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


 Sir Lionel Tollemache , bt.
25 Apr. 1625SIR EDMUND BACON , bt.
25 Feb. 16282SIR EDWARD COKE
Apr. 1628SIR WILLIAM SPRING vice Coke, chose to sit for Buckinghamshire

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The divided administrative geography of Suffolk reflected the privileges enjoyed in medieval times by two great monastic foundations. The eight-and-a-half hundreds of West Suffolk formed the franchise of Bury St. Edmunds, while the eastern half of the county was divided between the liberty of St. Audrey, or St. Etheldred, and the ‘geldable’. Stowmarket was the most centrally situated town in Suffolk, and it was here that the county’s deputy lieutenants usually met; but, lying off the main roads, it failed to develop facilities for large gatherings.3 The quarter sessions were divided between four towns – Bury St. Edmunds, Beccles, Woodbridge, and Ipswich – and it was at the latter, in the south-east of the county, that shire elections were always held, giving a disproportionate weight to the puritan townsmen under the influence of such notable preachers as Samuel Ward.4 In 1624 the corporation employed 14 labourers to clear snow from a hill in preparation for the county election. The following year, although the election was held in the spring, it was moved indoors, probably to the Ipswich town hall.5

In addition to its administrative divisions, Suffolk was divided economically between the long-enclosed agriculture of the east and the open champaign country of the franchise. Moreover, Ipswich and Aldeburgh were important ports: in 1621 Thomas Clench, the only knight of the shire from a coastal parish in the early Stuart Parliaments, told the Commons that ‘above 3,000 men upon the coast of Suffolk’ earned their livelihood from fishing.6 Furthermore, the Stour valley, in the south of the county, was a major centre for the production of new draperies. Sir Robert Crane, who lived in that part of the county, may have owed his electoral success, in part, to his advocacy of the interests of the clothing interests in the Commons.7

The eastern half of the county was almost certainly the wealthiest part of Suffolk. The geldable division was traditionally assessed to pay half of county rates, the franchise of Bury St. Edmunds a third and the liberty of St Audrey’s a sixth.8 Nevertheless, of the 13 Members elected in the period only four were resident in east Suffolk. The imbalance may partly be attributed to the greater number of borough seats available for the gentry of the geldable, but was probably mostly due to the greater cohesion among the west Suffolk gentry. Drawing up his will in 1614, Sir Robert Jermyn† of Rushbrooke wrote of his neighbours, Sir Nicholas Bacon† of Culford, Sir Robert Gardener of Elmswell and Sir John Heigham of Barrow: ‘we have lived together in sweet and Christian society, and by our unity have much furthered the peace and profit of our country in the administration of justice and other public duties’.9 In 1620 this unity was reflected in a pre-election meeting of the western gentry held at Bury St. Edmunds. One reason for this cohesiveness was doubtless that Jermyn and his friends were all generally puritan, a fact which may have won them the support of the Ipswich townsmen.10

In 1604 Jermyn’s friend Heigham was returned with Sir Robert Drury who, aside from being a soldier, courtier and aspiring diplomat, was also Sir Nicholas Bacon’s son-in-law. Ill health caused Heigham to be absent from the Commons for much of 1610 and, although he survived until 1626, he does not seem to have sought re-election. Drury, on the other hand, proved happy to serve again. In February 1614 he wrote to Sir Robert Cotton* that he would willingly sit for a borough and leave the county seat to ‘some younger spirit which may be ambitious of it’ in the forthcoming Parliament, but as the outcome of an approach to Thetford had proved unproductive Cotton was asked to approach Henry Howard, earl of Northampton, on his behalf so that, if ‘forced to seek a knightship of the shire’, Northampton ‘will do me the favour to let his tenants know his favour to me’. However, to avoid appearing too solicitous, Drury hastened to add that the voters should be left to ‘their own disposition, as in the general I think it honest and honourable for every man to proceed no otherwise’.11 In the event, Drury found a place at Eye, leaving the shire seats to Jermyn’s son, Sir Thomas, and another of Sir Robert Jermyn’s friends, Sir Robert Gardener.

Gardener and Drury died before the next election, in 1620, by which time Bacon and Heigham were both in their eighties. By 14 Nov. Sir Robert Crane, who had been brought up in the Jermyn household, had been adopted at a meeting of the gentry of the franchise at Bury. Crane subsequently sent a circular to the freeholders of west Suffolk to inform them of his (almost certainly feigned) reluctant acceptance of the nomination and to give his assurance that he would ‘omit no opportunity wherein I may show a requital’ were he to be elected.12

