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 burgage-holders 1604-21; in the inhabitant householders 1624-8

Number of voters:

c.65 in 1604-21


7 Apr. 1604EDWARD JONES vice Martin, chose to sit for Christchurch 
16 Jan. 1610SIR ANTHONY MAYNEY vice Jones, deceased 
29 Dec. 1620SIR THOMAS ROE 
 (Sir) Maurice Berkeley*30
 John George 
c. Mar. 1628SIR GILES ESTCOURT , bt. 

Main Article

Cirencester had flourished as a centre of the woollen industry under the firm control of the local Augustinian Abbey.1 Wool continued to play a vital part in the local economy, and therefore the town suffered badly from the trade depression of the 1620s: in 1628 it was reported to have 1,200 poor in need of relief.2 The parish of Cirencester, which included a significant part of the surrounding countryside, had a population of about 2,760 in 1603.3 The borough, which had never been incorporated, was governed by a bailiff, two constables and 14 wardsmen nominated annually in the court leet.4 Parliamentary representation was only intermittent before 1571.5 The returning officer was the bailiff, who was appointed by the lord of the manor. Until 1615, when he sold it to Sir Henry Poole† of Sapperton, the lordship of the manor belonged to the 1st Lord Danvers.6 As both Danvers and Poole had strong Wiltshire connections, Cirencester provided fewer parliamentary opportunities for the Gloucestershire gentry than might have been expected. After the manor was sold candidates were drawn from a more restricted geographical area, within a six mile radius of the town, but a more elevated social class. Many of them owned property in the borough, and the Straunges and Georges had roots in the town stretching back before the Dissolution, though the Master family of Cirencester Abbey were more recent arrivals. The attempt of the younger branch of the Berkeley family to establish an interest met with limited success.7

In 1604 Richard Martin, a rising young lawyer of Devon origin, was returned for the first seat, presumably on the interest of Lord Danvers. The second seat went to Arnold Oldisworth, who came from one of the local families and was then about to take up his reversionary interest in the clerkship of the Hanaper. When Martin chose to sit for a Hampshire borough, he was replaced by Edward Jones, a former colleague of Oldisworth in the service of the Dudley family and an experienced carpet-bagger, who was to spend much of his time working to secure a Crown grant for Danvers. Jones died in 1609, and his replacement, the Kentishman Sir Anthony Mayney, was closely connected to Danvers’ cousin the marchioness of Winchester and related to Oldisworth through the Arnold family.8 Mayney was re-elected in 1614, but Oldisworth, perhaps preoccupied with his increasingly embarrassed financial position, gave way to another kinsman, Robert Straunge, whose grandfather had been the last abbatial bailiff. Straunge owned ‘a great house’ in Cirencester as well as an estate four miles away.

Straunge did not seek re-election in 1620, although he continued to play a role in electoral politics as his name heads the signatories on the indenture.9 As Sir Henry Poole had died soon after his purchase, and his son Henry was probably on his travels, the senior seat went to Sir Thomas Roe, a kinsman by marriage of the Berkeleys, whose mother lived at Rendcomb, five miles north of Cirencester. The remaining seat went to Thomas Nicholas whose wife, a wealthy widow, had brought him an estate within two miles of the town. Nicholas also acted as trustee for Lord Danvers’s brother Sir John*, with whom Roe, coincidentally, had been closely associated in the Virginia Company. Both Nicholas and Roe may therefore have been able to appeal to any residual Danvers interest. Notwithstanding his departure on an ambassadorial posting during the summer recess, Roe proved Cirencester’s most active Member during the period; he spoke forcefully against the dishonest practices of the cloth trade’s middlemen in debate on the bill for free trade in wool, and some years later he founded an apprenticeship charity in the borough.10

