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:

89 in 1625


aft. 20 Feb. 16041SIR EDWARD LEWKNOR I  
 WILLIAM WISEMAN , recorder  
 ?Thomas Mildmay†  
4 Nov. 1605THEOPHILUS HOWARD, LORD HOWARD DE WALDEN vice Lewknor, deceased  
25 Jan. 1610SIR JOHN SAMMES vice Wiseman, deceased  
19 Feb. 16102SIR ROBERT RICH vice Lord Howard de Walden, called the Upper House  
9 Mar. 16143SIR JOHN SAMMES  
 CHARLES CHIBORNE , recorder  
20 Dec. 16204SIR JULIUS CAESAR , high steward  
 Sir Henry Mildmay 425
4 July 1625SIR WILLIAM MASHAM , bt. vice Herrys, chose to sit for Essex  
11 Jan. 1626SIR WILLIAM MASHAM , bt.  
28 Feb. 16286SIR HENRY MILDMAY  

Main Article

Situated on a hill overlooking the confluence of the rivers Blackwater and Chelmer, Maldon was an ancient port town of approximately 1,000 inhabitants.7 Unlike Colchester or nearby Witham, it failed to develop a significant textile industry,8 and its trade with the Continent was on a decidedly small scale.9 Though well placed to exploit the North Sea fisheries, Maldon possesed very few vessels. Indeed, as late as 1624 its entire fleet consisted of five small hoys manned by 18 mariners, two of whom were aged 14.10 However, its economy flourished during the second half of the sixteenth century. One reason for this was that in 1554 and 1555 the town was rewarded for its loyalty to Mary Tudor with charters of incorporation,11 which gave it the right to hold a weekly court of record. Empowered to hear cases without limit or value between private individuals, this court generated badly needed revenue for the corporation and attracted valuable commercial activity, enabling merchants to raise loans on security, transfer credits or debts, contract for supplies and engage in litigation.12 Another reason for Maldon’s economic transformation was a substantial growth in the volume of coal landed at the town’s hythe.13 Rising population levels in south-east England, coupled with dwindling supplies of fuel timber, combined to create a ready market for the town’s coal distributors, whose interests were vigorously championed by the borough against those of neighbouring Heybridge.14

The tolls generated by the hythe provided a valuable source of income for the corporation, but the hythe itself was expensive to maintain. In 1596 the tower of St. Mary’s church, which housed the harbour beacon, collapsed and the money for its repair was not raised before 1628.15 In 1611 a Maldon linen draper testified that despite the corporation spending more than £100 in repairing the hythe and the town’s two bridges, ‘there have [been] greater ships of late years come up thither than now can, in respect that the said haven is decayed and landed up’. The corporation’s principal source of income for maintaining the hythe, aside from £120 bequeathed by Alderman Breeder in 1609, was a property sales tax peculiar to Maldon known as landcheap. In 1610-11 this duty was resisted in the Exchequer by Thomas Sprignell, lord of the manor of Little Maldon, who argued that it was applicable only in the adjacent manor of Much Maldon. Ironically, being the owner of Maldon hythe and a major coal importer, Sprignell himself stood most to gain from the payment of landcheap.16

By the terms of its Marian charters, Maldon’s government was vested in the hands of a Common Council consisting of eight aldermen, of whom two were elected annually to serve as bailiffs, and 18 headburgesses. The right to return Members to Parliament had been exercised since 1332, and the Marian charters did no more than confirm this. However, in January 1559, exploiting its new authority to make by-laws, the Common Council ordered the franchise to be restricted to its own members and an additional 12 burgesses of its choice, thereby excluding the vast body of freemen who had traditionally been entitled to vote.17 This attempt to disfranchise the bulk of the commonalty ultimately failed. When the earl of Leicester tried to nominate both Members in 1584 he was informed by the bailiffs and aldermen that ‘our election standeth upon the consent of a great multitude’, whose support could not be assured.18

