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 corporation to 1621; in the freemen from 1624

Number of voters:

48 in 1621; 252 in 16241


14 Mar. 16143SIR GEORGE FANE
 Sir Henry Mainwaring
  Election declared void, 24 Mar. 1624
31 Mar. 16246Sir Edward Cecil
 (Sir) Richard YOUNG
 Sir Jasper Fowler
 Sir Henry Mainwaring
 Sir Thomas Wilsford*
 (Sir) William Beecher
 Stephen Monins

Main Article

Commanding the shortest sea passage to France, Dover, described by one observer in 1635 as a ‘long town … indifferently well built’, was the only Cinque Port to retain much economic importance, boasting as it did a substantial fleet of trading vessels.9 Its prosperity, however, was achieved only at the price of constant maintenance work on pier and harbour. Under the Dover Harbour Act of 1581, periodically renewed, the cost was met by a general levy on English-owned shipping of 3d. a ton. The work was regarded as of national interest, and the necessary legislation was included among the public Acts.10 The strategic importance of the castle required a garrison under the command of a resident lieutenant, who acted throughout the Cinque Ports as the lord warden’s deputy. Unlike the funding for the pier and harbour, the cost of maintaining Dover Castle was not provided for by Act of Parliament. The Crown spokesman who told the House of Commons in 1614 that the castle was so decayed that it was ‘like to fall down’ was ignored, and the king was subsequently obliged to foot the repair bill himself.11

There had been ‘burgesses’ and a guildhall in Dover before the Norman Conquest, and a charter was granted by Henry II.12 At a general assembly of the freemen, or ‘hornblowing’, in 1561, the franchise, both municipal and parliamentary, was conceded exclusively to the corporation, consisting of the mayor, ten jurats, and a self-perpetuating oligarchy of 37 commoners, and since 1581 the elections had been held in the principal parish church.13 The requirement that Members should take out their freedom was strictly enforced, though the £5 fee was invariably returned to them in consideration of past or future services to the town.14 From 1584 it had become customary for the senior seat to be conferred upon the lieutenant of Dover Castle, although in 1601 the lieutenant was too ill to serve and the place was bestowed upon his nephew instead.

When the 11th Lord Cobham (Henry Brooke alias Cobham†) was dismissed in the early months of the new reign, the lord warden’s duties were performed by his deputy (Sir) Thomas Fane† of Burston, who brought in his cousin Sir Thomas Waller to assist him as lieutenant of the castle.15 The new lord warden, Lord Henry Howard, subsequently earl of Northampton, recommended Waller to the corporation for election to the first Stuart Parliament. Waller’s colleague, chosen by the corporation, was George Byng, a brewer and jurat with extensive experience of the Brotherhood and Guestling, who was to be paid 6s. a day. The corporation’s first concern, after the Parliament assembled, was for the renewal of the Harbour Act, which in recent years had encountered opposition in the Commons from spokesmen for the northern and western ports. One month into the Parliament the corporation gave Byng carte blanche ‘to invite certain of the burgesses of the Parliament he shall think meet to a dinner or supper’ to garner support.16 A proviso concerning Dover harbour to the statutes renewal bill was ‘much disputed’ in June by Waller and others, but it was ‘disliked’ and referred back to committee. A separate bill to extend the levy for seven years ‘and no longer’ was subsequently introduced and became law at the end of the session.17 Byng duly reported to the corporation in July, presenting his bill ‘for extraordinary expenses’, while Waller, who had refused all remuneration, was voted half a tun of wine for his efforts.18 Two years later, the establishment of the Dover Harbour Board, under the ex officio chairmanship of the lord warden, removed the issue from the parliamentary arena.19

By the time of the next election, in 1614, Sir Robert Brett was lieutenant of the castle. A Somerset man by birth, he had married the sister of Sir George Fane, who had succeeded his uncle, the late lieutenant, to the Burston estate and leased a house in the town.20 When Fane was rejected at Sandwich, Northampton was ‘upon the grounds of an extraordinary occasion’ compelled to ‘entreat’ Dover for both seats.21 The corporation made no difficulty, and apparently returned Fane as the senior Member,22 the only election in the period in which the lieutenant gave precedence to his colleague.

