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|1558/9||SIR ARTHUR CHAMPERNOWN 1|
|NICHOLAS SLANNING 2|
|1571||SIR HUMPHREY GILBERT|
|10 Nov. 1584||HENRY BROMLEY 3|
|CHRISTOPHER HARRIS 4|
|19 Oct. 1588||MILES SANDYS 5|
|REGINALD NICHOLAS 6|
|1593||(SIR) FRANCIS DRAKE|
|15 Oct. 1597||WARWICK HELE 7|
|WILLIAM STALLENGE 8|
|7 Oct. 1601||WILLIAM STALLENGE 9|
|JAMES BAGG 10|
Elizabethan Plymouth, a prosperous and fast expanding port, had a governing body consisting of a mayor, 12 aldermen and 24 common councilmen, selected from the leading merchant families. There was also a recorder. The mayor and aldermen—sometimes called the privy council—conducted the town’s affairs and chose its Members of Parliament. In 1570 it was ordered that ‘only such men as be town dwellers and of the council of the town’ could be elected MPs; but this proved impracticable. A decree of 1601 required Members to be freemen of the borough. Wages were paid occasionally to the local men. For his services in the last Parliament of the reign James Bagg was paid at the high rate of 10s. a day. Sometimes Members received gifts.11
The 2nd Earl of Bedford was the one outside patron at Plymouth. He was frequently entertained there, and held in great honour by the town, though no evidence has been found for his being high steward, as has sometimes been suggested. The Champernowns of Modbury, a few miles away, were also well known in the town. Sir Arthur Champernown (1559) was active against Queen Mary, a follower of Bedford, and a trading associate of the Hawkins family. John Hawkins (1571, 1572), shipowner and admiralty official, belonged to the town’s leading family and no doubt co-operated with Bedford in the choice of MPs. Sir Arthur Champernown’s nephew Henry, a soldier, was returned for 1563, and another nephew, the soldier and explorer Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1571. Humphrey Gilbert’s elder brother, Sir John, was one of Bedford’s deputy lieutenants. Nicholas Slanning (1559) was town clerk and a future mayor, and William Peryam (1563) a lawyer whose family had long been Bedford’s allies in the protestant cause. Edmund Tremayne (1572), who lived near Tavistock, was one of Bedford’s followers and a friend of John Hawkins. Henry Bromley (1584) was the son of the chancellor Thomas Bromley, one of Bedford’s associates at court, and his colleague Christopher Harris (1584) was one of the Earl’s servants.
The death of Bedford in 1585 did not immediately affect the electoral pattern. Bromley kept his seat in 1586, and was joined by Hugh Vaughan, a relative by marriage of Hawkins. Vaughan had served Bedford and was now steward of the Russell estates in the west country. The names of the 1589 Members were added to a ‘blank’ return, and no patron can be suggested for either man. In 1593, when the town had two bills coming up for consideration, for the harbour and the new water supply, the senior seat went to (Sir) Francis Drake, and the junior to the 19 year-old Robert Bassett, son of the late Arthur Bassett, one of Bedford’s deputy lieutenants in Devon. The 1597 and 1601 MPs were Warwick Hele, a local gentleman whose father soon afterwards became recorder of Plymouth, and William Stallenge and James Bagg, both Plymouth merchants.