III. Motives for Membership

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

Few constituencies in the early seventeenth century had any difficulty in finding men ready and willing to stand for election. On the contrary, from time to time many places were inundated with hopeful candidates. At Reading in February 1628 there were eight applicants for two seats, while at Sandwich in December 1620 there were nine, among them Sir Roger Nevinson, who dropped out before the election. At Nottingham in January 1624 there were no less than ten ‘suitors for the burgess’s places’.1 The elections to the 1614 Parliament were marked, as Sir Francis Bacon later recalled, by a ‘great suing, standing and striving’ for places, and numerous candidates, among them Sir William Barwicke at Thetford, Emmanuel Giffard at Reading and Sir Thomas Hardres at Rochester, were left empty handed.2 Over the course of the early seventeenth century, membership of the Commons grew in its attractiveness, for despite the continued expansion of the House’s membership there was a sharp rise in the number of contested elections. In 1604 only seven elections are known to have been contested on the day, yet by 1624 that number had risen almost five-fold, to around thirty-three.3 In 1628 there were at least thirty-five.4

Many men clearly relished their time in Parliament, and repeatedly stood for re-election. For instance, Robert Berry of Ludlow represented his native borough in nine consecutive parliaments between 1581 and 1614, while William Cage of Ipswich and Thomas Bowyer of Leythorne in Sussex sat in all eight of the parliaments that met between 1614 and November 1640. Those who failed to find a seat on one occasion often tried again. In 1626 Sir Robert Poyntz, his status recently enhanced by a knighthood of the Bath, secured the junior knighthood of the shire for Gloucestershire after two previously unsuccessful attempts. Two years later, in 1628, Henry Darley was finally rewarded for his persistence with a place at Scarborough, having in the previous two general elections tried without success to secure election at Aldborough. However, it was unusual for those who had failed twice in a row to put themselves forward a third time if they had never sat before. Gilbert Boun at Nottingham, James Ellis at Leicester, William Gardiner at Steyning and Samuel Short at Rye are just some of those who gave up after trying to win a seat at two successive elections. Those who sat in the Commons once were often eager to repeat the experience, but though some individuals had little difficulty in gaining re-election – Sir James Whitelocke, for instance, had the offer of three seats in 1614 – others found the feat hard to accomplish. In 1625 a young Sir Edward Dering entered the Commons for the first time, but despite repeated attempts he proved unable to sit again until November 1640. Sir Henry Goodyer was returned for West Looe in 1604, but when he tried to secure re-election in 1614, and again in 1620, his efforts came to nothing.

On the face of it, the fierce competition for seats and the dogged persistence of many of those who had been defeated is surprising, as service in the Commons was not an entirely attractive prospect. In the first place, there was the cost of getting elected to consider. Many boroughs levied a fee from outsiders for the freedom of the borough, without which a man was legally not entitled to stand. Often this fee was waived or returned to the candidate if he agreed to serve without wages, but such generosity of spirit was by no means universal: at Leicester in 1604 Sir Henry Beaumont and Sir William Skipwith were obliged to part with £6 apiece.5 Where a candidate faced no opposition to his return the sums involved in getting elected were otherwise probably negligible, but a contest in a constituency with a large electorate inevitably involved the need for considerable outlay. Owen Wynn reckoned that the cost of contesting Caernarvonshire’s knighthood of the shire would run to £50 ‘at least’, which perhaps explains why Hugh ap Hugh of Keven y Garlleg declared that he would have ‘nothing to do with the knightship’.6 In March 1624 Sir John Cutts and Sir John Cage ran up a bill of more than £155 for ‘meat, drink, wine, diet, lodging for themselves and horsemeat and stable room for their horses’ prior to the Cambridgeshire election that month.7 However this sum paled by comparison with the charges run up by their opponents Sir Edward Peyton and Sir Simeon Steward in housing and feeding their supporters in Cambridge for four days, which amounted to a hefty £248 13s. 7d.8 Faced with the prospect of incurring expenditure on such a scale, many must have thought twice about standing for Parliament. One reason given by Sir Gamaliel Capell for withdrawing from the Essex election of 1604 was that it was expected that he should ‘defray some good portion of the charges of the election, which I am loath [to do] because it is likely to be extraordinary’.9

It was not just the cost of getting elected to consider. For those who discharged their duties conscientiously the hours were disagreeably long, particularly from about 1610, as the Commons increasingly sat all day rather than just the mornings.10 In April 1624 John Prowse, then in his mid sixties at least, complained to his Exeter constituents that he was ‘tired out daily and full weary of this service, which I find to be too burdensome for an old man’.11 Added to this there was no knowing how long a Parliament might last. For those with busy lives to lead, lengthy spells at Westminster might easily disrupt their private affairs. Following the election of the cloth merchant Joseph Field in March 1607, the corporation of Hull informed the 1st earl of Salisbury that ‘both before the election and after’ Field had been ‘altogether unwilling’ to serve in Parliament, in part because of his ‘private affairs in trade of merchandise’.12 In 1624 Henry Lord Clifford declined to stand for re-election for Westmorland, even though Sir Thomas Wentworth assured him that ‘your coming and stay in Parliament’ could be ‘in such times as your private affairs might not thereby be neglected’.13 Four years later the 2nd earl of Salisbury’s estate steward, Christopher Keighley, was mortified to learn that he had been chosen to represent Old Sarum, as he had ‘many occasions for his lordship so that I cannot conveniently spare time to attend it as [is] fitting’.14

Service in the Commons ate not only into a man’s time but also his purse, adding to the costs he may already have incurred in getting himself elected. For those with a landed income the expense was not necessarily insupportable, but for men like Joseph Field, who needed to earn a living, service at Westminster might easily result in a reduced income for the duration of the Parliament. During the opening Parliament of James’s reign, which lasted seven years, several Members received one-off payments from their boroughs to help offset their losses. At Boston in April 1607, the barrister Anthony Irby was compensated for ‘the neglect of his own affairs’ occasioned by his ‘attendance at the Parliament’ with a payment of £13 6s. 8d., and in April 1608 John Prowse, a cloth merchant by trade, was awarded £20 by the corporation of Exeter for attending ‘the Parliament House a great long time about the city’s business to his great labour and hindrance’. 15 However, only the wealthiest boroughs could afford to cover the losses of its parliamentary representatives. Consequently, many of the practising lawyers who entered Parliament often proved ruthless in putting private profit before public service. Indeed, their preference for attending the assizes, where they might expect to earn a tidy sum, rather than the Commons led to repeated crises of attendance during this period.16

By law all Members were entitled to receive a salary from their constituents, but the last time an English county is known to have paid parliamentary wages was in 1601.17 In Wales the practice persisted longer, for as late as the summer of 1625 Henry Wynn sued out a writ for the payment of his expenses as knight for Merioneth the previous year.18 In both England and Wales the number of boroughs prepared to pay wages or expenses fell markedly under Elizabeth as a result of economic decay, so that by the accession of James I only about a fifth of all parliamentary boroughs still remunerated their representatives.19 This decline continued under the early Stuarts,20 with the result that those who wished for seats were increasingly expected to offer to serve free of charge. At Reading in 1625, the elected Members were even required to sign an agreement that they would serve without wages.21 In some boroughs, it is true, gifts or privileges were bestowed upon a Member by his grateful constituents at the end of a Parliament. In May 1624, for instance, Sir Peter Heyman was sent a dozen fish by Hythe’s corporation, which in the following month also ordered that he was to have ‘a billet in the town for the freeing of his goods and chattels’.22 However, it is hard to avoid the impression that even those Members who were relatively well remunerated sometimes found themselves out of pocket. On promising to supply the Exeter corporation with a copy of the king’s answer to the Commons’ petition against Jesuits in April 1624, the Exeter Member John Prowse pointedly remarked that he wished he could send them ‘all such passages’, but that were he to do so they ‘must then be at the charge, and not put me to the pains to copy them’.23

