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


1523(not known)
1542(not known)

Main Article

In 1521 a royal commission reported:

The King’s town of Hull ... is a proper town and well built. It is as full of fishermen as any in the north of England. Much of it has been destroyed by the waters of the Humber, and much swept away. Much of the King’s land is likely to be damaged. At spring water the danger to houses is worst: a large part of the streets of the town are flooded, and property is swept away ... At least £50 is needed to effect a remedy.11

Hull had owed its rise as a port to its location on the north bank of the Humber, at the mouth of its tributary the Hull, and to the network of rivers to which the Humber gave access. Founded by the neighbouring Cistercian abbey of Meaux, which needed an outlet for wool, it passed to the crown in 1293 and was thenceforward styled Kingston-upon-Hull. It sent its first known Members to the Parliament of 1305 and returned with fair regularity from 1334.

In the early 16th century Hull was a busy trading centre relying increasingly, owing to the decline of the wool trade, on the import of fish from Iceland. Leland noticed that many of the houses, along with Holy Trinity church and the Charterhouse, were largely built of brick. The making of bricks was one of the town’s few industries; others included the manufacture of ships’ stores and leather goods. The only craft guilds known by 1500 were those of the tilers, glovers, weavers and brewers; the merchants, tailors and shipmen were associated with religious fraternities, one of which, the guild of Holy Trinity, was in being by 1512 as the Trinity House of Hull, although not officially so incorporated until Henry VIII’s visit in 1541. The receipts of the weigh-house for wool declined steadily after 1520; during the 1530s the Hanseatic merchants deserted Hull for London; and by the reign of Mary little cloth was being sent to the cloth hall. Foreign trade was mainly with Iceland, Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Normandy, although Hull ships visited Spain and Portugal. By the mid 16th century one of the most valuable exports was lead.12

Earlier a Yorkist stronghold, Hull quickly made its peace with Henry VII and remained in favour with his successor. The corporation excused the surrender to the rebels of 1536 as due to fear of fire, starvation and destruction of shipping. Hull received a royal pardon in December 1536, and a month later the townsmen not only refused to treat with the supporters of Sir Francis Bigod but arrested one of their leaders. When Henry VIII visited Hull in October 1541 he ordered the building of a castle and two blockhouses; as captain of the castle he appointed Sir Richard Long, with Michael Stanhope as lieutenant. Some three years later Stanhope was made ‘governor’, an office which he construed as giving him considerable powers in the borough as well as over the castle. His high-handedness led to chronic disputes with the town which ended only with his arrest and execution in 1551-2.13

The townsmen could have been expected to stand by their liberties. Since 1440 Hull had enjoyed the status of a county with its own sheriff and county court. The mayor, elected annually on or about the day after Michaelmas, was assisted by 12 aldermen; ostensibly elected for life or during good conduct (resignation being also allowed) by the burgesses, these dignitaries were in practice chosen by the existing aldermen, as were the mayor, sheriff and chamberlains. There is no evidence of a formal common council, but an unspecified number of the ‘best burgesses’ not yet aldermen was sometimes called to discuss important business. For administrative purposes the borough was divided into six wards, each under the supervision of two aldermen, while judicial matters were settled in the monthly sheriff’s court, which had largely superseded the medieval weekly or fortnightly mayor’s court, the quarter sessions, where the mayor and aldermen acted as justices of the peace, and the twice-yearly ‘great courts’. Since 1452 the borough had also possessed its own admiralty court. Customs officers, although crown nominees, were mostly local merchants. Possessed of such longstanding privileges, which were confirmed and enlarged five times between 1510 and 1553, the town was unlikely to truckle to Stanhope, to the council in the north (which sometimes met there) or to local magnates.14

Its independence was reflected in parliamentary elections. The franchise lay with the ‘burgesses’, freemen admitted by patrimony, apprenticeship or purchase. In practice, elections were controlled by the mayor as returning officer, with the sheriff and aldermen, probably through the 15th-century practice of nominating four candidates from whom the burgesses chose two. Of the 17 known Members between 1510 and 1558 all but one were townsmen, nearly all of them prominent merchants, and at least 14 had previously held office in the borough. The only ‘foreigner’, Robert Googe, had clearly been nominated by Stanhope before the governor fell out with the borough authorities. No evidence of payment survives in the chamberlains’ rolls for the first half of the 16th century, although the borough is said to have applied to this purpose part of the proceeds of a sale of plate.15

