The election of Essex Knights to the Parliaments of Edward Ist [53]

This is an area which has already been worked over. In 1925 J. G. Edwards published an elegant and lucid essay which established beyond any reasonable doubt that the knights and burgesses returned to the early medieval parliaments were not infrequently re-elected to attend subsequent parliaments. [54] This startling revelation soon provoked an acid rejoinder from A. F. Pollard, the doyen of the old guard of parliamentary historians. Pollard accused Edwards of taking semantics and statistics in vain, and restated his own established belief that re-election was in fact rare, and a good thing too, so far as the perfection of the English constitution was concerned. [55] By October 1926 the upstart Edwards had refuted Pollard's argument, [56] and thereafter the controversy slipped quietly into the limbo of parliamentary historiography. There was, of course, more to this skirmish than the duplicity of statistics and the traps of language, for, if it could be shown that re-election was not uncommon, it might be argued that those knights who were re-elected actually wished to attend parliament, rather than being coerced, as Pollard believed, [57] by a domineering and importunate king

Pollard's views, on this matter at least, now seem to have little to commend them. His assumption that representation was a burden to the knights and burgesses was not supported by any reliable evidence, either for or against. Where Pollard relied on silence to impose his own beliefs, Edwards at least managed to raise an echo from the meagre evidence available. The purpose of this study is to try to amplify that echo slightly by examining the parliamentary representation of the county of Essex during the reign of Edward I, and to show how three linked factors, the evidence of abnormal elections, the appointment of mainpernors, and the age of the parliamentary representatives, may reveal something of the procedures used in early parliamentary elections

Abnormal Election Returns

In an age which venerated customary practices by taking them almost completely for granted, the procedures used for making parliamentary elections in the county courts have escaped written record. All that survives, and that not invariably, is the writ of summons, with the return endorsed on it by the sheriff. For the most part these writs and returns are regular in form, though regularity of form does not imply a corresponding regularity in the procedure of election. Some of the returns are, however, irregular in form, either because of minor variations in layout, or because the returning sheriff has volunteered some additional information about the election. These irregular returns may provide some insight into the electoral procedures concealed behind the bland statement of the vast majority of ' regular ' returns.

The regular returns are simple and concise. They begin with a preamble stating that the election was held in the full county court, name the two knights elected, and list their mainpernors. Such returns are available for six elections, each of two knights, made in the county court of Essex during the reign of Edward I, namely the elections for the parliaments of 1295, 197, 1298, 1301, 1305, and 1306 respectively. [58] The returns for the 1290 parliament are idiosyncratic, partly because the writs required the election of three or four knights, rather than two, as in all subsequent returns, and partly because two of the four knights elected to represent Essex were said to be present in court at the time of the election, whilst the other two suffered distraint on their goods and chattels to ensure their attendance at parliament, thus implying that they were not present in court at the time of the election. [59] The Essex election of 1290 is not the only instance of direct distraint on goods and chattels to secure the attendance of representatives at an Edwardian parliament. For example, the sheriff of Devon returned in 1298 that both knights had been distrained to find mainpernors, but only one had subsequently done so. [60] In Bedfordshire in 1298 the sheriff returned that he had distrained Richard le Rous, one of the elected knights, per octo boves et quatuor afros veniendum coram vobis , and in Devon in 1302 both knights were distrained by lands and goods because they were unwilling to produce mainpernors. [61] The return for Lincolnshire in 1290 records that Gilbert de Nevill, one of three knights elected by the county court, was not present in court at the time of the election, nor could anyone be found who would either stand as his mainpernor, or go to parliament in his place. [62] In this case the sheriff could do nothing except empower the two remaining knights to act in place of Gilbert if he failed to appear at the parliament. Similarly, in Gloucestershire in 1301, both the knights returned held their lands within liberties in which the sheriff had no powers either to enforce the appointment of mainpernors, or to distrain on the chattels of the knights themselves, though mainpernors were eventually appointed for one of the knights concerned through the mediation of the bailiff of the liberty. [63]

Under certain circumstances, then, the normal procedure of appointing mainpernors for representatives was suspended in favour of direct distraint on the goods of those elected, and the implication is that this expedient was adopted when the knight elected was either absent from the court at the time of the election, or else unwilling or unable to produce mainpernors. Other irregular returns of a similar kind afford further snippets of corroborative evidence. For example, the knights of Devon in 1295 stood surety for each other, thus obviating the need for mainpernors. [64] In 1297 the sheriff of Cornwall returned that the knights elected had brought their mainpernors before him, and in the Oxfordshire and Berkshire elections of the same year the sheriff carefully noted not only the names of the mainpernors, but also the value of their lands, to make assurance doubly sure. [65]

