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:



 ?Matthew Dodsworth
 ?Nominee of Lord Sheffield
c.28 Mar. 16141EDWARD SMYTHE
 John Suckling*
 John Legard
 Richard Osbaldeston
c.30 Apr. 1625JOHN LEGARD
 ?Hugh Cholmley
 ?Sir William Alford*
 Sir Edward Coke*
 ?William Conyers
 Sir Guildford Slingsby
 William Thompson
 Nominee of Lord Sheffield
 WILLIAM THOMPSON vice Legard, refused to serve
 Henry Darley*
 Sir Edward Waterhouse
 Sir John Brooke*
 William Cholmley*
 Henry Darley*
 William Turner
 Thomas Alured*
 Henry Darley*

Main Article

The largest port on Yorkshire’s North Sea coast, numbering about 450 households, Scarborough was governed by two bailiffs, two coroners (by convention, the retiring bailiffs), four chamberlains and 36 common councillors.2 The corporation was dominated by merchants and shopkeepers, the most prominent of which, the Thompson family, provided one of the bailiffs at least 18 times between 1603-40; only two non-residents held municipal office during this period.3 Under the Tudors Scarborough steadily declined relative to Hull, and by 1603 its mercantile fleet comprised only 30 small vessels shipping Tyneside coal and Yorkshire cloth to the Low Countries and returning fish, grain, wine, spices and dyestuffs. Shipping dues and profits of a train oil patent helped to maintain the harbour.4 The town also had a thriving market, briefly threatened at the end of Elizabeth’s reign when the Gates family established a rival at nearby Seamer, a move which cost them their electoral influence at Scarborough. Sir Richard Cholmley and John Legard courted similar unpopularity in 1625-6 when they aimed to close the market to prevent the spread of the plague.5

The town returned MPs from 1295, although the parliamentary franchise, governed by custom rather than charter, was ill-defined: surviving indentures cite ‘the bailiffs, burgesses and commons’ as the electorate, and the bailiffs claimed that ‘the commonalty had a great sway’ in the 1625 election; but this may have signified the common council rather than the freemen. In 1614 MPs were returned by ‘the whole house’, suggesting a corporation vote, and the council minute book, begun in 1622, records elections as regular meetings. Letters of nomination and support for candidates were apparently read out on election morning, but as with many corporations the issue was often decided earlier: in 1604, Sir Thomas Hoby was told the result of the election six days before the date of the return.6 The surviving indentures, all in Latin, follow the form of that of 1614, ‘sealed with the town’s seal, Mr. bailiffs’, Mr. coroners’ [and two common councillors’] hands and seals, though all counterfeited except Mr. bailiff Thompson’s’. The corporation worried about this minor deceit, and about their election of two outsiders ‘in which choice although we have directly gone against the statute’. When non-residents were elected in 1601, 1614 and 1624, the corporation had them sworn as freemen before they took their seats. In 1604 Hoby assured the bailiffs ‘that in choosing me, I will be your warrant that therein you shall not offend either law or proclamation; for that by law I am eligible, being both a freeholder and a free burgess of the town’.7

The Scarborough corporation often required their MPs to promote a corporate agenda: Hugh Cholmley expected to receive instructions in 1624 and 1626, and during the latter year Stephen Hutchinson lobbied for protection against Dunkirk privateers. In 1621 Sir Richard Cholmley consulted the bailiffs over his plans to seek legislation for the repair of Whitby pier, a project they strongly opposed: five years later Hugh Cholmley warned ‘that obligation which is first and chiefly to your town must not tie me from doing any public and good service to other parts of my country’. The corporation did not pay parliamentary wages: aspiring candidates often volunteered to serve without charge, or, in the case of the wily Sir Edward Coke*, ‘at as little charge to the town as any that shall be joined with me’.8

Parliamentary lobbying at Scarborough began promptly in 1603, in a letter from Sir Thomas Hoby informing the corporation of Queen Elizabeth’s death. When the summons was delayed due to the plague, Hoby renewed his suit to the new bailiffs, and a similar request followed from Ralph, 3rd Lord Eure†, who recommended his brother Francis. In August 1603 the corporation offered first refusal to their high steward, lord admiral Nottingham (Charles Howard†), who ordered

that you pleasure my Lord Eure with one [seat] and that you appoint my officer, your recorder Mr. Dodsworth [vice-admiralty judge for Yorkshire] to be the other, the rather because I have appointed him to attend some services concerning His Majesty in Michaelmas term.

