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 freemen

Number of voters:

19 in 16241


20 Feb. 16042THOMAS EGLESTON (not returned) 
12 Apr. 1604THOMAS UNTON vice Egleston, resigned 
8 Mar. 1614WILLIAM BYNG 
5 Jan. 1621SIR THOMAS FINCH , bt. 
 ?John Berry 
 Sir Alexander Temple*8
  Election of Finch declared void, 18 Mar. 1624 
25 Mar. 1624JOHN FINCH I11
 Sir Alexander Temple7
25 Feb. 1628SIR WILLIAM TWYSDEN , (bt.) 
c. Jan. 1629THOMAS HENEAGE vice Twysden, deceased 

Main Article

Old Winchelsea, one of the ancient towns added to the original Cinque Ports, was destroyed by the sea in the thirteenth century and rebuilt on a nearby hill. Although the new town enjoyed a brief period of prosperity based on the wine trade, it fell into decay in the fifteenth century as its haven gradually silted up. By the middle of Elizabeth’s reign there were reportedly not ‘above sixty households standing, and those, for the most part, poorly peopled’.3 This sorry state of affairs continued under James: in 1621 Sir Dudley Digges* remarked that Winchelsea presented ‘a lamentable spectacle’, with ‘scarce any sign or memory of its haven’. As there were so few inhabitants the town struggled to find the requisite number of 12 jurats to manage its affairs. By 1621 there were only four, a number so insufficient that, as the 11th Lord Zouche observed, were the town to send the correct number to the Brotherhood of the Cinque Ports it would be left entirely without magistrates.4

The franchise was vested in the freemen, and parliamentary elections were held in the Court Hall.5 Normally both candidates were chosen on the same day, but in 1614 there was an unexplained interval of 11 days between the election of both candidates. Outsiders chosen to serve in Parliament were expected to swear the oath of a freeman following their election. As such men rarely attended the hustings in person, it sometimes proved necessary to issue a commission under the town’s common seal that allowed them to be sworn in as freemen in London. In 1625 and 1628 commissions were granted to townsmen, but in 1621 the task of swearing in Edward Nicholas was entrusted to Nicholas’ parliamentary colleague John Finch, and to Sir Henry Mainwaring, the newly elected Member for Dover. Outsiders who were returned more than once were expected to take the oath of a freeman following each election.6

By tradition each of the Cinque Ports conferred one seat on the nominee of the lord warden, while the other remained at the disposal of the town. For the first election of the period, in February 1604, the new lord warden, Henry Howard, earl of Northampton, nominated his servant Thomas Unton. However, perhaps as a result of the king’s recent Proclamation requiring the return of residents only, Winchelsea’s voters decided to choose both Members themselves. Northampton was furious, and when he came to compile his return for all the Cinque Ports on 16 Mar. he entered Unton’s name in place of the townsman Thomas Egleston. By the time the borough discovered what had happened, Parliament had already begun. Rather than ‘increase his lordship’s indignation’ by appealing to the committee for privileges and returns, the corporation decided, at a town meeting held on 12 Apr., to accept Egleston’s offer to step down in favour of Unton, and to reimburse Egleston the money he had spent in sending his clothes to London by boat. The remaining Member, Adam White, was unaffected by these decisions, and in 1607 was voted wages of 4s. a day. However, in June 1608, White having by then received £30, it was decided to cap the amount payable to White, who was to have only £20 more ‘during the whole Parliament unless that this corporation shall voluntarily give him any more, and that without any motion of Mr. White or any other by his procurement’.7 This order effectively marked the end of parliamentary wages in Winchelsea.

