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|?15 Mar. 1604||SIR ROBERT STANFORD|
|SIR EDWARD LITTLETON I|
|27 Aug. 1607||SIR JOHN EGERTON vice Stanford, deceased|
|15 Nov. 1610||FRANCIS TRENTHAM vice Littleton, incapacitated|
|1614||(SIR) WALTER CHETWYND|
|30 Nov. 1620||SIR WILLIAM BOWYER II|
|22 Jan. 1624||SIR WILLIAM BOWYER II|
|SIR EDWARD LITTLETON II|
|?5 May 16251||SIR SIMON WESTON|
|19 Jan. 1626||SIR SIMON WESTON|
|SIR WILLIAM BOWYER II|
|14 Feb. 1628||SIR HERVEY BAGOT , bt.|
Described by Camden as ‘in form of a lozenge, broader in the midst and growing narrow at the ends’, Staffordshire ‘for the most part consisteth of barren land’ and ‘doth … abound with poor people’, or so said the county’s magistrates on attempting to obtain a reduction in the county’s Ship Money quota in 1637. While the northern part of the county was certainly hilly, ‘and so less fruitful’, the central region was, according to Camden, ‘more plentiful, clad with woods and embroidered gallantly with corn fields and meadows’, being ‘watered with the river Trent’. Moreover, in the south coal and iron was mined.2 The settlement pattern reflected the varying geography, with compact villages in the central arable region and small hamlets and isolated farms in the largely pastoral north and south. The years between 1610 and 1630 were periods of frequent dearth and widespread social dislocation in the county, with destitute travellers frequently appearing in the better-kept parish registers.3
As in the late Elizabethan period, elections were almost certainly held at the shire hall in Stafford.4 In 1610 the corporation of Stafford purchased ‘a pottle of sack’ for the sheriff’s refreshment at the election of Trentham.5 The precise date of the 1604 election is a matter for conjecture, as the indenture does not survive. The Staffordshire gentry were well aware that elections were meant to be held on the next county day after the sheriff received the writ, for in 1604 Sir Robert Stanford argued that if the sheriff received the writ on a county day he was obliged to proceed to an election then and there.6 On 5 Feb. the sheriff, Walter Bagot†, was informed that the next county court would be held on 16 Feb.,7 but he did not receive the writ until about the 24th. As county days were held every 28 days, this suggests that the election took place on 15 March.8 That date is certainly compatible with an undated letter from one of the candidates in which it is stated that the election was held on a Thursday.9 However, the requirement to hold elections at the next county day was not always observed in practice. On 14 Apr. 1625, at the county day in Stafford ‘when the knights of Parliament should have been elected’, Ralph Sneyd delivered to the sheriff a new commission of the peace,10 as a result of which the election seems to have been delayed by three weeks.
In contrast to the 1590s, the electoral politics of early seventeenth-century Staffordshire appear to have been marked by peace and, outwardly at least, consensus. The execution in 1601 of Robert Devereux, 2nd earl of Essex, the dominant magnate in late Elizabethan Staffordshire, had removed the prime cause of conflict, as Essex had attempted to nominate both knights of the shire in the teeth of gentry opposition. However, political conflict was contained rather than eliminated.
At the beginning of this period the county was deeply divided by religion. Under Elizabeth Staffordshire had been notorious for its recusants, and Catholics remained a powerful force under James. In the aftermath of the 1604 election, Sir Edward Littleton I* remarked that ‘the common speech is that the assembly at Stafford on Thursday was rather to choose a pope then a knight for the Parliament because they were all of that tribe’. Before 1601, Protestant interests in the county coalesced around Essex. Indeed, the Protestant credentials of the earl’s supporters gave his faction a coherence which undoubtedly contributed to its continuance as a political force after Essex’s execution.11 Among the most notable members of this group was Sir Thomas Gerard I†, who had been one of Essex’s nominees in 1593. Gerard stayed loyal to the queen during Essex’s rising and had consequently been rewarded with the position of custos rotulorum. He also sat for Staffordshire in 1601.
