Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer


1553 (Mar.)LEONARD IRBY 3

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On 14 May 1545 Henry VIII granted Boston a charter of incorporation at the suit of his brother-in-law, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, who owned property in and near the town. The charter vested authority in a mayor, 12 aldermen and 18 common councilmen chosen from the resident freemen. The mayor was to be assisted by a town clerk, a recorder and a number of minor officials. George Foster was named the first town clerk and William Cecil recorder. As part of his duties Foster started a minute book recording the business and decisions of the corporation which his successors continued and expanded. Suffolk may have been offered the high stewardship of the town in recognition of his aid in obtaining the charter, but no reference to this office has been found earlier than the 1550s when it was held by Edward, 9th Lord Clinton. The Henrician charter was confirmed in 1547 and 1554.5

Medieval Boston had been a busy and prosperous port, but by the early 16th century the silting of its harbour had caused much of its former trade to move elsewhere. This in turn made more burdensome the maintenance of the sea walls embanking the tidal estuary of the river Witham, and it was to meet this problem that in 1545 the crown granted to the corporation all the former monastic properties in the town. Attempts at parliamentary action were, however, unsuccessful, bills for re-edifying property in the town failing in the Commons in 1552 and 1554.6

Neither the charter of 1545, which was issued after the returns to the Parliament of that year had been made for the other boroughs in the shire, nor its first confirmation made any provision for Boston’s enfranchisement, but in 1547 the endorsed writ for Lincolnshire records that the sheriff had sent his precept to the mayor and burgesses of Boston. In the absence of an indenture for 1547 it remains short of certain that the names of William Naunton and John Wendon, which appear on the list of Members for the fourth session of the Parliament, are those of the Members originally returned. Indentures survive from September 1553 (when the name of the senior Member, Francis Allen, is written in a different hand over an erasure) and are in Latin: those for the Parliaments of October 1553 and 1558, and perhaps of 1555 also, are in the same hand as those for Great Grimsby. The elections were held in the guildhall and the contracting parties to the indentures were the sheriff of Lincolnshire and the mayor (unnamed in the first two indentures) and the community or burgesses, these last not being particularized until October 1554, when they were headed by six named aldermen.7

Although Boston preferred townsmen-Members, it was open to nominations from outside. Thus William Naunton owed his Membership to the dowager Duchess of Suffolk and Leonard Irby his to Lord Clinton, while the return of Francis Allen was almost certainly the work of Chancellor Gardiner, perhaps through the agency of Clinton. Yet such intervention could fail. On the eve of the election of January 1553 Cecil visited the town in his capacity as recorder and several days later his agent Richard Ogle asked the corporation to return his son Thomas, whom it passed over as ‘too young and not meet for the office’. George Foster agreed to serve without wages on three occasions and may have done so on all six. In 1553 Naunton’s widow presented the town with a bill for his wages and after some haggling received £6 13s.4d. Nearly 20 years later the town paid £5 to Irby ‘in full payment and recompense of all his charges’.

Author: T. M. Hofmann


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Boston corp. min. bk. 1545-1607, f. 13v.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, xx(1), g. 846(88); Boston corp. min. bk. 1545-1607; NRA 6386.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, xx(1), g. 846(87); M. Beresford, New Towns in the Middle Ages, 463-5; CJ, i. 17, 38.
  • 7. C219/18C/58v, 19/55v, 21/96, 22/43, 23/81, 24/100, 25/67; P. Thompson, Boston, 449n.