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. Feb. 1606SIR ANTHONY COPE vice Tanfield, appointed to office
c. Mar. 1614SIR ANTHONY COPE , (bt.)
14 Jan. 1624SIR WILLIAM COPE , (bt.)
 Sir William Pope
c. Apr. 1625EDWARD WRAY

Main Article

Oxfordshire was described by William Camden as a ‘rich and fertile county’; but it had been troubled by a recent history of agrarian protest against enclosures.1 The armed uprising of 1596 was targeted against the modernizing activities of landlords such as Sir William Spencer†; a decade later rumours that Oxfordshire labourers intended to join the Northamptonshire ‘Diggers’ came to nothing, perhaps because the preceding episode had been harshly suppressed.2 Special measures were again needed in 1621-2 to deal with unemployed clothiers when the county was hit hard by the recession in the cloth trade. By 1636 Oxfordshire, which had previously been considered second only to Middlesex in terms of wealth, was only ranked England’s seventeenth richest county in the Ship Money assessments.3

Elections continued to be held at Oxford castle, which served as the county gaol. The original Norman fortifications were by this time badly dilapidated, and most of the castle’s former administrative functions, such as the holding of quarter sessions, had been relocated to the town hall in St. Aldates following the plague-stricken ‘black assizes’ of 1577.4 Throughout the Elizabethan period the county’s parliamentary elections had been dominated by the Knollys family, but this ceased under James, when Lord (Sir William†) Knollys, later 1st earl of Banbury, transferred his interest to Berkshire, where he also owned estates. Instead, seats were shared between the county’s Protestant gentry. (Around a quarter or a third of the gentry were Catholic, and therefore incapable of election).5 It is notable that Sir Richard Wenman, who had represented the county in 1597, did not sit in any Jacobean Parliament until the death of his recusant first wife. In 1604 Sir Anthony Cope of Hanwell would doubtless have been elected had he not been serving as sheriff, but he was able to secure the return of his brother-in-law, John Doyley, who shared his puritan views. The senior knight of the shire was Lawrence Tanfield, a lawyer from Burford who had already received conspicuous marks of favour from the new king. When he was raised to the bench in January 1606 he was replaced by Cope, although the by-election return does not survive.

Cope was re-elected in 1614 with young Sir John Croke, whose father was ineligible to serve as he, like Tanfield, was a judge. In 1621 Sir Richard Wenman stood again after a lapse of four parliaments. The junior seat went to Sir William Pope, the eldest son of the future 1st earl of Downe. The contested election of 1624 is the only instance of the exercise of interest by a local magnate, Lord Danvers. Pope stood again, but Danvers backed Sir Henry Poole to defeat him.6 Poole, an industrious and experienced candidate whose main estates lay in Wiltshire, could lay claim to a seat in Oxfordshire through the property that his second wife had brought him ten years earlier. The second seat went to Cope’s heir, Sir William Cope, who was heavily indebted and sought the protection of parliamentary privilege. The return was accompanied by a certificate bearing at least thirty signatures, which stated that the election had been witnessed by, among others, Sir Richard Wenman and two senior members of the university, Dr. Robert Clay, who held several benefices in the county, and the principal of Gloucester Hall.7

The Wenman family filled one of the county seats throughout the reign of Charles I. In 1625 Sir Richard Wenman sat again but gave precedence to Edward Wray, a newcomer to the county who had become a kinsman by marriage into the Norreys family. This was the only occasion on which both candidates hailed from the same part of the county; in all the other elections of the period it is conspicuous that the geographical distribution of seats followed a pattern of one knight from the north or the west of the county serving with another from the east or the south. In 1626 two young men of puritan connections were elected: Wenman’s son Sir Thomas and James Fiennes, the heir of ‘Old Sublety’, Lord Say and Sele, of Broughton Castle. Fiennes was re-elected as knight of the shire in every Parliament until the Restoration. In 1628 Sir Francis Wenman, from a cadet branch of the family, was initially recommended to the corporation of Oxford by the fifth earl of Huntingdon. However, the townsmen already faced a heated contest for their seats, and to appease the earl promised to support Wenman as a knight of the shire: ‘both ourselves and all our freeholders within our city … will be most ready and willing to confer all our voices upon him’. Wenman was thereupon returned with Fiennes.8

Authors: Alan Davidson / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. W. Camden, Britannia (1772), i. 291.
  • 2. STAC 8/297/4; J. Walter, ‘The Oxon. Rising of 1596’, P and P, clxx. 143.
  • 3. VCH Oxon. ii. 190-97; T. Rogers, Hist. of Agriculture and Prices in Eng. v. 69, 104.
  • 4. VCH Oxon. iv. 296-300; M.S. Gretton, Oxon. JPs in Seventeenth Cent. (Oxf. Rec. Soc. xvi), p. lxxxvi.
  • 5. VCH Oxon. ii. 43; A. Davidson, ‘Catholicism in Oxon. c.1580-c.1640’ (Bristol Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1970), pp. 2-9.
  • 6. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 543.
  • 7. C219/38/167-8.
  • 8. Procs. 1628, vi. 158-9.