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:



2 Mar. 1604RICHARD DIGGES , recorder
c. Mar. 1614RICHARD DIGGES , recorder
22 Dec. 1620RICHARD DIGGES , recorder
 WILLIAM SEYMOUR , Lord Beauchamp
14 Feb. 1621SIR WALTER DEVEREUX vice Seymour, called to the Upper House
22 Jan. 1624RICHARD DIGGES , recorder
11 May 1625RICHARD DIGGES , recorder
1 Feb. 16261RICHARD DIGGES , recorder
10 Mar. 1628RICHARD DIGGES , recorder
c.20 Mar. 16282HENRY PERCY vice Seymour, chose to sit for Wilts.

Main Article

Marlborough was founded by the Saxons on the site of a Roman fortified settlement. Situated on the River Kennet, the town was an axis for communications between London and Bristol, and from the southern ports via Winchester and Salisbury to Gloucester. Its favourable location enabled the town to develop into one of the principal trading centres in the area, while its strategic importance was recognized in the eleventh century with the construction of a castle, which was also used as a provincial mint and treasury.3 In King John’s charter of 1204 the town was granted an eight-day annual fair, a Wednesday and Saturday market, and exemption from certain tolls modelled upon similar privileges enjoyed by the burgesses of Winchester. The main local industries were the manufacture of pins, lace, clay, leather, gloves, cloth and pipes.4

Marlborough was first styled a borough in 1086. The town’s earliest administrators, the constables of the castle, were gradually superseded by the members of an influential merchant guild, principally comprised of fullers and weavers, established in 1163. A town steward was first mentioned in 1280 and a mayor in 1312. To these offices were later added two bailiffs, two chamberlains to manage the corporation’s finances, a coroner, and two serjeants-of-the-mace. Finally, a town clerk, or recorder, was instituted in 1579 to handle the town’s legal affairs. In 1514 the merchant guild, which had enjoyed an ill-defined and limited authority, was replaced by a two-tiered governing body of around 16-20 common councillors.5 An annually elected mayor also served as escheator, coroner, and clerk of the market. There was a discernible decline in the number of freemen in the early Stuart period, from about 80 in the late sixteenth century to 75 in 1614, 59 in 1623, 52 in 1636 and 32 by the 1700s.6

The corporation’s income – derived from entry fines, tolls, pasturage on neighbouring downland, rent from numerous houses and inns, and charges made for grazing stock on Portfield, an 80-acre tract of common land – amounted to £96 in 1572, but had declined to £88 by 1604. This was partly due to lax management of the corporation’s properties, for in that year it was noted that £34 was yet due from tenants listed in old rent rolls who ‘have not paid … of late years and part of them are thought to be lost’.7 In the beginning of James’s reign the corporation made greater efforts to exploit its resources, and by 1628 the income of the borough had reached £294; however, expenditure increased commensurately, and the surplus in any year was rarely more than £6.8 Much was spent on an ambitious building programme, including a new town hall in 1612.9 An almshouse and grammar school, founded in 1550 in the former buildings of the hospital of St. John, were also maintained out of municipal coffers.10 Miscellaneous gifts, usually of money, wine and sugar, were made to neighbouring gentry such as Sir John St. John*, Sir Gilbert Prynne and Sir Francis Seymour, as also to Sir Francis Bacon*, presumably to gain his favour towards the town’s bid for a new charter in 1609, on which it expended £22. In 1611 wine was bestowed upon Sir John Bennet*, then a master in Chancery, perhaps for similar considerations, and three years later the corporation gave £32 towards the feudal aid for Princess Elizabeth’s wedding.11 The lords of the manor, the earls of Hertford (Edward Seymour and his grandson William, Lord Beauchamp*), also benefited from regular gifts. The corporation’s relations with the first earl were cordial, but after the latter’s death the second earl resisted the townsmen’s attempts to confirm various rights. In October 1625 it was finally agreed that the Seymours owned all streets and wastes in the town, could claim the profits from fairs, and could nominate one of the two bailiffs. In turn, the corporation confirmed its right to a court leet, its control over the twice-weekly and other markets, and its rent of the Portfield.12

Marlborough had been represented in Parliament since Edward I’s reign. The franchise rested in the freemen, although by the early seventeenth century the Seymours’ influence was sufficient to guarantee the return of at least one nominee in every election. In each Parliament of this period the corporation’s choice was Richard Digges, Marlborough’s recorder since 1597. His chambers at Lincoln’s Inn meant that he was well placed to carry out various legal duties for the town, including the renewal of the charter, but his activity in the House never directly concerned the borough.13 The separation of the Seymours’ parliamentary patronage from that of the corporation is indicated by the fact that the latter’s payments for parliamentary wages and expenses were made to Digges alone: he received 23s. in 1604, followed by regular payments of 16s. in 1607, 1609 and 1610, and 6s. to cover expenses in 1614.14 By 1621 it was formally established that he should receive 40s. as parliamentary wages, together with incidental expenses. The Members recommended by the Seymours presumably served free of charge.

The 1st earl of Hertford’s nominee in 1604 was his auditor Lawrence Hyde I; in 1614 it was his neighbour Sir Francis Popham, who had accompanied him on an embassy to Brussels in 1605.15 Hertford’s grandson and heir, William Seymour, Lord Beaumchamp, was returned to the third Jacobean Parliament, but was called to the Upper House before the Commons assembled, and subsquently succeeded as 2nd earl in April 1621.16 As a replacement he nominated Sir Walter Devereux, a kinsman of his brother-in-law Robert Devereux, 3rd earl of Essex. In 1624 the junior seat went to Hertford’s younger brother, Sir Francis Seymour. Edward Kirton, nephew of James Kirton I*, a long-standing servant of the Seymour family, took the second seat both in 1625 and 1626. Seymour was Hertford’s initial choice again in 1628, but after he decided to serve as a knight of the shire another of Essex’s kinsmen, Henry Percy, was returned in his stead.

Author: Henry Lancaster


  • 1. Wilts. RO, G22/1/20, f. 102.
  • 2. Wilts. RO, G22/1/20, f. 118; Procs. 1628, vi. 123.
  • 3. A. Stedman, Marlborough and the Upper Kennet Country, 25, 39, 41; VCH Wilts. xii. 199, 201.
  • 4. Stedman, 93-4, 96; Wilts. RO, G22/1/20, f. 1.
  • 5. Stedman, 123; Wilts. RO, G22/1/20, ff. 12, 57, 61, 120.
  • 6. VCH Wilts. xii. 212; Wilts. RO, G22/1/39.
  • 7. Wilts. RO, G22/1/228; VCH Wilts. xii. 207.
  • 8. Wilts. RO, G22/1/39, no. 53; G22/1/205/2, ff. 26, 66v, 69; G22/1/228.
  • 9. Ibid. G22/1/39, no. 54.
  • 10. HMC 4th Rep. 351; VCH Wilts. xii. 216; Wilts. RO, G22/1/205/2, ff. 40v, 54v, 55v.
  • 11. Wilts. RO, G22/1/205/2, ff. 43v, 45v, 46v, 48, 50v, 59v, 66v; E351/1950.
  • 12. Wilts. RO, G22/1/268.
  • 13. Ibid. G22/1/205/2, ff. 43v, 58, 59v.
  • 14. Ibid. ff. 36v, 40v, 45; Marlborough Mun. Recs.; Chamberlains’ Accts. ed. B.H. Cunnington, 9-11.
  • 15. HMC Bath, iv. 200; NLW, Carreglwyd I/643.
  • 16. CP, ix. 733-4.