IV. Elections

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

Between 1604 and 1629 seven parliaments met, each of which was preceded by nationwide elections in more than 200 constituencies. These assemblies were punctuated at intervals with by-elections to replace those Members who had died, were judged incapable of serving or chose to represent another constituency. Fifty-five per cent of constituencies experienced at least one by-election during these years, with the result that between 1604 and 1629 the number of elections in some constituencies reached double figures. Maldon, Wilton, Newton (Lancs.) and the combined borough of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis all held eleven; at St. Albans there were no less than twelve. In total, more than two thousand elections were held between 1604 and 1629.

Unlike their modern equivalents, most elections in the early seventeenth century were uncontested. Just how many were fought over is difficult to say, because the surviving records are incomplete and because our conclusion depends on what we mean by a contest: Mark Kishlansky counts only those elections that were disputed on election-day, whereas other scholars are also inclined to include elections in which candidates withdrew ahead of voting. Nevertheless, it has been estimated that around 20% of all county elections were contested between 1604 and 1641.1 Naturally some counties, either through a shortage of seats or because of local factional rivalries, were more prone to contests than others. Indeed, in Norfolk and Yorkshire, where the number of gentry desiring to serve in the Commons vastly exceeded the number of available places, it was actually unusual for elections to pass off without a contest.

For those who regularly engaged in contests, the experience could be profoundly dispiriting. ‘Of all other things’, wrote Sir John Wynn to his kinsman Sir William Thomas in April 1625, ‘I hate these elections – most troublesome, most unprofitable, and most thankless’.2 More than one contested election took place against the threat of violence. ‘If factious persons be suffered to carry weapons in the town when the said election shall be’, wrote the justices of the great sessions for north Wales to the magistrates and chief townsmen of Caernarvonshire in December 1625, there was a distinct possibility ‘that blood and breach of His Majesty’s peace may ensue therein’.3 Contests inevitably meant that somebody would be forced to suffer the disgrace of public defeat, or at least would be obliged to withdraw with his tail between his legs, and though some victors might behave magnanimously others most certainly did not. Four weeks after triumphing over the Wynns of Gwydir at the Caernarvonshire election of December 1620, John Griffith was still holding weekly celebrations at Pwllheli.4

Naturally enough not everyone disliked parliamentary elections. For many voters, they were as much social occasions as political events, and were to be enjoyed. Take the London livery companies, for example. In 1606 and 1625 the Mercers paid for bread, wine and cake for their members, while in 1614 the company disbursed 15s. on ‘a little dinner at the choosing of the burgesses for the Parliament’.5 The Turners spent almost as much ‘for a supper at Mr Pike’s’ in 1621, and in 1614 the Carpenters gathered for a dinner costing 11s. at the King’s Arms in Bassishaw.6 Outside the capital, in some of the smaller boroughs, the victorious candidates occasionally treated the electors to free drinks. Sir Edward Dering, having been elected by the Hythe, laid out £3 6s. on ‘white wine and sugar’ in 1625 on the mayor, jurats and freemen by way of thanks.7 At Andover, outsiders elected by the borough were expected to foot the bill for a customary election feast.8 No such tradition existed at St. Albans, where the borough itself met the cost of drinks on the election of its parliamentary representatives.9

Like them or loathe them, parliamentary elections were a long-established feature of the political landscape. All the same, they were far from being well regulated. Although no less than seven laws prescribed how elections were to be conducted, these statutes dated from before the middle of the fifteenth century, and neither singly nor collectively were they adequate to the task. Consequently the scope for abuse was immense. More than one Member who sat during this period did so not because he had triumphed in a fair fight, but because he or his accomplices had either bent such rules as there were or had cheated.

Writs, precepts and indentures

Before the passage of the Triennial Act of 1641, the right to summon a Parliament was vested solely in the monarch who, once a decision had been reached, wrote to the lord chancellor or lord keeper to order the preparation of writs of election.10 The task of drafting these writs lay with the Petty Bag, the Chancery department primarily responsible for the administrative work of government.11 Judging from their performance in November 1620, it took little more than a week for the three clerks of the Petty Bag and their servants to carry out this duty.12

Writs issued after the start of a Parliament, either requiring the holding of a by-election or summoning Members from boroughs that the Commons had decided to re-enfranchise, were not drafted by the clerks of the Petty Bag but by the clerk of the Crown in Chancery, who recorded them in his warrant book.13 Writs of this nature were initiated by the Speaker rather than by the lord keeper or lord chancellor because from 1601 at least the Commons enjoyed undisputed authority over the clerk of the Crown in Chancery.14

During periods of prorogation or adjournment it sometimes proved difficult for the Commons to assert its sole right to authorize the issuing of writs of by-election. In September 1609, during one such interval between sessions, the Privy Council not only decided to unseat Tobie Matthew as one of the Members for St. Albans but also moved a writ of by-election on its own authority, as a result of which Sir Henry Helmes was chosen in Matthew’s stead. When the Commons’ election committee learned of this in February 1610 there was understandable dismay, and as a result a fresh writ was issued, authorized by the Speaker.15 As late as 1629 the clerk of the Crown and his subordinates claimed the right to issue writs of by-election ‘of their own heads’, without the direction of either the lord keeper or the Speaker, a practice that the Commons’ election committee considered highly questionable.16

In general, all writs were addressed to the appropriate sheriff, but special arrangements existed in respect of Lancashire and Cheshire, both of which were technically palatine jurisdictions. Lancashire’s writs were directed to the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, while those for Cheshire and the city of Chester (a county borough) were sent to the hereditary chamberlain of the county palatine of Chester, the earl of Derby.17 In the Cinque Ports there was no sheriff to whom the writ could be sent, as Hastings, Rye, Winchelsea, Dover, Sandwich, Hythe and New Romney were subject to the jurisdiction of the lord warden rather than the sheriffs of Sussex or Kent. Here the practice was to send a single writ to the lord warden who, being normally resident in London, then sent copies to the clerk of Dover Castle for distribution. A further constituency not subject to the authority of a sheriff was Berwick-upon-Tweed which, despite having been seized from Scotland as long ago as 1482, had never been absorbed into Northumberland. In this case Chancery had little alternative but to send the writs directly to the town itself.

It probably took less than a week for most writs to reach their destination, but remote areas, such as the far north and parts of Wales, may have required a few more days. In 1624 Sir Richard Wynn, who had often made the journey himself, thought that election writs would take around ten days to travel from Westminster to north Wales.18 From time to time writs went missing, or were inexplicably delayed. In 1620 the Caernarvonshire writ took longer than expected to arrive owing to ‘the extremity of the weather’, or so it was claimed.19 In January 1629 the Commons, surprised that no one had yet been elected to replace the late Member for Hertford, Sir Charles Morrison, demanded to know from the deputy clerk of the Crown when the writ for the by-election had been issued, only to be told that it had been sent out three months earlier.20 In October 1605 a couple of writs addressed to the sheriffs of Herefordshire and Worcestershire appear to have taken a considerable time to reach their destinations. Both were dated 4 October, yet Herefordshire’s sheriff did not issue his precept to the borough of Hereford until 22 October, while the warrant of Worcestershire’s sheriff to the corporation of Evesham was not dated until the 27th.21 Unless both sheriffs proved slow in drawing up their precepts, either the messengers entrusted with the delivery of the writs were tardy or the writs hung around Chancery for many days before being issued.During the early Tudor period the responsibility for conveying the writs to the sheriffs normally devolved upon the messengers of the Chamber. This arrangement presumably remained in force, but the surviving financial records for the early Stuart Chamber are not detailed enough to be certain.22 Surprisingly, there was no legal requirement that only messengers employed by the Crown should convey the writs to the sheriffs. As no election could be held in the absence of the writ, those who wished to delay or disrupt proceedings for their own or another’s electoral advantage, or who suspected that the sheriff might side with their opponents, often tried to take possession of the writ before it left London. Indeed, any well-connected gentleman who offered to carry a writ at his own cost might sometimes gain possession of it at a pinch. In November 1620 Sir Thomas Wentworth got hold of the writ for Yorkshire, and in February 1624 the countess of Devonshire’s agent, Philip Spurling, not only obtained the writ authorizing the East Retford by-election but also kept it to himself for as long as possible so as to build up support in the borough for Sir Edward Wortley.23 In April 1625 Sir Edward Littleton, a judge on the north Wales circuit, secured the Caernarvonshire writ on behalf of his judicial colleague, Sir Peter Mutton, while Sir Roger Mostyn, who nursed parliamentary ambitions, informed Sir John Wynn that the writ for Flintshire ‘is come to my hands’.24 Wynn himself managed to obtain the writ for Anglesey, whereupon the sheriff was obliged to send him a polite request to pass it on before the next county day.25 In Pembrokeshire in January 1626, Sir James Perrot demanded that Sir Thomas Canon be punished for ‘forestalling and concealing His Majesty’s writ’.26

Occasionally a messenger entrusted with conveying an election writ proved unwilling to surrender it to another for delivery. Writing from Clements’ Inn in February 1604, William Browne informed the sheriff of Staffordshire, Sir Walter Bagot, that he would have sent the writs for Staffordshire to Bagot by the latter’s own servant, ‘but the messenger would not deliver them but to yourself’.27 In general, however, Chancery did little to prevent writs from falling into the hands of private individuals. On the contrary, its officials sometimes passed writs to their own friends or relations. In January 1624 Lord Keeper Williams granted Sir Richard Wynn custody of the writs for North Wales, only to be caught red-handed by the king, who had the writs entrusted to ‘special messengers sworn for the safe delivery’ instead.28 In 1614 the writ for Somerset was detained in the interests of Sir Robert Phelips, whose father, Sir Edward, was master of the Rolls. As the second most senior official in Chancery, responsible for the appointment of the clerks of the Petty Bag, Sir Edward was ideally placed to intercept the writs prior to their dispatch.29 Given the ease with which private individuals were often able to obtain possession of the writs, it is not surprising that in 1621 William Hakewill proposed that in future they should be carried only by properly accredited messengers, whose duties would include taking receipts from the sheriffs on delivery.30

Once the sheriff had custody of the writs he was required, by an Act of 1445, to issue his precept or warrant to the mayor or bailiffs of every parliamentary borough within his shrievalty.31 At the beginning of James’s reign the king issued a proclamation requiring the sheriffs to withhold their precepts from any borough they considered so decayed and sparsely populated as to be incapable of returning Members.32 This demand, which was not repeated, recalled English practice in the fourteenth century, when sheriffs sometimes chose the boroughs to which they sent writs.33 However, the 1445 Act permitted no such latitude, and under the early Stuarts no sheriff ever withheld his precept from a borough he knew to be enfranchised.

The main purposes of the sheriff’s precept were to require an election to be held with all speed and to instruct the recipients to send the sheriff a return in the form of an indenture for his signature. The precept frequently also ordered the mayor or bailiff to ensure that those elected were granted ‘full power and sufficient authority’ to make decisions in Parliament on behalf of their constituents.34 However, the format and content of precepts varied from sheriff to sheriff and from county to county. While some were brief, others were detailed and extensive. Many were composed in Latin, but others, like the hurriedly scribbled mandate sent by the sheriff of Worcestershire to the bailiff and burgesses of Droitwich in February 1621, were in English.35 Precepts were sent under the sheriff’s own seal, and were normally signed by him personally, but those directed to Chippenham in 1614 and to Bury St. Edmunds in 1628 bear the signature of the under-sheriff instead.36 In the Cinque Ports, where there were no sheriffs, responsibility for issuing the precepts, which in Hythe were known as ‘letters of attendance’, lay with the lord warden.37 It seems to have been normal practice for the sheriff (or the lord warden) to send a copy of the writ with his precept.38

Responsibility for transmitting the precept and a copy of the writ to the parliamentary boroughs lay with the sheriff rather than Chancery. Although expected to shoulder the cost himself, the sheriff was often paid by the boroughs for his services. At New Woodstock in 1614 the town’s chamberlain gave the sheriff 3s. for his precept, and at Leicester in 1625 the corporation reimbursed John Watson 6s. 8d ‘for a pair of gloves given to Mr Sheriff when he made the warrant for choosing the burgesses’.39 In the Cinque Ports it was the lord warden who, through the clerk of Dover Castle, distributed the precepts and writs to the individual parliamentary boroughs, employing for this purpose his official messenger, known as the boder. In December 1620 the borough of Hythe gave the boder 1s. 4d. for bringing the lord warden’s letter of attendance and a copy of the writ. Rye too made payments to the boder, in 1604, 1620 and 1624.40 Although the sheriff was responsible for delivering the precept and a copy of the writ to the enfranchised boroughs within his shrievalty, this duty was sometimes performed by others. In February 1621 the footman of the 1st earl of Exeter handed the corporation of Boston both a copy of the writ and ‘Mr Sheriff’s warrant from London’, for which service he was given 20s.41 The earl was recorder of the borough, and doubtless expected his helpfulness to be rewarded with the right to nominate the successor to Sir Thomas Cheke who, having been returned for two constituencies, had decided to plump for Harwich rather than Boston.

As most parliamentary boroughs were incorporated, it was clear in a majority of cases to whom the sheriff should direct his precept. It is true that under Elizabeth the sheriff of Buckinghamshire frequently sent his mandate for Aylesbury to the head of the Pakington family rather than the corporation, but this was exceptional and the practice had evidently ceased by 1604.42 However, where an enfranchised borough was unincorporated – an eventuality not foreseen by the 1445 Act – the position was not always clear, since there was often no municipal officer to whom the writ could be sent. At Peterborough it was customary for the precept to be sent to the dean of the cathedral’s bailiff,43 but at Hindon, in Wiltshire, the situation was confused. In December 1620 the sheriff, realizing that Hindon was unincorporated, initially directed his precept to the town’s burgesses in general, but he subsequently had second thoughts, and sent a fresh warrant to the de facto head of the borough’s administration, the bishop’s bailiff.44

In 1624 the Commons’ committee for privileges set out the principles to be followed for unincorporated boroughs after it investigated the election held at Bletchingley. There the decision of the sheriff to send his precept to one of the town’s burgage-holders rather than to the lord of the manor’s bailiff was upheld, on the grounds that the latter was ‘not such a person as ought to have receipt of the warrant of precept ... which is for the king and commonwealth and not for the lord of the borough’. The precept, being sent to ‘one of the electors’, was ‘well delivered’, as it was clear that it had to be given to someone among the voters and it was plainly impossible for a single warrant to be handed to every elector.45

In the absence of the sheriff’s precept, no borough was entitled to proceed to an election. Any election which took place before the precept had been read to the electors was, as Sir Edward Coke observed, ‘void, and of no force’.46 Precepts that were slow to arrive therefore occasioned delays. On 14 April 1625 one of the bailiffs of Colchester complained to the earl of Sussex that his borough was unable to proceed to an election as it had yet to receive the sheriff’s mandate. His irritation is understandable, as nearby Maldon had held its election two days earlier.47 Brackley, in Northamptonshire, was still awaiting the sheriff’s precept as late as 26 April 1625,48 whereas Peterborough, within the same county, had conducted its parliamentary election three days earlier. Delays like these suggest that precepts, like writs, were sometimes detained to cause inconvenience to one side or another. In March 1614 Robert Heyricke complained to his brother Sir William from Leicester that ‘we cannot get the precept from the sheriff, which I think is held away by some policy’.49

Most elections resulted in the drafting of an indenture between the chief citizens of the borough on the one hand and the sheriff on the other. Normally a single indenture sufficed, even if the constituency was entitled to return two representatives, but in Cornish boroughs it was common for separate indentures to be drafted for each Member. Where it proved impossible to reach agreement on the outcome of an election, rival indentures might be submitted. The Lostwithiel election of April 1625 generated no less than four separate indentures as a result of two double returns. In the Cinque Ports, where there was no sheriff, the practice was different. The enfranchised boroughs simply communicated their choice to the lord warden, who then composed a single return of all the Members elected within his jurisdiction. At Berwick, where there was also no sheriff, the town drew up a declaration bearing the town’s common seal, at least until the end of James’s reign. Thereafter it drafted indentures between the mayor and bailiffs on the one hand and ‘those burgesses of the borough who were present at the election’ on the other.50 Some boroughs were in the habit of annotating the back of the writ with the names of the Members elected, even if they regularly returned indentures.51

Indentures were always drawn up on parchment rather than paper: the 1614 indenture on paper among the records of the University of Cambridge appears to be a copy of an original that was never returned.52 Indentures conformed to no fixed size. Most are fairly large – twelve or eighteen inches long by nine or ten inches deep is not uncommon – whereas others are rather small: the 1604 indenture for Wallingford, for instance, is less than six inches wide and four-and-a-half inches deep.53 The majority of indentures are rectangular, but some are almost square, and a few, such as the Warwickshire return for 1621, both Lichfield indentures of 1624 and the Callington return for 1628, are L-shaped.54 It was unusual, but not unknown, for supplementary paperwork to be attached to the indentures. The returns for Cardiff Boroughs were often accompanied by lists of voters sent in by those towns entitled to participate in the borough election held at Cardiff,55 and in 1604, at the suggestion of the attorney-general, the sheriff of Buckinghamshire attached a certificate to his return declaring that at the time of the election Sir Francis Goodwin stood outlawed.56 During the 1620s the Essex borough of Maldon provided boxes for its indentures, at a cost of 4d. in 1624 and 8d. in 1626.57

Just as small defects in legal documents were not permitted to cause judgments in law to be overturned,58 minor errors in an indenture or a precept were insufficient to invalidate an election. Provided that it contained ‘sufficient substance’, an indenture could not be declared void ‘for want of form’. That, at least, was the finding of the Commons’ elections committee in 1624 in respect of the Bletchingley and Southwark elections.59 Even if the sheriff had falsified the return, the indenture was not necessarily invalid, as Sir Edward Coke observed, since it was the election which ‘is the foundation, and not the return’.60 An indenture found to be defective might instead be amended in the presence of the Commons at the clerk’s table.61

In theory at least, all parties to a shire election were supposed to seal the indenture,62 but the size of most county electorates made this a practical impossibility. Signatures, though not required by law, were commonly provided. However, except in constituencies with tiny electorates it was rare for every voter to append his name.63 By the early Stuart period some boroughs had dispensed with the need for signatures altogether, preferring instead to authenticate their return with the town’s common seal. For example, none of the six surviving indentures for Tiverton during this period bear voters’ signatures. In some boroughs where signatures were still required, many voters were incapable of signing their own names, and at Hindon, where almost half could not do so in 1626, there was no common seal to authenticate the return either. In cases like these there was no way of telling whether the marks made by illiterate voters had been made by anyone else, and perhaps for this reason four men who do not feature among the names of the voters signed the back of the 1626 Hindon indenture.64 Signatures were no guarantee against forgery. At Grampound in each of the first three Caroline elections the name of John Hawkins junior appears as a mark on one indenture but as a fluent signature on the others. In 1628 even the mayor’s signature was forged.65

The one signature and seal that was regarded as essential was that of the sheriff or his deputy. At county elections the sheriff or the under-sheriff was physically present and therefore able to sign and seal on the spot, but borough elections (other than those in the county boroughs) were supposed to be conducted by the mayor or bailiffs on the authority of the sheriff’s precept rather than by the sheriff. Indeed, when the Commons’ elections committee learned that the under-sheriff of Gloucestershire had presided over the Cirencester election in 1624, it condemned him for his presumption, declaring that ‘he had nothing to do in the matter’.66 Since the sheriff was not normally present at borough elections, the indenture had to be sent to him afterwards to be by him signed and sealed. In fact, it seems to have been common to send him two identical indentures, one for returning to Chancery and the other for retention in the borough’s records. In April 1614 the corporation of Boston instructed John Anderson not only to deliver the return to the sheriff of Lincolnshire, but also ‘to take the ensealing of the counterpane thereof from the said sheriff’.67 Getting the indentures to the sheriff or (in the case of the Cinque Ports) to the clerk of Dover Castle was the responsibility of the borough, which sometimes enlisted the services of a messenger. In 1614 New Romney paid 8d. to Peter Dibb, the deputy marshal of the admiralty of the Cinque Ports, to take the return to Dover, and in 1620 Hythe gave 8d. to the boder for the same reason.68

The copy of the indenture retained by the borough was meant to be identical with the one filed in Chancery, but differences in dating are not unknown. Three days separate the dates on the Chancery copy of the Christchurch election indenture of 1624 and the mayor’s copy.69 Where the sheriff’s copy passed through many hands before it reached London there was ample scope for alteration, as the case of Wigan in 1604 illustrates. Here the town elected as its junior Member William Bromley and entered his name on the copy of the indenture which is now among the borough’s records.70 The copy that was subsequently filed with Chancery is now illegible, but from a list of ‘unlawful returns’ compiled by Arthur Hall it is clear that Bromley was replaced by Sir John Pulteney, the son-in-law of the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Sir John Fortescue, who had tried but failed to secure Pulteney a seat at Leicester.71 How this substitution was carried out is not hard to guess. Since the sheriff of Lancashire was required to send his returns to the chancellor of the duchy rather than to Chancery, it would have been an easy matter for Fortescue to alter the second indenture before passing it to Chancery.

