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

Number of voters:



20 Feb. 1606SIR JOHN FORTESCUE vice Wroth, deceased
aft. 23 Dec. 1607SIR ROBERT WROTH II vice Fortescue, deceased
 Sir Julius Caesar
 Sir Thomas Edmondes*
29 Jan. 1624(SIR) GILBERT GERARD , (bt.)
 Sir John Hippisley*
 Sir John Franklin
 (Sir) John Suckling
by 22 Feb. 16281(SIR) HENRY SPILLER

Main Article

Described by Thomas Fuller in the early 1660s as ‘but the suburbs at large of London’, Middlesex was a small county, ‘scarce extending east and west to eighteen miles in length, and not exceeding twelve north and south in the breadth thereof’. Except near the Thames, where livings were made either by ferrying or fishing, the county’s inhabitants were mainly farmers for, despite its size, Middlesex boasted some of the most fertile soil anywhere in the country. Writing in 1592, the surveyor John Norden commented not only on the abundance and excellence of its wheat (which Fuller later reckoned to be ‘the best in England’) but also on the plentiful dairy produce, poultry ‘and a thousand other country drugs’. The fruits of Middlesex’s bountiful harvests found a ready market among London’s large and rapidly expanding population, but such easy pickings undoubtedly bred contempt for improved farming methods. ‘Things are more confounded by ignorance and evil husbandry in this shire than in any other shire that I know’, wrote Norden, a lament which was to be echoed many times over the following three centuries.2 Just as the county’s rich soil provided the key to agricultural abundance and prosperity, so too it formed the basis for the shire’s principal industry, the manufacture of tiles and bricks.3 At least one of Middlesex’s early Stuart parliamentary representatives was involved in this trade. This was Sir Gilbert Gerard who, in the mid-1630s, was accused by the lord of the manor of Sudbury and Harrow of stealing his sand, whereby Gerard ‘became a brickmaker and, by underselling my brick at 6d. in the thousand, had the custom of the country’.4

The abundance of its harvests and its proximity to London naturally made Middlesex a prime source of foodstuffs and fuel for the purveyors of the royal Household. During the 1589 Parliament the Middlesex Member Sir Robert Wroth I joined the chorus of objections to the abuses perpetrated by purveyors and cart-takers, but in the 1590s the county resisted entering into a general agreement for composition with the board of Green Cloth, preferring instead to compound for wheat alone. Returned once again for Middlesex in 1604, Wroth raised the issue of purveyance in the Commons, probably with the encouragement of his patron, Lord Cecil (Robert Cecil†), who hoped to sell this fiscal prerogative in return for a fixed annual revenue rather than extend the county compositions. Nothing came of this intervention, and on 18 Mar. 1606 Sir Oliver St. John, a commissioner of the Verge and Member for Bedfordshire, suggested that Middlesex should enter a general agreement for composition. However, it was probably not until after the failure of the Great Contract that Middlesex’s justices finally consented to broadening the existing arrangements for composition.5

On the face of it, the new agreement, which entitled the justices to appoint undertakers for the composition, gave the Middlesex bench considerable scope for curtailing the abuses of purveyors, as these were now their employees. In April 1613 a committee of magistrates dismissed the undertakers for having raised their rates and stripped the county bare to provide foodstuffs for other shires which had compounded. However, in the following September the board of Green Cloth responded by insisting that one of the undertakers, Thomas Gawen, remain in post. The composition scheme was further undermined by the exemptions claimed by many of Middlesex’s inhabitants, and by Green Cloth’s dithering over whether it wished to receive payment in money or in kind. By October 1614 the county’s magistrates were so irritated by the Board’s indecision that they threatened to terminate the composition arrangements altogether.6 Though this threat was never carried out, purveyance remained a grievance. On 26 Mar. 1621 a bill to regulate the purveyance of carts was brought into the Commons ‘by Middlesex men’. One of the bill’s principal complaints was that the ancient verge of the Court, which established the area within which purveyors were entitled to take up carriages, had been extended from 12 miles for horse-drawn carts and eight miles for ox-drawn wains to 30 miles. It was also alleged that those who refused to allow their carts to be employed for the use of the royal Household were often forced to compound at rates greater than the value of the load to be carried. Though this measure failed to clear the Lords after successfully completing all its Commons’ stages,7 it served to spur the Privy Council into action, for in April 1622 Middlesex entered into a fresh composition agreement with the whitestaves.8 Unfortunately, the new arrangements proved unpopular with Middlesex’s neighbours. In March 1624 Sir Charles Morrison, Member for Hertfordshire, complained of ‘the excessive pressing upon his county by carriages, especially sithence Middlesex hath compounded’.9 According to Morrison, the burden previously borne by Middlesex of carrying goods for the royal Household had been transferred to Hertfordshire, which was now forced to provide 500 carts each year rather than 200.10 His complaint was taken up by the committee for grievances, which found in favour of Morrison on 11 May.11 However, the committee was powerless to act.

