Shropshire

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:

about 1,100 in 16771

Elections

DateCandidate
Feb. 1604SIR RICHARD LEVESON
 SIR ROBERT NEEDHAM
by 22 Jan. 1606SIR ROGER OWEN vice Leveson, deceased
c. Mar. 1614SIR ROGER OWEN
 RICHARD NEWPORT
21 Dec. 1620SIR ROBERT VERNON
 SIR FRANCIS KYNASTON
c. Jan. 1624(SIR) RICHARD NEWPORT
 SIR ANDREW CORBET
5 May 1625(SIR) RICHARD NEWPORT
 SIR ANDREW CORBET
12 Jan. 1626(SIR) ROWLAND COTTON
 RICHARD LEVESON
c. Mar. 1628(SIR) RICHARD NEWPORT
 SIR ANDREW CORBET

Main Article

Early Stuart Shropshire enjoyed a rapidly expanding agricultural economy: the lowland plains in the north produced beef and cheese, while the southern hills specialized in high-grade wool. Meanwhile, Ludlow’s dwindling broadcloth industry was surpassed by Shrewsbury’s booming trade in the finishing of Welsh cottons; the coal measures at Broseley began to be exploited on an industrial scale; and the iron industry on Cannock Chase, Staffordshire spilled over into the eastern fringes of the shire. The benefits of this prosperity accrued to the county’s elites, both the old gentry families and those who had made their fortune as merchants in Shrewsbury and London; all invested heavily in the shire’s ex-monastic estates.2

Shropshire lacked a dominant political interest in this period. There were no resident peers: the Howards regained their ancient lordships of Clun and Oswestry in 1603, but their positions at Court meant that they were absentee landlords, using their estates as a financial rather than a political asset; Sir Thomas Egerton† (Lord Ellesmere from 1603) owned lands in the north of the county, but was similarly confined to the metropolis as lord chancellor; and while the Shropshire Talbots inherited the earldom of Shrewsbury in 1618, their Catholicism disqualified them from office.3 The most influential institution within the county was the Council in the Marches, based at Ludlow, which numbered several county families among its membership, but had little influence over local administrative affairs. Successive lords president and justices wielded some electoral influence at Bishop’s Castle, Bridgnorth and (from 1614) Ludlow, but there is no evidence of any official involvement in the shire elections.

In the absence of aristocratic influence the county seats were shared among the local gentry by mutual consensus prior to the election, apparently with an informal agreement that no shire knight should be returned for two consecutive parliaments. There were exceptions to this rule, but it ensured that no single interest predominated. In practice, a loosely related caucus of landowners from the northern half of the county (lying nearest to the county court at Shrewsbury) controlled the shire elections. This does not appear to have created any significant tensions, partly because the gentry from the southern parts could apply to four local boroughs for parliamentary seats, and also because their estates were generally smaller than those of their northern counterparts. In the few instances where southern families did hold large estates, other circumstances kept them from standing: the Foxe estates around Ludlow were partitioned between three separate families; while the Lacons of Kinlet were denied influence through a combination of Catholicism and mounting debts. The county (unlike several of its parliamentary boroughs) had no substantial legislative agenda, though the knights of the shire were happy to support the Shrewsbury drapers in their dispute with the Welsh clothiers in 1621.4

In the second half of Elizabeth’s reign the Shropshire county seats were shared among eight local families: the Egertons, whose estates lay around Ellesmere; the Owens of Condover; the Leightons of Wattlesborough; the Bromleys of Shrawardine, whose main estates lay in Worcestershire; the Newports of High Ercall; the Corbets of Moreton Corbet and Child’s Ercall; the Levesons of Lilleshall, who also held lands in Staffordshire; and the Needhams of Shavington, whose chief estates lay in Cheshire but who were connected to many of Shropshire’s most prominent families by marriage. Several of these families were not available for election in 1604: John Egerton, knight of the shire in 1601, who was required to stand aside by tradition, was also preoccupied by a protracted dispute with the Stanley family; Sir Roger Owen of Condover (the other 1601 MP) was serving as sheriff; Robert Leighton of Wattlesborough, who had just succeeded to his estates, was under-age; while Sir Henry Bromley* fought and won a bruising contest for the Worcestershire seats. Among the available alternatives, Sir Richard Leveson, fresh from his capture of a Portuguese carrack in 1602, was an obvious choice for the senior seat, while his junior partner Sir Robert Needham (previously knight of the shire in 1593) had inherited his estates two months earlier. Sir Francis Newport† of High Ercall and Sir Vincent Corbet of Moreton Corbet both recorded their assent to this choice by signing the election return.5

