Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the freemen
Number of voters:
|9 Mar. 1604||SIR JOHN RODNEY|
|c. Mar. 1614||ROBERT HYDE|
|22 Dec. 1620||SIR FRANCIS POPHAM|
|(SIR) GILES MOMPESSON|
|8 Mar. 1621||THOMAS CAREY vice Mompesson, expelled the House|
|26 Jan. 1624||HUGH CROMPTON|
|24 Apr. 1625||SIR JOHN BROOKE|
|1 Feb. 1626||MAURICE BERKELEY|
|7 Mar. 1628||EDWARD KIRTON|
|SIR JOHN TREVOR II|
Situated in north-east Wiltshire, Great Bedwyn at the time of the Domesday survey was a thriving community with its own mint. However, the local economy, based on the wool and clothing industries, went into severe decline in the Middle Ages.1 Despite being incorporated by charter in 1468, the borough dwindled into insignificance, and was described as ‘a poor thing to sight’ by John Leland in the early sixteenth century. The town was governed by a single bailiff, who enjoyed the powers of a magistrate, but no other municipal officers or institutions were mentioned when the charter, which is not extant, was confirmed in 1673.2 Members were returned to Parliament intermittently from 1295. In the Elizabethan and early Stuart period the borough was owned by Edward Seymour, 1st earl of Hertford, whose seat at Wolf Hall lay nearby. Hertford often nominated both Members, although the Hungerford family of Stock manor, less than a mile north of the town, had laid claim to the senior seat in 1593, 1597 and 1601.3 Election indentures were signed by up to 12 inhabitant ‘burgesses’.4 There is no evidence that Great Bedwyn contributed towards the expenses of any of its Members during this period.
In 1604 Hertford nominated his cousin’s husband, Sir John Rodney, with the intention of furthering a private bill ‘for the quiet establishing and settling of the lands and possessions late of Sir George Rodney, deceased’, in which both parties had an interest. Anthony Hungerford, who had served as the borough’s senior Member in Elizabeth’s last two parliaments, took the second seat. Rodney’s bill received its first reading on 23 Apr. 1604; and two days later another private measure to confirm Hertford’s possession of Bedwyn was also reported and passed.5 At the next general election Robert Hyde, whose father, father-in-law and brother had successively served as Hertford’s auditors, was returned in first place. Giles Mompesson, the husband of Hungerford’s stepdaughter, took the junior seat.
Another leading member of the local gentry, Sir Francis Popham, was returned as the senior Member in December 1620; his Wiltshire home at Littlecote was only four miles from Bedwyn, and as Hertford’s long-serving deputy in the lieutenancy and militia he presumably had the latter’s support. Mompesson was re-elected, but as a notorious monopolist he was expelled early in the session, when the Commons launched an attack on grievous patents and corruption. By this time Hertford, aged around 83, was on his deathbed; probably his grandson and successor William Seymour, Lord Beauchamp* was responsible for nominating the courtier Thomas Carey, who had no local connections, to replace Mompesson at a by-election on 8 March.
In 1624, at the next general election, Seymour, now 2nd earl of Hertford, returned two of his associates to James’s last Parliament; by this time Hungerford had left Stock to take up residence on his Oxfordshire estates. Hugh Crompton, who filled the first seat, was formerly a gentleman usher to Arbella Stuart, Hertford’s first wife, and had remained in his service since her death in 1615. In second place was William Cholmley, brother-in-law and close associate of John Pym*, the Exchequer’s receiver-general for Wiltshire. In the 1625 Parliament the courtier Sir John Brooke, a court acquaintance of both the 1st and 2nd earls of Hertford, was elected in first place, while Cholmley sat again in second. Hungerford’s relation, (Sir) Maurice Berkeley took the first seat in 1626, together with John Selden, a lawyer presumably chosen by Hertford for political reasons. The connection between the two remains obscure; Hertford perhaps wished to ensure Selden, a known critic of the duke of Buckingham, a seat in the Lower House in anticipation of, and to encourage, Buckingham’s impeachment. In 1628 Hertford nominated Edward Kirton, his servant, as the senior Member, and was probably also responsible for the election in second place of Sir John Trevor II, a courtier.