Great Grimsby


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


1536(not known)
1539(not known)
 (not known)
1553 (Mar.)(not known)
1554 (Nov.)JOHN BELLOW

Main Article

Since the early 15th century the haven at Grimsby had been silting up, while the draught of ships had been increasing; the resultant loss of trade was so severe that a commission was appointed in 1490 to investigate the town’s poverty. The decay of the port led to an exodus of many merchants and thus to a decrease in the town’s ability to resist the influence of the crown, the earls of Westmorland and local gentlemen.11

Henry III’s charter establishing Grimsby as a royal borough was regularly confirmed before the begining of this period and again in 1510, 1547 and 1555. The borough’s fee-farm of £50 was payable to the earls of Westmorland. The town’s government was headed by a mayor and two bailiffs assisted by several councilmen or comburgesses and lesser municipal officers. To expedite the increasing business dealt with by the mayoral court an inner group of councilmen known as aldermen had been set up by the 1550s. The town had a recorder and retained several lawyers of local origin as fee’d counsel. Minutes of decisions taken in the mayoral court were kept from the mid 15th century, and some of the chamberlains’ accounts for the early 16th century survive. Letters addressed to the town were filed after being dealt with and a number of these are of parliamentary interest.12

The practice current in the previous century of taking a poll for the election of Members appears to have continued during the period under review. Although the polls themselves are no longer recorded in the court book, the details of one held on 23 Oct. 1554 are preserved on a sheet of paper. Of the 46 men eligible to vote, each having two votes, five did not take part, and the 82 votes cast were divided between John Bellow (40), Thomas Constable (25), Richard Bailey (15), and John Kingston and Robert Couke (one each).

The indentures survive for all the Parliaments between 1545 and 1558 except those of March 1553 and April 1554; all save those for 1545 and October 1553 are in English. They give the contracting parties as the sheriff of Lincolnshire and the mayor of Grimsby (unnamed in September 1553 and December 1557) and the burgesses, variously described as the community, the commonalty or the comburgesses. In 1545, 13 electors are named, all gentlemen and burgesses, and the same indenture records the election of the Members by ‘the said aldermen and burgesses’ in the hall. Aldermen are again mentioned in 1547 and December 1557. The Members for Great Grimsby are not entered on the sheriff’s schedule for the Parliament of 1555, although a space was left for the borough, but are on the schedule for 1558. The indentures for the Parliaments of October 1553 and 1558, and perhaps also for 1555, are in the same hand as those for Grimsby. The christian name of the senior Member in 1542, Thomas Hussey, has been added to the indenture in a different hand and over an erasure, and that of the junior Member in 1555, Thomas Constable, is also in a different hand.

The death of the 3rd Earl of Westmorland in 1499 interrupted the practice by which £20 of the borough’s fee-farm was commuted in return for the earl’s nomination of one of the town’s Members. The townsmen petitioned the crown for a reduction in the fee-farm on the ground of poverty but the guardians of the 4th Earl seem to have collected it in full throughout his minority. On coming of age the earl claimed the nomination of at least one Member in exchange for a reduction in the fee-farm, and several of those elected during the period seem to have been his nominees. His son, the 5th Earl, was less politically minded, and early in 1553 either the Duke of Northumberland or one of his supporters, perhaps Sir William Cecil, sought to intervene. Contrary advice came from the 9th Lord Clinton, who either on his own initiative or in response to an approach by the townsmen, wrote to John Bellow on 19 Jan. advising them to elect ‘expert and discreet burgesses of your own borough as nigh as you may’. In the absence of the names the upshot is unknown. On other occasions the influence either of the crown or of local patrons is to be discerned. In 1510 Sir William Tyrwhitt asked the town to set its election aside and to send him a blank indenture so that he and Sir Robert Wingfield could be returned, or else Wingfield and John Heneage, father of the Member of that name in 1523 and 1529. In 1515 the town’s non-compliance with the King’s general request for the re-election of the previous Members, although both were available, may have been at the King’s or Wolsey’s particular direction.

Of the 15 or 16 Members sitting in the Early Tudor period five were townsmen and the others of Lincolnshire birth or domicile, with the single exception of Sir Robert Wingfield. Little has come to light about the draper Robert Lord, but both of the migrants to the town, John Bellow and Thomas Constable, were mayors before being elected, as was Philip Hamby, and Robert Vicars was a member of the council. Bellow’s six elections (or, if he sat in March 1553, seven) pre-empted one seat from 1547, and of the other Members only Constable, Richard Goodrich and John Heneage are known to have been re-elected. Among neighbouring families those of Askew, Heneage and Tyrwhitt each managed to secure one or more seats during the period. Ambrose Sutton, who in 1554 took Thomas Hussey’s place after Hussey preferred Grantham, was brother-in-law to the Marmaduke Tyrwhitt who was himself a Member in 1558. Only George Heneage is known to have had previous parliamentary experience, but both his father John Heneage and Thomas Hussey went on to sit for other constituencies, including the county. Hamby and Lord both agreed to accept wages below the statutory rate, and William Hatcliffe remitted his altogether. In 1547 Bellow indemnified the town against his own and Goodrich’s claims, and in the autumn of 1554 he did so for himself alone.13

Author: T. M. Hofmann


  • 1. Great Grimsby AO, oldest ct. bk. f. 224.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid. f. 223.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Ibid. f. 222v.
  • 6. Ibid. f. 200v.
  • 7. HMC 14th Rep. VIII, 274.
  • 8. Great Grimsby AO, oldest ct. bk. f. 230.
  • 9. Great Grimsby AO, loose corresp. calendered HMC 14th Rep. VIII, 254 (but misdated 1545).
  • 10. Only 'Rych' remains of the senior Member's name on a torn indenture, C219/19/57; full name known from Hatfield 207.
  • 11. E. Gillett, Grimsby, passim.
  • 12. Great Grimsby AO, oldest ct. bk.; ct. bk. 1539-48; chamberlains’ accts.; loose corresp.; HMC 14th Rep. VIII, 250-8 passim.
  • 13. A. Rogers, ‘Partly. elections in Grimsby in the 15th century’ Bull. IHR, xliii. 212-20; Great Grimsby AO, ordinances 25; C219/18C/58v, 62, 19/57, 21/93, 23/79, 24/95, 101, 25/64, 68.