Leveson died on 2 Aug. 1605, and was replaced at a by-election by Sir Roger Owen, an influential figure within the Commons who was (unusually) re-elected in 1614. Needham, a much less prominent Member, never stood for election again. He was replaced in 1614 by Richard Newport, heir to the High Ercall estate, who cemented his electoral prospects by marrying a daughter of Sir John Leveson* only a few weeks before his return. Owen died before the next general election in December 1620, while Newport, in deference to local custom, transferred to Shrewsbury, presumably voluntarily, as he and his father both signed the return for Sir Robert Vernon and Sir Francis Kynaston. Vernon was doubtless backed by Needham, his brother-in-law, another signatory of the return, while Kynaston, a courtier, was promoted by his father, one of the county’s most active magistrates.6

In 1624 Vernon and Kynaston were succeeded by Newport and Sir Andrew Corbet, both of whom had recently inherited large estates in the north of the county. In April 1624 Newport presented Sir Francis Lacon as a recusant officeholder, who became one of the few men to be removed from office in the aftermath of the session.7 Newport and Corbet were re-elected in 1625, an unusual occurrence probably explained by the new king’s wish that those returned in 1624 should have their mandate renewed. The county reverted to a normal rotation in 1626, when Sir Rowland Cotton (whose late wife was another of Sir Robert Needham’s sisters) and Richard Leveson were elected, apparently upon a broad consensus, as Corbet, Kynaston, Newport and Vernon all signed the return. The gentry were reported to have petitioned against either the Benevolence or the Forced Loan in the autumn of 1626, warning ‘how dangerous this course might prove to stir up an insurrection’. However, lord president Northampton encountered no overt resistance to the Forced Loan, and any early problems were overcome by allocating some of the Loan money to pay off outstanding debts for coat and conduct money. After a hesitant start the county returned £2,997 to the Exchequer, a figure which represented 82 per cent of its original quota, and exceeded the national average of 72 per cent by a comfortable margin.8 There is no evidence of a contest in 1628, when Cotton transferred to Newcastle-under-Lyme, allowing Newport and Corbet to be returned for the shire. During the 1628 session Corbet made his views about recent events clear by moving for a vote of four subsidies rather than five in return for a royal undertaking not to levy another Forced Loan, while he joined in the widespread attacks on the duke of Buckingham in June.9

Author: Simon Healy

Notes

  • 1. Salop RO, 6001/286.
  • 2. P.J. Bowden, Wool Trade in Tudor and Stuart Eng. 30-1, 58, 81, 92; P. Edwards, ‘Cattle trade of Salop’, Midland Hist. vi. 72-94; SHREWSBURY; E. Kerridge, Textile Manufactures in Early Mod. Eng. 19, 177-9; B. Trinder, Industrial Rev. in Salop, 7-15.
  • 3. SIR ROBERT HOWARD; C142/345/146; 142/396/151.
  • 4. C142/235/111; 142/312/147; 142/448/89; CJ, i. 534b, 364b, 588-9; CD 1621, iii. 65-7; SHREWSBURY.
  • 5. C142/261/25; 142/290/101; C219/35/2/37; B. Coward, ‘Disputed Inheritances’, BIHR, xliv. 204-11.
  • 6. C142/312/158; 142/402/146; C219/37/195.