Lichfield

Borough

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 corporation

Number of voters:

29 in 1624

Elections

DateCandidate
1604ANTHONY DYOTT , ?steward
 THOMAS CREWE
1614SIR JOHN EGERTON
 WILLIAM WINGFIELD
May 1614ANTHONY DYOTT , ?steward, vice Egerton, died 27 Apr.
Dec. 1620WILLIAM WINGFIELD
 RICHARD WESTON
22 Jan. 1624(SIR) JOHN SUCKLING
 WILLIAM WINGFIELD
15 Apr. 1624SIR SIMON WESTON , recorder, vice Suckling, chose to sit for Middlesex
1625RICHARD DYOTT , steward
 WILLIAM WINGFIELD
1626RICHARD DYOTT , steward
 WILLIAM WINGFIELD
14 Feb. 1628SIR WILLIAM WALTER
 RICHARD DYOTT , steward

Main Article

Lichfield lies in south-east Staffordshire, between the high ground of Cannock Chase to the west and the Tame valley to the east. The origins of its name are obscure. Once thought to signify ‘a field of corpses’, after the massacre of early Christians by the Romans, a more likely meaning is ‘a common pasture in (or beside) a grey wood’.1 In the mid-seventh century the king of Northumberland, having conquered the Mercians, established a bishopric at Lichfield, and at the end of the eighth century the bishop briefly enjoyed metropolitan authority. Under Saxon rule Lichfield was little more than a village, but in the mid-twelfth century a town was laid out on a ladder plan by the bishop, who became lord of the manor.2 This enlarged settlement was granted a guild to govern its affairs by Richard II in 1387, when he visited Lichfield to attend the enthronement of a new bishop.3 By 1563 there were around 400 households living there,4 whose economic fortunes depended upon agriculture, sheep-farming, leatherworking, textile production, metalworking and the bishop’s Consistory Court, which provided employment and attracted litigants and witnesses in large numbers.5 In April 1612 the Anabaptist Edward Wightman of Burton-on-Trent was burnt in the market square after being tried in the Consistory Court as a heretic. His execution, carried out on the orders of the king, was the last recorded instance of burning at the stake in England.6 During the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries several new trade companies sprang up, but even so, in 1582 Bishop Overton claimed that Lichfield ‘is not the city that it hath been’. One reason for the decline was the nationwide collapse in demand for cloth caps. In 1575 the city’s cappers had brought their plight to the attention of the queen,7 and in 1604 they probably played a part in the unsuccessful agitation to revive legislation requiring the wearing of caps which had been repealed in 1597.8

The balance of power at Lichfield shifted in 1548, when the town guild was abolished and the bishop was compelled to grant his lordship of the town to a new corporation, consisting of two bailiffs and 24 burgesses, established by Edward VI. One bailiff had seniority to the other, and both were elected annually. In October 1553 the corporation established an additional 24-strong common council to assist it. Two months later, as a reward for supporting Mary against the duke of Northumberland, the city was made a county borough and allowed to elect its own sheriff and recorder.9 The bishop initially resented his loss of authority, but in 1598 he surrendered his rights to the queen, who later that year leased the lordship of the manor to the corporation.10 In return, the corporation agreed to present him each year with at least two names from which he would nominate the senior bailiff.11 However, tension remained over the administrative status of the 16-acre cathedral close within the heart of the city. In 1441 the Close had been granted extensive powers of self-government, which had remained unaffected by the charters of 1548 and 1553. Sometime before 1622 the corporation insisted that the Close lay within its jurisdiction. Bishop Thomas Morton naturally disagreed, and in May 1623 the corporation disclaimed all privileges within the Close.12 By way of compensation, perhaps, James granted Lichfield a fresh charter four months later whereby its 24 burgesses were replaced with 21 brethren.13

The corporation’s chief legal adviser was not its recorder but its steward, who was mentioned in the charter of 1553. This had not always been the case, for in 1583 the recorder was Thomas Egerton I†, solicitor-general and later lord chancellor. However, during the early seventeenth century the recorder performed the functions of high steward. By 1606 Egerton had been succeeded by his son (Sir) John Egerton†, who held office until 1622 and was created Earl of Bridgwater in 1617. Unlike his father, Bridgwater was no lawyer; nor was his successor, the exceptionally wealthy Sir Simon Weston. The corporation seems never to have considered conferring the recordership on successive earls of Essex. Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, was Staffordshire’s most prominent peer, whose seat at Drayton Basset lay about six miles east of Lichfield. Essex enjoyed the right to walk with the town bailiffs at an annual fair,14 and it was through his influence that in 1598 the bishop surrendered his manorial rights to the Crown. In return the corporation promised to grant Essex the fee farm of the manor, but it never did so, and in July 1604 it was sharply rebuked by the Privy Council for its negligence. Soon thereafter the corporation bestowed the fee farm upon Essex’s son, the 3rd Earl, who paid £40 annually to the corporation for the privilege.15 The latter stayed in Lichfield in November 1614 when, as lord lieutenant, he held musters for Staffordshire.16

