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|1388 (Feb.)||John Farnales|
|William Palmer I|
|1388 (Sept.)||William Palmer I|
|1390 (Jan.)||William Palmer I|
|1391||William Palmer I|
|1393||William Palmer I|
|1394||William Palmer I|
|1395||William Palmer I|
|1397 (Jan.)||William Palmer I|
|1399||William Palmer I|
|Walter Green I|
|1407||Walter Green I|
|John Cook III|
|1410||... Lange 1|
|1413 (May)||Hugh Stanford|
|Thomas Green I|
|1414 (Apr.)2||Richard Parlour|
|Thomas Odyes 3|
|1414 (Nov.)||Richard Horde|
|1416 (Mar.)||Richard Horde|
|Richard Parlour 4|
|1421 (May)||Thomas Green I|
|1421 (Dec.)||Thomas Green I|
There is no evidence regarding the size of the population of Bridgnorth in the late 14th century, but since it was a small, walled town, ‘scant a mile in compace’, with only one parish church, there can hardly have been many inhabitants. The town was probably similar in size to Leominster, and, like that borough, it ‘stood by cloathing’. The bridge over the Severn at this point made it a likely trading centre, and its development as such had doubtless been assisted by its charter of 1215, which allowed the townspeople a general freedom from toll, and by two others dated 1227, one providing for an annual fair at the feast of St. Luke and the following three days, and the other for the formation of a guild merchant. At that time the inhabitants also obtained from the Crown the right to farm Pendlestone mill (for an annual rent of £10), and, from the mid 14th century, were privileged to hold a second fair, on the feast of St. Leonard. By 1411 the burgesses of Bridgnorth were apparently profiting from impositions on goods, notably wine and oil, passing along the Severn.5
Bridgnorth contained a castle, of which the royally appointed constables in this period were, from 1375 to 1387, Sir John Beauchamp† of Holt (steward of Richard II’s household throughout 1387, but impeached in the Merciless Parliament and executed in May 1388), and from then until 1420 Hugh, Lord Burnell. The latter held property in the town, which passed on his death to John Talbot, son and heir of Lord Furnival, who was betrothed to one of Burnell’s grand daughters,6 but there is no evidence to suggest that any of these nobles showed an interest in borough affairs. The earls of Stafford, too, had landed interests in the neighbourhood: Earl Edmund not only owned a mansion in the High Street in 1398, but also died possessed of 14 other dwellings there. Part of this property was then, in 1403, granted as dower to Queen Joan during the minority of Earl Humphrey, but the rest remained in the keeping of the heir’s mother, Anne, countess of Stafford, and the family continued to enjoy influence in the borough, perhaps even some over its parliamentary representation.7 Indeed, Hugh Stanford, who served as receiver of the Staffordshire estates of the earldom for over 30 years from 1399, was twice returned to Parliament for Bridgnorth in that period (in 1411 and 1413), as well as representing Newcastle-under-Lyme four times. The electors of both boroughs, no doubt aware of his personal links with Edmund Stafford, bishop of Exeter, perhaps believed he had access to governmental circles.
Although hardly comparable in size and wealth with Shrewsbury, Bridgnorth had secured privileges from the Crown at the same time as the other borough. So, in 1157 Henry II conceded to his burgess of Bridgnorth all the franchises they had enjoyed under Henry I, and from 1175 they were allowed to pay their annual fee farm of ten marks direct to the Exchequer. Charters of the 13th century conferred other franchises including the ‘returnus brevium’ and exclusion of the sheriff. The town had for long been governed by two locally elected reeves, who by our period were called bailiffs. The borough’s leet books, dating from the late 15th century, refer to the oath taken by a body of 14 men sworn to elect the bailiffs, and to a second group of 24 burgesses, who constituted the ‘great court’. Apparently, it was by then usual practice for local officials to be chosen in the common hall over the North Gate on St. Matthew’s Day, specifically from among the 24, and perhaps the same procedure had obtained earlier.8
Bridgnorth sent representatives to Parliament regularly from 1295. Very little is known about the electoral procedure. Until 1407 a simple endorsement of the parliamentary writ sent to the sheriff of Shropshire recorded the names of the Bridgnorth Members along with those for the shire and the borough of Shrewsbury, with no indication as to how or where they had been selected, save that in January 1390 the sheriff stated that he had forwarded his precept to the bailiffs of Bridgnorth, since they held responsibility for making returns. The only surviving electoral indenture for the borough from our period, that for the Parliament of 1407, was drawn up on 10 Oct. between the bailiffs (John Bruyn and John Peole) and the sheriff, in the presence of 11 named burgesses and ‘many’ townspeople, unnamed. Whether this formality had been completed in Bridgnorth itself is not made clear, but certainly the election in question took place on a different date from that of the shire, which was held three days later. Following the elections of 1411, however, the returns for the shire and both Shropshire boroughs were all recorded on a single indenture.9
Returns for Bridgnorth have survived for only 22 of the 32 Parliaments between 1386 and 1421, and although the Members for one more Parliament, that of 1416 (Mar.), were recorded by Prynne, we still know the names of no more than 18 parliamentary burgesses. Nevertheless, judging from what evidence remains, it seems clear that it was the general practice of the borough to elect men with previous experience of the Commons: in 11 of the 23 Parliaments both Members had sat before, and in eight more one had done so. There are signs, too, that the electors favoured certain tried and tested partnerships: William Palmer I and John Farnales were returned together to the Parliaments of 1388 (Feb.), 1390 (Jan.), 1393, 1394 and 1395, the last three being consecutive, and Richard Parlour and Richard Horde were colleagues not only in 1414 (Nov.), but also in 1416 (Mar.), 1417, 1419 and 1422. Re-election, in the sense of a return to consecutive Parliaments, occurred at least 14 times, and continuity of representation was amply provided by Palmer’s appearance in every Parliament for which a return survives between 1388 (Feb.) and 1401. But it is interesting to note that whereas in the reigns of Richard II and Henry V the practice was to send experienced men, this seems not to have been the case under Henry IV. Even so, on only four occasions—1402, 1410, 1411 and 1414 (Apr.)—is it possible that both MPs were newcomers to the House. Of the 18 known to have been elected, seven apparently sat only once and five just twice, but the rest all served four or more times. Richard Parlour was returned to nine Parliaments, Richard Horde to ten, and William Palmer I to as many as 15. In addition, as we have seen, Hugh Stanford went on to represent another borough, Newcastle-under-Lyme, on four occasions, after sitting for Bridgnorth twice.
