Constituencies 1509-1558

Published in 1982

At the accession of Henry VIII 37 shires, 12 urban counties, and 98 towns and boroughs sent representatives to the House of Commons. All were in England (as yet Wales was not represented). Altogether there were 296 Members. Over the period the number of constituencies grew: by 1558, 52 shires, 16 county boroughs and 160 cities, towns and boroughs, were returning a total of 398 members. During the 36-year reign of Henry VIII up to 44 constituencies were added. It is not always possible to be certain when some constituencies were first enfranchised, but in the six years of Edward VI’s reign up to 25 constituencies sent Members for the first time, and in the five years of Mary’s reign up to 14 were added.

There is a summary table provided of the number of seats in each Parliament of the period in an appendix. Although no full introductory survey was provided for the 1509-1558 volumes, a discussion of the enfranchisement of constituences may be found in an article by A.D.K. Hawkyard, 'The enfranchisement of Constituencies' in  Parliamentary History, x (1991), 1-26.

A large part of the growth was the consequence of the Act for the administration of justice in Wales (26 Hen. VIII, c. 26), usually described as the Act of Union. It allowed for two knights for Monmouthshire and one burgess for the borough of Monmouth, one knight for each of the 12 Welsh counties and a burgess for every shire town, with the exception of Harlech, the shire town for Merioneth, to be sent to Parliament.

The method of election in Wales was based on the English model, although it set up a system by which all boroughs within a shire would contribute to the wages of the single borough member for that shire, the Welsh system of contributory boroughs which had to be further clarified in another Act of 1544 (35 Hen. VIII, c. 11). Members for Wales and Monmouthshire were not in fact summoned to Parliament until the Parliament of 1544 because the division of the principality into shires had not been accomplished in time for the elections to the 1539 Parliament.

The constituencies include two French towns, Calais and Tournai. Calais sent Members to Westminster from 1536 to 1555. It was argued by C.G. Cruickshank in 'Parliamentary Representation of Tournai', English Historical Review, lxxxiii (1968), 775-6, that Tournai sent representatives to the Parliament of 1512. Two articles by C.S.L. Davies, 'Tournai and the English Crown, 1509-1519', Historical Journal, xli (1998), and 'Tournai MPs at Westminster?-a Note', Parliamentary History xix (2001), 233-5, show that this was not in fact the case.