Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer


6 Feb. 1559SIR THOMAS KEMPE 2 vice Sackville, chose to sit for Sussex
9 Nov. 1584(SIR) PHILIP SIDNEY 3
10 Oct. 1586(SIR) HENRY BROOKE alias COBHAM I
16 Jan. 1598PERCIVAL HART vice (Sir) William Brooke alias Cobham, deceased

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Throughout the Elizabethan period, Kent was represented by members of the leading county families. Sir Richard Sackville of Westenhanger, elected for both Kent and Sussex, chose to sit for Sussex and was replaced in Kent by Sir Thomas Kempe of Wye at a by-election on 6 Feb. 1559. The senior knight, Sir Anthony St. Leger of Leeds Castle, died before the end of the 1559 session but no evidence of a by-election to replace him has been found. From then until 1584 the Sidney family dominated the electoral scene in Kent, taking a seat in four successive Parliaments. In 1584 the other seat was taken by Edward Wotton, a close friend of the family. By 1586, however, both Sir Henry and (Sir) Philip Sidney were dead, and the Brookealias Cobham family dominated the next two elections. In 1593 (Sir) Edward Hoby, a Kent landowner and later constable of Queenborough castle, and (Sir) Moyle Finch, a wealthy Kent landowner and son-in-law of Sir Thomas Heneage, took their turn as knight of the shire. The feature of the 1597 election was the competition for precedence between (Sir) Robert Sidney and (Sir) William Brookealias Cobham. Sidney had recently been humiliated by his failure to achieve the lord lieutenancy of the county and the wardenship of the Cinque Ports, which both went to the new Lord Cobham.

One of the measures introduced into the 1597 Parliament (24 Nov.) was a bill which had a direct bearing on (Sir) Moyle Finch’s long-standing dispute with the recusant Thomas Throckmorton over Ravenstone manor in Buckinghamshire (the bill that lessees may enjoy their leases against patentees notwithstanding any default in payment of their rents). If passed, the bill would be directly contrary to Finch’s interests. On 3 Dec. the bill was given a second reading and committed to (Sir) William Knollys, comptroller of the Household. Despite the fact that neither litigant was an MP, Throckmorton managed to get a ‘special proviso’ to the bill read in the House. On 19 Dec. Throckmorton and Finch were called to the bar of the House where it was proposed that Throckmorton’s proviso should be settled by arbitration. This was agreed upon and the hearing deferred until after the Christmas recess.

It was probably during the recess that William Brooke alias Cobham was mortally wounded in a duel at Mile End Green by a son of Sir Thomas Lucas. The date of the duel is unknown but the Privy Council issued a warrant for Lucas’s arrest on 24 Dec. 1597. There was now a vacancy for the county seat, and an unexpected opportunity for Finch to steal a march on his adversary. On 24 Dec. he wrote to (Sir) John Leveson, deputy lieutenant of Kent,

Sir, I think process is likely to come forth for some other to be chosen knight of the shire in place of Sir William Brooke. Because it may fall out that I shall have cause, for some especial respect, to be of the House, I do very heartily pray your help for ‘me selfe’ to be chosen.

However, things were not to be that simple. The same day another letter was sent from London to (Sir) John Leveson from his brother-in-law Percival Hart, cousin of (Sir) William Brooke and nephew of (Sir) William Knollys:

Sir I do imagine that by this you do understand of the misfortune of my cousin Sir William Brooke, who hath left many sorrowful friends behind him. I assure you the gentleman is very much lamented. Myself, being with him most part of [the] day he died, did not a little note the continual concourse of his friends which was without intermission that came to see him, and of the best sort. But to let that pass which is past help, save only the accompanying of sorrow, give me leave to make a request unto you which my friends have advised me unto, and that is touching my determination to stand for my cousin’s place for one of the knights of our shire. To yourself I stand already most bound, and would that by thus much I might be more—I mean by the aid and furtherance you may and I hope will give me. If my attempt be rash, impute it to my want of experience who desireth that his defects may be shadowed by your friendship.

There was a postscript:

I do think there will be no great opposition, for that most of the knights and gentlemen have already places of burgesses.Hart had reckoned without Finch.

