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:

about 360 in 1640


 Sir Robert Tracy*
11 Mar. 1628SIR BAPTIST HICKS , bt.
4 June 1628SIR WILLIAM HICKS , bt. vice Hicks, called to the Upper House

Main Article

Tewkesbury lay in a peninsula of Gloucestershire, between Herefordshire and Worcestershire, at the confluence of the Severn and the Avon, and was described by Camden as ‘a large and fair town … famous for the making of woollen cloth and smart-biting mustard’.2 The mustard brought little more than fame and the woollen industry had greatly declined by the seventeenth century, when the primary occupation was the carrying trade with Bristol and Gloucester and the most important local industries were leather-working and maltmaking.3 The town, which was obliged to maintain bridges over the Avon and Swilgate, received its first charter in the twelfth century, and was incorporated in 1575 as the ‘bailiffs, burgesses and commonalty of the borough’.4 Following the incorporation the borough was repeatedly in conflict with the steward of the manor, which was then owned by the Crown. This was partly resolved by a re-incorporation in 1605, under which the borough was granted a separate commission of the peace. Five years later, apparently under pressure from the Crown, it bought the manor for £2,450, and paid a further £438 for a new charter. This enfranchised Tewkesbury, extended its authority over the whole hundred and liberty, enlarged the corporation to two bailiffs, 24 principal burgesses and 24 assistants, and increased the number of justices from four to six.5 The bailiffs acted as returning officers, and the returns were made ‘with the whole assent and consent of the rest of the burgesses’, nine signed the indenture in 1626 and 15 in 1628.6 The corporation itself clearly managed the elections with a view to the protection of its investment, as the new constituency was closed to the Gloucestershire gentry, who would scarcely have sympathized with the town’s ambition to transfer responsibility for maintaining its bridges to the county. Worcestershire and Herefordshire gentry were not handicapped in this way, and the influence of the Sandys family of Ombersley in Worcestershire may be suspected in some elections.

The charter was issued on 23 Mar. 1610, and the first writ seven days later.7 The corporation provided one Member, Edward Ferrers, a London Mercer born near Tewkesbury, whose elder brother William, also a Mercer, had advanced most of the money for the purchase of the manor. The charter named both brothers principal burgesses, and Edward high steward. Lord treasurer Salisbury (Robert Cecil†), who had arranged the sale and himself held property in the neighbourhood,8 recommended Sir Dudley Digges, a young Kentish gentleman recently returned from his travels and a kinsman of Sir Samuel Sandys*. He was to become one of the leading Parliament-men of the period and, perhaps under Salisbury’s guidance, he showed a ready grasp of the realities behind his return, sending Tewkesbury £160 ‘by way of thankfulness’, to purchase lands for the endowment of the free grammar school which had been founded in 1576 by William Ferrers.9 Digges remained a ‘benefactor and a worthy good friend’,10 and was accordingly assured of re-election throughout the period. Ferrers seems to have been satisfied with a couple of sessions in Parliament, for in 1614 he was replaced by Sir John Radcliffe, standing on the interest of the lord lieutenant, Grey Brydges†, 5th Baron Chandos, known as ‘the King of Cotswold’. Radcliffe moved up to Lancashire for the 1620 election and consequently Chandos nominated his cousin Giles Bridges as ‘a worthy gentleman and neighbour, known to many of you’.11 He probably secured an unopposed election by recommending to Sir Francis Russell* for a seat at Tavistock the great financier Sir Baptist Hicks, who had acquired an independent interest in the borough by buying the domestic buildings of the abbey. When the 1621 Parliament met, Digges undertook to procure an Act to charge the county with the cost of repairing Tewkesbury’s bridges, which had been seriously damaged by flooding three years earlier. He managed to steer the bill through committee, despite the claim of other Gloucestershire Members that it was ‘against law and equity’ to spread the cost, but it never reached the Lords, still less the statute book.12 According to a later petition addressed o the justices of assize, one of the knights of the shire, possibly Sir Robert Tracy, privately offered the borough £200 ‘by way of compensation’.13 Early in the Parliament, Digges’s fellow Tewkesbury Member, Giles Bridges, was suspended for being a partner of the infamous patentee (Sir) Giles Mompesson*, and was not restored to his seat until 21 November. Lord Chandos died in August 1621, leaving a minor as his heir, whereupon the family interest at Tewkesbury lapsed. Bridges subsequently sat for his native Herefordshire.

In 1624 Hicks took over the seat previously held by Bridges, and held it until he was raised to the peerage four years later. On his death in 1629 it was recorded by the town clerk that ‘the only cause’ of Hicks’s ‘great bounty towards us’ had been his repeated election.14 In 1625 Tracy, the one Gloucestershire gentleman known to have aspired to a Tewkesbury seat, was rejected by the corporation in Hicks’s favour, prompting his indignant protest that ‘tis not he who brings most in his truest love, but brings most in his purse, shall be accepted’. He still hoped to challenge the ‘stranger’ Hicks at the election, pointing out to his friend Roger Dowdeswell of Pull Court that, as knight of the shire in 1621, he had not opposed the bridge bill for fear of harming the borough’s interests.15 The subsequent return of Digges and Hicks ran in the name of the ‘burgesses and commonalty’.16 Both men were re-elected in 1626, but when Digges achieved a Kent county seat in 1628 Hicks moved up to the first place. The junior seat thereupon went to a Kentish knight, Sir Thomas Culpeper, evidently on Digges’s recommendation, though Culpeper was closely connected with the Sandys family. Ennobled as Viscount Campden on 5 May 1628, Hicks was replaced in the Commons by his nephew, Sir William Hicks.

Author: Alan Davidson


  • 1. CJ, i. 418a.
  • 2. W. Camden, Britannia (1772) ed. E. Gibson, i. 281.
  • 3. F. Redmond, ‘Bor. of Tewkesbury 1575-1714’ (Birmingham Univ. MA 1950), pp. 79-85; VCH Glos. viii. 137, 142, 144.
  • 4. VCH Glos. viii. 147; CPR, 1572-5, pp. 526-8.
  • 5. Redmond, 4-6; J. Bennett, Hist. Tewkesbury, 208; C66/1811/1, 2; VCH Glos. viii. 147-9.
  • 6. D. Hirst, Representative of the People?, 209-10; C219/40/127; 219/41A/119.
  • 7. OR.
  • 8. J. Smith, Men and Armour for Glos. in 1608, p. 115.
  • 9. Glos. RO, TBR A1/1, f. 42; Bennett, 222.
  • 10. Glos. RO, TBR A1/1, f. 42.
  • 11. Glos. RO, TBR B26.
  • 12. VCH Glos. viii. 114; CJ, i. 542b, 609b, 631a.
  • 13. Glos. RO, TBR A1/1, f. 35.
  • 14. Glos. RO, TBR A1/1, f. 48.
  • 15. Glos. RO, D760/36.
  • 16. Glos. RO, TBR A1/1, f. 18.