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|1386||Sir Thomas Wensley|
|Sir William Dethick|
|1388 (Feb.)||Sir Robert Francis|
|1388 (Sept.)||Sir Robert Francis|
|Sir Nicholas Montgomery I|
|1390 (Jan.)||Sir Thomas Wensley|
|Sir Nicholas Montgomery I|
|1390 (Nov.)||Thomas Foljambe|
|Sir Philip Okeover|
|1393||Sir Nicholas Goushill|
|Sir John Dabrichecourt|
|1394||Sir Thomas Wensley|
|Sir John de la Pole|
|1395||Sir John Cockayne|
|1397 (Jan.)||Roger Bradbourne|
|Sir William Dethick|
|1397 (Sept.)||Sir William Meynell|
|Sir John Dabrichecourt|
|1399||Sir Walter Blount|
|1401||Sir Thomas Gresley|
|Peter de la Pole|
|1402||Sir John Cockayne|
|1404 (Jan.)||Sir Nicholas Longford|
|1404 (Oct.)||Sir John Cockayne|
|(Sir) Roger Leche|
|1407||Sir Robert Strelley 1|
|1411||Sir Robert Francis|
|Sir Nicholas Montgomery I|
|1413 (May)||Sir Thomas Chaworth|
|(Sir) Roger Leche|
|1414 (Apr.)||Sir Philip Leche|
|Sir Nicholas Montgomery II|
|1414 (Nov.)||(Sir) Roger Leche|
|Sir Thomas Gresley|
|1416 (Mar.)||John de la Pole|
|Sir Nicholas Montgomery II|
|1417||John de la Pole|
|Sir Thomas Gresley|
|1419||Sir John Cockayne|
|1420||Thomas Blount II|
|1421 (May)||Sir John Cockayne|
|Sir Thomas Gresley|
|1421 (Dec.)||Nicholas Goushill|
We know who represented Derbyshire in the House of Commons in 28 of the 32 Parliaments which met between 1386 and 1421 (inclusive), the returns having been lost for the rest. Allowing for these gaps in the evidence, 31 men at least were elected, the majority being without much experience of parliamentary affairs. Either competition for seats or else a general reluctance on the part of most of the county gentry to undertake the long—and often difficult—journey to Westminster could equally well account for this state of affairs, although it is interesting to note that some very distinguished figures, such as Sir Walter Blount, Peter Melbourne and Peter de la Pole, made only one appearance in the Lower House during their long and busy careers, and this was when they had private business to attend to in the lawcourts or the royal household. So far as we can tell, 14 MPs were returned for Derbyshire to just one Parliament, but of these, three did represent other counties as well. Roger Bradshaw sat once for Staffordshire and Hugh Erdeswyk three times for the same county, while Sir Thomas Chaworth could boast no less than seven returns for Nottinghamshire. At least six of their colleagues had experience of a second Parliament; and a further three were elected three times. William Adderley, Henry Booth, (Sir) Roger Leche and Sir Thomas Gresley each discharged four terms of service in the Commons, Gresley sitting also for Staffordshire on two other occasions. A few men were particularly active in this sphere. Sir Thomas Wensley, John Curson and Sir Robert Francis attended five Parliaments as Members for Derbyshire; and Francis was, in fact, even more knowledgeable about the ways of the House since he had, in addition, four returns for Staffordshire to his credit. His career as an MP lasted from 1384 to 1411, although that of John Curson, which spanned 25 years (1379-1404), is also worth recording. The most notable of the 31 men here under consideration was Sir John Cockayne, who sat nine times for Derbyshire over the years 1395 to 1433, during which period he was twice Member for Warwickshire too. Even so, if we consider the average number of Parliaments in which our Members sat, the figure is only slightly over two; and even when we take account of the total experience gained by the six men who were shire knights elsewhere the average just reaches three.
Yet the electors of Derbyshire none the less preferred to be represented by at least one man who had previously sat in the Lower House. On only four occasions, in 1393 (when Parliament met at Winchester), 1395, 1401 and 1407 (the date of the Gloucester Parliament) were both Members definitely novices. This appears to have been the case also in 1414 (Apr.) and 1420, although the gaps in the returns make it impossible to tell how experienced all the candidates actually were. One newcomer was evidently accompanied by a more seasoned colleague in at least ten of the Parliaments which met during our period; and we can be certain that in a further 12 both men had sat before. The pattern of representation remained fairly constant throughout the late 14th and early 15th centuries, but the only three cases of re-election to successive Parliaments occurred early on, in 1388 (Sept.), 1390 (Jan.) and 1391. A remarkable degree of continuity of service was, however, maintained by Sir John Cockayne, who sat in all five Parliaments summoned between 1419 and 1422, albeit alternately for Derbyshire and Warwickshire. Sir Thomas Gresley was, likewise, elected for Staffordshire in 1419 just after he had represented Derbyshire. Despite the eminence which many of their number achieved in the service of the house of Lancaster, none of the Derbyshire MPs with whom we are concerned was ever elected Speaker of the Commons.