The election of absentees, and the means taken to secure their attendance at parliament, is the first evident abnormality in the returns, and it suggests a corresponding abnormality in the routine electoral procedure. The second evident abnormality is in the return of one knight to represent more than one county at a particular parliament. Hugh le Blount, for example, successfully claimed expenses as the representative of both Essex and Berkshire at the Westminster parliament of 1300. [66] The writs issued for the parliament at Lincoln in 1301, which was intended to be a continuation of the Westminster assembly, specifically ordered the sheriffs to return the knights previously returned to the 1300 parliament, thus sparing the counties the trouble of making new elections. Unfortunately the 1301 returns for Berkshire are no longer extant, but Hugh was duly returned from Essex, and was probably similarly returned from Berkshire. [67] Hugh certainly held lands in both counties, and was subsequently returned from Berkshire alone in 1307 and 1313. [68] Similarly John de Acton, knight of the shire for Herefordshire in 1300, was returned in 1301 for both Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. [69]The Gloucestershire returns for 1300 have also disappeared, but if the sheriff of Gloucestershire returned John as a matter of course in 1301 it is most probable that he also represented both counties in 1300. Certainly the sheriff of Gloucestershire was at great pains to draw attention to the incapacity of the other knight, unnamed, who should have been returned in 1301 but was in fact replaced by John de Acton's partner Richard de Croupes. [70] Acton and Blount may thus have been twice elected to represent two counties, albeit to parliaments which were intended to be identical in composition. Other cases are less complicated. Robert de Hoo was returned in 1298 for both Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire; Richard of Windsor was returned from Berkshire and Middlesex in 1297. [71] Of these four knights only Acton and Blount can be shown to have actually attended the parliaments to which they were returned since there are no surviving expenses writs for the other two cases. [72]

Similarly it cannot easily be established whether each of these knights was actually present in court at the time of each election. The double return of Blount is evident only from expenses writs, the original returns being defective. Windsor was apparently present in the Middlesex court, where he appointed mainpernors, but the sheriff of Berkshire distrained on his chattels to the value of 1O to ensure his attendance at parliament, [73] thus implying that he was not present at the Berkshire election. Acton and Hoo both had a full complement of mainpernors in each court, but the sheriffs of both Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire reported that Hoo had not come to their courts for the election. [74] Robert de Berkeley, knight of the shire for Gloucestershire in 1298 was also reported not to have come to the court for the election, nevertheless mainpernors were appointed on his behalf. [75] Thus, whilst distraint of chattels might imply absence from the electing court, the appointment of mainpernors need not necessarily imply presence

The third category of irregularity in the returns is that in which the sheriff reported either that no election had been made, or that those elected had subsequently been replaced by others. In both cases good excuses were generally given for variations in the normal procedure. In the former case the reason was usually that the men of the county were employed in local defence, or in other duties which were considered essential to military security, as for example, Westmorland in 1295, or Cumberland, Sussex and Surrey in 1297. [76] This excuse was also used by Northumberland in 1306, when the two knights elected were subsequently replaced by others, [77] but the more normal reason for substitution was the death or incapacity of the knight originally elected. This is particularly noticeable in the returns to the joint parliaments of 1300 and 1301 when the sheriffs of Kent, Buckinghamshire, Devon, Gloucestershire, Suffolk and Warwickshire were all obliged to make substitutions in the 1301 returns on account of the death or incapacity of those previously returned in 1300. [78]

These are the most obvious and recurrent irregularities in the returns, and they raise three main points. Firstly, irregular returns were extremely rare; less than two per cent of the total number of individual county elections made between 1290 and 1307 could be described as irregular, and the inference is that in the majority of cases the 'regular' procedure for elections, whatever it might be, worked smoothly. Moreover all of the few irregularities noted arose from genuine administrative difficulties, either because the sheriff concerned was unsure of the correct procedure, or because he was anxious to explain any variation on the normal practice, whatever it may have been. There is, it seems, no whiff of corruption, or even malpractice, of the kind which led sheriffs to return themselves to the parliaments of Edward III. [79] The returns surviving from the reign of Edward I may therefore reflect elections held in a state of innocence as yet unsullied by the political sophistication of later reigns. Secondly, the irregular returns do suggest, and in some cases explicitly state, that those elected were not present in the court at the time of the election. And thirdly, the irregular returns show that distraint of chattels could be used as an alternative to the appointment of mainpernors to secure the attendance of the knights at the parliament to which they had been elected

The Appointment of Mainpernors

Since the writs of summons to parliament at no time required the counties to appoint mainpernors for their elected representatives, the desire for such security must have come from the county court itself. Moreover, the onus of appointing mainpernors, or providing alternative securities, lay squarely on the individual elected, rather than on the court. In this way the court could avoid any risk of amercement for failing to send representatives, whilst at the same time giving the representatives, and their mainpernors, a powerful incentive to carry out the duties expected of them. Hence also the anxiety of the sheriffs to offer convincing excuses for any failure to make an election, since such an omission might expose the sheriff and the court to the king's judicial wrath. A summons to parliament was apparently a serious matter, and one to which the counties responded diligently, especially when there was any doubt or irregularity about the election

The principle of mainprise was one which was already well established in contemporary civil and criminal law. As Maitland says, 'the mainprise of substantial men was about as good a security as a gaol', [80] and it was a principle which could easily be applied to parliamentary representation. Nor were the duties of mainpernors merely formal. In 1294 a number of Essex knights sought quittance from stringent amercements imposed on them as mainpernors of the miscreant Guy de Shenfield, whom they had failed to bring before the forest justices. [81] There is, as yet, no evidence that parliamentary mainpernors were ever held to account by the royal justices, nor was there any reason why they should be arraigned since the evidence of expenses writs suggests that the counties were scrupulous in ensuring the attendance of their representatives. Nevertheless attendance at these early parliaments was probably regarded as a form of suit at the royal court, and members of the county court must have been well aware of the penalties for withholding suit in other royal courts. It was better to avoid such risks