Boroughs are unlikely to have been alone in keeping copies of election indentures. Following county elections, too, the sheriff probably retained a duplicate so that a record would be held locally. However, since these documents were the property of private individuals rather than of an undying corporation, most are now lost. A duplicate of the Yorkshire indenture of April 1606 is nevertheless to be found among the papers of Timothy Hutton, who served as sheriff of Yorkshire in 1606/7.72

It was improper, and perhaps even unlawful, for boroughs to send ‘blank’ indentures to their patrons.73 These were indentures that were signed and sealed by the townsmen in which the space for the names of the elected Members had been left unfilled. Aristocratic patrons naturally liked blanks, as they made it easier to manage their electoral patronage: if a client failed to obtain a seat in one place his name could always be inserted into a blank provided by a tame borough. ‘I ... desire that the indenture [for Flint Boroughs] may be sent up to me with a blank’, wrote Lord President Bridgewater to his election agents in November 1620, ‘that if I provide him [William Ravenscroft] a place in the meantime, the town may be furnished with another of my nomination as sufficient’.74 Officially the Crown disapproved of blanks, since those returned on such documents were not elected in any meaningful sense at all, and in January 1604 James prohibited their use.75 Unofficially, however, government ministers were just as happy to resort to them as aristocratic patrons. When the man who controlled the Cornish borough of Bossiney sent Lord Treasurer Salisbury an indenture ‘subscribed and sealed together with our seal itself to alter and dispose the same with our allowance and consent at your lordship’s pleasure’ in 1609, it was not sent back with a peremptory instruction to hold an open and free election as the law required. On the contrary, Salisbury proceeded to enter on the return the name of his secretary, George Calvert.76 Nor was Sir James Bagg rebuked in 1628 when he sent his patron, the king’s chief minister the duke of Buckingham, two blank indentures for Cornish boroughs.77 In 1626 the lord chamberlain, the 3rd earl of Pembroke, returned Sir Robert Mansell for the Cornish borough of Lostwithiel on a blank indenture provided by his client William Coryton.78

Examination of surviving indentures suggests that the use of blanks was widespread, particularly where a borough was under the thumb of its patron. Helston, for instance, appears to have routinely provided blanks to whichever patron held sway at the time, and in 1625 Sir Robert Killigrew is said by Thomas Scott of Canterbury to have brought up to London from Penryn a blank ‘in his pocket’, into which he inserted the name of Sir Edwin Sandys.79 The return for the 1610 by-election at Arundel, too, bears the telltale marks of a blank: the name of the Member chosen, Sir John Danvers, is in an ink which differs from that used in the rest of the document.80

Except in Lancashire, Cheshire, Berwick and the Cinque Ports, it was the responsibility of the sheriff or his deputy rather than the mayor or bailiff to return the indentures to Chancery. Mayors and bailiffs were returning officers only in the sense that they were responsible for sending their indentures to the sheriff. When the question arose in February 1610 whether the bailiff of Bridgnorth was entitled to return his borough’s indenture to Chancery, given that the sheriff of Shropshire had died in office, the Commons resolved that the return could only be made by a new sheriff, as ‘the bailiff cannot’.81 In his list of precedents compiled in 1621, Sir Charles Howard explained that ‘by the course of the House and precedents of that court we cannot send to the mayor to return a burgess to the House’ since it was the responsibility of the mayor to send his return to the sheriff.82 Many boroughs, like Great Yarmouth, which recorded in its minute book that it would return its indentures ‘to the sheriff as formerly’, had little difficulty in grasping this point. However others, like Winchelsea in 1621, mistakenly believed that they were entitled to send their returns direct to Chancery.83 Perversely, the Commons sometimes encouraged this misconception. In 1593, after the Cornish borough of Liskeard entrusted its return to one of its newly elected Members rather than the sheriff (thereby making a Member of the Commons his own returning officer), the lower House reluctantly agreed to accept the validity of the indenture.84 In 1621 the bailiff of Westminster, who presided over the city’s parliamentary election, sent his return to Chancery rather than to the sheriff of Middlesex, prompting a debate on the propriety of his behaviour. Astonishingly, despite the 1610 ruling in respect of Bridgnorth, the supporters of the bailiff won the ensuing division, a victory which one commentator described as ‘the upholding of a custom against the common law’.85

In county boroughs such as London, York and Canterbury there was not one sheriff but two. Normally both sheriffs acted in concert but every now and then they disagreed, so that rival indentures, each signed and sealed by one of the sheriffs, were sent in to Chancery. Precisely this situation arose at Coventry in 1628, when Sheriff Legge returned Richard Greene and William Purefoy, while his colleague, Sheriff Knipe, supported Isaac Walden and Thomas Potter.

Along with the writs which had prompted their creation, indentures were returned by the sheriff to the clerk of the Crown in Chancery or his deputy. This official appears not to have enjoyed the benefit of a permanent set of offices: in 1592 the deputy clerk of the Crown operated out of Holborn, but in 1626 one of his successors, to whom the Tiverton indenture was directed, was to be found ‘over the New Exchange, in the Strand’.86 In the case of borough elections at least, a fee was payable on the submission of the return, which varied between 2s. and 12s. per indenture.87 Normally a borough was expected to meet this sum itself from its own resources, but in February 1610 Sir Francis Bacon reimbursed the mayor of St. Albans both the cost of the writ and the sheriff’s precept after the borough was put to the expense of holding a second by-election to elect Bacon’s nominee through no fault of its own.88

As it was the responsibility of the sheriff to return the indenture, it was quite common for boroughs to hand their fee to him. For instance, in 1586 the under-sheriff of Kent was paid 4s. by Maidstone ‘for putting in of the indentures’, and in 1626 the town clerk of Aldeburgh gave the same amount to the sheriff of Suffolk ‘for the indentures of the burgesses’.89 However, in 1621 the fee due to the clerk of the Crown from the city of Coventry was paid in by one of the borough’s newly elected Members, Sampson Hopkins.90 On the face of it, this suggests that Coventry, like Liskeard in 1593, had chosen to bypass its own sheriffs. However, the borough may have been adopting an entirely practical approach. After all, why put either of the city’s sheriffs to the trouble and expense of travelling all the way to London when the task of filing the return and paying the clerk of the Crown’s fee might just as easily be performed by one of the newly elected Members? Nevertheless, boroughs that returned their indentures to Chancery directly rather than through the sheriff were technically committing an offence. When the under-sheriff of Cornwall, John Sparke, complained in March 1628 that an indenture had not been sent to him for forwarding to Chancery, the House summoned the deputy clerk of the Crown, who confirmed that he had indeed received the return from the Members concerned themselves.91

Most sheriffs probably waited until all the boroughs in their shrievalty had held their elections before sending in their returns. On learning in January 1624 that the borough of Leicester was eager to proceed to an election as soon as possible, the earl of Huntingdon, who was awaiting the outcome of the county election before nominating a candidate for the town, urged delay, as the sheriff ‘will not return his indentures till within a day or two of the beginning of the Parliament’.92 Sheriffs of county boroughs had no such good reason to postpone sending in their returns, however, as they had only the one constituency to consider. Even so, the sheriffs of Gloucester sat on their city’s indenture for at least two weeks after the borough’s election in 1620, giving the corporation time to consider switching one of the elected Members, Anthony Robinson, for a naturalized Scottish courtier, Henry Gibb.93 Although no such substitution was made in this particular case, more than one sheriff may have been obliged to delay the submission of his indenture by a last-minute change of heart among the electors. Something along those lines probably explains why Chancery had still not received the indenture for Boroughbridge on 7 February 1610, even though the by-election had been held almost eight weeks earlier. Inspection of the return itself reveals that the name of the man elected is entered over an erasure.94

During the life of the Parliament, the clerk of the Crown in Chancery retained custody of the election returns ‘for, and to the use of the Commons in Parliament’. However, once the Parliament had ended the writs and indentures were transferred to the clerks of the Petty Bag for safekeeping.95 Many are still extant, but most of those relating to 1614 have long since disappeared. They may have been deliberately destroyed, for after the Parliament, which was downgraded to the status of a Convention, notes made by Members on impositions were submitted to the Privy Council and burned.96

Announcing an election

Prior to 1571 it had been customary for the Privy Council to issue circular letters to the magistrates of each county ahead of nationwide elections. These documents were intended to give general guidance on the conduct of the forthcoming elections but they may also have served to provide general notice to the electors. After 1571, however, this practice mysteriously ceased, and was not revived until August 1597, probably at the instigation of the new lord keeper, Sir Thomas Egerton.97 Circular letters were not issued ahead of the 1601 parliamentary elections. Following the change of dynasty the new king, James I, took matters into his own hands, for in January 1604, three weeks ahead of the issuing of writs of election, he published a proclamation announcing parliamentary elections as soon as the plague in London had abated. This novel departure was not destined to last however, as James repeated the experiment only once – in November 1620 – while his son Charles abandoned it entirely.98

Circular letters and proclamations provided voters with only general notification of an impending election; they did not, and could not, furnish the dates and times of elections, which in the case of nationwide elections were spread over many weeks. In the counties, and also in the seventeen boroughs that were counties in their own right, the law assumed that voters did not require advance notice of an election. This was because the Act of 1406 governing shire elections required the sheriff, after having received the writ, to hold his election at the next county court – a judicial assembly of the whole shire that was legally required to meet once every twenty-eight days. There was no obligation on the sheriff to advertise the election in the interval between his receipt of the writ and the holding of the county court,99 nor was he entitled to postpone the election if the writ only came into his hands on the day of the county court. As Sir Robert Stanford explained to the sheriff of Staffordshire in 1604, ‘the law presumed that the country [sic] court never wanteth freeholders and that howsoever small the number were they must proceed to the election, that the Parliament be not delayed or deprived of any of their number’. A sheriff who pleaded that he had not had time to notify the voters ran the risk of being arraigned before the Privy Council for neglect of his duties.100

To many contemporaries, the fact that the sheriff was not legally obliged to advertise the receipt of the writ in the case of county elections was indefensible. Following the Worcestershire by-election of November 1609, at which Sir Samuel Sandys was returned unopposed by only a handful of voters, the president of the Council in the Marches, Lord Eure, informed Lord Treasurer Salisbury that many of ‘the better sort of gentlemen’ of Worcestershire ‘repine and complain’ that they had no notice of the election. According to Eure, the under-sheriff had delayed revealing that he had received the writ until the day of the election itself, at the county court.101 This unsatisfactory state of affairs not surprisingly led to calls for the law to be reformed. The authors of the 1621 elections bill, for instance, proposed that each sheriff should be required to announce his receipt of the writ in every market town in the county at least six days before the election.102 Nothing was done, however, and this meant that on occasion the law was simply flouted. In 1625, for instance, the quarter sessions records for Staffordshire indicate that the election was delayed for three weeks following the sheriff’s receipt of the writ.103

Only in urban boroughs – that is to say boroughs that were not counties in their own right – was there a legal requirement to give advance notice of an election. This was because in these constituencies parliamentary elections were not held in the county court and so were not subject to the rule that assigned them a fixed and settled time. However, the law so far as urban boroughs was concerned was far from adequate, as the 1445 statute requiring a sheriff to send his precept to the enfranchised boroughs within his shrievalty failed to specify either how quickly a borough should proceed to an election after it received the precept, or how much notice the mayor or bailiff was required to give the town’s voters. Interestingly, contemporaries were not always aware that the law was so deficient. In 1625 the corporation of Berwick needlessly instructed its town clerk to falsify on his return the time that had elapsed between the announcement of the town’s election and the election itself, so that as many days were specified ‘as the statute requires’.104 At Reading in 1626, the town held its election on 16 January but had the indenture backdated to 10 January, presumably because the sheriff’s precept had arrived on the 9th and it did not wish to be accused of tardiness.105

Despite the vagueness of the 1445 Act, advance notice of borough elections was widely regarded as vital. ‘Sufficient warning’, declared Sir Edward Coke in the late 1620s, must be given to the inhabitants of a borough ‘that they may be present; otherwise the election is not good’.106 Precisely what constituted ‘sufficient’ warning was, however, a matter for debate. The authors of the 1621 elections bill thought the sheriff should give at least eight days’ notice in respect of borough elections, whereas those responsible for the 1628 elections bill thought that three was adequate.107 In the absence of any firm guidelines, the Commons fell back on commonsense. In 1621 the mayor of Rochester was censured after he held the city’s election ‘in a secret and clandestine manner’, for having first gathered together his own supporters, he had given ‘but half an hour’s notice of the election’ to the rest of the freemen, most of whom were then at market.108 Three years later the Stafford election was quashed after it was discovered that only a couple of hours’ notice had been provided, as a result of which twenty-four out of the 120 burgesses entitled to vote had failed to attend.109

In deciding whether adequate notice had been given, the Commons was not solely interested in establishing whether enough time had been allowed between the announcement of an election and the election itself. The nature of the warning and the number of the electors to whom it had been given were also clearly important. In 1621 the committee condemned the dean of Westminster for having given notice to only one of Westminster’s four parishes.110 In 1624 the mayor of Dover failed to specify the reason behind his summoning of a general meeting of the town’s common council, as a result of which the Commons’ elections committee ruled that the ‘warning for the election was utterly insufficient’.111

In urban boroughs the responsibility for alerting the electors to the precise time and venue lay with the borough officers. At Clitheroe in 1601, for instance, the bailiffs, having received the sheriff of Lancashire’s precept, wrote to the borough’s sergeant three days ahead of the election ordering him to instruct all the resident freemen to ‘appear before us ... on the 13th of this instant October by 9 of the clock being Tuesday next at the house of Jane Mercer’.112 In the Welsh boroughs, the mayors of each of the county towns were responsible not only for notifying their fellow townsmen but also the residents of certain nearby towns. In his return for the 1621 Parliament, for example, the mayor of Cardigan declared that he had ‘sent sufficient notice to all boroughs within the said county to be at Cardigan’, while in 1625 he stated that open notice and public proclamation’ had been given in respect of the forthcoming election ‘upon a market day’.113 It was not the responsibility of private individuals, no matter how prominent, to assume the duty of notification themselves. When William Coryton distributed ‘tickets’ telling the voters of Cornwall that the forthcoming county election would be held on 10 March at Liskeard, he was condemned by Sir James Bagg for inviting an assembly, ‘an act in him ... unlawful’.114

Venues and times

The 1406 Act which required county elections to be held in the county court applied to boroughs that were counties in their own right as well as to the shires proper. When Henry Sherfield expressed an interest in a place at Southampton early in 1626, he was told that the borough might be unable to wait for him to make up his mind, as the election would be held ‘on Monday next, being our county court day, which time we cannot alter’.115 The date of the county court varied from shire to shire and from county borough to county borough, so that even if it had been considered desirable, it would have proved impossible to hold all the county elections on a single day.

Where the county court was held was generally a matter of custom rather than law.116 Only in the case of Northumberland, which was required to hold its county court at Alnwick Castle, did the law specify the venue.117 In most shires meetings took place in the county town. In Devon, for example, the county court assembled at Exeter, while in Yorkshire it always met at York. However, in Hertfordshire the county court shifted unpredictably, oscillating between Hertford, St. Albans, Hatfield and Baldock. In neighbouring Middlesex, the location of the county court also varied, as elections were held at Uxbridge in 1614, at Brentford in 1624 and at Hicks’ Hall, Clerkenwell (the newly acquired sessions’ house for the justices) in 1625.

Given the size of most county electorates, it was quite common for the county court to meet out of doors. In Kent, for instance, it was traditional to assemble outside Maidstone, on Penenden Heath, while in Somerset it was customary for the county court to meet at the market cross in Taunton. In 1624 the voters of Suffolk met on a hill just outside Ipswich, but the weather was so cold that fourteen labourers had to be employed to clear the snow from the hillside the day before the election. Not surprisingly the following year’s parliamentary election was held indoors.118

In Wales, and also in Monmouthshire, the question of the proper venue was complicated by the existence of the so-called contributory boroughs. By the terms of the Henrician Acts uniting England and Wales, Monmouthshire and all the Welsh shires were each granted a single borough Member, with the exception of Merioneth, which was given none at all, and Pembrokeshire, which was given two. However, aside from Haverfordwest, which had the distinction unique in Wales of being a county in itself, each of these borough Members was chosen by the inhabitants of more than one town. For instance, it was expected that the Member for Pembroke Boroughs would be chosen not merely by the electors of Pembroke, but also by the residents of Tenby, Wiston, Newport, Fishguard, Cilgerran and St. Dogmaels.

In general, Welsh borough elections tended to be held in the county town, but in Cardiganshire the question of the venue was complicated by the emergence of Aberystwyth as a rival to Cardigan. Although the Acts of Union of 1536 and 1543 had constituted Cardigan the county town, a private Act of 1553 had decreed that the county court should alternate between Cardigan and Aberystwyth.119 In 1547, and again in 1601 and 1604, both towns returned Members separately, giving rise to a double return and necessitating the intervention of the Commons. It was not until after 1604 that the question of the venue seems to have been settled in Cardigan’s favour. A deal was evidently struck, for after 1604 the mayor of Cardigan bent over backwards to ensure that the contributory boroughs were given adequate advance notice of elections. What led Aberystwyth to drop its claims is unclear, but between 1607 and 1612 the constituency was prosecuted by its Member for non-payment of parliamentary wages.120 The lawsuit was heard in London, and although it evidently failed it must have involved all parties in considerable cost and inconvenience. Under such circumstances it made sense for Cardigan and Aberystwyth to reach agreement.

The location of an election might easily determine its outcome, since those who lived closest were generally more likely to turn out in greater numbers than those who dwelt further afield.121 For this reason an unscrupulous sheriff who wished to confer an advantage on one side or another might switch the location of the election. In March 1614 around 4,000 voters assembled at Norwich to support Sir Henry Rich, only for the under-sheriff to adjourn proceedings half an hour later to Swaffham, twenty miles away. There the sheriff, Sir James Calthorpe, was waiting with a body of supporters to elect both his nephew Sir Hamon L’Estrange and Sir Henry Bedingfield, who lived nearby. In 1624 the Pembrokeshire election, which was normally held at Haverfordwest, took place at Prendergast, the seat of the then sheriff, Sir John Stepneth. The reason for the alteration is unclear, but it was presumably done to benefit Sir James Perrot, whose return was threatened by Sir Thomas Canon. Sheriffs were not alone in causing customary venues to be changed. Before 1620 Essex shire elections were held at Chelmsford, but that year the county’s most powerful magnate, Robert Rich, 2nd earl of Warwick, moved the hustings to Braintree. There they remained until 1628, when Warwick’s opponents tried to beat Warwick at his own game by switching them to Stratford Langthorne. Moving the county election from its accustomed location to another was almost always a sign of partisan behaviour, and for this reason, in 1621, William Hakewill proposed putting the venues for shire elections on a statutory footing. However, there were occasions when the sheriff changed location with good reason.122 When Buckinghamshire’s sheriff was asked to explain why he had removed the county court from its accustomed venue at Aylesbury to Brickhill, he replied that he had done so out of fear of the plague, which had already claimed the lives of three of Aylesbury’s inhabitants.123

Even when the customary town was used, there was still scope for a partisan sheriff to alter the location. At Monmouth in 1572 the sheriff wrong-footed his opponents by holding the county election at the house of one Hopkin Richard rather than at Monmouth Castle, where the hustings were usually held.124 In 1621 Owen Wynn complained that the sheriff had not, as custom and the Council in the Marches required him to do, kept the Caernarvonshire election in Caernarvon’s guildhall, whereupon the sheriff replied, entirely correctly, that ‘the sheriff may call his country court where he please[s]’.125 Even when the venue employed remained unaltered, advantage might still be gained by one side or the other. In 1614 the Hampshire election was held, as custom demanded, in Winchester Castle, but since one of the candidates, Sir Richard Tichborne, leased the castle from the Crown, many of his opponent’s supporters were allegedly denied entry.126

Although the law did not specify their location, parliamentary elections were required by the Act of 1445 to be held ‘in convenient time, that is to say ... betwixt the hour of eight and the hour of eleven’. On the face of it, this statement was crystal clear, but in 1557 the printer of Rastell’s edition of the statutes, which employed Roman numerals, transposed the type and printed ‘ix’ instead of ‘xi’. This error was repeated in subsequent editions, and for half a century many Englishmen, unless they were professional lawyers, mistakenly believed that the time specified by statute was ‘between the hours of eight and nine o’clock’.127

The chief problem with the statutory time allowance was its woeful inadequacy. Three hours was certainly sufficient in those constituencies where the voting population was small, or where the election was merely a formality designed to confirm the return of men who stood unopposed, but where electorates ran into thousands it was difficult to see how an election could be conducted in such a short space of time, particularly if it gave rise to a poll. Either fresh legislation was needed or a way had to be found to escape the three-hour strait-jacket imposed by the 1445 Act. The 1621 elections bill would have made a bad situation worse, since it actually sought to shorten by one hour the amount of time devoted to each election.128 A solution was not found until 1624, when John Glanville, the chairman of the Commons’ elections committee, announced that the 1445 Act did not, as was widely supposed, specify the times of day at which an election had to start and finish, but merely the hours between which the election was meant to begin. Provided an election had commenced by eleven o’clock it could continue for the rest of the day, or indeed for ‘more days, by adjournment, if need require’. This was an ingenious if perverse reading of the 1445 Act, and it flew in the face of the legal advice given to Sir Thomas Wentworth in November 1620 by two judges, who claimed that the 1548 Act governing the keeping of county courts precluded any possibility of adjournment. However, Glanville’s solution was readily endorsed by the Commons.129

Since elections were not only capable of continuing beyond eleven o’clock but also of being adjourned, the date on the indenture was not necessarily an accurate statement of the time of the election. In many two-Member constituencies the voters chose one representative on one day and his partner on another, a fact disguised by the indenture, which was capable of bearing only a single date. At Harwich in 1625, for example, the town chose Christopher Herrys on 26 April and Sir Edmund Sawyer on the 27th.130 At Winchelsea in 1614 the interval between the elections of William Byng and Thomas Godfrey was no less than eleven days.131

