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

Number of voters:

up to 360 in 16041


 Sir John Fortescue
  Return of Goodwin rejected by the clerk of the Crown
21 Mar. 16042SIR JOHN FORTESCUE vice Goodwin
16 May 1604CHRISTOPHER PIGOTT vice Fortescue and Goodwin, both elections having been declared void
18 Mar. 1607SIR ANTHONY TYRINGHAM vice Pigott, expelled from the House

Main Article

Buckinghamshire, a grazing county, was geographically divided into two distinct regions, with the ‘mountainous, or rather hilly’ Chilterns to the south-east, and the Vale to the north.3 During the medieval period quarter sessions and most of the county’s administrative functions had migrated away from the nominal capital, Buckingham, situated in the north-west, to the more centrally located and prosperous town of Aylesbury, where they remained throughout the early Stuart period.4 The county as a whole was in several respects slow to define itself as a separate regional entity; the shrievalty was shared with neighbouring Bedfordshire until 1575,5 and the lord lieutenancy remained vacant after the death of Arthur, 14th Lord Grey of Wilton in 1593, until lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton†) was appointed in the aftermath of enclosure rioting in 1607.6 The attainder of the 15th Lord Grey for complicity in the Bye and Main conspiracies of 1603, and the perpetual absence of the Russell earls of Bedford from their onetime seat at Chenies, left a vacuum of aristocratic leadership in the area. Moreover, at the turn of the seventeenth century many of the county’s most distinguished gentry families were relative newcomers. Buckinghamshire estates, located within easy reach of London by either river or road, provided ideal country retreats for statesmen and successful lawyers, including Sir John Croke†, based at Chilton, Sir William Fleetwood† of Great Missenden, Sir John Fortescue of Salden, and Sir Edward Coke, who acquired Stoke Poges by marriage in 1598. These and other recently established names, such as Goodwin of Winchendon, Borlase of Little Marlow, and Denton of Hillesden, would gradually eclipse the longer standing Hampden family of Great Hampden, and crypto-Catholic Dormers of Wing. As a result there was a state of flux in Buckinghamshire’s local governance during the early modern period, with frequent shifts in the balance of influence within the county’s ruling elite.7 Religious and familial allegiances created factions whose differences had found expression at the hustings on several occasions during the reign of Elizabeth, although outright contests were generally avoided. Elections had traditionally been held at Aylesbury since at least the early fifteenth century; indentures were usually signed by around 30 electors, although the total number of freeholders in attendance at elections was much greater.8

In 1604 the sheriff, Sir Francis Cheyney, summoned the election to Brickhill, in the north-east of the shire, to avoid the plague at Aylesbury. According to Cheyney’s subsequent testimony, at the first poll on 22 Feb. Sir Francis Goodwin received 200-300 votes for the senior seat, clearly beating Sir John Fortescue, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, whose supporters numbered no more than 60. This upset the general expectation that Fortescue would take the first seat and Goodwin the second; Goodwin himself ‘earnestly persuaded with the freeholders’ to reconsider, begging that they ‘would not do Sir John that injury’. When they still refused, Fortescue took great offence and stood down rather than accept second place, which would have been beneath the status and dignity of an ancient privy councillor.9 A further poll was then held, whereupon Sir William Fleetwood II was unanimously elected as the junior Member. Goodwin’s efforts on Fortescue’s behalf may have been disingenuous, since it was common knowledge that their rivalry dated back to at least the early 1580s. Moreover, each man represented opposing factions among the county elite, with Fortescue, a religious and political conservative, set against a puritan element of which both Goodwin and Fleetwood were prominent adherents.10

A considerable delay ensued before the election indenture was delivered to the clerk of the Crown, Sir George Coppyn†, by which time Fortescue had taken steps to ensure that the result would be overturned. Fortescue first consulted some of his fellow privy councillors, including Ellesmere, Sir Robert Cecil†, and the lord chief justice Sir John Popham†, with whose help he concocted a plan to have Goodwin declared ineligible on the grounds of two outlawries against him for small debts in the London Court of Hustings.11 Official notification that Goodwin was an outlaw was presented to Cheyney on 2 Mar. by the attorney general (Sir Edward Coke), who penned a certificate to accompany the original return, which was thereby voided. However, Cheyney did not forward these documents to Coppyn until 16 Mar., when Fortescue immediately handed him a fresh writ, already sealed, so that the election process could begin again from scratch.12 On 21 Mar., two days after the state opening of Parliament, Fortescue was returned unopposed, albeit at short notice and at a time when many of the county elite – presumably including the candidate himself – were absent due to their attendance at events in the capital.13