Under normal conditions each knight elected to parliament would appoint between two and six mainpernors, who agreed to ensure that their principal attended parliament. Such mainpernors were appointed in fourteen out of twenty individual elections made in Essex between 1290 and 1307, and they amounted in all to thirty-seven individuals. Reminding ourselves of the territorial backgrounds of the knights elected soon reveals a significant correlation between them and their mainpernors. In nine out of fourteen individual elections in Essex at least one mainpernor can be shown to have come from a hundred or vill in which his principal held lands or tenements. In seven cases the evidence is conclusive, since the mainpernors are identified in the returns by their vill of origin. In the two remaining cases identity may be established circumstantially. [82] In individual cases the correlation is more striking. For example, the mainpernors of John Fillol and Ralph Arderne, knights of the shire for Essex in 1295, all came from the same vill as their principals. Arderne held estates at Great Parndon and Harlow, and both of his mainpernors are described in the return as coming from Harlow. [83] Fillol, whose family held land for many years at Kelvedon in Witham hundred, was mainperned by two men said to be from Kelvedon. [84] Hugh le Blount held estates at Buttsbury in Chelmsford hundred, and was mainperned in 1298 by men from Hanningfield, Springfield and Baddow, also in Chelmsford hundred. [85] In the same election five out of the six mainpernors of Jollan Duresme came from Dunmow, where Jollan had his estates. [86] In 1301 Richard and William le Fysher of Hatfield Peverel in Witham hundred stood surety for John Fillol of Kelvedon, also in Witham. [87] In some cases mainpernors stood more than once. Richard le Clerk of Baddow, for example, stood for Hugh le Blount in 1298 and 1301, and possibly for Ralph de Arderne in 1302. [88] Thomas Peyvre of Dunmow stood for Jollan Duresme in 1298, and for Ralph Bigod in 1306. [89] Both Bigod and Duresme held lands in Dunmow, and were probably influential in that hundred. [90]

The status of the mainpernors is less easily discerned. At least three of the sureties appointed in these Essex elections were knights, or men of knightly status. Robert de Hoo, mainpernor of John de Tany in 1305, was certainly a knight, and was enrolled with his blazon under Bedfordshire in the so-called Great Parliamentary Roll of Arms. [91] His family held extensive fees in Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, and Hertfordshire. His widow, Hawisia was involved with Stephen son of John de Bassingbourn in a fine over no less than five manors in Essex and Hertfordshire. [92] and he was himself returned to parliament on several occasions. [93] Richard Clovile, mainpernor of Hugh le Blount, was probably a relative of William Clovile who appears on a schedule of Essex knights enrolled for local defence in 1295, though described as impotens. [94] Bartholomew Bigod, mainpernor of Jollan Duresme in 1298, was certainly a relative of the parliamentary knight Ralph Bigod, and held Ralph's manor at Alfriston, near Dunmow. [95] Edmund of Baddow, who stood for Hugh le Blount in 1298, had other connections with the Blount family, was clearly a man of substance, if not actually a knight, and was probably related to the Blounts by marriage. In 1305 he acquired nearly 600 acres of land from Hugh le Blount the elder, to be held by himself and the heirs of his wife Joan, as the gift of Hugh, probably implying that his wife Joan was Blount's daughter. [96] Those mainpernors who were not knights are less easily described. Some seventeen of the thirty seven recorded parliamentary mainpernors were at some time or another involved in fines for conveyancing land,** [97]though two of these fines are dated outside the possible life span of men active in the reign of Edward Ist. * [98] Participation in final concords suggests, as we have seen, that these men might have been active in the land market and therefore familiar with court procedures. This, in itself is an index of status, though, for the most part, the amounts of land conveyed in these transactions were generally rather modest, for example, twenty six acres in Hatfield in 1293, thirty two acres in Roding in 1322, one hundred and ten acres in Woodham Ferrers in 1327. * [99] Figures of this magnitude are fairly consistent for the majority of the seventeen mainpernors. For the most part, then, they were probably men of some substance, freeholders just below the level of knight, holding sufficient lands and tenements to allow them to take an active part in the business of the shire and hundred courts. In all probability such men intermarried with the gentry class, thus providing new accessions to it, as well as becoming recruits to the duties of local government. [100]

Electoral Procedures

At this point it becomes possible to speculate about the procedure used in making parliamentary elections. Notwithstanding historical interest in the constitutional significance of representation, theories about electoral procedures in the county courts have been surprisingly few, perhaps because the evidence available will not support anything more substantial than an hypothesis. Indeed, the only substantial monograph on the subject of elections is the doctoral thesis of Ludwig Riess, first published in German in 1885, and not translated into English until 1940. [101] Riess believed that the county court elections were dominated and controlled by the great men of the county, who nominated the knights for election to parliament, and then presented them to the county court for approval. [102] Elections required the unanimous approval of the court, and if any candidate failed to gain that approval he would be rejected and replaced by another nominee

