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 freemen

Number of voters:

111 in 1604; over 300 in 1628


5 Mar. 1604ROBERT ASKWITH , alderman61 
 Sir John Bennet*1429
 Thomas Moseley† , alderman1312
 Sir Robert Watter , alderman88
 William Robinson† , alderman31
 Robert Paycock , alderman11
21 Mar. 1614ROBERT ASKWITH , alderman  
18 Dec. 1620(SIR) ROBERT ASKWITH , alderman  
6 Feb. 1624(SIR) ARTHUR INGRAM  
c. Jan. 1626(SIR) ARTHUR INGRAM  
3 Mar. 1628(SIR) ARTHUR INGRAM  
 THOMAS HOYLE , alderman  
 William Robinson  
 Hoyle vice Savile, seated on petition 23 Apr. 1628  

Main Article

Early Stuart York, still reckoned the second city of England, had a population of around 10,000. Its archbishop, styled ‘primate of England’, supervised four northern dioceses, while the Council in the North, a small but permanent bureaucracy based at the King’s Manor, managed civil affairs north of the Trent. The city, chartered under Henry II, sent two citizens to the Model Parliament of 1295, who by custom sat next to the privy councillors and London citizens in the Commons. Incorporated as a county borough in 1396, York thereby gained jurisdiction over its immediate hinterland, the Ainsty. It was the only provincial city to be governed by a lord mayor, who was assisted by 12 aldermen, the ‘Twenty-Four’ comprising all those who had served as sheriff (generally less than 24 in number) and a common council of 41 men drawn from the city’s guilds.1 The medieval city had been an occasional venue for parliaments, particularly during campaigns against the Scots, and in April 1607 the Venetian ambassador reported that James, disgusted at the Commons’ obstruction of the Union, intended to ‘dissolve Parliament and summon another in York, which, being incommodious, will make the Houses dispatch their business the quicker’.2

Although 40 miles inland, York was accessible to small seagoing ships and barges via the River Ouse (at least at high tide) and was classified as a ‘member’ of Hull by the customs service. Formerly a major centre of cloth manufacture, by 1600 the city had become more dependent on service industries, and while no longer as prosperous as it had been in the fifteenth century, it still catered to a hinterland comprising much of the north of England. Above its artisan base stood a mercantile elite who controlled a significant proportion of the West Riding cloth industry, and also held a stake in the northern lead trade. Much of this output was shipped through Hull, a situation which led to conflicts of interest, although both communities united to prevent the encroachment of Londoners.3

From 1581 the parliamentary franchise at York was restricted to a group of 40-50 freemen, who nominated four lites, from whom the corporation chose two MPs; this system was discontinued in 1597, when the freemen regained the vote, giving their voices in advance of the corporation members, the better to avoid partiality. The change was not necessarily significant, as the lord mayor was allowed a view of those assembled before they were admitted to the election in the Guildhall, and it was only at the contest of 1628 that the generality of the freemen exercised their franchise. Members customarily received generous expenses of 6s. 8d. a day while at Westminster, far more than the statutory allowance of 2s. per diem. They were, however, expected to work hard for their constituents: the corporation drafted an agenda of business to be handled both in and out of Parliament; and expected to be kept abreast of developments in a regular correspondence. Not surprisingly, almost all of the city’s Elizabethan MPs were aldermen who were thoroughly familiar with the city’s business, the only exception being (Sir) John Bennet, the archdiocesan chancellor, who was returned in 1601 after failing to secure a seat at the archiepiscopal liberty of Ripon.4