Fleetwood lost no time in raising complaint to the Commons on 22 Mar., demanding that the returns might be examined and Goodwin admitted as a Member.14 Coppyn and Goodwin were therefore ordered to attend the following day, and after hearing and debating their evidence the Commons resolved on 23 Mar. that Goodwin had been lawfully elected, and should be permitted to take up his seat.15 In particular, the House refused to accept Goodwin’s disqualification as an outlaw, since his alleged offences predated the Act of general pardon passed in 1601.16 However, the case was far from closed. Four days later the Lords, acting on instruction from above, requested a conference to consider the matter further, which the Commons refused.17 James I then let it be known that he ‘conceived himself engaged and touched in honour’, and ordered both Houses to confer, a turn of events that the Commons considered ‘so extraordinary and unexpected’ that its Members could hardly decide how to react.18

From this point onwards Goodwin vs. Fortescue escalated into a serious confrontation over who ultimately had authority to determine the outcome of disputed elections.19 Although it seems unlikely that either James or the Privy Council would have wished to initiate such a conflict merely in order to increase the number of councillors in the Commons, their high-handed intervention at every stage in the case does imply that there was more at stake than first meets the eye. It has been suggested (although substantial evidence is lacking) that Goodwin and Fleetwood, both of whom had connections at Court themselves, may have been prompted to stand by Fortescue’s enemies among the Council, and that the dispute arose not just out of local rivalry in Buckinghamshire, but out of factional in-fighting between the king’s conservative, old guard of Elizabethan councillors such as Fortescue, and the mostly Scottish newcomers upon whom favours and rewards had been heaped since James’s accession.20 A more plausible explanation is that the situation may have been deliberately engineered from the outset by Ellesmere, as the latest episode in a long running contention, dating back to at least 1581, between Chancery and the Commons.21 Certainly Ellesmere seems to have been responsible for placing great emphasis upon a clause in the royal Proclamation of 11 Jan. 1604 which announced that ‘persons bankrupts or outlawed’ should not be permitted to stand at the forthcoming general election; and it must also have been the lord chancellor who obliged Fortescue by authorizing the writ for the second election.22 He furthermore seems to have initially convinced the king that upholding the supremacy of Chancery against the Commons’ incursions was a matter of royal prerogative. On 29 Mar. James therefore informed a Commons delegation that ‘by the law this House ought not to meddle with returns, being all made into Chancery’, and ordered them to confer with the judges and report to the Privy Council.23 James may have hoped, by this decisive stance, to settle the matter quickly so that the Commons could proceed with what he had already told them would be the main business of the Parliament: the Union with Scotland. As Conrad Russell argued, underlying anxiety about the Union was possibly the real reason why both sides considered the Buckinghamshire election to be ‘worth a serious dispute’.24

The Commons, considering the implications of James’s announcement, unrestrainedly expressed alarm. On 30 Mar. Sir Robert Wingfield declared that ‘now the case of Sir John Fortescue and Sir Francis Goodwin was become the case of the whole kingdom … the free election of the country is taken away, and none shall be chosen but such as shall please the king and council’. Sir George More warned that it was no longer now ‘the case of Sir John and Sir Francis, but a case of great difference between the king and us; wherein we are deeply to consider the consequence, if this pique be bruited in the country abroad, or beyond the seas’.25 Reports had indeed already been dispatched by the Venetian ambassador, who observed that the Parliament had so far been marred by ‘great friction and ill feeling’ over the Buckinghamshire election, which had left the king ‘greatly disturbed’.26 Members of the Commons began, one after another, to insist that ‘this [House] is a court of record; therefore we ought by all means [to] seek to preserve the honour and dignity of it’; all were adamant that its ancient privileges and autonomy must be maintained. Many were therefore reluctant to meet with the judges, and after heated debate the Commons resolved not to do so, but to put their reasons for supporting Goodwin into a written petition.27

