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:

c.30 in 1624; 17 in 16251


 Nicholas Stoughton
c. Feb. 1626SIR WILLIAM MORLEY vice Shilton, chose to sit for Bridgnorth
 (Sir) Francis Carew II
  Double return of Parkhurst and Carew

Main Article

Guildford, the county town of Surrey, is situated on the River Wey 30 miles south of London. It received its first recorded charter in 1257, and was incorporated in 1488. The corporation consisted of the ‘approved men’ who annually elected the mayor from among their number. A self-selecting oligarchy controlled entry to the ranks of the ‘approved men’, who usually numbered around 25, by insisting on previous service as a bailiff, an office chosen by the ‘approved men’. In 1603 the borough was granted a separate commission of the peace, consisting of the current and previous mayors, two of the ‘approved men’, annually elected by the others, and one other person, also elected by the ‘approved men’ and ‘learned in the law’. The latter also fulfilled the functions of a recorder. In 1627 the borough secured, at a cost of £75 15s., a further charter extending its jurisdiction to the suburbs, although apparently without effect.2 The 1st earl of Nottingham (Charles Howard†) was high steward of the borough until his death in 1624 but does not seem to have influenced the elections in this period, and was not replaced until the 1660s.3

A bill to make the Wey navigable between Guildford and the Thames, promoted by the corporation in 1621, described the town as one that ‘hath been and yet is very populous, and the inhabitants thereof in former times have lived in good plenty by the trade of clothing’. However, this staple industry was now in decline.4 Indeed, Archbishop Abbot, who was born in the town, wrote in December 1614 that the borough no longer had ‘that flourishing estate for trade and traffic which I have known it sometime to have’. He recommended a change from kerseys to broadcloth, and the growing of hemp and flax. He donated £100 in 1614, founded Trinity Hospital in 1622, and purchased land worth £100 per annum for the setting up of ‘some manufacture’ in 1628.5

The town of Guildford was regularly represented in Parliament from 1295. However, it was not until 1689, following a dispute, that the Commons ruled the franchise lay with the freemen and freeholders paying scot and lot.6 The necessary qualification for voting previous to that date is uncertain. The indentures were always made in the name of the mayor, who acted as returning officer, and the ‘approved men’. In addition they frequently, although not invariably, also referred to the burgesses and commonality, suggesting that townsmen outside the corporation participated in elections. This is apparently confirmed by the 1624 indenture, which was signed by about 30 townsmen, although the following year only 17 subscribed.7

In the Elizabethan period the most important electoral influences in the borough were two neighbouring gentry families, the Mores of Loseley and the Stoughtons of Stoughton. These families continued to dominate the borough’s elections in the Jacobean period, although the Stoughtons do not seem to have had much influence in 1604.8 On this occasion Sir George More, who had previously been returned four times for the borough, took the first place. His junior colleague, George Austen, the only townsman elected in the period, was a former mayor but, perhaps more importantly, also a former servant of the Mores and still closely connected with the family.

In 1614 More was returned for the county and there is no evidence that Austen sought re-election. Instead More’s eldest son Sir Robert secured the senior seat. The junior place went to George Stoughton, heir to (Sir) Lawrence Stoughton† who had represented the borough four times under Elizabeth, and nephew of Adrian Stoughton*, the justice ‘learned in the law’.9 Sir Robert More was re-elected in 1620, but George Stoughton appears not to have been interested in standing again. His younger brother Nicholas, then studying at the Inner Temple, therefore sought his support for the seat, but by then George had already promised his backing to John Murray, a naturalized Scottish courtier who had recently purchased Guildford Park from the Crown. Murray was also on good terms with the Mores and was consequently able to secure the junior seat.10

The Wey navigation bill was introduced in the Commons on 22 Feb. 1621 and committed on 6 March. However, on the latter occasion Edward Alford, who owned property close to the Wey, protested that he was unconvinced that the bill would benefit those parts of the county up river from Guildford compelled to contribute towards the improvements. In addition a petition to Parliament against the bill was organized. In reply, the supporters of the bill produced their own petition, signed by Sir George and Sir Robert More and George Stoughton. Sir George More, who had been re-elected for Surrey, reported the bill on 17 Mar., when it was ordered to be engrossed, but there were no further proceedings.11

Sir Robert More was re-elected for Surrey in 1624. Consequently, it was Sir George who sat for Guildford in the last Jacobean Parliament. Murray received a Scottish peerage in 1622 and subsequently showed no further interest in pursuing an English parliamentary career, enabling Nicholas Stoughton to secure the junior seat. There were no recorded moves to reintroduce the Wey navigation bill.

