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


1536(not known)
1539(not known)
 (not known)
1545(not known)
1554 (Apr.)ROBERT GAGE
1554 (Nov.)JOHN STEMPE

Main Article

The castle, manor and mesne borough of Lewes formed part of the honor or barony of that name, which at the opening of Henry VIII’s reign was divided between the 2nd Duke of Norfolk, the 2nd Earl of Derby, the 5th Baron Bergavenny and the Wingfield family. In 1539 Sir Anthony Wingfield sold what remained of his interest to Joan Everard who in 1546 settled it on her daughter Mary Bellingham, later the wife of George Goring of Ovingdean: the Gorings were to share the patronage of the borough under Elizabeth. On the attainder of the 3rd Duke of Norfolk his share was granted in 1547 to Sir Thomas Seymour II, Baron Seymour of Sudeley: two years later on Seymour’s fall it escheated to the crown and in 1553 it was restored to the duke. In November 1537 Cromwell acquired the ex-Cluniac priory and its property and established his son Gregory there: in 1539 he leased the priory to Nicholas Jenney for 21 years and on his attainder the King confirmed Jenney’s lease. The township of Southover outside the walls of Lewes was administered separately, and the manor and borough there, after being owned by Cromwell, formed part of the settlement on Anne of Cleves in 1541: on her death in 1557 they passed to John Kyme III. Lewes castle served as the venue for assizes and quarter sessions and from 1504 as the meeting place of the county court in alternation with Chichester. Until the Dissolution the town’s prosperity depended largely upon the priory, but with little industry of its own and its seaborne trade limited by the silting of the river Ouse it ceased to be of commercial importance after 1537: it was included in the Act of 1542 for the repair of certain towns (33 Hen. VIII, c.36).2

The various lords each appointed stewards and other baronial and manorial officers at Lewes, but the borough was largely self-governing with a seal of its own and two constables chosen annually on the Monday after Michaelmas. A ‘court of all the town’, attended by the free and customary tenants and the lords’ officers, met twice a year, but day-to-day administration was exercised by the Twelve and Twenty-Four, bodies whose membership usually exceeded these figures. The constables levied a general rate to meet borough expenses, including the payment of parliamentary wages: the sum collected varied according to the need. Accounts kept by the constables survive from 1542.3

According to an agreement drawn up on 2 Feb.1553 between Lewes and Southover it had been the custom ‘out of time beyond memory’ for ‘the constable, burgesses and inhabitants’ of Southover to elect one of the Members for Lewes ‘at their own costs and charges’ to every alternate Parliament; Southover had already chosen Thomas Gravesend as its Member in the forthcoming Parliament and asked Lewes to return his name to the sheriff of Surrey and Sussex with that of the man of its own choice. Only one other Member, Francis Alford in 1586, is known to have been chosen by Southover during the 16th century, and then for a Parliament where, if the principle of alternate nomination held good, Southover should not have elected. It is possible, however, that 1553 was an aberration. In 1547 Sir Anthony Cooke had replaced a man no longer identifiable but who had perhaps been elected by Southover. If this was the case, Southover could have been placated by letting it have the choice of one Member in the following Parliament and committing to writing what had previously been an understanding between the two boroughs.

In 1542 Lewes paid 8d. for the making of a pair of indentures. Indentures survive for all the Parliaments between 1547 and 1555, all but the first written in English. The contracting parties are the sheriff and the two constables and between five and 16 named burgesses. In November 1554 the names of both the Members chosen appear among the electors, John Morley as a constable and John Stempe as a burgess. In 1547 the borough seal was attached ‘with the assent of the community’, but on the other five the constables affixed the common seal, all or the majority of the named burgesses adding their own ‘in the name of all other inhabitants’. On the indenture for 1555 both constables and six of the seven burgesses signed their names as well as affixing their seals.4

There is little or no evidence to support the 3rd Duke of Norfolk’s claim of 1539 that Lewes was one of the Sussex boroughs which he controlled. Of the 15 Members sitting in this period John Batenore, John Kyme, John Morley and John Stempe were townsmen, William Peterson was of Lewes birth and Thomas Gravesend the lessee of ex-monastic property in Southover. Gravesend’s career began in the service of Sir John Gage whose home at Firle lay four miles from the borough: Robert Gage was Sir John’s son and John Gage his grandson, and George Darrell, a Gray’s Inn lawyer, the son of one of his legal advisers. William Devenish, whose family estates were centred ten miles away, perhaps owed his return to Gage or to (Sir) Nicholas Pelham, another leading figure in the district, and Sir Edward Bray, who in 1529 was living in the locality, may have been helped by the 3rd Duke. (Sir) Walter Mildmay’s election in 1547 was presumably the work of Admiral Seymour, and Sir Anthony Cooke’s that of his kinsman, John Sackville I, who was sheriff. The Middle Templar, John Southcote, may also have owed his to the sheriff, this time Sir Anthony Browne, acting in response to a request made by or on behalf of Southcote’s uncle, the civilian John Tregonwell. Three of the townsmen, Kyme, Morley and Stempe, received payments towards their expenses.5

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Town Bk. of Lewes, 1542-1701 (Suss. Rec. Soc. xlviii), 2.
  • 2. This survey rests on R. J. W. Swales, ‘Local pol. and parlty. rep. of Suss. 1529-58’ (Bristol Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1964) and ‘The Howard interest in Suss. elections 1529-58’, Suss. Arch. Colls. cxiv. 49-60. VCH Suss. vii. 1-50; Barbican House, Lewes, Elliott pprs. G1, p. 1.
  • 3. Bk. of John Rowe (Suss. Rec. Soc. xxxiv), 120, 125; Town Bk. of Lewes, 1542-1701, passim.
  • 4. C219/19/111, 20/128, 21/159, 22/85, 23/129, 24/163.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, x. 816 citing Cott. Calig. B6, f.319.