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

Number of voters:



 Sir Edmund Harewell
1 Nov. 1609SIR SAMUEL SANDYS vice Ligon, deceased
c. Jan. 1624SIR WALTER DEVEREUX , (bt.)
27 Feb. 1628Thomas Coventry

Main Article

Worcestershire lies on the border between the highland and lowland zones of England. One of the wealthiest and most densely populated counties in seventeenth-century England, it was predominantly pastoral, though the south-east was mainly arable.1 A substantial cloth industry, mostly concentrated in Worcester, produced high quality broadcloths, in addition from 1600 Kidderminster started manufacturing quantities of linsey-woolsey stuffs.2 Worcestershire’s most important rural industry, iron-working, was based in the north-east of the county, where coal and iron ore was mined.3

The most consistent factor in elections was the influence of the Littleton-Bromley connection. A member of one or other family was returned in every election in this period, usually for the senior seat. The Littletons owned a substantial estate based around Frankley. Indeed, their freeholders numbered 192 in 1602, giving them a sizeable block of voters.4 John Lyttleton† married Meriel Bromley, the sister of Sir Henry Bromley, but was attainted for his part in the Essex rising. The estate was returned to his widow in 1603, and the following year she mobilized her tenants in support of her brother and Sir William Ligon. It seems likely that she also supported Sir Henry Bromley’s son, Sir Thomas, in 1614. By 1620 her own son, Sir Thomas Littleton, had come of age, allowing him to be returned that same year and in the following three elections. In 1628 it is likely that Sir Thomas Littleton stood down in favour of his cousin Sir Thomas Bromley.

Aristocratic and Court influence on the politics of the county was rare and seldom had the power to disrupt the established patterns of Worcestershire politics. In 1604 the only resident peer was Henry, 5th Lord Windsor, who lived at Hewell in the north-east of the county. A Catholic, he supported Sir Edmund Harewell at the 1604 election.5 In the 1590s the 2nd earl of Essex had a significant following in Worcestershire, but two of his leading supporters, Sir Henry Bromley and John Lyttleton, probably relied primarily on their local standing to secure their election. Essex’s son, the 3rd earl, was a minor at the start of this period, and did not play an active part in electoral politics until 1614. Even then he seems to have on concentrated on Staffordshire, as the only county election in Worcestershire in which his family’s influence is apparent is that of 1624, which saw the return of his cousin, Sir Walter Devereux. The extent to which Devereux relied directly upon Essex for support is unclear, but it seems likely that other factors were more important, as he had purchased an estate at Leigh and was connected with the Littletons. The only other peer in Worcestershire was lord keeper Sir Thomas Coventry*, who was not ennobled until April 1628. Coventry emerged as a significant electoral patron in the county’s boroughs, but he had no discernable influence on county elections until 1628, when he secured the return of his son.

The elections of 1624 and 1628 were the only occasions on which neither a Bromley nor a Littleton was returned for the first seat. In their place gentlemen from the south of the county were chosen. This was highly unusual, as Worcestershire’s southern gentry were generally forced to settle for the junior seat, and sometimes, as in 1614 and 1620, both places were taken by northerners. However, those chosen for the senior seat in 1624 and 1628 – Devereux and Thomas Coventry respectively – were hardly typical of south Worcestershire’s gentry.

