Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer


1386Edward Leante
 Richard Payn
1388 (Feb.)Thomas Cammell
 Thomas Seward
1388 (Sept.)Hugh Croxhale
 Roger Pyjon
1390 (Jan.)Thomas Cammell
 Robert Fovent
1390 (Nov.)
1391Thomas Cammell
 John Whiting
1393Thomas Cammell
 Walter Biere
1394Thomas Cammell
 Robert Biere 1
1395John Whiting
 Walter Biere
1397 (Jan.)John Hordere
 Walter Biere
1397 (Sept.)Hugh Croxhale
 Walter Biere
1399Thomas Cammell
 Walter Biere
1402Thomas Cammell
 Walter Biere
1404 (Jan.)
1404 (Oct.)
1406Robert Frye II
 John Scarburgh
1407John Bole
 John Bremle
1410John Bole
 Walter Biere
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)John Bole
 Walter Biere
1414 (Apr.)Thomas Haselmere
 John Pyjon
1414 (Nov.)Thomas Hat
 Walter Biere
1416 (Mar.)
1416 (Oct.)
1417Robert Frye II
 Walter Biere
1419Robert Squibbe
 John Clerk II
1420Robert Squibbe
 John Bole
1421 (May)Robert Squibbe
 John Clerk II
1421 (Dec.)Robert Squibbe
 John Hody

Main Article

Shaftesbury, ‘a great market toune stondinge on a highe hille’, occupies a prominent position with precipitous slopes on all but the north-eastern side. Its name suggests that it was a fortified settlement from its beginning, some time in the ninth century. Situated in the northern extremity of Dorset, close to the border with Wiltshire and on the great road from Cornwall to London, it attracted considerable traffic, which was augmented by pilgrims visiting the tenth-century shrine of King Edward the Martyr in the Benedictine abbey. There was a three day fair held in November and regular Saturday markets, which also encouraged trade. But although in the early Middle Ages there had been 12 parish churches in Shaftesbury, by the 15th century the inhabitants could support only four, and it seems that the town suffered some hardship resulting in depopulation in the meantime. When, successfully, the abbess and nuns of Shaftesbury petitioned Richard II in the Parliament of 1381 to be allowed to retain custody of the temporalities of the abbey during vacancies, it was so that they might recover from the effects of a plague which had caused considerable distress among their tenants. In 1435-6 Shaftesbury was to be one of the Dorset towns and villages granted a remission of parliamentary taxation owing to poverty.2

The manor of Shaftesbury was originally divided between the Crown and the abbey, the largest and perhaps the best-endowed nunnery in England. The rolls of the court leet (held twice yearly) were dated in accordance with both the regnal year and the year of the abbess’s rule, and the perquisites of the court were divided between the King, or a royal grantee, and the abbess. During the period under review the Crown’s part was mostly in the keeping of Sir John Berkeley I* (d.1428), from whom it passed to Sir Maurice Berkeley, but neither showed much interest in the affairs of the town or its parliamentary burgesses. In the 13th century the convent had sought to extend its jurisdiction in the town: in 1280 there was a confrontation between the King’s officers and the steward of the abbey over assizes of bread and ale and ‘pleas of blows and blood’ as well as a dispute over the patronage of St John’s hospital. Yet the King was inclined to favour the abbey: in 1283 Edward I granted the nuns all rents, tolls and court perquisites from the town of Shaftesbury which were normally payable to the Crown, for an annual payment of £12 and the abbey continued to hold the town at farm in this way until the Reformation, often being asked to pay £12 a year directly to some person whom the King wished to reward. Nevertheless the question of the abbey’s rights in this matter was being reconsidered in 1372, and about the same time the burgesses began to try to exert some measure of independence, though they met with little success.3 In September 1381 the latter paid £4 to obtain an official confirmation of the charter granted to them in 1252, but on 9 Nov. following, during a Parliament which had already shown favour to the abbey (and when repressive measures were being enforced against the tenants of other monastic houses, in the wake of the Peasants’ Revolt), a royal commission was set up to inquire into the extent of the burgesses’ rights. In June 1383 the mayor and burgesses, evidently seeking to elucidate their position with regard to the abbey, requested to see an extract from the Domesday Book beginning ‘in burgo Sceptesberie’, but two years later Richard II confirmed Edward I’s grant to the nuns. Subsequently, the townspeople sent three of their leading men, William Anketill, Thomas Seward and Thomas Pyjon, to petition the King that they themselves might hold the town at farm for the next 40 years, offering to pay £13 6s.8d. a year (two marks more than the abbey paid), and asking that the charters granted to the abbey be repealed on the ground that they had been made without due legal process. But the abbess was more powerful than the burgesses: she procured a commission in July 1392 which effectively established that her tenure was not to the Crown’s disadvantage, and in the following year, on the basis that she had been unable to collect all of the dues in Shaftesbury because the charters had failed to itemize sources of revenue in sufficient detail, a new charter was granted elaborating the previous ones and strengthening the abbey’s position.4

