Oxford

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
7 Jan. 1559THOMAS WOOD
 ROGER TAYLOR
8 Dec. 1562WILLIAM PAGE
 THOMAS WOOD
1571EDWARD KNOLLYS
 WILLIAM FRERE
14 Apr. 1572EDWARD KNOLLYS
 WILLIAM OWEN
1576FRANCIS KNOLLYS 1 vice Knollys, deceased
2 Jan. 1581EDWARD NORRIS 2 vice Owen, deceased
23 Oct. 1584FRANCIS KNOLLYS
 WILLIAM NOBLE
22 Sept. 1586FRANCIS KNOLLYS
 GEORGE CALFIELD
10 Oct. 1588(SIR) FRANCIS KNOLLYS
 GEORGE CALFIELD
1593(SIR) EDMUND CAREY
 GEORGE CALFIELD
29 Aug. 1597ANTHONY BACON
 GEORGE CALFIELD
20 Sept. 1601FRANCIS LEIGH
 GEORGE CALFIELD

Main Article

The town of Oxford, granted the title of city in 1546, was governed by a mayor, two bailiffs and a council consisting of four aldermen, the past bailiffs and twenty-four common councilmen elected for life by the whole body of freemen or ‘hanasters’. By 1558 there had appeared an inner council of thirteen ‘associates’ or ‘assistants’ to the mayor. Parliamentary returns were made by ‘the mayor, bailiffs and commonalty’, under which description the city received incorporation in 1605.

Despite the council’s opposition to ‘outsiders’, the high steward may have nominated the senior burgess as early as 1559. Lord Williams of Thame was high steward in 1559 and Thomas Wood was probably his servant. In any case Wood, who lived at Cumnor, near Oxford, and who seems to have acted in a legal capacity on occasion for the borough, would have been an acceptable choice as burgess. Wood’s fellow-Member in 1559 was Roger Taylor, a townsman and borough official. By 1563 the 2nd Earl of Bedford had succeeded as high steward, and he nominated his servant William Page as senior burgess, leaving Wood to take the junior seat.

Bedford’s nomination of Page probably roused the council to its decision in November 1568 that no freeman should vote for a burgess who had not lived in the city and been free of it for at least three years. By that time Sir Francis Knollys had succeeded Bedford, and he took little account of the city’s resistance. In March 1571 the council agreed to dispense, ‘for that time only’, with its decision of 1568, in order that Edward Knollys might be returned. He was returned again, however, to the following Parliament, and on his death in 1575 the council agreed to return his brother Francis. In 1571 and 1572 the junior seats were taken by townsmen: William Frere, a borough official, and William Owen, a lawyer who sometimes was employed by the corporation. However, when William Owen died in 1581 he was replaced by Edward Norris, son of the 1st Lord Norris of Rycote, joint lord lieutenant of Oxfordshire with Sir Francis Knollys. Thus for the last session of the 1572 Parliament neither Oxford MP was a townsman.

Again in 1584, the 1568 decision was recalled only to be overridden, so that ‘Mr. Francis Knollys might be one [burgess] for this present if he happen to be chosen’. And chosen he was, as the next sentence of the minutes records. He continued to sit until 1589, after which time his father ceased to be high steward. In 1584 Knollys was returned with a townsman and borough official, William Noble, and in 1586 his fellow-Member was George Calfield, who in the 1584 Parliament had sat for Chipping Wycombe. Whether Calfield, at the time of his election, was resident in Oxford is open to doubt—later his address was Kettle Hall—but no doubt attaches to the fact that his admission to the freedom of the city came immediately before he was chosen to be its ‘other burgess’ in Parliament. He was already an ‘ancient’ of Gray’s Inn; possibly he had already been of service to the corporation. From 1586 until his death in 1603 he was the city’s legal adviser as well as its junior Member in five consecutive Parliaments, and a townsman for most if not all of the time. The senior seat continued in the gift of the high steward until the end of the reign.

After the death of Sir Francis Knollys, Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, became high steward of Oxford and returned his son (Sir) Edmund Carey to the 1593 Parliament. Hunsdon was succeeded by the 2nd Earl of Essex who nominated his close friend and agent, Anthony Bacon, in 1597. (Sir) Thomas Egerton I, high steward after Essex, returned his son-in-law Francis Leigh to the last Parliament of the reign.

Payments to burgesses were unusual. In January 1585 the council decided to pay Alderman Noble ‘for his burgess-ship expended at the last Parliament, any custom heretofore otherwise used notwithstanding’. Calfield, because he had been at great pains for the city as its burgess ‘and had not anything allowed him by the city towards his charge and expense therein’, was gratified by occasional gifts and in other ways. That the city was not unmindful of its burgesses’ service, is remarkably demonstrated by its decision in 1604 to assist the poverty-stricken Thomas Wood with a payment of £5, ‘in respect of his great charges’ in Parliament 40 years before.