Rochester

Borough

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 resident freemen

Number of voters:

unknown

Elections

DateCandidate
29 Feb. 1604SIR EDWARD HOBY
 SIR THOMAS WALSINGHAM I
26 Mar. 1614SIR EDWARD HOBY
 SIR ANTHONY AUCHER
4 Apr. 16141SIR EDWIN SANDYS vice Aucher who refused to serve (Philip?) Proger
14 Dec. 1620SIR THOMAS WALSINGHAM II
 HENRY CLERKE , recorder
17 Jan. 1624SIR THOMAS WALSINGHAM II
 SIR MAXIMILIAN DALLISON
7 May 1625SIR THOMAS WALSINGHAM II
 HENRY CLERKE , recorder
19 Jan. 1626SIR THOMAS WALSINGHAM II
 HENRY CLERKE , recorder
 ?Sir John Smythe III*
25 Feb. 1628SIR THOMAS WALSINGHAM II
 SIR WILLIAM BROOKE
 ?Sir Allen Apsley

Main Article

Dominated by its Norman castle and cathedral, Rochester was linked to neighbouring Strood by an 11-arch stone bridge, described by one visitor in 1635 as ‘fair, stately, long and strong’ and ‘not much inferior’ to that of London.2 The bridge and its estates were administered by two wardens and 12 assistants, who enjoyed parliamentary authority to raise taxes within a seven-mile radius of the city to help cover the costs of maintenance. The bridge Acts of 1576 and 1585 had been obtained, without payment of fees, by the bridge commissioner and judge (Sir) Roger Manwood†.3 Under the terms of a royal charter of 1460, Rochester was governed by 12 aldermen, one of whom was annually elected mayor, and 12 common councilmen.4 The city also had a recorder by 1616, and a high steward by 1619.5 In 1629 the corporation complained that the names used to describe the city’s boundaries in its ancient charter ‘are grown obsolete and not certainly known’, and was unclear whether the mayor and recorder, though city magistrates, were members of the quorum, ‘whereof … a defect of justice hath ensued’. For these reasons, among others, a new charter was obtained in August 1629.6

Although Rochester was a seaport, it was not dependent on overseas trade or fishing. Few ships were owned or operated by local men; indeed, only two are noticed in the port book for 1604-5.7 When the Board of Greencloth in 1617 demanded that Rochester provide 200 flounders a week for the royal Household, the corporation pointed out that, for much of the year, its fishermen were reduced to dredging for oysters.8 Instead, the mainstay of the city’s economy was brewing. In 1592 Rochester’s brewers persuaded the corporation to prohibit the import of ‘foreign’ beer, including 1,600 tuns previously brought in annually from London. In return they agreed to sell their beer at rates set by the clerk of the market’s Court, and to donate £10 to the city’s coffers.9

The city’s finances were precarious. In 1618 the corporation declared that its annual income was ‘not sufficient to support the ordinary charge thereof, whereof many debts have of late grown due to such as have supplied the office of mayoralty’.10 As late as 1630 the mayor dipped into his own pocket to help pay the costs of building ‘the house on the common’.11 As a result of its poverty, the corporation imposed a tax of 2d. on every boat which passed the bridge, but it thereby attracted the attention of the committee for grievances, which in 1624 summoned the mayor to explain.12 The corporation was not destitute, however, and in June 1625 presented Charles I and his new queen with two cups costing £30. Sixteen months later it ordered a purchase of plate for its recorder, Henry Clerke, in recognition of his parliamentary service, the sole occasion when Rochester is known to have rewarded one of its Members.13

Parliamentary elections were held in the guildhall.14 The election indentures, which were in Latin, were drawn up between the mayor, citizens and aldermen on the one hand and the sheriff of Kent on the other.15 The right to vote was conferred by the city’s freedom, which normally cost £5, provided the holder was a resident householder paying ‘watch and ward, lot and scot’ to the city. These restrictions may not always have been observed, however, for in September 1637 the corporation felt obliged to draw attention to them.16 By law only those free at the time the election writs were issued were permitted to stand for Parliament, but at Rochester candidates were sometimes admitted to the freedom at the last minute. In December 1620 Sir Thomas Walsingham II was admitted on the day originally scheduled for the election. Five years later, Walsingham tried to persuade the corporation that their neighbour Sir John Smythe III could not stand as he was not a freeman, but the aldermen simply admitted Smith the day before the election.17

