Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer


1558/9JOHN KERRY 1
1566John HYDE vice Webbe, deceased
27 Sept. 1586GREGORY PRICE
27 Sept. 1597GREGORY PRICE

Main Article

The composition of the governing body of Hereford was set down in a charter granted by Queen Elizabeth in 1597. It is evident, however, that the charter merely confirmed a framework in existence from at least the early part of the sixteenth century. The corporation, or common council, was made up of the mayor, six aldermen and 24 councilmen. They had the power to elect ‘famous and discreet’ men as stewards of the city, who, in turn, could appoint deputies ‘learned in the law’. There was also a common or town clerk, appointed for life. Overlapping the corporation’s jurisdiction was that of the bishops of Hereford, who still enjoyed power in the city. There is nothing to suggest, however, that the bishops interfered with the day-to-day running of the government, or indeed, with parliamentary elections.

The right of election was vested in the freemen. In 1559 the corporation, anxious to retain its independence from outside influence, renewed a decree made early in Henry VIII’s reign which declared that ‘no person should be elected nor admitted citizens for the Parliament except the same citizens were of the number of the election and common council of the said city’. Though the ordinance had ‘been for light causes thought void by some persons within the said city and causes contention to grow in the same’, the corporation decided to renew it as it ‘hath been ... very profitable’. The corporation further agreed that

if any freeman ... do give his voice or make any labour or motion to the contrary ... that then any such freeman shall be reputed and taken as a [perjured] person and to be disfranchised.

In the event all the Hereford MPs during this period were local men. Eight of the Members—Kerry, Church, Webbe, Green, Boyle, Mallard, Hurdman and Hyde—had their principal residence in Hereford itself and were prominent in the affairs of the council. Gregory Price, who sat for the city in six consecutive Parliaments after being chosen for the county in 1558, lived a few miles from Hereford but was active in local government, being mayor three times. Thomas Jones, another councilman, also lived just outside the city, and Nicholas Garnons, though not a townsman, was elected to Parliament in the year in which his brother was mayor. Two lawyers complete the list of Members. James Warnecombe came from an important Herefordshire family. His father lived in Hereford and he himself was chosen as mayor and Member of Parliament in 1571. He died during the final session of the 1572 Parliament, but there is no evidence of a by-election. Pembridge inherited property in the county, and may also have had a house in the city.

Surviving evidence suggests that there was only one serious attempt to deprive the freemen of their electoral rights. This was by the Earl of Essex in 1597, when he was Hereford’s high steward. Writing from Plymouth prior to his Azores expedition, he requested

that you will be contented to grant me the nominating of your burgesses ... which, if you do leave unto me, assure yourselves I will be careful to prefer unto this place very worthy and sufficient men ... I will take your readiness to satisfy this my request in very thankful part.

His confidence was misplaced, for it is evident that he was granted neither seat. Further, there is nothing to indicate that other stewards of the city—including prominent local men like Sir John Scudamore, Sir James Baskerville and Sir James Croft—attempted to interfere in parliamentary elections. In Croft’s case this shows a marked contrast with his activities in the neighbouring borough of Leominster, of which he was also steward, and reinforces the view that Hereford was strongly independent.

No evidence with regard to the payment of Members in the Elizabethan period has been found, but it is clear from earlier and later sources that a regular wage was paid. The money was collected from individuals, ward by ward, especially for this purpose. Only freemen residing in hospitals and almshouses were exempt.3

Author: M.R.P.


  • 1. E371/402(1).
  • 2. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 3. CPR. 1595-7, p. 476; Duncombe, Herefs. i. 293-307, 355-7; R. Johnson, Hereford, 56, 181-2; Hereford recs. gt. black bk. f. 88; bound vols. 6, pp. 76, 173-4, 182, 183.