Devizes

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 POYNTZ
 RICHARD MYTTON
1536(not known)
1539(not known)
1542(not known)
1545CLEMENT THROCKMORTON
 GEOFFREY DANIELL
1547SIR GEORGE HOWARD 1
 NICHOLAS THROCKMORTON 2
1553 (Mar.)(not known)
1553 (Oct.)WIELIAM REDE II 3
 THOMAS HULL 4
1554 (Apr.)THOMAS HIGHGATE
 HENRY LEKE
1554 (Nov.)THOMAS HULL
 EDWARD HEYNES
1555THOMAS HULL
 JAMES WEBBE
1558THOMAS HULL
 HENRY MORRIS

Main Article

Devizes grew up beneath the walls of the castle built before 1106 by a bishop of Salisbury ‘upon certain boundaries (devise)’. It became an important market town and textile centre and was probably at the height of its prosperity in the first half of the 16th century when Leland found it ‘most occupied by clothiers’. It had early passed into the hands of the crown, and from the 14th century the castle, manor, parks and borough were customarily granted, with the neighbouring manors of Marlborough and Rowde and certain forests, to successive queens in jointure. All six consorts of Henry VIII held them, and Sir Edward Baynton, vice-chamberlain to the last five of the queens, was their steward from 1526 until his death in 1544. Queen Catherine Parr appointed her brother-in-law (Sir) William Herbert I to succeed him and in April 1546 Herbert was confirmed in office for life by the King. In the following year the lordship was granted in reversion to the Queen’s fourth husband Sir Thomas Seymour II, Baron Seymour of Sudeley, on whose attainder it returned to the crown.5

Described as a borough when it received its first charter from the Empress Matilda in 1141, Devizes returned Members intermittently from 1295. It was not incorporated until 1605. In 1381 the burgesses were granted the privilege of return of writs, previously held by the constable of the castle (whose general authority declined with the castle, being replaced by that of the steward), and in 1510 Catherine of Aragon let the borough to them to farm at a rent of £5 a year, a lease renewed at intervals throughout the century and made perpetual in 1624. In the absence of records, existing in a fragmentary state only from 1555, the borough constitution is obscure, but some light is thrown on it by a dispute in 1513 over the mayoralty. One party to the dispute held that the yeldens or guildsmen, either of the guild merchant (recognized by a charter of 1371) or of the craft guilds, should elect the mayor and present his name to the Twelve ‘chosen to the rule of the town’, and the other that the guildsmen and the Twelve should join together for the election. At three separate courts in 1556 the mayor was attended by nine, 12 and 13 ‘brethren’.6

On receiving a precept from the sheriff of Wiltshire the mayor arranged for the election of Members ‘in full court’. Election indentures, all in Latin, survive for the Parliaments of 1545, April and November 1554, and 1555. The contracting parties are the sheriff and mayor with the burgesses ‘commorant and resident’; the mayor affixed the town’s common seal to the copy sent to Chancery and the sheriff set his to the one kept by the town. In 1545 the name of the senior Member, Clement Throckmorton, and in the spring of 1554 the names of both Members, were inserted in hands different from those of the writers of the indentures.7

Of the six known Members before the reign of Mary, John Poyntz was a servant of Catherine of Aragon and four were servants of or otherwise connected with Catherine Parr; only Richard Mytton in 1529 cannot be linked directly with the Queen or her vice-chamberlain Sir Edward Darrell. On the other hand, out of the seven Marian Members only the two strangers, Thomas Highgate and Henry Leke, appear to have been nominees, Highgate as a servant of the constable and steward William Herbert, by then Earl of Pembroke, and Leke as a former augmentations official whose superior, Matthew Colthurst, had attached himself to the earl. The other five were townsmen, three of whom served as mayor, Thomas Hull being in office at his second and third elections to Parliament and Henry Morris being still a Member at his first election to the mayoralty: the claim for £3 6s.2d. which Morris later made on the borough is more likely to have been for mayoral expenses than parliamentary wages. The paucity of records makes it impossible to say