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:

44 in 16241


c. Mar. 1604RICHARD HURT , alderman
 ANKER JACKSON , alderman
 Robert Pierrepont†
c. Mar. 1614WILLIAM GREGORY , town clerk
 ROBERT STAPLES , alderman
26 Jan. 1624JOHN BYRON
c. Jan. 1626SIR GERVASE CLIFTON , bt.

Main Article

Situated in south Nottinghamshire, a mile north of the river Trent, Nottingham was dominated by its castle perched on a rock.2 During the late Elizabethan period the borough grew rapidly, so that by the beginning of the seventeenth century it was a medium-sized town of about 3,500 people, but thereafter successive outbreaks of plague served to halt the population increase.3 The mainstay of the local economy was the leather trade which, though in decline, nevertheless employed the largest proportion of the town’s workforce in 1625. Nottingham was also a major centre for the coal trade, which was shipped up the Trent to the ports on the Humber. This trade was dominated by the local gentry, many of whom had houses in the borough, including Sir John Holles* and Sir Thomas Hutchinson*. The decline in the leather industry, coupled with the economic importance of the gentry, may explain the difficulties the town faced in maintaining its electoral independence in this period.4

Early seventeenth-century Nottingham was governed in accordance with the charter granted in 1448, which established the town as a county borough. Under this charter, Nottingham was governed by a council or ‘hall’ composed of the mayor, six other aldermen and several select ‘burgesses’. Officials were originally chosen by the freemen, but these rights had been engrossed by the council. There was, however, a significant broadening of the governing body during the early Jacobean period. Since 1577 the hall had consisted of seven aldermen and 12 common councilmen, all of whom were of the ‘clothing’ (previous officeholders). In 1606, however, after a protracted dispute, the number was expanded from 19 to 31, and was henceforth to include six ordinary freemen not of the clothing, who were to be chosen by the commonalty.5

Nottingham was first represented in Parliament in 1295.6 As a county borough it had its own sheriffs, who conducted the parliamentary elections, which were held at the county court, in the guildhall. The returns were made between the sheriffs and the freemen, of whom there were 516 in 1625. Under Elizabeth only members of the corporation participated in elections. However, in 1624, as is clear from the return, elements outside the hall played a part in the formal election. Forty-four freemen were party to the indenture, of whom just over one-third are identifiable as members of the governing body or as past officeholders. The others were evidently ordinary freemen, plus a few eminent men closely associated with the corporation but not actually part of it. Two men who fell into this latter category were the archdeaconry official Michael Purefoy and the lawyer John Martyn, both of whom represented the town in Parliament on other occasions.

The participation of ordinary freemen in the electoral process in the early Stuart period does not mean that they had much power to affect the outcome. Normally the hall seems to have sewn up elections in advance by itself. The corporation records include a list of the ‘suitors’ for election in 1624, presumably those who had applied to the Hall for a seat. The Hall seems to have selected two men from the list, who were then presented to a general meeting of the freemen for formal election. In 1620 a meeting of the Hall took place three days before the date of the return, at which it was decided to open up the election to outsiders. A similar meeting was also recorded in 1625, when it was decided to restrict the election to townsmen. These gatherings show that the Hall did discuss elections on its own, and make decisions concerning their outcome. Although only the 1628 Members were recorded as having been approved by the Hall before their election, it therefore seems likely that it was the normal practice for the Hall to present two nominees to a general meeting of the freemen for formal election.7

During the early Elizabethan period the earls of Rutland, the traditional custodians of Nottingham castle, were usually able to secure one seat for their own candidate. However, the influence of the Manners family lapsed with the death of the 4th earl in 1588. The 5th earl, Roger Manners, seems to have been unable or unwilling to influence the borough, even after he came of age, despite being appointed constable of Nottingham castle in 1600. Moreover, his brother, who succeeded him as both earl and constable in 1612, was a recusant.8 The obvious candidate to fill the void created by the absence of a Manners interest was Gilbert Talbot†, 7th earl of Shrewsbury, a powerful figure in the Midlands, who made Worksop manor in Nottinghamshire his principal seat. In July 1603 Shrewsbury secured the election of his brother-in-law, (Sir) Henry Pierrepont†, as recorder of Nottingham, despite the latter’s lack of legal qualifications. However Shrewsbury was unable to persuade the borough to return Pierrepont’s son, Robert†, to Parliament in 1604. Instead, the borough elected two aldermen, Richard Hurt and Anker Jackson, both of whom were mercers and former mayors. Hurt was the more senior figure, having been elected mayor three years earlier than Jackson, and consequently was named first in the return, although Jackson had previously sat for the borough in 1597.9