On 23 Nov. Crane’s father-in-law, Sir Henry Hobart, informed Crane that he had asked Sir Henry North†, the outgoing sheriff of Suffolk, to keep the writ in his hands, presumably to give Crane time to canvass the county, only to find that the writ had already been sent to North’s successor, Sir William Spring. North, who had died three days previously had, however, apparently told Hobart that the next county court was not due for more than a fortnight, giving Crane ‘leisure to make your means’.13 Six days later Samuel Ward, the Ipswich preacher, notified Crane ‘of the good affection and inclination of town and country’ towards the latter’s nomination. Ward added that ‘it is here generally wished you incline your mind and voices of such as you bring with you to the election of a sufficient and suitable colleague’, perhaps as a warning to Crane not to ally himself with anyone who would alienate his godly supporters.14 Joseph Mead subsequently reported that Ward had preached that ‘a religious care was to be taken in such elections, and heed to be taken of such as were of suspected affection to our religion’.15

Crane’s supporters included Sir Robert Hitcham, a prominent east Suffolk lawyer. On 10 Dec. Hitcham wrote to Crane informing him that, having written letters on his behalf to Ipswich (where he lived) and the surrounding villages, he had been ‘certainly informed the first voice will be yielded to you [Crane] without competition’. Now his thoughts were turning to the question of Crane’s colleague, not least because he had been ‘earnestly entreated by one of especial rank’ to win support for ‘Sir L.’, probably the county’s vice-admiral Sir Lionel Tollemache, for the second place. The ‘person of especial rank’ may have been Tollemache’s superior, the marquess of Buckingham, who was lord admiral. In fact, Tollemache had already, at his own suggestion, paired with Crane, to whom he wrote on 6 Dec. stating that the sheriff had decided to hold the election the following Monday. ‘I hear not of any that will stand against us’, he declared, before offering to provide a supper at Ipswich the night before the election for the sheriff and Crane, presumably to arrange the following day’s events.16 However, late in the day a new candidate emerged. Thomas Clench, an east Suffolk lawyer with strong links to Ipswich, was connected to the puritan sheriff, Spring, his eldest son having married the niece of Spring’s former step-father, Sir Robert Gardener. Despite the belated nature of his candidacy, Clench went on to secure the second seat alongside Crane. Among the parties to the indenture were Clench’s son-in-law, Sir Roger North; John Clench (either a son or brother); Sir Henry Glemham*; Brampton Gurdon*; and Robert Snelling, the last having just secured his re-election for Ipswich.17 A doubtless disappointed Tollemache was subsequently returned for Orford and Sir Thomas Jermyn for the newly enfranchised Bury St. Edmunds.

As the first untitled knight of the shire in this period, as well as the first easterner, Clench, who was not a young man, probably entertained no further political ambitions. He may have proposed Sir Roger North as his successor for the county in 1624, but he died before the year was out. Crane was returned for the borough of Sudbury in 1624 and North was returned by another zealous puritan sheriff, Sir Nathaniel Barnardiston, with Spring as his senior partner.

In 1625 North and Spring sat for Eye and Bury St. Edmunds respectively, while Crane and Jermyn were re-elected for Sudbury and Bury St. Edmunds. The senior knight of the shire in the first Parliament of the new reign was Sir Nicholas Bacon’s son, Sir Edmund, while the occupant of the junior seat was Thomas Cornwallis I of Earl Soham. Cornwallis had been added to the county bench less than a year before, but his role as executor of the estate of Sir Michael Stanhope, a prominent Suffolk courtier, seems to have propelled him into the front rank of county society. Cornwallis may also have benefited from the fact that he lived at Ipswich; certainly the strong Calvinist piety evident from his will must have won him the support of the town’s puritans.18 The return of Bacon and Cornwallis meant that, for once, the franchise of the Liberty of Bury St. Edmunds could claim neither Member as a resident, Bacon having left Culford to a younger brother and established himself at Redgrave in east Suffolk.

In the second Caroline Parliament Suffolk was the only county to be represented by a privy councillor. Sir Robert Naunton, the master of the Court of Wards, had inherited and enlarged a modest estate in east Suffolk, but since boyhood he had only occasionally resided there, and he had never held county office. His candidacy was first proposed by Brampton Gurdon, a west Suffolk puritan, who quickly won the support of his neighbour, John Winthrop, later governor of Massachusetts. In a letter to Sir Robert Crane, Winthrop argued that Naunton was eminently suitable for election, having ‘suffered for the commonwealth’, a reference to Naunton’s disgrace in 1621 for proposing a French alternative to the Spanish Match. Winthrop also pointed out ‘the favour and help’ that ‘such an honourable person may be in the causes of our country, especially for our clothiers’, and asked Crane to propound Naunton’s candidacy ‘to the other gentlemen at sessions’. This was a reference to the quarter sessions, which were presumably then being held at Bury St. Edmunds, where Winthrop’s letter to Crane was directed.19