Hoby, having presumably learnt of this threat to his candidacy, entertained the vicar of Scarborough and other townsmen in the succeeding months, and, writing to the corporation eight days before the election, he dismissed rival nominations by Nottingham and Lord President Sheffield, promising

I will take upon me to satisfy my lord admiral, who will not, I know prefer any that are named in his honour’s letters before me, in respect that his honour and mine only brother married two sisters. And for my lord president, as soon as I did hear that his lordship had written, I did … signify unto his honour that I stood for a place in Scarborough … so as I hope you shall hear no more from his lordship.

Hoby was duly returned, and feasted by the corporation before his departure for London.9

Despite serving as senior bailiff of Scarborough in 1610-11, Hoby found a parliamentary seat at Ripon in 1614. With Lord Eure having moved to Shropshire as president of the Council in the Marches, the rivalry of the previous decade evaporated. Lord President Sheffield renewed his suit for a nomination, ‘the like courtesy having been often afforded to my predecessors’, promising the nominee, his lawyer Edward Smyth, would be ‘to your liking, serviceable for his country, and careful upon all occasions for the good of your corporation’.10 At the same time, two Scarborough merchants, sent to lobby the Privy Council for funds to repair the town’s damaged pier, turned for assistance to Tristram Conyers, a Court of Wards’ official and brother to a corporation member. Conyers, having sought a nomination at Scarborough upon rumours of a Parliament in 1612, now renewed his request, promising that his nephew William Conyers, newly called to the bar, would serve without charge.11 Shortly before the election, a third nomination arrived from Sir Henry Griffiths of Burton Agnes, recommending John Suckling* as ‘very sufficient … to supply that place if you have not already disposed thereof to some other’. This lukewarm recommendation failed, but Tristram Conyers showed gratitude for his nephew’s return with a loan of £50, which enabled the townsmen to secure a levy on east coast shipping for the repair of Scarborough’s pier.12

At the beginning of 1620 the corporation sought a confirmation of their charter ‘upon occasion of being questioned for their [market] tolls’ by the patentee Sir John Townshend*. Their draft aimed to recover privileges lost when the town’s Yorkist charter of incorporation was quashed in 1485: the corporation was to be restricted to a mayor (William Thompson being named as the first), 12 aldermen, and 12 capital burgesses; the town was to acquire head port status separate from Hull; and the pier levy of 1614 was to be confirmed. The most important reason for the proposed confirmation was apparently the clause granting the town its own Admiralty jurisdiction: lord admiral Nottingham apparently delegated Admiralty rights, but lord admiral Buckingham offered no similar agreement following his appointment in 1619. The draft charter passed the signet and privy seal in February 1620, but was then halted on the instructions of Thomas Aylesbury, Buckingham’s Admiralty secretary.13 Although no longer Lord President, Sheffield, still vice-admiral of Yorkshire, was prevailed upon to intercede with Buckingham, who refused to allow the charter to pass, but offered the corporation a grant of Admiralty rights for the duration of his tenure of office similar to that allowed by Nottingham. The town’s negotiators explained that ‘there will be nothing but the charge and renewing [under] every lord admiral, and we shall hold the same thing’. However, William Conyers, asked for his opinion, warned against conceding the principle of the town’s claim: ‘if you should now give way to so great a loss, I know you will never hereafter have means to regain it’. This advice was vindicated in March 1621 when Sir Henry Marten*, judge of the Admiralty Court, advised Aylesbury that the town’s claim was indeed valid, though ‘an inconvenience fit to be reformed’. However, the corporation failed to press its advantage, possibly because of lack of funds.14

Conyers’s assistance over the charter guaranteed him a parliamentary seat at Scarborough in 1621, but the other was open to newcomers. No letters of nomination survive, but among likely patrons, the 4th Lord Eure was a recusant, and Sheffield’s influence had diminished following his dismissal as Lord President. The return of Sir Richard Cholmley of Whitby, whose family had long been in disgrace for their Catholic sympathies and their feud with Sir Thomas Hoby, was presumably arranged by his cousin lord president Scrope.15 In November 1623 the corporation enlisted Conyers in a fresh suit against Sir John Townshend*, despite his advice that any action was likely to prove pointless, as Townshend was living in sanctuary near the inns of court. Conyers also noted the likelihood of a Parliament, ‘for that the Spanish business doth not go forward as the king and state expected’, and asked for a seat. Sir George Ellis and Sir Thomas Tildesley, justices of the Council in the North, subsequently recommended Richard Osbaldeston, a York lawyer who ‘by reason of his practice at London may have opportunity to do you service … and that without any charge unto you’, while Sir Richard Cholmley nominated his son Hugh, then living with his wife’s family in London; he probably also supported the candidacy of his cousin, John Legard of Ganton. At the election in January 1624 the corporation rejected Osbaldeston, but attempted to please the remaining candidates by returning Cholmley and Conyers, and promising Legard a seat at the next election. This obliged Sir Richard Cholmley and Conyers to compete for the continuation of the corporation’s affections: Cholmley sent a fulsome letter of thanks for his son’s return, and Conyers promised the bailiffs ‘a buck for you out of Pickering or Danby forest’.16

