Melcombe Regis


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


1536(not known)
1539(not known)
1542(not known)
1553 (Mar.)JOHN WADHAM 3

Main Article

Leland described Melcombe, which he called Miltoun, as ‘a townlet on the hither side of the haven of Weymouth ... being privileged and having a mayor’. As ‘much the ancienter’, Weymouth constantly objected to the privileges granted to Melcombe, but as there was more room for expansion on that side of the harbour merchants tended to settle there until the rapid growth of Poole in the 15th century eclipsed both Melcombe and Weymouth. At the opening of the Tudor period neither was prosperous. Their defence was to be partially provided for by Henry VIII’s castle of Sandsfoot, but bills debated early in 1558 for fortifications at Melcombe came to nothing.7

Melcombe, a royal borough, possessed charters dating back to at least the late 13th century. In 1542 the fee-farm was reduced to 20s., with a corresponding reduction in fifteenths and tenths, on the ground that earlier payments had ‘excessively burdened’ the inhabitants. The dissolution of the monasteries did not bring any direct prosperity to Melcombe. There was a house of Dominican friars there but since this had been founded by the Rogers family the valuable site and buildings were granted to Sir John Rogers. He and Sir John Horsey the elder, who owned a house in the borough, were probably the local magnates with most influence in Melcombe, and may have helped the borough in its struggle to keep free from admiralty jurisdiction. In 1551 Henry Ashley, deputy vice-admiral of Dorset, was told that the mayor required to see his authority from (Sir) William Herbert I, the vice-admiral, and that in any case the borough’s charters exempted it from interference by the admiralty. If Herbert was already steward of Weymouth—a post he is known to have held under Elizabeth—there may have seemed even greater necessity for withstanding his attempt through Ashley to hold a court at Melcombe.8

No details have been found of parliamentary elections or indeed about the composition of the town government before 1570, beyond the fact that the mayor was assisted by two bailiffs. Names of Members in 1545 are found on the sheriff’s schedule, inserted in a hand perhaps the same as that which entered the Lyme Regis names, but different from the one used in the rest of the document. Only two election indentures survive, for the Parliaments of October 1553 and 1555; the first is in Latin, the second in English, both having the sheriff of Somerset and Dorset and the mayor as contracting parties. The elections are said to have been with the assent and consent (or, in the English version, ‘agreement’) of the burgesses, and in 1555 John Leweston and William Crowche are described as ‘free burgesses’ of the borough. The borough records contain several references to the payment of Members but all save one are agreements to serve without wages or expenses, or disclaimers of those due for earlier Parliaments. Apart from discharges given in person by John Wadham and John Leweston, before the Parliament of November 1554 Richard Phelips undertook to pay his son Thomas and before that of 1558 Sir John Rogers did the same for Richard Shaw.9

The one Member known to have received wages was Owen Reynolds, a townsman who was elected mayor shortly after his return to Mary’s first Parliament; the payment he acknowledged on 1 Oct. 1553 may, however, have been for the previous Parliament. He was the first of four townsmen to sit during Mary’s reign, of whom Richard Michell and Thomas Samways were ex-mayors and John Mill an ex-bailiff. The other ten Members whose names are known were outsiders, but only two of them, the East Anglians Anthony Cokett and Thomas Poley, had no link with Dorset. Richard Phelips was a former customer of Poole and Oliver Lawrence was his successor in office; both had connexions with the Horsey family and Phelips was also a friend of Sir John Rogers, father of the later knight of the shire. Cokett and Poley were well connected but their most likely patron was Sir Thomas Arundell, Poley’s colleague in augmentations and himself chancellor of Queen Catherine Parr’s household and a knight of the shire for Dorset in 1545, the Queen’s jointure including the neighbouring manors of Wyke Regis and Portland. Thomas Phelips—assuming that it was the earlier Member’s son and not his brother who sat in 1547 as in November 1554—was also a servant of Queen Catherine and had enjoyed Arundell’s favour as early as 1533, but he probably owed his return for Melcombe in 1547, and for Wareham in 1545, largely to his father’s influence even though Wareham also formed part of the Queen’s jointure. His fellow in 1547, John Leweston, had recently been appointed captain of Portland castle and in the spring of 1553 Melcombe again returned a local official who did not require payment in John Wadham, captain of Sandsfoot castle: Leweston was to sit twice more for the borough and to achieve a county seat in Mary’s second Parliament in which Wadham was elected at Weymouth. John Hannam was a Dorset gentleman and a former client of the Protector Somerset who had procured him a seat at Poole in 1547; he probably owed his return for Melcombe to William Herbert, now Earl of Pembroke, whom he served as deputy steward in one of his Dorset manors. William Crowche, another former dependant of Somerset, may have been indebted to Hannam for a recommendation to Pembroke: his name was entered over an erasure upon the indenture.10

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Weymouth and Melcombe Regis mss Sherren pprs. 15.
  • 4. Ibid. 16.
  • 5. Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. G. A. Ellis, Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, 45-46; Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, i. 250; Hutchins, Dorset, ii. 418, 419, 440, 443; CJ, i. 47-50; LJ, i. 529-31.
  • 8. Hutchins, ii. 448-50, 454-5; LP Hen. VIII, xvii. g.362(16); xix(1), g.278(40); xx(2), 186; St.Ch.5/M30/14; Sherren pprs. 39.
  • 9. C219/18C/36, 21/50, 24/56.
  • 10. LP Hen. VIII, xix(1), g.141(65).