Naunton’s nomination met with a cool reception from the corporation of Bury St. Edmunds, who objected that Sir Robert ‘was tied in so particular an obligation to His Majesty as if there were occasion to speak for the country he would be silent, and in general they would give no voice to any courtiers especially at this time of all others’. For this reason Crane, in his reply to Winthrop, recommended that Naunton should not ‘proceed … any further lest he should suffer in it’. However, he assured Winthrop that he was ‘ready to afford him what success lieth in my power’. Despite these doubts, Naunton was returned on 30 Jan. alongside Crane himself. Winthrop and Gurdon were both parties to the indenture and the former was subsequently appointed one of the attorneys in the Court of Wards.20

In December 1626 Naunton was one of the privy councillors sent to execute the Forced Loan in Suffolk, where resistance was led by Sir Nathaniel Barnardiston and two sons of Sir Edward Coke*, who had acquired an estate in the north-east of the county.21 Following the 1628 election, which he attended, Winthrop wrote to his eldest son that ‘what our success was you may know by my letter to either of your uncles’, but quite what this means is unclear, as neither of the letters referred to have survived.22 According to John Wilson, a puritan lecturer at Sudbury, ‘the country’ wanted to elect Sir William Spring and Sir Nathaniel Barnardiston, but Spring seems to have refused to stand, and the county, ‘not without a kind of unwillingness, gave way to the other, whom yet they thought it would be a heinous thing to refuse’.23

The ‘other’ was the renowned jurist and parliamentarian Sir Edward Coke, who had long owned property in the county. Sir Martin Stuteville, a Suffolk knight who had been a party to the 1624 indenture, complained that Coke’s election ‘is against the express words of the statute which said the electors and elected must be residing in the same shire at the time of the date of the writ’, and as a consequence refused to have anything to do with it.24 A correspondent of Edward Nicholas*, clerk of the Privy Council, wrote that ‘there was not ten gentleman at this election …, neither was there the tenth man [present] which formerly there had been’, and it was thought that had more of the Suffolk gentry turned up Coke and Barnardiston would not have been elected, ‘for neither the town of Ipswich had any great affection to either of them nor yet most of the country’.25

Coke had also been returned for Buckinghamshire, and therefore on 28 Mar. he waived his Suffolk seat: a writ for a fresh election was issued on 2 April.26 This time Spring was persuaded to stand, but Sir John Rous I*, a member of the east Suffolk gentry, was also proposed by William Cage*, Member for Ipswich. Rous, Spring thought, was sure to be able to ‘sway that town’ [Ipswich], whose inhabitants were likely to be ‘the strongest if not sole actors in it’. Spring suggested an approach to Samuel Ward ‘or some of that town’ to find a compromise candidate. However, Spring’s concerns were misplaced. When Sir Francis Barrington, the senior Essex knight of the shire, proposed an unnamed candidate to John Wilson, the Sudbury lecturer, the latter replied that ‘the eyes of the country for ought I can learn are bent on Sir William Spring’ and that the ‘justices and gentlemen all have pitched upon this said knight (so much as lieth in them)’. Whether Ward intervened or not, it is likely that, faced with this formidable opposition, Rous was persuaded not to stand. The date of the election is unknown, but Spring had taken his seat in the Commons by 5 May.27

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Ben Coates


  • 1. Life and Letters of John Winthrop ed. R.C. Winthrop, i. 419.
  • 2. Ibid. 249-50.
  • 3. HMC 13th Rep. IV, 438.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 478; C219/37/233; 219/38/223; 219/40/176; C. Thompson, ‘New Light on the Suff. Elections to the Parl. of 1628’, Suff. Review, n.s. x. 22.
  • 5. Suffolk RO (Ipswich), C/3/2/1/2, ff. 317v, 323v.
  • 6. CJ, i. 588b.
  • 7. HMC 13th Rep. IV, 439-40; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 255.
  • 8. HMC 13th Rep. IV, 433.
  • 9. Rushbrook Par. Regs. ed. S.H.A. Hervey, 153.
  • 10. W.S. Appleton, Mems. of Cranes of Chilton, 69.
  • 11. A.R. Campling, Hist. of Fam. of Drury, 62.
  • 12. Bodl., Tanner 69, f. 151; Appleton, 69.
  • 13. Bodl., Tanner 290, f. 54.
  • 14. Ibid. f. 37.
  • 15. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, ii. 232.
  • 16. Bodl., Tanner 69, f. 150.
  • 17. C219/37/233; Frag. Gen. xii. 126.
  • 18. PROB 11/151, f. 465
  • 19. Appleton, 75-6.
  • 20. Winthrop Pprs. i. 326; C219/40/176; Oxford DNB sub Winthrop, John.
  • 21. APC, 1626, pp. 426-7.
  • 22. Life and Letters of John Winthrop, i. 249.
  • 23. Thompson, 19, 21-2, 24.
  • 24. Procs. 1628, vi. 167; C219/38/223.
  • 25. Procs. 1628, vi. 148.
  • 26. Ibid. ii. 169; C231/4, f. 243.
  • 27. Thompson, 21-4; Harl. 378, f. 29v.