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 burgesses

Number of voters:

17 in 1621


13 Jan. 16061SIR EDMUND CAREY vice Swaddon, vacated his seat
23 Dec. 1620JOHN DUCKETT
 George Lowe
25 Jan. 1626SIR JOHN EYRE
 George Lowe
13 Mar. 1628(SIR) JOHN MAYNARD
 George Lowe

Main Article

Situated on the main road from London to Bristol, Calne was already a significant settlement by the late Anglo-Saxon period, and formed part of the Crown’s ancient demesne. However, from the tenth century the original manor was divided into two, with one portion passing into ecclesiastical hands. The borough of Calne straddled the boundary between these smaller manors, and this dual patronage perhaps hindered its municipal development. Although its residents enjoyed the basic privileges associated with the royal demesne, Calne remained merely a borough by prescription until it was finally incorporated in 1685.2 Early seventeenth-century records occasionally mention the renewal of the borough’s charter, but in practice this meant little more than the confirmation of its limited existing rights. Administrative autonomy was almost entirely lacking. Calne’s two constables were elected each year at the local hundred court, while new burgesses had to be sworn in at the manorial court of Ogbourne St. George, over 14 miles away. From at least the mid-sixteenth century the borough’s principal officers were the two stewards of the town’s merchant guild, who were also appointed annually, and managed the borough’s property and finances.3 Calne possessed a weekly market and a yearly fair, but its economy in the early Stuart period revolved around cloth production. Ordinarily this guaranteed the town’s prosperity, but the district was badly hit by the trading slump of the early 1620s.4

Calne’s parliamentary record dated from 1295, though the borough was not regularly represented in the Commons until the late 1300s. The franchise was vested in the burgesses, who seem not to have numbered more than 20 at any time during the seventeenth century.5 Elections were held at the borough’s guildhall, or church house, as the 1606 indenture confirms. All seven returns surviving from this period once bore the borough seal, but only those of 1604 and 1606 were signed. The guild stewards are normally described as being the borough’s returning officers, but during the early Stuart period most of the indentures were made out in the name of the constables and burgesses. The stewards headed the list of voters only in 1624, though they did also sign the 1606 return.6

In 1604 Calne elected two residents of the borough, William Swaddon and John Noyes, both of whom were clothiers and former guild stewards. When Swaddon stood down through ill health two years later, he was replaced by Sir Edmund Carey, a minor courtier living some six miles away at Dauntsey.7 Thereafter, a regular pattern emerged, with one seat in each election going to a complete outsider, while the other was controlled by the owners of Calne’s two manors. John Duckett, who held the former royal manor, sat in 1621 and 1624. Richard Lowe, lessee of the second, or prebendal manor, had already represented the borough in 1597 and 1601, and secured re-election in 1614. He died ten years later, but his brother George then revived the family’s interest, sitting in each Parliament from 1625 to 1628.8 The patronage of the remaining seats was much less predictable. Sir Edmund Carey was again elected in 1614, but is not known to have sought a Commons’ place after that. In 1624 and 1625 the borough accepted Sir Edward Howard, whose father, the 1st earl of Suffolk, was a major landowner in north Wiltshire. Sir John Eyre and Sir John Maynard, who sat in 1626 and 1628 respectively, were both related to the Bayntuns, one of the most important gentry families in the Calne area.9 John Pym, the junior Member in 1621, was a Somerset gentleman, whose role as receiver-general of Crown lands in Wiltshire gave him jurisdiction over Bowood Park, just outside the borough. Whether this was sufficient to secure him his seat, or whether he also enjoyed the backing of a local patron, remains uncertain.10 Of all these Members, only Noyes is known to have pursued his constituents’ interests in the Commons, gathering the details of legislation that might affect them. Noyes is also the only one of the ten who definitely received parliamentary wages. Given that his expenses of £19 in 1607 accounted for nearly half of the borough’s annual budget, it is perhaps understandable that Calne normally accepted external nominees who were unlikely to expect payment.11

Authors: Henry Lancaster / Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Election held on 13 Jan. 1606, but return made on 14 Jan.: C219/35/2/107.
  • 2. VCH Wilts. xvii. 32, 64; Guild Stewards’ Bk. of Bor. of Calne ed. A.W. Mabbs (Wilts. Arch. and Nat. Hist. Soc. recs. branch, vii), p. x; Wilts. Bor. Recs. ed. M.G. Rathbone (Wilts. Arch. and Nat. Hist. Soc. recs. branch, v), 1.
  • 3. Guild Stewards’ Bk. pp. xii-xvi, 39, 47; Wilts. Bor. Recs. 1-2.
  • 4. VCH Wilts. xvii. 83-4; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 149.
  • 5. OR; Guild Stewards’ Bk. p. xv.
  • 6. C219/35/2/107, 121; 219/37/301; 219/38/303; 219/39/225; 219/40/91; 219/41B/68; Guild Stewards’ Bk. pp. xiv-xv.
  • 7. PROB 11/109, f. 245v; Wilts. N and Q, iv. 368-9, 421-2; CJ, i. 257a.
  • 8. VCH Wilts. xvii. 100-1; HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 269; Vis. Wilts. (Harl. Soc. cv-cvi), 120-1.
  • 9. King’s Coll. Lib., Camb., KCAR/1/2/16, vol. iv, no. 59; Wilts. N and Q, viii. 446-50; Vis. Wilts. 60; Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiv), 595.
  • 10. J.E. Jackson, ‘Calne’, Wilts. Arch. Mag. xxiv. 188.
  • 11. HMC Var. iii. 263-4; Guild Stewards’ Bk. 39.