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

In plan these volumes closely resemble the volumes published in 1964 and 1970. They are not concerned with the legislative programme of the Parliaments of the period, nor does the House of Lords come within their terms of reference. The work is, in the main, a biographical dictionary of Members of the House of Commons from 1558 to 1603. All men known to have been returned have been included, whether or not there is evidence to show that they attended or did not attend. Men who, according to local evidence, were ‘chosen’ or ‘elected’ by a borough have not been accepted for inclusion on the strength of the local evidence alone. The essential requirement, satisfied by all the men biographed, is that they are known to have been returned to the House. Complementing the biographies and to be read in conjunction with them are brief accounts of the parliamentary constituencies represented in the Commons during the same period. An introductory survey analysing the membership precedes the two main sections. Appendices I to X deal with each of the ten Parliaments in turn. The returned Marian exiles are the subject of Appendix XI.

If a Member’s career in the Commons belongs to more than one section of the History, only that part falling within the years 1558 to 1603 is considered, though all the Parliaments in which he is believed to have served are shown at the head of his biography. Similarly, the career of a Member who became a peer is not followed into the House of Lords. The emphasis generally is on each man’s service in the Commons, even though this can result in the exclusion of what may well have been a more important aspect of his life. Thus Francis Drake’s biography is concerned with him as a Member for Bossiney and Plymouth, Sir William Cecil’s with his being a knight of the shire in the first two Parliaments of the reign and a leading Privy Councillor in the Commons until his elevation to the Lords in 1571.

An asterisk after a Parliament date at the head of a biography indicates that the Member did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament, either because he did not become a Member until after the Parliament had started or because his membership terminated before the Parliament was dissolved: the explanation, if it is known, will be in the text of the biography. One further convention is to be noted, touching the manner in which the constituencies are shown at the head of a biography. The need for it arises from the fact that at the beginning of the 1581 session of the 1572 Parliament some new men appeared as substitutes for Members who were sick or absent on government service. After debate, the new men were sworn in and took part in the business of the House until, at the end of the session, the House reversed its decision and declared their returns invalid. To indicate this anomaly, the biographies of substitutes who sat another time for the same constituency have this particular Parliament date asterisked (in conformity with the convention described above) and italicised, thus: 1572*. The biographies of substitutes who sat in another Parliament for a different constituency or who sat only in the 1581 session have the 1581 constituency name in italics with 1572* against it.

An asterisk after a personal name indicates that a biography of the person concerned will be found in this section of the History, a dagger that his biography will be found in a preceding or following section. These two symbols replace the ‘(q.v.)’ and ‘M.P.’ used for cross reference purposes in the previously published volumes. A name once asterisked or daggered is not asterisked or daggered subsequently in the same biography or constituency account, nor are these symbols resorted to where the context or common knowledge makes them unnecessary. Convenience has warranted the use in the text of the abbreviations ‘MP’ and ‘MPs’, both of them unknown to contemporaries.

Distinguishing between namesakes—a problem not satisfactorily resolved in every instance—has called for persistence in research and some ingenuity in presentation. In the sixteenth century it was customary to have but one baptismal name, and few men changed their surnames or received peerages. Baronetcies and Irish peerages, so useful for distinguishing between bearers of the same name in later centuries, are not available to writers on the Tudor period. Furthermore it was not uncommon for parents to give the same baptismal name to two or more sons in the hope that at least one would survive to pass it on in his turn. Thus in the Stanhope family there were two sons named Edward, both Elizabethan MPs. The device (additional to asterisk or dagger) has therefore been adopted, where it is necessary to differentiate between namesakes, of following a name by a Roman numeral, whether these namesakes were of the same family or not, the order of the numerals being determined by the order of entry into the Commons, except that a father is always given a lower numeral than his namesake son. Thus Sir Michael Stanhope’s second son, who came into the Commons in 1571, is Edward Stanhope I. His brother, the fourth son, first elected in 1584, becomes Edward Stanhope II, and Edward Stanhope III, first elected in 1601, is the first son of Edward Stanhope I. More striking is the occurrence of four Oliver St. Johns, distinguished as Oliver St. John I, II, III and IV. Oliver St. John I—the first to enter the House in this period—represented Bedford in 1563; he has not been identified but it is clear that he is not to be confused with the three other MPs of the same name. Oliver St. John II and Oliver St. John III both sat in 1593; Oliver St. John IV, who represented Bedfordshire in 1601, was a youth of 17, son of Oliver St. John II. Two John Prices (I and II, and unrelated) both sat in the Parliaments of 1563 and 1572; Richard Browne I and Richard Browne II both sat in 1584. The merit of this numeration device, distinguishing clearly between namesakes when no other distinction could be made as briefly or more simply, is that it enables the reader to go directly to the biography intended. The numerals in themselves imply no family relationship; as aids to their identification their usefulness is limited to this section of the History alone; and they have been used only when necessary. Thus, when one biography is headed Cooke, Anthony and another Cooke, Sir Anthony, the I and II device is not called for, since the biographies are sufficiently differentiated by the difference in style, the former appearing before the latter in the alphabetical arrangement on the nothing before something principle. A word about contemporary usage: it is rarely possible to settle the identity of a man by reference to the way he is styled in the journals. Even in an official context it was quite common for the Elizabethan to refer to a knight as plain ‘Mr.’. The point is referred to later in the introductory survey.