The corporation may have subsequently regretted its rebuff to Shrewsbury, for not long after the 1604 election its dispute with the freemen over the size of the Hall was referred to the Privy Council, of which Shrewsbury was a member. To rectify the situation, Shrewsbury was appointed high steward of the borough in January 1606, the only occasion when this position was filled during this period. Another reason the corporation may have regretted its decision to elect townsmen was that it fell into dispute with Hurt and Jackson over the payment of parliamentary wages for the first session. In January 1606 it reluctantly agreed to pay up after Hurt and Jackson initiated legal proceedings against the borough sheriffs. For the rest of the Parliament the corporation made no difficulty about paying parliamentary wages.

There is no evidence that Shrewsbury sought to influence the election for the Addled Parliament. Instead, the borough returned its town clerk, William Gregory, the son of an alderman, and Alderman Robert Staples, a cordwainer. Having previously sat in 1601 Gregory was returned first. Two months after the Parliament ended, on 8 Aug. 1614, the corporation ordered that Robert Staples be paid £3, which sum was issued three days later. His colleague, William Gregory, received £3 12s., but it is not clear how long he had to wait nor why his payment was larger.10

On the death of Sir Henry Pierrepont in 1616 the corporation agreed to appoint a qualified barrister as his successor. It therefore elected William Fletcher, a bencher of the Inner Temple, who defeated Sir Philip Stanhope, a major Nottinghamshire landowner and father of Henry Stanhope*, by 35 votes to 9. Fletcher served as the borough’s recorder until 1642 but appears to have shown no desire to be elected to Parliament.11 Pierrepont’s death occurred in the same year as that of the earl of Shrewsbury, whose estates were divided between his three daughters, the wives of William Herbert, 3rd earl of Pembroke, Thomas Howard, 14th earl of Arundel, and Sir Henry Grey*. In the first instance it seems to have been Pembroke, who had married the eldest daughter, who acquired the bulk of the Talbot political influence, which he sought to use in the elections for the 1621 parliament. In November 1620 Pembroke and his agent George Lassells approached the corporation of East Retford, where Shrewsbury had been high steward, for a seat. They were apparently rebuffed, but Lassells was subsequently successful at Nottingham, presumably with Pembroke’s backing.12

Pembroke succeeded in 1620 where Shrewsbury had failed in 1604 because the corporation decided, on 1 Dec., to abandon its practice of electing only townsmen. As indicated above, the reason for this change was financial, ‘for the easing of the towns charges’, as outsiders would not expect to be paid for their service. However, it was not uncontroversial, for of the 26 members of the hall present on the 1st, six wanted to elect two townsmen and three wanted one townsman and one outsider.13

A note in the corporation minutes indicates that there were five candidates who ‘stand to be burgesses of the Parliament’. This list is not dated and in itself it does not mean that the election was contested. On the contrary, it may simply be a list of those strangers who had approached the corporation for a seat. None of the candidates were drawn from the top of Nottinghamshire’s hierarchy, possibly because the leading figures of the county did not wish to risk the disgrace which a rebuff would bring. In addition to Lassells, the candidates were ‘Mr. Wood, Mr. Purefoy, Mr. Zouche and Mr. Bowne’.14 Aside from that of Michael Purefoy, the other successful candidate, the identity of these men is uncertain. Bowne was probably Gilbert Boune, a Lincoln’s Inn barrister from Nottinghamshire whose grandfather sat for Nottingham in 1558 and who himself represented the borough in April 1640.15 Wood was probably John Wood of Lambley in Nottinghamshire, a member of the county bench and commissioner of musters, or one of his numerous brothers.16 Zouche may have been John Zouche of Codnor in Derbyshire, which is situated close to the border with Nottinghamshire.17

