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 burgage-holders

Number of voters:

59 (reduced to 46) in 1628


 ?[Walter] Bethell 
 Sir Arthur Mainwaring* 
 ?Henry Slingsby 
 Henry Slingsby282

Main Article

The thriving market town of Knaresborough was subject to the manorial government of the duchy of Lancaster’s honour of Knaresborough, which covered one-third of Claro wapentake. There was ‘great resort to it in summer time by reason of the wells’ at nearby Harrogate, discovered by the Slingsby family in about 1570. It was, however, a source of limited profit to the Crown: the duchy surveyors acknowledged the wealth of the copyholders of Knaresborough forest in 1608, but noted that ‘they … stand upon it that their fines are certain’ – they were fixed by decree in 1562 – which meant that there was little hope of increasing the honour’s rental income of around £200 p.a.3 Knaresborough may have returned Members to the Commons once in 1300, but its permanent enfranchisement in 1553 almost certainly came about because of its role as a duchy administrative centre. A survey of 1611 identified 88 burgage tenements, but owners of multiple burgages were only allowed one vote at the hustings. Indentures for the early Stuart period were signed by between 15 and 40 individuals. The only poll held during this period, in 1628, saw 59 burgesses claim the vote, 13 of whom were disallowed.4

At the turn of the century the dominant interest in the borough was held by Sir Henry Slingsby of Scriven, the leading local landowner and also a holder of multiple offices within the honour. These included the post of borough bailiff, although the election indentures of 1601 and 1604, in which he returned both himself and his brother Sir William, failed to mention this.5 His influence was challenged on the latter occasion, though, as in October 1603 lord president Sheffield approached him for a nomination at the forthcoming election. Slingsby’s reply, a seamless blend of fact and fiction, claimed that some tenants had pledged their voices to George Clifford, 3rd earl of Cumberland, steward of the honour, who, he said, had ‘never heretofore, nor now to my knowledge required it of us’. As for the other seat, he awaited the customary nomination of Sir John Fortescue*, chancellor of the duchy, while an accompanying letter from some of the burgesses made it clear that this candidate would be Slingsby himself; Sheffield does not appear to have pressed his case.6

Slingsby strengthened his hold over the township with the purchase of £2,000 worth of lands from Sir Francis Trappes in 1606, but in 1609 Fortescue’s successor as duchy chancellor, Sir Thomas Parry*, suspended Slingsby from the office of receiver of the honour, apparently on charges of embezzlement. In July 1611 the duchy interest was transferred to the appanage of Prince Henry, to whom Slingsby quickly applied for reappointment; he seems to have been reinstated to at least some of his offices, albeit conditionally, during good behaviour.7 The Prince’s Council also included Slingsby on a commission of August 1611 to survey the honour, which commission established that the best opportunity for profit lay in the enclosure and sale of the manorial wastes to the tenants. In 1612, 40-year leases of 15,000 acres of common pasture were assigned to agents for the tenants at 12d. per acre, but this speculative venture quickly collapsed.8 The honour reverted to the Crown on Henry’s death in November 1612, but the prince’s surveyor, Richard Connock*, continued work, and in May 1613 he calculated that the enclosure of 21,000 acres of commons would produce fee-farm rents of almost £750 p.a., plus entry fines of £10,000 and timber sales worth £1,500. The problem with the duchy’s proposal was that the compliance of the majority of the tenants – gentry, smallholders and cottagers – had to be secured before it could be implemented, but with each of these conflicting interests attempting to maximize their share of the spoils, it was almost impossible to obtain agreement.9

Surveyors began dividing the commons in the autumn of 1613, and thus the general election held the following March came at a particularly sensitive time for the burgesses of Knaresborough. Slingsby, heavily involved in promoting the enclosure plan, assured both the tenants and the Crown that he was furthering their interests, but he also attempted to gain the best share of the commons for himself in his capacities as freeholder, copyholder and local official. Meanwhile, only weeks before the election, he learned that the duchy of Lancaster had begun a fresh investigation into his financial irregularities, while chancellor Parry, lord president Sheffield and Lord Henry Clifford* all made inquiries about parliamentary nominations. Slingsby’s letter of 9 Mar. to two borough officials confronted the enclosure issue directly:

