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


1571BRIAN ANSLEY vice Checke, chose to sit for Bedford
1 Feb. 1576HUMPHREY MILDMAY 1 vice Fitzwilliam, deceased
1581SIR WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM II 2 vice Wingfield, deceased
14 Feb. 1589THOMAS READE

Main Article

At the creation of the diocese of Peterborough in 1541 most of the possessions of the former monastery were divided between the new bishop and the dean and chapter. The lordship of the liberty or soke of Peterborough went to the bishop, while the urban community, now a city, passed into the hands of the dean and chapter. Not long afterwards, in 1576, Bishop Scambler surrendered his lordship over the liberty and it was granted the following year to Lord Burghley. The dean and chapter, however, having inherited the rights and liberties formerly enjoyed by the abbots in the city, had them confirmed by Queen Elizabeth in 1560 and continued to exercise close control over its affairs. This was particularly significant because Peterborough, overshadowed for centuries by the abbey, had experienced nothing in the way of corporate growth. The dean, appointed by the Crown, was a quasi-mayor and soon began to be called ‘right worshipful’ rather than ‘very reverend’.5 The beginnings of municipal development are to be found in the creation in 1572 of a body of 14 feoffees, chosen from the most ‘honest, substantial and discreet’ citizens, to administer lands and property in common ownership, but their powers were limited.6 The office of high steward of Peterborough abbey survived the dissolution, probably in an honorary form. Sixteenth-century stewards seem to have included the 1st and and Earls of Bedford, who owned estates in the liberty, and (Sir) John Stanhope.7

The new city, though lacking a corporation, acquired the right to send Members to Parliament. A city or high bailiff, appointed by the dean and chapter, received the election precepts on their behalf and conducted the elections in the moot hall. There is some evidence to suggest that the franchise was restricted originally to householders living within the cathedral precincts, but was very soon extended to include all those paying ‘scot and lot’.8 Several Elizabethan election returns, particularly in the second half of the reign, contain a long list of names in the body of the return and of signatures at the end. That for the 1597 Parliament lists more than 20 citizens and records their occupations also. The returns vary in form. Usually they are made out between the sheriff and the bailiff, but in 1559 the sheriff was dealing with the ‘citizens’ of Peterborough, in the 1576 by-election with the ‘citizens and burgesses’, and in 1589 with the ‘bailiff; bishop and burgesses’.9 ‘The reference to the bishop is puzzling.’

Though lords of the city, the Elizabethan deans of Peterborough do not seem to have been active parliamentary patrons. Elections were dominated by the two principal families in the soke, the Cecils and the Fitzwilliams of Milton. Lord Burghley found seats there for several of his relatives. His brother-in-law, Robert Wingfield 1, of Upton, Northamptonshire, was elected three times—evidence survives of Burghley’s intervention on his behalf in 156310—while Wingfield’s son John was returned in 1597. Thomas Reade (1589, 1593) married one of Burghley’s grand-daughters. Thomas Cecil, Ind Lord Burghley and 1st Earl of Exeter, seems to have continued the family interest in the seat by securing the election of his son-in-law Nicholas Tulton, the future Earl of the Isle of Thanet, in 1601. Brian Ansley (1571), a courtier from Kent, and Alexander Neville (1597) probably also owed their seats to Cecil influence. Henry Cheke, the original choice in 1571, and a likely Burghley nominee, preferred to sit for Bedford. Two of the Members were close relatives of bishops of Peterborough—James Scambler (1584), an Exchequer official, and Robert Howland (1589), a lawyer; but even they seem to have benefited indirectly from Burghley’s patronage since both Bishop Scambler and Bishop Howland, the latter of whom had been Burghley’s chaplain, probably owed their elevation to support from the lord treasurer.

Sir William Fitzwilliam II, head of the Milton family, spent most of Elizabeth’s reign in Ireland, but he seems to have been able to command one of the seats at Peterborough on numerous occasions. He occupied it himself in 1559, and almost certainly replaced Robert Wingfield I for the last session of the 1572 Parliament. His brother John was elected in 1563, and his son William in! 1584 and 1586. Hugh Fitzwilliam (1572) was a distant cousin who lived in Yorkshire. Humphrey Mildmay, who filled the vacancy in 1576 caused by Hugh’s death, was the son of Sir Walter Mildmay, the Northamptonshire county Member, and the brother-in-law of the younger William Fitzwilliam.

Only one Peterborough family, that of Hake, is to be found among the list of MPs for the reign. Thomas Hake (1586) and his son William (1593) were both included among the original group of feoffees in the city. The final Member, Goddard Pemberton, belonged to a Northamptonshire family, but he probably owed his election to his connexions with (Sir)John Stanhope, high steward of the cathedral.

Author: M.R.P.


  • 1. C219/282/49, 50.
  • 2. CJ, i. 121.
  • 3. Folger V. b. 298.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Eliz. Peterborough, ed. Mellows and Gifford (Northants. Rec. Soc. xviii), pp. xxiii, xxxiii; L. B. Gaches, Hist. Liberty of Peterborough, 43 seq.; Peterborough Local Admin. ed. Mellows, i (Northants. Rec. Soc. ix), p. xlvii.
  • 6. Peterborough Local Admin. i. intro. passim.
  • 7. Last Days of Peterborough Monastery, ed. Mellows (Northants. Rec. Soc. xii), pp xliii, xlvii-xlviii; Foundation of Peterborough Cathedral, ed. Mellows (Northants. Rec. Soc. xiii), pp. lxvi. 63.
  • 8. Foundation of Peterborough Cathedral, p. xxvii; Eliz. Peterborough, pp. xxv, xxvii.
  • 9. C219/26/68; 28/79; 29/93; 31/116; 33/137; 282/50.
  • 10. SP12/26/1.