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 freemen

Number of voters:

475 in 15841


 RICHARD BARKER , recorder
c.8 Mar. 1604FRANCIS TATE
  Double return of Harris and Barker. Election declared void, 13 Apr. 1604
28 Apr. 1604Richard Barker , recorder
 Francis TATE
 Thomas Harris
 THOMAS OWEN , town clerk
 THOMAS OWEN , town clerk
 THOMAS OWEN , town clerk
 Thomas Owen , town clerk

Main Article

The ‘proud Salopians’ of Shrewsbury, as their rivals termed them, achieved the high-water mark of their prosperity in the century before the Civil War: the town’s population rose from 3,000 to 7,000, the urban area was largely rebuilt, and the borough evolved from a county seat into the economic and social focus of an area stretching from the Wrekin to Cardigan Bay. Shrewsbury’s urban growth mirrored developments at neighbouring Chester and Worcester, but the simultaneous expansion of its hinterland gave it a regional significance comparable to that of much larger centres such as York, Norwich, Bristol or Exeter.2 This expansion was partly due to Shrewsbury’s location at the head of the Severn navigation, which facilitated communications to Gloucester, Bristol and beyond, while the town’s proximity to the upland pastures of southern Shropshire made it the entrepôt for top-quality March wool coveted by broadcloth weavers from Gloucestershire to the Low Countries.3 Westwards, the river allowed easy access to much of Wales – the borough was an important mart for the Welsh livestock trade, and provided both manufactures and credit in return – while a rising proportion of townsmen and many of the 300 pupils at Shrewsbury School were Welsh.4 Yet if this topographical advantage had sufficed, the town’s heyday would have occurred during the wool boom of 1250-1350. What made the difference three centuries later was the winning of a key role within the regional cloth trade.

Shrewsbury’s medieval prosperity was founded upon the sorting and packing of wool; cloth-making only developed there in the fifteenth century. By 1588 the 125-strong Weavers’ Company specialized in the production of bays and says,5 though it was not manufacture, but the finishing of coarse but soft Welsh cottons, frises and flannels – chiefly used as linings in tailored garments – which became the mainstay of Shrewsbury’s economy during the sixteenth century. Bought from Welsh clothiers at Oswestry, then rowed, sheared and occasionally dyed at Shrewsbury, the cotton finishing trade provided employment for up to 800 men.6 Some of this cloth was marketed in the Midlands, but much was shipped to France via London, where exports of Welsh cottons were worth £15,000 to £30,000 a year by the early seventeenth century.7

Shrewsbury’s growing reliance on Welsh cloth, reflected in the town’s rapid growth during the sixteenth century, fostered tensions between the town’s most important trades. The shearmen, numerically the largest guild, had little political power, as their business depended upon capital provided by the merchants, most of whom originally belonged to the Mercers’ Company. However, the mercers’ pre-eminence was overthrown by the statutory monopoly of the Welsh cloth trade secured by the Drapers’ Company in 1566. This Act was revoked only six years later, but during that brief interval the balance of power within the town was irrevocably altered, and four of the wealthiest mercers subsequently defected to the drapers, leaving a legacy of resentment between the two guilds.8 Having won their domestic power struggle, the drapers faced governmental attempts to regulate the quality of their product, Welsh resentment at the Company’s stranglehold on their industry, and interlopers who clamoured to redirect the flow of Welsh cloth through Chester, Aberdovey or London. Their tenacity in defending their privileges welded the Company into one of the best-organized lobby groups in England, and their successful efforts secured the town’s prosperity for the better part of two centuries.

I. Electoral Politics, 1604-29

In 1603 the Shrewsbury corporation resolved that the town’s parliamentary representatives should henceforth be ‘then inhabiting within this town or suburbs, being burgesses of the town and known to be men fearing God, of sound religion, lovers of the estate of the town and able to speak in that place as occasion may require’. However, since 1581 the borough had returned only lawyers and gentry, eschewing its tradesmen, probably to avoid a repetition of the controversies of 1566-72, when townsmen MPs had echoed the corporation’s divisions over the merits of the drapers’ statutory monopoly of the Welsh cloth trade. This policy had not entirely succeeded in eliminating electoral controversies due to the rival ambitions of various local candidates and the fractious nature of the commons, who regarded election eve as a time of misrule. The 1584 election was contested by three local lawyers, Thomas Owen†, Richard Barker and Thomas Harris, and although Harris, the unsuccessful candidate, was returned unopposed in 1586, the experience may have left a residue of ill-feeling, for when Barker’s nephew stood in 1601 he was elected only with ‘much ado’.9

