Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the corporation
Number of voters:
|6 Mar. 1604||SIR RICHARD SPENCER|
|c. Mar. 1614||WILLIAM SPENCER|
|11 Dec. 1620||EDWARD SPENCER|
|SIR THOMAS WENMAN|
|17 Jan. 1624||EDWARD SPENCER|
|SIR THOMAS WENMAN|
|29 Apr. 1625||SIR THOMAS WENMAN|
|Sir Richard Anderson|
|17 Jan. 1626||SIR JOHN HOBART II|
|3 Mar. 1628||SIR THOMAS WENMAN|
Located at the southernmost point of Northamptonshire, about half way between Banbury and Buckingham, Brackley was a small agricultural town that in its medieval heyday had served as ‘a famous staple for wool’. However, by the turn of the seventeenth century, as William Camden noted, it could ‘only boast how great and wealthy it once was by its ruins’.1 The town was governed under a seigneurial charter granted in 1260 by the earl of Winchester to the mayor and around 32 ‘burgesses’.2 Members were first sent to Parliament in 1547. Brackley had long suffered from absentee landlords, and throughout this period the principal manor was held in dower by the countess of Derby, with remainder to her daughter Frances.3 She nominated her nephew Robert Spencer† (later the 1st Baron Spencer) in 1597 and her brother Sir Richard Spencer in 1604. Several months before the general election of 1604 Lady Derby wrote to the corporation on the latter’s behalf. Returned in his absence as senior Member, he wrote on 8 Mar. to William Clarke, one of the corporation, promising ‘to acquaint my honourable sister, the countess of Derby, how ready yourself and the rest have been to effect her letter’.4 The second seat went to William Lisle, who owned the rectory and advowson, and resided at the Tithe House in the town until he sold it to Sir Richard Wenman* in 1606, and moved to Evenley.5
After the double marriage of the countess to lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton†) in 1600 and the countess’s daughter to Ellesmere’s son John a year later, John Egerton† attempted to assume control of the borough’s patronage, though he had no residence in the neighbourhood. However, this brought him into conflict with both the Spencers and the Wenmans. Ahead of the next general election, on 23 Dec. 1613, Lord Spencer, who wanted a seat for his son William, thanked Clarke for a warning about an attempt to set up a rival interest by ‘the blind baronet’, an unidentified figure of whom no more is heard. On the arrival of the writ he politely offered to withdraw in the unlikely event of two townsmen being nominated, but undertook that his son, if elected, would ‘no way be either troublesome or chargeable to you’.6 The corporation were agreeable, and (in a letter which has not survived) informed Egerton of their choice and asked him to nominate a second candidate. Egerton replied on 13 Mar. proposing his ‘loving and well esteemed friend’, Arthur Tyringham, to serve with Spencer. However, he warned the corporation ‘both in respect of your own and my right in that place, being as you know lord ... thereof, that you admit not any continued prescription in such election, wherein I purpose not to give way to equal any man’s interest with my own’.7
Egerton’s attempt to dominate the borough’s patronage was evidently resented by the townsmen, for on 11 Jan. 1616, against the backdrop of rumours that a fresh Parliament was imminent, he was informed that they ‘had given all their hands at Whitsuntide last for Sir R[ichard] W[enman’s] son and are resolved to stand therein. The other, although several means are made, yet stay is made till your pleasure be known’.8 Egerton therefore appealed to Ellesmere, who issued a writ of quo warranto challenging Brackley’s right to send Members to Parliament.9 To this the corporation replied that ‘they hold their mayoralty and places of burgesses together with other privileges by prescription; and ever to this day have had the election and nomination of two burgesses for every Parliament’. They nevertheless capitulated under pressure and on 4 June wrote to Egerton, fulsomely apologizing for their previous disobedience to him and begging him to procure a charter for the town. They renewed their request in November, pointing out that ‘some other things for which they are questioned concern your honour’s right’, and adding that ‘howbeit the body of the said corporation is very poor, yet it is not doubted but that there will be raised such contribution for part of the charge therein amongst them as their estate may afford’.10
No charter was forthcoming, and for the election of 1620 Egerton (now earl of Bridgewater) nominated Spencer’s brother Edward. He was returned ‘by general assent’, with the name of Sir Thomas Wenman inserted in the indenture for the second seat, possibly over an erasure. Brackley’s troubled relations with Bridgewater continued, and on 29 Apr. 1621 the mayor and nine other ‘burgesses’ wrote to the earl again appealing for help with the ‘rem[ed]ying of our charter’. The signatories, ‘being desirous ever to be reputed, or rather actually to be, your lordship’s obedient servants and tenants’ promised to contribute £50 towards the charter and begged Bridgewater to make up the rest of the charge, otherwise they would ‘unwillingly be enforced to disclaim our corporation’.11 However, nothing came of their plea. Spencer and Wenman were re-elected in 1624.
In 1625 Bridgewater nominated Spencer and Sir Richard Anderson, his brother-in-law, and on 26 Apr. was confidently informed by a member of the corporation, George Smalman, that ‘there will be no opposition … only two or three desire to be freed of their promises, which upon your lordship’s first letter they had passed, as Mr. Clarke and Mr. Mayor’.12 He added that Thomas Loveday, the previous mayor, and his brother George were trying to assess Bridgewater’s property for church and poor rate. He had evidently reckoned without a challenge from another candidate, and in the event Wenman defeated Anderson for the first place, while Spencer was re-elected in second.
In 1626 Bridgewater nominated his son-in-law, Sir John Hobart II, while the second seat was taken by John Crewe, son of the former Speaker Thomas Crewe, whose estate was situated two miles away at Steane. Hobart does not seem to have been entirely confident of his election, since he also had himself returned for Thetford. Wenman was again returned for Brackley in 1628, but the choice of Crewe’s brother-in-law, John Curzon, for the second seat perhaps signals the withdrawal of, or resistance to, Bridgewater’s influence. It is notable that four of the nine Members elected in the period (Sir Richard Spencer, Tyringham, Crewe and Curzon) matriculated at Magdalen College, Oxford, an institution connected with Brackley’s free school and endowed by its founder with considerable property in the town.13 In 1629 Bridgewater had to defend his seignorial rights against Magdalen; but William Noye* assured him that the college had no case that would stand up in court.14 There is no evidence that Brackley paid wages to any of its representatives, or pursued legislation in any of the parliaments of the period.