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:

126 in 16281


 ?Edward Grimston
 ROBERT SNELLING , alderman2
27 Apr. 1614WILLIAM CAGE , alderman vice Bacon, chose to sit for Cambridge University3
6 Dec. 16204ROBERT SNELLING , alderman
 WILLIAM CAGE , alderman
29 Jan. 16245ROBERT SNELLING , alderman
 WILLIAM CAGE , alderman
20 Apr. 16256ROBERT SNELLING , alderman
 WILLIAM CAGE , alderman
12 Jan. 16267ROBERT SNELLING , alderman
 WILLIAM CAGE , alderman
3 Mar. 16288WILLIAM CAGE , alderman

Main Article

Situated at the head of the Orwell estuary in east Suffolk, with a population estimated at about 4,300 in 1603, Ipswich was the most important shipbuilding centre in the country after London. It was estimated in 1625 that there had been an annual average of 12 launchings for the past 30 years. A head port with resident customs and Admiralty officials, Ipswich played an important part in the Newcastle coal trade, with 50 colliers of between 200 and 300 tons burthen plying regularly between Tyne and Thames around six times a year.9 In 1621 the Ipswich Member Robert Snelling promoted a navigation bill to compel merchants to use English shipping, and in that same year Snelling’s colleague, William Cage, presented the Shipwright Company’s patent as a grievance. However, a report that the ship owners of Ipswich had promoted a bill to dissolve the latter Company seems to have been unfounded.10

Although not itself a major centre for textile production (apart from sailcloth), about one-sixth of the Eastland Company’s exports of Suffolk broadcloth were shipped from Ipswich to the Baltic and Scandinavia. However, in the early seventeenth century this trade was in long-term decline, so that the corporation was obliged to explore alternative forms of commerce. In 1605 it applied to the lord treasurer for permission to establish a staple for the re-export of grain from the Baltic. Eleven years later it sponsored a project to establish a sugar refinery, and in the early 1620s the permission of the royal favourite, the marquess of Buckingham, was sought to establish a staple, this time of ‘of all manner of East [i.e. Baltic] commodities’.11 Neither these proposals, nor the 1621 navigation bill, which included a provision to allow merchants to re-export grain, came to anything.12

Ipswich’s corporation resented interference from the county magistrates, despite the fact that the borough did not enjoy separate county status, and in 1615 it protested that the town lay outside the jurisdiction of the Suffolk deputy lieutenants.13 Nevertheless, the borough was a significant social and administrative centre, since it was one of the four sessions towns in Suffolk and the usual site for county elections. In addition the registrar and the commissary of the archdeaconry of Suffolk were based in Ipswich.14 The presence of these ecclesiastical officials did not prevent the borough from becoming a major centre for puritanism: there appears to have been a separatist congregation in the early part of the period, and in one parish in 1615 the churchwardens had to be ordered to make provision for communion to be received kneeling. The late Elizabethan town preacher, John Burges, was a notorious nonconformist. In 1605 the corporation appointed Samuel Ward, at a salary of £73 6s. 8d., subsequently increased to £100. Ward was imprisoned in the early 1620s for designing an anti-Spanish engraving, but he was probably more moderate than Burges, as charges of nonconformity were smoothed over by lord keeper Williams in 1622, and the Court of High Commission did not condemn him until the changed circumstances of the 1630s. The leaders of the corporation almost certainly shared Ward’s hispanophobia, expending 24lb of gunpowder in firing the town’s guns to celebrate the return of the still unwed Prince Charles from Spain in 1623. The grammar school had received a royal charter in 1566, and Ipswich was one of the first English towns to establish a public library, open to all the freemen. The corporation made efficient, if conventional, provision for the poor in Christ’s Hospital and elsewhere, and instituted a water supply for household purposes in 1614.15

The town’s first charter dates from 1200, although the borough was not incorporated until 1446. Municipal government was headed by two annually elected bailiffs, who were usually chosen from among the 12 ‘portmen’ or aldermen. The bailiffs and four other senior portmen served as the borough’s magistrates and deputy lieutenants. The portmen, together with 24 common councilmen, formed the ‘Assembly’. Before the Civil War control was exercised by a closely linked oligarchy, ‘generally recommended for the orderly government of that town’, as a report of a committee of the Privy Council stated in 1620. Opposition to the oligarchy found expression in an attempt by the small tradesmen and artisans to organize themselves into a Clothworkers and Tailors’ Company. They obtained a charter in 1606, but King’s Bench did not approve their restrictions on entry into the trade and the Company was dissolved by order of the assize justices in 1620. The borough was represented in Parliament from at least 1298. Elections took place at the ‘General Court’, consisting of all the freemen of the borough, although the Assembly, which in this period dominated the General Court, nominated the candidates. The bailiffs made the return, which was usually dated a few days after the election. In 1626, however, eight days elapsed between the election and the dating of the indenture.16