The majority of MPs returned for Derbyshire were knights by rank, and they tended as a result to dominate the representation of the county. Indeed, on only three occasions—in 1390 (Nov.), 1420 and 1421 (Dec.)—did two esquires sit together, although each of them possessed sufficient wealth and influence to qualify them for knighthood had they so wished. In at least 11 Parliaments both Members were belted knights, and in a further 14 one knight sat with a gentleman of lesser rank. Rather more knights were returned towards the beginning of our period, although the distinction is a somewhat artificial one, given that some of the most eminent figures to represent Derbyshire (such as John Curson, councillor to Henry IV, and Peter Melbourne, chamberlain of the household of the prince of Wales evaded knighthood altogether, while others (including (Sir) Roger Leche, the controller of Henry IV’s domestic establishment) did not become knights until they were already seasoned parliamentarians.
Experience of local government was fairly common among Derbyshire’s 31 MPs, a mere four of whom appear never to have served as royal commissioners or officials in England. (Sir Philip Leche did, however, execute three commissions of array in France, where he spent most of his active years.) Eight of our men were at some point or another made sheriffs of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, Sir Nicholas Montgomery I being the most outstanding, with four terms to his credit, although both Sir Thomas Chaworth and Sir John Cockayne could boast three. Chaworth, moreover, became sheriff of Lincolnshire, and Sir Robert Francis was picked no less than four times for Staffordshire. Sir Nicholas Montgomery I and Sir Thomas Gresley also occupied the latter shrievalty; and, from 1407 onwards, (Sir) Roger Leche held office as sheriff of Flint for life. Both Leche and Gesley were technically in contravention of the statute which forbade the return of sheriffs to Parliament, since the former was serving in Flintshire when he represented Derbyshire in 1413 (May) and 1414 (Nov.), and the latter sat for Staffordshire in 1419 while he was sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Furthermore, Sir Thomas Chaworth had just begun his second term in this post at the beginning of the 1417 Parliament, which he attended as one of the Nottinghamshire knights. The most flagrant disregard for electoral practice was, however, shown by Sir Nicholas Montgomery I, who returned himself to the Parliament of 1411 so that he could pursue his vendetta against Hugh Erdeswyk, and when in office again, three years later, ensured that his son, Sir Nicholas II obtained a seat for Derbyshire. A further three MPs who never served in the latter county did, even so, become sheriffs elsewhere: Thomas Blount II and Hugh Erdeswyk in Staffordshire, and Sir Nicholas Longford in Lancashire. Taking all this experience as a whole, it is significant that only three men actually held their posts before they were returned to the House of Commons for the first time, whereas five became sheriffs during the course of their parliamentary careers.
The escheatorship of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, on the other hand, tended to be held by persons of rather lesser rank than those usually returned as shire knights, and a mere five of our men occupied the post. In marked contrast, no less than two-thirds (21) of them received commissions of the peace for Derbyshire in the course of their careers, six being appointed in other counties as well. Sir Robert Francis, Sir Thomas Gresley, Sir Walter Blount and (Sir) Roger Leche each sat on the Staffordshire bench, while Sir Thomas Chaworth was active for almost half a century in Nottinghamshire, and Sir John Cockayne for six years in Warwickshire. Although he never served in Derbyshire, Hugh Erdeswyk was briefly included on the Staffordshire bench, too. Only half a dozen shire knights had become j.p.s by the start of their parliamentary careers, but a further 12 did so before they last sat in the Lower House. Altogether, the electors of Derbyshire returned at least 17 current holders of local commissions of the peace, mostly during the earlier years of our period. Prior to 1407 it seems, indeed, to have been a fairly common practice for one MP (or even both) to be a local justice, for on eight occasions one was returned, and on a further three (in 1386, 1394 and 1402) two sat together. After this date, however, circumstances changed, for although both of the men who attended the May Parliament of 1413 were commissioners of the peace in other counties, only in 1414 (Nov.) and the two Parliaments of 1421 was a member of the Derbyshire bench actually returned.
