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


by 4 Feb. 1533ROBERT DARKNALL vice Atwode, deceased9
 (not known)
1553 (Oct.)JOHN TWYNE
1554 (Apr.)JOHN TWYNE
1554 (Nov.)NICHOLAS FISH 21

Main Article

From 1461 Canterbury was a county in itself, an elected sheriff replacing the former bailiff. In 1498 a new charter remodelled the governing body headed by the mayor; the number of aldermen was doubled to 12 and the common councilmen reduced from 36 to 24. By the beginning of Henry VIII’s reign the earlier quarrels between the corporation and successive archbishops over their liberties had largely subsided, but a clause saving the archbishop’s rights was repeated in the confirmatory charters of 1522 and 1548. Civic records survive from the period.23

Leland gives no indication that Canterbury was anything but prosperous, but the preamble to an Act (6 Hen. VIII, c.17) of 1515 for improving the navigation of the Stour speaks of the ‘great ruin and decay’ of houses there. Later the city suffered heavily from the dissolution of its religious houses and chantries. In 1541 there was considerable opposition in the city to the King’s order to destroy shrines, and Cranmer became unpopular for its vigorous enforcement by his agents. The city was included in the Act of the following year for re-edifying towns (33 Hen. VIII, c.36), although Lambarde’s description of it as largely waste must be an exaggeration. After sharing in the decline of Kentish weaving, the Canterbury industry revived with the coming of the first Protestant refugees from the Continent; by 1548 there was a large enough settlement for them to have their own church in the city. Other thriving industries were bell-founding and printing, while the fish market, drawing its supplies largely from Whitstable, was famous as far away as London.24

In 1581 a civic memorandum was to declare that the election of Members ‘resteth not’ with the mayor and aldermen, ‘but in the most voice of the commons’, and the freemen were officially the electors throughout the 16th century. The few surviving indentures give the contracting parties as the city sheriff and a number of named electors, sometimes 60 or more, who are described as cives liberi et inhabitantes. This does not mean that only those named were present at the guildhall; thus in 1536 97 persons are said to have taken part in the election. The sheriff and several others usually affixed their seals to the indenture.25

The city customarily paid parliamentary wages, at the beginning of the period 1s.4d. a day with daily travelling expenses of about 1s.6d. After his second Parliament John Hales accepted a composition of £6 13s.4d. for all his costs and charges, presumably for the two sessions of 1515; by this time the travel allowance for his fellow-Member was 2s. a day. In the Parliament of 1529 Atwode’s wages and travel expenses were each at this rate, as were John Bridges’s for the sessions he attended and also Robert Darknall’s; for saving the city money by absenting himself from Parliament Bridges was given two small presents of money towards a ‘bonnet’. The accounts for 1535-6 are missing, and no payments are recorded for the Parliament of the latter year. An ambiguous statement in the chamberlains’ accounts for the mayoral year 1538-9 records 12d. as ‘paid to Mr Baron Hales for four warrants concerning the election of the burgesses of the Parliament’: this was perhaps part of the aftermath of the election dispute of 1536 mentioned below. John Starkey was paid for the Parliament of 1539 but Robert Lewis, after his second Membership in 1545, wrote off £6 4s. of the £11 4s. owing to him, receiving the outstanding £5 ‘upon the sight of one writ of Parliament’ (a writ de expensis) which he brought. In 1542-4 Darknall had similarly ‘given of his benevolence to the city’ part of his wages, while Walter Hendley agreed to take nothing. Only one further payment is recorded: in April 1554 it was resolved that henceforth parliamentary wages should be raised by a special tax on the commonalty instead of being paid out of the chamber, and that £12 ‘before this time delivered to Mr. Twyne and Mr. Coppyn, burgesses of the Parliament’, should ‘by writ be levied of the commonalty and repaid again into the chamber’.

The great majority of the Members were resident freemen; in other cases the freedom was conferred about the time of the election, although neither Christopher Hales nor Sir Henry Crispe appears to have received it. However, on four occasions (1542, 1547, 1555 and 1558) neither seat was taken by a civic official, and the mayoralty was no obstacle to election, William Crump, John Starkey, John Twyne and George Webbe all being chosen during their terms and Atwode and Bridges both serving during a session of the Parliament of 1529. Archbishops Warham and Cranmer may have wielded some influence, but the decisive element in elections was undoubtedly the local one.

