Staffordshire

County

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
1529SIR JOHN GIFFARD
 EDWARD LITTLETON
1536(not known)
1539EDWARD LITTLETON 1
 THOMAS GIFFARD 2
1542SIR JOHN DUDLEY
 (aft. 12 Mar. 1542 not known)
 SIR PHILIP DRAYCOTT
1545SIR GEORGE GRIFFITH
 THOMAS FITZHERBERT
1547(SIR) WILLIAM PAGET
 SIR JOHN HARCOURT
by 23 Jan. 1552SIR RALPH BAGNALL vice Paget, called to the Upper House3
1553 (Mar.)WILLIAM DEVEREUX
 WALTER ASTON
1553 (Oct.)(SIR) THOMAS GIFFARD 4
 (SIR) EDWARD LITTLETON 5
1554 (Apr.)SIR PHILIP DRAYCOTT
 THOMAS GREY I
1554 (Nov.)SIR PHILIP DRAYCOTT 6
 (SIR) EDWARD LITTLETON 7
1555(SIR) THOMAS GIFFARD
 (SIR) EDWARD LITTLETON
1558BRIAN FOWLER
 FRANCIS MEVERELL

Main Article

Tudor Staffordshire was a thinly populated and poor county, lacking in good communications; although traversed by three main roads from London, to Carlisle, Chester and Shrewsbury, the county also had many rivers spanned by narrow bridges which impeded the transport of heavy goods. The northern part was largely moorland, while the ancient forests of Brewood, Cannock, Kinver, the ‘New Forest’ and Needwood chase still covered a large area. The valuable coal and iron deposits were little worked until the middle of the century, when leading families, notably the Pagets, began profitable operations. Various kinds of stone were quarried, and Burton alabaster work was famous even on the Continent. Among the few other industries, the making of bricks and tiles was growing, although the heavy clay beds were yet to be properly exploited; cloth-making was in decline.8

The duchy of Lancaster owned the honor of Tutbury, together with the ‘new liberty of Staffordshire’ and rights in Needwood chase. The 4th and 5th Earls of Shrewsbury were stewards of the honor and constables of Tutbury castle, and in 1546 Sir William Paget became surveyor of the honor; early in Henry VIII’s reign John Fitzherbert was feodary. The earls of Shrewsbury appear to have exercised less parliamentary patronage than in neighbouring counties. Several other noble families had seats, notably Devereux, Stafford, Tucket, and the two Dudley branches, and were closely related by marriage and descent with the leading gentle houses.9

Successive bishops of Coventry and Lichfield wielded influence at elections, either on their own account or on behalf of the crown; Bishops Lee (1534-43) and Sampson (1543-54) were presidents of the council in the marches. The elevation of the former archdeaconry of Chester to a diocese and land-exchanges with the King reduced the wealth and prestige of the later bishops. The 36 monastic houses in the shire were dissolved with little opposition; few were of more than local significance and several had been suppressed before 1530. The readiness of local gentlemen to speculate in church lands did not betoken enthusiasm for reform, and what little of this there was suffered a setback from the conservative zeal of the Marian Bishop Baynes.10

Elections for the knighthood of the shire took place at Stafford. It is known that the election of 1542 was proclaimed at Newcastle-under-Lyme, Stafford and elsewhere in the county. Indentures survive for all the Parliaments between 1542 and 1558 except those of October 1553 and November 1554; all but the first are in Latin. The contracting parties are the sheriff and between 12 and 25 named electors and ‘many other freeholders’. When, in September 1553, there were three candidates, Thomas Giffard was ‘chosen by every man’s voice’ and, according to Lord Stafford, his son Henry ‘with as many voices or more’, to the number of about 333. Edward Littleton demanded a count by poll of Stafford’s supporters and when his own company was sworn in he was carried to victory by 248 votes. On Stafford’s accusing him of underhand behaviour Littleton took the case to the chancellor, who upheld the election. In his own petition to the Privy Council Stafford claimed that his son had also been elected to the previous Parliament, ‘no man saying to the contrary’, but it was the youthful Devereux and Walter Aston who were returned. Stafford implied that on both occasions the sheriff had been suborned. Whether this was so does not appear, but it is true that several sheriffs returned their kinsmen. The writ altering the meeting-place of the Parliament summoned for 2 Apr. 1554 reached the sheriff only on 28 Mar. ‘at eight of the clock in the afternoon’, having been brought by ‘Richard Ullock, servant to Thomas Foscrofte, one of the Queen’s ... messengers of her receipts’. On the following day Giffard had the change announced at Newcastle, Stafford and Wolverhampton.11

All the knights for Staffordshire, or at least their families, owned property in the county, and nearly all came from a closely knit group. The local gentlemen do not seem to have been Parliament-minded: there were four borough seats available in the county before 1547, six after the enfranchisement of Lichfield in that year, but of the 15 known knights between 1529 and 1558 ten sat for the shire alone; only Sir Ralph Bagnall and Sir Philip Draycott also sat for Staffordshire boroughs, and of those with property and offices elsewhere, William Devereux, Sir John Dudley and Sir William Paget each sat once for other counties. Eleven of the 15 represented Staffordshire only once before 1558, although Bagnall was to do so again under Elizabeth; apart from Draycott and Thomas Giffard, who achieved the knighthood three times, and Edward Littleton, with five elections to his credit, the typical Staffordshire gentleman was satisfied with one appearance for his county. It seems to have been customary to choose one knight from the north and the other from the south of the shire, but there were exceptions to this in 1529 and 1558, and at the by-election during the Parliament of 1547. The majority of Members had already been named to the bench and pricked sheriff before sitting for the shire; one, Walter Aston, was almost certainly too young to have held county office. Five had studied at an inn of court, all except Thomas Fitzherbert at the Inner Temple. Besides Dudley and Paget, five had spent some time at court. No payment of wages to the knights is known, but the inhabitants of Wednesbury obtained an exemption from contributing towards their expenses in 1510, those of Clint and Swinford in 1547 and those of Chartley in 1554.12

Provision for the building of a new county gaol was made in an Act of 1532 (23 Hen. VIII, c.2) which was renewed repeatedly throughout the period.

Author: N. M. Fuidge

Notes

  • 1. E159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2].
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Hatfield 207.
  • 4. Bodl. e Museo 17.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. VCH Staffs. i. 275-8, 281, 284; ii. 68-89, 71-73, 192-201, 255-7, 275-6, 279, 335-52; Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, v. 22.