In the summer of 1624 the corporation clashed with Lord Sheffield over their claim to an autonomous Admiralty jurisdiction. First, the bailiffs and the town’s mariners were ordered to attend a muster at the Vice-Admiralty Court at Bridlington: the bailiffs refused to appear, and were fined £10 by the court. A few days later, two Dutchmen were arrested and fined for buying fish in the town by Luke Fox, the Admiralty marshal for Yorkshire, who contemptuously announced that ‘he cared not for the bailiffs nor never a man in the town’. The bailiffs seized Fox’s warrant and complained to Sheffield’s deputy, Sir Francis Gargrave, about the affront to the town’s liberties. The latter was unrepentant: ‘the admiral hath a jurisdiction to preserve, no less than your liberties are to be continued … if anything hereupon have fallen out otherwise than you expected, I am confident the fault will appear to be in yourselves’. The corporation finally capitulated in November, asking Buckingham ‘to be pleased to receive our corporation into protection as formerly the lords admiral of this kingdom have done’, and offering him the nomination of a burgess at the next election.17

Unfortunately for the corporation, the 1625 election was the most hotly contested of the period. Some of the aspiring candidates were easily discounted. Sir Edward Coke, who had not had any contact with the town since 1615, based his appeal upon his acquaintance with members of the Privy Council. Sir Guildford Slingsby, suspended as navy comptroller since 1618, was recommended by his brother-in-law Edward Cayley of Brompton; heavily indebted, he probably sought membership of the Commons for protection from his creditors.18 The serious contenders for the senior seat were Sir William Alford*, nominated by lord president Scrope as ‘one who is known to you all to be religious, discreet and fit for the place’, and the unspecified candidate of vice-admiral Sheffield, who was probably claiming the seat offered to Buckingham the previous autumn. Writing on Sheffield’s behalf, Gargrave emphasized that his choice would be ‘both powerful by himself and friends to do you kind respect and favours as any other’. Sir Richard Cholmley, then sheriff, wrote from York to recommend his son’s re-election, but the bailiffs disobligingly complained of his unhelpfulness as sheriff, and advised that ‘they would put it as far as they could, but the commonalty had a great sway in it’. As for the second seat, promised to Legard the previous year, Cholmley’s messenger confessed that he had not dared remind the bailiffs of their undertaking while a cousin of his rival William Conyers was also present. Conyers was annoyed at complications in the establishment of charitable bequests made to the corporation by his uncle, and there is no evidence that he sought re-election in 1625, although in the following year he recalled that ‘I should have been ready to have done you service this Parliament if you had thought so well of me’. A candidate with much stronger claims appeared in 1625 in the person of corporation member William Thompson, who was supported by the earl of Holderness, governor of Scarborough Castle.19

Hearing of his son’s likely rejection on 25 Apr., an irate sheriff Cholmley rebutted the bailiffs’ accusations of unhelpfulness, reminding them of a previous letter to Lord Scrope

wherein they did intimate that they had chosen Sir Richard’s son, though he was not named, and so his lordship and Sir Richard did both conceive of it, in which letter there was some distaste taken by my lord president for making my Lord Sheffield his competitor.

Cholmley ended with the ominous warning that if his son were rejected, ‘instead of a worthy friend they will find a shrewd adversary’. The bailiffs, apparently unmoved by this threat, advised Alford of their ‘friendly intentions’, but he declined the seat following his return for Beverley on 26 April. The election, held before the end of April, apparently saw the return of Legard and Hugh Cholmley, but Legard, when informed, ‘upon some present occasions of his own … did utterly refuse the same’, probably having heard how close he had come to rejection.20 The corporation then decided to hold a fresh election: news of the unexpected vacancy encouraged Richard Darley of Buttercrambe to nominate his son Henry* on 1 May ‘if you be not formerly engaged to others’. On the same day Gargrave, aghast to discover that Sheffield’s expected nomination had failed to arrive, explained that the latter’s candidate was his neighbour Sir Edward Waterhouse of Lythe, ‘one that both in Court and country is able to do his friend a courtesy’. However, the corporation resolved ‘never to choose any afterwards without their handwriting for the same’, which presumably disqualified Waterhouse, and on 2 May Cholmley and Thompson were returned on the existing indenture by an alteration of the date and names.21

