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 corporation

Number of voters:



16 Feb. 16041HENRY YELVERTON , recorder
 EDWARD MERCER , alderman
11 Mar. 16142HENRY YELVERTON , recorder
 (Sir) Henry Yelverton
 John Lambe
16 Jan. 1624CHRISTOPHER SHERLAND , recorder
28 Apr. 1625CHRISTOPHER SHERLAND , recorder
5 Jan. 1626CHRISTOPHER SHERLAND , recorder
20 Feb. 16283CHRISTOPHER SHERLAND , recorder

Main Article

A staple town, Northampton received its first charter in 1189, and sent Members to Parliament in 1283.4 Elections were originally popular, but an Act of 1489 vested the government of the town in a mayor, two bailiffs, the ex-bailiffs (usually numbering about 12) and 48 ‘burgesses’ chosen by the mayor and his brethren, and confined the franchise to this assembly.5 By the mid-sixteenth century it was usual for the recorder to be chosen as one Member, and this tradition continued with only one exception under the early Stuarts, being the 1620 election, when (Sir) Henry Yelverton was in the Tower.6 The second seat was normally occupied by members of the local gentry who were, as the borough typically stipulated, willing to serve without wages. Elections took place in the guildhall. The town was a stronghold of puritanism, and when Sir Thomas Tresham entered the town on 25 Mar. 1603 to proclaim James I and called on the inhabitants to pray for the new king, the vicar of All Saints, Robert Catelyn, added: ‘let us pray that the king prove sound in religion’.7 Catelyn was subsequently suspended for refusing to adhere to the Canons of 1604, but was eventually reinstated as a result of pressure from the corporation and the local gentry.8 Northampton was badly affected by the 1603 plague epidemic, and levied £20 a month to deal with its consequences, which must have proved a severe drain on its resources.9

In 1604 Yelverton and the former mayor Edward Mercer were elected ‘by and with the whole consent and assent of the said assembly’. However, the usual requirement that they should pay their own expenses was omitted, perhaps out of particular regard for Mercer, a draper, and the only townsman elected during this period.10 Both Mercer and his father signed the petition from the corporation in January 1605 for Catelyn’s reinstatement.11 In 1607 the town voted Yelverton £5 on his appointment as reader of Gray’s Inn. He had offended the king during the first three sessions of the Parliament, especially by his opposition to the Union with Scotland, increased taxation, and purveyance; but after a grovelling apology he was restored to favour at Court in 1609, at which point Northampton resolved that no more money should be allowed for his entertainment.12

The corporation refused to pay the aid for Princess Elizabeth in 1613, during Mercer’s third term as mayor, until it was informed of the reason for the levy.13 In February 1614 it unsuccessfully petitioned Sir Henry Carey I*, who owned the advowson of All Saints, to reinstate Catelyn, who had once more been threatened with deprivation.14 At the general election two months later, Yelverton not only had himself re-elected but persuaded the corporation to accept his brother-in-law Francis Beale, the obscure son of an Elizabethan official, as the second Member in 1614, although Beale had no other connection with the constituency. It was stipulated that both Members should defray their own charges.15 A new charter granted to the town in 1618 gave former bailiffs the title of aldermen, extended the borough boundaries, and increased its immunity from outside interference. Yelverton, who had procured it, was nominated recorder for life, and the corporation was empowered to choose his successors.16

There was evidently a contest in 1620, though it may not have been carried to a poll. It was incorrectly reported that Yelverton had been re-elected, despite his incarceration in the Tower on a trumped-up charge of corruption after he had offended the marquess of Buckingham.17 With the recorder absent, a contest ensued between three candidates. One contender was Dr. John Lambe, the unpopular chancellor of the diocese of Peterborough, who perhaps stood in an attempt to prevent the corporation from protesting against his treatment of puritans in the town. However, the successful candidates were Richard Spencer, a younger son of Lord Spencer (Sir Robert Spencer†), of Althorp, and Thomas Crewe of Steane, both Northamptonshire gentlemen ‘of good descent and efficiency’, who were returned on condition that they took out their freedom and served without charge.18 The corporation resolved on 26 Jan. 1621 to exhibit a bill in the Parliament concerning the River Nene from Northampton to Peterborough, which they desired to be made navigable; however, there is no record that such a bill was ever read in the Commons.19 On 11 May 1621 the corporation presented a petition to Parliament accusing Lambe of oppression and extortion. After giving specific instances, the petition went on to allege that ‘because … divers townsmen refused to give him their voices to be one of the burgesses of Parliament for Northampton (which he would fain have obtained by both fair means and threatenings) he presently cited many to the court, and there threatened them’.20 The Speaker issued warrants for the examination of witnesses; but the king stopped the proceedings and Lambe was knighted shortly after the adjournment of the first sitting.21

