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:

12 in 1604; 15 in 1624.1


25 Apr. 16252JAMES TOMKINS
aft. 27 Mar. 16283SIR THOMAS LITTLETON , bt. vice Edward Littleton II, chose to sit for Caernarvon Boroughs

Main Article

Leominster was the market centre for a farming area famed for the quality of its wool, considered the best in the country, which was used to make high quality cloth in Worcester, Coventry, Ludlow, Gloucester, Hereford and Leominster itself.4 Even more important was the town’s position at the junction of three rivers, which powered the mills from which the local bakers produced bread of outstanding quality. The charter granted to the borough in 1605 stated that the ‘town … has in a wonderful manner been growing and flourishing, as well in wealth as in population’.5 By 1631 Leominster had about 1,200 inhabitants.6

Leominster had been represented in Parliament since 1295, and was incorporated in 1554. The corporation consisted of 25 capital burgesses who annually elected one of their number bailiff.7 Elections were held at the ‘court house’ with the bailiff acting as returning officer. The 1604 return does not specify the qualification to vote, but states that, in addition to the bailiff, 13 named individuals ‘and others’ had participated in the election. As well as the bailiff at least four of those named were probably capital burgesses, as their names correspond with those of former bailiffs.8 Subsequent returns make it clear that the franchise lay with the freemen. In 1624 those who voted were the bailiff, 15 named individuals ‘and other burgesses’. Of those named, at least six were probably capital burgesses, as men with their names had previously served as bailiffs. A further four were probably also capital burgesses, as they subsequently served as bailiffs.9 Thereafter, only the bailiff was named in the returns, and elections were described as having been with ‘the assent and consent of the rest of the burgesses’.10

The manor of Leominister, described as ‘spacious and fertile’, passed to the Crown on the Dissolution of the Monasteries.11 On the accession of James I it was appropriated to the queen’s jointure.12 The corporation resisted without difficulty the interest of Sir Herbert Croft*, steward of the Crown manors in Herefordshire, largely with the aid of Sir Thomas Coningsby†, the tenant of the priory and high steward of the borough.13 In 1604 Coningsby secured the re-election of his ‘much beloved cousin’ and agent, Thomas Coningsby,14 and saw no reason to object to the choice of John Powle as junior Member, whose mother referred to Sir Thomas as her ‘loving friend’.15 Sir Thomas’ interest at Leominster was strengthened later that year by his appointment as surveyor of the queen’s jointure in Herefordshire, much to Croft’s chagrin.16 In 1605 the borough obtained a new charter at a cost of £80, most of which was disbursed by Thomas Coningsby, who had a post in the petty bag office and stood high in the favour of lord chancellor Ellesmere. The most significant innovation in the charter was a grant of an annual fair on St. Bartholomew’s day, which was intended to improve the marketing and distribution of the wool produced in the area.17

Croft was deprived of office in 1612, and, with Powle acting as returning officer, Coningsby was re-elected to Parliament in 1614. This time, however, he took the junior seat, yielding precedence to Sir Thomas Coningsby’s son-in-law, Sir Humphrey Baskerville.18 In 1618, following the death of Thomas Coningsby two years earlier, the corporation resolved that henceforward ‘no foreigner shall be admitted or elected to the office of a burgess of the Parliament by the voices of the capital burgesses, if any of the said capital burgesses will at any time take on them the said office’.19 However, this ruling was subsequently disregarded, for after the death of Anne of Denmark the manor was transferred to the earl of Buckingham, who used his influence to bring in his client the rising official William Beecher at the next election.20 As Baskerville was now incapacitated by debt, Beecher’s colleague Francis Smalman I, another outsider, was granted the senior seat, probably with the support of Sir Thomas Coningsby, who had expressed confidence in Smalman’s ‘integrity and endeavour’.21 Beecher was re-elected in 1624, accompanied by James Tomkins, probably a kinsman of the influential vicar of Leominster.22 In 1625 Buckingham, as lord warden of the Cinque Ports, transferred Beecher to Dover, in Kent. Tomkins, however, was re-elected and moved up to the senior seat. His new partner was Edward Littleton II, who may have owed his election to Sir Thomas Coningsby’s son Fitzwilliam*, who succeeded his father as steward of the borough, probably after Sir Thomas’ death in May 1625.23 Littleton was employed by Fitzwilliam’s friend Sir Thomas Littleton, bt.* as steward of his estate and his first wife had been Sir Thomas’ sister.24 At the 1625 election John Powle again served as returning officer.25

Littleton and Tomkins were re-elected in 1626 and 1628; but in the latter Parliament Littleton opted to sit for Caernarvon Boroughs. The return for the resulting election has not survived, but his replacement was Sir Thomas Littleton, for in the Crown Office list Edward Littleton’s first name was changed to ‘Thomas’, and ‘Sir Thomas Littleton’ was mentioned in the Journal on 7 May. A contemporary list of members of the Parliament, compiled and published towards the end of the session, confirms that Sir Thomas Littleton was Edward’s replacement.26 Sir Thomas had previously sat for Worcestershire, but in 1628 he was replaced there by his cousin Sir Thomas Bromley. Edward Littleton therefore presumably agreed to make way for his employer. Sir Thomas Littleton may have had the support of Buckingham as well as Fitzwilliam Coningsby, as he was on close terms with Buckingham’s widow in the 1630s.27

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. C219/35/1/78; 219/38/91.
  • 2. C219/29/100.
  • 3. CD 1628, ii. 144.
  • 4. M. Drayton, Poly-Olbion (1612), p. 105; E. Kerridge, Textile Manufactures in Early Modern Eng. 20-1; P.J. Bowden, Wool Trade in Tudor and Stuart Eng. 29.
  • 5. G.F. Townsend, Town and Bor. of Leominster, 85
  • 6. P. Clark and J. Hosking, Population Estimates of English Small Towns (Cent. for Urban Hist. Working Pprs. v), 68.
  • 7. Townsend, 105, 283-4, 288.
  • 8. C219/35/1/78; Townsend, 293-4.
  • 9. C219/38/91; Townsend, 294.
  • 10. C219/39/100; 219/40/195.
  • 11. Sidney Letters ed. A. Collins, ii. 306.
  • 12. Add. 6693, f. 74.
  • 13. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 402; Sidney Letters, ii. 306, 311-12, 318; HMC Hatfield, xi. 114.
  • 14. Add. 70001, unfol. (Sir Thomas Coningsby to Sir Robert Harley, Dec. [1604]).
  • 15. PROB 11/126, f. 52v.
  • 16. Sidney Letters, ii. 306.
  • 17. Herefs. RO, Leominster bailiffs accts. 1604-5; Townsend, 288.
  • 18. Sidney Letters, ii. 306.
  • 19. Townsend, 98.
  • 20. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 64.
  • 21. PROB 11/148, f. 292r-v.
  • 22. Townsend, 259.
  • 23. Ibid. 291.
  • 24. HMC 7th Rep. 682; J.M.J. Tonks, ‘The Lyttletons of Frankley and their estates 1530-1640’ (Oxford Univ. B.Litt. thesis, 1978), p. 148.
  • 25. C219/29/100.
  • 26. C193/32/17, f. 5; CD 1628, iii. 301 n. 10; Most Exact Catalogue of Lords Spirituall and Temporall (1628), sig. Bv.
  • 27. Soc. Antiq. ms 140, f. 27.