Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

?in the inhabitants

Number of voters:

11 in 16101


 ALEXANDER BENCE (elected on a separate indenture with Rivett but evidently not retured)2
24 Apr. 1610SIR JOHN GREY vice Rivett, deceased

Main Article

Of the three coastal boroughs of Suffolk, only Aldeburgh retained any economic significance in the seventeenth century. Coastal erosion, which had swept away the greater part of Dunwich and blocked access to Orford, left it open to the sea with deep water at hand. Ships of 200 tons and upwards were built, a fishing fleet of 50 or 60 sail was dispatched every year to Icelandic waters and the Westmann Isles, and the port claimed a share in the Newcastle coal trade.5

Aldeburgh was contained within one parish, which, according to the corporation, had ‘above 1,000 communicants’ in the early 1640s.6 There were no municipal institutions in the Middle Ages and consequently the town was still under manorial government at the start of the sixteenth century. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk, acquired the manor of Aldeburgh, which was forfeited to the Crown on his attainder in 1546. The following year a charter was issued conferring borough status on the town and establishing a corporation consisting of two annually elected bailiffs and an unspecified number of burgesses.7 Norfolk was restored in 1553, and it was probably his son, the 4th duke, who secured the borough’s enfranchisement in 1571. However, Howard influence in the borough was curtailed by the duke’s execution for treason the following year. Subsequently members of the prominent local merchant families, such as the Bences and the Johnsons, provided representatives for the borough in Elizabethan Parliaments along with the local gentry.8 Shortly after the accession of James I the manor was granted to the fourth duke’s younger sons, Thomas, 1st earl of Suffolk and Lord William Howard, who subsequently made it over to their nephew, Thomas, earl of Arundel.9

In 1606 a new charter created a more sophisticated urban structure. Ten capital burgesses were named, including three Bences and one Johnson, who, together with the bailiffs, formed the common council. The capital burgesses served for life and were recruited from a body of 24 inferior burgesses. The charter also provided for a recorder, and Robert Barker*, the son of a Suffolk clothier, was named as the first incumbent.10

Returns were usually made in the name of the bailiffs and burgesses, although that of 1625 also included the commonalty. The latter document also states that the election took place at the town hall, by which was presumably meant the early sixteenth-century ‘Moot Hall’. Generally only the bailiffs were specifically named, although in the return for the 1610 by-election nine other names were included, these being of those ostensibly described as ‘burgesses’: all but one had been appointed either bailiff or capital burgess in the 1606 charter. The identity of these signatories suggests that in practice the common council controlled elections.11

In 1604 two election indentures were drawn up and survive among the borough archives, both dated 4 March. In one the successful candidates are given as Thomas Rivett, a west Suffolk squire, and Alexander Bence, whose brother William had represented the borough in the Elizabethan period. In the other those chosen are named as Sir William Woodhouse, a courtier connected with the Howards, and Rivett.12 Duplicates of neither survive among the Chancery returns, but it was clearly Woodhouse and Rivett who took their seats in the Commons.13 It is possible that both indentures were submitted to Chancery, but there is no record of a ruling by the Commons on the election and, in the aftermath of the Buckinghamshire election dispute, it is unlikely that Chancery suppressed the Rivett/Bence return on its own initiative. It is more probable that only the Woodhouse/Rivett indenture was returned.

The most likely scenario is that Rivett and Bence were the original choices, their indenture being signed by the sheriff, but that subsequently the borough received a nomination in favour of Woodhouse, probably from the new lord of the manor, the earl of Suffolk. The corporation persuaded Bence to stand aside, whereupon they quietly suppressed the first election and drew up a new, backdated return.14

On Rivett’s death in 1610 Sir John Grey, his kinsman as well as a courtier and friend of Woodhouse’s, filled the vacancy. Alexander Bence, who had been listed first among the capital burgesses in the 1606 charter, was a party to the return.15 Woodhouse was re-elected in 1614, but by this date Grey had died. Instead the borough returned Sir Henry Glemham, an important local member of the Suffolk gentry and one of the earl of Suffolk’s deputy lieutenants.

