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


1386Sir Adam Francis
 William Swanland
1388 (Feb.)Sir Adam Francis
 William Swanland
1388 (Sept.)William Barnville
 Godfrey atte Perry
1390 (Jan.)John Shorditch I
 Thomas Coningsby
1390 (Nov.)John Shorditch I
 Sir Adam Francis
1391Thomas Bray II
 William Norton I
1393William Tamworth
 Thomas Maidstone
1394John Shorditch II
 James Ormesby
1395John Shorditch II
 Thomas Coningsby
1397 (Jan.)Thomas Goodlake
 Thomas Maidstone
1397 (Sept.)Sir Adam Francis
 Sir John Wroth
1399John Durham
 Thomas Maidstone
1401William Loveney
 Sir John Wroth
1402James Northampton
 Thomas Coningsby
1404 (Jan.)William Wroth
 Sir John Wroth
1404 (Oct.)Sir Roger Strange
 William Powe
1406Henry Somer
 Sir John Wroth 1
1407Henry Somer
 William Loveney 2
1411Sir Adam Francis
 Sir Roger Strange
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)William Loveney
 Richard Wyot
1414 (Apr.)Simon Camp
 Walter Green II
1414 (Nov.)Thomas Charlton
 John Walden
1415Simon Camp
 Thomas Coningsby
1416 (Mar.)
1416 (Oct.)
1417Henry Somer
 Walter Gawtron
1419Thomas Frowyk
 Thomas Coningsby
1420Sir John Boys
 Walter Green II
1421 (May)Henry Somer
 (Sir) Thomas Charlton
1421 (Dec.)Richard Maidstone
 Edmund Bibbesworth

Main Article

Returns for the county of Middlesex to the Parliaments of 1410, 1413 (Feb.) and 1416 (both Mar. and Oct.) have been lost, leaving us with the names of Members in 28 of the 32 Parliaments considered here. Nor can we discover the name of the man elected to replace Sir John Wroth, who fell ill almost immediately after being returned in 1406 and was excused from his duties as a shire knight. On the evidence now available, 31 men are known to have sat for Middlesex over the period 1386 to 1421, of whom 23 had no previous parliamentary experience. On seven occasions the county court appears to have chosen two novices, although the gaps in the returns in the second half of our period make it impossible to be certain on this point. It seems, however, that one novice and one experienced Member sat together in nine Parliaments, and that the county was represented by two men who had been returned before on at least 12 occasions. By far the greatest concentration of parliamentary experience occurs at the very beginning of our period. Between 1386 and 1390 only one novice was returned, and there were four cases of representative continuity, both members being re-elected in February 1388. Only two instances of re-election are known to have taken place after 1390: that is to the Parliaments of 1395 and 1407. Novices were, moreover, chosen with far greater frequency and fewer Members sat more than once or twice during the middle years of this period.

Allowing for the limitations of the evidence, 12 of the men whose careers are under review appear to have been returned to only one Parliament by the electors of Middlesex, although Sir John Boys later sat once for Hampshire and Richard Wyot represented Buckinghamshire on seven occasions between April 1414 and 1426. Walter Gawtron, the draper, had already been three times MP for London and was again to be returned there in 1427 and 1429. Yet surprisingly in view of the close connexion between Middlesex and the City—not least of these being the purchase of extensive country estates by the leading merchants of the day—Gawtron was the only man to sit for both London and the shire in our period. It would be tempting to infer from this that the electors of Middlesex were hostile towards the parvenu mercantile class, or were at least unwilling to accept its members fully into their ranks, but, as we shall see, many of their chosen representatives came from city families, albeit at a distance of one or two generations. None of the more experienced shire knights seem to have been returned elsewhere, nor could any boast a truly impressive record of parliamentary service of the sort to attract attention in most other counties at this time. Three Members sat in three Parliaments, one in four, and four were elected to five. John Shorditch I represented Middlesex seven times over 27 years (1363-90); Sir Adam Francis was returned to eight Parliaments between 1380 and 1411; and although he only sat twice during the period under review, Walter Green II could claim both the longest term of service (spread over the years 1414-50) and the greatest number of appearances (nine in all). None of them was ever made Speaker of the Commons. Each shire knight sat for Middlesex in an average of roughly three Parliaments, and even if the few instances of election elsewhere are taken into consideration, this figure accounts for only a marginal difference.

