Speakers at War in the Late 14th and 15th Centuries




The significance of war in the development of the medieval English parliament is well known. The origins of the speakership are located in the context of the Hundred Years War, which began in 1337 and in which the English were still embroiled at the time of the Good Parliament of 1376. It was at this parliament that the Commons first chose a spokesperson, Sir Peter de la Mare, knight of the shire for Herefordshire. This article considers the military careers of de la Mare and his successors to the end of the Hundred Years War in 1453. Did the war have an impact on the choice of Speaker? Was a military man chosen for parliaments where military matters were to be discussed? We know the identity of the Speaker in 53 of the 64 parliaments between 1376 and 1453. Several served more than once, so that we are left with a group of 33 individuals to analyse. An overall trend is discernable. Up to 1407 all known Speakers were belted knights, and most had extensive military experience before they took up office. Only five of the 19 parliaments between 1422 and 1453 had Speakers of knightly rank: otherwise, Speakers with legal and administrative, rather than military, experience were chosen. In the years from 1407 to 1422 the speakership was occupied by a mixture of soldiers and administrators many of whom were closely connected to the royal duchy of Lancaster and to revival of English aggression towards France from 1415 onwards.

The significance of war in the development of the medieval English parliament is well known. The first assembly to which two representatives from each shire and from a number of boroughs were summoned was occasioned in 1265 by a situation of civil war in England. The high level of military activity in the reign of Edward I, which caused that king to require equally high levels of extraordinary income, led not only to the increased frequency of meetings but also to the acceptance that the consent of the Commons was needed for direct taxation to be levied. The origins of the speakership are also fully located in the context of war, the Hundred Years War, which had begun in the late 1330s and in which the English were still embroiled at the time of the Good Parliament of 1376. The first phase of this war had seen great victories at Crécy and Poitiers, and the transfer of almost half of France to direct English rule in the treaty of Brétigny in 1360. The second phase, which began in 1369, had witnessed the swift loss of almost all the gains made earlier. The first half of the 1370s was characterised by a combination of ineffective English campaigns and inconclusive diplomatic negotiations under papal sponsorship. In the summer of 1375 an uneasy short truce had been agreed, but the English were playing a double game. Whilst they were ostensibly willing to participate in further negotiations at Bruges, they were also preparing for the reopening of hostilities.

The issue of writs of summons on 28 December 1375 for a parliament to meet at Westminster on 12 February 1376 was linked to this situation. On 20 January 1376 a postponement was ordered. The Good Parliament, as it soon became known, opened at Westminster on 28 April.1 It was to witness much criticism of royal policies, or more precisely, the policies of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, then in control of the government given the dotage of Edward III and the state of health of his eldest son, Edward of Woodstock (the Black Prince). Many of these criticisms related directly to the war. There was concern over the lack of defence of Calais as well as the problem of its funding. There was annoyance over the recent surrender to the French of St Sauveur-le-Vicomte in Normandy and of Bécherel in Brittany. Those stationed in Brittany were accused of extortion. The expeditionary army of 1372 was blamed for acts of pillage against the population of Hampshire as it assembled to cross to France. Heads had to roll. At the parliament, William, Lord Latimer and John, Lord Neville were impeached. Famously, a spokesperson of the Commons appeared for the first time – Sir Peter de la Mare, knight of the shire for Herefordshire, who was sitting in his first parliament.

It is impossible to know what were the personal talents which made him the Commons' choice. What we can know is that he was the steward of Edmund, earl of March (d. 1381). Not surprisingly, the earl was one of the peers requested by de la Mare on behalf of the Commons to ‘consider those things in the realm which needed amendment’. Another was Guy, Lord Bryan (d. 1390). The choice of de la Mare is most likely a reflection of political factions – in this case comprising the nobility and their affinities – rather than of embryonic democratic constitutionalism. What Professor Roskell did not know when he published his magisterial study of the medieval speakers in 1965 was that Peter de la Mare, then esquire, had served as a soldier in the retinue of the earl of March, then aged 17 years, in the expedition to France in July 1369, the first campaign after the reopening of hostilities.2 Guy, Lord Bryan was also on this campaign.3 So too was William, Lord Latimer, then Sir William, steward of the household, who in 1376 was the object of attack by those who had previously been his comrades-in-arms.4

De la Mare's master, the earl of March, had every reason in 1376 to be annoyed with the foreign policy of the government since he had been a victim of it. In May 1375 he had led a royal army to Brittany and Normandy in the hope of rescuing Bécherel and St Sauveur-le-Vicomte. But a few weeks into the campaign, the government agreed to a truce with France, in the negotiation of which Lord Latimer and others were involved. An order was sent to the earl in Brittany telling him to retreat: ‘desisting from all acts of war, return with all your retinue into our kingdom of England so that you and the retinue shall be there with no default with the greatest possible haste’.5

The earl was not pleased. The crucial question is, of course, whether de la Mare was with him in France. If he was, then the origins of the speakership may lie in the desire of a disgruntled soldier who deliberately sought election to parliament to air his grievances, and those of the earl of March, Lord Bryan and others who had also been on the aborted campaign. So far, however, in the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project, ‘The Soldier in Late Medieval England’, we have not found evidence that de la Mare was present on the 1375 expedition. We know, however, that the earl of March's army contained 24 knights.6 We also know that de la Mare not only served in the earl's retinue in 1369 but that he was active in raising troops in Herefordshire in 1373 for the earl's service in Ireland.7 By the end of 1379, when March was appointed lieutenant of Ireland, de la Mare had been formally retained by the earl for service in peace and war, and crossed to Ireland to prepare for the earl's arrival there.8 These connections are typical of ‘career soldiers’ in the late 14th and early 15th centuries.9

