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:



 ?Sir Edwin Sandys*

Main Article

Though challenged for pre-eminence in east Kent by Canterbury,1 Maidstone remained the official county town of Kent. A royal manor, it was also the county’s principal market town,2 and both quarter sessions and parliamentary elections were held at nearby Penenden Heath. Between 1422 and 1549 it was governed by a portreeve and 24 citizens; thereafter its affairs were controlled by a corporation comprising all the freemen, including 12 jurats, one of whom was annually elected mayor.3 In 1559 the town obtained the right to return two burgesses to Parliament.4 A further charter granted in December 1604 primarily aimed to remove ‘certain doubts, questions and ambiguities’ concerning the legal validity of the 1549 incorporation.5 However, in 1610 the duke of Lennox, as chairman of the county bench, ordered the west Kent quarter sessions to meet at Rochester, as it was unclear from the 1604 charter whether the county’s magistrates had authority to sit at Maidstone. His decision caused such uproar that the quarter sessions soon reverted to Maidstone, although Rochester continued to host occasional meetings.6

Lennox was not alone in exposing the weaknesses of the 1604 charter. As early as 1605 the corporation tacitly admitted its shortcomings when it limited the number of freemen sitting at ‘burghmotes’ to 40. Senior corporation members had become concerned that many of those who attended meetings were ‘of the meanest and unfittest’ sort, but their unilateral creation of a select band of freemen angered the commonalty, and in 1610 the number eligible to attend was raised to 50.7 A further inadequacy of the 1604 charter was exposed in 1619, when some of the town’s gentry who were not freemen instituted quo warranto proceedings after the corporation attempted to force them to undertake civic office. So determined was the corporation to win this dispute, however, that it sold the lead from its waterpipes to pay the legal costs, borrowed £160 to pay for a fresh charter, and bestowed £200 on the Howard crony Sir John Townsend* to intervene on their behalf.8 The new charter, granted in July 1619, authorized the appointment of non-freemen as jurats provided they were inhabitants, but many of the town’s gentry not only continued to refuse to serve but declined to fine as well.9 The 1619 charter also angered the magistrates of west Kent, as it prevented them from exercising their authority in the town. Faced with the renewed threat that the sessions would be shifted to Rochester, the corporation capitulated, obtaining a supplementary charter in 1621.10

Maidstone’s economy was heavily dependent upon the weaving industry, which had been introduced to the town in the 1570s by Dutch refugees and replaced the cloth trade, which had virtually disappeared owing to depression and increased competition from London. Flax grown in mid-Kent was dressed by the town’s weavers, who turned it into thread.11 In 1629 the corporation acknowledged that ‘threadtwisting’ had ‘grown to be a great trade’ in the town, and by 1634 as many as 50 families may have been thus employed.12 Maidstone also boasted the second largest grain market in Kent, after Gravesend. Grain, and a ready supply of local hops and fresh water, provided the essential ingredients for a thriving brewing industry, and during the Jacobean period Maidstone produced numerous wholesale brewers, including Thomas Stanley, who represented the town in Parliament in 1625.13 The town also benefited from a plentiful supply of fuller’s earth, used to clean cloth, at nearby Boxley. During the 1590s the Medway was ‘continually frequented with hoys, lighters and other boats’ employed in shipping away this valuable commodity. At least one Maidstone inhabitant was closely connected with the Boxley mine.14

Maidstone was the scene of an extraordinary public protest against unparliamentary taxation on 28 Sept. 1614. At a gathering of the local gentry to discuss the king’s request for a benevolence, Josias Nichols, a minister formerly deprived for nonconformity, proposed that a petition be drafted to know the reason for the levy, as ‘it had been the ancient custom of this land to supply the wants of their kings by Parliament, which they held to be the freehold of the subject’. For his impudence, Nichols, who also remarked upon ‘the danger of this precedent’,15 was arraigned before the Council and detained for several months.16 The impact of Nichols’s protest is difficult to gauge, but Maidstone, which had previously resolved to contribute not less than £100 ‘if it may conveniently be received’, collected only £56, substantially less than the £70 6s. contributed to the Benevolence of 1622 or the £81 10s. 8d. paid for a single subsidy in 1625.17