In 1624 Henry Poole was accorded the first place as of right, ‘by most voices, without contradiction’,11 but there were three candidates for the other seat, all in their twenties: Sir William Master, whose sister had married Oldisworth’s heir; Roe’s nephew (Sir) Maurice Berkeley*; and Oldisworth’s nephew John George, a townsman by birth and a barrister of the Middle Temple.12 The borough was not accustomed to contests, and therefore ‘the opinion of a neighbouring serjeant at law’ – possibly John Bridgeman of Nympsfield – was sought on the franchise, ‘who set it under his hand, that he thought only the freeholders of the lands within the borough ought to have voice’.13 The election was attended, ‘albeit, in truth, he had nothing to do in the matter’, by the same youthful under-sheriff who had presided six days previously over the contested county election,14 and by Master’s friend Sir Thomas Estcourt.15 The bailiff initially declared that Master had ‘the greatest number of voices of the inhabitants present’, but the various competitors and their friends were agreed that only the freeholders were entitled to vote and persuaded the under-sheriff to announce this publicly.16 Berkeley, who seems to have been the most insistent on the limited franchise,17 now demanded a poll of the freeholders.18 Those inhabitants who were not freeholders now left, while the rest of the assembly adjourned from the town hall to the spacious perpendicular church where the freeholders were sworn.19 Estcourt later testified that during the poll ‘the bailiff sat in the chief place, the [under-] sheriff at his feet’.20 George withdrew at this point, and Master emerged with 35 votes to Berkeley’s 30.21 The assembly now returned to the town hall, where ‘it was solemnly propounded by the bailiff to the whole assembly to know whom they would have in the first place, who answered all, “Mr. Poole”, without a negative voice; and for Sir William Master, in like sort, in the second place’.22 Master’s knighthood in fact gave him precedence on the indenture, which was signed in first place by one Edward Master, presumably a kinsman.23

Following this outcome Berkeley’s supporters in the town petitioned the Commons against ‘the sinister practice and procurement’ of the under-sheriff, who was thought to have favoured Master because he had previously returned Master’s friend, Estcourt, for the county.24 However, John Glanville, Lady Master’s uncle, reported from the committee for privileges that the under-sheriff had acted merely as ‘a clerk of minister’ to the bailiff, who had overseen the management of the election himself. The committee also found that franchise lay in the inhabitants rather than the freeholders, and that consequently the election had properly ended after the bailiff had declared that Master was the choice of the inhabitants. The subsequent agreement by the candidates to poll the freeholders, the early departure of some of the inhabitants, the unlawful administering of an oath to the freeholders and their subsequent polling ‘did not impeach the election’, as these events were merely ‘surplusage and idle’. Had anyone demanded and been refused a poll of the inhabitants at any time before Master ‘was the second time, and finally, declared burgess’, the election would have been invalid, but this, the committee noted, had not happened.25 The order of the House, that where a borough had no charter or custom the franchise should lie with the householders rather than the freeholders, was subsequently copied into the Cirencester parish records.26

In 1625 Poole again yielded precedence on the indenture to his social superior, Sir Miles Sandys, a young man who lived at Brimpsfield, eight miles away, but whose father had recently acquired an estate within Cirencester’s six-mile limit. According to one diarist, a petition was presented to the committee for privileges after the 1626 election,27 but nothing is known of the contest that prompted it. Poole had given his interest to his distant cousin and brother-in-law, Sir Neville Poole, who himself lived four miles across the Wiltshire border. He and George, whose address was given as Cirencester, were returned ‘with the whole assent and consent of the rest of the burgesses’.28 George maintained his hold in 1628, when he brought in a bill ‘for the better uttering and venting of white cloth’. His senior colleague, Sir Giles Estcourt, came from the Wiltshire branch of the family, and owed his seat to his brother-in-law Master, who was then serving as sheriff of the county.

Authors: Alan Davidson / Ben Coates


  • 1. VCH Glos. ii. 80-83.
  • 2. W. St. Clair Baddeley, Cirencester, 242; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 568.
  • 3. P. Clark and J. Hosking, Population Estimates of English Small Towns (Cent. for Urban Hist. Working Pprs. v), 55.
  • 4. S. Rudder, New Hist. of Glos. 352; E178/959.
  • 5. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 163-4.
  • 6. J.D. Thorp, ‘Hist. of the Manor of Coates’, Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. l. 213.
  • 7. E.A. Fuller, ‘Cirencester’, Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. ix. 334-43; W. St. Clair Baddeley, Cirencester, 250.
  • 8. Vis. Glos. (Harl. Soc. xxi), 4.
  • 9. C219/37/112.
  • 10. VCH Glos. vii. 227.
  • 11. J. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases Determined and Adjudged by the Commons in Parl. (1775), pp. 105-6.
  • 12. ‘Earle 1624’, f. 152v.
  • 13. Glanville, 105.
  • 14. Ibid. 108.
  • 15. ‘Earle 1624’, f. 153.
  • 16. Glanville, 106.
  • 17. ‘Earle 1624’, f. 152v.
  • 18. Glanville, 106.
  • 19. Glanville, 106-7.
  • 20. ‘Earle 1624’, f. 153.
  • 21. Ibid. f. 152v.
  • 22. Glanville, 107.
  • 23. C219/38/93.
  • 24. Glanville, 104.
  • 25. CJ, i. 708a; Glanville, 107-11.
  • 26. Gloucester RO, P86/1/IN6/3, f. 79v.
  • 27. Procs. 1626, ii. 55.
  • 28. C219/40/49.