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 inhabitant householders

Number of voters:



c.22 Mar. 16141Sir Henry WALLOP 
 Sir Richard Gifford22
 Henry St. John*21
  Election declared void, 11 May 1614 
c. May 16142SIR HENRY WALLOP28
 Sir Walter Cope26
 Henry St. John*19

Main Article

Stockbridge, a small town situated where the road from Winchester to Salisbury crosses the Test, had been part of the duchy of Lancaster since the fourteenth century.3 Though enfranchised at the instigation of the chancellor of the duchy in 1563, it was never incorporated, and consequently its municipal institutions remained primitive. The bailiff, who acted as returning officer, was elected annually by the inhabitants at the court leet, while the franchise seems to have been confined to inhabitant householders paying borough rent.4 Throughout the period the manor and borough were leased from the duchy by Sir Richard Gifford who, through his tenantry, was able to dominate elections.5 Further electoral influence was exercised by the St. John family of nearby Farley Chamberlayne and the Sandys family of The Vyne, near Basingstoke.6

Under Elizabeth the duchy had exercised little electoral patronage in Stockbridge. Indeed, the only known request for a nomination, made in 1597 by the acting chancellor (Sir) Robert Cecil†, was unsuccessful.7 However, the chancellor in 1604, Sir John Fortescue*, was more assertive and, presumably with Gifford’s co-operation, successfully obtained a seat for his son, Sir William. The second place was taken by Sir Edwin Sandys who, though resident in Kent, was a distant cousin of William, 3rd Lord Sandys, of The Vyne. Before the 1614 election Lord Sandys again wrote to the bailiff asking for a nomination, but this time was refused.8 Sir Richard Gifford wanted the senior seat, and the electors initially indicated that they intended to choose Henry St. John in second place, ‘because his father and himself for good respects had oftentimes been burgesses in Parliament for the said borough’.9 The support for St. John irritated the veteran official Sir Thomas Parry, who had succeeded Fortescue as chancellor of the duchy in 1607. He sent ‘minatory’ letters nominating Sir Walter Cope*, master of the Wards, and warned St. John that ‘he should feel a greater power than he could resist, and that it would be ill taken of the state’ if he did not stand down.10 At the election the duchy was represented by its surveyor for southern England, but he seems to have allowed the initiative to pass to Gifford, styled ‘a great disturber of the election’ by one of the townsmen.11 Although Gifford finished top of the poll ‘for fear of revenge’, the electors, ‘notwithstanding that they had been much disturbed and threatened’, gave St. John only one vote less. Cope, meanwhile, came a poor third.12 Gifford, however, was now not certain that he wanted the seat, and subsequently persuaded the bailiff to delay sealing the indenture for a few days ‘for himself to consider whether he would serve in it, or to have one put in his place that they should like well of’. He was presumably awaiting the outcome of the county election, in which his brother-in-law Sir Henry Wallop* was a candidate. When news came of Wallop’s defeat the bailiff, allegedly assisted by a duchy pursuivant, tried to coerce the voters into electing Wallop and Cope. Indeed, one of St. John’s supporters was arrested on trumped-up charges and beaten. Five electors, however, refused to vote for either Wallop or Cope, and though eight others cast their votes for St. John and Wallop they subsequently disclaimed any support for the latter in a petition to the Commons’ privileges committee.13 St. John himself also petitioned the committee, thereby fuelling a widespread suspicion at Westminster that there was a secret undertaking to manage the Commons. Although Cope tried to have St. John’s complaints dismissed,14 the case was reported on 9 May by Nicholas Fuller. Moreover, Sir Edward Hoby* produced a petition signed by 21 of St. John’s supporters, one of whom had been arrested in London while two others had been threatened at the very door of Parliament. On the following day Parry’s letters to the Stockbridge freemen were read out. The chancellor’s conduct was clearly indefensible and he was expelled from the House. Sir Herbert Croft* subsequently moved to seat Gifford and St. John, but on 11 May the House declared the whole election void, and a fresh writ was issued.15 At the ensuing election, held under the auspices of a new bailiff sometime later that month, Wallop and Cope were re-elected, although considerable support for St. John still existed. Neither Member had taken their seat by 31 May, when Richard Connock* moved to admit them.16 A fresh petition from the electors against the new bailiff was referred to the privileges committee but never reported.17 St. John subsequently sued the original bailiff for a false return in the first election, and was awarded £40 damages.18

