St. Albans


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 and freemen

Number of voters:

62 in 16241


25 Mar. 16042TOBIE MATTHEW vice Bacon, chose to sit for Ipswich
4 Jan. 1610SIR THOMAS PARRY vice Carey, deceased
 SIR HENRY HELMES vice Matthew, ‘commanded out’
4 Jan. 1610 Election of Helmes declared void, 14 Feb. 1610
c.17 Feb. 1610Sir Henry Helmes
14 Apr. 1614THOMAS PERIENT vice Bacon, chose to sit for Cambridge University
13 Feb. 1621HENRY MEAUTYS vice Shute, deceased
30 Jan. 1626SIR CHARLES MORRISON , bt.
c.14 Mar. 16283SIR JOHN JENNYNS

Main Article

St. Albans owed its prosperity to its position as the first staging-point out of London, where the main highways to Ireland and the north-west diverged. Royal stables were maintained there, and municipal hospitality could be exercised in an enviably wide selection of well supplied inns. It was also the administrative centre of the liberty of St. Albans, comprising the former estates of the wealthy abbey scattered throughout Hertfordshire, with its own sessions of the peace and gaol. The borough received its first charter in 1253, and sent representatives to Parliament intermittently between 1301 and 1336. It was incorporated and re-enfranchised in 1553, with a mayor, a steward, and ten ‘principal burgesses’.4 The main electoral patron during the reign of James I was Sir Francis Bacon, owner of the Gorhambury estate just outside the borough, who was appointed recorder and high steward in 1613.5 After Bacon’s fall from grace in 1621, the borough deferred to the 2nd earl of Salisbury (William Cecil*), lord lieutenant of Hertfordshire.

At the general election of 1604 Bacon himself was chosen as the senior Member, while Adolphus Carey, a local gentleman who had previously represented St. Albans in Elizabeth I’s last Parliament, was re-elected as his colleague. However, Bacon opted to sit for Ipswich, in Suffolk, which he had represented in two Elizabethan Parliaments, and nominated in his stead his clone Tobie Matthew. Matthew was sworn in as a freeman and undertook to serve without charge, but went abroad after the first session, and converted to Catholicism, while Carey died in 1609.6 Consequently a double by-election was required ahead of the fourth session. Carey’s cousin, Sir Thomas Vavasour*, the knight marshal, nominated Sir Thomas Parry, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, while Bacon put forward his favourite Sir Henry Helmes, who leased property in the county. Helmes was sworn a freeman and elected at a cost to the corporation of 4s. 10d. for wine and sugar; but because the writ had been issued on the Privy Council’s orders, his return was queried by the Commons when the fourth session began.7 Sir George More reported on 14 Feb. 1610 that the privileges committee, though it agreed that it was fitting that Matthew should be removed, was ‘of opinion that the writ for a new choice was not rightly sent out’. Resolutions were passed accordingly, and Bacon paid the cost of procuring ‘a warrant and writ for the second election of Sir Henry Helmes to be our burgess’ himself.8

In 1614 Bacon, now attorney-general, was again returned in first place, and offered the second seat to Henry Finch, a distinguished lawyer from Kent. When Bacon subsequently chose to sit for Cambridge University, he recommended Thomas Perient, a student at Gray’s Inn, as his replacement.9 The admission of the attorney-general as a Member of the Commons was highly controversial, having aroused adverse comment in 1606, when a sitting Member, Sir Henry Hobart, had been promoted to this office. After some debate it was decided on 11 Apr. to allow Bacon to remain only on condition that the situation would never be repeated.10

In 1619 the 2nd earl of Salisbury seems to have taken the first steps towards establishing his influence over the borough. On 5 Mar. Inigo Jones* reported from the Office of Works that the repair of the liberty gaol, kept in the gatehouse of the former abbey, devolved on the Crown, not on the county, since the building formed part of the royal stables; but the Privy Council decreed otherwise. Salisbury, in an undated letter, undertook to pay for the repairs if he were allowed to nominate the keeper. It is not clear whether this offer was at once taken up, but it certainly had no effect on the next election, which took place in December 1620.11 Instead of awaiting a letter of nomination from Bacon, now lord chancellor, the mayor went in person ‘to know the lord chancellor’s pleasure who should be burgesses for this borough for the Parliament’, spending 7s. 2d. in the process.12 Bacon nominated for the first seat Thomas Richardson of Lincoln’s Inn, whom he had earmarked for the Speaker’s chair, and he obliged the marquess of Buckingham by offering the second to Robert Shute, a ‘hangby and pettifogger’ of the Villiers family.13 Shute died soon after Parliament met, whereupon ‘the messenger came down with the lord chancellor’s letter for [us] to choose Mr. Henry Meautys a burgess for this borough’ in his place, and the latter was duly elected by ‘unanimous consent and assent’. Before his marriage Meautys, whose brother was one of Bacon’s principal private secretaries, had lived in the suburbs of St. Albans. Nevertheless the mayor and chamberlains had to travel up to London to swear him in as a freeman.14 Neither Meautys, nor even Richardson as Speaker, were able to avert the disaster which soon fell upon Bacon, which brought his long domination of the borough’s elections to an end.

