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:



 Sir Herbert Croft
 Sir Herbert Croft
18 Dec. 1620SIR JOHN SCUDAMORE , bt.
7 Feb. 1624SIR JOHN SCUDAMORE , bt.
30 Apr. 1625JOHN RUDHALE
c. Feb. 1628(SIR) WALTER PYE I

Main Article

Situated on the Welsh border, Herefordshire was described in the early seventeenth century as ‘most healthful and temperate, and … fertile for corn and cattle’. Indeed, so far as wheat, wool and water were concerned ‘it yieldeth to no shire in England’, and was consequently ‘passing well furnished with all things necessary for man’s life’.1 However, in 1636 the sheriff complained that ‘for so small a circuit of ground as this shire contains, there are not in the kingdom a greater number of poor people’. This was, perhaps, an exaggeration, as the writer was trying to explain his difficulties in collecting Ship Money, but Herefordshire certainly contained significant pockets of poverty, particularly along the Welsh border. In 1621 the county’s subsidy commissioners declared that the magistrates there were ‘often men of mean estate, taken for want of others’, while in 1610 the south-west of the county was described as ‘the plentifullest place of poor in the kingdom’.2 Several of the county’s great estates, notably the Scudamore property at Holme Lacy, specialized in horse-breeding, and Sir John Scudamore* virtually founded the Herefordshire cider industry by developing the redstreak apple.3

There was widespread interest in land improvement among the Herefordshire gentry, and one squire, Rowland Vaughan, publicized his innovations in the use of water-meadows in a tract published in 1610. On 6 Feb. 1606 a bill was introduced in the Commons ‘for the better maintenance of husbandry and tillage’ in Herefordshire. This measure concerned half-a-dozen manors in the lower valley of the Lugg, where improvement was hindered by the intermingling of tillage with pasture and meadow. The bill, which was intended to permit freeholders to enclose up to one-third of their property, received its second reading on 17 Feb. but further debate was deferred and it was not finally committed until 20 March. Thereafter no further proceedings are recorded before the session was prorogued. In the 1606-7 session the bill was reintroduced with an amended title, and was committed on 4 Mar. 1607. Although the Herefordshire Member Sir Herbert Croft was named first, the committee was chaired by Anthony Pembrugge*, who sat for Hereford and reported the bill on 27 March. It subsequently passed both Houses and received the Royal Assent.4

Although Herefordshire’s economy was predominantly agricultural, there was some industrial development during this period. By 1603 iron and glass production was sufficiently well developed in the county for there to be complaints that demand for fuel for those industries was denuding the area around Hereford of timber. Fuel shortages may explain why in 1628 the knights and burgesses for Herefordshire were added to the committee to consider the bill for the preservation of timber.5 On 30 Apr. 1621 the glaziers of Herefordshire complained to the committee for grievances about the impact of the glassmaking patent on their trade, and seven days later Sir Edward Coke cited the Herefordshire industry as evidence that, contrary to the claims of the patentees, the use of coal in making glass was of long standing in England.6 Industrial development also contributed to the construction of weirs on the River Wye, which many complained interfered with navigation and the salmon fisheries.7 In the autumn of 1621 the Herefordshire Member Fitzwilliam Coningsby was involved in moves to raise the issue of the weirs in Parliament.8 This ultimately proved fruitless, but a bill was introduced to remove their weirs in 1624. Herefordshire’s magistrates, among them Coningsby, who no longer held a parliamentary seat, wrote to the county Members on 7 Apr. stating that they had been ‘entreated’ by the grand jury of the county ‘to recommend unto you their grievance in point of weirs, and to join with them in request to you for your care and endeavour for the redress thereof in a parliamentary way’.9 The bill committee was chaired by Sir Robert Harley who guided it through the Commons, but the session was prorogued before it could be sent to the Lords.10

