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


1386Thomas Burford
 David White
1388 (Feb.)John Bitterley
 Thomas Burford
1388 (Sept.)David White
 John Hethe
1390 (Jan.)John Bitterley
 William Warmwell
1390 (Nov.)
1393John Bitterley
 William Warmwell
1394John Bitterley
 Thomas Burford
1395William Warmwell
 Richard Spencer
1397 (Jan.)Richard Spencer
 John Moner
1397 (Sept.)Richard Juel
 John Cary
1399William Hulle I
 William Walters
1401Richard Spencer
 John Levesham
1402John Wallop
 William Boyton
1404 (Jan.)William Waryn
 John Levesham
1404 (Oct.)John Wallop
 Richard Juel 1
1406William Bailey
 William Boyton
1407Thomas Child
 John Becket
1410William Bourer
 [William Bailey] 2
1411Richard Spencer
 Walter Shirley 3
1413 (Feb.)Walter Shirley
 William Waryn 4
1413 (May)Walter Shirley
 William Waryn
1414 (Apr.)Walter Shirley
 John Becket
1414 (Nov.)Walter Shirley
 John Becket
1415Walter Shirley
 Henry Man
1416 (Mar.)Walter Shirley
 Henry Man
1416 (Oct.)Walter Shirley
 Thomas Mason 5
1417Walter Shirley
 William Waryn
1419Walter Shirley
 William Waryn
1420Walter Shirley
 Robert Poynaunt
1421 (May)Walter Shirley
 Robert Poynaunt
1421 (Dec.)Walter Shirley
 Thomas Boner

Main Article

The city of Salisbury (often called New Salisbury to distinguish it from the much older settlement three miles away at Old Sarum), is situated in south Wiltshire, near the Avon and its confluence with the rivers Bourne, Nadder and Chalke. During the period under consideration it was an important route centre, and among the many roads passing through it were those from London to Exeter and from Southampton to the Midlands. Its taxable population of 3,226 in 1377 made it the seventh largest town in England.6 Salisbury’s considerable prosperity at this time was mainly based upon the cloth industry. In an earlier period the city had exported wool collected from the surrounding countryside, but by the end of Edward III’s reign it had a flourishing weaving and fulling industry of its own, producing medium-quality cloth (like the famous striped ‘ray’) in large quantities. Production seems to have reached a peak by the 1390s: in the financial year 1394-5, for instance, Salisbury clothiers presented as many as 5,039 lengths of fabric for inspection and sealing by the royal alnager, while the rest of Wiltshire accounted for only 723. The city’s weavers completed 6,749 cloths in 1395-6, and 7,289 in the following year, but after 1400 their output seems to have fallen somewhat. Large quantities of the finished product were exported (sometimes in ships owned, or partly owned, by Salisbury merchants) through Southampton, some 20 miles away. Southampton also served as a place of entry for Salisbury’s substantial imports, which included dyestuffs, wine, fish, fruit and soap, along with smaller amounts of spices, groceries, wood and hardware. Such goods were the stock in trade of Salisbury’s flourishing markets, which not only served the needs of the south Wiltshire towns and villages (and the local cloth industry) but also attracted buyers from all over the south-west and places as far afield as Coventry and Ludlow. During our period, then, Salisbury was at the height of prosperity. Nor did it decline appreciably until the 16th century.7

In 1219 the bishop of Salisbury had decided to remove his cathedral from the royal borough of Old Sarum and rebuild it on a plot of land on the banks of the Avon. Almost at once the city of New Salisbury sprang up around the foundations of the church, its growth being fostered by the bishop’s introduction at this time of a weekly market and, in 1221, of an annual fair. In 1225 Bishop Poore granted the inhabitants a charter, allowing them to hold their tenements at a fixed quit rent and to alienate such holdings by sale or mortgage. Only two years later the new city was important enough to warrant a charter from Henry III: this declared Salisbury to be a libera civitas and granted the citizens the liberties enjoyed by the men of Winchester and also freedom from tolls throughout the land. At the same time the bishop was confirmed in his lordship of the city and given the right to retain the profits of the local fairs and markets and levy taxes on the populace. Throughout the 13th century the city continued to thrive. In 1244 Bishop Bingham built a bridge at Harnham, providing a direct link between Salisbury and the road to the west and bypassing the rival town of Wilton; and in 1270 the bishop obtained a second, and in 1315 a third, annual fair. So successful did these fairs and markets prove that in 1275 the burgesses of Old Sarum and Wilton claimed that their trade was to a great extent destroyed by the competition.8