These latent tensions notwithstanding, the corporation was clearly surprised by the eruption of strife at the general election of 1604, as the field of potential candidates was unusually narrow. Reginald Scriven, having represented the borough in five Elizabethan parliaments, stood aside, and Sir Francis Prince, who had lately inherited a substantial estate in the town’s Abbey Foregate suburb, apparently had no parliamentary ambitions. Another potential candidate, Sir Roger Owen* (son of the 1584 MP), was ineligible since he was sheriff of Shropshire.10 The corporation earmarked one seat for Richard Barker, recently appointed recorder, and offered the second to lord president Zouche, perhaps to induce him to hold occasional sessions of the Council in the Marches at Shrewsbury. On 7 Feb. Zouche nominated his daughter’s brother-in-law, the newly appointed Welsh judge Francis Tate, vouching for his readiness ‘to be employed in any of your affairs’ and assuring the bailiffs that his election would not contravene the recent Proclamation against electing nominees or the relatives of great men. In deference to the corporation’s resolution to restrict their choice to resident townsmen, he undertook ‘to do my endeavour that he [Tate] shall make his choice to be resident amongst you before any place’, a condition the corporation had insisted upon when they awarded Tate his freedom on 29 January.11 This careful arrangement was upset by Sheriff Owen, who proposed Serjeant Thomas Harris instead of Barker, threatening a re-run of the 1584 contest. Now doubtful of Tate’s chances, on the eve of the election Zouche conceded that Barker’s return must take priority over that of his own candidate, but he had misunderstood Owen’s intention, which was to block Barker by returning the other two candidates. Exploiting his office to the full, Owen delayed publishing the writ, and then, after the corporation elected Barker and Tate, he rejected the return on the spurious grounds that Barker was not a freeman, procuring signatures to a rival indenture naming Tate and Harris instead.

It was Tate, effectively the disinterested party in this dispute, who brought the matter to the Commons’ attention. On 13 Apr. both returns were declared void and a fresh election was ordered.12 In the intervening weeks Owen moved to his town-house at Shrewsbury, the better to intimidate the corporation, while the under sheriff, charged with supervising this election, delayed announcing the new writ; it was also later claimed that Owen attempted to start a brawl at the hustings. Despite these tactics, Barker and Tate were returned on 28 April. Further complaints were made, but since the return was not irregular the Commons lost interest in the issue, and so Owen was never brought to account for his unseemly conduct.13

By 1614, Barker was on the verge of retirement from public life. His decision not to stand again meant that Owen, who was returned for the county, felt no need to put up a rival candidate. Tate was still a Welsh judge, but his patron, Zouche, had long since been replaced as lord president by Ralph, Lord Eure†. Eure was probably responsible for nominating another Welsh justice, Lewis Prowde, but even without his endorsement the corporation had sufficient grounds for choosing Prowde: a Shrewsbury man by birth, he was in 1613 one of the authors of an important series of reports to the Privy Council upholding the town’s claim to maintain the staple market for Welsh cloth at Oswestry.14 With Barker and Harris out of the running, the other seat might have gone to the local lawyer Roger Pope, had he not spent much of the previous decade troubling the burgesses with a vexatious lawsuit.15 The corporation therefore selected a less prominent lawyer, Francis Berkeley, who carefully followed the town’s brief during the next three parliaments.

Prowde was dead by the next election in December 1620, and although Pope had settled his differences and been co-opted onto the corporation, he was, as bailiff, not permitted to stand. Yet with Berkeley assured of re-election there was no pressing need for a second lawyer, and the corporation therefore chose Richard Newport, heir to a large estate at nearby Wroxeter and Owen’s fellow knight of the shire in 1614. Perhaps nominated by Sheriff Walter Barker, to whom he was related by marriage, Newport probably agreed not to seek re-election, because in 1624, when he sat for the county, he sought to insure himself against defeat by securing a burgess-ship at Much Wenlock rather than Shrewsbury.16

The Thomas Owen who was elected alongside Berkeley in January 1624 was undoubtedly the man who succeeded Thomas Dyos as town clerk that month. Owen’s father, a draper, had been bailiff four times. He himself was entirely familiar with municipal politics, having deputized for Dyos as clerk of the town courts since 1610.17 His re-election to the next four parliaments therefore proceeded without incident. Berkeley, however, did not stand again, apparently out of choice, and at the next three elections his seat went to Sir William Owen, brother of the late Sir Roger, resident since 1611 and senior bailiff in 1621-2.18

II. The Alnage Dispute and Parliament, 1602-9

At the end of Elizabeth’s reign the Shrewsbury Drapers’ chief concern was a dispute over quality control in the cloth industry, which arose from a French edict of 1600 banning the importation of tentered cloth. As tentering was necessary to correct uneven shrinkage during fulling, the decree was tantamount to a total boycott and threatened Shrewsbury’s trade with Rouen, which had boomed since 1594. Although the English Privy Council immediately banned tentering, an Act of 1601 recognized that it was an essential part of the finishing process and also specified the precise length, breadth and weight for various kinds of cloth, which were to be inspected by the London alnager at Blackwell Hall.19 The Cloth Act’s primary aim was to persuade the French to lift their embargo, but the Exchequer soon realized that it could be used as a revenue raising device, as it brought many kinds of cloth, including Welsh cottons, under the purview of the London alnager for the first time since the 1550s.20 Defective cloths were to be forfeited, and the proceeds divided equally between the informer and the Crown.21 All that the Exchequer required to exploit this situation was a man willing to enforce the legislation with vigour.

