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No names known for 1510-23
|1542||WILLIAM AUBREY I|
|1547||JOHN CORNELIUS alias JOHNSON alias WELBORED1|
|JOHN BRACE 2|
|1553 (Mar.)||?RICHARD PHELIPS 3|
|1553 (Oct.)||THOMAS SAMWAYS I 4|
|JOHN JORDAN alias BLANCOMBE5|
|1554 (Apr.)||JOHN WADHAM|
|1554 (Nov.)||JOHN PHELIPS 6|
|WILLIAM RANDALL 7|
Leland described Weymouth as a ‘townlet’ opposite Melcombe Regis, but it was the larger and older of the two, with a quay and wharf for ships. Until later in the 16th century Dorchester merchants still exported goods through Weymouth, which apparently specialized in the Spanish trade, but the advance of Poole and the growth of Melcombe reduced its importance. It also suffered heavily from French raids, being inadequately protected by Sandsfoot castle, built by Henry VIII in the 1530s. In 1540 Weymouth was included in the Act for re-edifying of towns westward (32 Hen. VIII, c.19). Five years later defence works were carried out there and at Portland, but Sir John Russell, Baron Russell reported that Weymouth presented a difficult problem, since the ‘landing place’ was ‘exceedingly fair and more than three miles long’.8
Weymouth received its first charter from the prior of St. Swithin, Winchester, in 1252 and it returned Members to Parliament during the following century. The lordship of the manor passed with the earldom of March to the crown and in 1492 Henry VII granted it to his Queen in jointure. Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard are known to have held it successively as queens consort but Catherine Parr is not known to have done so, although she was granted the manors of Wyke Regis and Portland. Unlike Melcombe, a royal borough since the 13th century, Weymouth appears not to have had a fee-farm but to have paid the crown an annual rent, including at one period 40s. from its share of the harbour profits; in the early 16th century both boroughs may have been granted reductions in their payments on the score of poverty. Since the early charters had not defined their respective rights and privileges there were constant disputes between them which not even their union in 1570 brought to an end.9
Little has been discovered about the borough government, which was vested principally in two bailiffs, or about the parliamentary franchise. The names of the Members in 1545 appear on the sheriff’s schedule and there are extant four or five election indentures, for the Parliament of 1542 and the last three Parliaments of Mary’s reign, and perhaps for that of March 1553. The contracting parties are the sheriff of Somerset and Dorset and either the bailiffs or the bailiffs and burgesses, and the Members are said to have been elected with the assent and agreement of the burgesses or, in 1555, ‘of all the burgesses and inhabitants’.10
In 1529 John Clerke of Melcombe was elected ‘by the assent of all the commonalty’ but on arrival in London for the first session he agreed to allow William Bond to sit in his place and the sheriff condoned the arrangement by returning the ‘changeling’ Member’s name into Chancery. What brought this curious transaction to light was a chancery case in which Bond, admitting that he had no claim against the borough, sued Clerke for £44 in wages. Clerke replied that he had received 20s. from Weymouth ‘in full payment and satisfaction of his whole and entire wages’ for the Parliament and that Bond had accepted this sum from him on the same terms, but he added that the bailiffs had since promised Bond a further £4 or £5. The town records of the period provide no further evidence of payment and the borough probably welcomed men who were prepared to serve without recompense: it is likely that John Wadham as Member and Sir John Rogers and Richard Phelips as patrons behaved towards Weymouth as they are known to have done towards Melcombe.
This supposition is borne out by a pattern of Membership in which only three of the 18 names known were those of townsmen. Yet the borough seems to have retained control to the extent that most of the others had local connexions; even the ‘changeling’ Member was comptroller of customs in Poole and adjacent ports, including Weymouth. Bond’s fellow-Member Robert Aley has not been certainly identified but he may either have been related by marriage to Bond or linked more obscurely with Sir Giles Strangways I, the senior knight for Dorset in the Parliament of 1529. William Aubrey was royal bailiff of the manor of Canford, near Poole, and his fellow-Member in 1542 Richard Jenour had probably been recommended to Sir Thomas Arundell, a leading figure in Dorset, by a contemporary at the Middle Temple. In 1545 Arundell, then chancellor to Queen Catherine Parr, procured the return of a subordinate in augumentations, Richard Duke; the other Member was Roger Stourton, a younger brother of Sir William Stourton, 7th Baron Stourton, who owned large estates in Dorset and whose wife was half-sister to John Dudley, Viscount Lisle and lord admiral. Dudley’s successor Sir Thomas Seymour II, Baron Seymour of Sudeley, was evidently responsible for the return in 1547 of John Cornelius, a gunfounder who had dealings with Seymour as master of the Ordnance, and his brother the Protector Somerset presumably nominated John Brace, his subordinate in the Exchequer. The Members in March 1553 are not known, but one of them may have been the Richard Phelips who had sat at least three times for Dorset boroughs and was to be a knight of the shire two years later.
The Members for Weymouth in Mary’s first Parliament were both townsmen and those in her second were the captain of Sandsfoot castle and a neighbour from Langton Herring, five miles northwest of the borough. They were followed by John Phelips, a kinsman and probable nominee of Richard Phelips (whose son was returned at Melcombe) and William Randall, a townsman presumably related to Robert Randall, one of the bailiffs at the time of the election. The two Members in 1555 were connected with the knights of the shire, John Buller being son-in-law to Sir John Rogers and kinsman of Sir Giles Strangways, and Thomas Hebbs probably a neighbour of Strangways. Thomas Keynell was a servant of Rogers, and John Catell, a London merchant of Bridport origin, was a client of Sir Robert Dudley who probably recommended his candidature to William Herbert I, 1st Earl of Pembroke or Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford, both of whom were to be influential at Weymouth in the following reign: Pembroke was steward of the manor of Weymouth in the 1560s and may have held the office earlier.