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 inhabitants

Number of voters:

36 in 16241


 Philip Mainwaring*
 William Gardiner
 Philip Mainwaring
 William Gardiner
 Sir Edward Greville*
 Sir Thomas Farnefold
 Sir John Leedes*

Main Article

Situated close to the River Adur on the boundary between the downland and wealden regions of Sussex, Steyning remained an important market town in this period, with a significant tanning and leather industry. However, as a port it, like Bramber, had long been eclipsed by New Shoreham, situated at the mouth of the river. The population grew from about 300 in 1565 to roughly 1,000 by the early 1640s.2 The borough was unincorporated, and therefore administration was in the hands of a constable, elected annually at the manorial view of frankpledge. However, the extent of the manor was ambiguous. The original manor of Steyning had been divided in the mid-fifteenth century, one part consisting of the borough and the other becoming the manor of Charlton. The boundary between the two manors was unclear which meant that the owners of Charlton had a significant interest in the borough. Before the Dissolution the borough manor belonged to Syon Abbey and was granted by Elizabeth to Thomas Howard, 4th duke of Norfolk in 1562, but forfeited on his attainder after the Ridolfi Plot a decade later. In the absence of the Howard interest Sir Thomas Shirley I, whose seat at Wiston was situated two miles away, became an important electoral force in the borough during the Elizabethan period, which was no doubt consolidated by his acquisition of Charlton and the advowson of the parish church in 1593.3

Steyning was frequently represented in Parliament in the fourteenth century, but always in conjunction with the nearby borough of Bramber. Their joint representation was discontinued in 1399 and Steyning did not return Members separately until 1453.4 In this period indentures were exchanged between the sheriff of Sussex and up to 36 named burgesses, headed by the constable; these were described as acting with others, on at least one occasion (1628) with ‘other the inhabitants within the borough’.5

In 1604 Sir Thomas Shirley I was re-elected for the borough, despite having since been forced to surrender all his local property to the Crown in part settlement of his debts. His colleague was his wife’s friend Sir Thomas Bishopp of Parham, who had previously represented the borough in 1586. Bishopp was closely connected with Lord Buckhurst (Thomas Sackville†) who, as lord treasurer and lord lieutenant of Sussex, may have had influence in the borough, which was still in the possession of the Crown. Shirley, who was in favour with King James I, was restored to Wiston during the Parliament, albeit as a Crown tenant. He died in 1612, and was replaced in the Addled Parliament by his eldest son, Sir Thomas II. Bishopp, an important figure in county administration, seems to have been content not to sit again, and so the junior seat went to (Sir) Edward Fraunceys, estate steward to Henry Percy, 9th earl of Northumberland at Petworth, 12 miles from Steyning. He had sat in previous parliaments on his master’s interest, but it is by no means certain that he owed his election in 1614 to Northumberland, who was imprisoned in the Tower. Indeed, Fraunceys was active on his own account in the Sussex land-market, and acquired property near Steyning. In 1618 he also became trustee for Sir John Leedes* and took up residence at Leedes’ home at Wappingthorne, in the parish of Steyning. In 1619 Thomas Howard, earl of Arundel, the grandson of the duke of Norfolk, acquired possession of the borough of Steyning, and at the parliamentary elections the following year he nominated the courtier Philip Mainwaring* and William Gardiner. However, the borough re-elected Shirley and Fraunceys.6

Shirley sold up in 1622, and when a fresh Parliament was summoned two years later Arundel attempted to take advantage of the lapse in the Wiston interest. On 9 Jan. 1624 he wrote to the constable and inhabitants of the borough, affecting to believe that their previous refusal ‘rather proceeded out of ignorance than neglect towards me’. After acknowledging that ‘every borough should elect members of their own body’ to Parliament, he claimed that depopulation and impoverishment had led many to accept ‘able men’ nominated ‘by their chief lords’, such as his ancestors. He therefore recommended his two former nominees, Mainwaring and Gardiner, both of whom, he declared, would serve without wages. He ended by stating that, while ‘I neither may nor will press you further … I desire and expect that you give me speedy notice what resolution you take in this behalf’.7 Arundel was not the only peer who sought the right of nomination, however, as the earl of Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*), who had purchased the Wiston estate, nominated Sir Edward Greville*, an elderly Warwickshire gentleman who had been a business associate of the Shirleys.8 The borough rejected both approaches, though, and re-elected Fraunceys together with Sir Thomas Farnefold, who lived just outside Steyning and owned property in the borough.

Farnefold and Fraunceys were re-elected in 1625. The following year Middlesex made a further attempt to secure the nomination of one Member. He wrote to his Sussex steward, Richard Gravett, to that purpose, but the latter had been entrusted with letters of nomination from Arundel on behalf of Nicholas Jordan* and ‘one Mr. Garrett’, possibly George Garrard*. Gravett replied to Middlesex in early January that he had tried to promote Arundel’s nominees by ‘underhand’ means, but with so little success that he was planning to return the latter’s letters. The borough, he stated, was ‘resolved to make choice’ of Sir Thomas Bishopp’s son Sir Edward, and ‘young Alford’, almost certainly John Alford*, the son of the sheriff Edward* and son-in-law of Sir Thomas. He also reported that Fraunceys was ‘desperately sick’ and that Farnefold, who was in dispute with Sir Thomas Bishopp, would be ‘denied for himself’.9 In the event John Alford was returned for New Shoreham on 13 January. The date of the Steyning election is unknown, but it must have been on or shortly before 16 Jan., when the earl of Arundel’s steward, writing from Arundel, reported that he had ‘heard this day’ that Sir Edward Bishopp had been elected with Fraunceys and that Farnefold had been ‘cashiered’. According to the same account, Fraunceys had tried to secure a seat for Sir John Leedes, ‘but the townsmen rejected him because he had been put out of the House’.

Fraunceys did not survive the Parliament and was buried at St. Margaret’s, Westminster on 23 May, but the Parliament was then nearing its end and no writ was issued for a by-election. In October 1627 Bishopp killed Sir Thomas Shirley II’s son, Henry, for which he was found guilty of manslaughter. Not surprisingly he was not re-elected in 1628. He presumably supported the candidacy of Edward Alford, who had previously sat for Colchester but was now unsure whether he would be re-elected, but as Alford lived only five miles from the borough he probably did not require Bishopp’s support. With the eclipse of the Bishopp interest Farnefold was re-elected for the senior seat.10

Author: Alan Davidson


  • 1. C219/38/241.
  • 2. VCH Suss. vi. pt. 1, pp. 220-1, 234; J. Pennington and J. Sleight, ‘Steyning Town and its Trades 1559-1787’, Suss. Arch. Colls. cxxx. 164-5, 173.
  • 3. VCH Suss. vi. pt. 1, pp. 226-7, 237, 241.
  • 4. Ibid. vi. pt. 1, 240.
  • 5. C219/41B/79.
  • 6. Arundel, Suss. deeds, D2838, info. from Mrs Sara Rodger; H.A. Merewether and A.J. Stephens, Hist. of Boroughs and Municipal Corporations of UK (1835), iii. 1513-14.
  • 7. Merewether and Stephens, iii. 1513-14.
  • 8. R.E. Ruigh, Parl. in 1624, p. 331n.
  • 9. Procs. 1626, iv. 253.
  • 10. Arundel, Autograph Letters 1617-32, Peers to Spiller, 16 Jan. 1626.