The importance of regional divisions ought not to be overstated. It seems likely that Sir Samuel Sandys, who sat three times for the county, was popular because he helped lead the campaign against the Council in the Marches rather than because he was a northerner. Moreover, by the late Elizabethan period, religion was the dominant factor: Catholicism in particular played an important role in the electoral politics of Elizabethan Worcestershire. In 1596 the bishop of Worcester complained to Sir Robert Cecil† of the number of recusants in his diocese, and that many were ‘not only of good wealth but of great alliance’.6 His proposal to establish a commission to combat recusancy was implemented two years later, and included Bromley, Ligon and Sandys among its members.7 Catholic fear of increasing persecution, reflected in the correspondence of Humphrey Pakington, the recusant head of the junior branch of one of Worcestershire’s most prominent county families, may have led local Catholics to seek an increased role in parliamentary elections, despite the obstacles in their way.8 To sit in the Commons Members had to take the Oath of Supremacy, but this does not seem to have deterred Ralph Sheldon, elected in 1563, John Talbot, returned in 1572, and John Lyttleton, elected in 1584, 1586 and 1597, all of whom were notorious for their Catholic sympathies. In 1597 both seats were taken by Catholics, reflecting the fact that the sheriff, Edmund Harewell, was himself a leading member of the Catholic faction.9 Harewell’s friends included the Catholic antiquary Thomas Habington, who later hinted that Harewell converted to Rome on his deathbed.10 In 1601 the Privy Council was so worried by Catholic electoral influence in Worcestershire that it wrote to Ralph Sheldon and John Talbot warning them not to oppose the election of the strongly Protestant Sir Thomas Leighton.11

Soon after James’s accession the Catholic faction decided to promote candidates sympathetic to their cause in the forthcoming Worcestershire election.12 They therefore chose Edmund Harewell, now a knight of the Bath, and John Talbot. Harewell, who came from a well-established county family and was a prominent member of the bench, may have sought election in order to avoid his creditors, as serious financial problems eventually forced him to sell his estate. Talbot did not require a seat so urgently, and soon developed qualms about taking the Oath of Supremacy.13 His decision not to stand made it necessary to find a suitable replacement, but this proved difficult. At first Worcestershire’s Catholics seem to have considered as an alternative his cousin, Sharington Talbot†, but their preferred candidate was Sir John Pakington,14 who had attracted Queen Elizabeth’s favour and was the custos rotulorum.15 Though not Catholic himself, Pakington seems to have been considered a sympathizer for some while, for in 1592, while under arrest for refusing to conform, John Talbot asked to be committed to his custody.16 However, despite supporting Harewell, Pakington refused to stand. Talbot and his allies nevertheless remained hopeful that he would still be elected.17

Campaigning in Worcestershire began during the summer of 1603. Soon after Christmas Day as many as 200 members of the Catholic faction, erroneously believing that the sheriff of Worcestershire, Sir Thomas Russell†, had received the writ, assembled at Worcester.18 The bishop of Worcester, Gervase Babington, was so alarmed by this development that he turned to Sir William Ligon, who had represented the county in 1589. Although married to Harewell’s sister, Ligon was ‘known to be one that professed and favoured the established religion’.19 Ligon agreed to stand again, and was initially paired with Sir William Walsh†, another firm Protestant, who had been arrested in 1593 for supporting the puritan Peter Wentworth’s† attempt to raise the issue of the succession in Parliament. However, shortly before the election, Walsh was persuaded to withdraw in favour of Sir Henry Bromley who, apart from owing an extensive estate with land in both Worcestershire and Shropshire, had recently been appointed as a gentleman of the privy chamber. According to John Talbot, Walsh realized that his supporters were too few and that it was necessary to strengthen the Protestant faction ‘by one that was of greatest power and authority in Court’. Bromley’s greater standing also meant that, if necessary, he was better able to intimidate the sheriff. John Talbot later alleged that Sheriff Russell, who subsequently converted to Catholicism, was over-awed by Bromley, but this is difficult to believe, for as late as November 1605 Russell was described as one of the most loyal Protestants on the bench. His undoubted support for Bromley and Ligon in 1604 must therefore have arisen from religious conviction.20