MPs are styled at the head of their biographies according to their status at the time of their first entry into Parliament in the period 1558-1603. Knighthoods conferred after the beginning of an MP’s first Parliament in the period are denoted in the text of the biography by ‘(Sir)’, when there is need to avoid confusion between namesakes, as, for example, between Sir Francis Knollys and his 6th son, Francis Knollys. In the Parliaments of 1572, 1584 and 1586, when their careers overlapped, confusion can be avoided because one was Sir Francis, the other plain Francis. But in 1587, Francis Knollys was knighted. Both father and son sat in the following Parliament of 1589, but rather than have two Sir Francis Knollys under discussion in the same Parliament the father has been styled Sir Francis Knollys, the son (Sir) Francis Knollys. Similarly in the constituency account of Oxfordshire, Sir Francis Knollys is referred to as such throughout, while in the Oxford article, his son appears as Francis Knollys in 1576, 1584, 1586, but as (Sir) Francis Knollys in 1588.

Addresses of country gentlemen are, as a rule, those of their main estates. If a country gentleman, elected for two counties, had estates in each, two addresses are given. Younger sons of country gentlemen are not given their father’s address unless they are known to have lived there. If in the preliminary paragraphs an abbreviated county name does not follow a place name it is to be understood that the county is the same as the county given in the Member’s address. The location of Members’ residences, their life dates, education, children and occupations, are among the matters considered in the introductory survey.

Authorities have not been named when information has come from standard works of reference, including the printed registers of schools, universities and inns of court. When a detail in a biography or constituency article differs from that in a standard or other work it is hoped that the History will be found to have silently corrected a mistake. In general, discussion of sources and evidence has been kept to a minimum.

Each biography lists the more important national and local offices held by the Member. In an age of transition, there was often no distinction between a Household office and a government appointment. The same office might be known by different names according to the social status of its holder. The Queen frequently left offices vacant for months or years before making an appointment, sometimes letting a man do the work for little or no reward other than the expectation, not always fulfilled, that he might be appointed in the end. Thus it is not possible to date a man’s assumption of office by the date of death or resignation of his predecessor. In many cases the date given is the earliest on which the holder is known to have been performing the duties of the office, even if the official patent was granted much later. To indicate this, the form adopted is ‘by’ followed by the date. Similarly, end dates are often uncertain, for men would hold on to office long after they were incapable of performing it, employing instead a deputy to do the work. So rare was it for a man to resign through old age or incapacity that when the lawyer Sir Nicholas Trott did so, the fact was felt worthy of notice in his epitaph. When, as far as is known, a man continued to hold an office from a certain year until his death the form used is ‘from’ followed by the date. Dates of borough offices are just as uncertain. Many ran from Michaelmas to Michaelmas; others did not. Sometimes the best that can be said is that a particular office was held in a certain year.

Deputy lieutenants of counties were not appointed if there was no lord lieutenant, and their appointments lapsed when the lieutenancy itself became vacant. However, if a man served as a deputy lieutenant under two lord lieutenants between whose period of office there was an hiatus, his service as a deputy has been shown as continuous. A commissioner for musters was the equivalent of a deputy lieutenant where there was no lord lieutenant. The sheriff was the returning officer of his county and, as such, was not supposed to return himself as one of the knights of his own shire, though he sometimes did. There was in theory no objection to a sheriff continuing to serve both as knight and sheriff if a new session of an existing Parliament happened to be called during his year of shrieval office, which ran from November to November, though in practice, as the sheriff’s duties were in his county and the MP’s at Westminster, the two employments were incompatible: in these circumstances the sheriff could ask the House for leave of absence. Central government officials and serving military officers were exempt from sheriff service, and in general men would make every effort to avoid it. Sometimes neighbouring counties constituted a single sheriffdom. The source for sheriff entries in the biographies is, unless otherwise stated, number 9 in the Public Record Office series of Lists and Indexes (1898), that for escheators the typed lists compiled in 1932 and 1949 by A. C. Wood for use in the Public Record Office and issued as volume 72 by the List and Index Society (1971).

