Pontefract

Borough

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 inhabitant householders

Number of voters:

at least 60 in 1624

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
14 Apr. 1621(SIR) EDWIN SANDYS 
 GEORGE SHILLETO 
 (sir) Henry Rich* 
 ?Sir Henry Savile* 
20 Jan. 1624SIR THOMAS WENTWORTH , (bt.) 
 SIR HENRY HOLCROFT 
11 Mar. 1624SIR JOHN JACKSON40
 Sir Richard Beaumont20
 Robert Mynne 
  Double return vice Holcroft, chose to sit for Stockbridge. Jackson seated, 1 Apr. 1624. Election declared void, 28 May 1624 
17 June 1624Sir John Jackson Following rejection of previous return 
c. May 1625SIR JOHN JACKSON 
 SIR RICHARD BEAUMONT 
25 Jan. 1626SIR JOHN JACKSON 
 SIR FRANCIS FOLJAMBE , bt. 
5 Mar. 1628SIR JOHN JACKSON 
 SIR JOHN RAMSDEN 

Main Article

Under the Tudors much of the Yorkshire woollen industry migrated to the Pennines, a source of abundant water power. Pontefract – frequently pronounced Pomfret – lay just outside the principal industrial area, ‘in a very pleasant place that bringeth forth liquorice and skirrets [parsnips] in great plenty’. It contained ‘fair buildings, and hath to show a stately castle as a man shall see, situated upon a rock no less goodly to the eye than safe for the defence’. The honour of Pontefract, consisting of 18 manors reaching to the Lancashire border, was a fiefdom of the duchy of Lancaster. The borough had been chartered as early as 1194, and in 1484 it was incorporated under a mayor and 12 other comburgesses. Its parliamentary record, however, was miniscule, consisting only of three Parliaments in the reign of Edward I.1

James I visited Pontefract Castle on his journey south in 1603, and assigned the honour to Anne of Denmark’s jointure estate. In 1607 a new charter provided for the use of a secret ballot at municipal elections, and confirmed all liberties and privileges enjoyed by the corporation at any time, irrespective of discontinuance, forfeiture, or misuse. After Anne’s death in 1619, the castle and honour were assigned to Prince Charles, while William Herbert, 3rd earl of Pembroke was appointed constable, steward, and master forester. Pontefract was an important battleground in the hard-fought Yorkshire election of December 1620. There, with Pembroke’s backing, Sir Thomas Wentworth, (2nd bt.), enjoyed the assistance of the honour’s steward learned, Christopher Banester, and the receiver-general, George Shilleto.2 The latter had ambitions to secure the enfranchisement of Pontefract, for which there was a strong case: the southern half of the West Riding was probably the fastest-growing industrial area in the country, but entirely lacked parliamentary representation. Doncaster, on the Great North Road, had sought enfranchisement in 1593 and 1597 by offering blank indentures to leading courtiers, and more formally in 1614 via a new charter, but neither scheme had succeeded.3

Shilleto’s unaided efforts were unlikely to persuade the Commons to agree to an enfranchisement – a procedural innovation in 1621 – and it was only when he attracted Wentworth’s support that the plan came to fruition. As part of his quest for the knighthood of the shire in December 1620, Wentworth had promised borough seats to more supporters than he could provide for. One of the unlucky candidates was Sir Henry Savile*, who lost out at Aldborough to Wentworth’s closest associate, Christopher Wandesford*. Seeking revenge against the voters who had ‘played the knave with me’, Savile circulated a petition calling for the disfranchisement of the tiny village and the transfer of its seats to Wakefield. Wentworth would have been doubly alarmed by this proposal, first because Wandesford threatened to ‘spend mountains’ to avert the loss of his seat, and secondly because this plan would have delivered patronage into the hands of his arch-rival Sir John Savile*, whose son Sir Thomas* was steward of the honour of Wakefield.4 Wentworth initially suggested Doncaster as a neutral alternative, but the experience of defending his own return before the privileges committee may have convinced him that the entire project was unfeasible. At the same time he had a chance to consult Shilleto, who, as high constable of Agbrigg wapentake, had attended the privileges’ committee as one of his witnesses (13 February). Wentworth’s return was confirmed on 23 Mar., and only three days later Sir Edwin Sandys* – brother-in-law of Shilleto’s wife – moved for the restoration of Pontefract’s medieval franchise, on the grounds that the 1607 charter revived all privileges, however long they had lain dormant, a feat one historian has termed ‘a dazzling and rhetorical display of inaccurate antiquarianism’. On 27 Mar. Sir George More reported that the privileges’ committee had endorsed this claim, and a writ was ordered for an election.5

No sooner had the decision for enfranchisement been made than Wentworth was approached for a seat by the courtier (Sir) Richard Wynn*, defeated after a bruising campaign in Caernarvonshire.