In 1602 ‘a man of very good credit’ warned the Shrewsbury drapers’ London partners of impending disaster, urging an embargo on all consignments of cloth which failed to meet the standards laid down in the recent Act. Consequently, the Drapers’ Company, with the advice of Thomas Harris and Roger Pope, tried to persuade lord president Zouche of the necessity of improving the quality of Welsh clothmaking. Before any remedial action could be taken, however, the London alnager, John Tey*, laid informations in the Exchequer against a wide range of clothiers, including 12 Shrewsbury drapers.22 The Company feared an unfavourable verdict, and therefore in 1604 it sent two of its members to lobby in Parliament for alterations to the 1601 statute, which, as a probationer, required renewal. Their behind-the-scenes manoeuvres paid off, for at the second reading of the expiring laws’ continuance bill on 5 June, Francis Moore, parliamentary spokesman for lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton†), offered a proviso which exempted Welsh cloth priced at under 15d. a yard from the 1601 Act, and relaxed the quality threshold for the more expensive cottons. His speech bore all the hallmarks of a pre-arranged compromise: Tate and Barker were named to the committee, and the amendment passed into law without incident.23

The enactment of this proviso undermined Tey’s case and helped reduce the profits from his lease, which yielded only £224 to the Exchequer in the two-and-a-half years to Michaelmas 1604. However, Tey quickly found another legal loophole to exploit: while the 1604 proviso exempted cheap Welsh cottons from the requirement for an alnage seal, it overlooked a clause in the 1552 Cloth Act stipulating that each cloth should include a second seal from the maker specifying its dimensions and weight. A contentious issue in Mary’s reign, this measure had not been enforced since 1558, but seizures began anew at Bartholomew Fair in August 1604, and a year later the drapers were warned by their London partners that an Exchequer decree in Tey’s favour could cost them £150 a year in forfeitures. The question of how to pay for this lawsuit dominated half a dozen indecisive Company meetings, during which time Tey won his Exchequer case. The drapers responded in February 1606 by voting to raise a fighting fund by means of a weekly levy on cloth sales at the Oswestry market, and to send a man to join their London partners in lobbying for a fresh statute at the new parliamentary session.24

The drapers initially hoped to insert a clause in the general cloth bill promoted by London interests, but the measure was delayed in committee for three months while amendments proposed by other interested parties were scrutinized.25 The Company therefore tabled a separate bill, which received two readings (28 Feb. and 10 March). Barker and Tate were named to the committee along with the shire knights, Sir Roger Owen and Sir Robert Needham, but Tey was also included, and displayed samples of defective cloth to convince the committee that his activities were necessary. The drapers, enjoined to show more concern for quality, drafted a bill to this effect and sent it to Shrewsbury for the Company’s approval. It was thereafter conveniently forgotten, but this co-operative attitude placated the committee sufficiently to allow the bill to be reported on 17 Mar.; the drapers later credited Owen with this achievement, sending him a tun of wine in recognition of his efforts.

Though frustrated in the Commons, Tey now applied pressure upon the drapers by implementing his Exchequer decree. At the Welsh cloth market at Blackwell Hall, he prowled menacingly among the stalls in the company of a pursuivant, who had orders to haul anyone who opposed his seizures before lord treasurer Dorset (Thomas Sackville†).26 With resistance guaranteed to play into their enemies’ hands, the London partners closed their market and asked the Privy Council to suspend all further seizures until the writ of error brought against Tey’s Exchequer judgment was decided. Meanwhile, in the Lords, the drapers’ bill was hotly disputed in committee, both by Dorset and by London merchants trading with France, who objected to the 1604 dispensation in favour of tentering which was to be confirmed by the new bill. One of the London partners, William Spurstowe†, successfully defended the tentering proviso before the Lords’ committee, while Dorset’s hostility was probably neutralized by his fellow committee member, lord chamberlain Suffolk (Thomas Howard†), who had been petitioned by the corporation of Oswestry, where he was lord of the manor. Although Dorset threatened to mount another attack at the third reading, the Welsh cottons’ bill was enacted.27

Freedom from Tey’s attentions came at a heavy price, as the drapers’ London partners incurred costs amounting to £237 14s. 4d. Aware that paying this bill would prove unpopular, the partners, who submitted their accounts in November 1606, reminded the Company of the alternative to such prodigious expense:

there is not any country that tradeth cloth to London, but one way or other it hath cost them more than our disbursements, besides they are still subject to seizures and impositions and much servitude by that implacable monster of men, that wolf Tey and his ministers, whose taxations are yearly increased and the poor country then grievously polled and vexed, and are remediless.

