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

Number of voters:



c. Mar. 1614SIR GERVASE CLIFTON , bt.
27 Nov. 1620SIR GERVASE CLIFTON , bt.
19 Jan. 1624SIR GERVASE CLIFTON , bt.
 Henry Stanhope
c. Jan. 1626Henry Stanhope
c. Feb. 1628SIR GERVASE CLIFTON , bt.

Main Article

Writing in response to the Crown’s demand for Privy Seal loans, the Nottinghamshire commissioners for musters wrote in November 1625 of the ‘smallness of this county … and vastness of a forest running quite through it’. Their county was ‘without trade or manufacture, without lead, iron or hidden treasurer, merely subsisting on the benefits common to it with all others’, and it was afflicted by floods of the River Trent, of which ‘they have of late lamentable experience’.1 However, others viewed the county in a more favourable light. In Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, published in 1611, Nottinghamshire is described as possessing rich soil, ‘good, wholesome and delectable’ air, and ‘corn and grass so fruitful, that it secondeth any other in the realm: and for water, woods and … coals [it is] abundantly stored’.2 Camden divided the county into two regions: a western part, dominated by Sherwood Forest, where the soil was predominantly sandy; and a more fertile region in the south and east, watered by the Trent, where the soil was more clayey. These two areas were referred to by the county’s inhabitants as the sand and the clay.3 The county town, Nottingham, is situated in the south. The gentry of the south exercised an almost complete stranglehold on the county’s electoral politics, for of the men returned for the shire in this period only Holles lived in the north.

Although Nottinghamshire was notorious for its factionalism, there is no evidence that elections were contested in this period. Nottinghamshire’s gentry, seeking to avoid a recurrence of the 1593 contest, which had split the county from top to bottom, evidently negotiated among themselves to ensure that the different interests had been accommodated prior to each election. This was apparently done informally, for when the 1st earl of Kingston (Sir Robert Pierrepont†) proposed a meeting of Nottinghamshire’s great and the good to decide on nominations for the Short Parliament in 1640 he seems to have been suggesting an innovation.4 Despite the absence of contests in this period, an understanding of the factions is essential to understanding how the parliamentary candidates were selected.

The rise in factionalism in the county was due to the collapse in influence of the Manners family in the late 1580s and the subsequent resistance by the local gentry to attempts by the Talbots to establish themselves as the dominant force in the county’s politics. In the middle years of Elizabeth’s reign Nottinghamshire’s electoral politics were dominated by Edward Manners, 3rd earl of Rutland,5 who died without leaving a son in 1587, whereupon the earldom passed to his brother John. However, Edward bequeathed a substantial part of his estates, perhaps a quarter or a third of the total, to his daughter, Elizabeth, who inherited the barony of Ros. The fourth earl died a year after his brother, leaving behind an 11-year-old son. Even after he came of age, the 5th earl seems to have made little impact on the politics of Nottinghamshire.6

After the death of the 4th earl of Rutland in 1588, George Talbot, 6th earl of Shrewsbury was appointed lord lieutenant of Nottinghamshire.7 However, after Shrewsbury’s death two years later an alliance of Nottinghamshire gentlemen led by Sir Thomas Stanhope†, who had previously sat for the county at the 3rd earl of Rutland’s nomination, and Stanhope’s son-in-law, (Sir) John Holles, challenged the attempts of Gilbert Talbot†, 7th earl of Shrewsbury, to control the politics of the county. This led to a bitterly fought election in 1593, in which Shrewsbury triumphed. The election of Richard Whalley in 1597, a member of the Stanhope faction whose family had been closely connected with the earls of Rutland, suggests a revival of the Manners interest. He took second place to John Byron, whose father, in addition to being sheriff, had attached himself to Shrewsbury in the 1590s. This arrangement may indicate that an accommodation had been reached between the two factions, with representatives of each taking one seat. If so this accord had broken down by 1601, possibly because of the 5th earl of Rutland’s involvement in the 2nd earl of Essex’s rising earlier that year. This enabled Shrewsbury to secure the return of his brother-in-law Sir Charles Cavendish and his nephew Robert Pierrepont, who was also married to his niece Gertrude Talbot. Nevertheless, Stanhope and his allies managed to prevent Shrewsbury from succeeding his father as lord lieutenant. The county’s military affairs were instead managed by a commission of musters, from which Shrewsbury was excluded.8 Shrewsbury entertained James I lavishly at his home at Worksop in Nottinghamshire when the latter journeyed south on his accession in 1603. However, despite summoning his followers to attend him, no doubt to impress the new king with his regional power base,9 he failed to persuade James to appoint him lord lieutenant.10