Staggered elections like these were most common in Cornwall, but since the majority of Cornish boroughs customarily returned one indenture per Member, the formal record was likely to represent accurately the time of each election. There is no reason to suspect, for example, that the dates on Liskeard’s two indentures for the third Jacobean Parliament – 24 December 1620 and 16 January 1621 – tell anything other than the truth. In boroughs that returned two Members on a single indenture, however, staggered elections were capable of causing administrative problems if they were discovered. This was demonstrated with startling clarity when the return filed by Bury St. Edmunds in 1626 came to be considered. According to the indenture, both men were elected on 30 January, but in actual fact Sir Thomas Jermyn and Emmanuel Giffard were chosen on 6 January and 11 January respectively. It seems likely that the town’s authorities, not knowing what date to employ, left the task of dating the indenture to the sheriff, who presumably added the date on which he himself signed and sealed the indenture. None of this would have mattered were it not for the fact that Giffard was arrested for debt on 23 January. On the face of it, the date on the indenture meant that Giffard was precluded from claiming parliamentary privilege, whereas all Members of the Commons were entitled to such protection from the moment of their election. This situation was clearly intolerable, for as Sir Henry Poole observed, if the date on an indenture took priority over the actual date of election then it ‘may be in the power of a sheriff or other officer to defeat our privilege’. Little wonder that John Whistler declared himself opposed to ‘these straggling elections’.132

Although staggered elections were capable of creating administrative difficulties, the Commons as a whole proved unwilling to condemn them. In 1624 Chippenham’s decision to adjourn the election of its second Member for two days was declared to be ‘good’.133 Two years later the lawyer John Wylde insisted that the law prescribed no set time for the choosing of Members, and John Rolle, despite sitting for one of the few Cornish boroughs which habitually elected both its Members on the same day, declared that an election ‘may be made at several times’.134 However, while an election might be spread over more than one day, opinions were apparently divided over whether a poll could be sought after eleven o’clock on the day that it began. In 1625 some members of the privileges committee argued that any such demand was necessarily void.135

In theory at least, a borough that chose its Members on different days held one election rather than two, even if, as in Cornwall, it made two separate returns. This was partly because elections were capable of adjournment but also because the writ authorized the holding of just a single election. Every so often, however, a borough replaced the man it had initially chosen with another before making its return. This happened at Rochester in 1614 after Sir Anthony Aucher decided to stand down, and also at New Romney in 1621, after James Thurbarne, elected in November 1620, had second thoughts. Since neither case ever came to the attention of the Commons, the House never decided whether the boroughs involved were guilty of malpractice. It was events in the borough of Westminster in December 1620 that forced the Commons to consider the legitimacy of holding two elections on the same writ. The voters had initially chosen Edmund Doubleday, but before the indenture could be returned Doubleday had died, whereupon William Man was elected in his stead. Had these occurrences taken place outside the capital, the Commons would almost certainly not have learned of them, but it was clearly impossible to conceal Man’s substitution for Doubleday in the very borough in which the Commons itself met. To the procedural expert William Hakewill, the decision to elect Man on the same writ that had been used to choose Doubleday was a clear breach of the 1445 Act, whereby ‘a man can elect but once’. However, Sir Thomas Ireland, counsel for Man, cleverly argued that Doubleday’s election had been incomplete because no return had been made to Chancery. In other words, the business of choosing a man did not, in itself, constitute a full election, but merely ‘the inception’; the process was only completed once the return had been sent to the sheriff, and he had sent it to Chancery. Led by Sir Edward Coke, the Commons found Ireland’s argument persuasive, and Man was permitted to retain his seat.136

Nomination and selection

Those who wished to be elected often found it prudent not to say so in the first instance, at least not openly to those outside their immediate circle of friends or family. This was especially true with regard to county elections, as there was a strong undercurrent of opinion that it was down to the county in general rather than an individual in particular whether a man stood for election. ‘They should be chosen’, declared Sir Henry Poole in 1621, ‘whom the county chooseth of itself, not they that desire it’.137 A gentleman who did not want to be regarded as presumptuous or over-ambitious had therefore to contrive to put himself forward in such a way that it looked as though he had been pressed to do so by others. In December 1620 it was reported that Sir John Savile ‘had received three hundred letters in two days from gentlemen of worth to move him to stand’.138

Few understood what was required more than the Yorkshire magnate Sir Thomas Wentworth, who outwardly presented a reluctance to stand that belied his true ambitions. Before openly declaring his candidacy, Wentworth habitually took soundings from his friends and allies while carefully suggesting that he expected to be advised against standing. Writing to Christopher Wandesford in April 1625, for example, Wentworth asked ‘whether it will be fit for me to stand to be knight of the shire, for this being nearer your level I expect some sober, sad advice’. Once he was sure that his candidacy was likely to prove welcome, Wentworth would then send off a flurry of letters to his friends and allies letting them know that he intended to be present at the forthcoming election, and to ask them, ‘if you hold me worthy of it’, to approach their friends on his behalf.139

In borough elections an indirect approach was also often required, particularly among outsiders. As Wentworth found in Yorkshire, it was advisable to test the water, as there was little point in lobbying for a seat that had already been promised to someone else. After taking discreet soundings at Steyning in 1626 on behalf of Nicholas Jordan and ‘one Mr Garret’, Richard Gravett found ‘so little comfort’ that he decided to hand back to the would-be candidates their letters of nomination from the earl of Arundel.140 An outsider who desired a seat often found it expedient to enlist the support of an intermediary. When Sir Charles Gawdy wanted a place at Thetford in 1628, for instance, he wrote to his brother Framlingham asking him to intercede on his behalf, as ‘I know nobody can make better means to Thetford than yourself’.141

Many borough seats were either controlled or heavily influenced by powerful patrons, some of them members of the aristocracy, others belonging to the local gentry. Often these patrons held nominal office in the borough as high steward or recorder, while others owned extensive property in or near the town or served as lord lieutenant. Where a patron controlled a seat, it was advisable to write to him personally for a letter of nomination rather than to the town itself. The patron might then allocate the applicant a seat or, like Lord Zouche in 1620, promise to find him a place if he was unable to get one elsewhere.142 It was wise to discover who controlled a borough before applying for one of its seats. On writing to the mayor of Thetford for a place in 1614, Sir Robert Drury, who had recently become a neighbour to the town, was informed that the borough was obliged to follow ‘the commandments of my lord of Northampton’, whereupon he was forced to solicit the assistance of Northampton’s client Sir Robert Cotton instead.143

Sometimes it was desirable to approach one intermediary in order to obtain the support of a second, more powerful intercessor. When Sir John Smythe of Sutton at Hone in Kent decided to seek a seat at Rochester over the winter of 1625/6, he persuaded his wife’s uncle, the earl of Holland, to ask the duke of Buckingham, the city’s high steward, for the necessary letter of nomination.144 An applicant who obtained the support of an intercessor was not precluded from writing in person himself, and might consider it bad manners not to do so. After his friend William Thompson wrote to the bailiffs of Scarborough on his behalf in January 1626, Henry Darley, out of ‘civility’, sent the bailiffs a letter of his own requesting a seat.145

In many boroughs the right of nomination was divided between the town itself and an external patron. At Barnstaple, for instance, the seats were usually shared between a townsman and a nominee of the borough’s recorder, the 3rd earl of Bath. In general, boroughs with this arrangement jealously guarded the right to choose the candidate for ‘their’ seat. However the increasing demand for places among the local gentry meant that many towns came under considerable pressure to relinquish control of both seats to outsiders. Canny patrons, like Edward, Lord Zouche, lord warden of the Cinque Ports, were diplomatic when demanding control of a second seat. At Hythe in December 1620, for instance, he persuaded the townsmen to let him have the place reserved ‘for the burgess of whom yourselves have the sole nomination’ on the promise that this arrangement would ‘be no prejudice to your privilege in future times’.146 In some boroughs, particularly those in the midst of economic hardship, the townsmen were only too willing to hand over both their seats to outsiders, as this normally meant that they were not expected to pay the wages of either Member. In others, however, the prospect of forfeiting control, even temporarily, did not meet with universal approval. When the earls of Northampton and Essex nominated candidates for both borough seats at Stafford in 1614, a faction in the town put up a townsman regardless, Thomas Cradock boldly declaring that ‘it was ordinary to deny noblemen’s letters’.147

It was not only townsmen who were sometimes put under pressure to relinquish control of their parliamentary seats. At Bossiney in 1609 John Hender of Botreaux Castle was approached by Robert Cecil, 1st earl of Salisbury, for the right to nominate the successor to the town’s recently deceased Member, George Upton. Despite having controlled the borough for the past twenty years, Hender knew better than to refuse the king’s first minister, but he apparently gave his consent only on condition that he should not be chosen sheriff of Cornwall the following year.148 In some boroughs, more than one patron vied for control of the available seats. At Old Sarum, for instance, the right to elect the borough Members was fiercely disputed after 1614 by the 3rd earl of Pembroke and the 2nd earl of Salisbury. Most patrons appear to have chosen candidates on the basis of blood ties, friendship, professional links or a common religious outlook, but it was not unknown for a patron to look beyond his own immediate circle. In 1628 William Coryton provided Sir William Constable, the associate of his ally Sir Thomas Wentworth, with a seat at Callington, and when Constable opted to serve for Scarborough he made the place available to Wentworth’s legal adviser George Radcliffe instead. In December 1620 the 3rd earl of Essex furnished Edward Kirton, the client of William Seymour, Lord Beauchamp, with a seat at Newcastle-under-Lyme. The gesture was evidently so appreciated that when Seymour was disabled from serving for Marlborough in February 1621 he made his seat available to Essex’s kinsman Sir Walter Devereux. Just occasionally, a patron evidently nominated a candidate for a seat that he controlled in return for reciprocal rights elsewhere. At East Grinstead in 1621, for example, the 3rd earl of Dorset chose Thomas Pelham for the junior seat, probably because he hoped to secure the support of Pelham’s father for his estate steward Richard Amherst, who was standing for Lewes, rather than because Pelham was his distant kinsman.

There were no restrictions placed on the number of seats a man could stand for at one time. Since many candidates were anxious to guarantee themselves a place, it was not unusual for a man to seek election in more than one constituency. In 1624 Sir John Suckling not only stood for Middlesex, but also applied for burgess-ships at Lichfield, Hull and Camelford. Sir Edward Coke had himself returned for both Norfolk and Coventry in 1625, having first sent off a speculative letter to Scarborough. However, those who got themselves returned for more than one constituency were obliged on entering the Commons to declare which seat they would represent. Once this was done, the Speaker would order the issuing of fresh writs of election to those constituencies whose Members had opted to serve elsewhere.

Most candidates who put themselves up for election preferred to stand unopposed. This was partly for reasons of cost and the preservation of social harmony, but it was also because a lack of competitors enhanced a man’s prestige.149 Writing to his father in December 1623 about his younger brother Henry’s intention to stand for the Merioneth seat, Sir Richard Wynn remarked that ‘it will do very much good, and you a great deal of honour, if it may be done without charge or competition’.150 This dislike of contests was not, however, restricted to the candidates themselves. The leaders of most county communities preferred, where possible, to avoid creating the impression of division within their midst. Consequently, in many shires the principal members of the gentry met in advance to try to ensure that contests for the shire seats did not arise. In December 1620, for example, nineteen members of the Herefordshire gentry gathered at Hereford and decided that ‘considering the great inconveniences which have heretofore happened by faction and opposition ... as well to the county in general as to particular great houses’, they would henceforth ‘meet ... and advise’ whenever a Parliament was summoned to decide ‘who are most fit men for that service ... to be proposed to the freeholders’.151 In most counties these pre-election meetings have gone entirely undocumented, but their existence is implied not merely by the absence of contests but by the pattern of representation. Take the case of Berkshire, for instance, which between 1597 and 1624 always returned one knight from the ‘Forest’ division of the county and the other from the ‘Vale’. In Cambridgeshire, too, a candidate from the western half of the shire was normally balanced against a candidate from the eastern side.

Though pre-elections meetings were common, the practice was not sanctioned by Parliament and may even have been illegal, since it undermined the statutory requirement for free and open elections. After several members of the Cornish gentry described their holding of a pre-election meeting in 1628 as a ‘laudable custom of the country’, the Commons declared that there was ‘no such custom’ in Cornwall, and that even if there had been the assembly was ‘unlawful’.152

The most common forum for pre-election meetings, or ‘selections’ as they are sometimes known, was the quarter sessions or the local assizes, but more impromptu arrangements were not unheard of. At Anglesey in January 1621, Owen Wynn was advised by his cousin Richard Bulkeley to attend the funeral of David Owen of Penmynydd, ‘where most of the gentlemen would meet’, to discuss whether to back John Mostyn for the knighthood of the shire.153 In some counties pre-election meetings, such as the one held at Hereford in December 1620, were held to determine not only who would stand in the forthcoming election but also who would stand thereafter.154 In others the local gentry only held a pre-election meeting once it became clear that there were more candidates than seats available. In Essex in 1604, the sheriff called for an emergency gathering of the local gentry in the hope of persuading Sir Gamaliel Capell to withdraw in favour of Sir Francis Barrington and Sir Edward Denny.155 Ten years later a similar meeting took place in Hampshire after three candidates announced their intention to stand.156 These last-minute interventions were not always fruitful. Capell’s withdrawal from the Essex election in 1604 was largely down to the intervention of Lord Rich rather than the magistracy as a whole, while Hampshire’s gentry conspicuously failed to prevent a bitter contest in 1614.157

Selection of Members ahead of the formal election was as widespread in the boroughs as it was in the counties, but often the choice was made by a single patron rather than a group of gentlemen. Very often those chosen were strangers to the electors. After Lady Hatton arranged for Sir John Hobart to be returned for Corfe Castle in 1604, the townsmen wrote to Hobart describing themselves as ‘your worship’s unknown yet kind poor friends’.158 In 1625 Sir Edwin Sandys, who lived in eastern Kent, was returned on the interest of Sir Robert Killigrew for the Cornish borough of Penryn despite having never clapped eyes on the place.159 Those selected were generally notified in advance, but there was nothing to stop a patron from arranging the return of a man without his knowledge. In 1614 Sir James Whitelocke learned that Lady Hatton had returned him for Corfe Castle ‘without my privity’. Being absent on the circuit he had been difficult to contact, and as Lady Hatton explained when she saw him, she had been anxious to return him ‘lest an honest man should be left out’.160

In several large boroughs the corporation rather than a particular patron controlled the selection process. The freemen, even if they were entitled to vote, were given either a limited choice of candidates or no choice at all. At London, Exeter and Coventry, for example, the corporation regularly presented one candidate per seat to the freemen, who were expected merely to ratify the choice of their superiors. However, during the 1620s the power enjoyed by many corporations over elections crumbled, as the Commons ruled in one case after another that the ordinary freemen were being unfairly excluded from voting. Those corporations that attempted to retain their grip on the selection process were either defeated or, like Exeter in February 1628, forced to give ground by conceding to the commonalty a limited degree of choice.161

In some boroughs the process of selection was extraordinarily arcane. At York between 1581 and 1597, the selection of candidates was in the hands of a group of forty or fifty freemen, who nominated four men, from whom the corporation chose two to represent the city in Parliament.162 At Cambridge before 1625 the mayor and aldermen on the one hand and the common council on the other were required to nominate one selector each. These two selectors were then given one hour to choose eight members of the corporation who, in turn, had one hour to select the two Members. If neither the ‘eight’ nor the ‘two’ could agree within the hour then the process restarted.163

Although selection of Members before an election was widespread, this did not mean that the outcome of elections was always a foregone conclusion. In some areas, such as Cambridgeshire in 1614 and 1624, longstanding agreements broke down, while in others, such as Chippenham in 1604, the wishes of the selectors were set aside by the voters, who refused to accept that they were, in Richard Cust’s phrase, merely ‘voting fodder for the leading gentry’.164 Though some men were undoubtedly able to rest confident in the knowledge that their patron’s letter of nomination would secure them a seat at Westminster, others were forced to undertake a frantic search for votes.

The search for votes

In English county elections, where two seats were available at any one time, it was common at the outset for a candidate to seek a partner with whom to stand in order to increase his own share of the vote. Since every voter in a two-Member constituency had, in effect, two votes, it made sense to enter into an arrangement whereby each ally agreed to provide the other with the votes of his own supporters. Sometimes the candidates themselves brokered these electoral deals, but in other instances they were the result of mediation. On learning in early April 1625 that there was soon to be a Parliament, Sir Edward Boys forged an electoral pact for the Kent county seats between his kinsman Edward Scott and Sir Edwin Sandys, who told Scott ‘that all that he can prevail with shall be for you’.165 It was a matter of some surprise if a candidate in an English county election decided to stand alone. ‘I confess his letter to me does not intimate that he gives himself to stand with any other’, wrote a worried George Gawdy to his brother Framlingham after learning that Sir Robert Gawdy intended to stand for Norfolk.166

According to the Act of 1406, parliamentary elections were to be held ‘freely and indifferently, notwithstanding any request or commandment to the contrary’.167 This requirement was in part intended to prevent great men from exerting undue pressure on electors, but also to stop the candidates themselves from soliciting for support. Both in the fifteenth century and later, canvassing implied conspiracy, and anyone accused of conspiracy could be tried in Star Chamber. Official hostility towards canvassing persisted into the early seventeenth century, for in January 1604 James I instructed that the forthcoming elections were to be held ‘without any partial respects, or factious combination’, a form of words that was interpreted by the Privy Council to mean that all canvassing was forbidden.168

Many believed, at least publicly, that there was something demeaning and dishonourable in asking others for their vote. In 1604, for example, William Wiseman sanctimoniously (and hypocritically) wrote to the borough of Maldon that anyone who stooped to ‘labour for a burgess-ship ... most commonly least deserveth it’.169 Moreover, those who thought that the outcome of elections should be decided in advance by private agreement between the leading members of each constituency were inclined to regard canvassing as unnecessary. Some, too, undoubtedly resented the fact that candidates in search of electoral support often failed to confine themselves to canvassing their own tenants. In February 1604 the earl of Suffolk was dismayed to learn that Sir Francis Barrington had canvassed the townsmen of Saffron Walden, a borough on the doorstep of his estate at Audley End, ‘without my privity’.170

Despite the formal prohibition, many in authority saw nothing wrong with canvassing, and gave their servants explicit instructions to solicit votes. ‘May it please your good lordship to be advertised’, wrote three of the servants of the earl of Shrewsbury in 1604, ‘that according to your honourable letters we have laboured so many freeholders as possibly we could’ on behalf of Francis Clifford to be senior knight of the shire for Yorkshire.171 Canvassing was a common feature of county elections, even those which were not ultimately contested, as candidates needed to know in advance whether they were likely to be opposed, and if so, how far their support extended. Not to do so risked unnecessary and embarrassing public defeat. During the early stages of an election campaign, however, it was advisable to canvass as secretly as possible, for if it emerged publicly that a man had solicited votes only to find that he lacked sufficient support to stand he risked humiliation, as did those who canvassed on his behalf. ‘I hear of a secret labouring about Petherton, Martock and the adjacent places to Ivelchester [Ilchester] for the election of Sir Robert Phelips’, wrote Robert Hackshaw in 1614, before adding that rumour had it that ‘Sir George Speke doth labour underhand to bring in Mr Syms for a second’, and that Speke ‘dares not to be openly seen in it lest he should receive the foil’.172

Even if a candidate was confident that he had sufficient support to justify standing, it was often thought desirable to win over the uncommitted or even convert the supporters of an opponent to one’s cause. ‘It will not, in my opinion, be amiss to solicit those who are either neuters or inclining to the adverse side’, wrote Thomas Powell to Sir Roger Mostyn in November 1620, ‘for that will take away their excuse of not being requested’.173 A candidate who failed to canvass when his opponents proved less scrupulous risked putting himself at a disadvantage. As the earl of Warwick told the bailiffs of Colchester in February 1628, ‘seeing that others do take that liberty of soliciting the voices of the freeholders, I can do no less’.174 Those who refused to promise their support to a canvasser might find themselves summoned to explain their behaviour. When, in anticipation of a parliamentary election in the spring of 1603, William Andrew declined to promise his voice for Sir Anthony Mildmay on the grounds that he had already pledged his support to Sir Edward Montagu, he received a message from a displeased Lord Mordaunt, who desired ‘to speak with him’.175

It was often not enough for a gentleman who stood for the knighthood of the shire to employ his own relatives and servants to canvass for him; he also needed powerful allies who could command the loyalty of others. In 1625 Sir Thomas Wentworth, having decided to stand for the senior knighthood of the shire for Yorkshire, solicited the support of Lord Clifford, who wrote to his servant Richard Hughes at Skipton to move the freeholders at Craven to vote for him.176 In some cases, gentlemen engaged in the pursuit of a county seat might also seek to employ the services of the local village constables. In the 1620 Yorkshire election, Wentworth summoned several constables to his house and asked them to canvass on his behalf. Not only did the constables agree to help, but they also issued warrants to the petty constables requiring them to give their assistance.177

Many candidates, in association with their aristocratic backers, relied upon election agents to do much of the hard work of canvassing for them. In the 1604 Worcestershire election campaign Sir William Ligon employed his servant William Addis as his principal agent, and in 1624 Philip Spurling, servant to the countess of Devonshire, ran the campaign on behalf of Sir Edward Wortley at East Retford.178 In 1620 Sir Edwin Sandys, busily employed in London on Virginia Company business and, as always, anxious not to seem desperate for a seat, sent Thomas Gookyn of Ripple Court, Kent to labour the townsmen of Sandwich on his behalf.179 Election agents were often relatively lowly figures, such as estate stewards or bailiffs, but not always. In the Kent county election of 1614 Sir Edwin Sandys employed Sir Robert Mansell and Sir Dudley Digges as his chief election agents, while his opponent Sir John Scott allowed his affairs to be handled by his neighbour and former brother-in-law Sir Norton Knatchbull.180 During the elections to the 1621 Parliament, the council for the prince of Wales entrusted its electoral affairs in the West Country to the havener of the duchy of Cornwall, William Roscarrock, and the duchy’s feodary for Devon and Cornwall, Richard Billing. Billing at least was a major landholder, with estates around Bossiney.181

