East Grinstead


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 inhabitant burgage-holders

Number of voters:

15 in 1621


 ?Robert Goodwin
c. Mar. 1626ROBERT GOODWIN , gent. vice Heath, ineligible to sit

Main Article

East Grinstead, situated close to the Surrey border, was only 30 miles from London. Thanks to the notoriously impassable Sussex roads it accordingly shared the assizes with Horsham (and occasionally, in dry summers, with Lewes). In addition the town lay on the edge of Ashdown forest, a centre of the Wealden iron industry.1 An unincorporated borough, East Grinstead had returned Members since 1301, the right of election being in the inhabitant burgage-holders. The chief officer was the bailiff, who was annually elected at the court leet. He probably drew up the returns, in which his name generally headed the list of electors, who usually numbered no more than 15.2

At the beginning of this period the borough was part of the duchy of Lancaster, as was Ashdown Forest. However, the Duchy’s property in Sussex was administered by the head of the Sackville family as steward of the honour of Eagle. The Sackvilles also owned the advowson of the parish church and considerable property in and around the borough. In the sixteenth century they lived at nearby Buckhurst, from where Thomas Sackville† took the title of his barony when he was raised to the peerage in 1567. Consequently, during the Elizabethan period it was the Sackvilles rather than the chancellors of the Duchy who were the dominant electoral patrons in the borough. At the beginning of the seventeenth century the Sackvilles moved to Knole in Kent, but they continued to use Withyham church, some six miles from the borough, as their mausoleum, and in 1606 Buckhurst, by now lord treasurer and 1st earl of Dorset, purchased the lordship of the borough.3

Sir Henry Compton, who had sat for the borough in the last Elizabethan Parliament, was the stepson and son-in-law of the lord treasurer’s heir, Robert Sackville*. He was accompanied to the first Jacobean Parliament by Sir John Swinarton, a London alderman whose farm of the French and Rhenish wines brought him into frequent contact with the lord treasurer. Compton subsequently took up residence at Brambletye, just outside the town, and was re-elected throughout the period, except in 1624. However, Swinarton, who had no connection with the Sackvilles after the death of lord treasurer Dorset in 1608, was not returned again.

Robert Sackville, 2nd earl of Dorset, died less than a year after his father. In his will he instructed his executors to build a ‘college or hospital’ for the poor in East Grinstead, which he endowed with a rent charge of £330 a year. One of the executors was (Sir) George Rivers, who had already sat for the borough in the last two Elizabethan parliaments and was re-elected in 1614 with Compton.4 The 3rd earl of Dorset promoted a bill, which was introduced in the Commons, to confirm the establishment of the hospital. It received a second reading on 16 May and was ordered to be engrossed eight days later, but there were no further proceedings.5

There is no evidence that Rivers sought re-election in 1621, by which time he may have been in poor health. Instead, Compton’s partner was Thomas Pelham, heir to a major east Sussex estate. It seems likely that Pelham was the nominee of the 3rd earl of Dorset, to whom he was related. It also seems possible that Dorset endorsed his candidacy in return for the support of Pelham’s father for the earl’s steward, Richard Amherst*, at Lewes. There is no contemporary evidence that either Compton or Pelham were forced to contest their seats. There is a slim possibility that Robert Goodwin, who was to be returned in 1626 and was the son of an important local gentleman, may have stood against them, as 60 years later he recalled that he had been elected for East Grinstead in 1621, but it seems much more likely that, with the passage of time, he had become confused about the date of his successful election.6 During the course of the 1621 Parliament Dorset again sought statutory confirmation of Sackville College. A bill to that effect was introduced in the Commons, where it was committed on 4 May, but not reported.7

Neither Compton nor Pelham were re-elected for East Grinstead in 1624. The latter was returned for the county, but the reason for Compton’s decision not to stand again is unknown, although it may have been connected with the death of his wife that same year. The junior seat went to Matthias Caldicott, a favourite servant of Dorset’s, while the senior seat was bestowed upon the solicitor general (Sir) Robert Heath. Heath had family connections with the East Grinstead area and had purchased property in the borough from Caldicott, but he almost certainly owed his election to Dorset, whom he attended on his deathbed on 28 Mar. and whose will he witnessed. As in 1614 and 1621, Dorset proved eager to secure statutory recognition of Sackville College, and early in the Parliament a bill to that effect was laid before the Lords.8 However, by the time the bill was given a second reading Dorset had died and the measure was quietly forgotten. There were no further attempts to secure statutory confirmation of the hospital, which was instead incorporated by letters patent in 1631.9

There is no evidence that Caldicott sought re-election after the death of his employer. By the time of the elections for the 1625 Parliament the 4th earl of Dorset (Sir Edward Sackville*) was a rising figure at Court and was presumably happy to nominate Heath again at East Grinstead. On this occasion Heath took the second place, leaving the senior position free for Sir Henry Compton, who was closely associated with the fourth earl. Compton and Heath were re-elected the following year, but the latter had been promoted to attorney-general in the intervening period, and on 10 Feb. 1626 the Commons declared his election void in accordance with the resolution of 1614. The ensuing election saw the first crack in the Sackville’s domination of East Grinstead’s electoral patronage with the election of Robert Goodwin, whose father owned four burgages in the borough but had no known connection with Dorset. Goodwin succeeded to his father’s estate the following year and was re-elected with Compton in 1628.10

Authors: Alan Davidson / Ben Coates


  • 1. A. Fletcher, County Community in Peace and War, 136; E. Straker, Wealden Iron, 238-41.
  • 2. W.H. Hills, Hist. East Grinstead, 22, 60-1; C219/37/260; 219/38/240. The bailiff certainly drew up the returns in the 1640s, see CJ, iv. 432a.
  • 3. Hills, 10, 75; Duchy of Lancaster Office-Holders ed. R. Somerville, 216-17; HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 259; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 338; 1611-18, p. 5.
  • 4. PROB 11/113, f. 182-v
  • 5. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 81, 258, 331; PROB 11/143, f. 210.
  • 6. CJ, ix. 587b.
  • 7. CJ, i. 607a.
  • 8. PROB 11/143, ff. 210-11; Kyle thesis, 382-3; LJ, iii. 269, 284.
  • 9. C66/2571/17.
  • 10. Procs. 1626, ii. 14.