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:

?2,000 in 1624


31 Mar. 1614SIR JOHN CUTTS
 Sir John Cotton†
 Sir John Cage
28 Dec. 1620SIR EDWARD PEYTON , bt.
22 Jan. 1624SIR EDWARD PEYTON , bt.
 Sir John Cutts
 Toby Palavicino
  Election declared void, 5 Mar. 1624
18 Mar. 1624Sir Edward Peyton , bt.
 Sir Simon Steward
 Sir John Cage
14 Feb. 1628SIR MILES SANDYS , bt.

Main Article

Early Stuart Cambridgeshire was, in many respects, two counties in one. The northern hundreds of Wisbech and Witchford comprised the Isle of Ely, a thinly populated area of fenland, large parts of which were wholly inundated during winter, so that, as Camden observed in 1637, it ‘resembleth in some sort a very sea’. South of the Ouse, fen gradually gave way to chalk and clay uplands, most of which was flat and laid out into fields for growing corn and saffron. This was the shire proper, densely populated in some areas, especially along the fen-edge, and wooded only on its borders with Hertfordshire, Essex and Suffolk.1 Before the Reformation the division between Isle and upland was sharply reflected in the county’s administration, as the Isle was under the sway of the bishop of Ely.2 Even after the Henrician abolition of episcopal liberties the separateness of the shire’s two halves continued to be acknowledged, for from at least 1564 the Isle was accorded its own commission of the peace.3

Cambridgeshire was never home to more than a couple of members of the peerage at any one time, principally, it would seem, because ‘the degree of manorial fragmentation found there from the Conquest did not encourage strong lordship’.4 Under Elizabeth, the shire boasted only a single resident noble family, the Norths, whose seat at Kirtling was located on the eastern tip of the county. Roger, 2nd Baron North (Sir Roger North†), nonetheless dominated Cambridgeshire, exercising his influence through the office of lord lieutenant, which he occupied from 1569 until his death in 1600. Before 1601 a member of the North family commonly sat as senior knight of the shire, and a county seat was sometimes found for one of Lord North’s three deputy lieutenants. Although freeholders from the Isle of Ely were entitled to vote at parliamentary elections, the county’s Westminster representation was decided by the more numerous gentry of the shire proper, who invariably returned one of their own number. From at least the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign the eastern and western halves of the county south of the Ouse normally shared the seats between them, thereby avoiding the need for a contest. Of the 11 general elections held between 1559 and 1604 inclusive, only three – those of 1571, 1572 and 1593 – failed to strike this balance. The dominance of Lord North meant that the candidate from the eastern half of the shire was normally assigned the senior seat. The exceptions were in 1571 and 1572, when ‘westerners’ monopolized both seats, and 1601, when Sir John Cutts the elder held the senior place, which he gained either by taking advantage of the 2nd Lord North’s death or by exploiting a newly forged kinship connection with Dudley, 3rd Lord North.5

North influence declined generally after the death of the 2nd Lord North in 1600. Barely 18 years old on succeeding to his barony, the 3rd Lord North was considered too young and inexperienced to be appointed lord lieutenant in 1602, when the office was instead conferred on Thomas Howard, 1st earl of Suffolk, whose principal estates lay outside Cambridgeshire. After 1597 no member of the North family represented the county again before 1640, although the 3rd Lord’s relatives, the Cutts and the Peytons, regularly secured seats for themselves. John, eldest son of the 2nd Lord North, served as senior knight in 1584 and 1586 but died in 1597, while his brother Henry, who took his place in 1597, subsequently moved to Suffolk. The family’s best prospect for future representation in the Commons lay in Sir Dudley North*, eldest son of the 3rd Lord North. However, Sir Dudley was not born until November 1602 and did not complete his education until 1624. Subsequent military service in the Netherlands under the earl of Oxford kept him from seeking a seat until 1628.

