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No names known for 1510-23
|1529||JOHN BELL I|
|1547||WILLIAM CROWCHE 1|
|RICHARD CUPPER 2|
|1553 (Mar.)||(not known)|
|1553 (Oct.)||WILLIAM STRETE|
|1554 (Apr.)||LEWIS JONES|
|1554 (Nov.)||NICHOLAS DEPDEN|
Leland described Leominster as ‘meetly large’, with ‘good building of timber’. The wool produced in the area was of such high quality that it was known as ‘Leominster ore’, and the borough had a prosperous clothmaking industry as well as being, according to the Edwardian chantry commissioners, ‘the greatest market town within the county of Hereford’. According to Leland, the town’s prosperity had ‘of latter days’ so irked Hereford and Worcester that they managed to get the market there changed from Saturday to Friday, since when ‘the town of Leominster hath decayed’; but it is not mentioned in the early 16th-century statutes about decayed towns, and no less than 215 inhabitants were assessed for the subsidy voted in 1534. In a petition to Edward VI for the lands of three dissolved chantries the borough authorities claimed to have about 2,000 communicants to care for and ten stone bridges to repair.3
Henry I granted the lordship of the manor and borough of Leominster to the abbot of Reading, who exercised his authority, often disputed by the townsmen, largely through the priory of Leominster, a cell of the abbey. As well as monastic officials, the abbot appointed one bailiff for the town and another for the ‘foreign’ or out-parish, which included the townships of Eaton, Ivington and Wharton. When at the Dissolution the manor and borough passed to the crown, the King appointed two bailiffs jointly ‘for this great lordship’, while the site of the priory was leased to George Cornwall. There was, however, also an ‘ancient body corporate’ which was to be described in the charter of 1554 as consisting from ‘time immemorial’ of ‘one bailiff and 24 burgesses, elected and nominated among themselves from time to time’. Yet another body claiming authority in Leominster, particularly after the Dissolution, was the council in the marches of Wales; a letter from the town authorities to their patron and benefactor Sir Philip Hoby, undated but probably of the reign of Edward VI, implies that the council had instituted quo warranto proceedings into their title to certain possessions. In 1553 the King promised a charter of incorporation; the borough paid £100 for the lands of the three former chantries together with ‘cottage rents’ of houses belonging to the crown, but the King’s death interrupted the negotiation. The charter granted by his successor on 28 Mar. 1554 was said to be in part a reward for ‘the care, industry and faithful service of the bailiff, burgesses and inhabitants ... in the time of the rebellion’. It settled the fee-farm at £16 17s.3½d. and allowed for 25 (including the bailiff) of the ‘better and more honest and discreet inhabitants’ to serve as ‘capital burgesses and be the common council of the borough’; they were to elect the bailiff annually on the Monday after Michaelmas and could nominate not more than 24 ‘inferior burgesses’ to assist them in town government. Hoby was the first named of the capital burgesses. The term ‘steward’, which appears regularly during the period, may refer either to the manorial official appointed by the abbot, and later by the crown, or to an officer of the borough, but it was to the first of these positions that Humphrey Coningsby was appointed in October 1553, coincidentally with his return for Herefordshire in Mary’s first Parliament; in both capacities he may have taken the lead in promoting the charter. By contrast, the borough steward appears to have been a minor official, whom the charter equates with a ‘sufficient deputy’ to the bailiff and burgesses. The leet roll of 1554 has the signature of (Sir) James Croft together with that of the bailiff, from which a local historian infers that Croft was high steward of the borough. He certainly held this office for part of Elizabeth’s reign, but earlier evidence is inconclusive, and it is unlikely that the title, which is not mentioned in the charter, was a regular one under Mary. The recordership also appears to have been a later development but members of the Warnecombe family performed the duties of the office in the 1550s.4
Election indentures survive for the Parliament of 1542 and for the Parliaments of Mary’s reign save that of April 1554; all but the first are in Latin and three are in poor condition. The contracting parties are the sheriff of Herefordshire and the bailiff or the bailiff and other burgesses; the electors are said to be the bailiff and other burgesses or ‘all the other burgesses’, but since no names are given it is impossible to say who took part.5
Of the 14 known Members, seven were townsmen, if the two lawyers James Warnecombe and Richard Hakluyt are included in that category: Warnecombe, standing counsel to the borough by 1552, resided at Ivington and Hakluyt had inherited land at Eyton. John Hillesley, William Strete, John Polle and Alban Birch were named capital burgesses in the charter of 1554, but of Hillesley’s fellow-Member in 1529, John Bell, little is known save that he lived in Leominster. The two men returned in 1547, the next Parliament for which the Members are known, were strangers: William Crowche of Somerset was a servant and probable nominee of the Protector Somerset who may already have been holding the augmentations surveyorship for Herefordshire; Richard Cupper, an augmentations surveyor in Shropshire and former chantry commissioner in Herefordshire, was a servant of William, Lord Paget, and a relation by marriage of (Sir) John Pakington, a member of the council in the marches. No names are known for Edward VI’s second Parliament, when the Duke of Northumberland, then lord of the manor of Ivington, may well have nominated both Members. At both the elections of 1554 the sheriff was Sir John Price, secretary of the council in the marches, and at least three of those returned can be linked with the council. Lewis Jones was a Shropshire neighbour of the Plowdens and perhaps already brother-in-law to Edmund Plowden, who was both a member of the council and a client of the Marian Councillor Sir Francis Englefield, himself a brother-in-law of Humphrey Coningsby. Jones’s partner John Evans was clerk of the council and perhaps also already linked by marriage to Plowden. Nicholas Depden was married to the widow of two council officials, Thomas Hakluyt (father of Richard) and Edmund Foxe, and was himself a client or servant of Robert Townshend, a lawyer-member of the council; his partner Thomas Wykes was a local gentleman whose grandfather had sat for Leominster. The junior Member in 1555, Thomas Kerry, was of Hereford birth and had recently been granted the reversion of a clerkship of the privy seal; at his death in 1607 he was a friend of Edmund Plowden’s son and brother-in-law, but he is not known to have been acquainted with Plowden himself 50 years earlier. There may also have been local support for Kerry’s bill for the rebuilding of four mills on the river Wye near Hereford which was enacted during the Parliament (2 and 3 Phil. and Mary, c.14) and which he had described to the mayor of Hereford a fortnight or so before his election at Leominster.6
Author: N. M. Fuidge
- 1. Hatfield 207.
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, ii. 73-74; G. F. Townsend, Leominster, 25, 56, 59, 61, 70; J. Price, Leominster, 60.
- 4. VCH Berks. ii. 62-70; Price, 21, 46, 47, 51, 55-56, 58-60, 82; Townsend, 13-15, 29-30, 61, 64-65, 71, 213, 285-6 and n, 291-2 and n; LP Hen. VIII, xv. g. 942(34); CPR, 1553-4, pp. 200-1, 395-8.
- 5. C219/18B/35, 21/72, 23/60, 24/74, 25/54.
- 6. CPR, 1553-4, pp. 182-3.