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)

Main Article

Largely owing to its lack of good roads or a navigable river, Warwick during the period was a poor borough which was included in the Act of 1540 for the re-edification of towns westward (32 Hen. VIII, name known for c.19). The population was apparently not much over 2,000, and subsidy assessments for the town during the 1520s do not show it among the first 40 boroughs in England, at a time when Coventry was ranked fifth in the kingdom. By 1543 the great majority of the inhabitants were too poor to be taxed; only 300 townsmen were assessed, and of these less than a dozen could be described as wealthy.1

The borough’s annual income under Edward VI and Mary may have been some £100, but its military and administrative position involved it in such heavy expenses that the corporation could hope for an annual balance of only about £10. A mediatized borough granted by the crown to the earls of Warwick, as the shire town it had to receive and entertain the judges of assize and other royal officials, and when there was an earl of Warwick he expected valuable gifts. Between 1478 and 1547, and from July 1553 to 1562, when there was no earl and the crown was administering the castle and estates, royal constables proved equally expensive. Until nearly the end of Henry VIII’s reign the borough was not incorporated, and even its first charter in 1545 gave its elected officers only limited powers. Before that date the steward (whose post was often combined with the constableship of the castle) and the bailiff, the chief administrative officer, were responsible to the earl or the crown directly. However, Thomas Wriothesley, who was bailiff from 1535 to 1550, exercised his office through local deputies, and it is clear that by this time there was an elective element in borough administration. The term ‘mayor’ is used occasionally from the end of the 13th century, but this may refer to the senior of the two manorial bailiffs, then serving one for the town and one for the suburbs. The ‘guild of Warwick’, formed from an amalgamation of two 14th-century bodies, was the nucleus of a group of townsmen which, although still ultimately subject to the earl’s courts, assumed considerable responsibility for borough affairs.2

The first royal charter in the 16th century followed the dissolution of the college attached to St. Mary’s church in 1544. Early in the following year the master and brethren of the guild sold part of its own endowment to establish the property formerly belonging to the college on a new footing closely associated with the grammar school, but there was no legal corporate body of townsmen which could receive ‘King Henry’s estate’, as it was generally called. The crown therefore granted a charter in May 1545 to ‘the burgesses of the town of Warwick’, allowing them to administer the lands in trust; for the rest of the century the King’s estate was to be the town’s chief source of income. This grant, which dealt only with the specific property, was not strictly an incorporation, but by this time the borough was virtually self-governing. The grant of the earldom of Warwick to John Dudley in 1547 made little if any difference; early in Edward VI’s reign an elected body of 12 burgesses was apparently managing at least one local charity, and town accounts were being signed by a small group of burgesses. The final stage of incorporation had to wait until after the earl’s death, but in 1549, when Thomas Fisher tried to buy the burgh hall (the former guild hall) and doubts were cast on the borough’s legal right to it, the burgesses were already trying to get their charter renewed and exemplified. After the Fisher episode they changed their policy and attempted to obtain a new charter giving them fuller powers. In November 1554 Mary granted one which almost certainly regularized the existing position, despite the statement in its preamble that the town’s ‘franchises and privileges’ had not been exercised ‘for many years’. The charter, granted to ‘the bailiff and burgesses of the town of Warwick’, defined the corporation as the bailiff and 12 principal burgesses, forming the common council; this body might appoint at its discretion an unspecified number of ‘assistants’. The first officers were named, the charter bailiff and ten of the principal burgesses having already held various offices in Warwick; there was also provision for a recorder and town clerk, William Wigston being named the first recorder. If the crown’s intention had been that the ‘assistants’ should form a second body, similar to the Twenty-Four in other boroughs, it was not carried out; the principal burgesses interpreted this clause so narrowly that at Elizabethan parliamentary elections there were to be chronic disputes with the ‘commoners’ over the composition of the electorate. According to the charter, Members were to serve ‘at the charges and cost of the borough’, but no payments are known for the period and the strong element of electoral patronage implies that few if any Members were paid. The election indentures, all in Latin, survive from 1542. They state that by virtue of a precept from the sheriff to the bailiff ‘the said bailiff and burgesses’ have elected Members. The bailiff’s name is usually given, followed by those of between 15 and 30 ‘burgesses’; it appears that the principal burgesses always called in ‘assistants’ for the election.3

During a period when there was an earl of Warwick for only six years there could be nothing like the later custom of granting one seat to the earl. The chief patron was the local magnate Sir George Throckmorton, knight of the shire in 1529, four of whose sons sat for Warwick in seven Parliaments. His eldest son Robert, knight of the shire in three Marian Parliaments, was bailiff of Warwick in 1544-5, constable of the castle throughout the reign of Mary and sheriff at the two elections of 1554. Sir George Throckmorton may have had a hand in the return of several other Members. William Newenham and Thomas Holte were his friends and in 1532 he was to recommend Newenham as sheriff of Northamptonshire; Holte was a Middle Templar like Throckmorton and several of his sons, and perhaps also John Butler. Edward Ferrers, the grandson of Throckmorton’s fellow-knight in 1529, had been the ward of Throckmorton’s sister Lady Englefield, but as a well-connected gentleman pensioner seated less than seven miles from Warwick he may not have needed any patronage. Ralph Broune, who owned property in Warwick and was assessed for subsidy there, was related to Throckmorton and Ferrers as well as to the Wigstons. Butler, taken to have been the charter burgess and bailiff in 1555-6, was probably the son of a former Member for Warwick and friend of Throckmorton’s father. William Webbe was almost certainly a resident of Warwick castle and of a family active in the royal stable; his most likely patron was Dudley, who had been joint constable of the castle since 1532 and whose younger brother Andrew Dudley was an equerry of the stable by 1544. Dudley may also have furthered the election of William Pinnock, a gentleman-usher of the chamber and former crown rent collector at Warwick, and he must at least have countenanced that of the two Throckmortons who sat in Edward VI’s two Parliaments; but the only man clearly his nominee was Sir William Pickering, a gentleman of the chamber who alone of the Members came from outside Warwickshire. Once a servant of Dudley, Fisher owed his advancement in his native Warwick to his later master Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Protector, but did not achieve the first of his five successive elections until the reign of Mary and the year after his surrender of the offices of constable and crown bailiff: he was a brother-in-law of Thomas Holte and a friend of William Wigston.

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. VCH Warws. viii. 417-18, 480-4, 487; Black Bk. of Warwick, xv, xviii; W. G. Hoskins, Local Hist. in Eng. 239.
  • 2. VCH Warws. viii. 424, 447, 453, 474-5, 478, 480, 495, 511; H. A. Cronne, Warwick in the Middle Ages (Dugdale Soc. Occasional Pprs. x), 4-20; E. G. Tibbits, Anct. Recs. Warwick (ibid. v), 7-8; LP Hen. VIII, xx(1), g. 846(41).
  • 3. VCH Warws. viii. 438, 479-80, 489-91; Ministers’ Accts. Collegiate Church of St. Mary, Warwick (Dugdale Soc. Pubs. xxvi), li-lv; CPR, 1554-5, pp. 18-21; C219/18B/101, 18C/124, 19/115, 20/139, 21/162, 22/88, 23/134, 24/169, 25/120.