The Jacobean period initially saw no departure from the traditional division of the county seats. In 1604 an ‘easterner’, Sir John Peyton of Isleham, was returned as senior knight, while a westerner, Sir John Cutts the younger, took the junior seat. However, the status quo was rudely shattered in 1614, when the county experienced its first recorded contest. Two ‘westerners’, Sir John Cutts the younger and Cutts’s near neighbour and kinsman, Sir Thomas Chicheley of Wimpole, pitted themselves against the easterner Sir John Cotton of Landwade and the westerner Sir John Cage of Long Stowe. Private quarrels undoubtedly helped bring about the contest. Four or five years earlier, the local sewer commissioners had attempted to fine Cage, then sheriff, £1,440 for refusing to levy a rate on the county’s towns to pay for a new drain. Although the proposed rate was later deemed illegal and the fine lifted,6 Cage may have harboured a grudge against the leading sewer commissioners, among them Cutts’s father. On the other hand his electoral alliance with Cotton, an active sewer commissioner, perhaps suggests otherwise. Whatever caused the rift between the two camps, the bitterness of the election campaign indicates that the divisions ran deep. Cotton and Cage spread the apparently unfounded rumour that if Cutts were elected the Isle of Ely’s inhabitants would forfeit a third of their land to fen drainers, a ploy which allegedly drew support away from their opponents. Cutts and Chicheley, too, employed underhand methods to secure votes: letters allegedly subscribed by them were circulated urging unenfranchised copyholders to vote for them. Cotton and Cage were outraged, and on the eve of the election they persuaded the sheriff, Thomas Baldwin, to order the large number of non-freeholders in Cambridge to stay away from the hustings, which were customarily held in the yard at Cambridge Castle. Cutts and Chicheley, anxious to appear innocent, also publicly disowned the offending circular, sending round to the local inns and taverns urging those not entitled to vote to return home.

The last-minute attempt by Cotton and Cage to weaken their opponents’ support failed to prevent Cutts and Chicheley from achieving victory by a margin of at least 500 votes at the view next morning. Two or three hours later, however, the defeated candidates demanded a poll in the full knowledge that many of their opponents’ supporters had now gone home. Quite properly, Sheriff Baldwin refused this request as the law required elections to be held before 11 am, whereupon the two defeated candidates complained to Parliament. When the matter was reported from committee on 19 Apr., sympathy for the petitioners was expressed by Edward Duncombe, who concluded that the circular sent to Cambridgeshire’s copyholders could not have been written and distributed without the knowledge and consent of Cutts and Chicheley. However, Sir Maurice Berkeley thought the only substantive issue at stake was the sheriff’s failure to scrutinize the voters to determine who was entitled to vote. He nevertheless defended Baldwin, pointing out that the demand for such a survey to be carried out had emanated from just ‘one or two’, and had been made only after many freeholders had gone home. Sir George More agreed, observing that Cotton had delayed his demand for a scrutiny until the sheriff had gone to dinner. Further unspecified criticism was levelled against Cage by Sir Dudley Digges, a member of the privileges committee and a kinsman by marriage to both Cutts and Chicheley.

As a result of these deliberations the sheriff’s return was upheld. This was not the end of the matter, however, for on 14 May, during a meeting of the committee of privileges, Thomas Martin alleged that evidence had emerged of collusion between the sheriff and the victorious candidates in both the recent Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire elections. Martin also dismissed the proclamation issued by Baldwin on the eve of the Cambridgeshire election as a mere smokescreen to conceal the purposes contained within the circular addressed to the copyholders. His attack elicited a trenchant defence of Cutts and Chicheley by their counsel, Mr. Richardson, who claimed that the circular was the handiwork of some over-enthusiastic supporters and that his clients had done ‘what they could to cross it’. They had subsequently achieved victory by a convincing margin, despite their opponents’ attempts to smear them with false rumours about fen drainage. Richardson further argued that it was reasonable to suppose that this majority had been achieved without the aid of unenfranchised copyholders, because both Cutts and Chicheley were residents of western Cambridgeshire, where there were ‘30 more towns … than in the east’ and consequently 400 or 500 more freeholders. If anyone was guilty of sharp practice it was Cotton, who had waited until the sheriff had gone to dinner before demanding a poll. These arguments seem to have swung the committee behind Cutts and Chicheley, even though Richardson made the astonishing assertion that ‘by precedent the west part has usually had both the knights’. Sir Robert Hitcham was satisfied that the two victorious candidates had been ‘chosen by the greater number’, while Sir Edwin Sandys adjudged the explanations of Cutts and Chicheley more plausible than those of Cotton and Cage.7

The failure by Cotton and Cage to dislodge their opponents meant that, for the first time since 1572, both county seats were in the hands of men whose estates lay in the west of the shire. At the 1620 general election, however, the county reverted to its traditional pattern, although it was the ‘westerner’ Sir John Cutts who obtained the senior seat rather than the ‘easterner’ Sir Edward Peyton.

