Appendix X: The 1601 House of Commons

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

Effective dates of session: 27 Oct.-19 Dec. 1601.


Speaker:(Sir) John Croke III 
Clerk:Fulk Onslow
Deputy:Cadwallader Tydder1 


Privy Councillors in the Commons:

(Sir) Robert Cecil

(Sir) John Fortescue I

John Herbert

(Sir) William Knollys

(Sir) John Stanhope


Total number of Members elected 467

for counties 91

for boroughs 376

at general election 462

for counties 90

for boroughs 372

at by-elections 5

for counties 1

for boroughs 4


Number of Members known to have left before end: 1, who sat for a county


Residential qualification. Borough Members

resident in borough 75

resident in county 132

resident in adjacent county etc. 17

strangers 136

no information 16


Electoral qualification. Borough Members returned through

own or family interest 86

wife’s family interest 20

corporation interest 83

‘natural’ influence 25

influence of a great man 129

duchy of Lancaster 9

no information 24


Number of Members with

central office local office
major 4lord lieutenant 3
minor 105deputy lieutenant 32
legal 13custos rotulorum 15
duchy of Lancaster 15j.p. 193
diplomatic/agent abroad 5other county 87
military/naval 13mayor 7
ecclesiastical 13recorder 29
 other municipal 63
 no office in this Parliament 155


Experience. Members who

had sat in previous Parliament 36%

were to sit in next Parliament 40%



very active speakers 7%

very active committeemen 7%

with any recorded activity 49%

with any recorded speeches 20%

with any recorded committees 46%

served on religious committee 6%

spoke on religion 6%

served on subsidy committee 5%

to 100%2

spoke on subsidy 5%

served on a social/economic committee 27%

spoke on a social/economic matter 11%

served on a legal committee 19%

served on a legal matter 6%

served on a committee concerned with monopolies 23%

spoke on monopolies 6%

served on a committee outside above five classifications 32%

spoke on a subject other than the above five 11%


Committee meeting places other than the floor of the House

Exchequer chamber 38%

Middle Temple 22%

House of Commons committee chamber 20%

Court of wards 16%

Inner Temple 2%

Lincoln’s Inn 1%

Doctors’ Commons 1%


Notes on Procedure

As mentioned above, the subsidy committee of 7 Nov. 1601 was the whole House sitting in committee, i.e. the Speaker was out of the chair and the Members spoke sitting, except Cecil, who, typically, thought the subsidy was a subject of so much ‘reverence’ that he ought to stand. ‘Mr. Anthony [recte Henry] Maynard by the consent of the whole House sat in the chair as clerk to register the order of this committee, and by consent also was licensed to put on his hat’ was how Townshend noted the proceedings. As Cecil reported the committee to the House on the following Monday, ‘the day was Saturday last, the place this House, the time about four hours’ and the attendance ‘little inferior to our assembly at this present’. It is highly likely that the committee on monopolies in the afternoons of 21 and 23 Nov. was of the whole House, though the diarist does not mention that the Speaker vacated the chair. Similarly on Saturday 5 Dec. it is clear that ‘the committee in the afternoon in the House for some course to be taken against Dunkirk [pirates]’ was in fact a committee of the whole House, for a select committee was appointed consisting of ‘all the coast town men of the committee’ to report to the main committee.3

The House spent much time this Parliament organizing its procedure, quoting ‘precedents’ and entering ‘rules ... of record’, as on 11 Nov. when it was suggested that as the London members had opposed a bill, they could not be members of its committee.4 The House was more aware of its dignity, more self-conscious. When Cecil suggested, 5 Nov., that the Speaker should attend the lord keeper, Sir Edward Hoby objected: ‘Attend! ... our Speaker ... is to be commanded by none, neither to attend any but the Queen only’. But it was Cecil who suggested that a committee be appointed

to call before them the clerk of the crown, the clerk of the petty bag, and the clerk of this House, with their precedents and books to see ... whether the privileges in former times have danced a pavan to and fro.5

On 12 Dec. there was ‘a great stir’ about the voting procedure, already under fire because sometimes when ‘the door was set open, no man offered to go forth’. In Richard Martin’s view divers were ‘loth to go forth for fear of losing their places’. The issue on 12 Dec. was more serious. ‘A gentleman that would willingly have gone forth [to vote] according to his conscience, was pulled back’. Sir Walter Ralegh confessed to have done this himself ‘often times’. Obviously this sort of thing was likely to arise when the voting was close. Another question under these circumstances was whether the Speaker had a vote. It was decided ‘that he was foreclosed of his voice by taking of that place which it had pleased them to impose upon him, and that he was to be indifferent for both parties’.6

For the first time in 1601 it is possible to extract some worthwhile information about voting figures. In the following ten divisions an average of almost half (47 %) of the total membership voted:7

