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:

c.700 in 16261


c. Mar. 1614SIR JOHN ASTLEY 
c. Dec. 1620SIR JOHN BROOKE 
 Thomas Wentworth I 
 THOMAS WENTWORTH I vice Blundell, on petition, 9 Feb. 1621 
 (Sir) Henry Croke*106

Main Article

Although dominated by its university, Oxford was a thriving city under the early Stuarts, and hosted royal visits in 1605 and 1629 as well as the Parliament of 1625.2 It was governed by a mayoral council known as the Thirteen, but was aided by a common council. A new charter of incorporation, granted in 1605, added two bailiffs to the mayor’s council and limited the size of the common council to 24.3 Despite these formal arrangements, decisions seem to have been made by a larger body, as most reporters of the disputed election to the 1621 Parliament refer to a council of 48.4 The right of election lay in the freemen, but the method adopted throughout this period was for the common council to choose the candidates and present them for approval to the freemen assembled in the guildhall or courtyard.5 However, since 1571 the city’s high steward had enjoyed the right to nominate one Member, while from 1586 the borough had returned its junior counsel for the other seat. (The recorder, Robert Atkinson†, who held office between 1566 and 1607, had disqualified himself as a convicted recusant).6 Catholics maintained a strong presence in the city, as in the university, for in 1612 Thomas Chamberlain complained to lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton†) that the borough was ‘the only receptacle and harbour of all Jesuits and priests’ in the county, a situation for which he blamed ‘the mayor and his company, who want both courage and discretion’.7 Oxford petitioned unsuccessfully in 1617-20 for a new charter to accord a greater role to the town’s bailiffs and chamberlain, but this provoked a conflict with the university, and eventually the matter was dropped.8

In 1604 Ellesmere, as high steward, nominated his son-in-law Sir Francis Leigh I, who had represented the borough in 1601, as Oxford’s senior Member. The second seat went to the newly appointed counsel, Thomas Wentworth I. The corporation hoped to secure legislation that would make the Thames navigable and prevent the erection of cottages within the city and its suburbs. The river bill was needed because of a prosperous local trade in Cotswold stone, which was exported to London, and because of the water traffic required to supply the city and colleges with food and fuel.9 Wentworth duly chaired the committee for the navigation bill, which was passed in 1606; but he seems to have been unable to do anything to promote the other measure, even though it enjoyed the support of the university.10 Oxford did not pay its Members wages, but in 1610 and on at least one later occasion, Wentworth was voted small sums ‘in respect of his pains and attendance at the Parliament’.11 Wentworth succeeded Atkinson as recorder in 1607, and consequently in 1614 he laid claim to the city’s second parliamentary seat. Lord (William†) Knollys, who had become high steward in 1611, nominated the courtier Sir John Astley for the second seat.12 During the Parliament the University’s Members attempted to obtain amendments to the Thames Navigation Act of 1606, and were supported by the city, which offered to share in the expense. However, there is no mention of the subject in the records of the Addled Parliament.13 Although relations between town and gown were not always harmonious, the corporation often joined with the university in lobbying Parliament over the Thames navigation and cottages for the poor.14

In 1620 Knollys, now Viscount Wallingford, not only nominated another courtier, Sir John Brooke, but also asked to supply the second Member, ‘if you do not nominate one of your own body’.15 This was almost certainly a broad hint that Wentworth would not be regarded as acceptable by the king, who had been offended by his speeches in 1610 and 1614 and clearly regarded him as one of the ‘curious and wrangling lawyers’ referred to in his recent Proclamation (6 Nov. 1620) concerning the forthcoming elections. Indeed, according to Wentworth’s counsel, both these points were brought to the attention of the freemen.16 In his stead Wallingford nominated Sir Francis Blundell, an Anglo-Irish official. At the pre-election held on 22 Dec. the common council decided in favour of Blundell, but the freemen refused to accept anyone but Wentworth, even when other citizens were suggested to them; accounts differ as to the number of votes cast and in what proportion.17 The mayor nonetheless returned Brooke and Blundell. Wentworth naturally challenged the return, and on 9 Feb. 1621 the House unseated Blundell in his favour. The mayor was subsequently called to the bar of the Commons to make a kneeling submission of apology.18 In January 1621 the corporation, having consulted Wentworth, instructed Brooke and Blundell to propose amendments to the 1606 Thames Navigation Act, and again joined with the university to share the expense. However, as in 1614 its efforts came to nothing.19