Following the death of Sir John Cotton in March 1621 the chairmanship of the county bench was conferred on Cutts, to the fury of Peyton. During the winter of 1617-18 Peyton had temporarily served as custos rotulorum himself, and although he had been subsequently forced to relinquish the position to Cotton he had fully expected to succeed Cotton when the latter died.8 Consequently, when writs for fresh parliamentary elections were issued early in 1624, Peyton determined to deny Cutts the position of knight of shire and to this end he paired with his neighbour, Sir Simeon Steward of Stuntney. In response, Cutts forged his own electoral pact with the impecunious Toby Palavicino of Great Wilbraham, who desired a seat in order to pursue legislation that would allow him to break the entail on his estates.9

The election held on 22 Jan. under the auspices of the 22-year-old under-sheriff, Edward Ingrey,10 was tumultuous. Ingrey twice viewed the assembled voters to gauge the strength of the opposing sides but, considerably shaken after being manhandled by some of Cutts’s supporters, he departed the hustings without announcing whom he would return. He was then shepherded by one of Steward’s relatives to a tavern occupied by Sir Edward Peyton. There he made out his writ in favour of Peyton and Steward, some of whose supporters stood outside in order to deny entry to their opponents.

The highly irregular manner of the election led Cutts and Palavicino to petition the Commons.11 Eye-witness statement were subsequently gathered by both sides and submitted to the privileges committee on the afternoon of 4 March. These affidavits, numbering perhaps as many as 63 documents,12 have not survived,13 nor have their contents been reported by parliamentary diarists because the committee refused to admit them as evidence. The lawyers on the committee realized that affidavits were not the unvarnished testimony of witnesses but were the product of careful drafting by counsel acting for each party to a dispute. They were also aware that written evidence was not open to cross-examination, unlike oral testimony, which afforded the committee the opportunity to watch the witness closely for those ‘words, actions, gestures’ which ‘discover much’.14 The committee’s refusal to accept affidavits also stemmed from a concern to protect Parliament against any renewed attempts to encroach on its authority by the Chancery. Affidavits were sworn before the masters in Chancery, and since the practice of returning writs of election to Chancery had previously been used to suggest that the House was not qualified to determine its own membership, the committee was alert to the possibility that Chancery might use affidavits as a similar weapon against the Commons at some future date.15

Having rejected the affidavits, the committee proceeded to take the oral testimony of several key witnesses. Unsurprisingly perhaps, few of those interviewed seem to have been genuinely neutral. Indeed, their widely differing accounts served merely to reflect their various loyalties. For instance, Ingrey’s servants, Prime and Crofts, claimed that the under-sheriff had arrived at the hustings at around 9 am, whereas Cutts’s men, Watson and Oxford, asserted that he turned up at 10, thereby leaving only one hour in which he could legally conduct the election. Watson further claimed that Cutts had 400 more voices than Peyton, whereas Crofts said that Peyton had 200 more votes than Cutts. Despite this unpromising testimony, the committee reached some firm conclusions. Ingrey had arrived in good time and held two views, whereupon a poll was demanded, possibly as many as five or six times. However, he had then left the hustings after Sir Simeon Steward assured him that, since it was past 11 o’clock, he could not legally proceed further. The conclusion of the committee’s chairman, John Glanville, was thus clear: Ingrey had failed to complete the election by the legally appointed hour. When this finding was laid before the House on 5 Mar., a fresh election was ordered and the serjeant-at-arms was instructed to summon Ingrey.16