Such arguments left some unmoved: one Richard Jones refused to pay the cloth levy three months later, and there were damaging (though unfounded) rumours that Spurstowe was secretly assisting the London merchants in their opposition to the tentering clause of the drapers’ bill. In April 1607 an attempt to collect arrears of the levy on cloth provoked a heated exchange in the Drapers’ Hall, and in the following year two of the London factors, despairing of payment, sued the Company for restitution. The case was settled by arbitration in 1609, but it was another nine years before the debt was paid in full.28

III. The Drapers’ Quest for a Monopoly, 1609-10

The alnage dispute highlighted the shortcomings of the drapers’ dependence on the London market, and efforts to diversify the trade over the next few years were almost certainly prompted by this unpleasant experience. The possibility of using Bristol as an alternative had been explored as early as 1582, but the port’s Merchant Venturers found no market except at Rouen, where the Londoners were already well established. Trade down the Severn was sustained at a low level until the peace of 1603 opened up new outlets in the Iberian peninsula. The subsequent boom was facilitated by the Shrewsbury corporation’s decision to allow the draper Rowland Jenks to rebuild the town’s river quays in 1606, and over the next decade the value of exports through Bristol rose to about £5,000 a year, a volume which was sustained until the Civil War.29

In 1609 Sir Roger Owen procured a fresh charter giving Shrewsbury’s drapers a monopoly of sales of Welsh cloth within Shrewsbury. A few hapless retailers were subsequently prosecuted for infringement of this right, but since the charter cost £80 this was seemingly an expensive gesture to reinforce a privilege which had remained uncontested for almost 50 years. However, the Company’s reasoning becomes clearer when viewed in the light of the ambitious legislation it laid before Parliament in February 1610.30 The drapers proposed an Act ‘for cutting off of all interlopers in our trade of drapery’, not simply in Shrewsbury, but nationally. The bill’s general nature was doubtless partly designed to attract contributions from other towns to bolster the Company’s modest fighting fund of £30, but it was also influenced by contacts with the Coventry drapers, whose role in the finishing of Gloucestershire broadcloth mirrored its own in the Welsh industry and with whom it proposed to act in concert.31

The drapers’ hopes were quickly dashed. A general meeting of the bill’s backers was arranged for the afternoon of 14 Feb., the first full day of Commons’ business, but apart from John Niccolls, the Shrewsbury lobbyist, the Coventry men were the only others present. Prospects for effective co-operation dimmed even further when Coventry decided to abandon Shrewsbury’s agenda in favour of a bill to restrict the sale of cloth by chapmen and pedlars to towns with a resident alnager. Niccolls reminded them of their earlier undertaking but was told that ‘their counsel … did confirm it was in vain to make such a suit, for it could not be granted’. He declined to contribute towards the cost of their new bill, although he promised ‘I would further them all I could in their suit, both in London and with our knights and burgesses’. Over the next five days he solicited some small donations at Blackwell Hall, but his enthusiasm waned after the Derby draper Peter Geary also refused to part with any cash, and he made plans to return to Shrewsbury even before the Coventry bill was rejected at its first reading on 24 February.32

IV. London Interlopers, 1611-21

The drapers’ quest for statutory confirmation of a monopoly of the cloth trade at Shrewsbury highlighted its fear of interlopers. Apart from a minor incident in 1602, there was no sign of trouble with interlopers until the French Company was chartered in 1611. A large group of merchants from London and the outports were granted a monopoly of the export trade to France; but clothiers and Blackwell Hall factors were specifically excluded from Company membership. Naturally, the drapers petitioned the Privy Council either to have the grant rescinded or to be allowed a compensatory right of export themselves, but nothing was achieved, despite private appeals to lord treasurer Salisbury (Robert Cecil†), the earls of Northampton and Suffolk, Lord Zouche, and even the Shrewsbury native Clement Edmondes*, one of the Privy Council clerks.33

On the face of it, the French Company’s charter merely denied the drapers export rights in which they had never previously been interested. However, there was a very real danger that it would ultimately allow London merchants to intrude into the drapers’ monopoly of the inland trade. This was indeed what happened, for in March 1613 the Shrewsbury draper Robert Charlton and the London merchant Job Harby began buying cloth at Machynlleth, Montgomeryshire for direct export to the Continent from nearby Aberdovey.34 Further petitions were now sent to the Privy Council, and this time the complaints were taken seriously: the case was referred to legal counsel including the Salopians Barker and Prowde, whose report endorsed both the Oswestry staple and the Shrewsbury drapers’ monopoly of the inland trade. Charlton and Harby returned to Wales a few months later, but were swiftly convented before the Council and obliged to give bonds to cease their activities.35

By 1621 the drapers had developed a lasting grudge against the French Company after London’s corporation, swayed by a petition from a host of City luminaries including Sir Thomas Smythe*, William Towerson*, Sir Maurice Abbot*, Robert Bateman* and Hugh Myddelton* – and also (more curiously) by two Shrewsbury drapers, John Prowde and Peter Mytton – complained in November 1619 to the Privy Council about the Shrewsbury drapers’ manipulation of prices at Oswestry and Blackwell Hall. Although the drapers’ monopoly was upheld, their trade was almost certainly boycotted briefly by the French Company.36 Consequently, in the 1621 Parliament Shrewsbury promoted a petition against their enemies’ patent, which was filed by Sir Richard Newport on 26 April. The sheer press of business after the Easter recess meant that it was not until 5 May that the drapers’ lobbyist managed to have the patent called into the House, although in the meantime other opponents of the French Company secured a single reading for a bill designed to dash the same patent by confirming the 1606 Act for free trade with France and Spain. The drapers’ cause was eventually timetabled for debate at the grievances’ committee on the afternoon of 28 May, but that day Secretary Calvert informed the House that Parliament would be adjourned a week later. Newport’s motion to have the patent read was therefore brushed aside in the rush to get the grievances ready for presentation to the king.37