During the Elizabethan period the borough had striven to maintain its electoral independence, but with mixed results, and by the 1590s one seat had fallen under the control of the high steward, who, by 1601, was lord treasurer Buckhurst (Thomas Sackville†). In that year Buckhurst nominated (Sir) Francis Bacon, while the other seat went to (Sir) Michael Stanhope, a Suffolk courtier closely connected to the Cecils.17

In 1604 Buckhurst, shortly to become 1st earl of Dorset, nominated both his son-in-law Sir Henry Glemham, a Suffolk knight, and Bacon. The corporation responded by agreeing to accept Glemham, so long as he took the freedom, but complained that it had already been approached by Stanhope for a seat. Buckhurst was therefore asked to mediate between Stanhope and Bacon. The corporation presumably also hoped that Buckhurst would come to an agreement with Stanhope’s patron, Lord Cecil (Robert Cecil†). In the event Stanhope was returned for Orford, but there may still have been opposition to Bacon, as on 24 Feb. Edward Grimston, whose father had represented the borough under Elizabeth, was made free with Glemham. Nevertheless, Glemham and Bacon were elected on 3 March.18

On 6 Feb. a proposed bill to regulate the taking of lodgers, probably intended to assist the corporation’s attempts to restrict the numbers of poor migrants, was read at the Assembly. The measure was referred to the borough’s law officers for redrafting, in addition it was agreed to raise £100 to cover the costs of promoting it in the forthcoming Parliament. The bill clearly had considerable support among the rulers of Ipswich as on 9 Mar. various members of the Assembly offered to lend money to cover costs until the £100 was raised. However, on 4 Apr. the town clerk, who had been sent to Westminster to lobby for the measure, and had presumably consulted sympathetic members, reported that it was not thought suitable to proceed with and the bill was abandoned before it had even received a first reading.19

Dorset died in 1608 and his successor as high steward, Thomas Howard, 1st earl of Suffolk, played no known part in Ipswich elections.20 In 1614 Glemham was returned for Aldeburgh. The Assembly seems to have hoped to return two of their number, but they received a letter from Bacon, by now attorney-general, who requested re-election. The Assembly agreed on 22 Feb. to nominate Bacon to the General Court, along with a townsman, and on 17 Mar. Bacon was duly returned with Robert Snelling, an Eastland merchant and portman, by a court consisting of 89 freemen. Bacon, however, had also been returned for Cambridge University, and was willing to waive his Ipswich seat, thereby enabling the borough to elect another portman, the attorney William Cage. Snelling was serving as bailiff when he was returned, and consequently was not eligible to sit. In theory there was no difference between his case and that of the bailiff of Ludlow, Robert Berry, who was ejected from the House on 14 Apr. for contravening the rule against mayors and bailiffs returning themselves. However, although the House was aware that Berry was by no means alone in his offence, there were no further expulsions. Thereafter Snelling and Cage were re-elected to every subsequent Parliament until they died.21

In the Parliaments of the 1620s Snelling and Cage worked closely together to advance the economic interests of their constituency. In 1621, for instance, they combined to attack the lighthouse patentees.22 That same year, and again in 1624, Snelling attacked patents restricting the coal trade, a theme Cage took up in 1628.23 Moreover, Snelling attacked the Muscovy Company’s monopoly of the whale fisheries in 1624, the subject of Cage’s attacks in 1628.24