In 1625 it was Sir Robert More who was elected for Guildford and Sir George for the county. Nicholas Stoughton sought re-election for Guildford’s junior seat and, according to his nephew who wrote a history of the family, ‘the town’ promised to oblige him. However, Robert Parkhurst, a London alderman of Guildford origin, wanted the seat for his son, and wrote to the corporation ‘promising them what great matters he would do for the town if they choose his son, and threatening what prejudice he could do against them if they did not’. The indenture electing More and Parkhurst was signed by Parkhurst’s uncle Thomas, who had served four terms as mayor. The drop in the number of signatories suggests that Stoughton and his supporters refused to accept defeat gracefully. Indeed, Stoughton’s nephew wrote that Stoughton ‘intended to have troubled them [the borough] for it, and made them ashamed of it; but that Parliament was quickly dissolved, and so his prosecution fell to the ground’.12

Parkhurst was re-elected in 1626, but for the first time since 1571 no member of the More family represented the borough. Sir Robert More died shortly before the election, Sir George More was returned for Surrey and Sir Robert’s son Poynings* obtained a seat at Haslemere. Uncertain who to choose, the borough, perhaps at the prompting of the attorney-general (Sir) Robert Heath*, a former justice of the peace ‘learned in the law’ and still closely connected with Guildford, decided to leave the name of the senior Member blank in the original indenture. The name that was eventually inserted was that of Heath’s colleague Sir Richard Shilton, the solicitor general. However, after Shilton chose to sit for Bridgnorth in Shropshire, where he had also been returned, Heath’s son-in-law Sir William Morley filled the vacancy. The date of the election is unknown but it was presumably shortly after the issuing of the writ on 11 February.13

Poynings More was elected in 1628, apparently without opposition, but the junior seat seems to have been contested by Parkhurst and More’s cousin (Sir) Francis Carew II. Two indentures were returned, both naming More first and now largely illegible. The one for More and Parkhurst was signed by at least two future mayors and carries the borough seal, suggesting that this combination had the support of the corporation. Indeed the Crown Office list gives Parkhurst’s name rather than Carew’s. However, there is no evidence that the dispute was resolved, or indeed discussed, by the Commons and neither Carew nor Parkhurst left any trace on the parliamentary records.14

Authors: Alan Davidson / Ben Coates


  • 1. C219/38/236; 219/39/197.
  • 2. VCH Surr. iii. 547, 560; Guildford Bor. Recs. ed. E.M. Dance (Surr. Rec. Soc. xxiv), p. xxiiii; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 474; Surr. Hist. Cent. BR/OC/1/2, f. 103v.
  • 3. Manning and Bray, Surr. i. 41.
  • 4. CD 1621, vii. 40.
  • 5. Hist. Guildford (1801), pp. 11-20, 203; Surr. Hist. Cent. BR/OC/1/2, ff. 84, 101v; VCH Surr. iii. 548.
  • 6. CJ, x. 100.
  • 7. C219/37/243; 219/38/236; 219/39/197.
  • 8. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 253.
  • 9. Surr. Hist. Cent. BR/OC/1/2, f. 66v.
  • 10. Add. 6174, f. 138v.
  • 11. CD 1621, ii. 117; vii. 40-6; CJ, i. 539b, 561a; Surr. Hist. Cent. LM/1331/32.
  • 12. Add. 6174, f. 144v; C219/39/197.
  • 13. C219/40/219; Surr. Hist. Cent. BR/OC/1/2, f. 103v; C231/4, f. 195v.
  • 14. C219/41A/13, 20; Manning and Bray, i. 39.