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


1553 (Oct.)JOHN WATSON
1554 (Nov.)HENRY PERCY 1

Main Article

The barony of Morpeth, with the lordship of the town and castle, passed to the Dacre family after the marriage of Thomas, 2nd Lord Dacre to the heiress of Ralph, 5th Lord Greystoke. Leland observed that Morpeth was a market town ‘long and meetly well builded’ and remarked on its ‘fair castle standing upon a hill’. The town was important enough to serve on occasion as the site of shire elections even after the Act for the keeping of county days (2 and 3 Edw. VI, c.25) had specified Alnwick as the meeting place of the shire court.3

By agreement with the 2nd Lord Dacre the government of the borough was based upon its seven guilds, two at least of which paid to the lord part of the fines levied on their members. Authority was vested in two bailiffs, seven aldermen (one from each guild) and a body of free burgesses, assisted by various minor officials. At a court feet held within a month after Michaelmas each guild presented two names to the lord or his steward, who chose two of the 14 nominees as bailiffs; the free burgesses or freemen were drawn from the brothers or free brothers of each guild in agreed quotas. It was perhaps his experience of the Morpeth guilds, among them the smiths, sadlers and cordwainers, which accounted for the inclusion of the 3rd Lord Dacre in a Lords committee on a bill concerning sadlers, girdlers and cordwainers in Edward VI’s first Parliament. His vote against two of the religious Acts of that Parliament showed where his doctrinal sympathies lay, and it is natural to conclude, as did the county’s historian Hodgson, that the appearance of two names for Morpeth among those returned to the first Marian Parliament marks the enfranchisement of a borough which could be relied upon to furnish supporters of the new regime. This explanation, which brackets Morpeth with the three Yorkshire boroughs seemingly enfranchised at the same time, Boroughbridge, Knaresborough and Ripon, may well be the right one, but it overlooks the possibility that Morpeth first returned Members, whose names (in common with so many others) are lost, to the Parliament of March 1553. In that event, the initiative would have come, not from Dacre, who was then under a cloud, but from the Duke of Northumberland, whose elevation to that dignity and acquisition of the bulk of the Percy inheritance gave him both opportunity and incentive to add to his parliamentary following from the region. The grant of arms to Morpeth in 1552, and the issue of a charter for its grammar school in the same year, would have made a suitable prelude to its enfranchisement.4

Whenever it was first exercised, the franchise lay in the free burgesses. Election indentures survive for the Parliaments of October 1553, November 1554 and 1555, but only the first, in English, is in good condition. The contracting parties are the sheriff of Northumberland (whose precept also survives), the two bailiffs, who are named, and ‘all the burgesses’; the name of the junior Member, William Ward, is written in a different hand from the rest of the document. All the Members were probably Dacre’s nominees, although the connexion is not always apparent. Thomas Bates was his receiver at Morpeth by 1549 and the young Henry Percy, later and Earl of Northumberland, was a relative. Ward and Robert Wheatley were also returned for Carlisle during Dacre’s tenure of the wardenship of the west marches, which were administered from Carlisle.5

Author: M. J. Taylor


  • 1. Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs. supplies the christian names missing from the indenture, C219/23/96.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, v. 62-63.
  • 4. Hodgson, Northumb. ii(2), 399, 428-33; E. Mackenzie, Northumb. i. 192, 199; HMC 6th Rep. 537.
  • 5. C219/21/115, 117, 23/96, 24/122.