Possibly because of its poverty south-west Herefordshire seems to have been relatively neglected by the Church of England, and was the centre of popular recusancy, strongest in the valley of the Monnow, which formed both the county and episcopal boundary. An attempt to arrest those responsible for the illegal burial of an excommunicated recusant in Allensmore churchyard with full Catholic ceremonies caused the ‘Whitsun riot’ of 1605, encouraged, according to the local bishop, by ‘a lewd conceit that the king favours their course’. In the aftermath of the riot the bench was purged of justices considered sympathetic to Catholics, and by 16 Oct. the bishop claimed that ‘of above 1,000 recusants in this county, the tenth part of them are now scarce left for the Pope, and most part of them women’. In the Addled Parliament, at the committee concerning recusants on 9 May 1614, it was alleged by one anonymous speaker that a messenger had been sent to the recusants of Herefordshire ‘to know … what money they would give for a toleration’. Despite the widespread evidence of recusancy in the county, the puritan Sir Robert Harley was unable to present any recusant officeholders to the Commons in 1624, and there is no evidence of Catholic influence on elections.11 In north-west Herefordshire the inhabitants seem to have been similarly lacking in Protestant religious instruction until Harley began to promote preaching ministers after acquiring control of his family’s ecclesiastical patronage in 1603.12 However, aside from Harley’s influence there is little evidence of puritanism in Herefordshire, and during the 1630s supporters of Laudianism, who included Sir John Scudamore* and Fitzwilliam Coningsby, seem to have been particularly common in the county.

In the early part of this period the major political issue in the county was the campaign against the Council in the Marches. Herefordshire was one of four English shires which, along with Wales, came under the Council’s jurisdiction. Although the powers of the Council were sanctioned by statute, the 1543 Act of Union with Wales merely authorized the council to govern the ‘dominion and principality of Wales and the marches of the same’. Opponents of the Council claimed that the ‘marches’ of Wales referred simply to the Welsh borderlands rather than part of England. More to the point, the Herefordshire gentry resented the interference of a body over which they had little influence in the government of their county.13

In 1604 a ruling by King’s Bench cast doubt over the legality of the Council’s power over the English counties, and the following year a petition was presented to the Privy Council in the name of the four shires by four ‘gentlemen protectors’, one for each county, to free them from the jurisdiction of the Council in the Marches. Lord Zouche, then president of the Council, and his deputy, (Sir) Richard Lewknor†, mounted a robust defence, and when Parliament was reconvened in January 1606 the opponents of the Council shifted the forum of their attack to the Commons. Herefordshire’s ‘gentleman protector’ was Sir Herbert Croft, who emerged as the leader of the opposers on the floor of the House. His colleague Sir James Scudamore was active rallying support for the movement in the country. The campaign was supported by all of Herefordshire’s major figures except Thomas Harley, even uniting the Coningsbys with the Crofts and the Scudamores.14

On 10 Feb. 1606 a bill was introduced to exempt the English shires from the jurisdiction of the Council in the Marches. It was read a second time 11 days later, when ‘at first the House cried away with it’. Croft, however, defended the bill in a lengthy speech, and was seconded by the Hereford Member John Hoskins. The bill was subsequently passed by the Commons but ran into trouble in the Lords. Consequently, on 13 May Croft brought in another bill. Two days later, however, he moved that this new measure should sleep, having received assurances from James I ‘that reformation shall be had in that behalf’. A new set of instructions was subsequently drafted for the Council which greatly reduced its powers, causing Lord Zouche to resign in protest.15

However the Council recovered most of its former powers after Parliament was prorogued in 1607, re-igniting the opposition to its jurisdiction. Although removed from the Herefordshire bench for opposing the Union, Croft attended the Michaelmas quarter sessions in 1607, at which he urged the assembled justices to resist the Council. In January 1608 Sir James Scudamore organized a letter of support for Croft’s campaign signed by 27 prominent Herefordshire figures, among them the local bishop and at least 21 other magistrates. Lord Eure, the new president of the Council, complained that among the Herefordshire deputy lieutenants only Thomas Harley, the father of Sir Robert, was prepared to pay him the courtesy of a visit.16