Northampton’s successor as lord warden was Edward, 11th Lord Zouche. Unlike previous lord warden’s, Zouche refrained from nominating the lieutenant of Dover Castle for one of the borough seats. On the contrary, shortly before the next general election, in December 1620, he listed Christopher Neville*, the eldest son of Lord Bergavenny, as his preferred nominee, with his own former secretary (Sir) Richard Young as his second string.23 Consequently, when Neville was returned as knight of the shire for Sussex, Zouche transferred his choice to Young, to whom the Dover corporation had presented a silver cup in 1616,24 rather than to the newly appointed lieutenant, Sir Henry Mainwaring. The corporation, however, concluded that the lieutenant should be one of the borough’s representatives, especially after a leading townsman, William Leonard†, declined to put himself forward. As a result Mainwaring was asked to stand by the mayor.25 Mainwaring proved only too willing to fill the vacancy, but took care to notify Zouche of his plans in advance.26 On the day of the election Young, unlike Mainwaring, failed to attend the hustings, but instead presented his £5 fee for the freedom of the borough (which was returned to him) through another man. The corporation was clearly piqued at this behaviour, but rather than risk offending Zouche, Young was allowed to swear the oath of a freeman in London, a courtesy never extended to any of the port’s former representatives.27

Dover sent its Members to the 1621 Parliament against a backdrop of trade depression. In 1618 the corporation had complained that it was indebted and that trade was ‘very much decreased’. At the same time it sought exemption from the charges for the lighthouses at Winterton and Dungeness, and also access to the cloth markets of Germany and Flanders, an objective they had found ‘so strongly opposed by the Merchant Adventurers … and their great friends as there is little hope’.28 Young, a complete landlubber, was out of his element, and wrote to the corporation on 29 Mar. 1621 to send up ‘some knowledgeable person’ to represent the Cinque Ports before the free trade committee.29 As a reformed pirate, Mainwaring was better equipped: he spoke during the debate on the lighthouse monopoly,30 and in 1622 the corporation presented him with a hogshead of wine ‘towards his charges, he requiring no allowance’.31 The corporation was also anxious to obtain a bill redrawing parish boundaries in the town, which was given a second reading on 18 April. However, the speakers in the debate, particularly Sir George Newman†, who had represented Dover in the last Elizabethan Parliament, were mostly hostile, and the bill never emerged from committee.32

Mainwaring was dismissed from the lieutenancy in 1623, ostensibly for scandalous absence from his post and ‘women’s matters’, but almost certainly for ‘too much affecting Buckingham’s desires’.33 Zouche kept the post in his own hand, and for the last Jacobean Parliament nominated Young for re-election, together with Sir Edward Cecil, a professional soldier high in favour with Buckingham. Mainwaring, anxious to have his revenge on Zouche, wrote to the corporation on his own behalf, but when the election was held on 20 Jan. 1624 he received no votes, but rather a polite reply, ‘acknowledging his former kindness and pains taken at the last Parliament’, and asking him ‘not to take it unkindly that he was not elected’.34 His lack of support on the corporation probably came as no great surprise to Mainwaring, for a few days before the election one of the jurats, Stephen Monins, along with Sir Jasper Fowler, a local customs officer with a house in the town, had unsuccessfully pressed the mayor to allow the ordinary freemen the vote.35 Mainwaring, it seems, was convinced that though Zouche disapproved of him, ‘the inhabitants there do all love him’.36

Although Mainwaring had now been rejected, he had, by questioning the narrow franchise, found the perfect way to challenge the election result. Shortly after the Parliament assembled a petition signed by Fowler, the vicar of St. James, and 19 freemen, was presented to the Commons complaining that only the councilmen had received warning of the election and that others who attended had been denied the vote. At Young’s suggestion, the corporation hastily drafted a counter-petition defending the borough’s accustomed electoral practice, which was sent up to London with the 1604 Member George Byng and two other leading townsmen.37 However, the committee for privileges ruled on 23 Mar. that 60 years’ usage could not validate the surrender of the inalienable right of the commonalty. It also decided that the mayor should not be punished, since he had followed precedent and acted in good faith. The following day the Commons accepted the committee’s recommendations and declared the election void, though it found the sitting Members ‘altogether innocent of any practice’.38

