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


1386William Bettenham
 Geoffrey Chaucer
1388 (Feb.)Sir Thomas Fogg
 James Peckham
1388 (Sept.)William Bettenham
 James Peckham
1390 (Jan.)Sir Arnold Savage I
 John Cobham
1390 (Nov.)Sir Arnold Savage I
 Sir Thomas Cobham
1391Sir Arnold Savage I
 Nicholas Potyn
1393Sir William Burcester
 Nicholas Potyn
1394Sir William Pecche
 John Cobham
1395Sir Nicholas Haute
 Thomas Brockhill
1397 (Jan.)Thomas Brockhill
 Nicholas Potyn
1397 (Sept.)Sir William Pecche
 John Cobham
1399John Freningham
 Thomas Brockhill
1401Sir Arnold Savage I
 Robert Clifford
1402Sir Arnold Savage I
 Thomas Brockhill
1404 (Jan.)Sir Arnold Savage I
 Sir Reynold Braybrooke
1404 (Oct.)Sir Thomas Clinton
 Henry Horne
1406Richard Clitheroe I
 Robert Clifford
1407Richard Clitheroe I
 John Darell
1411Reynold Pympe
 William Nutbeam
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)John Darell
 John Butler I
1414 (Apr.)John Darell
 Sir Thomas Clinton
1414 (Nov.)Sir Arnold Savage II
 Robert Clifford
1416 (Mar.)William Cheyne
 John Wilcotes
1416 (Oct.)
1417John Darell
 Roger Rye
1419William Haute
 Edward Guildford
1420William Rickhill
 Thomas Town
1421 (May)
1421 (Dec.)Thomas Ellis
 Roger Honyton

Main Article

Returns for Kent are extant for 27 of the 32 Parliaments of the period, those for 1410, 1413 (Feb.), 1415, 1416 (Oct.) and 1421 (May) now being lost. Fifteen of the 32 knights of the shire there recorded apparently represented this constituency just once. However, the more extensive parliamentary service of the remainder somewhat redressed the balance, so that the average number of times each shire knight was elected by Kent came to two. Certain of them could boast several appearances: Thomas Brockhill and Sir Arnold Savage I were both elected six times, John Darell at least seven, and Sir Thomas Fogg eight. The record of Fogg’s repeated success at the hustings was equalled by John Cobham, but then three of Cobham’s returns were as knight of the shire for Surrey, and two for Sussex. None surpassed John Wilcotes, but only one of his 12 elections to Parliament was for Kent; all the rest were for Oxfordshire. Besides Cobham and Wilcotes, two other knights of the shire had also sat for different constituencies on earlier occasions in their careers: Robert Clifford for Northumberland, and Sir Thomas Clinton for Warwickshire. If all this additional parliamentary service is taken into account, then the average number of Parliaments per Member rises to three.

There was nothing very remarkable about the length of service of any of this group of shire knights, the most notable in this respect being Darell, whose seven Parliaments were spread over 22 years (1407-29) and Brockhill, whose six covered a score (1382-1402). On the other hand, Savage’s six Parliaments were more compressed into 14 years (1390-1404), and Fogg’s eight into 12 (1376-88); and it may well be the case that such comparatively concentrated service proved to be of greater advantage in providing continuity in the representation of the shire. Kent produced one outstanding parliamentarian of the period, in the person of Sir Arnold Savage I, who was twice elected Speaker—in 1401 and 1404 (Jan.). To judge not only by the record of his speeches as given in the Parliament rolls and of verbal exchanges with Henry IV as reported in a newsletter sent while the 1404 Parliament was in session, but also by the praise bestowed on him by the St. Albans chronicler, Thomas Walsingham, he was an accomplished orator, well able to express the Commons’ highly critical views on the administration with verve and confidence, yet in a way tactful enough not to put in jeopardy his place on the King’s Council. The county electorate seemingly set some store by the employment of men already tried and tested as parliamentary representatives. To a third (nine) of the 27 Parliaments for which returns survive, Kent elected two men who already had some experience of the workings of the Commons; and when to 13 others it sent an apparent novice, his companion was a tried past Member. Nevertheless, almost certainly in one Parliament (that of 1386) and quite likely in four more (1411, 1419, 1420 and December 1421) the shire was represented entirely by newcomers. (The gaps in the returns make it impossible for us to be sure that this was in fact always the case.) Nine times in the period the Kent electorate chose one of its representatives from the Parliament immediately preceding to act on its behalf again. Indeed, Sir Arnold Savage I was elected to three Parliaments running from 1390 (Jan.) to 1391 inclusive, and then to another three consecutively from 1401 to 1404 (Jan.). Others considered worthy of re-election were James Peckham (September 1388), Nicholas Potyn (1393), Thomas Brockhill (January 1397), Richard Clitheroe I (1407) and John Darell (April 1414). So, it would seem that a certain continuity in representation was encouraged, although, so far as is known, Kent never re-elected both its Members.