The looming war with Spain arrived on Scarborough’s doorstep on 26 Oct. 1625, when rival Dutch and Dunkirker squadrons clashed off the coast.22 Following this incident, the town sent Luke Fox to ask Buckingham for protection in return for a nomination at the next election; he recommended Sir John Brooke* and William Turner, promising

if you shall on this my request and first trial of your affections in this kind give a good success to their desires and mine, it shall oblige me henceforth upon all occasions to requite your loss, and further anything that may tend to the advancement of your corporation.

Both men had been investors in the Yorkshire alum industry, were doubtless known to Sheffield, from whose lands most of the alum shale was extracted.23 Richard Darley also renewed his son’s candidacy, improbably recalling ‘much willingness and good respect from the town’ in the previous year, while Henry Darley himself wrote promising to serve at his own charge. He secured further recommendations from Sir William Sheffield*, and from William Thompson’s nephew, who nominated Darley for ‘the second voice, for I suppose my uncle Thompson will stand again and well deserves the prime voice’.24 Thompson in fact yielded his interest to Stephen Hutchinson, a relative by marriage, who also promised to serve without charge, and to further ‘any occasions you have for the common gain of the town’.25 Sir Richard Cholmley recommended his ‘kinsman’ William Cholmley, an Exchequer official, though ‘if his being a stranger to your town should oppose his election’ he asked for his son to be considered instead.26 Despite careful lobbying, the election of Henry Darley, a grandson of Edward Gates†, was unlikely to be sanctioned by a corporation whose senior members could still recall the Seamer market dispute. The return of William Cholmley at Thirsk on 17 Jan. reduced the field to a contest between local and Admiralty interests. Buckingham’s nomination of two candidates where only a single seat had been offered may have offended the corporation, which proposed to send Hutchinson to London with an extensive agenda of town business. His candidates were thus rejected in favour of Hutchinson and Hugh Cholmley, who needed parliamentary immunity from his creditors, and may have enlisted the aid of Lord Scrope, or lobbied the corporation in person.27

Cholmley, who offended the corporation with his plans to petition Parliament for the repair of Whitby pier, does not appear to have been asked to undertake any business for Scarborough. Hutchinson, however, wrote to the corporation to warn of reprisals taken by the French for the seizure of the St. Peter of Le Havre, and to explain his plans for lobbying for defence of the Yorkshire coast. He was supported in his endeavours by Sir Thomas Hoby, who complained of ‘the want of ships to keep the Narrow Seas’.28 In May 1626 a fresh attempt was made to secure the passage of the charter denied the town in 1620, which was presumably supervised by Hutchinson, named as the town’s first mayor in the draft charter. Once again, the draft passed the signet and privy seal only to be refused the great seal, presumably on renewed objections from the Admiralty.29

Though suffering from the dual affliction of plague and privateers, the corporation complied with the Forced Loan in 1626-7.30 The town’s need for naval defence may have been one of the factors behind the eventual success of the Admiralty interest at the general election of 1628, when neither of the previous Members appear to have stood for re-election. Cholmley, having forced his creditors to a settlement, no longer needed a parliamentary seat, while Thompson’s son Francis, customs collector at Scarborough, apparently secured his family’s influence for John Harrison, a London customs official, who claimed the backing of ‘some friends amongst you’; Harrison also had connections with Buckingham’s circle.31 Darley stood again, together with his uncle Thomas Alured*, but as both were related to the Gates family they were unlikely to be returned.32 Rather surprisingly, Sheffield, now earl of Mulgrave, nominated Sir William Constable, one of the county’s most prominent Loan refusers. In a letter probably intended to strike a note of humility, Constable acknowledged

I can neither press such a request further than you shall well like of, nor hold it to stand with the liberty of your choice to be importuned in it, but I shall acknowledge your kind respect in particular to me … for your town or any person whose kind respect I find in this.

Mulgrave supported Constable with a letter which unashamedly flattered the bailiffs for ‘your respects towards me both while I had that place of government in your country [the presidency] and at all times since’.33 This cautious approach, together with a lack of suitable alternative candidates, secured the return of Constable together with John Harrison.