V. Welsh Attempts at Interloping, 1604-24

Although the drapers had succeeded in upholding their privileges at the Council board, they had done so only with considerable difficulty. Emboldened by this knowledge, the Welsh clothiers, who resented having to deal exclusively with Shrewsbury, complained against the Drapers’ Company. This posed a significant threat, as the Welsh clothiers provided the raw material upon which the drapers’ trade was founded. Moreover, they were a far larger and potentially better organized group than any of the drapers’ other rivals, particularly in Parliament, where Salopian interests could easily be drowned out by the voices of the more numerous Welsh MPs.

Welsh objections to the drapers’ monopoly first received a serious hearing in the Commons in 1604. In a poorly reported speech during the free trade debate of 6 June, Sir William Maurice apparently complained that in 1583 the Privy Council had used the royal prerogative to revive the repealed statute of 1566, which had granted the Shrewsbury drapers their monopoly of the Welsh cloth trade. The timing of his speech, which was delivered the day after the drapers had secured the proviso freeing them from the alnage, is intriguing, but in a debate which focused on the export trade his intervention was poorly judged, and he received no support.38 Ten years later, with the disputes of 1613 still ringing in the Privy Council’s ears, the Welsh missed another opportunity to reorder their relationship with the Shrewsbury drapers. Richard Wynn* observed that at the committee for petitions and grievances ‘there might some good be done touching our Welsh cottons if there were anybody to follow it’, but nothing seems to have been done before the dissolution.39

In 1621, by contrast, the Welsh called the drapers’ monopoly into question from the start of the session. In a poorly recorded debate at the grievances’ committee on 23 Feb., its defenders (presumably the Shrewsbury MPs Berkeley and Newport) stated that the drapers’ privileges were founded upon the Company charter of 1609 and the Privy Council order of 1613, and claimed ‘that this opposition is by the Londoners and Jersey men for their own ends’. This assumption was probably wrong, as the protestors called for free trade in Welsh cottons, a demand unlikely to have originated with the French Company, which had its own problems with the free trade lobby. Moreover, it was said ‘that in making the order [of 1613] the Welshmen were not heard’, an oversight unlikely to have been of significance to any but the Welsh clothiers. On the same day, the Drapers’ Company met at Shrewsbury, having only just received warning of the impending attack, and voted to send John Prowde to lobby at Westminster on their behalf. He clearly missed the first reading of the Welsh cottons’ bill three days later, as it met no opposition even though it constituted a full-scale assault on the drapers’ privileges. It painted the Privy Council orders of 1613 and 1619-20 as undesirable innovations rather than confirmations of existing practice, and proposed to open both inland and export trades to all comers, a move clearly intended to destroy Shrewsbury’s monopoly.40

Prowde worked hard to galvanise his countrymen into action at the bill’s second reading on 2 Mar., when both sides in the debate showed every sign of have carefully choreographed their moves in advance. Before the bill was even read, Francis Berkeley proposed to defer it on the grounds that ‘it concerneth but the moiety of two shires, and that they have put in a petition of grievance for which counsel appointed to be heard, and that time not yet come’. This motion was ignored, the bill read, and the London Welshman (Sir) Thomas Trevor promptly moved for committal, whereupon John Whitson of Bristol denied that the drapers’ privileges constituted a monopoly, citing the considerable export trade through his town. Berkeley reinforced this point by observing that the drapers of Chester, Coventry and Whitchurch were also allowed access to the Oswestry staple. He also warned that the bill would ruin Shrewsbury’s economy and offered a rather desperate motion to exclude Welsh and Shropshire MPs from the bill committee. Sir James Perrot of Pembrokeshire and John Ratcliffe of Chester both pressed for committal, and all Sir Richard Newport was able to achieve was an order allowing counsel to be heard at the committee, to which all Welsh and Shropshire MPs were named.41 Although well marshalled, the Salopians’ arguments had done little to shift opinion within the House: William Wynn* remained confident that the bill ‘is like to overthrow the Shropshire men’, while one diarist recorded that ‘Mr. Berkeley spoke multa but not multum’.42

