Rochester

Borough

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

Elections

DateCandidate
1529NICHOLAS HURLESTON
 ROBERT FISHER
 (aft. 1535 not known)
by 1533EDMUND PAGE vice Hurleston, deceased1
1536(not known)
1539(not known)
1542(not known)
1545(SIR) THOMAS MOYLE
 WILLIAM ROPER
1547(SIR) THOMAS MOYLE 2
 WILLIAM ROPER 3
1553 (Mar.)SIR JOHN NORTON
 CHRISTOPHER ROPER
1553 (Oct.)(SIR) THOMAS MOYLE
 ROBERT DARKNALL
1554 (Apr.)(SIR) THOMAS MOYLE
 WILLIAM ROPER
1554 (Nov.)WILLIAM ROPER
 EDWARD BASHE
1555SIR GEORGE HOWARD
 (SIR) WILLIAM BROOKE alias COBHAM
1558HUGH CARTWRIGHT
 THOMAS PAGE

Main Article

Placed on a bend of the Medway and on the direct road from East Kent to London, Rochester was visited by many eminent foreigners during this period. In 1522 one of the Emperor Charles V’s entourage wrote that ‘we came to Raygester, a little city and bishopric, and slept there’, and about 1544 the Duke of Najera’s secretary described the city as ‘consisting of about 500 houses; near which flows a beautiful river. There is an elegant stone bridge of eleven arches’. The bridge seems to have been always in need of strengthening and repair, with seemingly little done until Queen Elizabeth’s visit in 1573, and the estimate of housing was almost certainly an exaggeration. Rochester was included among the towns in which an Act of 1542 (33 Hen. VIII, c.36) sought to achieve the restoration of ‘many beautiful houses ... decayed’, and an early Elizabethan survey listed only 144 inhabited houses, 27 persons occupied in ‘merchandize and fishing’—many of them probably working the famous oyster and mussel beds—and seven ships. Tudor Rochester appears to have had few sources of income before the growth of Chatham dockyard in Elizabeth’s reign.4

In the middle ages Rochester had been governed first by a portreeve and later by bailiffs. The first known charter dates from 1331, but it was not until 1446 that the borough was incorporated as ‘the bailiff and citizens’, receiving the valuable grant of its own admiralty jurisdiction. A confirmation of 1461 changed the title of chief magistrate to mayor and allowed for the election of a recorder. Since nearly all the late 15th and early 16th-century town records have been lost, no names of recorders have been found before James I’s reign. It is also impossible to define the corporation accurately; aldermen are mentioned in the parliamentary return of February 1553 and in those for several Marian Parliaments, but how many of them there were at any one time and whether there was a rigidly defined common council does not appear.5

The names of three Members of the Parliament of 1529 are known, but there is then a gap until those furnished by the first election indenture of December 1544. This is in the usual form, between the sheriff of Kent and the mayor with eight named liberos et legales homines of the city, nearly all of whom signed or made their marks at its foot. It describes the election as ‘at Pennenden in full county’, but since the date mentioned is that of the county election this statement presumably means only that the names of the Members already chosen were presented there. On an indenture of February 1553, from which the whole of the right-hand side is missing, the electors’ names still legible include three cives et aldermanos and five others whose style has disappeared: the signatures of the mayor, Thomas Mill, and several other electors are appended. Of the four surviving Marian returns, two (those for the Parliaments of October 1553 and 1558) are also in bad condition; in the remaining two the electors are divided into ‘principal citizens and aldermen’ and citizens, one (October 1554) having seven of the former to ten of the latter, the other (1555) eight to seven. Where the wording is legible the choice is said to have been with the unanimous ‘consent’ or ‘assent’, or both, of those taking part. In 1555, and presumably at all other times, the election took place in the guildhall.6

None of the 13 Members known to have sat for Rochester between 1529 and 1558 was a resident, unless Robert Fisher as steward of the bishop’s household is thought to have met the requirement. All but two were Kent men or men with Kentish connexions, and of these two only the clerk of the green cloth Nicholas Hurleston can have been a stranger to the city: as surveyor-general to the navy Edward Bashe was presumably a familiar figure there. Hurleston is thought to have been the nominee in 1529 of his superior in the Household, Sir Henry Guildford, who was himself elected one of the knights for Kent. Two key figures in administration, (Sir) Thomas Moyle in crown lands and William Roper in justice, were repeatedly returned for Rochester, on three occasions together, and it is possible that they planned a fourth in the autumn of 1554 when Bashe was elected with Roper and Moyle found a place at Lynn. Christopher Roper, who was elected in the only break between 1545 and 1554 when neither Moyle nor William Roper was chosen, was William’s younger brother. After 1554 William Roper was returned for Canterbury where he