Leicestershire

County

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

Number of voters:

c.880-1,350 in 1620

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
1604SIR GEORGE VILLIERS   
 SIR THOMAS BEAUMONT I 1   
6 Feb. 1606SIR HENRY BEAUMONT I vice Villiers, deceased   
28 May 1607SIR BASIL BROOKE vice Sir Henry Beaumont, deceased   
24 Mar. 16142GEORGE HASTINGS   
 SIR THOMAS HESILRIGE   
c. Dec. 1620SIR THOMAS BEAUMONT II , (bt.)8031004 
 SIR HENRY HASTINGS80051200612507
 (SIR) GEORGE HASTINGS800812009125010
  Double return of Beaumont and (Sir) George Hastings.   
 Hastings declared elected 9 Feb. 1621.11   
15 Jan. 1624Sir Thomas Hesilrige , (bt.)   
 SIR HENRY HASTINGS   
5 May 162512Ferdinando Hastings , Lord Hastings   
 SIR WOLSTAN DIXIE   
12 Jan. 1626Sir Henry Hastings   
 Francis Staresmore   
6 Mar. 1628Ferdinando Hastings , Lord Hastings   
 Sir Edward Hartopp , bt.   

Main Article

During the Elizabethan period the electoral politics of Leicestershire were dominated by the earls of Huntingdon, heads of the powerful Hastings family. George, 4th earl of Huntingdon (Sir George Hastings†), who succeeded to the title in 1595, was lord lieutenant and custos rotulorum of the county, steward and receiver of the honour of Leicester (part of the duchy of Lancaster), and forester of the forest of Leicester.13 It is perhaps not surprising that Thomas Fuller thought there was ‘something monarchical’ about the stone tower of the family seat at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, in the north-west of the county.14 However, by the 1590s the family was heavily in debt, and in 1601 Sir John Grey* challenged the Hastings’ electoral grip on the county, although he was unsuccessful.15 Grey benefited from the accession of James I in 1603, when he was made a gentleman of the Privy Chamber and his father Sir Henry Grey† was raised to the peerage as Lord Grey of Groby.16

There is no evidence that Sir John Grey sought re-election in 1604, nor that the 4th earl of Huntingdon nominated candidates, although he probably approved of Sir Thomas Beaumont I, whom he had unsuccessfully recommended to Leicester in 1597. However, Beaumont may not have needed Huntingdon’s patronage as his elder brother, Sir Henry Beaumont I*, and father, Nicholas Beaumont†, had both been elected for the county in the Elizabethan period. His colleague Sir George Villiers, who was elected despite not being on the bench, probably owed his return to his connection with the Beaumonts. He was Sir Thomas Beaumont I’s half-uncle, and his second wife came from the same family and was probably in service in Sir Henry Beaumont I’s household when he met her.17

The 4th earl of Huntingdon died on 30 Dec. 1604 and was succeeded by his grandson Henry, who was only 18 years old. On the same day Lord Grey wrote to Viscount Cranborne (Robert Cecil†) requesting appointment to the 4th earl’s local offices, but was opposed by the 5th earl, who hoped to succeed to these himself when he came of age. The latter, who was married to the step-daughter of lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton†), got the better of the argument as the lieutenancy was temporarily placed in abeyance, and he was appointed to his grandfather’s forest and duchy of Lancaster offices the following February. The post of custos rotulorum, however, went to Sir Henry Beaumont I, who was apparently on good terms with the 5th earl. Despite this, local influence of the Hastings family was eroded during the minority of the 5th earl of Huntingdon.18

Sir George Villiers died in January 1606 and Sir Henry Beaumont I was elected in his place the following month. There were 14 parties to the indenture, of whom the most prominent was Sir Wolstan Dixie*, a newcomer to Leicestershire who was connected with the Beaumonts by marriage.19 Sir Henry died at the end of March 1607, by which date the 4th earl of Huntingdon was within a month of his 21st birthday. Consequently it was the earl who succeeded Beaumont as custos rotulorum, and on 16 May he was also appointed lord lieutenant.20 Nevertheless, there is no evidence that Huntingdon played any part in the by-election held on 28 May. The election of Sir Basil Brooke, an obscure figure with a small and desperately encumbered estate, is somewhat mysterious, but it is apparent that Brooke had some connection with the Greys.

