New Woodstock


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



Main Article

New Woodstock was incorporated in 1453, when it was granted similar liberties to those of New Windsor but was expressly exempted from the obligation ‘to choose any burgesses from the borough to come to the King’s Parliaments’, although it had done so at least twice in the early 14th century: according to a local historian the charter, with the same concession, was confirmed in 1552. A mayor and a serjeant-at-mace were the only officials mentioned in 1453 but by 1519 there were also four aldermen and 13 councilmen. In 1552 the houses which had grown up around the royal manor can have formed little more than a village, since only six inhabitants were assessed for subsidy.2

At first sight the revival of Woodstock’s parliamentary representation presents no problem. The first known Members sat in the Parliament of October 1553 and it is natural to conclude that the borough was re-enfranchised for that Parliament. Such a departure would also accord well with the circumstances prevailing at the time, with Sir Leonard Chamberlain as the key figure. As sheriff of Oxfordshire and Berkshire it lay with Chamberlain to conduct the elections in both shires, and as steward or lieutenant of the manor of Woodstock he could persuade the corporation to forgo its century-old exemption. For so ardent a supporter of the new Queen it would have been an opportunity not to be missed and an initiative which could count on official support.

This straightforward explanation may not, however, be the right one. Even granted that Chamberlain was the prime mover, it does not necessarily follow that his opportunity only came with the accession of Mary. He had been sheriff since the previous November, and the confidence in him which his choice for that office implied is borne out by the commission given him in 1552 to form a new bodyguard for Edward VI. He might thus have solicited the re-enfranchisement of Woodstock for the Parliament of March 1553, and the fact that no Members’ names have survived would not be unusual at an election for which many other names are missing. By a curious, and perhaps significant, aberration the sheriff’s schedule for Oxfordshire includes, besides the shire and the city, the borough of New Windsor which, since it belonged to Berkshire, should not have appeared there. Although the names supplied for Windsor are indeed those of its Members, the compiler of the schedule could conceivably have erred by including that borough instead of New Woodstock. Whenever created, the precedent was to be followed at the next two elections, when the sheriff was Sir John Brome, and when Chamberlain himself was returned first knight of the shire. Its laying aside in 1555 is likewise to be attributed to Chamberlain’s absence in Guernsey, whence he had gone as governor in that or the previous year; whether the sheriff on that occasion, Sir Richard Brydges, took it upon himself to withhold the precept is not known. The borough was not to be represented again until 1571; by then the lieutenancy had passed from the Chamberlain family on the death of Francis Chamberlain, who had succeeded his father as governor of Guernsey.3

Of the five men returned for Woodstock in these two years, Sir Ralph Chamberlain was the lieutenant’s younger brother, George Chamberlain was his second son and Anthony Restwold was distantly related to him as a nephew of Sir Edmund Peckham, who may have recommended him to Chamberlain. It is less clear what the connexions were between Chamberlain and the other two Members, but among the possibilities are the friendship and perhaps kinship between William Cooke and a native of Westcott Barton, six miles north of Woodstock, and William Johnson’s service as under sheriff of Bedfordshire, probably while Chamberlain’s nephew (Sir) William Dormer was sheriff. Johnson was to claim parliamentary privilege on 23 Apr. 1554 over an assault arising out of his activities as under sheriff. It is also possible to trace a connexion between Cooke and Johnson and to believe that Cooke, a distinguished civil lawyer, recommended Johnson to the lieutenant.

Election indentures survive for the Parliaments of October 1553 and November 1554. Both are in Latin but the first is almost illegible; the contracting parties to the second are the sheriff of Oxfordshire and Berkshire and the mayor, bailiff and burgesses of the town or borough of Woodstock.4

Author: T. F.T. Baker


  • 1. Bodl. e Museo 17; C219/21/120v. OR gives Sir John Chamberlain.
  • 2. E. Marshall, Woodstock Manor, 419-20; A. Ballard, Chron. Woodstock, 16, 20, 26-27, 29; M. Beresford, New Towns in the Middle Ages, 478; E179/162/295.