Though by 1300 the citizens of Salisbury enjoyed increasing prosperity and many commercial advantages obtained for them by successive bishops, the city remained firmly under episcopal control. In an attempt to gain some greater measure of independence, the citizens refused to pay a tallage levied on them in 1302 by Bishop Simon of Ghent, only to forfeit, albeit temporarily, all their rights and privileges as a consequence. In 1306 they capitulated, and an agreement was reached which (despite many further upheavals) was to form the basis of relations between bishop and citizenry for the next two centuries. The bishop’s right to levy tallages and retain all issues of courts and markets was confirmed, as was his exclusive right to administer justice. The citizens, on the other hand, were permitted to retain the right to elect their own mayor and other officials, though all these were to be subordinate to the bishop’s bailiff, before whom the mayor had to be sworn in.9

By the late 14th century the citizens of Salisbury were internally governed by the body known as convocation. Its composition was apparently not yet fixed, the number of its members seeming to vary between 20 and 60. By 1412, however, a senior group of probi homines called ‘the 24’ had grown up within it. One of the most important functions of convocation was to elect, on All Saints’ Day every year, a mayor, two reeves (who collected the rents due to the bishop), four aldermen (one for each of the city’s wards), and two serjeants-at-mace to assist the mayor. Two constables, who kept watch and ward and had power to arrest lawbreakers, were also elected, apparently for several years at a time. After 1412 two chamberlains were chosen every year to administer the city’s own property, and after 1421 four auditors were appointed to check their accounts. By the beginning of the 15th century the town clerk, usually a trained lawyer given the post for life or for a long period, was another member of the civic hierarchy. In practice the bishop did not interfere with the election of these officers, although his bailiff could, in theory, refuse to take the oath of a new mayor not to his liking. All the senior civic officials were ex officio members of the bailiff’s court, which met fortnightly and dealt with cases of probate as well as with miscreants.10 Incidentally, the bishop’s bailiffs of our period were invariably members of the local gentry: Sir Thomas Hungerford* held office from 1368 to 1397, John Gawen* from 1399 to about 1409, William Westbury from 1413 to 1427, and Robert Long* from 1427 to 1443.11 Citizenship of Salisbury went with membership of the guild merchant, admission to which depended on payment of a variable fee, half going to the bishop, a quarter to the corporation, an eighth to the mayor and an eighth to the bishop’s bailiff.12

As one of the largest and most prosperous towns in the kingdom, Salisbury was frequently called upon to make contributions towards the expenses of the Crown, over and above the usual taxes levied. For instance, in 1379, 1386 and 1397 it was required to advance sizeable loans to Richard II. When a demand for a loan of £100 was made by Henry V in 1415, the corporation tried to reduce it by a third, but the full amount was insisted upon. Nor, apparently, was the sum ever repaid.13 Salisbury was important enough for its authorities to be ordered to take an oath in September 1398 supporting Richard II’s condemnation of the Lords Appellant and his banishment of Henry of Bolingbroke. Perhaps it was realized that the citizens’ sympathies lay with the latter; soon after his landing in Yorkshire in 1399 they dispatched two of their number with an urgent message of support and a gift of £200 originally collected for the King. Henry may well have remembered this display of generosity in 1406, when he granted the corporation the right to hold property in mortmain, a privilege previously denied them by the bishop.14