The emergence of the 4th earl of Huntingdon as a major figure in Leicestershire local administration in 1607 led to growing political conflict in the county. Sir Thomas Beaumont I strenuously objected to the appointment of the earl’s crypto-Catholic great-uncle, Walter Hastings, to the county bench in that year. Later the same year Huntingdon and his deputy lieutenants took over the administration of the shire’s composition for purveyance, whereupon they faced opposition from Sir Thomas Beaumont and the Greys, who seem to have formed a political alliance at around this time. In early 1610 Huntingdon’s opponents tried to put pressure on the earl to break off the composition agreement. They also alleged corruption in the assessment of arrears against Huntingdon’s cousin Sir Henry Hastings, who was one of the deputy lieutenants. In May of that year Sir John Grey and Sir Henry Hastings* went to the Netherlands to fight a duel, but in the event bloodshed seems to have been averted.21

The proposed abolition of purveyance was a major element in the Great Contract, which was being negotiated in Parliament in the fourth session of Parliament in early 1610, although there is no evidence that either Sir Thomas Beaumont I or Brooke then spoke about that subject in the Commons. During the recess Beaumont consulted his constituents about the Contract and on 7 Nov. he reported that he was ‘charged by his country to assent to go forward with the bargain’, although ‘they pressed me particularly to tell them whether the impositions, which were resolved in Parliament to be unlawful, were … to be laid down’.22 However, Beaumont and his fellow Members rejected the contract.

In 1611 Sir Thomas Beaumont I and the Greys tried to usurp Huntingdon’s position as principal intermediary between the county and Whitehall by offering to negotiate a new purveyance composition agreement themselves. In addition, in September of that year they organized a petition to Ellesmere against the appointment to the bench of John Bale, a Hastings retainer alleged to have suborned juries. However, Sir John Grey died the following month and without his Court contacts the new composition scheme collapsed. Furthermore, Huntingdon organized a petition in favour of Bale, whose appointment was confirmed at a special hearing of the assizes the following March. Although Star Chamber suits against Sir Henry Hastings continued to rumble on, Huntingdon’s control over Leicestershire had been confirmed.23

Heartened by his victory over the Beaumont-Grey alliance, Huntingdon made his first attempt to influence Leicestershire electoral politics. On 14 Mar. 1614 Robert Heyrick†, a prominent Leicester alderman, reported that the earl hoped to secure the election of his brother, the Gray’s Inn lawyer George Hastings, as knight of the shire. Nine days later he wrote that the county court was to take place the following day, between eight and nine in the morning. As the election coincided with the assizes the county justices may have taken the opportunity to meet together and agree on two nominees to be presented to the freeholders. At the subsequent election Huntingdon’s choice of George Hastings was confirmed, the other successful candidate being Sir Thomas Hesilrige, who was one of the few members of the bench who appears to have been able to remain neutral in the dispute between Huntingdon and the Greys.24

In February 1615 the Privy Council rebuked the county justices for collecting only £400 out of the £1,000 which had been subscribed for the Benevolence launched in the aftermath of the Addled Parliament. Eventually, however, over £900 was raised while Huntingdon himself contributed a further £100.25

By the time of the elections to the third Jacobean Parliament both Sir Thomas Beaumont I and Lord Grey were dead. Lack of significant opposition in the county may have encouraged Huntingdon to nominate not one but two members of his family, George Hastings, who had been knighted the year before, and Sir Henry Hastings. However, another candidate also entered the ring, this being Sir Thomas Beaumont II, the son of Sir Henry Beaumont I. Although the nephew of Sir Thomas Beaumont I, there is no evidence that Sir Thomas Beaumont II had previously been on bad terms with Huntingdon. He had not joined his uncle and the Greys in opposing Bale’s membership of the bench in 1611, and he had been a militia officer under Huntingdon.26 Beaumont probably contested the election not in order to oppose Huntingdon, but to obtain protection from his increasing debts, and he may have been encouraged in this by his kinsman, the royal favourite George Villiers, marquess of Buckingham.

