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


 (not known)
3 Feb. 1533SIR JOHN NEVILLE II vice Neville, called to the Upper House
1536(not known)
5 Feb. 1543THOMAS WATERTON I vice Bowes, disqualified
1545(not known)

Main Article

Early Tudor Yorkshire was still predominantly agricultural, but there was a flourishing cloth industry in the West Riding, and coal, iron and lead were being worked. Many of the enterprises were begun or fostered by the great Cistercian abbeys of Bylands, Fountains, Jervaulx and Rievaulx in the North Riding, Kirkstall, Roche and Sawley in the West, and Meaux in the East; the suppression of these houses between 1537 and 1540, along with the dissolution of monasteries, friaries and hospitals elsewhere in the shire, had considerable economic consequences, chief among them being the transference of large areas of land and of valuable mineral deposits to leading Yorkshire families. Enclosure was not to become a serious problem until later in the century, the bulk of the land continuing to be farmed by mixed husbandry on the open-field system. Leland wrote of Wensleydale that it ‘beareth little corn but nourisheth many beasts’, and remarked on the number of red deer which came down from the hills in winter. Some northerly districts produced barley, oats and ‘much grass’, but wood was so scarce that some of it used for working lead had to be brought from Durham. In the east there was plenty of ‘wheat, rye and meetly good meadows and woods’. Among various centres of population in addition to York were the ‘very quick market town’ of Wakefield, which ‘standeth now all by clothing’; Bradford, with a ‘pretty quick’ market; the ‘very large ... sanctuary town’ of Beverley; and the ‘pretty’ market at Leeds, which like Wakefield relied mainly on the cloth industry. The only other towns mentioned by Leland, without description, are Aldborough, Boroughbridge, Catterick, Hull, Pickering, Richmond, Ripon and Tadcaster. The suitability of much of the county for sheep farming, the number of waterways available to provide fulling mills, and the prevalence of spinning and (despite the government’s repeated attempts to confine cloth manufacture to the clothing towns) weaving in the rural districts made it possible for Yorkshire to support a population of some third of a million by the end of the century. Since so many of these were 40 s. freeholders, the business of getting them to York, unsuitably located as it was for much of the shire, by the morning of election day posed serious problems.7

The chief government body in the shire was the council in the north with its headquarters at York. Closely connected with the affairs of the marches and able to rely on a powerful body of local landowners whose tenants were accustomed to military service, the council from its reorganization after the death of the Duke of Richmond in 1536 played a considerable part in the lives of Yorkshiremen. A number of leading squires, including more than half of the knights of the shire, sat on the council, but the most important element was a small cadre of professional men, mainly lawyers who received regular salaries. Successive presidents from 1530 to 1537 were Cuthbert Tunstall, bishop of Durham, the 5th Earl of Northumberland and the 3rd Duke of Norfolk; after a brief second term by Tunstall in the reorganized council from 1537 to the summer of the following year, the presidency was held by Robert Holgate, bishop of Llandaff and later archbishop of York, until May 1549, when he was succeeded by the 5th Earl of Shrewsbury. The unified administration of the shire was hampered by the duchy of Lancaster’s ownership of extensive land in the honors of Pickering and Pontefract, the survival of palatine liberties such, as Ripon and Beverley which (like the separate ridings) had their own commissions of the peace, and the existence of Hull and York as counties in themselves. The council was in practice dependent on a group of peers with large Yorkshire estates and on the leading gentry and office-holders, many of whom appear regularly as knights of the shire: in the North Riding Bowes and Fairfax, in the West Danby, Savile, Vavasour and Waterton, and in the East Constable and Ellerker. During the period several important names were added to theirs, notably those of (Sir) Thomas Gargrave, who became a leading figure especially in the East Riding, and in the West the two Sir Thomas Whartons.8

Eight writs and seven indentures survive, including those for a by-election in 1543; all save the (fragmentary) indenture for December 1541 are in Latin. Several of the writs have long endorsements: both of those returned in 1553 give the names for Hedon and Thirsk and that of 1555 those for Thirsk, Boroughbridge, Knaresborough and Ripon, although those given for Ripon (in a hand different from the remainder of the endorsement) should have been attached to Boroughbridge. None of the returns is in perfect condition, and several are so badly torn or defaced as to make difficult any calculation of the number of electors customarily named. At the by-election of 1543 there were 15, headed by Charles Jackson, esquire, but more often the list begins with one or more knights and continues with between 20 and 45 esquires, gentlemen and yeomen. The election is sometimes declared to have been carried out freely and indifferently with the unanimous assent and consent of those named and ‘others being freeholders and inhabitants in the county’.9

