Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the burgage-holders

Number of voters:

24 in 16241


16 July 1610CHARLES HOWARD vice Bellingham, deceased
17 Dec. 1620JOHN HAWARDE
 Henry Lovell
c. Mar. 1624EDWARD BYSSHE vice Fleetwood, chose to sit for Launceston

Main Article

Although a flourishing market town which returned Members from 1295, Bletchingley was never incorporated and had no governing body other than the manorial court. There was a bailiff but he was not a public officer, being described in 1624 as ‘only a rent-gatherer’ for the lord of the manor. The returning officer was the sheriff, who exchanged indentures with the burgage-holders – the resident owners of property by burgage tenure – who held the franchise. The manor of Bletchingley was purchased by William Howard, 1st Lord Howard of Effingham, in 1560. It was inherited in 1573 by Charles Howard†, subsequently lord admiral and 1st earl of Nottingham who, by 1602, had settled it on his eldest son, Sir William Howard†.2

Sir William Howard was ineligible to stand in 1604 as he was summoned to the Upper House in his father’s barony as Lord Howard of Effingham; nevertheless he was undoubtedly responsible for the return of the two clients of Nottingham’s in that year, Sir John Trevor I and Richard Bellingham I.3 Trevor, who had sat for the borough in 1597, was a naval official and Bellingham was Nottingham’s secretary, a position that Trevor had previously held. Neither man had any other connection with the borough. Bellingham died in July 1610 and in the consequent by-election was replaced by Nottingham’s nephew (Sir) Charles Howard, a youth of 19 or 20. Nineteen burgage-holders are named in the indenture as electors, including one who voted in the right of his wife.4

Trevor and Howard were re-elected in 1614. Lord Howard died on 28 Nov. 1615 without male heirs, having in the previous August settled Bletchingley on his wife Anne.5 By 1616 Lady Howard had quarrelled with her husband’s family over property at Bletchingley, which she claimed as part of her jointure.6 This may have made her reluctant to support Trevor and Howard in 1620. Consequently they had to find other seats; the former stood at Bodmin and the latter at New Windsor. Lady Howard secured the junior seat for her trustee Henry Lovell, who lived in Bletchingley and was about to become involved in a protracted lawsuit in the Court of Wards; she seems to have been obliged to forego the other seat, which went to John Hawarde, a local lawyer whose father had purchased the nearby manor of Garston in 1577. Only 12 burgage-holders signed the indenture.7

In 1624 Lady Howard seems to have tried to control both seats, nominating Lovell and Sir Miles Fleetwood, the receiver-general of the Court of Wards, whose wife was Lady Howard’s cousin.8 The burgage-holders were willing to elect Fleetwood, who may also have had the support of Edward Bysshe, a prosperous local lawyer and a fellow official of the Court of Wards, but they rejected Lovell in favour of Hawarde. This may have been because Lovell was suspected of having Catholic sympathies, although this had not prevented his election in 1620; alternatively it is possible that the electors were unwilling to let Lady Howard monopolize both seats. In the ensuing dispute two separate election meetings were held and appeals were made to the committee for privileges, which read petitions from both sides on 2 March.9

The privileges committee found that on 17 Jan. 1624 the sheriff had delivered his precept for the election to one of the burgage-holders. It also learned that although there had been no formal summons of an election meeting, news had quickly spread to other the burgage-holders, who had agreed to hold the election five days later. Seventeen burgage-holders participated at the meeting, allegedly held at an inn, which elected Fleetwood and Hawarde.10 Lovell had been dissatisfied with the result, but he failed to persuade the sheriff to issue a new precept. Lady Howard evidently also shared his disappointment, and on 8 Feb., a Sunday, her bailiff had announced in the parish church that a second election meeting would be held the following day which would be open to the inhabitants of the borough generally, not just the burgage-holders. Lovell was supported by the rector of Bletchingley, Dr. Nathaniel Harris, who may have been one of his wife’s kinsmen and had taken offence after Hawarde had told him that his curate was not eligible to vote in the election. Harris had responded by saying that if the ‘clergy and temporalty made not one body, he would never come into the pulpit’. On the day of the new meeting, Harris read from the pulpit a letter from Lady Howard commending Lovell and Fleetwood, and reminded the congregation that she might withdraw her annual benevolence to the poor of the parish.11 The next day, at a meeting attended by 30 inhabitants of the borough, Fleetwood and Lovell were elected. It was subsequently alleged that Lovell had used bribery, although Glanville thought the sums involved were ‘very little’. Indeed, the Journal states that Lovell gave voters only 6d. for beer. However, he apparently also threatened some of the inhabitants with actions for breach of promise if he was not elected and repeated Harris’ warning that Lady Howard would withdraw her charity.12

Lovell’s next problem was to secure the acceptance of the return, to which there was no counterpart. The under-sheriff very properly refused to be a party to his proceedings; but, with what seems like singular ingenuity, he agreed to meet Lovell in the clerk of the Crown’s office, and was thus present, albeit ‘at the farthest end of that office’, at the delivery of the false indenture.13

When Parliament assembled, Fleetwood chose to sit for Launceston, having also been returned for that borough, thereby necessitating a fresh election at Bletchingley. After the petitions on behalf of Lovell and his opponents had been read by the privileges committee, its chairman, John Glanville, made a preliminary report to the Commons on 3 Mar. in which he successfully moved that the writ for a new election should be delayed until after the election dispute had been resolved.14

