A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1957.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
THE COMMONS OF WILTSHIRE IN MEDIEVAL PARLIAMENTS
Wiltshire is one of the few counties for which returns survive to the parliamentary summonses of 1275. From these fragmentary documents we know that burgesses were returned for the city of New Salisbury, the boroughs of Downton, Marlborough, and Wilton, and three ville mercatorie, two of which were Cricklade and Malmesbury. The number of representatives of Marlborough is unknown; three townsmen were returned for Cricklade; otherwise in each case there were four citizens, burgesses, or townsmen. (fn. 1) It is interesting that the then sheriff deemed Cricklade and Malmesbury to be ville mercatorie rather than boroughs, although both were boroughs at the time of the Survey.
To the 'model' Parliament of 1295 no fewer than thirteen boroughs were summoned —more than from any other county. They were the city of New Salisbury, described as a borough, and the boroughs of Bedwyn, Bradford, Calne, Chippenham, Cricklade, Devizes, Downton, Ludgershall, Malmesbury, Marlborough, Old Salisbury, and Wilton. All made returns. (fn. 2) One would gladly know what dictated this choice. Bedwyn, Bradford, Calne, Cricklade, Downton, and Ludgershall must have been insignificant places. Perhaps indeed they all contained burgage tenements, but so did Highworth, Lacock, and Trowbridge, which were not summoned then or later. (fn. 3) Bradford was never summoned again. By 1298 the sheriff had evolved a less comprehensive definition of a borough, and summoned only eight towns, to which summons Marlborough and 'Worthe' made no return. 'Worthe', called 'Worth liberty' in 1311, seems to have been included because Cricklade lay within it. (fn. 4) To the Parliament of 1300–1 nine boroughs were summoned, (fn. 5) to that of 1302 only three. In the next four Parliaments (1304–5 to 1307) the number varied between ten and twelve. It then fell to five and from 1309 to 1360 remained at a comparatively low figure. In these fluctuations Wiltshire in no way differs from the rest of the kingdom. (fn. 6)
Within the period 1309–60 the largest number of boroughs ever summoned was eight in 1314–15 while in 1355 only New Salisbury was summoned. This is an average of almost exactly four. The number of boroughs actually returning burgesses was even smaller. Though all the boroughs summoned in 1314–15 sent representatives, there were 13 Parliaments out of a total of 47 (fn. 7) in which one borough or more failed to make a return, so that the average number of boroughs represented amounted to no more than 3.4. One new borough was represented in this period. It was the little town of Mere, first summoned in 1304–5 and again in 1307, 1307–8, and 1311–12. It made returns only to the first of these Parliaments and never again in history. The period is also marked by the temporary extinction as constituencies of Bedwyn, Calne, Chippenham, and Old Salisbury. They last returned members in 1314–15, 1307, 1313, and 1306 respectively, while Downton and Ludgershall made no return after 1330. In fact the period is one in which parliamentary representation of Wiltshire closely corresponded to the realities of its urban life.
With the Parliament of 1360–1 things begin to change. Twelve boroughs were summoned in that year though only half of them made returns. Ten were summoned in the next. The number then falls again: in the 2 ensuing Parliaments the number summoned and represented was only 2 and 4, and in the 7 Parliaments (fn. 8) between 1368 and 1377 the average number represented was 5. Between 1378 and 1389–90, however, there is a marked increase. To these 14 Parliaments (fn. 9) an average of 117 boroughs was summoned and an average of 9.5 represented. Moreover in the period between 1360 and 1390 old constituencies begin to be revived. Bedwyn, Calne, Chippenham, Downton, Ludgershall, and Old Salisbury were all summoned again in 1360–1 and all but Bedwyn and Ludgershall were represented. Men from Bedwyn sat in the Parliament of 1362. Men from Devizes and Cricklade, towns which had not sent representatives since 1331–2, sat again, for the first in 1362 and for the other in 1369. Between 1378 and 1385 Hindon was continuously summoned but its representatives never sat until the middle of the next century.