In addition to the archbishop, who was frequently steward of Ripon, and the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, with jurisdiction over Aldborough, Boroughbridge and Knaresborough, there were potential patrons among the peers with Yorkshire property and office in the marches; such were the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, the 1st Marquess of Northampton, the earls of Cumberland, Rutland, Shrewsbury and, early in the period, Southampton, together with the Lords Conyers, Dacre, Eure, Latimer, Lumley and Scrope. The influence of some of these is discernible in borough elections, but the knighthood of the shire seems to have been settled by agreement between those interested, with encouragement from the council in the north and leading noblemen, in order to avoid contests which might have necessitated a poll. To the risk of disorder if hundreds of freeholders had to spend one or more nights in York was added the reluctance of candidates to incur both the expense involved and the possible humiliation of public defeat. In 1539 Norfolk assured Cromwell that as commander in the north he had arranged for the return of men amenable to the King: except for Scarborough, where the names are lost, this seems to have been true for the county, York and Hull. No contested election is known to have occurred throughout the period.10

In so large a county, and with the three ridings each needing its share of the representation, there was little opportunity for anyone to gain a lien on one of the seats— although Gargrave was to do so under Elizabeth— and 11 of the 16 knights are known to have sat only once during the period. Sir William Babthorpe sat twice for Yorkshire and for nowhere else, and both Sir Robert Constable and Gargrave probably three times; the remaining two, Bowes and the younger Wharton, were leading royal officials who picked up seats where they could, but still (except for Bowes’s return for Middlesex early in 1553) within the northern shires. Most of the Members were Yorkshire gentlemen from well-known northern families: all but two were justices of the peace in one or more ridings when first elected for the shire, and the others were soon to join the commission; eight had served as sheriff. Many had seen military service, at least eight having been knighted during French or Scottish campaigns. Knighthood of the shire came relatively late in their lives, most of them being well over 40 when elected. Only six are known to have had any higher education, and Bowes and Gargrave alone used legal attainment as a qualification for office. Wharton, a Privy Councillor by the time he first represented Yorkshire, was the sole prominent official outside the north, but six knights were councillors in the north when first returned for their shire, and another six were later to join the council. Sir William Bulmer became lieutenant of the east marches in the year of his election, Sir Henry Savile was duchy of Lancaster steward for the honor of Pontefract, and not less than eight Members held keeperships and stewardships of crown castles or manors in Yorkshire. Although a few of those concerned are recorded as attending state ceremonies, only Wharton, Sir John Neville II and Sir Ralph Ellerker are known to have held salaried offices at court.

Among those calling for particular, if miscellaneous, comment are Sir William Bulmer, who in 1523 stated that he had been chosen ‘both by writ and by a special letter from the King’s highness’; Sir Marmaduke Constable, who as a Member of the next Parliament was one of the so-called ‘ Queen’s Head group’ and whose name appears on a list of 1534 thought to relate to the treasons bill; Robert Bowes, whose capture by the Scots in August 1542 cost him, among other things, his seat in the Parliament of that year; Sir Nicholas Fairfax and Sir William Babthorpe, who as fellow-knights in the Parliament of 1547 were among those expected to oppose a bill to deprive the 2nd Earl of Cumberland of the hereditary shrievalty of Cumberland; and (Sir) Thomas Gargrave, whose description of his failure to support a government bill in 1555 is important in the elucidation of a famous episode in the House.

The general Act for weavers (2 and 3 Phil. and Mary, c.11) included a proviso exempting Yorkshiremen from complying with the new regulations introduced in the measure.

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. LP Hen. VIII, add. i(1), 374 citing SP1/233, f. 233.
  • 2. E159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2].
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Hatfield 207.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. C219/20/44 is mutilated so that only 'Thomas' of the first knight's name survives.
  • 7. J. T. Cliffe, Yorks. Gentry , 1, 15, 30, 35; VCH Yorks. ii. 329, 336-44, 390, 406, 411; iii. 46-51, 89-90; Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, iv. 26, 28-39; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxxvii. 32-33.
  • 8. Cliff, 231-43; R. Reid, King’s Council in the North , 487; Somerville, Duchy , i. 296, 515-38.
  • 9. C219/18B/25, 26, 28, 29, 18C/147, 20/42, 44, 21/57, 58, 22/19, 20, 24/59, 61, 25/41, 42.
  • 10. LP Hen. VIII , x. 816 citing Cott. Calig. B6, f. 319.