The presence of the Court at Westminster and the close links between Middlesex and the City are both reflected in the parliamentary representation of the county. So too is the very obvious absence of one dominant noble or ecclesiastical ‘connexion’, which left the electors free to choose a number of local men who were not sufficiently bound by the obligations of patronage to constitute a distinct group or faction. Only five knights by rank were returned during our period, of whom all but one (Thomas Charlton) had been knighted well before their first election. Two knights sat together in the Parliaments of September 1397 and 1411, but there can be little doubt that the representation of Middlesex was dominated by the 16 or more wealthy esquires who were elected with increasing regularity from 1399 onwards. The remaining shire knights appear to have been local gentlemen and lesser landowners of fairly modest means, although both Walter Gawtron (a draper) and William Powe (a former bottle maker of London) came respectively from the merchant and artisan class.

Taken as a whole, the Middlesex shire knights came to Parliament with comparatively little experience of local government. John Walden had twice been a sheriff (of the joint bailiwicks of Essex and Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire) before being returned, while Richard Wyot had already served one of his three terms as sheriff of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire. William Wroth actually held office in Somerset and Dorset at the time of his election in 1404, which went against the spirit of the statute of 1372 forbidding the return of sheriffs and, indeed, contravened the writ of summons. Sir Adam Francis, Sir John Boys and William Loveney became sheriffs after they had first sat in Parliament, although because of the exceptional circumstances obtaining in the county neither they nor any of the other shire knights considered here were ever called upon to fill the office of sheriff or escheator of Middlesex. During our period the former post was held jointly by one alderman of London and one citizen of lesser rank, while the latter went automatically to the mayor of London. William Loveney became escheator of Essex and Hertfordshire towards the end of his parliamentary career, but he alone is known to have served thus in other counties.

Of the 13 Members of Parliament who at various times sat on the Middlesex bench, only two (John Walden and Thomas Frowyk) entered the Commons for the first time when actually in office as j.p.s. A further 11, however, held commissions of the peace at some point during their parliamentary careers, and Richard Wyot was returned for the county between two long periods on the bench in Buckinghamshire. In at least 13 of the Parliaments under review one of the Middlesex shire knights was currently serving as a j.p. in the county, and in four Parliaments (1388 (Feb.), 1390 (Nov.), 1407 and 1421 (May)) both were active in this capacity. John Walden and Henry Somer also officiated in Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, but, apart from Wyot, none of their other colleagues served outside Middlesex. Conversely, all but three of our men gained some modest experience of ad hoc royal commissions, about a third having already sat in the Commons before their first appointment. Whereas Walter Green and Henry Somer are particularly outstanding for their service in this respect, most of their colleagues sat on less than five commissions throughout their entire lives, and a significant proportion appear to have been called upon only once or twice. Yet several shire knights were involved in other aspects of local administration, most notably as either collectors, assessors or controllers or royal taxation, although again the majority did not become active until they had already attended Parliament. Sir John Wroth spent a brief period as coroner of Wiltshire before entering the Commons, and William Norton I was in office as coroner of Middlesex when returned in 1391. Both Godfrey atte Perry and William Loveney were surveyors of pontage, the former at Staines and the latter at Kingston-upon-Thames. The draper, Walter Gawtron, whose financial expertise must have been considerable, had served as a customs officer in the port of London when first returned for Middlesex. So too had William Loveney (who was still in office when elected) and Henry Somer, sometime collector of customs at Southampton and alnager of Hampshire as well. During the course of the distinguished administrative career which preceeded his one return to Parliament, John Walden had also been a collector at Southampton. Walter Green II, on the other hand, became a customs official in both London and Ipswich after the start of his long term of parliamentary service; and the controllership of the London wool subsidy similarly went to Sir John Wroth at the very end of his life.

