Sir Thomas Hungerford is generally recognised as the first Speaker of the House of Parliament (Sir Peter de la Mare actually did the job first but no one at the time bothered to give him a job title so technically its Sir Thomas). His family had all represented Parliament for Wiltshire so it is unsurprising that Sir Thomas should have taken the mantle on his shoulders in 1376 having been knighted the previous year – more unexpected, to the modern way of thinking at least, is the fact that he held the constituency of Wiltshire and also Somerset in the parliaments of 1384 and 1389. He was already part of the Lancaster Affinity when he sat in his first parliament. He was an member of parliament during the so-called Bad Parliament of 1377 when he fulfilled the role of Speaker. In all, he would serve as a member of parliament sixteen times.
Sir Thomas’s career path is typical of the period – he married well; twice and on both occasions secured lands and political credit. He represented John of Gaunt within Wiltshire/Somerset and he benefitted from that link to the extent that on his death he was the holder of twelve manors. Thus on a regional level through family roles and local administration he was a man of importance – sheriff and member of royal commissions. This in turn was enhanced by his links to the Lancaster Affinity. And as with other knights I have written about in the last couple of weeks, the arrangement was reciprocal.
Evidence for the growth of Hungerford’s status is best seen in the form of Farleigh Hungerford Castle which started off life as a manor house and which was turned into a castle by Sir Thomas as his power and wealth increased.
And, as with other members of Gaunt’s retinue, Hungerford was associated not only with the father but also the son. In 1387 he was linked with the so-called Appellants, of whom Henry of Bolingbroke was one, who sought to muzzle Richard II. However, he was not a member of the Merciless Parliament. Even so once Richard II regained his power Hungerford lost some of his regional influence which was not restored until John of Gaunt returned from Spain.
In addition to serving the Lancaster Affinity within his region he also served as Lancaster’s steward and can be found also in the role of bailiff to the Bishop of Salisbury.
Sir Thomas died at the end of 1397 and was replaced by his son – another Sir Walter who was the only one of his sons to outlive him (his seal is pictured at the start of this post.) Sir Thomas had three son by his first wife and two by his second. Sir Walter, who at the time of his father’s death had only just come of age, would become a baron and like his father would maintain his loyalty to the house of Lancaster – and this was demonstrated in 1399 when he supported Henry of Bolingbroke during his return from exile to claim John of Gaunt’s title and estates. Walter became a knight just before Henry of Bolingbroke was crowned and would continue to serve Lancaster through the reigns of Henry IV and Henry V – he was an executor of Henry V’s will as well as also being a Speaker in Parliament. He was also Chief Steward for all the duchy lands south of the River Trent. By the time Sir Walter died, the Hungerford family owned fifty manors – perhaps making him into an example of a magnate with too much power and cash.
Inevitably the wheel of fortune turned as Lancaster’s fortunes declined with the reign of Henry VI. Sir Thomas’s grandson, Robert was executed in 1464 in the aftermath of the Battle of Hexham.The same fate befell Sir Thomas’s great grandson in 1469. It is perhaps unsurprising to discover that a member of the Hungerford family fought at Bosworth on the side of Henry Tudor – which helped to reverse the attainder that the House of York in the form of Edward IV had passed against the Hungerford family.
The Lancaster Affinity is hugely important to the period and to England’s changing political landscape. The career patterns of John of Gaunt’s retinue echo one another in more ways than one- so no doubt I shall come back to the Lancaster Affinity and John of Gaunt’s retinue one way or another but its time to look more closely at Katherine Swynford.
Roskell, John Smith. (1981) Parliament and Politics in Late Medieval England, Volume 2
Roskell, John Smith. (1965) The Commons and Their Speakers in English Parliaments, 1376-1523. Manchester: Manchester University Press