During the Jacobean period the Devereux faction regained their leader. Essex’s son was restored to his father’s lands and titles in 1604, was appointed lord lieutenant in 1612 and succeeded Gerrard as custos in 1617.12 As lord lieutenant, Essex frequently appointed deputies from families that had been associated with his father. His earliest deputies were Sir Walter Aston, Walter Bagot, Sir Simon Weston* and Thomas, 4th Lord Cromwell. Aston and Bagot were both sons of men to whom the 2nd earl had written in 1593 to promote his parliamentary nominations, and Cromwell’s father and Weston had been knighted by the 2nd earl in Dublin. Cromwell’s father and Littleton had been fined for their parts in Essex’s rising, in which Weston was also accused of having played a part.13
In the 1604 election conflict was avoided, mainly because the Devereux faction proved willing to accommodate the local Catholic community. The sheriff Walter Bagot, was one of their number, whose partisanship initially caused alarm among other sections of the Staffordshire gentry. On 20 Jan. the recusant Philip Draycourt urged Bagot to ‘work it mildly and not with too great forwardness’.14 Bagot’s own legal advisor, William Browne, reinforced this advice on 5 Feb. when he suggested that ‘if Sir Edward Littleton and Sir Robert Stanford carry off the election [it] will be well enough liked of and is least trouble’.15 By this Browne meant that such a result would see both sides of the religious divide represented, as the Protestant Littleton had been the unsuccessful Essex candidate of 1597, while Stanford, who came from a largely recusant family, would be acceptable to Catholic sympathizers. Bagot accordingly contacted Stanford, who had agreed to stand after being urged to do so by William Paget, son of Thomas, Lord Paget, the major patron of Staffordshire Catholics until his attainder in 1587.16
The pairing of Littleton and Stanford was clearly ideal, but Bagot’s plans were almost wrecked by Sir Walter Harcourt†, who had upset the applecart in 1593, when he had forced one of the 2nd Earl of Essex’s candidates to withdraw.17 Despite claiming that his name had been put forward by his friends without his knowledge, Harcourt was heavily indebted and needed the protection conferred by parliamentary privilege. Writing to Bagot on 17 Feb. he protested that, on trying to pull out, rumours had been spread that he was withdrawing to avoid certain defeat, and consequently he was forced to stand to avoid disgrace. However, his constant letters to Bagot inquiring whether the sheriff had received the election writ, and an attempt to have Sir Edward I outlawed, suggest that his purported reluctance to stand was insincere. Bagot subsequently arranged a meeting to reconcile Littleton and Harcourt, who evidently regarded Bagot as his friend, but, as it turned out, Bagot kept Littleton informed of Harcourt’s actions.18 Moreover, Bagot, who knew that he was heavily indebted, seems to have exerted pressure on Harcourt to stand aside. He may have reminded him that in January a Proclamation had been issued forbidding the election of bankrupts to Parliament.19 This would explain why, on 11 Feb., Harcourt assured Bagot that he was in the process of settling all his debts, and why he repeatedly argued that the Proclamation did not have the force of law. However, as executions for debt against him accumulated in Bagot’s hands, Harcourt was ultimately forced to withdraw.20
There is no evidence that the county came this close to a contest again during this period. Indeed, the indentures for 1620, 1624, 1626 and 1628 suggest that a consensus was reached. Three men – (Sir) Walter Chetwynd, Matthew Cradock* and Ralph Sneyd – were parties to all four indentures, and several others, among them Thomas Crompton, appear more than once. The indentures for the 1607 and 1610 by-elections were signed by minor figures. Of the eight men named in the 1607 indenture, for example, five were yeomen, of whom two were illiterate.21 The fact that such minor individuals were permitted to sign suggests that turnout was low, and that these by-elections were uncontroversial.
After 1604, consensus was established through preliminary meetings of the magistrates, who selected the candidates. The 1620-1 accounts of the corporation of Stafford include payments for wine for the justices of the peace when the county Members were chosen as well as for burnt sack for Chetwynd, the deputy custos rotolorum, and the sheriff, who all apparently met together in the ‘office’ about the election.22 In 1628 the magistrates ordered the high constables ‘to bring in the freeholders to the county town, and to entreat them to attend and give their voices for such gentlemen as shall be agreed upon by the more part of the magistrates’.23 These meetings provided a mechanism to enable factions among the Staffordshire gentry to avoid contests by parcelling out the two county seats among themselves.