The 1604 election saw the townsmen of Winchelsea act in unison, but by early 1607 they were riven with factional strife. There were complaints that there were not enough freemen and jurats, and that the same three individuals monopolized the mayoralty. In March 1607 the Privy Council ordered the town to appoint eight new freemen in order to increase the pool of men available to serve as jurats and mayor,8 but despite conciliar intervention the faction-fighting continued. It was soon apparent that the good offices of the lord warden would be needed, and consequently efforts were made by the town to improve its relations with Northampton. In April 1607 the corporation offered the next reversion to the town clerkship to William Byng, one of the earl’s servants. When Byng declined the place due to his necessary attendance on his master, the corporation permitted him to nominate another man instead. In September 1607 the corporation also bestowed ‘a silver cup of 20 nobles’ on Northampton’s client Unton, ostensibly in recognition of his service for the town in Parliament.9 These attempts to mollify Northampton evidently paid dividends, for in May 1609 the earl issued instructions for the election of the mayor on a strict rotational basis. These orders, which were immediately adopted, were reiterated in April 1610, and a few months later the corporation appointed Unton its standing counsel.10

Mindful perhaps of the debt it now owed to Northampton, and also of the angry reaction it had provoked in 1604, the corporation made no qualms about electing the earl’s nominee, William Byng, at the 1614 general election. For the remaining seat it chose one of the earl’s former servants, Thomas Godfrey, a former resident of Winchelsea who had recently served as the town’s deputy mayor and had helped liaise with Northampton during the dispute over the election of the town’s mayor. Both Members undertook to serve ‘gratis and without wages of Parliament’.11

In the short term, the settlement reached in 1609 helped to dampen down the internal conflicts in Winchelsea, but by the time of the next general election these quarrels had reignited. In June 1620 Robert Butler, mayor at the time of the dispute over the mayoral elections, complained to Northampton’s successor as lord warden, Lord Zouche, that he had been disfranchised because he was non-resident. Butler was now lieutenant of nearby Camber Castle, and by ancient custom any freeman who removed himself from the town or its liberties for more than a year and a day was required to lose his franchise.12 At around the same time the borough was embroiled in a fresh dispute over the election of jurats. Following mediation by the lieutenant of Dover Castle, Sir Henry Mainwaring, and the Brotherhood of the Cinque Ports, a settlement to these problems was reached in July, but only at the cost of stripping two of the men involved of their position as jurats.13 By the time that a fresh parliamentary election was ordered in November 1620 it was clear that much ill feeling remained, and that it would no longer be possible to return a townsman.

On 6 Dec. an alarmed mayor, John Collins, informed Lord Zouche that three of the chief townsmen, ‘contrary to all due proceedings, have hunted for, wrought and gotten the voices, or the promise of the voices, of most part of the freemen’ for ‘one Mr. Anscombe, a lawyer … a man that as I have understood never sought for it, one who is altogether unacquainted with the customs and liberties of the Ports, and one who by reason of a caution in His Majesty’s Proclamation your lordship by reason of his profession only may perhaps think not fit to be chosen’.14 The lawyer referred to by Collins was almost certainly Thomas Aynscombe, who lived either at Buxted, near Uckfield, or Mayfield, both of which lay in Sussex. A bencher of the Inner Temple, Aynscombe, the brother-in-law of Nicholas Eversfield*, was not unknown to Winchelsea, having served as counsel for the borough in 1617.15 Rather than allow the seat that was traditionally reserved for a townsman to be taken by Aynscombe, Collins preferred that it should be bestowed upon one or other of ‘two gentlemen of worth and credit, well-willers unto the said town’. The first of these ‘well-willers’ was Sir Thomas Finch, bt., whose father had represented the borough in Parliament in 1601. Finch had recently become head of his family, but since his mother continued to live on the family’s main property at Eastwell, in Kent, he was obliged to dwell near Winchelsea, on the manor of Icklesham, of which he was the lord. The second man favoured by Collins was John Berry, captain of the foot company in Lydd, Kent, and cousin of the former Winchelsea jurat Thomas Godfrey.16 Collins appealed to Zouche to decide which of the three candidates the borough should select, as this would ‘free the town of a great deal of perplexity’. The following day the field may have unexpectedly narrowed, as Thomas Aynscombe of Mayfield died.17 Unaware of this development, though, Zouche replied:

I affect Captain Berry well for his own particular and the acquaintance I have with him. I know not Mr. Aynscombe, but have heard him much commended for a discreet gentleman. Though the king admonished that you elect no wrangling lawyer, yet he forbade not such as are modest and discreet. For Sir Thomas Finch he is a gentleman of worth and quality, and one who dwelling near you may do you good hereafter.

