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 burgesses

Number of voters:

8 in 16041


 ?Sir Edward Cecil*
 ?Sir Henry Moody , bt.
27 Jan. 1626SIR HENRY MOODY , bt.

Main Article

The ancient market town of Malmesbury, sited on a defensive position on the upper reaches of the Avon, grew up in the shelter both of its castle and a Benedictine abbey founded in the mid-seventh century. The development of the town’s clothing industry, which processed wool produced in north Wiltshire and south Gloucestershire, was facilitated by its good trade links, for the main road between Bristol and Oxford ran through Malmesbury, while other routes linked it to nearby Chippenham and Tetbury. A mint was established in the tenth century, suggesting the town’s early economic and strategic importance, and a market was licensed in the western suburb of Westport in 1252.3

Malmesbury was held in fee farm by a guild merchant from at least the early thirteenth century, originally from the abbey and subsequently, after the Reformation, from the Crown. The guild evolved into the Malmesbury corporation, which received a confirmatory charter in 1381. By the sixteenth century a body of 13 burgesses, headed by an alderman and two stewards, governed the town. Below the burgesses the corporation consisted of three further groups: the Twenty-Four, the landholders and the commoners. In the early seventeenth century a proposal by the burgesses to enclose 100 acres of the town lands led to conflict with the other three groups. The quarrel was settled by a general agreement in 1609, but three years later an attempt was made to establish a rival governing body consisting of 12 overseers selected from all the members of the corporation. This failed, although subsequently the number of stewards increased to four – one to represent each of the four groups, namely the burgesses, the Twenty-Four, the landholders and the commoners.4

From 1616 the burgesses met every June in St. John’s hospital, purchased by the corporation in 1580, to elect the alderman and admit commoners.5 The corporation’s meagre income was principally derived from rents and entry fines from its own members. The gradual decline in this income during this period, from £23 in 1600 to just 3s. in 1629, was reflected in the low payments made by the corporation to its officials – 10s. to the alderman who also acted as treasurer, and 6s. to a steward. Although a collection of £20 was made in 1618 towards the school and almshouse, ten years later payments to the schoolmaster were replaced by providing him with an allotment for his maintenance. There is no indication that the corporation paid a fee to its representatives in Parliament.6 The borough had been represented in Parliament since 1275. The indentures were made in the name of the alderman and burgesses but were usually only signed by the former. However, the indenture for 1604 bears eight signatures, all of which were presumably made by burgesses.7

The parliamentary elections of Elizabethan Malmesbury were dominated by Sir Henry Knyvet† until his death in 1598. Knyvet owned the site of the old abbey and a good deal of the former monastery’s property in the town and the surrounding area, including the manor of Charlton situated two-and-a-quarter miles from the borough. Knyvet’s daughter and heir, Catherine, married Thomas Howard, a younger son of the 4th duke of Norfolk, who was created Lord Howard in 1597 and earl of Suffolk in 1603; Howard seems to have nominated both Members in 1601. In 1614 Suffolk transferred his Wiltshire estate to his second son, Sir Thomas Howard*, but he apparently continued to exercise the parliamentary patronage that it conferred until his death in 1626.8

Suffolk was almost certainly responsible for the nomination in 1604 of Sir Roger Dallison, an Ordnance Office official from Lincolnshire and a Howard client. Sir Roger presumably also persuaded Suffolk to recommend his cousin, Sir Thomas Dallison who, like Sir Roger, had no known connections with Wiltshire. Sir Roger was re-elected in 1614, but by then Sir Thomas had suffered a major crisis in his finances that had led to a period of imprisonment in Lincoln gaol, and consequently was in no position to seek re-election. Instead, Sir Roger had as his colleague Sir Neville Poole, the son of Sir Henry Poole, a major north Wiltshire landowner based at Kemble near the border with Gloucestershire. It is not known whether Suffolk consented to Poole’s candidacy. On the face of it, this seems unlikely, as Poole had previously feuded with Sir Henry Knyvet. However, in 1604 Poole had been returned for Cricklade, where Suffolk was also influential, and in 1614 he had been returned for Wiltshire alongside Suffolk’s son, Sir Thomas Howard. Possibly Suffolk had decided to come to an accommodation with a potentially powerful local rival rather than risk a conflict.