Much of the detailed administration of Tudor England was in the hands of the justices of the peace and membership of county commissions of the peace has therefore been noted in the biographies. The main sources for the names of the justices are:

BL, Lansd. 1218, ff. 1-44Dec. 1558-Jan. 1559
BL, Lansd. 1218, ff. 55-921561
PRO, C66/998June 1564
BL, Egerton 23451573-4
PRO, SP12/104, 1061575
PRO, SP12/121Jan.-Oct 1577
PRO, SP12/145Jan.-Apr. 1579
Hatfield mss 223/71578-1580
BL, Lansd. 35, ff. 132-91582
BL, Royal 18 D. 111mid 1583
BL, Lansd. 737, ff. 132-831583-6
PRO, E163/14/81584-7
Hatfield mss 2781591
Hatfield mss 2781592-3
PRO, SP13/Case F/11early 1596
PRO, C66/15491601

A man’s service as a j.p. is assumed to have been continuous unless there is evidence to the contrary. Similarly, once he became of the quorum he is assumed to have remained so. Some contemporary lists, however, do not note the distinction, so that the absence of‘q.’ from an entry in a biography is not to be taken as proof positive that the man was not of the quorum. Membership of commissions of the peace for cities and towns has not been noted. A j.p. might be put off the commission for many reasons, among them absence from the county, old age, illness, suspect religion, and defying the Privy Council. The following were disqualifications: being rated at below £20 a year for the subsidy; being a recusant or closely related to one; being non-resident in the county; being slack in performing his duties; and the presence on the commission of another member of the family, unless, for example, a father was old or sick, when a son might be appointed in the father’s lifetime. The final disappearance of a man’s name from the commission sometimes provides an approximate date for his death. Thus Thomas Dering was on the 1583-6 list, off the 1584-7 list. Given that there was no disciplinary or similar reason for removing him, and that no reference to him after 1583 is known, it may fairly be presumed that he died at about that time.

Sources for Commons proceedings in the various Parliaments and for the names of Members are given in Appendices I-X. The official journal is missing altogether from 1584 to 1601 inclusive, and the surviving private diaries are, with two exceptions (those of Thomas Cromwell and Hayward Townshend), defective, muddled, and sometimes undated. Consequently some sort of qualification is needed in almost every sentence written about a man’s Commons activity. References have of course been given for speeches and committees, but it is necessary to bear in mind that, in any particular case, and even if there is no confusion over namesakes or titles, a Member can appear in the sources under his own name (or some approximation to it, as Alice for Harris or Emersam for Agmondesham); as Member, unnamed, for a particular constituency; under the title of his office, or even under a term descriptive of his occupation. A further characteristic of the journal and diaries is that they are frequently inconsistent in their descriptions of committees and bills, with the result that it is often impossible to deduce with certainty which committee or bill is being referred to. Indeed, because of these defects it was only at a late stage in the preparation of this section of the History that the decision was taken to include what could be ascertained of a Member’s committee activity and speeches, so that the reader would be able to judge what the MP’s main interests were and the extent of his parliamentary activity in relation to that of his fellow-Members.

The figures in the introductory survey and in the parliamentary data in Appendices I-X derive from a code system devised jointly by Miss C.A. Restall and the writer in November and December 1972. Using this code, a schedule was completed for each biography, the labour being shared between the writer and his editorial assistant for four years, Miss M.A. Phillips. The completed schedules were then transferred to punch cards and computer analysed by Marplan Limited under the supervision of Mrs. Margaret Conway, directed by Mr. John Clemens. As far as the Members are concerned, the analysed data relates to their identification, parliamentary service, education, marriage, status, occupation, locality of residence, offices and age. Concerning the Parliaments, the data shows how Members came to be returned, whether at a general or a by-election, what they did in Parliament, and the offices held by them during the course of the Parliament. Because of ‘rounding up’, some percentages may not come to exactly 100, and in all cases the figures do no more than reflect the underlying evidence. If the missing official journal should be found, the figures for parliamentary activity would have to be revised.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler

End Notes