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


1395William Chinting
 Richard Fowell I
1397 (Jan.)William Chinting
 Robert Harry II
1397 (Sept.)William Chinting
 John Hogg
1399William Chinting
 Robert Harry II

Main Article

Seaford had been in use as a port from at least the 11th century. It supplied vessels for Edward II’s wars; and in our period the wool merchants of Lewes and the South Downs regularly made shipments there. Although it was assessed for parliamentary subsidies as a ‘vill’ rather than a borough (that is, at the rate of a fifteenth as opposed to a tenth), in 1332 there had been 32 inhabitants deemed sufficiently wealthy to be taxed, and they were assessed for a total of £5 2s.5d. But because of French raids in 1340, Seaford’s assessment was subsequently reduced to four marks, and in the 1360s the town was barely populated. A major conflagration in about 1375 was followed in Richard II’s early years by further enemy attacks, so that the hard-pressed inhabitants were forced to petition for orders to be sent to the Sussex tax collectors in 1380 and again in 1384 to discharge them from a large part of the subsidies due. Nevertheless, there are signs of a recovery in Seaford’s economy in the 1390s.1

The lordship of Seaford had descended with the barony of Lewes to the Fitzalan earls of Arundel, the ‘manor of Seaford’ being listed among the possessions of Earl Richard (d.1397) and Earl Thomas (d.1415), and the ‘vill’ among those of the latter’s widow. But of perhaps greater significance were the interests of the duke of Lancaster there. True, in the ten years after 1383 John of Gaunt received rents of assize of no more than £1 9s.7d. annually from Seaford, but in 1393 his officers introduced a new rent-roll, raising the sum due initially to £1 18s.11d. and then, four years later, to £2 7s.3d. It may be that Seaford had grown more populous since the disasters of the 1370s, or else that the duke’s ministers were improving efficiency in the collection of his dues. In addition, John of Gaunt was entitled to perquisites of the local courts, ranging from 18s.2d. to £2 3s.7d. a year, and also, from 1393, to payments for anchorage, although these levies never amounted to more than half a mark. The local official responsible for accounting to the duchy was sometimes called portreeve and sometimes bailiff down to 1384, consistently portreeve from then until 1393, and always bailiff thereafter. Court rolls of the period 1409-17 (when (Sir) John Pelham* was in possession of the duchy estates in Sussex) show the bailiff making presentments at views of frankpledge held twice yearly (in October or November and April or May), and 12 jurors (a different group at each court) taking oath as to the truth of the charges. The bailiff was elected in the autumn court, generally after a single nomination had been put forward, although in October 1416 two men were nominated from whom one was chosen, presumably by all the assembled burgesses.2 This system bore similarities to the government of Hastings, with which one of the Cinque Ports Seaford had long been informally associated. In the 1440s it would be asserted that Seaford was even a member of the Ports ‘where the King’s writ runneth not’, and in 1460 it sent its bailiff to the Brodhull. However, it was not until the time of Seaford’s incorporation in 1544 that the association was made formal.3

Seaford had sent Members to five of the Parliaments summoned between 1298 and 1325, did so again, after a long gap, in 1369 and 1371, but then held no further elections until 1395. After 1399 it was not to be represented until 1641, being then restored by order of the Commons in the Long Parliament. The reasons why returns should have been made to the four consecutive Parliaments of 1395 to 1399 are not readily apparent. Certainly, the period lacked coherence in terms of the Fitzalan interest there, for Richard, earl of Arundel, was condemned for treason and executed at the beginning of the third of these assemblies (September 1397), and his heir, Thomas, had yet to be restored to his estates when the fourth was summoned. Perhaps the influence of officials of the duchy of Lancaster had something to do with it, although none of the four men elected to those Parliaments had any recorded connexion with the duchy, save that Richard Fowell I had once served as duchy bailiff of Seaford (several years before his election), and John Hogg may have held the same office (even earlier). All of those chosen (William Chinting, who sat in all four Parliaments, Robert Harry II, his colleague in two of them, Fowell and Hogg) lived in Seaford itself, and most likely all were merchants on a small scale, although the evidence is lacking.

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. Suss. Rec. Soc. x. 316; Suss. Arch. Colls. vii. 73-87; xvii. 141-7; CCR, 1377-81, p. 387; 1381-5, p. 432; DL 29/441/7086, 7088-9.
  • 2. CIMisc. vi. 368; vii. 213; C138/23/54; CCR, 1385-9, pp. 222-3; DL29/441/7086-7103, 442/7106, 7108, 7109; DL30/127/1898.
  • 3. K.M.E. Murray, Const. Hist. Cinque Ports, 44, 47-48; White and Black Bks. of Cinque Ports (Kent Rec. Ser. xix), 42; C1/11/475.