The aim of the ‘Soldier’ project is to create a database of all soldiers serving the English crown between 1369 and 1453. Save for short truces such as that of 1376, and for the period 1389–1415, this period experienced open war between England and France. In the late 14th century successes were limited despite considerable investment in men and money. Under Henry V, there was a return to the triumphs of the early phases of the Hundred Years War, with a famous victory at Agincourt and the conquest of Normandy. In 1420 Henry became heir to the throne of France, and the English occupied much of northern France. The English position remained strong until the late 1420s when the French managed to rescue Orleans and have Charles VII crowned at Reims. Even so, English control of much of Normandy persisted until 1450, and that of Gascony to 1453, and virtually every year from 1415 onwards expeditionary armies were sent from England. The period from 1369 to 1453 therefore sees a great intensity of military activity, funded essentially through taxation, and supporting not only the French war but also military activities in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Spain, Portugal and the Low Countries. In this context, as in earlier centuries, parliament fulfilled a pivotal role in the granting (or reluctance to grant) taxation and also in the formulation of, and deliberation on, war policy. Biographical studies of MPs by Josiah Wedgwood and by the History of Parliament Trust have already shown that a number of the knights of the shire served in royal armies.

In this article, the focus is specifically on the military careers of those chosen as Speakers of the Commons between the first known nomination of de la Mare in 1376 and the end of the Hundred Years War in 1453. As we have said, this period saw almost constant military activity. The calling of parliament was very closely linked to war policy, since it was the taxation grants of the Commons which financed the crown's military ambitions, either directly or by providing security against which loans could be sought. We must ask whether this has any significance in terms of the men chosen as Speaker. There are two possible implications. First, was the choice of Speaker influenced by military considerations? Put baldly, was a military man chosen for parliaments where military matters were to be discussed? Do fluctuations in English military fortunes, or changes in the way war was fought, have any impact on this choice? Second, did a Speaker's own experience of warfare affect the conduct of his office during the parliament? On the whole we shall limit discussion to the military careers of Speakers before they were chosen for the office, since it was this past experience which may have influenced their selection and their performance of their office. Some of this ground has, of course, already been covered by Roskell but new information gleaned through the ‘Soldier’ project can be added.10 With the many recent studies of English warfare in this period, we can also draw a greater sense of context. At base, however, a major dilemma remains. There is still some uncertainty over how a Speaker was chosen at the beginning of a parliament. Did their choice indicate what we might call ‘the anticipatory mood’ of the assembly?

Most Speakers had connections with the crown in one way or another, through officeholding, financial rewards, and service, of which military service was one example. Were they, therefore, truly independent? What role did the crown play in their selection? For the Tudor period there is little dispute on this matter: the Speakers were essentially crown nominees although they had to be acceptable to the Commons. For the period under consideration here, however, there is enough to suggest that at least on some occasions, the Commons made its own choices. The choice of de la Mare was hardly a ‘government-friendly’ move, and he found himself imprisoned in November 1376, five months after the parliament ended. In October 1399 the crown rejected the Commons' nominee, and in December 1420 there was a contested election between two nominees – both signs that the initiative lay with the Commons.11 Each parliament was, of course, unique, and each has its own story to tell. Levels of ‘independence of choice’ could vary. We cannot go into detail here either on individual Speakers or parliaments but must instead emphasize some broad conclusions which are none the less important because they cover a period of almost 80 years of parliamentary history.

Between 1376 and 1453 there were 64 parliaments of varying lengths and frequency. For 11 of these (October 1383–January 1393) we do not know the name of the Speaker. For the remaining 53 we do, although there are some at the beginning of the period where the identification is not wholly secure.12 These 53 parliaments saw 58 speakerships, since on five occasions there were two Speakers nominated. In 1399 the initial choice fell on Sir John Cheyne: he resigned almost immediately on the grounds of ill health but more probably he stood down because of the crown's rejection of him on religious grounds. The resignation of William Stourton in 1413 was also because of ill health although there is, again, a possibility of royal rejection.13 In 1437 the state of illness is undisputed since John Tyrell stood down midway through the parliament and died only a few months later.14 The Speaker nominated in November 1449, Sir John Popham, was excused on the grounds of old age,15 although we shall explore his choice more fully since it was highly significant in the context of the military position at this point in time. In 1454 there was a change of Speaker during the parliament because of a change of political regime, when, following the onset of the king's illness the dominance of the duke of Somerset gave way to that of the duke of York.16 Again there is a link to foreign affairs, since York was keen to bring Somerset and his supporters to task for the loss of Normandy three years earlier.17

The 58 identifiable speakerships were held by 33 different men since several served more than once. Thomas Chaucer, son of the poet, held the largest number of nominations, serving as Speaker on five occasions between 1407 and 1421, including an unparalleled run of three parliaments in a row between 1407 and 1411.18 Roger Flore and William Tresham were both chosen on four occasions, the former for another three parliaments in succession. A further four men served on three occasions, and seven on two.19 Our sample can be broken down in other ways. Eighteen of the 33 individuals who held the speakership were belted (or dubbed) knights at the time they became Speaker.20 John Tyrell was knighted soon after the second of his speakerships in 1431. In the context of this article, this is significant since it was at the point at which he crossed with a number of reinforcements to join the king in France, being shortly afterwards appointed treasurer of the household on 25 May. In times of royal campaigns, the treasurer of the household was also treasurer of wars. Tyrell, therefore, performed a key military function in the months following.21

An interesting contrast appears if we plot the distribution of knightly Speakers across the period. Of the 20 parliaments between 1376 and 1406 where we know the identity of the Speaker, all had a Speaker of knightly rank. The one exception was the first parliament of Henry IV but even that is only a partial exception since the first nominee, Sir John Cheyne, was a knight, who stood down to be replaced by an esquire (who was probably a lawyer), John Doreward. Of the 33 parliaments of the period from 1407 to 1453, however, only eight had a Speaker of knightly rank. The turning point seems to be the choice of Thomas Chaucer for the first of his speakerships in 1407, which ushered in four parliaments in a row where the Speaker was not a belted knight. From the middle of the reign of Henry V onwards, Speakers were most likely to be lawyers. Of the 33 parliaments between 1407 and 1453, 13 opened with a lawyer as Speaker. In 1437 the first Speaker, a knight, was replaced by a lawyer. Yet this was a period which saw intensive warfare with France between Henry V's reopening of the war in 1415 and the loss of Normandy in 1453.

