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)
 (not known)

Main Article

Portsmouth, a dockyard town and naval station, was a ‘member’ of the older port of Southampton, which in 1447 was erected into the county of Southampton and Portsmouth, but Portsmouth made its returns to Parliament through the sheriff of Hampshire. The town was the object of much official concern during the reign of Henry VIII, when large sums were spent on the dockyard, and it was included in the Act of 1540 for urban renewal (32 Hen. VIII, c.18). In 1544 the civilian population was said not to exceed 100 able-bodied persons and after the accession of Edward VI no further attempt was made to arrest the decline of the port.7

Portsmouth had received its foundation charter from Richard I in 1194 and first returned Members in 1295; later confirmatory charters included those of 1511 and 1550. The borough was not incorporated until 1600, but throughout the 16th century it was governed by a mayor, a bailiff and two constables, assisted by 12 burgesses, sometimes known as jurats. Residence was not a qualification for election as a burgess yet nearly all burgesses seem to have had a house in the town or in its locality. Although the occupations of many of the burgesses have not been traced, a number are known to have been employed in the dockyard or on the fortifications; on their replacement by the crown these men resigned their burgess-ships and the vacancies thus created were almost always filled by their successors. The right to elect Members was exercised by the mayor and burgesses. Seven indentures survive, all between the sheriff of Hampshire and the mayor and burgesses. In February 1553, March 1554 and September 1554 the mayor and burgesses put their signatures to the indentures before the sheriff and mayor sealed them. All the indentures are in English except that for the election to the Parliament of 1547.8

Several of the 16 Members whose names are known were burgesses, but only Henry Bickley, who had served three terms as mayor before his election and who was the largest property-owner in Portsmouth at his death in 1570, is likely to have secured his seat without benefit of patronage. Geoffrey Lee may have owed his return to the Parliament of 1529 either to his wife’s kinswoman Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, whose manor of Warblington lay eight miles from Portsmouth, or to the increasing favour enjoyed by his elder brother Edward, shortly to become archbishop of York. His fellow-Member Francis Digneley was a servant of successive earls of Arundel and presumably beholden to the 11th Earl. Both Members were probably re-elected in 1536 in accordance with the King’s general request to that effect, but in 1539 the lord admiral, Sir William Fitzwilliam I, Earl of Southampton, expressed his intention of nominating his servant John Chaderton and promised to find an honest and suitable man as his partner. Although the names of the Members are not known, Chaderton was probably one of them; he was presumably also the junior Member in 1542 whose name survives only in part on the indenture. He had become a burgess in 1537 and was captain of Portsmouth by 1540 and of Southsea castle in 1545, but after the death of Southampton in 1542 he did not sit again until March 1553, when the Duke of Northumberland, a former admiral, may have had a hand in his election. His fellow-Member in 1542, Christopher Staverton, was a distant relative of the Earl of Southampton and was closely connected with the earl’s recently deceased friend Sir Richard Weston.9

In 1545 John Fryer, a distinguished physician, and Michael Gore, a younger son in a Hampshire family, were returned as servants respectively of Thomas Wriothesley, Baron Wriothesley, and Sir William Paulet, Baron St. John, being so described on the indenture of 26 Oct. Wriothesley, later Earl of Southampton, was lord of the manor of Portsea, which lay partly within the liberty of Portsmouth, and as such was responsible for part of the cost of the Members’ wages: the borough records are imperfect and no details of payment have been found for the period. St. John, later Marquess of Winchester, had been with the King and Council in Hampshire and at Portsmouth in the summer of 1545 and had then taken over from the Duke of Suffolk the military government of the town. Both the Members elected in 1547 were connected with Wriothesley, Robert Blount as a kinsman and Henry Knollys as a neighbour, although Blount may have been more indebted to his distant relationship with Admiral Seymour; he was also connected with John White of Southwick, near Portsmouth, the holder of a succession of posts in the port and himself a relative of Henry Bickley and Ralph Henslowe. The senior Member in Edward VI’s second Parliament, Sir Richard Wingfield, captain of Portsmouth and a burgess, was also related by marriage to Henslowe, but like his colleague Chaderton he probably owed his return to the Duke of Northumberland, the former admiral under whose aegis the Parliament was summoned, perhaps with the approval of the current admiral Edward, 9th Lord Clinton.

Of the eight Marian Members, three owed their seats to the Marquess of Winchester, whose third son Chidiock Paulet succeeded Wingfield in the captaincy of Portsmouth in May 1554: Sackville was a friend of the Paulets, John de Vic became Winchester’s secretary and Edmund Cockerell was his subordinate in the Exchequer. Both Cockerell and de Vic were of Guernsey origin and both married into merchant families of Southampton. William Cooke, whose name was added to the indenture in a different hand, was a judge in the court of admiralty; Henslowe was a burgess of Portsmouth and a servant and relative by marriage of the Wriothesleys; Edward Cordell was a younger brother of William Cordell, master of the rolls and Speaker in the Parliament of 1558. Edward Cordell’s name appears on the Crown Office list over that of the surveyor-general for the navy Edward Bashe, which has been deleted. If this was not simply a clerical error, Bashe may have withdrawn because he was too preoccupied with the duties of his office.10

Author: Helen Miller


  • 1. LP Hen. VIII, xiv (1). 520 citing Cott. Cleop. E4, f. 209v.
  • 2. Only the christian name and the first letter of the surname survive on the indenture, C219/18B/78.
  • 3. Hatfield 207.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. VCH Hants, iii. 175, 186.
  • 8. Ibid. iii. 175-8, 184-5; C219/18B/78, 18C/102, 19/88, 20/106, 21/138, 22/76, 24/138.
  • 9. LP Hen. VIII, xiv (1). 520.
  • 10. R. East, Extracts from Portsmouth Recs. 115, 149; C193/32/2.