James, who had by this time retreated to Royston, expressed his annoyance at the Commons’ intransigence, but privately began to doubt whether the course he had embarked upon was really the best way to handle the situation. According to the French ambassador, he confided that he had been given bad counsel, and was persuaded by Henry, earl of Northampton to devise a compromise solution that would restore harmony to the Parliament.28 Since he had urged the House to debate the Union, and it had so far failed to do so, James now decided not to further jeopardize the Union project by continuing to side with Ellesmere and the Council, in the face of mounting evidence that their case was weaker than he had originally been led to believe. Lawyers in the lower House meanwhile proceeded to interrogate Cheyney on 2 Apr., and to uncover a series of damning revelations about Fortescue and his allies’ conduct in the aftermath of the election, including the fabrication of evidence against Goodwin.29 After the Commons delivered its ‘Humble Answer’ to the Privy Council, James responded on 5 Apr. by admitting that he had been ‘distracted in judgment’; nevertheless he commanded them ‘as an absolute king’ to confer with the judges, in the presence of his privy councillors ‘not as umpires to determine, but to report indifferently on both sides’, so that the matter could be settled once and for all. The Commons’ amazed silence was broken by Henry Yelverton, who exclaimed that ‘the prince’s command is like a thunderbolt; his command upon our allegiance, like the roaring of a lion’.30

After a brief adjournment of the session for Easter, Sir Francis Bacon reported the king’s proposed compromise on 11 Apr.: neither Fortescue nor Goodwin should sit, but a new writ would be issued to elect another senior knight of the shire. On the question of who should adjudicate in cases of disputed elections, he gave assurances that the Commons’ privileges ‘were not in question … he granted, it was a court of record and a judge of returns’, while also maintaining that Chancery had ‘the like power’ when Parliaments were not in session, and that whichever court ‘that first had passed their judgment, should not be controlled’.31 The Commons fully assented to this ruling, and immediately passed a formal vote of thanks to the king; the writ for the new election was issued on 13 April.32

Despite the fact that Goodwin’s election was quashed, the Commons had won a decisive victory, and as James’s frustration at the lack of progress with the Union project grew, he privately expressed regret for the concessions he had made.33 On his express instruction the earl of Northampton wrote on 24 Apr. to a handful of Buckinghamshire justices, requiring them to examine further the ‘the ground of that so high and hot an opposition’ to Fortescue, and to ‘descend into a due consideration of [Goodwin’s] carriage at and before his first election’.34 It is not known whether anything ever came of this investigation, but it was possibly set in motion with the aim of better understanding how to defuse similar situations in future. The selection of men to whom the letter was addressed suggests that Northampton sympathized with Goodwin, and may have been considering ways to compensate him. If so this perhaps explains why Goodwin was nominated by the Privy Council, presumably at Northampton’s instigation, for a borough seat at the first opportunity, in February 1606; the timing of this intervention would moreover suggest that it was intended as a gesture of goodwill towards the Commons, since it coincided with a request for a large vote of supply.35 For their part, some Members of the lower House remained uneasy about the outcome of the Buckinghamshire election controversy and its constitutional implications.36 The authors of the Form of Apology and Satisfaction, which document was drafted towards the end of the first session but never formally submitted to the king, described the Commons’ capitulation to the ‘middle course’ proposed by James as a ‘deceiving of ourselves and yielding in our apparent right’. It furthermore reasserted the need to safeguard the Commons’ privileges and status as a court of record, particularly in judging elections, against the claims of Chancery.37 Ellesmere, needless to say, continued many years later to maintain that the Commons had no right to determine election returns; a point he might well have succeeded in establishing in 1604 had it not been for the king’s desire to pursue the Union.38

The reverberations from the dispute delayed the fresh election in Buckinghamshire for several weeks. When it was eventually held, on 16 May, the seat went to a compromise candidate, Christopher Pigott, who had supported Goodwin in the initial election but was also Fortescue’s kinsman by marriage. It is ironic that despite James’s efforts to ensure that the earlier election controversy would not displace the Union from the top of the parliamentary agenda, a Member was chosen who, in the third session, went on to deliver an anti-Scots invective so outrageous that he had to be expelled from the House in disgrace.39 This necessitated a by-election for Buckinghamshire on 18 Mar. 1607, at which Goodwin’s first cousin, Sir Anthony Tyringham, was returned. Like Pigott, Tyringham was clearly considered a safe choice, as his ancestors had represented the county as far back as 1295.