The election took place at the castle at Leicester, as seems to have been usual in this period. Estimates of the numbers of voters vary. The Commons Journal stated that 1250 men voted for the two Hastings candidates, while one diarist recorded that ‘about the number of twelve hundred … gave their voices’. Edward Nicholas says that 1200 voted for the Hastings and that not above 100 voted for Beaumont. Sir Thomas Wentworth gives the total cast for the Hastings as 800 and states that only 80 votes were given to Beaumont. Despite the differences between them, all accounts agree that an overwhelming majority voted for the two Hastings candidates. An indenture naming Sir George Hastings first and Sir Henry Hastings second was drawn up and was sealed by 17 freeholders. It was then delivered to the under-sheriff, who also seems to have sealed it. However, the sheriff himself, Sir Alexander Cave, had previously been a supporter of the Grey faction and he adjourned the election until two in the afternoon. Once again the two Hastings candidates were elected, but this time some of those present voted for both Sir Henry Hastings and Sir Thomas Beaumont, whereupon Cave drew up another indenture and returned them, thus excluding Sir George Hastings altogether.27

On 23 Jan. 1621 Buckingham wrote to Sir George asking him not to contest the outcome of the election. However, on 6 Feb. a petition in the name of the freeholders of the county was heard at the privileges committee. In defence of his election Beaumont claimed that many who had been present at the first election had been copyholders rather than freeholders and had therefore not been eligible to vote. He also claimed that force had been used ‘to withhold some on the other part, by sound of drum, and staves, etc.’, and added that, being neither a freeholder nor a resident of Leicestershire, Sir George Hastings was not eligible for election.28

Sir George More reported the case to the Commons the following day. The likely outcome was sufficiently evident for (Sir) George Calvert* to report to Buckingham that ‘Sir Thomas Beaumont’s election … will not hold’.29 Beaumont’s allegations of irregularities in the election were evidently not taken seriously, and it was successfully argued that Sir George Hastings’ possession of a rent charge out of the Hastings estate in the county was equivalent to freehold property. The issue of his non-residence seems to have caused more problems, but it was quickly realized that if the requirement were to be enforced a high proportion of the House would have to be unseated. It is therefore not surprising that the Commons accepted Sir Edward Coke’s argument that the relevant clauses in the statutes were not binding. On 9 Feb. the House ruled in favour of Sir George Hastings and the sheriff was ordered to return the original indenture.30

The 1622 benevolence for the Palatinate seems to have aroused widespread opposition in Leicestershire. Sir Wolstan Dixie* and Sir Thomas Hesilrige were among those called before the Privy Council for refusing to contribute and the amount collected, which totalled about £650, was significantly lower than had been raised in 1614.31

Despite the ultimate defeat of Sir Thomas Beaumont II, Huntingdon seems to have been unsettled by the 1621 election dispute. In May 1623 he nominated Sir John Grey’s son, Henry, 2nd Lord Grey of Groby (Henry Grey, earl of Stamford†), who had recently come of age, to the Leicestershire bench and subsequently appointed him one of his deputy lieutenants, presumably in the hope of neutralizing a potential source of opposition.32 When the next Parliament was summoned in 1624 Huntingdon made careful preparations. On 12 Jan. the sheriff, Sir John Bale, grandson of Huntingdon’s controversial henchman, informed the earl that he had received the writ and that the election would be held on the next county day, which was the following Thursday. The same day Huntingdon wrote to the mayor of Leicester asking him to delay the borough’s election until after the county day, presumably with the aim of adjusting his nominations for the borough should the shire election go against him. On the day itself Sir Henry Hastings was returned, as was Sir Thomas Hesilrige. Shortly thereafter Sir George Hastings was nominated for the borough of Leicester.33

One possible reading of the evidence is that Huntingdon, having tried to secure the return of both Sir George and Sir Henry Hastings for the county, was forced to turn to the mayor of Leicester after the election for a seat for Sir George. However, it seems implausible that Sir George Hastings, who was ultimately rejected by Leicester’s voters, was ever put forward for the county. Hesilrige makes an unlikely anti-Huntingdon candidate, having been one of the earl’s deputy lieutenants since at least 1618. True, Huntingdon had lost the right to appoint his own deputy lieutenants in June 1623, but the earl appointed Hesilrige’s son captain of the county’s mounted militia the following September. It is perhaps more likely that Huntingdon had decided from the outset that it was too provocative to put up two members of his own family and that it had always been his intention to nominate Sir George Hastings for Leicester.34