It is the case, of course, that all of the Speakers of the period from 1376 to 1453 were knights of the shire and not burgess representatives. Furthermore, military activity was not the exclusive preserve of belted knights. Two of the Speakers of the rank of esquires – Thomas Chaucer and John Tyrell – had military experience before they took up office. Tyrell had served as a man-at-arms in the retinue of Humphrey, duke of Gloucester on the 1415 campaign, with a company of five men-at-arms and 16 archers, and again in the duke's company in 1417.22 In both 1419 and 1420 he was listed as capable of military service, although he does not seem to have served again until he crossed with the reinforcements in 1431, in a capacity which should perhaps be seen as a military administrator rather than as a soldier. His knighting at that point may have been aimed at giving him status in his office as treasurer, as well as ensuring a greater financial incentive for his service. Arguably, therefore, his military service was limited. The same can be said for Thomas Chaucer. There is some suggestion he was with Gaunt in Spain in 1386, and he definitely served in the Welsh wars, although perhaps briefly.23 He indented to go on the 1415 campaign but was not able to do so through illness. No further service is known. Indeed, both men seem to have preferred on the whole not to serve in armies. Yet that did not make them any less aware of the demands and context of war. Indeed, it is worth remembering that even the lawyers who served as Speakers, and for whom there is no evidence of military service, were often involved in aspects of military administration. John Doreward, for instance, was engaged in the Court of Chivalry as well as being used to report the state of the Welsh marches during the Glendower rebellion.24 Thomas Waweton, like John Tyrell, was listed in 1419 as suitable for military service, although there is no evidence that he ever performed it.25 Non-military Speakers were appointed from time to time as commissioners of array.26 William Allington had extensive experience of military administration before he became Speaker in 1429 through his earlier roles as treasurer in Brest, Ireland and Normandy.27

Drawing a strict line between the military and non-military classes is exceptionally difficult in this period. For instance, John Doreward is known to have left armour in his will.28 The biographies of non-military speakers produced by the History of Parliament Trust show them to have personal and official connections with men who were soldiers. William Stourton, for instance, had acted as receiver for the earl of Salisbury both for the latter's keepership of Carisbroke castle in 1384 and for service on the Scottish campaign in 1385.29 None the less, the stark contrast between the periods before and after 1407 is so marked as to require further thought. It parallels the general decline in the number of belted knights in parliament, as already identified in the study of knights of the shire between 1376 and 1421.30 Whilst this period opened with over 60% of belted knights sitting for the counties, it ended with 30% and on some occasions had fallen to even less. Strikingly, the lowest proportion of 13% coincided with the 1415 campaign. This suggests that warfare – and, in particular, Henry V's desire to raise as large an army as possible for his first invasion – could draw knights away from civil to military service. But this exceptional moment should not disguise the fact that there was an overall decline in the number of dubbed knights in 15th-century England, despite the war. This phenomenon has yet to be explored in more detail, but it may be that the state of war made the gaining of a knighthood more exclusive. There may even have been a financial concern on the part of the government since knights had to be paid twice the daily wage rate of an esquire. Within a parliamentary context, we can also suggest that increasing sophistication in the conduct of business, and the sheer bulk of it, made it preferable to have Speakers with legal rather than military expertise. Even by 1421, there was a rise in the number and proportion of lawyers as knights of the shire and burgesses.31 Further work by the History of Parliament Trust will no doubt clarify the position for the remainder of the period, but a further decline in belted knights and a rise in lawyers are certain.

The changing nature of the type of person chosen as Speaker is all the more obvious if we look more closely at the men themselves. In the late 14th century, de la Mare's immediate successors were men with similar experience to himself. Indeed, many of them would have known each other because they served together in campaigns. Sir Richard Waldegrave and Sir John Gildesburgh, for instance, both served under Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Northampton, in the 1369 campaign.32 Waldegrave had links with Guy, Lord Bryan, similar to those of de la Mare.33 The year 1376 saw Waldegrave's first parliament as it was de la Mare's, and it is tempting that he had sought election for similar reasons relating to the desire to criticize the recent failures in France. Gildesburgh, Sir John Bussy and Sir John Cheyne were all serving under John of Gaunt in the 1378 campaign which aimed to seize St Malo.34 Gildesburgh and Cheyne were knighted during the campaign. Thomas Chaucer was also a retainer of Gaunt and may have served him in a military capacity in the Castilian campaign of 1386.35 Waldegrave, Gildesburgh, Sir Arnold Savage and Sir Henry Retford all served on the Scottish expedition of 1385 in which Gaunt was a leading commander. Indeed, the links to particular peers is striking. In the early days of the speakership, as in 1376 itself, we might even suggest that the choice of Speaker reflected either royal or noble factionalism.