Between 1392–3 and 1420 there is once again a decline in numbers. In the 17 Parliaments (fn. 10) of that period the average number of boroughs summoned and sitting was 5.6. Then the number rose again in accordance with a nation-wide tendency (fn. 11) and never afterwards fell permanently. In the 17 Parliaments (fn. 12) between 1421 and 1449 the average number of boroughs represented was 10.7. The maximum of 16 was reached in the latter year and rarely varied thereafter until 1832. (fn. 13) In the earlier years of the period the smaller and more freakish boroughs were not regularly represented. Bedwyn was dropped between 1390 and 1420, with a single sitting in 1413, Calne between 1390 and 1413–14 with a single sitting in the second Parliament of 1399. Until the second Parliament of 1421 representatives of Chippenham only sat thrice after 1389–90, of Cricklade only twice after 1387–8, and of Ludgershall only once after 1386. Burgesses from Old Salisbury sat four times between 1388 and the first Parliament of 1421. After 1421, however, it is unusual for any of these strange places to be omitted. Men from Downton, which had been represented in the Parliament of 1364–5 and not again until 1413, sat regularly from 1441–2. Wootton Bassett was summoned regularly after 1446–7, Hindon and Westbury from 1448–9, and Heytesbury, the last borough to be added, from 1449.
Naturally enough the city of New Salisbury was represented throughout the whole period; up to 1449 its representatives in no fewer than 123 Parliaments are known by name. Wilton, represented in 103 Parliaments, is not often absent; Marlborough was represented 78 times, Malmesbury 74, and Devizes 65. No other borough was represented with anything like the same frequency.
The constant attendance of burgesses from Wilton may have been due as much to the convention of the county court in that town as to any economic cause. The frequent representation of Marlborough is not hard to understand, for it was the capital of northern Wiltshire. The town of Devizes seems to have declined after the and of Henry III's reign, when its castle lost much of its military importance, and in 1330 its burgesses complained of a restriction of their privileges. (fn. 14) In 1371 a new charter was granted. (fn. 15) Nine years from this grant burgesses began to sit in Parliament again fairly regularly—an instance of a real correlation between representation and status.
The revival of Old Salisbury as a constituency in 1360–1 must have had a different cause. The town had been declining since the end of the 13th century at least, and by 1360 seems to have housed little more than a gaol and a set of public offices. There was therefore nothing to justify its representation on commercial grounds. Its revocation to Westminster can only have been due to the desire to find accommodation in Parliament for gentlemen and lawyers for whom existing seats were insufficient. (fn. 16) Old Salisbury was eminently suitable for this purpose, for it can hardly have possessed a vigorous municipal life of its own. It was right under the sheriff's eye and it is likely enough that it was largely peopled by his own subordinates. (fn. 17) Few besides the sheriff can have needed to be 'squared' in order to secure the return of a particular candidate. While several other Wiltshire constituencies must have been revived solely with this end in view, Old Salisbury seems to be the earliest and the clearest instance.
