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

Background Information

No names known for 1510-23


1536(not known)
1539(not known)
 (not known)
1545(not known)
1554 (Nov.)JOHN DIGONS

Main Article

Situated on the coastal plain of western Sussex, Chichester was a moderately prosperous city of perhaps 2,000 inhabitants. Its foreign trade, although not nearly as extensive as that of other Sussex ports, was at least until the fall of Calais fairly lucrative, and during the 1550s the corporation tried unsuccessfully to remove weirs from the harbour. The small group of aliens resident there seems to have engaged more in Continental trade than industry. Cloth was manufactured on a modest scale, a medieval charter restricting retail sale to members of the guild merchant; in 1536 the operation of the recent Act regulating the size of kerseys (27 Hen. VIII, c.12) was postponed at Chichester to enable its clothworkers to obtain the necessary instruments. The city was not wealthy; few of its inhabitants were assessed on more than £40 in goods and the subsidy of 1524-5 yielded only £62.1

Chichester was the seat of a bishopric, and before the Reformation its shrine to St. Richard and its other cults made it a place of pilgrimage. Its bishops inclined towards conservatism, only John Scory, deprived in 1553 after a year in office, being a Protestant. During the episcopates of the Marian Bishops Day and Christopherson the city witnessed burnings of heretics, on one occasion to the number of 17. The city suffered little at the Dissolution. The cathedral was left largely untouched; the property of the Dominicans and Franciscans, both dissolved in 1538, was not considerable, and the site of the Grey Friars was granted by the crown to the corporation for use as a guildhall. In 1552 the mayor and citizens also received the archbishop of Canterbury’s liberty of the Pallant within the city walls together with Little London, a district formerly held by the knights of St. John of Jerusalem. From 1504 Chichester alternated with Lewes as the meeting place of the county court.2

The charter of 1451 incorporating the city as the mayor and citizens was amplified in 1500 and confirmed in 1526 and 1547. The mayor was assisted by a group of aldermen (all former mayors), an undefined number of freemen or ‘free citizens’ and several municipal officers. The city retained a recorder—for about 20 years Robert Trigges held the office—and several local lawyers as counsel. The corporation was based upon the guild merchant, dedicated to St. George. Following the suppression of the religious fraternities the corporation bought the property of the guild of St. George for £100 in May 1549. The city paid a fee-farm of £36 to the crown. Few civic records survive for the period.

On the receipt of a precept from the sheriff of Surrey and Sussex the mayor summoned the aldermen and freemen to the guildhall, where they elected one Member and nominated the other for approval by the commoners, residents paying scot and lot but not yet qualified as guildmen. On the date chosen by the mayor and announced by the serjeant-at-arms the commoners met at eight in the morning at the guildhall, from which anyone ineligible to vote was evicted. If the official candidate was opposed by one or more nominated by the commoners a poll was held. In 1558 the commoners chose one of their own number, Roger Drue, but by withholding from Drue the freedom which would have qualified him for Membership the mayor secured the return of Peter Tolpat. Indentures survive for the Parliament of 1542 and for all those between 1553 and 1558; all save the last are brief contracts in English between the sheriff and the mayor and citizens. Perhaps because of the episode at the election, the indenture for 1558 is endorsed with the names of manucaptors or sureties, a feature rarely found in Sussex during the 16th century but also appearing on the indenture for the shire on the same occasion.3

Of the 12 Members sitting in this period eight were residents, nearly all with civic experience, and of the remainder Thomas Carpenter lived in the suburbs of St. Pancras and William Erneley and Thomas Stoughton less than ten miles from the city; only Richard Sackville, of east Sussex, came from further afield. Carpenter, Erneley and Stoughton presumably owed their elections to the earls of Arundel, and Sackville his to his father, the sheriff who returned him. Successive bishops may have favoured Erneley and Robert Bowyer II, both of whom were in, or were soon to enter, the episcopal service. Chichester complied with Mary’s request for the return of townsmen in the autumn of 1554, thus breaking the run of representation by Carpenter and Stoughton.

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. This survey rests on R. J. W. Swales, ‘Local pol. and parlty. rep. of Suss. 1529-58’ (Bristol Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1964). A. Ballard, Chichester, 19-20; Horsfield, Suss. ii. 18; LP Hen. VIII, xi, 545.
  • 2. Ballard, 58; VCH Suss. iii. 77-80, 86, 102-4; LP Hen. VIII, vii. 1677; CPR, 1550-3, p. 288.
  • 3. St.Ch.5/C23/37, C26/36, C41/1, C47/10; C219/18B/93, 20/130, 21/158, 22/83, 23/127, 24/165, 25/115-15v.