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 corporation

Number of voters:



 Edward Clere14
 Sir Henry Warner 4
 Mr. Whettle 3
29 Oct. 16061SIR WILLIAM TWYSDEN vice Gawdy, deceased  
 Sir William Barwicke 7
 Rice Gwyn* , recorder 1
 Sir Charles Le Gros*311
 Sir Robert Cotton , (bt.) 1
25 Apr. 16254SIR ROBERT COTTON , (bt.)28 
 Sir Charles Le Gros* 13
17 Jan. 1626SIR JOHN HOBART II21 
c. Feb. 16265NATHANIEL HOBART vice Hobart, chose to sit for Brackley  
20 Feb. 1628(SIR) HENRY SPILLER26 
 Sir Charles Gawdy 3
24 Mar. 16286SIR HENRY VANE vice Spiller, chose to sit for Middlesex  

Main Article

Situated at the confluence of the rivers Thet and Little Ouse, and straddling the Norfolk/Suffolk border, Thetford existed as a market town before Roman times, when it was known as Sitomagus. During the early Middle Ages it flourished, but by the late sixteenth century, having ceased to be an important staging post, it was chronically poor and ‘ruinated’, its income barely exceeding £60 p.a.7 It nevertheless boasted a royal hunting lodge, and continued to enjoy the right to stage the assizes, much to the annoyance of Norwich and many of the Norfolk gentry. However, the assizes placed a heavy strain on the borough’s slender resources,8 while James I sold the hunting lodge.9 Thetford’s fortunes were not helped by a serious fire in 1616, nor by the cancellation of its annual horse races in 1620, following a riot in which ‘divers persons have been hurt and some killed’.10

A borough by prescription, Thetford was not incorporated until 1573, when its government was placed in the hands of a mayor, ten burgesses and 20 commoners, all of whom were constituted as the voters in parliamentary elections. The 1573 charter, which was probably obtained through the influence of the Howards, also provided for the appointment of a recorder for life.11 During the sixteenth century, electoral patronage was divided between the local gentry, the Howard family and the duchy of Lancaster, which had previously owned Thetford manor.12 By 1604 duchy influence had waned, but that of Henry Howard, who was created earl of Northampton in March 1604, and the pre-eminent gentry family, the Gawdys, continued.

Thetford’s elections were often contested. In 1604 five candidates presented themselves to the corporation. Sir Bassingborne Gawdy, who had previously represented the borough in 1593 and was the largest local landowner, had no difficulty in achieving the first place, although his brother Philip had hoped to stand in his stead or to use his influence with Sir Nicholas Bacon† to secure him a place at Eye, in Suffolk.13 Sir Bassingborne had previously secured the support of the attorney-general and influential Norfolk-man, Sir Edward Coke*, as Philip informed him: ‘I was with Mr. Attorney when Sir Henry Warner† did ask his counsel about Thetford for you. I heard him make this answer, that if they would choose you there would be no exception taken, nor any refusal made’.14 Warner, a Suffolk gentleman who had represented the borough in 1601, also stood but achieved fourth place with only four votes. The junior burgess was Sir William Paddy, physician to both King James and the borough’s patron Henry Howard. Paddy, with 15 votes, easily defeated his closest rival, Edward Clere, whose father had represented the town in 1558 and 1563. The fifth candidate, one Mr. Whettle, gained the support of four commoners only.15

The death of Gawdy on 17 May 1606 necessitated a by-election, at which the successful, and perhaps sole candidate, was Sir William Twysden. A Kentishman, learned in theology, astronomy and mathematics, Twysden had long been a client of the earl of Northampton. On 15 July 1606 the corporation agreed, ‘upon my lord of Northampton’s letters, then showed and read, [that] his lordship should have the nomination of a burgess for the Parliament’.16 Towards the end of October, with the new parliamentary session close at hand, the 17 corporation members present unanimously elected Twysden.17 Twysden was also returned in 1614, when he again secured all the available votes. The second place was taken by Framlingham Gawdy, who received the support of 13 of the 16 burgesses present but only three of the ten commoners. Sir William Barwicke, a minor Suffolk gentleman who lived near the town, managed five votes from the commoners but just two from the senior corporation officials. The recorder, Rice Gwyn, gained a solitary vote and was returned instead for Norwich.18

Following Northampton’s death the patronage of the borough was assumed by his great-nephew, the earl of Arundel. The 1620 election, held on 11 Dec. but dated three days later on the return, saw no need for a poll as Arundel’s client, Sir Thomas Holland, and Framlingham Gawdy were elected unopposed.19 However, the 1624 election witnessed a return to the usual rivalry for seats, although Gawdy, who stood for the first place, met little opposition, receiving 23 of the 30 available votes. The second seat went to an Arundel client, Dru Drury, who defeated his nearest rival, Sir Charles Le Gros* of Crostwight, Norfolk, by 17 votes to 11. The last candidate was Sir Robert Cotton*, but though a Howard client he seems not to have enjoyed Arundel’s support on this occasion, as he received only one vote.20

When a new Parliament was summoned in 1625, Holland wrote to Gawdy on 9 Apr. informing him that Arundel was committed to backing Cotton for the first seat at Thetford, and therefore requesting that Gawdy should allow the second seat to go to Le Gros.21 Cotton was indeed informed by the corporation that he had been chosen for the first place ‘with not one voice against him … upon the commendation of the Right Honourable the earl of Arundel’.22 However, the junior seat was again contested, with Gawdy emerging the narrow victor over Le Gros, who thereafter switched his electoral attention to Orford, in Suffolk.23 In 1626 the only candidates to stand for election were Framlingham Gawdy and another local gentleman, Sir John Hobart II. However, Hobart was also returned for Brackley, and his younger brother, Nathaniel, was subsequently elected in his stead.24