We must suppose that from the first the election of knights of the shire took place in the county court at Wilton and that thither were returned the sheriff's precepts to the boroughs. Certainly that was the practice after the inception of the indenture system in 1407. In the early 14th century, however, there is a curious case of a return made by a sheriff on his own authority. The writ of summons to the Parliament of 1314–15 did not reach the sheriff until Sunday, 19 January 1315, the day before the return day. Notwithstanding the shortness of the time, returned the sheriff proudly, the knights 'and many citizens and burgesses' were speedily elected. (fn. 18) Of the constitution of the elective assembly after 1406 a little may be gathered from a study of the indentures. Between 1407 and 1467 there are Wiltshire indentures, three of them defective, (fn. 19) for 28 Parliaments. (fn. 20) On the basis of these 28 indentures we may conclude that the average attendance at the Wiltshire county court within the period was 26. But numbers varied not a little: in 1435 75 'electors' were present; (fn. 21) for the election of representatives in the first Parliament of 1421 as few as 13. (fn. 22)
In the earliest times the sheriff of Wiltshire in order to secure borough representation directed his writs either to the elective chief officers of the boroughs or to the bailiffs or chief officers of the liberties in which they lay. Thus in 1300–1 the mayor and bailiffs of Wilton received his writ, (fn. 23) in 1322 the constable of Devizes castle. (fn. 24) These officials sent in their returns to the sheriff who transmitted them to the Chancery. Such methods were of course normal throughout England. In 1407, when the indenture system started, a new plan was adopted in Wiltshire: the boroughs sent delegates to the county court to make formal election in the presence of the other suitors. Thus the bailiffs of hundreds and liberties were 'by-passed'. This system, which lasted until 1445, was not indeed confined to Wiltshire but extended to the other four south-western counties, all of which, like Wiltshire, contained an exceptionally large number of boroughs. (fn. 25)
These meetings of the shire court attended by borough delegates were not, however, more than the occasion for ratification. So far as is known the 'election', in the more modern sense of that word, had taken place beforehand in the towns themselves and in private. In the case of New Salisbury it has been shown that by the reign of Henry IV such 'elections' were being made in the city assembly (fn. 26) by a narrow clique of some 30 leading citizens. How elections were actually conducted elsewhere is hard to determine. Schedules attached to indentures for the period between 1448–9 and 1460 (and therefore after the lapse of the 'delegation' system) sometimes declare that the mayor and other burgesses have made the choice and name some or all of those burgesses. Probably the fullest of these documents is the schedule for Malmesbury returned in 1455 in which an alderman and at least thirteen others are named, but the document is so badly stained that it is only partially intelligible. (fn. 27) The schedule for Wilton in the same year names the mayor and about seven burgesses. (fn. 28) The representatives of Cricklade in 1452–3 were 'elected' by the two constables of the hundred and town, six named persons and 'other' burgesses. (fn. 29) The domestic records of Marlborough and Wilton when thoroughly examined may help to make the picture more complete. So far as is known no records for other Wiltshire boroughs survive for the period. (fn. 30)
The first two Wiltshire knights of the shire whose names have been preserved were Henry de Preaux, anglicized as Praers, and Henry de Thistleden, each elected to serve in the Parliament of 1295. The first was perhaps a descendant of Ingram de Preaux who held land in Bemerton, Quidhampton and Barford in 1242–3. (fn. 31) In 1316 he was himself the lord of manors in Durnford and Lydiard. (fn. 32) But his connexions were at least as close with Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire, and Warwickshire as with Wiltshire. He sat in no fewer than six Parliaments—thrice for Wiltshire (1295, 1311, 1319), twice for Bedfordshire (1300), and once for Gloucestershire (1320). Henry de Thistleden was overlord of Shaw-in-Alton, (fn. 33) but his lands lay mostly in Hampshire, and he was sheriff of Oxfordshire in 1298. He sat thrice in Parliament (1295, 1302, 1305) always for Wiltshire. The remaining known knights who sat in Edward I's Parliaments were William de Cotes (1298, 1299–1300, 1300–1), John of Grimstead (1298, 1302), Peter FitzWarin (1300, 1301), Thomas de St. Omer (1305), Hugh Wake (1306), William Lilborne (1306), Adam Walrond (1306–7, 1313, 1320, 1324–5), and William de Wodefaude (1306–7). There is nothing especially remarkable about the careers of any of these men, except St. Omer, who went overseas on two embassies for the king; their biographies show them as serving in local offices and receiving summonses to bear arms against the king's enemies like other knights of the time. Walrond was much engaged in public work, for he was thrice sheriff and thrice a keeper of the peace besides sitting in four Parliaments; whether these repeated periods of duty are to be attributed to a desire for office or to a lack of ingenuity in evading it must be a matter of guesswork. He had been overlord of Over Stratton before 1305, but was dispossessed on the forfeiture of Adam de Stratton, the terre tenant. Whether he was reinstated is uncertain, but shortly afterwards he was acquiring property in the neighbourhood of Stratton. (fn. 34)
A striking fact about the Wiltshire representatives in these 8 Parliaments is the number of knights who were re-elected—6 out of a total of 10. There were also re-elections among the burgesses; each of the 8 Parliaments included a burgess who had already sat or who was to sit again. Most of these persons, it is true, sat only twice, but 6 sat thrice, and 2 sat 4 times. Ellis Herbert sat no fewer than 6 times for Malmesbury and William Cotterill as many as 9 times for Wilton, first in 1306–7 and last in 1335. Apart from Bradford and Mere, summoned only once, and Old Salisbury, summoned only twice, every borough is represented in the list of re-elections, which shows that re-election could occur as well in substantial places as in small. Since New Salisbury, presumably the most important town of all, provides the most numerous cases of re-election, the cause of that phenomenon can hardly have been a lack of suitable candidates. It is hard to find out about the extra-parliamentary careers of the representatives of what were mainly small and obscure municipalities. (fn. 35) Three of the Salisbury burgesses, however, were mayors of that city (fn. 36) and one a city coroner. (fn. 37) Nicholas Heved, a Marlborough representative in 1300–1 and 1320, appears to have been elected coroner in the county. (fn. 38)
Space forbids the continuation of this analysis throughout the Middle Ages, but it may be profitable to take a glance at the Wiltshire representatives in two succeeding Parliaments, beginning with the last Parliament of Edward III.