The Speakers of the late 14th century were men of considerable military experience. In the case of Sir John Gildesburgh, this dated back to the battle of Crécy where he was a page or esquire at the age of 15 years. He was also present at Poitiers in the retinue of Bartholemew, Lord Burghersh, in whose retinue he had served for some years. In 1359 he served on the Reims campaign.36 He served again in the 1369 expedition, and in 1371 and 1372, under Humphrey de Bohun.37 He was finally knighted on the 1378 campaign, and took up his first speakership two years later, also serving on Gaunt's Scottish campaign of 1380.38 Sir John Pickering's service dated back to 1359, when he was still an esquire.39 During the hiatus of the Anglo-French war following the treaty of Brétigny he served instead in Ireland with Lionel, duke of Clarence, continuing in service there from 1369 to 1372 under Sir William Windsor, husband of the king's mistress, Alice Perrrers. Waldegrave likewise had service dating back to 1359, when he served in the retinue of William de Bohun, earl of Northampton.40 At the Scrope-Grosvenor case in the court of Chivalry he claimed to have been in arms for 25 years. Indeed, there is much in his career to suggest that he was the model for Chaucer's knight. In 1363 we find him assisting the Teutonic knights. Two years later he was in Turkey and then Alexandria, but in 1369 he joined with many of his knightly compatriots in serving on the expedition to France which followed the reopening of the war. We find him again in arms in 1371 and again in 1372 in expeditions under Humphrey de Bohun, the latter aimed at relieving La Rochelle after the disaster of the expedition under the earl of Pembroke. Whilst awaiting embarkation at Plymouth in 1371, he was involved in jousts, suggesting some degree of prowess in arms.41 To date, no evidence has come to light that Sir Thomas Hungerford served abroad, but he was constable of the castles of Marlborough and Wallingford, a frequent commissioner of array, and was active in the diplomatic negotiations in Bruges in 1375 which led to the truce with France.42

Indeed, this involvement in the negotiation of a truce in 1375 stands in contrast to the militaristic preferences of Sir Peter de la Mare at the same point. It is, therefore, not coincidental that Hungerford, knighted as he set out with Gaunt for the negotiations at Bruges, was chosen as Speaker at the Bad Parliament of 1377 which sought to undo the work of its predecessor. Just as the earl of March and his party seem to have played a role in the nomination of de la Mare in 1376, so Gaunt was surely behind the choice of Hungerford in 1377. Behind these nominations lie a division between hawks and doves at this juncture of the Anglo-French wars. A military context can also be seen in the choice of Sir John Gildesburgh in January 1380. The Commons agreed a grant of one-and-a-half tenths and fifteenths but said that both this lay subsidy and the wool tax should be earmarked to pay for the army due to be sent to Brittany under Thomas of Woodstock. Gildesburgh was appointed receiver of the money for Woodstock. He was chosen as Speaker again at the parliament of November 1380 where the Commons petitioned that the new poll tax should be used to ‘refresh’ the leaders of the expedition to Brittany and to honour the covenants of Woodstock, and that it should not be used for any other purposes. Surely we see here the inclinations of ‘a seasoned veteran of the French wars’, keen to ensure secure continuation of, and support for, the English interests overseas.43

The Speakers of the early part of the reign of Henry IV follow the pattern already established in the previous decades. Sir Arnold Savage had military experience dating back to 1379 and on several fronts, including the garrisoning of Calais and naval activity in the 1380s.44 Sir Henry Retford's experience also appears to stretch back to 1379: he, like Thomas Chaucer, was with Gaunt in Spain in 1386.45 Sir William Sturmy saw service as an esquire in Thomas of Woodstock's expedition to France in 1380, and as a knight in the 1388 naval expedition under the earl of Arundel, as well as serving on the 1394 expedition to Ireland.46 Sir John Tiptoft helped to put Bolingbroke on the throne, and also served in the Welsh wars.47 His choice for one of the most difficult parliaments of Henry IV's reign in terms of financial problems may reflect royal interest in the need to attempt to control the Commons, not least as it was followed soon afterwards by his appointment as only the second layman to be treasurer.48

As we have seen, Thomas Chaucer, with relatively little military experience under his belt, appears to occupy a transitional point. That said, he was definitely a trusted associate of both Henry IV and Henry V, linked through marriage into the de Roet line to the royal family itself. He had been a retainer of Gaunt since at least 1389 and perhaps earlier. He also had extensive experience in diplomacy. It is also significant that his speakerships coincided with a period of little military action, although he was nominated in the parliament of November 1414 when a major campaign in France was decided upon. He was clearly a man to be trusted by both king and Commons. His predecessor in the previous parliament of May 1414, Sir Walter Hungerford, was a similarly trusted man from a similar Lancastrian stable, who had been knighted on the eve of Henry IV's coronation. There is little evidence of his military participation before he was nominated as Speaker but like Waldegrave before him, he had distinguished himself in jousting, this time at Calais in 1406.49 What we see increasingly under Henry V is the dominance of men with experience in the duchy of Lancaster. Sir Walter Hungerford, as his father Thomas before him, held the chief stewardship of the estates south of Trent at the time of his speakership. Roger Hunt, Speaker in December 1420, was Hungerford's deputy in this post, at a time when Sir Walter was increasingly embroiled in the war in France, and had acted as agent for Tiptoft in 1415 when the latter was preparing to sail with a force to Gascony.50 Roger Flore, a lawyer, was made steward of the duchy north of Trent shortly after his first of four speakerships at the parliament of October 1416.51 Behind all this lay the significance of the duchy revenues for the crown's use at a time of exceptional military expenditure. Henry V's determination (or at least his need) to ‘persuade’ the Commons into support for his wars is reflected in the men who were nominated as Speakers.

