The House of Commons, 1793-94 by Karl Anton Hickel.
National Portrait Gallery, London.

Members 1386-1421

Published in 1993

These volumes deal with the earliest period covered by the History of Parliament so far. They contain the biographies of 3,175 individuals who sat in the House of Commons in the late 14th and early 15th centuries.

The composition of the House of Commons is dealt with broadly in J.S. Roskell's Introductory Survey. The Survey also provides further details of Members in the form of tables. These include the status of the knights of the shire elected to the House; on men of law as Members of Parliament (particularly significant given the ordinance of 1372 banning the election of knights of the shire of men of law engaged in business in the King's courts on behalf of clients); the question of the residence of Members; the sheriffs elected to Parliament; and the appointment of Members as collectors of subsidies granted in Parliament.  Another series of appendices provides information on office-holders, associates of particular noblemen and membership of factions in various parliaments. A fourth set of appendices provides lists of new and re-elected Members in each Parliament, and indexes of Members who sat for more than one shire or borough or shires and boroughs.

Apart from the affiliations and motives of many of the men who sought membership of the Commons, the biographies illuminate a number of other themes of the period: the contrast between the accepted code of chivalrous conduct and the reality of military service in the wars in France, Scotland and Ireland; the competitive pursuit of wealthy heiresses; the use and abuse of the legal system to further the acquisition of property; the sometimes ambivalent relations between the laity and the Church; and their fluctuating success and failures in the scramble for patronage and preferment from the Crown and baronetage alike.

Among the Members included are the poet Geoffrey Chaucer; the pirates William Long and John Hawley; Lollards, including Sir John Oldcastle, who met a traitor's death; henchmen of the king (most notably the infamous Bussy, Bagot and Green) and the most outstanding parliamentarians of the Middle Ages, among them Sir John Tiptoft, perhaps the youngest Speaker ever to be elected, and the intrepid Sir Arnold Savage, whose verbal exchanges with Henry IV throw fresh light on the relationship between King and Commons in the 15th century.