I told him [Wynn] that the town had already chosen two, and that if they would be persuaded to alter their choice I assured myself they would give me the nomination of one; but therein lies the difficulty, for I fear the town will unwillingly disappoint those they have formerly elected, having put themselves to charge and trouble in effecting the business.

The two men selected by the townsmen were almost certainly Shilleto and Sandys’s nephew and namesake, (Sir) Edwin Sandys, who were returned on 14 Apr., by which time Wynn had sensibly transferred his ambitions to Ilchester, Somerset, the other borough ‘restored’ in this Parliament. However, the return was almost certainly contested, as the duchy of Cornwall, upon learning of the enfranchisement, resolved to nominate two more courtiers, (Sir) Henry Rich* and Sir Francis Blundell*, 1st bt. The duchy council made their intentions known to Sir Henry Savile, who presumably advised them of his own aspirations for a seat, as Blundell’s name was struck out in the final draft of the letter; but if Rich and Savile stood, they were clearly defeated. In the absence of any specific franchise, Shilleto and Sandys were elected by the mayor, aldermen and burgesses on an indenture bearing 20 signatures.6

Sandys died in 1623, while Shilleto did not stand again. At the 1624 election the senior seat was taken by Wentworth, then recovering from a protracted illness, who had resolved not to contest the county seats with Sir John Savile. Though presumably supported by Shilleto and Banester, he admitted that there was ‘labour made against me’ – perhaps by Sir Henry Savile, although the latter is not known to have stood. Wentworth told Sir Richard Beaumont*, ‘I should have been glad of such a partner at Pontefract as yourself’, but the second seat went to the duchy nominee, Sir Henry Holcroft, who quickly opted to sit for another borough, prompting a fresh election.7 On this occasion the duchy nominated Robert Mynne, brother-in-law of Wentworth’s ally Secretary of State (Sir) George Calvert*. Mynne stood little chance, as Wentworth had clearly decided to throw his interest behind Beaumont, but the latter was in turn challenged by Sir John Jackson. At the election on 11 Mar., Jackson seemed likely to carry the day: the mayor, William Oates, declared for him, and barred the doors, thus denying entry to Beaumont’s supporters. A return was signed and authenticated with the borough seal, but at this point Beaumont insisted upon a poll. When it became clear that his supporters were outnumbered by around two to one, he interrupted the proceedings, and had his supporters, led by Alderman William Tatam, draft a second indenture. Sheriff Sir Henry Jenkins* wisely avoided any accusation of partisanship by forwarding both returns to Westminster.8

Once this dispute reached the Commons, the rival candidates looked to bigger figures to support their cause. With Beaumont backed by Wentworth, Jackson naturally turned to Savile, who delivered a petition on his behalf on 22 Mar., and called ‘to know the resolution of the House’. Wentworth promptly claimed that Jackson had been returned ‘by a popish faction in the town, and by the unlawful practice of temporary burgesses’, and moved that both returns be suspended pending investigation. With the clerk of the Crown apparently unable to offer any definitive ruling in this case, the question was referred to the privileges’ committee.9 Over the Easter recess, Wentworth procured a petition from Beaumont’s supporters which catalogued the mayor’s malpractices, but the committee’s report, on 1 Apr., was sympathetic towards Jackson, on the grounds that he had been returned by the ‘mayor, aldermen and burgesses’ to whom the writ had been directed, whereas Beaumont’s indenture contained a number of technical flaws. Sir Edward Coke moved to have the petition from Beaumont’s supporters heard in committee that afternoon, but William Mallory – no friend to Wentworth – successfully insisted that it should take its turn behind the many other election disputes then under consideration, with Jackson allowed to take his seat in the mean time.10 John Glanville eventually reported the committee’s decision on 28 May, the penultimate day of the session. Over the franchise dispute, the committee ruled that in the absence of ‘constant and certain custom … all the inhabitants, householders, and residents within the borough ought to have voice in the election’, a decision which was adopted as a definitive precedent. However, because of the interruption of the poll the election itself was declared void. A third election was accordingly held on 17 June, at which Mayor Oates, four aldermen and about 35 burgesses returned Jackson; Tatam and Beaumont’s other supporters were conspicuous by their absence. Despite all this effort, Jackson never got to take his seat, as King James’s death dissolved the Parliament before it was reconvened.11