At the 1604 general election five aldermen (two with previous parliamentary experience) stood for election alongside Bennet (backed by a letter from Archbishop Hutton) and Christopher Brooke, a York-born lawyer well known in London literary circles. By a comfortable margin, the senior seat went to Robert Askwith, a recent arrival on the aldermanic bench who had been one of the candidates for lord mayor a few weeks earlier. Bennet garnered only 14 voices, but though he went on to pick up 29 for the second seat, he lost the contest to Brooke. However, the most important part of the electoral process was the preparation of detailed instructions which followed the hustings. In 1604 the city’s Members were urged to consult with Yorkshire’s other MPs to establish a Common Law court north of the Trent, presumably to supersede the judicial functions of the Council in the North, which operated as a prerogative court. Secondly, Yorkshire’s contributions under the Dover Harbour Act of 1581 were to be diverted to one of the corporation’s pet projects, the improvement of the Ouse navigation. Thirdly, the city was to secure its customary discount of £50 from each of the fifteenths then being collected, and more aldermen were to be added to the subsidy commission. The city’s butchers, pewterers, cordwainers and tanners added their own requests, and the tapestry-makers asked for the repeal of a Henrician statute which gave the weavers a monopoly of coverlet manufacture. Ten days after the election, the corporation dispatched additional instructions requiring its Members to seek modifications to the city charter.5 In the event, however, little of this ambitious agenda was realized. The tax rebate was secured, but the project for a Common Law court sank without trace and Askwith advised against a new charter on grounds of cost. Moreover, while Brooke moved to repeal the Dover Harbour Act on 5 June, the Act was eventually confirmed by a fresh statute. Later that month Askwith, doubtless in an attempt to promote the Ouse navigation, added a proviso for York and the Ainsty to the bill to remove weirs on navigable rivers, and he may also have hoped to obtain some local benefits as a member of the committee for the tanners’ bill (28 Apr.), although the resulting statute contained no proviso for York.6

Elected lord mayor in January 1606, Askwith missed the next parliamentary session, although he retained his seat, despite the recent prohibition on mayors serving in the Commons. It was therefore left to Brooke to assist in a collaborative bid to recover for the merchants of York, Newcastle and Hull a 20 per cent discount on the customs duties on cloth. This reduction had been granted to the northern towns by the Crown in 1592, but was disallowed by the London consortium which had recently taken over the Great Farm. Brooke chaired the committee, reporting the bill on 5 Mar. 1606. Lord Treasurer Dorset (Thomas Sackville†) ensured that the bill fell asleep in the Lords, but after the prorogation a petition to Robert (Cecil†), 1st earl of Salisbury, secured the restoration of the former discount.7

Askwith returned to Westminster at Easter 1607, bearing detailed instructions for a renewal of the city’s charter, which was secured at a cost of £120. Having undertaken a survey of the Ouse during his mayoralty, he may have been particularly interested in the clause granting Admiralty rights over the Humber and its Yorkshire tributaries to the lord mayor. However, this privilege was already held by the mayor of Hull, and the claim was dropped before the charter reached the seals. York’s corporation is not known to have issued any instructions to its MPs in 1610, although it was presumably Askwith who procured a renewal of the city’s commission for surveying the Ouse in June. In October he was asked to renew the lease of part of the city’s commons during the autumn session, when he and Brooke also compounded for a parcel of concealed lands on the corporation’s behalf.8

While they had achieved little in 1610, Askwith and Brooke received parliamentary wages, and both men continued to be elected to Parliament until their deaths, a notable break with precedent. In 1614 their instructions covered the Ouse navigation, the control of vintners, and legislation to restrain Londoners from selling goods in fairs anywhere north of the Trent. They were also told to co-operate with other Yorkshire Members in restricting lord president Sheffield’s control over town militias. However, the swift dissolution meant that nothing was achieved, and they do not appear to have received any expenses.9

Further attempts to improve the Ouse were mooted in 1616, which may have included an ambitious plan to divert the course of the river altogether. When the king visited the city on his way to Scotland in the following year, Askwith, again serving as lord mayor, saluted him with an ode on the need to improve the Ouse navigation, a view he believed James had endorsed. Askwith and Brooke tabled a bill for this purpose in 1621, but, to their frustration, it received only a single reading before Easter. They blamed this on

the slow proceedings of private things … in regard so many public grievances and [an]noyances of the commonwealth are on foot, and that those whom we mean to use for moving the king to be a burgess for us, as he pleased to say he would have been so employed, that it was not possible for them to act our desires.