Shrewsbury may have been unable to consolidate his control over Nottinghamshire because of the emergence of (Sir) William Cecil† as a significant forced in the county’s politics. Cecil was the son of Thomas, 2nd Lord Burghley (Thomas Cecil†) and nephew of James I’s chief minister Robert Cecil†, subsequently 1st earl of Salisbury. In 1589 William married Elizabeth the daughter of 3rd earl of Rutland and subsequently established himself at Newark-upon-Trent in Nottinghamshire, acquiring the lease of the castle and purchasing property nearby. In 1600 he was also appointed custos rotulorum. However, Cecil’s power base in the county was limited, as his wife’s share of the Manners estate lay mainly outside Nottinghamshire. Moreover, it is unlikely that he could count on the support of the earls of Rutland. In addition to the 5th earl’s support for Essex, the Cecils’ great rival, Thomas Cecil was in dispute with the Manners family over his wife’s property and his son’s title to the barony of Ros. William’s influence in the county, such as it was, was therefore almost certainly derived from his connections at Court.11 Despite this, it seems likely that Sir John Holles owed his return to Cecil; by 1604 the two men had struck up a close friendship, with the former keeping the latter informed of proceedings in the Commons during the parliamentary session of that year.12

Holles’ colleague Sir Percival Willoughby was a newcomer to the county, who had acquired its grandest house, Wollaton, by marriage, together with a load of debt. He was sufficiently uncertain of success to stand for a second seat, at Tamworth, Staffordshire, which of course he waived after his return for the county. Willoughby was among those who had been knighted when James I visited Worksop in 1603 and may therefore have been more acceptable to Shrewsbury. This suggests that, as in 1597, the two factions agreed to divide the seats between them, but in 1604 the anti Talbot candidate took the first seat, whereas in 1597 the anti Talbot candidate had been returned second.13

Holles made a serious effort to gauge the attitude of his constituency to the Great Contract during the recess of 1610, though he did not miss the chance to complain of the misconduct of Shrewsbury’s kinsmen, the Pierreponts. On 22 Sept. he reported to lord treasurer Salisbury that he had ‘preached from region to region of this country’ and found:

in the better sort a very sharp appetite; but in these plebs … a very uncertain temper. Yet methought they bit somewhat eagerly at the taking away all manner of purveyance. … For though the king’s person shines not so far northward, yet his castle and parks … covet yearly many loadings forth of the king’s woods. Likewise in tenures they tasted best the removing of escheators and feodaries, who, as they said, troubled them most of all upon supposed tenures, and that for small patches of land. So, as I think, out of this great magazine every one will find stuff to his fancy, though of much they suppose they have no use, and consequently not to be bargained for by them.


Holles was re-elected to Parliament in 1614, but on this occasion the gentry of Nottinghamshire decided to give the Talbot interest primacy in the return. Consequently Holles had to take second place to Sir Gervase Clifton. The latter was head of the oldest family in the county, who had come of age since the last election and accepted one of the original baronetcies. As a kinsman of the Pierreponts he was connected to the earl of Shrewsbury, who had had taken an interest in his education, describing Clifton, while still a teenager, as ‘of a rare and excellent wit’.15

