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

Background Information

No names known for 1510-23


by 4 Feb. 1536DAVID BROKE vice Jubbes, deceased1
 (not known)
1553 (Mar.)JOHN WALSHE
1553 (Oct.)JOHN WALSHE
1554 (Apr.)JOHN WALSHE 6
1554 (Nov.)JOHN WALSHE
 (aft. 18 Sept. 1558 not known)

Main Article

A port and borough of ancient standing, Bristol had a population of about 11,000 in 1545. Its fee-farm of £100 formed parcel of the jointure of each of Henry VIII’s queens, and Bristol believed that it enjoyed a privileged connexion with each successive consort, applying to each with gifts and money for her favour and protection: on the King’s visit to Thornbury castle, Gloucestershire, in 1535, while he received only provisions, Anne Boleyn was given a gilt cup containing 100 ounces of gold.8

Henry VII reconstituted the corporation of Bristol by a charter of 17 Dec. 1499. The mayor and common council were empowered to elect six aldermen from among the burgesses, one of whom was to be the recorder. A chamberlain was appointed to receive the town’s revenues. The two bailiffs were to be elected as formerly and were to serve as sheriffs of the county of Bristol, rendering their account annually to the Exchequer. The jurisdiction formerly exercised jointly by the mayor and sheriff was to be administered by the mayor and one of the aldermen.

Despite some ambiguity concerning the role of the sheriffs resulting in friction and a dispute which was referred to Cardinal Wolsey for judgment in 1517, Henry VII’s charter was twice confirmed during the early 16th century, in 1510 and 1547. The establishment by Henry VIII, under the provisions of the Act of 1539 (31 Hen. VIII c.9), of the diocese of Bristol gave the town the status of a city and its inhabitants a sense of increased importance; both were reflected in the institution of the stewardship. The problems attendant on this elevation were speedily resolved, Bristol’s Members being diligent in seeking settlements favourable to the city and in their efforts to obtain for it the ex-monastic property within its walls. All the settlements were arrived at within the provisions of the charter of 1499.9

The election indentures were made out between the sheriffs on the one hand and the mayor, aldermen, common councilmen and leading residents on the other; five indentures remain. The expenses of the election and the wages of the Members were paid out of the revenues of the chamber of Bristol; the surviving chamberlain’s accounts being for the early 1530s. The pursuivants, who brought the writ for the Parliaments and the proclamations proroguing or dissolving them, were usually rewarded with 5s.; a further 5s. was paid to the clerk who prepared the indentures. Throughout the period the Members received payment of 2s. a day for attending Parliament—occasionally the settlement was dilatory as in the case of Robert Keilway’s in 1553, and sometimes grudgingly made as in John Drewes’s in 1547. Each sheriff was expected to contribute 20s. a year to the chamberlain towards ‘the charges and expenses of the knights of the shire and burgesses of Parliament against any time that Parliament shall be held’. William Dale, one of the sheriffs in 1517, complained to Wolsey about the inadequacy of this provision, arguing that if Parliament met regularly and its sessions were lengthy, the sheriffs could be faced with finding another £15 a year to pay the Members. Not all the sheriffs were prompt with their contributions towards ‘the parliament money’ and occasionally the mayor was forced to summon the defaulters before the common council—in 1526 five former sheriffs appeared before the mayor and made their payment. After each session of Parliament a copy of the new legislation was obtained from Chancery, bound in Bristol and deposited in the council house. The city was named during the period in three Acts of interest to itself, those for the re-edifying of towns (32 Hen. VIII, c.18), for the preservation of the river Severn (34 and 35 Hen. VIII, c.9) and for repairing the road between Bristol and Gloucester (1 Mary St.3, c.6). Measures introduced repeatedly to bring the taking of recognizances for debt and the terms of apprenticeship into conformity with London practice came to nothing. Under the Licensing Act (7 Edw. VI, c.5) Bristol was allowed to have six taverns.10

The practice of returning the recorder and one merchant-alderman had been established at Bristol since the middle of the 15th century. John Fitzjames of Redlynch, Somerset, who succeeded William Grevile as recorder in 1509, probably served for the town in Parliament as his father and namesake had done earlier when holding that office. On becoming a judge in 1522 Fitzjames was replaced by Thomas Jubbes, who had presumably sat for the town in the Parliament of 1523 as well as that of 1529. The practice was broken in 1533 when Cromwell, who already had a seat in the Parliament of 1529, was appointed recorder following Jubbes’s death, and in 1558 when Walshe was chosen as a knight of the shire for Somerset. Cromwell’s deputy as recorder, David Broke, was elected to the recorder’s place until 1540 after which he took it in his own right. Unlike Cromwell, Walshe had no deputy, thus creating the situation in 1558 whereby two merchants were returned: one of these, Robert Butler, was perhaps a distant kinsman of recorder Walshe. On the indenture for 1555 William Chester was styled ‘senior alderman of Bristol’, so that the alderman-Member was perhaps usually the senior alderman, although there is no other evidence to support this surmise. A merchant appears to have been expected to serve twice.11