Disputes between the civic authorities and the bishop, which had continued on and off throughout the reign of Edward III, evidently flared up again during our period, although precise details are hard to find. The conflict in question appears to have arisen over the jurisdiction of the bishop’s court as it affected the citizens, and to have begun in or before 1391. In that year the men of Salisbury were pardoned for having risen in insurrection in substantial numbers and for having refused to be judged by their rightful lord. In July 1394 Bishop Waltham thought it worthwhile to obtain royal confirmation of his authority over the city, but ten months later both he and representatives of the convocation (including the mayor) were ordered to appear in Chancery, where their quarrel was to be heard by the King himself. What decision he arrived at is unknown, but in July following all parties were required to enter into recognizances binding them to uphold his settlement, the penalty for defeasance being an abnormally high fine of £20,000; and, in addition, 20 citizens undertook to keep the peace towards the bishop, in individual sureties of £1,000. The citizens appear to have enjoyed better relations with one of Waltham’s successors, Bishop Hallum, and no further disputes are known to have occurred until 1426. The city did not, however, finally gain independence from episcopal rule until 1612.15

Another disagreement which arose during our period was with the burgesses of Southampton, through which port passed the bulk of Salisbury’s considerable foreign trade. Although the city’s merchants enjoyed partial exemption from Southampton’s local customs, by the end of the 14th century they were being called upon to pay wharfage of 2d. on each tun of oil or wine brought ashore; and in 1409, after a new wharf was built, this tax was not only increased to 7d. per tun, but also extended to cover all other merchandise. The merchants both of Salisbury and Winchester were loud in their protests, and in October 1410 a royal commission was appointed which, three months later, found against the imposition. At the same time the convocation of Salisbury brought an action against the Southampton burgesses in the court of common pleas; and when, in March 1411, the increased wharfage was confirmed by royal letters patent, it pursued this action with vigour. Salisbury was represented in the courts by a succession of her most prominent citizens, and Southampton (at least for a time) by no less a person than Sir William Sturmy*. The outcome of this dispute is unknown, but Salisbury’s trade with and through Southampton continued unabated for the rest of the 15th century.16

There is little evidence of external influence on Salisbury’s parliamentary elections during this period. The bishop’s bailiff acted as the city’s returning officer, but the bishop was not empowered to nominate candidates for election (a privilege reserved to members of convocation), and none of those returned are known to have been his servants.17 Nor were any outsiders elected. There was, conversely, an interesting tendency for Salisbury men (perhaps those unable to secure election for their own city) to seek and obtain election in the smaller decayed Wiltshire boroughs. Thus, Geoffrey Mauncell was returned for Great Bedwyn in 1399, and John Everard II for the same place in 1420, while William Lord, George Joce and John Noble sat for Old Sarum in 1377 (Jan.), 1378, and 1417, respectively. After 1422 the practice became even more pronounced.

Salisbury had first sent citizens to Parliament in 1275. Members were again elected in 1295, and from then until 1386 the city was represented on all but a handful of occasions. Only once during this period, in 1322, did the city, when called upon to make an election, fail to do so. Electoral practice at Salisbury was similar to that which obtained in the Wiltshire boroughs generally. On receipt of a royal writ of summons, the sheriff sent a precept ordering an election to the bishop of Salisbury’s bailiff, and it was the latter who made the return of the names of those chosen. After 1406, however, when a parliamentary statute imposed a system of indentures on the shires, the city (in common with the smaller Wiltshire towns) sent a deputation to the county court at Wilton, formally to present the names for inclusion in the indenture for the county as a whole. Candidates for election in Salisbury were nominated in convocation, a local bye-law passed in 1416 allowing any member of that body to propose whom he pleased, but stipulating that no one could be elected on a single nomination.18 Elections were made by the whole convocation, in the course of a regular meeting at the guildhall, the numbers present varying during our period between ten and 45.19 Given that after 1406 the civic hustings invariably preceded those held for the county, it is perhaps surprising that for the rest of our period no citizen ever attested the shire indenture, even though the elections were held only a few miles away.

Twenty-four electoral returns for Salisbury for this period have been preserved among Chancery records, and in addition the names of the Members of 1404 (Oct.), 1410, 1411, 1413 (Feb.), 1416 (Mar.) and 1416 (Oct.), are furnished by the city’s own ledger books. Thus, only the names of those elected to the successive Parliaments of 1390 (Nov.), and 1391 are missing. Of the 24 MPs recorded, nine evidently sat just once, six twice and one three times. But the rest built up quite creditable records of service in the Commons: Richard Spencer appeared four times, William Warmwell and William Waryn five, David White and Henry Man six, and John Bitterley and Thomas Burford on at least eight occasions. Most outstanding was Walter Shirley who was returned to no less than 15 Parliaments on the run (1411-23).