The senior knight of the shire in 1376 was Sir Robert de la Mare, who had succeeded his father, Peter, as lord of the manor of Lavington Baynton in 1349. (fn. 39) From 1355 he was steward of the lands of Henry of Grosmont, first Duke of Lancaster, and an executor of his will. Through him he obtained a life grant of Berwick St. James manor. (fn. 40) Apart from this connexion with the Lancasters his activities seem to have been confined to Wiltshire. Not only did he represent Wiltshire in seven different Parliaments, of which the present was the last, (fn. 41) but he was a justice of the peace, (fn. 42) a commissioner of array, (fn. 43) and a justice of gaol delivery, (fn. 44) and he sat on several special commissions not readily classifiable. (fn. 45)
The other knight of the shire, Thomas Hungerford (d. 1397) was the nephew of Robert, (fn. 46) the first Wiltshire Hungerford of any account. He began public life as sheriff and escheator in Wiltshire in 1355, when he was probably under 30. He was at the same time constable of Marlborough and somewhat later steward to the Earl of Salisbury and bailiff to the Bishop in Salisbury. In 1361 he began to be included in Wiltshire commissions of the peace. In 1372 John of Gaunt made him chief steward of his manors in Wales and several southern English counties, and in 1375 enlarged the office into the chief stewardship of the South Parts of the Duchy. Thus was established Hungerford's connexion with the Duchy and particularly with Gaunt himself, and to Gaunt's influence his appointment as Speaker of the Commons in 1377 has always been attributed. As is well known he was the first person to bear that title. By the time of his election to the Speakership Hungerford had already represented Wiltshire in three Parliaments (1357, 1360, 1362). Between 1377 and his death in 1397 he sat in twelve more, either for Wiltshire or for Somerset or for both counties together. He is particularly remembered in Wiltshire as the founder of the Hungerfords' territorial interests. He it was who purchased Farleigh (Som.) and Heytesbury, and he died possessed either in fee or in expectancy of ten manors and sundry lesser estates, all, it has been said, 'within about twenty miles of Devizes', though not all in Wiltshire itself. (fn. 47)
There is no sign that the borough representatives were men of more than local, one may say parochial importance. Indeed little enough can be found out about them. John Upton, representing New Salisbury in the last of five Parliaments, John Bitterley representing her in the first of eight, had either served or was to serve in the office of mayor. (fn. 48) Upton was also a city coroner for some fifteen years. (fn. 49) Richard Polton, sitting for Marlborough in this and two later Parliaments, was a borough coroner in 1384. (fn. 50) John Gilbert, a member for Devizes, was a county coroner in 1394. (fn. 51) This is the kind of experience we should expect of burgesses at this time. There is no suggestion yet that gentlemen or lawyers sat for the boroughs. Nor did one man represent different boroughs in successive Parliaments. In this, however, Old Salisbury may perhaps be an exception. William Lorde, who represented that place in 1376–7, sat for New Salisbury in 1384. Since his colleague, George Joce, who was re-elected in 1378, had been mayor of New Salisbury in 1365, (fn. 52) there is some ground for the belief that the new city now looked upon the old as a means of enlarging its own representation.