Although Purefoy was elected as a ‘stranger’, he was in fact a resident of Nottingham, where he was the judge of the Archdeaconary Court. His election may have been the result of faction fighting on the corporation between puritans and their enemies. In 1617 a group of Nottingham residents, including the mayor, Thomas Nix, a friend of Purefoy’s, were prosecuted in Star Chamber for spreading libels alleging that Anker Jackson and some other Nottingham inhabitants attended conventicles and engaged in other puritan practices. Jackson and his co-defendants were in turn alleged to have themselves libelled Purefoy. In 1620 Star Chamber ordered the removal of Nix from the corporation, which occurred on 4 September. According to the official minutes, the town council was delighted with this outcome, as there had been ‘much disliking of Master Nix’s carriage, as well in the time of mayoralty as since’. However, Jackson had only recently been re-elected mayor and the official record may actually represent his view, and that of his friends, than the opinion of the rest of the council. The election of Purefoy to Parliament three months later suggests that Jackson’s control of the corporation was far from complete and perhaps represents the revenge of Nix and his allies.18

In 1624 the Nottingham corporation records contain a note of the names of ten ‘suitors for the burgesses places’, but there is no evidence that those mentioned did anything more than express an interest in representing the borough.19 Lassells and Boune were the only candidates from 1620 who sought re-election in 1624, but were both rejected. The other candidates included John Darcy, the 22-year-old son of John, 3rd Lord Darcy, a south Yorkshire peer who was a friend of the Nottinghamshire magnate Sir Gervase Clifton. It seems likely that Clifton was behind Darcy’s nomination, as he subsequently nominated Darcy for East Retford the following April.20 Of the other candidates, Henry Willoughby was a younger son of Sir Percival Willoughby* of Wollaton, three miles west of Nottingham. Sir Percival had sat for Nottinghamshire in 1604 but was repeatedly outlawed for debt in the early 1620s. Edward Ayscough was probably the son of Sir Roger Ayscough of Nuthall, Nottinghamshire, although he may instead have been a Lincolnshire namesake. Either way, Ayscough probably did not contest the Nottingham election, for a man of this name was returned for Stanford six days earlier.21 ‘Mr. Teverey’ was almost certainly Gervase Teverey of Stapleford, six miles west of Nottingham, who was a member of the Nottinghamshire bench.22 Sir George Chaworth was a more prominent member of the Nottinghamshire bench who sat for the county in 1621. He too probably also dropped out by the time of the election, having been returned for Arundel at the nomination of the earl of Arundel on 23 January. It seems likely that Chaworth was one of four competitors for the Talbot interest in Nottingham, as the countess of Arundel was one of the co-heirs of the earl of Shrewsbury. The other competitors were Lassells, who was connected with the earl of Pembroke; John Selden*, who had recently entered the service of the earl of Kent, the husband of Shrewsbury’s third daughter; and Sir Charles Cavendish, who succeeded where his rivals failed. Cavendish was the younger brother of Sir William Cavendish II* of Welbeck Abbey, who in 1620 had been raised to the peerage as Viscount Mansfield. Cavendish and his brother had been closely connected with the 7th earl of Shrewsbury, whose widow was their aunt. They were brought up in Shrewsbury’s household and the earl had appointed Sir William Cavendish his executor.23 Apart from Sir Charles Cavendish, Nottingham also returned John Byron, the eldest son of Sir John Byron of Newstead Abbey, 12 miles north of Nottingham. The Byrons were severely indebted but were a well-established and prominent county family, and Byron’s father had recently inherited the family estate on the death in 1623 of Byron’s grandfather and namesake, who had represented the county in 1597. Despite Cavendish’s knighthood Byron was named first in the return.24

In 1625 there were five ‘suitors for burgesses places’, of whom four had appeared on the previous year’s list: Cavendish, Chaworth, Byron and Lassells. The only newcomer was Sir Francis Foljambe, a baronet with estates in Derbyshire and Yorkshire.25 However, at a meeting of the mayor, recorder, aldermen, council and clothing on 15 Apr. it was agreed, ‘and none other in any wise’, to revert to electing townsmen. Consequently the five suitors were rejected. Rather than elect two aldermen, however, it was decided to return two lawyers – Robert Greaves, the town clerk, and John Martyn, an attorney. Both were probably selected at the 15 Apr. meeting. No explanation was recorded for the decision to revert to electing townsmen, but as there is no evidence that either Greaves or Martyn were paid it is possible that they secured their election by offering to serve without wages. In subsequent elections, however, the borough reverted to returning outsiders, which perhaps suggests that none of the other townsmen were prepared to follow the example set by Greaves and Martyn.26

