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 freemen

Number of voters:

about 5001


Feb. 1604NICHOLAS OVERBURY , recorder
 JOHN JONES , alderman
 Thomas Machen , alderman
c. Mar. 1614THOMAS MACHEN , alderman
 JOHN BROWNE I , alderman
 Nicholas Overbury , recorder
 Christopher Capell , alderman
28 Nov. 1620JOHN BROWNE I , alderman
c. Jan. 1624JOHN BROWNE I , alderman
11 May 1625CHRISTOPHER CAPELL , alderman
 JOHN BROWNE I , alderman
17 Jan. 1626CHRISTOPHER CAPELL , alderman
 JOHN BROWNE I , alderman
12 Feb. 1628JOHN BROWNE I , alderman

Main Article

Founded by the Romans at the first easy crossing place above the mouth of the Severn, Gloucester remained ‘at the centre of a communication network stretching north-south along the Severn valley and east-west towards London and Wales’. It suffered from the general decline in the textile industries, but was still the prosperous marketing centre for grain from the vales of Berkeley, Gloucester and Tewkesbury, shipping wheat and malt to Bristol, the West Country, Wales and Ireland. Indeed, it managed to support a dozen great inns and a score of lawyers.2 Gloucester had become a separate county in 1483 and a city in 1541 on the creation of the bishopric.3 During the sixteenth century it had also acquired its own deputy lieutenants, although the office of lord lieutenant was held conjointly with that of Gloucestershire.4 Municipal government was vested in a council of 40, of whom the 12 most senior were the aldermen. All the aldermen were ex officio magistrates, and every year they elected one of their number as mayor.5

Under the early Stuarts Gloucester maintained its independence in its choice of its Members. Neither the high steward nor lord lieutenant played any discernible role in elections and not even the recorder was guaranteed a seat. Members of the corporation virtually monopolized the city’s parliamentary representation: four of the city’s seven Members in this period had passed the chair by the time of their election, and only one Member, John Hanbury, held no municipal office at all. The franchise lay in the freemen, ‘near 500 persons’ in 1624, who assembled at a county court held at the Guildhall, also called the Booth Hall. Before the 1620s the corporation alone nominated the candidates, a practice which was described by the mayor in 1604 as ‘according to the ancient usage’.6 However, one of the nominees was rejected in 1604 and both were laid aside in 1614. Thereafter the corporation may have relinquished control of nominations as elections during the 1620s seem to have been uncontested. However there was increasing friction between Gloucester and the hundreds of Dudstone and King’s Barton, known as the ‘in-shire’, which were governed and taxed from the city.7 Gloucester paid its Members at the standard rate, raising the money by a special levy. By 1610, many freemen had become reluctant to pay, and were threatened with disfranchisement.8

The contested election to the first Stuart Parliament took place against a background of strife within the governing body, conflict which was carried into Star Chamber. The mayor, Thomas Rich, was accused of seeking office so that he could be revenged on alderman Payne, landlord of the already ancient New Inn, ‘with whom he was then in law, and [on] some others that he liked not’.9 Whether or not this was true, Payne was dismissed from the corporation on 16 Dec. 1603, and subsequently appealed to the Privy Council. Rich was in London defending the corporation’s actions when Gloucester’s sheriffs, of whom there were two, received the writ for the election.10 The sheriffs informed the aldermen of the receipt of the writ and a meeting was held to consider suitable candidates.11 Alderman John Jones, a friend of Payne’s and registrar of the diocese, arrived at the meeting armed with a copy of the king’s proclamation of 11 Jan. 1604, which required each constituency to elect only residents, and proceeded to cast doubt on the eligibility of the newly appointed recorder, Nicholas Overbury, who lived outside the city. ‘Carried away with an ambitious humour’, he then proposed himself to his colleagues instead. However, his colleagues concluded that Overbury was certainly eligible and decided to nominate both him and Thomas Machen, the father-in-law of Thomas Rich, who was acting as deputy mayor during the latter’s absence. On 13 Feb., the day before the election was due to be held, the Common Council met, chaired by Machen, and upheld the aldermen’s decision to exclude Jones, whose own candidacy was described as contrary to the king’s proclamation for ‘the well choosing of knights and burgesses … void of any factious humour or dependency’. Instead, Overbury and Machen were endorsed as the persons ‘most fittest to be nominated’. It was further agreed ‘that every one of the same council should signify the same agreement to their neighbours and persuade them to assent thereunto to the end there might be a quiet and peaceable election’.12 Jones acquiesced at the meeting, but supported by Payne he subsequently appealed directly to the electorate, sending his sons, servants and officials of the Consistory Court around the taverns and alehouses of the city promising ‘to deal very liberally and bountifully’ with those who voted for him. He also promised to procure legislation to resolve a number of minor economic grievances, in particular ‘that no person should make malt within the said city which had any other trade’ and that peas should only be grown in the gardens of the city rather than in the surrounding corn fields. He also pledged to procure more fairs for the city.13

