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Unlike its European counterparts, most of which were provincial bodies, the English Parliament was a genuinely national assembly.1 At around 600 members all told, it was also, as James I acknowledged, the largest representative body in Christendom.2 It was almost twice the size of Poland’s Seym and three times that of the Scottish Parliament. The Commons alone was nearly as large as all three estates of France’s Estates-General put together.3 In Spain, which lacked a national Parliament, the Cortes of Castile was so small that its thirty-six members would not have sufficed to man the Commons’ committee for privileges at any time after 1610.4
Although the English Parliament was enormous compared with its European counterparts, its size was not fixed, and consequently it continued to grow. In the Lords membership could be increased by creating new peers or by issuing writs of summons to the eldest sons of the nobility, while in the Commons it could be raised by fresh enfranchisements. Before the early seventeenth century the monarch controlled the expansion of both Houses, but under the early Stuarts a fundamental change took place, as the Commons came to assume responsibility for its own growth.
A similar development, no less significant, occurred in respect of the lower House’s right to determine its own membership. Prior to the early seventeenth century the Commons did not enjoy a free hand in deciding whether those elected were eligible to serve, as sheriffs could stop candidates they regarded as unsuitable from standing and Chancery might refuse to accept the returns of candidates it considered ineligible. Under the first two Stuarts, however, the lower House largely succeeded in shaking off these rival sources of control. In do doing, it did not always exercise its right to determine its own membership in an even-handed fashion. Indeed, it often put political considerations and self-interest above those of fairness and strict legality.
The expansion in membership
Between 1500 and 1629 the membership of the Commons underwent a dramatic expansion. At the beginning of the sixteenth century there were 296 places in the Commons,5 but by 1629 this figure had risen to 493, an increase of almost two thirds. Much of this growth was due to the extension of the franchise to fourteen previously unrepresented counties (including all twelve Welsh shires), but it also reflected the addition of new boroughs in counties that already sent representatives to Westminster.
The continued growth of the Commons owed a great deal to a widely held feeling that large sections of the political nation were either inadequately represented at Westminster or not represented at all. Aside from Cornwall and Wiltshire, which could muster thirty-seven enfranchised boroughs between them, most of England’s forty counties were only thinly represented. Before 1604 ten had only one enfranchised borough each,6 while six others had just two apiece.7 Rutland had none at all. The most disadvantaged of all the English shires was County Durham, an ancient palatine jurisdiction under the control of its bishop. Owing to the border services, rents and special rates to which it was subject and which caused it to be exempt from parliamentary taxation, County Durham lacked both borough Members and shire knights.8 In Wales the distribution of seats was more even than in England, but by the terms of the 1536 Act of Union none of the twelve counties had more than one knight of the shire, while Merioneth had no borough Members at all.9 Moreover, none of the enfranchised Welsh boroughs was entitled to return more than one Member, whereas in England all but five parliamentary towns had two or more representatives.10
Even shires that boasted several enfranchised boroughs were severely under-represented. Although Yorkshire had ten, each of which returned two Members, the populous clothing area of the West Riding entirely lacked seats.11 In the mid-1620s Thomas Scott of Canterbury argued that Kent’s representation was ‘not proportionable’, even though the county returned two knights of the shire and sixteen borough Members, including eight from towns in the Cinque Ports. As well as its existing Members, Kent should ‘send one, if not two’ Members to Parliament from each of its five lathes (the administrative unit peculiar to Kent), ‘and so in other counties’.12
