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 freemen

Number of voters:

244 in 16241


17 May 1624WILLIAM ASHTON I103 
 Richard Willows5887
 Sir William Harington4248
 Gabriel Barbor 68
9 May 1628SIR CHARLES MORRISON , bt. vice Howard, called to the Upper House  
28 Jan. 1629JOHN CAREY Visct. Rochford, vice Morrison, deceased  

Main Article

Hertford was well established before the Norman Conquest, and returned Members to at least 16 medieval Parliaments. However, the town fell into severe decline as a result of the Black Death, and the franchise was allowed to lapse after 1376. During the early sixteenth century the local economy began to recover, mainly because its markets were increasingly frequented by traders from London buying grain, malt, and other staples.2 Hertford was first incorporated in 1554, and in 1605, assisted by the borough’s high steward, the 1st earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†), a new charter was granted which established a corporation consisting of a mayor, nine ‘chief burgesses’, 16 assistants, a steward of the borough court, and a town clerk.3 A sign of the town’s renewed prosperity was the re-endowment and enlargement of Hertford grammar school in 1617.4 The castle, where the assizes for the county were usually held, was settled on Prince Charles in 1619, but apart from the gatehouse it was largely decayed. In its place the townsmen built ‘a large and convenient house’ to serve both as law court and market hall.5 The gatehouse was leased to Salisbury’s former secretary (Sir) Thomas Wilson*, keeper of records in the Tower of London, who may have helped the borough to make a case for re-enfranchisement. A survey was undertaken in 1621, presumably as a preliminary step in this process, although it defined the boundaries of the borough so tightly as to exclude some 50 poor cottagers on the waste.6

In Parliament, on 18 May 1621, the chairman of the privileges committee, Sir George More*, reported petitions for restoring the franchise to Hertford and three Buckinghamshire boroughs, although it was known that James I opposed the enlargement of the House of Commons. On the motion of (Sir) Robert Heath* it was immediately agreed that the privileges committee should peruse the four towns’ charters and hear counsel for the Crown.7 A further report was called for on 29 Nov., but the proposal for re-enfranchisement was lost at the abrupt dissolution of the session.8 Ahead of the next Parliament, Prince Charles’s Council decided to support the re-enfranchisement of Hertford in the expectation that they would be able to make nominations to its seats. They wrote to the corporation on 9 Feb. 1624 advising them to ‘prepare a petition for reviving the said privilege this Parliament, and send it up to us’, promising that ‘such care shall be taken for preferring and effecting the same … as shall be fitting, without any charge to the town’.9 The prince’s first nominees were Sir John Hobart II*, whose father was the chancellor of Charles’s Household, and Christopher Vernon, who had been seconded from the Exchequer to assist the duchy of Cornwall with the recovery of lost titles.10 In the event, Hobart was returned for Launceston, and Vernon withdrew because he, as the Prince’s Council wrote on 24 Apr., ‘being at this present otherwise employed for his highness’s service, cannot well attend the House’. Instead the Prince’s Council proposed Sir William Harington, the prince’s steward at Hertingfordbury, less than two miles west of the town, ‘a near neighbour unto you, who for his worth and integrity is without exception’.11

Once the Commons had processed the re-enfranchisement of Hertford and three other boroughs the writ was ordered on 4 May, but the sheriff did not issue his precept until 17 May, when the election itself was held at the castle.12 By this time Thomas Fanshawe II, a nearby resident whose uncle was a senior duchy officer, had announced his intention to stand, while the 2nd earl of Salisbury (William Cecil*) put forward his man of business, William Ashton I, for the senior seat. On 15 May Salisbury was approached by lord keeper Williams, who requested a seat for his servant William Wynn*, ‘the nomination whereof (I doubt not but) is very much in your lordship’. Williams added that he had been ‘an earnest suitor to His Majesty for the renewing of this privilege for that town’. However, the earl was unable to oblige, replying that in addition to supporting Ashton, ‘divers of the town … have desired me to give my best furtherance for Mr. Fanshawe, one whom I very well respect’.13 An independent fourth candidate, Richard Willows, also stood, with strong local support; he was a successful lawyer from Cambridgeshire who had married the heiress of Balls Park, just outside the borough, and purchased the Priory manor in 1617.14

Hertford’s first parliamentary election in almost 350 years gave rise to a contest in which separate ballots were held for each seat. On the first Ashton was successful with 103 votes, beating Willows with 58 and Harington with 42, while Fanshawe, who presumably did not intend to contest the senior seat, received 19 stray votes. On the second ballot Fanshawe won, with 101 votes against Willows’ 87; Harington, despite the mayor’s support, finished last with only 48.15 It is possible to infer from the 244 recorded votes, and the tally of approximately 300 houses in both the 1621 survey and the 1641 Poll Tax, that the freemen comprised ‘the large majority of male householders’.16