A majority of the knights of the shire came from local families. Certainly, 22 of them acquired some, if not all, of their lands in the county by a process of inheritance; and, indeed, quite a few were descendants of men who had sat for Kent on earlier occasions in the 14th century. For instance, John Freningham, Edward Guildford, Reynold Pympe and Sir Arnold Savage I were all sons of former MPs. Then, too, a close kinship existed between various of the parliamentary representatives of our period: Sir Nicholas and William Haute were father and son, as were the two Sir Arnold Savages; Sir Thomas and John Cobham were brothers; John Freningham and Reynold Pympe were brothers-in-law; and William Cheyne was the brother-in-law of John Wilcotes (with whom he was returned in 1416) and father-in-law of Thomas Town. But no one single family dominated the representation of the shire; rather, the seats seem to have been shared out quite equably among members of the landowning gentry. Where Kent was perhaps somewhat out of the ordinary was in the large number of comparative newcomers to the region who were chosen to be shire knights. Sir Thomas Clinton, Sir William Pecche and William Rickhill, sons respectively of a Warwickshire baron, a wealthy London merchant, and a prominent judge said to be of Irish extraction, all came to Kent after inheriting property in the county in which their fathers had invested. More significantly, as many as nine of Kent’s representatives were the first members of their families ever to settle in the county. Geoffrey Chaucer, the poet, came from no further away than London, where, the son of a vintner, he had spent long periods of his official career; but others came from more distant parts of the country, such as Devon (Roger Honyton), Oxfordshire (Sir William Burcester and John Wilcotes), Bedfordshire (Sir Reynold Braybrooke), Lancashire (Sir Thomas Fogg and Richard Clitheroe I), Yorkshire (John Darell) and Northumberland (Robert Clifford). It may also be noted here that two of the four northerners, Clitheroe and Darell, formed round themselves a distinct social circle which included Geoffrey Lowther from Cumberland, whose first known election to Parliament for Kent was to take place in 1422. The community of the shire seemed willing to accept new blood, especially in Henry IV’s reign; most of these nine newcomers were sent to the Commons within a very few years of their arrival in the south-east. Altogether they occupied 15 of the 54 seats available, all but three of these being in Parliaments summoned after 1399; and on occasion they even monopolized the shire’s representation, as in 1406 and 1407. But none of them were, strictly speaking, ‘outsiders’: with the exception of Wilcotes they had all begun to live in Kent before their earliest elections to Parliament for the county, having all but one (Chaucer) acquired substantial landed holdings there either through marriage to wealthy widows (as in the cases of Burcester, Braybrooke and Wilcotes) or by purchase on a large scale (like Clitheroe and Darell).

The assessments made in Kent in 1412 for the parliamentary subsidy based on the annual value of landed holdings, if used alongside other evidence, can provide us with a comparative standard by which to categorize the shire knights in terms of wealth. They fell roughly into three groups: those (about six in number) whose incomes were relatively small—below £40 a year; the majority (18 or so) who received between £40 and £70 annually; and the remaining eight whose annual incomes from land exceeded £120. This last group included the two Savages (with more than £130 each), Clitheroe (with over £140) and Sir Nicholas Haute (with at least £155). Furthermore, no fewer than 14 of the shire knights also held estates in other counties, generally situated elsewhere in southeast England, but in some instances a considerable distance away, as in the Midlands (Clinton and John Cobham) and far to the north (Clitheroe and Clifford). Braybrooke, perhaps the wealthiest of them all, enjoyed possession of his wife’s inherited estates and dower in seven counties all told, besides his own manors in Northamptonshire. Although no particularly distinctive pattern of representation emerges if the shire knights are judged in terms of wealth, it may be remarked that the Members of the Parliaments of 1386 (Bettenham and Chaucer) and December 1421 (Ellis and Honyton), all four apparently newcomers to the Commons, came from the least affluent group.