Rich arrived back in Gloucestershire on the night of 13 Feb. to find the city in uproar. Indeed, he subsequently alleged that Jones and Payne ‘had raised a great tumult and stirred up a great many of the rude and simplest burgesses’. Perhaps at Jones’s urging, or perhaps because he feared that the corporation’s candidates were about to be defeated, he immediately summoned another meeting of the Common Council, which assembled the following day. Overbury’s eligibility was again questioned; the mayor was said to be doubtful ‘whether the summons given by his deputy is lawful’; and information was taken, evidently from Machen or his supporters, ‘that there hath been labouring to the contrary of that which was yesterday agreed and consented unto’. Rich is also said to have claimed that the writ had been lost. Following these discussions it was agreed that a new writ should be sought from the lord chancellor, that the county court should be adjourned for a fortnight, and that ‘the burgesses attending at the Booth Hall’ should be dismissed ‘till new warning be given, and the sheriffs to be defended from any danger’.14 Dismissing the voters promised to be difficult, however, as Jones (according to Machen) had marshalled his supporters, including not only ‘the meaner sort of burgesses’, but ‘great numbers of strangers and others such as had no voices in the same election to the number of 200 persons at the least’. This rabble had assembled in ‘several inns, taverns and alehouses’ and was to be found ‘drinking and carousing in very disorderly manner’ at Jones’s expense. After the mayor and sheriffs entered the hall, Jones’s supporters followed in a ‘very disorderly and riotous manner … shouting and crying out … Jones, Jones for a burgess’.15 Rich told the burgesses to depart and the sheriffs adjourned the county court. Nevertheless Jones treated the meeting as a victory providing two barrels of strong beer for his supporters, ringing the bells of St. Mary de Crypt, and organizing a demonstration against the mayor and aldermen. Two days later the Common Council approved a letter to the lord chancellor for a new writ. Whether this request was ever granted is unknown, but a further meeting of the freemen was held on 28 Feb., at which Rich allegedly threatened to imprison those who would not support Machen. However, one of the sheriffs was the bishop’s stepson, John Browne I, and thus belonged to Payne’s faction, and not surprisingly therefore Jones not Machen was returned alongside Overbury.16

It has been suggested that the 1604 election dispute resulted from a clash between Gloucester’s puritan oligarchy and a popular anti-puritan party. Certainly religion played some part: Jones, whom Rich described as being ‘dependent upon the bishop’, voiced fears that episcopal jurisdiction ‘would be called in question’ in Parliament and sought election in order ‘that he might join with others that were in like case to make their party as strong as they might’. (His opponents, though, argued that he was motivated by self-interest, and that his true motive for standing was to safeguard his own position and secure his lease of church property).17 However, there is also evidence that factionalism cut across religious divisions, for according to Rich, Payne’s supporters on the Gloucester bench included the puritan Christopher Capell as well as Jones.18

There is no evidence that Jones tried to fulfil his campaign promises. A bill for relieving preachers and ministers in Gloucester and Norwich was brought in during the first session, but ordered to sleep, and when it was revived during the second session it seems only to have concerned Norwich.19 The city may also have been specifically concerned with the bill to reduce obstructions to navigable rivers, for which Overbury took the chair. Besides his parliamentary wages, he was paid £23 6s. for expenses incurred in obtaining a new charter for the city in 1605, which contained a few minor modifications to the old one.20

Jones was not considered for re-election in 1614, but the Common Council, presumably on the recommendation of the aldermanic bench, resolved that Overbury and alderman Christopher Capell were ‘persons most fittest to be nominated burgesses’.21 They were rejected by the freemen in favour of Machen and Browne, now also an alderman. Machen’s failure to receive official endorsement for his candidacy in 1614 is in striking contrast to the events of 1604, and suggests that Gloucester’s politics were remarkably fluid, and not polarized into clearly definable ‘popular’ and ‘corporation’ factions.

By the time of the 1620 parliamentary election Machen was dead, and though Overbury remained recorder his employment as a Welsh judge must have lessened his interest in Gloucester’s affairs. Moreover, he was by now over 70. Browne was re-elected to the first seat, while the junior seat went to his brother-in-law Anthony Robinson, who was still only a common councilman. About 100 citizens are named on the return.22 At a council meeting on 10 Dec. 1620, about a fortnight after the sealing of the indenture, Robinson agreed ‘for the good of the city and at the entreaty of this house’, to resign his seat to Henry Gibb, a naturalized Scottish courtier who had been entertained in Gloucester at the corporation’s expense in the previous year.23 The sheriffs, who were present, promised ‘to make the return accordingly’, and the corporation bound itself ‘to save master sheriffs and Mr. Robinson harmless from any penalty or danger for the same.24 However, the freemen may have refused to consent to this arrangement, or the corporation may have had second thoughts over the penalties that might be incurred for such a manifest irregularity. In any event Gibb did not take the seat. Instead he was voted a piece of plate to the value of £20, bearing the arms of the city. On the same day Browne and Robinson were ordered to take counsel’s opinion about the renewal of the charter, possibly to strengthen the city’s grip on the in-shire.25 The city also petitioned the Commons against Sir John Townshend*, who had a patent for concealed lands, for suing one of the city hospitals. Townshend claimed that the hospital had been ‘superstitiously founded’ and that it was therefore forfeited to the crown by virtue of legislation passed at the Reformation.26