Number voted      
Percentage of total membership (462) voted
20 Nov.the bill against absence from church on Sundays137140327760
21 Nov.when the commitment of the Exchequer bill should be981818327960
26 Nov.a bill concerning cordage for the navy701023217237
3 Dec.the double payment of debts upon shop books1511024925355
9 Dec.whether a proviso for Mr. Dormer should be added to a bill for tillage1781344431266
10 Dec.a bill for abolishing gavelkind in Kent671387120544
12 Dec.a proviso on the recusancy bill126854121146
12 Dec.the recusancy bill105106121146
14 Dec.a bill against bankrupts, lewd apprentices and evil factors3545108017
14 Dec.a bill that London should have control over the liberties of St. Katharine’s            


Hours were longer, the House, either as a House or as a committee, frequently sitting in the afternoon, so that a twelve-hour day was not unknown, especially if, as Sir Edward Hoby put it 9 Dec., ‘the affairs of this Parliament cannot possibly be despatched so soon as the Parliament must end’. Four-hour debates became common. Sometimes Members protested. Mr. Doyley, chairman of the committee on weights and measures, reported on 11 Dec. that he had twice waited in vain for his fellow-committeemen to turn up. ‘He prayed the House would either command the committees to meet, or discharge him of the bill’8

Parliament was ‘the greatest and commander of all other courts’ and so must be fair to those whose rights might be infringed by its legislation. When a bill to reform the Exchequer was debated ‘the clerks of Mr. Osborne’s [John Osborne] office’ should ‘be heard by their counsel’. Adulteresses should not be treated more harshly than adulterers, for this would be ‘ ius inequale and not to be admitted in this House’. The general good of the community should be put before local advantage. When one of the Shropshire Members pleaded the poverty of his county as a reason for not making a financial contribution he was told ‘that he went about to deck up his particular cabin when the ship was on fire’.9

But at the same time positions were being taken up for the forthcoming struggle between Commons and sovereign. Many of the very issues that were to loom so large in the Parliaments of the next reign, abuses over wardships, purveyance and monopolies; the advantage of annual grants of revenue, were already being recorded in debate. The underlying conflict of interest, distrust even, between the sovereign and the Commons is to be seen; the House was beginning to be conscious of its responsibility towards posterity. If the Speaker announced a concession from the sovereign (over monopolies, 25 Nov.) a Member would be bound to suggest, after a little reflection (Gregory Donhault, 27 Nov.) that ‘the gracious message ... might be written in ... the records of this House’ and that the promised concessions should be made with ‘speed’, ‘lest that which is now meant indeed should by protraction of time be altered, or perhaps not so happily effected’.10 This is not far from Sir Robert Phelips’s intervention in the committee of the whole House on 30 Apr. 1628:

... our undertakings now are to bind future kings not to be able to hurt our posterity, and I hope that the child unborn will have cause to give thanks that he had a parent or friend in this parliament, and that our meeting now shall cause the safety of them in many subsequent ages.11


Sources for the names of Members (unless an individual reference is given)

OR with add. and corr.

PRO T/S list of supplementary returns.

C193/32/13, a complete Crown Office list including all known by-elections.


Sources for the proceedings of the Commons


Hayward Townshend’s journal 27 Oct.-19 Dec. 1601 transcribed and edited from Stowe 362, ff. 56-261 by Miss Helen Miller, 347 pages of quarto typescript. The diary was published in 1680. It was the subject of four articles by A. F. Pollard (of which the first, published in June 1934, dealt with 1597) in the Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, xii. 1-31; xiii. 9-34; xiv. 149-65; xvi. 1-18. For convenience the printed version of Townshend’s journal has been cited in the notes on procedure above.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler

End Notes

  • 1. D’Ewes, 623.
  • 2. Three reasons can be adduced for the apparent drop in total committee activity in this Parliament (46% compared with 58% in 1593, 57% in 1597): (i) By 1601 anyone who felt strongly enough about a measure could attend the committee, so that naming individual committee members in the journals became less significant. (ii) It had become general practice for whole groups such as the lawyers to be appointed en bloc (there are 24 such committees for the lawyers in 1601). (iii) The emergence of the committee of the whole House for at least the subsidy. The percentage of Members on the subsidy committee has therefore been put at 100% as a maximum or 5% (the percentage known to have spoken) as a minimum.
  • 3. Townshend, Hist. Colls. 197-202, 238, 243, 248; Stowe 362.
  • 4. Townshend, 208-9, 216.
  • 5. Ibid. 191, 212.
  • 6. Ibid. 301, 321.
  • 7. Ibid. 229, 238, 253, 284, 301, 304, 320, 321, 322, 325.
  • 8. Ibid. 302, 311.
  • 9. Ibid. 211, 222, 237, 317.
  • 10. Ibid 247, 248, 257.
  • 11. Commons Debates 1628, iii. 179.