Seven writs and indentures survive, constituting a series from 1545 to 1558 broken only at the first Parliament of 1554. The writs were sent to the town sheriff, who endorsed them; in 1545, after a prorogation, and in 1555, when the election appears to have been held coincidentally with the choosing of town officers, the incoming sheriff endorsed the writ on behalf of the outgoing one. All but one of the Latin indentures take the form of a contract between the sheriff, or sometimes the sheriff and community and the mayor with about 20 to 32 named electors; for the Parliaments of 1545 and 1547 the electors are divided into aldermen and burgesses, but thereafter they are either unstyled or are all called merchants and burgesses. Besides the voters present ‘in their proper persons’ other ‘trustworthy men’ are often said to have given their ‘assent and consent’ to the election. There is the usual clause giving the Members full power and authority to act in Parliament on the town’s behalf, and the common seal and another, presumably the sheriff’s, are said to have been affixed. The only unusual indenture is that for 1545, when the sheriff, the second party, drew up the return in the first person, declaring that by virtue of the writ ‘to me directed ... I made election by the assent and consent’ of the mayor and voters at the full county court, and referring to ‘my’ seal and the borough’s.16

A royal grant of 1523 allowing the citizens of York to ship wool to the port of Hull and thence abroad, was repealed by an Act (21 Hen. VIII, c. 17) in the first session of the Parliament of 1529. The reason given for the repeal was that the grant had not been of general benefit to York, but presumably it had the support of the two Hull Members, George Matheson and Edward Madison, who went on to gain a new ‘charter’, or letters patent prohibiting ‘strangers’ from trading directly with one another in the haven of Hull under penalty of forfeiture of goods. Granted in June 1532, this new privilege, given for ‘the support of the harbour, which is much decayed’, caused an outcry from other towns with waterborne trade using the Humber, including York, and in the sixth session it was repealed (24 Hen. VIII, c.15). Another Act (27 Hen. VIII, c.3), originating in a petition from fishermen in Norfolk and Suffolk and passed in the eighth and final session (1536), reduced the tolls payable at Hull by fishermen wanting to sell their catch there: a proviso added to the measure during its passage through Parliament protected fishmongers in the town. This Act was modified by a further one (33 Hen. VIII, c.33) six years later, allowing the town authorities to collect higher duties on the sale of fish towards the upkeep of the town’s fortifications. In 1538 Hull became the seat of a suffragan bishop under the terms of the Act for the nomination and consecration of suffragan bishops (26 Hen. VIII, c.14). Two years later it was included in the Act (32. Hen. VIII, c.18) for re-edifying towns.

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Kingson-upon-Hull chamberlains' roll 1 Hen. VIII.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid. 3 Hen VII.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Ibid. 6 Hen. VIII.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Ibid. 27 Hen. VIII.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. E159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2].
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. E36/150, f. 63.
  • 12. M. Beresford, New Towns in the Middle Ages, 511-12; VCH Yorks. (E. Riding), i. 1, 41, 130-4, 151; Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, i. 48-51, 62; APC, i. 222, 477.
  • 13. VCH Yorks. (E. Riding), i. 25, 91-92, 414-15; LP Hen. VIII, xix(2), 256; APC, i. 533; ii. 396; iii. 102-3, 196, 202.
  • 14. J. R. Boyle, Chs. and Letters Pat. Kingston-upon-Hull, 34-45; VCH Yorks. (E. Riding), i. 31, 37-38, 92, 125.
  • 15. VCH Yorks. (E. Riding), i. 37-38, 127; T. Gent, Kingston-upon-Hull (1735), 111.
  • 16. C219/18C/148-152, 19/134, 135, 20/152, 153, 21/198, 199, 23/165, 166, 24/206, 207, 25/144, 145.