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 1510-15


1536(not known)
1539(not known)
1542(not known)
1545(not known)

Main Article

Once a mesne borough of the earls of Northampton, Northampton had long been in the lordship of the crown. The town had lost its military importance and although it was still the venue for the county court its wool and cloth trades were in decline and had not yet been succeeded by the leather industry. The fee-farm due to the crown, once £120, was fixed in 1514 at £98. Two years later a disastrous fire consumed a large part of the town, and Leland noted that the newer houses, built presumably since the fire, were of wood, whereas the older ones still standing were of stone: the town was included in an Act of 1536 for urban renewal (27 Hen. VIII, c.1). Before the Dissolution there were many religious houses in and around Northampton, including those of all four orders of friars. One of the hospitals, St. Leonard’s outside the walls, was managed by the borough authorities, who about 1549 succeeded in getting a crown grant to a private individual rescinded. Northampton was one of eight sanctuary towns created under an Act of 1540 (32 Hen. VIII, c.12).3

Although never a county in itself, Northampton was by this period virtually self-governing. A royal official, the steward, presided at the court leet for manorial matters, but the mayor, the chief elected officer, took his oath before the recorder at Northampton instead of at the Exchequer and had his own hustings court. Town charters dated back to at least 1189 and incorporation as the mayor, bailiffs and burgesses to 1460. In 1489, following ‘great divisions, dissensions and discords’ during the annual elections of the mayor and other officials, an Act (5 Hen. VII, c.31) provided that the mayor and his brethren (the former mayors, sometimes known as aldermen) should choose 48 of ‘the most wise, discreet and best disposed persons of the inhabitants ... other than afore that time have been mayors or bailiffs’ to take part in the election of the mayor and the two bailiffs. There was already, besides the mayor’s brethren, another body apparently composed of former bailiffs and known as the Twenty-Four or comburgesses, and the term ‘common council’ was sometimes applied to the aldermen, Twenty-Four and Forty-Eight together. Since members of the Forty-Eight could be removed at will by the mayor and aldermen, Northampton was controlled by a close corporation, especially as all officials except the mayor and bailiffs were after 1489 chosen by the mayor and his brethren alone, while bailiffs could be chosen only from members of the Forty-Eight. Much town business was carried out solely by the mayor and aldermen, who decided when the assembly or house (composed in 1505 of the mayor, former mayors, existing bailiffs, the comburgesses and the Forty-Eight) should meet. Assembly order books survive, with some gaps, from the last year of Edward VI; their inclusion of the parliamentary elections of October 1554 and October 1555 suggests that only members of the assembly voted, although the sheriff’s precept was directed to ‘the mayor and the whole commonalty of the town’. The surviving election indentures, for the two Parliaments of 1553 and that of 1555, are in Latin, the contracting parties being the sheriff and the mayor and bailiffs, who are said to have acted with the ‘common assent’ of the borough. No evidence of the payment of Members has been found, although the chamberlains’ accounts record other expenses incurred on the town’s behalf by John Horpool during his Membership, possibly in connexion with a quo warranto which Queen Mary had instituted into the borough’s rights and privileges, or with the confirmation of the charter secured in the same year.4

The town was none the less independent in its choice of Members. Of the 15 whose names are known, 12 were townsmen: five of these were former mayors, six were former bailiffs (of whom four were later to serve as mayor, Nicholas Rand during his first Membership when he is taken to be the Nicholas ‘Rous’ who appears on the list of Members for the Parliament of 1529) and one, Francis Morgan, was to become recorder. Two of the remaining Members, George Tresham and William Chauncy, probably owned property in Northampton, and even Richard Wenman of Witney, Oxfordshire, the only Member in the period living outside not only the borough but also the county, may have had a local link through his family’s interest in the wool trade. Wenman was probably beholden to the influence of his father-in-law Sir John Williams for his return in 1547, and Chauncy may have owed something to the Duke of Northumberland, under whose aegis the Parliament of March 1553 was summoned, since he was later to be connected with the duke’s son Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Bridges, Northants. i. 436.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. VCH Northants. iii. 1, 4, 12, 19, 24-31, 40, 45, 48, 56-65; Fuller, Worthies (1840), ii. 498; Northants. Rec. Soc. xiii. p. xv; Recs. Northampton, ed. Cox and Markham, i. pp. xvi, xxiv, xxv, xxviii, xxx, xxxiii, 113-15; ii. 275, 289-95, 468, 535; Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, i. 7.
  • 4. Recs. Northampton, i. 117; ii. 17-19, 56-57, 115-18, 312, 493-4; VCH Northants. iii. 5-11, 15; Northants. N. and Q. v. 188; C219/20/88, 21/111, 24/117.