Most of the Middlesex shire knights had dealings with the royal court or individual courtiers at some time or another, if only because the government was centred upon Westminster and therefore assumed a particular importance in the lives of neighbouring landowners. Ten of the men considered here were either King’s esquires or crown servants for part, if not all, of their careers, the most notable being John Walden, a favourite of Richard II (who made his brother, Roger, archbishop of Canterbury), and the four administrators, Simon Camp, William Loveney, Richard Maidstone and Henry Somer, each of whom obtained advancement during the reign of Henry IV. Paradoxically, however, neither Walden nor his fellow courtier, Sir Roger Strange, sat in Parliament until after the death of their royal master, King Richard; and John Durham did not enter the service of the Crown until his days as a shire knight were over. In all, therefore, only seven of the Middlesex MPs returned during our period were currently employed at Court or by the government, although between them they sat in at least 12 of the Parliaments under review. In 1393 and 1407 both Members belonged to the King’s household, and on the second occasion they may have owed their election to royal intervention. The Gloucester Parliament of 1407 saw the re-assertion of Henry IV’s authority over a hitherto recalcitrant House of Commons, helped, perhaps, by the presence there of the keeper of his great wardrobe (William Loveney) and a senior exchequer official (Henry Somer). It is also significant that although only one of the representatives elected in January 1397 was then serving at Court (Thomas Goodlake), his colleague in Parliament was a former yeoman of the Household still in receipt of a royal annuity (Thomas Maidstone). That Richard II brought some pressure to bear upon the electors of Middlesex is more than possible, for he was at this time attempting to recover absolute control of the government, and saw Parliament as a means of achieving this end. Yet there is no evidence of an outsider without local connexions being imposed upon the county by either King Richard or the first two Lancastrian monarchs. Indeed, although it is harder to define, and consequently more difficult to assess, the most important single influence upon the parliamentary representation of Middlesex was not the Court but the City of London.

Merchants with fortunes to invest had for years been buying up estates in the home counties, with the result that at least nine (and probably 12) of our shire knights were descended from Londoners. The sons and grandsons of such rich and influential figures as Adam Francis, John of Northampton and John Wroth sat for Middlesex during our period, while the names of Frowyk, Shorditch and Durham likewise reveal the strong links which existed between county families and merchant dynasties. Although he had inherited land in Middlesex from his father, Walter Gawtron was primarily a Londoner and a draper, while William Powe had begun life as a bottle maker in the City. James Ormesby, an esquire with property in Holborn, was appointed to serve as common huntsman of London, a post usually held by local landowners with civic connexions. It is also worth noting that six of the Middlesex MPs, if not more, married the widows of wealthy merchants, most of whom brought with them substantial dowers augmented by property which they had inherited in the City. Lack of evidence makes it impossible to generalize about the ancestry of Members’ wives in general, but we know that at least seven of them were the daughters or grand daughters of prominent members of the civic hierarchy. Furthermore, almost all of our men had business dealings with Londoners, although some, like the hard-pressed William Swanland, were driven to do so by financial necessity rather than choice. Because many of them were active as feoffee-to-uses it is not easy to determine the extent of their holdings in the City: we can, however, be fairly certain that at the most conservative estimate two-thirds (a total of 20) of the shire knights returned in our period owned some property there either through their wives, by purchase, or as part of an inheritance. Mercantile families were absorbed quickly into county society, and because of their wealth and the size of their estates they soon came to dominate it. Yet those Londoners who had only just acquired land and were still active in the City hardly ever attended the Middlesex parliamentary elections, and, so far as we can tell, never put themselves forward as candidates. Indeed, the only merchant elected during the period under review (Walter Gawtron) was himself the son of a Middlesex landowner, and therefore acceptable as a more ‘established’ figure. How far busy merchants with civic duties to perform (Gawtron’s burden was very light in this respect) were themselves prepared to represent a county which they may only have visited a few times each year remains a matter for conjecture, as does the existence of any residual snobbery towards ‘trade’.