The rejection of Sir George Hastings at Leicester in 1624 may have led Huntingdon to decide to nominate him for the county again the following year. On 9 Apr. 1625 Huntingdon instructed his servant, Thomas Wright, to assemble the freeholders by 7 a.m. on polling day; ‘and for the other knight’, his employer wrote,

at my coming home, by the grace of God, you shall know who I desire should be the other, wherein I will be very careful to nominate such a one unto them as shall be fitting for that place, both for his religion, wisdom and estate, and such a one as may be best accommodated to do the country service.35

Before the election took place, however, Huntingdon had changed his plans. He transferred his brother to the borough and for the county put up his 17-year old son, Ferdinando, Lord Hastings. His second candidate turned out to be Dixie, who had opposed him over the admission of Bale to the county bench, but may have switched sides after the death of Sir Thomas Beaumont I. In May 1625 Huntingdon regained his right to appoint his deputy lieutenants and seems to have taken the opportunity to make a radical change. None of the old deputies, including Hesilrige and Sir Henry Hastings, were reappointed. Their replacements included Dixie, Lord Grey and Francis Staresmore*.36

In 1626 Huntingdon decided that it was time to send his son to Cambridge. He therefore nominated Sir Henry Hastings again and allowed the second seat to go to Staresmore who, after the election, sent the earl regular reports of parliamentary proceedings.37 On the day of the election the youthful sheriff, Sir Thomas Hartopp, arrested Hastings in the castle yard on a commission of rebellion, having first failed to persuade Hastings ‘to disclaim his election’. However, Hastings must have been released soon thereafter, as he had taken his seat by 25 Mar. 1626, when his petition against the sheriff was read. The House found in favour of Hastings and on 4 May Hartopp was obliged to acknowledge his guilt on his knees before the House. Staresmore died on 8 May 1626, but no writ appears to have issued before the dissolution.38 The attempt to gather a Benevolence after the 1626 Parliament was a failure. On 18 Aug. the justices, including Sir Henry Hastings and Sir Wolstan Dixie, reported that their efforts had been unavailing, ‘most crying a Parliament’ and ‘because the denial was so general, the givers so few and the gift not fit for a supply we thought [fit] to omit the particulars’.39

The following November Sir William Faunte, one of the Leicestershire justices of the peace, wrote to Dixie accusing Huntingdon of overcharging the county for the militia and embezzling the surplus.40 At the public meeting to initiate the execution of the Forced Loan at Leicester on 15 Jan. 1627, attended by two representatives of the Privy Council, (Sir) John Coke* and William, 2nd earl of Exeter (William Cecil†), these charges were reiterated by Sir Henry Shirley, a wealthy Leicestershire gentleman, who proposed that the surplus, allegedly amounting to £500, should be used towards the paying the Loan. Dixie defended the earl’s conduct, but the accusations led to an investigation by the Privy Council. Huntingdon was particularly vulnerable because he was a Forced Loan refuser and, perhaps as a result, receipts initially came in slowly. However Huntingdon’s most prominent supporters in the county, including Dixie, agreed to implement the Loan, which eventually yielded over £3,000 in the county, and Huntingdon employed Sir John Skeffington*, whom he had appointed a deputy lieutenant after Staresmore’s death but who also had contacts with Buckingham, to plead his cause before the Council in the following June. Despite his refusal to pay the Loan, Huntingdon was cleared of corruption and managed to retain his lieutenancy. Perhaps the king feared that to dismiss him against the backdrop of Faunte and Shirley’s accusations would discourage the rigorous administration of the militia.41

In 1628 Shirley initially seems to have canvassed the county, although he probably withdrew before the date of the election.42 Huntingdon felt sufficiently vulnerable to come to an agreement with Lord Grey. Together they nominated Lord Hastings and Sir Edward Hartopp of Buckminster, the cousin of the 1626 sheriff. Dixie, who was acting as go-between, wrote to Huntingdon on 2 Mar. 1628:

The Lord Grey has not been at Bradgate since my being with your lordship, but I rest in hope he has endeavoured to procure Sir Edward Hartopp his presence at the election, … I have carefully sounded the minds and affections of the freeholders and find them wholly your lordship’s loving countrymen and servants and am persuaded none of them will be wanting at the day who are able to travel to Leicester. … So I doubt not there will be a powerful and prevailing appearance both for my lord and Sir Edward. … I conceive your lordship’s presence at the time of election will be both acceptable and behoveful, lest any crotchet shall suddenly arise to break and sunder the forces conceived to be united.43

The strategy was successful, but on 26 Mar. Grey was promoted to the earldom of Stamford, and thereafter Huntingdon’s primacy in the county was no longer beyond question.44

Author: Paula Watson

Notes

  • 1. SP14/7/82ii.
  • 2. Cal. of Herrick Fam. Pprs. ed. P.M. Pugh (NRA 17342), 13.
  • 3. CD 1621, v. 445.
  • 4. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 22.
  • 5. CD 1621, v. 445.
  • 6. Nicholas, i. 21.
  • 7. CJ, i. 511a.
  • 8. CD 1621, v. 445.
  • 9. Nicholas, i. 21.
  • 10. CJ, i. 511a.
  • 11. CJ, i. 516a.
  • 12. Procs. 1625, p. 691.
  • 13. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 192; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 387; Duchy of Lancaster Office-Holders ed. R. Somerville, 179, 182.
  • 14. T. Fuller, Worthies, (1662), p. 126.
  • 15. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 193-4; ii. 273.
  • 16. CP, vi. 135; HMC 7th Rep. 526.
  • 17. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 192-3.
  • 18. CP, vi. 657-8; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 387; xvii. 603; HP Commons, 1558-1603, ii. 80; R. Cust, ‘Honour, rhetoric and pol. culture: the earl of Huntingon and his enemies’, Pol. Culture and Culture Pols. in Early Modern Europe ed. S.D. Amussen and M.A. Kishlansky, 87-9.
  • 19. C219/35/1/44.
  • 20. Cust, ‘Honour’, 88; Sainty, Lords Lieutenants, 26.
  • 21. R. Cust, ‘Purveyance and Pols. in Jacobean Leics.’, Regionalism and Revision ed. A. Gross and J.R. Lander, 152-5
  • 22. Parl. Debates, 1610 ed. S.R. Gardiner, 130; Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 318; Cust, ‘Purveyance’, 156-7.
  • 23. HEHL, HA4327-31, 5436-8; CSP Dom. 1611-19, p. 73; STAC 8/54/13, 8/178/12; Cust, ‘Purveyance’, 157-9.
  • 24. Nichols, County of Leicester, i. 341 (see Cal. of Herrick Fam. Pprs. 13 for the correct dating of the second letter); Cust, ‘Honour’, 110.
  • 25. APC, 1615-16, p. 42-3; E351/1950.
  • 26. Cust, ‘Honour’, 110.
  • 27. CJ, i. 511a; CD 1621, v. 445; vi. 360-1; Nicholas, i. 21-2; HEHL, HA4331.
  • 28. HMC Hastings, iv. 204; CD 1621, iv. 22; CJ, i. 511b-12a.
  • 29. CJ, i. 511b; Fortescue Pprs. ed. S.R. Gardiner (Cam. Soc. n.s. i), 151.
  • 30. CJ, 515b-16a.
  • 31. SP14/127/82; 14/135/62.
  • 32. HMC Hastings, ii. 62; HEHL, HAM53/6, f. 129v.
  • 33. HEHL, HA387, 1725, 5479.
  • 34. HEHL, HAM53/6, ff. 73, 77, 88v.
  • 35. Procs. 1625, pp. 691-2.
  • 36. Sainty, 26; HAM53/6, f. 133v.
  • 37. Procs. 1626, iv. 317-21.
  • 38. Ibid. ii. 367, 369; iii. 142, 145, 155, 163; iv. 263.
  • 39. HEHL, HAM53/6, f. 182v.
  • 40. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 476; HEHL, HA2294.
  • 41. HMC Cowper, i. 296, 298; HMC Hastings, iv. 209-10; HEHL, HA1676; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 193; T. Cogswell, Home Divisions, 142-3, 154-5, 158; Stowe, 743, f. 66.
  • 42. Cogswell, 167.
  • 43. Procs. 1628, vi. 154-5.
  • 44. CP, xii. pt. 1, p. 217.

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