This theory, though simple and attractive, is altogether too 'modern' to be convincing. Riess relies heavily on ' irregular ' election returns which he treats as evidence of the rule, rather than the exception, in electoral procedure. Moreover he culls his few irregular returns from a spectrum of nearly 8,000 elections held during the first 150 years of parliamentary representation, thus apparently ignoring the considerable social and economic changes which affected the operation of the constitution between the end of the thirteenth century and the beginning of the fifteenth. In particular he grossly overestimates the importance of local magnates in the conduct of county court business during the early period. More recent research tends to suggest that the county court was dominated in the thirteenth century by the local gentry rather than by the magnates, [103] and even if retaining had begun to spread its tentacles in the marcher regions before the reign of Edward II it is difficult to see why the magnates should have attempted to influence the embryonic house of commons by manipulating county elections. In any case the relative independence of the local gentry was already an established fact: even in the fifteenth century the greatest bastard feudatories could not rely on securing the election of their own nominees. [104] Lastly, the evidence adduced by Riess is often ambiguous. For example, his argument for election by nomination during the reign of Edward I rests largely on the Sussex election of 1297, where the sheriff returned that the election could not be held because the archbishop of Canterbury, bishops, earls, barons, knights, and others, were absent from court on the king's business. [105]Since it was the knights who were to be elected their absence alone would preclude an election, irrespective of the attitude of the magnates. Similarly he notes:

He goes on to argue that assent could be refused and draws attention to a return from Devon in which the name of one of the knights elected has been crossed out, and another name inserted in its place. [106] It could also be argued that the erased candidate was merely unable to accept election, possibly even dead

The observations made by Riess are significant, even if they are at times misleading. But any explanation of electoral procedures must take into account at least five known contingencies, namely, the election of absentees, the election of one knight in more than one county court, the procedure for appointing mainpernors and its alternatives, the double entries and erasures on some of the returns, and the quite outstanding unanimity of the returns from the early elections

The most likely alternative to election by nomination is the process which may be described as election by 'consensus'. In this procedure representatives would be chosen simply by asking each enfranchised member of the county court to offer an opinion on the two knights most suitable to represent the county. The two names most frequently mentioned would then be returned. Such a system would not entail voting, or even assent in the modern sense implied by Riess, since each suitor would have his own nominees, and the election would genuinely represent the consensus opinion of the court. Due weight would be given to the opinions of the leaders of the court, and those opinions might be expected to snowball amongst the humbler suitors. Unanimity would be inevitable. The election of absentees would be easily explained, either because the absentee was the best choice, or, less charitably, because the suitors at court sought to pass on the duty of representation to someone who was not present to refuse. Similarly a knight who was well reputed in more than one county might be the choice of more than one county court. Double entries in the returns may be explained not in terms of nominations noted and confirmation declared, but simply in terms of a preliminary note of the two most popular names, followed by the official return completed after the two knights chosen had appointed their mainpernors from amongst their friends in court. Erasure might arise where the most popular choice was unable to accept election, or, if elected in his absence, was later found to be sick, or unobtainable. Lastly, although there is no account of a county court election being held in this way in the reign of Edward I, it is known that election by consensus was the common procedure in some boroughs at this period. [107]

Such an informal system was inevitably open to abuse, especially when the increasing power of the Commons began to intrude national politics into the county courts and the evils of maintenance obliged the central government to define and formalize electoral procedures through the process of indentured returns. [108] Significantly the most common abuse was the return of candidates, often the sheriffs themselves, without the authority of the county court. If the imposition of external nominees was regarded as an abuse it can scarcely have been the customary practice

If election by consensus was the customary procedure in the county courts the parliamentary historian is faced with the revival of an old problem, for whilst election by nomination would naturally select candidates who actually wished to attend parliament, election by consensus might fall on a knight who was in fact unwilling to go, since those returned did not seek election but were, in a real sense, spontaneously chosen by the court as a whole. Even if a knight were returned successively to several parliaments, his recurrent election might merely express the preponderant will of the county court, rather than his own desire to be returned. Moreover, if the choice of suitable candidates was in practice limited to the small circle of knights, or buzones, who ran the county court, those knights may have been obliged to accept public obligations which they would not otherwise have sought. Evidence of re-election, therefore, need not necessarily imply a willingness to serve

Election and Re-election

Essex knights are known to have been returned to a total of ten parliaments between 1290 and 1307. Allowing for the return of four knights in 1290, and two for each subsequent parliament, a total of twenty-two individual elections were made, involving twelve knights. [109] Some of these knights were also returned to the early parliaments of Edward II, [110] and if these returns are taken into account only four of the twelve knights were returned to less than two parliaments. Allowing for the election of four knights in 1290,  and two for each subsequent parliament, a total of 22 elections were made, involving 12 knights.

Table of Knights and Parliaments Attended Refs in Cap2

1290 John le Breton 
John Fillol 
Henry Grapinel 
John de Beachamp of Fifield
PW.I  p.22. no.11
1295 John Fillol 
Ralph de Arderne
PW.I. p.37. no.14
1297 John Fillol 
Henry Grapinel
1298 Hugh le Blount
Jollan de Duresem
P.W.I. p.69. no.13
1300 John Fillol
Hugh le Blount
P.W.I. p.85. no.10
1301 John Fillol
Hugh le Blount
P.W.I. p.94. no.18
1302 Ralph de Arderne
Jollan de Dureseme
P.W.I. p.120. no. 26.
1305 John de Tany
William de Wauton
P.W.I. p.143. no.18
1306 John de Sutton
Ralph le Bigod
P.W.I. p. 169 no. 27
1307 John de Tany
John de la Lee
P.W.I. p.190. no.12


 Several of these knights also attended parliaments in the early years of the reign of Edward II. The preceding table may therefore be re arranged to show the total number of parliamentary attendances.
Edward I Edward II Total
Arderne 2 0 2
Beauchamp J. 1 0 1
Bigod R. 1 1 2
Blount H. 4 3 (Berks) 7
Breton J. 1 0 1
Duresme J. 2 1 3
Fillol J. 5 0 5
Grapinel H. 2 1 2
Lee J. 1 0 2
Sutton J. 1 0 1
Tany J. 2 1 3
Wauton W. 1 1 2

Re-election was therefore the normal pattern and only one quarter of the sample was returned to less than two parliaments.