The 1626 election is almost entirely undocumented, as it is unmentioned in the corporation records and no indenture survives. However, on this occasion Sir Gervase Clifton, who had previously sat four times for the county, was returned alongside Byron, who by now had succeeded to his father’s estate. Following the Parliament it was decided to continue returning outsiders, for on 20 Nov. 1627, as rumours of an approaching Parliament circulated, the corporation agreed by 24 votes to one to elect ‘two gentlemen of the country … for easing the town’s charges’. It was also agreed, by 23 votes to two, to re-elect Sir Charles Cavendish, together with Henry Pierrepont, the son of the unsuccessful 1604 candidate. The decision may have been prompted by an approach from Cavendish and Pierrepont and was intended to ‘gain the friendship and favour of those two noble families, and have their assistance to the town when any occasion shall [be] offered’. Cavendish’s elder brother, Viscount Mansfield, had been appointed lord lieutenant of Nottinghamshire in July 1626. Pierrepont’s father, who lived at Holme Pierrepont, four-and-a-half miles from Nottingham, had accumulated the largest landed estate in the county and, with Mansfield’s assistance, had recently purchased the title of Viscount Newark.27 When a Parliament was summoned early in 1628, Cavendish and Pierrepont were duly returned, with Cavendish on this occasion taking the first place.

There is no evidence that the corporation sought to promote any legislation in this period. The only occasion on which the borough’s Members were specifically appointed to a committee was in 1606, when they were among those appointed to consider the bill concerning navigable rivers (7 Feb.), an issue of obvious concern considering the importance of the Trent to the local economy.28 Nevertheless in the Jacobean period the borough’s Members performed a variety tasks both inside and outside the Commons for their constituency. In March 1608 Jackson presented a bill for his expenses which totalled £7 13s. 4d. and included 16s. 8d. for copying the will of Sir Thomas White, a sixteenth-century London aldermen who had bequeathed money for charitable purposes in Nottingham.29

Although the corporation largely elected strangers in the 1620s, it still expected Members to perform some service on behalf of the borough. Shortly after the election of Lassells and Purefoy in December 1620, the corporation sent its town clerk, Robert Greaves, to London to obtain the assistance of Lassells regarding a decree in the duchy of Lancaster Court concerning the town’s tolls.30 Purefoy was probably speaking on behalf of the Nottingham corporation when he attacked the execution of the alehouse patent on 25 Apr. 1621, stating that the patentees’ representatives ‘took the upper hand of the mayor’.31 On 30 Jan. 1624 the corporation agreed to write to the recorder, who was presumably then in London, to consult the borough’s recently elected Members concerning the repair of the Leen bridge, which connected the borough to Trent bridge, and also about the fees payable in the Exchequer for passing the accounts of the mayor as the ex officio escheator of Nottingham, ‘in case occasion shall be offered this Parliament or otherwise’. However nothing seems to have been done in either case.32

Initially Nottingham seems to have resisted prerogative finance. It contributed only £30 towards the Benevolence levied after the 1614 Parliament, about five per cent of the total raised by the county and significantly less than the £50 contributed by Cavendish’s father.33 When the Benevolence for the Palatinate was collected after the 1621 Parliament the grand jury of the borough sessions protested that ‘the poor burgesses thinks themselves not well dealt withall’ and asked for the money to be refunded.34 However the Forced Loan of 1626-7 seems to have aroused little opposition. The mayor and aldermen were appointed commissioners of the Loan, and Robert Staples, who had sat in Parliament in 1614, was active in its enforcement. On 12 Feb. 1627 the corporation reported to the Privy Council that the subsidy-payers had consented to the levy, and the first receipts were paid in by the collectors eight days later. By the following September £129 had been received by the Exchequer, probably over 90 per cent of the total expected from the borough.35