Gifford’s relationship with the townsmen of Stockbridge suffered a further blow in 1616 when, at the invitation of the inhabitants, a lawyer from Andover, the son of Peter Noyes*, held a court leet, claiming that Gifford’s rights had lapsed through neglect.19 The duchy upheld their principal tenant, however, and strengthened his hand by ordering that rents should be paid to him rather than the bailiff.20 At the next election, in December 1620, Gifford re-asserted his control of the senior seat, though on the indenture the bailiff carefully stated that both Members had been chosen freely and indifferently as the law required. The second seat went to Sir William Ayloffe, an Essex gentleman whose neighbour and in-law, William Fanshawe*, was the duchy’s northern auditor.21

In 1624 Gifford was re-elected alongside Sir Henry Holcroft, another Essex resident who may also have owed his return to Fanshawe, although he was also distantly related to the Sandys family. Following the election a petition was sent to the privileges committee claiming that the election had been held without due notice and in the absence of many electors.22 It also complained that ‘before the election [there were] two indentures, one ready sealed with Sir Richard Gifford’s name for one, and a blank left for the other’. However, as only three of the borough’s freemen signed the petition it is perhaps not surprising that the House upheld the election.23 If Holcroft was indeed a nominee of Fanshawe his return was the last in which the duchy played any part. Gifford’s colleague in the first two Caroline parliaments, Sir Thomas Bagehott, master of the harriers, lived in Southampton, and had various Hampshire connections that could have assisted his election. In 1628 Gifford was joined by Sir Henry Whithed, an active Hampshire magistrate who stood with the encouragement of the lord lieutenant, Lord Conway (Sir Edward Conway I*).24 Stockbridge was not included in the Ditchfield grant of Crown lands to the corporation of London that same year, but the alienation of the neighbouring manor of Somborne further diminished the duchy interest in the borough.25

Authors: Virginia C.D. Moseley / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 195.
  • 2. Hants RO, 44M69/G2/42.
  • 3. VCH Hants, iv. 484; R. Somerville, Hist. Duchy of Lancaster, i. 18, 37, 313n.
  • 4. Lansd. 256, ff. 113-16.
  • 5. Add. 38446, ff. 1, 3, 4, 16, 20-23.
  • 6. VCH Hants, iv. 444, 470, 484.
  • 7. HMC Hatfield, vii. 432.
  • 8. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 195.
  • 9. Hants RO, 44M69/G2/154.
  • 10. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 183, 195.
  • 11. Ibid. 182.
  • 12. Ibid. 178, 182; Hants RO, 44M69/G2/44.
  • 13. Hants RO, 44M69/G2/154; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 175.
  • 14. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 90.
  • 15. Ibid. 177-9, 187-94, 202-205; CD 1621, vii. 635; T.L. Moir, Addled Parl. 45, 102-3; SP99/16/21; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 528.
  • 16. Hants RO, 44M69/G2/42.
  • 17. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 323, 324, 327, 390, 391, 397.
  • 18. H. Hobart, Reports, (1678), p. 78.
  • 19. Add. 38446, ff. 11, 15.
  • 20. Ibid. f. 23.
  • 21. C219/37/225.
  • 22. ‘Earle 1624’, ff. 124, 125v; Lansd. 485, f. 21.
  • 23. CJ, i. 759a.
  • 24. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 556; Procs. 1628, vi. 166.
  • 25. VCH Hants, iv. 471.