Some of the most vigorous canvassing during this period was carried out by members of the clergy who, for reasons of kinship, friendship or economic dependence were often to be found in the thick of an election campaign. However, whereas election agents paid house calls and accosted voters in the streets, clerics were more likely to appeal to the electors from their pulpits. In 1620 the bishop of Bangor enthusiastically threw his weight behind Sir Richard Wynn for the Caernarvonshire seat, and exhorted ‘all his parishioners and tenants after sermon to pass their voices’ for Wynn, whom ‘he exalted ... higher than the skies by far’.182 In February 1624 the vicar of East Retford used his Sunday sermon to sing the praises of his patron, the countess of Devonshire, and her chosen candidate Sir Edward Wortley, pressing upon his audience ‘what good her honour had done to him and intended to the town’. At a meeting of the burgesses in the moothall the following day, the vicar went on to make a speech in support of Wortley.183 Yet another minister to canvass from the pulpit was Edward Aldey, the rector of St. Andrew’s, Canterbury. In 1626 Aldey declared his support for John Wilde and delivered a sermon whose theme was the text ‘Awake thou that sleepest and arise from the dead’.184

Clergymen were sometimes aggressive in their support of their chosen candidates. One of the chief supporters of James Price in the 1620 Radnorshire campaign was Price’s son-in-law, Dr William Vaughan, the vicar of Nantmell. On one occasion, during divine service, Vaughan allegedly ejected his curate from the pulpit to harangue the freeholders on behalf of Price. When some members of the congregation objected that Price was unfit to serve as knight of the shire, an angry Vaughan came down into the chancel ‘and, spreading forth his arms and hands ... exclaimed with a loud voice in very passionate and threatening manner that he did not think that any man in that parish would presume to give his voice’ without his knowledge.185

The Commons disapproved of clergymen participating in parliamentary elections, since the clergy had their own representative assembly in the form of Convocation.186 On discovering that the parson of Bletchingley, Dr Nathaniel Harris, had published in church the contents of a letter from his patron, Lady Howard, on behalf of Thomas Lovell and Sir Miles Fleetwood, the Commons’ elections committee admonished Harris ‘for being too busy for a man of his profession in the matter of the said election’.187

Campaigning was often intensive, with the result that voters might find themselves approached more than once by the agents of both sides. At the Chester election of 1628 the freemen were canvassed so heavily that ‘many were laboured four or five times over’.188 As an election drew near, and one side or another sensed it was losing ground, canvassing might also become indiscriminate. In the Worcestershire manor of Powick in 1604, William Addis initially targeted the freeholders, but on the day before the election, together with his son and servants, he went round the households in Powick urging any adult male, whether qualified or not, to come to Worcester to support Sir William Ligon.189

Smear tactics were employed in several hard-fought campaigns. Questioning the religious sympathies of an opponent was a favoured tactic, especially during the 1620s, when fear of Catholicism was at its height. Prior to the 1624 Canterbury election, a yeoman named Simon Penny, employed to canvass on behalf of the puritans Thomas Scott and Thomas Denne, was arraigned before the mayor at the insistence of Sir William Lovelace for spreading the story that Lovelace ‘did cross himself before the French or Spanish ambassador’, and for publicly implying that Lovelace had a pope ‘in his belly’. In Yorkshire in 1625, Sir John Savile employed his chaplain James Nutter to savage the reputation of William Mallory by circulating ‘scandalous and seditious letters’ accusing Mallory of Catholic sympathies. Mallory’s electoral partner, Sir Thomas Fairfax, was outraged, and protested to Lord President Scrope that Mallory had no means of redress, ‘for at the day of elections shouts, not reasons, must be heard’.190 Smear tactics were sometimes used even when an election was not disputed. During the Somerset election campaign of 1625 many members of the Poulett faction disapproved of Sir Robert Phelips’ decision to stand, among them Edmund Kenn, who was committed to the Fleet on the orders of the Privy Council for ‘giving out scandalous speeches’ against Phelips ‘to hinder his election’.191 Blackening the name of an opponent was not, however, the only underhand tactic employed in some elections. In 1625 Sir James Perrot accused John Wogan, his rival for the Pembrokeshire county seat, of circulating a rumour that he had died.192

During the early Stuart period, as under Elizabeth,193 it was usual when canvassing in county elections to compile lists of those freeholders who had promised their votes. In some cases, those canvassed not only provided their names but also their signatures.194 These ‘embryonic poll-lists’, as Neale described them, may sometimes have been used to hold to account those who might otherwise consider changing their mind. It was certainly considered bad form for a man to retract a promise of his vote,195 especially if that promise had been given in writing. On learning that one Mr Kaye now intended to vote for another man in December 1620, Sir Thomas Wentworth told Sir Richard Beaumont that ‘it is not possible for him to waver, for I have here his letter under his hand of engagement, first to parson Greenwood and after to myself’.196 However, the main reason for compiling poll-lists was to enable the candidates to gauge both their own strength and that of their opponents’ so that they could decide whether to continue. On the eve of the county election for Kent in 1614, Sir John Scott concluded from information provided by Sir Norton Knatchbull ‘and the rest of my friends’ that although his own side had not grown ‘to an absolute security’, his opponents now appeared to be in decline.197 In February 1604 Lord Rich compiled an optimistic report for Sir Francis Barrington from information gleaned by canvassers acting on his behalf. All the freeholders of Hinckford Hundred apart from Sir Thomas Gardiner ‘stand firm with us’, he declared, while the voters of Rochford and Dengie Hundreds ‘will not cross us much’. Moreover, thanks to Lord Darcy, ‘all the divisions between Braintree, Witham and Harwich’ had assured Barrington of their support.198

Predicting the outcome of an election on the basis of such evidence was nevertheless a hit and miss affair. Voters might change their minds on the day of the election, or a partisan sheriff might discount their votes altogether. Some might fail to put in an appearance, while others who were technically ineligible to vote might affect the outcome. The limitation of poll-lists as accurate predictors was demonstrated with great clarity in the events leading up to the Caernarvonshire election of 1620. Sir John Wynn went to inordinate trouble to discover the degree of support that existed for his eldest son, Sir Richard, dispatching his younger son Owen, his servant Edward Lloyd and his cousin William Wynn to canvass among the freeholders of the Conway valley, the Creuddyn peninsula, Llysvaen and the lowlands along the Menai Straits. Based upon their findings, Sir William Thomas produced detailed figures that appeared to promise success to the Wynns. In the event, however, victory proved elusive. This was partly because the sheriff supported the Wynns’ rival, John Griffith, and partly because Griffith created a large number of new voters loyal to himself.199

Most candidates relied upon kinship, friendship and (in county elections) the loyalty of their tenants to provide them with the backing needed to win. Before 1628, when a candidate’s attitude towards the Forced Loan may have made the difference between victory and defeat, it was unusual for those standing for election to place before the voters what today would be described as a political manifesto. In general, those desirous of election, or their patrons, tended to offer only vague promises of help if elected. Writing to the freeholders of Bure in November 1620, Sir Robert Crane announced that, if returned as knight for Suffolk, he would ‘omit no opportunity’ to express his thanks to those who had supported him.200 In July 1625 the chancellor of the duchy, Sir Humphrey May, told the mayor and burgesses of Leicester that if they were to elect his kinsman Thomas Jermyn at the town’s forthcoming by-election, Jermyn ‘may prove a very useful friend unto your corporation’.201

It was nevertheless not unknown for candidates to make specific pledges while campaigning for election. In 1604 John Jones promised the voters of Gloucester that, if elected, he would introduce legislation to ensure, among other things, ‘that no person should make malt within the said city which had any other trade’ and that peas should only be grown in the gardens of the city rather than in the surrounding cornfields.202 In 1614 Sir Henry Slingsby of Scriven, in search of a seat at Knaresborough, wrote to two of the borough’s officials that he supported the enclosing of common land ‘as a matter beneficial to the commonwealth’. He further declared that he had no sympathy for the view that cottagers should be exempted from jury service, and that if the town’s voters ‘do not like of this opinion of mine I will be well pleased they choose another’.203 During the hard-fought election campaign at Sandwich in December 1620, Sir Edwin Sandys suggested that, if elected, he might be able to enlist the help of powerful friends to restore the port’s decayed haven. He also tried to whip up support by declaring his opposition to the East India Company, a body which he described as ‘pernicious ... to them and the whole kingdom’.204

Candidates with their eyes on the ball were also sensitive to the voters’ growing hostility towards the Court and its dependants. During the sixteenth century, outsiders with Court connections were often seen as attractive by many boroughs on the grounds that they were well placed to obtain favours from the Crown, but by 1614 courtiers were increasingly viewed with suspicion, as it was thought that they would put the interests of the king before those of their constituents.205 Consequently, those who sought election were often at pains to stress their ‘Country’ credentials. When John Poulett publicly accused Sir Robert Phelips of having ‘forsaken the country and ... turned courtier’ prior to the 1624 Somerset election, he evidently expected the charge to cost Phelips a considerable body of support.206

As well as posing as ‘Country’ figures, many candidates, either through their friends or patrons, often also found it necessary to demonstrate to the voters that they were sound in matters of religion. Writing to the father of Sir Thomas Wentworth in February 1604, Lord President Sheffield recommended for election as knights for Yorkshire Francis Clifford, son of the earl of Cumberland, and Sir John Savile of Howley, ‘both persons against whom no exceptions can be made neither are themselves, their wives or friends any way affected to popery or heady courses in religion’.207 In 1624 the Tenterden corporation recommended for a seat at Rye their neighbour Samuel Short, he being ‘well known … both for the care he hath to religion and his love to the commonwealth’.208 During the 1620 in particular, fears for the survival of Protestantism occasioned by Catholic military successes on the Continent and James’s pursuit of a Spanish bride for Prince Charles caused many members of the godly to urge their fellow voters to elect only men considered sound in religion. Addressing the voters of Cheshire in 1624, the puritan magistrate Sir Richard Grosvenor recommended William Booth and William Brereton as knights of the shire, they being men ‘ripe in judgment, untainted in their religion’. Ahead of the December 1620 election for Suffolk, the Ipswich preacher Samuel Ward reportedly urged his fellow townsmen to adopt ‘a religious care ... in such elections’, and to take heed ‘of such as were of suspected affection to our religion’. In an assize sermon delivered at Norwich, Thomas Scott, the puritan author of Vox Populi, urged the citizens at election time to ‘look upon the wisest, stoutest and most religious persons ... for he that is religious will stand for the country’s good’.209

Although most parliamentary candidates seem to have never made firm political promises to the electors, some certainly offered inducements of another kind. It has sometimes been argued that bribery was seldom practised during this period, and that where it was the sums of money involved were ‘minimal’, but the abuse was sufficiently widespread for it to merit inclusion in the 1628 elections bill, which threatened to unseat any Member who promised money, meat or drink to the electors.210 The Commons itself seldom got to hear of specific cases of bribery, a rare exception being that of Henry Lovell, whose misdemeanours in respect of the 1624 Bletchingley election included offering 6d. to each voter for them to buy beer.211 However, bribery in contested elections verged on the commonplace. Following the Radnorshire election of December 1620 it was claimed by the defeated candidate that James Price’s supporters, ‘through diverse bribes, rewards and sums of money’, had persuaded many poor, landless men to claim at the poll that they had sufficient land to vote, whereas in fact that had not ‘so much as one foot of freehold’.212 In 1624 Philip Spurling, election agent to the countess of Devonshire, offered to buy up the votes of the poorer freemen, with the result that the night before the election the rumour circulating about town was that the going rate was £10 for three votes.213 Sir Albertus Morton was thought to have spent ‘two or three hundred pound ... at least’ in procuring the votes of the freeholders ahead of the 1625 Kent election.214 That same year Sir John Franklin, a candidate for one of the Middlesex seats, spent the more modest sum of £6 9s. 10d. on buying votes and a further 16s. on beer and tobacco for the freeholders at Hickes’ Hall, as his own accounts reveal.215 At Gloucester in 1604, John Jones not only declared that he would address the city’s economic grievances if elected, but also sent round to all the taverns promising ‘to deal very liberally and bountifully’ with those who voted for him. At least 200 people responded to his offer, and were to be found in ‘several inns, taverns and alehouses ... drinking and carousing in very disorderly manner’ at Jones’s expense.216

Of course, those who gave bribes were not guaranteed a return on their investment. Sir John Franklin ended up with nothing to show for his outlay in 1625. Neither did Sir Henry Wotton, who ‘spent almost fifty pound in good drink upon his followers’ at Canterbury that same year.217 In 1620 Owen Wynn, by his own admission, handed a bribe to the wife of the sheriff of Caernarvonshire, only to have the sheriff award victory to the other side. An outraged Wynn took legal advice to see if he could bring an action for bribery against the sheriff in Star Chamber, only to be told by his counsel that he had no case, as the sheriff had clearly not been swayed by the gift and, since it had been given to his wife, could easily deny all knowledge of the bribe.218

Some candidates or their agents stopped short of offering bribes, but only just. During the Worcestershire election of 1604, Sir William Ligon’s chief election agent, William Addis, promised to pay the travel expenses of those who turned out to vote for his master and to compensate them for the loss of a day’s work.219 In February 1626 Sir Richard Strode complained to the Commons that Sir Lewis Dyve had procured his election at Bridport by bestowing a silver salt cellar on the corporation. The charge is not inherently improbable, but Dyve was acquitted of any impropriety after explaining that he had made the donation following the end of the previous Parliament, in which he had also sat for Bridport.220 At Tewkesbury in 1625, the defeated candidate Sir Robert Tracy clearly thought that the wealthy financier Sir Baptist Hicks had, by hinting at the sums he would leave to the town on his death if elected, in effect bribed the voters, as he complained bitterly that ‘tis not he who brings most in his truest love, but brings most in his purse shall be accepted’. A note in the corporation records stating that the borough’s electoral loyalty was ‘the only cause’ of Hicks’s ‘great bounty towards us’ confirms that Tracy was correct.221

Many boroughs, if not open to financial bribes, were certainly amenable to other forms of inducement. In the mid 1620s the town of Rye was desperate to secure the services of a competent curate, as their vicar, Brian Twyne, spent most of his time at Oxford. The right of presentation, however, was controlled by Edward Sackville, 4th earl of Dorset, who nominated his kinsman Capt. John Sackville for one of the Rye seats in 1625. The townsmen agreed to Dorset’s request, but only, it would seem, provided that Dorset supplied them with a suitable replacement for Twyne.222 Dorset, who knew full well of the town’s desire to find a stand-in for its vicar when he penned his letter of nomination, would doubtless have been shocked by the suggestion that he had resorted to bribing the voters of Rye to elect his kinsman, but to all intents and purposes that was precisely what he had done.

Those voters who could not be persuaded by fair means or foul to lend their support were sometimes subjected to intimidation instead. For all the talk of free elections, landlords exercised considerable power over their tenants and often blithely assumed that they were entitled to promise their votes to whichever candidates they chose. During the bitterly contested Chester election of 1628, ‘many were threatened [that] unless they gave their voices to Sir Randle [Mainwaring] and Sir Thomas [Smith] they should lose their houses’.223 In 1604 the earl of Suffolk, angry that the townsmen of Saffron Walden had agreed to back Sir Francis Barrington rather than Sir Edward Denny, warned the inhabitants, most of whom were his tenants, to change their minds or ‘I will make the proudest of you all repent it, be you well assured’.224 Following the 1620 Caernarvonshire election, the bishop of Bangor was called to answer in Parliament for allegedly threatening reprisals against his tenants if they voted for John Griffith.225 The power of landlords over their tenants was such that they were often in a position to deliver hundreds of votes at a time to one candidate or another. Ahead of the 1614 Somerset election, James Montagu, bishop of Bath and Wells, promised Sir Edward Phelips that he should have the voices of his 300 tenants, ‘besides the vestry’, and that same year Sir James Wingfield promised Sir Robert Cotton the votes of ‘all his tenants’ as junior knight for Huntingdonshire.226 Although Thomas Scott, the godly author of Vox Populi, urged the freeholders of Norwich to resist the power of their landlords at election time, in many cases this was hardly realistic advice. It is perhaps no exaggeration to assert, as one commentator has done, that many county elections ‘were won by the candidates with the greatest number of voices from such blocks of votes’.227

Landlords were by no means alone in employing bullyboy tactics. At Canterbury in 1626 the city’s aldermen were thrown into a panic on learning that Sir John Wilde and Thomas Scott had entered into an electoral alliance against the corporation’s own candidates. According to Scott, they laboured until nearly midnight, ‘entreating, persuading, threatening’ anyone suspected of supporting Scott and Wilde. Richard White was summoned to the White Hart and told that, had it not been for the aldermen, he would have been pressed for military service, ‘and they may again do you the like friendship’.228 Thomas Curle, victualler of the Black Boy inn, was threatened with the loss of his licence or beer supply. Other victuallers were instructed to put pressure on their customers by denying them credit. Control over the drinks trade may have provided the aldermen, six of whom were brewers, with their most potent weapon.229 At Pembroke in December 1620, the deputy mayor, Nicholas Adams, summoned before him those freemen who refused to promise their votes to his brother-in-law Lewis Powell, and ‘with divers menaces and railings’ told them that unless they voted as he did ‘they should be disgraded of their burgess-ships’.230 During the same month the inhabitants of Presteigne, in Radnorshire, were subjected to a display of military-style force on election day by the supporters of James Price, who marched to the beat of a drum ‘in a warlike manner, armed with swords, daggers and other unlawful weapons, and did in most insolent and fearful manner threaten and terrify all such freeholders as they perceived would pass their voices against ... James Price’.231

The electorate

As is well known, the franchise in county elections was limited by a statute of 1430 to those freeholders or owners of tenements with a net income of at least forty shillings a year over and above all charges.232 Equally well known is the fact that during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the size of county electorates mushroomed. This was primarily the result not of population growth but of inflation, which undermined the forty-shilling freeholder requirement to such a degree that the qualification to vote has been described as ‘virtually meaningless’. This is perhaps something of an exaggeration, but in the early seventeenth century most county electorates were certainly to be numbered in the thousands rather than the hundreds: the Dorset election of 1624 was attended by more than a thousand freeholders, for instance, and at Maidstone in Kent in 1624 around 5,000 turned out to elect the knights of the shire.233 The increase in the size of county electorates brought about by inflation meant that many minor landowners previously excluded from the electoral process were now eligible to vote. This development caused such distaste and alarm in some quarters that there were calls for the Act of 1430 to be revised to take account of inflation. The author of the 1621 elections bill, for example, proposed to raise the threshold from forty shillings to £4, and in the spring of 1640 Henry Neville of Cressing Temple declared that it would be ‘a great quiet to the state’ if the ‘mean conditioned and most factious’ could be excluded by raising the bar to £20.234

In the boroughs there was no universal form of franchise. In some cases the right to vote was limited to members of the corporation, while in others it was open to the freemen, the ratepayers, or the inhabitants in general. At York, where all the freemen were in theory entitled to vote, the electors were actually selected by the mayor in advance. Prior to each election the city’s sheriffs were instructed to summon only ‘a competent number of citizens and freeholders’ to the hustings, and to allow the mayor ‘sight of the same before they be summoned’.235 In fifteen boroughs, where the town was either unincorporated or a borough by prescription, the right to vote was exercised by the burgage-holders.236 That is to say, all or part of the borough was divided into burgages, possession of which entitled the owners or tenants the right to vote in parliamentary elections. At Ripon, in Yorkshire, there were more than 100 burgage-holders, making for an electorate larger than was to be found in many towns with corporation franchises, but some other boroughs with burgage franchises had absurdly small electorates. Old Sarum in Wiltshire had less than a dozen voters, and Aldborough in Yorkshire had only nine, three of whom belonged to a single family – the Aldeburghes of Ellenthorpe. At Clitheroe, in Lancashire, there were twenty-five voters in 1628, though it should be noted that the free tenants of the burgage-holders were apparently entitled to vote whenever their landlords declined to do so.

Although county electorates were undoubtedly expanding throughout this period, the number of voters in some boroughs was clearly shrinking. Towns that had fallen on hard times certainly saw their electorates dwindle. At Rye, for instance, a borough in terminal economic decline, there were 103 inhabitant freemen (and therefore eligible voters) in 1562 but only fifty by 1604.237 In general, however, borough electorates appear to have grown, for during the 1620s many corporations that had previously monopolized the franchise were forced to share the vote with the rest of the inhabitant freemen. This development was largely down to the Commons, the ultimate arbiter in franchise disputes, which set out to expand borough electorates wherever possible. The reason that it adopted this policy was explained in 1624 by the elections committee of the House, which declared that

... the general liberty of the realm ... favoureth all means tending to make the election of burgesses to be with the most indifferency; which by common presumption, is when the same are [sic] made by the greatest number of voices that reasonably may be had, whereby there will less danger of packing, or indirect proceedings.238

This fear of packing had first surfaced in 1614 with the discovery that a privy councillor, Sir Thomas Parry, had exercised undue influence in the Stockbridge election of that year. Many Members of the Addled Parliament had concluded that the king was trying to pack the Commons with his own creatures in order to make it more amenable to the royal will, and that if this were not prevented the independence and representative nature of the Commons would be undermined.239 Not surprisingly therefore, the House came to the conclusion that boroughs with large electorates would be harder to manipulate than those with small ones.

