Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/De la Mare, Peter

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DE LA MARE, Sir PETER (fl. 1370), speaker of the House of Commons, was mesne lord of the manor of Yatton in Herefordshire, and was seneschal of the Earl of March, who held the manor in capite. He was elected knight of the shire for his county in the parliament which met in April 1376, and which, from the popularity acquired by its attempts to reform abuses, went by the name of the Good parliament, and was chosen speaker of the commons. He is therefore the first speaker of the lower house on record, although Sir Thomas Hungerford, who ‘avoit les paroles pur les communes d'Angleterre,’ is the first whose name appears in that character in the rolls of parliament. We derive most of our information regarding De la Mare from a contemporary chronicle written in the monastery of St. Albans, and it has been suggested, but without proof, that the very favourable character which he there receives may have been due not only to political sympathy, but also to a relationship with Thomas De la Mare, the abbot of that house. The chronicler describes him as one whom God had endowed with profound wisdom, boldness in utterance of his opinions, and more than common eloquence, and puts into his mouth an opening speech in which the heavy taxation of the people, without commensurate benefit to the country, is firmly denounced. De la Mare's boldness in leading the commons in their attack on the Duke of Lancaster's party, in their impeachment of Lord Latimer, the king's chamberlain, and others, and more particularly in their petition for the removal of Alice Perrers, the king's mistress, earned him the popular favour in no ordinary degree. Verses were composed in honour of him and his actions, and it only required the persecution which followed to add to his renown. On 6 July the Good parliament was dissolved, and all that it had done was reversed. De la Mare was summoned to appear at court, and was sent prisoner to Nottingham Castle. It is worth noting that the statement which appears in Stow's ‘Annals’ that he was imprisoned at Newark is the result of a mere blunder in translating from the Latin chronicle. According to one account Alice Perrers even secured his condemnation to death, but the Duke of Lancaster intervened in favour of perpetual imprisonment. On the other hand, the St. Albans chronicler represents the duke as plotting against his life, which, however, was spared on the better advice of Lord Percy. On the meeting of Edward's last parliament in 1377, De la Mare's old fellow-members did not forget him. They endeavoured to induce the house to petition for his release, but counter influences were too strong for them. Nor was he forgotten by the Londoners. During a tumult in the city, occasioned by jealousy of the Duke of Lancaster's actions, a priest who dared to utter abusive language of the popular speaker was so roughly handled that he died of his wounds. On the accession of Richard II, De la Mare was set at liberty, and was welcomed by the Londoners with special demonstrations of joy; not less, says the chronicler, than those with which they hailed Becket's return from exile. In the parliament of October in the first year of the new reign, he agsin sat for the county of Hereford, and again became speaker. His conduct was as bold as before. His opening speech appears on the rolls of parliament, recommending the selection of a responsible council to administer affairs, proper care for the young king's education, and the due observance of the common and statute laws. His advice regarding the selection of a council, which was embodied in the form of a petition from the commons, was followed—a significant mark of the growing importance of the lower house. He was also temporarily avenged of his old enemy, Alice Perrers, who was condemned to banishment and forfeiture of goods, a sentence which, however, was not long afterwards reversed. De la Mare continued to sit for his county in the five successive parliaments of 3–6 Richard II, in 1380–3.

The speaker was not, as Manning stated, the Peter de la Mare who married Matilda, daughter and coheiress of John Maltravers of Hoke, Dorsetshire; that Peter was of the family settled at Offley, Hertfordshire, and was not born before 1370 (Collect. Gen. et Topogr. vi. 335). The speaker may never have married, at least he left no direct heirs; for at his death Yatton was inherited by his great-nephew, Roger Seymour, the grandson of Sir Peter's sister, Joanna, who married Simon de Brockbury. From this succession, by a descendant of the second generation, it may be inferred that De la Mare died old.

[Chronicon Angliæ, 1328–88 (Rolls Series); Archæologia, vol. xxii.; Stow's Annals; Rot. Parl.; Cotton's Abridgment; Manning's Lives of the Speakers; Duncomb's Herefordshire, iii. 36, 37.]

E. M. T.