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 1510-15


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1545(not known)
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Main Article

Leland admired the appearance of Southampton, with its ‘fair and right strong wall’ and ‘fair square quay’; he also remarked on the number of large houses, mainly belonging to merchants. Yet the town was already encountering serious difficulties. Although Hampshire was one of the pioneers in producing the ‘new draperies’ to offset the falling demand for broadcloths, the wool and cloth trades were finding other ports, such as Poole in Dorset, more convenient than the Hampshire coastal towns. The decline in shipbuilding at Portsmouth towards the end of Henry VIII’s reign harmed Southampton’s victualling industry, the competition from London as a commercial centre was crippling, and the town had virtually lost the Italian trade after the Portuguese seized control of Venetian commerce with the Indies.8

Appeals for help from the crown, especially to repair the coastal defences, were common from the beginning of the century, and the corporation pleaded inability to pay the annual fee-farm of £226 13s.4d. An Act of 1523 (14 and 15 Hen. VIII, c.13) renewed an earlier one forbidding the setting up of weirs and ‘fishing engines’ along a 12-mile stretch of coast on both sides of Southampton water, and in 1531 a further measure (22 Hen. VIII, c.20) reduced the fee-farm to £200, granted to the borough the profits of gauging wine and weighing wool, and discharged the corporation of prisage of wines. The borough steward’s book for 1531-2 gives details of sums paid out, including gifts to influential people, to secure the passing of this Act. Two years later the town appealed unsuccessfully to Cromwell and the 3rd Duke of Norfolk to have all fee-farm arrears ‘stalled’. In 1537 the mayor, fearing an action in the Exchequer for non-payment, was forced to borrow £200 on the security of town property, and early in Edward VI’s reign nearly £2,000 was owing to the crown. In 1550 over £1,000 of this was remitted; two years later the crown finally faced reality, set aside all outstanding arrears and reduced the rent to £50 on grounds of the town’s poverty and the necessity of repairing its walls and coastal defences.9

The borough had charters, confirmed several times during the first half of the 16th century, dating from at least the reign of Richard I. It was incorporated in 1445 and two years later became the county of Southampton and Portsmouth. In addition to its sheriff the borough had a mayor, two bailiffs, several aldermen of the guild and of the wards, and 12 or more ‘assistants’, with a number of minor officials. By the mid 15th century there was a recorder, who sometimes acted also as town clerk. The term ‘burgess’, freely used in the borough records, is difficult to define. In general it may have been the equivalent of ‘guildsman’; until the reign of Elizabeth the burgess books record admissions as into ‘the guild’ or ‘the liberty of the guild’. Although influential outsiders were sometimes accepted as burgesses, Southampton was chary of granting this privilege; in 1561 there was an ordinance to prevent its abuse.10

The ambiguity of the term ‘burgess’ makes it impossible to define the parliamentary franchise, which was in any case probably exercised in practice by the governing body. The surviving election indentures—for the Parliaments of 1542 and March 1553, and for the first four of Mary’s reign—give the contracting parties as the sheriff of Southampton and the ‘burgesses and inhabitants’, 15 to 20 of whom are named. The date is sometimes given for the proclamation of the election ‘in the full county [court] of the town’, and the Members are said to have been chosen by the ‘assent of the said burgesses and inhabitants’. Townsmen who were elected, and on occasion the legal officials of the borough, received the statutory wage of 2s. a day; there is no evidence that non-resident Members were paid. In 1513 or the following year the steward paid a messenger for riding to the borough’s legal adviser ‘to have his counsel for choosing of our burgess of Parliament’, presumably before a by-election to the Parliament of 1512.11

Despite its bad financial position during the period Southampton nearly always returned townsmen. Of the 11 men known to have been elected from 1523 to 1558 only one, (Sir) Robert Southwell, master of the rolls and as such in receipt of a writ of assistance to the Parliament of 1547, was a complete outsider; he probably owed his return to his friendship with Thomas Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton and constable of the castle there. Sir Francis Fleming, lieutenant-general of the Ordnance, lived some ten miles away but he was the son of a former mayor and Member for Southampton; John Huttoft’s career as a servant of Cromwell, a clerk of the signet and then servant to Queens Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard, took him to London but he was a freeman of Southampton and occupied his father’s home there; James Brande was town clerk and at least recorder-designate at his first election but did not become free of the town and acquire a house in it until some months later. Brande succeeded Thomas Mill in both offices (although Mill continued to hold the clerkship in name) which had earlier been held by Mill’s father John Mill. The elder Mill was probably acting as town clerk by Michaelmas 1509; he was recorder by 1521 and may well have sat in other Parliaments than those of 1529 and 1539. He almost certainly did so in 1536, when the borough is known to have complied with the King’s general request for the return of the previous Member in the case of Nicholas Dey. Both Mill and Dey may have been elected