Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Main Article

The small market town of Thirsk lay on or near two main roads, one running from York to the port of Yarm and the other being the highway to Northallerton and Scotland. By 1509 the town extended on either side of the Cod beck; the term ‘borough’, used as early as 1145, was apparently confined to the settlement on the east bank, but on the other side of the river there was a ‘vill’ which had grown up around Mowbray castle. A mesne borough, Thirsk was held of the lords of the manor of Thirsk, who from the late 15th century were the Stanley earls of Derby. Another ‘manor of Thirsk’, held by the Augustinian priory of Newburgh, was granted to the see of York at the Dissolution but was promptly alienated to the crown, with over 60 other manors, by Archbishop Holgate: amongst the properties which the see received in exchange were the rectory and advowson of Thirsk. An Act of 1545 (37 Hen. VIII, c.16) confirmed the transaction and placed the crown’s property in Thirsk in the control of the court of augmentations.5

The borough’s chief officer was the bailiff, elected annually by the burgesses or ‘borough-holders’, those owning burgage tenements in the oldest part of the town and, later at least, numbering 50. The bailiff, who held the borough courts and was sworn into once by the lord’s steward at the manorial court leet, was probably already assisted by two constables, one elected for the borough and the other for the ‘vill’, and by other officers. Election indentures survive for the Parliaments of April 1554, 1555 and 1558, the first two in English, the last in Latin. The contracting parties are the sheriff of Yorkshire and between nine and 14 named electors, who are described in 1554 as inhabitors, in 1555 as ‘inhabitants of the borough town’ (over ‘burgesses’ erased) and in 1558 as burgenses. Only in 1558 is the first elector identified as the bailiff.6

Thirsk had returned Members to the Parliament of 1295 but is not known to have done so again until the 16th century. It was probably restored as a parliamentary borough at the elections to the Parliament of 1547, although the names of its Members in that Parliament are known only from the Crown Office list prepared for the last session, where it stands last of the cities and towns represented. In 1547 Edward Stanley, 3rd Earl of Derby, was in favour at court, and his Northamptonshire borough of Brackley is first known to have returned Members in that year. Thirsk may none the less have been restored on the initiative of the council in the north, for whereas Derby was to be an active patron at Brackley, six at least of the ten Members for Thirsk appear to have been nominated by the council, which was presided over in 1547 by Holgate and from 1549 by the 5th Earl of Shrewsbury. Sir William Cavendish may have been recommended by the Protector Somerset, whose auditor he had been; his partner Robert Flint has not been certainly identified but could have been an associate of Thomas Gargrave, a member of the council in the north; Thomas Lee was related to Gargrave; and two other Members were also related to councillors, John Gascoigne to Sir William Vavasour and Robert Roos to Sir Nicholas Fairfax. Reginald Beseley also sat for Knaresborough, a borough likewise subject to the council’s influence, and was an associate of Shrewsbury, to whom he probably recommended his son-in-law Edward Beseley. Thomas Eynns was secretary of the council, Christopher Lascelles a gentleman seated on the outskirts of Thirsk, and Thomas Waterton both the son of the sheriff who returned him and a kinsman of the Earl of Derby.

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. M. Beresford, New Towns in the Middle Ages, 518-19; VCH Yorks. (N. Riding), ii. 59-64, 69; Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, i. 67.
  • 6. VCH Yorks. (N. Riding), ii. 61; C219/22/23, 24/64, 25/48.