Before 1621 the power to enlarge the House lay largely with the Crown, which enjoyed the right to add borough Members by means of royal charter. Parliament’s involvement in this process was limited to the enfranchisement of Wales and Cheshire under Henry VIII. Prior to 1586 Queen Elizabeth, though famously sparing in bestowing honours, was liberal in doling out parliamentary seats. Despite refusing an application from the earl of Rutland to enfranchise Newark in 1579 on the grounds ‘that there are over many [burgesses] already’, Elizabeth added sixty-four Members to the Commons by creating or restoring thirty-two parliamentary boroughs, ten of them in 1584.13 Although this period of expansion ceased during the latter part of the queen’s reign, it was resumed under James I who, during his first Parliament, added eleven new Members by enfranchising four boroughs14 and both universities. Strictly speaking, the granting of seats to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge was an act of re-enfranchisement, since writs had been issued to both in 1301.15
Before the 1620s attempts to involve the Commons in its own enlargement proved singularly unsuccessful. In 1604 the Hampshire borough of Botley appealed to be allowed to return Members on the specious grounds that it had once been entitled to do so, but though its petition was referred to the committee for privileges the Commons took no action. That same year, the corporation of Harlech, sensible of the fact that Merioneth lacked borough representation, approached Sir William Maurice, the knight for Caernarvonshire, for help in obtaining a statutory grant of the franchise. However, if Maurice ever submitted a bill to the Speaker it failed to receive even a first reading.16
Not until 1614 did the Commons, having recently won the right to judge election returns itself, seek to bring about its own enlargement. Following the abolition in 1607 of the Hostile Laws between England and Scotland, the case for continuing to exclude County Durham from the subsidy had vanished, with the result that in 1610 the county was taxed by Parliament for the first time. This development prompted Sir Edwin Sandys to declare in May 1614 that County Durham ‘now stands in a worse plight than any other part of the kingdom’.17 Shortly thereafter, a bill to give Durham two knights of the shire and four burgesses received two readings in the Commons. However, the measure failed to progress any further before the dissolution in early June.18
The Commons’ attempt to extend its authority to include enfranchisement could not have come at a worse moment. By the spring of 1614 it was being said among the populace that the House was already too big, and that ‘paucity [is] better than number’.19 The king too, having failed to extract a grant of subsidies from Parliament, had concluded that the Commons, far from needing to expand further, was already too large for the Crown to manage. Speaking to the Spanish ambassador in the aftermath of the Addled Parliament, James famously complained that whereas the Cortes of Castile consisted of ‘little more than thirty persons’, the Commons ‘was made up of little less than five hundred’ who lacked a head, ‘voted without order’ and carried on its affairs in loud ‘confusion’.20 Consequently, the king’s enthusiasm for new creations began to cool. Only two further boroughs were enfranchised during James’s reign – Bury St. Edmunds in September 1614 and Tiverton in May 1615.
By the early 1620s James and his ministers were determined to halt the Commons’ expansion. In March 1621 the privy councillor Sir Humphrey May opposed the re-enfranchisement of the Somerset borough of Ilchester, ‘seeing that we do already labour with a multitude’.21 In 1624 James informed the Commons that he was willing to create new seats only provided the lower House first agreed to disfranchise a commensurate number of rotten boroughs. The existence of such boroughs had offended him since the very start of his reign, for in 1604 the Council had contemplated laying before Parliament a bill ‘for the new erecting of divers boroughs with privileges to send burgesses to Parliament and the suppressing of divers boroughs decayed’.22 However, few in the Commons were prepared to countenance stripping rotten boroughs of their franchise, unless it was for purely factional reasons.23 Consequently, when the Durham bill finally passed both Houses in 1624 it was vetoed by James, even though the enfranchisement of at least one of the boroughs concerned – Castle Barnard – was supported by the prince of Wales.