Certain of the shire knights moved in exalted social circles, a few being even closely related to members of the parliamentary peerage. For instance, Sir Thomas Clinton was uncle to William, 4th Lord Clinton, who received a personal summons to attend those Parliaments of 1404 and 1414 to which Sir Thomas secured election; and the Cobham brothers, grandsons of Stephen, Lord Cobham (d.1332/3), were kinsmen of John, 3rd Lord Cobham of Cobham, a prominent contemporary member of the Lords. Sir Reynold Braybrooke (elected in 1404), who married this Lord Cobham’s grand daughter and heir, was nephew to the then bishop of London, Robert Braybrooke; and Robert Clifford’s brother, Richard, was successively bishop of Worcester and London in the course of Robert’s parliamentary career for Kent. The younger Sir Arnold Savage married a daughter of Roger, Lord Scales, and Sir William Burcester married the widow of the last Lord Burghersh. Yet no more than nine of Kent’s representatives—less than a third—were belted knights; 23 never took up knighthood. And not only were the knights by rank outnumbered by esquires throughout the period, but also, as time went on, so did their share in the county’s representation diminish: in Richard II’s reign (11 Parliaments) the ratio of knights to esquires was 9:13; in Henry IV’s (eight Parliaments) 5:11 and in Henry V’s (eight Parliaments) 1:7. Only twice did it happen that two knights proper were elected together (in November 1390 and January 1404), and on as many as 13 occasions neither man returned was of this rank. All of the belted knights and four of the esquires are known to have spent some part of their careers on military service overseas: indeed, Braybrooke and Clinton, and probably also Sir Nicholas Haute, perished while so employed. Most outstanding in this respect were Sir Thomas Fogg, whose success as a soldier of fortune in France and Spain, where he served primarily under the dukes of Brittany and Lancaster, had led to his appointment to the prestigious post of captain of Calais at the end of Edward III’s reign; and Richard Clitheroe I, who proved himself so able a naval commander as to be appointed in 1406 as admiral of the fleet of the south and west, by nomination of the merchants in the Parliament in which he was then sitting. Of the 23 esquires, certainly one (Roger Rye) and possibly three more (William Bettenham, John Darell and Thomas Ellis) had received some training in the law, but, evidently, members of the legal profession played a comparatively minor role in the representation of the shire, for between them these four occupied only eight of the available seats. Nicholas Potyn, after starting his career in trade as a fuller and draper of London, never entirely relinquished his mercantile interests, even though by the time of his earliest election for Kent in 1391 he had been absorbed into the local squirearchy.

Thirty of the 32 shire knights received appointments to royal commissions in the course of their careers, most of them (26) being so appointed at least once before their first return to Parliament for Kent. The exceptions were the younger Sir Arnold Savage and Thomas Town, whose omission is probably accounted for by their employment in a military capacity overseas and their early deaths. Twenty served as j.p.s in the county, nine of them securing nomination before ever sitting in the Commons. For 14 of the Parliaments for which returns are extant—that is, about half—the Kent electors chose current members of the local bench to be their representatives, although only in January 1404 and in 1417 were both knights of the shire qualified in this way. Three Members were also appointed as j.p.s in other counties.1 As many as 19 served at least one term as sheriff of Kent (indeed, John Darell was appointed to the shrievalty three times all told), but in most cases (12) nomination to this important local office only came after their parliamentary service had begun. Two shire knights acted as sheriffs elsewhere.2 The statute which prohibited the election to Parliament of anyone occupying a shrievalty was twice contravened in our period, although on neither occasion did the men concerned actually preside at the hustings: Clifford and Darell were each appointed as sheriff of Kent during the week preceding the assembly of the Parliaments of 1414 (Nov.) and 1417, to which, respectively, they had already been elected. The escheatorship of the county was occupied by six of our Members, one of whom (Darell) was actually in office when returned to Parliament (in April 1414).3 It is of interest to note that both Kentish Members of the Commons in 1411 were appointed to important local offices nine days before the session was due to end: William Nutbeam was made sheriff, and his companion, Reynold Pympe, escheator.

