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 corporation to 1624; in the freemen from 1625

Number of voters:

eight to 1624


15 Mar. 1604ROBERT WALLIS , alderman
 JOHN YAXLEY , alderman
23 Mar. 16141FRANCIS BRAKIN , recorder
10 Jan. 1621RICHARD FOXTON , alderman
 THOMAS MEAUTYS , alderman
30 Mar. 16212SIR JOHN HOBART II vice Foxton, disabled
9 Jan. 16243FRANCIS BRAKIN , recorder
 ROBERT LUKYN , alderman
12 Apr. 16254THOMAS MEAUTYS , alderman
 TALBOT PEPYS , recorder
27 Jan. 16265THOMAS MEAUTYS , alderman
29 Feb. 16286THOMAS MEAUTYS , alderman
 THOMAS PURCHAS , alderman

Main Article

Cambridge became a royal borough under Henry I and returned Members to Parliament from at least 1295, but the town was not formally incorporated until 1605. The composition of the town assembly was not specified in the charter of incorporation, nor was the extent of the franchise.7 Until 1625, when the corporation resolved that all freemen could vote, Cambridge had one of the most unusual election procedures in the country. The mayor and aldermen on the one hand and common council on the other were required to nominate one selector each. These two selectors were then permitted one hour to choose eight members of the corporation who, in turn, had one hour to select the two Members. If neither the ‘two’ nor the ‘eight’ could agree within the hour then the process restarted.8 The abandonment of this tortuous process in 1625 was probably the result of internal wrangling within the corporation and a desire of the freemen to have a greater say in the town’s governance. In 1609 and 1611, and again in the early 1620s, the high steward and Privy Council were forced to intervene to resolve disputes between freemen, councillors and aldermen, most notably over the election as mayor in 1624 of a non-alderman, Thomas Purchas*.9 In 1632 such differences were finally resolved by a further charter which stated that the corporation was to consist of a mayor, 12 aldermen and 24 common councillors.10

In 1601 the corporation declared that, with the exception of the town’s recorder, no one would be elected to Parliament unless they had resided in Cambridge for at least a year before the election.11 In 1604 two aldermen, Robert Wallis and John Yaxley, were accordingly returned. Ahead of the next general election, however, Cambridge came under pressure to elect outsiders and disregard its earlier ruling on residence, as the high steward, lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton I†), requested a place for a candidate of his choice. The mayor replied that the corporation had intended to elect the recorder, Francis Brakin, and one of the town’s freemen, and he also pointed out that one of the town’s counsel, Sir Robert Hitcham*, desired a place. Nevertheless, he assured Ellesmere that the assembly stood ‘ready to esteem your honour’s desire as a commandment to be observed’.12 Ellesmere evidently chose not to press the matter, as Brakin and Hitcham were returned.

Ellesmere’s successor as high steward, Viscount St. Alban (Sir Francis Bacon*), persuaded the corporation to elect his secretary, Thomas Meautys, in second place in 1621. In order to satisfy the residency requirement, Meautys was made a freeman and an alderman on the day of the election.13 The first seat went to the mayor, Richard Foxton, whose return was challenged in Parliament on the grounds that it was forbidden for mayors to return themselves. Foxton was therefore unseated.14 He was replaced by Sir John Hobart at the request of his father, Sir Henry Hobart*, one of Cambridge’s legal counsel. Sir John was then made free of the town and elevated to aldermanic status.15 By the time of the 1624 election, Bacon’s influence had waned and Cambridge elected Recorder Brakin again, together with Alderman Robert Lukyn.16

For the first Caroline Parliament, Meautys secured the first place, possibly with the support of Sir Thomas Coventry*, who was soon to replace Bacon as Cambridge’s high steward. The new recorder, Talbot Pepys, took the junior seat.17 Meautys served in the following two Caroline Parliaments and was joined in 1626 by one of Coventry’s secretaries, John Thompson, and in 1628 by Alderman Thomas Purchas.18

Cambridge does not appear to have preferred any legislation to Parliament during this period, although it obviously took an interest in the innumerable bills which concerned the universities and fen drainage. The corporation paid parliamentary wages to its aldermanic MPs at a daily rate of 4s., but the recorder received only half that amount. The records do not reveal any payment of wages to the outsiders who served as MPs.19

Author: Chris Kyle


  • 1. Cambs. RO, Mun. Rm., Shelf C.7, ff. 43v-4.
  • 2. C.H. Cooper, Annals of Camb. iii. 140.
  • 3. Cambs. RO, Mun. Rm., Shelf C.7, f. 125.
  • 4. Ibid. f. 137v.
  • 5. Ibid. f. 146v.
  • 6. Ibid. f. 172.
  • 7. F.W. Maitland and M. Bateson, Camb. Bor. Charters, 116-37.
  • 8. Downing Coll. Camb. Lib., Bowtell ms 11, Metcalfe’s Thesaurus, f. 77.
  • 9. C.H. Cooper, Annals of Camb. iii. 31, 218-19; APC 1623-5, pp. 318-19; D. Hirst, Representative of the People?, 53.
  • 10. Maitland and Bateson, 136-69.
  • 11. Downing Coll. Camb. Lib., Bowtell ms 11, Metcalfe’s Thesaurus, f. 76v.
  • 12. Cooper, iii. 60-1.
  • 13. Ibid. 137 n. 2.
  • 14. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 212-13; CJ, i. 560a.
  • 15. Cooper, iii. 144.
  • 16. Cambs. RO, Mun. Rm., Shelf C.7, f. 125.
  • 17. Cooper, iii. 176.
  • 18. Ibid. 183-4, 200.
  • 19. Ibid. 137, 169.