Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
?in the corporation
Number of voters:
|10 Mar. 1604||HENRY MARTYN|
|c. Mar. 1614||SIR WILLIAM WILLOUGHBY|
|18 Dec. 1620||RICHARD HARRISON|
|22 Jan. 1624||SIR ROLAND EGERTON , bt.|
|5 May 1625||SIR ROBERT HYDE|
|SIR WALTER TICHBORNE|
|c. Jan. 1626||SIR JOHN FRANKLIN|
|SIR THOMAS LAKE I|
|10 Mar. 1628||SIR JOHN FRANKLIN|
Although little more than an agricultural village lying in the northern ‘cheese’ district of Wiltshire, Wootton Bassett returned Members to the Commons from 1446, at which time it was held by the dukes of York. In 1631 the residents produced a copy of an alleged charter of 1561 which vested authority in a mayor, two aldermen and 12 capital burgesses. The original grant has not been found, but the format of the early Stuart indentures – which were sealed with the borough seal and describe the electorate as the ‘mayor and burgesses’ – suggests that the franchise then lay with the corporation, however dubious its legal status.1
From 1555 Wootton Bassett manor was held by the Catholic Englefield family, whose head, Sir Francis†, a Marian courtier, opted for exile on the Continent under Elizabeth, and was attainted in 1585. The estate was swiftly re-granted to his nephew, also Sir Francis Englefield, who ran into serious financial problems in James’s reign; the only early Stuart MP who seems to have been connected with his interests was John Wrenham, who made several interventions on his behalf in the 1621 Parliament.2
With the decline of the Englefield patronage, the borough accepted a number of strangers with no known connection to the area.3 These included Sir John Franklin and Sir Thomas Lake I, both seated in Middlesex; Sir Roland Egerton of Northamptonshire; Sir William Willoughby from Buckinghamshire; and the Dorset lawyer John Bankes. Indeed, the only early Stuart Member with local connections was Henry Martyn, who held three manors on the outskirts of nearby Swindon.4 Four Members are known or are suspected to have owed their election to the influence of others: Edward Seymour, 1st earl of Hertford, advanced his agent Alexander Tutt in 1604; Sir Robert Hyde’s position as steward of Crown lands in neighbouring Chippenham doubtless assisted his return;5 and the family of the young Edward Hungerford held extensive property in north Wiltshire. Finally, the return of Anthony Rous, joint clerk of the Pipe with Henry Croke*, was probably engineered by Croke to help resist an attack on their office launched in Parliament by Edmund Sawyer*.6
In only one instance are Members known to have served the borough’s interests. In March 1621 Richard Harrison and John Wrenham responded to a petition signed by the mayor and freeholders against the enclosure by Sir Francis Englefield of Vasterne Great Park, which restricted access to common pasture.7
Author: Henry Lancaster
- 1. VCH Wilts. ix. 191, 198-9; C219/35/2/125; 219/37/300.
- 2. VCH Wilts. ix. 191; JOHN WRENHAM.
- 3. Wilts. RO, 212A/27/12/1; Diaries of the Eng. Coll. Douai ed. T.E. Knox, 299; J.A. Williams, Cath. Recusancy in Wilts. 1660-1791, p. 14; Recs. of Eng. Province of Soc. of Jesus ed. H. Foley, iv. 334, n. 3.
- 4. Wilts. IPMs ed. G.S. and A.E. Fry (Brit. Rec. Soc. xxiii), 395; DL4/57/63.
- 5. CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 154, 552.
- 6. CD 1628, iii. 298.
- 7. HLRO, main pprs. 22 Feb. 1621; CJ, i. 554a; Top. and Gen. iii. 22-5.