The Parliament of 1422 presents a different aspect. It is true that the junior shireknight, Robert Andrew, was not very unlike de la Mare and many others who in times past had represented Wiltshire. His home was at Blunsdon St. Andrew, but he died seised of lands in Berkshire, Gloucestershire, and Worcestershire besides Wiltshire. He had been or was to be escheator and sheriff in several counties. In particular he had already filled the office of sheriff in his native county and served as county justice over a long period. He had been steward of the Duchy of Lancaster estates in several counties including Wiltshire. (fn. 53) His colleague, Sir William Sturmy of Wolfhall, was a greater figure. A 'former expert in Anglo-Hanseatic and Anglo-German diplomacy', he had had long parliamentary experience, for he first entered the Commons in 1384 as knight of the shire for Hampshire, and had already served as Speaker. He had been a member of the Council in 1401–2 and at sundry times since 1392 had been in receipt of an annuity from the Crown. He played his part in local government as sheriff and justice but he was more of a national and less of a local figure than his colleague. He was able to bring with him into Parliament a personal retinue, for his natural son, his nephew, his grandson and one who may have been his legal adviser sat as representatives of boroughs in the county. (fn. 54)
The large number of Wiltshire boroughs tempted the local gentry and men of law to invade the constituencies at the expense of what had been in an earlier age the more normal type of 'burgess'; and they moved freely from one constituency to another. John Ludwell, a representative of Chippenham, had already sat twice for Old Salisbury, and in the next Parliament was to sit for Cricklade. (fn. 55) John Sturmy, who sat for Ludgershall, subsequently represented Marlborough and Bedwyn. (fn. 56) John Giles (Calne) had already sat for Old Salisbury and after sitting again for Calne was destined in subsequent Parliaments to represent Wilton once and Devizes thrice. (fn. 57) John Harleston sat for Old Salisbury between 1414 and 1423 but also nine times for Wilton. (fn. 58) Walter Shirley, his colleague in this Parliament, sat 13 times for New Salisbury. (fn. 59) These were all Wiltshiremen, but there is even an instance of a stranger invading a Wiltshire constituency in this Parliament; John Langley, who represented Chippenham, lived at Siddington in Gloucestershire and was a Gloucestershire justice of the peace. (fn. 60) This, however, was a rare example at this time of a tendency that was common later on.
It will be seen that many of the Wiltshire representatives in 1422 had considerable parliamentary experience. Harleston and Shirley are outstanding examples and so is John Whithorne, who sat eleven times for Wilton. (fn. 61) In station most were gentlemen or lawyers. Thus Ludwell was an attorney in the King's Bench, (fn. 62) Giles was shortly to be appointed clerk of the peace, (fn. 63) Nicholas Wotton, of Ramsbury, a Marlborough representative, was a member of Lincoln's Inn, (fn. 64) John Sturmy was a cadet member of a county family, (fn. 65) Whithorne had been an escheator and coroner, (fn. 66) Thomas Cricklade, a member for Cricklade, had been a coroner. (fn. 67)
If we look forward into the 15th century we find that the tendency to fill the borough constituencies with men who were not in the stricter sense burgesses has by no means been arrested. John Whittokesmead of Beanacre, with a long career as a Wiltshire justice, (fn. 68) is the outstanding example. He sat in at least eight Parliaments, and for many different constituencies. Beginning as a member for Devizes in 1433 he ended as member for Cricklade in 1472 and meanwhile had sat for Downton, New Salisbury, Bath, Calne, and Wilton, and had been knight of the shire in 1450. (fn. 69) Whittokesmead was indeed a Wiltshireman, but by 1472 there were several representatives of Wiltshire constituencies who were not local men at all, including, as they did, justices of the peace for Hampshire, Norfolk, and Lincolnshire. (fn. 70)