Wentworth took the senior seat in the next three Parliaments, together with his deputy John Whistler. In 1624 they were once again instructed to promote the Thames navigation bill ‘as they should in their wisdoms order’, and Whistler accordingly steered it through committee; this time it passed and finally replaced the 1606 Act.20 The city’s special contribution to the 1625 Parliament, which adjourned to Oxford in August in order to escape the plague in London, was to remove some of the windows from St. Martin’s church to provide fresh air for the expected ‘excess of citizens and Parliament men’.21 In 1626 Whistler took the chair in committee for a general bill to prevent the erection of cottages, but without success; the city also joined with the University to petition the Privy Council about the burden of poor relief, which remained a problem throughout the period.22 Wentworth died in 1627, and was succeeded as recorder by Whistler, who was returned as Oxford’s senior Member in 1628.23 A contest for the second seat was won by Wentworth’s son, who garnered almost twice as many votes as his rival (Sir) Henry Croke, a local gentleman and magistrate.24 Croke may have been backed by Wallingford, who had been created 1st earl of Banbury in 1626. Henry, 5th earl of Huntingdon, who was helping the city in a lawsuit over a charity with Brasenose College, recommended a fourth candidate, Sir Francis Wenman*, apparently unaware that Wenman had already declared that he wanted a county seat. Oxford, which knew of this, therefore replied that it would only support Wenman in the county election.25

Authors: Alan Davidson / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. Oxf. Council Acts ed. H.E. Salter (Oxf. Hist. Soc. lxxxvii), xi.
  • 2. R. Fasnacht, Hist. City of Oxf. 92-3.
  • 3. Royal Letters to Oxf. ed. O. Ogle, 229.
  • 4. VCH Oxon. iv. 131; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 28-29.
  • 5. VCH Oxon. iv. 150.
  • 6. Ibid. iv. 148.
  • 7. Ellesmere Mss ed. A.G. Petti (Cath. Rec. Soc. lx), 208.
  • 8. VCH Oxon. iv. 131; Oxf. Council Acts, lix.
  • 9. Fasnacht, 97-8.
  • 10. Oxf. Council Acts, 159, 164-5, 173; CJ, i. 308b; 3 Jas.I, c. 20.
  • 11. Oxf. Council Acts, 204, 234, 395.
  • 12. Ibid. 205, 232.
  • 13. Oxf. Council Acts, 233-4.
  • 14. VCH Oxon. iv. 155-9.
  • 15. Ibid. iv. 151.
  • 16. Stuart Royal Procs. ed. P.L. Hughes and J.F. Larkin, i. 493.
  • 17. Oxf. Council Acts, 297.
  • 18. CJ, i. 515a-b; CD 1621, ii. 47-49; iv. 32, 34; v. 250, 444; vi. 361.
  • 19. Oxf. Council Acts, 297-8.
  • 20. Oxf. Council Acts, 323; 21 Jas.I, c. 32; VCH Oxon. iv. 291-2.
  • 21. Oxf. Council Acts, 331.
  • 22. APC 1625-6, p. 303.
  • 23. Oxf. Council Acts ed. M.G. Hobson and H.E. Salter (Oxf. Hist. Soc. xcv), 6.
  • 24. Oxf. Council Acts ed. Hobson and Salter, 9, 10.
  • 25. Procs. 1628, vi. 158-9.