Tamworth

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 corporation

Number of voters:

24

Elections

DateCandidate
1 Mar. 1604SIR PERCIVAL WILLOUGHBY
 SIR JOHN FERRERS
27 Mar. 1604SIR THOMAS BEAUMONT II vice Willoughby, chose to sit for Nottinghamshire
1614SIR THOMAS ROE
 SIR PERCIVAL WILLOUGHBY
28 Dec. 1620SIR THOMAS PUCKERING , bt.
 JOHN FERRAR
22 Jan. 1624JOHN WOODFORD
 JOHN WIGHTWICK
13 May 1625SIR THOMAS PUCKERING , bt.
 SIR RICHARD SKEFFINGTON
20 Jan. 1626SIR THOMAS PUCKERING , bt.
 (SIR) WALTER DEVEREUX
16 Feb. 1628SIR THOMAS PUCKERING , bt.
 (SIR) WALTER DEVEREUX

Main Article

Situated at the confluence of the rivers Tame and Anker, Tamworth was a Saxon foundation once favoured as a residence by the monarchs of Mercia. It was fairly small, even by early modern standards: by 1640 around 300 households clustered around its privately owned castle.1 Little is known of its economy, but by 1589 several inhabitants had erected corn mills to compete with those already there belonging to the queen.2 During the early seventeenth century Tamworth was considered a centre for recusancy. Its most prominent recusant was Humphrey Comberford, of the Moat House, in Lichfield Street. In 1606 Comberford’s property was searched after it was rumoured that seminary priests had resorted to his house. This led to the apprehension of three strangers, and to the discovery of a surplice, vestments and several popish books, all hidden under a bed.3 In 1626 Tamworth experienced a severe outbreak of plague, but neighbouring areas proved reluctant to contribute towards emergency poor relief.4 The borough received royal visits in 1619, 1621 and 1624, but details of these are scanty.5

Tamworth straddled the Staffordshire and Warwickshire border. Until 1560 both parts of the town enjoyed their own self-government, but in that year they were brought under one jurisdiction by a charter of incorporation, which created a governing body of 26 capital burgesses, of whom two were to be elected annually as bailiffs.6 Despite its incorporation, the borough continued to enjoy a curiously schizophrenic existence. Each bailiff was chosen from different sides of the town and at parliamentary elections the borough made two returns. Under Elizabeth one Member served for the Warwickshire side of the town, while the other represented the Staffordshire side.7 By 1604 the notion that each Member represented a different part of the town had broken down. Nevertheless the sheriffs of both Warwickshire and Staffordshire continued to receive separate writs and to make separate returns, even in the case of the second March 1604 election, which concerned only one of the borough’s two seats.8

Before its incorporation, Tamworth lacked parliamentary representation. The charter itself did not change this situation, but perhaps emboldened by its new-found status, in 1563 two Members were dispatched to Westminster; thereafter the borough enjoyed the franchise by prescription. Voting was restricted to members of the corporation. In 1640 Tamworth’s householders complained that they too ‘ought to have their voices in the election of the burgesses’, but significantly they did not claim that they had ever actually exercised this right. When, in 1669, it was suggested that the commonalty was entitled to vote, the committee for privileges ruled that the franchise lay exclusively in the corporation.9

Under Elizabeth, control of Tamworth’s parliamentary seats lay largely in the hands of the owner of nearby Drayton Bassett manor. Before 1588 this interest was exercised by Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester; thereafter it passed to his step-son Robert Devereux, 2nd earl of Essex. In 1586 Sir Humphrey Ferrers of Tamworth Castle, the borough’s hereditary high steward, exploited Leicester’s absence in the Netherlands by obtaining the junior seat for his son John. Mindful of this intrusion, Leicester’s successor, Essex, had himself named high steward of Tamworth by the queen in 1588. At the same time, he obtained both parliamentary seats for his nominees. Essex was subsequently forced to share control of the constituency with Ferrers, however, following the marriage of John Ferrers to a daughter of the lord keeper (John Puckering†). On the earl’s execution in February 1601, the Drayton Bassett interest temporarily fell into abeyance.

In 1604 Sir John Ferrers took the junior seat. The senior burgess-ship was conferred on Sir Percival Willoughby, whose property at Middleton lay five miles from Tamworth in Warwickshire. Willoughby subsequently plumped for Nottinghamshire, but nominated in his stead Sir Thomas Beaumont II, the cousin of his colliery manager. At the following general election Willoughby again came in for Tamworth, having given way at Nottinghamshire to Sir Gervase Clifton. His fellow Member was Sir Thomas Roe, whose patrimony lay in Gloucestershire. Roe is not known to have been connected to either Ferrers or the young 3rd earl of Essex, who was by now active as a parliamentary patron. By the time of the elections to the third Jacobean Parliament, Willoughby was so impoveris