It has been claimed that Maldon customarily gave one of its parliamentary seats to its high steward or his nominee.19 Between 1559 and his death in 1583, the town’s first high steward, Sir Thomas Radcliffe†, 3rd earl of Sussex, certainly influenced the borough’s parliamentary elections. However, none of the Members elected after Sussex’s death appear to have owed their seats to his successor, Robert Devereux, 2nd earl of Essex. Moreover, while the next high steward, Sir Thomas Mildmay†, obtained the backing of the common council for his son Thomas in 1604, the commonalty preferred instead to return the borough’s recorder, William Wiseman. The next high steward, Sir Julius Caesar, chancellor of the Exchequer 1606-14 and master of the Rolls 1614-36, fared no better in the short term, as neither of the candidates returned in 1614 owed him their places.

At the general election of December 1620, however, Caesar proved more successful. He not only obtained the senior seat for himself but was almost certainly responsible for securing the junior place for the master of the Jewel House, Sir Henry Mildmay, whose estate at Wanstead lay too far from Maldon to have given him independent electoral influence. However, Caesar’s electoral success is unlikely to have stemmed simply from the fact that he was high steward. Gratitude for services rendered was surely the decisive factor, as Caesar had not only taken a close interest in the Exchequer proceedings against Thomas Sprignell, but on his advice Maldon had resolved in 1618 to erect a bar across the Blackwater to prevent vessels going to Heybridge until they had paid the toll for passing the hythe.20 Naturally, however, this sense of gratitude quickly evaporated. Shortly before the 1624 election Caesar was warned by Maldon’s bailiffs that they could not guarantee a place for his nominee, Sir Henry Mildmay, as many of the town’s freemen were ‘now affected to men of quality near to our township’.21 This prediction proved accurate, for in the ensuing contest Mildmay was defeated by Sir William Masham by 47 votes to 42. Caesar remained undeterred, however, and in 1625 he again nominated Mildmay, who this time proved the popular choice.22 Neither of the successful candidates owed their places to Caesar in 1626. Mildmay was again returned in 1628, when, for the first time, he was awarded the senior seat. However, it seems likely that it was Mildmay’s position at Court rather than Caesar’s influence which proved important on this occasion. Following his election Maldon sent Milday various messages at Wanstead before Parliament began. Their contents are unknown, but in all likelihood the corporation had elected Mildmay with the aim of persuading him to use his Court connections to lobby on their behalf regarding a company of Irish soldiers which had been billeted on them. In a petition addressed to the Privy Council written about three weeks before Mildmay’s election, the townsmen complained that the troops ‘command in our houses as if they were our lords and we their slaves’, committing assaults and forcing householders to stay indoors.23 An initial attempt to persuade the government to order the removal of these soldiers had ended in failure. Within a week of Mildmay’s election, however, orders were issued for them to be transferred to Witham.24 Mildmay’s role in bringing about the Privy Council’s change of heart is suggested by the borough’s payment of 30s. to his servant for ‘bringing letters from the Council and the lord lieutenant for the removal of the Irish soldiers’.25

Before 1619 Maldon’s recorder had a strong claim to one of the borough’s parliamentary seats. In 1604 the recorder, William Wiseman, was returned even though the bailiffs and aldermen supported Sir Thomas Mildmay’s son. After Wiseman’s death in January 1610, Maldon overlooked its new recorder, Charles Chiborne, in favour of a local landowner, Sir John Sammes. This was probably because it had been forced to disappoint Sammes at an earlier by-election after the Privy Council had urged the borough to return the son of lord treasurer Suffolk, Theophilus Howard, Lord Howard de Walden. Chiborne was passed over again at a second by-election in the following month, when the borough returned Sir Robert Rich after Lord Howard de Walden was summoned to the Lords. Chiborne’s turn nevertheless came in 1614. During the 1620s the town’s recorder, John Wright, was never elected to Parliament because, as clerk of the Commons, he was ineligible to sit.