Cecil was bitter at being so unceremoniously turfed out of the House, telling Zouche that if the law requiring the commonalty to participate in elections ‘were so generally followed as it hath been against us … there would be but few sit in Parliament’. He initially intended to resume his military command in the Low Countries, having recently been recalled by Prince Maurice, but on reflection he resolved to delay his departure, announcing that ‘if there be any means for us to recover the honour’ the lord warden should consider it.39 Young, too, was determined to stand again, if only because he was anxious to ensure that the monopolies bill did not adversely effect an office he held in Chancery. The day after the election was quashed he informed Zouche that one of the jurats named Garrett ‘can do much with the seamen that are freemen’. He subsequently sent the lord warden a copy of the Commons’ order suppressing the earlier election, ‘by which your lordship may see that there is no exception taken, but rather an implicit approbation of our persons, with some tacit intimation unto the freemen to choose us again’. This ruling, he advised, ought to be read aloud at the forthcoming election so as to dispel any suggestion that he and Cecil had been unseated because they were disliked.40

Young affected outrage on learning that Mainwaring also intended to stand, believing that the former lieutenant aimed at reinstatement by demonstrating his popularity in the port. Never, he told Zouche, had he suspected that Mainwaring would be ‘so mad as to stand for himself’ given ‘your lordship’s disaffection to him’.41 However, Mainwaring not only put himself forward for the senior seat, but enlisted the help of Sir Thomas Wilsford*, who stood for the junior place. There was ‘earnest labouring’ for them both by Monins and Sir Edwin Sandys*, Wilsford’s father-in-law.42 Thanks to Young, who pointed out that neither Mainwaring nor Wilsford were capable of election because they were not freemen, their campaign foundered at the end of March. The subservient mayor refused first to admit them to the freedom, and then denied them the poll, as unqualified to represent the port. Fowler also ‘stood to be one’,43 but customs officials were seldom popular in a seafaring community, and his efforts on behalf of the commonalty went for nothing. It was perhaps only natural that in the aftermath of the election Wilsford should have called the mayor ‘an arrant knave, rogue, cuckold, wittol, and many other uncivil words’, but the occasion was ill-chosen, and he had to apologize.44 Zouche, meanwhile, was so incensed at Mainwaring’s behaviour that on the transfer of the lord wardenship to Buckingham a few months later it was explicitly provided that his former lieutenant should hold no office in the Cinque Ports.45

After these excitements the 1625 election passed off peacefully. Wilsford found a seat at Canterbury, while Cecil, Mainwaring and Young all pursued careers under Buckingham’s patronage, without further experience in the Commons. Sir John Hippisley, the new lieutenant of Dover Castle, took the senior seat in the first Caroline Parliament, and obtained from Buckingham a letter for the election of Sir William Beecher, his father-in-law’s first cousin and a clerk of the Privy Council. The corporation admitted him to the freedom, but pointed out that with the wider franchise it was not possible to guarantee his election.46 However, the corporation’s fears proved groundless, as both nominees were duly returned. It was a different story when they stood for re-election in the following year. Dover’s shipping had suffered heavy losses, and the Dunkirkers were so active in the Channel that the town’s fortifications had to be strengthened.47 Hippisley complained of the tardiness of the lord warden’s nominations, but admitted that he himself, trusting in the efficacy of the mayor’s good offices, ‘had no man busy’ canvassing the freemen, and that ‘a faction was made upon a sudden to put us out’. This time Monins, the only Member of the corporation to be styled ‘esquire’, offered himself as a candidate, and it may have been in the hope of dividing his supporters that John Pringle, another jurat and Hippisley’s colleague in the Dover prize commission, was persuaded to stand. If so, the stratagem failed; Beecher finished at the foot of the poll, and it was only by three votes that Hippisley avoided a similar failure.48 Pringle, a baker by trade, may have owed his success to the fact that he was then serving as master of Dover’s fellowship of lodemanage, the organization which provided pilots for the Channel crossing. As such he was well placed to speak for Dover’s maritime community, and once in the Commons he lost no opportunity in doing so.