With the Welsh loudly insisting that the drapers’ monopoly was the prime cause of the recent slump in their trade, the Salopians were able to achieve little in committee, except to delete the erroneous claim made in the bill’s preamble that the drapers had restricted the export trade to London. They also managed to have the right of sale restricted to inhabitants of Wales, and had the bill made a probationer. Yet no sooner was the bill reported on 20 Mar. than Sir Robert Vernon of Shropshire and Sir Fulke Greville – chancellor of the Exchequer and one of the referees who had scrutinized the case against an interloper named Davies in 1619-20 – moved to protect the livelihood of the Shrewsbury shearmen with a proviso banning the export of undressed cloth from Welsh ports. The West Country men Sir William Strode and Sir Walter Earle retorted that the committee had been content to allow the export clause, whereupon Newport declared that he was ‘of the committee and yet not satisfied’. Carrying on where Vernon had left off, Newport outlined the damaging effects of this clause, not only on Shrewsbury, but also on carriers, innkeepers and the inmates of Christ’s Hospital, London, which received a fee for each cloth sold at Blackwell Hall. One of the Caernarvonshire MPs tentatively conceded that the Welsh did not seek a right of exportation for themselves, and solicitor general Heath proposed a general amendment to bar the export of unfinished cloth.43 The bill was recommitted for this purpose, returning to the floor of the House six days later, when Berkeley and recorder Heneage Finch of London insisted that the proviso be given teeth by allowing for the forfeiture of any cloth exported in defiance of the Act. Consequently, the text was amended and the bill engrossed.44

Having achieved some success over the export clause, the Shrewsbury men aimed to neuter the proposal to free the inland trade at the third reading on 24 April. Newport opened the debate with a general warning against the ways in which ‘this bill crosses corporations by charter erected and overthrows them, gives way to forestallers, lets every man sell by retail to sell where they will, crosses former Acts of Parliament’. Perrot insisted that the bill offered no encouragement to forestallers, and was followed by Sir Robert Phelips, who endorsed the measure as part of the House’s general attack on monopolies. Berkeley then deployed a series of precedents against Perrot’s arguments, and Edward Alford conceded that free trade should be denied to retailers. However, any hopes that the House might come to see the merits of Shrewsbury’s case were crushed by the intervention of Sir Edward Coke, who tartly observed that ‘he that likes not the body of the bill will find many exceptions’ and delivered a ringing endorsement of free trade, which carried the day for the Welshmen.45

During the Easter recess Prowde apparently persuaded the drapers to rack up the pressure on the Welsh clothiers with a boycott of the Oswestry staple, aiming to remove the marketplace to Shrewsbury itself. On his return to Westminster he received a complaint about this tactic from Sir William Herbert*, the leading promoter of the bill. Prowde made a conciliatory reply, but privately advised the drapers ‘that if you forbear buying but a while they will wish they had not stirred in this business’. He added that, as France was teetering on the brink of civil war, a pretext for not buying was readily to hand.46

Despite Prowde’s efforts, the cloth bill cleared the House of Lords largely unscathed in a mere three weeks. At the Lords’ second reading on 30 Apr. a lengthy petition claimed that the bill would destroy the economies of both Shrewsbury and Oswestry, allow aliens to monopolize the trade, and facilitate the smuggling of cloth, wool, fuller’s earth and hides from obscure Welsh ports.47 Summoned to the Lords’ committee on 8 May, Prowde managed to secure a proviso upholding the monopoly of retail sales at Shrewsbury granted in the drapers’ 1609 charter, but failed to block the export of dressed cloth from Welsh ports. This raised the spectre of a mass exodus of shearmen from Shrewsbury to process the cloth which, thereafter, would make its way to the Welsh coast rather than eastwards. In these circumstances, and with the situation in France still deteriorating, Prowde advised the drapers to keep calm:

whereas you may fear the coming down of drapers or merchants of London or transportation out of Wales by Flemings, let this assure you that your fear is causeless, for those that perhaps have a will that way want money, and those that are provided of money will find better commodities to bestow it in than Welsh cloth; neither is there any danger in abstaining since all is set at liberty.48

The bill returned to the Commons on 16 May, when Perrot attempted to scupper the Lords’ proviso by claiming that the Upper House could not amend a bill without a joint conference. This objection was brushed aside by Alford, the amendment incorporated, and the bill thereafter awaited royal approval.49

The Commons’ decision not to press for a legislative session at the adjournment of 4 June meant that the Welsh cottons’ bill was lost at the dissolution eight months later. However, by then the Welsh clothiers had won a grant of similar privileges from the Privy Council after they submitted a petition which, in effect, reiterated the terms of the cloth bill. On 13 June the orders of 1613-14 and 1619 which underpinned the drapers’ monopoly were rescinded, and four weeks later a Proclamation was issued specifying that Welsh cloth ‘may from henceforth be freely bought and sold in all places and to all persons where and to whom the same by the laws of the realm may be sold’. In stark contrast, the drapers’ request for permission to export the stocks of cloth remaining on their hands was ignored.50

Over the next few years the boycott of Oswestry by the Shrewsbury drapers began to have an effect, aided by the slump in the cloth market generally. In November 1621 the Welsh clothiers and Oswestry burgesses petitioned the Privy Council to end the drapers’ boycott, and in June 1622 the protests of the Welsh clothiers were referred to attorney-general Sir Thomas Coventry*.51 Eventually, the Welsh clothiers lost confidence in the Oswestry men, who failed to devise any workable guarantee for minimum weekly sales at their market, and consequently they came to terms with the Shrewsbury drapers, and were rewarded with record export figures in 1624. In April 1623 the Shrewsbury corporation awarded honorary freedoms to those who had helped to resolve the crisis, including lord treasurer Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*), Sir Fulke Greville (now Lord Brooke), and their erstwhile opponents, Sir William and Sir Percy Herbert*. This rapprochement made all the difference in the 1624 Parliament, when the same Welsh cloth bill which had been so keenly fought over in the previous session was enacted after passing both Houses without a murmur of dissent.52