Although not many Members were willing to see rotten boroughs disenfranchised, several certainly shared James’s view that the lower House had become bloated. In a letter written to Charles I shortly before the 1626 Parliament, Sir Dudley Digges characterized the Commons as ‘a body much above 400 men (too much enlarged)’.24 In 1604 Thomas Wentworth of Henley described the presence of representatives of the newly enfranchised universities as a ‘deformity’, the Commons thereby having more Members ‘than it ought to’.25
One of the chief obstacles to further expansion was physical, as the Commons’ chamber could not readily seat the existing complement of Members, let alone any additions to its ranks. During the Union debates of 1607, Thomas Wentworth of Henley, anticipating a union of parliaments, warned of the impact that an influx of Scottish Members would have on the Westminster Parliament, for ‘already this House is as great as one Speaker can moderate, as one room can contain, as we can hear one the other speak’.26 His opinion was echoed in March 1621, during the debate on the revived bill to enfranchise County Durham, when it was reported that the committee for privileges had rejected the proposal to enfranchise several of the county’s boroughs ‘because of pestering the House’.27
Although the available space was inadequate, many Members saw no alternative to further expansion. Speaking during the debate on the Durham bill in 1621, Sir Walter Earle advocated the creation of four new seats despite confessing ‘that the number of burgesses here’ was ‘too great’.28 Three years later, Sir Edward Coke, debating the same bill, admitted that the fact that there were now nearly 500 Members ‘breeds confusion’, but ‘he sees not why Durham should be left out’.29 Many Members considered that some increase in size was needed to counter-balance the expansion of the House of Lords that had occurred as a result of James’s peerage creations.30 After 1614, arguments between Members over the enfranchisement of County Durham were primarily about how many seats should be allocated, which boroughs were suitable for enfranchisement, and on what criteria. Since the Commons was determined to continue growing, attention soon turned to the lack of space. In March 1621, following the second reading of the Durham bill, one Member ‘moveth an enlargement of this room for the Members of this House’. Three weeks later, after the privileges committee was required to consider allowing representation to Ilchester and Pontefract, orders were given for the construction of a gallery to provide extra seating.31
Although many in the Commons assumed that the lower House would continue to grow, the Crown’s control over new creations meant that it was not immediately obvious how this was possible. Like his father before him, Charles I was hostile to further expansion. When the bailiffs and burgesses of the Dorset borough of Blandford Forum petitioned Charles in May 1625 for the right to return two Members they were curtly refused, despite claiming that their town was a place ‘where no beggar was ever suffered’.32 Nevertheless, during the 1620s the Commons’ steady expansion continued. How was this accomplished?
Although they lacked the power to bestow the franchise on new boroughs, many Members saw no reason why they why they could not restore the franchise to those towns which, for one reason or another, had lost that privilege during the medieval period. Beginning with Ilchester and Pontefract in 1621, the House, on its own authority, restored no less than eight boroughs which had supposedly lost their right of representation in the medieval past.33 In addition the Commons restored the franchise to Minehead, which had failed to send Members to Westminster in 1614 after losing its charter. James, however, naturally refused to accept the Commons’ right to ‘restore’ ancient parliamentary boroughs. He may also have been alarmed at the precedent set in respect of Minehead, for if this were allowed to stand it would mean that he had no power to strip a borough of the franchise. Following the restoration of Ilchester and Pontefract, both of which appear to have caught the king unawares, strenuous attempts were made by the Crown’s lawyers to prevent the re-enfranchisement of Hertford, Wendover, Amersham and Great Marlow in 1621.34 Three years later the solicitor general, Sir Robert Heath, acting on instructions from James, opposed with ‘what he might’ moves to re-enfranchise these same four boroughs. Were every borough that had lost the franchise to be restored, Heath observed, it would not only ‘give occasion of offence to His Majesty’ but also ‘cumber the Commons House of Parliament with an excessive and unnecessary number’, there being ‘too great a number of them already’.35 However, after the two lord chief justices told the king that he had no legal grounds on which to prevent the re-enfranchisement of Hertford and the three Buckinghamshire boroughs, the Crown’s case collapsed.36 By the end of the Parliament all four towns had representatives in the Commons.
Types of members
Although the size of the Commons was continually expanding, the types of Members remained fixed and can broadly be divided into two sorts. First, there were the county representatives, or knights of the shire, of whom there were ninety: one each for the twelve Welsh counties and two each for thirty-nine of the forty English shires. The second group, far larger than the first, consisted of the borough Members. Most were known simply as ‘burgesses’, but those who served for a city rather than a mere town were normally termed ‘citizens’. Under Elizabeth at least these citizens were expected to sit together, ‘on the right hand of the Speaker’, next to the privy councillors.37
