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


1539(not known)
1542(not known)
1545(not known)
1553 (Mar.)(not known)
1554 (Nov.)THOMAS EDEN
1555(not known)

Main Article

An important centre of the cloth industry, Taunton suffered, like Bridgwater, from the competition of country clothiers; both boroughs were included in the Act for the re-edifying of towns westward (32 Hen. VIII, c.19) and another for the viewing and selling of cloths called Bridgwaters (2 and 3 Phil. and Mary, c.12). A bill for Taunton failed after a single reading in the Lords in 1510. The borough, castle and manor of Taunton belonged to the bishops of Winchester, whose high steward, from 1529 Sir William Paulet, presided at the twice-yearly lawdays, but the townsmen enjoyed a considerable measure of self-government, largely by means of the lawday jury, a body of between 13 and 20 leading burgesses chosen by the clerk of the castle (the bishop’s official) from 24 names presented to him by the popularly elected portreeves. These interlocking powers, although under successive bishops they appear to have worked reasonably well, became increasingly irksome to the townsmen, and in 1627, during a vacancy in the bishopric, they secured a charter of incorporation. The constable-ship of the castle passed from Henry Daubeny, Earl of Bridgwater, to his kinsmen the Arundells, being held in succession by Sir Thomas Arundell and his son Matthew; Henry Seymour, a younger brother of Edward, later Duke of Somerset, was keeper of the castle by 1526.5

Voting for Members of Parliament was confined to inhabitants of the medieval borough, which comprised only a small central part of the 16th-century town. No details of the numbers of electors have been found. The surviving election indentures are for the Parliaments of October 1553 (in English), November 1554 and 1558 (both in Latin); the contracting parties are the sheriff of Somerset and Dorset and the bailiff and burgesses. Although the term ‘bailiff’ is ambiguous, since the bishop appointed a bailiff of the manor and two bailiffs of the borough were elected annually by the townsmen at the Michaelmas lawday, the man named on two of the indentures, Walter Halse or Halsse, was the bishop’s officer. The elections are said to have been carried out with the consent and approval of ‘all the inhabitants and burgesses of the said borough’ or of ‘the whole community of the burgesses’.6

Of the 12 Members, sitting in six Parliaments, whose names are known, five also sat for Downton or Hindon, the other parliamentary boroughs belonging to the bishop of Winchester. At the election to the Parliament of 1529 Wolsey still held the see in commendam, and although his control of the three boroughs may have been weakened by his imminent fall, one at least of the Members for Taunton, Thomas Cromwell, owed his return directly to Paulet as steward, and the other, William Portman, a Middle Templar who lived at Orchard near Taunton and who owned property in the town, was to be a member of Bishop Gardiner’s council a few years later. At the time of the election of 1536 Gardiner was abroad and a list seemingly of nominees for the three episcopal boroughs, prepared by Cromwell in his absence, gives for Taunton the names of Portman and Richard Pollard, also of the Middle Temple and an associate of the minister. A sheriff’s schedule for Somerset survives for the Parliament of 1545 but the omission of the Taunton names suggests that, as in 1529, the seats were filled at the last minute. The two Inner Templars and royal servants, (Sir) Nicholas Hare and John Caryll, returned in 1547, when Gardiner was disgraced and in prison, probably owed their seats to Paulet, now Baron St. John, who was a friend of Hare. No names are known for the second Parliament of Edward VI, when John Ponet was bishop after the deprivation of Gardiner, but there is a local tradition that one of the Members was a John Mason, presumably the Privy Councillor Sir John Mason, who was himself dean of Winchester. With the restoration of Gardiner under Mary, the bishop’s direct influence revived: three of the eight Members for Taunton during the reign whose names survive, James Bassett, Jacques Wingfield and Oliver Vachell, were members of his household and a fourth, John Norris, was clerk of Taunton castle. William Barnes, an auditor in the royal courts during three reigns, may already have been related by marriage to Thomas Eden, whose family had been neighbours and friends of the Gardiners in Suffolk and who himself received a small legacy under the bishop’s will; both Barnes and Eden were also connected with Sir Edward Waldegrave, a close associate of the bishop and a knight of the shire for Somerset in both the Parliaments of 1554, to the second of which Barnes was returned for Downton. In 1558 the new bishop, John White, could have been personally responsible for the nomination of Richard Myrfyld, an obscure figure whose brother may have been beneficed within the diocese of Winchester, but the well-known civilian Valentine Dale was probably recommended to him by the central government.7

Taunton was designated the seat of a suffragan bishop under the Act of 1534 (26 Hen. VIII, c.14) for the nomination and consecration of suffragans. Unlike Bridgwater it received an appointee in William Finch who held the post from 1538 until his death in 1559.

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. LP Hen. VIII, x. 40(ii) citing Cott. Otho C10, f. 218.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Hatfield 207.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. R. G. H. Whitty, ‘Taunton under the Tudors and Stuarts’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1938), 254, 330, 332; LJ, i. 7; Whitty, Ct. of Taunton in 16th and 17th Cents. 67-68, 100, 102, 120; Wealth and Power ed. Ives, Knecht and Scarisbrick, 156; J. Toulmin, Taunton, 279-81; Eccles. 2/155873, 155881.
  • 6. Whitty, ‘Taunton under the Tudors and Stuarts’, 313-14, 330, 368; Ct. of Taunton, 67, 77, 100; C219/21/131, 23/111, 25/97; Eccles. 2/155891.
  • 7. C219/18C/101; Whitty, ‘Taunton under the Tudors and Stuarts’, 414; information from Dr. R. W. Dunning.