I understand that it is conceived in the country that matter of enclosure of wastes and enfranchising of copyholders will amongst other things be handled at this Parliament, and I think it is not unknown to my neighbours … that I do very much affect the enclosing of commons as a matter beneficial to the commonwealth …

Cottagers enfranchised by the enclosures, he insisted, should not expect exemption from jury service, and he gave fair warning ‘that if I be chosen my voice must go according to my heart and conscience, and that if they do not like of this opinion of mine I will be well pleased they choose another’. This missive was read to the burgesses on the eve of the election, and while Slingsby was returned, it seems likely that he faced a challenge at the hustings. His partner was the diplomat William Beecher, who had been Clifford’s tutor in Paris several years earlier, and who may also have been backed by Parry. However, a ‘Mr. Bethell’ who was present at the election – perhaps Walter Bethell, sometime deputy surveyor of woods for the Duchy’s northern estates – may also have been a candidate.10

Under a new enclosure commission of August 1615, the poorer tenants of the honour were to be shown particular consideration; 150 tenants eventually agreed to compound for over 5,000 acres of commons. However, in May 1616 the Privy Council instructed the commissioners to review these agreements, and the entire project appears to have failed by the time the honour was assigned to Prince Charles in the following year.11 The local man whose standing improved most during these troubled times seems to have been the lawyer Serjeant Richard Hutton, a justice of Common Pleas from 1617, who had clashed with Slingsby over grist rights at the local mills; the burgesses returned his son Sir Richard Hutton to Parliament throughout the 1620s. Slingsby was his partner in 1620, and the pair were re-elected in 1624, seeing off a challenge from Prince Charles’s servant Sir Arthur Mainwaring*, while in the following year Slingsby passed his seat to his heir, Henry Slingsby.12

The Slingsby interest was finally overthrown in 1626 by a townsman named Henry Benson, whose father owned 16 burgages within the town and had donated a house and garden for the use of the new grammar school in 1616. Benson may have been related to Robert Benson, a servant of Sir John Savile*. If so it would explain his willingness to challenge Slingsby, whose father was a supporter of Savile’s arch-rival, Sir Thomas Wentworth*. Although no contest is known to have occurred in 1626, it seems unlikely that the Slingsbys failed to defend their interest; and the inclusion of at least four women as attestors to Benson’s return suggests that the result may have been close.13 The 1628 election certainly went to a poll. Slingsby initially mustered almost as many voices as his opponent, but was comfortably defeated after a number of his supporters, including eight widows and a clergyman, were excluded by the bailiff; he does not seem to have appealed to the Commons against this decision.14

Authors: Karen Bishop / Simon Healy


  • 1. Date inferred from York. Arch. Soc. DD56/B2/1 [Henry Thompson to Sir Henry Slingsby, 5 May 1614].
  • 2. 15 votes allowed.
  • 3. Hist. Harrogate and Knaresborough ed. B. Jennings, 125-30, 165-70; Slingsby Diary ed. D. Parsons, 330; SP14/37/107.
  • 4. A.D.K. Hawkyard, ‘Enfranchisement of Constituencies, 1504-58’, PH, x. 14, 19; York Arch. Soc. DD56/A2/1; W.A. Atkinson, ‘Parlty. Election in Knaresborough in 1628’, Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxxiv. 213-17.
  • 5. York Arch. Soc. D56/A2/1; C219/34/109; 219/35/2/160.
  • 6. York Arch. Soc. DD56/M2/21.
  • 7. York Arch. Soc. DD56/C2; DD56/A5/1-2.
  • 8. York Arch Soc. DD56/A2/1; E317/Yorks./32, ff. 22-3.
  • 9. LR2/194, ff. 34-6, 159; York. Arch. Soc. DD56/A5/2; J. Thirsk, ‘The Crown as Projector on its own Estates’, in Estates of the Eng. Crown, 1558-1640 ed. R.W. Hoyle, 364-6.
  • 10. York Arch. Soc. DD56/A5/2; DD56/B2/1; Duchy of Lancaster Officeholders ed. R. Somerville, 80; WILLIAM BEECHER.
  • 11. Thirsk, 365-6; APC, 1615-16, pp. 532-5.
  • 12. Slingsby Diary, 23; DCO, ‘Prince Charles in Spain’, f. 34.
  • 13. Atkinson, 213-17; C219/40/116.
  • 14. C219/41B/37.