Reading

Borough

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

Elections

DateCandidate
1510RICHARD CLECHE 1
 WILLIAM JUSTICE 2
1512WILLIAM GIFFORD 3
 RICHARD SMITH I 4
1515EDMUND KNIGHTLEY 5
 JOHN POWNSAR 6
1523NICHOLAS HYDE 7
 WILLIAM EDMUNDS 8
1529THOMAS VACHELL I
 JOHN RAYMOND I
1536THOMAS VACHELL I 9
 JOHN RAYMOND I 10
1539?THOMAS VACHELL I 11
 ?JOHN RAYMOND I 12
1542THOMAS VACHELL I
 RICHARD JUSTICE
1545THOMAS VACHELL I 13
 ROGER AMYCE 14
1547WILLIAM GREY II 15
 JOHN MARSHE
Jan. 1552SIR JOHN MASON 16
1553 (Mar.)JOHN BOURNE II
 JOHN WINCHCOMBE
1553 (Oct.)THOMAS VACHELL I
 JOHN BELL III
1554 (Apr.)ROBERT BOWYER III
 JOHN LOVELACE
1554 (Nov.)JOHN BOURNE II
 EDMUND PLOWDEN
1555THOMAS VACHELL II
 JOHN BELL III
1558THOMAS ALDWORTH
 JOHN BELL III

Main Article

Reading owed its prosperity to the abbey founded there in 1121, and in particular to the cloth trade which flourished under monastic protection. The abbot of Reading became lord of the town but his rule was resisted by the merchant guild whose master was by 1301 also the mayor; this office the abbot refused to recognize until it was agreed that he should appoint to it from those candidates presented by the town. After being challenged in the reign of Henry VII, this method of appointment was observed from 1509 until the abbey’s dissolution in 1538. The guild itself was then an exclusive body of less than 50 burgesses, about 20 of whom formed an inner circle, and it presumably controlled parliamentary elections. When Reading was incorporated in 1542 the governing body was limited to 50 burgesses, seven of whom (including the mayor) were to be aldermen.17

The town had obtained its first charter in 1253 and began to return Members 42 years later. Direct interference by the abbot in their election was exceptional but the method of choosing the mayor gave him an indirect influence. During the last quarter of the 15th century the town usually returned royal servants but Henry VIII’s reign saw a reversion to the practice of electing townsmen. At least six of the first eight men returned were townsmen and a seventh, William Edmonds, was probably one: no explanation is forthcoming for the intrusion of the Northamptonshire lawyer Edmund Knightley. William Gifford was the first of seven Members in the period to be returned while he was still mayor, but neither of the men elected in 1529 was a member of the municipal hierarchy: Thomas Vachell, although of a family which had held land in Reading since the 13th century and himself the son-in-law of a former Member, was a country gentleman, and John Raymond, while probably not unknown in the town, was not a member of the guild. They may have owed their return to the King’s intervention from Windsor castle and both were to sit again in 1536. Vachell attached himself to Cromwell and became his deputy in the high stewardship of Reading but he was unpopular in the town and his probable election in 1539, either with Raymond or another nominee, was followed by the town’s resolution of 11 Apr. that at least one Member should be ‘a burgess of the borough’, that is, presumably, a member of the guild. The election of 1539 is the only one during the century not recorded in the corporation diary.18

Reading lived up to its resolution in 1542 when Vachell sat with Richard Justice, a former mayor and the stepson of Richard Smith I, but its failure to do so in 1545, when the junior seat went to Roger Amyce, general receiver of the lands late of Reading abbey, was followed by its complete surrender in the reign of Edward VI. Although William Grey, a follower of the Protector Somerset, had acquired an extensive estate in and around Reading he played no part in municipal life, and his fellow John Marshe, a London merchant and lawyer, was the only Member in the period, other than Knightley, to have no link with either the town or shire. Both Grey and Marshe presumably owed their return to Somerset’s influence. In 1548 Somerset obtained a grant of the manor and lordship of Reading, and on Grey’s death in 1551 the town elected the duke’s kinsman John Seymour to replace him. Following Seymour’s imprisonment for treason the Privy Council ordered a new election on 10 Jan. 1552. Sir John Mason, the Privy Councillor returned eight days later, was a native of Berkshire but had no tie with Reading. In March 1553 the mayor John Bourne sat with a Berkshire gentleman, and a similar pattern was maintained until 1558 when both Members were townsmen. Thomas Vachell’s son and namesake may have owed his one election less to his father’s long domination of the town than to the family’s connexion with Sir Francis Englefield high steward of Reading from 1553, who was probably also responsible for the return of Edmund Plowden.19

It follows that of the 23 Members known to have sat for Reading in the period, at least 11 were townsmen and only two were carpet-baggers. The meagre evidence of payment—William Gifford received 40s. after the Parliament of 1512 and John Bell compounded for 20s. after that of 1555—suggests that the town’s temporary impoverishment after the Dissolution conduced to its loss of electoral independence. The election indentures, all in Latin and in two or three instances somewhat damaged, survive for all the Parliaments from 1542 except those of 1545 and April 1554. The contracting parties, where still legible, are the mayor, burgesses and commonalty of Reading and the sheriff of Oxfordshire and Berkshire. In 1545 both Reading and Windsor were considered as possible meeting-places for Parliament.20

Author: T. F.T. Baker

Notes

  • 1. Reading Recs. i. 112-13.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid. 124.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Ibid. 130.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Ibid. 145.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. Ibid. 166-7.
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. C. Coates, Reading, app. xiii.
  • 12. Ibid.
  • 13. Reading Recs. i. 191-2.
  • 14. Ibid.
  • 15. Died 19 May 1551.
  • 16. Hatfield 207.
  • 17. VCH Berks. iii. 336, 342-7, 349, 350, 352-3; Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, i. 109.
  • 18. Reading MPs, 3, 5, 7, 10, 22-23; Reading Recs. i. 172.
  • 19. Reading MPs, 37, 38; APC, iii. 457.
  • 20. C219/18B/6, 19/8, 20/6, 21/6, 23/4, 6, 24/4, 25/7.

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