There was no settled venue for the county’s parliamentary elections, which were held at Uxbridge in 1614, at Brentford in 1624, and at Hickes’ Hall, the recently acquired sessions’ house of the Middlesex bench at Clerkenwell, in 1625.12 Though the county always returned residents, its freedom of choice was restricted by the demand for seats of senior government officials, at least before 1620. Of the four Members who represented Middlesex during the first Jacobean Parliament, one was a privy councillor (Sir John Fortescue), two were employees of Robert Cecil as master of the Game and Forests (Sir Robert Wroth I and Sir Robert Wroth II) and one held office in the Court of Wards (Sir William Fleetwood I), a department also headed by Cecil. The same pattern was repeated in 1614, as three of the four candidates were senior government officials. Sir Julius Caesar was chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Thomas Lake I was a privy councillor and Sir Walter Cope, who withdrew his candidacy before the election, was Cecil’s successor as master of the Wards. Only Sir Francis Darcy, who may still have been an equerry in the king’s stables, was without government office. Under pressure from the Privy Council and the king, Darcy was forced to withdraw. However, his bitterness at being forced to step aside was communicated to the freeholders by one of his servants who, ‘getting up upon a table, told the assembly that his master meant to have stood, but was forbidden by the king’. He then added that Darcy ‘desired all his well-willers to give their voices to master chancellor, and for the second place to do as God should put in their minds’. Not surprisingly, the servant was arrested for insulting Lake, and Darcy himself was ‘called in question for the message’.13 The latter obtained his revenge in December 1620, however, when the freeholders rejected the privy councillors Caesar and Sir Thomas Edmondes, the treasurer of the Household, in favour of Darcy and Sir Gilbert Gerard, clerk to the council of the duchy of Lancaster. Though Caesar and Edmondes ‘made all the means they could’, Middlesex’s voters were no longer persuaded that their interests would be best served by privy councillors.14 Already, perhaps, there were moves afoot to present a bill to Parliament against the purveyance of carts, and it was realized that Edmondes in particular, as a Household official, would oppose rather than support this measure.

It has been argued that the 1620 election ‘was the last sign of Council intervention in Middlesex’. However, in 1624 the privy councillor Sir John Suckling secured the county’s second seat, albeit only after a hotly contested election. Suckling was a client of Middlesex’s new lord lieutenant, the duke of Buckingham, and it is therefore ironic that his nearest rival was evidently his fellow Buckingham client Sir John Hippisley. Though recently admitted to the Middlesex bench and the rangership of Bushey Park, Hippisley was an outsider, who used his influence in the royal stables, where he was an equerry, and with the lieutenant of the Tower, Sir Allen Apsley (another Buckingham supporter), to pack the assembled voters with ‘stable and Mint men’, who were not freeholders. At first it seemed that Hippisley had carried the seat, but on closer inspection Hippisley’s ploy was discovered, and after a count of the legitimate voters it was found that Hippisley came short of Suckling ‘ten or twelve voices’. Suckling’s challengers also included the youthful Sir John Franklin who, though permanently resident at Willesden, had not yet obtained admission to the Middlesex bench. A petition by several of the county’s freeholders drawn up on Franklin’s behalf later claimed that Suckling had been ‘unduly returned in his stead’, and was submitted to the Commons by Franklin’s uncle Edward Roberts, Member for Penryn. However, it was subsequently withdrawn by the petitioners, who declared that they were ‘better informed and advised now than when their petition was first preferred’. In view of this change of heart, the committee for privileges and returns cleared Suckling of any suspicion of fraud. Suckling’s fellow knight of the shire was Sir Gilbert Gerard who, though he took the first seat with ease,15 may not have been confident of success, as he absented himself from the hustings and hedged his bets by also standing in the Isle of Wight. This was ironic, as Gerard’s candidacy seems to have worried the Privy Council as it meant that all the other candidates would have to fight over the second seat. Three weeks before the election it restored Gerard to the bench, from which he had been removed in 1621 for lessening his subsidy assessment without proper authorization, perhaps in the hope that this concession might induce him not to stand.16

Undeterred by the defeat he had suffered in 1624, Sir John Franklin resolved to stand for the senior knighthood of the shire in 1625. However, he also secured Buckingham’s nomination for a place at Rye, whose jurats were assured by the duke that Franklin was his ‘deserving friend’.17 On the day of the Middlesex election, Franklin spent £7 5s.10d. in buying the votes of freeholders at Hickes’ Hall.18 This relatively modest sum was sufficient to allow him and Gerard to inflict a humiliating reverse on Suckling, who unwisely attended the hustings in person.19

