Struggling to get to work…in the 15th century

We hope that our fellow Londoners’ journeys tonight are not too difficult during this week’s tube strikes. Dr Hannes Kleineke, Senior Research Fellow on the 1422-1504 section, discusses the lengths medieval parliamentarians had to go to if they wanted to miss a session…

Commuters struggling into work during the current tube strikes might spare a thought for their medieval forebears. The absence of peers and Members of the Commons from the deliberations of Parliament was a concern throughout the middle ages, to the extent that the Commons on election were required to provide sureties for their attendance. By the 1450s, absenteeism among the lords had become enough of a problem for substantial fines to be imposed on any defaulters. The king could grant a special licence to an individual who needed to absent himself with good reason, principally age, infirmity or illness, but unlike many other royal favours these were comparatively hard to come by. The reasons why an individual would want to absent himself could be manifold, and could range from a preoccupation with personal business and concerns over the dangers of being drawn into factional politics, to the quite mundane stresses and strains of a journey across half the kingdom on often inferior roads.

A combination of such factors evidently played a part when John Arundell, bishop of Chichester, sued out a licence of absence in 1463, citing

his grete age and feblenesse, if he shuld have take so grete a iourney and labour uppon hym to the seid citee [of York], it shuld have turned to thabbreggyng of his dayes and by lyklyhode the losse of his lyfe.

His petition was successful, and at a cost of some £20 he was granted permission henceforth to be represented by proctors at meetings of the King’s council and of Parliament.


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