The hapless under-sheriff was brought to the bar of the House 11 days later, where he was charged by Glanville with failing to make a due election and of being a dependent of Sir Edward Peyton’s.17 So far as is known, the charge of dependency had not previously been mentioned, but Ingrey’s failure to conduct a poll, and the fact that he made out his return in Peyton’s chamber, strongly suggests that it was justified. Other evidence, of which the committee may not have been aware, appears to point in the same direction. During the second parliamentary election of 1624, and perhaps also during the first, Peyton’s headquarters were located in the Falcon tavern, whose innkeeper, John Payne, may have been closely related to Ingrey. It is certainly the case that Ingrey later obtained letters of administration in respect of Payne’s estate.18 Perhaps Ingrey was Payne’s son-in-law. If so it becomes possible to explain a remark made by Ingrey on the hustings in January 1624. This was that, as he did not know who to return, he ‘would be advised by his father-in-law’.19

Ingrey naturally denied ever having been Peyton’s creature, and rejected the charge that he had failed to declare the result of the election on the hustings. Though he admitted that he had not conducted a poll, he claimed that he had been so manhandled by the agents of Sir John Cutts that he had been prevented from doing so. After hearing this testimony, the House dismissed Ingrey and called in two previously unheard witnesses, Francis Haslock and Henry Peck. Like Ingrey, Haslock claimed ‘no dependence upon any man’. He then related that some of Cutts’s company had ‘pulled the sheriff’s cloak off his back, and pulled him very violently when he was going to the poll’, so that he had ‘lost his papers which he had prepared to take the poll’. Ingrey’s account received additional corroboration from Peck, who maintained that the under-sheriff ‘did publish in the Castle yard Sir Edward Peyton, Sir Simeon Steward knights of Cambridgeshire before eleven of the clock’.20

The neutrality claimed by Haslock, and presumably also by Peck, meant that their testimony was taken seriously. Several Members now entertained considerable doubts concerning the ruling they had previously reached. Sir William Herbert spoke for many when he said, ‘either the [under-]sheriff hath offended or we have erred in our judgment to make the election void’. Sir Henry Poole went one stage further, alleging that the new evidence proved that Cutts had ‘misused’ the election and that Ingrey was blameless. However, some other Members were unimpressed by what they had heard. Francis Brakin, Member for Cambridge, had been present during the county election, and after Ingrey had left the chamber he more or less accused the under-sheriff of lying. Ingrey had refused to carry out a poll, he said, and had left the hustings before publishing the result of the election. Sir John Savile placed a similar lack of faith in the new evidence. Ingrey’s misdemeanours were ‘proved by worthy gentlemen’, whereas the under-sheriff’s witnesses were but ‘mean men’.21

Although a large section of the House now believed that Ingrey was no longer the villain of the piece, there was never any realistic prospect that he would be exonerated. During the two-hour long debate Christopher Brooke put his finger on the reason for this when he said that ‘to send away the sheriff is to justify him and condemn ourselves’. Sir Arthur Ingram made the same point with characteristic bluntness: if Ingrey went uncensured, ‘how shall we justify sending down a new writ?’ The reputation of the House required that Ingrey should be punished. However, instead of fining him, as some suggested, the under-sheriff was ordered to confess his fault, both at the bar of the House and at the next quarter sessions. Furthermore, the serjeant-at-arms was instructed to detain him as a delinquent until after the county election had been re-run to ensure that he could not ‘breed a new garboyle’, as Sir Edward Giles put it.22

Sir John Cutts entered the new election campaign without his former ally, Toby Palavicino. The prospect of incurring the expense of a second election may have unnerved the feckless Palavicino, who withdrew his candidacy, perhaps in return for a promise of support for his bill from Sir Edward Peyton, whose name later headed the list of committee members appointed to consider the measure.23 In place of Palavicino, Cutts paired with his erstwhile opponent Sir John Cage, who seems to have used his strong bargaining position to demand the right to contest the senior seat. In mid-March more than 1,000 of their supporters descended on Cambridge, where they were distributed among several inns and hostelries hired by the innkeeper of the Rose and Crown, Philip Wolf. Over the course of the next three days the supporters of Cutts and Cage ran up a bill of more than £155 for ‘meat, drink, wine, diet, lodging for themselves and horsemeat and stable room for their horses’.24 This sum paled into insignificance by comparison with the bill presented to Peyton and Steward after the election by John Payne and Christopher Hatley, innkeepers of the Falcon and Red Lion respectively. The cost of housing and feeding them and their supporters for four days amounted to a hefty £248 13s.7d.25