Ahead of the elections to Charles I’s first Parliament, lord keeper Williams again asked Salisbury for a nomination, but the earl replied that considering the brevity of their service the previous year, it had already been decided that Ashton and Fanshawe should sit again, and both were perfunctorily re-elected in 1625.17 Harington stood once more in 1626, and was this time returned in first place; he may have anticipated another rejection, since he also secured a seat at Portsmouth in Hampshire; but he opted to represent his neighbours. Fanshawe’s brother-in-law, Sir Capell Bedell, took the second seat. In 1627 Hertford castle and manor were sold to Salisbury.18 The latter’s client, Sir Edward Howard II, was returned ‘by the consent of the whole borough’ for the senior seat in 1628. A contest ensued for the second seat. Fanshawe stood, presumably with Salisbury’s approval, but was challenged by a townsman, Gabriel Barbor, the manager of the running lotteries for the Virginia Company, who had purchased the advowson of All Saints and given it to the puritan feoffees for impropriations.19 Unsurprisingly, Fanshawe won in the proportion of three votes out of five.20

A by-election was necessitated by Howard’s elevation to the peerage on 12 Apr. 1628. Salisbury promised the seat to Wynn’s brother Richard*, but Sir Charles Morrison bt. also put himself forward. The arrival of the writ was delayed until, on 7 May, the House ordered that it should be ‘forthwith sent down for an election there to be made’.21 Two days later Morrison was returned, presumably with Salisbury’s support. In August, a month after the session was prorogued, Morrison died, whereupon Algernon, Lord Percy* reminded Salisbury, his father-in-law, of his former promise to (Sir) Richard Wynn. The earl procured a new writ, which was delivered to Wynn in October, although no election was held until the Parliament resumed.22 On 22 Jan. 1629 the Commons, suspecting some irregularity in the way the writ had been obtained, ordered the clerk of the Crown to recover it, and by the Speaker’s authority a new one was issued.23 For reasons that are not clear Wynn at that point discreetly withdrew, and within a week John Carey, Lord Rochford, heir of the 1st earl of Dover, based at Hunsdon six miles east of the borough, was elected unopposed.24

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. HALS, HBR 23/13, 14; D. Hirst, Representative of the People?, 96.
  • 2. E. de Villiers, ‘Parlty. Bors. Restored by the Commons 1621-41’, EHR, lxvii. 180; VCH Herts. iii. 498-500.
  • 3. VCH Herts. iii. 496; L. Turnor, Hist. Hertford, 77-82, 119.
  • 4. VCH Herts. ii. 89-91; iii. 490.
  • 5. Ibid. iii. 502-5; R. Clutterbuck, Herts. ii. 141-144; HMC 14th Rep. VIII, 161.
  • 6. VCH Herts. iii. 493; CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 41.
  • 7. CJ, i. 624a; CD 1621, iv. 360; vi. 164.
  • 8. CJ, i. 643b.
  • 9. DCO, ‘Prince Charles in Spain’, ff. 37v-8; HALS, HBR 23/10.
  • 10. DCO, ‘Prince Charles in Spain’, f. 38v; G.E. Aylmer, King’s Servants, 314-15.
  • 11. DCO, ‘Prince Charles in Spain’, f. 40; P.M. Hunneyball, ‘Prince Charles’s Council as Electoral Agent, 1620-4’, PH, xxiii. 331.
  • 12. CJ, i. 697b; HALS, HBR 23/12.
  • 13. L. Stone, ‘Electoral Influence of the 2nd earl of Salisbury’, EHR, lxxi. 391-3; HMC Hatfield, xxii. 192, 205.
  • 14. VCH Herts. iii. 412, 507; R. Clutterbuck, Herts. ii. 184.
  • 15. HALS, HBR 23/13, 14.
  • 16. Hirst, 96; R. Ruigh, Parl. of 1624, pp. 119-21.
  • 17. HALS, HBR 23/15.
  • 18. Stone, EHR, lxxi. 393.
  • 19. Virginia Mag. of Hist. and Biog. lxxiv. 288; HLRO, Lords parchments, box 4.
  • 20. HALS, HBR 23/17.
  • 21. CD 1628, iii. 300.
  • 22. HMC Hatfield, xxii. 245-6; Procs. 1628, vi. 151.
  • 23. CJ, i. 921a, b.
  • 24. HALS, HBR 23/18, 19.