Author: George Yerby


  • 1. C219/38/178.
  • 2. A. Henstock, ‘Changing Fabric of the Town, 1550-1750’, in Centenary Hist. of Nottingham ed. J. Beckett, 107.
  • 3. S. Wallwork, ‘Population Estimates before the Census: Nottingham, 1570-1801’, East Midland Historian, ix. 38, 41.
  • 4. D. Palliser, Age of Eliz. 217-18, 243, 246; A. Henstock, S. Dunster, and S. Wallwork, ‘Decline and Regeneration: Social and Economic Life’, Centenary Hist. of Nottingham, 132, 141-2, 145-7; Henstock, 110-11.
  • 5. A.C. Wood, Hist. Notts. 113; J. Blackner, Hist. Nottingham, 263, 266, 275; D. Gray, Nottingham Through 500 years, 30, 32, 36-37, 39, 55, 58-59, 61.
  • 6. OR.
  • 7. C219/38/178; Henstock, Dunster, and Wallwork, 149; Recs. of Bor. of Nottingham ed. W.H. Stevenson, iv. 373, 387; Recs. of Bor. of Nottingham ed. W.T. Baker, v. 102, 129.
  • 8. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 225; M. Bennett, ‘Turbulent Centuries: the Political Hist. of Nottingham, 1550-1750’, Centenary Hist. of Nottingham, 167; CP, xi 260-1; Oxford DNB sub Manners, Francis, 6th earl of Rutland.
  • 9. G.R. Batho, ‘Gilbert Talbot, 7th Earl of Shrewsbury (1553-1616): the “Great and Glorious Earl”?’, Derbys. Arch. Jnl. xciii. 29; Recs. of Bor. of Nottingham, iv. 426; HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 176, 221-2; Vis. Notts. (Harl. Soc. n.s. v), 2; Cal. Talbot Pprs. ed. G.R. Batho (Derbys. Recs. ser. iv), 269, 272.
  • 10. Recs. of Bor. of Nottingham, iv. 317, 326.
  • 11. Recs. of Bor. of Nottingham, iv. 342, 429; W. Prest, Rise of the Barristers, 362; Blackner, 287.
  • 12. C142/444/87; Letters of John Holles ed. P.R. Seddon (Thoroton Soc. Rec. ser. xxxv), 247-8; Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 11.
  • 13. Recs. of Bor. of Nottingham, iv. 373; T. Bailey, Annals of Notts. ii. 600.
  • 14. Recs. of Bor. of Nottingham, iv. 375.
  • 15. LI Black Bks. ii. 202; HP Commons, 1509-58, i. 464-5; OR.
  • 16. Vis. Notts. (Harl. Soc. iv), 87-8; C193/13/1, f. 77v; SP14/72/92; V.J. Hodges, ‘Electoral Influence of the Aristocracy, 1604-41’ (Columbia Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1977), p. 298.
  • 17. The Gen. n.s. viii. 180.
  • 18. STAC 8/303/8; C.J. Sission, Lost Plays of Shakespeare’s Age, 196-203; PROB 11/152, f. 273v; Recs. of Bor. of Nottingham, iv. 365.
  • 19. Recs. of Bor. of Nottingham, iv. 387,
  • 20. CP, iv. 76-7; Nottingham UL, CL/LP51; PROB 11/165, f. 333v.
  • 21. Thoroton, Notts. (1790), ii. 213.
  • 22. Ibid. 193; C193/13/1, f. 77v.
  • 23. M. Cavendish, Life of William Cavendish Duke of Newcastle, 1-3; CP, xi. 716.
  • 24. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 525.
  • 25. Notts. RO, CA3399, f. 60. This list in printed in Bailey, ii. 612, where it is assigned to the 1626 election. However it is at the back of the hall book for the year ending September 1625.
  • 26. Recs. of Bor. of Nottingham, v. 102.
  • 27. Notts. RO, CA3402, f. 57.
  • 28. CJ, i. 265a.
  • 29. Ibid. 288.
  • 30. Notts. RO, CA 3395, f. 21.
  • 31. CD 1621, iii. 83.
  • 32. Recs. of Bor. of Nottingham, iv. 385.
  • 33. E351/1950.
  • 34. Recs. of Bor. of Nottingham, iv. 380-1, 382.
  • 35. Ibid. v. 116-18; SP16/53/86; CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 53, 338; E401/1386, m. 60. The Forced Loan was expected to raise the equivalent of five subsidies, £29 2s. had been collected in Nottingham for the second subsidy voted by the 1625 Parliament, but 14s. 6d. was deducted for collectors fees. SP16/84/89; E359/68.