Service on ad hoc royal commisions of various kinds was a far more common experience, shared by almost everyone. The relative obscurity in this respect, as well as others, of Sir Robert Strelley is understandable enough in view of the fact that the only time he ever sat was as a last-minute replacement for his kinsman, Sir Nicholas, who had a far greater knowledge of administrative affairs, but was either unwilling or unable to attend the Gloucester Parliament of 1407 to which he had originally been elected. Another apparent nonentity, Sir William Meynell, was probably returned in September 1397 on the strength of his attachment to Richard II, whom, alone of all the Derbyshire MPs, he chose openly to support two years later in preference to Henry of Bolingbroke. Nor do Sir Nicholas Longford or Sir Philip Leche appear to have been nominated as royal commissioners in the Midlands, although both were experienced in other spheres and thus not so exceptional. All 27 remaining shire knights were active at least once or twice in their lives on royal commissions, and some proved outstanding in this respect. Nearly half of them served ten or more times, and some, such as the lawyer, Peter de la Pole, Sir Nicholas Montgmery I, Sir John Cockayne and Sir Robert Francis were kept almost continuously at work by the Crown. Most active of all was Sir Thomas Chaworth, who received no less than 38 commissions in the course of his unusually long and eventful life. The task of assessing and collecting royal taxes was not so often performed by leading members of the Derbyshire gentry, with the result that rather less than half (14) of the shire knights were ever called upon to assist in this capacity.
The most striking feature of the MPs here under review is the loyalty and attachment shown by the great majority to successive dukes of Lancaster, beginning with John of Gaunt and continuing under Henry IV and his descendants. Derbyshire was, of course, a great stronghold of duchy influence; and naturally enough large numbers of local gentry were recruited as members of the ducal retinue, councillors and administrative staff. The most important and powerful of our men owed much of their success to patronage from this quarter: several were, moreover, financially dependent upon the fees and annuities (often totalling in excess of £40 or £50) with which they were rewarded. The exile of Gaunt’s son and heir, Henry of Bolingbroke, in 1398, followed a few months later by the confiscation of his entire inheritance, provoked a very strong reaction on the part of those whose very livelihood, not to mention their continued influence, hinged upon the survival of the house of Lancaster; and in consequence all but a very few (motivated more by indifference than active support for Richard II) threw in their lot with Henry when he returned to claim his patrimony. At least one-third of the shire knights returned during our period were, in fact, present with large private bodyguards when Bolingbroke landed at Ravenspur in the summer of 1399, and they remained in attendance upon him until his seizure of the throne was accepted by a convention of the ‘estates’ which assembled on 30 Sept. and met a week later as a Parliament. Prominent among these men were Sir Walter Blount, erstwhile chamberlain of Gaunt’s household and longstanding family retainer; the distinguished Hainaulter, Sir John Dabrichecourt, who had been the duke’s steward; Thomas Foljambe and Sir John Cockayne, both of whom belonged to families noted for their service to the duchy; and other former annuitants and employees, including Roger Bradbourne, John Curson, Sir Thomas Wensley and Sir Nicholas Montgomery I. They were all singled out for immediate and generous preferment: Dabrichecourt, for example, as captain of Calais castle and keeper of the Tower of London; Curson as a member of the royal council and treasurer of wars; Cockayne as a knight of the body with a fee of £60 p.a.; and Blount as a trusted ambassador. Others, who had not been at Ravenspur but were none the less known and valued by the new King, did equally well for themselves: Peter de la Pole, the son of one of Gaunt’s most eminent legal advisors, was appointed to the duchy council and eventually became justice of pleas at Chester; Peter Melbourne, who had served Gaunt since 1372 and had also taken part in Bolingbroke’s Prussian expeditions, was made chamberlain of the prince of Wales’s household; and both Sir Thomas Chaworth and Sir Robert Francis were recruited into the royal establishment with generous pensions. The most outstanding marks of favour were, however, shown to (Sir) Roger Leche, who held important offices in the households of Henry IV and his son, and eventually, under the latter, rose to become treasurer of England.