Holles reluctantly agreed to support the Benevolence levied by James I after the 1614 Parliament failed to vote subsidies. Writing on 20 Oct. 1614 to John Wood, a Nottinghamshire commissioner of the musters, he argued that it was ‘expedient … to give as our fellows do, than to offer with one finger to stay a falling house’. He was particularly concerned that Shrewsbury might persuade James I to attribute resistance to the Benevolence to the lack of a lord lieutenant, and ‘translate our aristocratical commission into a monarchical lieutenancy’, because ‘if only Nottingham[shire] look upon the commonwealth … our obstinacy and stoutness [will] be attributed to the commissioners’ ill affection or ill government’. He apparently believed that Shrewsbury was trying to put additional pressure on the Nottinghamshire gentry to respond quickly to the Benevolence in a covert attempt to foment resistance. Holles therefore suggested that it was better to raise the equivalent of a subsidy.16 Holles’ suspicions may have been well-founded, for in mid-November several of the earl’s supporters – (Sir) George Parkins†, who had been the previous year’s sheriff, Sir Gervase Clifton, Robert Pierrepont†, and John Hacker, a servant of Shrewsbury’s – were summoned by the Privy Council to Whitehall, presumably in connection with the Benevolence. Publicly, however, Shrewsbury acted beyond reproach, contributing over £160 in cash and a quantity of gilt plate. Perhaps as a result of the summons issued to his allies, Shrewsbury and his allies subsequently abandoned their obstructionism. Indeed, four years later Pierrepont informed Sir Thomas Lake I* that a third of the receipts from the Benevolence in Nottinghamshire had been raised by him. In total over £580 was collected in Nottinghamshire, of which Holles provided £30, Clifton £26 13s. 4d., and Shrewsbury’s brother-in-law, Sir Charles Cavendish†, £50.17

In July 1616 Holles was raised to the peerage, thereby rendering him ineligible for further election. He evidently failed to influence subsequent Nottinghamshire elections as he fell out with his nephew Philip, 1st Lord Stanhope, the grandson of Sir Thomas. Moreover, his relations with Thomas Cecil seem to have cooled after the latter succeeded as 2nd earl of Exeter in 1623, possibly because Exeter became an adherent of the duke of Buckingham, whom Holles opposed.18

On the death of Shrewsbury in May 1616 the earl’s title was divided from his estates. The former went to his brother Edward, while the lands were divided between his three daughters, the wives of William, 3rd earl of Pembroke, Thomas Howard, 21st or 14th earl of Arundel, and Sir Henry Grey*. Shrewsbury appointed Sir William Cavendish II*, the son of Sir Charles, as his executor. Cavendish proceeded to lay claim to part of the Talbot estate in lieu of the money that his father had lent Shrewsbury. The dispute continued until 1620 when, shortly before the elections, Pembroke procured a peerage for Cavendish, who became Viscount Mansfield, in return for which Cavendish withdrew his claims.19

The principal figures who had been allied to the earl of Shrewsbury – Cavendish, Clifton and Pierrepont – were powerful in their own right and were closely tied by bonds of friendship and family. They therefore remained important in Nottinghamshire electoral politics, and may have been more influential now that their neighbours no longer feared that Shrewsbury would dominate the shire. However, only Clifton was capable of standing for election, as Cavendish was a peer and Robert Pierrepont was widely suspected of Catholicism. Consequently, it was Clifton who was re-elected in 1620, when he took the first place.20 The second seat went to the courtier Sir George Chaworth, a member of an old Nottinghamshire family. Chaworth had previously been connected with the earl of Shrewsbury, and probably had the support of Clifton and Pierrepont, having in June 1620 appointed them trustees for his wife. Moreover, he may also have been supported by one or more of Shrewsbury’s coheirs. By 1624 he had attached himself to the earl of Arundel, and his sister married Pembroke’s secretary Edward Leech*, although at what date cannot be established.21

Clifton was again returned for the senior seat in 1624. It is not known if Chaworth also sought re-election, but the second place went to Robert Sutton, scion of another long-established family. Sutton may have been nominated the earl of Exeter, as two years later Exeter recommended Sutton for inclusion in the commission for musters.22 There were at least 29 parties to the election indenture, including five members of the county bench and Sutton’s uncle, John Odingsells†.23 It was Sutton who, on 27 Apr. 1624, presented the names of Nottinghamshire’s suspected recusant officeholders to the Commons, among them three Nottinghamshire justices who were married to recusants – Robert Pierrepont; Pierrepont’s brother-in-law Fulke Cartwright; and Sir George Parkins. This rather suggests that Sutton was no friend of Pierrepont and his allies.24