The bill received a second reading on 3 May, but Sir Thomas Wentworth* and other landowners objected to the proposal to fund the project through a charge upon the whole county, and it never emerged from committee. The other issue which Askwith and Brooke pursued during the 1621 session was the procurement of relief from the economic downturn which had badly affected the north. They welcomed the Commons’ decision to investigate the problem, which they ascribed to ‘the pretermitted customs, the impositions upon cloth, the wars in Germany, and the more frequent making of cloth beyond the seas’, but they confessed that ‘in this we have found a deep ocean of matter not to be waded through in a whole Parliament’. At a practical level, they hoped to have London merchants barred from the fairs at Beverley and Howden, a measure they found other northern MPs were willing to support. Advised that ‘there is no way by Parliament to take away the liberty of any subject from going and merchandizing where he list’, they approached a master of Requests to secure a Proclamation, but they were disappointed, and their plans to make a personal appeal to the king came to nothing.10

During the 1621 session, rivalry between York and Hull simmered just beneath the surface. Relations had soured in 1619, when the York merchants had attempted to withhold payment for lead tolls at Hull, and a confrontation was anticipated in 1621. Askwith and the Hull MP John Lister arranged negotiations, but after these collapsed, the Hull corporation drafted a bill to uphold their rights. This was dropped on Lister’s advice that ‘there is little to do us good in parliamentary courses’, and the dispute was eventually settled through the mediation of Sir Arthur Ingram in the autumn of 1623.11 Another dispute broke out in July 1622, when several York merchants had their goods seized at Hull for selling to ‘country chapmen’ in breach of the ‘foreign bought and sold’ rule, which specified that a Hull burgess had to be party to every sale which took place in the town. The York men brought their case for restitution in Common Pleas, but the dispute was referred to the Privy Council for arbitration. Both sides marshalled an impressive array of legal advisers, but the York men apparently won the day with the support of Lord Treasurer Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*), who had been briefed by Ingram, his former business partner.12

Having rendered himself useful to the York corporation, Ingram, a financier who had built himself a palatial residence in the city, aspired to a parliamentary seat at the 1624 election, supporting Brooke as his partner and undertaking ‘to show my willingness in all things that may concern the good of the city’. Brooke’s own letter of nomination waived any sums due for his service in the previous Parliament, beyond the £20 he had been obliged to contribute to the Palatine Benevolence raised after the dissolution, and expressed the hope that ‘by serving as well and faithfully as I can, I might haply save the city a great deal of charge, which (if the Parliament continue long, as it is like to do) must needs be spent’. Although Ingram had insured himself against disappointment by securing nominations at two other boroughs, he was in fact returned for the senior seat. The instructions issued by the city to its Members concentrated on economic issues: the Ouse navigation was to be pursued, and a rival project for the River Aire was to be stopped; bills were to be promoted to prevent Londoners attending northern fairs, to enclose the city’s commons and to establish a court of orphans like that at London; Hull was to be prevented from enforcing its ‘foreign bought and sold’ claims; an abatement of the pretermitted custom on cloth was to be sought; free trade was to be promoted; and complaint was to be made about customs fees. When Parliament assembled, Ingram and Brooke certainly kept the corporation informed about the debates on free trade and the attack on the pretermitted custom, but otherwise they achieved nothing: Ingram, a former customs farmer himself, was unlikely to exert himself over the pretermitted custom, and both men were distracted by Middlesex’s impeachment.13

Ingram and Brooke were re-elected in 1625 ‘by general and free consent’, but no instructions are known to have been drafted by the city, either because of the failures of the previous session, or because the king made it clear that the Parliament was being called for supply, with a legislative session to follow in the autumn. Brooke wrote to the corporation in July, but only to recommend a York lawyer as assistant to the city’s ailing recorder.14 The 1626 election was not recorded in the corporation minutes, but the instructions issued to both Members were carefully noted. The Ouse navigation scheme was to be revived, but the contentious county-wide rate was dropped; the rival navigation project for the Aire and Calder, sponsored by Sir John Savile*, was to be opposed as ‘a great impoverishment to this city’; any attempt by the Hull corporation to confirm their ‘foreign bought and sold’ rights was to be opposed; an abatement in the pretermitted custom on northern kerseys was to be sought; the Hull whalers were to be supported in their efforts to break the Londoners’ monopoly of the trade; and shipping was to be protected against the depredations of the Dunkirk privateers. Significantly, the corporation also decided not to rely solely on the efforts of its MPs, neither of whom was a corporation member: on 6 Mar. Brooke was asked ‘whether he think fit to send up a solicitor this Parliament time’; and two weeks later Robert Belt and Robert Hemsworth were dispatched to Westminster.15