Until 1628 one seat always went to the Devereux faction. After Littleton became incapacitated by illness in 1610 he was replaced by Francis Trentham, whose father had been a trustee for Littleton’s father-in-law, Sir William Devereux.24 In 1614 and 1621 the Essex candidate was Thomas Crompton, one of Essex’s deputy lieutenants in the early 1620s and 1630s, whose mother was an Aston. In 1624 the Essex candidate was the son of Sir Edward Littleton I. Each of these men held the junior seat, and it is possible that Crompton’s success in twice becoming the Devereux candidate was due to the reluctance of higher status members of the faction, such as Sir Walter Aston, to accept the less prestigious position. However, in 1625 the Essex candidate, Sir Simon Weston, one of the trustees appointed by Essex to manage his estates when he was abroad in the early 1620s, took the senior place, which he retained in 1626.
The non-Essex element in Staffordshire politics seems to have been a rather diverse force. Stanford’s election in 1604 suggests that the Pagets were still significant, and Sir Walter Chetwynd, elected in 1614, was the son of a close ally of Thomas, Lord Paget.25 Lord chancellor Ellesmere may also have played an important part in the early Jacobean period, as Sir John Egerton of Wrinehill, Stanford’s replacement in 1607, was his kinsman. Ellesmere was also responsible for Chetwynd’s appointment as deputy custos rotulorum of Staffordshire.26 In 1621, 1624 and 1626 the non-Essex seat went to Sir William Bowyer, who lived close to the border with Cheshire and does not seem to have been attached to any particular faction in Staffordshire during the 1620s, perhaps making him an acceptable compromise candidate.
The election of Richard Erdeswicke in 1625 suggests that for a short period the duke of Buckingham became a force in Staffordshire politics. The death of Ellesmere in 1617 left Chetwynd temporarily without a patron at Court to counter Essex’s influence. However, in 1623, at Buckingham’s instigation, Chetwynd married his daughter to Erdeswicke’s half-brother, George Digby, a client of the duke’s.27 In 1624 Chetwynd helped ensure the election of Buckingham’s client, Charles Glemham, at Newcastle-under-Lyme, and in 1625 he probably provided the main support for Erdeswicke. However, Erdeswicke’s rapid slide into insolvency meant that Buckingham’s excursion into Staffordshire politics was brief.
In 1628 Essex achieved the goal that had eluded his father, succeeding in filling both the Staffordshire places with his nominees. Walter Bagot’s son, Sir Hervey, took the first seat while Thomas Crompton took the second. Essex’s success was undoubtedly due mainly to the fact that he had refused to pay the Forced Loan, for which offence he was removed from the Staffordshire lieutenancy and commission of the peace.28 However, he may also have benefited from showing more tact than his father. In the elections for the Long Parliament, Essex let it be known that he was leaving the selection of the Staffordshire knights of the shire to the county’s free choice, whereupon one prominent Staffordshire gentleman inquired of one of the deputy lieutenants which individuals Essex wanted to see elected.29
Author: Ben Coates
- 1. J.C. Wedgwood, ‘Parl. Hist. of Staffs. 1603-1780’, Staffs. Hist. Colls. (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. 1920 and 1922), p. 44. However Wedgwood gives no source for this date and the indenture does not survive.
- 2. W. Camden, Britannia (1610), p. 581; SP16/345/76.
- 3. D. Palliser, ‘Dearth and disease in Staffs.’ Rural Change and Urban Growth ed. C.W. Chalkin and M.A. Havinden, 55, 64.
- 4. STAC 5/L11/24.
- 5. Staffs. RO, D1323/E/1, f. 58.
- 6. FSL, L.a.296, 527, 886.
- 7. FSL, L.a. 296.
- 8. FSL, L.a. 528; J.J. Alexander, ‘Dates of county court days’ BIHR, iii. 89.
- 9. Staffs. Hist. Colls. ed. A.G. Petti (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. ser. 4. ix), 77; FSL, L.a.528.
- 10. Staffs. RO, Q/SO/2, f. 44.
- 11. Staffs. Hist. Colls. (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. ser. 4. ix), x. 43, 77; Letter-Books of Sir Amias Poulet ed. J. Morris, 98, 103, 251, 269, 275.
- 12. Staffs. Hist. Colls. ed. J.C. Wedgwood (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. 1912), pp. 326, 327; Sainty, Lords Lieutenants, 32.
- 13. FSL, L.a. 469-70; 751; Longleat, Devereux Pprs. (IHR microfilm), Box. vii. no. 106; CP, iii. 558.
- 14. FSL, L.a.429; Recusant Roll, 1592-3 ed. M.M.C. Calthrop, (Cath. Rec. Soc. xviii)