All in all, no less than 22 Derbyshire MPs were committed supporters of the house of Lancaster in receipt of fees, wages or other distinct types of patronage which, in Gaunt’s lifetime, made them a formidable contingent in the Lower House, and later, from 1399 onwards, provided the Crown with a solid body of placemen there. Some, like (Sir) Thomas Blount II, Sir Philip Leche and Sir Nicholas Montgomery II (whose fathers had been among Bolingbroke’s most fervent supporters), kept up this tradition of family service into the second or third generation, while others, in turn, were succeeded by adherents of the Lancastrian regime. Peter de la Pole’s son, Ralph, for instance, rose to become a judge in the service of the duchy, while Sir Thomas Gresley’s younger daughter nursed the infant Henry VI. An analysis of the parliamentary representation of Derbyshire during our period reveals exactly how strong this connexion really was, for at least one annuitant, official or sometime retainer of the dukes of Lancaster was returned to all 28 of the Parliaments summoned between 1386 and 1421 for which evidence survives; and in well over half of these assemblies (16 in all) both Members were active in the service of the duchy or the Crown. This was notably the case at the beginning of Henry IV’s reign when the electors of Derbyshire affirmed their loyalty by consistently returning such committed Lancastrians as Sir Walter Blount, Sir Thomas Gresley, John Curson and (Sir) Roger Leche. Moreover, although certain MPs remained rather more detached, almost all numbered among their friends and kinsmen employees of the duchy. Sir Nicholas Longford and John de la Pole were, in fact, both the sons of prominent members of Gaunt’s retinue, and, indeed, John did receive preferential treatment from Henry V when it came to the granting out of wardships. The one glaring exception to this state of affairs was Hugh Erdeswyk, whose feud with the tenants and staff of the duchy of Lancaster (among whom Sir Nicholas Montgomery II and Sir Walter Blount’s son, John, were singled out for particlar harassment) came to assume the proportions of a virtual war of attrition. Erdeswyk’s return to the Parliament of 1419, did, however, occur long after the breach had been healed, and probably owed something to the intervention of the sheriff, Sir Thomas Gresley, whose position as a senior employee of the duchy had not prevented him from befriending Erdeswyk in the past. Sir John Cockayne’s relations with local employees of the duchy were also beset with difficulties during the reign of Henry V, who regarded the knight with some disfavour as a result of his previous attachment to the King’s younger brother and sometime rival for their father’s affection, Thomas, duke of Clarence. Even so, the breach was never irredeemable, and after Henry’s death Cockayne began again to play an important part in local government.
Every single one of the 31 men who represented Derbyshire during our period was either the owner of, or the heir presumptive to, extensive estates in the county by the time he first entered Parliament. A few, like the Hainaulter, Sir John Dabrichecourt (who did not obtain royal letters of denization until ten years after his last appearance in the Commons), and the two Staffordshire gentlemen, Hugh Erdeswyk and Roger Bradshaw (who both married heiresses to the Meynell estates), acquired their land in Derbyshire through their wives; but the great majority belonged to families who had long occupied property there. Almost half (14) of the shire knights also had interests in Staffordshire, while seven were the owners of estates in Nottinghamshire. Both Sir Thomas Chaworth and Sir Robert Strelley actually came from families based in the latter county, Chaworth being the successor to a substantial inheritance which was spread over ten English counties and extended from Hertfordshire to Yorkshire. Although no others could boast such a widespread accumulation of property, most Derbyshire MPs had territorial interests elsewhere. Five owned inns or tenements in London; and four were em>rentiers in either Lincolnshire, Yorkshire or Worcestershire. A further three acquired property in Rutland, and the same number in Warwickshire, while at least two had land or manors in Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. Through his marriage to Katherine Bromwich, the widow of two distinguished servants of Henry of Bolingbroke (who had generously rewarded them both), (Sir) Roger Leche gained possession of estates in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Monmouthshire. The gifts made by Henry IV to Sir John Dabrichecourt included land in Kent, Rutland and Ireland; and with the profits of his many offices Sir John was further able to purchase an estate in Hertfordshire and Middlesex. Other men were landlords in the west and north-west: Sir Robert Francis in Shropshire, Hugh Erdeswyk in Cheshire and Sir Nicholas Longford in Lancashire, where he spent a good deal of his time. Lack of evidence makes it impossible for us to gain more than a highly impressionistic idea of the relative wealth of these men, but we can be quite certain that, although it was then a rather poor and thinly populated county, Derbyshire returned some extremely affluent Members to Parliament in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Sir Walter Blount, Sir Thomas Chaworth, Sir John Cockayne and Sir Thomas Gresley each enjoyed landed incomes well in excess of £200 a year, while Sir John Dabrichecourt, whose Derbyshire estates alone produced over £72 p.a., was probably almost as rich. A further seven MPs seem to have collected £100 or more annually from their estates, and none was evidently worth less than £20.