Thus, by the late 14th century the burgesses of Shaftesbury had achieved little autonomy. Their charter, granted in 1252, had allowed only that justices in eyre should come to Shaftesbury to try any causes concerning the burgesses and that the latter might choose two coroners. However, they elected other officers too: the court roll surviving from 1313-14 mentions a portreeve and a bailiff, and by 1352 there was a mayor. In the mid 15th century it was customary for the latter, the two coroners, two constables and the King’s bailiff (the officer responsible for the collection of crown dues), to be chosen in the court leet held shortly after Michaelmas by a jury of 12 and with the assent of the commonalty of the borough. There were also two Commons’ wardens, who were responsible for collecting rents from property held in common, making leases and superintending the finances of the community. Yet even within the town itself the mayor and his colleagues had little independent authority: the mayor was subordinate to the steward of the manor, and only held courts as the steward’s deputy and during his absence. A charter of incorporation was not to be secured until 1604.5

None of the parliamentary burgesses for Shaftesbury in the period under review are known to have ever served as steward of the manor. There are, however, indications of connexions between the abbess or the convent and certain of the Members, such as may have influenced their return to Parliament. Robert Biere, who received a substantial annuity for life from the abbey, was probably one of the officers of the abbatial estates, and at the time of his only return to Parliament, in 1394, his patron the abbess, Joan Formage, was still living. His kinsman Walter Biere, was granted property by Cecily Fovent (abbess from 1398 to 1423) and served as bailiff of part of her estates. But how far this latter connexion influenced the burgesses’ choice remains uncertain. Walter, who sat in no fewer than ten Parliaments for the borough, was a successful lawyer and a j.p.—factors which were just as likely to point to his suitability as a candidate as overt pressure from the abbess. Robert Fovent was probably Cecily’s brother, but he was returned to his only Parliament (January 1390) before she became abbess. Only one Member (Richard Payn) is known to have served a term as King’s bailiff of Shaftesbury, and there is no indication that this had any bearing on his election to Parliament many years later, in 1386. Although the intangible influence of the abbess or the King on the parliamentary representation of Shaftesbury must remain doubtful, the possibility of outside interference in the burgesses’ choice of a more extreme kind is apparent from events which occurred two years before our period begins. The mayor, constables, bailiff and ‘touz les burgeys ... ovec consente de touz les communes de le aunciene burwe de Sheftesbury q’est aportenant a la aunciene croune Dengleterre’, elected Walter Hanley and Thomas Seward to represent them in the Parliament due to assemble at Salisbury on 29 Apr. 1384. But after paying their expenses they discovered that the sheriff of Dorset, Sir John Stretch*, had falsified the return by naming Thomas Cammell in Seward’s place, ‘encontre la volunte des maire et communes’. On 7 May they sent petitions to John, Lord Montagu, the steward of the Household, and to the King, ‘nobles seigneurs et sages commones’ at Salisbury complaining of Stretch’s arbitrary action, evidently more as a matter of principle than because they had any objection to Cammell himself. If the burgesses’ reason for objection is to be credited, Stretch’s motives were extraordinary: they claimed that he had interfered ‘de son auctority demesne’ because ‘il supposa que le dit Thomas (Seward) suerit et moevereit en le dit parlement pour le profit et avantage nostre dit seigneur le Roy’. There is nothing to suggest that Stretch had any personal interest in the matter, nor why he thought that someone in royal employment should be excluded from the Commons. It is, in any case, doubtful that Seward was in fact in Richard II’s pay.6