Author: Simon Healy


M.Y. Ashcroft, archivist of N. Yorks. RO, assisted with the dating of election corresp. and provided a list of corp. members.

  • 1. Scarborough Recs. ed. M.Y. Ashcroft (N. Yorks. RO, xlvii), 57.
  • 2. VCH N. Riding, ii. 551; J.B. Baker, Hist. Scarbrough, 28, 45, 195.
  • 3. From corp. list.
  • 4. E190; Scarborough Recs. 1, 11, 23, 36, 210, 214; VCH N. Riding, ii. 553.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1580-1625, p. 343; HMC Hatfield, ix. 388; APC, 1600-1, pp. 5-6; Scarborough Recs. 13, 134, 143-4, 169.
  • 6. Scarborough Recs. 57, 116, 143, 146, 160, 188; Baker, 195; Scarborough Recs. 1641-60 ed. M.Y. Ashcroft (N. Yorks. RO, xlix), 49-50; Diary of Lady Margaret Hoby ed. D.M. Meads, 210.
  • 7. Scarborough Recs. 4, 32, 57-8, 116-17, 121.
  • 8. Ibid. 80, 118, 143, 160-2.
  • 9. Scarborough Recs. 32; Diary of Lady Hoby, 207, 210-11.
  • 10. Scarborough Recs. 56. Sheffield also requested a seat in the Parl. rumoured to be imminent in Nov. 1615: ibid. 62.
  • 11. Scarborough Recs. 52-57; Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiv), 649; C66/1393; E215/587; C. Roberts, Schemes and Undertakings, 11-14.
  • 12. Scarborough Recs. 57-8; APC, 1613-14, pp. 417-18.
  • 13. Baker, 41-42; SO3/7, PSO2/42 and PSO5/4 (all Feb. 1620); Scarborough Recs. 69-71, 73, 141; R. Lockyer, Buckingham, 275. For Nottingham’s agreement with Hull, see Bodl. North. a.1, f. 79.
  • 14. R. Reid, Council in the North, 488; Scarborough Recs. 72-3, 75.
  • 15. C66/2209/4; Reid, 386-8, 488; H. Cholmley, Mems. (1787), p. 22.
  • 16. Scarborough Recs. 70, 73, 80, 14, 116, 118, 121, 146; Reid, 497-8; Cholmley, 24, 39-40.
  • 17. Scarborough Recs. 69, 127-31, 141.
  • 18. Ibid. 61-2, 142-3; Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. ii. 67; iii. 297; Add. 64882, f. 31. Slingsby’s poor rate assessment for St. Martin-in-the-Fields par. fell from 26s. in 1613-14 to 4s. in 1624-5: WCA F340, F351.
  • 19. Scarborough Recs. 93, 114, 142-4, 162; Baker, 224-5. Holderness’s letter is now lost.
  • 20. Scarborough Recs. 143-6. The date on the indenture was altered after the second election, see C219/39/286.
  • 21. Scarborough Recs. 145-6; N. Yorks. Co. RO, MIC 1320/459-61; Vis. Yorks. ed. Foster, 353; C219/39/286.
  • 22. CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 135, 140; Scarborough Recs. 151-3, 155-7.
  • 23. Scarborough Recs. 141, 186 (dated to 1625/6); R.B. Turton, Alum Farm, 72-74, 86-87, 94, 120.
  • 24. Scarborough Recs. 159, 198 (redated to 17 Jan. 1625/6); N. Yorks. RO, MIC 1320/500-6.
  • 25. N. Yorks. RO, MIC 1320/502, cal. in Scarborough Recs. 159.
  • 26. Scarborough Recs. 197 (redated to 12 Jan. 1625/6).
  • 27. Vis. Yorks. ed. Foster, 60, 87; C219/40, f. 118; Scarborough Recs. 161; Cholmley, 42, 44-46.
  • 28. Scarborough Recs. 160-2; Procs. 1626, ii. 203.
  • 29. SO3/8; PSO2/65 and PSO 5/5 (all May 1626).
  • 30. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 275; Scarborough Recs. 171-2, 174, 177-9.
  • 31. Cholmley, 45; APC, 1627, p. 229; Scarborough Recs. 187; Fanshawe Mems. ed. T. Fanshawe, 18; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 573.
  • 32. Scarborough Recs. 188; Vis. Yorks. ed. Foster, 60, 87, 144.
  • 33. N. Yorks. RO, MIC 1320/582, cal. in Scarborough Recs. 187.