Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
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Lying on the high road between London and Portsmouth, Petersfield was a prosperous market town whose clothiers and merchants specialized in serges and other ‘new draperies’: in 1534 it was not listed in a report on decayed towns which included Portsmouth, Southampton and Winchester. At the beginning of the 16th century the 3rd Duke of Buckingham was lord of the borough and manor of Petersfield. After the duke’s attainder in 1521 James Worsley, a yeoman of the robes and father of Richard Worsley, was appointed chief steward of the lordship ‘with the making of the bailiff there, and £5 a year’, and in March 1522 Henry VIII granted the lordship to Sir Richard Weston in whose family it remained until 1597. Other property in and around Petersfield was held by the Sussex abbey of Dureford; after passing briefly through the hands of Sir William Fitzwilliam I, Earl of Southampton, some of this was acquired by Sir Edmund Marvyn and some by George Rithe.3

The borough was not incorporated but it possessed many of the rights and privileges of a corporate borough and was one of five towns in Hampshire to have a guild merchant. Since the early records have been lost it is not known when or by what right the townsmen assumed the corporate name and style of ‘mayor and burgesses’ or ‘mayor and commonalty’. The court rolls of the later 16th century show that the election of the mayor and other officers took place in the court leet, but the lord’s bailiff or reeve seems to have had little power; his name does not appear on the election indentures for the period. All of these survive and apart from the first are in English. The contracting parties are the sheriff of Hampshire and the mayor and burgesses or commonalty, and the electors are said to have acted with ‘one assent and consent’ by virtue of a warrant or precept received from the sheriff. The franchise was in 1727 declared by the Commons to lie in ‘the freeholders of lands or ancient houses— built upon ancient foundations in the borough’.4

Sir Richard Weston’s grandson and heir Henry was in wardship when Peters field made its first known return to Parliament since 1307, so that it is likely to have been the master of the court of wards, the Hampshire magnate Sir William Paulet, Baron St. John, who procured this re-enfranchisement. At the first election his younger brother George Paulet was sheriff of Hampshire, but neither of the two men first returned had any obvious connexion with the Paulets, although the senior of them, George Tadlowe, a London haberdasher and as such perhaps known to the local merchants, was later to sit for three other boroughs in which St. John, then lord treasurer and Marquess of Winchester, had influence. On the other hand, Tadlowe was connected with his fellow-Member Lawrence Elveden alias Cattaneo, both directly and through his uncle William Tadlowe, Elveden’s colleague in the Cinque Ports, and both were sitting for the first time. (Sir) Anthony Browne I, a nephew of William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton, had sat in the two previous Parliaments for Guildford, but as sheriff of Surrey and Sussex he could not lawfully return himself there in 1553: he did return George Rithe, a lawyer who held the manor of Liss, near Petersfield, for the Sussex borough of Bramber to the Parliament of March 1553 and this may have been part of a bargain whereby Rithe stood down at Petersfield in Browne’s favour. Browne appears to have intervened in other elections as sheriff, including that of Rithe’s fellow-Member Lawrence Awen, and such an agreement could well have been approved by Browne’s kinsman the Duke of Northumberland, under whose aegis the Parliament had been summoned. The return for Bramber was made on 20 Feb. 1553, four days after that for Petersfield. Browne seems to have been elected at Stafford as well as at Petersfield in the autumn of 1553 but chose to sit for the Hampshire borough, this time with Rithe. His fellow-Member in Edward VI’s second Parliament had been John Vaughan, stepfather of Henry Weston. Vaughan clearly owed his three returns for Petersfield to this relationship but there seems no question of his controlling the borough during his stepson’s minority since he was obliged to take the junior seat in Edward VI’s second Parliament and failed to secure his return at all to Mary’s first. Weston did not wait for his majority before asserting his proprietary rights in the borough but sat with Vaughan in both the Parliaments of 1554 and with Christopher Rithe, probably George Rithe’s brother of half-brother, in 1555: he did not, however, take the senior seat until 1558, probably the first election at which he was of age. In 1555, the second time the names appear on the indenture, Rithe’s is inserted over an erasure but since there is no alteration of the names earlier in the document this was probably an error; the erased name may have been that of Vaughan.

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. C219/19/84; Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. VCH Hants, iii. 113-17, 247; v. 423, 426, 484; LP Hen. VIII, iii(2), g. 2016.
  • 4. VCH Hants. iii. 114, 115; v. 416; M. Beresford, New Towns in the Middle Ages, 447; C219/19/84, 20/107, 21/137, 22/75, 23/115, 24/139, 25/98.