Wells

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
1510JOHN WELSHOT 1
 JOHN MAWDLEY I 2
1512WALTER SARGER 3
 RICHARD alias ROBERT RUYNON4
1515WALTER SARGER 5
 RICHARD alias ROBERT RUYNON6
1523WALTER SARGER 7
 JOHN MAWDLEY I 8
1529JOHN CUTTE
 JOHN MAWDLEY II
1536(not known)
1539JOHN MAWDLEY II 9
 JOHN GODWIN I 10
1542JOHN GODWIN II 11
 JAMES DYER 12
1545JOHN MAWDLEY II
 ANTHONY GILBERT
1547THOMAS CLERKE 13
 JOHN AYLWORTH 14
1553 (Mar.)JOHN AYLWORTH 15
 WILLIAM GODWIN 16
1553 (Oct.)THOMAS LEWIS II
 JOHN GODWIN I
1554 (Apr.)JOHN MAWDLEY II
 THOMAS LEWIS II
1554 (Nov.)THOMAS LEWIS II
 WILLIAM GODWIN
1555THOMAS LEWIS II 17
 MORRIS LLEWELLYN 18
1558JOHN AYLWORTH
 JOHN MAWDLEY II

Main Article

Wells was made a free borough by royal charter in 1201 and returned Members from 1295, but its liberties and privileges were severely limited by the power of the bishop of Bath and Wells, who was lord of the manor of Wells and of the hundred of Wells Forum: as late as 1492 Bishop Fox unsuccessfully claimed the sole right to admit burgesses. In 1548 Bishop Barlow surrendered his interests in Wells to the crown and to the Duke of Somerset but they were soon restored to the see. The borough’s first charter of incorporation in 1341 was cancelled as prejudicial to the rights of the crown and the bishop, and a second of 1574 met the same fate; the borough was finally incorporated in 1589 under a weak bishop. Before then authority within it was vested in the master of the guild merchant (originally styled the steward of the guild), who was elected annually on the feast of St. Jerome, and a council known as the Twenty-Four to which members were admitted as vacancies occurred. Wells was designated a sanctuary town under the Act of 1540 (32 Hen. VIII, c.12).19

Elections were held under the auspices of the master at an assembly of the Twenty-Four in the guildhall following the delivery of a precept (erroneously called a writ in the Wells records) from the sheriff of Somerset and Dorset. In 1512 the bearer of the precept was Richard Ruynon who was then chosen as one of the Members. The act books and indentures state that the elections were made with the unanimous assent of the master and burgesses or that of the whole community, but at least one poll is known to have been taken. Only three indentures survive, all in Latin and all damaged, but since copies of nearly all the indentures were made in the Wells records, the names of the Members for all but one of the Parliaments are known. The two missing names are probably those of John Cutte and the younger John Mawdley, who were doubtless re-elected in 1536 in accordance with the King’s general request for the return of the Members of the previous Parliament, just as Walter Sarger and Ruynon had been in 1515 in obedience to a royal letter in similar terms which survives in the Wells records.20

Nine of the 15 men who sat in the period held the office of master: the elder John Mawdley, Cutte, Thomas Lewis and Morris Llewellyn held it before their first election; John Welshot, Sarger and John Godwin II were in office at that time; John Godwin I was chosen immediately after he had served in his first Parliament; and John Aylworth, a receiver in augmentations and the Exchequer and a newcomer to the borough, waited until 1559. The three episcopal officers returned, Ruynon, Thomas Clerke and William Godwin, were all admitted to the freedom on their election and Ruynon and Godwin became at the same time members of the Twenty-Four. The younger Mawdley, lawyer son of the wealthy clothier who had sat in 1510 and 1523, was likewise admitted to the freedom in 1529 and to the Twenty-Four five years later. He probably had a hand in the election of his fellow Middle Templars James Dyer and Anthony Gilbert; Dyer, younger son of a Somerset gentleman, was later granted a minor post by the dean and chapter of Wells, and Gilbert was well-connected in Somerset and Dorset. (Sir) Hugh Paulet, steward of the estates of the bishopric, was also a Middle Templar and a friend of Gilbert. Mawdley, however, was unable to secure his own return in the contested election to the first Parliament of Mary’s reign when he was one of four candidates—the two men returned, Lewis and John Godwin I, had a somewhat more local character than their defeated rivals Mawdley and William Godwin. Lewis may have argued that he was owed the seat since he had been elected to the previous Parliament as master but had then resigned his place to Aylworth: there is no indication that any pressure was brought to bear on Lewis and despite the precedents cited above he may simply have been reluctant to leave the borough during his mastership. The Wells records show that some Members were paid at the rate of 12d. a day but that others contracted to serve without wages.21

Author: M. K. Dale

Notes

  • 1. Wells act bk. 2, p. 258.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid. 266.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Ibid. 280.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Ibid. 312.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. Ibid. 408.
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. Ibid. 435.
  • 12. Ibid.
  • 13. Ibid. 496; Hatfield 207.
  • 14. Ibid.
  • 15. Wells act bk. 2, p. 541.
  • 16. Ibid.
  • 17. Ibid. 3, f. 17.
  • 18. Ibid.
  • 19. P. M. Hembry, Bps. Bath and Wells 1540-1640, pp. 30 seq. 105, 107, 113; Letters of Richard Fox, ed. Allen, 13-14.
  • 20. C219/21/133, 2