In 1547 Lichfield recovered a long forgotten right to return Members to Parliament. The precise nature of the franchise is uncertain, and parliamentary indentures are unhelpful: those of 1614, 1625 and 1626 are no longer extant, while the returns for 1604, 1620 and January 1624 are so damaged as to be illegible.17 However, indentures for April 1624 and February 1628 do survive, and these omit any mention of the borough’s ordinary freemen. It seems likely that the franchise resided exclusively in the corporation, which seems to have included municipal officers like the town clerk, Michael Noble†, whose name appears on the 1628 indenture.18 The real question is whether the assistants to the corporation appointed in 1553 were also entitled to vote. The return for April 1624 suggests that they were as, apart from the Steward, Richard Dyott, 28 individuals signed the indenture with the sheriff, of whom only 23 at the most can have been bailiffs or brethren.19 The indentures for April 1624 and February 1628 differ slightly in layout. In the former, all individuals named as parties to the return signed their names, but in the latter more than 18 signatures appear although only 12 men were named in the text.20 This variation may suggest that in 1628 a conscious effort was made to distinguish between different sorts of voters, but it is more likely that it simply reflects differences in the physical form of the returns. In 1624 the indenture took the form of an L-shaped piece of parchment, which afforded plenty of space for signatures, whereas the rectangular design adopted in 1628 restricted the available space for signing.21

None of the elections during this period are known to have been contested, although controversy evidently surrounded Anthony Dyott’s return at a by-election in May 1614, as the House ordered that his election should stand.22 Towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign a habit of returning the borough steward appears to have developed. Richard Broughton, who was certainly steward in 1583, was returned in 1586, 1588 and 1593, and in 1601 and 1604 the lawyer Anthony Dyott occupied the senior seat. There is no evidence that Dyott was Broughton’s successor as steward, except that he was the lawyer who advised the corporation when it attempted to gain control of the cathedral close. Dyott was passed over for a seat at the general elections of 1614 and 1621, although he was returned at a by-election in May 1614. Dyott died in 1622 whereupon the stewardship passed to his son, Richard. The latter did not come in for Lichfield until 1625, however, because he preferred to be returned for Stafford, where he was recorder. Thereafter Dyott continued to represent Lichfield, although in 1628 he had to settle for the junior place. Both Dyotts were resident in Lichfield, as was Sir Simon Weston, the recorder, who came in at a second 1624 election. The only Parliament in which no resident represented Lichfield was that of 1621, although the junior member, Richard Weston, lived about six miles to the north-west at Rugeley.

At the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign the bishop had exercised limited electoral influence at Lichfield, but this was replaced by the 2nd earl of Essex. Following Essex’s execution in 1601 the Devereux interest temporarily disappeared, leaving a vacuum that was filled by lord chancellor Ellesmere, the former recorder, whose son now held the recordership. In 1604 the junior seat was occupied by Thomas Crewe, the brother of Ellesmere’s client Ranulphe Crewe, and at the general election in 1614 the senior seat was conferred on Sir John Egerton, Ellesmere’s distant cousin, whose extensive estates straddled the Staffordshire/Cheshire border. Egerton influence over Lichfield’s parliamentary elections seems to have ended on Ellesmere’s death in 1617, by which time Essex’s son had attained his majority. The revival of the Devereux interest was signalled by the return of the earl’s estate steward, William Wingfield, who was awarded the senior seat in 1621. Wingfield also sat in the next three successive parliaments, though he was relegated to the junior position, and in 1628 he was replaced by his friend Sir William Walter, who may have had a kinsman on the corporation. Another Lichfield Member connected with Essex was the recorder, Sir Simon Weston, a trustee of the earl’s estates in 1620-1. It is unclear how the comptroller of the Household, Sir John Suckling, came to be elected for Lichfield in 1624, as he had no known links with Staffordshire, but an Essex connection cannot be ruled out.

Lichfield is not known to have preferred any legislation during this period, although the cappers’ bill of 1604 may have been supported by many of the town’s tradesmen. In 1621 and 1626 the bishop introduced unsuccessful bills to annex the prebend of Freeford, which lay a few miles south-east of the city, to the vicarage of St. Mary’s, Lichfield, with a view to better provision for the vicar.23

Author: Andrew Thrush

Notes

  • 1. T. Harwood, Hist. and Antiqs. of Lichfield, 2; VCH Staffs. xiv. 37-8.
  • 2. VCH Staffs. xiv. 5-6, 9, 67.
  • 3. N. Saul, Richard II, 171; Harwood, 311.
  • 4. VCH Staffs. xiv. 39.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1635, pp. 454-5.
  • 6. Harwood, 304-5; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 123; Bodl. Ashmole 1521.
  • 7. VCH Staffs. xiv. 16, 121.
  • 8. NLS, Adv. ms 34.2.15, f. 71, petition addressed to Sir Edward Hoby, Member for Rochester. For the bill, see CJ, i. 161b, 189a.
  • 9. Harwood, 311, 335, 337, 342.
  • 10. Harwood, 336, 338.
  • 11. Lichfield RO, D77/10/1.
  • 12. Lichfield RO, D30/8/2, 5; VCH Staffs. xiv. 84.
  • 13. Harwood, 344.
  • 14. P.E.J. Ham