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:



30 May 1604JOHN THROCKMORTON vice Sir Richard Berkeley, deceased
 Robert Poyntz
20 Oct. 1624(SIR) MAURICE BERKELEY vice Estcourt, deceased
 Robert Poyntz

Main Article

Few counties could vie with Gloucestershire in the antiquity of its families. The Berkeleys, the Tracys and the Poyntzes were all well established before the Plantagenets. Throughout the Jacobean period, though not under Elizabeth, the county’s dominant electoral interest was that of the Berkeleys. Henry, 7th Lord Berkeley was a popular local figure, and on James’s accession, doubtless with the aid of his former brother-in-law, Lord Henry Howard, he became Gloucestershire’s lord lieutenant. This disappointed the expectations of the 5th Lord Chandos (Grey Brydges†),1 who enjoyed the sobriquet ‘king of Cotswold’ from the splendour of his hospitality but was compromised (however unjustly) in the Bye Plot.

In 1604 Lord Berkeley’s son, Sir Thomas, and his cousin, Sir Richard of Stoke Gifford, were elected at Gloucester Castle.2 Sir Richard had been prominent in county administration throughout the last reign, but neither he nor Sir Thomas had ever sat in Parliament before. However, Sir Richard was now a septuagenarian, and he died in the sixth week of the Parliament, leaving a son of unsound mind. The by-election was held at Tetbury, on the eastern edge of the county, probably under the auspices of (Sir) Thomas Estcourt, who signed the indenture in first place.3 Estcourt was to be one of Lord Berkeley’s executors, and doubtless promoted the election of John Throckmorton of Lypiatt, one of whose uncles had married into the Berkeley family. Throckmorton thus regained the seat that he had held in the last Elizabethan Parliament. By the time of the 1614 general election, the situation had altered dramatically. Throckmorton had sold his Gloucestershire estate (in 1610) and both Sir Thomas Berkeley and the 7th Lord Berkeley were dead and the 8th Lord Berkeley was a minor. The senior seat was taken by Sir William Cooke, a hereditary official of the Court of Wards who had married a Gloucestershire heiress; but he probably owed his election to his position as Lord Berkeley’s chief executor. The junior seat went to Sir Richard Berkeley’s grandson Richard. Lord Chandos, who had succeeded to the lieutenancy,4 played no known part in this or the subsequent election. Cooke died in 1619, and his seat was taken in the third Jacobean Parliament by Sir Robert Tracy, the heir to the Toddington estate. Richard Berkeley, who seems to have involved himself in pecuniary difficulties by an ambitious plantation venture, yielded the second seat to his son Maurice, ‘then not 22 years of age’. During this Parliament the Gloucestershire clothiers made ‘great complaint’ against the Merchant Adventurers for their unwillingness to buy cloth.5

In 1624 John Dutton, a man of great wealth and the third of his line in Gloucestershire, was ‘agreed and admitted, without contradiction, to be chosen in the first place’.6 For the other seat Estcourt, now in control of the Berkeley interest while the 8th Lord (George the Traveller) was engaged in linguistic studies abroad, was challenged by Robert Poyntz, who seems to have taken over his family’s estate while his father languished in a debtors’ prison. The sheriff summoned the county court to Painswick, but delegated his responsibilities to the under-sheriff, an inexperienced youth. On the day of the election ‘Estcourt yielded the choice, acknowledged it publicly that the other two were chosen, and commended the county for it’; two hours later Tracy’s father, who had been out of politics since the Essex rising, demanded a poll. ‘The place a little church; a great throng. Those that named Poyntz, … though far off, delivered in papers by ten at a time’. Their candidate was defeated by 152 votes, and Estcourt, in accordance with social precedence, was awarded the senior seat.7 Poyntz subsequently petitioned the Commons against this outcome on several grounds. Besides the venue and the waiver he alleged that

some few freeholders, who had pronounced for Mr. Poyntz, went away after the poll demanded, and before their names or voices were taken or recorded; and some other freeholders, which came to the place after 11 of the clock, while the election was then in hand, were admitted to give voice, and numbered for Sir Thomas Estcourt.8

Estcourt’s counsel replied that ‘the place was appointed three weeks before, and where the country court had usually been kept for three or four years’, that Estcourt’s disclaimer was ‘but in modesty’, and that those who failed to register their votes ‘were no freeholders, but such as knew that when they came to their oath they should not be allowed’.9 John Glanville, reporting from the committee for privileges in Estcourt’s favour, observed that no man ‘being lawfully chosen’ could ‘by any unwillingness or refusal of his own make himself incapable’. Those freeholders who had left early had only themselves to blame, and those who arrived after the poll had begun must be allowed to vote, ‘for all favour is to be afforded in allowing voices to as many freeholders as reasonably may be had for the choice of those by whose voices in Parliament they and their heirs are to be bound for ever’.10 Estcourt, despite his ‘modesty’, proved to be the most active Gloucestershire Member of the period, but he sat only once as he died on 4 July 1624 on his way home from Westminster. Poyntz, anxious to expunge the memory of his earlier defeat, contested the ensuing by-election, but he was again thwarted, this time by (Sir) Maurice Berkeley. Since the House did not meet again before the king’s death, it was not called upon to sit in judgment on Poyntz’s ingenious scheme to keep some of Berkeley’s voters away from Painswick by summoning the subsidy commission to meet 18 miles away.11

Berkeley and Dutton were re-elected to the first Caroline Parliament. Sir Robert Tracy regained the senior seat in 1626, and Poyntz was at last allowed to take his turn. Although the 8th Lord Berkeley was by now of age he played little part in Gloucestershire affairs in this period, he travelled abroad extensively and accumulated large debts, consequently the Berkeley electoral interest was in eclipse in the later 1620s.12

The Forced Loan aroused particular hostility among the Gloucestershire gentry. In early 1627 the earl of Northampton and Sir John Bridgeman were sent by the Privy Council to Gloucestershire to stir the commissioners into action. At a meeting on 17 Feb. Northampton and Bridgeman found that of the 25 commissioners who attended 12 refused to have anything to do with the loan, although the remaining 13 were more co-operative.13 Six of the refusers, (Sir) Maurice Berkeley, John Dutton, Sir Robert Poyntz, Henry Poole* Thomas Nicholas* and Nathaniel Coxwell, were summoned to appear before the Privy Council and were subsequently purged from the bench and imprisoned.14 Following his release in January 1628, Poyntz stood for election once again, and was rewarded with the senior seat. The junior place went to Nathaniel Stephens, who had also refused to co-operate with the collection of the Loan, though unlike Poyntz he had not been imprisoned.

Authors: Alan Davidson / Ben Coates


  • 1. HMC Hatfield, xv. 230-1.
  • 2. C219/35/1/84.
  • 3. C219/35/1/91.
  • 4. Sainty, Lords Lieutenants, 21.
  • 5. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 41.
  • 6. J. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases Determined and Adjudged by Commons in Parl. (1775), p. 100.
  • 7. ‘Earle 1624’, ff. 124v-5.
  • 8. Glanville, 100-1.
  • 9. ‘Earle 1624’, f. 125.
  • 10. CJ, i. 759a; Glanville, 101-3.
  • 11. W.B. Willcox, Glos. 29.
  • 12. Oxford DNB sub Berkeley, George, 8th Baron Berkeley.
  • 13. SP16/54/28, 28.I.
  • 14. APC, 1627, pp. 125, 374; BRL, 603503/72.