Leveson’s account of the receipt of these letters is as follows:

Upon Christmas day in the morning, before I was out of my bed, there came to my house a gentleman ... to speak with me about the business of no small moment happened by the death of Sir William Brooke ... I asked whether there were a new election to be made of a knight in the place of Sir William and told him that my brother Hart was not of the House and wished that he had the place ... and did within an hour of dinner at the furthest send a message to him [Hart] ... that I wished him to stand for the place ... The [carrier] of this message departed from me, promising to impart to him the [next morning], making account to have [seen] him at Knole, and this was about two of the clock in the afternoon on Christmas day. About four of the clock Sir Moyle’s letters came to me. My brother Hart, receiving this message from me, sent me word that the matter propounded by me was thought on by him before, and that his resolution was of [caution] till he knew my disposition therein ...

Leveson now wrote letters canvassing support for Hart. However, the lord lieutenant of the county, Lord Cobham, complicated the issue still further by the following letter to his deputy, dated 26 December:

Sir, I am indifferent who is chosen knight of the shire. My desire is to have Sir Thomas Walsingham or Sir Thomas Wilford ... I pray letters for either of these two knights, and signify to all the gentlemen you write unto that I shall take their advice most kindly of either of them.

To which Leveson replied the following day:

... I humbly pray your Lordship to give me leave to put you in mind that for the one (as I take it and am by the good opinion of ancient parliament men informed) he cannot have the place, being already of the House and having taken upon him a place for which he serveth there. And for Sir Thomas Wilford, except he have moved your Lordship and do mean to labour his friends and ... except your Lordship do manifestly declare your desire for him and do recommend him to such as your Lordship is pleased to use in the furtherance thereof, I know there will be a strong party made against him, and have cause to doubt the success thereof. My brother Hart, as I do hear, would gladly have the place (of whose worthiness I shall not need to make commendation to your honour), and I do assure me that with the least notice of your Lordship and allowance he will carry it roundly, and will be ready to give all the honour thereof to your Lordship.

In the event neither Wilford nor Walsingham presented himself as a candidate, the latter being already MP for Rochester. On 26 Dec. Walsingham wrote a letter to Leveson that could hardly be more revealing of the Elizabethan political scene, showing how quickly Finch and Hart set about canvassing the county; Walsingham’s preoccupation with getting William Brooke’s job as keeper of Eltham park; and how well established was the principle of ‘taking turns’ in the county representation. One thing missing from Walsingham’s letter is any indication that he realized he was disabled by being already a sitting Member. The letter reads:

Sir, I received a letter from Sir Moyle on Saturday night for my voice for the election of him to be knight of the shire, and on Sunday another from Mr. Harte for himself to be chosen. I have answered neither of these, for I have been otherwise busied for the getting of the park Sir William Broke had, which I hope to obtain. Sir, the election of any shall be indifferent to me, but I would wish that one were chosen that had never been, for otherwise we shall make our country [barren]. Mr. Harte I love well, and do wish him any honour himself desires, and could wish that he might receive no disgrace, for I received another letter from him today wherein I find him resolute, but if [I] might have advised him I would have had him certain of it before he had stood for it. Sir, I will acquaint you with a letter my Lord Cobham [wrote] today, wherein he hath wished me to stand for it and should have all his furtherance—not to myself written but to the[m][nearest] to me—with many honourable words for which I must account myself much bound[en] to him. But I am not ambitious and it was far I protest, from me. I have not answered it. If I had any such [notion, motion] I would have first advised with you, but I have not as yet resolved what to answer my lord, for I received this letter but at ten of the clock this morning from Court. The other two have laboured for it, and therefore I think not fit for [me] to [?dream] of it.

With Walsingham and Wilford out of the running, the contest was once more between Finch and Hart. Thomas Kempe, the sheriff, wrote to Leveson on 27 Dec., affirming his intention of voting for Hart ‘on Monday come fortnight’ (16 Jan. 1598). However by 3 Jan. 1598 he was writing again to Leveson to explain his change of mind:

Sir, At such time as you did write unto me to give my voice with Mr. Hart I did not think that Sir Moyle Finche, my very near kinsman, would have stood for it. But since perceiving by his letters that he doth require the place for special and particular causes concerning himself [Ravenstone manor]. This being true, if I should give my voice with any other he might firstly condemn me for a unkind kinsman, whereby such dislike may grow, we being so near neighbours, as will not easily be pacified, which I know you would not should be, your love being such to me as I am sure it is. And therefore let me entreat you to pardon that promise, because the matter doth not properly concern yourself.