When Parliament met again in 1610 Croft renewed his attack on the Council in the Marches and succeeded in getting its abolition included in the Great Contract.17 At the Michaelmas sessions of the peace in 1610 the grand jury of Herefordshire petitioned the local magistrates to recommend the cause to the county Members. However, Eure subsequently claimed that it had been packed with relations and clients of the Scudamore, Croft and Coningsby families. In response the justices wrote a letter supporting the cause, which was presented by Sir James Scudamore to the Commons on 21 Nov. 1610.18 Five days previously Croft took the opportunity of a meeting between the king and 30 of the most prominent Members of the Commons to press his case. When James made a last-ditch attempt to induce the Commons to vote him money he offered to allow appeals from the Council to be heard in the Westminster courts. However this concession was not put into effect after the Parliament was dissolved. By the time Parliament was summoned again, in 1614, Croft and his allies had decided to switch their tactics. Instead of bringing their case before the Commons they again lobbied the king’s favourite, the earl of Somerset, but this approach proved equally unsuccessful.19 The issue was not raised again until 1628, when a bill was introduced in the Commons on 17 May. It received a second reading two days later, when it was supported by Sir Robert Harley and committed, but it failed to progress any further.20

There are signs of resistance to non-parliamentary finance in Herefordshire. A request from the Privy Council for financial assistance to liberate the Palatinate was met with ‘a dead silence’ at a meeting of ‘the country’ at Hereford in May 1622. This was reported to the Privy Council by the justices, including Harley, Coningsby and John Rudhale, who were castigated for neglecting to set an example by contributing themselves.21 Another meeting of the justices was held on 11 June, when some of those present, including Giles Bridges and James Tomkins* agreed to contribute. By the middle of the following month the magistrates had succeeded in collecting £584 15s. 11d., which in the circumstances they considered ‘a great sum for so small a county’. However, they refused to return the names of those who had failed to contribute as they were unwilling ‘to brand any with the disloyal mark of obstinacy or disaffection’.22

There was a similar reluctance to levy the Privy Seal loan demanded by Charles I in 1625. Although Sir John Scudamore* was instructed on 14 Oct. by the president of the Council in the Marches, the earl of Northampton, to certify those able to lend, John Rudhale wrote to Scudamore on 24 Nov. stating that ‘in the business of the privy seals we have done nothing, but left every man to make his own excuse’. On 17 Dec. 1625 and 7 Jan. 1626 Northampton complained to Scudamore and Herefordshire’s other deputy lieutenants that he had still not received a certificate. In response, on 10 Jan., presumably at the same meeting which saw Harley and Pye nominated for the 1626 Parliament, the deputy lieutenants and magistrates, including Scudamore, Harley, Fitzwilliam Coningsby, James Tomkins, Francis Smalman I* and John Hoskins, wrote to Northampton arguing that as the king’s instructions to Northampton for implementing the loan had referred only to Wales, they were under no obligation to supply a certificate. Eventually, however, about £400 was collected in the county.23

The response of Herefordshire to the Forced Loan of 1626-7 was also disappointing, although there is little sign of outright resistance. Of the 25 commissioners summoned by Northampton to the initial meeting on 13 Feb. 1627 to execute the Loan only nine attended. However, just one commissioner – John Rudhale – refused to pay the Loan. The active commissioners included Scudamore, Coningsby and Bridges, but neither they nor their colleagues were willing to coerce Loan refusers and consequently receipts were generally lower in Herefordshire than elsewhere. Perhaps as a result of the commissioners’ reluctance to execute the Loan vigorously Herefordshire’s electoral politics were not disrupted, allowing Bridges to be re-elected in 1628 despite his role as a collector.24

Herefordshire had no resident members of the English nobility in this period. The Devereux earls of Essex owned significant estates in the county, enabling the 2nd earl to play a major role in the county’s politics in the 1590s, but there is no evidence that this was emulated by the 3rd earl, who was a minor at the time of the 1604 election. It is possible that the rise to prominence of Walter Pye I was partly attributable to his close connection with the 3rd earl of Essex, but his substantial purchases of land in the county probably renders all other explanations redundant. In 1619 James I granted the manor of Leominster, Herefordshire, to the marquess (later duke) of Buckingham, whose influence on the borough of Leominster, where the electoral interest of the manor was presumably greatest, seems to have been limited to the elections of 1621 and 1624. It is therefore unlikely that the property enabled Buckingham to exercise any significant influence on the electoral politics of the county. Although Sir Robert Harley was a major supporter of Buckingham in the parliaments of 1626 and 1628, as was Scudamore in 1628, both men were from major county families and hardly needed outside influence to secure their election. Pye was also connected to Buckingham through his brother, Sir Robert Pye*, who was one of the duke’s servants, but Walter Pye seems to have felt little obligation to serve Buckingham in Parliament and anyway, as has been noted, his rise to prominence is sufficiently explained by other factors.25