The next general election, in 1614, occurred without commotion, perhaps contrary to the expectations of observers. On 17 Mar. John Chamberlain informed his friend (Sir) Dudley Carleton* that ‘I have not heard of so much contestation for places in Parliament as falls out this time, yet Sir Francis Goodwin and Sir William Borlase have carried it quietly in Buckinghamshire’.40 As the result suggests, Goodwin’s standing among the county gentry remained undented by the events of 1604. There is no evidence that Ellesmere attempted to use his position as lord lieutenant to exert electoral control in any direction. In any case, there appears to have been a lack of serious challengers: Fortescue was long since deceased, and his successor, Sir Francis†, was a known recusant; Fleetwood showed no inclination to serve on this occasion; Pigott could hardly be chosen again after the disgrace of his expulsion; and Tyringham, believing he was on his deathbed, had made his will only a few weeks earlier.41 A bill was introduced in this Parliament to move the assizes and quarter sessions to Buckingham, probably by Sir Thomas Denton, the borough’s senior Member. However, two Buckinghamshire magistrates, Sir Jerome Horsey and Sir Edward Hoby, opposed the bill at its first reading on 3 June 1614, and it had no time to progress further before the session was abruptly terminated the following week.42

Ellesmere stood down as lord lieutenant in 1616, and was replaced by the royal favourite, George Villiers, future marquess and duke of Buckingham, despite the latter’s lack of substantial estates in the county. Although he occasionally took advantage of the borough seats that this position placed at his disposal, there is no record of Buckingham’s direct involvement in the selection of knights of the shire at any of the general elections during his lieutenancy. In December 1620 Goodwin and Fleetwood were returned in first and second places respectively; indeed, throughout the period Buckinghamshire voters showed no objection to re-electing previous Members, so that Goodwin was chosen on seven separate occasions over a period of 40 years, while Fleetwood represented the county in four Parliaments. On behalf of the constituency, Goodwin obtained licence on 16 Mar. 1621 to attend the Lords with particulars exhibited from Buckinghamshire against the notorious monopolist (Sir) Giles Mompesson*; and on 21 Apr. Fleetwood presented a petition from the county’s grand jury concerning purveyance of carriages, a practice he condemned as ‘a greater burthen in many places than an annual subsidy’.43

Goodwin served as sheriff in 1623-4 and as such was ineligible to stand at the next election, at which Fleetwood and Denton were returned. It is notable that this, the only occasion on which Fleetwood won the senior seat, took place after Fleetwood had been sacked from the magistrates’ bench for obstructing the Palatinate Benevolence, to which he refused to contribute.44 Fleetwood again pressed for the reform of purveyance of carriages, an issue of high local importance in the counties closest to London, reviving a bill that he had previously steered through the Commons in 1621; however, it was ultimately blocked by the Lords.45

Goodwin was twice re-elected as the senior knight of the shire to the first two Parliaments of Charles’s reign. He was joined in 1625 by Henry Bulstrode of Horton, whose ancestors had first represented the county in the mid-fifteenth century, and in 1626 Goodwin was paired with Denton. Ahead of the latter election it was rumoured that Fleetwood might be pricked as sheriff of Lancashire, where his family originated, in order to prevent him from re-entering the Commons, but in the event he avoided this onerous appointment by giving sufficient assurances that he had no intention to stand.46 Sir Edward Coke was for the same reason assigned to the shrievalty of Buckinghamshire, though he initially refused to take the required oath of office. Coke audaciously defied this attempt to exclude him from the Parliament by having himself returned for Norfolk; however, his eligibility to sit was duly questioned, and the privileges committee, though unable to find any way to let him take up his seat, expressed their sympathy by refusing to sanction a writ to replace him, so that no by-election was ever held.47 Coke was elected as Buckinghamshire’s senior knight of the shire, together with Fleetwood, in 1628.48