The county election of March 1624 was presided over by the sheriff, Robert Audley, and was evidently conducted peaceably. A petition subsequently received by the Commons in late May from several freeholders claiming that the result had been distorted by the votes cast by scholars and fellows of the university, who were not entitled to participate in either county or borough elections, was not acted upon.26 The outcome of the contest was that Peyton triumphed over Cage, and Cutts defeated Steward. This result was accepted by the Commons, but Cage and Steward refused to pay their share of the election expenses on the grounds that they had been deserted by their allies, whom they belived had secretly reached an accommodation before the election. Peyton naturally denied this accusation, maintaining that Steward had ‘gained a great furtherance’ at the hustings from his friends, but in fact he had everything to gain striking a deal with Cutts as he could not rely upon repeating his earlier victory, which, in all probability, had only been achieved by suborning the returning officer. Peyton’s apparent desertion of his ally represented a double blow to Steward, who was thereby denied a parliamentary seat and lost an important defender of his interests in Parliament. The integrity of his Stuntney estate had been repeatedly threatened by legislation introduced by Lady Jermy, who sought to possess one third of it. In 1621 Peyton had been appointed to the bill’s committee, but when a fresh committee was named in April 1624 Peyton’s name was conspicuous by its absence.27

At the general elections of 1625 and 1626, Peyton and Cutts took it in turns to serve as senior knight. As neither election witnessed a contest, this arrangement was presumably the result of prior agreement. If so, then the secret electoral pact apparently forged between Peyton and Cutts in March 1624 may have formed the basis for the managing of future parliamentary elections in the county. In 1628 neither Peyton nor Cutts seem to have stood for election. Their places were taken by Sir Miles Sandys of Wilburton and Sir John Carleton of Cheveley. The disappearance from the scene of the two men who, between them, had monopolized the county’s parliamentary representation since 1621 is difficult to explain. However, it may be linked to the fact that, for the first time since 1597, a member of the North family required a seat at Westminster. Initially at least, North may have expected to represent his native county, but he would soon have realized that to achieve this ambition would require either Cutts or Peyton to stand aside. It is hard to imagine either man accepting the loss of face this would have entailed, whereas it is possible to see how all three men might have reached a collective decision that the simplest solution to their problem was that none of them should stand. If North took some form of self-denying ordinance in respect of his home county it would explain why he subsequently turned to the earl of Arundel for a seat at Horsham.

Sandys and Carleton were obvious compromise candidates. Both men enjoyed the necessary standing in Cambridgeshire, and although Carleton was Cutts’ first cousin neither of them represented the shire’s older parliamentary families. Carleton had only recently settled in the county, having married the widow of Sir John Cotton. Sandys was longer established and had made several enemies, but like Carleton he was the first member of his family to dwell in the shire. The decision to hand the county’s parliamentary representation to two relative newcomers was probably an important ingredient in avoiding a damaging contest in 1628. The pair’s acceptability to the freeholders was undoubtedly underlined by the fact that Sandys represented the western half of the county while Carleton represented the east. However, in one respect Sandys was a peculiar electoral choice. Although his main estate of Willingham was located on the fen edge, he himself resided in the Isle of Ely, where he may have been serving as the bishop of Ely’s bailiff.

