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

Number of voters:




Main Article

The remote and sparsely populated county of Cumberland was transformed by the Union of the crowns in 1603 from a border province into a backwater. News of the accession of King James precipitated a final outburst of pillage and looting by numerous border clans, among whom the Graham family was the most notorious; it was reported that in one ‘busy week’ there had been ‘40 towns burnt, 500 felonies and murders’.1 George Clifford, 3rd earl of Cumberland, as warden of the west and middle marches, was entrusted with the task of restoring order; he received a grant of the Grahams’ main estates and around 150 of their adherents were transported to Ireland.2 The confiscated lands were eventually bought back in 1628 by Sir Richard Graham*, who had made a career at Court, and was anxious ‘to reform vice’ in the region.3

The Cliffords had traditionally shared the patronage of county elections with the Dacres of Naworth, whose estates had recently passed, by marriage, to Lord William Howard, a notorious Catholic. Elections were held at Carlisle Castle, a seat of the Cliffords; however, after the death of the 3rd earl in 1605 his successors resided outside the county, on their Yorkshire estates; and the influence of Lord Henry Clifford* was further diminished by a bitter feud over Cumberland’s legacy.4 Both Howard and Clifford became renowned for their determination to overthrow the custom of tenant right, whereby rents were artificially held down out of consideration of the need to provide armed retainers to defend the now obsolete border. As in Westmorland, this was a source of tension among the local gentry. Several old families including the Curwens and Musgraves felt persecuted by Howard; however, the resulting emnities found little expression in county elections, and outright contests were avoided.5

At the 1604 county election two leading members of the local gentry were returned; there is no evidence that either Cumberland or Howard were directly involved. The senior seat went to Wilfrid Lawson, a long serving magistrate and client of the 9th earl of Northumberland, while the second place was filled by Edward Musgrave of Hayton Castle. Presumably because Lawson was given ‘great countenance’ by Northumberland, 12 electors, headed by Sir Nicholas Curwen†, wrote to the earl on 6 Mar. 1604 asking him to intercede with the king and Lords on the county’s behalf for an exemption from any subsidy that might be voted, ‘in regard of the great spoils and losses which we of late in the county have sustained’.6 To this they added two wishes, which were to be ‘rid of the bad men of the borders’ and to have ‘liberty to use our lands to our most profit and commodity as others in other parts of England being in the like case’.7 The poverty of the border shires was acknowledged in the reduced sums demanded on Privy Seal loans in Cumberland and Westmorland after the end of the first session of the Parliament.8 Peace was gradually restored by a series of border commissions, in which Lawson played a prominent role; Sir Edward Phelips*, reporting from the northern circuit in 1609, was able to point to marked decreases in capital offences and in recusancy.9

Lawson was re-elected in 1614, while Howard asserted his influence by nominating an outsider, the courtier Sir Thomas Penruddock, as the junior knight of the shire. Penruddock, a suspected Catholic, was an adherent of Howard’s kinsman, Lord Arundel; he was also Musgrave’s brother-in-law, and although his main estates lay in far distant Hampshire, he inherited his mother’s jointure lands in Cumberland on the eve of the elections, which was presumably enough to make him acceptable to the electorate, despite being unknown in the region.10 The king passed through Cumberland on his Scottish progress in 1617, although the disdainful attitude of many of his English subjects is reflected in John Chamberlain’s observation that the county was ‘said to be impassable for coaches, besides [having] incommodious lodgings and other inconveniences’.11

Sir George Dalston, a local magistrate and governor of Carlisle, was elected as the senior knight of the shire in every Parliament of the 1620s. He was on good terms with Howard, whose support he presumably enjoyed.12 He was joined in the 1621 Parliament by Sir Henry Curwen of Workington, a local campaigner against tenant-right, who needed no patron to press his claims to a county seat, at least among the gentry. Howard may have tried to extend his influence in the 1624 elections, by backing Ferdinand Huddleston of Millom Castle, a notorious playboy with 20 outlawries against his name, for the junior seat.13 Although not yet convicted of recusancy, Huddleston’s religion was suspected; and his election must be regarded as a last and singularly ill-judged assertion of Howard’s patronage.14 Although Huddleston probably never took his seat, a petition was presented against him but thrown out by the privileges’ committee according to the precedent set in the case of Sir Francis Goodwin*.15 In the first three Parliaments of Charles’s reign Cumberland was represented by Dalston and Curwen’s son Patricius; the latter and Lawson were the only two of the seven knights of the shire who sat in this period whose religion was clearly Protestant.16 Dalston informed the Commons in 1624 that there were ‘no papists but the lady of Sir Thomas Lamplugh’ in the county and may have helped Huddleston to evade the fate of Musgrave, who was later presented for recusancy.17 The county’s muted opposition to extra-parliamentary taxation during Charles’s reign is apparent in the report by Lawson and Patricius Curwen to the Cliffords as early as October 1625 that Privy Seal loans would yield no more than £320 from a total of 20 donors, most of whom sought to be excused because ‘the county is poor and the subsidy is [still] collecting’.18

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. CJ, i. 1015a; VCH Cumb. ii. 282-4; P. Williams, ‘The Northern Borderland under the Early Stuarts’, in Hist. Essays Presented to David Ogg ed. H.E. Bell and R.L. Ollard, 4-6, 11-12.
  • 2. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 289; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 78.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 339; 1628-9, p. 198.
  • 4. HMC Le Fleming, 12-15.
  • 5. STAC 8/161/16; M. Campbell, Eng. Yeomen, 148-50; Naworth Household Bks. ed. G. Ornsby (Surtees Soc. lxviii), 424-5.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 268.
  • 7. Cumb. RO, D/Lec. 169, (Curwen and others to Northumberland, 6 Mar. 1604).
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 92.
  • 9. CJ, i. 1014b; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 543.
  • 10. D. Howarth, Lord Arundel and his Circle, 12, 43, 52-3, 88.
  • 11. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 79; VCH Cumb. ii. 285.
  • 12. Naworth Household Bks. 8; Hutchinson, Cumb. ii. 454-5.
  • 13. APC, 1625-6, p. 89; Glanville, Reps. 124.
  • 14. CJ, i. 706a.
  • 15. Ibid. 714a; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 239v.
  • 16. J.F. Curwen, House of Curwen, 151; C.B. Phillips, ‘Gentry in Cumb. and Westmld. 1600-65’, (Lancaster Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1973), p. 38.
  • 17. CJ, i. 706a; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 179; Procs. 1626, ii. 138.
  • 18. HMC 3rd Rep. 39.