Sir Henry Poole himself was returned for Malmesbury in 1620 along with Sir Edward Wardour. The latter was an important Exchequer official who would have worked with Suffolk when the earl was lord treasurer between 1614 and 1618. In addition Wardour had a lease on the profits of Malmesbury’s markets and fairs as well as a number of copyhold tenements in the town.9 Wardour was re-elected in 1624, when Sir Thomas Hatton, a courtier with no known local connections, took the other seat. Hatton presumably owed his election to Suffolk, whose son Sir Thomas had married the niece of Lady Hatton, the estranged wife of Sir Edward Coke* and widow of Hatton’s kinsman Sir William Hatton†. A petition from one Thomas Baskerville and ‘divers others’ inhabitants of Malmesbury was presented to the privileges committee complaining that the indenture had been tampered with and that Sir Edward Cecil* had originally been elected along with Wardour. A day was appointed for a hearing, but the committee’s chairman John Glanville, reported to the Commons on 4 May that despite being summoned the complainants ‘came not to prosecute’. The Commons consequently resolved that Hatton’s election should stand. The failure of Baskerville and his allies to press their case makes it difficult to establish what was going on. It is unlikely that there had been contest between Cecil and Hatton, as the former was Lady Hatton’s brother and had already been returned for Dover on 20 January. It seems much more likely that Cecil had been Suffolk’s original nominee but that, on hearing of Cecil’s election elsewhere, the earl had decided to replace him with Hatton. News of his change of mind must have reached the borough only after the indenture had been drawn up, creating confusion in the minds of Baskerville and his adherents, who presumably failed to attend the privileges committee under pressure from Suffolk.10

Wardour and Hatton were re-elected in 1625, when the alderman present was Thomas Waite, one of those who had been accused of tampering with the indenture the year before. On this occasion there is no evidence that the return was altered, but in the Crown Office list Hatton’s name was substituted for Sir Henry Moody’s, which was deleted. There is no evidence that anyone complained about the election and the alteration may have been intended to correct a clerical error.11

Moody was returned in 1626, probably on the strength of his local standing: his family had been tenants of Malmesbury abbey from the end of the fifteenth century, having acquired many of its estates at the Dissolution. Wardour may have decided not to stand again because of deteriorating relations between him and the town, which culminated in a Chancery suit in 1628. Instead, the other seat went to Sir William Croft, a courtier from Herefordshire who was probably nominated by Suffolk. Croft’s father, Sir Herbert*, had been a client of the earl’s son-in-law, Robert Carr, earl of Somerset. As Suffolk died during the 1626 Parliament it was presumably Sir Thomas Howard, by now earl of Berkshire, who nominated Croft in 1628. Croft’s partner was once again Sir Henry Moody, although on this occasion both men are shown in reversed positions on the return.12

Authors: Henry Lancaster / Ben Coates


  • 1. C219/35/2/110.
  • 2. C219/38/290A.
  • 3. VCH Wilts. xiv. 127-32.
  • 4. Ibid. 149-50; J.M. Moffatt, Hist. of Town of Malmesbury, 123.
  • 5. VCH Wilts. xiv. 151.
  • 6. Malmesbury corp. bk. ff. 21, 58, 65, 65, 69, 80.
  • 7. VCH Wilts. xiv. 154-5; C219/35/2/118; 219/40/88.
  • 8. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 275; CP, xii. pt. 1, 462-6; King’s Coll. Lib., Camb., ms KCAR/1/2/16, vol. iv. no. 59.
  • 9. C2/Chas.I/W37/43; 2/Chas.I/W18/8.
  • 10. J.K. Gruenfelder, Influence in Early Stuart Elections, 139; J. Glanville, Reports of Some Cases, (1775), pp. 115-16; CJ, i. 783a. The 1624 indenture is now no more than a fragment. C219/38/290A.
  • 11. C219/39/236; Glanville, 115; OR.
  • 12. C2/Chas.I/W37/43; 2/Chas.I/W18/8; CP, xii. pt. 1, p. 465.