On a number of occasions the Kent electorate returned men who might be regarded as crown servants, although there is nothing to indicate that the government ever interfered in elections to obtain a politically satisfactory outcome. Four of the shire knights returned between 1386 and 1397 (Sept.) received retaining fees from Richard II. Geoffrey Chaucer, elected for the only time in 1386, had spent nearly 30 years as an esquire in one or other of the royal households, including those of Edward III and the present King; and, when returned, he was not only in receipt of Exchequer annuities amounting to 40 marks, but also currently discharging the post of controller of wool customs in London, as he had been doing for over 12 years. A newcomer to Kent, where he possessed no property worthy of notice, it must be assumed that he was elected because of his important connexions at the royal court. To three consecutive Parliaments from 1390 (Jan.) to 1391, Kent returned Sir Arnold Savage I, perhaps already a knight of the King’s chamber (as he certainly was by 1392), who enjoyed an annuity of 40 marks by virtue of a grant made shortly after his second Parliament. In January 1390 he was accompanied to Westminster by John Cobham, a ‘King’s esquire’ destined to serve with the royal armies in Ireland both in 1394 and 1399, and to receive from 1395 a retaining fee of £20, which was doubled just a year later. Cobham was elected again in 1394 and 1397 (Sept.). Sir William Burcester, returned in 1393, was to be described as a ‘King’s knight’ only a short while afterwards. These four royal retainers occupied eight of the 22 seats available. In the Parliament of 1399, which followed the deposition of Richard II, one of the Members for Kent was John Freningham, then taking his place in the Commons after an absence of 18 years. Earlier in his career Freningham had been a retainer of the earls of Stafford and then of King Richard himself, but undoubtedly he was considered sympathetic to the new regime, for only a few weeks before the Parliament assembled he had been appointed as joint keeper of the temporalities of the see of Canterbury by nomination of Henry of Bolingbroke, and during the session, after Henry’s coronation, he was to be made a member of the new King’s Council, being one of just three or four shire knights to be so distinguished at that time. Sir Arnold Savage I, elected to the three succeeding Parliaments, was probably already steward of the household of the prince of Wales when the Commons assembled in 1401, and perhaps by the time of his re-election in 1402—certainly by that of 1404—he, too, had been given a place on Henry IV’s council, being all the while in receipt of royal annuities worth £50 or more. The knowledge that Savage could gain access to the King may well have been a decisive factor in his repeated elections. His companion in 1401, one of the northerners, Robert Clifford, who had only recently settled in Kent, could also boast connexions within the government, for his brother Bishop Clifford was at that time keeper of the privy seal. On his second appearance, in 1406, Clifford was joined by Richard Clitheroe I, an enterprising individual from Lancashire who, after making his fortune from the several offices granted him by Richard II, had offered his considerable skills as a victualler of armies and garrisons to Henry IV, receiving a large retaining fee of £80 p.a. as a consequence. When elected in 1406 Clitheroe was acting as deputy treasurer of Calais under Thomas Neville, Lord Furnival, with whom John Darell, his friend, fellow northerner and future colleague in the Parliament of 1407, was also closely connected, for Darell had recently served Furnival as his under treasurer at the Exchequer. It is perhaps relevant to mention here that both Clitheroe and Darell had earlier acted as feoffees on behalf of Furnival’s brother, Ralph, earl of Westmorland, in connexion with settlements on his countess, Joan Beaufort, the King’s half-sister. Altogether, this group of five shire knights, connected in various ways with Henry IV’s government, occupied nine of the 16 available seats during his reign. By contrast, under Henry V it apparently only happened once that a royal retainer was elected: in March 1416, when the choice fell on John Wilcotes, the receiver-general of the duchy of Cornwall. However, it was not unusual for the shire to elect men associated in some way with the King’s youngest brother, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, a substantial landowner in the region, who, after the death of the earl of Arundel in October 1415, took his place as warden of the Cinque Ports. Sir Thomas Clinton (April 1414), William Haute (1419), and William Rickhill and Thomas Town (both 1420), all served under Gloucester in one or other of the French campaigns of 1415 and 1417. It should be noted, too, that in 1422, to the first Parliament to meet after Henry V’s death, and while the question of Gloucester’s claim to a regency was in the balance, Kent was to be represented by two men connected with the duke: Reynold Pympe, whose son had recently accompanied him to France, and Geoffrey Lowther, his lieutenant warden of the Cinque Ports.

