Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer


9 Feb. 1578 (new writ)unknown vice Webbe and Lovelace, deceased
11 Jan. 1581 (new writ)SIR GEORGE CAREY vice Webbe and Lovelace, deceased
 JOHN ROSE Browne Willis.
13 Oct. 1586SIMON BROME
3 Oct. 1588SIMON BROME
15 Sept. 1597JOHN BOYS
8 Oct. 1601JOHN BOYS

Main Article

A county in itself from the time of Edward IV, Canterbury had its own sheriff, tax assessors, escheator and justices of the peace. A charter of 1498 provided for a mayor, 12 aldermen and a common council of 24. The right of parliamentary election belonged to the freemen. Parliamentary writs were received and returned by the city’s sheriff.

Canterbury was strongly independent in its choice of MPs. Although there is one gap in the list, all identified Members in Elizabeth’s reign, apart from Sir George Carey, appear to have been resident in the city at the time of their election, and many of them held official positions besides. No evidence suggests that the archbishop influenced elections.

Sir Thomas Finch, the senior Member in 1559, was a freeman of the city and owned one of its principal houses. His colleague George Maye was an alderman, who had already served one term of office as mayor. In 1563 and 1571 William Lovelace and Robert Alcock, two of the lawyers employed by the city, were chosen. Lovelace sat for a third time in 1572, but had to surrender the senior seat to the mayor, Anthony Webbe. Both these Members died before the 1581 session of Parliament and two separate writs for by-elections were issued, one in February 1578, the other dated 11 Jan. 1581, very near to the opening of the session. No returns have survived, but it is clear that a ‘foreigner’, the 1st Lord Hunsdon’s eldest son, Sir George Carey, was chosen, evidently at the later of the two by-elections. A comment on Canterbury elections, made in 1626 (not 31 Eliz. as on a later marginal note) provides the clues to his identity:

Canterbury did once, and but once, since we were a city ... and in a time of settled peace and security, seem to forget and carelessly pass by her duty and due right, when, no man opposing, we made choice for one of our Parliament citizens of a very honourable and good knight, in no respect unfit or to be suspected, if he had been eligible by law, of which then there was no question made. He was her Majesty’s near kinsman, a known and renowned protestant and patriot, and the heir apparent of a great baron, and faithful councilman of state. His freedom, before his election, was sent up unto him by the chamberlain of the city .... Since that time, nor before, we never heard of any but free residents ... aldermen, recorders, knights and esquires, long before their election made free and dwelling within the city, and for the most part burmote men and common councillors, if not aldermen.

This description, together with Carey’s admission as a freeman of Canterbury in 1580, and D’Ewes’s evidence that he was a Member of the House of Commons for the 1581 session, makes the identification conclusive.

Evidently several other outsiders had tried to win the seat in 1581. An entry in the burmote book, dated 7 Mar., suggests that there was a difference of opinion over this matter between the commonalty of Canterbury and the governing body:

Whereas, upon choice of burgesses to the Parliament for this city heretofore ... suit hath been [made] from certain gentlemen not dwelling in the same city, to ... be preferred unto the same, and for that some, contrary to the expectation as well of themselves as of such their friends as have been suitors for them, have not had the same to [the] great displeasure therein of the mayor and aldermen, though they thereof be altogether blameless ... for that the choice, resteth not in them but in the most voice of the commons: to avoid such occasions of displeasure ... it is at this court ordered and decreed that none from henceforth shall be nominated to be in election to be burgess of this city but such as be dwellers within the city and free of the same by half a year at the least ... and whatsoever mayor of this city or any aldermen of the same or any of the common council that shall move to the contrary or give voice to make any free to that purpose, other than such as shall be dwelling within this city and free thereof ... shall forfeit and lose 20s.

Whether outsiders sought seats in later Parliaments or no, the new decree achieved its purpose. City aldermen were elected to the next three Parliaments, one of them, John Rose, being returned at the end of his second mayoralty. Richard Lee, chosen in 1593, came from a distinguished Buckinghamshire family, but his second marriage in 1589 brought him one of the principal houses in Canterbury, and by the time of his election he was a common councilman. For this Parliament, also, the city reverted to its practice of choosing one of its counsel, Henry Finch. Finch, a son of the 1559 Member, was reelected in 1597, taking second place to the city’s first recorder, John Boys. In the last Parliament of the reign Boys was accompanied by John Rogers, a freeman, whose father had been dean of Canterbury until his death in 1597. Rogers is the only local man returned to Parliament during the reign who is not known to have held any official position in the city.

Canterbury probably paid its Members wages, though as the money was levied by a special assessment on the inhabitants, only one relevant entry occurs in the local records. In 1586 Simon Brome was paid £10 by the chamberlains ‘in respect of his charges already past’. The entry went on to say that ‘no no cess [was] to be made on the inhabitants until hereafter the charge for the burgesses for the whole time of this Parliament be known’.4

Author: M.R.P.


  • 1. E371/402(1).
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Browne Willis.
  • 4. Weinbaum, Charters, 56-58; J. Brent, Canterbury in Olden Times, rev. ed. 80-81; C219/83; OR, i. 409 n; Thomas Scott’s report on the Canterbury election, Cant. Cath. Chapter Lib. f. 2; Canterbury burmote bk. ii. ff. 28, 102.