VI. Other Municipal Interests

While Shrewsbury’s parliamentary agenda was dominated by the cloth trade, other groups within the town aspired to further or defend their interests in the Commons, and it is worth comparing their achievements with those of the drapers. The mid-Jacobean period saw an upheaval in the wool trade which threatened Shrewsbury’s pivotal role as a distribution centre. The courtier Viscount Fentoun took over Sir Edward Hoby’s* patent for regulation of the wool trade in 1615, which he vigorously enforced to maximize revenue. The resulting outcry led to a Privy Council order of 1616 barring all except clothiers from purchasing wool before Michaelmas, which was widely evaded: the Worcester clothiers complained that Shrewsbury staplers had engrossed that year’s clip of wool throughout the Marches. There were threats of prosecution in Star Chamber, but in March 1617 the contentious order was revoked and 23 towns, including Shrewsbury and Oswestry, were designated as staples for the domestic wool trade. In 1621 the Worcester MPs Robert Berkeley and Thomas Chettle attempted unsuccessfully to revive the clothiers’ claim to pre-emption with an amendment to the bill for free trade in wool. Newport and Francis Berkeley evidently played no part in opposing the bill’s passage, a silent rebuke, perhaps, to Arthur Kynaston, wealthiest of the Shrewsbury wool staplers, who in 1621 had betrayed the Drapers’ Company by siding with Oswestry.53

In a municipality dominated by powerful economic interests, Shrewsbury’s corporation occupied a peculiarly subordinate position. Nevertheless, it promoted a small number of schemes for the general good, albeit with a conspicuous lack of success. One longstanding aspiration concerned the borough’s status as a shire town: Shropshire’s Epiphany quarter sessions was invariably held at Shrewsbury, and in 1579 the town wrested the right to hold the summer assizes from Bridgnorth, but its position was eroded from 1601, when the Council in the Marches discontinued its practice of holding intermittent sittings at Shrewsbury. The offer of a parliamentary seat to Tate in 1603 failed to convince Zouche to transfer any business from Ludlow, and his successor paid only a few ceremonial visits to the town, despite a Privy Council order of 1612 requiring the Council in the Marches to meet there occasionally during the law terms. On 2 June 1621, at the corporation’s behest, Newport tabled a parliamentary bill to settle the assizes at county towns, which would have benefited Shrewsbury at the expense of Bridgnorth, but this failed to receive a reading, and the corporation thereafter abandoned its quest.54

The corporation also looked to Parliament to confirm its charter rights. Between 1584 and 1638, when charters were granted, reform of the municipal constitution was frequently mooted to deal with problems such as the legal status of the town’s suburbs, the monopoly of the retail trade in cloth granted to the drapers in 1609, and the borough’s liability for purveyance. On three of these occasions – 1601, 1604 and 1610 – it was resolved to seek statutory confirmation of the charter, although no legislation is known to have resulted. One source of pressure for change arose from the grammar school, of which the corporation were trustees. As most of the school’s income was derived from impropriated tithes, it was approached by the ecclesiastical authorities to increase the stipends of the curates it hired to serve the benefices. The school declined this request, and consequently in 1610 and 1629 there were proposals to resolve this issue by a fresh charter, to be backed by statutory approval. This plan failed to bear fruit, and the dispute continued, later becoming one of the major factors behind the town’s charter renewal of 1638.55 The failure of this scheme, and indeed of all the corporation-backed plans for legislation, can probably be ascribed to an understandable lack of determination. The cost of the lengthy lobbying process needed in order to achieve a fresh charter was simply not worth the potential benefits.

Author: Simon Healy


This article has benefited from the advice and assistance of Mr. James Lawson and Dr. William Champion.