If he had been asked for a recommendation before other candidates were in the field, he went on, he would have nominated Finch. As it was, he added diplomatically, he left the town to a free election.18

Zouche’s support for Finch evidently proved decisive, although as Finch attended the hustings in person on the day of the election it may be that the threat posed by Berry remained right up until the last moment.19 Finch’s colleague was Edward Nicholas, whom the lord warden nominated for the remaining place. Nicholas was secretary to Zouche, and as such was obliged to draft a letter of modest self-commendation for the lord warden’s signature himself. In this Zouche declared that ‘though perhaps he is not well known to you all’, Nicholas was nevertheless ‘acquainted with the business and occasions of the Ports’ and was both ‘honest and trusty’. Like their predecessors, both Members agreed to forego parliamentary wages.20

Following the 1621 parliamentary election, the truce brokered by Mainwaring and the Brotherhood in July 1620 quickly broke down. In May 1621 fresh arguments broke out over the suitability to serve as jurats of Robert Butler and Giles Waters, who like Butler formed part of the garrison of Camber Castle.21 Matters came to a head in April 1623, when John Collins and nine of his fellow townsmen refused to elect Waters as mayor, thereby disregarding the 1609 settlement, which provided for the annual election of the mayor on a strict rotational basis. Collins claimed that such drastic action was justified because Waters had recently been declared bankrupt. While this was certainly true, Lord Zouche was incensed, and in August Collins, who had been re-elected mayor by his supporters, was stripped of office, disfranchised and imprisoned in Dover Castle, along with two of his chief accomplices. Waters, meanwhile, was sequestered as a jurat until such times as he demonstrated that he was fit to hold office. Instead, the lord warden placed the mayoralty in the hands of the former incumbent, Paul Wymond.22

It was against the backdrop of these turbulent events that the king summoned a fresh Parliament. Once again, the townsmen of Winchelsea, while happy to accept the lord warden’s nominee, Edward Nicholas, for one seat, were divided over which man to choose for the other. One group within the town, led by the mayor, was willing that the Finch family should be allowed to provide the successful candidate, as it had in 1621. Since Sir Thomas Finch was no longer willing to stand, his younger brother John, deputy recorder of London, put his hat into the ring. Another group of townsmen, however, wished to elect Sir Alexander Temple, who had acquired an east Sussex estate by marriage and whose younger brother, Peter, had served as captain of Camber Castle between 1610 and 1618.23 It seems likely that at least some of Temple’s supporters may have been drawn from among those townsmen who were closely connected with Camber Castle.

From evidence later submitted to the committee for privileges, it seems clear that both before and during the election held on 23 Jan. 1624 the mayor, Paul Wymond, employed underhand means to thwart Temple. First, he delayed calling a town meeting until seven o’clock the previous evening. Then he announced, disingenuously, that the purpose of the forthcoming meeting was to consider the business of the town in general rather than to hold a parliamentary election. When these tactics failed to prevent Temple’s supporters from turning out, Wymond refused to read out the election writ until two of the jurats present, the brothers Jonathan and Daniel Tilden, withdrew, as they had not been summoned to the meeting. Wymond claimed that, by virtue of a town edict issued in November 1609, the Tildens were not entitled to participate in the election, having been non-resident for the past three months, and declared that they had only come to the meeting to raise a tumult. However, the Tildens were reluctant to depart, and spent the next hour remonstrating with the mayor, supported by another of the jurats, an innkeeper named Richard Martin. After denouncing Temple as a man ‘of suspected religion, and allied to an arch-papist, the earl of Clanricarde’, Wymond threatened Martin, telling him that he should ‘look better to his small pots, which had loose bottoms’. Unable to make any headway, the Tildens were eventually forced to leave, but not before they had publicly declared their support for Temple. Their departure left the two sides evenly matched: the mayor and seven of the freemen supported Finch, while four jurats and four freemen gave their voices for Temple. However, rather than announce that a stalemate had been reached, Wymond declared Finch elected, on the grounds that, being mayor, he was entitled to a casting vote.24 Wymond’s fellow jurats were incensed, and consequently it was not until 27 Jan. – four days after the election – that the return was drawn up. Even then it was not sealed until the next day.25