For the general election of 1628 the lord warden’s interest was better organized. Beecher withdrew to Windsor, Berkshire, and was replaced by Edward Nicholas, Buckingham’s Admiralty secretary and former secretary to lord warden Zouche. Although not a freeman, he had been invited as long ago as 1620 to stand for the port.49 The remaining seat was bestowed upon Hippisley, who was re-elected ‘on my own strength’. After the election, which was ‘most free and general’, the corporation nominated commissioners to swear in Nicholas as a freeman, and expressed their sense of ‘many engagements to yourself for sundry favours, and great hope of your best endeavours for the good and benefit of this township and the Ports in general’.50 On 4 June it was reported to the House that 19 Dover ships of 100 tons and upwards had been taken by the enemy or cast away since the last Parliament.51 After Buckingham’s assassination, the corporation seem to have given up hope of any effective help from the town’s Members. Its petition against the water-bailiff was rejected by the Privy Council, and shortly before the second session Pringle was chosen ‘to be a solicitor to Parliament’ in the case. The results of his lobbying do not appear.52

Authors: Peter Lefevre / Andrew Thrush


  • 1. Add. 29625, ff. 36-60.
  • 2. Add. 29623, f. 5.
  • 3. Add. 28036, f. 115v.
  • 4. Add. 29623, f. 51.
  • 5. Ibid. f. 63v.
  • 6. Eg. 2120, f. 2.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. Add. 29763, f. 79.
  • 9. ‘A Relation of a Short Survey of the Western Counties’ ed. G. Wickham Legg, in Cam. Miscellany XVI (Cam. Soc. ser. 3. lii), 26. For the size of Dover’s fleet, see SP14/140/68; Eg. 2584, ff. 375-80v.
  • 10. Hist. King’s Works ed. H.M. Colvin, iv. 756; SR, iv. 811, 854-6, 918, 973-4.
  • 11. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 62; E351/3590.
  • 12. S.P.H. Statham, Dover Charters, xv; A. Ballard, British Bor. Charters 1042-1216, p. 114.
  • 13. J. Glanville, Reps. 64-5; E. Hasted, Kent, ix. 512-13.
  • 14. Add. 29623, ff. 5, 82.
  • 15. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 25; HMC Hatfield, xv. 279.
  • 16. Add. 29623, f. 4.
  • 17. CJ, i. 241b, 986a, 994a-b; SR, iv. 1062.
  • 18. Add. 29623, f. 5.
  • 19. J.B. Jones, Annals of Dover, 99-100.
  • 20. Add. 29623, f. 12.
  • 21. Add. 28036, f. 115v.
  • 22. The return does not survive, but Fane’s name appears before Brett’s in two contemporary lists: OR; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 464.
  • 23. SP14/118/26.
  • 24. Add. 29623, f. 35; SP14/119/2.
  • 25. SP14/118/20; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 192.
  • 26. SP14/118/20.
  • 27. Add. 29623, f. 52; SP14/119/2.
  • 28. Add. 29623, ff. 44-5, 49.
  • 29. HMC 13th Rep. IV, 159.
  • 30. CJ, i. 529b; CD 1621, ii. 284.
  • 31. Add. 29623, f. 58.
  • 32. CD 1621, ii. 202, 298; SP14/120/123.
  • 33. SP14/139/121; 14/154/23.
  • 34. Add. 29623, f. 64.
  • 35. SP14/161/32. On Fowler, see E351/619-24; Add. 29625, f. 53v; PROB 11/154, f. 127.
  • 36. SP14/161/38.
  • 37. Add. 29623, ff. 64-5; SP16/160/94.
  • 38. Glanville, 66-70; CJ, i. 748a.
  • 39. Life and Times of Sir Henry Mainwaring Vol. I ed. G.E. Manwaring (Navy Recs. Soc. liv), 127; SP14/161/32.
  • 40. SP14/161/38, 51.
  • 41. SP14/161/38.
  • 42. SP14/161/51.
  • 43. Eg. 2120, f. 2.
  • 44. Add. 29623, ff. 65-6; CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 245.
  • 45. SP14/170/16.
  • 46. Add. 29623, f. 67.
  • 47. CJ, i. 845a, 871b.
  • 48. Procs. 1626, iv. 234-5; SP16/19/33.
  • 49. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 192.
  • 50. Procs. 1628, vi. 145.
  • 51. CD 1628, iv. 93.
  • 52. Add. 29623, ff. 79-80.