Between 1386 and 1421 the one, albeit informal, qualification of owning land in the county was common to all Members. The majority had inherited their estates, adding to them by marriage and occasionally by purchase. The most striking exceptions are the crown servants, John Walden, Henry Somer and William Loveney, the bulk of whose possessions came to them through royal patronage and the shrewd investment of the profits of office. Simon Camp, another administrator, probably acquired his estates in this way, too, but their provenance remains obscure. On the evidence now available, a mere six MPs apparently had no land at all outside Middlesex, while the majority of those with estates elsewhere held them in Essex and Hertfordshire—no less than 13 were landlords in either or both counties. Richard Wyot’s chief interests lay in Buckinghamshire, which he represented in seven Parliaments; he was also one of the six men (of whom the most notable are Sir John and William Wroth and Henry Somer) to hold property in the south-west of England. Three had land in East Anglia, two owned manors or tenements in Northamptonshire, and one inherited a manor in Yorkshire. Such scattered holdings were not, however, typical, although a few shire knights acquired fairly small parcels of land across the Thames in Kent and Surrey. The annual landed income of even the best documented of these rentiers can now only be estimated very roughly.

Given that tax returns and inquisitions post mortem usually provide an incomplete and unrealistically low valuation of revenues from property, it seems that of the 19 MPs for whom any such evidence survives only one, William Tamworth, derived less than £10 a year from his own estates, although as a King’s esquire he could rely on over £15 in annuities paid to him and his wife by the Crown. Five men had minimum incomes of between £20 and £15 a year from land, and the same number were sure of least £50 to £100; a larger group of seven netted £100 to £200 from their estates, but Henry Somer stands out as the richest of all with revenues assessed for taxation purposes at £266 a year. We do not know how much his colleague, William Loveney, made from estates purchased during his administrative career: the sum may well have been almost as impressive.

With no great noble family dominating the county, the electors and shire knights of Middlesex were free to choose their own lords, or, as was generally the case, remain independent of all such ties, save with the Court or the City. Only four MPs were involved in the business of estate administration, and all entered the service of ecclesiastical rather than lay patrons. William Norton I and Godfrey atte Perry were employed as manciples or purveyors by the abbot of Westminster, both men being closely involved in the abbey’s affairs throughout their lives. Walter Green II was steward of the estates of Philip Morgan, bishop of Ely, when the latter died in 1435; and Richard Wyot performed a similar office for Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester. Wyot was also steward of the courts of St. George’s chapel, Eton, but it was doubtless as a committed supporter of the bishop that he sat in all eight of the Parliaments to which he was returned. That of May 1413, which saw the triumph of the Beaufort faction in the Commons, is particularly significant, since he then represented Middlesex for the only time in his career. Alone among the shire knights of our period he was almost certainly a member of the legal profession, although Walter Green II may perhaps have been a lawyer too. Three of the others were related to members of the peerage: Sir Roger Strange was the younger son of Roger, 5th Lord Strange of Knockin, but the latter’s influence was largely confined to Shropshire and carried little weight in Middlesex. The presence of Sir Adam Francis, the brother-in-law of John Montagu, 8th earl of Salisbury, in the Parliament of September 1397 suggests that Salisbury, one of the counter-Appellants, or even Richard II himself, had intervened to secure the return of a partisan to their cause. Yet Francis had no known dealings with his kinsman, and, as one of the county’s most eminent figures, did not need any outside help of this kind. Thomas Charlton married one of Sir Adam’s daughters, and thus became a cousin of Salisbury’s son, Thomas, the 9th earl. Their relationship counted for even less, however, and seems to have had had no effect at all on Charlton’s career. The lack of any clearly recognizable magnate ‘connexion’ is apparent in the list of electors given in the Middlesex returns after 1407. The families which provided the county with its shire knights—most notably the Frowyks and the Charltons—played a leading part on such occasions, and although the names of crown servants are to be found on most of the indentures, all were prominent local landowners whose presence owed more to their standing in the county than to their position at Court.

Author: C.R.


  • 1. Wroth fell ill almost immediately after being returned to this Parliament and on 3 Feb. 1406 the chancellor was ordered to make arrangements for another election (C219/10/3).
  • 2. Although OR, ii. 272 records that a John Loveney was elected in 1407, William Loveney’s name appears on the original return (C219/10/4) and the writ de expensis (CCR, 1405-9, p. 398).