain and followed on his French campaigns; and it is possible that his enjoyment of ready access to the counsels of the King’s brother played some part in securing his return to three of the Parliaments summoned by Henry V.
There is no clear proof of interference in the elections for Worcestershire on the part of the Crown, although, as has been suggested, suspicious circumstances surrounded those to the Parliament of 1397 (Sept.). Also of interest is the election to Henry V’s first Parliament of Sir John Phelip, a man who had entered Worcestershire society through marriage. Phelip, a nephew of the influential Sir Thomas Erpingham, had long served as a retainer of Henry of Monmouth, becoming one of his intimate friends. There were clear advantages for both the gentry of the shire and the new King himself for Sir John to have a seat in the Commons; the former might hope that as a knight of the royal chamber he could obtain speedy redress for their grievances, while Henry could look to him to support government policy should controversy arise.