Chipping Wycombe


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


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1554 (Nov.)JOHN CHEYNE I

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Situated in rich pastoral country along a river which supported a large number of mills, Chipping Wycombe was a centre for the woollen trade. Although in 1500 the town had had its fee-farm reduced from £30 to £26, when taxed for the subsidy of 1524 it remained the wealthiest place in the county. The privileges of the free borough rested on an early 13th-century grant, several times confirmed by the crown. A confirmation at the beginning of Mary’s reign (15 Nov. 1553) was followed at its end by the incorporation of the borough (27 Aug. 1558), ostensibly in recognition of its fidelity during the rebellions of 1553-4. This charter confirmed the government of the borough by a mayor, two bailiffs, a steward and under bailiff, and 12 capital burgesses, as well as its right to send two Members to Parliament, these being elected by the mayor, bailiffs and burgesses.3

Election indentures, all in Latin, survive for the nine Parliaments from 1542 to 1558, although several are in poor condition. The contracting parties are, on the one part the sheriff of Buckinghamshire, and on the other either the mayor and burgesses or, less often, the mayor, bailiffs and burgesses, with the mayor alone being named in November 1554. In the indentures for the two Parliaments of 1553, and perhaps also in that of 1558, the names of the Members have been added in a different hand. The indenture for the first Parliament of 1554 is dated 31 Mar., only two days before the Parliament opened; on that occasion Henry Peckham was also elected on the same day for the newly enfranchised borough of Aylesbury, but the Crown Office list shows that he chose to sit again for Wycombe.4

The fee-farm of the borough was owned by the dean and chapter of St. George’s chapel, Windsor, who also held Bassetsbury, the largest manor in Wycombe. Their first known lessee in the 16th century was their rent collector John Raunce, who took the manor and a mill in February 1531 for 31 years. It is not known whether the fee-farm was leased again before 16 May 1567, when the whole manor with ‘the town or fee-farm’ was granted to a servant of the Earl of Leicester. The second largest property was the manor of Temple Wycombe. Held of the honor of Wallingford by the Knights Hospitallers, this passed at the Dissolution to the crown which retained it until 1553, when it was granted to John Cock II, master of requests, and John Thurgood, from whom it passed two years later to John and Robert Raunce.5

Neither these local interests, nor any external influences, are reflected in the choice of the Members in 1510, the only ones known before 1529; both Richard Birch and George Pettifer were well-to-do townsmen. Whether the borough was similarly represented in the next three Parliaments cannot be known, but from 1529 it consistently elected Members of quite other kinds. Although most of them lived in Buckinghamshire, and a few had property in Wycombe, it was their combination of landed wealth and official standing, or their connexion with those so endowed, which qualified them to sit for the town. To these attributes there was probably added in 1529 the element of royal patronage, for Buckinghamshire was one of the counties included in the King’s personal transmission of election writs, and both William Windsor, like his father Sir Andrew Windsor, Lord Windsor, a member of the royal household, and Robert Dormer, a merchant turned squire, could have been crown nominees. The case may not have been otherwise in 1542, the next election for which names survive. If the first of the two Members (who appears on the damaged indenture only by his surname) was John Gates, this favoured servant of both the King and the Queen could not have found a seat at Wycombe, to which he was a complete stranger, save by royal direction, while young William Dormer may also have had his local claim similarly reinforced. Again, it would be a mistake to construe the appearance in 1545 of two natives of Wycombe as marking a reversion to the practice of electing townsmen, for Roland Bracebridge almost certainly owed his seat to the Earl of Hertford while Robert Chalfont probably enjoyed similar, but unknown, patronage. But the high-water mark of government patronage came with the election of 1547. Neither Thomas Fisher nor Armagil Waad had any connexion with Wycombe or with Buckinghamshire, but Fisher was secretary to the Earl of Hertford, by now Duke of Somerset and Protector, and Waad a clerk of the Privy Council; for Somerset the two Wycombe seats were a safe haven for two vessels in his powerful squadron.6

The election for Edward VI’s second Parliament saw the rise of Sir Edmund Peckham as the leading parliamentary figure and patron in the shire, an ascendancy which the succession of Mary could only increase. At Wycombe his position was formalized by his appointment as high steward and his personal standing enhanced by his part in the foundation of the grammar school. His role in the borough elections is reflected in the four returns of his son Henry before that wayward offspring’s execution for treason, and of the two returns of his nephew John Cheyne and his neighbour Robert Drury. If the choice of Thomas Pymme alias Fryer in April 1554 and Pymme’s re-election in 1558 with Robert Woodleaf suggests a belated revival of townsman representation, it is to be observed that Pymme was an associate of Peckham through his office in the Exchequer and Woodleaf a kinsman by marriage of Drury. It is not surprising that, with such a roll of Members since 1529, there is no hint of any payment of wages.

Author: M. K. Dale


  • 1. First Wycombe Ledger Bk. (Bucks. Rec. Soc. xi), no. 61.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. L. J. Ashford, High Wycombe, 94, 96; First Wycombe Ledger Bk. pp. x, xi and no. 63; J. Parker, Wycombe, app. 22-25, 26-39; CPR, 1557-8, pp. 371-4.
  • 4. C219/18B/10, 18C/9, 19/15, 20/11, 21/12, 22/8, 23/12, 24/10, 25/13.
  • 5. VCH Bucks. iii. 123-4; T. Langley, Hundred of Desborough, 24-25; Dean and chapter of Windsor 4/B16, f. 68; 15/15/5, 59, 53/61; CPR, 1549-51, p. 345; 1553, p. 93; 1554-5, p. 248.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, iv. 5993.