Two MPs (Robert Aylesbury and ‘... Lange’) have not been identified. Of the remainder, ten were certainly resident burgesses of Bridgnorth. Three more, who owned property in or near the town, may not have always lived there, for they had landed interests elsewhere: Thomas Horde possessed holdings near Wem, but acquired ‘Hord’s Park’ closer to Bridgorth before his first return for the borough; his son, Richard, extended these interests to include premises in Shrewsbury, but retained a house in Bridgnorth; and John Farnales was frequently described as ‘of Staffordshire’, although his close connexions with the borough suggest that he was probably resident there when elected. However, three others, each of whom was chosen twice, were undoubtedly outsiders: Hugh Harnage, whose lands were at Belswardyne and Sheinton, Thomas Hopton, probably a member of the family seated at Hopton, and Hugh Stanford, a Staffordshire man who, however, did acquire property in this county, at Wheathill. The development of a family tradition of service in the Commons may be seen in the record of the Goldsmiths, Palmers, Greens and Hordes. For the most part the trades or professions of the parliamentary burgesses are not known, save that John Cook III was a vintner, and four others—John Farnales, William Palmer I, Hugh Harnage and Hugh Stanford—were trained in the law. In fact, lawyers dominated the representation of Bridgnorth, particularly in the first half of the period, for at least one member of the legal profession was returned to every Parliament up to 1407. John Farnales was officially serving as the borough’s attorney at the time of his five elections between 1388 and 1395, and Hugh Harnage had been acting in that same capacity the year before his first return in 1402.
None of the borough records from the period under review are extant, but the names of many of the bailiffs have been found in other sources, which reveal that at least nine of the 18 Members at one time or another held this office. William Goldsmith occupied the post for no fewer than eight terms, and Richard Horde for nine. Occasionally an officiating bailiff would be sent to the Commons: John Farnales was returned while so employed in 1385, Hugh Harnage in 1402, Walter Green I in 1406, and Richard Horde in 1414, 1416 and 1420. The last named also figured in the government of Shrewsbury, as being made bailiff there for two annual terms.
As many as seven Bridgnorth MPs were appointed to royal commissions of one sort or another in Shropshire, two of them acting in Staffordshire as well. Hugh Harnage and John Bruyn both became members of the local bench, Harnage for only two years, Bruyn from 1424 to 1434, in the course of which (1425) he was elected to Parliament for a second time. Three Members filled the office of escheator for the shire: Bruyn in 1408-9 and 1423-4, Harnage in 1410-11 and 1426-7, and Richard Horde in 1419-20, the last being appointed while up at Westminster for his fourth Parliament. Bruyn and Horde and also Thomas Hopton secured royal administrative appointments in Morfe forest (near Bridgnorth). More revealing of the status of two of the borough’s representatives is their eventual appointment as sheriff of the county: Harnage in 1423-4, and Bruyn for no less than four annual terms, 1420-3 and 1431-2. Hugh Stanford held the escheatorship of Staffordshire for two years before representing the Shropshire borough in the Commons, and he was twice made under sheriff there subsequently. In fact, certainly towards the end of the period under review, the typical MP for Bridgnorth was often no mere townsman. Bruyn, Horde, Harnage and Hopton were all to be numbered among the Shropshire gentry later on in their careers.
Author: L. S. Woodger
- 1. The names have been torn off the return: C219/10/5.
- 2. C219/11/3, discovered since the compilation of OR.
- 3. The surname is almost illegible.
- 4. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iv. 932.
- 5. J. Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, ii. 85-86; Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (ser. 4), ix. 118; R.W. Eyton, Antiqs. Salop, i. 298, 301-3; CChR, i. 30, 45; v. 159; RP, iii. 663.
- 6. CPR, 1374-7, p. 163; 1385-9, p. 292; CCR, 1419-22, pp. 154-5.
- 7. Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (ser. 4), viii. 210-11; xlix. 194; CPR, 1401-5, p. 347; CCR, 1402-5, pp. 212, 238; 1422-9, pp. 318-19; Egerton 2190.
- 8. Eyton, 290-2, 303, 307-8, 313; Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (ser. 1), ix. 194; xlix. 213; lii. 153-78; Hist. Bridgnorth (pub. B. Partridge 1821), 3; HMC 10th Rep. IV, 424-7.
- 9. C219/7, 10/4, 6.