There is no evidence that Beaumont stood against Jackson at the election of June 1624, while Jackson’s use of Savile during the 1624 dispute was more a convenience than a declaration of partisanship. In April 1625 Jackson volunteered to assist Wentworth against Savile in any contest for the county seats, an offer which was gratefully accepted. Wentworth informed Jackson of his intention to guard against a possible defeat at Savile’s hands by keeping a seat for himself at Pontefract, and informed the mayor that ‘I do exceeding much desire Sir John Jackson may be my partner in that service; and in case I should serve in the other place that you would then join Sir Richard Beaumont with Sir John Jackson, … so that all breaches may be made up’. Wentworth’s victory in the county election allowed Jackson and Beaumont to be returned, but the latter, apparently resentful at incurring an obligation to Jackson, ungratefully informed Wentworth that ‘I do not intend to serve in that rank; I am much beholden to them [of Pontefract] for the matter, but not for the manner’. He advised Wentworth to procure a new writ, and suggested Sir Henry Savile or Shilleto as his replacements. As there was no formal procedure for resignation, it is doubtful this would have been allowed, and in any case, Wentworth’s troubles over the county election left him with no time to argue Beaumont’s case.12

In 1626 Wentworth was barred from election by his appointment as sheriff; he therefore nominated Sir Francis Foljambe, 1st bt., a neighbour of his in Hallamshire, to serve with Jackson. On 22 May Foljambe showed the Commons a copy of a letter in which Savile attacked the House for wasting its time in pursuing Buckingham rather than attending to the needs of the cloth trade. Savile was one of the few Members willing to defend the duke during his impeachment, and this letter undercut his credibility. He emerged as a Buckingham partisan after the dissolution, and one of the offices with which he was rewarded was the stewardship of the honour of Pontefract, which offered the possibility of influence at subsequent parliamentary elections.13 Jackson was certainly aware of this prospect at the 1628 election, and when Wentworth suggested the re-election of the previous Members, he advised him

I had a long conflict with myself before I could resolve to stand; yet not so much out of fear of the grandees’ opposition as in favour of my own purse, which ... required some more ease than the ordinary expenses attending parliamentary service will afford me. For my joining with Sir Francis Foljambe, I protest I desire his company in that service, and will endeavour it; yet not in so public a manner as you seem to wish, as conceiving it would prove extremely prejudicial to both, and cause the adverse party to stand closer upon their guards.

Wentworth took the hint, and replaced Foljambe with Sir John Ramsden, who lived only four miles from the borough. During the autumn, the two Members visited their constituency, ostensibly ‘to know what service the townsmen would command them’, but actually to infuriate Savile, recently ennobled as Baron Savile of Pontefract, by hunting the hares that his office as gamekeeper required him to preserve.14

Authors: Karen Bishop / Simon Healy

Notes

  • 1. H. Heaton, Yorks. Woollen and Worsted Industries, 21, 49; W. Camden, Britannia (1610), i. 695; SP14/37/107; Vis. Yorks. ed. Foster, 311.
  • 2. G. Fox, Pontefact, 33, 35-36, 39, 162; Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 11; Duchy of Lancaster Office-Holders ed. R. Somerville, 149.
  • 3. HMC Hatfield, vii. 442; Doncaster Bor. Courtier ed. A. Brent, 211.
  • 4. A. Fletcher, ‘Sir Thomas Wentworth and the Restoration of Pontefract as a Parl. Bor.’, NH, vi. 89-93; Strafforde Letters, i. 8-9; Beaumont Pprs. ed. W.D. Macray (Roxburghe club, cxiii), 43-4; Duchy of Lancaster Office-Holders, 152.
  • 5. CD 1621, ii. 263, 270; iv. 49, 192, 201; CJ, i. 572b, 576a; Surr. Hist. Cent. LM1331/29; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 230; Fletcher, 92-6.
  • 6. DCO, Letters and Warrants, 1620-1, f. 98; Strafforde Letters, i. 14; C219/37/319.
  • 7. Strafforde Letters, i. 19; Wentworth Pprs. ed. J.P. Cooper (Cam. Soc. ser. 5. xii), 202-3; DCO, Prince Charles in Spain, f. 34.
  • 8. DCO, ‘Prince Charles in Spain’, f. 39; C219/38/280-1; CJ, i. 751a.
  • 9. ‘Pym 1624’, f. 37; CJ, i. 745a; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 102.
  • 10. CJ, i. 751a; ‘Pym 1624’, f. 44; ‘Earle 1624’, ff. 107v-8; Holles 1624, p. 54; J. Glanville, Reports of Certain Cases (1775), pp. 134-9.
  • 11. CJ, i. 714b; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 196v; ‘Hawarde 1624’, p. 302; Glanville, 140-3; C219/38/282.
  • 12. Strafforde Letters, i. 25-7; SIR THOMAS WENTWORTH.
  • 13. Procs. 1626, iii. 301-8, 392-401; C. Russell, PEP, 320-1; DCO, Letters and Warrants 1626-32, f. 74.
  • 14. Strafforde Letters, i. 34; Star Chamber Cases ed. S.R. Gardiner (Cam. Soc. n.s. xxxix), 147.

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