Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
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In the early 16th century Boroughbridge was a small market town, prosperous owing to its situation on a main road to the north where a bridge crossed the Ure near its junction with the Swale. Although within the manor and parish of Aldborough in the duchy of Lancaster’s honor of Knaresborough, the town enjoyed its own ‘bailiwick’, and the burgesses received the profits of tolls and stallage, the goods and chattels of fugitives and felons, and the perquisites of the two fairs granted in 1504 as well as those of the borough courts held twice a year at the time of the sheriff’s tourns for the manor of Aldborough. The crown, acting through the duchy, sometimes leased the bailiwick, with or without the two corn mills and a fulling mill, to leading local families such as Aldeburgh, Mauleverer and Tancred. Its identity was to be recognized in 1628 when, although the crown sold the manor of Aldborough to Arthur Aldeburgh, the bailiwick remained with the duchy.3

The inhabitants lived mainly by raising crops, largely barley, on the open fields of the manor of Aldborough and keeping livestock on the common, but there was still a relatively flourishing cloth industry as well as profitable trade with York. The burgesses, holders of certain burgages said to be ancient demesne, numbered about 64, and it is to be inferred that when the parliamentary borough was restored these burgesses became the electors: doubts as to which burgages qualified were later to produce electoral disputes, but no such dispute is known for the 16th century. The returning officer was the bailiff, appointed either by the crown through the duchy or, presumably, by the lessee of the bailiwick.4

Boroughbridge church, a chapel of ease within the parish of Aldborough, stood to lose from the Edwardian Reformation, since one of its two chantries had provided the town school. A commission in 1548 recommended that the chapel, being ‘far distant from the parish church’, should be kept up, with one of the chantry priests retained as a salaried schoolmaster. The strongly Catholic tone of the town, which was to compromise it during the northern rising of 1569, probably entered into the Marian government’s decision to restore a parliamentary franchise which had lapsed since 1300. One of the churches within the deanery of Boroughbridge in the archdeaconry of Richmond was Allerton Mauleverer; the Mauleverer family had property and influence in Boroughbridge but does not appear to have wielded parliamentary patronage there any more than did the families of Aldeburgh and Tancred. Such patronage lay exclusively with the two organs of central government, the duchy and the council in the north, which presumably sponsored the enfranchisement.5

Only three indentures survive for Mary’s reign, and the last, for the Parliament of 1558, is badly defaced. All are in English and are between the sheriff and a number of burgesses or ‘borough-holders’. The office of bailiff is not mentioned, but in September 1553 the first name after the sheriff’s is that of Francis Tankerd, gentleman, presumably the then bailiff; in 1555 the list is headed by William ‘Tanckard’. On the first indenture there are 13 names and in 1555 seven; in 1558 only two remain, and it is doubtful whether Henry Diconsone’s, the first of them still legible, originally headed the list. This indenture, unlike the others, makes the electors the first party. In September 1553 the sheriff is said to have directed his ‘warrant’ for the election to the ‘borough-holders’; the wording for 1555 is that ‘a proclamation was made by the sheriff, by virtue of the ... writ ... commanding ... William Tanckard’ and the others named on the indenture to carry out the election. In all three the Members are granted full power to act on behalf of the town; the indenture for 1553 is somewhat unusual in specifying their right to dissent as well as to consent in the House. In 1555 the signature of William Eglysfeld, one of the electors named, appears at the foot of the document over one of the seal tags, where it is accompanied by two crosses and three other marks in lieu of other signatures.6

The two noteworthy features of the list of Members are the unbroken run of elections of Christopher Wray and the preponderance among his fellows of lawyers who, like him, belonged to Lincoln’s Inn: such were Ralph Cholmley, Robert Kempe and William Tancred. Since Wray appears to have owed his permanence as much to his local as to his professional standing, he may well have helped to promote the election of two of these brethren, Cholmley and Kempe, who did not enjoy the local connexion which Wray shared with Tancred. Of the remaining Members, John Holmes is known to have been nominated by the 2nd Earl of Cumberland, and the young William Fairfax must have owed his election to his father, a senior member of the council in the north. Not surprisingly, there is no trace of payment to any of the Members.

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. T. Lawson-Tancred, Recs. Yorks. Manor, 7, 10-11, 126-32, 138-47, 158-62; M. Beresford, New Towns in the Middle Ages, 523-4; VCH Yorks. ii. 532.
  • 4. Lawson-Tancred, 7-10, 197-9, 200-1; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxvii. 325-8.
  • 5. Lawson-Tancred, 10, 158, 164-6; Vis. Yorks. (Harl. Soc. xvi), 200-2; VCH Yorks. iii. 80-88.
  • 6. C219/21/62, 24/59v, 62, 25/46.