Shrewsbury

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
1510ROGER THORNES 1
 THOMAS KNIGHT 2
1512THOMAS KYNASTON 3
 THOMAS TRENTHAM 4
1515(SIR) THOMAS KYNASTON 5
 THOMAS TRENTHAM 6
1523EDMUND COLE 7
 ADAM MYTTON 8
1529ROBERT DUDLEY alias SUTTON
 ADAM MYTTON
1536ROBERT DUDLEY alias SUTTON9
 ADAM MYTTON 10
1539NICHOLAS PURCELL 11
 ROBERT THORNES 12
1542ADAM MYTTON 13
 RICHARD MYTTON 14
1545NICHOLAS PURCELL
 EDWARD HOSIER
1547REGINALD CORBET
 JOHN EVANS
1553 (Mar.)NICHOLAS PURCELL
 GEORGE LEIGH
1553 (Oct.)REGINALD CORBET
 NICHOLAS PURCELL
1554 (Apr.)RICHARD MYTTON
 NICHOLAS PURCELL
1554 (Nov.)THOMAS MYTTON
 GEORGE LEIGH
1555REGINALD CORBET
 NICHOLAS PURCELL
1558NICHOLAS PURCELL
 GEORGE LEIGH

Main Article

A minor inland port on the Severn, Shrewsbury was the county town, regularly visited by the council in the marches of Wales, but was none the less declining in prosperity with the loss of its strategic importance. Still a centre for fulling and other finishing processes of the cloth trade, its two chief companies being the drapers and the mercers, it was included in the Acts for urban renewal of 1536 and 1544 (27 Hen. VIII, c.1 and 35 Hen. VIII, c.4) and in the early 1530s its cappers and hatmakers petitioned the government to enforce the recent statute fixing the prices of imported headgear (21 Hen. VIII, c.9). Under the Act controlling the sale of wine (7 Edw. VI, c.5) Shrewsbury was allowed three taverns, one more than the usual number elsewhere. Henry VIII accepted Cranmer’s proposal that the town should become the seat of a suffragan bishop and Lewis Thomas was suffragan there from 1537 until his death in 1561.15

Shrewsbury was an ancient royal borough with charters dating from at least the late 12th century, when the burgesses began to pay their own fee-farm; in 1485 this was reduced for 50 years, owing to the poverty and decay of the town, from 30 to 20 marks. A charter of 1495 granted exemption from certain taxes and extended the town boundaries, and in 1542 Henry VIII transferred to the borough all the liberties and privileges enjoyed until the Dissolution by the abbots of Shrewsbury and made permanent the reduction of the fee-farm (paid earlier to Catherine of Aragon). Shrewsbury was not incorporated until 1586 but it had long been governed by two annually elected bailiffs and a council of Twelve, usually known as aldermen. Another body, the Twenty-Five, had originally been a jury of burgesses empanelled by the bailiffs to elect borough officials, but it had developed other functions, elsewhere those of a common council, and during this period was sometimes given this name. The senior town officers below the bailiffs were the recorder and town clerk, two chamberlains (separate from the six assessors who dealt with ad hoc expenses) and two coroners. In the reign of Henry VI it had been decided that the Twelve were to be elected by the bailiffs and commonalty, vacancies being filled by the commonalty alone, but this unusual arrangement had soon been superseded by an ordinance permitting the bailiffs and the Twelve to fill up their own numbers.16

The dissolution of Shrewsbury abbey in January 1540 led to repeated attempts by the borough authorities to acquire its property, largely to rebuild and enlarge the free school. Relations between the town and successive abbots had often been bad, since the abbey, which was exempt from a number of taxes, owned property within the borough and claimed rights over the abbots’ tenants. The Myttons, arguably the most influential family in Shrewsbury at this time, had been closely associated with the abbey and Richard Mytton helped the borough to acquire the Foregate and other franchises. Part of the abbey church became the parish church of Holy Cross, but the rest was pulled down or secularized by crown grantees. For a decade after the suppression the town was trying to persuade the crown to grant land for the endowment of the grammar school: a new foundation charter was finally sealed in 1552, when the crown agreed to endow the school with £20 in lands.17

Election indentures survive in the Public Record Office for all the Parliaments from 1542 (when, however, the document is fragmentary and almost illegible) to 1558, and the one for 1539 is in the county records. All are in Latin save that of 31 Dec. 1544 when the bailiffs are said to have ‘caused the whole commonalty of burgesses to be assembled together ... in the guildhall’ for the election: at a contested election in 1584 over 800 votes were cast. The contracting parties are the sheriff of Shropshire and the bailiffs with generally from eight to 14 named electors. The Members, ‘two of the more worthy (or ‘sufficient’) and discreet burgesses’, are said to have been ‘freely and indifferently’ elected. The bailiffs and some electors usually signed and sealed the indenture. In 1544 the names of both successful candidates appear at the foot; Purcell would in any case have signed as bailiff, but the inclusion of the other Member’s name is unusual. There are frequent references in the Shrewsbury records to assessments for parliamentary wages but few to the manner in which the sums raised were divided between the Members. One or two of them brought suit for payment and others were obliged to wait for several years.18

Despite these difficulties Shrewsbury was able to confine its choice of Members more or less to townsmen. Of the 15 who sat in the period’s 16 Parliaments, 12 served as bailiff, five doing so before their first or only election; Reginald Corbet was recorder; and only Robert Thornes and Thomas Mytton held no municipal office and (seemingly) lived elsewhere. On the other hand Thornes, although a younger son of the Member in 1510, may have been indebted for his return rather to his relationship by marriage with Sir John Porte, a member of the council in the marches, and the influence of the Mytton family may likewise have been furthered by its connexions with the council and with various county magnates. Thomas Mytton was returned when his father Richard was a knight of the shire and his uncle Sir Adam sheriff. Other Shrewsbury Members were also more than townsmen: Robert Dudley alias Sutton was a half-brother of Edward, 2nd Lord Dudley, John Evans was clerk of the council in the marches and several others were active in county administration. In September 1553 Corbet’s right to sit was recognized as (supposedly) ‘incident to his ... office of recordership’ although none of his predecessors is known to have done so: he was consulted on several occasions about election matters.

When compiling the list of vacancies in the Parliament of 1529 Thomas Wriothesley included ‘Salop’ among the boroughs with vacancies but it was the county that he had in mind.19