Rochester’s Members may have been required to swear a separate oath of service to the city. Among the city’s fragmentary records is just such an oath, dated 1586, which reads

in consideration of your being now elected one of the two burgesses for this city and liberties you shall also swear that (in every session of this present Parliament now summoned) you shall be willing to put forth and prefer to pass, and with the other burgess of this city to the uttermost of your power to further, all and every such motions and bills as shall be thought meet and requested to be preferred by Mr. Mayor and the citizens of this city. And also that (according to the great trust in you reposed) you shall carefully and to the uttermost of your power endeavour yourself to join with the said other burgess, faithfully to stand by and maintain all the charters, grants, liberties of the said city in every session of this aforesaid Parliament. And that you shall not willingly give your assent or consent to any motion or bill therein which shall tend to the overthrow, loss or prejudice of the same charters, grants or liberties.18

Despite this oath, Rochester made few recorded demands on its Members. It introduced only one bill to Parliament during this period, which received a first reading in the Commons on 31 May 1610 and was committed on 22 June. It was mentioned again on 4 July, when a committee meeting appears to have been re-scheduled; thereafter it disappeared from sight. Its contents are unknown.19

Rochester’s proximity to Chatham dockyard meant that it enjoyed a close connection to the navy. Lord admiral Nottingham (Charles Howard†) served as the city’s high steward, as did his successor Buckingham, and many naval personnel were admitted to the freedom, such as the surveyor Sir John Trevor I*.20 A few naval figures also brought trade to the port, among them the sailmaker Hildebrand Prusen, who imported Norwegian deal boards, masts and spars.21 Others furnished victuals to the king’s ships, such as the brewer and former naval purser John Duling, who twice served as mayor.22 Many of the city’s leading figures found employment in the navy, including Sir Peter Buck (d.1625), clerk of the Navy, who built Eastgate House, where Christian IV of Denmark lodged in 1606 on a visit to Chatham dockyard.23 Under Elizabeth the Navy’s local importance was occasionally reflected at parliamentary elections: men responsible for victualling the queen’s ships had been returned in 1559, 1563 and 1571. However, under the early Stuarts none of the navy’s personnel represented Rochester, although in 1628 the victualler Sir Allen Apsley sought election, believing incorrectly that with the duke’s support, ‘I may not miss’.24 The lord admiral controlled the Admiralty Court as well as the navy, and although no naval employees were returned after 1603 it might still seem that he had electoral influence at Rochester. Sir Edward Hoby, appointed vice-admiral of Milton Hundred in 1585 and Kent in 1607, represented Rochester in 1597, 1601, 1604-10 and 1614, while Sir Thomas Walsingham II, vice-admiral of Kent from August 1626, served in 1628. However, Hoby probably owed his seat to the fact that he lived at nearby Queenborough, and in 1614 he was nearly discarded as the city initially resolved to offer its places to candidates nominated by the earl of Somerset, despite the fact that Hoby had entertained the city’s chamberlain during Christmas 1613.25 It seems unlikely that Walsingham, who lived at Chislehurst in north Kent, owed his election in 1628 to the lord admiral as he had already represented Rochester on four successive occasions. In 1626, it is true, he had solicited Buckingham’s support for the second seat, but he had done so only to prevent the election of the duke’s nominee Sir John Smythe.26 Buckingham had subsequently endorsed Walsingham, but nevertheless told the corporation that they should elect Smythe regardless of ‘who[m]soever you shall make choice of [for] the other [seat]’.27