Even in a Parliament that lasted only two or three months, the costs involved in paying one’s way soon mounted up. In 1626 Thomas Scott of Canterbury complained that his service in the 1624 Parliament, which lasted around fifteen weeks, had left him £100 out of pocket ‘and gained me much ill and little thanks,’ for which reason he ‘no more desired to be a Parliament citizen than to be a constable or churchwarden’.24 In 1604 Edward Reynolds contemplated not standing for the borough of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis in view of ‘the great charge incident to this place without any allowance from the town’.25 Similar thoughts went through the mind of the Yorkshireman Sir John Jackson in 1628. Writing to his friend and ally Sir Thomas Wentworth, Jackson threatened not to stand for re-election at Pontefract, which borough he had represented in the previous three parliaments, because ‘a great payment being at this instant upon me requires some more ease than the ordinary expenses attending parliamentary service will afford me’.26

Even for those with substantial means, the cost of serving at Westminster was daunting. Sir Dudley North, who began his long parliamentary career in 1628 and whose father the 3rd Lord North was hardly a pauper, described parliamentary service in 1669 as ‘excessive chargeable, and of no profit as to my particular’.27 Average expenditure per Member is now impossible to calculate, of course, but in 1621 one anonymous Member observed that ‘the House sitteth at a 1,000 marks a day’. As there were then around 480 Members, this was like saying that staying in London cost each man roughly £1 6s. 8d. per day. His estimate was evidently not plucked from thin air, for between 17 March and 1 May 1628 inclusive Sir George Gresley, one of the Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme, spent £1 4s. each day on average, as his surviving accounts clearly demonstrate.28 Those who came up to London with a full purse could easily find, after two or three months, that they had run out of cash and, in the absence of banking facilities, needed to return home. ‘Tis fit that we recede’, declared Sir Samuel Sandys at the end of May 1621, ‘for most have spent their old stock of money and need to go home for more’.29

Some Members undoubtedly limited their expenses by lodging with friends or relatives while in London. Others, like the Suffolk gentleman Sir Robert Brooke and the Sussex-based Edward Alford, owned townhouses of their own. However, many Members were forced to hire houses or take lodgings. A combination of frequent litigation and long service in Parliament caused Sir John Leveson of Halling, in north Kent, to lease a house in Blackfriars, at a cost of over £100 a year, during the early years of James’s reign.30 In 1614 the Norfolk Member Sir Hamon L’Estrange and his wife took rooms with a Mr. Haywood at £1 10s. per week, while in 1628 the Member for Bridgwater, Thomas Smyth, lodged with a tailor named Mr Betty just outside Temple Bar.31 The Warwickshire Member Sir Edward Greville seems to have favoured staying at the Swan with Two Necks in Milk Street whenever he was in London, and in 1626 the Leicestershire knight Francis Staresmore stayed at The Plough near Charing Cross.32 A Member fortunate enough to be the guest of a friend or relative might still be expected to find the cost of putting up his servants. In 1624 Liverpool’s Sir Thomas Gerrard stayed in the Grays Inn chambers of Thomas Ireland, the town’s recorder, but his horses and men had to be lodged at the Red Lion in Holborn.33

On top of the cost of their board and lodging, many Members had to foot the bill for transporting their personal possessions to and from London, in 1626 the corporation of Bristol allowed both of its representatives 26s. for carriage of their trunks. At the end of the 1628 session the servant of the Warwickshire Member John Newdigate laid out 9s. 9d. ‘for carriage of my master his things from London at the breaking up of the Parliament’.34 Members were also expected to contribute to the collection levied at the end of every session for the House’s servants. Knights of the shire were required to pay ten shillings each, while borough Members were expected to fork out five shillings apiece. Not all did so, however, for in every Parliament a sizeable number of Members went home early. Eighty-seven out of around 470 Members failed to pay up at the end of the 1605/6 session, while at the close of the 1624 session around a sixth of the money due remained uncollected. Those who paid their contributions promptly were understandably irritated by such conduct, and in 1624 and 1626 it was suggested that defaulters should be charged double.35

The financial burdens of membership did not fall on everyone equally, of course. Wealthy boroughs like London, Exeter, York and Bristol continued to pay their representatives wages, and Members often sold their services to lobbyists anxious for advice on the drafting and presentation of legislation. In the 1604 session the London lawyer Nicholas Fuller made at least £6 from various London companies for his advice and skills as a draftsman.36 Following the Parliament of 1597-8, Sir Robert Wroth was sent a hundredweight of ling by the Fishmongers’ Company for having promised to do the Company ‘any good he could’ in Parliament, while in 1604 one unnamed Member was sent a ‘runlet of Rhenish wine’, costing 23s. 2d., by the Coopers’ Company.37 Importunate lobbyists were not the only source of money for those eager to make some cash on the side. In November 1621 some Members are said to have abused their parliamentary privilege, which guaranteed themselves and their servants freedom from arrest, by selling blank letters of protection for five shillings apiece.38

Most Members probably found themselves out of pocket after serving in Parliament. The drain on a man’s purse, however, was by no means the only disincentive to membership. In February 1604, in the aftermath of a major plague outbreak, Edward Reynolds thought the risk of infection in London ‘in so great a concourse of people as is like to be at this time’ was likely to be so great that ‘a man shall be scarce safe from danger even in the Parliament’.39 Such fears were not without foundation, for in July 1610 no less than three Members succumbed to the plague while in London.40 Even were it safe to venture up to London, there was the family at home to consider. When the borough of Evesham contemplated choosing a certain Mr. Savage as one of its Members in 1628, the latter’s heavily pregnant wife intervened, declaring that ‘she would labour with him all she could to put it off, and did hope to prevail’ as she was confident he ‘would not leave her in the case she is in’.41 Another factor that put some men off membership was the discovery that they were not the first choice of their would-be constituents. When John Legard was notified that he had been elected to serve for Scarborough in April 1625 he declined the offer despite having applied for a seat there in 1624 and been promised one at the next election. His excuse for doing so was that he had ‘some present occasions of his own’ that needed his attention, but in reality he was probably annoyed that the seat had originally been bestowed on Sir William Alford, who now no longer needed it, having been chosen at Beverley.42

Some individuals were not able to stand even had they wanted to do so. Though his father and son took turns at representing Wallingford, Sir Barentyne Molyns of Clapcot in Berkshire never put himself up for election, for in his youth he had been severely wounded while on campaign in France and was almost blind. Those who did wish to stand were sometimes prevented from doing so by urgent personal business. ‘My occasions’, explained Sir John Scudamore to Sir Robert Cotton in January 1626, ‘do so press me in the country that, sore against my will, I shall not be of this Parliament’.43 Scudamore’s disappointment was genuine, for he had sat in the previous three parliaments and would do so again in 1628. In 1624 the earl of Montgomery told the corporation of Queenborough that his servant John Basset, who had been offered one of the town seats, was ‘unwilling to undergo a place of that weight and trouble by reason of other employment he has in hand’.44 Political considerations, too, might make it difficult for a man to sit. In 1614 the Stafford townsman Matthew Cradock initially intended to follow his father into Parliament but withdrew from the running after his native borough received letters of nomination from its neighbour the 3rd earl of Essex and from the lord privy seal, the earl of Northampton, whose good offices were essential if the borough was to succeed in its attempts to obtain a fresh charter.45 Some men who were eager to serve found themselves disappointed because they lacked either a patron or applied too late for a seat. In December 1625 Sir Edward Dering decided to approach Buckingham in person for a seat, but on journeying to Dover he found that he had missed the duke. He subsequently solicited the aid of his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Ashburnham, but she proved unable to speak to her son John, one of Buckingham’s closest servants, until after the duke’s letters of nomination had been sent out, and a desperate last-minute request to the lord keeper for a seat proved equally fruitless.46

If some individuals chose not to sit for good reasons, or were prevented from doing so, there were many prominent men who might easily have stood but who conspicuously failed to do so. Whereas the master of the London Drapers’ Company and governor of the East India Company, Sir Maurice Abbot, found time to sit in Parliament four times during the 1620s, the governor of the Levant Company, Sir Hugh Hammersley, never graced the Commons’ chamber even once. Another notable avoider of parliamentary service was the north Welsh gentleman Sir William Thomas of Pwhelli. On being invited to stand for Caernarvonshire in 1625, Thomas told Sir John Wynn that ‘I am not as yet ready for the Parliament’.47 At Shrewsbury Sir Francis Prince, who inherited a large estate in the town’s suburb of Abbey Foregate in 1598, never put himself up for election, even though his late father had twice sat in Parliament.

