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


 James Colbrand
 James Colbrand

Main Article

Elizabethan Chichester, a city of about 2,000 people, was still governed by a body formed around the medieval merchants’ guild. This was made up of the mayor, the aldermen, and the free citizens. The guild nominated the bailiff, recorder, customer and portreeve and conducted the city’s affairs. The rest of the inhabitants, the commoners, were occasionally summoned to general meetings in the guildhall, including those for mayoral and parliamentary elections, but their influence appears to have been slight.

The election of MPs took place in two stages, the guild choosing one Member and the commoners the other. The procedure in 1586 is revealed in detail by an election dispute which came before the Star Chamber. Shortly after receiving the precept from the sheriff of Sussex the mayor summoned the aldermen and ‘chief citizens’ about 30 in number on this occasion—to a meeting in the council house where they elected the guild Member and ‘had speech to nominate’ the commoners’ candidate. On the day appointed for the commons to hold their election they were ordered to attend at the guildhall by eight o’clock in the morning; the aldermen and free citizens were also present. As the election was contested, the voters divided and a poll was taken in the hall, two men from each side being appointed to compile the lists of names. Those who ‘did watch and ward’ for their house and ‘paid lot and scot’ were allowed to vote. Following some uncertainty, it was decreed that guildsmen could also vote in the election of the commoners’ candidate. Some of the names were challenged and ‘all those men which were so found fault with’ were sent into an adjoining room to be recalled for examination one at a time.

The commoners, though they could show their strength on the rare occasions when elections were contested, for the most part accepted the candidates suggested to them by the guildsmen. Indeed, the return implies that in 1597 both Members were formally selected at the meeting in the council house. If the commoners’ choice fell on anyone who was not a free citizen, the election became valid only if that person was granted the freedom of the guild and of the city.

Having acquired quite considerable control over parliamentary elections, the guild, in its turn, surrendered some freedom of choice to outside patrons. Henry Fitz Alan, 12th Earl of Arundel, exercised great influence at Chichester, very close to his house at Stanstead and not far from Arundel itself. He was probably responsible for the nomination of Sir Henry Radcliffe, a relative by marriage, in 1559, and Thomas Stoughton, comptroller of his household, in 1563. Stoughton, a lawyer of Catholic sympathies, was well known in Chichester by that date for he had been its Member in three earlier Parliaments and may have held the office of recorder for a short time. The Earl probably gave some encouragement to a strong Catholic element in the city’s governing body. The junior Members in 1559 and 1563 were local citizens; both served as mayor. After his election Sherwin was prepared to give up his seat to a country gentleman, another member of the Stoughton family, but the mayor vetoed this as being against ‘the liberties of the city’. When the Earl of Arundel fell into disgrace over his implication in the plots surrounding the Duke of Norfolk, some of his influence at Chichester passed to his son-in-law, Lord Lumley, who inherited Stanstead. Thomas Kyrle, a Herefordshire lawyer returned in 1571, was one of Lumley’s relatives. It is not clear whether Kyrle’s colleague in 1571 was Thomas West I or Thomas West II: both were closely related to the 1st Baron Delaware who was one of three joint lords lieutenant of Sussex at the time of the election.

Valentine Dale, the civilian, and Richard Lewknor, the lawyer, both sat regularly for Chichester from 1572, Dale until his death in 1589 and Lewknor until he became a judge in 1600. However, neither man had strong connexions with Chichester at the time of his first election. Dale may have been recommended to the city authorities by Lord Burghley, a close friend who held the position of steward of the bishop of Chichester’s lands. The guild, anxious to secure the passage of a private bill, probably welcomed the services of someone in court circles. Lewknor may have owed his seat in 1572 to his appointment as supervisor of the bishop of Chichester’s lands, or to Lord Lumley, from whom he bought the manor of West Dean, near Chichester. His re-election in 1584 and 1586 was only achieved after contests caused by the intervention of James Colbrand, a newcomer to the city, who relied on the votes of the lower classes. The guild brought about his defeat in 1584, but he showed even greater determination when the next contest took place. As before, the guild re-elected Dr. Dale and put forward Lewknor’s name to the commons. The election meeting in the guildhall was stormy. Votes were taken, but not counted, and, after an adjournment of some days, Colbrand was disqualified on the ground that he was not a free citizen. By 1588 Lewknor had been appointed recorder of Chichester, and his seat was assured for the next three Parliaments until his elevation to the bench.

The vacancy in 1593, caused by Dale’s death, was filled by Lord Lumley, whose nominee was William Ashby, a diplomat and friend of Burghley. The mayor hoped that Ashby, ‘a mere stranger unto this place and unknown unto us all ... only liked and allowed of’ as a mark of respect to Lumley himself, would do what he could ‘to further the state of this poor city ... wherein we shall think ourselves greatly beholding unto him’.

Lewknor’s colleague in his last Parliament was his nephew Adrian Stoughton, son of the 1563 Member. Stoughton succeeded Lewknor as recorder in 1600 and continued as one of Chichester’s MPs until his death in 1614. The other 1601 Member, Stephen Barnham, was a London merchant with lands in Sussex. His connexion with Chichester came through his mother, whose family, the Bradbridges, were prominent in the city.3

Author: R.C.G.


  • 1. E371/402(1).
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Econ. Hist. Rev. (set. 2), xv. 60; Neale, Commons, 261-71; R. Swales, ‘Parl. Rep. Suss. 1520-58’, Univ. Bristol Ph.D. thesis 1964; Chichester City Charters, ed. Steer; Egerton 2598, f. 277; C219/28/133; 29/149; 31/176; 33/200; 34/145.