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|14 Mar. 1604||GEORGE WYLDE I|
|c. Mar. 1614||EDWIN SANDYS|
|11 Dec. 1620||SIR THOMAS COVENTRY|
|17 Feb. 1621||RALPH CLARE vice Coventry, declared ineligible|
|c. Jan. 1624||WALTER BLOUNT|
|2 May 1625||JOHN WYLDE , recorder|
|24 Jan. 1626||Thomas Coventry|
|JOHN WYLDE , recorder|
|28 Feb. 1628||JOHN WYLDE , recorder|
|GEORGE WYLDE II|
Droitwich, six miles north-east of Worcester, had a population of about 760 in the 1560s, rising to over 1,000 a century later.3 It had been famous since Anglo-Saxon times for the production of salt, a trade which continued to dominate the town in the early seventeenth century, although only one brine-pit at Upwich and two in Netherwich remained in operation.4 Town government and the salt industry were closely inter-connected, as the corporation organized the trade. Shares were measured in the numbers of ‘phats’, or bullaries, of brine that an owner received yearly from the borough’s officials, which were inherited like freehold land and could be bought and sold. The borough’s freedom was generally acquired through the inheritance of bullaries, although the eldest son of a freeman was entitled to the freedom on reaching the age of 21, whether or not he had inherited. Moreover, freemen by inheritance could make their siblings and children burgesses by granting them a quarter of a bullary, and women who possessed the right to the freedom could confer the franchise on their husbands. Purchasers of bullaries could only become free with the unanimous consent of the corporation.5
A charter of 1554 revived the borough’s representation in Parliament, which had lapsed in the fourteenth century. The franchise was placed in the hands of the freemen, who also elected two bailiffs annually. Together, the bailiffs and freemen ran the borough, although by the early seventeenth century an informal oligarchy had emerged, as the bailiffs tended to be drawn from a small clique of between six and eight freemen. A further charter granted in November 1624 gave the borough its own magistrates, and also appointed a recorder.6 Participation at elections may have been limited. Although there were about 100 freemen in the early seventeenth century, only 28, including the two bailiffs, were parties to the 1620 return, and by 1628 the number had fallen to 16.7
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries a number of Worcestershire gentry and noble families acquired the freedom and became influential in borough affairs,8 among them Sir John Pakington, 1st bt.*, who was party to the February 1621 indenture.9 Gentry influence explains the outcome of a number of elections in this period. The Brace and Sandys families lived nearby and were influential in the borough, while Sir Thomas Coventry, who resided at Croome d’Abitot, in the south of the county, purchased several bullaries and was made a freeman. The Commons unseated Coventry on 8 Feb. 1621 after he had been appointed attorney-general, but he secured the election of his eldest son in 1625 and 1626.10 Ralph Clare may have owed his election to his mother’s family, the Sheldons, who owned bullaries in Droitwich. The most influential family at Droitwich were the Wyldes, whose members combined the town’s freedom with legal eminence in London. They represented the borough in every Parliament except 1614, and in 1624 both John Wylde and his brother-in-law, Walter Blount, were returned. The Wyldes took both seats in 1628, when John was elected with his brother George, who had participated in the 1620 election.11 The 1628 election was the only occasion when there is evidence of controversy, as ‘an unfit letter’ was brought to the attention of the Commons by one of the Wylde brothers on 4 April. The issue was apparently unresolved, and Wylde renewed his complaint on 28 Jan. 1629.12
Authors: Glyn Redworth / Ben Coates
- 1. CPR, 1553-4, p. 404; T. Nash, Collections for Hist. of Worcs. i. 314.
- 2. Worcs. RO, BA1006/32b/452, is a late 16th or early 17th cent. list of c.100 freemen liable for the fee-farm and other taxes.
- 3. P. Clark and J. Hosking, Population Estimates of English Small Towns (Cent. for Urban Hist. Working Ppr. v), 165
- 4. Nash, i. 298.
- 5. F.W. Large, ‘Economic and Social Change in North Worcs.’ (Univ. Oxf. D.Phil thesis, 1980), pp. 191-6.
- 6. CPR, 1553-4, pp. 402-4; Nash, i. 308-16; Large, 190, 197-8.
- 7. C219/37/315; C219/41B/30.
- 8. Large, 190, 196.
- 9. C219/37/306.
- 10. Large, 190, 201.
- 11. C219/37/315.
- 12. CD 1628, ii. 296; CJ, i. 923b.