We must also remember that in many cases landed income made up only part (and sometimes the smaller part) of an MP’s wealth. The lawyers, Henry Booth, Peter de la Pole and Thomas Foljambe could, for example, rely upon substantial profits from their clients, who came from the upper reaches of local society. Furthermore, as we have already seen, the majority of shire knights received some kind of fee, annuity or gifts from the duchy of Lancaster; and some were heavily dependent upon this source of revenue. In addition to his wages as constable of Tutbury castle and master of Needwood Chase, Sir Walter Blount drew no less than £174 a year (rather more than his own private income) in pensions alone from the time of Henry IV’s coronation, while his colleague, Sir John Dabrichecourt, was rewarded with annuities of £63 6s.8d. and land worth a further £51 p.a. Peter Melbourne, whose own estates produced about £46 p.a., received £76 6s.8d. in pensions and £43 in rents annually from a grateful monarch; and (Sir) Roger Leche benefited to the tune of almost £100 in annuities and rents from the High Peak, over and above the fees and emoluments of his various household offices. Furthermore, if we take into account the preferential leases, gifts of wardships and grants of franchises made by John of Gaunt and his successors, it is evident that we are dealing with men whose wealth and power was often far greater than might at first appear. Some of them were able to extend their influence even further by seeking out the patronage of other members of the royal family, although, as Sir Thomas Chaworth, (Sir) Roger Leche and Sir John Cockayne evidently discovered in 1411 (when they were all briefly imprisoned in the Tower), it could be dangerous to take sides in a power struggle between princes of the blood. Whereas Chaworth and Leche were both adherents of Henry, prince of Wales, Cockayne had thrown in his lot with Thomas of Lancaster, soon to be created duke of Clarence. As a result of these and other, more personal differences, arising from a struggle for local hegemony, considerable animosity grew up between Leche and Cockayne, both of whom, in August 1410, had begun to assemble private armies. Sir Walter Blount and Sir John Dabrichecourt were also closely associated with Thomas of Lancaster, whom they accompanied to Ireland while he was governor there. Later on, Sir Walter’s son, Thomas Blount II, served another of Henry IV’s sons, John, duke of Bedford, under whom he rose to become treasurer of Normandy.
No other noble family was able to command so much local support as the house of Lancaster, particularly during our period, when the Staffords (who normally maintained a fairly strong presence in Derbyshire) were afflicted by a series of long minorities which made them less attractive as patrons. Even so, five of our men kept up close relations with the earls, the most notable being Roger Bradshaw, who was chamberlain of the household to Edmund, earl of Stafford, and a recipient of lands and rents worth £13 p.a. from his estates. Both Hugh Erdeswyk and Thomas Blount II were employed as administrative officers by Edmund’s son, Earl Humphrey, while Sir Robert Francis and Sir Thomas Chaworth were intimately involved in the affairs of the Stafford family in general. No doubt because of the vast reserves of patronage available from the duchy of Lancaster, few other MPs considered it necessary to look for help elsewhere. Thomas Foljambe did, however, receive a small annuity from James Tuchet, the future Lord Audley (who was, in turn, related by marriage to Sir John Dabrichecourt), and Sir Philip Okeover had various dealings with the Lords Grey of Ruthin. (He is said in some sources to have married a daughter of Roger, Lord Grey (d.1352/3), but this is hard to establish.) (Sir) Thomas Blount’s sister, Constance, married her mother’s ward, John Sutton, father of the future Lord Dudley, and thus consolidated a useful connexion for the family. Sir Nicholas Goushill was the younger brother of one of the leading adherents of Thomas Mowbray, duke of Norfolk, who died in exile in 1399, but we cannot now tell how far he himself was affected by this attachment. His brother’s marriage to the widowed duchess must, even so, have improved the prospects of his own son, who also sat in Parliament. Yet, on the whole, the absence of any resident major lay or ecclesiastical landowner in the county created a situation in which local politics and society were dominated by the gentry, who enjoyed a considerable degree of independence at a county level.