How many voters there were at any one time cannot now be known, for in the early seventeenth century there was no such thing as an electoral register, and where figures exist they tend to be for the number of votes cast rather than the number entitled to vote. To complicate matters, in many boroughs the precise nature of the franchise, which tended to vary from borough to borough, is uncertain. Nevertheless, it has been estimated that on the eve of the Civil War between twenty-seven and forty per cent of all adult males were entitled to vote, considerably more than the ten per cent estimated by the contemporary observer Sir Henry Spelman.240

In county elections men had to decide for themselves whether or not they were qualified to vote. The opportunities for abuse that this created were considerable, and therefore the Act of 1430 empowered the sheriff to administer an oath to any would-be voter to determine whether he met the franchise requirement. Anyone who failed this test could legitimately be excluded.241 Despite this clause, areas of doubt about who was entitled to vote remained. What, for instance, did the Act mean when it said that, to be qualified, a man had to own freehold land worth forty shillings a year ‘above all charges’? Did it mean that only the charges on the land itself were to be counted, or were a man’s wider costs, on housekeeping for instance, also to be taken into account? In the 1601 Rutland by-election the sheriff, Sir Andrew Noel, successfully exploited the imprecise nature of this phrase to disqualify as many of the supporters of James Harington as he could, even though he is said to have known that many of them had yearly incomes considerably in excess of forty shillings.242

Another shortcoming of the Act was that it said nothing about churchmen, who might own freehold worth forty shillings or more in their official capacity but not as private individuals. Were they entitled to vote? Before 1624 the answer to this question appears to have been unclear, but after the matter arose in respect of the Cambridgeshire election of that year the Commons ruled that any clergymen who owned no lay freehold other than their parsonage, vicarage or benefice ‘shall not nor ought to have any voice in election of any burgess of Parliament’. The Commons based its decision on the fact that the clergy were already entitled to vote in elections to Convocation, and that their livings were not held by the Common Law.243 Consequently, when the bailiff of Scarborough refused to allow a clergyman named Richard Darnton to vote in 1628 he behaved entirely correctly.244

A further weakness of the 1430 Act was that it said nothing about the length of time a man had to own freehold land of the appropriate value before he was qualified to vote. For a candidate with deep pockets who feared that his side was outnumbered, the Act’s silence in this regard provided a strong temptation to create large numbers of bogus freeholders to supplement the ranks of genuine voters. The most outrageous instance of freeholder creation during the midst of an election campaign occurred at Caernarvonshire in November and December 1620. John Griffith, determined to overwhelm his adversaries, the Wynns of Gwydir, sold freeholds to poor men in order to qualify them to vote, allegedly doubling the number of his enfranchised supporters. Moreover, he included within the deed of sale a power of revocation, so that the land conveyed would automatically return to him after the election. News of this astonishing behaviour soon became the talk of London, and Sir Richard Wynn sought legal advice in the hope that Parliament, when it met, might deem Griffith to have acted improperly. However, the Wynns decided to take no chances, particularly after they were assured that Parliament might well allow the practice, and instead of resolving to complain to the Commons they set about creating a raft of bogus freeholders of their own.245

The Caernarvonshire election of 1620 provides a clear refutation of J. H. Plumb’s proposition that, since inflation created plenty of new voters, ‘there was no need to create them by other means’.246 Moreover, this episode was by no means unique, for on numerous other occasions candidates stooped to create new voters, albeit not on such a large scale. In 1601 Sir Andrew Noel is said not only to have disqualified some of James Harington’s supporters but also to have given some men, who were not sure of the true value of their property, forty shillings or more for their freeholds, ‘telling them that they might then lawfully and boldly swear’ that they were properly qualified to vote.247 In 1624 Sir Thomas Wentworth complained to the Commons that Sir John Jackson owed his return for Pontefract in part to ‘the unlawful practice of temporary burgesses’.248 Two years later Thomas Hooper notified Christopher Keightley, estate steward to the 2nd earl of Salisbury, that eight men had lately been made freeholders at Old Sarum ‘purposely to make burgesses at their pleasures’.249 In 1628 Edward Nuttall reported that several rich men in Essex had sold off freehold property worth at least forty shillings a year to many individuals so that the latter ‘may come in and take their oath, if there should be opposition, that they be freeholders’. The period of purchase was just a few days, so after the election the land concerned would revert to its former owners.250 Boroughs, too, were not immune from sudden artificial expansions of the electorate. At Newcastle-under-Lyme a rash of new freemen was created after the Commons ruled that the town’s burgesses were entitled to vote, most of whom then participated in the ensuing by-election.251

Neither the 1430 Act, nor indeed any of the other fifteenth century statutes governing elections, prohibited the participation of women. During the sixteenth century two boroughs – Aylesbury and Gatton – were for a time controlled by women, and at Knaresborough in 1626 Margery Batty and Mary Wakefield signed the borough’s election indenture.252 However, convention and propriety prevented women from voting, even if the law did not. When Sir Henry Slingsby tried to use the votes of eight widowed burgage-holders at Knaresborough in 1628 he was barred from doing so by the bailiff, who presumably disliked the fact that women had voted in his town’s election two years earlier.253 Where women did participate there were grounds for complaint to the Commons. Among the offences committed by Sir Edmund Ludlow at Hindon in December 1620 was the procuring of the signatures of various ‘women and boys, who ought not to deal in the election of burgesses’, to his return.254 That same month the dean of Westminster was accused of having permitted the voices of ‘serving men, apprentices, women, children, watermen [and] porters’ to carry the vote at the Westminster borough election.255

Often, the presence of large numbers of people who were not qualified to vote was designed to swell the ranks of one side or another in the hope of influencing the returning officer. However, except where they were conducted behind closed doors, elections naturally attracted large crowds, with the result that bystanders might easily be confused with the voters. At the 1625 Kent election, for instance, many of Maidstone’s townsmen who turned out to see the Kent county election on nearby Penenden Heath stood so close to the supporters of Lord Burghersh and Sir Albertus Morton that their presence allegedly influenced the outcome of the election.256

Turning out the voters

There was no law requiring the voters to be summoned to the hustings on the day of the election, but in many boroughs it was customary to do so and the practice certainly met with the approval of the Commons’ elections committee.257 At Hull in 1597 and Maldon in 1624 the freemen were called to the common hall by the town’s bellman, and at Sandwich in 1628 the voters assembled ‘at the sound of the common horn (as the custom is)’.258 In county elections, in which the voters were necessarily scattered over a wide area, the candidates or their partisans gave notice to their supporters on the day of voting. Prior to the Worcestershire election of 1604, for instance the parish clerk of Pershore, Thomas Wade, was asked by the supporters of one of the candidates to ring the bells of his church at about three in the morning on election day, ‘whereby the inhabitants of the said town might have notice to repair to the city of Worcester to give their voices for the electing of Sir Edmund Harewell’.259

Where an election was unlikely to be contested, there was no need for the vast majority of voters to turn out. Indeed, in view of the costs involved, many freeholders were keen to avoid doing so. After recommending Sir Francis Barrington and Sir Thomas Cheke to the bailiffs of Colchester in April 1625, Viscount Colchester announced that he was ‘labouring ... to stay the going of the freeholders if there be no contradiction ... because I would save the travel of the county if it may be’.260 In February 1614 Henry Bodvel wrote on behalf of himself and his brothers to Sir John Wynn from Pwllheli that if Richard Wynn met with no opposition for the Caernarvonshire seat ‘I hope you will excuse us, and our friends, for not coming to Caernarvon’.261 Lord Spencer advised Sir Edward Montagu in 1604 to ‘raise as small numbers as may be for your election, perceiving none to oppose you’.262 Even when a contest seemed a distinct possibility, there was still the chance that one candidate might withdraw before the election, so sparing most voters a journey. Consequently, in February 1604, Lord Rich advised Sir Francis Barrington to ‘send somebody to listen if the other party gives up, to avoid your greater charges and to warn a stay’.263

Where none of the rival candidates were prepared to back down ahead of an election, it was common for the opposing sides to mobilize their respective supporters en masse. This was easier said than done, as arranging for everyone to arrive in good time was a complex business that required almost military-style planning. Those living closest to the hustings had to be instructed to delay their journey until the last moment, whereas those dwelling in more distant areas of the county needed to set out sooner.264 Moreover, in order to overawe an opponent, it was better if the supporters of one side arrived together rather than in a straggling fashion. Ahead of the second Yorkshire election of 1625, Sir Thomas Wentworth urged his electoral partner Sir Thomas Fairfax to bring his supporters to Tadcaster, five miles south-west of York, at about two o’clock the day before the election ‘to the end we may go in together’.265

Consideration too had to be given to the time of the year. Sir Thomas Wentworth was so concerned that the Yorkshire election of 1620 would be held on Christmas Day that he wrote round to all his principal supporters promising them dinner at York if they turned out.266 In the spring and summer those voters within easy reach of the hustings were more likely to travel in the early hours of the morning on the day of the election than they were in the autumn and winter, when it would be more convenient to undertake their journey the previous day. At the very least it was sensible to given them the option. In February 1626 the bailiffs of the 2nd earl of Salisbury were instructed to bring the freeholders to Hertford ‘either the night before the election or very early that morning’.267 At whatever time of day they travelled, it was important that the voters should not arrive in large numbers too soon. This was partly to minimize the expense of lodging and feeding them, but also to avoid losing the element of surprise. After all, an opponent who knew nothing of his adversary’s planned mobilization might fail to instruct his own supporters to turn out in force. When Sir John Scott advised Sir Norton Knatchbull in March 1614 to be ‘careful to make your dispatches ... with such silence and secrecy’ it was because he did not wish news of their carefully orchestrated descent on Maidstone to leak out in advance.268

Not all freeholders were eager to vote, so to ensure that they turned out it sometimes proved necessary to escort them to the hustings. In 1625 Christopher Keightley, the estate steward of the 2nd earl of Salisbury, not only instructed one of the earl’s bailiffs to canvass all the eligible freeholders in his area on behalf of Sir John Boteler and his son John, but also to ‘get them together and go down with them, and take a note of every man’s name that goes and send it to me’. Perhaps unconsciously, Keightley was emulating the arrangements then being made throughout the country for ensuring that men pressed for military service reached their muster points, but he was also attempting to avoid the mistakes of the past: in 1624 he had, somewhat naïvely, simply required the bailiffs under his command to tell the freeholders to be sure to turn up.269

Once the voters had reached their destination it was important to keep them there, particularly if it proved necessary to hold a poll, a process which might take many hours, or even days, in constituencies with large electorates. Contemplating the prospect of a lengthy poll in July 1625 at the forthcoming Yorkshire election, Sir Thomas Wentworth suggested to Sir Thomas Fairfax that ‘it were very fit, in my opinion, that two hogsheads of wine and half a score of beer were laid in within the castle for the freeholders, who will be forced to stay long to refresh themselves with this hot season’.270

Although many voters could be expected to turn up on the day of the election, those who travelled a considerable distance or were reluctant to set out early in the morning would need to be fed and lodged over night. Ensuring that there were enough places for them to stay, and that they had sufficient food and drink, required careful planning. Here the poll-lists compiled by canvassers could prove useful, as they not only helped gauge the level of support for a candidate but also served as a guide to the number of his supporters who would need to be accommodated and fed. The candidates themselves rarely seem to have taken charge of making the necessary arrangements. In the second Cambridgeshire election of 1624, Sir John Cutts and Sir John Cage entrusted the innkeeper of the Rose and Crown, Philip Wolf, with the task of hiring inns and hostelries in Cambridge capable of housing more than 1,000 of their supporters.271 Ahead of the Caernarvonshire election of 1620, Sir William Thomas leased the shire hall in Caernarvon on behalf of Sir John Wynn, stocking it with beer, food and bedding for Wynn’s supporters.272

It was not enough to provide food and lodgings for one’s own supporters; accommodation had also to be denied to one’s opponents. ‘Disappoint your adversaries by all means of any places ... for their companies’, urged Sir Edward Phelips on writing to his son Sir Robert shortly before the Somerset election of 1614.273 A candidate whose rival commandeered all the available accommodation had no means of redress. When Sir Francis Barrington protested that Sir Thomas Mildmay of Moulsham had hired most of the inns in Chelmsford on behalf of Sir Edward Denny in February 1604, Mildmay did not bother to deny the charge, nor did he apologize for having caused Barrington inconvenience. Instead he retorted self-righteously that ‘I know not who hath any authority to except against me in so doing in mine own town, being lawfully required for myself and my friends’.274

In theory voting was compulsory: by a statute of 1382, those absent without reasonable excuse were liable to be fined or otherwise punished.275 In practice, those who willingly absented themselves were not subject to official sanction, but neither were they entitled to vote either. ‘By law’, observed John Glanville in 1624, anyone who failed to attend after due warning ‘loseth his voice for that time’.276 Despite this, attempts to include the voices of absentees were not unknown. Following the 1601 Rutland by-election, Walter Nebon, servant to Sir Andrew Noel, claimed that one reason he had noted the names of Noel’s supporters while canvassing was that he had thought that ‘they might have given their voices as well absent as present’.277 In 1624, during the Arundel election, the mayor, finding that Sir George Chaworth had received only twenty-seven votes compared with the twenty-nine cast in favour of John Mills, sent for ten absentee voters after the proceedings had closed and persuaded them to declare for Chaworth. When the Commons’ elections committee learned of this, it ruled that these additional votes were ‘ineffectual and void’ because they had been cast ‘after the election [was] fully passed and determined’.278

The exclusion of absentees also extended to those who, having turned out, drifted away before the proceedings were ended. In constituencies with large electorates, where it sometimes proved necessary to poll the voters individually, some voters inevitably decided that they could not stand around for hours, or even days at a time, waiting to be called. Their exclusion might seem harsh, but as the Commons’ elections committee explained in 1624, ‘if the going away of a few freeholders, of their own accord, might make void an election, then it should lie always in the power of those with the fewest number of voices, by their departure before the poll finished, to turn any election into a nullity at their pleasure’. Such a situation, it added, with commendable understatement, would be ‘most inconvenient’.279

Absenteeism had no effect on the legitimacy of an election, since the law assumed that those who did not attend had consented to the choice made by those who had.280 Nonetheless, it might mean that those chosen were not necessarily the best candidates. In his address to the voters of Cheshire in February 1624, Sir Richard Grosvenor, the county sheriff, bemoaned the poor turnout that had afflicted previous parliamentary elections. Lulled into a false sense of security by a long period of economic prosperity, many voters, he complained, had ‘not thought it worth their labour to travel and bring their bodies to the place of election, conceiving any man who would put up the finger and sue for the place a meet person for that place’.281

Grosvenor’s complaint that the prosperity enjoyed early in James’s reign had served to erode voter turnout sits uncomfortably alongside Derek Hirst’s claim that the 1620s were electorally decisive because ‘more people were actually voting’.282 How far Grosvenor was justified in his complaint is hard to tell. In most elections it is difficult enough to know how many votes were cast let alone what proportion of the electorate attended. However, there is some evidence that Grosvenor’s concerns were well founded. At Bletchingley in December 1620 only twelve of the burgage-holders cast a vote, compared with the nineteen who voted in the borough’s by-election of July 1610 and the twenty-four – the total number eligible – who participated in the contested election of 1624. 283 At Colchester, where the electorate was limited to the corporation before 1628, there are clear signs that the 1620s witnessed a decline in voting. In 1604 all but two of the borough’s forty-two voters attended the hustings, and in 1614 every member of the corporation did so. Yet in 1620 eight corporation members failed to cast their votes, and in 1624 this figure rose to eleven. The worst attended elections of the period were those of January 1626, when fourteen corporation members failed to vote, and the election held the following month, when there were sixteen absentees.284 It seems unlikely that the severe plague outbreak which afflicted Colchester that year was to blame, as the first victims were not buried until June.285 Even in 1628, when the corporation might have been expected to mount a show of strength against the freemen, who now claimed the right to vote, no less than nine members of the town council refrained from voting. In only one case – that of the 1625 election – do the minute books indicate the causes of absence, which included sickness and the duties of serving as a churchwarden.286

A decline in interest in voting during the later 1620s is also detectable at Newcastle-under-Lyme. Before 1624 the corporation had monopolized the franchise, but in April of that year the Commons restored the right to vote to the freemen. No less than 155 voters participated in the ensuing by-election, but in the general election of 1626 turnout fell to 116, and in 1628 it dropped to only ninety-two.287 The reason for this decline is unclear, but it certainly had nothing to do with demographic change, since the town’s population was rapidly rising throughout this period.

Evidence from other enfranchised communities nevertheless suggests that in some areas there was an increase in voter participation during the 1620s. The borough of Hastings is a case in point. In 1614 and 1620 turnout remained steady, at thirty and thirty-one voters respectively. In 1624, however, thirty-five voters took part, and in 1625 the number stood at thirty-four. The next two general elections saw a further increase: thirty-nine men voted in 1626 and thirty-eight in 1628. Turnout fell sharply at the 1626 by-election – to just twenty-five – but by-elections were perhaps always less likely to excite interest than general elections.288 What lay behind the overall gradual rise in voter participation at Hastings during the 1620s is hard to say. The freemen rather than the corporation held the franchise, but whether the size of this body remained static or increased significantly during this period is unknown.

Low turnout was not necessarily evidence of voter disenchantment with parliaments. As has already been observed, few men were willing to put in an appearance at an election in which there was only one candidate. This was particularly true of by-elections, such as that held to return Sir Valentine Browne for Lincolnshire in 1610, at which only a dozen or so voters turned up.289 One of the worst attended elections of the period was that for Suffolk in 1628. In March Edward Nuttall reported that ‘there was not ten gentlemen at this election, which I never did see the like before’. However, this low turnout was not symptomatic of a widespread lack of interest in parliamentary politics among Suffolk’s voters but a reaction to the fact that one of the candidates – Sir Edward Coke – was non-resident and therefore legally incapable of standing. On the back of a letter to his friend Simonds D’Ewes, Sir Martin Stuteville observed that ‘I am sure the election is against the express words of the statute which said the electors and elected must be residing in the same shire at the time of the date of the writ’, for which reason ‘I stirred not in it’.290 Clearly, local factors were just as important in affecting turnout as wider national issues.

The returning officer

The pivotal figure in county elections was the sheriff: as the presiding officer it was for him to decide which candidate had been elected, and without his seal and signature no indenture was valid. In 1624 the sheriff of Cambridgeshire, being also sheriff of Huntingdonshire, entrusted the performance of his electoral duties in Cambridgeshire to a deputy, an action that Sir Christopher Hildyard, at least, considered improper, on the grounds that ‘the under-sheriff hath no power to make the election’, but his view was evidently not shared by the Commons as a whole.291

The sheriff was not a neutral official, standing aloof from county politics, but a member of the local gentry, whose term of office lasted just one year. Faced with the likelihood of a contest, sheriffs were inclined to back their friends and relations rather than act in an even-handed fashion. On being urged to stand as knight for Merioneth in January 1624 by his kinsman Sir Richard Wynn, Henry Wynn was assured that he would have all the help the Herbert family could give ‘and the sheriff shall do what you please’.292 In the summer of 1603, when parliamentary elections were thought to be imminent, Sir Arthur Heveningham, sheriff of Norfolk, confided to Sir Henry Knyvett of Ashwellthorpe that he intended to employ a ‘trick of office’ to ensure the return of his son John.293 During the course of the 1604 Staffordshire election, the sheriff, Sir Walter Bagot, successfully exerted pressure on Sir Walter Harcourt to withdraw to allow a clear run for Sir Edward Littleton, who showed his gratitude to Bagot after the election by bestowing upon him a ‘brace of horses’.294

Accounts of ‘sheriffs’ tricks’ are legion. Aside from those already alluded to – such as switching the election venue at the last moment or withholding the writ – they included ignoring demands for a poll and, as in the 1620 Yorkshire election, posting armed guards on the door of the hall or castle where the voting took place to keep out the supporters of one side or another.295 Some sheriffs went to extraordinary lengths to ensure the success of their favoured candidates. On the evening before the Worcestershire election of 1604, the sheriff, Sir Thomas Russell, was so determined to prevent the return of the Catholic Sir Edmund Harewell that he had his brother post guards on Castle Green to stop Sir Edmund and his supporters from gaining admittance to the hustings the following day. Only the partisans of Sir Thomas Bromley and Sir William Ligon were to be let in, and only then provided they gave the correct password.296

In borough elections the key figure was normally the mayor or bailiff rather than the sheriff. This was probably the case even in the county boroughs, where the sheriffs often took their marching orders from the municipal authorities. Only in a handful of cases, such as the election for Cardigan Boroughs held at Aberystwyth in 1604, did mayors take a backseat to the sheriff.297 Like sheriffs, mayors and bailiffs were local men with political agendas of their own, and were consequently anything but impartial. Throughout the 1620s successive mayors of Canterbury attempted to rig the borough elections in order to please the earl of Montgomery, whose control as lord lieutenant of Kent over the city’s militia was a source of constant irritation to the authorities. At Pontefract in March 1624, the mayor, William Oates, declared his support for Sir John Jackson and barred the doors of the guildhall to the supporters of Jackson’s rival, Sir Richard Beaumont.298 In December 1620 the mayor of Sandwich, alarmed at the electioneering of Sir Edwin Sandys and anxious to ensure that the lord warden’s candidate secured the senior seat as custom required, apparently announced on the day of election that the voters would be required ‘to choose one burgess first and not both together’, for in that way ‘my lord would be respected’.299

There was nothing new about the improper conduct of returning officers. As early as 1406 Parliament acknowledged that knights of the shire were sometimes chosen out of the ‘affection of sheriffs’, and in 1410 it was enacted that any sheriff guilty of electoral misconduct would be fined £100 and imprisoned for a year. In 1445 these punishments were extended to mayors and bailiffs.300 However, by the early seventeenth century these penalties were seldom invoked, and if they were they tended to be ignored: when Sir Robert Gardener proposed in May 1614 that the sheriff of Hampshire be fined ‘for not returning the party rightly elected’ in the recent county election, he evidently found little support.301 In practice, the only sanction to which most errant sheriffs were subjected was that of being summoned before the Commons to explain their misconduct. However, in 1624 the under-sheriff of Cambridgeshire was also required to confess his fault publicly at the next quarter sessions, and in 1628 Sheriff Thompson of York and Alderman Hempsworth were not only ordered to pay the charges of the witnesses against them but also to remain in the serjeant’s custody ‘till they have confessed their fault upon [their] knees’.302 Yet while fining the sheriff was no longer practised the threat remained, and more than one nervous sheriff extracted guarantees accordingly. In March 1624, for example, the corporation of Hull promised that ‘Mr Sheriff shall be kept harmless’ in respect of the borough’s recent parliamentary election.303

Partisan behaviour by the returning officer often delivered victory to those who might otherwise have been defeated. At the very least it ensured that a challenger stood little chance of success. The electoral good fortune of James Price, who represented Radnorshire in every Parliament between 1593 and 1621, is a prime example, as Price was the kinsman of successive sheriffs or their deputies.304 Since the sheriff was clearly of such pivotal importance, those who feared his hostile intervention were often desperate to lessen his influence. It was perhaps for this reason that so many attempts were made to gain control of the writ before it came to the hands of the sheriff.

