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


aft. 1530?THOMAS HILL vice Dee, deceased
 (not known)
1539(not known)
by 23 Jan. 1552THOMAS WILD vice Braughing, deceased4
1553 (Oct.)(SIR) JOHN BOURNE I

Main Article

Situated on the Severn, with its stone bridge the focal point of four main roads, Worcester prospered during the early 16th century but was then seriously affected by the depression in the cloth industry. Between 1532 and 1558 Acts were passed to regulate the trade and to keep up standards of manufacture, and the city made payments to, among others, its Members for what they had done in this connexion. Next to cloth Worcester relied on its general trade at several weekly markets and four annual fairs. Writing early in the 17th century Habington described the Saturday trade as ‘so great a market as scarce any markets in England equalleth it’.5

The population in 1563 has been estimated at about 4,250, but this was after a series of crises culminating in the near-famine of 1556-7, and the heavy mortality during the epidemic of 1557-8. Never in the front rank of English cities, Worcester benefited from its status as the shire town and the seat of a bishop, although hardly at all from its connexion with the council in the marches of Wales; it came under the council’s jurisdiction, but meetings were rarely held there. There is little sign of friction between city and council, and after 1516 none between city and bishop. Successive bishops lived for preference at their rural castle of Hartlebury and spent little time at Worcester, while the property of the dean and chapter was mainly outside the city’s authority. The wealthy Trinity guild, whose officers had been closely connected with those of the city, was officially dissolved under Edward VI but in practice survived as ‘a social and charitable offshoot of the city government’.6

As early as 1189 Worcester had secured the right to pay its fee-farm, fixed some years later at £30, directly to the Exchequer. By 1466 the civic ordinances show that there was a de facto administration by two bailiffs and two chambers of a common council, but it was not until April 1555, five months after an inquiry into the city’s privileges, that the crown granted a charter of incorporation. The preamble states that the charter was granted on the petition of the citizens, at the request of the local Privy Councillor and secretary Sir John Bourne (for whose benefit a special proviso was inserted) and in reward for the city’s loyalty, but it had not been easy to obtain; earlier petitions had been abortive and civic officials had spent some three months in London before its issue. Authority was vested in two bailiffs, annually elected on the Monday after Michaelmas, two aldermen and two chamberlains, a body of 24 ‘capital citizens and councillors’ from the ‘better and more honest’ inhabitants and another of 48 with the same qualifications; the Twenty-Four and the Forty-Eight together were to compose the common council. Members of both bodies were named to serve until the Michaelmas elections. There was to be a weekly court of record for small offences, and the city was confirmed in the right to hold musters, hitherto a frequent cause of friction with the shire authorities. A recorder and town clerk were allowed for, and there are references both in the charter and local records to three annual ‘law days’, a survival of the medieval court leet. The ordinances of 1466 had laid down that both bailiffs must be members of the Twenty-Four, and it is clear that long before the Marian charter the upper chamber of the council was filling its vacancies exclusively from the Forty-Eight, whose functions were largely advisory. The Forty-Eight in turn filled its vacancies by co-opting new members from the ‘most sad and sufficient’ of the ordinary citizens.7

The charter stated that Members were to be elected ‘by the common council’, but an older system had supposedly allowed a voice to all resident freemen, and on 9 Mar. 1554 a dispute had arisen over the right to make nominations and to vote. On that occasion what seems to have been the customary procedure was followed: the Twenty-Four and the Forty-Eight met in the council chamber, elected John Ainsworth and Thomas Hill and then adjourned to the guildhall for the commons, summoned by the bellman, to ratify their choice. Instead, a faction of the commons insisted upon nominating one Collynge, a shoemaker who was not a member of the council, and the high bailiff agreed to a poll; this was sufficiently unusual for opinions to differ as to whether the council itself was allowed to take part. Collynge received between 44 and 48 votes ‘or thereabout’, the official candidates ‘120 ... and above’. Collynge’s supporters challenged this result on the ground that the council should not have voted, and Collynge himself and his friend John Englyce, who had taken the poll, were arrested when they maintained their opposition outside the guildhall, although released later in the day. The commons had reason to demand a share in parliamentary elections, for they were expected to contribute towards the Members’ wages and travelling expenses of 2s. a day; the usual method at Worcester was for those on the council to pay half the amount out of their own pockets, each member of the Twenty-Four contributing twice as much as each of the Forty-Eight, and for the remainder to be raised by an assessment on each of the seven wards in the city.8

Election indentures survive for all the Parliaments from 1542 except those of 1545 and 1555. All are in Latin and the contracting parties are the sheriff of Worcestershire and the bailiffs, aldermen and (from September 1553) chamberlains, with between 24 and 40 unstyled voters and sometimes ‘many others’: the contest of March 1554 finds no echo in the indenture. In September 1553, when the senior seat went to Bourne, the Members’ names are inserted in a hand different from that of the rest of the document. Bourne may have sought election for the shire before turning to Worcester, where he was perhaps welcome as a patron in the city’s quest for a charter of incorporation.9

Worcester maintained its tradition of independence in its choice of Members, all of whom were residents except Bourne, and he was seated not far away at Battenhall. That it was thought susceptible to outside influence, however, is shown by the annotation ‘The King to name one’ written beside Worcester on the list of vacancies in the Parliament of 1529. Seven of the known Members served as bailiff, five of them before their first election, and five held lesser offices in the city, among them Hill who was elected to the Parliament of 1536 (and probably therefore by-elected to that of 1529 in place of Hugh Dee) before his appointment as town clerk. Bourne and Hill were the only Members to sit elsewhere, and Hill may have owed his seat for Heytesbury in Mary’s first Parliament to Bourne’s influence.10

A bill for the citizens of Worcester failed in the Lords in 1510 and one for the wax chandlers there in the Commons in 1547.11

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. LP Hen. VIII, xii(2), 692 citing SP1/124, f. 227.
  • 2. Worcester Guildhall, chamber order bk. 1540-1601, f. 20.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Hatfield 207.
  • 5. Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, ii. 90-91; A. D. Dyer, Worcester in 16th Cent. 15, 57-59, 67-71, 165; Habington’s Worcs. (Worcs. Hist. Soc. 1899), ii. 426. A bill pro burgensibus et inhabitatandis received a single reading in the Lords in 1510, LJ, i. 7.
  • 6. Dyer, 13-15, 23-32, 44-47, 189-90, 209, 227-32; P. H. Williams, Council in the Marches of Wales, passim; VCH Worcs. ii. 154-6, 163-72, 177-9; iv. 478-9.
  • 7. CPR, 1554-5, pp. 81-86; Dyer, 50, 191-3, 196, 203, 210, 215, 220.
  • 8. Worcester Guildhall, chamber order bk. 1540-1601, ff. 48-51.
  • 9. C219/18B/112, 19/133, 20/142, 21/183, 22/107, 23/137, 24/172.
  • 10. LP Hen. VIII, vii. 56 citing SP1/82, ff. 59-62.
  • 11. LJ, i. 7; CJ, i. 1.