Smythe’s failure to secure a seat at Rochester in 1626 illustrated the weak electoral influence of the lord admiral. Buckingham was snubbed despite having written no less than three letters to the city in support of Smythe, including one in which he presumed upon his ‘interest’ as high steward ‘not to be denied, nor to alter that assurance I have given him to rely upon that place and stand for no other’.28 Possibly Buckingham exercised little influence at Rochester because he had upset several influential citizens whose naval credentials might otherwise have disposed them to support him. The suspension of the Navy Board in 1618 can hardly have endeared Buckingham to the clerk of the navy, Sir Peter Buck, while the virtual closure of Woolwich dockyard deprived the assistant master shipwright, John May, of his job. Interestingly, May was mayor of Rochester when Buckingham attempted to secure Smythe’s election, although since he was anxiously seeking reinstatement it should not be assumed that he was bent on revenge.29

Tension between the lord admiral and the city over its Admiralty jurisdiction may also help to explain why so little electoral influence appears to have been wielded by either Buckingham or Nottingham at Rochester. The city’s charter of 1460 included Admiralty jurisdiction over the Medway between Hawkwood and Sheerness, but these rights were disputed by the lord admiral. At the city’s request the quarrel was referred to arbitration in about 1609. Although the arbitrators subsequently ruled in Nottingham’s favour, the earl complained in 1617 to Rochester’s mayor, John Cobham, that ‘you do daily persist in intruding upon my said jurisdiction, which I cannot but take in very ill part’.30 Cobham responded by referring Nottingham to various royal grants confirming the city’s rights and added that he hoped that, having accepted the city’s high stewardship, Nottingham would ‘not now be a means to question that ancient jurisdiction which His Majesty’s royal progenitors have been graciously pleased to grant to this city’.31 Nottingham subsequently ordered a fresh inquiry, which upheld the city’s rights against his own officers, whom he accused of opposing Rochester’s rightful liberties for their own gain.32 This was not the end of the matter, however, as under Buckingham the Admiralty soon began to encroach upon Rochester’s rights again.33 The city was so alarmed that, shortly after the duke’s death, it sought to include its claim to Admiralty jurisdiction in its new charter. Kent’s vice-admiral, Sir Thomas Walsingham II, was then serving as one of Rochester’s parliamentary representatives. Two days after Parliament was dissolved, in March 1629, he wrote to the Admiralty secretary Edward Nicholas* pointing out that attorney-general (Sir Robert) Heath* had only passed the new charter because its proponents had claimed that it ‘is but according to their former, but in that he is deceived’. Walsingham thought that Buckingham’s patent as lord admiral had kept the threat posed by Rochester’s charter at bay, but now that the duke was dead ‘the king’s new grant will be good … even against the said admiral and his officers, which I beseech you to make known to the lords [of the Admiralty]’. The city was naturally displeased with Walsingham’s intervention, refusing to let him take a register of the port’s seamen and vessels later that year. Walsingham subsequently failed to get the offending clauses removed from the new charter.34

As under Elizabeth, none of Rochester’s aldermen are known to have put themselves forward for election, although the city’s resident recorder, Henry Clerke, was returned three times. In general, Rochester preferred to choose local gentry, such as Sir Edward Hoby and the two Walsinghams. That said, Hoby and Sir Thomas Walsingham I may not have been the borough’s original choice in 1604: their names on the indenture are not only written in a different ink from the rest of the text but also occupy dark patches on the parchment, which suggests that the names of previous candidates have been scraped out.35 Sir Maximilian Dallison, who lived close by at Halling and owned property in the city, was another member of the local gentry to represent Rochester, as was Sir William Brooke, who resided at nearby Cooling. His return perhaps underlined the weakness of Buckingham’s position at Rochester, for in 1618 Brooke had tried to insinuate himself into the affections of James I at the instigation of the Howards in order to oust Buckingham as favourite.

Not all of the outsiders elected for Rochester lived in north Kent. Both Sir Anthony Aucher (1614), who refused to serve, and Sir Edwin Sandys, his replacement, lived in east Kent. Aucher, then sheriff of Kent, had no known connection with the city, whereas Sandys enjoyed the support of the earl of Somerset’s client, Sir Robert Mansell*, treasurer of the Navy, whose influence among Rochester’s naval voters was probably considerable.

