Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the corporation1
Number of voters:
|28 Feb. 1604||SIR EDWARD TYRELL|
|SIR THOMAS DENTON|
|24 Feb. 1606||SIR FRANCIS GOODWIN vice Tyrell, deceased|
|c. Mar. 1614||SIR RALPH WINWOOD|
|SIR THOMAS DENTON|
|8 Dec. 1620||SIR THOMAS DENTON|
|30 Jan. 1624||SIR EDMUND VERNEY|
|29 Apr. 1625||SIR ALEXANDER DENTON|
|23 Jan. 1626||SIR ALEXANDER DENTON|
|SIR JOHN SMYTHE III|
|26 Feb. 1628||SIR THOMAS DENTON|
The county town of Buckinghamshire from at least the time of the Conquest, Buckingham declined sharply during the medieval period, partly because of its inconvenient location to the north of the shire but also because of the decay of the Norman castle.2 Administrative functions such as the assizes were removed to Aylesbury, leaving Buckingham, according to Camden, as ‘no considerable place’, its castle ‘seated in the middle of the town upon a great mount, of the very ruins of which scarce anything now remains’.3 The nadir of Buckingham’s fortune was reached in the early sixteenth century, when a fire destroyed many of its buildings, as a result of which the town was highlighted in an Act of 1542 aimed at reversing urban decay.4 However, the gradual revival of the local economy, based initially on the wool trade, meant that in 1554 the town was granted a charter of incorporation which established a governing body comprising a bailiff and 12 principal burgesses and gave the borough the right to hold regular markets and two annual fairs.5 Buckingham also acquired its own bench of magistrates. New industries such as lace-making and a bell foundry became established during the later sixteenth century.6 The earliest surviving borough records include various Elizabethan bye-laws, grants, commissions for gaol delivery, and a memorandum of the queen’s visit to the town in 1568.7 Elizabeth’s kinsman Sir John Fortescue*, based at Salden, about ten miles to the east, was the borough’s high steward by around 1584, but although he and his son, Sir Francis†, who succeeded as steward in 1606, both represented Buckingham in the Commons during the queen’s reign, neither appears to have sought seats there, either for themselves or others, under the early Stuarts.8
Buckingham first sent Members to Parliament in 1529, and the franchise was established continuously from 1545 onwards.9 Voting was restricted to the 13 members of the corporation, whose choice of Members throughout the early Stuart period seems to have been determined entirely by various patrons.10 It would be easy to suppose that chief among these was (Sir) Thomas Temple†, who bought the lordship of the borough in 1604. This title, which was separate from the manor of Buckingham, brought Temple an annual rent of 40s.; but there is no evidence that he ever exercised direct electoral patronage.11 Instead Temple seems to have ceded control over elections to his relatives by marriage, the Dentons, whose seat of Hillesden lay about three miles south of Buckingham. Sir Thomas Denton or his eldest son Sir Alexander occupied one of the town’s seats in all but one Parliament between 1604 and 1628. The remaining places were made available to members of the local gentry and to outsiders recommended by various Court patrons. In 1604 the senior seat went to Sir Edward Tyrell, whose Thornton estate lay only four miles to the east, while Sir Thomas Denton took second place. Both men were members of the town bench.12 Following Tyrell’s death early in the second session, the Privy Council wrote to the corporation on 21 Feb. 1606 recommending that they elect Sir Francis Goodwin of Upper Winchendon. They were, they declared, ‘well persuaded of [his] loyalty and good affection … towards His Majesty and the state, as also of his sufficiency to discharge whatsoever shall be recommended unto him for the good of that town to which he is by habitation so near a neighbour’.13 The Council went on to mention that they were aware that ‘some mediation’ had been used for another candidate, but the latter’s identity remains unknown. As the letter itself tacitly acknowledges, this direct intervention by the Council was somewhat unusual. In part it was intended to compensate Goodwin, whose return in 1604 as the senior knight of the shire for Buckinghamshire, though fiercely defended by the House of Commons, had been declared void by the judges and ultimately by the king. However, it may also have been intended as a goodwill gesture towards the Commons, as the Council was hoping to persuade the Lower House to vote a large sum to James, who was by now deeply in debt. Three days after the date of the Council’s letter Goodwin was returned at the ensuing by-election.