This is surely the reign where royal influence appears at its strongest. Hungerford and Sir Walter Beauchamp were close associates of the king. The latter may have been with Henry as prince at the battle of Shrewsbury.52 He had been knighted during the early stages of the Agincourt campaign, although invalided home.53 He was an ideal go-between in March 1416 in the light of the king's desire to emphasize the need to keep up the war effort for the defence of Harfleur, and he served with the king again in the army raised in the following months to save the town.54 The impact of the king's absence with so many of the military classes both in 1415 and later is reflected in the choice of Speaker. At the parliament of November 1415, which followed the victory at Agincourt but which was held whilst the king and his army were still in France, there was a notably low participation rate of dubbed knights as knights of the shire, since so many were with the king. The Speaker chosen, Sir Richard Redmayne, was an elderly man, probably born in the 1350s.55 He had been knighted by 1376, and had substantial military experience under his belt, including service in the 1378 naval campaign, the garrison at Roxburgh which his father had commanded, and on the 1394 and 1399 campaigns to Ireland.56 He, too, had shown prowess in the joust. As a veteran soldier, he was in a good position to mediate the king's victory. There was also a personal investment since his second son, Thomas, was serving as an archer on the French campaign in the retinue of Sir Richard's step-son, Sir Brian Stapleton.57 Sir Richard's northern roots (he was knight of the shire for Westmorland) also stood him in good stead, since there were ongoing anxieties about the Anglo-Scottish frontier. Furthermore, John, duke of Bedford, keeper of the realm in his brother's absence, held the earldom of Kendal, creating a personal territorial link.

The parliament of December 1420, however, reveals that the king could not take parliament for granted. It is not a coincidence that this parliament, the first to be held since the sealing of the treaty of Troyes in May, saw a disputed election for the speakership between Roger Hunt and John Russell which went to a vote. Hunt was the most experienced lawyer to date to hold the office, and had already sat in seven parliaments by 1420.58 He also had extensive links with Sir Walter Hungerford, who had made him his deputy in the duchy of Lancaster during the 1415 invasion, and with Sir John Tiptoft. It is not impossible that the disputed election had something to do with reservations about the treaty. The parliament expressed concern at the king's continuing absence and at the nature of the Troyes settlement, requesting a reissue of the 1340 statute that England would never be subordinate to France. There was also no tax grant made. It is difficult to know, however, which ‘parties’ the two contestants represented. Hunt's patrons, Hungerford and Tiptoft, were heavily involved in Henry V's endeavours in France. He may, therefore, have been seen as likely to control the Commons in the king's favour. That said, he was chosen as Speaker again in 1433 when the financing of the war was a major issue. This could suggest that he was seen by the Commons as a man of independent and equitable views. Indeed, it is significant that Humphrey, duke of Gloucester closed the 1420 parliament after only two weeks, postponing real discussion of the treaty and of the financial needs of the king until Henry himself returned in the following year and attended the May 1421 parliament in person. For that parliament the veteran Lancastrian, Thomas Chaucer, was chosen as Speaker. The Commons was correspondingly more co-operative.

The reign of Henry VI sees the speakership dominated by non-knights. Between 1422 and 1453, there were 19 parliaments but only five of them had Speakers of knightly rank. Furthermore, two of these were exonerated (Tyrell in 1437 and Popham in November 1449) and replaced by esquires, and one, Sir Thomas Charleton, was a knightly replacement in 1454 for the initially-nominated Speaker, Thomas Thorpe esquire. Sir Thomas Waweton seems not to have had a military career, and Sir Richard Vernon had next to none.59 The majority of the Speakers of the reign were men with substantial legal and administrative experience who had no military experience whatsoever.60 This reflects the way parliamentary business was moving but also the way the war with France was developing. The treaty of Troyes made it possible for the English to draw on French revenues to finance the war. Indeed, this is what they did, with the result that between 1422 and 1428 no grants of the lay subsidy were requested of the English parliament. This contributed to a growing divide between the English in France and the English in England, which was further fanned by the needs of an occupation. The campaigns of the late 14th century had been time-limited, and had generated a constant need to reassess strategy, sometimes in the face of differing views within the military and political community. In other words, the war remained a major subject for discussion. Under Henry IV, the French front subsided only to be replaced by wars closer to home which cost money but were generally less divisive. The successes of Henry V, and his premature death, created a need for occupation and hence the development of a separate English regime in France. Increasingly, there was a divide between Lancastrian England and Lancastrian France. This is exemplified by the decreasing numbers of members of the Commons with military experience at the same time that soldiers based in France developed lengthy careers, but based largely overseas.

What is striking, however, is that in moments of crisis, Speakers with military links were preferred.61 In the face of the raising of the siege of Orleans and the losses of the summer of 1429 which led to the coronation of Charles VII at Reims, parliament was called in order to gain taxation to fund a major expedition with which the young king, crowned at Westminster during the parliament, would cross to his French kingdom. The Speaker chosen was William Allington, who had served as receiver of Brest in 1397, treasurer of Calais in 1398, treasurer of Ireland in 1403 and of Normandy between 1419 and 1422.62 Who better for both the crown and the Commons than the medieval equivalent of an old colonial administrator to know what was needed and also what was possible, and to persuade all towards a common goal? Not only was the Commons generous but also a large army was recruited in the months which followed the parliament. The choice of Sir John Popham in November 1449 points to a different response to crisis. By this time, the English position was much diminished, and on the point of diminishing further now that Charles VII had invaded the duchy and, by the time the parliament met, had taken Rouen. On this occasion Sir John Popham, probably the only surviving veteran of Agincourt present at the parliament, was chosen, even though this was only his second parliament.63 It is tempting to think that he was selected by the Commons as a rebuke to the government – a symbol of past successes which they had ruined by mismanagement. This was, after all, the parliament in which the duke of Suffolk, whose father and brother had died on the Agincourt campaign, was impeached largely for war failure. It is possible that Popham had had himself elected in order to complain: his only other parliament was that of 1439 in which the contentious release of the duke of Orleans had been agreed. Popham had, after all, been in the retinue of the duke of York at the battle of Agincourt. He had seen York, as well as Suffolk's elder brother, die there. He had served almost continuously in military and diplomatic activity in France from 1417 to 1442.

