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 burgage-holders


29 Mar. 1604SIR RICHARD WESTON vice Twyneho, chose to sit for Bishop’s Castle
c. June 1625SAMUEL OWFIELD vice Tichborne, chose to sit for Wootton Bassett

Main Article

The West Sussex market town of Midhurst, situated 11 miles north of Chichester, was an ancient but unincorporated borough, ownership of which was attached to the adjacent manor of Cowdray. It was governed by a bailiff, who was elected by the burgage-holders, seven of whom also enjoyed the right to collect the market tolls and appoint the steward of the borough’s manorial court. The borough first returned Members of Parliament in 1301, but was only consistently represented from 1382. The franchise was held by the burgage-holders, and about a dozen of them, headed by the bailiff, exchanged indentures with the sheriff of Sussex.1

In 1542 the manor of Cowdray was inherited by Sir Anthony Browne†, from whom it passed to his son and namesake, created 1st Viscount Montagu in 1554. Montagu, who died in 1592, and his grandson and heir, the 2nd viscount, were both staunch Catholics. Under their protection the borough constituted by far the strongest Catholic community in Sussex, able to patronize its own recusant schoolmasters, physicians and midwives.2 The viscounts’ faith made it difficult for them to play an active role in public affairs and consequently the Cowdray interest was generally exercised through or by others, principally the family of the 1st viscount’s legal advisor, Sir Richard Lewknor† of West Dean but also Sir Richard Weston*, who was related to the 2nd viscount via the latter’s mother. The 2nd viscount’s unwillingness to intervene directly was no doubt enhanced by his experience in the first Jacobean Parliament, when he was twice imprisoned, first for a defiantly Catholic speech in the Lords in 1604 and then for alleged complicity in the Gunpowder Plot.3

In the initial election to the first Jacobean Parliament the senior seat was taken by Francis Neville, who had married Sir Richard Lewknor’s cousin and was himself described as cousin by Lewknor in the latter’s will.4 The other seat was taken by William Twyneho, a friend of Montagu’s brother-in-law, Robert Sackville*.5 Twyneho, however, chose to sit for Bishop’s Castle, where he had also been returned, and at the ensuing election on 29 Mar. he was replaced by Weston.

By the time of the next election, in 1614, Neville was in poor health. Weston was returned for his native county of Essex, but was undoubtedly responsible for nominating William Courtman, who had witnessed his father’s will.6 Thomas Bowyer, who filled the other seat, perhaps owed his election to his first wife’s great-uncle, Sir Richard Lewknor. Alternatively he may have been recommended by Viscount Montagu’s Sackville kinsmen, as he had shared chambers at the Middle Temple with his cousin Robert Bowyer*, who had been closely connected to Robert Sackville.7

Courtman died in 1615, and Bowyer was returned to the third Jacobean Parliament for Bramber. As Weston was then abroad on diplomatic business, the Lewknors seem to have been able to secure both seats. The first was taken by Richard Lewknor, the eldest son of Sir Richard, who had died in 1616. The second place was filled by John Smith, the renowned steward and biographer of the Berkeleys. It seems likely that Sir Richard Lewknor had known Smith, as both men had worked for the 9th earl of Northumberland and belonged to the Middle Temple, where Richard Lewknor had studied.8 It may also be relevant that Smith supervised a west Sussex property held in jointure by the widow of Sir Thomas Berkeley*. She was a London neighbour of Richard Lewknor’s kinsman, Sir Lewis Lewknor*, who had himself represented Midhurst in 1597.

Smith showed no sign of seeking re-election in 1624, when Sir Anthony Mayney, a Kentish knight, took the first place on the return. He was a close friend of Weston, and acted with him as trustee for Montagu’s daughter Mary on her marriage to William Paulet, Lord St. John, the eldest son of the 4th marquess of Winchester. Lewknor moved down to the junior seat, for which he was re-elected for the next two Parliaments.9

Sir Walter Tichborne, elected to the first Caroline Parliament with Lewknor, was Weston’s first cousin and a Catholic. He chose to sit for Wootton Bassett, where he had also been elected, and under a writ issued on 24 June 1625 was replaced by Samuel Owfield, a Surrey gentleman whose connection with Midhurst is unknown. The latter was returned for Gatton in 1626, and consequently Midhurst elected (Sir) Henry Spiller, an Exchequer official who had previously sat for Arundel at the nomination of Thomas Howard, earl of Arundel. In 1626 Arundel wanted to secure the election of Nicholas Jordan and probably asked his friend Weston, who was chancellor of the Exchequer, to find a seat for Spiller. In 1628 both Spiller and Lewknor were returned as knights of the shire, the former for Middlesex and the latter for Sussex. Richard Lewknor secured the return of his younger brother Christopher, a lawyer. The other Member was Edward Savage, whose cousin, Sir Thomas Savage, had been a friend of Sir Anthony Mayney and, through him, was probably acquainted with Weston.10

Author: Alan Davidson


  • 1. VCH Suss. iv. 75-7; Cowdray Archives ed. A.A. Dibben, i. pp. xviii-xxvi; C219/35/2/81; 219/38/247; 218/39/212; 219/40/102; 219/41B/82.
  • 2. T.J. McCann, ‘Midhurst Catholics and the Protestation Returns of 1642’, Recusant Hist. xvi. 320.
  • 3. LJ, ii. 328-9; CP, ix. 100.
  • 4. PROB 11/127, f. 491v.
  • 5. PROB 11/113, f. 183
  • 6. PROB 11/104, f. 281v.
  • 7. MTR, 461; PROB 11/113, f. 182.
  • 8. J. Smyth, Berkeley Mss ed. J. Maclean, ii. 426, 432-4; Household Pprs. of Henry Percy, Ninth Earl of Northumberland ed. G.R. Batho (Cam. Soc. ser. 3. xciii), 34.
  • 9. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, ii. 306; PROB 11/124, f. 360.
  • 10. C231/4, f. 189v; A.F. Upton, Sir Arthur Ingram, 69; PROB 11/151, f. 131v.