Although Maidstone’s first parliamentary representatives were its recorder and ex-recorder, it generally returned members of the local gentry. Sir Francis Fane (1604, 1614, 1621) was seated at Mereworth Castle, seven miles from Maidstone, while his brother Sir George (1624, 1626, 1628), resided five miles south-west of the town at Hunton. Sir Francis Barnham (1621, 1624, 1626, 1628) lived at Boughton Monchelsea, four miles away, and also owned property in the town, as did Laurence Washington (1604). Sir John Scott (1614) dwelt at Nettlestead, five miles south of Maidstone, and was related to Washington by marriage. Only two Maidstone Members were not drawn from the gentry: the townsmen Edward Maplesden and Thomas Stanley, both of whom sat in 1625. The decision to return Maplesden and Stanley was taken by the mayor, Ambrose Beale, who resented the former Member Sir Francis Barnham because, as a deputy lieutenant, Barnham had tried to force Beale to attend musters or provide arms. Beale’s revenge was calculated: he warned Sir George Fane that he would thwart Barnham at the hustings ‘if there were but ten voices’ against him, and apologized that this meant that Fane himself would not be re-elected. Fane objected to being wounded ‘through the sides of my friend’, and cautioned Beale that ‘in seeking thus unduly to right himself, he did not disadvantage himself and be required to amend his indenture by the kneeling at the bar [of the House of Commons]’. Beale, however, ‘cared not what he suffered’.18 His determination created an opening for Sir Edwin Sandys, who had been defeated on 2 May at the county election, a humiliation witnessed by ‘a great multitude of the townsmen of the town of Maidstone’.19 The very next day Sandys qualified himself for the borough’s forthcoming parliamentary election by getting himself sworn a freeman in the recorder’s lodgings.20 However, on 4 May he was returned for Penryn, and consequently may not have stood at Maidstone, which held its election on 7 May in the school house. There Beale nominated Maplesden and Stanley, who were returned on an unsigned indenture.21 Fane subsequently complained to the committee for privileges, but owing to the shortness of the 1625 Parliament no action was taken against Beale. However, in 1626 Barnham exacted his revenge by having Beale imprisoned for the contempt he had shown towards his militia duties.22

Maidstone appears to have left its parliamentary representatives free to pursue their own interests in the Commons. Though Sir George Fane was named to the committee for the Medway navigation bill in 1628,23 there is little evidence that Maidstone’s corporation took much notice of this measure, as the Medway was theoretically already navigable as far as Yalding. Fane’s interest in this bill, which was probably sponsored by the government as it offered a cheaper and quicker way of transporting iron and timber to the Chatham naval yard, was altogether more personal, as he stood to gain from an improved transport system for his timber if the river between Tonbridge and Yalding was improved.24

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. P. Clark, Eng. Prov. Soc. 311.
  • 2. LR2/219, f. 63; P. Clark and L. Murfin, Hist. Maidstone, 44.
  • 3. J.M. Russell, Hist. Maidstone, 184.
  • 4. Maidstone Recs. i, 8-9.
  • 5. Ibid. 10. The charter is mis-dated 1603 by the compiler, an error reproduced in W. Roberts James, Charters of Maidstone, 66-86.
  • 6. Clark, 342, 470-1.
  • 7. Maidstone Recs. 60, 65.
  • 8. Ibid. 74; CD 1621, v. 320.
  • 9. Ibid. 10, 78. One even quit his lodging in protest: APC, 1623-5, pp. 21, 228, 233.
  • 10. Clark and Murfin, 58-9; Cent. Kent. Stud. U274/01.
  • 11. Clark, 301.
  • 12. Maidstone Recs. 97; W. Newton, Hist. and Antiqs. of Maidstone (1741), 100-1; Clark and Murfin, 44-5, 48.
  • 13. Clark and Murfin, 45, 48.
  • 14. Ibid. 47; APC, 1621-3, p. 313. The mine was famous in the mid-18th cent.: Newton, 103. Shipments of fuller’s earth leaving Rochester in the early 17th cent. probably originated at Boxley: E190/648/11, unfol.; 190/649/20, unfol.
  • 15. Staffs. RO, D593/S/14/60/1; Oxford DNB sub Josias Nichols.
  • 16. Add. 34218, f. 148v; APC, 1613-14, p. 576; 1614-15, p. 52.
  • 17. E351/1950, unfol.; SP14/156/15; E179/127/601, m. 5.
  • 18. Surr. Hist. Cent. LM cor.4/51.
  • 19. J.R. Scott, Scott, of Scot’s Hall, p. xxvii.
  • 20. Maidstone Recs. 85.
  • 21. Ibid. 86; C219/39/119.
  • 22. APC, 1625-6, pp. 418, 433, 448-9.
  • 23. CJ, i. 895b.
  • 24. C.W. Chalklin, ‘Navigation Schemes on the Upper Medway’, Jnl. of Transport Hist. v. 110-11.