Just as there were some men who clearly recoiled at the prospect of sitting in the Commons, others left lengthy intervals between periods of service. Take Sir John Heigham of Barrow, in Suffolk, for instance. As a young man, Heigham entered Parliament for the first time in 1563 for Sudbury while still training for the legal profession. Following this brief stint in the Commons, he did not sit again until 1584, when he transferred to Ipswich. In 1586-7 he was promoted to a county seat, but thereafter he did not serve in Parliament again until 1604, when he resumed his representation of Suffolk. Another individual whose parliamentary career contains several notable gaps was Sir Richard Edgcumbe of Mount Edgcumbe, in Cornwall. Edgcumbe first entered Parliament in 1586 when he was in his early twenties. He subsequently served in the next two parliaments, but was conspicuous by his absence from those of 1597, 1601 and 1604-10. His interest in sitting at Westminster was rekindled in 1614, when he re-entered the chamber after an interval lasting 21 years, and he sat again in 1624 and 1628, but he missed the parliaments of 1621, 1625 and 1626. Sporadic service of this kind is difficult to interpret, but the intervals in the parliamentary careers of both Heigham and Edgcumbe look like conscious decisions rather than enforced absences.

Some of those who left gaps in their parliamentary career may have been obliged to do so, of course, either for want of a patron or perhaps because some seats were held in rotation and it was not yet their turn. Sir John Eliot sat in every Parliament between 1614 and 1628 apart from that of 1621, in which year he seems to have lost out at St. Germans, the seat closest to his home, to Sir Richard Buller. Sir Henry Spelman served in the parliaments of 1593 and 1597-8, but did not return to Westminster again until 1625. His lengthy absence from Westminster may not have been from choice, for in 1614 at least he applied for a seat at King’s Lynn, only to be rebuffed.48

The holding of certain sorts of office, too, could generate enforced intervals in a man’s parliamentary service. Those who were sheriffs were in theory barred from sitting, a consideration that Charles I turned to his advantage in the autumn of 1625, when he pricked as sheriffs several of the leading troublemakers from the previous Parliament, among them Sir Thomas Wentworth, in order to prevent them from serving in 1626. Mayors and town bailiffs, being returning officers, were also barred, as were those in royal service across the Irish Sea if their presence in Ireland was needed.49 Sir John Davies, for instance, sat in the final two Elizabethan parliaments but was unable to resume his Westminster career until 1621 because between 1603 and 1619 he held senior legal office in Ireland.

Many men with experience of serving in the Commons came to the conclusion that it was possible to have too much of a good thing. On being asked whether he would like to represent Dover in the 1621 Parliament, William Leonard replied that he did not ‘greatly desire’ to do so, having already sat once before – in 1597-8. For the Somerset gentleman John Poulett, two stints in the Commons were about as much as he could stomach. Pressed to serve a third time in 1624, he desired his friends ‘to excuse him and free him from that place at this time for that he hath already served twice ... and there are many more gentlemen of worth in the country worthy of the place’. In December 1625 Sir William Spencer declined to stand for re-election as, having served in the previous four parliaments, ‘I have had labour and travail enough in that kind’.50 A similar conclusion may have been reached by Sir Edward Mosley, who represented Preston on the duchy of Lancaster’s interest in three successive parliaments between 1614 and 1624. Following the accession of Charles I, Mosley seems never to have put himself forward for re-election, despite continuing to hold office as the duchy’s attorney-general until 1638. However, few men proved so unwilling to continue their parliamentary careers as the Dorchester townsman Matthew Chubbe, who represented his town in the last Elizabethan assembly. On being chosen to represent Dorchester in the first Jacobean Parliament, Chubbe was so mortified that he begged the borough authorities to spare him, offering £5 towards the wages of any other man selected in his stead, ‘and alleging ... the disability of his body to endure that service’. When his objections were overruled, he sought leave of absence from the Speaker on the grounds that ‘he was employed in His Majesty’s special service ... in the country’ as collector of the last Elizabethan subsidy and treasurer for the maimed soldiers.51

Meetings that lasted many years had a particular tendency to induce an aversion to further membership. In the aftermath of the first Jacobean Parliament, which lasted seven years, many former Members declined to throw their hats into the ring again, among them Sir Francis Barrington and Thomas Spencer of Yarnton, in Oxfordshire.52 Consequently, around fifty-five per cent of the House’s membership in 1614 consisted of novices, a higher proportion than in any Parliament since that of 1584/5, which itself met in the shadow of the longest Parliament of the Elizabethan period, that of 1572-81.

It was not only that some men grew tired of parliamentary service, or rationed the number of times they sat; the failure of successive parliaments gave many Commons veterans cause to think twice about standing again. Halfway through the 1626 Parliament, Sir Richard Skeffington reproached his kinsman Sir Edward Dering, who had sat the previous year, for not warning him to avoid election, describing service in the Commons as a place ‘to please none, to displease all and bear all his own charges’.53 He never sought re-election. Following the dissolution of the 1625 assembly, Richard Tomlyns, one of the Members for Ludlow, claimed that the experience of sitting ‘hath almost disheartened and discouraged me to ... be of any more parliaments’.54 The following year the Bristol alderman John Whitson, a veteran of five parliaments, had nothing but bitter memories of the Commons, where he had ‘daily learned new lessons of the world’s vanity’ and had ‘augmented my grief together with my experience’.55 Yet while Whitson took no part in the 1628-9 Parliament, Tomlyns went on to seek re-election in 1626 and 1628.

Why did so many men wish to take part in the business of Parliament when many others found the prospect so unappealing? One of the most attractive features of sitting in Parliament must have been the prestige that membership bestowed. By the early seventeenth century it was a commonplace to liken the Commons to the senate of ancient Rome.56 To the anonymous author of ‘Motives to Induce an Annual Parliament’, written sometime between 1614 and 1620, comparison with the ancient Jewish Sanhedrin or the chief council of ancient Athens was equally appropriate.57 Members were themselves only too keen to assert the dignity and importance of the institution to which they belonged. In 1621, for instance, John Finch described the Commons as ‘the gravest senate of the world’, while his fellow lawyer Thomas Malet termed it ‘a Council of State for our countries’.58

Although membership of such an august institution provided a powerful incentive for election, there were other, equally important factors that lured men to Westminster. As Cedric Ward has observed, those below the rank of peer often saw the knighthood of the shire as ‘the most coveted prize county society had to offer’.59 In 1614 Sir Maurice Berkeley famously described the knighthood of the shire for Somerset as ‘the highest mark of my ambition’.60 This tendency to regard the county seats as a prize was particularly acute in counties bitterly divided between rival factions. There the man who obtained a knighthood of the shire not only deprived his opponent of the honour but also asserted his local primacy. The hard-fought Yorkshire elections of 1620, 1625 and 1628 owed much to the determination of Sir Thomas Wentworth and Sir John Savile to enhance their own reputations at the other’s expense.