Following the election, Temple and the jurats sent separate letters of protest to Lord Zouche. The lord warden was initially horrified at the information contained within these reports, particularly as he had recently worked so hard to restore peace and good government in Winchelsea, and one week after the election he warned Wymond that he would be punished by the Commons ‘if the present House refuse or dislike your election’. However, by early February he had concluded that Wymond was not as culpable as he had been led to believe, and therefore advised Temple to drop his complaint, as Parliament would have ‘many more weighty businesses to consider’. He also tried to persuade Nicholas Eversfield, who had supported the candidacy of Thomas Aynscombe in 1621 and had also protested at the mayor’s behaviour, to use his influence with Temple to ensure that the matter went no further.26

Temple refused to heed Lord Zouche’s advice, however, and on 2 Mar. he petitioned the Commons’ elections committee.27 The following day, after a preliminary hearing in committee, the House summoned the mayor as a delinquent.28 A full hearing took place on 16 Mar., as a result of which the committee recommended that, for several reasons, the election of Finch should be declared void. First, it was observed that the town’s by-law of November 1609 was ‘utterly void’, for no private ordinance was capable of restraining ‘the manner, or right, of election of barons or burgesses to the Parliament’. Secondly, it was noted that, quite apart from the illegality of the 1609 bye-law, the grounds for barring the Tildens from voting were insufficient, for although neither the Tildens nor their families lived within the borough they still owned houses there. Besides, if three months’ absence was to be cited as a qualification for voting, what was to prevent a town from passing by-laws that barred a man from voting if he was absent for a month or less? The committee further condemned the election on the grounds that the mayor had given insufficient warning of the election, had concealed the true purpose of the town meeting, and had falsely claimed the right to a casting vote. Finally, the committee observed that in ‘seeking to draw the said Sir Alexander into scandal touching his religion, without cause’, Wymond had committed ‘an offence against the liberties and privileges of the Commons in Parliament’. The House agreed with these damning conclusions, and consequently Wymond was committed to prison for two days and ordered to acknowledge his fault publicly, both at the bar of the House and at the forthcoming election.29

Wymond returned to Winchelsea within a week, and held a second election on 25 Mar, which was attended both by Temple and by two of Finch’s brothers, Sir Thomas Finch and Francis Finch. This time the Tildens were permitted to cast their votes, but at least one elector evidently abandoned Temple, who was now only able to muster nine votes in total rather than the ten he might have expected to receive. As a result, support for John Finch increased to 11. However, some time during the course of the proceedings, six of the freemen who had been disfranchised in 1623 burst into the hall and declared their support for Temple. They claimed that they were entitled to vote on the grounds that Paul Wymond, who had disfranchised them, had no right to the mayoralty as he had never been elected to office but had been installed by the lord warden. None of the freemen or jurats present were willing to accept this argument, however, but rather than allow the proceedings to descend into chaos it was decided that a letter should be directed to the lord warden asking whether the votes of the six disfranchised men should be allowed.30 Naturally Zouche proved unwilling to endorse their claims, as it had been on his instruction that they had lost the franchise in the first place, and as a result Temple once again petitioned the Commons’ elections committee. However, on 11 May the committee swept aside his complaint on the grounds that it was sufficient that Wymond was de facto mayor, and that the six disfranchised men had not claimed the right to vote in the previous contest. The House agreed with this conclusion, and on 28 May, the day before the Parliament ended, it declared Finch’s election good.31

