Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the burgesses and freeholders
Number of voters:
at least 14 in 1620
|27 Feb. 1604||SIR ROBERT NAPPER|
|c. Mar. 1614||JOHN FREKE|
|24 Dec. 1620||(SIR) WILLIAM PITT|
|2 Feb. 1624||(SIR) WILLIAM PITT|
|23 Apr. 1625||(SIR) WILLIAM PITT|
|20 Jan. 1626||SIR NATHANIEL NAPPER|
|22 Feb. 1628||SIR JOHN MELLER|
A substantial medieval town, Wareham was important enough to begin sending representatives to Parliament in 1302. However, by the early seventeenth century it had long been superseded as a port by Poole, and was noted chiefly for ‘fair houses inhabited as much by gentlemen almost as by tradesmen’. The continuing existence of five parishes attested to its former prosperity, but these benefices now provided only a meagre living for most of the incumbents.1 Still merely a borough by prescription, Wareham was governed by a mayor, six ‘burgesses’, two constables, and a steward. The relatively informal nature of these arrangements evidently confused Francis James*, who, after nearly three decades of dealings with the town, mistakenly referred to the burgesses as aldermen or assistants.2 Wareham’s election returns were generally made out in the name of the mayor and burgesses, occasionally also referring to other freeholders or free tenants, but the precise scope of the franchise is unclear.3
During the Elizabethan era, Wareham’s electoral patronage had lain primarily with the Rogers family of Bryanston, a major Dorset gentry line. However, their influence was declining by the turn of the century, and was not felt at all in the early Stuart period. In 1604 the borough returned two of the county’s best-known lawyers, Sir Robert Napper and Francis James, apparently without any local gentry intervention. Six years later, a group of townsmen purchased Wareham manor from the Crown, thereby removing any prospect of political pressure from the government. Nevertheless, new gentry patrons then emerged to dominate the borough’s elections for the remainder of this period.4
William Pitt, who had acquired four of Wareham’s advowsons, sat for the borough in every Parliament from 1614 to 1625. On the first of these occasions he was partnered by his kinsman John Freke. He also unsuccessfully requested a seat in 1624 for his son Edward*. However, he squandered his influence in the town through a prolonged dispute with the inhabitants over his ecclesiastical patronage. Shortly after the 1625 election he appointed one of his own relatives to two of the livings, despite local pleas for some of these benefices to be amalgamated, and his family’s political interest was lost until after the Restoration.5
Pitt’s colleague in 1621 was John Trenchard, who owned the manor of Bestwall, just outside the town. He retained his seat in the next two Parliaments, in 1624 benefiting from the canvassing of Sir Francis Ashley*.6 In 1626 Trenchard in turn lost out to two rival gentlemen with strong property interests in the Isle of Purbeck, Napper’s son Sir Nathaniel, and the latter’s kinsman, Edward Lawrence. Napper also secured one seat in 1628 for his son Gerard, but the senior Member on that occasion was Trenchard’s cousin, Sir John Meller.7
Author: John. P. Ferris
- 1. OR.; T. Gerard, Survey of Dorset, 57; Procs. Dorset Nat. Hist. and Arch. Soc. lxxv. 115-17.
- 2. Hutchins, Dorset, i. 82; PROB 11/127, f. 343.
- 3. C219/35/1/118; 219/37/94; 219/39/92.
- 4. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 154-5; Hutchins, i. 82.
- 5. Procs. Dorset Nat. Hist. and Arch. Soc. lxxv. 115-17; The Ancestor, x. 194-5; Add. 29974, ff. 74, 76, 154; 29976, f. 93.
- 6. Hutchins, i. 415-16; Add. 29974, f. 76.
- 7. Hutchins, iii. 125, 236; Vis. Dorset (Harl. Soc. xx), 64; Vis. Hants (Harl. Soc. lxiv), 10.