Writing to the corporation on 15 Apr., Belt and Hemsworth asked for instructions about the Ouse navigation scheme, and warned that Savile had tabled his bill for the Aire navigation; they were clearly unaware that it had been rejected at its second reading on 25 March. Much as they may have disliked Savile’s navigation project, the citizens of York had cause to thank him for securing another of their desires, a reduction in the city’s Privy Seal loan quota. York’s quota had initially been set at £1,800, equivalent to ten parliamentary subsidies, but during the subsidy debate of 27 Mar., an anonymous Yorkshireman (probably Savile) had called for a discount to encourage prompt payment. During the Easter recess Savile led a delegation, including the York MPs, to lobby the Privy Council, which granted a two-thirds reduction for the whole shire. Belt and Hemsworth commended this deal to the corporation, and also undertook to advance £400 from the county’s Privy Seal money to Sir William Russell*, the Navy treasurer, who promised to dispatch three ships to Hull as convoy escorts in return.16 Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that the corporation quickly raised £350 of the city’s reduced Privy Seal quota of £400, which was paid into the Exchequer on 4 July; ratepayers were also asked for £90 to defray the costs of lobbying. While the corporation subsequently dragged its feet over demands that the Yorkshire raise three ships for service with the Navy, they demonstrated a co-operative attitude to the Forced Loan: Hemsworth delivered 82 per cent of his quota of £877 to the Exchequer, a figure comfortably above the national average of 72 per cent.17

At the 1628 election Savile, who by then dominated Yorkshire politics as both a privy councillor and vice-president of the Council in the North, looked to York to return his son, Sir Thomas*. At first it seemed as though the latter had no rivals, for although Ingram had a secure claim on the senior seat, the junior seat was going begging, its previous occupant, Brooke, having died four weeks before the election. William Robinson, son of a recently deceased alderman, acquired his freedom shortly before the election with a view to standing, but he had little support. Meanwhile, two aldermen, Hemsworth and William Cowper, canvassed for Savile among the city’s guilds and the merchant adventurers, insisting that anyone who voted for Savile would be ‘saved harmless’ if they voted for a stranger (Savile only became a freeman on the day of his election). They also claimed that it would be wise to support Savile as ‘the Parliament would not hold’, which would leave Savile’s father with an unquestioned sway over the north of England.18 With a hard fought contest in prospect, Lord Mayor Belt (a Savile supporter) apparently decided to waive all the restrictions on the electorate, and over 300 freemen turned up to the hustings. The names of Sir Thomas Savile, Ingram and Robinson were initially put to the question, and while Robinson demanded a poll, ‘three or four shouts’ established that his supporters were outnumbered by those of his rivals. Following a modest altercation, Savile yielded the senior seat to Ingram, the result was proclaimed by sheriff Henry Thompson, and the return sealed. At this point, however, another alderman informed Thompson that as it was not yet eleven o’clock the hustings were not yet legally closed. Robinson, meanwhile, resigned his interest to Thomas Hoyle, his father’s successor as alderman. As more freemen arrived at the hustings, Hoyle’s supporters came to outnumber Savile’s (they claimed) by two to one. Thompson, however, declined to alter his initial decision, and returned Ingram and Savile.19

At Westminster, the Commons’ committee for privileges had only just been named (20 Mar.) when an allegation was received that ‘Sir Thomas Savile … kept the townsmen from coming in at a right door, and brought those that chose him through a wall purposely broken down, to keep out others and let in whom he pleased’. Savile’s supporters secured 150 signatures to a rival petition endorsing his return, including those of Belt, Cowper and Hemsworth, and even Hoyle’s old master, Alderman Matthew Topham. It is therefore hardly surprising that the ‘long and tedious business’ occupied the committee for at least three afternoons. The antipathy many MPs felt towards the duke of Buckingham and his clients doubtless influenced the eventual decision to unseat Savile and declare Hoyle elected in his stead (23 April). Thompson and Hemsworth were subsequently required to make a formal submission to the Commons, and to pay Hoyle £20 towards the cost of his witnesses.20