Before the privileges committee Lovell argued that the first election had been invalid because no summons had been issued by the bailiff or any other public officer. Moreover, he argued that the wording of previous indentures, which sometimes referred to ‘others’ in addition to the burgage-holders, implied a wider franchise. However, Lovell and his supporters were unable to find any evidence that a wider franchise had ever actually been used in earlier elections; indeed all the witnesses before the privileges committee seem to have confirmed that the franchise had been exercised by the burgage-holders at all elections ‘holden within the memory of man now living’. The committee ruled that the ‘others’ referred to in the indentures were those burgage-holders who failed to subscribe their names either because they were absent or because they had voted for unsuccessful candidates. It was also ruled that the bailiff was not an appropriate person to organize elections because he was the servant of the lord of the manor who ‘hath nothing to do in the matter’. The original election meeting was deemed valid because all the burgage-holders had been given notice, albeit informally.15

The hearing before the privileges committee revealed significant questions about Lovell’s religious allegiances. It was demonstrated that he had not received Anglican communion in over a year, and it was alleged that his mother was a recusant, his brother a priest and his daughter a nun. The printed edition of Glanville’s reports, not published until the eighteenth century, states that ‘no hold was taken in point of judgment’ concerning his ‘ill affection in religion’, but the accusations feature prominently in contemporary accounts of Glanville’s final report to the Commons from the privileges committee on 22 Mar. and the consequent hostility to Lovell may help to explain why the Commons agreed to uphold a restricted franchise at Bletchingley.16 Following Glanville’s report on 22 Mar. the Commons agreed that the franchise lay only with the burgage-holders. The original election of Fleetwood and Hawarde was upheld and Lovell was declared ineligible for election to the present Parliament, ostensibly for electoral malpractice but perhaps in reality because of his religion, clearing the way for the election to replace Fleetwood. Lovell appeared at the bar of the Commons on 3 Apr. and was sent to the Tower.17

After Glanville had made his report, Thomas Fanshawe I drew his colleagues’ attention to a ‘very invective sermon’ preached by Dr. Harris on 21 Mar. against the proceedings of the privileges committee. Fanshawe read notes of the sermon in the House and the paper was referred to the privileges committee. Fanshawe, who had no known connection with Surrey, may have been a friend of Hawarde, as both men were members of the Inner Temple. In addition to clashing with Hawarde over the participation of the clergy in the election, Harris had been heard to say that Hawarde’s testimony before the privileges committee ‘was nothing but lies’. It seems likely that Hawarde passed his notes of Harris’ sermon, taken by himself or one of his supporters, to Fanshawe in order to exact revenge. The sermon preached by Harris was against ‘false witnesses and false judges’, and when Harris was examined before the privileges committee it was ruled to have been directed not just against those who had testified in the case but against the committee itself. On 30 Apr. Harris was brought before the Commons and ordered to confess his sins, both concerning the election and sermon, before his parishioners from the pulpit the following Sunday.18

No accusations were levelled against Lady Howard over the 1624 election dispute. Indeed, Lovell was accused of having ‘abused’ her name in suggesting that she would withdraw her charity from the borough. However, there is no evidence that she was unhappy with Lovell’s tactics and Lovell appears to have remained in her employment until the 1630s.19

Edward Bysshe was returned at the election to choose Fleetwood’s replacement. Bysshe lived at Burstow, just south of Bletchingley, and his wife’s family were prominent in the borough, which his father-in-law, John Turner†, had represented in 1601. Whether this local influence was sufficient to secure his return is unclear. An alternative possibility is that he was recommended to Lady Howard by Fleetwood, for as feodary of Surrey he was the local representative of the Court of Wards. Having had their independence vindicated by the Commons, it is just possible that the burgage-holders were willing to let Lady Howard nominate for the other seat.

Bysshe was re-elected in 1625 with Sir Thomas Gresham, a local landowner who had previously sat for Gatton and who may have owed his election to the influence of his friend Hawarde.20 The electors, some 15 of whom were named, described themselves as ‘of the commonalty of the borough’, and claimed to have made their choice ‘for and in the name of themselves and the rest of the borough’.21

In 1626 Lady Howard may have succeeded in nominating both Members, as Bysshe was re-elected with Lovell. Bysshe was again re-elected in 1628, this time with John Evelyn, the gunpowder monopolist, who lived two miles away at Godstone. It is possible that the election occasioned another dispute, as one diary records that on 8 May the privileges committee ‘debated the cause of Bletchingley’, but no details are known.22

Authors: Alan Davidson / Ben Coates


  • 1. ‘Earle 1624’, f. 91v.
  • 2. VCH Surr. iv. 253, 257; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 91v.
  • 3. CP, v. 10.
  • 4. C219/35/2/61.
  • 5. C142/352/122.
  • 6. APC, 1615-16, pp. 659-60.
  • 7. C219/37/246.
  • 8. CJ, i. 695b.
  • 9. ‘Earle 1624’, f. 47.
  • 10. J. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases Determined and Adjudged by the Commons in Parliament (1775), p. 32; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 91.
  • 11. Glanville, 33, CJ, i. 695b; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 187.
  • 12. Glanville, 33, 39-40; CJ, i. 745b.
  • 13. Glanville, 49; ‘Earle 1624’, ff. 91v-2; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 106.
  • 14. CJ, i. 716a, 726a; Glanville, 30-1.
  • 15. Glanville, 34-9.
  • 16. Ibid. 39; CJ, i. 745b; ‘Nicholas 1624’, ff. 105v-6; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 170; Holles 1624, p. 60; D. Hirst, Representative of the People?, 72-3.
  • 17. CJ, i. 745b, 754a.
  • 18. Ibid. 695b, 745b; ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 37v; Glanville, 43-6; ‘Hawarde 1624’, p. 224.
  • 19. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 106.
  • 20. Berks. RO, D/ELL/C1/112.
  • 21. C219/39/199.
  • 22. CD 1628, iii. 329.