That the choice of Popham was a symbolic act is further suggested by the fact that he immediately expressed his wish to stand down. No doubt the government, still effectively headed by Suffolk, was pleased to let him to do so, and to accept the replacement Speaker, William Tresham. Indeed, the government may have ‘facilitated’ the replacement. Tresham, a lawyer, was a dutiful royal servant who had most recently served as Speaker at the parliament at Bury St Edmunds in February 1447, the parliament linked to the demise of Humphrey, duke of Gloucester.64 That said, the Commons got its way in bringing Suffolk to trial in the third session of the November 1449 parliament. As Roskell concluded: ‘Tresham's own allegiances are likely to have been in a state of flux and confusion at this time of national calamity and threatening strife.’65

Calamity and strife continued to colour English politics at the next parliament which opened in November 1450. By this time, Normandy was lost and Gascony was under threat. Yet Henry VI had continued to show confidence in Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset, the erstwhile lieutenant-general in France, appointing him constable of England and captain of Calais after his enforced evacuation from Normandy. Not surprisingly, the parliament was to see criticism of Somerset and of others considered responsible for the recent defeats. There is strong suspicion that Richard, duke of York was behind this. It is, therefore, extremely significant that the man chosen as Speaker was Sir William Oldhall. Not only was he a veteran of the wars, with service dating back at least to 1416, but he had developed strong links with York in France in the 1440s. He had himself lost lands and revenues in Normandy as a result of the defeats. Therefore he had ample reason to wish to bring to task those responsible, setting aside any notion that he might have been encouraged to do so by York. Furthermore, Oldhall had never previously sought election as an MP. We have a significant parallel with de la Mare. Both men were Speakers in their first parliament. Both were chosen because of issues concerning military policy. Both found themselves indicted after the parliament. De la Mare was arrested, Oldhall managed to enter sanctuary at St Martin-le-Grand. In the next parliament which met from 6 March 1453 there were further actions against Oldhall, including a full attainder and outlawry.66 The political triumph of Somerset over York was symbolised by the choice of Thomas Thorpe as Speaker. As noted earlier, however, the king's illness led to York's appointment as protector. The tables were now turned. Thorpe was arrested and replaced by Sir Thomas Charleton, and Oldhall secured a writ of error, although it was not until the eve of the 1455 parliament, which followed the Yorkist victory at St Albans, that he was able to leave sanctuary and to be fully acquitted.

The events of 1449–54 show clearly how politicised the choice of Speaker had become within the context of the war in France, and also how politicised the individual remained even after he had held office. Not only can this be seen in the case of Oldhall, but also in what happened to William Tresham after his service as Speaker in the troubled parliament of November 1449. On York's return to England in September 1450, the duke wrote to Tresham to arrange a meeting with him en route to London. We can only speculate what the duke wanted to discuss. Writs of summons and election had been issued on 5 September. Was the duke assuming that Tresham might once again be chosen as Speaker? Since Tresham had co-operated in the impeachment of Suffolk, was York wishing to discuss with him the possible impeachment of Somerset? These suggestions gain extra credence by the fact that Tresham was murdered on his way to meet the duke. Rumours circulated that those who ambushed him were the men of Lord Grey of Ruthin, a member of the Lancastrian, pro-Somerset party.67 We have, therefore, come full circle from 1376. There can be no doubt that the war with France had a significant influence on the parliaments of the period, whether in support or in criticism of government policy, in celebration of success or in recriminations for failure. Within this context, it is not surprising that the choice of Speaker was important for both crown and Commons, and that at particular junctures, the selection of a man with military experience was preferred by one side, or both.


  • 1

    The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England 1275–1504, ed. Chris Given-Wilson et al. (16 vols, Woodbridge, 2005) [hereafter cited as PROME], v: Edward III, 1351–1377, ed. Mark Ormrod, introduction, 289. For a fuller discussion, see G.A. Holmes, The Good Parliament (Oxford, 1975); C.C. Bayley, ‘The Campaign of 1375 and the Good Parliament’, English Historical Review, lv (1940).

  • 2

    J.S. Roskell, The Commons and their Speakers in English Parliaments 1376–1523 (Manchester, 1965). See also his ‘Sir Peter de la Mare, Speaker for the Commons in Parliament in 1376 and 1377’, Nottingham Medieval Studies, ii (1958), 2437, reprinted in his Parliament and Politics in Late Medieval England (3 vols, 1981–3), ii, 1–14. The evidence for de la Mare's service under March in 1369 is that he took out letters of protection for one year on 30 July 1369 (TNA, C76/52, m. 7).

  • 3

    TNA, E403/438, m. 36 (under 12 Sept. 1369, service of himself with 29 men-at-arms and 30 archers).

  • 4

    TNA, E101/393/11, f. 76 (service of himself with 79 men-at-arms and 100 archers).

  • 5

    TNA, E101/34/6, dated 20 July 1375, cited in Holmes, Good Parliament, 45.

  • 6

    TNA, E403/451; E364/10, m. 4d.There is a muster roll for the expedition (TNA, E101/35/6) but it is damaged and contains only 423 of the 800 names of the soldiers known from the financial records to have been serving.

  • 7

    Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1370–4, p. 353.

  • 8

    TNA, E159/157.

  • 9

    For examples, see the soldier profiles on the project website, http://www.medievalsoldier.org (accessed 7 September 2009).

  • 10

    I am grateful to my co-investigator, Dr Adrian Bell of the University of Reading, and to the research assistants on the project, Dr Andy King and Dr David Simpkin, for information provided for this article.

  • 11

    Roskell, Speakers, 136–7, 170.

  • 12

    The suggestions of Roskell have been followed for the parliaments of 1379 (Sir James de Pickering); May 1382 and Oct. 1382 (Sir Richard de Waldegrave); Jan. 1395 (Sir John de Bussy).

  • 13

    Roskell, Speakers, 154–5. Since Doreward's status as a lawyer is uncertain, Stourton is the first definite lawyer to have been nominated as Speaker.