The Coningsby, Croft and Scudamore families dominated Herefordshire’s parliamentary representation for half a century between 1571 and 1621. The Scudamores and the Crofts were generally allied together, presenting a formidable political bloc, but in the 1590s Sir Thomas Coningsby†, with the backing of the 2nd earl of Essex, had been able to secure the first place for himself. Even after Essex’s execution in 1601 the combined forces of Herbert Croft and Sir James Scudamore still could not defeat Coningsby. However poor health made Coningsby increasingly reluctant to make the journey to Westminster and it is likely that he refused to stand in 1604, giving Scudamore and Croft a clear run. About 21 freeholders were named on the indenture, including James Tomkins*, but few of the county magnates were present apart from the sheriff, Thomas Harley, the father of Sir Robert.26

Sir James Scudamore and Sir Herbert Croft were re-elected in 1614, but by 1620 the former was dead while the latter had fled abroad to escape his creditors. They were replaced by the sons of Sir James Scudamore and Sir Thomas Coningsby, but only after the county’s governors had struck an agreement among themselves. In December 1620 Sir Robert Harley wrote to Sir Thomas Coningsby, Sir John Scudamore* and James Tomkins, among others, requesting a meeting before the election ‘to deliberate and resolve of the fittest for that service, wherein I desire that neither faction nor affection, but discretion and true understanding, may point us out the men’ to be returned.27 On 7 Dec. a caucus of 19 members of the Herefordshire gentry, of whom at least 12 were magistrates, met at Hereford where they discussed ‘what was fit to be done as well for the election of knights to serve at the next approaching Parliament as for future time’. They agreed that ‘considering the great inconveniences which have heretofore happened by faction and opposition … as well to the county in general as to particular great houses’, whenever Parliament was summoned they would ‘meet … and advise who are most fit men for that service, … to be proposed to the freeholders … to elect if they please to approve of them and to bend our whole endeavours … to aid and assist those who by them and us shall be so thought fit’.28 Those who subscribed to this agreement included Harley, Fitzwilliam Coningsby, Sir John Scudamore†, James Tomkins, Giles Bridges and John Rudhale. However several prominent Herefordshire magistrates did not attend the Hereford meeting, among them Walter Pye I.

The subsequent selection of parliamentary candidates during this period seems to have taken place at the quarter sessions. This meant that, unlike in 1620, only those who were members of the bench were involved. It is possible that this represented a conscious attempt to exclude those gentry who were not magistrates from the process of selection, but it seems more likely that it was never a long-term intention to include them in the first place. In other words, Harley only summoned a more general meeting because the parliamentary writs required the election to be held before the next quarter sessions. Whatever the truth may have been, the fact that an agreement to prevent contests was drawn up in 1620 suggests that the gentry of Herefordshire feared that the crumbling authority of the Croft, Scudamore and Coningsby families would lead to a period of political instability that would be ultimately be reflected in the county’s parliamentary elections.