Thomas Atwode, who was returned four times between 1504 and his death in 1532, followed in a tradition of parliamentary service begun by his father Thomas in 1484 and continued by his brother William in the 1490S. Early in the reign of Henry VIII the Hales family, which had recently migrated from Tenterden to Canterbury, acquired a lien on one of the city’s seats: John Hales sat twice, his son Thomas once, their kinsman Christopher once, and John Bridges, who married into the family, three times. The same interest almost certainly operated in 1542, when the deaths of John and Christopher Hales were followed by the return of Walter Hendley, a younger colleague of theirs at Gray’s Inn. Robert Darknall, who was re-elected almost without a break for 20 years after replacing Thomas Atwode, was son-in-law to Henry Goseborne, Atwode’s fellow-Member in 1504. Darknall’s run came to an end in the autumn of 1553 when he transferred to Rochester, presumably with the help of William Roper, who had a house at Canterbury and was a previous Member for Rochester. Roper was himself returned for Canterbury two years later with his kinsman William Rastell, and again in 1558 with (Sir) Henry Crispe whose fellow-Member he had previously been at Winchelsea.

In 1515, when the King asked for the re-election of the previous Members, Canterbury had compromised, re-electing John Hales but replacing William Wainfleet by Thomas Atwode; the closeness of Atwode to Archbishop Warham, with whom as chancellor he co-operated on the bill to improve the river Stour during the Parliament, may have condoned the irregularity. In 1536 when the King made a similar request, Canterbury found itself in trouble. On 11 May 1536 two citizens had been elected, the chamberlain and alderman John Starkey and the common clerk Christopher Levyns, but the royal letter—opened, if the sheriff is to be believed, only after the election—was followed by a second election on the 20th. Levyns refused to retire gracefully, and in the following year the mayor reported to Cromwell that he had been dismissed for ‘wilfulness and misusing’ in connection with the election.

In addition to the Act to improve the Stour, Canterbury promoted a number of measures in Parliament. In 1545 it obtained an Act (34 and 35 Hen. VIII, c.18) clarifying the privileges set out in its charter, but other bills in 1512 and 1548 came to nothing. Under the Licensing Act (7 Edw. VI, c.5) of 1553 the city was permitted four taverns, twice the standard number.26

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Canterbury chamberlains' accts. 1509-10.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid. 1512-13.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Ibid. 1514-15.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Ibid. 1522-4.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. Ibid. 1532-3.
  • 10. LP Hen. VIII. x. 929.
  • 11. Ibid.
  • 12. Chamberlains' accts. 1539-40; E159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2].
  • 13. E159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2].
  • 14. Chamberlains' accts. 1541-2.
  • 15. Ibid.
  • 16. Canterbury city recs. bdle. A, 24.
  • 17. Hatfield 207.
  • 18. Ibid.
  • 19. Canterbury burmote bk. 1542-78, f. 75v. On the indenture (C219/20/146), which is torn, only the name of Robert Da[rknall] can be seen.
  • 20. Ibid.
  • 21. Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs.
  • 22. Ibid.
  • 23. J. Brent, Canterbury, 108; C. R. Bunce, Chs. Canterbury, 19-31, 59-60; W. Somner, Canterbury, 368, 370; Hasted, Kent, xi. 9-19; Canterbury chamberlains’ accts., misc. bdls. and burmote bk. rolls and orders.
  • 24. Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, iv. 59, 69; VCH Kent, ii. 72-77, 113; iii. 350-1, 389-90, 405-6, 420; LP Hen. VIII, xvi; W. Lambarde, Perambulation of Kent (1826), 268; Somner, 296-7.
  • 25. LP Hen. VIII, x. 929 citing SP1/104, p. 39; C219/20/146, 21/187, 22/113, 24/196, 25/143.
  • 26. LJ, i. 15, 17; CJ, i. 4, 5.