Northampton again resisted pressure to yield a Benevolence for the Palatinate in 1622, protesting to the Privy Council that ‘the decay of the town prevents the general contribution from being good’.22 On 19 June 1623 Yelverton, who had again been restored to royal favour, resigned the recordership in anticipation of his promotion to judicial office, and recommended as his successor his nephew Christopher Sherland, a puritan lawyer. Sherland was duly appointed on condition of taking out his freedom, and was returned to every subsequent Parliament of the period as the town’s first Member, together with Richard Spencer.23 On 3 May 1624 Spencer preferred another petition against Lambe on behalf of the constituency.24 It was referred to the committee of courts of justice and reported by Sir Robert Phelips* three weeks later. The charges were the same but again no action was taken. It may also have been Spencer who preferred a petition from Northampton against the alnage, which was reported by Sir Edwin Sandys* on the same day.25

Quarter sessions had hitherto been held at Northampton, the county capital, but after protests from gentry in the east of Northamptonshire (including the custos rotulorum the 6th earl of Rutland) the Privy Council ruled in 1624 that the sessions should be re-located to Kettering. This had not been effected a year later, when it was again ordered that the post-Christmas quarter sessions should be held at Kettering.26 As a result of this snub to their town the corporation politely refused a request from Lord Montagu (Sir Edward Montagu*) to endorse Sir Lewis Watson* as one of the knights of the shire in 1626, and instead gave their votes to Spencer’s brother William and Sir John Pickering*. Montagu attributed the victory of the rival faction largely to ‘the strength of the town of Northampton, together with their distaste about the sessions’.27 The corporation was nevertheless in agreement with many of the local gentry against the Forced Loan in 1627, which met with particularly entrenched resistance in Northamptonshire; the Privy Council clearly disbelieved the excuses offered by the mayor, who had managed to collect less than half of the first instalment due from the town.28 Spencer, as a Loan collector, an Arminian, and a supporter of Buckingham, now a duke, had lost the support of most of Northampton’s electorate by the time of the next general election, and he was further disadvantaged by leaving the county on his marriage in early 1628. On 1 Mar. it was reported that the corporation were determined to elect Sir Erasmus Dryden* in second place; however, Spencer was able to secure the seat, probably as a result of his family’s influence.29 During the debates that preceded the Petition of Right, Sherland protested against the billeting in Northampton of troops commanded by a Catholic, which he declared had been taken by the townsmen ‘to frustrate the hope of this Parliament’.30

Authors: Virginia C.D. Moseley / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. Northants. RO, Northampton bor. 3/1, p. 590.
  • 2. Ibid. 685-6.
  • 3. Ibid. 809.
  • 4. Northampton Bor. Recs. ed. C.A. Markham, i. 25.
  • 5. VCH Northants. iii. 9-13; Northampton Bor. Recs. ed. J.C. Cox, ii. 16-17.
  • 6. VCH Northants. iii. 17.
  • 7. HMC Var. iii. 118-23.
  • 8. W.J. Shiels, Puritans in Dioc. Peterborough (Northants. Rec. Soc. xxx), 80-1; B.W. Quintrell, ‘Royal Hunt and the Puritans’, JEH, xxxi. 53-4.
  • 9. Northampton Bor. Recs. ii. 234-6.
  • 10. Northants. RO, Northampton bor. 3/1, p. 590.
  • 11. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 26.
  • 12. Northampton Bor. Recs. ii. 105.
  • 13. HMC Buccleuch, iii. 162.
  • 14. Sloane 3827, f. 10; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 254.
  • 15. Northampton Bor. Recs. ii. 495.
  • 16. Ibid. i. 125-37.
  • 17. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 200.
  • 18. Northampton Bor. Recs. ii. 495; Northants. RO, Northampton bor. 3/1, p. 758.
  • 19. Northants. RO, Northampton bor. 3/1, p. 760.
  • 20. CD 1621, vi. 475-6; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 59.
  • 21. CSP Dom. 1619-23, pp. 280-1.
  • 22. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 397.
  • 23. Northampton Bor. Recs. ii. 105; Northants. RO, Northampton bor. 3/1, pp. 780, 792, 796.
  • 24. ‘Earle 1624’, f. 166v.
  • 25. CJ, i. 709, 774a.
  • 26. APC, 1623-5, p. 365; 1625-6, p. 293.
  • 27. HMC Buccleuch i. 258-9, iii. 262-3.
  • 28. CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 15, 317, 254; R. Cust, Forced Loan, 111, 117.
  • 29. Procs. 1628, vi. 122-3.
  • 30. CD 1628, ii. 361-2, Procs. 1628, vi. 64-5.