The best documented parliamentary election for the period is that of 1614. On 23 Feb. Mansell informed Somerset by letter that Rochester had been prepared to place both its seats at the earl’s disposal, but having ‘been importuned by several gentlemen of good quality’ they were now able to offer only one.36 Somerset accordingly nominated Sandys, but his recommendation did not reach Rochester until 27 Mar., the day after Sir Edward Hoby and Sir Anthony Aucher were elected. The mayor offered to hold another vote, but Sandys replied on 30 Mar. that he could not be ‘so injurious either to your city or to the gentlemen chosen … as to admit any thought of reversing or altering that election’.37 There the matter might have rested had not Aucher, perhaps belatedly realizing that sheriffs were not permitted to serve in Parliament unless they were already Members of the Commons, stood down in favour of his close associate and neighbour Sir Thomas Hardres two days before Parliament was due to assemble. By that time both the mayor and two aldermen, Bartholomew Man and John Duffield, had promised Hardres their support after Aucher told them that Sandys had been elected for another constituency. This was both accurate and yet deeply duplicitous, for although Sandys was indeed elected for Hindon before Parliament opened, Aucher is unlikely to have known it. Indeed, when challenged publicly on 4 Apr. about Sandys’s return for another seat, Aucher distanced himself from his messenger, whom he claimed had ‘mistook him’.38

At first Aucher planned to hold the fresh election on the afternoon of Sunday 3 Apr., but he was prevented from doing so by an irate Sir John Leveson, who lived at Cuxton, four miles south-west of Rochester. At the previous election Leveson had canvassed on behalf of his nephew ‘Proger’ – possibly Philip Proger, later a groom of the privy chamber to Charles I –39, but finding little support he had desisted at the request of Proger’s father. Leveson was at church when he heard from Bartholomew Man that there was to be a fresh election in just two hours time, and was initially ‘much perplexed what to do’. He was ‘not willing to meddle in a business of this nature on the Sabbath day’, and there was the question of whether to revive his support for Proger. ‘After some further bethinking myself of the matter’, he decided to forgo his lunch and hurried to Rochester where he berated the mayor and alderman Man ‘for this sudden and uncouth manner of election’. After a lengthy argument the election was postponed until the following morning, though this gave Rochester less than a day to return their writ before Parliament assembled. Leveson hoped that the delay would permit his nephew to re-enter, and his hopes were raised by Aucher’s message that Sandys had secured a seat elsewhere. Aucher’s supporters were displeased at Leveson’s intervention, however, and claimed that ‘Sir Edwin Sandys’s relinquishing to stand and the sheriff’s resignate [sic] of the election was only to give passage to Sir Thomas Hardres’. They also objected that Proger could not stand because, unlike Hardres, he was not a freeman, and they maintained that ‘it was not unusual to treat of business and conclude then on the Sabbath day’. In the event, the delay benefited Sandys rather than Proger. Overnight four of the city’s leading citizens, including Sir Peter Buck and Thomas Rock, wrote to Sandys at his house in Northbourne, suspicious of the message previously sent by Aucher. They asked Sandys ‘to let us understand from your own self what you resolve upon’, informing him that if he arrived by 10 o’clock the next morning he would be sworn a freeman, and then ‘we, altogether with the assistance of Sir John Leveson by his best power, who hath promised as much in your behalf, will stand for you’.40 This may not have been entirely truthful, as Leveson evidently supported his nephew right up until the last moment. Sandys replied in the early hours of the morning of 4 Apr. that he was unwilling ‘to disturb that which was already past and concluded’. He added that it was impossible for him to be at Rochester by ten, as it was too far from Northbourne and he had ‘many business[es] to settle here before my remove hence’. He did not confirm or deny Aucher’s report that he had been returned elsewhere. Sandys’s reply did not reach the city until 2 pm, necessitating a further postponement of the election. Even before it was received, however, the mood had swung against Hardres. When he and Aucher arrived that morning their friends advised that ‘they were in danger to lose’. In order to avoid such a humiliation, Hardres decided to give way to Sandys. Aucher, however, had other plans, and suddenly declared that he now ‘stood upon his own former election and said he would return it’. In his account of these proceedings to Proger’s father, Leveson diplomatically drew a veil over the reaction of the assembled electors, recording merely that ‘after a better advice he waived it’. It was generally agreed that Sandys had implicitly accepted the seat by pointedly failing to refuse it. Not being a freeman, Leveson was unable to witness the election in the guildhall, but immediately afterwards he was informed that Sandys had been elected on a provisional basis: ‘if Sir Edwin Sandys would serve for the town then he to have it, if he would not then your son [Proger] to have it’. Leveson thought that this was ‘but a trick to cosen the ignorant multitude’, but even if it were true he hoped that Proger would not ‘serve for them in that kind’.41

