Bridgwater

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
1529HENRY THORNTON
 (aft. Apr. 1533 not known)
 HUGH TROTTER
 (aft. 7 Apr. 1536 not known)
1536(not known)
1539(not known)
1542(not known)
1545THOMAS DYER
 ALEXANDER POPHAM
1547(SIR) THOMAS DYER 1
 ALEXANDER POPHAM 2
1553 (Mar.)(SIR) THOMAS DYER 3
 RICHARD GUBBY 4
1553 (Oct.)(SIR) THOMAS DYER
 NICHOLAS HALSWELL
1554 (Apr.)JOHN NEWPORT
 ROBERT MOLYNS
1554 (Nov.)JOHN NEWPORT 5
 JOHN CHAPELL 6
1555?(SIR) THOMAS DYER 7
 ?EDMUND LYTE 8
1558JOHN NEWPORT
 ROBERT MOLYNS

Main Article

Bridgwater had been a flourishing seaport and clothing town, but when Leland visited it at about the time of its inclusion in the Act for the re-edifying of towns westward (32 Hen. VIII, c.19) the inhabitants claimed that within living memory over 200 houses had fallen into decay. A later Act for the viewing and selling of cloths called Bridgwaters (2 and 3 Phil. and Mary, c.12) was intended to protect cloth manufacture in Bridgwater, Taunton and Chard from the competition of country clothiers. A charter of King John had given the town the privileges of a free borough, with a market and fair, and another in 1468 (confirmed in 1488, 1511, 1539, 1547 and 1554) granted incorporation as the mayor, bailiffs and burgesses. The mayor and two bailiffs were elected annually by the burgesses; in 1558 there were 25 members of the council including the mayor. At the time of the incorporation Cecily, Duchess of York, held a third part of the borough, and the charter laid down that after her death it was to be held at fee-farm. The other two thirds belonged to the Lords Zouche of Harringworth until the attainder of the 7th Lord at the beginning of Henry VII’s reign, when the crown granted the fee-farm of some £16 to Giles Daubeny, Lord Daubeny, with reversion to the heirs of Lord Zouche. The subsequent history of the fee-farm is not altogether clear: in 1540 it was being paid to Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, whose brother Sir Henry Seymour was keeper of Bridgwater castle in 1544, but in the following year Daubeny’s son Henry, Earl of Bridgwater, was receiving it and by 1547 it had reverted to the Zouche family. In 1556 local witnesses deposed that the claim of George, 10th Lord Zouche, to £16 a year was invalid, since the Earl of Bridgwater had remitted a considerable part of the sum. They also maintained that the earl had sold the fee-farm to Hertford, now Duke of Somerset, who in turn sold it to Zouche’s father: no other evidence has been found for this transaction. The Earl of Bridgwater’s nephew and heir, John, Lord Fitz Warin, later 2nd Earl of Bath, was a frequent visitor to the borough. The castle, lordship and manor formed part of the jointure of Queen Catherine Howard in 1541.9

The three surviving election indentures, in English for the two Parliaments of 1553 and in Latin for 1558, are in poor condition. The mayor and the sheriff of Somerset and Dorset are the contracting parties at least to the second indenture of 1553 and the elections seem to have been made ostensibly with ‘the consent and assent of the burgesses’. Of the ten known Members few were townsmen but none was a complete stranger and none sat elsewhere than for Bridgwater. Henry Thornton and Hugh Trotter were customs officials in the town and Trotter may have been born there; both could have been favoured by Baldwin Malet, the recorder whose appointment during the summer of 1529 as solicitor-general precluded his own election. When Thornton died in the spring of 1533 he was perhaps replaced by Alexander Popham, Malet’s successor as recorder by 1541; if so, Popham is likely to have sat in the next three Parliaments as well as in those of 1545 and 1547. He lived two miles from Bridgwater and his fellow-Member Thomas Dyer, a well-connected courtier, had his main seat only a dozen miles further off. Popham may have had a hand in the election of Dyer’s subsequent partners Richard Gubby and Nicholas Halswell. The three men returned to the two Parliaments of 1554 were townsmen: John Newport had been mayor several times, Robert Molyns, comptroller of customs and an ex-bailiff, was to serve the first of his two terms as mayor before being returned again in 1558, and John Chapell was a member of the town council by 1558. The local magnate Dyer, whose Protestantism may have helped to exclude him in 1554, was probably returned for the fifth time in 1555. The names of Bridgwater’s Members on that occasion are unknown, but Dyer appeared in the House to oppose one of the government’s bills and the ‘Mr. Lyght’ who took the same stand was presumably Edmund Lyte, searcher of the port of Bridgwater in 1552 and stepson of Hugh Trotter; in November 1556 Lyte gave the town an acquittance for expenses incurred in the passage of the Act for Bridgwater cloths. The three townsmen, Newport, Molyns and Chapell, all received parliamentary wages.10

Cranmer’s proposal for Bridgwater to become the seat of a suffragan bishop was given formal approval by the Act of 1534 (26 Hen. VIII, c.14) but no appointment was made.

Author: N. M. Fuidge

Notes

  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. C219/282/6.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Guildford mus. Losely 1331/2.
  • 8. Bridgwater corp. mss 1877.
  • 9. Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, i. 163; Collinson, Som. iii. 75-81; Bridgwater corp. mss 124, 1430, 1454, 1698, 1699, 1701, 1877, 1887, 2033, 2058, 2089; LP Hen. VIII, xvi. g. 503(25).
  • 10. C219/21/132, 25/95, 282/6.

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