London

County

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

Elections

DateCandidate
9 Jan. 1559SIR MARTIN BOWES 1
 RALPH CHOLMLEY 2
 JOHN MARSHE 3
 RICHARD HILLS 4
Dec. 1562SIR WILLIAM CHESTER
 RALPH CHOLMLEY
 LAWRENCE WITHERS
 JOHN MARSHE
Oct. 1566SIR JOHN WHITE vice Cholmley, deceased
Mar. 1571SIR JOHN WHITE
 THOMAS WILBRAHAM
 JOHN MARSHE
 THOMAS NORTON
Apr. 1572SIR ROWLAND HAYWARD
 WILLIAM FLEETWOOD I
 JOHN MARSHE
 THOMAS NORTON
7 Oct. 1579THOMAS ALDERSEY 5 vice Marshe, deceased
22 Oct. 1584SIR NICHOLAS WOODROFE 6
 WILLIAM FLEETWOOD I 7
 THOMAS ALDERSEY 8
 WALTER FISH 9
Sept. 1585HENRY BILLINGSLEY vice Fish, deceased10
3 Oct. 1586SIR EDWARD OSBORNE
 WILLIAM FLEETWOOD I
 THOMAS ALDERSEY
 RICHARD SALTONSTALL
1 Oct. 1588SIR GEORGE BARNE
 WILLIAM FLEETWOOD I
 THOMAS ALDERSEY
 ANDREW PALMER
27 Nov. 1592SIR JOHN HART
 EDWARD DREW
 ANDREW PALMER
 GEORGE SOTHERTON
3 or 4 Oct. 1597SIR JOHN HART
1597JOHN CROKE
 GEORGE SOTHERTON
 THOMAS FETTIPLACE
6 Oct. 1601SIR STEPHEN SOAME
 JOHN CROKE
 THOMAS FETTIPLACE
 JOHN PYNDER

Main Article

Government of London in the sixteenth century was in the hands of the court of aldermen, composed of the lord mayor and his 25 fellow-aldermen, and the common council. In addition, the city had two sheriffs, who also served as sheriffs of Middlesex, a recorder, a chamberlain and other officials. The court of aldermen, dominated by the wealthier merchants, was virtually a self-perpetuating body. The 26 members—one lot each ward—normally held office for life. When a vacancy occurred they chose the replacement from four names put forward by the ward in question, though they could, and sometimes did, reject all the nominees. The common councilmen, who held office for a year only, were freemen inhabitants of the wards which chose them. At the end of the century they numbered about 200. The common council’s influence was limited: it was presided over by the lord mayor, and the aldermen also attended its infrequent meetings. An early seventeenth-century decree stated that the aldermen, who looked after the day-to-day government of the city, should ‘debate and conclude all matters’ before they were presented to the common council. A larger body of citizens, made up of liverymen chosen by their own companies, joined the aldermen and councilmen for meetings of the common hall at which municipal elections took place. They helped to choose the lord mayor from those aldermen who had served as sheriff, and elected one of the sheriffs, the other being appointed by the mayor. They also took part in parliamentary elections.11

London chose four Members for each Parliament, two of whom were considered to rank with the knights of the shires. Elections took place at the court of husting—the city’s equivalent of the county court—meeting in the great hall of the guildhall. After the sheriffs had received the writ, the court of aldermen summoned ‘the commons’ to be at the guildhall at 8.00 a.m. on the day appointed for the election. The main body of voters are regularly referred to in the returns and elsewhere as an ‘immense multitude of the commons of the city’. Procedure was simple. After the writ for an election had been read out, the aldermen retired to the council chamber at the guildhall, where they made their own choice of two men to be approved of by the people outside and nominated up to 12 others for election by the commonalty. A variation occurred at a by-election in 1585. Following the death of Walter Fish ‘a convenient number of the common council’ were ordered to meet the aldermen ‘to be conferred withal touching the election of one able and sufficient person to be a burgess of the Parliament’.12

There is nothing to suggest that outside patrons attempted to influence London elections: the city preserved its independence intact. The aldermen almost invariably chose one of their own number, together with the recorder, as their nominees for Parliament. The honour of being senior Member for the city always fell on one who had recently passed the chair. In this period only Sir John Hart (1593, 1597) was twice in this position. The recorder was one of the city’s representatives in every session save that of 1566. Ralph Cholmley (1559, 1563), the recorder, died in 1563. Richard Onslow succeeded him as recorder and was elected MP in his place; but when Parliament next met in 1566 Onslow had become solicitor-general and Thomas Bromley had succeeded him as recorder and MP. As Bromley was already MP for Guildford, the Commons ruled that he must continue there and the city had to choose a second alderman to represent them.13 In 1601 London’s recorder, John Croke, was appointed Speaker.

The commons chose two of their fellow-liverymen as junior Members for each Parliament. Most belonged to the second rank of London citizens, but were prominent in their own companies. The choice often fell on men with experience of city administration: half a dozen served as auditor, while Thomas Norton (1571, 1572) was London’s first remembracer; two other London Members were, or had been, common serjeant and chamberlain, and Lawrence Withers had been an alderman prior to his return to Parliament in 1563. These MPs, particularly in the early years of the reign, often held radical religious views. John Marshe, who retained his seat from 1558 until his death in 1579, had shown his opposition to Catholicism in Marian Parliaments, while Richard Hills (1559) and Thomas Norton were both noted puritans.

London MPs were paid wages according to the rates established ‘by law and usage of this city’—4s. a day for the senior Members, 2s. a day for their colleagues. They also received a livery allowance for cloth and fur, amounting in 1571 to well over £14 for the senior MP and lesser sums for the others. Ten years later this seems to have been standardized at a scarlet gown for each Member per session, or £6 13s.4d. in cash. They were further allowed 1 s. a day for boat hire. The court of aldermen seems to have stopped this last payment in 1587, though at the same time it allowed Sir Edward Osborne, in addition to his wages for the previous Parliament, £3 for boat hire ‘and other charges in travelling at sundry times from hence to Richmond’. The money may have been collected by a general levy on citizens.14

The Members for London, like their colleagues from York, customarily sat next to the Privy Councillors in the Commons.