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|1558/9||SIR EDWARD WARNER 1|
|JOHN BELLOW 2|
|1571||THOMAS ST. POLL|
|THOMAS GRANTHAM I|
|17 Nov. 1584||WILLIAM WRAY|
|24 Oct. 1586||TRISTRAM TYRWHITT|
|27 Sept. 1597||THOMAS HATCLIFFE|
|5 Oct. 1601||THOMAS CLINTON alias FIENNES, Lord Clinton|
The early municipal history of ‘the Queen’s Majesty’s town and borough of Great Grimsby’—the phrase comes from the 1584 election return—is uncertain. The surviving returns show that the MPs were chosen by the mayor and burgesses with their ‘whole and mutual assents and consents, voices and agreements’ but it is impossible to say how many were present at the elections.
Grimsby’s economic decline in the sixteenth century in 1553 it was ‘in great ruin and decay, and nothing so populous as it hath been’—influenced the parliamentary history of the borough. The migration of many merchants across the Humber to Hull, which was prospering, created a vacuum into which the local gentlemen were drawn, not only to represent the borough in Parliament, having undertaken to serve without payment, but also to serve as mayor and aldermen. A number of these country gentlemen could sometimes command a county seat. They were not the only people, however, to seek return at Grimsby when once it was known that outsiders would be acceptable. In 1562 Robert Halton, an Inner Temple lawyer, asked for a seat for the next Parliament. He was prepared to forgo wages, but hoped the authorities would ‘see cause freely to consider [him] with some small pleasure’. Grimsby declined this particular request, but surrendered its independence to such an extent that only one of the Elizabethan Members, John Bellow (1559), appears to have been a resident of the town, and he had estates nearby.
The major patron at Grimsby in the early part of the reign was Lord Clinton, Earl of Lincoln from 1572. The borough records for 1559 reveal that a ‘Mr. Harrington’ was the original choice for the first Parliament of the reign, until Clinton asked for a nomination. No doubt prompted by Sir William Cecil, he chose a Norfolk country gentleman, Sir Edward Warner. Before the 1563 election, Grimsby received two letters, one from Clinton asking for the return of his brother-in-law Edward Fitzgerald; the other a peremptory demand (‘I shall require you ... to choose ... Christopher Wray’) from Sir Francis Ayscough, a local gentleman with an interest at Grimsby who had several times intervened in the previous period. Ayscough evidently had no high opinion of the place. In February 1563, for example, he wrote to Cecil suggesting the suppression of St. Mary’s church there, Cecil to have all the lead (worth £400), while Ayscough himself would appropriate the stone and timber.
The two 1571 Members, Thomas St. Poll and John Thymbleby, Tristram Tyrwhitt (1586, 1589) and Edward Skipwith (1601), a lawyer, all belonged to leading families in the county. Thymbleby, in addition, had a number of relatives in Grimsby itself, as did Thomas Morrison, an Exchequer official who sat for the borough in four consecutive Parliaments, and was mayor in 1576. Several other Members lived in the immediate vicinity of Grimsby, including the two 1597 Members, Thomas Hatcliffe, whose family had lived locally for centuries, and Thomas Ellis, whose father presumably secured him the seat. A new name in the county at the beginning of the reign, but one which established itself quickly, was that of Christopher Wray, already mentioned as returned through outside patronage in 1563. He acquired Lincolnshire lands through his wife, and his son William was returned for Grimsby in 1584 and became its mayor four years later. Thomas Grantham I (1572) lived near Lincoln, some distance away, but he too had marriage connexions with several leading county families. His nephew Nicholas Saunderson was returned for Grimsby in 1593, with William Barne, a Kent country gentleman whose second son Robert lived in Grimsby.
TheHMC report on the Grimsby archives describes the corporation’s manuscripts as ‘crumpled up in their boxes like so much waste paper ... due to the unfortunate zeal of a former member of the corporation in collecting seals’, which probably explains how the letter from Ayscough mentioned above came to be incorrectly calendared and dated.3