Bedford

Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

No names known for 1510-23

Elections

DateCandidate
1529JOHN BAKER III
 WILLIAM BOURNE
1536(not known)
1539WILLIAM JOHNSON I 1
 (not known)
1542WILLIAM JOHNSON I
 MICHAEL THRALE
1545GEORGE BLAGGE
 HENRY PARKER
1547GERARD HARVEY alias SMART
 GEORGE WRIGHT
1553 (Mar.)THOMAS LEIGH
 WILLIAM GODOLPHIN II
1553 (Oct.)EDMUND MORDAUNT
 THOMAS LEIGH
1554 (Apr.)EDMUND MORDAUNT
 THOMAS LEIGH
1554 (Nov.)WILLIAM HALL
 JOHN WILLIAMS alias SCOTT
1555EDMUND MORDAUNT 2
 THOMAS LEIGH 3
1558GEORGE GASCOIGNE
 THOMAS LEIGH

Main Article

The burgesses of Bedford held the town of the crown at a fee-farm said to be £46 in 1447, when it was reduced by £22 for 60 years. In 1504 the remission (then stated to be £26) was made permanent, the burgesses arguing that if they had to pay in full ‘they would necessarily be obliged to retire from thence and leave the town totally destitute’. Bedford was included in the Act of 1540 for re-edifying of towns (32 Hen. VIII, c. 18). A borough by prescription, it had charters dating back at least to the 12th century and these were confirmed in 1509, 1515, 1547 and 1557. When the arms ‘belonging and appertaining to the mayor, bailiffs, burgesses and commonalty of the town and borough of Bedford’ were confirmed in 1566 the mayor was assisted by eight former mayors. There were also a recorder, two bailiffs, two chamberlains and a steward of the court leet.4

Bedford had returned Members since 1295: they were chosen ostensibly by the ‘one consent’ of all the burgesses, meeting in the council chamber. Election indentures, all in Latin, survive for every Parliament between 1542 and 1558 except those of 1545 and 1555. The contracting parties were the sheriff of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire and the mayor, bailiffs, burgesses and commonalty of Bedford.5

Bedford’s poverty made it susceptible to the influence of the same handful of landed families as controlled the shire elections. Five of its 14 known Members were none the less townsmen, all of whom served as mayor, although the most often elected of them, Thomas Leigh, mayor in 1556-7, was something more than a townsman and may have owed his earlier elections to the influence of the Gostwick family, from whom he obtained a lease of the lands of Caldwell priory, much of which lay within the borough. The only Parliament between 1553 and 1559 in which Leigh did not sit, that of November 1554, was also the only one since 1529 in which both Members were townsmen, one of them, William Hall, the mayor: this was the Parliament to which Queen Mary had requested the return of resident Catholics and evidently Bedford did not feel that Leigh met these criteria.

As many as five of the outsiders, William Johnson, George Blagge, Henry Parker, Gerard Harvey alias Smart and George Wright, may have owed their seats to Sir Francis Bryan, recorder of Bedford in and perhaps before the reign of Edward VI, but Wright, at least, was doubtless well known in the town as augmentations receiver for the area. Michael Thrale may have been beholden to Sir John Gascoigne, himself knight of the shire in the same Parliament. William Godolphin, taken to have been the younger brother of Sir William Godolphin, a knight for Cornwall, was connected with Sir John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford. Edmund Mordaunt’s elder brother sat for the shire in the three Marian Parliaments for which Mordaunt himself represented Bedford and George Gascoigne sat with his father Sir John, who held part of the barony of Bedford and was probably already recorder of the borough. As lawyers they may have been all the more acceptable—Mordaunt a Middle Templar and Gascoigne (who was under age) probably still a student at Gray’s Inn—able and willing to serve without wages. It is not known whether Bedford paid any of its Members but according to a lawsuit brought against him by the town early in the reign of Edward VI, Johnson agreed to serve in the Parliaments of 1539 and 1542 without recompense and was elected ‘upon the said promise’.

Bedford was for over 20 years the seat of a suffragan bishopric under the Act for the nomination and consecration of suffragans (26 Hen. VIII, c.14).

Author: N. M. Fuidge

Notes

  • 1. C24/27.