With such a comparatively large number of Members well versed in the ways of the Commons, it is not surprising that, during our period, Salisbury’s representatives were rarely both novices. Such a circumstance, in fact, appears only to have occurred in 1397 (Sept.), 1399, 1402 and 1407. On as many as 14 occasions each of the two Members had served before, and at 12 other times someone with previous experience accompanied an apparent newcomer. Re-election was also common, occurring at 16 of the 30 recorded hustings of the period. Thomas Burford was re-elected in 1386 and 1388 (Feb.), David White in 1386, John Bitterley in 1394 and Richard Spencer in 1397 (Jan.). As already noted, Walter Shirley was a successful candidate for every single Parliament assembled between 1411 and 1423. It seems also to have become established practice to elect his companion in one Parliament to the next as well: thus William Waryn sat with him twice in 1413, John Becket similarly in 1414, Henry Man in 1415 and 1416 (Mar.), Waryn again in 1417 and 1419, and Robert Poynaunt in 1420 and 1421 (May). Towards the end of the period, then, there was a strong tendency for Salisbury to be represented by a comparatively small number of experienced individuals, who were, furthermore, mostly of sure standing in the city. Only four of the 22 seats available in Henry V’s reign were filled by novices.

Contrary to what was so often the case elsewhere, the parliamentary representation of Salisbury did not run in families. In fact, none of the city’s MPs are known to have been blood relations, though some were linked by marriage. All, however, were resident in the city when elected, and the majority owned property there. But not all had been born in Salisbury: Richard Spencer came from Kington St. Michael, Thomas Child from Ditchampton and John Becket from Shrivenham, all of which places are in Wiltshire; and William Walters’s origins were in Northamptonshire. Of the 18 MPs whose occupations are known, no fewer than 12 were drapers or clothiers, several of whom not only made cloth (a common occupation in Salisbury) but sold it either in England or abroad. At least one of them, John Becket, was part-owner of a merchant ship, and another, William Bourer, apparently used the wool produced by his own flock of sheep. As regards the three men actually styled ‘merchants’—Walter Shirley, Henry Man and Richard Juel—textiles probably formed the major part of their trade; and William Waryn, one of the two grocers, is known to have exported cloth and, in exchange, imported dyestuffs and spices. No single one of the MPs is known to have been a man of law; but Walter Shirley, Henry Man and William Waryn, being frequently employed in external negotiations on the city’s behalf, must have had some experience in legal matters. With only three exceptions (John Cary, William Bourer and David White), all the Members of the period held office in the city at some stage in their careers. Fifteen served as reeves, four as coroners, four as constables, and one as a chamberlain, and as many as 15 rose to the mayoralty. Of these last, Thomas Burford, Walter Shirley and Richard Spencer were each made mayor twice, Henry Man and John Moner three times, John Bitterley four times, and William Waryn five times. Nor was it unusual for a member of the civic hierarchy to be sent to the Lower House: Man was returned twice when reeve (in 1415 and March 1416), Juel and Bailey while coroners (in September 1397 and 1406, respectively), and Hethe, Burford and Spencer during their mayoralties (in September 1388, 1394 and January 1397, respectively). In almost every case, first election to Parliament followed only after tenure of some local office.

As many as ten Salisbury MPs are known to have held offices or commissions by royal appointment outside the city. John Levesham and John Wallop were made tax collectors in the county of Wiltshire at large. William Bailey, Richard Juel and Richard Spencer served as county coroners. Walter Shirley and Richard Juel became verderers in Clarendon forest. John Bitterley acted for a time as collector of the subsidies and customs on wool levied at Southampton. Thomas Mason was nominal mayor of the decayed borough of Old Sarum. Thomas Burford served for three years as alnager of Wiltshire, and William Warmwell was joint farmer of the cloth subsidies in the same area. Not surprisingly, a number of MPs (eight) were placed on royal commissions directly concerning their city’s affairs. The majority of such appointments followed after an initial appearance in the Commons.