Under the tumultuous circumstances of the election, the York corporation had, understandably, neglected to draft any instructions for its MPs. Nevertheless, on 7 May 1628 Hoyle informed the House that ten ships had lately been captured off the Yorkshire coast by Dunkirkers, news which provoked ‘pitiful complaints by the aldermen of London, Mr. Lister and others’. Ingram subsequently joined in the attack on Sir Thomas Monson’s* patent for the drafting of bills before the Council in the North, but as this patent affected his income as secretary to the Council, his protest was clearly lodged more for the benefit of himself than his constituents. In October the corporation belatedly considered ‘what might be fitting to be done for the good of this city in this Parliament’, but laid the matter aside until the next session, when the early dissolution rendered their efforts unnecessary. Hoyle’s inaction on the corporation’s behalf presumably explains why he subsequently had difficulty in securing payment of his parliamentary wages.21

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Simon Healy


  • 1. R. Reid, Council in the North; R.A. Marchant, Church Under the Law; York Civic Recs. IX ed. D. Sutton (Yorks. Arch. Soc. rec. ser. cxxxviii), 1-7.
  • 2. CSP Ven. 1603-7, p. 488.
  • 3. B.F. Duckham, Yorks. Ouse, 13-42; D.M. Palliser, Tudor York, passim.
  • 4. York City Archives, House Bk. 31, ff. 297v-8; House Bk. 32, f. 313v; House Bk. 34, ff. 32, 208v; SIR JOHN BENNET.
  • 5. York City Archives, House Bk. 32, ff. 313v-14v, 318-19; SR, iv. 1062.
  • 6. CJ, i. 189a, 242a, 986a, 997a; York City Archives, House Bk. 32, f. 331v.
  • 7. LJ, ii. 394a, 396b; HMC Hatfield, xxiii. 220-1; xxiv. 52-3; CJ, i. 277b, 283b; Hull RO, L.159-60; Hatfield House, Petition 2070.
  • 8. York City Archives, House Bk. 33, ff. 27v, 62, 203v, 221, 229v-30; C181/2, f. 127v.
  • 9. York City Archives, House Bk. 34, ff. 34-5.
  • 10. Ibid. ff. 217v-23; Recs. Early Eng. Drama, York ed. A.F. Johnston and M. Rogerson, i. 549-56; Duckham, 44-7; CJ, i. 605b.
  • 11. Hull RO, Bench Bk. 5, ff. 34v, 41, 59v; Hull RO, L.169-70, 200, 202A; York City Archives, House Bk. 34, f. 270.
  • 12. Hull RO, Bench Bk. 5, f. 51v; Hull RO, L.189-91, 197, 200; York City Archives, House Bk. 34, f. 266; Hull RO, L.190-1; APC, 1621-3, pp. 405-6; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 505.
  • 13. York City Archives, House Bk. 34, ff. 282v-3, 290-2.
  • 14. Ibid. 34, ff. 314, 317.
  • 15. Ibid. 35, ff. 5v-6.
  • 16. Ibid. ff. 8v-10; APC, 1625-6, pp. 421-4; Procs. 1626, ii. 366, 381.
  • 17. York City Archives, House Bk. 35, ff. 13, 16-20, 33v, 37v; E401/2586, pp. 283-6; E401/1913-14, 401/2443-5.
  • 18. York City Archives, House Bk, 35, ff. 24v, 56v; CD 1628, iii. 146-9.
  • 19. CD 1628, iii. 42, 45-6, 49-50, 53, 55.
  • 20. Ibid. ii. 37, 296; iii. 28, 42, 64, 146-9, 171, 178, 208, 224; W. Yorks. AS (Leeds), GA/B10.
  • 21. CD 1628, iii. 308-11; iv. 24, 29; York City Archives, House Bk. 35, ff. 63-4; VCH York, 196.