By late 1625 the Ipswich shipping industry was being adversely affected by war, particularly the depredations of the Spanish privateers operating from Dunkirk.25 Edmund Day, the borough’s senior Member in the third Caroline Parliament, may have had an interest in an Ipswich privateer, the Heart’s Desire, which was commanded by his son in 1628, but in general the port’s participation in English privateering was intermittent and small scale, and consequently of limited benefit to the local economy.26 In the 1626 Parliament Cage complained that ‘there is no fleet at sea to defend the coasts’.27 In the aftermath of the Parliament it was reported that Ipswich’s preacher, Samuel Ward, had attacked Buckingham, the lord admiral, by saying that ‘the breaking of the Parliament was done by a great person’, whom God would cut off in his time. Ward naturally hastened to deny having uttered these words.28 In the same year the corporation gave a gift of wine to Buckingham’s opponent, Archbishop Abbot.29 Nevertheless, in early 1628 the 2nd earl of Suffolk (Theophilus Howard, Lord Howard de Walden*), described the borough as ‘conformable and ready to do His Majesty service on all occasions’.30

After five successive parliaments, the partnership of Snelling and Cage was broken by the death of the former in 1627, leaving Cage the dominant political force in Ipswich. Bells were rung in the town on the summoning of Parliament in 1628, and at the ensuing election, attended by 126 freemen, the vacant seat was taken by Edmund Day, the senior member of the town’s common council and in all likelihood a Forced Loan refuser.31 Cage and Snelling were paid wages by the corporation for their parliamentary services. Both men received £50 for the 1621 Parliament and £30 for the 1624 Parliament, although Snelling’s widow was still receiving money for her late husband’s services in 1632.32

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Suff. RO (Ipswich), C/2/2/2/1, f. 218.
  • 2. N. Bacon, Annalls of Ipswche ed. W.H. Richardson, 454.
  • 3. Ibid. 455.
  • 4. Ibid. 475. The return is dated 11 Dec.: OR.
  • 5. Bacon, 482. The return is dated 31 Jan.: OR.
  • 6. Bacon, 484. The return is dated 21 Apr.: OR.
  • 7. Suff. RO (Ipswich), C/2/2/3/2, f. 209, misdated to 11 Jan. in Bacon, 486. The return is dated 20 Jan.: OR.
  • 8. Suff. RO (Ipswich), C/2/2/3/2, f. 218, misdated to 1 Feb. in Bacon, 490.
  • 9. M. Reed, ‘Economic Structure and Change in Seventeenth-century Ipswich’, Country Towns in Pre-Industrial England ed. P. Clark, 92, 97, 104-5; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 415.
  • 10. CD 1621, vii. 267-9; HMC Cowper, i. 111; CJ, i. 563b.
  • 11. Reed, 104, 107, 125.
  • 12. CD 1621, vii. 267-9.
  • 13. Add. 39245, f. 27.
  • 14. Reed, 92, 96-7.
  • 15. Reed, 92, 96, 124; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 314; Bacon, 424; Oxford DNB sub Burges, John; Ward, Samuel; Suff. RO (Ipswich), C/3/2/1/2, f. 317v.
  • 16. Ipswich Bor. Archives, pp. xvii, xxvii; Reed, 89-1, 122; Add. 39245, f. 10v; APC, 1619-21, pp. 122, 147-8, 208; Coke, 11th Rep. 53; C219/40/179.
  • 17. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 248-9.
  • 18. HMC 9th Rep. pt. 1, p. 253; Bacon, 417.
  • 19. Suff. RO (Ipswich), C/4/3/1/3, ff. 165, 168-9; Bacon, 418; Reed, 121.
  • 20. Bacon, 436.
  • 21. Suff. RO (Ipswich), C/4/3/1/4, f. 123v; C/2/2/3/2, f. 77.
  • 22. CJ, i. 573b, 611a.
  • 23. Ibid. 609a; 794b; CD 1628, iii. 453.
  • 24. ‘Spring 1624’, p. 40; CD 1628, iv. 474.
  • 25. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 415; APC, 1626, pp. 140-1.
  • 26. J.C. Appleby, ‘Eng. Privateering during the Spanish and French Wars, 1625-30’ (Hull Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1983), p. 211.
  • 27. Procs. 1626, ii. 204.
  • 28. CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 399, 458.
  • 29. Suff. RO (Ipswich), C/3/2/1/2, f. 329v.
  • 30. APC, 1627-8, p. 295.
  • 31. Harl. 378, f. 29v; D. Hirst, Representative of the People?, 49; Suff. RO (Ipswich), C/2/2/3/2, f. 218; APC, 1627, p. 48; ‘Extracts from the Churchwardens’ Bks. of St. Clement Ipswich’, East Anglian, n.s. iii. 356.
  • 32. Suff. RO (Ipswich), C/4/3/1/5, ff. 30, 64-v; Bacon, 501.