Shaftesbury had first sent representatives to Parliament in 1295, and from then on it regularly elected Members throughout the 14th century, with the exception of the Parliament of 1309, when the sheriff noted that no return had been sent from the borough in answer to his precept. The procedure for recording elections was the same as for the other Dorset boroughs in the period under review, but the evidence regarding the 1384 parliamentary returns establishes beyond doubt that the elections were held locally and the results merely reported in the shire court, although there was evidently no guarantee that the elected representatives would, in fact, be returned. The 1384 petitions also suggest that the franchise extended to all burgesses of Shaftesbury, and that they sought the approval of other inhabitants of the town for their choice. Between 1386 and 1421 returns for only 23 of the 32 Parliaments have survived. Of the 21 men known to have sat for the borough in this period, ten appeared in only one Parliament each and six more only sat twice. Even so, both Members in ten of the 23 Parliaments did have experience of the workings of the Commons, and on seven other occasions one of the representatives is known to have served in Parliament before. Only in six Parliaments (1386, 1388 (Sept.), 1406, 1407, 1414 (Apr.) and 1419) is there a possibility that both Members for Shaftesbury were newcomers to the Commons, and in view of the gaps in the returns it is not at all likely that this was so in every case. Re-election (in the sense of an election to consecutive Parliaments) took place on no fewer than nine occasions in this period: Thomas Cammell was re-elected in 1393 and 1394, Walter Biere in 1397 (Jan.), 1397 (Sept.) and 1399 (thus sitting in four Parliaments running), John Bole in 1410 and Robert Squibbe in 1420, 1421 (May) and 1421 (Dec.). The last named went on to sit in the next two Parliaments (1422 and 1423) as well, making six in a row. Certain of the parliamentary burgesses for Shaftesbury were outstanding for their service in this respect: John Hody sat in five Parliaments between 1421 and 1427, Robert Squibbe, as we have seen, in six within four years, Walter Biere in ten between 1393 and 1417, and Thomas Cammell in no fewer than 12 between 1381 and 1402. Two Members for Shaftesbury also sat for other boroughs at some stage in their careers: Cammell represented Dorchester in 1372 before ever being returned for this constituency, and Robert Frye II, who sat for Shaftesbury in 1406 and 1417, represented Wilton in the same Parliament of 1406, as well as in 1407 and 1413 (May). By the early 15th century representation of two places in the same Parliament was a very unusual occurrence, though, as is clear from the example of Lewis John, who sat for Taunton and Wallingford in Henry V’s first Parliament, Frye was not unique in this respect. John Hody was the only parliamentary burgess for Shaftesbury to go on to serve as a knight of the shire: he sat for Dorset in 1431 and Somerset in 1433, 1435 and 1437, evidently then taking a direct interest in the business of the Commons. Ultimately he was to receive a personal summons to the House of Lords as chief justice.

Two of the parliamentary burgesses for Shaftesbury (who in fact both sat at Gloucester in 1407), remain unidentified. Of the rest all but two are known to have held property in the town at the time of their election. Not all of them, however, are on this account to be regarded as townsmen in the ordinary sense. Robert Biere, Thomas Cammell and Robert Fovent, for example, all held land elsewhere in Dorset, Somerset or Wiltshire, while Cammell also owned property in London and Bristol, and Fovent acquired part of a manor as far away as Essex. John Hody complied with the residential qualification imposed on parliamentary burgesses by the statute of 1413 in so far as he owned a house in Shaftesbury, but he was a landowner of note in Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire, and like some of the other lawyers who sat for Shaftesbury he clearly belonged to the gentry, and was not a burgess in the strict sense. Two of the Members were outsiders proper. Robert Frye II, a native of Wiltshire, chiefly resided at Westminster with the other clerks who served the privy seal. (He did, however, purchase property in Shaftesbury before his second return for the borough, in 1417, perhaps even doing so in response to the statutary requirements.) John Scarburgh is not known to have had any other connexion with the town. A Yorkshireman, he too was usually resident at Westminster, as his post in Chancery required, or else he was to be found travelling with the royal household. It is surprising that these two, Frye and Scarburgh, who were both ‘clerks’, sat in the Commons at all. But Frye, who took minor orders early in his career, was not to be ordained until after his last return to Parliament, and Scarburgh had committed some irregularity which excluded him from promotion within the Church. These two were no doubt chosen to represent Shaftesbury (and in the same Parliament of 1406) because of their influential positions in government: Frye had been clerk of the Council for some nine years (although he was officially designated as such only in the course of this Parliament), and Scarburgh had been clerk of the Commons for at least 20 years, was an experienced Chancery official, and obviously had detailed knowledge about administrative and parliamentary procedures. Such men were perhaps expected to serve the borough more effectively than local tradesmen; and it is possible, too, that they were ready to take less in the way of payment for expenses. It is clear that Frye and Scarburgh, although strictly speaking newcomers to the Lower House in 1406, were in fact far better acquainted with the workings of Parliament than were the Members for Shaftesbury who have been classed as ‘experienced’.