Price was extraordinarily fortunate that his kinsmen were in office whenever he sought election, since the choice of sheriff was a matter determined by the Crown rather than the local community. Throughout the Elizabethan and early Stuart period, members of the gentry were never given the opportunity to influence the selection of the returning officer because the Crown, perhaps by accident but probably by design, avoided summoning a Parliament towards the end of the shrieval year (which occurred at the beginning of November). Only once did the king come close to breaking this unwritten rule. On 6 November 1620, a few days after selecting new sheriffs, James announced a fresh Parliament. Had his proclamation been published before the new sheriffs were chosen, many of the ensuing county elections would undoubtedly have had different outcomes. In Caernarvonshire, William Wynn would not have used his influence at Court to prevent the selection of his kinsman Sir John Bodvel as Caernarvonshire’s sheriff, as he himself later admitted. With Bodvel as sheriff, the Wynns’ enemy John Griffith would not have triumphed at the hustings. Indeed, Bodvel’s avoidance of the shrievalty was so decisive that Sir John Wynn deemed it to have been ‘the mere cause of the loss of the election’.305

Preliminary proceedings on election day

Since elections for the county seats were held in the county court, it was customary, before proceedings began, for the assembled magistrates to hear a few cases first. Once this was done, the sheriff, sitting with the justices on the bench, had his clerk read aloud the election writ.306 At the Montgomery election of 1588, the writ was read in Latin first, and then translated by the sheriff into English.307 In borough elections, assuming the case of Great Yarmouth to have been typical, the practice was for the mayor or bailiff to read aloud both the writ and the sheriff’s precept.308

In many elections the writ was not the only document to be publicly recited. In 1597 the Council’s letter requiring that no ‘unmeet’ Members be chosen was read to the voters.309 In 1604 and 1620/1 notice was given of the king’s recent proclamations concerning the conduct of parliamentary elections, although at the Buckinghamshire election of 1604 the sheriff did not read the entire proclamation, but instead ‘intimated’ to the freeholders the chief points it contained.310 At the Cambridge University election of 1614, the vice-chancellor, who acted as the returning officer, read not only the writ but also the letters patent that had enfranchised the university in 1604 and a letter from the university’s chancellor on the manner in which the election was to be conducted.311 There was no obligation on the returning officer to recite the contents of any of the statutes governing parliamentary elections, though he might be prevailed upon to do so. In 1597, for instance, Sir John Savile, anxious to prevent the election of two non-residents, caused the sheriff of Yorkshire to ‘read certain statutes to all the freeholders purporting that none should be chosen to that place but such as were resident in the county at the teste of the writ’.312

After reading the writ and any other documents relating to the conduct of the election, the presiding officer normally presented the candidates to the electors. At the same time he might also read out any letters of nomination received on their behalf, or recommend to the assembly the candidates whom he and those seated on the bench behind him thought most suitable. Thus at Great Yarmouth in April 1625, after the sheriff’s precept and king’s writ had been read, ‘certain letters addressed unto Mr Bailiffs from diverse knights …entreating for them to be chosen burgesses of the Parliament for this borough were … publicly read, whereupon Mr Bailiffs declared what they know or had heard in commendations [sic] of every of them’.313 Normally letters of nomination were read after the writ. However, at Leicester in 1624 the earl of Huntingdon’s nomination of Sir Humphrey May was ‘read before any other’, and at Canterbury in 1626 the sheriff read the earl of Montgomery’s letter to the corporation first, which manner of proceeding Thomas Scott described as ‘a strange and a vile insolency’.314

It seems to have been unusual for the presiding officer to deliver long addresses to the voters. A notable exception, however, was that of the sheriff of Cheshire, Sir Richard Grosvenor, in 1624. In a lengthy oration, Grosvenor, a parliamentary veteran himself, set out the qualities needed in Members of the Commons in general, and in Members for Cheshire in particular, before going on to explain the nature of a Parliament and to attack papists. After expressing the hope that the Commons would enact much of the legislation which had failed to reach the statute book in 1621, Grosvenor then presented to the freeholders the candidates whom he, and the assembled justices seated on the platform behind him, had unanimously decided were best suited to represent their county in Parliament.315 Candidates too do not seem to have been in the habit of addressing the electors ahead of voting, although Richard Taylor, the deputy recorder of Bedford, is known to have prepared a speech setting out his credentials when he was a candidate in 1628.316

In borough elections it may have been common for the town’s senior legal officer – either the recorder or town clerk – to be on hand to provide legal advice regarding the drafting of indentures. In 1621 Christopher Pepper, the recorder of Richmond, complained bitterly to his friend Sir Henry Savile that the corporation had not waited ‘for my presence and advice in the election’ but had proceeded without him, despite knowing that he was due to return the following day.317 It was also expected that the candidates in borough elections would, before proceeding to a formal election, take the oath of a freeman if they had not already done so. (The law required borough Members to be freemen at the time the writs of election were issued, but this rule was widely ignored). Among those sworn as freemen on the day of their election were Sir John Sammes and Sir Robert Rich at Maldon in 1610 and Sir William Brooke at Rochester in 1628.318 A candidate who represented the same borough more than once was not normally expected to take the oath of a freeman again, but where several years had elapsed since his previous service this might be required. For example, the borough of Rye required Thomas Fotherley to take the oath of a freeman both in 1625 and 1628.319

Many gentlemen in search of borough seats lived at a considerable distance from the town they wished to represent, and for this reason they were often unable or unwilling to undertake the long journey to their chosen constituency. Anyone who expected to be elected in his absence could therefore not be sworn in as a freeman on the day of his election. More than one borough found this reluctance to attend among gentry applicants irksome. In March 1614 Hythe’s corporation informed its newly elected Members, Sir Lionel Cranfield and Sir Thomas Smythe, that it would delay sealing the return until both men had come down to take their oaths.320 In January 1624 the corporation of Rye instructed Sir Edward Conway the younger and John Angell, whom it had decided to elect, to come down as soon as possible ‘because we cannot return to the Parliament any but freemen of the ports’.321 However, supported by their aristocratic patrons, many gentlemen elected in absentia proved impervious to these blandishments, and unless a borough was prepared to annul its election and choose others it was ultimately powerless to compel their attendance. Two weeks after summoning Cranfield and Smythe, the townsmen of Hythe were still waiting for a reply.322 Under such circumstances, there was little alternative but to allow Members to take their oath in London, which meant that a commission had to be drafted and someone had to travel to the capital. Thus in 1605 Maldon sent one of its officers to swear in Lord Howard de Walden as a freeman at his London lodgings, and in April 1628 the land chamberlain and mayor of Rye spent 14s. 2d. on a journey to London ‘to give the oath to our burgesses’.323 Not everyone was happy with this arrangement. When the chamberlain of Canterbury went up to London in 1626 to take the oath of a freeman from James Palmer, Thomas Scott indignantly demanded to know ‘what authority hath a chamberlain of Canterbury to give an oath at London?’324

The early stages of an election represented the last opportunity for a side that sensed defeat to beat a hasty retreat. Sometimes a candidate decided simply not to proceed but, where one side or another had committed itself publicly to a contest, the only way to avoid personal humiliation was to substitute the previously intended candidate with another of less stature. On the morning of the Caernarvonshire election of December 1620, Sir John Wynn and his leading supporters held an impromptu council of war at which it was resolved to put up Griffith Jones of Castellmarch rather than Wynn’s eldest son Sir Richard, as had originally been intended.325 On election day in Flintshire in January 1626, the thirteen-year heir of Sir John Hanmer was given the impossible task of defeating John Salusbury of Bachegraig. Hanmer’s candidacy was almost certainly the result of a last-minute decision by Sir John Trevor to withdraw, and was probably intended to give Trevor and his supporters an honourable way out, for whereas a youth who suffered a resounding defeat would suffer no disgrace, the same could not be said for a man of Trevor’s standing.

Methods of voting

In theory at least, the side that won an election was the one that garnered the most votes. Among the upper echelons of English and Welsh society, however, the principle of one man, one vote was only reluctantly accepted. Members of the gentry often felt instinctively that their votes ought to count for more than those cast by the meaner sort.326 In December 1620, for instance, Sir John Wynn dismissed the supporters of John Griffith as ‘a company of bashrags of beggarly freeholders ... whereof very nigh an hundred live all the summer a-begging’. Though he admitted that his opponent had ‘the odds’, Wynn declared that ‘two parts of the gentry and most of the principal freeholders are of my side’.327

In the early seventeenth century it was more important to decide who had won an election rather than the precise number that had voted for one side or another. Establishing precise numbers was only necessary when it was uncertain which candidates had the majority.328 In two-Member constituencies it was not even essential to determine which of the winners had the most votes to decide who took the junior seat, as social standing often mattered more than mere numbers. In 1604 Sir John Savile conceded the senior knighthood of the shire for Yorkshire to Francis Clifford, heir to the earl of Cumberland, even though the number of his own supporters was ‘much the greater’.329

In an uncontested election, the assent of the voting community was given by general acclamation. Where seats were contested, the sheriff, mayor or bailiff would ask the voters to signify their wishes by means of the ‘cry’. This entailed the supporters of each side taking it in turns to shout out the name of their candidate as loudly as possible. The side that made the greatest noise would, if fair play were observed, be deemed the more numerous by the sheriff. During these proceedings, it was common for the supporters of each side to yell out the surname of their preferred candidate. At Gloucester in 1604, for instance, the supporters of John Jones reportedly exclaimed, ‘Jones, Jones for a burgess!’330 Often the shouted surname was preceded by the indefinite article. In the Buckinghamshire election of 1604, for example, the partisans of Sir John Fortescue yelled ‘A Fortescue! A Fortescue!’, while those of Sir Francis Goodwin called out ‘A Goodwin! A Goodwin!’331 This form of expression, reminiscent of a war-cry,332 served to emphasize that contested elections were, in effect, bloodless battles.

As a method of resolving elections, the cry was not without its problems. Chanting often started before the presiding officer formally began proceedings, making it difficult for the sheriff, mayor or bailiff to make himself heard above the din. At Winchester in 1614 the sheriff of Hampshire tried to read the election writ promptly at eight o’clock, but for the next hour was unable to make himself heard above the incessant chanting of ‘Wallop, Wallop, Wallop’ coming from the supporters of Sir Henry Wallop.333 At East Retford ten years later, Sir Richard Wortley’s supporters made such ‘a great cry and noise, with whooping and shouting’ that ‘we in the hall could not hear one word when the king’s writ was read’.334 Even when the sheriff was able to begin formal proceedings, it often proved hard for him to establish which side was making the greater sound. Matters were not helped if one side tried to muffle the noise made by the other. In the 1614 Yorkshire election, Sir John Savile and Sir Thomas Wentworth were accused of using trumpets ‘and other practices’ to drown out the supporters of Sir John Mallory.335 In very large gatherings, the difficulty of determining which body of supporters had the edge might mean that the cry would go on for some considerable time. At the Yorkshire election of 1597, it lasted ‘by the space of two hours and more’.336 In the Somerset election of 1614, the market square at Yeovil echoed to the sound of support for Sir Robert Phelips for ‘at least three quarters of an hour’.337 Many elections undoubtedly degenerated into little more than loud and prolonged shouting matches. At the Westminster borough election in 1628 the supporters of Sir Robert Pye found their cry of ‘A Pye! A Pye!’ answered with ‘A Pudding! A Pudding!’ and ‘A Lie! A Lie!’338 The chanting of candidates’ names might continue long after the election was over. At York in 1604, the supporters of the victorious Sir John Savile carried their candidate aloft back to his lodgings ‘still crying “A Savile! A Savile!”’339

Where the cry was plainly insufficient to determine the result, the presiding officer would try to settle matters by means of ‘the view’. In some places, such as Southwark, this was achieved by a show of hands, but elsewhere it was common for the voters to be physically divided into two or more opposing camps.340 How easy this was to accomplish is hard to tell, but the candidates themselves undoubtedly provided a natural rallying point. In 1614 the supporters of Sir Henry Wallop raised ‘a little banner or flag wherein was made the letter W’.341 Once the sides had divided, the presiding officer, together with a number of assistants selected from among the principal freeholders or townsmen, would occupy a convenient vantage point such as a nearby castle tower to view the rival groups. In the case of the Kent county election, which was always held on Penenden Heath, there was no high point close at hand from which the sheriff could judge the size of the opposing sides. The problem was not insoluble, however, for in 1624 the rival groups proceeded to parade past the sheriff separately and in good order to allow him to judge their size.342

Like the cry, the view was an unsatisfactory method of resolving a contested election, not least because those entrusted with the task of deciding which was the larger size often failed to agree amongst themselves. In January 1624 the under-sheriff of Cambridgeshire, ‘assisted by some of the principal freeholders of both sides’, carried out two views of county’s voters, but ‘it was controverted and doubtful, upon either view, which troop had the greater number’.343 Even when it was clear that one side was larger than another, the outcome might remain in doubt, for as has been mentioned, it was quite common for crowds of legitimate voters to be swollen by the unenfranchised. In such cases, the sheriff was obliged to establish both the credentials and the precise number of legitimate voters on either side by means of a poll.344 Failure to do so might well invalidate an election entirely. When the Commons discovered in 1624 that the under-sheriff of Cambridgeshire had refused to carry out a headcount of his county’s voters despite being unable to determine the outcome by the view, it quashed his return and ordered a fresh election.345

In view of the insufficiency of both the cry and the view for determining the number and credentials of those voting, many members of the Commons’ election committee came to regard polling as indispensable. In 1624 the chairman of the committee, John Glanville, declared that it was ‘the only certain means rightly to decide the difference in case of opposition, especially when others are present besides the electors’, and in 1625 several members of the committee opined that a poll was ‘so necessary as no election in a case of competition could be without [it]’.346 However, the preference of the Commons’ election committee was never translated into a legal requirement. Moreover, the possibility that a poll might result in a dead heat, particularly in boroughs with small electorates, seems to have not occurred to anyone. This was regrettable, since precisely this situation arose in 1628 at Lymington, where ten members of the corporation voted for John Mill while the other ten were cast for John More II. A second poll failed to change the outcome, and since the mayor declined to give a casting vote, the names of both men were placed on the indenture, leaving the matter to be resolved by the Commons.347 In the event, the House never arrived at a solution, even though Mill was a minor and therefore ineligible.

Where the returning officer decided to hold a poll, he was entitled to conduct it in any manner he saw fit, as there were few statutory procedures or official guidelines for him to follow. In two-Member constituencies, in which each voter had the right to cast two votes, the manner in which the poll was held might prove crucial in determining the outcome of an election. Should there be two polls, for instance, one for the first seat and another for the second, or should there be only a single poll, with the two highest scoring candidates securing victory? 348 In 1614 Sir Robert Phelips was defeated in the Somerset election because the sheriff adopted a manner of proceeding that favoured his opponents.349 In only one respect was there guidance available to the returning officer. A statute of 1430 empowered the sheriff in county elections to administer an oath to any would-be voter to determine whether he met the statutory franchise requirement. Anyone who failed this test could legitimately be excluded.350 However, even this guidance was insufficient, since the Act failed to specify whether mayors or bailiffs were also entitled to administer the oath, a deficiency which the author of the 1621 elections bill sought to remedy.351 It was also unclear whether deputies appointed by the sheriff to help him conduct the poll were capable of administering the oath. Unfortunately for the returning officer, the Commons did not consider it part of its function to clarify the situation. When, in1625, the sheriff of Yorkshire asked to know whether his deputies were able to administer the oath laid down in the Act of 1430, he was told, through his son the Member for Scarborough, that it was not the job of the House ‘to declare the law in cases not yet in being’, for if it were the Commons would be guilty of elevating its orders to ‘the nature of acts of Parliament’.352

Despite the lack of detailed guidance, certain characteristics seem to have been common to most polls. It was quite usual, for instance, for the sheriff to call for assistance. In 1625 Sir Thomas Hammon appointed no less than eight clerks to help him take the poll at the Kent county election, and in 1626 the sheriff of Dorset employed the services of both his under-sheriff and the clerk of the peace.353 It was also typical, whenever a poll was held, for the sheriff, mayor or bailiff to move proceedings to more spacious surroundings. At the Somerset election in 1614, for example, the sheriff instructed the voters to move from the overcrowded market place at Yeovil to a field near the edge of the town, while at Cirencester in 1624 the assembly adjourned from the town hall to the roomier perpendicular church.354 On occasion, a presiding officer might employ more than one venue to carry out the poll. At Coventry in 1628, the voters in the guildhall were required to make their way to one of two churches: those who supported Isaac Walden were instructed to go to St. Michael’s, while those who favoured Richard Greene were told to assemble at Holy Trinity.355

Except in constituencies with only a handful of voters, most formal headcounts were recorded in a poll book. This register, compiled by the sheriff and his assistants, was sometimes assembled with the help of schedules of voters that had previously been prepared by the candidates themselves.356 Poll books formed no part of the sheriff’s return but remained his private property, and for this reason sheriffs were under no obligation to make them available for public inspection. When Thomas Warre asked to see the poll book for Somerset in 1614, he was told that the sheriff ‘will not suffer any to have sight of it’.357 In 1626 the sheriff of Dorset retired into a chamber with the poll book, refused to admit anyone else, and ‘privately numbered the names’.358 However, as in the case of the 1588 Montgomery election, the supporters of both sides sometimes made duplicate lists of voters at the same time as the sheriff compiled his register.359

The advantage of a poll was that it enabled the returning officer to determine with some accuracy the strength of the opposing sides, which neither the cry nor the view could do. Its chief drawback, however, was that, in the absence of a secret ballot, it undermined the principle of a free election, since it created a record of a man’s voting behaviour that could be used against him by his superiors. While many were perfectly willing to express their support for a particular candidate as part of a crowd, they might be rather less forthcoming when required to identify themselves individually. During the 1626 election campaign in Canterbury, Richard White told Thomas Scott that ‘many that gave a softly voice for us, so the aldermen did not perceive them’, would not have dared oppose the aldermen’s preferred candidates had they been required to vote openly at a poll, ‘though they had formerly whispered, as it were, a Scott’.360 At the 1601 by-election for Rutland, the sheriff, Sir Andrew Noel, was so determined to ensure the return of his own son that he and his servants threatened to add to the subsidy roll any man who voted for James Harington.361

Faced with such intimidation, some voters declined to give their names when polled. However, this appeared to open the way for men to vote more than once in the same election, and for this reason the sheriff of Yorkshire threatened in 1628 to disqualify anyone who refused to state his name at the poll. Surprisingly, perhaps, the sheriff’s decision was condemned by the Commons. Determined to protect voters from the intimidation of their landlords or the misconduct of the sheriff, the House ruled that an elector need not give his name provided he swore that he owned freehold worth at least forty shillings a year, was resident in the county on the day the writ was issued and had not previously been polled. It brushed aside the sheriff’s objection that anonymous voting would result in fraud, asserting that a sheriff would naturally know who the voters were and whether they had already voted; if he did not he had bailiffs who could inform him. This was astonishing, for while a returning officer might reasonably be expected to know on sight all the electors in a small constituency, he could hardly hope to be acquainted with everyone in large constituencies such as Yorkshire, where there were around 7,000 voters in 1597. By seeking to protect the voters from intimidation, the Commons had unwittingly made it impossible for the sheriff to create a credible poll book.362

Perhaps the only constituency in which the voter’s anonymity may have been preserved during polling was the University of Cambridge, which was enfranchised in 1604. Each voter was required ‘to give their suffrages in writing’ to the official known as the registary, who took ‘a perfect note of the numbers severally under his hand’.363 How much information was given on these slips of paper is unclear. Did the voters merely indicate their choice of candidates, or did they also record their own names? There seems to be no way of knowing.

Many polls – perhaps even a majority – were terminated prematurely.364 Sometimes this was occasioned by a candidate who sensed that matters were not going his way, such as Sir Richard Beaumont, who called a halt to proceedings at the Pontefract election of March 1624 once it became apparent that his supporters were outnumbered two to one.365 At other times polling was brought to a halt by the returning officer who, without waiting for a result, would declare a particular candidate the winner. Alternatively, he might order a recount, as did the vice-chancellor of Cambridge University in 1614, when he did not get the result he wanted.366 Where this happened there was frequently uproar, as those subsequently deemed to be the losers naturally concluded that the reason for the returning officer’s intervention was to deprive their side of victory.

The appeals process

Not every rejected candidate took defeat lying down. Where a candidate believed he had been wronged, three avenues were open to him. The first was to send an indenture of his own to Chancery. The second was to petition the House of Commons for redress. The third was to turn to the law courts.

