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|1510||NICHOLAS SUTTON 1|
|RICHARD BERKELEY 2|
|1512||NICHOLAS SUTTON 3|
|ROBERT MEDE 4|
|1515||ROBERT MEDE 5|
|NICHOLAS SUTTON 6|
|1523||THOMAS CHESEMAN alias BAKER7|
|THOMAS BASSEDEN 8|
|by 1534||RICHARD INGLET vice Sutton, deceased9|
|1536||RICHARD INGLET 10|
|JOHN FLETCHER 11|
|1539||THOMAS BIRCHET 12|
|WILLIAM MEDE 13|
|1542||JOHN FLETCHER 14|
|WILLIAM OXENBRIDGE 15|
|1545||ALEXANDER WELLES 16|
|ROBERT WYMOND 17|
|1547||ALEXANDER WELLES 18|
|GEORGE REYNOLDS 19|
|1553 (Mar.)||RICHARD FLETCHER 20|
|JOHN HOLMES I 21|
|1553 (Oct.)||CLEMENT HEIGHAM 22|
|JOHN HOLMES I 23|
|1554 (Apr.)||JOHN HOLMES I|
|1554 (Nov.)||JOHN HOLMES I|
|THOMAS SMITH II|
|1555||JOHN HOLMES I|
Rye was one of the more prosperous of the Cinque Ports at this period, although its harbour was beginning to silt up. Since the end of the 14th century it had been free from its dependence on Hastings, and with its one ‘limb’, Tenterden, was by 1509 an integral part of the ports organization. The crown bailiff, who had earlier taken precedence of the mayor, had declined in importance and although, as in the case of John Shirley (whose appointment was confirmed in 1509), he might have been a household official, he was more likely to have been a prominent jurat of Rye or a local gentleman. Robert Oxenbridge, the future lieutenant of the Tower, who gained a reversion to the bailiff’s office in 1541, was a first cousin of William Oxenbridge, elected to the Parliament of the following year. The mayor, jurats (usually 12 in number) and commonalty of freemen met annually at the ‘hundred place’— originally at a cross in the parish churchyard— on the Sunday after St. Bartholomew’s day to elect a mayor, and the same body, generally known as the assembly, appears to have carried out parliamentary elections.24
Rye was a factious town, disagreements being caused sometimes by personalities but quite frequently by religion. In 1536 a group including Thomas Birchet, William Mede, Alexander Welles and Robert Wymond was accused of heresy. In 1509 and 1548 there was disorder over a mayoral election, and on the second occasion religion may have been an issue, since the man whom the Privy Council required the town to appoint was the former ‘heretic’ Birchet. There was also Council intervention over the mayoral elections in 1556 and 1557. A further occasion of strife was the annual appointment of jurats by the incoming mayor: there was seemingly a tacit agreement that existing holders of the office should be reappointed, but several mayors took the opportunity to supersede uncongenial jurats, with resulting retaliation.25
Townsmen Members received the statutory 2s. a day, on one occasion 2s.8d. worth of the money due being paid in planks. Since the annual receipts of the borough chamberlains at this period were well under £200, wages for a long Parliament must have been a heavy burden. The Rye accounts give details of other expenses incurred: for the entry of the return, for the engrossing of a proviso, for copies of bills and Acts affecting the town, ‘for the soliciting of the subsidy’, or as ‘rewards [sometimes in fish] ... unto the officers of the parliament house to be good unto this township’.26
For the first ten of the period’s 16 Parliaments Rye was able to comply with the ordinance of the Brotherhood of the Cinque Ports laying down that no one who was not a mayor, bailiff or jurat should be returned to Parliament. Only two of its six later Members, the brothers Richard and Thomas Fletcher, were jurats. On the other hand John Holmes, who sat in five of these later Parliaments, although not certainly identified, may well have been the customs collector at Chichester (whose jurisdiction extended to Rye) and thus not altogether an outsider.27
