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 inhabitants1

Number of voters:

147-50 in 16282


21 Feb. 1604JOHN SHURLEY 
 George RIVERS61
  Double return of Rivers and Stapley. 
 STAPLEY declared elected, 3 Apr. 1628 
c. July 1628JEROME WESTON vice Goring, called to the Upper House 

Main Article

Camden described Lewes as ‘for largeness and populousness one of the chief towns’ of Sussex, and it has been estimated that its population at this period may have substantially exceeded 2,000. This considerable figure was due less to commerce than to its functions as a sessions’ town and as the social centre for the three rapes of East Sussex: the appalling local roads almost required even minor gentry families to maintain houses in Lewes for winter use. Thomas Twyne, the distinguished physician and astrologer, settled in the town under the patronage of lord treasurer Dorset (Thomas Sackville†) and played a prominent role in the town’s government.4

An unincorporated borough which had been represented in Parliament since 1295, Lewes and the lordship of which it formed a part lay within the honour or barony of the same name. In this period half the barony was held by the Nevilles of Birling in Kent, while the other half was divided between the senior branch of the Howard family and the Sackvilles. The Howards played no discernable role in the borough’s politics in this period, but the Sackvilles were more influential. Earls of Dorset from 1604, they were the dominant aristocratic family of East Sussex and used the town as an administrative centre for their estates, being for most of the period in the charge of Richard Amherst. Although without a charter, the townsmen enjoyed a degree of self-government under the Twelve, described by John Rowe, the Neville’s steward, as ‘a society of the wealthier and discreeter sort of townsmen’. Despite the name, Rowe states that the membership of the Twelve generally exceeded a dozen, although they were never more than 24. The Twelve were a self-selecting oligarchy that controlled local taxation and issued the borough’s bye-laws. The chief officers of the borough were the two annually elected constables, the most senior of whom was selected on the basis of length of service from among the Twelve; the senior constable then chose his junior partner.5 According to an account of proceedings at the privileges committee in 1628 ‘the constable’, probably meaning the senior of the two, ‘was to make the return’.6 Indentures were exchanged between the sheriff and the constables and about a dozen named ‘burgesses and inhabitants’, probably members of the Twelve, acting ‘by the consent of the greatest part of all the burgesses and inhabitants’.7

John Shurley, who took the senior seat in the first Jacobean Parliament, was a younger son of a family seated at Isfield, five miles from Lewes, and the only Member in the period who did not obviously belong by blood, marriage, or service to the seigneurial family circle. A recently created serjeant-at-law, he had sat for the borough in three Elizabethan parliaments and resided there when the exigencies of his profession allowed. Sir Henry Neville united the two family interests as heir to the Birling estate and the 1st earl of Dorset’s (Thomas Sackville†) son-in-law, but took the junior seat.

Dorset died in 1608 and bequeathed £1,000 to Lewes to build a granary for the poor and a further £2,000 to stock it with wheat, which must have strengthened the Sackville interest in the borough.8 The date of the 1614 election is unknown as the indenture is missing, but the sheriff’s precept, dated 17 Mar., survives and the election presumably took place shortly thereafter.9 There is no indication that Shurley or Sir Henry Neville sought re-election. Advancing age may have deterred the former, as he was now probably in his late 60s, while Neville had been removed from the county bench, presumably because of suspicions of Catholicism. The Neville interest was instead transferred to Sir Henry’s younger, more Protestant, brother, Christopher, who took the first place in the return. His partner was the Sackville’s steward, Amherst.

In 1620 Christopher Neville was returned for Sussex, and it is likely that his family’s influence at Lewes went to his brother-in-law, Sir George Goring. The latter, a rising courtier and a client of the favourite the marquess of Buckingham, had his own interest in the borough as owner of a large town house and other property in Lewes, 11 miles from his principal estate at Hurstpierpoint. Both his father and grandfather had sat for the borough in Elizabethan parliaments. Amherst was re-elected for the junior seat.

By 1624 the Sackville interest seems to have fallen into abeyance in Lewes, possibly due to the increasing indebtedness of Richard, 3rd earl of Dorset. Christopher Neville was re-elected for the senior seat with Goring taking the junior. The third earl died in April of that year and the Sackville interest revived under his successor, Sir Edward Sackville*, who like Goring, was an adherent of Buckingham’s. Consequently, in 1625 Sir George Rivers*, who had long been connected with the Sackville family and was one of the 3rd earl’s executors, was elected for the second seat, while Goring was re-elected for the first.