The 1625 election saw the re-emergence of the Stanhope family in Nottinghamshire electoral politics with the election of Lord Stanhope’s son Henry, who was still under-age. The indenture was signed by Sir Matthew Palmer, who had conducted the previous election, William Stanhope† (the candidate’s uncle) and 26 others, of whom only two appear to have been Nottinghamshire justices.25 However, this does not mean that the Nottinghamshire bench was uninterested in Parliament, as its members clearly followed proceedings in the Commons closely. On 1 Aug. they wrote to their MPs asking them to amend the bill to regulate clerks of the market, which had received its first reading on 27 June, by introducing a clause ‘to remedy the use of unreasonable and variable measures in market towns’. However, Parliament was dissolved eleven days later before the bill could be committed.26

In the absence of deputy lieutenants the Nottinghamshire commissioners of musters were charged with levying the Privy Seal loan initiated by Charles I after the 1625 Parliament. In the letter to the Privy Council quoted above the commissioners admitted that the total sum they had assessed on their neighbours was low, which they justified by arguing that Nottinghamshire was too poor to yield more. Possibly as a result, a high proportion of the £720 demanded from the lenders of Nottinghamshire was collected. In January 1626 Clifton, who had been appointed collector, reported to the Privy Council that he had received payments from 34 of the 45 men to whom he had issued demands, and in the following month he paid £530 into the Exchequer.27

On 4 Jan. 1626 Holles, by now earl of Clare, wrote to the earl of Exeter that ‘a prophetical spirit of a Parliament walks for voices, up and down the country’. This suggests that at least one potential candidate had already begun canvassing in Nottinghamshire, although Clare himself was evidently uninvolved, as he complained that ‘this country [is] barren of fit instruments for such a work’.28 For the first time since he came of age, Sir Gervase Clifton failed to secure one of the county seats. Perhaps his activities as collector of the Privy Seal loan had impaired his standing in the county. Alternatively, he may have been reluctant to take the second seat after Stanhope secured the first. The junior place went instead to Sir Thomas Hutchinson, who may have been acceptable to Clifton, having been the sheriff who returned him and Chaworth in 1620.29

A week after the dissolution the attorney-general was ordered to prepare a commission appointing Mansfield lord lieutenant of Nottinghamshire, thereby dissolving the commission of musters.30 On 17 Aug. Mansfield, an ally of Buckingham’s, wrote to Secretary Conway (Sir Edward Conway I*) assuring him that he would do his best to levy the Benevolence demanded in the wake of the 1626 Parliament’s failure to vote subsidies, but he feared that his neighbours were ‘governed by ill precedents, and … the dregs of the last Parliament’. His fears were well founded, for on 22 Sept. the Nottinghamshire justices reported to the Council that ‘the generality, save very few whose offers in the whole county came to about £70, refused to give otherwise than by Parliament, the ordinary and usual way as they alleged’.31 Early the following year the commissioners for the Forced Loan found ‘the country …, not a little perplexed with the height of the demand, and the manner of it, as not being moulded and concluded in Parliament’. Clare and Lord Stanhope refused to pay, and were subsequently purged from the bench, while Hutchinson absented himself from the county, although he subsequently submitted after being summoned before the Privy Council. Moreover, a servant belonging to Theophilus, 4th earl of Lincoln, scattered a manuscript tract against the Loan in the highway leading to Nottingham at the same time that the commissioners met. However, led by Mansfield, the commissioners succeeded in allaying local anxieties, in particular by emphasizing Charles I’s promises that the Loan would not become a precedent and payment would not deter him from summoning parliaments in the future. As a result, in August 1627 the commissioners reported that all but £27 had long since been paid into the Exchequer.32

With Stanhope’s father no longer on the bench, Clifton was again returned first for the county when a fresh Parliament was summoned at the beginning of 1628. However, Clifton took care not to ride roughshod over Stanhope by ensuring that the latter was returned for East Retford, where Clifton was high steward. The second place was taken by Sir John Byron, the grandson of the 1597 member, the head of an important but highly indebted Nottinghamshire family, and brother-in-law of Sir Thomas Hutchinson. It is unlikely that Byron had the support of Mansfield, who had not appointed him a deputy lieutenant even though Byron had been added to the commission of musters on the earl of Exeter’s nomination in May 1626.33 The Nottinghamshire members reported that there were no recusant officeholders in their county on 24 Apr. 1628, perhaps because Robert Pierrepont’s son Henry sat for Nottingham, but when Sir Thomas Hoby reported the full list on 14 June Pierrepont, by now Viscount Newark, had his accustomed place.34

