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|14 Jan 1559||WILLIAM CARVELL|
|EDMUND (or EDWARD) KINWELMERSH|
|WILLIAM LANE I|
|24 Apr. 1572||CHRISTOPHER YELVERTON|
|9 Nov. 1584||SIR RICHARD KNIGHTLEY|
|26 Sept. 1586||SIR RICHARD KNIGHTLEY|
|17 Oct. 1588||PETER WENTWORTH|
|8 Oct. 1597||CHRISTOPHER YELVERTON 1|
|HENRY YELVERTON 2|
The government of Northampton consisted of the mayor; his brethren, a body of former mayors who began to be called aldermen during the reign of James I; two bailiffs; the former bailiffs who, as late as the 1590s, were still being referred to as the ‘24’; and the ‘48’, the popular elementin the assembly. As at Leicester, the ‘48’ had been created to replace the general body of commons whose ‘great divisions, dissensions and discords’ had hindered the assembly’s work. The mayor and his brethren could replace individual members of the ‘48’ whenever they wished. In 1599 the borough received a charter in the name of the mayor, bailiffs and burgesses of Northampton.3
Parliamentary elections were held in the guildhall and voting in them was limited to members of the assembly.4 The 1572 MPs, for example, were chosen at an assembly composed of the ‘mayor, his co-brethren, the 24 comburgesses and the 48 commons’. Most of the surviving parliamentary returns bear no signatures save that of the sheriff of the county.5
The practice, common in the first half of the century, of choosing senior members of the council as MPs barely survived until the Elizabethan period. Two local men, about whom next to nothing is known, were elected in 1559, but for the rest of the reign the choice fell, almost invariably, on country gentlemen who were evidently willing to serve without fee; they seem to have been made freemen of the town before their election. The availability of borough seats was particularly important in Northamptonshire, where an unusually large number of country gentlemen appear to have been anxious to acquire some experience of Parliament. Those in the western half of the county looked towards Northampton to meet the need, while those in the east relied on Peterborough. Northampton favoured candidates who shared the town’s strong puritan outlook.
The senior Member in 1563 was Lewis Montgomery, a friend of the and Earl of Bedford and brother-in-law of his fellow MP Ralph Lane. Sir Richard Knightley, the harbourer of the Marprelate printing press, sat in 1584 and 1586, and his son Valentine in 1593. These four were all leading Northamptonshire puritans, as was Christopher Yelverton, who had already made his mark in Parliament when he was chosen recorder of Northampton in 1568 and one of its MPs three years later. He sat for the borough three times in all, being on the last occasion (1597) Speaker and being accompanied to Westminster by his son Henry, perhaps a mark of gratitude for his own long service. Christopher Yelverton probably helped to secure the return of his relative and neighbour Thomas Catesby in 1584. Richard Knollys (1589) may have been a younger son of Sir Francis Knollys, and also related to Yelverton, though more distantly. The residence of Peter Wentworth (1586, 1589, 1593), though in another county, was not far from Northampton, and he seems, indeed, to have had a house in the town: at any rate he was persona grata with the council. He was related by marriage to the Lanes. Ralph Lane (1563), courtier, sailor and soldier; William Lane I (1571), tentatively identified as Ralph’s younger brother, and John Spencer (1572), heir to Althorp, all belonged to landed families living near Northampton, and all probably had puritan sympathies.
In 1601 Henry Hickman, chancellor of the diocese of Peterborough, and Francis Tate, another lawyer, who was probably of counsel to the town by that date, both sought election. A record of the assembly’s proceedings notes that they are both of them well acquainted with the state of this town, and assert the good thereof, the one of them, to wit Mr. Dr. Hickman, being and for a long time having been an inhabitant in this the said town, and the other, to wit Mr. Francis Tate, the son of a freeman of this town, and been brought up and for the most part inhabiting near the said town, and one who hath very well deserved of the said town, they shall both of them have their requests in this behalf, and for the more orderly proceeding therein be sworn and admitted freemen of the said town without paying anything to the corporation thereof, and be burgesses ... of the said town at the said Parliament, provided always that they shall both of them bear and defray their own charges.6
- 1. C219/284/27.
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. Northampton Recs. ed. Markham and Cox, i. 101-3, 119-25, et passim; VCH Northants. iii. 6-9.
- 4. Though an Act of 1489 relating to local government at Northampton (Rot. Parl. vi. 431) does not refer specifically to parliamentary elections, it is evident from a similar Act for Leicester that they were included. Northampton Recs. i. 101-3.
- 5. Northampton Recs. ii. 494; C219/26/69; 28/80, 81; 29/94; 30/67; 31/115; 284/27.
- 6. Northampton Recs. ii. 495.