The gentry of Derbyshire were a close-knit group, bound together by ties of kinship of an often complex nature. The importance of family connexions is certainly evident from the county’s choice of MPs, for no less than six pairs of fathers and sons were returned during our period (the Blounts, Goushills, Leches, Montgomerys, de la Poles and Okeovers). Others were related by marriage: Thomas Blount II’s first wife was Sir Thomas Gresley’s daughter, Margaret; and Sir John Dabrichecourt and Sir John Cockayne arranged a marriage between two of their children. John Curson’s elder son became the husband of Sir Nicholas Montgomery I’s daughter, and thus brother-in-law of Sir Nicholas II. The latter was himself a kinsman of Sir Nicholas Longford, and had to obtain a dispensation for his marriage to Longford’s sister, Joan, to whom he was ‘doubly related in the fourth degree of kindred’. The death of Sir William Meynell’s elder brother in 1388 meant that his widespread estates were partitioned between four daughters, each of whom became a valuable commodity on the marriage market. Sir William Dethick obtained two of the girls as brides for sons of his, and when one was widowed Hugh Erdeswyk seized the opportunity to extend his possessions by marrying her. A third daughter became Roger Bradshaw’s wife, enabling him to build up a sphere of influence in Derbyshire. William Adderley may perhaps have married a sister or kinswoman of Thomas Foljambe: it is certainly clear that the latter was related to Sir Walter Blount, who employed him as an attorney for this reason. Peter de la Pole of Newborough was likewise connected with Sir John de la Pole of Hartington and his son, who belonged to a cadet branch of the same family.
Connexions of this type were further strengthened by the shared experience of warfare, for many Derbyshire MPs fought together in the field. At least 20, if not more, of them took part in campaigns of one kind or another, against the Welsh or the Scots, if not overseas. Sir Walter Blount, Roger Bradshaw, Sir John de la Pole, Sir Nicholas Montgomery I and Sir Philip Okeover were all members of John of Gaunt’s ill-fated expedition to claim the throne of Castile in 1386, and all may be regarded as professional soldiers. Dabrichecourt, who cut a fine figure in the lists and was praised by no less a connoisseur than Jean Froissart for his bravery, must have been well advanced in years by the date of the battle of Agincourt, yet he none the less indented to accompany Henry V to Normandy in 1415. Sir Walter Blount fell fighting for the Lancastrian cause at the battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, as did Sir Thomas Wensley, although Bradshaw, who was also in the field, escaped with his life. Because of their senior positions about the King, (Sir) Roger Leche, Sir Nicholas Montgomery I, John Curson and Peter Melbourne each became involved in attempts to suppress the Scots and the Welsh. This they were admirably qualified to do, for Leche was a veteran of earlier engagements in France, while Melbourne had accompanied the King (as earl of Derby) on his second expedition to Prussia in 1392. Sir John Cockayne was evidently the only MP to sail with Thomas of Lancaster to France in 1412, but there was a more enthusiastic response to Henry V’s plans for a full-scale invasion three years later. At least seven of our men enlisted on this occasion, although Sir Nicholas Longford got no further than Harfleur, where he contracted dysentery and died. Sir Philip Leche remained in France and played a prominent part in the reduction of Normandy. His death at Melun in 1420 earned him many posthumous tributes for valour, not least from Duke Philip of Burgundy who is known to have thought highly of his qualities as a soldier. Thomas Blount II was also much in evidence at this stage of the Hundred Years’ War, fighting on until the death of his patron, the duke of Bedford, in 1435.
During the later Middle Ages parliamentary elections for Derbyshire were held at the county court in Derby. The indentures of election (which survive from 1407 onwards) were witnessed by persons ranging in number from six (in 1407) to 40 (in April 1414), although, on average, about 20 names are given.2 The return of 1419, which was attested by three former MPs and 28 others, is particularly interesting in so far as a clear distinction was maintained between knights, esquires and ‘gentlemen’, all of whom were listed in appropriate order of social rank.3 With the sole exception of the very first indenture (1407), a minimum of two past or future shire knights were regularly present at elections, the other witnesses being drawn from the neighbouring gentry. The striking geography of the county, with its deep valleys and steep hills rising up to 2,000 feet, made communications difficult, and probably explains why attendance was often limited to those freeholders of substance who lived within a reasonable distance of Derby. Not that these restrictions had much practical effect upon the outcome of elections, for in the first part of the 15th century, at least, the choice of Members was made well in advance by a small coterie of leading landowners who shared a community of interest and were usually able to reach a modus vivendi over the choice of mutually acceptable candidates. There is certainly no evidence in our period of the dramatic breakdown in consensus which occurred on 24 June 1433, when Henry, Lord Grey of Codnor, arrived in Derby with a force of 200 men to impose his wishes on the electorate. This display of force was, however, outmatched on the following day by Sir Richard Vernon* and Sir John Cockayne, who got themselves returned, in open defiance of their powerful neighbour. By and large, it was men like Cockayne and Vernon who exercised particular influence over the electoral process, which only later attracted the attention of conflicting baronial factions.4