Cambridgeshire’s parliamentary interests were dominated by the issue of fen drainage. Many of the county’s most substantial landowners, particularly those on the fen edge and in the Isle of Ely, were keen to drain large tracts of the shire, but proposals to put such schemes into operation were viewed with hostility by both Sir John Peyton and his son Sir Edward. The Peytons took the view that, although they personally stood to benefit from drainage schemes, many of the county’s small landowners and copyhold tenants would lose out, as land previously designated as common would inevitably be swallowed up by greedy undertakers. Accordingly, during the first Jacobean Parliament Sir John played a leading role in obstructing fen drainage bills. Following the second reading of a bill to authorize the draining of 300,000 acres in the Isle of Ely (27 Apr. 1607), for example, he and the Cambridge Member, Robert Wallis, presented ‘some reasons and petitions … against the bill’.28 At around the same time several commoners and landowners entrusted copies of a certificate relating to their petition against fen drainage to Peyton.29 Sir Edward Peyton followed in his father’s footsteps, and in 1621 the authors of a new fen drainage bill, the 3rd earl of Bedford and Sir Francis Fane, allegedly offered him a lump sum of £10,000, or £500 a year if he preferred, to abandon his opposition. Although then in severe financial difficulties, Peyton apparently rejected the bribe outright, and on his return to the chamber he announced his complete disregard for his own financial interests, and branded the bill both ‘dangerous’ and `bad for the public’.30 Peyton again championed the interests of small landholders and commoners in May 1626, when a bill to drain 360,000 acres south of the River Glen was given a first reading.31 Not until 1628, when Sir Miles Sandys was returned as senior knight, was the county represented in Parliament by an active fen drainer.

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. VCH Cambs. ii. 74-6; M. Spufford, Contrasting Communities, 16-17, 22.
  • 2. HP Commons 1422-1509 (forthcoming), CAMBRIDGESHIRE.
  • 3. C66/998.
  • 4. Spufford, 28.
  • 5. The 3rd Lord North married a sister of Cutts’ wife in Nov. 1600: CP.
  • 6. APC, 1621-3, p. 239; Eg. 2651, ff. 76-7.
  • 7. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 38, 103-8, 239-42; Downing Coll. Camb. Lib., Bowtell ms 11, Metcalfe’s Thesaurus, f. 210.
  • 8. C231/4, ff. 54, 56; Secret Hist. of Jas. I ed. W. Scott, ii. 441.
  • 9. L. Stone, Sir Horatio Palavicino, 310-12.
  • 10. J.K. Gruenfelder, Influence in Early Stuart Elections, 15, says it was the sheriff, Robert Audley, who was just 22, but in this dispute the word ‘sheriff’ commonly referred to the under-sheriff: cf. CJ, i. 678a. Stone, 312, calls Ingrey ‘Jongrey’.
  • 11. HMC Rutland, i. 470.
  • 12. CJ, i. 678a. Pym indicates that there were only 30: ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 19v.
  • 13. The affidavits entered in the surviving masters’ registers (for which see C38) pertain only to law suits.
  • 14. CJ, i. 678a; J. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases, Determined and Adjudged by Commons in Parl. (1775), pp. 84-5. In 1614 the cttee. had expressed similar qualms about the use of affidavits, but there is no evidence that they were actually deemed inadmissible: Procs. 1614 (Commons), 103.
  • 15. CJ, i. 678a; Glanville, 85; ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 19v.
  • 16. ‘Holland 1624’, i. ff. 27-9; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 50r-v.
  • 17. CJ, i. 687a; ‘Nicholas 1624’, p. 129.
  • 18. C2/Chas.I/P56/18; 2/Chas.I/23/36.
  • 19. ‘Holland 1624’, i. f. 27. Payne’s letters of admon. have not been traced.
  • 20. CJ, i. 687a-b, 737b; ‘Nicholas 1624’, pp. 129-30.
  • 21. CJ, i. 687b, 737b; ‘Nicholas 1624’, pp. 130-1; ‘Holland 1624’, i. f. 56r-v;
  • 22. CJ, i. 687b, 737b; ‘Nicholas 1624’, p. 131; ‘Holland 1624’, i. ff. 56-7; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 87v.
  • 23. Stone, 312-13; CJ, i. 705a.
  • 24. C2/Chas.I/W88/1.
  • 25. C2/Chas.I/P56/18.
  • 26. ‘Earle 1624’, f. 197. The Jan. election was blighted in similar fashion: ibid. f. 50v; Glanville, 81.
  • 27. CJ, i. 600b, 757a; CD 1621, vi. 119.
  • 28. CJ, i. 364a.
  • 29. Essex RO, D/Dba O14.
  • 30. Secret Hist. ii. 440; CJ, i. 611b.
  • 31. Procs. 1626, iii. 146.