The earl of Arundel was almost certainly in possession of the manor by 1620, when he nominated both Glemham and the latter’s courtier kinsman Charles Glemham. Charles Glemham was doubtless the son of Edward Glemham, who had been employed by the earl’s father to manage his Suffolk estates. After the 1621 Parliament Sir Henry seems to have shown no inclination to serve again, and at the next election Arundel nominated Charles Glemham and a certain ‘R.G.’, probably another member of the Glemham family, as ‘men worthy of your choice, who shall willingly serve you at their own charge’.16 However, Aldeburgh preferred to return Rivett’s cousin Nicholas, who by this date had succeeded Barker as recorder, and Bence’s son John. The latter was a prominent member of the corporation and was the only Aldeburgh Member known to have been paid in this period, receiving £18 14s. 8d. for ‘his charges when he was burgess at the Parliament’ in June 1625.17

Arundel seems to have been more successful in 1625 when Sir Henry’s son, Sir Thomas, took the senior seat with Charles Glemham (who died soon after the dissolution) as his colleague. Sir Thomas Glemham was re-elected in 1626, this time alongside William Mason, an official of the King’s Bench and friend of the attorney-general, (Sir) Robert Heath*. Mason had settled in Suffolk, but had no discernable interest in Aldeburgh of his own. It is possible that he owed his election to Arundel as in the same year the earl nominated another friend of Heath’s, Nicholas Jordan, at Arundel.18

Aldeburgh suffered heavy losses in the wars of the late 1620s. The corporation submitted a list of 13 vessels wrecked (two of them in the king’s service) or taken by the Dunkirkers between 1625 and 1627, with a loss of 200 men and £6,800. They were granted a convoy for their fishing fleet for the 1627 season and ten pieces of ordnance for the defence of the town.19

There is no evidence that Sir Thomas Glemham sought re-election in 1628, by which date Mason was dead. Arundel may have nominated Sir Simeon Steward, the brother-in-law of Sir Thomas Monson*, the disgraced former client of the earl of Suffolk, while the junior seat was taken by an enterprising London merchant, Marmaduke Rawdon, who had connections among the Aldeburgh sea captains.20 Both Steward and Rawdon came to Aldeburgh at about the time of the election, possibly to be made free. On 12 June the corporation celebrated the king’s acceptance of the Petition of Right by paying 5s. ‘for ringing for joy for good news from the Parliament’.21

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Ben Coates


  • 1. C219/35/2/55.
  • 2. HMC Var. iv. 304.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. ‘Aldeburgh. Extracts from chamberlain’s acct. bk.’ ed. A.T. Winn N and Q (ser. 12), viii. 387.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 530, 532; APC, 1627, p. 2; HMC Var. iv. 290.
  • 6. HMC Var. iv. 307
  • 7. CPR, 1548-9, p. 106.
  • 8. W.A. Copinger, Manors of Suff. v. 95-6; HMC Var. iv. 279, 281; HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 246-7.
  • 9. Add. 19100, f. 91v; Copinger, 96.
  • 10. C66/1708, mm. 23-8.
  • 11. C219/35/2/56; 219/37/239; 219/39/192; R. Tittler, Architecture and Power, 34; C66/1708, m. 24.
  • 12. HMC Var. iv. 304; C78/363/5.
  • 13. H. Hulme, ‘Corrections and additions to the Official ‘Return’ of Members of Parliament, 1603/4’, BIHR, v. 103; CJ, i. 154b.
  • 14. Copinger, v. 96.
  • 15. C219/35/2/55; C66/1708, m. 24.
  • 16. SP14/135/42; APC, 1587-8, p. 161.
  • 17. ‘Aldeburgh. Extracts from chamberlain’s acct. bk.’, 225
  • 18. Arundel, autograph letters 1617-32, Peers to Spiller, 16 Jan. 1626.
  • 19. HMC Var. iv. 290-4; APC, 1627, pp. 2-3; 1627-8, p. 183; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 226.
  • 20. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 197.
  • 21. Suff. RO (Ipswich), EE1/I2/2, f. 50; ‘Aldeburgh. Extracts from chamberlain’s acct. bk.’, 387-8.