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


1554 (Nov.)JOHN LONG 1

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Earlier a prosperous port, Hedon had suffered from the silting up of its harbour and the growth of Hull. Leland found it to have ‘but a few boats and no merchants of any estimation’ and Camden was later to describe it as ‘so sunk as to have scarce the least traces of its former splendour’. When restored as a parliamentary borough in 1547, after an intermission since 1295, Hedon was a small town living by a dwindling cloth trade, various service industries, raising animals on common pasture once the extension of the natural harbour, and the profits of weekly markets and three (later four) fairs. The borough authorities repeatedly tried to assert their chartered rights against Hull, and in 1552 there was an acrimonious dispute between the two towns over tolls. By then on an inland creek, Hedon had long ceased to defend the Humber estuary, and in September 1541 Henry VIII during his journey to the north ordered a new castle to be built at Hull.3

The seigniory or lordship of Holderness escheated to the crown in 1521 on the attainder of the 3rd Duke of Buckingham, and was not again alienated until February 1558. Its new lord, the 5th Earl of Westmorland, regranted it early in the reign of Elizabeth to his son-in-law John Constable. With seats at Halsham and Burton Constable a few miles from Hedon, the Constable family was the most prominent in the area; later it shared with its kinsmen the Hilliards of Winestead the parliamentary patronage of Hedon. The 2nd Lord Dudley had owned property in Holderness, but neither he nor his descendants resided there. In 1547 the most important servant of the central government in the neighbourhood was (Sir) Michael Stanhope, the governor of Hull.4

A charter of 1348, described in a Tudor merchant’s will as the magna carta of Hedon, recited the liberties of the townspeople ostensibly secured by earlier charters to the lords of the seigniory. In return for an annual fee-farm of £30 the borough was granted a formal communitas or assembly of freemen at which the mayor, two bailiffs, a coroner and minor officials were to be elected on the Thursday before Michaelmas. The town authorities were empowered to use a common seal and to operate a guild merchant and hanse. Subsequent charters were little more than confirmations; one of 1550 survives, but several have been lost, including some early Tudor ones; an Elizabethan charter mentions others of 1516-17 and 1555-6.5

Several courts were held in the borough; the first, the communitas, the organ of municipal elections, could also be called for any other business not covered by the curia placitorum, a weekly mayor’s court which admitted freemen and dealt with pleas of debt and trespass; quarter sessions were held by the mayor and bailiffs with a jury of 12 ‘burgesses’, and a court leet of the lord of the seigniory, incorporating the sheriff’s tourn, met twice a year. The ‘burgesses’ were perhaps originally only the holders of certain burgages, but by the 16th century the term was used at Hedon to cover freemen by birth, marriage, completed apprenticeship to a resident ‘burgess’, or purchase; honorary freemen were apparently rare at this time. Later it was to be assumed, and in 1747 confirmed by a Commons decision, that all freemen had the parliamentary franchise, but as pre-1559 indentures give no names of electors the earlier position of the 60 or 70 burgesses remains obscure. Few details of day-to-day administration are known. The term ‘alderman’, save as that of an official of the religious guild of Holy Cross, is rarely found before the 17th century, and if the communitas chose some of its members to act as a common council the evidence has not survived.6

Four indentures remain, for the elections of 1547, the two of 1553, and 1555. The indenture for 1547, the first for the restored borough, records in English an agreement between the sheriff and the borough, here described (for the only time) as the mayor, aldermen and commonalty. Since both Members were clearly nominees of Sir Michael Stanhope, the prime mover in the re-enfranchisement, the document may be the work of a clerk of Stanhope’s unfamiliar with the borough constitution. Only the sheriff’s signature appears at the foot, whereas the copy of an indenture returned by a chartered borough normally bore the signature of the returning officer (in this case the mayor) and of other voters, and had the town seal affixed. If, as this indenture states, the sheriff and the other contracting parties set their seals to it these must have been lost. Yet the suspicion remains that it was drawn up without reference to the borough: it is the only one to survive which is not in Latin, and it contains a long section, not to be repeated, about the borough’s ‘perfect knowledge of the good discretion, learning and wisdom’ of the men elected.7

In February 1553, after Stanhope’s death, the borough certainly made its own return. The sheriff’s endorsement of the shire writ states that he had sent his precept to the mayor and burgesses, who had elected John Constable and Robert Shakerley; the borough sent back the precept, which survives with a Latin ‘response’ of the mayor and the whole community of burgesses. On this and the next surviving indenture the mayor and community of burgesses are given as the first contracting party, with the elected Members as the second; there is no mention of the sheriff. In September 1553 the sheriff’s endorsement of the writ states that he has received no return from Hedon. On this occasion the indenture was drawn up somewhat late, but in 1555, when it was earlier than those from other Yorkshire constituencies, the sheriff still left a blank space on his endorsement for the names of Hedon’s Members. Patronage was obviously at work; whereas in 1547 and February 1553 the names of those elected were in the same hand as the rest of the indenture, in September 1553 a ‘blank’ was left for the entry of one, Robert Shakerley, and in 1555 for both Members. This last is an untidy document. The person to whom the ‘blank’ indenture was sent seems to have disliked its unusual form: he inserted the sheriff, rather than the Members, as a contracting party, added Georgium Cobham generosum et Ricardum Cutberte mercatorem in the space left for the result of the election, and altered the wording at the end to exclude the Members from those who had sealed the indenture.8

The motive for the restoration of Hedon in 1547 had presumably been to add to the following of the Protector Somerset in the Commons. It may have been agreed upon during Somerset’s passage through Yorkshire on the Pinkie campaign. His wife was Stanhope’s half-sister, and both men elected were Seymourites, the gentleman pensioner Edward Elrington and the augmentations receiver Robert Googe. In the previous Parliament Googe had sat for Hull, doubtless as Stanhope’s nominee, but by the autumn of 1547 Stanhope was on such bad terms with the corporation of Hull that he could not be certain of a nomination there. To offset this he had increased his influence at Hedon, where he received most of the property of the hospital of St. Sepulchre.

From 1553 the names of the Members suggest a sharing of patronage between (Sir) John Constable and the 5th Earl of Shrewsbury, president of the council in the north. Constable himself sat three times down to 1558 (and again in 1563) and perhaps had a hand in the election of Richard Cuthbert, George Brooke and John Goldwell, while other Members loo