St. Albans


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


24 Apr 1572HENRY COCKE
4 Nov. 1601HENRY FROWICK vice Bacon, chose to sit for sit for Ipswich

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The town of St. Albans, much of which reverted to the Crown at the dissolution of the monasteries, received its first royal charter in 1553. The new corporation was to consist of a mayor and ten capital burgesses, who could nominate an unspecified number of ordinary burgesses to assist them.3 According to a petition entered in the corporation court book in 1587, a common council of 24 men, drawn from the trading guilds, had been in existence since Edward VI’s charter, or even before. Whatever its origin, this body, known as the assistants, seems to have become firmly re-established as a result of the petition and appears in an early Stuart charter.4 The town also had a chamberlain and a steward, the equivalent of recorder, a term not used at St. Albans before the reign of Charles I. The position of high steward of the borough and liberty of St. Albans was held, according to the corporation court book, by a succession of leading Elizabethan statesmen: Sir Nicholas Bacon, the Earl of Leicester, his brother the Earl of Warwick, Lord Burghley, the and Earl of Essex and Sir Thomas Egerton.

The 1553 charter also provided for the election of two Members of Parliament. Quite a large number of freemen appear to have attended the elections, which took place in the common hall. In 1572 the return was made out between the sheriff as one party and the mayor, nine capital burgesses, 54 other named persons, ‘and many other inhabitants’. Later Elizabethan returns record that the governing body and ‘other treemen of the town’ were present. The 1559 return contains no reference to the sheriff, an unusual omission. Outsiders who were chosen as MPs may have been obliged to become freemen of the town prior to their election; it is unlikely that they were paid wages.5

St. Albans, near to London and to the estates of a number of prominent courtiers, was subject to outside pressure on its choice of MPs. The strongest influence, for the first half of the reign, came from Sir Nicholas Bacon, the lord keeper, whose seat at Gorhambury was just outside the town. A great benefactor to St. Albans, he was probably its high steward by the early part of Elizabeth’s reign, and his advice may have been heeded in the choice of many, if not all, of the Members chosen during his lifetime. Quite a few of them shared his strong protestantism and, like him, owned former monastic property in St. Albans and elsewhere in the county. One or two of the Members, especially those with court connexions, may have had some backing from Sir William Cecil, Bacon’s relative.

Both 1559 MPs held property in or near the borough. Christopher Smith was an Exchequer official who owned the manor of Annables nearby. John Dodmer of Putney, Surrey, had acquired estates formerly belonging to St. Albans abbey from his stepfather, Sir Thomas Pope, a close friend of Sir Nicholas Bacon. Both MPs were strong protestants. Robert Wroth I, the son of Sir Thomas, began a distinguished parliamentary career at St. Albans in 1563. He had accompanied his father into exile under Mary and it is probably significant that part of his exile, at Padua, was shared with Roger Carew who was to be his fellow-Member in 1563. Carew, at the time of his election, lived on the Hertfordshire-Middlesex border, and held a position at the Exchequer with Christopher Smith. William Skipwith I (1571) was related to Bacon, and his father had bought up large estates in St. Albans after the dissolution of the monasteries, sometimes in association with the lord keeper. Both Skipwith and George Ferrers, the other 1571 Member, owned land close to Christopher Smith’s home in north Hertfordshire. Ferrers, the courtier and writer, came from a St. Albans family, but no clear connexion with Bacon has been found. Henry Cocke’s father took advantage of the dissolution of the monasteries to become a leading leading Hertfordshire landowner: he was knight of the shire on three occasions. The son, related to the Wroths, sold a valuable estate in St. Albans to Bacon shortly after his election for the borough; later, he managed to secure a county seat, like his father. Charles Smythe (1572), an official in the royal household, was probably related to the 1559 Member and to the Coningsbys, another leading St. Albans family.

Prior to the 1584 election, the first after Bacon’s death, the St. Albans corporation, according to mayors’ accounts, received ‘letters from the Lord of Warwick and the Lord of Leicester for a burgess of the Parliament’. Their reply is not known, but neither of the men elected appears to have been a Dudley nominee. Henry Maynard, formerly Bacon’s secretary, had entered Burghley’s service by 1582, but local connexions probably explain his election. His father John, a friend of Bacon, had been MP and steward of St. Albans and had entailed much of his property there to Henry, a younger son. Humphrey Coningsby II, the other Member in 1584, had inherited estates in St. Albans from his father-in-law Sir Richard Lee and was town steward. Both men retained their seats for five consecutive Parliaments. Francis Bacon, son of the lord keeper, was elected in 1601, but decided to sit for Ipswich. At a by-election, held after the parliamentary session had begun, he was replaced by Henry Frowick, probably a relative of Coningsby, and steward of St. Albans for nearly 30 years. The other 1601 Member, Adolphus Carey, was the son of Sir Edward Carey, an important royal official who lived at Aldenham. The election of Adolphus’s elder brother Henry as knight of the shire is an indication of the family’s influence in the county.

Author: M.R.P.


  • 1. Bodl. Willis 9.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Clutterbuck, Hist. Herts. i. App. IV.
  • 4. St. Albans corporation ct. bk. f. 6; A. E. Gibbs, St. Albans Recs. 5, 17.
  • 5. C219/26/34; 28/64; 30/42, 31/84, 33/99. A version of the 1572 indenture, worded slightly differently, is to be found in HMC Verulam, 22.