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:



 ?Philip Bell
 THOMAS SMITH , alderman
 ?John Winthrop
1628SIR ROBERT CRANE , (bt.)

Main Article

Sudbury is situated in the extreme south of Suffolk on the left bank of the River Stour, which forms the border with Essex. In this period the Stour valley was a major cloth-producing region, which brought considerable wealth to the town. Sudbury was an ancient borough, which first received a charter in the mid-thirteenth century, but despite having a mayor by 1331 it was not incorporated until 1554, when the town was rewarded for its support of Queen Mary at her accession.3 The 1554 charter seems to have done little more than to confirm the existing borough constitution. In addition to a mayor, the corporation consisted of a self-selecting oligarchy of six aldermen and 24 capital burgesses, plus a steward who presided over the borough court.4

The lordship of the borough was annexed to the duchy of Lancaster in 1558, and it was probably thanks to the chancellor of the duchy, Sir Ambrose Cave†, that the town was enfranchised the following year. Not surprisingly, therefore, the duchy was an important electoral patron in the Elizabethan period, as was the Waldegrave family, since it had been the local landowner Sir Edward Waldegrave, a member of Mary’s Household, whose leadership of the town’s inhabitants had secured the 1554 charter. The borough remembered its debt to Sir Edward as late as the 1590s, despite his Catholicism, while Sir William Waldegrave†, the head of the Protestant branch of the family, had a significant electoral interest in the borough.5 The mayor, aldermen and capital burgesses exercised the franchise and the indentures were generally made in their name.6

In 1604 Thomas Eden I of Ballingdon, a suburb of Sudbury on the Essex side of the Stour, was elected together with Sir William Waldegrave’s son-in-law, Sir Thomas Beckingham. In 1610 the duchy property at Sudbury was sold to Sir Robert Crane, who lived at Chilton, one-and-a-half miles from the borough. However, Sudbury remained under the lordship of the duchy, to which it continued to pay a fee farm.7 Three years later both Sir William Waldegrave and his son died within barely more than three months of each other, leaving a ten-year-old as heir to the estate and effectively extinguishing the Waldegrave interest in this period.8

Crane presumably had little difficulty securing his election for the borough in 1614 alongside Henry Byng, a Cambridgeshire lawyer who had recently been appointed steward of the borough, possibly thanks to the patronage of Suffolk’s lord lieutenant, Thomas Howard, 1st earl of Suffolk. If so Suffolk may also have nominated Byng for Parliament. The borough accounts record payment for the accommodation of a servant of the chancellor of the duchy, Sir Thomas Parry, at around this time, but it is not known whether his presence had any connection with the election.9

There is no evidence that Byng sought re-election and, in 1620, Crane decided to run for a county seat.10 Consequently the latter’s father-in-law, Sir Henry Hobart*, receiver for the duchy in Suffolk, hoped to procure the return of his wife’s nephew, Philip Bell, for Sudbury. It is striking that Hobart approached the chancellor of the duchy, by now Sir Humphrey May*, rather than Crane, for a letter of nomination; he informed his son-in-law of his actions on 23 November. This indicates that the duchy was still seen as the ‘natural’ patron of the borough despite the loss of its landed interest, although matters are confused by the fact that May had married the granddaughter of Sir Robert Jermyn†, Crane’s guardian. Hobart assured Crane that, if needed, the seat at Sudbury would be available to him, which may suggest that Crane had actually been a duchy nominee in 1614.11

The election is recorded in the borough records as having taken place on 3 Jan. 1621, although the return was backdated to 29 November. The corporation elected Brampton Gurdon, a prominent member of the local gentry whose father had represented the borough half a century before.12 His colleague was almost certainly Edward Osborne of the Inner Temple, although the return records his address as Sudbury. Osborne presumably owed his election to Gurdon, with whom he may already have been connected by marriage. It is possible the return was backdated to make it appear that the election had taken place before the borough received May’s nomination of Bell. Alternatively, the election may have been delayed to ensure that Crane had a place in the Commons if he failed to secure a county seat. Once assured of success, Crane may then have persuaded Hobart and May to put the seat at Gurdon’s disposal in reward for the latter’s support at county level.

Neither Gurdon nor Osborne seems to have sought re-election. In 1624 Sudbury again returned Crane, who had given the borough a messuage in Friar Street as a workhouse, alongside May’s brother-in-law Sir William Poley, whose election was presumably assisted by his residence eight miles from the borough.13 At the next election Crane was elected for a third time, along with the leading puritan Sir Nathaniel Barnardiston, who lived at Kedington, 11 miles from the borough. The following year Crane was again chosen to sit for the county. In his stead he seems to have hoped to secure a seat at Sudbury for John Winthrop of Groton in Suffolk, who subsequently became governor of Massachusetts. In a letter probably dating from February 1626, Brampton Gurdon told Winthrop that the mayor complained Crane had ‘never made his mind so known to him’, and that consequently the corporation had been unaware of his preference for Winthrop.14 Instead of Winthrop the borough re-elected Barnardiston, together with one of its aldermen, Thomas Smith. The borough accounts record payments for a copy of a petition presented by the freemen concerning the election and a counter-petition from the corporation, indicating that there was a franchise dispute. Regrettably, copies of neither document have survived and there were no recorded proceedings about the dispute in the 1626 Parliament. In 1628 it was Barnardiston who was elected for the county, while Crane and Poley were returned for Sudbury, without any recorded controversy.15

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. E. Stokes and L. Redstone, ‘Cal. of the Muns. of the Bor. of Sudbury’, Suff. Arch. Inst. Procs. xiii. 287.
  • 2. Date of return, which was probably backdated.
  • 3. W.W. Hodson, Short Hist. of Bor. of Sudbury comp. C.F.D. Sperling, 9, 23, 33, 35; HP Commons, 1509-58, iii. 534-5.
  • 4. Stokes and Redstone, 264-5.
  • 5. Hodson, 45; HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 250; Stokes and Redstone, 285.
  • 6. Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), EE501/2/3, p. 195; EE501/2/5, p. 103; C219/37/235; 219/40/178.
  • 7. W.A. Copinger, Manors of Suff. i. 234-5; Hodson, 46.
  • 8. HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 564; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 491.
  • 9. Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), EE501/2/3, pp. 418, 430.
  • 10. Bodl. Tanner 72, f. 69.
  • 11. Bodl. Tanner 290, f. 54; Vis. Norf. (Harl. Soc. xxxii), 34.
  • 12. Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), EE501/2/5, p. 103.
  • 13. Stokes and Redstone, 272.
  • 14. Winthrop Pprs. i. 317. This letter is dated only 19 Feb., but the year can be established from Gurdon’s report that he had heard two days previously that Sir John Deane, who died on 17 Feb. 1626, was not expected to live ‘one hour’.
  • 15. Stokes and Redstone, 290.