In 1628 Framlingham Gawdy was sheriff of Norfolk and thus ineligible for election. His brother, Sir Charles Gawdy, seeing an opportunity to escape his creditors, therefore wrote to him for his help in gaining a seat, professing that he had ‘a great desire’ to be a Member of the Commons: ‘I know nobody that can make better means to Thetford than yourself’.25 As Framlingham did not stir himself, he wrote again from London:

I am bold once more to solicit you that you would be pleased to go instantly about it yourself in person or else it will be gone, for Dru Drury* was here in this town and do[es] purpose to send to Thetford tomorrow, not for himself but for a friend. And I am sure you have as much interest as he and therefore I beseech you make no delays but go about the business with all possible speed. The day is certain for the Parliament, 17 March. There is such a stir for places that they are all gone or promised by this time.26

However, Framlingham made no effort to assist his brother, and instead probably supported his close friend, Edmund Moundeford, who defeated Sir Charles by 23 votes to three.27 At Arundel’s request the first seat went to Sir Henry Spiller, who subsequently chose to sit for Middlesex. He was replaced by Sir Henry Vane, another Arundel client.28

Only one matter of parliamentary business directly concerned Thetford in this period. In 1567 Sir Richard Fulmerston†, a native of Thetford, left lands in Croxton valued at £35 p.a. to the town for the benefit of the grammar school, to be administered by his son-in-law and heir, (Sir) Edward Clere†. By the turn of the seventeenth century, however, the Croxton lands generated £100 in rent, but Clere continued to pay only the £35 mentioned in the will. In 1606 a bill concerning the school was submitted to the Commons, presumably by Clere, as the corporation’s Hall Books fail to mention any payment for drafting it or for overseeing its progress through Parliament. This may explain why Clere’s son stood at Thetford in 1604, and also why he suffered such a resounding defeat at the poll. In March 1606 the younger Clere pleaded with the earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†), for his release from prison in order to ‘attend his causes in Parliament’.29 However, a committee mainly comprised of Norfolk men, including the Thetford Members Sir Bassingborne Gawdy and Sir William Paddy, recommended that the bill was ‘fit to sleep’.30 The situation was reversed in 1610 when Thetford corporation submitted its own bill to Parliament. By this time Sir Edward Clere was dead and his son, Edward, was in prison accused of sheltering a seminary priest.31 It was entered in the Lords, where the town’s patron the earl of Northampton spoke in favour of its committal. Clere was allowed to be present at the committee meeting, as a note from the clerk of Parliaments, Robert Bowyer*, requested that his prison-keeper have him escorted to the Painted Chamber to answer questions.32 The matter was referred by the Lords’ committee to three of their legal assistants, and after hearing the case for two days at Serjeants’ Inn, the judges recommended that all the revenue and profits from the lands should be employed as directed in Fulmerston’s will.33 The bill gained the approval of the Lords on 30 May, and passed the Commons on 26 June with only minor opposition.34 The passage of the bill cost Thetford dear, as the corporation agreed on 3 Mar. that the town should meet all the expenses. One of the burgesses, Robert Abraham, was dispatched to London with £3 ‘about the Parliament business’, while the town counsel and schoolmaster William Jenkinson was paid £6 15s. 6d. for his efforts in ensuring the success of the enterprise.35

Author: Chris Kyle


  • 1. Norf. RO, T/C1/3, p. 16.
  • 2. Ibid. 38.
  • 3. Ibid. 72.
  • 4. Ibid. T/C1/4, p. 17.
  • 5. Ibid. 28.
  • 6. Ibid. 55.
  • 7. F. Blomefield, Hist. Thetford, 2, 61; F. Blomefield, Hist. Norf. 42-3; Norf. RO, T/C1/3, p. 40.
  • 8. Norf. RO, T/C1/3, p. 34; T/C1/4, p. 62.
  • 9. A.L. Hunt, Capital Ancient Kingdom of East Anglia, 148.
  • 10. APC, 1619-20, p. 180.
  • 11. Norf. RO, T/C1/6, ff. 22v-24.
  • 12. Norf. RO, T/NS1/33; G. Burrell, Acct. Gifts and Legacies to Thetford, 64-5.
  • 13. Eg. 2804, f. 176.
  • 14. Ibid. f. 177.
  • 15. Norf. RO, T/C1/3, pp. 2-3.
  • 16. Ibid. 14.
  • 17. Ibid. 16.
  • 18. Ibid. 38. W. Blomefield, Norf. iii. 71.
  • 19. Norf. RO, T/C1/3, p. 72.
  • 20. Ibid. T/C1/4, p. 1.
  • 21. Norf. RO, MC 2208/1, 938X8.
  • 22. Cott. Julius C.III, f. 284.
  • 23. Norf. RO, T/C1/4, p. 17.
  • 24. Ibid. 27-8.
  • 25. CD 1628, vi. 167-8.
  • 26. Ibid. 168; Eg. 2715, ff. 240, 366.
  • 27. Norf. RO, T/C1/4, pp. 54-5.
  • 28. Procs. 1628, vi. 168.
  • 29. SP14/19/107; HMC Hatfield, xviii. 386-7.
  • 30. CJ, i. 258a, 259a, 278a.
  • 31. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 531-2.
  • 32. HLRO, main pprs. 22 Mar. 1610.
  • 33. Coke, 8th Rep. Thetford sch. case (1610); 1 Equity Case Abridged 100, in Eng. Rep. 21, pp. 909-10.
  • 34. LJ, ii. 598, 600, 603, 604; CJ, i. 435b, 438b, 440a, 442a, 443a, 443b.
  • 35. Norf. RO, T/C1/3, pp. 29, 30.