In 1624 the stranglehold of the three families on Herefordshire county representation was finally broken with the election of Sir Robert Harley, who was returned alongside Sir John Scudamore. As the circumstances surrounding this election are undocumented it is impossible to establish whether Fitzwilliam Coningsby chose not to stand again. By contrast, some light on the 1625 election is shed by a letter written by William Scudamore of Ballingham, one of the parties to the 1620 agreement, to his cousin Sir John Scudamore*, then in London. From this letter it is clear that Sir John Scudamore’s brother-in-law Giles Bridges had declared his intention to stand. According to William Scudamore this made things complicated for Sir John, as it was thought that he was ‘privy and consenting to … Bridges standing, as a thing done of practice between you two’. This was causing ‘envy’ in the county, as it looked as though the Scudamore interest was trying to secure both seats. Meanwhile the sheriff, Francis Pember, had declared himself for Sir Robert Harley and John Rudhale. The latter was the brother-in-law of Sir Walter Pye, and William Scudamore had just received news from The Mynde, Pye’s home, that Rudhale did indeed intend to stand. William wrote that ‘many [are] promised’ to Sir John and Bridges, and despite the 1620 agreement he thought that Scudamore could appeal to the freeholders by canvassing the county, presumably in the hope that if this showed overwhelming support for Scudamore the other candidates would withdraw. But he feared that that unless Sir John had the backing of Pye the support of the freeholders would not be forthcoming, particularly as he had already lost the support of Fitzwilliam Coningsby. Without Pye, Scudamore would have to rely on ‘mediation at the sessions’ if he wanted a seat. This course of action was also risky and therefore William suggested a third course, which was for Sir John to voluntarily abandon his candidacy and instead use his position as custos rotulorum of Herefordshire to mediate between the other candidates at the sessions ‘for the quiet of the country and reconcilement of other competitors’. This would ‘avoid heart burning, whereof inconvenience will grow amongst your selves and hurt to the country, perhaps for many years, as it hath done in former times’. It is likely that Sir John Scudamore decided to follow the third course. He attended the Easter quarter sessions, and was a party to the subsequent return of Giles Bridges and John Rudhale, along with at least 13 others, including Fitzwilliam Coningsby.29

In 1626 the manoeuvrings before the election in Herefordshire are documented in an exchange of letters between Sir Robert Harley and Sir Walter Pye. On 6 Jan. Harley wrote to Pye that ‘I would gladly receive your approbation of my desire to stand to be one of the knights of this shire’. Harley stated he was ‘encouraged’ in his hopes because he had heard from John Rudhale that Pye was also seeking election, and he asked Pye to let him know if this was true at the forthcoming Epiphany quarter sessions ‘that I may be ready to return you the like love and courtesy as I entreat from you’. Pye replied from his home at The Mynde three days later, stating that Harley should ‘be confident that you shall have all my power to be one of the knights of this Parliament for our county of Hereford, and I believe it will so be without any opposition’. He was more reticent about his own ambitions but said that ‘if it please the gentlemen of this county to think me worthy to serve, I will not decline it’. At the meeting on 10 Jan., attended by Harley but not Pye, Sir John Scudamore nominated Pye and Harley as candidates for the county. However when Harley ‘asked him in his ear’ whether he was proposing Pye for the first place Scudamore ‘answered, aye’. Harley then ‘spoke to the hearing of the rest that were present that I, being a knight of the Bath, and Sir Walter Pye a knight bachelor, I understood it would point at my dishonour … to have the second place, and wished the gentlemen to nominate some other to stand … unless I might have the first’. According to Harley, Scudamore ‘stood awhile upon’ this, which, curiously, he thought was ‘for some other end’ than to secure the first place for Pye. Rudhale acted as intermediary between the candidates, and on 14 Jan. Pye wrote to Harley agreeing to concede the first place, although he continued to argue that it was not Harley’s by right.30

The dispute may have been part of a longstanding quarrel between Harley and Pye over precedence. When Harley had been restored to the bench in 1622 he had been placed above almost all the other knights in the list of justices. At around the same time, however, Pye, who had previously been placed last, was moved up to a position just above Harley. It would not be surprising if this had rankled Harley ever since.31 However it seems unlikely that the quarrel over precedence ever threatened to derail the electoral peace of Herefordshire, as neither candidate showed any inclination to challenge the outcome of the selection process at the polls if they did not get their way. On the other hand, Harley’s statement that he would withdraw his candidacy if he was not named first may have been made in the belief that that the majority of his fellow justices would back up his claims.

