Reading

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
1558/9THOMAS ALDWORTH I 1
 THOMAS TURNER I 2
1562/3HENRY KNOLLYS II
 ROBERT ROBOTHAM
1571HENRY KNOLLYS II
 JOHN HASTINGS
11 Apr. 1572ROBERT KNOLLYS
 FRANCIS ALFORD
7 Nov. 1584ROBERT KNOLLYS
 ROBERT HARRIS II
5 Oct. 1586ROBERT KNOLLYS
 ROBERT HARRIS II
4 Oct. 1588ROBERT KNOLLYS
 ROBERT HARRIS II
14 Feb. 1589THOMAS EGERTON I 3 vice Knollys, chose to sit for Breconshire
1593HUMPHREY DONATT
 CHARLES WEDNESTER
12 Sept. 1597SIR HUMPHREY FORSTER
 FRANCIS MOORE
12 Oct. 1601FRANCIS MOORE
 ANTHONY BLAGRAVE

Main Article

With the accession of Elizabeth the influence of the Catholic Sir Francis Englefield lapsed, and the borough returned two townsmen to the first Parliament of the reign. The independence of the borough was, however, shortlived, for a new charter of 1560 provided for the appointment of a steward (a high steward as the office soon came to be called), the first being Robert Dudley, later Earl of Leicester, who succeeded Englefield as constable of New Windsor in 1562, and was soon high steward there also. Upon Leicester’s death in 1588 both stewardships passed to Sir Henry Neville I, then (1593) to the Earl of Essex, after whose fall it was granted to (Sir) William Knollys.

From 1563 to 1589 the senior seat at Reading was held by sons of the treasurer of the Queen’s household, Sir Francis Knollys of Rotherfield Greys, Oxfordshire, whose estates lay near Reading. The Knollyses were too influential to need the high steward’s support, though they shared Leicester’s puritan sympathies, eventually became his brothers-in-law, and enjoyed his goodwill. The courtier Robert Robotham was a puritan friend of Sir Henry Neville I, and probably owed his return to Leicester. He appointed Neville and Leicester’s brother-in-law, the Earl of Huntingdon, overseers of his will. John Hastings (1571) was an obscure relative of the puritan 3rd Earl of Huntingdon. Francis Alford, returned as junior burgess in 1572, was of very different religious persuasion. Nevertheless, it was to Leicester that the corporation complained when Alford broke his agreement not to ask for wages; probably the Earl had secured the return of Alford at the request of the latter’s relative, Lord Buckhurst. Robert Harris II, junior burgess in the following three Parliaments, was nominated either by Leicester or Neville. A Windsor man, he became a burgess of Reading not long before his first election, and was later appointed to the stewardship (the old under-stewardship) of the town; he was returned for the last time in 1588, at probably the last election before the death of Neville, Leicester’s successor as high steward.

In place of Robert Knollys, who was chosen for both Reading and Breconshire in 1589, and preferred the county seat, Reading returned, obviously through a court contact, the solicitor-general, Thomas Egerton I, who had no known connexion with Reading. Charles Wednester owed his return to the Earl of Essex as high steward. His colleague Humphrey Donatt, was a Chancery official, nominated by Lord Keeper Puckering.

Unexpectedly, neither 1597 MP was an Essex nominee. Both were local county gentlemen, and Francis Moore, returned again in 1601, was friendly with the Knollyses. The other 1601 Member was a local country gentleman Anthony Blagrave, who may, nevertheless, have been returned through the influence of Cecil, whose protagonist he was in the struggle for the high stewardship of Reading in succession to the Earl of Essex. It was probably after the 1601 elections that (Sir) William Knollys emerged as the new high steward.

The borough paid its Members in 1559, when it chose two townsmen: on 19 May 1559 an order was given for the assessment within ten days of ‘the wages of the burgesses of the last Parliament’. It is unlikely that the Knollyses or Leicester’s nominees were paid—indeed, as already noted, the borough complained to Leicester when Alford broke a specific agreement not to ask for wages. Essex was given his nomination on condition ‘that such burgess be not chargeable to this borough for his service or diet’; and Puckering’s nomination was accepted on his guaranteeing ‘the honesty and sufficiency’ of his nominee, and his promise ‘to discharge the town of any charges to be demanded’.

It seems that Reading tried to restrict the high steward’s control to one seat, leaving the other for competition amongst local gentry or courtiers such as Egerton or Puckering who promised to bear the expenses. In James’s reign Knollys’s request for both nominations was refused, and there were sometimes as many as seven candidates for the second seat, choice being made by the individual votes of the 40 or so burgesses.4

Author: Alan Harding

Notes