As in the Elizabethan period, no townsman was returned to Parliament between 1604 and 1629, and the only members of the local gentry to receive seats were Sir John Sammes, who lived three miles away at Langford Hall, and Sir Arthur Herrys of Creeksea, who owned property at nearby Woodham Mortimer. Religious considerations undoubtedly swayed many of Maldon’s puritan-minded voters more than the proximity of candidates to their borough. Despite the fact that Sir Edward Lewknor I was seated at Denham in West Suffolk, his godly credentials assured him of the senior seat in 1604. Likewise, the principal attraction to the borough of Sir William Masham, who lived in western Essex, was undoubtedly his religious leanings, evidenced in part through his family connections. Returned on three occasions during the 1620s, Masham was nominated each time by his father-in-law Sir Francis Barrington*, a well-known puritan.26 Masham’s rival in 1624, Sir Henry Mildmay, proved acceptable to Maldon on three occasions. In part, as we have seen, this was because he was the nominee of the borough’s high steward, but his religious views must also have played some role in his adoption, as he was one of just eight speakers in 1628 who are known to have condemned Arminianism explicitly in the Commons.27 Given the shared religious outlook of Mildmay and Masham, it is scarcely surprising that the contest between them proved so close. Soundness in religion, just as much as the fact that he was the borough’s recorder, undoubtedly improved William Wiseman’s electoral chances in 1604. On the other hand, religion played little part in the election of Theophilus Howard in 1605, who was foisted on the borough by the Privy Council. Whether the religious views of Sir John Sammes were important in securing him a seat in January 1610 is unknown. Described by Maldon’s bailiffs as ‘a man well esteemed of’, Sammes was so popular that, in 1605, he would almost certainly have taken the seat vacated by Lewknor’s death had he not agreed to stand down in favour of Lord Howard de Walden at the bailiffs’ request.28

Maldon’s puritan inclinations enabled the Rich family of Leez Priory, the largest landowners in Essex, to exercise electoral influence in the borough. Employment by the Rich family undoubtedly strengthened the hand of William Wiseman, who in addition to being the borough’s recorder and a godly magistrate, was also Lord Rich’s estate steward. Wiseman subtly reminded the corporation of this connection after its members warned him in February 1604 that they intended to favour Thomas Mildmay. ‘I have some particular business in Parliament for a matter of great importance’, he wrote, ‘as some of honour and great worships in this shire do well know’.29 The matter he referred to was probably a bill regarding the debts of the Elizabethan lord chancellor, Christopher Hatton (Christopher Hatton I†), a measure of particular interest to Sir Robert Rich, who had married the daughter of Hatton’s nephew and heir, Sir William Hatton. Wiseman died in January 1610, and although his replacement was not a member of the Rich family or one of its clients, the summoning to the Lords of Lord Howard de Walden in February allowed the entry into the Commons of the eldest son of Lord Rich, Sir Robert Rich, later 2nd earl of Warwick. During the 1620s the Rich family’s candidate at Maldon was usually Sir Arthur Herrys, who leased several Essex properties from Warwick. However, when Herrys was returned for Essex with Warwick’s support in 1625, his place was taken at Maldon by Sir William Masham, who was connected to Warwick through the latter’s ally, Sir Francis Barrington. In 1626 Cheke was prevented from sitting in the Commons by virtue of being sheriff of Essex. This meant that his place was taken by Warwick’s brother-in-law, Sir Thomas Cheke of Pirgo. However, he resumed his place as a Maldon burgess in 1628, although he was forced to accept the junior seat after the senior position was bestowed upon Mildmay.