On the basis that certain parcels of Crown property at St. Albans belonged to the duchy of Cornwall, Prince Charles’s Council wrote to both Salisbury and Bacon ahead of the next election, nominating John Maynard*, a Buckingham client. On 31 Jan. 1624 they followed this with further letters, again addressed to Salisbury and Bacon, withdrawing Maynard, who had already found a seat elsewhere, and instead proposing Sir Thomas Edmondes*, treasurer of the Household, who had been rejected at Coventry and was still ‘altogether as yet unprovided for’.15 St. Albans nevertheless returned two local men, and it may be significant that no less than 62 electors are named on the indenture.16 The senior Member, Sir Arthur Capell, was a younger son of a leading figure in the county administration; he was also a courtier, and the uncle of Arthur Capel†, designated as bridegroom for Salisbury’s eldest daughter. His colleague Sir John Luke had resided in West Hertfordshire for 30 years.

At the general election to Charles I’s first Parliament, Salisbury initially demanded both seats. However, on 30 Apr. 1625, the mayor recorded in his accounts that ‘my lord of Salisbury’s steward came hither about the burgesses for the Parliament, that where before he had requested to have the nomination of both of them by his letter, he was now contented to have but one’. The earl proposed Sir Charles Morrison, bt., a local landowner, who was returned together with Luke. The celebrations which followed fell heavily on corporation funds; wine, sugar, tobacco, cakes and beer were consumed to the tune of 15s. 6d., a cost which neither Luke nor his friend (Sir) John Jennyns*, the town’s wealthiest inhabitant, offered to share. However, in September 1625 Luke sent the corporation a buck from his estate.17

Salisbury, in his capacity as Hertfordshire’s custos rotulorum, controlled the venue for quarter sessions, and on 30 June the mayor of St. Albans was obliged to spend 8s. 4d. on a visit to Hatfield ‘to speak with my lord of Salisbury that he would be pleased to keep the liberty sessions at our town’.18 Perhaps in return for the earl’s acquiescence, the corporation yielded him the nomination of both seats at the next election. Morrison was returned again in 1626, together with an outsider, Sir Edward Goring, a courtier and kinsman of Salisbury.19

The Forced Loan provoked widespread opposition in St. Albans. The mayor was appointed collector, but after paying three visits to every house in the borough he had received nothing (even from himself), most of the inhabitants employing the artful formula ‘that they would not be the first to give nor the last’. On 4 Jan. 1627 he and seven other residents, including Jennyns, were summoned before the Privy Council, to which Salisbury had been added a few months before; whereupon their resistance soon collapsed.20 A year later, at the next election, Jennyns was returned as senior Member, and Salisbury was informed that the other seat would be granted to him only on condition that he nominate a man ‘acquainted with our town and sensible of our occasions, to whom we may have easy access and whose election may pass the common suffrages and voices’. The earl therefore chose Robert Kirkham, one of the clerks of the signet, who was perhaps slightly known in the constituency. The corporation paid 8s. 8d. for ‘a gallon of sack and a gallon of claret wine bestowed upon Sir John Jennyns and Mr. Kirkham by the consent of all the burgesses when they were chosen burgesses for the Parliament’.21

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. C219/38/110.
  • 2. A.E. Gibbs, Corp. Recs. St. Albans, 56.
  • 3. HALS, OFF ACC 1162/164.
  • 4. M. Weinbaum, British Bor. Charters, 54; VCH Herts. ii. 469, 478, 482.
  • 5. Gibbs, 62, 63.
  • 6. Ibid. 56.
  • 7. HALS, OFF ACC 1162/152.
  • 8. Ibid.; Surr. Hist. Cent., LM1331/15.
  • 9. HALS, OFF ACC 1162/155.
  • 10. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 30, 54-8.
  • 11. CSP Dom. 1619-23, pp. 20, 164; APC, 1619-21, p. 235; L. Stone, ‘Electoral Influence of the 2nd Earl of Salisbury’, EHR, lxxi. 388-90; HMC Hatfield, xxii. 138.
  • 12. HALS, OFF ACC 1162/159.
  • 13. Liber Famelicus of Sir J. Whitelocke ed. J. Bruce (Cam. Soc. lxx), 58.
  • 14. HALS, OFF ACC 1162/159; C219/37/118.
  • 15. DCO, ‘Prince Charles in Spain’, f. 37; P.M. Hunneyball, ‘Prince Charles’s Council as Electoral Agent, 1620-4’, PH, xxiii. 327, 329.
  • 16. C219/38/110.
  • 17. HALS, OFF ACC 1162/161.
  • 18. Ibid; R. Ruigh, Parl. of 1624, p. 119.
  • 19. L. Stone, Fam. and Fortune, 121-2.
  • 20. SP16/44/14; APC, 1627, p. 5; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 9; Stone, EHR, lxxi. 388-9.
  • 21. HMC Hatfield, xxii. 241-2; HALS, OFF ACC 1162/164.