In addition, those in the upper echelons of county society often regarded it as both their duty and right to sit. Take, for instance, Sir Henry Wallop of Farleigh Wallop. By 1625 Wallop was the richest man in Hampshire, and between 1597 and 1640 he sat in every Parliament except that of 1604-10, from which he was necessarily excluded as sheriff. In Caernarvonshire after 1610, the Wynns of Gwydir, conscious of being the dominant family in the county, felt honour-bound to ensure that the knighthood of the shire was held by a member of their own family. ‘It standeth upon your ... reputation’ was how William Wynn put the matter to his father Sir John Wynn in November 1620. For a family of county standing to fail to secure a seat that it regarded almost as its birthright was thus a dreadful humiliation. Following the defeat of the Wynn interest at the Caernarvonshire election in December 1620, Sir John Wynn described the defeat as ‘the greatest public disgrace that ever I had in my time’.61

Some county leaders clearly regarded Commons membership as a badge of rank, and were determined to sit even if, once at Westminster, they contributed next to nothing to the House’s proceedings. Between 1604 and 1626 Sir John Cutts of Swavesey represented Cambridgeshire in every Parliament that met during that period, and in 1624 he fought two bitterly contested elections rather than forgo the chance of sitting. Yet before the spring of 1640, when he represented his county for the last time, he seems never to have uttered a single word in debate. It was a similar story in respect of James Price of Mynachdy, who monopolized the knighthood for Radnorshire between 1593 and 1621 and, so far as is known, never got round to delivering his maiden speech. Many county families became so used to membership of the Commons that they clearly created an expectation of belonging to the House that passed from one generation to the next. The Finch family of Eastwell in Kent enjoyed continuous representation in the ten parliaments that met between 1593 and 1628, and the Montagu family of Boughton produced at least one Member per Parliament between 1593 and 1625. The most successful parliamentary dynasty of the early modern period, however, was the Knollys family of Rotherfield Greys, in Oxfordshire, one of whose members sat in every one of the nineteen parliaments that met between 1559 and November 1640.

Those at the top of county society were not alone in feeling under an obligation to sit. Unless they were Scots, in which case they were barred from standing, members of the Privy Council not capable of serving in the Lords were normally expected by the king to find seats, as were various other royal officials, such as the solicitor general. Sir Thomas Chaloner, who had last sat in Parliament in 1586, would not, perhaps, have re-entered the Commons in 1604 had he not recently been appointed governor of Prince Henry’s Household.

Many boroughs expected their recorder or town clerk to stand for election as a matter of course. At Wallingford there was even a by-law by the early seventeenth century requiring the recorder to serve in Parliament.62 A borough law officer who sought to evade his customary parliamentary duties was likely to encounter severe disapproval. When the 74-year old town clerk of Colchester, William Towse, pleaded to be allowed to stand aside in 1625, the freemen were reportedly ‘much discontented’ at him for being so earnest, ‘alleging that it had not been known in the memory of men but our town clerk has always been one [of the town’s burgesses]’.63 In some boroughs the recorder or equivalent officer expected to be given the right of first refusal at the very least. In 1628 Bedford’s deputy recorder, Richard Taylor, declared that were he to be passed over against his wishes ‘my reputation shall suffer herein’, for ever since 1580s, with the exception of 1614, when the incumbent expressed no wish to serve, the borough had habitually returned its deputy recorder.64

Before the 1620s, a recorder with a legal or prescriptive claim to a seat would normally expect his consent to be sought if the borough wished to choose another in his stead. At Wallingford in 1614, for instance, the corporation asked its recorder, Edward Clarke, to surrender his right before proceeding to choose Sir George Simeon in his place.65 However, it became increasingly common during this period for boroughs to set aside the rights of their recorders without their consent. In 1628 the voters of London broke with centuries old tradition and ‘with great disgrace rejected their recorder’, Sir Henry Montagu, because of his close association with the duke of Buckingham.66 In 1625 New Woodstock, which had regularly chosen its recorder, returned the ranger of Woodstock Park, Sir Gerrard Fleetwood, rather than its chief law officer, William Lenthall, who was understandably outraged. Not only was his rejection a public ‘disgrace’, it also amounted to rank ingratitude, as he had worked hard for the corporation since his appointment, ‘and my reward hath been little besides your love’. Yet, despite applying for election the following year, Lenthall’s appeal to be granted the same consideration as his predecessors fell on deaf ears.67 It was a similar story at Richmond, in Yorkshire, where the electoral interest of the recorder collapsed after 1604. The incumbent, Christopher Pepper, expected in January 1621 to be offered a seat ‘before any foreigner’, and was incensed when he was not.68 In 1626 the recorders of Evesham (Richard Cresheld) and Wells (John Baber) both suffered electoral humiliation, but unlike Pepper at Richmond both men went on to recover their seats at the next election.

For many men, election to Parliament afforded the opportunity to serve the interests of their local community or county. As John Griffith put it in a letter to Sir William Maurice in November 1620, ‘every true lover of his country should endeavour to do service’ once he was at Westminster.69 Many Members certainly made strenuous efforts on behalf of their constituents once they were in the Commons, and were aware that their chances of re-election hinged upon the vigour with which they pursued their constituents’ interests. However, a substantial number of Members, though not indifferent to local concerns, primarily sought election in order to influence royal policy in matters of national significance. That is probably why so many of them – men like Sir Edwin Sandys, who sat for six constituencies over the course of eight parliaments – cared very little which constituency they represented, just so long as they had a seat. One of the most powerful matters of national importance to draw men to the Commons was religion. In 1604 a great swathe of puritan Members, among them Sir Francis Hastings, Sir Edward Lewknor, Sir Francis Barrington and Nicholas Fuller, re-entered the House determined to complete, if possible, the reformation of the Church that had begun under Elizabeth. During the 1620s fears for the safety of the Church, which was perceived to be under attack from both popery and Arminianism, meant that religion continued to act as a recruiting sergeant for the Commons. One of those who felt impelled to seek election in 1626 was Francis Rous, the author of Testis Veritatis, a detailed rebuttal of the Arminian claim that the Church of England was not doctrinally Calvinist.

The opportunity to debate matters of national significance was by no means the only attraction to those whose horizons were not limited to their own localities. During the early seventeenth century relations between the king and the House of Commons became increasingly strained, as one disagreement after another flared up over matters of profound constitutional importance. These momentous clashes, over such matters as the Union, the right of the Crown to levy taxes without recourse to parliaments, and arbitrary imprisonment, meant that the Commons became a stage for dramatic events. Many of those who sought a place in the Commons during these years may have done so out of a desire to witness these explosive scenes. The high levels of attendance of the chamber at the height of the impeachment debates of 1626 are certainly striking.70 Others, on the other hand, may have been eager to sit in order to be able to join in the sport of attacking the king’s chief ministers. Writing in the 1630s, Sir John Lowther, a veteran of four of the five parliaments of the previous decade, accused most of his former parliamentary colleagues of ‘glorying in destruction’, and of labouring ‘to pull down great officers for the private spleen of some leaders’.71

Many who put themselves forward for election may have done so out of a concern that, unless they stood now, their chance might soon vanish. During the 1610s a well-founded fear developed that parliaments were headed for extinction, an anxiety that persisted despite the proliferation of parliaments between 1621 and 1629. Those who might otherwise have put off parliamentary service to some future date, safe in the knowledge that another Parliament was just around the corner, were obliged to seize the moment before it was gone for good.