However only two knights, Hugh le Blount and John Fillol, were returned to more than three parliaments, and these two were also alone in attending consecutive parliaments: Fillol in 1290, 1295, 1297, 1300 and 1301, missing the parliament of 1298; Blount in 1298, 1300, and 1301. Blount was also returned from Berkshire in 1300, probably in 1301, in 1307, and twice in 1313. [111]

The predominance of these two men over other knights returned to parliament from Essex suggests that they found some advantage in attending. As we have already seen both were substantial men who were particularly active in local administration. Blount, to recap, was a juror on a grand assize in 1285, sheriff, also in 1285, and by 1289 he was being pursued by the exchequer for debts of over 400 incurred during his shrievalty. [112] In 1290 he was out inspecting walls and ditches on the Essex coast; in 1300, keeper of the king's park at Rayleigh; in 1301, assessor and collector of the fifteenth in Essex; and assessor and collector of the twenty-fifth in 1309. [113] He was keeper of the peace in Essex between 1307 and 1314. [114] He had an estate of around 300 acres in Essex, and other estates in Hertfordshire, Staffordshire and Berkshire, some of which were later split up amongst his relatives. [115] As we shall see he was frequently summoned to do military service as a tenant-in-chief, and he was allowed various dispensations for services rendered. [116]Fillol was slightly less active in local administration, concentrating instead on military and judicial duties. He was warden of the Essex coast from 1295 to 1297, justice of gaol delivery in Colchester in 1296, and purveyor of corn for the army in 1303. [117] In 1312 he was exempted for life from further duties in local government on account of his age. [118] Fillol was however much wealthier than Blount, and probably better established in Essex society. When he died in 1317 he left an estate of nearly 1000 acres in and around Kelvedon and Little Baddow, [119]and, like Blount, he was frequently called to do military service as a tenant-in-chief.l [120]Blount and Fillol were undoubtedly amongst the most prominent and active of the Essex gentry, and therefore most likely both to lead the county court and to enjoy its respect

Although these two knights dominate the Essex returns during the period 1290 to 1302, the period from 1303 to 1307 seems to constitute a hiatus in the continuity of Essex elections for the knights returned after 1302 do not figure in the earlier returns. This hiatus becomes more apparent if the incidence of re-election is tabulated, using 1302 and 1307 as dividing lines.

Table showing incidence of re-election and age of Essex knights whenfirst attending parliarnent

i Elections between 1290 and 1302:{a}

Total number of elections =16

Number of knights returned from these elections = 7
Name  Times
Date of 1st
Age when 
1st returned 
Reference for 
date of birth
Breton J.  1 1290 50  C.I.P.M., I, no. 491
Fillol J.  5 1290  43  C.I.P.M., I, no. 476
Grapinel H.  2 1290 34*  P.R.O., E.368 no.50 m.1.
Beauchamp J.  1 1290 40  C.I.P.M., ii, no. 409.
Arderne R.  2 1295 45  C.P.R. 1266-72, p.440
Blount H.  3 1298 41*  C.P.R. 1272-81, p.220
Duresme J  2 1298 40  C.I.P.M., I, no. 573

ii Elections between 1303 and 1307:{a}

Total number of elections = 6

Number of knights returned from these elections = 5
Name  Times
Date of 1st
Age when 
1st returned 
Reference for 
date of birth
Tany J  2 1305 44* C.C.R. 1279-88, p.139
Wauton W.  1 1305 54* P.R.O., J.I. 1. no.238,m. I
Sutton J.  1 1306 45* C.C.R. 1279-88, p.115
Bigod R.  I 1306 46* P.R.O., E 368 no.54.m. I
Lee J.  1 1307 48* P.R.O., J.I. 1. no.240.m. 14d

iii Knights returned after 1307: {b}
Name  No. of times 
Bigod R.  1
Blount H.  2 for Berks
Duresme J.  1
Lee J.  1
Tany J.  1
Wauton W  1

{a} P.W., I, p. x

{b} P.W., II. ii, pp.xxxvii-xl.

* Date of birth adjusted by 20 years. See below

It is immediately evident that re-election was much more common during the period 1290-1302, and that with one exception the Essex knights who attended the last three parliaments of Edward I's reign were inexperienced. Moreover only two of the knights who were returned to parliaments prior to 1302 were subsequently returned to further parliaments in the reign of Edward II, namely Duresme in 1312 and Blount for Berkshire in 1307 and 1313. Tany, Wauton, Bigod and Lee were all subsequently re-elected to parliaments in the reign of Edward II: Wauton and Tany together in 1311, Bigod and Duresme together in 1312, and Lee with a complete newcomer in 1315. [121] It may well be significant that, with one exception, the only knights to be returned to parliaments in both reigns were returned in the latter reign in pairs together, rather than with newcomers, so that the Essex representatives in the first few parliaments of Edward II had also experienced the last parliaments of Edward I. This overlap did not last long. Of the twenty-three knights returned from forty Essex elections during the reign of Edward II, only five, excluding Blount, had been returned to the parliaments of the previous king.