One of Sandys’s leading supporters in 1614 was Thomas Rock, who by the time of the next election in December 1620 was serving as mayor. Rock wanted to return Sir Thomas Walsingham II and Henry Clerke, but many of the freemen had other ideas, so that on 12 Dec. ‘the mayor and his confederates, misdoubting their own strength, dissembled their int[ention of] electing burgesses at this time and so dismissed the company’. Two days later Rock and his supporters gathered together ‘in a secret and clandestine manner’ and elected their candidates. 42 A protest lodged with the privileges committee upheld the outcome but condemned Rock for having ‘sent but half an hour’s notice of the election’ to the freemen, many of whom had then been at the city’s market.43

The remaining elections of the period seem to have passed off without acrimony. However in 1626 Walsingham’s claim on the senior seat was threatened by his north Kent neighbour Sir John Smythe of Sutton-at-Hone. Through the intercession of Henry Rich*, earl of Holland, Smythe obtained a letter of nomination from the borough’s high steward, the duke of Buckingham.44 However, after furious lobbying by Walsingham, Smythe was rejected, forcing Buckingham to find him a seat elsewhere.

Author: Andrew Thrush

Notes

  • 1. Same writ.
  • 2. ‘Relation of a short survey of the western counties, 1635’ ed. L.G. Wickham Legg, in Cam. Misc. xvi. (Cam. Soc. ser. 3. lii), 8.
  • 3. Traffic and Pols. ed. N. Yates and J.M. Gibson, 130.
  • 4. F.F. Smith, Hist. Rochester, 45-6.
  • 5. Guildhall Museum, Rochester, ‘Customal’, f. 79r-v; Medway Archives and Local Stud. Cent. RCA/A5/1, f. 4v.
  • 6. Smith, 47-50.
  • 7. E190/648/11.
  • 8. Medway Archives and Local Stud. Cent. RCA/A5/1, ff. 2v-3.
  • 9. Guildhall Museum, Rochester, ‘Customal’, ff. 76-7.
  • 10. Ibid. f. 80v.
  • 11. Smith, 116.
  • 12. CJ, i. 769b; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 160v.
  • 13. Smith, 259, 344-5.
  • 14. Staffs. RO, D593/S4/60/13.
  • 15. C219/35/1/61; 219/37/130.
  • 16. Smith, 447.
  • 17. Guildhall Museum, Rochester, ‘Customal’, new ff. 41, 45; Soc. Antiq. mss 199 ter, f. 7.
  • 18. Guildhall Museum, Rochester, ‘Customal’, f. 72r-v.
  • 19. CJ, i. 434b, 442b, 445b.
  • 20. Guildhall Museum, Rochester, ‘Customal’, new f. 21.
  • 21. E190/648/11, unfol.
  • 22. Smith, 496; Add. 9297, f. 163; APC, 1630-1, p. 322; Jacobean Commissions of Inquiry ed. A.P. McGowan (Navy Recs. Soc. cxvi), 128, 137. For a further e.g., see Guildhall Museum, Rochester, ‘Customal’, f. 72r-v.
  • 23. Guildhall Museum, Rochester, ‘Customal’, new ff. 12, 21; Smith, 340.