Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
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An old Roman town on the south bank of the river Ure, Aldborough had by 1509 been reduced to a village. After being burnt by the Danes in the 8th century it had never been restored as a walled town, but the main cause of its decline was the building in William I’s reign of a new bridge about three-quarters of a mile upstream, to replace the one destroyed at the Roman site. Around the new bridge the town of Boroughbridge grew up and soon outgrew the ‘old borough’, although it remained within the manor and parish of Aldborough. In the words of a local historian, ‘the later history of Aldborough is largely that of Boroughbridge, where all the business of the manor, including the manor courts, was transacted’. The enfranchisement of both places under Mary produced the odd result that four Members were returned in one parish.1

The manor of Aldborough was ancient demesne lying within the honor of Knaresborough, and thus since 1372 under the jurisdiction of the duchy of Lancaster. The potential confusion of having two ‘boroughs’ within the same manor was avoided at the three-weekly courts, held by a duchy official, by empanelling a jury of 12 freeholders from Boroughbridge to deal with cases brought in that town, while 12 from elsewhere in the duchy’s liberty of Aldborough (which included as well as Aldborough and Boroughbridge some half-dozen townships and hamlets) were chosen for matters concerning Aldborough and the smaller units of the liberty. The most important courts were the sheriff’s tourns held at Easter and Michaelmas. The leading local official at Aldborough itself was the bailiff, originally a manorial officer appointed annually by the crown and probably still such in the first half of the 16th century; later a popularly elected ‘bailiff of the borough’ was to become an important figure in parliamentary elections. Since virtually no documents survive about the borough of Aldborough under the early Tudors the constitutional position of the bailiff to whom the sheriff directed the electoral precept remains uncertain.2

The inhabitants of Aldborough lived by farming its large open fields, and Leland remarked on the contrast between the primitiveness of life there and such reminders of former greatness as vestiges of the ancient walls, fragments of tesselated pavements and the regular unearthing of Roman coins. William Lambarde, the Elizabethan antiquary who was to sit for the borough in 1563 and to receive at least one present of such coins from the villagers, described Aldborough as ‘notable for no other thing than that it sendeth burgesses to the Parliament’.3

There is no obvious reason for the enfranchisement of Aldborough in 1558, especially as Boroughbridge was already returning Members, but it was presumably part of the general process of granting or restoring representation to boroughs in the easily disturbed north in places where clients of the central government could be expected to find seats. Aldborough was the last of four Yorkshire boroughs to gain representation under Mary, following the Edwardian creations of Hedon and Thirsk. Yorkshire had been under-represented before 1547, but the comparable increase in Cornish boroughs disposes of the notion that the rulers of the time were seeking parity of representation. Nor was this likely to be achieved by the enfranchisement of Aldborough, where in 1558 there were only about nine qualified voters, the owners of certain burgage tenements. This handful of electors was open to manipulation by the two organs of government wielding power in the shire, the duchy of Lancaster and the council in the north, which presumably sponsored the enfranchisement and were to share the parliamentary patronage during the next reign. Far too poor to afford wages for its Members, the borough could not but accept nominees, and there was no local gentry capable of disputing the official choice. The Aldeburgh family had lost much of its influence, although it still furnished local officials; Leland described its members as ‘men of mean lands’. He also noted that Aldborough was close to Thorpe, ‘one of Master Danby’s houses’, but Sir Christopher Danby and his heirs preferred to live at Farnley or elsewhere and appear to have taken no interest in Aldborough.4

The parliamentary indenture for 1558 is fragmentary, more than half having been torn or eaten away. The first contracting party appears as ‘Richard ...’ and an unknown number of voters, among whose names only those of ‘... Scrunton’ and ‘Ralph [?Mainerde]’ now remain, and the other was the sheriff, Sir Robert Constable. The ‘said persons and inhabitants’ are said to have elected ‘... and John Browne gentleman to be burgesses ...’. The one signature remaining at the foot of the document is that of Richard Aldeburgh, who presumably officiated as bailiff. The senior seat was taken by John Gascoigne, who came of a Yorkshire family described by Camden as ‘ancient and virtuous’. He could have been nominated either by the council in the north, one of whose members was his close relative Sir William Vavasour, or by the duchy of Lancaster, with whose chancellor-to-be, Sir Edward Waldegrave, he is likely to have had a connexion through his affiliations with the county of Essex. The junior Member, John Browne, a brother-in-law of (Sir) William Petre, may also have owed his seat to Waldegrave, but he too enjoyed a connexion with the council in the north through its president the Earl of Shrewsbury. Neither he nor Gascoigne sat in any other Parliament.5

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, i. 84; T. Lawson-Tancred, Recs. Yorks. Manor, 3-7.
  • 2. Lawson-Tancred, 6, 8-9, 62-68; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxvii. 325-8.
  • 3. Lawson-Tancred, 95-96; Leland, i. 84-85; W. Lambarde, Dictionarium Angliae Topographicum (1730), 3-4.
  • 4. Lawson-Tancred, 197-9; Leland, i. 84; v. 144; Somerville, Duchy, i. 516.
  • 5. C219/25/45.