During the sixteenth century one of the prime motives for wanting to sit was personal ambition. For those eager to pursue a career in the service of the Crown, there were few better ways for a man to draw attention to his abilities than service in the Commons.72 To some extent this remained true under the early Stuarts. Following his first and only stint in the Commons in 1614, the Lincolnshire lawyer Leonard Bawtree impressed the king so much by his defence of impositions that he was promoted to a serjeantcy shortly after the dissolution. In August 1625 the Middle Temple barrister Thomas Malet spoke in favour of subsidies, an intervention later dismissed by Sir John Eliot as having been uttered ‘to purchase some credit by devotion’.73 However, the path to promotion was by no means assured, even for those who put the king’s interests first. During the opening sessions of the first Jacobean Parliament an ambitious Sir Francis Bacon put himself entirely at the disposal of James and Lord Treasurer Salisbury, only to discover in the summer of 1606 that he had been passed over for promotion.74 It was only after he protested at this treatment that Bacon was rewarded for his services by being appointed solicitor-general. Any Member who expected office after he opposed the king’s wishes in Parliament was likely to be sorely disappointed. Sir Edwin Sandys scuppered his chances of promotion in 1604 by his vocal opposition to the Union, even though he may have been acting with the tacit encouragement of the king’s chief minister, Robert Cecil. On learning in October 1611 that Sir Henry Neville was hoping to become junior secretary of state, the earl of Salisbury’s secretary expressed astonishment, since in the previous Parliament Neville had not, like Sir Dudley Carleton, spoken in support of the king’s financial demands, but had ‘ranged himself with those patriots that were accounted of a contrary faction to the courtiers’.75

It was not unusual for lawyers who made trouble in Parliament to find that their path to advancement was blocked, for without the king’s support an experienced barrister could not attain the rank of serjeant. In the aftermath of the Addled Parliament, Thomas Crewe was unable to obtain the coif, ‘though he had many friends’. He remained out of favour as late as 1618, when James warned the City that Crewe was the one man in the kingdom whose candidacy for the recordership of London he absolutely forbade.76 William Hakewill, too, found himself passed over, for like Crewe he had put himself in the vanguard of the parliamentary opposition to impositions. In desperation, Hakewill devised and presented to the cash-strapped James in early 1615 a moneymaking scheme, but the plan was never adopted, with the result that the highest office Hakewill ever attained was that of legal adviser to Anne of Denmark.77 In 1609 the Northamptonshire lawyer Henry Yelverton belatedly realized that his previous service in Parliament, far from improving his career chances, had actually told against him. By opposing the king’s wishes in respect of the Union, he had effectively blighted his career. Only after writing a grovelling letter of apology to James, and by defending in Parliament the king’s right to levy impositions, did Yelverton finally secure for himself the office of solicitor general.78

Far from providing ambitious young men with a springboard from which to launch their careers, the Commons under the early Stuarts gave those of ability denied office by the king an alternative outlet for their talents. Once his chances of advancement had evaporated in 1604, Sandys used Parliament to provide him with a substitute career, becoming, in effect, the Commons’ troublemaker-in-chief during the first half of James’s reign. Something similar also happened in respect of Sir Edward Coke. Following his readmission to the Privy Council in 1617, Coke, a former chief justice of Common Pleas and King’s Bench, had high hopes of ministerial advancement, particularly after forging a marriage alliance between his daughter and the brother of the king’s new favourite, the marquess of Buckingham. On the fall of lord treasurer Suffolk in 1618, he worked hard to sort out the king’s finances in the hope of being offered the treasurer’s staff himself. However, in December 1619 the treasurership was sold over his head to Sir Henry Montagu, whereupon Coke, instead of retiring gracefully, proceeded to exact his revenge. Despite the convention that former Speakers should not seek re-election, Coke returned to the House of Commons after an interval of twenty-six years and at the grand old age of sixty-nine. There, despite having been found his seat by Prince Charles’s council, he set about distancing himself from the Privy Council of which he was still formally a member, to the astonishment of many of his parliamentary colleagues. Over the next few years, Coke spearheaded the opposition in the Commons to the Spanish Match, the duke of Buckingham and arbitrary imprisonment, and in so doing he carved out a place for himself on the national stage that had been denied him by the king, though at the cost of his seat on the Council.

To some extent those whom the king regarded as troublesome in Parliament may have secretly hoped that by making a nuisance of themselves a job would have to be found for them to buy their silence. Sandys at least never seems to have given up entirely on the idea that he might be the recipient of royal office, for in 1614 he re-entered Parliament as a client of the royal favourite, the earl of Somerset, and in 1624 he was one of the undertakers who acted on behalf of the duke of Buckingham. However, James was never able to forgive Sandys for the central role he had played in wrecking his cherished plan to unite the kingdoms of England and Scotland. When the Virginia Company was about to choose a new treasurer in 1620, James reportedly sent a message to the Company telling them that they might ‘choose the Devil if you will, but not Sir Edwin Sandys’.79 Yet Sandys notwithstanding, the idea that a Member might make such a nuisance of himself that the king would be forced to buy him off was not entirely fanciful. Thomas Crewe was one of the chief troublemakers of the 1621 Parliament, but in 1623 he was finally made a serjeant-at-law, almost certainly on the advice of Lord Keeper Williams, and in the following year he was appointed Speaker of the Commons, thereby bringing him within the royal fold.

Sir Edward Coke stands out as having sought membership of the Commons from a sense of frustration at being denied ministerial responsibilities. However, lack of office may have provided many less prominent individuals with a reason for wanting to enter the Commons. Though raised a Protestant, Sir Thomas Littleton of Frankley in Worcestershire was denied local office by the Crown throughout the 1620s in view of his family’s Catholic sympathies. In what looks like anxiety to affirm his local importance, Littleton had himself returned as knight of the shire to no less than four successive parliaments between 1621 and 1626. Interestingly, he played almost no recorded part in any of the parliaments of which he was a Member, and one – that of 1625 – he failed to attend, preferring instead to travel abroad. To Littleton, it would seem, the prestige that went with membership of the Commons mattered more than the business of the House.

Littleton’s lack of office was striking because his father was long since dead. However, perhaps the largest group of office-less Members of the Commons was comprised of eldest sons whose fathers were still alive. In general, eldest sons could normally expect to assume their fathers’ local offices only when the latter was infirm or had died. However, many had to wait long into adulthood before taking their father’s place on the bench or other local commissions. In the interim, quite a few sought election to Parliament. The case of Henry Darley, eldest son and heir of Sir Richard Darley of Buttercrambe in Yorkshire, provides a neat illustration. By 1625 Henry, despite being almost thirty and having been married for more than five years, held no local office. That same year Sir Richard, in an attempt to give his son some social standing, wrote to the bailiffs of Scarborough requesting a seat on Henry’s behalf. Unfortunately for Henry, this approach was rebuffed, as was a second overture in 1626, and it was not until 1628, by which time he had gained a foothold in local government, that Henry Darley finally entered Parliament. A similar story perhaps lay behind the entry into Parliament of Sir Alexander Denton, whose father was only about twenty-two when he was born in 1596. Aside from a captaincy in the local militia, Denton held no local office until 1629, by which time he was about thirty-three. In May 1624 the enfranchisement of Wendover enabled him to secure election to the Commons on the interest of his wife’s family, and in the following year his father, Sir Thomas Denton, stood aside to allow his son to occupy his own former seat at Buckingham. Sir Thomas obligingly did the same in 1626, since in that year he was returned as a knight of the shire, but in 1628 he once again needed the Buckingham seat, leaving Sir Alexander to go without. Absence of office must also go a long way towards explaining the presence in all the parliaments of the 1620s of Sir Thomas Wenman of Thame Park, Oxfordshire, and of that of Edward Pitt, the twenty-six year-old son and heir of William Pitt of Hartley Waspell, in Hampshire. In January 1624 Edward encouraged his son to ‘become a Parliament man’, and wrote to both the mayor of Wareham and his kinsman Richard Swayne of Blandford Forum for assistance.80