The Wiltshire boroughs also attracted another class of men, namely the greater merchants, who, unable to gain seats in their own boroughs, began to sit for smaller ones. Thus in 1453 two London merchants sat for Old Salisbury, and one of them had already sat for Heytesbury three years before. (fn. 71) Of greater interest in the present story is the case of three merchants of New Salisbury, John Willy, Walter Shirley, and Thomas Freeman. Willy, a draper, sat in five Parliaments for Wiltshire boroughs but never for his own; Shirley, frequently returned for the new city, sat for Old Salisbury in 1422; Freeman, who sat in all six Parliaments between 1447 and 1455, was only once returned for New Salisbury to which he belonged. (fn. 72) Perhaps the governing body of New Salisbury was not unwilling that the number of its citizens with parliamentary experience should be thus enlarged, since the larger the team the more the city might be strengthened in its perennial conflicts with the bishop. (fn. 73)
By the middle of the 15th century the governing body of New Salisbury was pursuing a policy of reducing the wages of its representatives below the statutory level; (fn. 74) this may have attracted some outsiders, willing to forgo wages in whole or in part in return for a seat. Yet, in the 15th century, the city never fell a prey to the 'carpet bagger'; of its 36 known representatives between 1432 and 1515 28 were resident and only one, Robert Upham (1489–90), was not a Wiltshireman. (fn. 75) No other Wiltshire borough at this time can show anything like the same proportion of resident representatives. Malmesbury is the nearest; of 12 identifiable representatives between 1422 and 1491–2, 7 were resident. (fn. 76) Four of Wilton's representatives lived in the borough and many in New Salisbury, of which place 5 of Old Salisbury's representatives were inhabitants. Four Marlborough, 3 Devizes, and 2 Calne representatives were residents, and there was 1 resident representative each for Chippenham, Westbury, and Wootton Bassett. The other 8 boroughs could not boast a single one. (fn. 77)
The activities of the Wiltshire representatives in Parliament and their attitude towards that assembly are naturally hard enough to determine. Two petitions to the King and Council from the commons of Wiltshire have survived from the early years of Edward III or the closing years of his father. They may or may not have been heard in Parliament. One requests the removal of the wool staple for the south from Winchester to Southampton, (fn. 78) the other seeks a remedy against marauders, who, on horseback and on foot, had recently assembled to rob and to slay. (fn. 79) In 1364–5 the commons of Somerset and Wiltshire claimed that the Avon between Bath and Bristol was so obstructed by weirs, piles, and palings that the surrounding land was flooded and the passage of vessels hindered. A commission of oyer and terminer was appointed, but did nothing (fn. 80) and had to be enlarged and furnished with more precise instructions in 1383. (fn. 81)
New Salisbury is also identified with several parliamentary petitions. In 1305 the citizens referred to the King in Parliament their dispute with the bishop over the payment of tallage. The petition, however, was tried after the close of Parliament. (fn. 82) In 1334 the merchants of the city joined with those of Winchester to protest against the marketing restrictions imposed by the burgesses of Southampton. (fn. 83) Further petitions were presented about the time of Richard II's accession. The citizens successfully petitioned against the practice of the officers of Clarendon Park in choosing men from the city to act as vendors of underwood in the park. (fn. 84) They also secured, on parliamentary petition, royal authority to rate the whole commons of the city towards the cost of building a balinger. (fn. 85) A similar petition in 1378 to rate the inhabitants towards the cost of ditching the city was likewise successful, (fn. 86) though what we should now call an Exchequer grant was also bestowed. (fn. 87) No other Wiltshire borough is recorded as a petitioner in parliament except Devizes which in 1330 supplicated for the restoration of her ancient franchises. (fn. 88)
The early parliamentary history of a medieval county will not usually yield much in incident or picturesqueness, and Wiltshire is no exception. In later centuries, however, Wiltshire was renowned for the multitude of its constituencies. Those constituencies were created, lapsed and were revived in the century and a half that succeeded the 'model' Parliament, and it is this process that gives the foregoing survey such interest as it can claim.