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)

Main Article

The situation of Scarborough prolonged the town’s military importance during the era of wars with Scotland and France, and successive constables of the castle wielded influence in the borough beneath its walls. The town was one of those included in an Act (32 Hen. VIII, c.18) for urban renewal. The crown made numerous grants for the repair of the harbour and an Act of 1545 (37 Hen. VIII, c.14) entrusted its upkeep to two masters or keepers of the pier; they were to be elected for three years by the bailiffs, coroners and searchers of the port, and were empowered to raise an annual rate on rents. The preamble to the Act stated that a ‘great number of houses’ had been destroyed: many of these must have been occupied by the fishermen who, once employed in the flourishing salt fish trade, were by the early 16th century chiefly occupied in Icelandic waters. The town had one or two weekly markets and an annual fair said to continue for six weeks from the Feast of the Assumption to Michaelmas, but it is hard to believe that there was enough business to last that time: the export of wool was a thing of the past and the Yorkshire cloth industry had yet to develop. Some shipbuilding was carried on, and local merchants owned some large vessels which the government used for its expeditions against Scotland; the 15 ships chased by the Scots in 1533 probably included some owned by the townsmen.3

In 1485 Richard III had granted the borough the status of a county; its sheriff, elected by the newly appointed mayor and burgesses, was made responsible for the payment to the crown of the fee-farm, amounting to between £50 and £66. Henry VII annulled this charter, and in 1509 government rested with two bailiffs, four chamberlains, two coroners and 36 capital burgesses. In the middle ages these officials had been elected by a complicated process under which the coroners were first chosen by ‘all the commonalty’, they then nominated four ‘uptaks’ or first electors, and these co-opted eight more to assist them in choosing the bailiffs and chamberlains; the common council or ‘house’ of 36 was a three-tiered body chosen by an equally complex method. It is not known whether these arrangements survived into the 16th century, but any changes doubtless made the system more rather than less oligarchic. Scarborough had returned Members to Parliament since the 13th century, and as late as 1736 it was to be claimed that all freemen had the parliamentary franchise; but it is likely that by 1509 only members of the governing body took part in the election of Members.4

Six election indentures survive for this period and four writs, surprisingly addressed to the ‘sheriff’ of Scarborough, although there was no longer any such official; the Chancery evidently retained the habit of directing the writ to the sheriff as the officer empowered by statute to return parliamentary writs. Only one of the writs, that for 1547, is endorsed with the names of the two bailiffs, but several indentures claim that the writ, styled ‘the high commandment’, had been directed to the bailiffs. After 1545 the indentures are in Latin; otherwise the form varies little. The first party consists of the bailiffs, burgesses and commonalty, the second of the elected Members, who are said to have received the indenture with the town’s common seal attached and to have affixed their own seals to the copy deposited with the borough. This formula can hardly mean that the Members, some of whom lived outside Yorkshire, were always present at the election in the ‘common hall’ or, as it is occasionally described, in the ‘full county’ [court] of Scarborough. Only in 1545 are any electors’ names given, those of one bailiff and three others unstyled. The unanimous consent of the ‘commons’ or ‘commonalty’ is usually claimed, but this may mean only that of the common council, the Thirty-Six. No hints of patronage appear on the indentures, in every case the names of Members are in the same hand as the remainder of the document, although in February 1553 they were added in a different-coloured ink. The election to the twice postponed Parliament of 1545 was held on 19 Sept., two days before the issue of the writ proroguing the assembly in late October by another month.5

Patronage there evidently was, notably from the governors of the castle and the important Yorkshire family of Constable. The president of the council in the north may have nominated from time to time, and the election to Edwardian and Marian Parliaments of men unconnected with Yorkshire implies intervention by the central government, presumably working through local agencies. Richard Josselyn perhaps owed his Membership in 1558 to his uncle (Sir) Henry Gates, who had recently acquired the reversion of the nearby manor of Seamer and who was to influence elections at Scarborough under Elizabeth.6

The 18 men known to have sat for Scarborough between 1529 and 1558 (including Chancellor Gardiner’s servant Robert Massey in April 1554, on the assumption that he chose this constituency rather than Flint Boroughs) have little in common. Nine of them sat in only one Parliament and six in between two and five, while Anthony Browne, Reginald Beseley and Thomas Eynns notched six, eight and nine Parliaments respectively, the last two continuing under Elizabeth. Of the nine who were returned more than once, four found all their seats in Yorkshire, two (Ellerker and Fairfax) becoming knights of the shire; four others (Chamberlain, Eynns, Massey and Whalley) did the same in other counties. The most conspicuous carpet-bagger was Anthony Browne, who to his single return for Scarborough added five others for seats in Cornwall, Essex, Lancashire and Wiltshire. Half of the dozen Yorkshiremen Members were justices of the peace at the time of their first or sole election for Scarborough, but only Sir Ralph Ellerker and Sir Nicholas Fairfax served at any time as sheriff of the county. Sir Ralph Eure was constable of the castle, and Reginald Beseley the recorder of the town. William Lockwood who sat with Beseley in 1545 and Tristram Cooke who did so nine years later were the only inhabitants to be elected, but George Dakins with a domicile nearby at Foulbridge may have qualified as a resident. Edward Beseley was clerk of the county and son-in-law of his namesake the recorder.7

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Bodl. e Museo 17.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. VCH Yorks. N. Riding, ii. 538-9, 552-3; iii. 435-7; Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, i. 60; Somerville, Duchy, i. 268n; LP Hen. VIII, iv(2), 5101; vi. 450; xvi. 1230; J. B. Baker, Scarborough 325; Scarborough, ed. Rowntree, 177.
  • 4. Docs. in White Vellum Bk. Scarborough Corp. ed. Jeayes, 49-52; VCH Yorks. N. Riding, ii. 551-2; Baker, 195, 220.
  • 5. C219/18B/32, 18C/153, 154, 19/129-9v, 130, 20/165, 166, 23/179, 24/216, 217.
  • 6. VCH Yorks. iii. 414; N. Riding, ii. 542; LP Hen. VIII, xi, xii, xvi.
  • 7. C219/18C/152, 153, 154, 156.