A preoccupation with purely local affairs was evidently not high on the list of qualifications considered important by the burgesses of Shaftesbury in their representatives. Throughout this period they showed a distinct partiality for lawyers, men who must often have been away from the town engaged in business in the central courts or at the assizes, but who had the ability to represent the borough’s interests efficiently. No fewer than a third of the 21 parliamentary burgesses of this period were members of the legal profession; and, significantly, in 19 out of the 23 Parliaments for which returns have survived at least one representative was a lawyer, and in nine of them both were. In only four Parliaments (1386, 1388 (Sept.), 1407 and 1414 (Apr.)) was neither Member of this profession. They were also men of outstanding calibre in their field: John Scarburgh was a notary public who had ably demonstrated his skills as an advocate in Chancery; Walter Biere served on the Dorset bench for over 25 years; Robert Squibbe handled quite important cases in the Exchequer; Thomas Cammell advised many clients of note; and, most outstanding of all, John Hody was an apprentice-at-law who rose to be c.j.KB. Men such as these were more at home among the gentry than with the townsmen. Cammell’s clients included Robert, Lord Poynings, Sir Ivo Fitzwaryn*, Sir John Moigne* and William Stourton*; Squibbe was a feoffee of the estates of (Sir) John Stourton II*, later 1st Lord Stourton; and Hody, who established connexions with several noble families, became a friend of John, earl of Arundel, and Bishop Stafford of Bath and Wells. There can be little doubt that the successful lawyer dominated the representation of Shaftesbury in this period.

The occupations of the townsmen proper who were returned for Shaftesbury between 1386 and 1421 are for the most part not recorded, but their interests probably lay in the victualling trades. Two of them (Hugh Croxhale and John Pyjon) were described as ‘gentlemen’, but in neither case is there evidence to suggest why they were so styled. Since few local records have survived, it is impossible to compile complete lists of the occupants of offices in the borough. It is certain, however, that at least eight Members held such posts. Seven served as mayor, often for more than one term, Thomas Cammell doing so for at least three years and Walter Biere for four, but only two instances have come to light of the mayor being elected to Parliament while in office: this happened in 1391 and 1393 when Cammell and Biere were respectively returned. Eight parliamentary burgesses were appointed to royal commissions, although five of these were concerned only with the collection of fifteenths and tenths in Dorset. Walter Biere was named on more important bodies of a judicial nature covering Somerset and Wiltshire as well as this county, and during his long service as a j.p. he was returned to Parliament for Shaftesbury no fewer than eight times. As an apprentice- and later serjeant-at-law John Hody was required to implement numerous commissions sent into Somerset and Dorset and the West Country, to deliver Ilchester gaol and determine all manner of criminal proceedings. He served on the Somerset bench from 1430 until his death in 1441, and was a justice of assize in the year before his promotion as chief justice. But all of Hody’s appointments were made several years after his elections to Parliament for Shaftesbury. John Scarburgh also served on royal commissions, but his charge had nothing to do with Dorset.

Between them the men who sat for Shaftesbury in this period held a wide variety of offices in the Crown’s appointment. Robert Frye’s and John Scarburgh’s importance as clerk of the Council and clerk of the Commons, respectively, at the time of their returns has already been noted. The latter had also served as under butler of England some years before. John Hordere was clerk of the peace in Dorset from 1395 to 1411, during which period he was returned to his only Parliament, that of 1397 (Jan.). Thomas Cammell and John Hody were both sometime royal escheators for Somerset and Dorset, but neither term coincided with an election to Parliament for Shaftesbury. Cammell was made joint controller of works in Gillingham forest immediately after his last Parliament was dissolved in 1402. Robert Squibbe acted as bailiff for Joan of Navarre, Henry IV’s widow, in Somerset and Dorset for over four years, being returned to his last Parliament (1423) soon after he took up the post.

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iv. 1117.
  • 2. J. Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, v. 110; RCHM Dorset, iv. 55-76; J. Hutchins, Dorset, iii. 1, 28; VCH Dorset, ii. 246.
  • 3. Hutchins, 12; Recs. Shaftesbury ed. Mayo, 19; CIMisc. ii. 1206; C260/83/79; CCR, 1374-7, p. 392.
  • 4. CPR, 1381-5, pp. 43, 81, 274; CChR, v. 301, 344; SC8/215/10741; Recs. Shaftesbury, 18.
  • 5. CChR, i. 406; Hutchins, iii. 14; Recs. Shaftesbury, 3, 5, 18; Dorset Nat. Hist. and Arch. Soc. xv. 46.
  • 6. C219/8/10.