As the Darley and Pitt cases show, many young men were drawn to sit at Westminster under the guidance of their fathers. One of the widely acknowledged benefits of membership of the Commons was the education that it afforded a young man. Those who entered the House for the first time could expect to learn about the legislative process at first hand, to sharpen, if they so wished, their debating skills and to inform themselves about political affairs. Not for nothing did John Chamberlain dub the Commons in 1614 ‘the great schoolhouse of Christendom’.81 Many fathers, not surprisingly, therefore saw the Commons as the ideal finishing school for their sons. Entry to the Commons, explained Sir George Chudleigh in 1626, would ‘give my son a little breeding’.82 In 1628 Secretary Conway thanked Sir Thomas Jervoise for arranging admission for his twenty-three year old son Ralph ‘to that great council, and giving him a sight of business and affairs’.83 Fathers hopeful that their eldest sons would eventually enter royal service particularly saw the Commons as a useful training ground. ‘My son, being willing to adapt himself for the service of this country’, wrote Thomas Heselrige to the corporation of Leicester in 1625, ‘is desirous to become a scholar in the best school of Christendom for knowledge and experience (the Parliament House of England)’.84 Fathers were by no means alone, of course, in cherishing the hope that entry to the Commons would improve a young man. On hearing rumours that a fresh Parliament would meet in the autumn of 1614, Thomas Lorkin advised his former pupil Sir Thomas Puckering, then completing a tour of western Europe, to find a seat ‘as a notable means of bettering your experience’.85 In December 1623 Sir Richard Wynn urged his father to allow his younger brother Henry, then aged about twenty-two, to stand as knight of the shire for Merioneth, on the grounds that ‘it will do him very much good’.86

Under such pressure, more than one young man entered the Commons as part of his formal education. Thomas Chaloner, the future governor of Prince Henry’s Household, sat for the first time in 1586 while in his mid twenties after graduating from Oxford and spending a year as a volunteer in the Low Countries. Robert Knollys, the twenty-four year old eldest son of Sir Francis Knollys of Abbey House, Reading, was elected in 1614 after passing through university and the Inns of Court. Like Chaloner, Knollys had first done a spot of soldiering in the Low Countries. In March 1610 Sir John Harington, the eighteen-year old eldest son of the 1st Lord Harington, completed an impressive education (which included an extensive tour of Europe) by entering the Commons. Sons who entered the Commons as a way of rounding off their education were often following in the footsteps of their fathers. In 1625 the twenty-three year old Edward Mainwaring was returned to Parliament for Newcastle-under-Lyme while still completing his studies at the Middle Temple, which was precisely what his father had done in 1601. However, those who entered the Commons as part of their education were not always emulating their fathers. In 1628 the twenty-seven year old John Stonhouse came in for Abingdon after completing a tour of the Continent even though his father, Sir William Stonhouse of Radley, in Berkshire, had never once sat at Westminster. Whether John’s entry to Parliament was simply intended to further his education, or whether it also represented an attempt by Sir William to elevate the social importance of his family – he purchased a baronetcy that very same year – is impossible to say.

Not every young man was thrilled at the prospect of being required by his family to enter the Commons, particularly if it meant curtailing his studies. Although he would have preferred to remain a scholar at Cambridge, the eighteen year-old Mildmay Fane, eldest son of the Commons veteran Sir Francis Fane, was ordered by his parents in November 1620 ‘to assume the adult senatorial robe’ by entering Parliament for Peterborough.87 Many men needed no such cajoling, however, and were eager to enter the Commons in order to promote legislation in which they were personally interested, or conversely, to defeat bills or petitions of which they had gotten wind and disapproved.88 The Suffolk gentleman Robert Bacon, steward of Sir Robert Mansell’s London glassworks, sat for the first and only time in 1621 in order to defend his master’s patent against the charge that it was an unjustifiable monopoly. Sir Simeon Steward became a member of three parliaments in order to prevent Lady Jermy from pushing through legislation that would have given her control of one third of his Cambridgeshire estate. Sir Roland Egerton showed no sign of wanting to follow his late father into Parliament in 1621, but in 1624 he had himself elected to head off the threat to his estate posed by his kinsman Edward Egerton, who had laid before the 1621 Parliament a bill to transfer Sir Roland’s Staffordshire lands over to him, their former owner. Those, like Sir Roland Egerton, who entered Parliament as a means of carrying on an existing land dispute were by no means unusual. Barnaby Gooch stood for Parliament on three occasions, and served twice, in 1621 and 1624. In every case his motive for standing was to further the interests of Magdalene College, Cambridge, of which he was master, against the rival claims of the earl of Oxford regarding a valuable London property.

Sometimes whole groups of men were drawn to Westminster in defence of their own interests. Ahead of the 1614 Parliament, rumours of an impending petition to the Commons against the newly instituted order of baronets seem to have persuaded at least two of the recently made baronets, Sir Miles Sandys of Wilburton in Cambridgeshire and Sir Harbottle Grimston of Bradfield in Essex, to seek election for the first time. Born in 1563, Sandys was old enough to have stood for election prior to that date had he so wished, while Grimston’s surviving papers include copies both of the proposed petition to the king against the order of baronets and the ‘Motives to induce … the Commons House … to petition His Majesty’ for abolition, which was read in the Commons on 23 May.89 Other baronets who may have been influenced to stand by the impending attack on their order include Sir Reginald Mohun, who had not sat since 1586 and would not do so again until 1625, and Sir William Twysden, who had defended the baronets two years earlier before the king after their precedence was disputed.

More than one man found himself in the Commons because he was required to keep a seat warm for someone else during their absence. In 1624 Sir John Ferrers, unable to bestow a seat at Tamworth on Sir Thomas Puckering as he had done previously since Puckering was now sheriff of Warwickshire, turned to his lawyer, John Wightwick, instead. Once freed of the shrievalty, however, Puckering resumed his representation of Tamworth. It was a similar story at Marlborough in 1626: Edward Kirton, a servant of the Seymour family, was put into the seat which might otherwise have gone to Sir Francis Seymour who, then being sheriff of Wiltshire, was disabled from serving. There was nothing dishonourable in keeping a seat warm for another. Indeed, following the elevation of Sir Thomas Wentworth to a peerage, Sir Henry Savile of Methley offered in December 1628 to supply the place of knight of shire of Yorkshire that Wentworth had vacated ‘until your lordship’s nephew and my young cousin Sir William [Savile of Thornhill] be more capable thereof’.90

Not a few men entered Parliament in order to defeat their creditors. One of the advantages of Commons membership was the legal protection that it conferred, for in order to prevent business from being interrupted Members were guaranteed immunity from arrest. Just how many men were driven to seek election primarily to escape their creditors is never likely to be known, but in 1614 around eleven Members may have done so. They included such notable figures as Sir William Cavendish, who was expressly accused by Sir Baptist Hicks of getting himself elected for Derbyshire in order to free himself from debtors’ prison, and both knights for Lancashire, Sir Cuthbert Halsall and Sir Thomas Gerrard, 1st bt.91 A twelfth individual, Sir Henry Goodyer, was driven by debt to seek re-election in 1614 but failed in the attempt. In 1624 both Members for the Lancashire borough of Newton appear to have sought election in order to avoid their creditors. Indeed, one of them – Edmund Breres – was on the verge of bankruptcy. It was not only a man’s parlous finances that might lead him to seek refuge in the Commons, as parliamentary privilege gave protection against most sorts of prosecution. When George Newman was elected for Dover in 1601, he was probably hoping to avoid, or at least delay, prosecution for bribery and extortion arising from charges laid earlier that year by his predecessor as commissary-general of Canterbury diocese.