Save for those connected with Gloucester, only one shire knight is known to have been particularly closely associated with any of the nine successive wardens of the Cinque Ports of our period. Nicholas Potyn’s first two elections to Parliament, in 1391 and 1393, took place during the wardenship of John, Lord Devereux, then also steward of the King’s household, for whom he appeared both as feoffee and, later, as executor. Not surprisingly, several MPs were linked in various ways with members of the nobility, although what effect, if any, such contacts had in the way of influencing their successful entry to the Lower House is now impossible to tell. For instance, Chaucer received an annuity from John of Gaunt, in whose household were ensconced both his wife and sister-in-law (the latter as the duke’s mistress), while Fogg was Lancaster’s retainer with a handsome fee of 100 marks a year, yet on the occasions that Chaucer and Fogg were elected in our period (in 1386 and February 1388, respectively) the duke was absent in Spain. Quite a few of our shire knights were on amicable terms with John, Lord Cobham, an important landowner in the shire who became a prominent member of the parliamentary commission which took over the government in the Wonderful Parliament of 1386, and was subsequently amenable to the Lords Appellant. It may, therefore, be significant that James Peckham, afterwards a trustee of Cobham’s estates, secured election to both Parliaments of 1388, and that in four of the Parliaments of the 1390s Kent was represented by one or other of the brothers Sir Thomas and John Cobham, the baron’s kinsmen. However, the political alignment of these men was by no means clear cut; for instance, John Cobham remained a ‘King’s esquire’ even after he had witnessed his noble relation’s banishment and forfeiture for treason by judgement of the Parliament of 1397 (Sept.). The archbishops of Canterbury were by far the largest landowners in the region and, as might be expected, a number of the shire knights were their tenants or even served as officers on their estates. For example, Sir Nicholas Haute (1395) was engaged a year after his only appearance in the Commons as Archbishop Arundel’s reeve of Reculver. No fewer than four others are known to have been closely connected with Arundel’s successor, Henry Chichele: Clifford (November 1414) was a feoffee of property with which Chichele planned to endow All Souls college, Oxford; Darell (1417) was steward of the archbishop’s estates and—if not already, then soon to become—husband of his niece; Roger Rye (also 1417) was his bailiff of Wingham and, subsequently, steward of the archiepiscopal liberty; and Roger Honyton (December 1421), who had been in Arundel’s employment as constable, successively, of the castles of Saltwood and Queenborough, was a trustee of Chichele’s own manorial holdings.

No hint of influence from magnates, lay or ecclesiastical, is to be found in the electoral indentures as returned into Chancery along with the writs of summons. Following the elections, known to have been held either at Rochester (as for the Parliaments of 1407, November 1414, 1417, 1419 and 1420), or at Canterbury (as for those of 1411, March 1416 and December 1421), these documents were drawn up between the sheriff on the one part and a dozen or so named persons on the other. The number of men so recorded as attesting elections varied: in 1419 only eight were listed and in 1416 fifteen, but in any case they were not the only people attending, for it was expressly stated on at least one indenture that others were present in the county court. On one occasion—in the autumn of 1414—the list of those party to the electoral indenture was headed by the four coroners of the shire, but this did not happen again in our period.

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. Clifford in Northumb., John Cobham in Surr. and Wilcotes in Oxon.
  • 2. Clifford in Northumb., and Wilcotes in Glos. and in Oxon and Berks.
  • 3. Wilcotes served as escheator in Oxon. and Berks.