Goring and Rivers were chosen again in 1626, but in 1628 there was a contest for the second seat between Rivers and Anthony Stapley. The latter was Goring’s brother-in-law, although Goring did not support him in the Commons. Stapley may have had the support of Sir Thomas Pelham*, the head of an important local family, with whom he founded a puritan lectureship in Lewes at around this time. The sheriff sealed and returned two indentures, one naming Goring and Rivers and the other Goring and Stapley, but only the second gave the names of the constables and the participating inhabitants.10 The case was raised in the committee for privileges on 20 Mar. and debated seven days later. According to the evidence presented to the committee ‘an equality being in the number of voices’ a poll was called. The constable counted 69 voters for Stapley and 61 for Rivers, but in addition a further 20 Rivers supporters were polled by a local minister, who ‘came hither to see the election’ and had been appointed by some of Rivers’ faction. A further 17 or 20 Rivers supporters ‘would not go out as the rest did, but said they would number themselves’. An offer by the constable to poll the additional Rivers supporters formally was apparently refused. It seems to have been agreed that in total between 78 and 81 voters supported Rivers, giving him a majority of the electors, but there was considerable doubt as to the validity of the votes not counted by the constable.

In addition, Stapley’s supporters alleged that various acts of skulduggery had been committed on Rivers’ behalf; ‘one Shepley’ apparently said that Stapley did not want to be elected ‘by which he drew some away’, while another Rivers supporter threatened that soldiers would be billeted on the town, presumably by the 4th earl of Dorset, one of the lord lieutenants of Sussex, in revenge for rejecting his candidate. It was further claimed that ‘when those that stood for Stapley were altogether fast, that they could not stir, one goes about the town proclaiming if any would give their voices for Rivers that they should come in’. Nevertheless, the case rested on the legality of the additional Rivers voters. The committee divided 27 to 22 between those who supported Stapley’s return and those who wanted the election declared void, and on 29 Mar. William Hakewill reported to the Commons in favour of seating Stapley. Further debate was deferred, but when Goring moved for a new writ on 3 Apr. the Commons resolved that Stapley had been duly elected.11

Goring was created a peer on 14 Apr. 1628 and on 1 May the House ordered a warrant for a by-election, but the writ was not issued by Chancery until 13 June. The return has not survived, but it is likely that it was Jerome Weston, the son of the chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Richard Weston*, who was elected. Weston was certainly a Member of the Commons by March 1629. It is possible that the impecunious courtier Goring nominated Weston as a favour to the latter’s father, or he may have been nominated by the earl of Dorset, who was on good terms with his father in the 1630s.12

Authors: Alan Davidson / Ben Coates


  • 1. CD 1628, ii. 188.
  • 2. Ibid. 163.
  • 3. Ibid. (Counting only those voters polled by the constable.)
  • 4. Camden, Britannia (1695), p. 173; A. Fletcher, County Community in Peace and War, 9, 134-5; C.E. Brent, ‘Urban Employment and Population in Suss. between 1550 and 1660’, Suss. Arch. Colls. cxiii. 36, 47-50.
  • 5. J. Goring, ‘Fellowship of the Twelve in Elizabethan Lewes’, Suss. Arch. Colls. cxix. 157-72; VCH Suss. vii. 4-7, 19-31, 48; Bk. of John Rowe ed. W.H. Godfrey (Suss. Rec. Soc. xxxiv), 120.
  • 6. CD 1628, ii. 163.
  • 7. C219/35/2/85; 219/38/243.
  • 8. PROB 11/113, f. 19v.
  • 9. E. Suss. RO, LEW/C5/1/2.
  • 10. C219/41B/84, 86.
  • 11. CD 1628, ii. 37, 163, 188, 275, 282.
  • 12. Ibid. iii. 190; C231/4, f. 247; CD 1629, p. 262; D.L. Smith, ‘Fourth Earl of Dorset and the Personal Rule of Charles I’, JBS, xxx. 278-9.