About five days before the election, which was held on 29 Feb., Ralph Sheldon sent Francis More, Ligon’s brother-in-law, to persuade Ligon not to stand, ‘assuring him … that he was like receive a disgrace (if he stood out to the election) for want of voices’. This prompted Ligon to estimate the extent of his support. Aided by another of his brothers-in-law, Robert Walwyn, he drew up lists of his supporters and opponents on the county bench. He assured himself that his supporters were ‘of great kindred, alliance and men of great command in the county’, including the bishop, the dean and chapter and the sheriff, whereas his opponents were mostly concentrated in Halfshire Hundred, in the north-east of the county, which, with the neighbouring Dodingtree Hundred, comprised only about a third of Worcestershire. Moreover, even in Halfshire, Meriel Lyttleton, the widow of John Lyttleton, ‘a gentlewoman of great estate of living … had promised her tenants and friends voices to Sir William Ligon’.21 However, Ligon and Walwyn underestimated Harewell’s support in other parts of the county. Those overlooked included Henry Russell in the south-west and Thomas Habington in central Worcestershire, both of whom mobilized their tenants and servants in support of Harewell, who lived in the south. Harewell seems to have had little support in the hundreds of Blackenhurst and Doddingtree, in the south-east and north-west, where Ligon and Bromley were strong.22

There was extensive canvassing in the run-up to the election, much of it underhand. In the summer of 1603 Stephen and Humphrey Littleton tried to mobilize the tenants of their late brother John Lyttleton for the Catholic faction while Meriel was away in London, telling them that they had the support of Mrs. Lyttleton, even though she was Protestant. However, when Meriel returned she instructed her tenants to vote for Bromley and Ligon. Having recently negotiated the return of her late husband’s estate, which had been forfeit owing to the latter’s part in the Essex rising, she was undoubtedly hoping that the forthcoming Parliament would restore her children in blood, an objective which might not be realized if she were seen to support the Catholic faction.23

Ligon employed his servant William Addis to canvass in Powick, a manor owned by his stepmother, Margaret, Lady Ligon, who also happened to be John Talbot’s aunt. Addis initially targeted the freeholders, but was not overly scrupulous: one week before the election, finding a freeholder away, he recruited his son instead.24 On the day before the election Addis, together with his son and servants, went round the households in Powick indiscriminately urging copyholders, craftsmen and labourers to come to Worcester to support Ligon.25 When Richard Man, a tailor, replied ‘that he was no freeholder nor copyholder but a poor man and therefore he needed not to come’,26 Addis promised to pay the expenses of those who turned out and to compensate them for the loss of a day’s work. He does not seem to have made good this promise, although he did provide food and drink in Worcester.27

Some of those recruited by Addis left for Worcester the evening before the poll. The sheriff appointed Sir Henry Bromley’s brother, Edward, to guard Castle Green, where the election was to be held, and, to exclude Harewell supporters, he was instructed to let in only those who could supply a password.28 Many of Bromley and Ligon’s supporters spent the night on the Green, warmed by fires provided by Addis.29 In the morning they were joined by larger crowds. Those who came from Powick were woken before dawn by Addis and his servants, and in Pershore, near Harewell’s residence at Besford, orders were given for the bells to be rung at three in the morning to summon the inhabitants to vote for Harewell.30 As the numbers began to swell, the sheriff’s organization began to break down. An oversight had left several of Bromley and Ligon’s supporters unaware of the password. They were therefore not allowed through the gate and instead had to find a way into the Green over a broken pale. This route also enabled Harewell’s supporters to enter, and more gained access to the Green by taking boats across the Severn. Harewell himself and a body of his supporters got in through a gap in the hedge. The resulting disorder was considerable, as the supporters of the rival candidates clashed and several people were injured.31 During these tumultuous proceedings Sheriff Russell, accompanied by Edward, 11th Lord Zouche, president of the Council in the Marches, declared that Bromley and Ligon had the most voices. When Harewell requested a poll he was refused.32

In the aftermath of the election Talbot, who had been forced to watch the proceedings from a neighbouring hill, tried to recruit support to appeal against the result: he wrote to his kinsman, the 7th earl of Shrewsbury (Gilbert Talbot†), with an account of the election,33 and contacted Sir Arnold Ligon, the husband of Margaret, Lady Ligon. Sir Arnold is not known to have participated in the election on either side, but he objected to the participation of non-freeholders and had his own reasons for disliking Addis, who had supported one of his tenants against him in a suit in the Council of the Marches.34 In January 1605 Sir Arnold preferred a bill against Addis in Star Chamber, which included the charge of recruiting non-freeholders to vote in the election.35 No attempt was made to bring the matter to the attention of the House of Commons.