There was, it seems, a fairly sharp change in the personnel returned from Essex to the parliaments of the first two Edwards, and the returns were dominated by a relatively small number of frequently re-elected knights; Fillol and Blount from 1290 to 1302, Tany in an overlap period from 1302 to 1311, and two newcomers, William de Haningfield and Nicholas de Barrington, who were returned together to three parliaments between 1307 and 1314, compared with only one parliament for each of the other knights returned over the same period. [122] This apparent discontinuity and rapid turnover in the individuals returned to parliament over about twenty-four years deserves more consideration, since the frequency of change is too high to be explained in terms of successive generations of knights succeeding to dominance in the county court. It would be tempting, of course, to blame the interplay of local politics, especially after the accession of Edward II, but the crucial factor seems to be the age at which knights first began to attend parliament. The problems of determining the age of obscure medieval men has already been discussed and a method has been suggested for estimating adult life spans by noting the first and last recorded acts of adults. It follows that dates of birth might be estimated by deducting twenty years from the date of the earliest recorded adult act of an individual knight, on the assumption that most knights did not make much impact on legal or other records before they reached the age of majority. It need not be said that such a method is extremely unreliable, but it is the best available, and estimates of the approximate age of knights when first attending parliament are given in the last three columns of the table.

In so far as these figures are reliable, the majority of the knights returned from Essex in the reign of Edward I were in the age range of forty to forty five years when first attending parliament, and very few of them continued to attend parliament after the age of sixty, except perhaps Barrington who was being pursued for military service by Edward IInd when he was acknowledged to be over eighty. If this was the case he must have been at least sixty seven when he first attended parliament in 1309. [123] It seems likely that most knights would not expect to do parliamentary service until the latter part of their active lives and, ipso facto, the margin of time available to them for such service would rarely exceed ten to fifteen years, before the onset of old age. The knights most active in representing Essex between 1290 and 1314 were Fillol, Blount, and Duresme, who were re-elected over periods of eleven, fifteen and fourteen years respectively. Other knights re-elected to two or three parliaments, such as Tany, Wauton and Bigod, were re-elected over periods of seven, seven and six years respectively.

The re-election of knights to parliament may thus have followed a short-term cycle of around ten to fifteen years, dictated by the relatively mature age at which knights were considered suitable for election. Since the writs of summons required the return of discreet and law-worthy men, apt for work, the choice of the county would naturally fall on those whose worth and reputation had already been proved to the county by their past service and their maturity of judgment. Of course, these figures should not be pressed too far. The most that dare be suggested is that the knights returned were generally middle-aged men, as might have been expected, and that the margin of time available to them to be re-elected to parliaments would not be much more than fifteen years. Thus the apparently rapid turnover of dominant groups of ,knights would arise from a narrowing of the generation gap at the end of individual lives. There is no reason to believe that the same narrow gap operated throughout the whole spectrum of local government. It arose solely through the desire of the county court to return its most experienced and mature members.

A corollary of the rapid turnover of parliamentary representatives is the apparent lack of continuity of parliamentary service within families. Sons do not appear to follow fathers in representing their county in parliament; names and families familiar in Essex in one decade do not recur in the next consecutive decade; families which predominated in the reign of Edward I appear to be replaced by completely new families in the reign of his son. This apparent lack of continuity within families may also be a consequence of the ten-year cycle in the returns to parliament. For example, Jollan de Duresme, knight of the shire for Essex in 1298, 1302, and 1312, died in 1315 at the probable age of sixty-seven, leaving a son and heir, Edmund, aged twenty-two at the most. [124] Given that knights may not have become eligible for election to parliament until they reached middle age, young Edmund would have to wait another twenty-nine years until he would be old enough to follow in his father's footsteps. It is thus unlikely that he would be returned to parliament for Essex before 1337, and he was in fact returned to parliament in 1339, and thereafter in 1340 and 1341. [125] Duresme is the best-documented and most striking example of this long-term cycle, but other names familiar in the parliaments of Edward I do reappear in the parliamentary returns after an interval of twenty years or so. John de Wauton, for example, was returned in 1329-30, eighteen years after the last return of his ancestor. Hugh le Blount was returned in 1351, thirty-eight years after the last preceding Blount, and John de Sutton was returned in 1364, sixty years after the last preceding Sutton. [126] The names of other Essex knights active in the reign of Edward I, though not as representatives, also appear again one or two generations later. John son of Ralph de Coggeshall was returned for Essex in 1334, twenty-nine years after the death of his father. He was probably born in 1290, so he would be approximately forty-four when he first attended parliament. [127] John de Goldingham was returned to parliament in 1350, thirty-six years after the last recorded activity of his ancestor Alan de Goldingham. [128] William son of Walter le Baud was returned to parliament in 1324, nine years after the last recorded activity of his father. [129]