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. SP16/10/61.
  • 2. J. Speed, Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine (1611), p. 65.
  • 3. W. Camden, Britain trans. P. Holland (1610), p. 547.
  • 4. A. Wall, ‘Patterns of pols. in Eng., 1558-1625’ HJ, xxxi. 950; HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 233; M.A. Kishlanksy, Parlty. Selection, 56.
  • 5. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 222.
  • 6. L. Stone, Fam. and Fortune, 174-6, 201; CP, xi. 259.
  • 7. CPR, 1588-9 (L. and I. Soc. ccc), 62.
  • 8. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 222-3, 525; iii. 607; Cal. Talbot Pprs. ed. G.R. Batho (Derbys. Recs. ser. iv), 177, 316; Illustrations of Brit. Hist. ed. E. Lodge, iii. 2-6; Cal. of Shrewsbury Pprs. in LPL ed. E.G.W. Bill (Derbys. Arch. Rec. Soc. i), 157; W.T. MacCaffrey, ‘Talbot and Stanhope: an Episode in Elizabethan Pols.’, BIHR, xxxiii. 76, 81.
  • 9. True Narration of the Entertainment of his Royall Majestie (1603), unpag.; J. Hunter, Hallamshire, 121.
  • 10. Cal. of Shrewsbury Pprs. in LPL, 166.
  • 11. C. Brown, Hist. Newark-on-Trent, 16-17, 24; Stone, 175, 177, 196; CP, xi. 109; C231/1, p. 180.
  • 12. HMC Portland, ix. 11-13, 153.
  • 13. Nichols, Progs. Jas. I, i. 88.
  • 14. Letters of John Holles ed. P.R. Seddon (Thoroton Soc. Rec. ser. xxxvi), 513-15.
  • 15. HMC Hatfield, xii. 276, 540; Thoroton, Notts. (1790), i. 105.
  • 16. HMC Portland, ix. 139.
  • 17. APC, 1613-14, pp. 625-6; List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 104; Cal. Talbot Pprs. 269; D. Hirst, ‘Privy Council and Problems of Enforcement in the 1620s’, JBS, xviii. 62, n. 62; CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 260, 538; E351/1950. Parkins may have deputized for Robert Pierrepont’s father as recorder of Nottingham. HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 176, 222.
  • 18. Letters of John Holles (xxxi), 141-2; Ibid. (xxxv), 317; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 230.
  • 19. C.R. Mayes, ‘Sale of Peerages in Early Stuart Eng.’, JMH, xxix. 23-7; C142/444/87; PROB 11/128, ff. 307v-8;
  • 20. Thoroton, i. 176; HMC Var. vii. 402, 411; Oxford DNB sub Pierrepont, Robert.
  • 21. PROB 11/181, f. 310v; Add. 72368, f. 11; Vis. Notts. (Harl. Soc. iv), 128.
  • 22. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 231.
  • 23. C219/38/180; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 13.
  • 24. CJ, i. 776b; Parlty. or Constitutional Hist. of Eng. (1751-61), vi. 328; Thoroton, i. 176; C219/38/180.
  • 25. C219/39/148; Rymer, viii. pt. 2, p. 13.
  • 26. Nottingham UL, Cl/C 360; Procs. 1625, p. 252.
  • 27. SP16/10/61; CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 165, 231; E401/2586 pp. 203-5; E401/1912.
  • 28. Letters of John Holles (xxxv), 317.
  • 29. List of Sheriffs, 104.
  • 30. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 359.
  • 31. CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 406, 434; R. Cust, Forced Loan and English Pols. 95, 159.
  • 32. Notts. County Recs. comp. H.H. Copnall, 110-11; APC, 1627, p. 74; Add. 12496, f. 125; Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, iii. app. 8; Cust, 102, 104-5, 118, 170-1, 228-9; Oxford DNB sub Stanhope, Philip.
  • 33. APC, 1625-6, p. 476.
  • 34. CD 1628, iii. 63; iv. 319.