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


1554 (Nov.)THOMAS MORE II 1

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Ripon had sent Members to at least two Parliaments between 1295 and 1337, but no further returns are known before the 16th century. After the Pilgrimage of Grace the 3rd Duke of Norfolk promised that the King would shortly summon a Parliament and that Ripon would be represented, but nothing more was heard of this. The re-enfranchisement of 1553 had no economic justification, for the town, once a centre of the cloth trade, had since markedly declined: the numerous tenters or cloth-frames observed by Leland were relics of a departed industry. One of the few crafts to flourish in the early 16th century was wood carving, for which the ‘Ripon school’ was famous. The local breed of horses, sold at the annual fair of St. Wilfrid, was also highly prized, and there was a weekly market dealing largely in farm produce from the surrounding district.3

The restoration of the parliamentary borough was almost certainly the work of the duchy of Lancaster and the council in the north. Throughout the middle ages the manor of Ripon, which included the borough, had belonged to the see of York, but by an Act of 1545 (37 Hen. VIII, c.16) it had been transferred to the crown and annexed to the duchy. Until 1556, when Mary returned the stewardship of the borough to Archbishop Heath, royal patronage could be wielded through the duchy honor of Knaresborough or the council in the north. The town could scarcely have afforded to pay parliamentary wages and was thus open to intervention. Little is known of its day-to-day administration before 1598, but the ‘ancient byelaws’ then set out furnish some guidance. The chief officer was the wakeman; he had an indeterminate number of ‘assistants’, sometimes called aldermen. It seems to have been customary for the senior serving assistant to be chosen each year as wakeman, but there were several disputes about these elections. The wakeman and assistants (presumably a self-perpetuating body) constituted a borough court, but the records of its proceedings after the transfer of 1545 show it doing little more than electing minor officials, regulating the sale of goods and supervising tolls from the mills, and tracing titles to burgage tenements, their holders being required to keep roads in repair. These ‘borough-holders’ or burgesses, numbering probably between 150 and 180, had to attend the borough court under penalty of a fine. Of greater importance were the courts of the liberty of Ripon, dealing with a considerable area around the borough; until 1556 these were held by or for the steward of the honor of Knaresborough, who in Mary’s reign was the 2nd Earl of Cumberland, and thereafter by or for the archbishop. A peculiar jurisdiction within the borough and parish, the ‘liberty of St. Wilfrid’, presumably disappeared with the dissolution by Edward VI of the collegiate church of St. Peter and St. Wilfrid. The minster itself was allowed to remain, but as ‘a mere parish church, with a small and ill paid staff’, and shorn of its nine chantries, whose revenues went to the duchy. The hospitals of St. Mary Magdalene, St. John the Baptist and St. Anne survived as alms-houses. The ancient grammar school was also continued, and the duchy court made an order that the schoolmaster should be appointed by some of the ‘best disposed, discreet and most substantial’ of the inhabitants of the town and parish. Queen Mary made a generous endowment to the school.4

The parliamentary franchise was ostensibly in the owners of burgage tenements, but the four surviving election indentures (September 1553 to January 1558, the last being badly torn) list only about 12 to 15 electors. For the first of these Parliaments the indentures for Ripon, Boroughbridge and Knaresborough (all of them in English, as are the later ones for Ripon) are in the same hand and in similar wording, and bear the same date; the names of the Members for Ripon have been added by the original clerk in a different-coloured ink. The returning officer, the wakeman, is not specified, but he may have been the first-named elector, Ninian Staveley of Staveley near Ripon. The Staveley family was prominent in the borough at this time. Thomas Staveley, whose name appears second on this return and first on the two succeeding ones, was coroner for the duchy; both he and Ninian Staveley are included among the electors in September 1553, when they are styled ‘gentlemen’ as against the remaining ‘borough-holders’, and again in 1558, when the damage to the indenture makes it impossible to say whether they headed the list. All the indentures claim that the Members were chosen freely by the common consent of the electors, but the initiative clearly came from elsewhere; twice in 1554, and again in the following year, the names of those elected were inserted by a second writer, and there is reason to think that in 1558, as in September 1553, the return itself may have been drawn up for the patron, or held back until the borough received the names of Archbishop Heath’s nominees. There is one unexplained error among the returns; in 1555 the sheriff’s endorsement of the shire writ gives the Ripon Members as Christopher Wray and Robert Kempe, names which are repeated in the same document for Boroughbridge.5

The statement on at least one indenture that the Members were ‘among the most able and discreet of the foresaid borough’ is contradicted by the fact that none of the men elected lived in Ripon. Four out of the ten had property in Yorkshire, but only Edward Beseley and Marmaduke Wyvill are known to have spent most of their time there. No-one was returned for the borough more than once, although all but three of the Members sat for other constituencies, often outside Yorkshire. Several of them were servants of magnates who had a local interest; one, Thomas Poley, was a courtier; and three others, Beseley, William Rastell and Thomas Seckford, professed the law. For the first four Parliaments patronage appears to have been shared by the duchy and the council in the north. The election to the last Parliament of the period reflected the revived influence of the archbishop of York, the two Members being respectively the brother and a servant of Archbishop Heath.6

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxxii. 80; VCH Yorks. ii. 410, 472-3; iii. 413; Anon, Ripon (1839), i. 41; Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, i. 82; Memorials of Church of SS. Peter and Wilfrid, Ripon (Surtees Soc. lxxiv), 52, 68.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, xx(1), g. 465(39), pp. 214, 216; Somerville, Duchy, i. 286, 301; W. Harrison, Ripon Millenary, 39, app. ii, iv, xi; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxxii. 59, 74, 77-78, 82; VCH Yorks. i. 430-5; iii. 82, 323-9, 367-8, 371; Anon, Ripon (1839), 80; Anon, Ripon (pub. Farrer, 1806), 273-9.
  • 5. Somerville, i. 527; C219/21/61, 22/22, 24/59v, 63, 25/47; Glover’s Vis. Yorks. ed. Foster, 157.
  • 6. C219/22/22.