Sir Thomas Fludd, writing to Leveson on 3 Jan., clearly disapproved of the way things were going and intended to remain aloof from the whole affair. ‘The time [of the election] falling within the Parliament, I mean not to be at it. Neither have I spoken to any of my neighbours therein more than to a few of this parish, where if I had liked of this course of proceeding I would have used further means’. Fludd was MP for Maidstone and Parliament was due to reassemble on 11 Jan. One positive letter of support for Leveson survives, from a certain Thomas Roberts, of Glassenbury, who intended ‘to meet with you at Wykenden heath at [your] time appointed and to bring [some] of my friends and neighbours with me’.

Leveson’s assiduous canvassing on behalf of his brother-in-law, Hart, had offended the Finches and clearly Elizabeth Finch née Heneage did not accept Leveson’s version of the course of events on Christmas day. Her husband’s election concerned her particularly since Ravenstone manor was part of the Heneage estate. She wrote to Leveson in the following terms:

Sir John Leveson, I am sorry to hear you carry yourself so strongly and extraordinarily against Mr. F. in this action in the country now, which you know well concerns him in his estate[s] .... Well, Sir, the sum is—as Mr. F. and I have been ever glad to entertain your love, so we do desire it still, and do not purpose to charge you that before Mr. Hart wrote to you you had received Mr. F.’s letters, though I assure you it hath been affirmed by a man of good reputation that there was juggling in the matter, and that Mr. F.’s letters came first to you. But I am determined to believe you, for methinks a man of your worth should be far from this carriage.

It must have been a shock to Leveson to receive at this point a letter from the Earl of Essex (dated 6 Jan.) putting pressure on him to support Finch. Such a move on Leveson’s part would have dashed Hart’s chances. In his reply to Essex on 8 Jan. Leveson explained that in view of his ‘so free settled and published an attempt and promise’ on Hart’s behalf, he felt unable to comply with the Earl’s wishes.

A meeting was arranged on the Friday before the election (13 Jan.) with the object of avoiding a contest. Present were Essex, Knollys, Hart and Finch. Knollys sent Leveson an account of the meeting in a letter dated 21 Jan.:

Because I perceive there be divers constructions made of the agreement that was made by my lord of Essex and myself between Sir Moyle Fynche and my nephew Harte touching the knight of the shire for Kent, so it is that at my lord of Essex’s request I brought my nephew to attend his lordship, where likewise Sir Moyle Finch was, as I think of purpose to labour an end between my nephew and him. In conclusion Sir Moyle Finche made an offer that, if his cause for which he desired to be of the Parliament were ended by arbitrators as he thought it was, he would yield the place to my nephew, so as my nephew would yield the like courtesy to him if it were not determined. To this offer my nephew gave no answer, but I, knowing that the cause was ended and that it was but a ‘complement’ that Sir Moyle Finche desired, brought my nephew to grant that if the cause were not ended my nephew should yield the place to sir Moyle Finche, which I would [ne’er] have moved, nor my nephew consented to, but for my lord of Essex’s sake, who might have commanded us both in a great matter. This is the truth of the cause and whatsoever is given out contrary to this either by word or writing is false. Thus much I thought good to signify to you and other your friends, lest it should be thought that my nephew yielded to this agreement either for mistrust he had in his cause or his friends. And thus with my hearty commendations I leave you to God. From Court this 21 of January.

Your very loving friend,

W. Knollys.

Thus Finch was ‘contented that Mr. Hart shall be chosen’ and begged his friends ‘to stay at home’.

The 1601 election renewed the competition between the Sidneys and the Brooke Cobhams for the senior county seat. This time Sidney’s candidate was (Sir) Henry Neville and Sidney himself directed a large part of the campaign from Flushing. Cobham was supporting Francis Fane. Although Sidney returned to England for the election, Neville failed to obtain the senior seat.4

Author: M.A.P.


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament; E371/402(1).
  • 2. E371/402(1).
  • 3. Add. 38823.
  • 4. Staffs. RO, Sutherland mss D. 593.