Nine MPs owned property of one sort or another quite apart from what they held in the city and villages close by. John Levesham, John Hethe and William Warmwell all acquired small estates in other parts of Wiltshire; Levesham and William Bourer owned land in Dorset, and John Bitterley had a share in the Hampshire manor of Barton Stacey. Richard Spencer and John Becket both kept houses in Southampton, doubtless to facilitate their mercantile ventures. Curiously, no Salisbury MP of this period is actually known to have had links with the local nobility and gentry, although it is difficult to imagine that such links did not exist.

The men who represented Salisbury in Parliament between 1386 and 1421, then, formed a remarkably homogenous group. All were resident within the city, and most were members of its convocation who held local office and were directly involved in defending their forum from outside interference and in promoting the expansion of its trade. The majority were prosperous clothiers, the richest being John Bitterley, William Walters, John Moner, William Waryn, Henry Man and Walter Shirley. Yet even they were most probably not quite affluent enough to find a place among the first rank of contemporary English merchants. The overall impression of the parliamentary representation of Salisbury during this period (and particularly during the later years) is that the city elected its ablest and wealthiest men to serve it in the Commons realizing that it was to its own best interest to do so.

Resident citizens of Salisbury continued to be returned to the Parliaments held between 1422 and 1450. By 1445, however, convocation apparently felt threatened by outsiders, for in that year it passed an ordinance insisting that only those living in the city should be elected.20 Perhaps, for whatever reasons, it was fighting a losing battle against a much more general tendency, for some outsiders certainly sat in Parliament for Salisbury in the second half of the 15th century. All but one of these, however, were at least men from within the county.

Author: Charles Kightly


  • 1. Salisbury RO, ledger bk. A, f. 19.
  • 2. Ibid. f. 35. Bailey died before the Parliament met, and it is not known whether a replacement was elected.
  • 3. Ibid. f. 41.
  • 4. Ibid. f. 46.
  • 5. Ibid. ff. 56, 60.
  • 6. W.C. Hoskins, Local Hist. 238-9; VCH Wilts. iv. 306.
  • 7. VCH Wilts. iv. 120-4, 128-9; vi. 125-7; E101/345/2, 4; Brokage Bk. 1443-4 (Soton Rec. Ser. iv), pp. xxvi-xxviii.
  • 8. VCH Wilts. vi. 88, 94, 138, 140-1; Wilts. Arch. Soc. Recs. Branch, v. 64-65.
  • 9. Wilts. Arch. Mag. xxxix. 185-217.
  • 10. VCH Wilts. vi. 95-97; ledger bk. A, ff. 46, 83; Wilts. Arch. Soc. Recs. Branch, v. 64-65.
  • 11. C219/8/4; Salisbury RO, ‘Domesday bk.’ 3, ff. 106, 111, 114, 117, 123, 126, 130, 132; ledger bk. A, ff. 42, 98; Tropenell Cart. ed. Davies, i. 211-19, 255-6.
  • 12. Wilts. Arch. Soc. Recs. Branch, v. 65.
  • 13. CPR, 1377-81, p. 636; 1385-9, pp. 216, 227; 1396-9, p. 181; ledger bk. A, ff. 43-44.
  • 14. Ledger bk. A, ff. 7-8, 52; CPR, 1405-8, p. 183.
  • 15. CPR, 1388-92, p. 462; CCR, 1392-6, pp. 312-14; ledger bk. A, f. 77; VCH Wilts. vi. 101.
  • 16. Port Bk. 1439-40 (Soton Rec. Ser. v), pp. xxvi-xxviii; CPR, 1408-13, p. 310; CIMisc. vii. 420; ledger bk. A, ff. 42-43.
  • 17. C219/8/4; R. Benson and H. Hatcher, Old and New Sarum, 120.
  • 18. Benson and Hatcher, 122-3. The date is 1416 (during the second mayoralty of William Waryn), not 1450 as given in VCH Wilts. vi. 105.
  • 19. Ledger bk. A, ff. 41, 56.
  • 20. Ibid. f. 140.