  • 1. Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. iii. 300.
  • 2. A.D. Dyer, Worcester in Sixteenth-Cent.; D.M. Woodward, Trade of Elizabethan Chester; D.H. Sacks, The Widening Gate: Bristol and the Atlantic Economy 1450-1700; C. Pythian-Adams, ‘An agenda for Eng. Local Hist.’, in Societies, Cultures and Kinship, 1580-1850, pp. 1-23.
  • 3. VCH Salop, v. (forthcoming); P.J. Bowden, Wool Trade in Tudor and Stuart Eng. 29-30.
  • 4. C. Skeel, ‘Cattle Trade bet. Wales and Eng.’, TRHS (ser. 4), ix. 135-58; P. Edwards, ‘Cattle Trade of Salop’, Midland Hist. vi. 72-94; P. Edwards, Horse Trade of Tudor and Stuart Eng.; VCH Salop v. (forthcoming).
  • 5. Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (ser. 2), ii. 281; Salop RO, 6001/3359, ff. 3-4; E112/37/84.
  • 6. T.C. Mendenhall, Shrewsbury Drapers and Welsh Wool Trade; J.G. Jenkins, Welsh Woollen Industry; E. Kerridge, Textile Manufactures in Early Mod. Eng. 19.
  • 7. REQ 2/301/102. London exports are calculated from Mendenhall, 13-14, 53-62, and represent a minimum, as customs officials did not always distinguish between Welsh and Manchester cottons.
  • 8. Mendenhall, 120-32; Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. iii. 270.
  • 9. Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. iii. 295, 300, 315, 320-2, 331-2, 347; Salop RO, 6001/290.
  • 10. C142/252/41; List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 119.
  • 11. H. Owen and J.B. Blakeway, Hist. Shrewsbury, i. 538, 568; Salop RO, 3365/2617/108; Stuart Royal Procs. ed. J.F. Larkin and P.L. Hughes, i. 67-8; Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (ser. 2), x. 306; Salop RO, 6001/290.
  • 12. Salop RO, 3365/2617/108; CJ, i. 154a, 170b-1a, 201a-b, 936a. Barker’s return is in C219/35/2/35; Harris’s does not survive.
  • 13. CJ, i. 195a, 201; C219/35/2/36.
  • 14. APC, 1613-14, pp. 9-10, 34-40, 310-11, 351-5.
  • 15. Salop RO, 3365/2502; decree in Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. xlvii. 70-1.
  • 16. Vis. Salop (Harl. Soc. xxviii), 27-8; Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (ser. 2), vi. 276.
  • 17. Trans. Salop Arch. Soc (ser. 3), v. 128; Owen and Blakeway, i. 543; St. Chad’s, Shrewsbury, 33; THOMAS OWEN.
  • 18. C142/374/86; Salop RO, 946/B/752, 755-6; Owen and Blakeway, i. 532.
  • 19. Mendenhall, 138-40; APC, 1600-1, pp. 387-9; D. Dean, Law-making and Soc. in late Elizabethan Eng. 138-40.
  • 20. Mendenhall, 140. For the Elizabethan background of the London alnage, see G.D. Ramsay, Wilts. Woollen Industry, 54-8.
  • 21. E112/37/84, 109.
  • 22. E112/94/475; E124/1, f. 258; Salop RO, 1831/14, letter of 30 Apr. 1602; 1831/6/1, pp. 347-8; 1831/2/1, f. 19v.
  • 23. Salop RO, 1831/6/1, p. 352; CJ, i. 232b, 986a; SR, iv. 1051.
  • 24. AO1/594/1; C2/Jas.I/U4/8; C8/10/102; Mendenhall, 140-2; Salop RO, 1831/6/1, pp. 356-7; 1831/14, letter of 20 Sept. 1605.
  • 25. Salop RO, 1831/14, letter of 1 Mar. 1605/6; CJ, i. 270b; CLRO, Rep. 27, f. 165v; Bowyer Diary, 47, 290-1.
  • 26. CJ, i. 275b, 281b; Salop RO, 1831/6/1, p. 358; 1831/14, letters of 1 Mar., 8 Mar., 18 Mar. 1605/6.
  • 27. Salop RO, 1831/14, letters of 1 Mar. 1605/6, 13 Apr., 1 Nov. 1606; LJ, ii. 402a, 408-9, 412a, 423a; SR, iv. 1092.
  • 28. Salop RO, 1831/6/1, pp. 358, 362; 1831/6/2, ff. 1v-5, 26-27v; 1831/14, letter of 1 Nov. 1606 and enclosure; C8/10/102; C2/Jas.I/U4/8.
  • 29. Mendenhall, 68-74; Salop RO, 6001/290. Export values are calculated at 2s. per goad.
  • 30. Salop RO, 1831/2/1, ff. 22v-23v; 1831/6/2, ff. 1, 3v-5v; 1831/14, letter of 6 May 1609; C66/1799/2.
  • 31. Salop RO, 1831/6/2, f. 9; Coventry Archives, PA 100/12/1-35.
  • 32. Salop RO, 1831/14, letter of 19 Feb. 1609/10; CJ, i. 399a.
  • 33. Select Charters of Trading Cos. ed. C.T. Carr (Selden Soc. xxviii), 62-78; Salop RO, 1831/2/1, f. 24v; 1831/6, resolution of 11 Aug. [1611]; 1831/6/2, f. 13; 1831/14, letter of 24 June 1611.
  • 34. Salop RO, 1831/6/2, f. 16; 1831/14/26-8; 3365/2617/164.
  • 35. Mendenhall, 147-8; Salop RO, 1831/2/1, ff. 26-7; 1831/6/2, ff. 17-18; APC, 1613-14, pp. 9-10, 34-40, 51-3, 191-2; SP14/112/40 (misdated to 1620 in CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 117).
  • 36. CSP Dom. 1619-23, pp. 116-17; APC, 1619-21, pp. 63, 115, 122, 129-30, 135, 138; SP14/112/41-2, 14/113/57.
  • 37. CJ, i. 592b, 605b, 626a, 629a; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 10; SR, iv. 1083; CD 1621, iii. 330-1; C. Russell, PEP, 118.
  • 38. CJ, i. 987b.
  • 39. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 35; NLW, 9055E/651.
  • 40. CD 1621, iv. 95; Salop RO, 1831/6/