New Woodstock

Borough

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

Elections

DateCandidate
1571THOMAS PENISTON
 MARTIN JOHNSON
15 Apr. 1572GEORGE WHITON
 MARTIN JOHNSON
26 Oct. 1584LAWRENCE TANFIELD
 HENRY UNTON
11 Oct. 1586LAWRENCE TANFIELD
 FRANCIS STONOR
4 Nov. 1588LAWRENCE TANFIELD
 JOHN LEE
1593LAWRENCE TANFIELD
 JOHN LEE
17 Oct. 1597LAWRENCE TANFIELD
 JOHN LEE
5 Oct. 1601LAWRENCE TANFIELD
 WILLIAM SCOTT

Main Article

This borough was incorporated by a charter of 1453 as ‘the mayor and commonalty of the vill of New Woodstock’; only one official other than the mayor, a serjeant-at-mace, was mentioned in the charter. Orders made by the corporation for ‘the quiet and civil government’ of the town in 1580 reveal that by then there were also a high steward, six aldermen (from among whom the mayor had to be chosen) and twenty common councilmen. Parliamentary returns were made by ‘the mayor and commonalty’, and the indenture was occasionally signed by the mayor.1

There are no returns for Woodstock and no mention of its burgesses in any lists between the Parliaments of 1554 and 1571. The charter of 1453 conceded that Woodstock should not be compelled to send MPs, and the borough did not do so till the first Parliament of Mary’s reign, when it presumably acted at the instance of the lieutenant of the royal manor of Woodstock, (Sir) Leonard Chamberlain, a supporter and favourite of Mary: a Chamberlain was one of the first burgesses returned. Mary appointed Chamberlain governor of Guernsey, in which office, as well as in the lieutenancy of Woodstock, he was succeeded by his son Francis Chamberlain, who died in 1570. Probably Woodstock simply did not bother to return Members during the absence of the Chamberlains, whose main residence at Shirburn was some distance from the borough.

In 1571 two burgesses were again sent to Parliament, one of them being Thomas Peniston, the new lieutenant. Peniston was the first cousin of George Whitton, who as comptroller of the works was second in precedence to the lieutenant at Woodstock. Whitton was himself returned for the borough in 1572 and was its mayor from 1571 to 1573. Behind Peniston and Whitton stood the powerful figure of Sir Francis Knollys, whose mother was Lettice Peniston. Knollys’s servant, Martin Johnson, was the other burgess returned for Woodstock in 1571 and 1572. Perhaps it was Knollys, an old ‘House of Commons man’, who persuaded the borough to reassert its right to send Members and was responsible for their nomination in 1571 and 1572. Whatever the story, the resumption of the franchise did not go unnoticed, the matter being referred by the House to the returns committee, 6 Apr. 1571.2

For some unascertained reason, Peniston soon surrendered the lieutenancy, which then passed to the celebrated Sir Henry Lee of Quarrendon, Buckinghamshire, the grandson of Robert Lee, Lettice Peniston’s second husband. By 1580, Lee was high steward of the borough, and administered the oath to each new mayor. Of the five Members who sat for Woodstock between 1584 and 1601, three—Lawrence Tanfield, John Lee and William Scott—were relatives of the lieutenant. Tanfield, a successful Oxfordshire lawyer who married Lee’s niece, was probably also recorder of the town, and in 1609 it was said of Woodstock—‘it was ever usual with them to elect their recorders burgesses’: in Tanfield’s return, therefore, Lee’s influence may not have been the only factor. Of the two burgesses who do not seem to have been related to the lieutenant, one, Henry Unton, had succeeded his father as keeper of Cornbury park, near Woodstock, in the year preceding his return in 1584, and was probably a follower of the Earl of Leicester, the friend and patron of Lee. The other, Francis Stonor, had no property near the borough and was connected with it only through his mother’s family, the Chamberlains: his return in 1586 is difficult to explain. It is worth noting that in 1584 and 1586, George Whitton, who might have expected to be the second burgess, was at odds with Lee and with his own colleagues in the corporation, and had to turn to Brackley for a seat.3

At Michaelmas 1602 a fee of £3 was paid by the borough to Tanfield, possibly for his service in the Parliament at the end of 1601, possibly for his legal services; this is the only payment to a Member recorded in the borough chamberlain’s accounts.4

Author: Alan Harding

Notes

  • 1. A. Ballard, Chrons. Woodstock, 16-17, 16; C219/34/83.
  • 2. E. K. Chambers, Sir Henry Lee, 81-82, 95, 247; DNB (Chamberlain, Sir Leonard); CJ, i. 83.
  • 3. Ballard, 35; Liber Famelicus of Sir James Whitelocke (Cam. Soc. ixx), 19.