Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen1


c. Mar. 1614JAMES BUTTON
c. Jan. 1624RALPH CLARE
22 Jan. 1626RALPH CLARE
5 Mar. 1628(SIR) RALPH CLARE

Main Article

Bewdley is situated where the River Severn meets the Forest of Wyre as it enters north-western Worcestershire. ‘Not anciently famous’, as a contemporary remarked, the town owed its rise to prominence to the construction of the bridge over the Severn in the mid-fifteenth century. The bridge wardens, who were responsible for the upkeep of bridge, managed the finances of the borough.2 The manor of Bewdley became Crown land in 1461, and in 1472 Edward IV granted the borough its first charter. The manor house, called Tickenhall, was enlarged by Henry VII for Prince Arthur, and subsequently became the principal summer residence of the Council in the Marches.3

Bewdley was enfranchised by charter in September 1605.4 The new charter was primarily justified on account of the cost of maintaining the bridge, and placed the government of the town in the hands of a bailiff, elected annually by the common burgesses, and 12 capital burgesses who served for life, vacancies being filled by co-option. The bailiff, his predecessor, and the recorder were ex officio justices. Sir Francis Eure* and Sir James Whitelocke* are mentioned as chief recorders of the town in 1615 and 1621 respectively.5 In October 1619 it was agreed that 25 ‘of the most substantial and discreet burgesses’ be added to the dozen capital burgesses, and that they should ‘have their voices in election of officers and in the orders to be made’. Officially known as the Common Council, the lesser burgesses were more usually called the ‘Twenty Five’.6 Unusually the 1605 charter only granted Bewdley a single Member, who was to be elected by the burgesses. The surviving indentures were made out in the name of the bailiff and burgesses, but in fact name only the bailiff.7 In 1677 Edmund Waller* recalled that John Selden* ‘grumbled’ at Bewdley’s enfranchisement.8 Perhaps Selden feared that the Crown’s influence over the borough would inevitably be considerable.

It is not known when the first writ was issued for an election at Bewdley. The appointment on 31 Mar. 1604 of the burgess of Bewdley to a committee for the bill for the true making of hats must surely be an error, for though the town was a major centre for the manufacture of caps, the appointment predates the borough’s enfranchisement by 18 months.9 A writ was probably issued at about the same time as the charter, as the bridge wardens’ accounts record that in 1606 a payment of £5 was ‘laid out to Mr. Young for his being a burgess in the Parliament House’.10 There are numerous references to ‘Mr. Yong’ in the Journal, some of which probably refer to John Young, the Member for Rye. However the Mr. Yong who defended the Council in the Marches and its lord president (10 Mar. 1606) is more likely to have been the Member for Bewdley. Indeed, he was probably Richard Young*, a client of Lord Zouche, the president of the Council of Wales at the time of Bewdley’s enfranchisement.

In 1624 the Lord President of the Council in the Marches nominated Ralph Clare at the prompting of the Prince’s Council. Clare was a gentleman of the Prince’s Privy Chamber and the keeper of Tickenhall House.11 The influence of the Prince’s Council over the borough was derived from the fact that the manor of Bewdley had been transferred to Prince Charles in 1617, and it is likely that that his council also nominated Sir Thomas Edmondes, treasurer of the Household in 1620.12 In 1614 the manor was still under the control of the Exchequer, and consequently it is possible that Button owed his election to his brother Sir William Button, a client of the lord chamberlain and treasury commissioner, Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk.13

Clare remained a member of the Privy Chamber after Charles’s accession, and therefore it is likely that he was elected in 1625 and 1626 with royal support. However Clare lived locally and had been granted the lease of Bewdley manor in 1623. Consequently, he was re-elected in 1628, even though he had been suspended from his position in the Privy Chamber two years earlier.

Authors: Glyn Redworth / Ben Coates


  • 1. T. Nash, Colls. for Hist. Worcs. ii. 293.
  • 2. Survey of Worcs. by Thomas Habington ed. J. Amphlett (Worcs. Hist Soc. 1893-5), i. 530-2; P. Styles, ‘Corporation of Bewdley under the later Stuarts’, in P. Styles, Studies in Seventeenth-Cent. Midlands Hist. 45; Worcs. RO, Bewdley Bridge and Chapel Wardens Accts., BA8681/236(i).
  • 3. H.M. Colvin, History of the King’s Works, iv. 279-82; VCH Worcs. iv. 301, 303, 309.
  • 4. C661676/10; a translation is printed in Nash, ii. 285-94.
  • 5. Soc. Antiq., Prattinton Coll., Top. IV(i) (Bewdley), p. 347.
  • 6. Soc. Antiq., Prattinton Coll., Top. IV(iiB) (Bewdley), pp. 98-108.
  • 7. C219/37/316; 219/39/243
  • 8. A. Grey, Debates of House of Commons, iv. 300.
  • 9. CJ, i. 160b; VCH Worcs. iv. 305.
  • 10. Worcs. BA8681/236(i), p. 317. The forename ‘John’ is deleted.
  • 11. DCO, ‘Prince Charles in Spain’, f. 35.
  • 12. VCH Worcs. iv. 309.
  • 13. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 358.