The 1604 election saw the end of Catholicism as a powerful electoral force in Worcestershire. The discovery of the Gunpowder Plot the following year discredited their cause, especially as the plotters included Stephen Littleton, a leading member of the Catholic faction in 1603-4, and Robert Winter, a Harewell supporter and Talbot’s son-in-law. Moreover, Thomas Habington was attainted for sheltering Garnet and others, including Talbot, came under suspicion.36 By the time of the next election, in 1609, the dominant theme in Worcestershire politics was the jurisdiction of the Council in the Marches. This issue had initially erupted as a clash between the Council and King’s Bench, but in December 1605 Lord Zouche complained to Robert Cecil, now 1st earl of Salisbury, about a petition from ‘four gentleman protectors of the four shires of Gloucester, Hereford, Worcester and Salop’ against the Council. The leaders of the campaign against the Council’s jurisdiction in Worcestershire were Sir John Pakington and Sir Samuel Sandys, who had been on opposing sides in the 1604 election.37 In January 1608, Ralph, 3rd Lord Eure, Zouche’s successor as president of the Council in the Marches, complained to Salisbury that Sir William Ligon was the only Worcestershire deputy lieutenant willing to visit him.38

Ligon died later that year and, on 13 Nov. 1609, Eure wrote to Salisbury stating that ‘the better sort of gentlemen’ of Worcestershire ‘repine and complain of’ the election of Sandys, who had been returned for the county at the resulting by-election. According to Eure, the election writ had been sent to the under-sheriff, who did not declare its existence until the next county court, which was attended by only a few coroners, one magistrate (William Ingram) and between 40 and 50 suitors, most of whom were not freeholders. When one of the coroners protested that the election was illegal because the writ had not been published he failed to receive any support and therefore withdrew his objection.39 Eure’s account of the election, in which the only candidate nominated was Sandys, is corroborated by the return. Of the 19 parties mentioned, only William Ingram was a justice of the peace and five are described as yeomen.40

In 1614 Sandys was re-elected alongside Sir Thomas Bromley, the son of Sir Henry,41 and in 1620 with Sir Thomas Littleton, the son of Meriel Littleton. In 1620 the Council in the Marches prohibited the carrying of weapons at the election, although there is no evidence of any controversy, and at least nine magistrates were parties to the indenture.42 In 1624 Sir Thomas Littleton was elected with Sir Walter Devereux, the cousin of the 3rd earl of Essex, again without a contest.43 Littleton was returned for a third time in 1625, this time alongside William Russell, the son of the man who had served as sheriff in 1604, and a year later he was elected again, together with Sir John Rous, a respected and wealthy gentleman from the south-east of the county. There is no evidence of controversy until the re-election of Sir Thomas Bromley in 1628. On 20 Mar. the privileges committee was informed that Bromley was ‘unrightfully chosen’, probably because he had been outlawed for bankruptcy.44 There is no evidence that the election of Thomas Coventry, the son of the lord keeper and heir to a significant estate in south Worcestershire, was controversial.