Whatever the long-term problems of continuity, frequency of election to consecutive parliaments might ensure continuity of experience within the ten-year cycle. Fillol, attending five parliaments for Essex, would clearly be the most experienced representative of his county, but the majority of knights returned from Essex were either inexperienced, or had experience of only one preceding parliament. Limited re-election probably hindered the formation of a political unity amongst the knights attending parliament, but, on the other hand, within any one parliament there would always be a core of men like Fillol and Blount, who attended parliament frequently, and could act as leaders for the rest. Again, a similar pattern may be found amongst the burgess representatives in parliament. [130]So far as Essex is concerned totally inexperienced men were returned to the parliaments of 1290, 1298, 1305 and 1306. It is possible that the knights returned to the 1290 parliament may have attended earlier parliaments for which there are not surviving returns. Two experienced men were returned to the parliaments of 1297, 1300/1301 and 1302. From the point of view of the knights these parliaments were amongst the most important and controversial of the reign, and they may well have been recognised as such by those returned. Lastly one experience man was returned in the company of an inexperienced knight to the parliaments of November 1295 and January 1307.

All of this largely substantiates the findings of J. G. Edwards. The question which still remains unanswered is whether those few knights who were frequently re-elected acted of their own free will and choice, or whether they were obliged to represent their county in parliament because they were the popular choice of the county court. There is no reason to assume that these two alternatives were necessarily exclusive, nor is there any powerful reason for accepting the view that representation was a burden simply because it regularly fell on a limited group of knights who may not have been able to refuse. Four factors may be considered. First, the care taken by the county court to arrange for the appointment of mainpernors, or other securities, suggests that any element of compulsion was transferred from the county court to the elected knight and his mainpernors, who were jointly and personally responsible for the proper representation of the county. Since it seems that there were few occasions on which mainpernors could not be found, and even some where mainpernors offered themselves even though their newly-elected principal was not present in court, it seems likely that most mainpernors were prepared to stand surety with reasonable confidence that their principal would attend willingly. The uniform testimony of the expenses writs suggests that this confidence was not misplaced. Moreover there is a clear distinction between an election in which an unwilling candidate is compelled to attend by the electing body, and one in which the elected candidate assumes personal responsibility for his public obligations, under the security of his friends and neighbours. In the latter case a measure of willingness must be assumed.

Secondly, it is also apparent that knights could refuse to accept election, though the evidence for this is, by definition, idiosyncratic, since the returns would normally record only the names of those who had accepted election and confirmed their acceptance by appointing mainpernors. The occasional double entries and erasures noted by Riess might suggest refusal or withdrawal, but the only positive evidence comes from the returns to the linked parliaments of 1300 and 1301, where the sheriffs were ordered to return in 1301 those knights who had previously attended the 1300 assembly. In theory no further elections were necessary, but in practice several counties spontaneously held further elections, either because the previous candidate was ill, as in the cases of Kent, Suffolk, Buckinghamshire and Gloucestershire, or because both of the previous candidates were no longer 'apt for work', as in the case of Devon, or because the previous candidate had himself become sheriff, as in the case of Warwickshire, [131] a pretext which did not deter later sheriffs from returning themselves without the authority of the court, or even with it. [132]If knights were able to refuse re-election for lesser reasons than death or severe illness, it must be assumed that those who regularly chose not to refuse election were at least passively willing to go to parliament.

Thirdly, an examination of the knights elected in Essex suggests that the majority of representatives were middle-aged men experienced in the general business of the county and well esteemed by the suitors at the county court, and those most frequently re-elected, like Blount and Fillol, were also prominent in other respects, either through experience in local government, or through wealth and status. These men were the natural leaders of the county court, and its obvious choice as representatives. But, if age, experience, wealth and status were all factors which could influence their selection as representatives the number of such men available in the county was probably very small. Nevertheless it is difficult to see why knights who were prepared to undertake a wide range of often onerous duties in local government would not be equally willing to accept the much more prestigious duty of representing the county at the king's parliament. The fact that those returned may have been the only candidates available need not necessarily mean that they regarded representation as a burden. On the contrary, it may have been an honour.

Fourthly, the nature of the electoral procedure in the county court, whilst allowing each enfranchised suitor to nominate his choice of candidates, almost certainly gave advantage to the opinion of the weightier elements in the court, if only because their opinions would be the first to be solicited by the sheriff, and would then influence the attitudes of the lesser suitors. In this way the buzones who led the court might expect to influence elections and to secure the return of one of their number. In the late thirteenth century, at least, it is unlikely that the interests of the leaders of the court differed sharply from those of other freeholders. The overriding consideration would be to return the best-qualified and most suitable candidates, and the best candidates would be those best reputed by the court as a whole. The court would have no alternative but to return its leaders.

The conclusion, then, is that in Essex the county elections were probably organized on the basis of consensus by the suitors at the court, rather than prior nomination and subsequent rejection or confirmation. It seems probable that a similar arrangement was used in other counties. Those eligible for election would have to be knights, or men of equivalent status, mature in years, experienced in local government, and well reputed by the court. They were required to secure their attendance in parliament by appointing mainpernors, or, more rarely, by allowing the sheriff to distrain on part of their goods. Those chosen were almost certainly willing to attend parliament, and to accept the duties expected of them by the county court. They fulfilled to the letter the rubric of the writ of summons, that the county should return two discreet and law-worthy knights, 'apt for work '.

Miscellaneous and Circumstantial Evidence.

