Leicester

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 1510-15

Elections

DateCandidate
1523WILLIAM BOLT 1
 ROGER WIGSTON 2
1529THOMAS BROKESBY
 ROBERT HARWARD
 (aft. 1533 not known)
1536(not known)
1539JOHN BEAUMONT 3
 WILLIAM WIGSTON 4
1542ROBERT BURDETT
 ?JOHN BEAUMONT
1545EDWARD HASTINGS
 JOHN THROCKMORTON
1547GEORGE SWILLINGTON
 RALPH SKINNER
1553 (Mar.)GEORGE SWILLINGTON
 ROBERT COTTON
1553 (Oct.)WILLIAM FAUNT
 THOMAS FARNHAM
1554 (Apr.)FRANCIS FARNHAM
 THOMAS JENKINSON
1554 (Nov.)FRANCIS FARNHAM 5
 HUGH ASTON
1555FRANCIS FARNHAM 6
 (not known)
1558ROBERT BREHAM
 MAURICE TYRRELL

Main Article

Leicester formed the most important part of one of the four demesne manors in the duchy of Lancaster’s honor of Leicester. The town was relatively prosperous for most of the 16th century despite its inclusion in an Act of 1540 (32 Hen. VIII, c.18) among places where ‘many beautiful houses’ were in decay. Although no longer a centre for the wool trade, the town continued to be a prime market for the pasture farmers of the surrounding area, and by 1540 leather work and other crafts were flourishing there. The Dissolution brought local property into the hands of Leicestershire noblemen and gentry, often themselves officials of the duchy honor. In 1546 the 3rd Marquess of Dorset received the site and buildings of the Black Friars, and two years later John Beaumont took over much of the property of the Newarke, a liberty just outside the borough but closely associated with it.7

The charters from the middle ages, confirmed in 1540, 1547 and 1554, allowed for a corporation in all but name, although formal incorporation was not granted until 1589. After disturbances at municipal and parliamentary elections a private Act of 1489 (3 Hen. VII, c.2) laid down that the mayor and his ‘brethren’—another name for the 24 jurats, also styled aldermen—were to choose 48 of ‘the most wise, discreet and best disposed ... inhabitants’ to join with them to elect borough officials and to assess ‘lawful charges in the town’. The Twenty-Four, who could alter the composition of the Forty-Eight at will, were to co-opt to their own body only from the Forty-Eight. Nothing was said in the Act about the parliamentary franchise but a royal writ of the same year vested it in the same bodies and further specified the role of the crown bailiff in all elections and assessments: in 1547 the town ‘bought’ the bailiffship from Thomas Dannett for £80 but the arrangement seems to have lasted for only a few years. The steward of the honor of Leicester also had considerable influence, especially when he was a Grey or a Hastings.8

At the beginning of the period Members were seemingly elected as to one ‘for the commons’ (the Forty-Eight) and as to the other ‘for the mayor and his brethren’—the distinction is made in a town record of the election of 1523— but by 1554 the borough authorities were acting as one body. On 19 Jan. 1554 the hall book records that there were then ‘in election for the burgesses of the Parliament Mr Francis Farnham, recorder, Mr Henry Aston, Mr William Manbe, Mr Thomas Jenkinson’, and on 16 Mar. that the final choice of Farnham and Jenkinson was made by ‘the 24 and the whole 48’. The surviving indentures of election are between the sheriff of Warwickshire and Leicestershire and the mayor with the comburgenses and inhabitants, this being the electorate as described in the sheriff’s county return for 1545: in 1547 the names of electors following the mayor’s are given as 12 burgenses and six liberi homines, in February 1553 as nine gentlemen and 17 yeomen, and in September of the same year as 11 or 12 comburgenses and seven with no style. The chamberlains’ accounts show payments for several Parliaments to townsmen Members, including recorders, but not always at the statutory rate of 2s. a day.9

The strong legal element among Leicester Members—ten out of 19, all whose inn of court is known being from the Inner or Middle Temple—is to be attributed to the difficulty which the borough experienced in keeping its liberties intact under officials of the duchy and of the bishop of Lincoln. The town also received pressure from local noblemen and gentry. Assistance from the duchy itself was sometimes necessary, and when either of the two great families—the Hastings earls of Huntingdon with a seat at Ashby-de-la-Zouch and a town house in Leicester, and the Grey marquesses of Dorset seated at Bradgate—was in the ascendant at court the Leicester authorities gave valuable presents. Early in 1540 the municipal authorities petitioned Sir William Fitzwilliam I, Earl of Southampton and chancellor of the duchy, for help in obtaining letters patent from the King banning ‘foreigners’ from trading in the borough: the townsmen complained that ‘foreigners dwelling out of the said town have been suffered to sell wares and merchandise within the said town by retail; and by reason that foreigners have such liberty’ many townsmen had left Leicester to the ‘ruin and decay’ of the High Street and ‘other places of the said town likewise not only decayed but utterly desolate and now fallen into great poverty’. A Mr Jenkinson (probably not the man elected in 1554) was also authorized to ‘make this supplication in any way substantial and if you see cause to deliver it to the Queen’s majesty, for otherwise we think it will in the Parliament take no place’. The town’s hope for an Act to remedy the matter must have been dashed by the King’s decision to separate from Anne of Cleves, but the inclusion of the town in the Act for urban renewal may have done something to console the governing body. Other petitions in this period went to Huntingdon or Dorset, or to both, as did that of 1550 or the following year ‘for the commons in St. Margaret’s parish’.10

Although Leicester probably preferred townsmen Members, there appears to have been fairly constant intervention by the two leading families. At the beginning of the period George, 3rd Lord Hastings, later 1st Earl of Huntingdon, was steward of the honor; from February 1551 to 1554 the 3rd Marquess of Dorset, created Duke of Suffolk in October 1551, held the office, and in June 1554, after Suffolk’s execution, it passed to the 2nd Earl of Huntingdon. Duchy patronage was probably exerted through the steward rather than the chancellor; only Maurice Tyrrell, a cadet of the Essex family, is likely to have enjoyed the support of his kinsman Sir Edward Waldegrave (then shortly to be appointed chancellor in succession to his uncle Sir Robert Rochester) and even he was also a remote connexion of the Hastings family and otherwise well-connected in Leicestershire.

Four of the remaining 18 known Members were recorders of Leicester, Thomas Brokesby, John Beaumont, Francis Farnham and Robert Breham; four served one or more terms as mayor, William Bolt (in office at his election), Robert Harward, Robert Cotton and Hugh Aston, and one, Jenkinson, held minor offices in the town. Harward’s brother-in-law Roger Wigston and his son William, although seated in Warwickshire, were sprung from a family of leading merchants in Leicester. Robert Burdett and George Swillington were servants of the 3rd Marquess of Dorset, as was the ex-mayor Cotton, and Ralph Skinner was his client. Swillington’s uncle Ralph Swillington was recorder from 1510 to 1525 and may well