Shrewsbury

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
1558/9ROBERT IRELAND
 GEORGE LEIGHE
1562/3ROBERT IRELAND
 RICHARD PURCELL
1571GEORGE LEIGHE
 ROBERT IRELAND
19 Apr. 1572RICHARD PURCELL
 GEORGE LEIGHE
Jan. 1581PHILIP SIDNEY 1 vice Leighe, deceased
6 Nov. 1584THOMAS OWEN
 RICHARD BARKER
 Thomas Harris II
13 Oct. 1586REGINALD SCRIVEN
 THOMAS HARRIS II
19 Oct. 1588REGINALD SCRIVEN
 ANDREW NEWPORT
1593REGINALD SCRIVEN
 ROBERT WRIGHT
22 Sept. 1597REGINALD SCRIVEN
 ROGER OWEN
15 Oct. 1601REGINALD SCRIVEN
 JOHN BARKER II

Main Article

Shrewsbury was governed throughout Elizabeth’s reign by two bailiffs, 12 aldermen and 25 common councilmen. The borough possessed a comparatively large electorate: in the contested election of 1584, Thomas Owen polled 366 votes, Richard Barker 299, and Thomas Harris II 176. The election of 1601 was again contested, though nothing is known of the circumstances save that it caused ‘much ado’. It was probably to avoid disorderly elections that the town council had, in 1558, forbidden any preliminary canvassing.2

There is an obvious dichotomy in the borough’s electoral pattern. Up to and including the Parliament of 1572 the Members returned were all resident burgesses and common councilmen, and all had filled, or were to fill, the office of bailiff. After this date, common councilmen were no longer elected, and during the rest of the reign no Member was a continuous resident of the town. A possible explanation for this development lies in the duel between the Shrewsbury mercers’ and drapers’ companies for the control of the Welsh cloth trade. In 1566, the drapers secured an Act of Parliament which gave them a virtual monopoly of the trade. One of the town’s Members in that Parliament, Richard Purcell, was a draper, while the mercer, Robert Ireland, had allowed the rival company to purchase his support. This pattern was reversed in 1572, when, with official support from the borough, the repeal of the Act was sought and obtained. Once more, Richard Purcell represented the drapers’ interests, but his colleague and fellow-draper, George Leighe, acted for the mercers. Both sides indulged in vigorous lobbying, and considerable sums of money—between £200 and £300—were expended. The borough was forced to finance its part in the repeal by the erection of 50 new burgesses at £5 apiece. It seems likely that the resulting exhaustion, and the financial straits of the borough, which had for some time found difficulty in paying its Members’ wages, opened the door to the neighbouring gentry. In 1588 the borough, perhaps to reassure its conscience on this new development, seems to have asked Thomas Owen whether it was obliged to return a resident, and received the answer that it was not.3

There were only two cases of outside patronage at Shrewsbury during this period. The first occurred in 1581, when Philip Sidney was returned at his father’s request at a by-election to replace George Leighe. Sir Henry Sidney, president of the council in the marches, had also requested and obtained a seat for his son at Ludlow, the administrative headquarters of the council, but Philip Sidney had chosen to represent Shrewsbury, maybe on account of his earlier schoolday connexions with the town. Robert Wright (1593) was the other MP who owed his seat to the offices of a patron. He was steward to the Earl of Essex and was elected on the Earl’s recommendation, at a time when the borough was under an obligation to that nobleman. Like Sidney, Wright also had connexions with the borough, having been born there and being ‘thoroughly known’ to his electors. However, when Essex tried to nominate for both seats in 1597, he was rebuffed by the borough.

The remaining MPs were all local Shropshire landowners. Thomas Owen (1584) was of an old Shrewsbury family and had often given counsel to the borough. In 1584 he was engaged in negotiations for a new charter. In 1597, after he had become a judge, he asked for his son’s election, which the borough granted. Thomas Harris II (1586) was the son of a former burgess. Reginald Scriven and the two Barkers came, like Thomas and Roger Owen, from families seated within eight miles of the town, and so did Andrew Newport, who was elected during the shrievalty of his brother, Sir Francis Newpor