There may have been a by-election early in the first Parliament of Edward VI. A list compiled from the collections of Sir Edward Dering, a 17th-century lieutenant of Dover, gives the Members elected in 1547 as Welles and Wymond. This may have been a mistake— both men had sat in the previous Parliament— but it is possible that Wymond, who was infirm in 1548 and was to die in 1549, withdrew after being returned or even after attending the first session only. The earliest wages known for this Parliament were paid to Welles and George Reynolds for their attendance during the early part of the second session. The changes which seem to have taken place early in 1553, however, are suggestive of intervention by the lord warden, Sir Thomas Cheyne. Richard Fletcher and John Holmes received wages for the entire Parliament but on Apr. Welles and Robert Wood (who appear as the Members on the list deriving from the Dering manuscripts) were paid £3 ‘for the riding up and down to the Parliament’.28
In the autumn of 1553 Clement Heigham, soon to become a Privy Councillor, was clearly the lord warden’s nominee, although he was probably acting on behalf of the crown. The lord warden’s precept reached Rye on 3 Sept. and on 9 Sept. the town paid a messenger who ‘brought the townes selles [?seals] of the ports for a supplication to their suit to the lord warden for the election of the burgesses to Parliament according to their customs’. Only Holmes was paid wages for this Parliament, a further indication that he counted as a local man. His partner in the following Parliament, when Rye may either have been left to follow its ‘customs’ or else have successfully opposed the nomination of John Webbe, was again Richard Fletcher, but in the autumn of 1554 the junior seat went to Thomas Smith, taken to have been the man later known as ‘Customer Smith’ and perhaps already resident at Westenhanger, Kent, where Cheyne was keeper for the crown. Smith’s name appears on a ‘blank’ in the schedule returned into Chancery by the lord warden. Holmes was again the only one paid wages as he was also in 1555, when his partner was a Cornish gentleman, Reginald Mohun, who had probably been recommended to Cheyne by the 2nd Earl of Bedford. On this occasion, however, it seems that the electors of Rye had not wished to return Holmes or perhaps had hoped that Cheyne might again adopt him as his nominee. According to the hundred court book John Young, a townsman, was elected, the lord warden being allowed the nomination of the other Member, but the warden’s schedule gives the Members as Holmes and Mohun. For the last Parliament of the reign Rye made sure of having at least one Member of its own choice by electing Thomas Fletcher on 2 Dec. 1557, three days after the writs for the Parliament had gone out but several weeks before the warden’s precept was received in Rye. His fellow-Member was a relative and namesake of the lord warden.29
An Act of 1549 for the towns of Rye and Winchelsea (2 and 3 Edw. VI, c.30) forbade the dumping of ballast in the Camber. In November 1554 the Rye assembly resolved that ‘Mr. Mayor (Richard Fletcher) and his brethren shall sue to the Council and parliament house for the repeal of the statute concerning fishermen to deliver their herring at the town of Great Yarmouth’.30
Author: N. M. Fuidge
- 1. Add. 34150, f. 135.
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. Ibid. f. 136.
- 4. Ibid.
- 5. Rye chamberlains' accts. 4, f. 11v.
- 6. Ibid.
- 7. Ibid. f. 118v; Add. 34150, f. 136.
- 8. Ibid.
- 9. Rye chamberlains' accts. 4, f. 264.
- 10. Ibid. ff. 295v, 296v, 297.
- 11. Ibid.
- 12. Ibid. ff. 356, 360v.
- 13. Ibid.
- 14. Ibid. f. 388; 5, ff. 41, 42.
- 15. Ibid.
- 16. Ibid. 5, f. 122.
- 17. Ibid.
- 18. Ibid. ff. 184, 185v; Hatfield 207.
- 19. Ibid.
- 20. Rye chamberlains' accts. 6, ff. 56, 56v.
- 21. Ibid.
- 22. Ibid. ff. 75, 77; Bodl. e Museo 17.
- 23. Ibid.
- 24. VCH Suss. ix. 49, 50, 52, 54; K. M. E. Murray, Const. Hist. Cinque Ports, 1, 12, 13, 235; L. A. Vidler, Rye, 156-7; W. Holloway, Rye, 58, 78, 137 seq., 195.
- 25. LP Hen. VIII, ii. 1424; xii(2), 505; APC, iv. 387; v. 327; vi. 112; Vidler, 50, 56, 58; Rye chamberlains’ accts. 3, ff. 204, 252; 4, ff. 60, 73; 6, f. 129; hundred ct. bk. 1556-61, ff. 5, 6v.
- 26. Rye chamberlains’ accts. 4, passim; churchwarden’s accts. 1513-70, f. 114.