Prospective Members of Parliament for Maldon were expected to take the oath of a freeman before they were elected, and to attend the hustings in person. The oath was usually administered at the time of the election, but in the case of Lord Howard de Walden, whose affairs at Court kept him from attending, an officer was sent to his London lodgings and he was elected in his absence.30 In 1624 Masham also failed to appear on election day as he was not formally sworn a freeman until four days later.31 Parliamentary elections were held at the town’s moothall, where the Common Council met, to which those entitled to vote were summoned by bell. In 1624 the bellman, John Cowell, was paid 6d. ‘for proclaiming the meeting of all free-burgesses at the moothall … about the choice of burgesses for the Parliament’.32 Letters of nomination addressed to the bailiffs were brought to the attention of Common Council before the election, and then to the assembled voters at the hustings.33 The county sheriff or his deputy served as the returning officer. He was not normally rewarded for his pains, though in 1604 and 1628 the under-sheriff was paid 8s. and 4s. respectively, and in 1604 an additional 3s. was given to the messenger who bore the Proclamation summoning Parliament.34 During the mid-1620s completed indentures were sent to Westminster in a box, which cost 4d. in 1624 and 8d. in 1626.35 In 1625 the amount spent in boxing up and sealing the indentures for that year’s parliamentary elections came to an astonishing 4s. 10d.36 Despite this extravagance, Maldon’s parliamentary representatives were unpaid. New Year gifts of sugar loafs were nevertheless presented to Sammes and Chiborne in 1615, and to Mildmay and Herrys in 1629. In 1625 a servant belonging to Masham was given 20s. after Masham sent a buck to the town. The same sum was given to one of Mildmay’s servants in 1628 for a book which ‘much concerned the good of this borough’.37 During the 1620s the borough kept in close contact with its Members at Westminster. In 1624 Masham received a packet of letters sent by the bailiffs, and received a visit from the town’s serjeant of the mace, as did Mildmay in 1625.38

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. Essex RO, D/B 3/3/205/1.
  • 2. OR.
  • 3. Essex RO, D/B 3/1/19, f. 70v.
  • 4. OR.
  • 5. Essex RO, D/B 3/3/392/18.
  • 6. OR.
  • 7. W.J. Petchey, A Prospect of Maldon, 23.
  • 8. Ibid. 12-13, 109.
  • 9. E190/598/14.
  • 10. Essex RO, D/B 3/3/405. By 1629, as the Caroline war with Spain neared its end, the number of mariners had been reduced to 15: SP16/155/31.
  • 11. CPR, 1553-4, pp. 137-9; 1554-5, pp. 95-7.
  • 12. Petchey, 130; R. Tittler, ‘Incorporation of Boroughs’, Hist. lii. 38.
  • 13. Petchey, 148.
  • 14. Ibid. 143-5.
  • 15. Ibid. 13-14.
  • 16. Ibid. 77-8; E112/80/180; E134/9Jas./Mich.38; E124/13, ff. 129v, 137, 149.
  • 17. Petchey, 248-9.
  • 18. Essex RO, D/B 3/3/205/6.
  • 19. B.W. Quintrell, ‘Govt. of Essex, 1603-42’ (London Ph.D. thesis, 1965), p. 32.
  • 20. Lansd. 167, f. 282; Essex RO, D/B 3/3/205/10.
  • 21. Essex RO, D/B 3/3/392/67.
  • 22. Add. 12496, ff. 106, 108v.
  • 23. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 549.
  • 24. APC, 1627-8, pp. 264, 282, 335-6.
  • 25. Essex RO, D/B 3/3/297, rot. 11.
  • 26. Essex RO, D/B 3/3/658.
  • 27. N. Tyacke, Anti-Calvinists, 133.
  • 28. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 455.
  • 29. Essex RO, D/B 3/3/205/1.
  • 30. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 455, 469.
  • 31. Essex RO, D/B 3/3/392/53.
  • 32. Essex RO, D/B 3/3/108, rot. 11.
  • 33. Add. 12496, f. 106.
  • 34. Essex RO, D/B 3/3/275, rots. 6, 8; D/B 3/3/297, rot. 12.
  • 35. Essex RO, D/B 3/3/108, rot. 12; D/B 3/3/295.
  • 36. Essex RO, D/B 3/3/294.
  • 37. Ibid; D/B 3/3/283, rot. 8; D/B 3/3/298, rot. 8; D/B 3/3/297, rot. 10.
  • 38. Essex RO, D/B 3/3/108 rots. 11, 12; 3/3/294.