Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer


by 23 Jan. 1552ROBERT NOWELL vice Blagge, deceased1

Main Article

Westminster was given the status of a city by the letters patent of December 1540 which reconstituted the former abbey as a cathedral, but neither then nor later was it incorporated. Between 1540 and 1550 the bishop exercised the powers, including the right to appoint a steward (otherwise under steward) of Westminster, which earlier had been vested in the abbey, and after the suppression of the bishopric these were transferred to the dean and chapter of the collegiate church set up by Edward VI. In January 1555 Mary made Sir Robert Rochester bailiff, steward, escheator and coroner of the city and its liberties under the term of the Act of 1540 (32 Hen. VIII, c.20) which vested in the crown the franchises previously held by the monasteries, together with the right to appoint officers to them. The dean and chapter were unable to challenge the Queen’s right to make this appointment, but after the refoundation of the abbey and the restoration of its privileges in 1556 the abbot granted the reversion of the stewardship to John Throckmorton I. On Rochester’s death a year later Throckmorton succeeded to the post which he held until his own death in 1580. (Sir) Anthony Denny, keeper of Westminster palace, received from the bishopric a fee of 53s.4d. as high steward of Westminster during 1548-9: Denny died in September 1549 but no replacement for him seems to have been named until 1561 when Sir William Cecil was appointed. The bailiffs of the liberty were men of less eminence than the stewards or high stewards of the city but it was they who after the enfranchisement acted as the returning officer: between 1540 and the refoundation of the abbey they were presumably chosen either by the crown or the bishop and after 1556 by the abbot.2

Since no instrument granting Westminster the right to return Members is known, and the earliest election indentures are lost, it cannot be said in which Parliament the city was first represented. Thomas Cromwell as steward to the abbey could have promoted the enfranchisement before his downfall, but the initiative is more likely to have come from either Bishop Thirlby or Henry VIII’s favourite Sir Anthony Denny. The bishop received a writ of summons to the Lords in the Parliament of 1542 but the first known Members were returned to the next Parliament, the last of the reign, when their names were included on the back of the writ for Middlesex and on the indenture for the county election. In 1547 the sheriffs announced the date of election at the first meeting of the county court after the receipt of the writ and this set the precedent for the following Parliaments. The elections were held by the bailiff in Westminster Hall. Indentures written in Latin survive in varying condition for all the Edwardian and Marian Parliaments. The contracting parties are the sheriffs and under sheriff and the bailiff, about 12 named citizens and many other inhabitants. Several of the electors signed the indentures.3

Of the 12 Members sitting in this period all lived, or owned property, in Westminster except for Robert Nowell, whose brother Lawrence was headmaster of the school and who himself was an acquaintance of Cecil. John Russell, returned in 1545 with the brewer Robert Smallwood, was a master carpenter in the royal works whose numerous assignments included work at the palace and the abbey. Both John Rede and Arthur Stourton had posts in the palace and Blagge was a courtier. Richard Hodges and William Jennings were minor exchequer officials whose return was presumably helped by Sir Roger Cholmley, chief baron of the Exchequer and repeatedly one of the knights of the shire for Middlesex. Nicholas Newdigate’s surveyorship of the abbey lands is perhaps sufficient to account for his Membership in 1558 but he could have received support from the same quarter as enabled his brother John to become one of the knights for the county in the same Parliament. William Gyes was coroner for Middlesex.

The reunion of the see of Westminster with that of London received parliamentary approval when in 1552 a retrospective Act (5 and 6 Edw. VI, no.36) passed after many stages. Problems rising out of the abbot’s revival of sanctuary were raised in the Commons in 1558 and the right itself questioned. The sale of fuel at Westminster was regulated by an Act of 1553 (7 Edw. VI, c.7) but a bill controlling the baking of bread there failed in 1547. The number of taverns was limited to three under the Act controlling the sale of wine (7 Edw. VI, c.5).4

Author: A. D.K. Hawkyard


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, xvi, g. 379(30); CPR, 1554-5, p. 220; 1555-7, pp. 348-54; Westminster abbey reg. 4, ff. 10v-11, 72v; 5, f.18v; 33192; 33198C, D; HMC Hatfield, xiii. 40.
  • 3. C219/18C/66v, 67, 19/128, 20/80, 21/99, 22/49, 23/85, 24/102.
  • 4. CJ, i. 3, 19, 20, 22, 23, 25, 49.