In 1623 the local gentry of the in-shire, the Guises of Elmore and Sir Robert Cooke† of Highnam Court, procured from the Crown a commission of association, entitling them to sit as justices at the quarter sessions for the city.27 They also demanded the right to vote at the next election, and threatened to promote a bill in Parliament to establish a knight of the shire for the in-shire to give them separate representation. Consequently, following the 1624 election, when the 1621 Members were re-elected, the corporation instructed its parliamentary representatives to protect its interests.28 The best lawyers were consulted at great expense, and Gibb’s help at Court was enlisted. His loyalty to the king forbade him to press for the revocation of the commission of assistance, and his search for a compromise was thwarted by the refusal of the corporation ‘to accept of any conditions whereby the gentlemen of the county may be admitted in the society of government’.29 The town clerk, himself a member of the Guise family, appealed to his elder brother Sir William Guise to be reasonable, warning him that Gloucester would not surrender its rights, and that if he persisted he would create ‘an hereditary quarrel between the city and your house’. He also advised against the scheme ‘for a knight’ as burdensome, ‘and to overthrow the charters of a city in Parliament will be very difficult, in regard in that body three for one are burgesses and not knights and must favour corporations because it may be their own cases’.30

In 1625, and again in 1626, Capell took the senior seat and Browne was relegated to second place. Before going up to Westminster in 1626, the two Members, both of whom were deputy lieutenants, signed a letter to the 1st earl of Northampton, the city’s lord lieutenant, excusing their failure to implement the 1625 Privy Seal loan. They explained that the city was impoverished by the trade depression, and by ‘the late great and yet continuing plague, [and] the excessive number of poor, chiefly occasioned by the decay of clothing’. They also cited the burden of the subsidies voted in 1625 and the prospect that further taxes would soon be voted, ‘wherein we nothing doubt but His Majesty’s demands shall receive all possible satisfaction’.31 Capell died during this Parliament, but no writ was issued for a by-election. In 1627 Gloucester acquired a new charter, settling its claims over the in-shire, and declaring that ‘to remove doubt, the burgesses shall elect two burgesses of Parliament who shall also be knights of the shire for the county of the same city’.32 In the following year Browne was re-elected to the senior seat. His colleague, John Hanbury, a Worcestershire iron-founder, owed his election solely to the fact that he was Capell’s son-in-law, although he had been given the freedom of the city in the previous year. A copy of the Remonstrance drawn up by the Commons in 1628 against the continued levy of Tunnage and Poundage without parliamentary consent was copied into the municipal records.33

Authors: Alan Davidson / Ben Coates


  • 1. Glos. RO, GBR B8/12/1.
  • 2. P. Clark, ‘“The Ramoth-Gilead of the Good”: Urban Change and Political Radicalism at Gloucester 1540-1640’, Eng. Commonwealth 1547-1640 ed. P. Clark, A.G.R. Smith and N. Tyacke, 168, 170, 172, 180.
  • 3. T. Rymer, Foedera, vi. pt. 3, pp. 69-71.
  • 4. Sainty, Lords Lieutenants, 32.
  • 5. VCH Glos. iv. 54, 84.
  • 6. STAC 8/228/30.
  • 7. STAC 5/A20/11.
  • 8. Glos. RO, GBR B3/1, f. 232.
  • 9. STAC 8/4/9.
  • 10. Glos. RO, GBR, B3/1, f. 200; STAC 8/228/30.
  • 11. STAC 8/207/25.
  • 12. Glos. RO, GBR B3/1, f. 201v; STAC 8/207/25; STAC 8/228/30.
  • 13. STAC 8/207/25; STAC 8/228/30.
  • 14. Glos. RO, GBR, B3/1, f. 201; STAC 8/228/30.
  • 15. STAC 8/207/25.
  • 16. Glos. RO, GBR, B3/1, f. 201; STAC 8/207/25; 8/228/30.
  • 17. Clark, 184; STAC 8/207/25, 8/228/30.
  • 18. STAC 8/228/30.
  • 19. CJ, i. 245a, 249a, 261b.
  • 20. Glos. RO, GBR B3/1, f. 218; Cal. of Recs. of Corp. of Gloucester comp. W. H. Stevenson, 36.
  • 21. Glos. RO, GBR B3/1, f. 253v.
  • 22. C219/37/111.
  • 23. Glos. RO, GBR B3/1, f. 462.
  • 24. Ibid. f. 476v.
  • 25. Ibid. f. 478v.
  • 26. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 218.
  • 27. Glos. RO, GBR B8/12/5.
  • 28. Glos. RO, GBR B3/1, ff. 497-8v.
  • 29. Glos. RO, GBR B8/12/7.
  • 30. Glos. RO, D326/Z1.
  • 31. Glos. RO, GBR H2/2, p. 67.
  • 32. Cal. of Recs. of Corp. of Gloucester, 40-5.
  • 33. Clark, 181.