  • 14

    Roskell, Speakers, 216 n. 1.

  • 15

    Roskell, Speakers, 237.

  • 16

    Roskell, Speakers, 253–5.

  • 17

    PROME, xii: Henry VI, 1447–1460, ed. A. Curry, introduction to the parliament of 1453, pp. 220–2.

  • 18

    This might also have been achieved by Sir Richard Waldegrave and Sir John Bussy in the 1380s and 1390s respectively.

  • 19

    Three occasions: Sir Richard de Waldegrave; Sir James de Pickering; Sir John de Bussy; John Tyrell. Two occasions: Sir Peter de la Mare; Sir John de Gildesburgh; Sir Arnold Savage; John Doreward; John Russell; Roger Hunt; William Burley.

  • 20

    Roskell can be misleading here as he tends to use the description ‘Sir’ even when the Speakers were not formally belted knights, as in the case of John Doreward, Thomas Waweton, John Tyrell (before his dubbing in 1431).

  • 21

    A. Curry, ‘The “Coronation Expedition” and Henry VI's Court in France, 1430 to 1432’, in The Lancastrian Court, ed. J. Stratford (Stamford, 2003), 43. Tyrell indented to serve with two men-at-arms and 12 archers (TNA, E404/47/173, 23 Apr.; E403/698, under 16 Mar. and 12 Apr. 1431). On 16 March he also received a reward of £100 for agreeing to serve the king in France (TNA, E403/696, under 16 March). See also Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council of England 1386–1542, ed. H. Nicolas (7 vols, 1834–7), iv, 484. Parliament ended on 20 Mar. 1431. The exact date of his knighting is not certain. The military wage rate of 4s. per day suggests that he was deemed to hold the status of knight banneret. For his biography, see The History of Parliament: The House of Commons, 1386–1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, Linda Clark and Carole Rawcliffe (4 vols, Stroud, 1992) [hereafter cited as HPC, 1386–1421], iv, 683–6.

  • 22

    TNA, E101/45/13, m. 3; E101/51/2, m. 11 (within the retinue of Sir Hugh Luttrell).

  • 23

    He mustered as a man-at-arms in the force under John Beaufort, earl of Somerset, in 1403, detailed to the garrison of Camarthen and for the defence of Wales (TNA, E101/43/21, m. 4d). Sir John Tiptoft served in the same force (m. 4).

  • 24

    HPC, 1386–1421, ii, 790–1.

  • 25

    HPC, 1386–1421, iv, 791.

  • 26

    For instance, William Burley in 1418 and 1421. He was also involved in 1415 in the payment of the Calais garrison (J.S. Roskell, ‘William Burley of Boncroft’, Shropshire Archaeological Society, lvi (1960), 26372, reprinted in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, iii, 343–52).

  • 27

    HPC, 1386–1421, ii, 28–9.

  • 28

    J.S. Roskell, ‘Sir John Doreward of Bocking’, Essex Archaeology and History, viii (1978 for 1976), reprinted in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, iii, 62.

  • 29

    TNA, E403/502, m. 9; E403/508, m. 12, cited in J.S. Roskell, ‘William Stourton of Stourton’, Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, lxxxii (1960), 15566, reprinted in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, iii, 196.

  • 30

    HPC, 1386–1421, i, Appendix B1.

  • 31

    HPC, 1386–1421, i, Appendix B2.

  • 32

    Waldegrave: TNA, C76/52, mm. 18, 22; Gildesburgh: TNA, C76/52, mm. 9, 12.

  • 33

    J.S. Roskell, ‘Sir Richard Waldgrave of Bures St Mary’, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology, xxvii (1957), pt 3, pp. 15475, reprinted in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, iii, 32.

  • 34

    For Bussy, HPC, 1386–1421, ii, 450–1. For Cheyne, TNA, E101/36/39, m. 1 (within retinue of Sir William de Beauchamp and Sir Lewis Clifford). Cheyne also served as a man-at-arms in the army of 1375 in the retinue of Edward, Lord Despenser (TNA, E101/34/5, m. 3), and on the expedition to Ireland in 1394 (J.S. Roskell, ‘Sir John Cheyne of Beckford’, Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, lxxv (1956), 4372, reprinted in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, ii, 65–94).

  • 35

    J.S. Roskell, ‘Thomas Chaucer of Ewelme’, in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, iii, 153.

  • 36

    TNA, C76/38, m. 11 (appointment of his attorneys, 23 Aug. 1359, no captain specified); C76/40, m. 10 (renewal of protection for service in the retinue of Sir Bartholemew Burghersh). He was an esquire at this point. I am grateful to Dr Andrew Ayton for these references.

  • 37

    Roskell, Speakers, 125; The Scrope and Grosvenor Controversy, ed. N.H. Nicolas (2 vols, 1832), i, 217–8.

  • 38

    TNA, C76/62, m. 2; Scrope and Grosvenor, ed. Nicolas, 218.

  • 39

    TNA, C76/38, m. 16 (protection of 24 Aug. 1359 for service in the retinue of Henry of Grosmont, duke of Lancaster). I am grateful to Dr Andrew Ayton for this reference, which was not known to Professor Roskell. See J.S. Roskell, ‘Sir James Pickering of Killington’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, new ser., lxi (1961), reprinted in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, iii, 1–26.

  • 40

    Scrope and Grosvenor, ed. Nicolas, i, 165. Waldegrave had substantial military activity in the years following his speakerships.

  • 41

    HPC, 1386–1421, iv, 736.

  • 42

    J.S. Roskell, ‘SirThomas Hungerford’, Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, lvi (1956), 272300, reprinted in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, ii, 15–44.

  • 43

    As expressed by Roskell and Rawcliffe in HPC, 1386–1421, ii, 186.