The 1628 election is much less well documented. On 16 Feb. Thomas Pierson, whom Harley had appointed minister of his home parish of Brampton Bryan, Herefordshire, informed his patron that he did not know who would be elected for the county. It is possible that Pierson was simply not up-to-date with the local news. However if the candidates had not been chosen by this date then the quarter sessions were not used to select the nominees, as the Epiphany session had already passed and the next meeting was not due until Easter. Whatever the truth may have been, Harley was already seeking a seat elsewhere by the 16th, suggesting he had no intention of standing in Herefordshire. This allowed Pye to take the first position. It is possible that an unrecorded conclusion to the 1626 dispute had been an agreement that Harley would stand aside in Pye’s favour at the next election.32

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. J. Speed, Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine (1612), p. 49; W. Camden, Britain (1610) trans. P. Holland, 617.
  • 2. Duncumb, County of Hereford, i. 103; R. Mathias, Whitsun Riot, 3-5; J. Jackson, ‘Some observations upon the Herefs. Environment of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Cents.’, Trans. Woolhope Field Club, xxxvi. 35; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 223; R. Vaughan, Most Approved and Long Experienced Waterworks (1610), sig. E2.
  • 3. J. Thirsk, ‘Farming Regions of Eng.’, Agrarian Hist. of Eng. and Wales ed. J. Thirsk, iv. 100-1, 105; Jackson, 29, 38; Vaughan, unpag.
  • 4. CJ, i. 264a, 270a, 287b, 343b, 347a, 355a, 1028b; HLRO, O.A. 4 Jas.I, c. 11.
  • 5. H.C.B. Mynors, ‘Iron Manufacture under Charles I’, Trans. Woolhope Field Club. xxxiv. 3; Add. 11053, ff. 70v-1; CD 1628, iii. 373.
  • 6. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 361; CD 1621, iii. 195.
  • 7. Vaughan, sigs. G2v-H4.
  • 8. Herefs. RO, W15/2, Henry Vaughan to Fitzwilliam Coningsby, 14 Nov. 1621.
  • 9. Add. 70086/2.
  • 10. CJ, i. 711b.
  • 11. Mathias, 2, 5, 6, 22; Vaughan, sigs. F2v, F4; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 235, 455-6; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 185; CJ, i. 776a.
  • 12. J. Eales, Puritans and Roundheads, 53-6; T. Froysell, Yadidyah or, the Beloved Disciple (1658), pp. 99-101.
  • 13. R.E. Ham, ‘Four Shire Controversy’, WHR, viii. 382, 388.
  • 14. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 552; xiii. 27; Ham, 385-6, 391; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 400.
  • 15. CJ, i. 285b, 272b, 282b, 308b, 309a; Bowyer Diary, 49, 164; P. Williams, ‘Attack on the Council in the Marches’, Trans. Hon. Soc. Cymmrodorion 1961, p. 4.
  • 16. Ham, 393-4; SP14/31/16I; Cott. Vitellius C.I, f. 206v.
  • 17. CJ, i. 393a, 451b; Ham, 396.
  • 18. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 649; Parl. Debates, 1610 ed. S.R. Gardiner, 138.
  • 19. Ham, 396-7.
  • 20. CD 1628, iii. 446, 464, 473-4.
  • 21. SP14/130/34; APC, 1621-3, p. 229.
  • 22. Add. 11051, f. 28; SP14/132/40.
  • 23. Add. 11051, ff. 21, 31; Add. 11053, f. 98; C115/107/8523; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 223; SP16/18/72I; I. Atherton, Ambition and Failure in Stuart Eng. 105-6.
  • 24. Add. 11051, f. 33v; SP16/54/2I; Atherton, 106-7.
  • 25. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 64.
  • 26. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 174-5; HMC Hatfield, xi. 441; C219/35/1/76.
  • 27. Letters of Lady Brilliana Harley ed. T.T. Lewis (Cam. Soc. lviii), pp. xlii-xliv.
  • 28. FSL, V.b.2(21); C66/2234.
  • 29. Hereford City Lib., L.C. 929.2, p. 109 (we are grateful to Dr. Ian Atherton for this ref.); I. Atherton, John, 1st Visct. Scudamore 1601-71, p. 52; C219/39/110.
  • 30. Procs. 1626, iv. 238-40.
  • 31. C193/13/1, f. 44r-v; C66/2234.
  • 32. Add. 70001, f. 237.