Following these tumultuous events, the divisions within Winchelsea seem largely to have subsided. Nevertheless, as late as February 1629 Giles Waters, by then mayor, complained that aspersions were being cast on his probity behind his back by some of his fellow townsmen.32 By the time of the 1625 election the duke of Buckingham had replaced Lord Zouche as lord warden. Buckingham nominated his kinsman by marriage, Sir Ralph Freeman, a master of Requests from Surrey, for one seat, while the Finch interest, which now seems to have been firmly established, went to the Kentish gentleman Sir Roger Twysden, who was re-elected in 1626. The lord warden’s choice in 1626 fell on Sir Nicholas Saunders of Ewell, in Surrey.33 Saunders seems to have needed parliamentary privilege to stave off his creditors, and may have been recommended to Buckingham by his neighbour Freeman. The latter regained the Winchelsea seat in 1628, but Twysden was replaced by his father Sir William, an opponent of the Forced Loan. Neither writ nor indenture survives for the by-election caused by Sir William Twysden’s death on 8 Jan. 1629, nor is there any record of the election in the corporation’s minute book, which is blank for the period between mid-August 1628 and September 1630. However, by 12 Feb. 1629 Twysden’s kinsman Thomas Heneage, whose sister-in-law was the widow of Thomas Egleston, had taken a seat in the Commons, presumably for this constituency.34

Authors: Peter Lefevre / Andrew Thrush


  • 1. ‘Earle 1624’, f. 46v.
  • 2. Dates of elections from E. Suss. RO, WIN 55, ff. 82, 84, 190r-v, 234, 279, 283v-4, 298, 307; 58, f. 2.
  • 3. W.D. Cooper, Winchelsea, 107; VCH Suss. ix. 67, 69-70.
  • 4. E. Suss. RO, WIN 55, f. 274; Add. 37818, f. 63v.
  • 5. J. Glanville, Reps. (1775), pp. 13-15.
  • 6. E. Suss. RO, WIN 55, ff. 235, 280, 298; 58, f. 2.
  • 7. E. Suss. RO, WIN 55, ff. 82, 84, 110v, 120; OR.
  • 8. Add. 11402, f. 125.
  • 9. E. Suss. RO, WIN 55, ff. 117, 124, 143.
  • 10. Ibid. ff. 151, 162, 164v; Top. and Gen. ii. 452.
  • 11. E. Suss. RO, WIN 55, f. 190r-v.
  • 12. Ibid. ff. 208v, 232v; Add. 37818, f. 42; Add. 5705, f. 91.
  • 13. E. Suss. RO, WIN 55, ff. 231, 233, 241r-v.
  • 14. SP14/118/9.
  • 15. CITR, 88; I. Temple Admiss. 122; E. Suss. RO, WIN 55, f. 214; STAC 8/195/28, f. 10.
  • 16. Top. and Gen. ii. 459.
  • 17. Suss. Inquisitions (Suss. Rec. Soc. xiv), 12. The will of Thomas Aynscombe of Mayfield contains nothing that would lead to the conclusion that he was a lawyer: PROB 11/137, ff. 286v-9.
  • 18. Add. 37818, f. 51r-v.
  • 19. E. Suss. RO, WIN 55, f. 234.
  • 20. Add. 37818, f. 52v.
  • 21. Ibid. ff. 63v, 64v-5; CSP Dom. 1619-23, pp. 255, 258.
  • 22. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 351; E. Suss. RO, WIN 55, ff. 267-8, 273; Add. 37818, ff. 129v-30. It may be significant that hostility between Collins and Waters predated Waters’ bankruptcy. In Jan. 1621 Collins killed Waters’ dog, and then had him arrested for publicly subjecting him to ‘unadvised speeches’: CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 218; Add. 37818, f. 54.
  • 23. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 579; 1611-18, p. 554.
  • 24. Glanville, 15-17; ‘Earle 1624’, ff. 46v-7, 88r-v; Bodl. Tanner 392, f. 21.
  • 25. E. Suss. RO, WIN 55, ff. 279v, 280.
  • 26. Add. 37818, ff. 145v-6, 147v-8.
  • 27. ‘Earle 1624’, ff. 46v-7.
  • 28. Bodl. Tanner 392, f. 21.
  • 29. Glanville, 17-24; ‘Earle 1624’, ff. 90v-1.
  • 30. E. Suss. RO, WIN 55, ff. 283v-4.
  • 31. ‘Earle 1624’, ff. 179v, 196v.
  • 32. E. Suss. RO, WIN 58, f. 1v.
  • 33. Procs. 1625, p. 704; Procs. 1626, iv. 254-5.
  • 34. CJ, i. 714b; Vis. Bucks. (Harl. Soc. lviii), 132.