Denton consolidated his interest by purchasing the manor of Buckingham from Sir Robert Brett* in 1613, and was re-elected at the general election in the following year.14 The senior seat went to Sir Ralph Winwood, a diplomat who had recently been promoted principal secretary of state. One may strongly suspect that the Privy Council intervened again to solicit the seat on his behalf, although no letter of nomination survives. However, Winwood was the lessee of Goodwin’s Westminster town house, and could alternatively have been recommended to the corporation by their former representative.15 In the Commons, it was presumably Denton rather than Winwood who introduced a bill to fix the county’s summer assizes and quarter sessions at Buckingham rather than Aylesbury, but the measure failed to progress beyond a first reading on 3 June as two Buckinghamshire magistrates, Sir Jerome Horsey and Sir Edward Hoby, opposed it; in any case it was lost, along with all other legislation, at the abrupt dissolution four days later.16 Elected as Buckingham’s senior Member to the 1621 Parliament, Denton does not appear to have tried to revive this measure, and consequently the assizes remained permanently at Aylesbury. The second seat was taken by an outsider, Richard Oliver, servant of the lord admiral, the marquess of Buckingham, who was doubtless able to assert his influence over the borough as Buckinghamshire’s lord lieutenant.
In 1623 the lord admiral, now a duke, replaced Sir Francis Fortescue as the town’s high steward, and subsequently ensured that Oliver was re-elected to the next two Parliaments. Denton did not represent the borough in 1624, having been elected a knight of the shire, but assigned his interest in the senior seat to his son-in-law, Sir Edmund Verney. In 1625 Denton could have decided to resume his representation of the borough, but he chose instead to make way for his son and heir Sir Alexander, who also took the first seat in 1626. Sir Alexander was joined on the latter occasion by Sir John Smythe III who, despite having enlisted the duke of Buckingham’s support, had been unsuccessful at Rochester in his native Kent, and was presumably offered the Buckingham seat instead. In 1628 Sir Thomas Denton reclaimed the first seat, together with Oliver in second place. There is no evidence that Buckingham’s corporation paid wages to any of its MPs during this period.
Author: Rosemary Sgroi
- 1. T.A. Hume, ‘Bucks. and Parl.’, Bucks. Recs. xvi. 97.
- 2. D.J. Elliott, Buckingham, 4-14; VCH Bucks. iii. 471-80.
- 3. J.L. Stern, ‘Worthies of Bucks.’, Bucks. Recs. xvii. 3-4; W. Camden, Britannia (1722), i. 311.
- 4. J. Clarke, Bk. of Buckingham, 32, 51; SR, iii. 875-6; 33 Hen. VIII c.36.
- 5. Cent. Bucks. Stud. B/Buc/1/1; M. Weinbaum, Brit. Bor. Charters, 8, B. Willis, Hist. Buckingham, 86-96; VCH Bucks. iii. 477.
- 6. Clarke, 65.
- 7. Cent. Bucks. Stud., B/Buc/3/1, ff. 354-6, 380; B/Buc/3/2, ff. 28v-32; Elliott, 42-3, 208-9.
- 8. Elliott, 246; R. Gibbs, Bucks. Misc. 86-7.
- 9. Willis, 41-2.
- 10. VCH Bucks. iii. 477.
- 11. Elliott, 20; Cent. Bucks. Stud., B/Buc/2/1.
- 12. C181/1, f. 47.
- 13. Add. 11402, f. 110.
- 14. Elliott, 22; Clarke, 69.
- 15. Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, ii. 412.
- 16. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 412, 418; Lipscomb, Bucks. ii. 577.