Two other general observations may be made about the Essex knights in the parliaments of Edward Ist. In the first place at least eight of the twelve parliamentary knights were probably tenants in chief. [133]Secondly, complete expenses writs were enrolled for the parliaments of 1300, 1302, 1306 and 1307. An expenses writ was enrolled for only one of the knights returned in 1305, and no writs were enrolled for the parliaments of 1290, 1295, 1297, 1298 and 1301. [134]Generally speaking the claiming of expenses is prima facie evidence that the claimant actually attended the parliament concerned. On the other hand the absence of enrolled expenses writs should not necessarily be taken to indicate a failure to attend that parliament .

Other evidence is concerned with the relationship of individual knights with parliament. As in so many other cases evidence only emerges when something goes wrong. The most striking individual in this respect was John de la Mare who was summoned directly to the Carlisle parliament of January 1307 [135] , presumably as a baron. In February 1307 the sheriff of Cambridge was ordered

to supersede entirely the demands made by him in the lands that are held of John de la Mare in villeinage to make contribution to the expenses of the knights who were sent to the parliament of Carlisle in the Octaves of St. Hilary, and to restore to him anything that may have been levied from him in this respect, as John came in person to the said Parliament. [136]

This almost certainly refers to John de la Mare of Bradwell [D], who acquired very extensive holdings through illegally marrying Petronilla de Dunstanville, widow of Robert de Montfort, and heiress to the barony of Castle Combe in Wiltshire. [137]The same John de la Mare was also summoned to parliament as a baron in 1283, 1299, 1300, 1301, 1302 and 1305. [138]Here therefore is an Essex knight who attended parliament by virtue of his temporary elevation to the baronage.

Knights might also attend parliament by other means. John de Wascoil, assessor and collector of the eleventh and seventh in Essex in 1295, [139]attended parliament in 1306 as the proxy of Robert de Ver, Earl of Oxford. [140]The only other direct evidence of a connection between Wascoil and de Ver is that he stood as a surety for the Earl in 1290 but, circumstantially, he held estates in the Ver orbit at Sible and Castle Hedingham [141]and may have been a 'familiar' of the Vers.

Lastly various individuals from Essex also attended parliaments for other reasons, and under special circumstances. For example, in 1314 the king's justices were ordered to respite and assize of novel disseisin brought by the non resident Group C knight Nicholas de Wokingdon against Thomas Fillol and John de Gray, whom the king wishes to have near him during the parliament. [142] The Fillol family is already very familiar to us in Essex, but there is no record of any Fillol attending a parliament in 1314. However the entry on the Close Roll may refer only to John de Gray who was present as a baron at the York parliament of the 9th September 1314. [143]This parliament continued in session until the 27th-28th of September, when the expenses writs were enrolled, and the order for the suspension of Wokingdon versus Fillol and Gray went out on September 13th, more or less in the middle of the parliamentary session. [144]Wokingdon was himself returned from Essex in 1316 to appear before the Council in relation to the Perambulation of the forest, and he obtained expenses for his attendance. [145]Similarly William de Gernon, also in Group C, was present at the 1306 Parliament, although not officially summoned and for no specified reason. [146]

Lastly a John le Breton was summoned to parliament amongst the Justices and other members of the Council, once in 1307, and three times in 1308. [147]He cannot be positively identified with the Norfolk and Essex Bretons or the John le Breton who represented Essex in parliament in 1290, though there is a high probability that it is the same man. There was also a John le Breton who was a member of Edward of Caernarfon's council in 1297. [148]

These individual cases are of no special significance., except in so far as they indicate the alternative paths which could lead local knights into attendance at parliament. The circumstances however consolidate a view of the diverse nature of the community of county knights, gentry and, perhaps, ministeriales, and the extent to which they overlapped and interrelated both with their own social class and with the local baronage. Those who were elected to parliament by the county court might well find themselves in the company of other Essex men also attending parliament but on different terms and for different purposes. In addition to the Essex barons, including the de Vers, FitzWalters and other of baronial status who had lands and interests in Essex, it is possible, though hard to establish, that the mainpernors of the elected knights might themselves have accompanied their principals to parliament, though they would have to do so at their own expense since there is no evidence that expenses were paid to them as they were to the knights.

It may also be worth noting that attendance of the knights at parliament, in whatever capacity, was not the only, or even the first, occasion on which knights as a group might come before the king and his court. Suit of County representatives at royal courts was already well established by the reign of king John. In 1307 a contingent of knights was summoned individually from Essex to attend with their consorts in the train of the king and queen at the forthcoming coronation. [149]The list includes some familiar names, including three of the leading Essex administrators, John Fillol, William de Wauton and William de Haningfield, together with John Fillol the younger, John de Praers, {Pratellis}, and Nicholas de Wokingdon, and twelve other knights, including the son of the Group C knight John de Rochford, of whom only four can be easily identified with Essex. [150]No doubt it was a great honour to be invited to attend in the train of the king and queen in a coronation, even the coronation of Edward IInd, and they would certainly have enjoyed a great spectacle. It is not clear whether this summons was intended as a recognition of the significance of the country gentry as a whole, or whether, more probably, it was a purely personal honour reserved for the more influential men, and women, in the county, whether members of the county administrative caucus or not. Since the summonses to attend were addressed to specific individuals, and restricted to those living in the home counties, near to London, the latter conclusion is more likely, Those summoned were nearly all tenants in chief and may well have attended by virtue of their tenure as well as their local importance.