Neither Suckling nor any other government minister appears to have put his head above the parapet in 1626. That year Gerard was again returned, alongside a newcomer to the county, (Sir) Edward Spencer, who had recently married a widow from Middlesex. No government ministers are certainly known to have stood in 1628 either, an election which, like so many others that year, was dominated by hostility to the Forced Loan. At least one of the successful candidates, (Sir) Henry Spiller, had been summoned before the Privy Council in 1627 as a Loan defaulter. Spiller’s supporters undoubtedly included the ‘plain countryman’ who, on being asked by Sir Thomas Edmondes who he would support, declared that he would vote ‘for those who have suffered for their country’.20 Apart from Spiller and Sir Francis Darcy, who took the second seat, there must have been at least one additional candidate, as Edmondes’ question clearly implies. Possibly Sir Gilbert Gerard cast his hat into the ring again. Gerard later feigned indifference to the affairs of the 1628-9 Parliament, but it is clear from the fact that he obtained a large folio book of its proceedings that he was actually deeply interested in its activities.21 However, for the first time in the 1620s he would have been considered unacceptable, as he had paid his contribution to the Loan.22

Several of Middlesex’s Members were attuned to the concerns of their constituents. Apart from raising the issue of purveyance in 1604, Sir Robert Wroth I was probably responsible for introducing a bill to ban the use of barges on the River Lea. His hostility to the 1571 Lea Navigation Act, which threatened the livelihood of the carters of Enfield, where he lived, is well-documented, and in all likelihood he was in the House on the day that the bill was introduced (14 May 1604) as he was subsequently named to two committees.23 In 1621 Sir Francis Darcy was named to the committee for the bill concerning the purveyance of carts. Darcy’s concern for the welfare of his constituents was expressed on 2 May, when he requested that a bill concerning the provision of poor relief in London and its hinterland be made ‘general for Middlesex at least’.24 When the purveyance of carts bill was revived in 1624, Sir Gilbert Gerard was appointed to the committee, as was Sir John Suckling, though he may have been more concerned to protect the interests of the royal Household than those of his constituents.25 It is striking that Gerard and Suckling were almost the only Members to attend the committee’s meeting.26 Both Gerard and Sir John Franklin were named in March 1626 to the bill to enable the sale of the Hertfordshire and Middlesex lands of the late Sir James Altham the younger.27

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. OR.
  • 2. Fuller’s Worthies ed. R. Barber, 241; M. Robbins, Mdx. 32-3.
  • 3. Robbins, 49.
  • 4. LMA, Acc.76/827; DL1/340, unnumb. item.
  • 5. A. Woodworth, Purveyance in Reign of Queen Eliz. (Trans. Am. Phil. Soc. n.s. xxxv. pt. i), 80-3; CJ, i. 286a.
  • 6. Mdx. Sessions Recs. (n.s.) ed. W. le Hardy, i. 254-5, 459; ii. 117, 292-3; iii. 341-2; iv. 102-3, 335.
  • 7. CD 1621, iii. 417, n. 25; iv. 243, 372; v. 322; vii. 301.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 373; Som. RO, DD/MI/Box 18, OBI/39, 40.
  • 9. CJ, i. 685a.
  • 10. ‘Holland 1624’, i. f. 50v.
  • 11. CJ, i. 702a.
  • 12. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 517; ii. 543; Archaeologia, xv. 160.
  • 13. Chamberlain Letters, i. 517.
  • 14. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 200; HMC Buccleuch, i. 256; J.K. Gruenfelder, Influence in Early Stuart Elections, 108.
  • 15. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 243; Lansd. 485, ff. 25v-6; CJ, i. 783a.
  • 16. APC, 1621-3, p. 52; C231/4, f. 160.
  • 17. Procs. 1625, p. 698.
  • 18. Archaeologia, xv. 160.
  • 19. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 614.
  • 20. Letters of John Holles ed. P.R. Seddon (Thoroton Soc. xxv), 377. Seddon’s identification of Sir James Ley* rather than Edmondes as ‘Mr. Treasurer’ is incorrect.
  • 21. Barrington Fam. Letters ed. A. Searle (Cam. Soc. ser. 4. xxviii), 50; CD 1628, i. 7.
  • 22. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 197.
  • 23. CJ, i. 208b, 209b, 971a-b.
  • 24. Ibid. 602b.
  • 25. Ibid. 585b, 679a.
  • 26. HLRO, main pprs. 20 Mar.-8 Apr. 1624.
  • 27. Procs. 1626, ii. 312.