Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer


1542(not known)
1553 (Mar.)(not known)

Main Article

Situated within view of the coast of Kent, Calais under English rule was a town of strategic, diplomatic and commercial importance. The later Plantagenet and Tudor monarchs thought of Calais and its pale, an area amounting to about 150 square miles, as a prestigious barbican to their kingdom and a bridgehead for the reconquest of France. Its part in the Crecy and Agincourt campaigns made it an object of veneration, contemporaries describing it as a jewel. No sovereign could contemplate its loss. At the same time its maintenance was becoming increasingly expensive.7

From its capture in 1347 Calais was the Englishman’s gateway to the Continent. In 1557 the Venetian ambassador wrote that it was ‘the key and principal entrance to their domains without which the English would have no outlet from their own, nor access to other countries; at least, none so easy, so short, and so secure.’ The town’s prosperity depended on the wool staple settled there in 1363 and was guaranteed so long as this flourished. By the mid 15th century the Staple had become so powerful that it could bargain with Edward IV for the administration of the town and the marches, but when decline set in Henry VII rescinded the Yorkist agreement and assumed direct responsibility, governing at first through the lieutenant and later through the deputy. Commercial decay unrelieved by subordination to the crown induced a pessimistic outlook, and the state of demoralization reached by 1558 explains the French contempt for the place at its fall. Yet Calais remained no mean town, containing in 1556 over 80 woolhouses, eight storehouses, a number of breweries, two hospices, many inns and lodging houses, 15 almshouses, a number of large town mansions, two dissolved monastic houses and some religious houses.

The scale of the problems facing Calais led to the appointment of a commission in 1531 to advise on reform. In the following year Henry VIII went there to meet Francis I and personally inspected the marches; a second commission followed the visit, and another under the 3rd Duke of Norfolk and Sir William Fitzwilliam I worked there in the summer and autumn of 1535. The results were incorporated in an Act passed during the final session of the Parliament of 1529. The bill was prepared by Fitzwilliam on his return to England in October 1535 and was completed by the following February. Sir William Kingston believed that it would pass the Commons without trouble because the Members knew little about Calais, but he was mistaken. Sir Richard Whethill of Calais reported on its passage through Parliament and Fitzwilliam told the deputy that he would not be disappointed in the Act when in late March it was sent to Calais.

The Act declaring certain ordinances to be observed in the town of Calais and the marches of the same (27 Hen. VIII, c.63) concentrated authority in the hands of the deputy and a council set up to advise him. The idea behind the reform was to strengthen the town’s ties with England. A policy of anglicization was adopted, English replacing French as the language of government and discrimination against aliens being advocated. The Act provided for the representation of the town in Parliament by two Members at wages of 2s. a day each. The deputy and his council and the mayor and his council were each to receive a writ commanding them ‘to nominate, elect, and choose ... one able and discreet person inhabiting within the said town of Calais’. The mayor’s right to return a Member was the only one independent of the deputy left to him after 1536.

On 13 May 1536 John Husee told his master the deputy that both burgesses and knights of the shire were to be elected for Calais to the Parliament summoned to meet in the following month. Even discounting his mistake about the number of Members, his nomenclature for them seems to imply that the deputy’s choice ranked as a knight of the shire and the mayor’s as a burgess. Either for this reason or because the deputy took precedence over the mayor, the name of the deputy’s Member always stands before that of the mayor’s on the Crown Office lists of Members. Writs were issued for the last Parliament of Mary’s reign on 6 Dec. 1557 but before its assembly Calais had fallen to the French. The compiler of the list of Members at first included Calais among the constituencies but then struck it through, and on a copy made several months later it was omitted. On previous occasions neither the deputy nor the mayor had held his election promptly on receipt of the writs but had waited until the eve of Parliament, although as far as is known the two elections were not held on the same day. The returns are in the form of deeds recording the elections: four from the deputy’s council written in Latin survive and eight from the mayor’s council in English. All the members of the deputy’s council present at the election are named on the deputy’s return (and they signed and affixed their seals to it) but on the mayor’s return the members of his council are mentioned only collectively.8

All the Members were residents, although few were Calais born, and all had experience of town or marcher affairs. John Chaloner’s Membership in 1555 is a matter of inference. Both Members elected in 1536 were almost certainly sponsored by Fitzwilliam: Thomas Boys was a kinsman of Sir Nicholas Carew, who was presumably Fitzwilliam’s fellow-knight for Surrey in the Parliament, and William Pryseley had received assurances and advice from him shortly before the election. Several of the Members were known to Secretary Paget and others to Cecil. Thomas Broke may have been a kinsman of the deputy who returned him in 1547.

Licences to be absent from Calais were revoked by an Act of 1540 (32 Hen. VIII, c.27). The town obtained an Act for paving (2 and 3 Edw. VI, c.28) in the Parliament of 1547, but bills for the letting of property there and for cattle failed during the second session. Bills for Calais shoemakers introduced in March 1553 and April 1554 also came to nothing.9

Author: A. D.K. Hawkyard


  • 1. LP Hen. VIII, ix. 34.
  • 2. Ibid. x. 1086.
  • 3. Ibid. xiv(1), 1042.
  • 4. Ibid. xiv(1), 922.
  • 5. C219/19/137v; Hatfield 207.
  • 6. Guildford mus. Loseley 1331/2.
  • 7. This survey rests on P. T. J. Morgan, ‘The govt. of Calais, 1485-1558’ (Oxf. Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1966).
  • 8. C193/32/2; 219/18B/149, 18C/190, 191, 19/138, 20/170, 21/211, 212, 22/110, 111, 23/183, 211, 24/221; Wm. Salt Lib. 264.
  • 9. CJ, i. 10, 25, 34-36.