The civic government of Bristol still rested, as it had earlier, with ‘a rich and powerful group’ of merchants, the majority of whom were grocers, and it is no surprise that the local Members and those who elected them belonged to this oligarchy. Yet not all the merchants returned were wealthy; by comparison with Richard Abingdon, Chester, Drewes, Robert Elyot and White, four of those chosen during the 1550s, Butler, David Harris, Thomas Lansden and Tyndale, were poor men. This decline in wealth reflects not so much an unwillingness of the rich to serve but a drop in their numbers and a recession in trade. The Members had not all been born in Bristol: White came from Coventry and Tyndale from Lincolnshire. Those who were natives or who came from nearby were often connected by marriage and descent with each other and with some of the minor gentry in the adjacent shires. The more successful merchant-Members acquired property outside Bristol and one, Chester, was to be the ancestor of several county families.

Although the mayor and aldermen dared to oppose the interference of Cromwell and others in their affairs on several occasions, Bristol was not free from external pressures from the crown and prominent local men who owned property there. Cromwell was powerful enough to insist that his fee (£20) as recorder should not only be higher than his predecessor’s (£14 6s.8d.) but also that it should be paid in a lump sum in advance. On his fall the mayor tried to obtain repayment of the fee outstanding for the remainder of the year and made certain that the former fee was paid to Cromwell’s successor. Broke, who was Cromwell’s deputy, probably owed his return at a by-election to the Parliament of 1529 as much to his own connexions with Bristol and with the influential county families of Berkeley and Brydges as to his master. White, although he corresponded with Cromwell, was a man of such standing that he would have been a natural candidate for election in 1539, without Cromwell’s favour.12

The influence of the crown on Bristol was limited, its main instrument being the constableship of the castle, held from 1517 until his death by Sir Edward Seymour, later the Protector Somerset, and from 1552 to 1568 by William Herbert I, 1st Earl of Pembroke. The first steward, Sir Edward Baynton, appointed on 12 Dec. 1542, probably secured the recordership for Keilway with the same fee that Cromwell had enjoyed, and although he died on 27 Nov. 1544, apparently abroad, he had perhaps procured the return to the following Parliament of Drewes, some of whose property was adjacent to his own. Evidently Bristol was wooed by both opposing factions before that Parliament, the Earl of Surrey visiting the city on 17 Sept. 1544. The mayor and aldermen flattered the Protector by their assiduous attentions, referring numerous small matters to him through Keilway who was one of his adherents. They treated Pembroke less unctuously perhaps because he was less powerful; he also owned no land in Bristol.13

Walshe, who succeeded Keilway as recorder, obtained the appointment through his uncle Broke, whose services had been retained after his own earlier resignation. Broke never lost his interest in the affairs of the city. It is probable that Butler was a kinsman of Broke’s second wife and that he owed his election to the last Marian Parliament to this connexion. Lansden’s election twice in 1554 may have been influenced by a kinsman of his by marriage, Arthur Porter, who was himself chosen as knight for Gloucestershire on the occasion of Lansden’s second return. Chester, who sat in 1555, was on personal terms with the leader of the opposition in that Parliament, Sir Anthony Kingston, who leased several properties in Bristol, and he was often entrusted by the corporation as a go-between with Kingston.

Although Bristol was amenable to pressures from outside, it did not return strangers to Parliament. The only apparent exception, the recorder Keilway, came from a family long associated with the city: one Robert Keilway of Lillington, Dorset, who may be identifiable with the Member, disposed of various properties in Bristol during the 1540s and 1550s which had been acquired by an ancestor, William Keilway, about 1440. All the Members for this period were active in Bristol’s affairs and pursued its interests both in and out of Parliament.

Author: A. D.K. Hawkyard


  • 1. Bristol AO, 04026/2/127.
  • 2. Ibid. 04026/2/335; E159/319, brev. ret. Mich., r. [1-2].
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Bristol AO, 04026/3/312; Salisbury ledger B, f. 300v.
  • 5. Bristol AO, 04026/4/48.
  • 6. Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. J. C. Russell, Brit. Med. Population, 285, 296-7; Bristol AO, 04720/2/142v, 322v.
  • 9. S. Seyer, Chs. and Letters Patent ... to ... Bristol (1812), 123-68; Bristol AO, 04721/48-58. Bristol was designated the seat of a suffragan bishop under an Act of 1534 (26 Hen. VIII, c.14) but no appointment was made before the decision to make it the seat of a bishop.
  • 10. C219/18B/75, 19/34, 20/144, 21/185, 24/193; Bristol AO, 04026/1/155 et passim, 2/328 et passim, 3/65 et passim, 04720/2/139v; 04721/49v, 52v, 57; CJ, i. 14, 15, 17, 25, 28, 35.
  • 11. Bristol AO, 04422/99-101.
  • 12. Ibid. 04026/2/202.
  • 13. Ibid. 04026/4/53 et passim, 5/106, 04720/2/144v, 04721/44, 295, 299.