Of these three possible courses of action, the third was the most well established. By an Act of 1445 aggrieved parties were entitled to sue the returning officer for damages plus their costs. Sheriffs were liable to pay £100, while mayors and bailiffs were subject to a penalty of £40, in addition to fines of equivalent value payable to the king.367 However, this arrangement evidently proved unsatisfactory: actions at Common Law were notoriously slow, and the Act only provided for redress against the returning officer. From the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign, legal actions in respect of election disputes were heard not in the Common Law courts but in Star Chamber, where there was no limit to the number of defendants who could be named and where the scope for punishment was not confined to statutory penalties.368

Star Chamber maintained its popularity as a means of resolving election disputes right up until the death of Elizabeth. Thereafter, however, the resort to this court virtually ceased. Under James only five election cases appeared before Star Chamber, and between 1625 and 1629 there were none apart from a single lawsuit that had more to do with the behaviour of one of the candidates and his supporters than with the outcome of the election.369 This startling decline in business can have had nothing to do with the number of contested elections, which increased dramatically during this period. Instead it may have owed something to the enormous cost of bringing an action. In 1614 Sir Robert Cotton was advised by his brother not to ‘spend yourself and your best friends’ by mounting a legal action against the sheriff of Huntingdonshire for electoral misconduct.370 In 1626 Sir John Stawell was fined £200 by Star Chamber for his misconduct at the Somerset election the previous year, but in the process the complainants, Sir Thomas Wyndham and Sir Robert Phelips, incurred costs amounting to £243 9s.10d.371 Mark Kishlansky’s observation that Star Chamber remained ‘the perfect place to resolve contests’ as ‘it allowed contestants to inflict pain upon an opponent’ looks a little hollow when set alongside such a pyrrhic victory. Indeed, Stawell’s case demonstrated that a plaintiff who resorted to Star Chamber was liable to cause himself a great deal more suffering than he was ever likely to inflict upon his opponent.372

Perhaps the main reason that Star Chamber fell largely into disuse was that it no longer had jurisdiction in election cases. As a result of James’s ruling in respect of the 1604 Buckinghamshire election, the Commons established for itself the sole right to determine the validity of election returns. In so doing, it not only inflicted a defeat on Chancery but also called into question the role previously played by Star Chamber. The first to notice publicly the implications for Star Chamber of the 1604 ruling was Sir William Beecher. In 1614 Beecher complained to the Commons that Sir Henry Wallop had appealed to Star Chamber rather than the House for redress against the sheriff of Hampshire.373 At the time the Commons seems to have regarded Beecher’s objection as frivolous, but by the spring of 1621, with the continued existence of parliaments now under threat, the House was alert to any assaults on its responsibilities. Consequently, when Sir James Perrot described William Vaughan’s resort to Star Chamber regarding the recent Radnorshire election as ‘a wrong to our privileges’, Vaughan was summoned ‘to answer [for] his contempt to this House in complaining in the Star Chamber in a cause which concerneth a Member of this House touching an election of a Member of this House’.374 Thereafter, the only cases of disputed elections brought before Star Chamber were timed to coincide with the ending of a Parliament, when the Commons would be unable to object to their being heard.375

Since most aggrieved candidates no longer felt able to turn to Star Chamber for redress, they had either to submit indentures of their own to Chancery or appeal to the Commons. Either way might prove more satisfactory than legal action, for whereas Star Chamber was capable only of imposing fines on malefactors, the Commons could unseat those whom it had considered as having been falsely returned.

The principal advantage of sending in a second return was that, in general, the House automatically withheld membership from those named on rival indentures until it had been established which return was valid.376 Since this process might take some time, a candidate who had been properly elected could find that a malicious opponent succeeded in denying him his seat for quite some while. Following the Hindon election of December 1620, for instance, John Anketill, whose return was certified by the bailiff and freemen, was obliged to forbear the House for two months because a rival indenture, concocted by Sir Edmund Ludlow in a private chamber and signed only by non-residents, had also been submitted.377

Petitions regarding disputed elections were heard by the Commons’ election committee, the committee for privileges and returns, which reported its findings to the House. Unless the Commons ruled otherwise, the committee dealt with each petition in the order in which it was received.378 Members who tried to get the House to alter the running order were normally rebuffed. When no less a figure than Sir Edward Coke moved to have the Pontefract election case heard by the committee that afternoon, William Mallory objected that he ‘would have the cause take his turn for hearing, not to be anticipated: and so it was ordered’.379

From at least 1624 the House set the time allowed for challenging returns to about two weeks.380 In 1625 Sir George More, the chairman of the privileges committee, perhaps anticipating a brief Parliament in view of the plague, proposed shortening this allowance to just one week, but his motion was ‘not allowed’.381 Any petition submitted after the House’s deadline was likely to receive short shrift. When John Wogan protested at the outcome of the Pembrokeshire election of 1624, the privileges committee decided not to consider the matter because his petition ‘came after the time six weeks’.382 It may have been because of the House’s two-week rule for challenging returns that in 1625 Sir Edward Coke, who had been returned for both Norfolk and Coventry, delayed his decision to plump for Norfolk. At the start of each Parliament those Members who had been elected to more than one seat were required to choose which constituency they would represent, but Coke put off his decision for just over two weeks, by which time he could be certain that his election for Norfolk, which had been contested, was beyond challenge.383

There was no guarantee that the privileges committee would ever consider a petition even if it was submitted in good time, and often many of those that it discussed were left unresolved when the Parliament ended. Thus while the Commons settled five election disputes in 1626 it left at least four others undecided at the dissolution.384 The previous year the only petition it resolved related to Yorkshire; at least fourteen other cases were left unsettled.385 One reason for this poor record was that some complainants failed to prosecute their case, leaving the elections committee with no alternative but to drop its inquiry, as happened in respect of the Malmesbury election dispute in 1624. However another important factor was that the Commons’ elections committee was overburdened, for as well as being concerned with electoral matters it also dealt with cases of privilege. In 1625, when the committee turned in a truly dismal performance, there were more than twenty such cases in hand.386

Perhaps the main reason for the committee’s poor track record is that other business tended to take priority. Even though most election petitions were still pending when the Commons reassembled at Oxford in August 1625, the House instructed that they be put on hold, presumably to enable Members to discuss war supply and the duke of Buckingham.387 In 1626 the committee made little headway once impeachment proceedings against Buckingham had begun. Indeed, between 17 March, when the committee reported its findings in respect of the Newport and Oxford University election, and 8 May, nothing was heard of election matters. On 8 May the committee’s chairman, Sir John Finch, tried to present his report in respect of the Warwick election, but his timing could not have been worse, as the House was then about to present the articles of impeachment to the Lords. On 6 June, with the impeachment articles safely with the Lords, Finch tried again and was told that he would be given a hearing in two days’ time.388 However by 8 June, when Finch was supposed to report, the House was immersed in preparations for a Remonstrance against the continued levy of Tunnage and Poundage.

Whenever the committee reported to the House its chairman was expected to provide a detailed summary of its recommendations. On reporting the findings of the election committee in the case of the 1624 Norfolk election ‘in general terms, without relating the case particularly’, John Glanville was criticized by Sir Edward Coke and Sir Edward Wardour, who declared ‘that the House must not be carried with an implicit faith’. When Glanville explained that ‘he was so commanded by the committee’, Sir Thomas Hoby retorted that ‘this is the first case wherein particulars are forbidden to be recited’.389

In theory the Commons’ election committee took a balanced and impartial view of each case before it. However, according to Sir Roger Twysden, who represented Winchelsea in 1625 and 1626 and Kent during the Short Parliament, the committee acquired the nickname ‘the committee of affections’. Indeed, Twysden himself had heard some of his fellow Members ‘excuse some partiality used in that place’ on the grounds that it was the only place in the House that ‘one friend could do another pleasure in’.390 How far the committee really deserved its disreputable sobriquet is unclear, but it undoubtedly showed favour from time to time. In 1626, for instance, the committee delayed considering the Canterbury election indefinitely, probably because the matter concerned its own chairman, Sir John Finch.

It seems to have been normal for the committee to defer to the House if it wished to summon witnesses.391 In June 1625 the Commons empowered the committee to send for sheriffs whenever it saw fit, but this was unusual.392 Witnesses were normally expected to pay their own costs, even though they themselves might be innocent of any wrongdoing. However, in 1628 Clement Coke persuaded the House to order Alderman Hemsworth and Sheriff Thompson, both of whom were judged guilty of malpractice, to foot the bill for witnesses summoned on behalf of Thomas Hoyle in respect of the recent York election.393

Evidence provided by witnesses had to be given in person. In 1624 the privileges committee rejected more than sixty written witness statements in the form of affidavits sworn before masters in Chancery following the disputed Cambridgeshire election. This was partly because such documents were not the unvarnished testimony of witnesses but the product of careful drafting by counsel acting for each side. It was also because written evidence was not capable of cross-examination, unlike oral testimony, which afforded the committee the opportunity to watch the witness closely for those ‘words, actions, gestures’ which ‘discover much’.394

Although the committee was reluctant to accept written sworn statements, many petitioners seem to have been keen to provide it with lists of voters who were willing to swear on oath if need be that their voices had been ignored. Following the 1625 Kent election, for example, at least two such certificates were prepared by the defeated candidates, Sir Edwin Sandys and Edward Scott.395 Putting together lists of this kind may not always have been an easy task. Following his defeat in the 1614 Somerset election, Sir Robert Phelips ordered his servants to compile lists of freeholders who had voted for him so that he could challenge the result at Westminster, but was told that ‘being so near Easter the freeholders were much dispersed’.396

The extent to which the Commons’ election committee provided a satisfactory means of redress for those who had been cheated of victory by unscrupulous sheriffs or ruthless rivals is unclear. What is certain is that the committee’s activities took up much valuable parliamentary time. In addition to the three afternoons a week its members were kept from the chamber, the committee’s reports to the House were often long and time-consuming. On the first full day of Commons’ business in 1610, at least one Member expressed frustration at the fact that the House was debating Sir George More’s report on elections rather than devoting its time to more important matters: ‘not to spend time, but to enter into the business for which His Majesty hath called [us and] the country hath sent us’.397

Given the unwillingness of the Commons to surrender its rights to Chancery, the only way to reduce the amount of time spent on disputed elections was to ensure, by means of fresh legislation, that such quarrels arose less often. Among those who clearly grasped this point was Edward Alford. In May 1621 Alford called for the House to draft an elections bill in order to ‘free and ease us of these infinite examinations and causes of that nature every Parliament’.398 However, although nine separate election bills came before the House between 1606 and 1628, not one proceeded beyond a second reading.399 The result of this failure to enact fresh legislation was that the same antiquated and inadequate laws that had governed elections for the past two hundred years remained on the statute books when Parliament met again in the spring of 1640.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush

End Notes

  • 1. V.J. Hodges, ‘The Electoral Influence of the Aristocracy, 1604-41’ (Columbia Univ. Ph.D. 1977), pp. 26-7. Kishlansky offers no figure, but merely says that contests were rare: M.A. Kishlansky, Parliamentary Selection, 17.
  • 2. Procs. 1625, p. 677.
  • 3. Procs. 1626, iv. 231.
  • 4. NLW, 9057E/944.
  • 5. Mercers’ Hall, renter warden accts. 1603-4, unfol; second wardens’ accts.1617-29, f. 205.
  • 6. GL, ms 3297/1, unfol.; Recs. of the Carpenters’ Co. VII: Wardens’ Acct. Bk. 1592-1614 ed. A.M. Millard, 490. On borough celebrations at election time under Elizabeth, see Neale, Elizabethan House of Commons, 326.
  • 7. Cent. Kent. Stud., U350, E4, f. 51.
  • 8. Procs. 1628, vi. 124.
  • 9. HALS, OFF/ACC/1162, nos. 152, 164.
  • 10. For James’s warrant to the lord keeper ordering writs to be drawn up for the1621 Parliament, see Add. 34324, f. 129.
  • 11. W.J. Jones, The Elizabethan Court of Chancery, 51, 132, 157; I. Temple, Petyt ms 538/11, f. 86x.
  • 12. The writs dated 13 Nov. 1620 and were prepared on a letter from the king dated 5 Nov., for which see Add. 34324, f. 129.
  • 13. C231/4, ff. 118-19, 120v, 122, 123v, 161v-4, 165.
  • 14. Thrush, ‘Commons v. Chancery’, 303-4.
  • 15. Surr. Hist. Cent., LM1331/15; CJ, i. 392b.
  • 16. CD 1629, p. 181; CJ, i. 927b.
  • 17. On Lancashire, see J.S. Roskell, The Knights of the Shire for the County Palatine of Lancaster (1377-1460) (Chetham Soc. n.s. xcvi), 26-7; C219/38/126-7; I. Temple, Petyt ms 538/11, f. 86x. On Cheshire, see C219/35/1; I. Temple, Petyt ms 538/11, f. 87. The writs for Cheshire and Cheshire were actually addressed to the chancellor of the county palatine of Chester, but in the early seventeenth century there was no such officer.
  • 18. NLW, 9059E/1185.
  • 19. NLW, 9057E/995; E. Farnham, ‘Som. Election’, EHR, xlvi. 587 n.3.
  • 20. CJ, i. 921a.
  • 21. C219/35/2, pt. 6, f. 135; I. Temple, Petyt ms 538, f. 89v; C219/35/1, pt. 3, nos. 73-4. For a detailed discussion of the sheriff’s precept, see below.
  • 22. I am grateful to Alasdair Hawkyard for the information about the early Tudor Chamber, and to Simon Healy for sampling the Jacobean accounts of the treasurer and cofferer of the Chamber in E351 and E101.
  • 23. Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. Knowler, i. 9; Notts. Univ. Lib. CL/L/LP51.
  • 24. Procs. 1625, pp. 672, 684.
  • 25. NLW, 9060E/1326. Wynn also got hold of the writ for Hertford following the death of Sir Charles Morrison in 1628: CJ, i. 921a.
  • 26. Procs. 1626, iv. 236.
  • 27. FSL, L.a.296.
  • 28. NLW, 9059E/1177, 1185. Prior to that date Sir Richard may have relied upon his uncle, Ellis Wynn, a clerk of the Petty Bag between 1603 and 1623, to gain possession of the writs for north Wales. On Ellis Wynn’s tenure of this office, see T.D. Hardy, A Cat. of Lord Chancellors, Keepers of the Great Seal, Masters of the Rolls, and Principal Officers of the High Court of Chancery, 127.
  • 29. On the master of the Rolls’ right to appoint the clerks of the Petty Bag, see Jones, 51.
  • 30. CD 1621, iv. 421.
  • 31. SR, ii. 340-1.
  • 32. Stuart Royal Proclamations I, 68.
  • 33. G.L. Harris, ‘The Formation of Parl. 1272-1377’, in The English Parl. in the Middle Ages ed. R.G. Davies and J.H. Denton, 38. It would be instructive to know how James came by this information. So far as I am aware, no such freedom of manoeuvre existed in Scotland.
  • 34. See, for example, the precepts issued to Evesham in 1605, Maidstone in 1621, Leicester in 1625 and Grampound in 1628: I. Temple, Petyt ms 538/11, f. 89v-90; C219/37/131; Procs. 1625, p. 689; Cornw. RO, J/1975.
  • 35. C219/37/306.
  • 36. Wilts. RO, C19/1/30, nos. 256 and 261 (I am grateful to Paul Hunneyball for this information); HMC 14th Rep. VIII, 143.
  • 37. Procs. 1626, iv. 241; G. Wilks, Barons of the Cinque Ports and the Parliamentary Representation of Hythe, 67, 72.
  • 38. Procs. 1626, iv. 246; E. Kent Archives Office, H1209, f. 140v.
  • 39. Woodstock Chamberlain’s Accts. 1609-50 ed. M. Maslen (Oxon. Rec. Soc. lviii), 51; Recs. of the Bor. of Leicester ed. H. Stocks, iv. 226.
  • 40. E. Kent Archives Cent., RYE 61/12, f. 19v; 61/27, f. 9v; 61/30, f. 11v.
  • 41. J.F. Bailey, Transcription of Mins. of the Corp. of Boston, II: 1608-38, p. 323.
  • 42. Neale, Elizabethan House of Commons, 182-5.
  • 43. W.T. Mellows, Foundation of Peterborough Cathedral (Northants. Rec. Soc. xiii), p. xxiv.
  • 44. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 268; CJ, i. 580a.
  • 45. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), p. 37.
  • 46. Ibid. 20; Coke, The Fourth Part of the Institutes of the Laws of Eng. 49.
  • 47. Procs. 1625, p. 681; Essex RO, D/B 5/Gb3, f. 44v.
  • 48. Procs. 1625, p. 672.
  • 49. Nichols, County of Leicester, i. 341.
  • 50. C219/39/151.
  • 51. For an example of such an annotated writ, see C219/37, pt. 11, no. 270. Many sheriffs also annotated and signed the backside of writs with a declaration that the writs had been executed. See, for instance, C219/39, ff. 271v, 277v.
  • 52. CUL, Elect L.5, no. 1. For the circumstances behind the creation of this indenture, see the Cambridge University constituency article.
  • 53. C219/35/1, no. 199.
  • 54. For the Warwickshire return, see C219/37, pt. 2, f. 266; for the Lichfield indentures, see C219/38, pt. 3, ff. 219, 221; and for the Callington return, see C219/41B, f. 142.
  • 55. See the Cardiff Boroughs constituency article.
  • 56. C219/35/1, pt. 8, no. 203.
  • 57. Essex RO, D/B 3/3/108, rot. 12; D/B 3/3/295.
  • 58. Kyle thesis, 248.
  • 59. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), pp. 9, 37-8.
  • 60. Coke, The Fourth Part of the Institutes of the Laws of Eng. 49.
  • 61. See Chapter 7.
  • 62. SR, ii. 156.
  • 63. Sir Edward Coke was guilty of exaggeration when, in Feb. 1621, he observed that it was ‘never done’ for the electors to put their hands and seals to all the indentures: CJ, i. 516a.
  • 64. C219/40, f. 94.
  • 65. C219/39/38, 45; 219/40/248, 254; 45(B)/154, 174.
  • 66. Glanville, 108.
  • 67. Bailey, Transcription of Mins. of the Corp. of Boston, II, 151. For duplicate indentures surviving in borough archives, see for example Suff. RO (Ipswich), EE1/P1/6, 10; Cent. Kent. Stud., QB/RPr/2-4; W.R. James, Charters and Other Docs. ... Maidstone, pp. 119-20; Procs. 1628, vi. 150-1; HMC 14th Rep. VIII, 143.
  • 68. E. Kent Archives Cent., NR/FA/c8, f. 166; H1209, f. 140v. For the evidence that Dibb held this office at the time, see CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 180, 343.
  • 69. C219/38, f. 200; Dorset RO, DC/CC/F1/5.
  • 70. Wigan Archive Service, D/DX Ap.G.3.
  • 71. SP14/7/82.II.
  • 72. N. Yorks. CRO, MIC 1286/9331. For the copy sent to Chancery, see C219/35/2, f. 145.
  • 73. In 1613 the attorney-general, Sir Francis Bacon, described the sending and returning of blanks as an ‘unlawful custom and abuse’: Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iv. 367.
  • 74. NLW, Gwysaney Transcripts, 7 Nov. 1620, Bridgewater to Thomas Ravenscroft, George Hope and Robert Davies.
  • 75. Stuart Royal Proclamations I, 68-9.
  • 76. SP14/48/116.
  • 77. Procs. 1628, vi. 139.
  • 78. N and Q, ser. 4, x. 325.
  • 79. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, U66, f. 19; C219/39/44. Inspection of the return suggests that Scott’s claim was correct.
  • 80. C219/35/2/77.
  • 81. CJ, i. 397a.
  • 82. CD 1621, vi. 350.
  • 83. Procs. 1626, iv. 236; SP14/119/3.
  • 84. Procs. in Parls. of Eliz. I, iii. 85-6.
  • 85. CD 1621, ii. 256-7; v. 62, 317.
  • 86. ‘A Breife Collection of the Queenes Maiesties Most High and Most Honourable Courtes of Recordes’ ed. R.L. Rickard, in Cam. Misc. XX (Cam. Soc. 3rd ser. lxxxiii), 12; C219/40/62.
  • 87. For the fees payable to the clerk of the Crown, see Chapter 8. Fees may not have been payable in county elections, since it was not clear who would be expected to pay.
  • 88. HALS, OFF ACC/1162, no. 152.
  • 89. Cent. Kent. Stud., Md/FCal/1586; N. and Q. ser. 12, viii. 305.
  • 90. Coventry Archives, BA/H/C/20/2, p. 191.
  • 91. CD 1628, ii. 168, 188.
  • 92. HEHL, HA 387, 5479.
  • 93. Glos. RO, GBR B3/1, ff. 462, 476v.
  • 94. For the details see the Boroughbridge constituency article.
  • 95. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), p. 85; CJ, i. 163a.
  • 96. Liber Famelicus of Sir Jas. Whitelocke, 41; Chamberlain Letters, i. 539. Only two indentures and four writs dating from 1614 survive among the records of Chancery: C219/36/1-6.
  • 97. Thrush, ‘Commons v. Chancery’, 302.
  • 98. Stuart Royal Proclamations I, 66-70, 493-5.
  • 99. SR, ii. 156.
  • 100. FSL, L.a.886.
  • 101. SP14/49/26.
  • 102. CD 1621, iv. 421.
  • 103. Staffs. RO, Q/SO/2, f. 44.
  • 104. Berwick RO, B1/8, p. 183.
  • 105. Reading Recs. ii. 270-1, 273; C219/40/2/7, no. 159.
  • 106. Coke, The Fourth Part of the Institutes of the Laws of Eng. 49.
  • 107. CD 1621, iv. 421-2; Procs. 1628, vi. 13.
  • 108. Surr. Hist. Centre, LM 1331/28; CJ, i. 537a.
  • 109. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), pp. 25-7; ‘Earle 1624’, ff. 47, 91; CJ, i. 745b.
  • 110. Surr. Hist. Centre, LM 1989.
  • 111. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), pp. 65, 68.
  • 112. HP Commons 1558-1603, i. 187.
  • 113. C219/37, f. 346; C219/39, f. 274.
  • 114. Procs. 1628, vi. 139-40. However, no such prohibition existed with respect to notice given by private individuals on the day of election itself, for which see Section VII below.
  • 115. Procs. 1626, iv. 253. In October 1601 and March 1604 the town of Hull, which enjoyed county status, held its election ‘upon the county day’: Hull RO, bench bk. 4, f. 340.
  • 116. J.J. Alexander, ‘The Dates of Early County Elections’, EHR, clvii. 1, 7.
  • 117. SR, iv. 70.
  • 118. Suff. RO (Ipswich), C/3/2/1/2, ff. 317v, 323v.
  • 119. HLRO, OA 1 Mary St 2, no. 23.
  • 120. E112/151/29.
  • 121. For a discussion of this point, see 'Turning out the voters' below.
  • 122. CD 1621, iv. 421-2. Hakewill presented ‘the names of every market town where the elections should be for knights in every shire’, from which list the knights of the shire were expected to choose a fixed location: ibid. ii. 380.
  • 123. CJ, i. 161a.
  • 124. Neale, Elizabethan House of Commons, 84-6.
  • 125. NLW, 9057E/948.
  • 126. STAC 8/293/11.
  • 127. Neale, 81-2; Procs. 1628, vi. 13. For a further example of this mistaken belief, see the letter of notification sent by the earl of Warwick to the bailiffs of Colchester in 1625: Procs. 1625, p. 683. Among those lawyer-Members aware of the true legal situation were Sir Edward Coke and John Glanville: Coke, The Fourth Part of the Institutes of the Laws of Eng. 48; Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), p. 102.
  • 128. CD 1621, iv. 421.
  • 129. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), 102-3; Coke, The Fourth Part of the Institutes of the Laws of Eng. 48; Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. Knowler, i. 9. For the 1548 Act, see SR, iv. 70. For examples of laymen who thought that the 1445 Act required elections to finish by 11a.m., see STAC 5/H57/26, art. 17 of Walter Nebon’s deposition; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 50r-v.
  • 130. Harwich bor. ms 98/3, f. 42; C219/39/1, f. 97.
  • 131. E. Suss. RO, WIN 55, f. 190r-v.
  • 132. Procs. 1626, ii. 53-4.
  • 133. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), p. 61.
  • 134. Procs. 1626, ii. 54.
  • 135. Procs. 1625, p. 301.
  • 136. CJ, i. 528b, 529a.
  • 137. Ibid. 649b.
  • 138. Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. Knowler, i. 13.
  • 139. Wentworth Pprs. 229-31; Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. Knowler, i. 25-6.
  • 140. Procs. 1626, iv. 253.
  • 141. Procs. 1628, vi. 167.
  • 142. SP14/118/27.
  • 143. Cott., Julius C.III, f. 160.
  • 144. Soc. Antiq. ms 199 ter, ff. 5, 7.
  • 145. Procs. 1626, iv. 251.
  • 146. G. Wilks, Barons of the Cinque Ports and the Parliamentary Representation of Hythe, 70-1.
  • 147. Staffs. RO, D(W)1721/1/4, f. 37r-v (2nd numbering).
  • 148. SP14/48/116.
  • 149. Kishlansky, 23-4.
  • 150. NLW, 9059E/1177.
  • 151. FSL, Scudamore ms V.b.2(21). For the pre-election meeting held in January 1626, see Procs. 1626, iv. 238-9.
  • 152. CJ, i. 895b.
  • 153. NLW, 9059E/1172. In the event, only three prominent figures turned up.
  • 154. FSL, Scudamore ms V.b.2(21).
  • 155. Eg. 2644, ff. 134, 149v, 153.
  • 156. Whithed Letter Bk. (Hants Recs. Ser. i), 113.
  • 157. For the view that it was the action of the magistrates that prevented a contest in 1604, see Kishlansky, 67. For a detailed refutation of this case, see C. Thompson, Parliamentary Selection and the Election of 1604, pp. 7-8.
  • 158. Notitia Parliamentaria ed. B. Willis, ii. 98-9.
  • 159. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, U66, f. 19.
  • 160. Liber Famelicus of Sir J. Whitelocke, 41.
  • 161. Procs. 1628, vi. 150.
  • 162. HP Commons 1558-1603, i. 293.
  • 163. Downing Coll. Lib., Bowtell ms 11, Metcalfe’s Thesaurus, f. 77.
  • 164. ‘Earle 1624’, f. 110; R. Cust, ‘Pols. and the Electorate in the 1620s’, in Conflict in Early Stuart Eng. ed. R.Cust and A. Hughes, 158.
  • 165. J.R. Scott, Memorials of the Fam. of Scott, p. xxvii.
  • 166. Procs. 1625, p. 694.
  • 167. SR, ii. 156.
  • 168. Stuart Royal Proclamations I, 68; Eg. 2644, f. 135.
  • 169. Essex RO, D/B 3/3/2051.
  • 170. Eg. 2644, f. 138.
  • 171. LPL, ms 708, f. 131.
  • 172. Som. RO, DD/PH 219.
  • 173. NLW, 9057E/916.
  • 174. Procs. 1628, vi. 157.
  • 175. HMC Buccleuch, iii. 74.
  • 176. Soc. Gen., Document Collection: Wentworth (Wentworth to Hughes, 29 Apr. 1625).
  • 177. Surr. RO (Guildford), LM 1331/25.
  • 178. STAC 8/201/17, f. 9v; Notts. Univ. Lib., CL/LP/51.
  • 179. CD 1621, vii. 567.
  • 180. Cent. Kent. Stud., U115/011.
  • 181. P.M. Hunneyball, ‘Prince Charles’s Council as Electoral Agent, 1620-24’, PH, xxiii. 322-3.
  • 182. NLW, 9057E/918.
  • 183. Notts. Univ. Lib., CL/LP/51.
  • 184. P. Clark, ‘Thomas Scott and the Growth of Urban Opposition to the Early Stuart Regime’, HJ, xxi. 14.
  • 185. STAC 8/288/9.
  • 186. For a discussion of this point, see Chapter 14.
  • 187. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), pp. 42-3.
  • 188. Harl. 2125, f. 59v.
  • 189. STAC 8/201/17, ff. 9, 10v.
  • 190. SP14/158/67; Bodl. Fairfax 34, ff. 47, 71. Fairfax’s letter is reproduced in Fairfax Corresp. ed. Johnson, i. 6-7. During the 1614 Hampshire election, Sir Richard Tichborne, whose family was reputed to be Catholic, also complained of ‘slanderous rumours’: STAC 8/293/11.
  • 191. APC, 1625-6, pp. 53, 75, 104.
  • 192. Procs. 1625, pp. 340-1.
  • 193. Neale, Elizabethan House of Commons, 74.
  • 194. STAC 8/201/17, rot. 14; HMC Buccleuch, iii. 74-5, 173.
  • 195. Kishlansky rightly argues that switching sides ‘was universally despised’ as promises of support were considered to be ‘akin to oaths’: Kishlansky, 30-1.
  • 196. Beaumont Pprs. ed. W.D. Macray (Roxburgh Club), 43-4.
  • 197. Cent. Kent. Stud., U1115/011.
  • 198. Eg. 2644, f. 128.
  • 199. NLW, 9057E/921. For a discussion of how Griffith accomplished this, see section VI below.
  • 200. W.S. Appleton, Cranes of Chilton, 69-70.
  • 201. Procs. 1625, pp. 690-1.
  • 202. STAC 8/207/25.
  • 203. Yorks. Arch. Soc., DD56/A5/2.
  • 204. CD 1621, vii. 567.
  • 205. For a more thorough discussion of this phenomenon, see Chapter 14.
  • 206. Cust, ‘Pols. and the Electorate in the 1620s’, 154-5.
  • 207. SCL, WWM, Strafford Pprs. 20/189.
  • 208. E. Suss. RO, RYE/47/98/6.
  • 209. Cust, ‘Pols. and the Electorate in the 1620s’, 138, 146-7, 155; Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, ii. 232.
  • 210. D. Hirst, The Representative of the People? Voters and Voting in Eng. under the Early Stuarts, 119; Procs. 1628, vi. 14.
  • 211. CJ, i. 745b.
  • 212. STAC 8/288/9.
  • 213. Notts. Univ. Lib., CL/LP51.
  • 214. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 615.
  • 215. Archaeologia, xv. 158.
  • 216. STAC 8/207/25.
  • 217. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 615.
  • 218. NLW, 9057E/948.
  • 219. STAC 8/201/17, ff. 9r-v, 10-11.
  • 220. Procs. 1626, ii. 62, 64, 83-4.
  • 221. Glos. RO, D760/36; TBR A1/1, f. 48.
  • 222. Procs. 1625, p. 696; HMC 13th Rep. IV, 174; Procs. 1628, vi. 160.
  • 223. Harl. 2125, f. 59v.
  • 224. Eg. 2644, f. 138.
  • 225. NLW, 9057E/932.
  • 226. Farnham, 590; Harl. 7000, f. 308.
  • 227. Cust, ‘Pols. and the Electorate’, 138; C.C. Ward, ‘Disputed Elections to the House of Commons, 1604-41’ (Univ. of Nebraska, D.Phil, 1974), p. 41.
  • 228. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, U66, ff, 23v, 26v-7.
  • 229. Clark, 160.
  • 230. Som. RO, DD/PH 216, f. 11.
  • 231. STAC 8/288/9.
  • 232. SR, ii. 243.
  • 233. Som. and Dorset N. and Q. iv. 24; Magdalen Coll. Camb., Ferrar Pprs. 12 Jan. 1624, Sir Edwin Sandys to Nicholas Ferrar.
  • 234. Hirst, 30, 33; CD 1621, iv. 421; Ward, 29, citing SP16/449/48.
  • 235. York City Archives, house bk. 34, ff. 32, 208v.
  • 236. Aldeburghe; Bletchingley; Boroughbridge; Cirencester (pre-1624); Clitheroe; Cricklade; Downton; East Grinstead; Hindon; Midhurst; Newtown I.o.W.; Old Sarum; Petersfield; Ripon; Thirsk.
  • 237. G. Mayhew, Tudor Rye, 105; S. Hipkin, ‘Closing Ranks’, Urban Hist. xxii. 334.
  • 238. Hirst, 68, citing Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), p. 55.
  • 239. For a more detailed discussion, see Chapter 13.
  • 240. Hirst, 34, 104-5.
  • 241. SR, ii. 243.
  • 242. STAC 5/H57/26.
  • 243. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 240v; CJ, i. 978a.
  • 244. W. Atkinson, ‘A Parliamentary Election in Knaresborough in 1628’, Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxxiv. 213.
  • 245. NLW, 9057E/921, 930, 940, 995-6.
  • 246. J.H. Plumb, ‘The Growth of the Electorate in Eng. from 1660 to 1715’, P and P, xlv. 96.
  • 247. STAC 5/H57/26.
  • 248. ‘Pym 1624’, f. 37.
  • 249. Stone, 397.
  • 250. Procs. 1628, vi. 148.
  • 251. T. Pape, Newcastle-under-Lyme, 265-6.
  • 252. Neale, Elizabethan House of Commons, 183-5; C219/40/116.
  • 253. Atkinson, 213; Hirst, 18.
  • 254. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 268.
  • 255. Surr. RO, LM 1989.
  • 256. Scott, Memorials, p.xxvii.
  • 257. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), p. 39.
  • 258. Hull RO, bench bk. 4, f. 307v; Essex RO, D/B/3/3/108, rot. 11; Procs. 1628, vi. 163.
  • 259. STAC 8/201/17, rot. 13v.
  • 260. Procs. 1625, p. 683.
  • 261. NLW, 466E/645.
  • 262. HMC Buccleuch, iii. 77.
  • 263. Eg. 2644, f. 128.
  • 264. Cent. Kent. Stud., U1115/011.
  • 265. Fairfax Corresp. ed. Johnson, i. 9-10.
  • 266. Wentworth Pprs. 142, 145; Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. Knowler, i. 8-10.
  • 267. L. Stone, ‘The Electoral Influence of the Second Earl of Salisbury, 1614-68’, EHR, lxxi. 386.
  • 268. Cent. Kent. Stud., U1115/011.
  • 269. Ibid.
  • 270. Fairfax Corresp. ed. Johnson, i. 10.
  • 271. C2/Chas.I/W88/1.
  • 272. NLW, 9057E/921.
  • 273. Farnham, 591.
  • 274. Eg. 2644, f. 131.
  • 275. SR, ii. 25.
  • 276. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), p. 19. Glanville’s remarks echoes those of Thomas Smith in 1560: ‘the voice of the absent is counted for none’: De Republica Anglorum ed. M. Dewar, 79.
  • 277. STAC 5/H57/26.
  • 278. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), pp. 72-5.
  • 279. Ibid. 101-2.
  • 280. Ibid. 36.
  • 281. The Pprs. of Sir Richard Grosvenor, 1st Bart. (1585-1645) ed. R. Cust (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. cxxxiv), 3.
  • 282. Hirst, 12.
  • 283. C219/35/2/61; 219/37/246; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 91v.
  • 284. Essex RO, D/B Gb2, ff. 42r-v, 131v-2; D/B Gb3, ff. 1r-v, 33r-v, 51v-2, 53v-4v.
  • 285. I.G. Doolittle, ‘Plague in Colchester, 1579-1666’, Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. 3rd ser. iv. 136.
  • 286. Essex RO, D/B5 Gb3, ff. 44v, 69.
  • 287. T. Pape, Newcastle-under-Lyme, 270-1, 275-6.
  • 288. E. Suss. RO, Hastings min. bk. 1, ff. 174, 221; bk. 2, ff. 14v, 19v, 24v, 31, 38v.
  • 289. C219/35, ff. 36, 39.
  • 290. Procs. 1628, vi. 148, 167.
  • 291. CJ, i. 687b.
  • 292. NLW, 9059E/1190.
  • 293. Norf. RO, NAS C3/1/9.
  • 294. Staffs. Hist. Colls. ed. A.G. Petti (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. 4th ser. ix), 77.
  • 295. CD 1621, iv. 23; Surr. RO, LM 1331/25.
  • 296. STAC 8/201/17, f. 10.
  • 297. On the irregular nature of sheriffs’ involvement in borough elections, see above p. 102.
  • 298. CJ, i. 751a.
  • 299. CD 1621, vii. 568.
  • 300. SR, ii. 156, 243, 341. By the Act of 1410, responsibility for inquiring into the sheriff’s conduct as returning officer lay with the assize judges: ibid. 162.
  • 301. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 204.
  • 302. CJ, i. 170b, 516a, 687b; CD 1628, iii. 160-1.
  • 303. Hull RO, bench bk. 5, f. 60v.
  • 304. In 1620 the under-sheriff was Price’s brother-in-law, and both he and the sheriff were subsequently described in Star Chamber as Price’s ‘chiefest and surest instruments’: STAC 8/288/9.
  • 305. NLW, 9057E/923, 952. Bodvel made a belated attempt to get himself pricked as sheriff: NLW, Clenennau Letters 399.
  • 306. Neale, Elizabethan House of Commons, 86.
  • 307. Neale, ‘Three Elizabethan Elections’, 231.
  • 308. Procs. 1625, p. 685; Procs. 1626, iv. 236.
  • 309. APC, 1597, pp.361-2; HMC Hatfield, vii. 412.
  • 310. CJ, i. 161b.
  • 311. Cambs. Antiquarian Soc. Procs. xvii. 204-5.
  • 312. HMC Hatfield, vii. 413-14.
  • 313. Norf. RO, Y/C19/5, f. 323.
  • 314. HEHL, HA 8254; Procs. 1628, vi. 130.
  • 315. Grosvenor Pprs. 1-7.
  • 316. Gilmore, ‘Pprs. of Richard Taylor of Clapham’, 105.
  • 317. Harl. 7000, f. 41, repr. in J.J. Cartwright, Chapters in Yorks. Hist. 203-4.
  • 318. Essex RO, D/B 3/3/12/4; Rochester Museum, Customal, new f. 48.
  • 319. Procs. 1625, p. 697; E. Suss. RO, RYE 1/11, f. 197v.
  • 320. E. Kent Archives Cent., H1209, f. 46.
  • 321. SP14/158/50.
  • 322. E. Kent Archives Office, H1209, f. 46v. For examples of aristocratic patrons interceding on behalf of men unwilling to journey to their constituencies to take the oath of a freeman, see HEHL, EL5458; G. Wilks, Barons of the Cinque Ports and the Parliamentary Representation of Hythe, 69-70, 76.
  • 323. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 459; E. Suss. RO, RYE 61/34, f .13. See also Hull RO, bench bk. 5, f. 60v.
  • 324. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, U66, f. 31.
  • 325. NLW, 466E/940.
  • 326. Hirst, 14; Cust, ‘Pols. and the Electorate’, 139.
  • 327. NLW, 9057E/996.
  • 328. Hirst, 13-14.
  • 329. LPL, ms 708, f. 131.
  • 330. STAC 8/207/25.
  • 331. CJ, i. 161b.
  • 332. Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edn.), i. 6. I am grateful to Roger Lockyer for this reference.
  • 333. STAC 8/293/11.
  • 334. Notts. Univ. Lib., CL/LP51.
  • 335. W. Yorks. AS (Bradford), 32D86/38/2, f. 14r-v.
  • 336. HMC Hatfield, vii. 414.
  • 337. Farnham, 592.
  • 338. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 327.
  • 339. LPL, ms 708, f. 131.
  • 340. Glanville, 8, 10.
  • 341. STAC 8/293/11.
  • 342. Magdalene College, Cambridge, Ferrar Pprs. 12 Jan. 1624, Sir EdwinSandys to John Ferrar.
  • 343. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), p. 81.
  • 344. Coke, The Fourth Part of the Institutes of the Laws of Eng. 48.
  • 345. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 52v.
  • 346. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), p. 10; Procs. 1625, p. 301.
  • 347. Hants RO, 27M74A/DBC1, p. 137; C219/39, f. 176.
  • 348. Ward, 31; Hirst, 20-1.
  • 349. Farnham, 594.
  • 350. SR, ii. 243.
  • 351. CD 1621, iv. 422.
  • 352. Procs. 1625, p. 342.
  • 353. Scott, Memorials, p. xxvii; Procs. 1626, ii. 22.
  • 354. Farnham, 594; Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), pp. 106-7.
  • 355. Procs. 1626, iv. 392.
  • 356. Neale, ‘Three Elizabethan Elections’, 229, 232-3. For a discussion of the poll, see below.
  • 357. Farnham, 597 n.4.
  • 358. Procs. 1626, ii. 62.
  • 359. Neale, ‘Three Elizabethan Elections’, 232-3.
  • 360. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, U66, f. 28.
  • 361. STAC 5/H46/9; 5/H2/7; 5/H9/34.
  • 362. CD 1628, ii. 507-8, 514; Hirst, 39.
  • 363. Cambs. Antiquarian Soc. Procs. xvii. 205-6.
  • 364. Ward, 31, 48.
  • 365. CJ, i. 751a.
  • 366. Cambs. Antiquarian Soc. Procs. xvii. 206-9.
  • 367. SR, ii. 341.
  • 368. Ward, 8-9; Neale, Elizabethan House of Comons, 78.
  • 369. The five cases heard before 1625 dealt with the Worcestershire election of 1604, the Hampshire election of 1614, and the Huntingdonshire, Caernarvonshire and Radnorshire elections of 1620. The single case heard thereafter related to the Somerset election of 1625.
  • 370. Cott., Julius C.III, f. 115.
  • 371. Rushworth, Historical Colls. iii. app. 26; Som. RO, DD/PH198.
  • 372. Kishlansky, 17.
  • 373. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 397.
  • 374. CD 1621, ii. 380; v. 172; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 90.
  • 375. The Caernarvonshire case went on file just four days before the 1621 Parliament was formally dissolved, while the Huntingdonshire case was heard in May 1624: STAC 8/31/3; 8/47/7; 8/208/15; 8/285/20. On the deliberate nature of the timing of the Caernarvonshire lawsuit, see NLW, 9057E/988.
  • 376. ‘Nicholas 1624’, ff. 104v-5. An exception was made in 1624 the case of Sir John Jackson, who was allowed to take his seat on the grounds that his return ‘hath substance sufficient’ to warrant him taking his seat: CJ, i. 751a.
  • 377. CJ, i. 516b, 580a; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 268.
  • 378. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 63; Procs. 1625, p. 206; Procs. 1626, ii. 7; Cent. Kent. Stud., U1115/C24. One week into the 1625 Parliament the committee was given leave to consider most of the petitions before it in whatever order it wished, but this was unusual: Procs. 1625, p. 252.
  • 379. Holles 1624, p. 54.
  • 380. CJ, i. 681b, 821b, 783a; ‘Lowther 1624’, f. 72v.
  • 381. Procs. 1625, p. 205.
  • 382. CJ, i. 798a.
  • 383. Procs. 1625, pp. 216, 297, 300.
  • 384. Those cases it resolved concerned Dorset, Grampound, Ludgershall, Newport (Cornwall) and Oxford University. Those left unresolved related to Boroughbridge, Canterbury, Cirencester and Warwick.
  • 385. Cent. Kent. Stud., U1115/C24.
  • 386. Procs. 1625, p. 350.
  • 387. Ibid. 391.
  • 388. Procs. 1626, iii. 190, 377, 395.
  • 389. Holles 1624, p. 52.
  • 390. R. Twysden, Certaine Considerations upon the Government of Eng. ed. J.M. Kemble (Cam. Soc. xlv), 171.
  • 391. Procs. 1625, p. 217; Procs. 1626, ii. 22.
  • 392. Procs. 1625, p. 226.
  • 393. CD 1628, iii. 160.
  • 394. CJ, i. 678a; Glanville, 84-5. In 1614 the committee had expressed similar qualms about the use of affidavits, but there is no evidence that they were actually deemed inadmissible: Procs. 1614 (Commons), 103.
  • 395. Procs. 1625, pp. 687-8.
  • 396. Farnham, 590, 596.
  • 397. CJ, i. 392b.
  • 398. CD 1621, iii. 286. Alford, supported by Sir Arthur Ingram, repeated this demand in 1625, after petitions in respect of two elections were received by the House, by moving ‘for a law to prevent these questions’: Procs. 1625, p. 206.
  • 399. For a handy summary of the contents of each bill, see Hirst, 229-30.