  • 44

    TNA, C76/64, m. 20 (1379, letters of protection for one year for service in France); C76/67, m. 14 (1383, Calais garrison under Sir John Devereux); C76/68, m. 11; C76/69, m. 14; C76/71, m. 14 (1384–6, Calais garrison, under Sir William Beauchamp). The last reference shows that he was knighted by August 1386. In 1387 he served under the earl of Arundel in the naval campaign (TNA, E101/40/33, mm. 6d, 13), and was similarly in the 1388 campaign (TNA, E101/41/5, m. 15d). He also served on the Scottish expedition of 1385, and had intended to serve on Gaunt's expedition to Spain in 1386 but had letters of protection revoked (Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1385–9, pp. 176, 189; J.S. Roskell, ‘Sir Arnald Savage of Bobbing’, Archaeologia Cantiana, lxx (1956), 6383, reprinted in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, iii, 69).

  • 45

    J.S. Roskell, ‘Sir Henry de Retford’, Lincolnshire Architectural and Archaeological Society: Reports and Papers, new ser., vii, pt 2 (19578), 11725, reprinted in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, iii, 81–90. For his service in Brittany in 1379, see TNA, C76/64, m. 18.

  • 46

    1380: TNA, E101/39/9, m. 4 (in the company of Sir Hugh Calverley); 1388: TNA, E101/41/5, m. 5; 1394: TNA, E101/402/20, f. 34. The service in 1380 and 1388 was not known to Roskell. See J.S. Roskell, ‘Sir William Sturmy’, Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art, lxxxix (1957), 7892, reprinted in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, iii, 91–106.

  • 47

    His service under John Beaufort, earl of Somerset in the garrison of Camarthen and defence of Wales in 1403 was not known to Roskell (TNA, E101/43/21, m. 4). Tiptoft was also seneschal of Landes and held custody of the castle of Dax but there is no proof that he ever served in Gascony in person before 1415.

  • 48

    J.S. Roskell, ‘Sir John Tiptoft’, in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, iii, 107–50; HPC, 1386–1421, iv, 62.

  • 49

    HPC, 1386–1421, iii, 448.

  • 50

    HPC, 1386–1421, iii, 456.

  • 51

    J.S. Roskell, ‘Roger Flore’, Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, xxxiii (1957), 3644, reprinted in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, iii, 255–64.

  • 52

    J.S. Roskell, ‘Sir Walter Beauchamp’, Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, lvi (1956), 34258, reprinted in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, iii, 237–54.

  • 53

    TNA, E101/44/30, no. 1, m. 2.

  • 54

    TNA, E101/48/10/103; E403/624, m. 4.

  • 55

    J.S. Roskell, ‘Sir Richard Redmayne of Levens’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, new ser., lxii (1962), 11344, reprinted in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, iii, 205–36.

  • 56

    In addition to the information provided by Roskell, he took out a protection for naval service in 1378 under Sir John Devereux (TNA, C76/61, m. 7), and was a man-at-arms under the captaincy of his father at Roxburgh in 1381–2 (E101/531/29, mm. 2, 6).

  • 57

    TNA, E101/45/4, m. 11.

  • 58

    Overall he sat in 17 out of 21 parliaments between 1413 and 1433 (HPC, 1386–1421, iii, 457).

  • 59

    Waweton was listed as one of the Bedfordshire gentry qualified to perform military service but there is no evidence that he ever did so (HPC, 1386–1421, iv, 789–93). Vernon served on the 1416 expedition (J.S. Roskell, ‘Sir Richard Vernon of Haddon’, Derbyshire Archaeological Journal, lxxxii (1962), 4354, reprinted in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, iii, 265–76). He may also have served as a man-at-arms under the earl marshal in the 1417 expedition but this identification is uncertain (TNA, E101/51/2, m. 27).

  • 60

    Richard Baynard, brother-in-law of John Doreward and a close friend of John Tyrell, was amongst those in Essex seen in January 1420 as qualified for military service but there is no evidence he ever served (HPC, 1386–1421, ii, 150–2).

  • 61

    This was not the case in 1435, however, when John Bowes was chosen as Speaker for reasons unknown (J.S. Roskell, ‘John Bowes of Costock’, Transactions of the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire, lx (1956), 819, reprinted in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, iii, 331–42).

  • 62

    J.S. Roskell, ‘William Allington’, Proceedings of the Cambridgeshire Antiquarian Society, xxx, reprinted in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, iii, 317–30.

  • 63

    J.S. Roskell, ‘Sir John Popham, Knight-Banneret, of Charford’, Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society, lii (1959), 4355, reprinted in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, iii, 353–82; A. Curry, ‘Popham, Sir John (c.1395–1463)’, ODNB, Oxford University Press, 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/22542 (accessed 19 Dec. 2008)].

  • 64

    Significantly, John Say, Speaker in the Feb. 1449 parliament, for which he was richly rewarded by the crown, and closely linked to the duke of Suffolk, first sat in the 1447 parliament where Suffolk's influence was substantial (J.S. Roskell, ‘Sir John Say of Broxbourne’, East Herts Archaeological Society, xiv (1959), 2041, reprinted in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, ii, 153–74).

  • 65

    J.S. Roskell, ‘William Tresham of Sywell’, Northamptonshire Past and Present, ii, no. 4 (1957), 189203, reprinted in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, ii, 137–52 (quote at 146).

  • 66

    J.S. Roskell, ‘Sir William Oldhall’, Nottingham Medieval Studies, vii (1963), 79105, reprinted in Roskell, Parliament and Politics, ii, 193–4; A. Curry, ‘Oldhall, Sir William (d. 1460)’, ODNB, Oxford University Press, 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/20684 (accessed 19 Dec. 2008)].

  • 67

    According to the annals ascribed to William of Worcester, cited in Roskell, ‘William Tresham’, 150.