Author: Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. CJ, i. 161b.
  • 2. CD 1604-7, p. 55.
  • 3. W. Camden, Britannia (1722), i. 308.
  • 4. VCH Bucks. iv. 528-9.
  • 5. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 9.
  • 6. E. Viney, ‘Bucks. Ltcy.’, Bucks. Recs. xix. 118-9; Sainty, Lords Lieutenants, 12.
  • 7. Cent. Bucks. Stud., D138/22/1; A.M. Johnson, ‘Bucks. 1640-60’ (Swansea Univ. M.A. thesis, 1963), app. II; H.A. Hanley, Bucks. Sheriffs, 8-11.
  • 8. C219/35/1/204, 209, 211, 213; 219/37/66; 219/38/2; 219/40/152; 219/41B/71.
  • 9. CJ, i. 161b.
  • 10. L.L. Peck, ‘Goodwin v. Fortescue: the Local Context of Parlty. Controversy’, PH, iii. 33-56.
  • 11. HMC Hatfield, xvi. 40; HMC Buccleuch, iii. 83; SP84/64, ff. 135v-136; Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, ii. 18.
  • 12. CJ, i. 161b.
  • 13. E. Lindquist, ‘The Case of Sir Francis Goodwin’, EHR, civ. 670-77.
  • 14. CJ, i. 149a.
  • 15. Ibid. 151b-2a.
  • 16. Lansd. 486, ff. 7v-8.
  • 17. CJ, i. 156a.
  • 18. Ibid. 156b.
  • 19. Bodl., Eng. Hist. c. 397, ff. 154-7; State Trials ed. T.B. Howell, ii. 91-114.
  • 20. R.C. Munden, ‘The defeat of Sir John Fortescue: Court versus Country at the Hustings?’, EHR, xciii. 811-16.
  • 21. A. Thrush, ‘Commons v. Chancery: the 1604 Bucks. Election Dispute Revisited’, PH, xxvi. 301-9.
  • 22. Ibid. 306; Stuart Royal Procs. ed. J.F. Larkin and P.L. Hughes, i. 66-70.
  • 23. CJ, i. 158b; CD 1604-7, pp. 33-4.
  • 24. C. Russell, ‘Eng. Parls. 1593-1606: one Epoch or Two?’, in Parls. of Eliz. Eng. ed. D.M. Dean and N.L. Jones, 208, 211-12.
  • 25. CJ, i. 159a-160a; 939a-940b.
  • 26. CSP Ven. 1603-7, p. 142.
  • 27. CJ, i. 160a.
  • 28. HMC Hatfield, xvi. 49, 50; CSP Ven. 1603-7, p. 143; PRO31/3/37, pp. 93, 100; C. Russell, Trevelyan Lectures ed. R. Cust and A. Thrush (forthcoming).
  • 29. CJ, i. 162b-165a, 942a; SP14/7/3; Lindquist, 672, 674-5.
  • 30. CJ, i. 166b, 943a.
  • 31. Ibid. 168a-9a.
  • 32. Ibid. 170b-1b.
  • 33. CSP Ven. 1603-7, p. 150.
  • 34. Bodl., Rawl. D918, f. 35.
  • 35. Peck, 49-50; W. Notestein, House of Commons 1604-10, p. 512; Add. 11402, f. 110.
  • 36. D. Hirst, ‘Elections and the Privileges of the House of Commons in the Early 17th Century: Confrontation or Compromise?’, HJ, xviii. 851-62.
  • 37. Constitutional Docs. of Reign of Jas. I ed. J.R. Tanner, 221, 224-5.
  • 38. L.A. Knafla, Law and Pols. in Jacobean Eng. 256; Thrush, 308-9.
  • 39. CJ, i. 333b, 336a.
  • 40. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 518.
  • 41. Peck, 52; PROB 11/125, f. 367.
  • 42. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 412, 418; HLRO, Lords main pprs. 3 June 1614; Lipscomb, Bucks. ii. 577.
  • 43. CJ, i. 565a, 585b.
  • 44. SP14/127/44; C231/4, f. 138.
  • 45. CJ, i. 619a, 685a.
  • 46. Procs. 1625, pp. 725-6; Wentworth Pprs. ed. J.P. Cooper (Cam. Soc. ser. 4. xii), 240.
  • 47. Procs. 1626, ii. 12, 33; iv. 134-5, 294, 313, 317.
  • 48. CD 1628, ii. 174.