Some men may have been prompted to seek election by the prospect of a stay of at least several weeks in the capital. ‘I am one that loves to see fashions, and desires to know wonders’, Thomas Bulkeley once told Sir John Wynn, ‘therefore, if I be elected, I will not refuse it’.92 Even for those with loftier motives, a trip to London occasioned by a meeting of Parliament certainly provided an opportunity to combine business with pleasure. In 1621 Sir Hamon L’Estrange, one of the knights for Norfolk, took his wife with him on her first ever visit to the capital. While her husband attended Parliament, Lady Alice spent more than £163 purchasing various items for the family and their house at Hunstanton.93 That same year Jonathan Rashleigh, whose house in Cornwall lay almost 300 miles from London, took advantage of his stay in the capital to purchase a new town clock for his Fowey constituents and to stock up on spices and other household items for himself and his father.94 Even those who lived close to the capital took advantage of its many and varied delights while in Parliament. On 30 March 1626, after apparently attending a meeting of both Houses in the Painted Chamber, Sir John Franklin paid to see the tombs in nearby Westminster Abbey, though he lived only at Dollis Hill, in Willesden.95 Time spent in the capital meant that those so inclined were able to hear a wide variety of preachers throughout London and Westminster. Sir Richard Paulet, sitting for Whitchurch in Hampshire, attended thirty-five sermons at several locations while serving in Parliament in 1610.96 It also gave men the opportunity to explore promising business ventures if they wished. Indeed, Theodore Rabb has demonstrated that during this period attending Parliament ‘paved the way for investments in commerce’ among the gentlemen Members.97

Membership of the Commons, especially among veteran Parliament-men, was also an opportunity to renew old acquaintances. Sir Henry Savile of Methley, who had last sat in 1614, told Sir Thomas Wentworth in December 1628 that he wished to resume his former membership out of ‘a desire to see my honourable friends in the south, from whom I have been long absent and may well be forgotten if I return not thither in some reasonable time’.98 It was often easier to catch up with friends who lived in adjacent counties in London than it was at home. During the first Jacobean Parliament, the northern Members Sir John Mallory, Sir Henry Constable, Sir Henry Slingsby and Sir Henry Widdrington met up to play cards in Mallory’s lodgings in the Strand. As Pauline Croft has observed, ‘it would have taken hours of hard riding for them to meet in the north’.99 Most of these social occasions were informal affairs, but during the first Jacobean Parliament attempts were made to give some of them at least a semi-official character. At the end of the 1604 session, several Members organized a feast at Merchant Taylors’ Hall for a hundred of their colleagues ‘of principal note and quality’, to which the king contributed a buck and a hogshead of wine.100 In February 1607 Sir Edward Hoby, assisted by Sir Anthony Mildmay, laid on a further banquet at which John Pory, the Member for Bridgwater, got ‘prettily well whittled’.101 However, there were no further Members’ feasts after this date. The reason for this is unclear, but in March 1607 James expressed his anger that the lower House was obstructing a formal unification of England and Scotland by employing the rather pointed analogy of a banquet to describe the ‘delicate speeches’ of those opposed to the Union.102 James’s evident distaste for the February 1607 Members’ gathering may also explain why, after June 1607, the Society of Antiquaries, a dining club composed of gentlemen and lawyers interested in matters relating to legal history and the medieval constitution, fell into abeyance. It is certainly the case that when ‘divers principal gentlemen’ tried to revive the Society in 1614 they were prevented from doing so by James.103 Yet, if the early Jacobean period saw attempts to limit the opportunities for Members to socialize and debate with each other outside Parliament, drinking clubs such as the Mermaid tavern circle, which held a ‘philosophical feast’ in September 1611,104 continued to thrive. One group, known as the Sireniacs and dominated by lawyers from the Middle Temple and Lincoln’s Inn, was evidently responsible for penning the ribald poem known as the ‘Censure of the Parliament Fart’ that satirized various Commons’ Members.105

For the wealthiest Members, Parliament was also a time to preen in public. Basil Dixwell, a bachelor with an income reportedly of £2,500 a year, was noted ‘to be the bravest man in the House of Commons’ in 1626 on account of his ‘quotidian new suits of apparel’.106 At the investiture of Prince Henry as prince of Wales in June 1610, John Noyes, who sat for Calne, observed that some of his fellow Members ‘did wear apparel worth an hundred pounds a man’, thereby making him ‘feel like a crow in the midst of a great many of golden feathered doves’.107 Of course, not every Member with money to spare was keen to parade in public. Sir Richard Worsley, the one-eyed squire of Appuldurcombe who graced the Commons with his presence in 1614, was said by one of his neighbours to have no respect for ‘good clothes’.108

The reasons that induced men to stand for election were thus many and varied. Some stood for Parliament because they wanted to, while others did so because they felt they ought to. For some, the Commons was where they might help to shape the law and influence government policy, while to others it primarily represented a refuge from clamouring creditors or an opportunity to savour the delights of the capital. Those who entered the chamber were almost as varied in their backgrounds and occupations as their motives, and it to this subject to which we shall turn shortly. However, before doing so, the mechanics of parliamentary elections – how they were conducted and regulated – must first be considered.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush

End Notes

  • 1. CD 1621, vii. 568-9; Reading Recs. ed. J.M. Guilding, ii. 386-7; Recs. of the Bor. of Nottingham ed. W.H. Stevenson, iv. 387.
  • 2. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, v. 181.
  • 3. The seats that were certainly contested in 1604 were Hull; Leicester; Norfolk; Nottingham; Thetford; Weymouth and Melcombe Regis; and York. Those that were certainly disputed in 1624 were Aldborough; Arundel; Beverley; Bletchingley; Boroughbridge; Cambridgeshire; Canterbury; Cirencester; Dorset; Dover; East Retford; Gloucestershire; Haverfordwest; Hertford; Knaresborough; Leicestershire; Leicester; Lymington; Maldon;Middlesex; Norfolk; Nottingham; Plymouth; Pembrokeshire; Reading; Rye; St. Ives; Scarborough; Stafford; Southwark; Steyning; Thetford; and Winchelsea.
  • 4. Bedford; Boston; Bridport; Canterbury; Clitheroe; Colchester; Chester; Cornwall; Dartmouth; Dunwich; Exeter; Gatton; Guildford; Hertford; Kingston-upon-Hull; Knaresborough; Lewes; London; Mitchell; New Romney; Rye; Newport (I.o.W.); Newtown (I.o.W.); Oxford; Oxford University; Reading; Richmond; Rochester; Sandwich; Scarborough; Somerset; Thetford; Westminster; Yarmouth (I.o.W.); York.
  • 5. Nichols, County of Leicester, i. 418.
  • 6. NLW, 9059E/1172, 1189.
  • 7. C2/Chas.I/W88/1.
  • 8. C2/Chas.I/P56/18. For the need by candidates in contested elections to feed and house their supporters, see Chapter 4.
  • 9. Eg. 2644, ff. 139, 143.
  • 10. For a discussion of the hours worked by the Commons and the increase in length of the working day from about 1610, see Chapter 6.
  • 11. HMC Exeter, 114.
  • 12. Hatfield House, Cecil Pprs. 115, f. 137.
  • 13. Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. Knowler, i. 19.
  • 14. L. Stone, ‘The Electoral Influence of the Second Earl of Salisbury, 1614-68’, EHR, lxxi. 399.
  • 15. J.F. Bailey, Transcription of Mins. of the Corp. of Boston, I 1545-1607, pp. 745-6; HMC Exeter, 321.
  • 16. For further details see Chapter 9.
  • 17. The county concerned was Westmorland: R.C. Latham, ‘Payment of Parliamentary Wages – the Last Phase’, EHR, lxvi. 28.
  • 18. NLW, 9060E/1356; STAC 5/W28/2.
  • 19. We have found evidence for the payment of wages in only 43 of the 207 boroughs in this period: Aldeburgh; Bath; Boston; Bridgwater; Bridport; Bristol; Calne; Cambridge; Cambridge University; Cardiff Boroughs; Chippenham; Dartmouth; Devizes; Dorchester; Dover; Evesham; Exeter; Gloucester; Great Yarmouth; Hastings; Haverfordwest; Hedon; Hereford; Ipswich; King’s Lynn; Kingston-upon-Hull; Liverpool; London; Ludlow; Marlborough; New Romney; Newport, Isle of Wight; Nottingham; Plymouth; Poole; Portsmouth; Rye; Sandwich; Wells; Weymouth and Melcombe Regis; Winchelsea; Worcester; and York. It is, of course, possible that in some cases wages were paid but the records have not survived.
  • 20. Those boroughs known or suspected to have ceased paying wages during this period are Bridgwater; Dorchester; Dover; Evesham; Gloucester; Hedon; Liverpool; Nottingham; Rye; and Winchelsea. King’s Lynn continued to pay wages, but halved its rate daily rate after 1621.
  • 21. Reading Recs. ii. 230-1.
  • 22. E. Kent Archives Cent., H1209, f. 192: H1210, f. 5.
  • 23. HMC Exeter, 114, 321.
  • 24. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, U66, f. 22. Scott employed the term ‘citizen’ rather than burgess because Canterbury’s Members were representatives of a city rather than a mere town.
  • 25. SP14/6/82.
  • 26. Strafforde Letters ed. Knowler, i. 34.
  • 27. D. North, Observations and Advices Oeconomical (1669), sig. A4v.
  • 28. CD 1621, v. 269; Derbys. RO, D77/16/10, Gresley’s acct. bk.
  • 29. CD 1621, iii. 327.
  • 30. Staffs. RO, D593/C/9/3, unnumbered item, acct. bk., unfol.
  • 31. Norf. RO (Norwich), L’Estrange P7; Bristol RO, AC/C48/6, 12.
  • 32. C. Whitfield, Sir Edward Greville III (Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. Trans. lxxxiii), 97; Procs. 1626, iv. 318.
  • 33. CJ, i. 681a.
  • 34. Bristol RO, mayor’s audits 1625-29, ms 04026, p. 110; WCRO, CR 136/B611.
  • 35. CJ, i. 391a, 715a, 871b; CD 1628, iii. 48.
  • 36. For the details, see the entry on Fuller and also the London constituency article.
  • 37. GL, ms 5570/1, p. 181; ms 5606/2, f. 298v.
  • 38. CD 1621, iv. 420.
  • 39. SP14/6/82.
  • 40. Hugh Glasier, Richard Bellingham and Anthony Pembrugge.
  • 41. Procs. 1628, vi. 149.
  • 42. Scarborough Recs. 1600-40 ed. M.Y. Ashcroft (N. Yorks. RO xlvii), 146.
  • 43. Cott., Julius C.I, f. 336.
  • 44. Cent. Kent. Stud., Qb/C1/32.
  • 45. Staffs. RO, D(W)1721/1/4, f. 37r-v.
  • 46. Procs. in Kent ed. L.B. Larking (Cam. Soc. lxxx), pp. x-xii.
  • 47. NLW, 9060E/1311.
  • 48. Norf. RO (King’s Lynn), KL/C7/9, f. 52.
  • 49. For a detailed discussion of the rules of membership, see Chapter 2.
  • 50. M. Kishlansky, Selection, 24; Som. RO, DD/PH 219; HMC Montagu, 109.
  • 51. Bodl., Willis 48, f. 229; ‘CD 1604-7’, p. 24.
  • 52. For Spencer’s rejection of the offer of a seat at New Woodstock in 1614, see Liber Famelicus of Sir J. Whitelocke ed. J. Bruce (Cam. Soc. lxx), 41.
  • 53. Cent. Kent. Stud., U350/C/2/8.
  • 54. Salop RO, LB7/1694.
  • 55. J. Whitson, A Pious Meditation ed. J. Eden (1829), p. 19.
  • 56. Procs. in Parls. of Eliz. I, iii. 459; Musarum Deliciae, 68; Parl. Debates 1610 ed. S.R. Gardiner, 54; Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 360; E.S. Cope, ‘Public Images of Parl. During its Absence’, Legislative Studies Quarterly, VII, 231.
  • 57. P. Croft, ‘Annual Parls. and the Long Parl.’, HR, lix. 167.
  • 58. CD 1621, vi. 67; CJ, i. 659b.
  • 59. C.C. Ward, ‘Disputed Elections to the House of Commons, 1604-41’ (Univ. of Nebraska D.Phil. 1974), p. 35.
  • 60. Som. RO, DD/PH/216/89, quoted in Kishlansky, 91.
  • 61. NLW, 9057E/915.
  • 62. Berks. RO, W/AC1/1/1, f. 98v.
  • 63. Procs. 1625, p. 680. The freemen were perfectly correct: the town clerk or his deputy had been returned at every election since 1584.
  • 64. G.D. Gilmore, ‘Pprs. of Richard Taylor of Clapham’, in Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. xxv. 105.
  • 65. Berks. RO, W/AC1/1/1, ff. 93, 98v; V.J. Hodges, ‘The Electoral Influence of the Aristocracy, 1604-41’ (Columbia Univ. Ph.D. 1977), p. 217.
  • 66. Fairfax Corresp. ed. G.W. Johnson, i. 89.
  • 67. Berks. RO, D/EL1/0.5/12; Hodges, 218-19.
  • 68. Harl. 7000, f. 41, repr. in J.J. Cartwright, Chapters in Yorks. Hist. 203-4.
  • 69. NLW, Clenennau 398.
  • 70. See Chapter 9.
  • 71. Lowther Fam. Estate Bks. 1617-75 ed. C.B. Phillips (Surtees Soc. cxci), 229.
  • 72. Neale, Elizabethan House of Commons, 151.
  • 73. Procs. 1625, p. 533.
  • 74. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iii. 293-5; L. Jardine and A. Stewart, Hostage to Fortune, 296-8.
  • 75. HMC Buccleuch, i. 102.
  • 76. Chamberlain Letters, i. 550; Liber Famelicus of Sir J. Whitelocke, 67.
  • 77. A. Thrush, ‘The Personal Rule of Jas. I, 1611-20’, in Pols., Religion and Popularity ed. T. Cogswell, R. Cust and P. Lake, 100.
  • 78. Archaeologia, xv. 51. For further discussion of this episode, see Chapter 13.
  • 79. T. Rabb, Jacobean Gentleman: Sir Edwin Sandys, 349.
  • 80. Add. 29974, f. 74.
  • 81. Chamberlain Letters, i. 526.
  • 82. HMC Cowper, i. 253.
  • 83. Procs. 1628, vi. 124.
  • 84. Procs. 1625, p. 689.
  • 85. Birch, Ct. and Times of James I, i. 332.
  • 86. NLW, 9059E/1177.
  • 87. Add. 34220, ff. 6-8.
  • 88. For a discussion of Members introducing private bills, see Chapter 11.
  • 89. HALS, Verulam ms XII. A.9; XII. B.18.
  • 90. Strafforde Letters (1739), ed. Knowler, i. 48.
  • 91. C2/Jas.I/C9/64. The remaining eight are Sir Theophilus Finch (Great Yarmouth); Sir William Sandys (Winchester); Edward Savage I (Petersfield); Sir Thomas Shirley (Steyning); Robert Wolverston (Cardigan Boroughs); Sir John Bourchier (Kingston-upon-Hull); Sir William Lovelace (Canterbury); and Rowland Meyrick (New Radnor Boroughs).
  • 92. Neale, Elizabethan House of Commons, 150.
  • 93. Norf. RO (Norwich), L’Estrange P7.
  • 94. Cornw. RO, DD.R(S.)1/902.
  • 95. Archaeologia, xv. 163.
  • 96. Croft, ‘Capital Life’, 78-9.
  • 97. T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 96.
  • 98. Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. Knowler, i. 48.
  • 99. Croft, ‘Capital Life’, 68, citing STAC 8/227/1, f. 86.
  • 100. CJ, i. 251a, 1001a; Letters of Philip Gawdy ed. I.H. Jeayes, 147.
  • 101. Chamberlain Letters, i. 241, 243.
  • 102. CJ, i. 357b: ‘... you have been so fed and cloyed (especially you of the lower House) with such banquets, and choice of delicate speeches ...’.
  • 103. J. Evans, A Hist. of the Soc. of Antiquaries, 10, 13.
  • 104. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 72.
  • 105. I owe this information to Michelle O’Callaghan.
  • 106. C115/M35/8406.
  • 107. Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 127-8.
  • 108. Oglander Memoirs ed. W.H. Long, 149-50.