Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the burgesses
Number of voters:
33 in 16281
|aft. 7 May 1624||John Hampden|
|SIR ALEXANDER DENTON|
|c. May 1625||JOHN HAMPDEN|
|24 Jan. 1626||SIR SAMPSON DARRELL|
|29 Feb. 1628||JOHN HAMPDEN|
Wendover’s development as a market town during the early medieval period was assisted by its location on the high ground at the western edge of the Chilterns and the fact that the main road from Aylesbury to London passed through the parish.2 Under the Tudors and early Stuarts it increased in prosperity. By 1620 its houses were concentrated around West Street, with further dwellings in North Street and South Street; the church and former manor house lay half a mile to the west.3 The architectural evidence suggests that the early seventeenth century witnessed building activity both inside and outside the town.4 The population may have risen from about 500 in the mid-1520s to about 900 by 1660.5
The earliest record of Wendover as a borough dates from 1227 or 1228; however the town was never incorporated and remained under the lordship of the owner of the manor. The chief official was the bailiff, who held office for a year; there were in addition two constables.6 On being sold by the Crown in 1564, Wendover was divided into two manors, namely Wendover Borough and Wendover Forrens. However, by the mid-1570s both were in the possession of the Hawtrey family, whose seat at Chequers was situated some five or so miles to the south west. In 1613 they were owned by Mary, daughter of Sir William Hawtrey and widow of Sir Francis Wolley†, who retained possession of them until her death in the late 1630s.7
During the early fourteenth century Wendover returned Members to Parliament three times, but thereafter its representation lapsed.8 The first attempt to restore the town to the franchise was made in May 1621, when Wendover, along with two other Buckinghamshire boroughs and the town of Hertford, submitted petitions to the committee for privileges and returns. The decision taken by the House in March of that year to restore the franchise to Ilchester and Pontefract may have stimulated their applications. The petitions were reported to the Commons on 18 May by the chairman of the committee, Sir George More, with a recommendation that writs should be issued to all four boroughs. However, on the motion of the solicitor general, (Sir) Robert Heath, the Commons ordered a delay for reflection, after which the boroughs were to submit their charters to the privileges committee, who would also hear the king’s counsel. Wendover, of course, did not have a charter, and it is likely that Heath, who was presumably aware that James I believed that the Commons was already too large, was trying to frustrate the borough’s petition. On 24 Nov. the Commons ordered that the boroughs should have their hearing at the privileges committee the following Thursday, with the king’s counsel present, but the crisis which subsequently engulfed the third Jacobean Parliament the following month, leading to its dissolution, ensured that the case was not reported back to the House.9
When the fourth Jacobean Parliament met in 1624 the case of Wendover and the other Buckinghamshire boroughs which had petitioned for re-enfranchisement was raised on 25 Feb. by Sir William Fleetwood II, who sat for the county. The issue was again referred to the privileges committee, at which Heath was to be given a hearing. In the committee Heath, who had apparently been ordered by James to frustrate the cause, tried to delay a ruling. However, thanks to both William Hakewill, who owned a house just outside Wendover from 1616 and acted as counsel for the boroughs, and John Hampden, the most prominent local landowner, who paid the costs, the committee came down in favour of re-enfranchisement. Their recommendation was reported to the Commons on 4 May, which ordered writs to be issued for the return of Members.10 These were dispatched on 7 May,11 and although no return now survives the borough subsequently elected John Hampden and Sir Alexander Denton of Hillesden.12
Denton probably owed his election to the junior branch of the Hampden family, based at Hartwell in Buckinghamshire. At his death in 1618 Sir Alexander Hampden† of Hartwell owned a Crown lease of Wendover parsonage, two thirds of which he bequeathed to his brother Christopher, who settled in the borough. Sir Alexander Hampden appointed Denton, who had married the daughter of another of Sir Alexander’s brothers, overseer of his will.13
Hampden was again returned for the borough in 1625, 1626 and 1628, suggesting that he had a prescriptive claim to one of the seats. How far he influenced the choice of Members for the other is unclear. His brother, Richard, was certainly chosen in 1625; however Sir Sampson Darrell, returned for the senior seat in 1626, presumably owed his election to his father-in-law, Christopher Hampden, while Mary Wolley was probably responsible for the return of her kinsman Ralph Hawtrey in 1628.
In 1624 the Commons had ‘refused to give any direction for the manner of electing… or who should be the electors’ in the newly enfranchised borough. In the only legible return to survive from this period, that for 1628, the parties on the borough side were 33 named individuals, described as burgesses of the borough of Wendover.14 None of the borough’s representatives in the Commons in the 1620s raised matters of local concern.
Authors: Christopher Thompson / Ben Coates
- 1. C219/41B/75.
- 2. VCH Bucks. iii. 20-31.
- 3. M. Summerell, B. Samuels, A. Mead and P. Eckett, Bk. of Wendover, 105-6, 108.
- 4. VCH Bucks. iii. 20-2; Summerell et al. 119-20.
- 5. Summerell et al. 36. These are rough estimates.
- 6. VCH Bucks. iii. 22.
- 7. Ibid. 25.
- 8. OR.
- 9. CJ, i. 624a-b, 643b; CD 1621, iii. 286; iv. 360; E. de Villiers, ‘Parlty. bors. restored by the House of Commons, 1621-41’, EHR, lxvii. 177-8.
- 10. CJ, i. 673a, 697b; ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 51v; Eg. 2723, f. 104r-v; De Villiers, 178-82.
- 11. C231/4, f. 165.
- 12. The Names of the Knights, Citizens, Burgesses for the Boroughs and Barons for the Ports (1625), unpag. See also Eg. 2723, f. 104v. This ms was printed, with inaccuracies, in W. Browne, Notitia Parliamentaria (1730), i. 138-41, where Denton’s surname is mis-transcribed as Unton.
- 13. W.H. Smyth, Addenda to the Aedes Hartwellianae, 115-17; HP Commons 1558-1603, ii. 244; Vis. Bucks. (Harl. lviii), 171. The exact nature of the relationship between the two branches of the Hampden family is uncertain, but as it dates from the late 14th cent. was fairly distant by the 17th cent. VCH Bucks. ii. 301.
- 14. CJ, i. 697b; C219/41B/75.