Author: Ben Coates


  • 1. R.H. Silcock, ‘County Govt. in Worcs.’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1974), pp. 11-13, 20.
  • 2. A.D. Dyer, City of Worcester in Sixteenth-Cent. 93, 117; E. Kerridge, Textile Manufactures in Early Modern Eng. 87.
  • 3. VCH Worcs. ii. 264, 267, 271-2.
  • 4. J.M.J. Tonks, ‘Lyttletons of Frankley and their estates 1530-1640’, (Oxford Univ. B.Litt. thesis, 1978), p. 139.
  • 5. STAC 8/201/17, ff. 18v, 19. This document is double foliated; refs. are to the stamped numbering on the verso, which is the more consistent of the two.
  • 6. HMC Hatfield, vi. 265-6.
  • 7. C66/1478, mm. 8-11.
  • 8. Worcs. RO, 705:24/BA81/576/6, 12.
  • 9. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 158. The 1597 MPs were John Lyttleton, who was dead by 1604, and Edmund Colles, who supported Harewell in 1604, STAC 8/201/17, f. 19.
  • 10. Shaw, Knights of Eng. i. 155; VCH Worcs. iv. 21, 73, 140; Survey of Worcs. by Thomas Habington ed. J. Amphlett (Worcs. Hist. Soc. 1893-9), i. 49; ii. 28-9; STAC 8/201/17, ff. 17, 19v.
  • 11. APC, 1601-4, p. 251.
  • 12. STAC 8/201/17, f. 18v.
  • 13. Ibid. f. 16.
  • 14. Ibid. ff. 16, 17, 18v; T. Nash, Colls. for Hist. Worcs. i. p. xxviii.
  • 15. E.A.B. Barnard, ‘Pakingtons of Westwood’, Trans. Worcs. Arch. Soc. n.s. xiii. 36; Add. 38139, ff. 163-4.
  • 16. HMC Hatfield, xiii. 472.
  • 17. Nash, i. p. xxviii; STAC 8/201/17, f. 19.
  • 18. STAC 8/201/17, ff. 16, 17v, 18v. This is almost certainly the incident referred to in Worcs. RO, 705:24/BA81/576/3.
  • 19. STAC 8/201/17, ff. 17v, 18v.
  • 20. Nash, i. p. xxviii; STAC 8/201/17, f. 18; SP14/216/131; CJ, i. 706.
  • 21. STAC 8/201/17, f. 19; Worcs. Vis. (Harl. Soc. xxvii), 91.
  • 22. STAC 8/201/17, ff. 16, 17, 17v, 18v, 19.
  • 23. Ibid. ff. 16v, 17v, 18. Meriel appears to have declared her opposition to Harewell before her brother entered the lists.
  • 24. Ibid. f. 10v.
  • 25. Ibid. f. 9.
  • 26. Ibid. f. 10.
  • 27. Ibid. ff. 9, 9v, 10, 11.
  • 28. Ibid. f. 10.
  • 29. Ibid. f. 9v.
  • 30. Ibid. ff. 7v, 10, 17.
  • 31. Ibid. ff. 7v, 8, 8v.
  • 32. Nash, i. p. xxviii.
  • 33. Ibid.
  • 34. HMC Var. ii. 319.
  • 35. STAC 8/201/17, f. 23.
  • 36. Ibid. f. 16; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 242, 243, 253, 267.
  • 37. P. Williams, ‘Attack on the Council in the Marches’, Trans. Hon. Soc. Cymmrodorion 1961, pp. 2-3; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 552; Silcock, 216-20.
  • 38. Cott. Vitellius C.I, f. 206v.
  • 39. SP14/49/26.
  • 40. C219/35/2/138.
  • 41. Gruenfelder’s statement that Sandys’ canvassing in 1614 aroused opposition in Worcestershire is based on a misreading of an undated letter by (Sir) William Russell* concerning William Sandys† of Fladbury. The letter concerned must relate to one of the 1640 elections. J.K. Gruenfelder, Influence in Early Stuart Elections, 16; Worcs. RO, BA81 705:24/647(3).
  • 42. HMC Rye and Hereford, 260; C219/37/311; C66/2234.
  • 43. Hirst erroneously states that there was a contest in 1624. D. Hirst, Representative of the People?, 222. See M.A. Kishlansky, Parlty. Selection, 76.
  • 44. CD 1628, ii. 37.