The distinction between ordinary burgesses and citizens was often made by the Commons. Indeed, ‘we … the knights, citizens and burgesses in the House of Commons assembled’ was a form of address occasionally used in communications with the king.38 This distinction may have served a practical purpose, for when appointing committees that were of concern to the poor or the workforce at large it was important to ensure that cities were adequately represented. ‘One citizen of every city’ was named to the committee for the poor relief bill in May 1604, and ‘all citizens of cities’ were appointed to the labourers’ wages bill the previous month.39 The division between citizens and burgesses was sufficiently important that when Richard Martin proposed in 1604 to reform the method of appointing committees by drawing the names of selected Members from three pots, he recommended that one pot be reserved for the citizens.40
Those who served for one of the seventeen county boroughs – that is to say, boroughs that were counties in their own right, having sheriffs and magistrates of their own – were not treated as a separate category except by Chancery, which needed to distinguish between boroughs that had their own sheriffs (and therefore required their own writs of election) from those which did not.41 This is perhaps not all that surprising, as most of the county boroughs were also cities.42 In their own localities, those who sat for county boroughs were, rather confusingly, sometimes referred to as knights. London’s two senior Members were certainly regarded by the City as shire knights, and were paid by the City chamberlain accordingly,43 while the money raised for the payment of parliamentary wages by the town of Hull was termed by the corporation ‘knights’ silver’. In 1623 the residents of a district just outside Gloucester that was governed directly by the city authorities threatened to ask the next Parliament to let them have one of the city’s knights.44 The notion that representatives of the county boroughs were knights of the shire explains why the Elizabethan observer John Hooker mistakenly thought that ‘citizens’ were entitled to receive wages at the same rate as county Members.45 In the Commons, however, the description of county borough Members as knights seems to have elicited disapproval. Doubts about the right of the Londoners to describe their senior Members as shire knights were certainly raised in the Commons in May 1628.46
Unlike the representatives of the county boroughs, those who served for towns within the jurisdiction of the lord warden of the Cinque Ports were considered a distinct group. Indeed, they were styled ‘barons’, an appellation which, when employed by a Commons’ messenger in 1607, not surprisingly provoked the ire of the Lords. The Commons succeeded in deflecting the peers’ criticism, however, by pointing out that ‘de baronibus’ was the form of words employed in the writs of election addressed to the Ports.47
In theory it mattered little whether a man served for a county, a city or a borough: the need for Members to speak freely and without fear made it imperative that all be regarded as equal. For the same reason, none were permitted to plead special status or privilege to gain a hearing. When the solicitor general, Sir Thomas Fleming, asked to speak at the third reading of the assarts bill in 1604 ‘in respect to the place he held’ he was roundly attacked by Richard Martin, who declared ‘that any man is here as much of the king’s counsel as Mr Solicitor’.48 Sir Edwin Sandys made precisely the same point in May 1621, when he urged ‘every man that comes in here’ to ‘lay down his greatness at the door’.49 The suspicion that one group of Members was trying to obtain for itself a privileged status at the expense of the others lay at the bottom of fears of a secret undertaking to manage the Commons in 1614. Indeed, it prompted the authors of the resultant Commons’ Protestation to remind their colleagues that ‘the meanest and greatest have their equal voices, and no man with us pretends to be of the quorum … We are all here like Christ’s disciples: who strives to be the greatest proves least among us’.50 The equality of status between Members helps to explain the lack of any systematic seating arrangements in the Commons. Whereas the lords spiritual and temporal sat in strict order of rank and precedence in the upper House, each Member of the Commons, unless he was a privy councillor or citizen (and therefore entitled to sit next to the Speaker), ‘sitteth as he cometh’.51
It was not just the lack of a formal seating arrangement which helped create the impression that all Members were equal. Some duties were common to both knights of the shire and borough Members. These included the responsibility for appointing collectors of tenths and fifteenths in their constituencies.52 However, there were some subtle differences between knights of the shire and the rest of the House. At the Members’ collection, which was levied each session, knights of the shire were expected to contribute twice the amount paid by the burgesses (of whatever sort).53 Moreover they, rather than the burgesses, were responsible for reporting back to the county as a whole. When the king announced in June 1604 that he no longer desired a subsidy, Sir Robert Wroth suggested ‘that all the knights of the shire’ should take the king’s letter ‘and show it in the country’.54 In 1624 it was the county Members rather than the burgesses who were charged with identifying prominent recusant officeholders in their respective shires.
The greater responsibilities of the county Members were also reflected in the sorts of committees to which they were appointed. Under the Tudors, knights of the shire had a better chance of being appointed to the most important committees than borough Members.55 This remained true under the early Stuarts, as the shire Members were invariably over-represented on the prestigious committee for privileges and returns. In 1604, for instance, knights of the shire made up 37% of this committee even though they accounted for only around 19% of the House’s membership.56 In 1625, too, county Members held more than a quarter of the seats on the privileges committee yet made up just 18.5% of the House’s membership. Far from attracting complaint, this over-representation of the shire knights was considered insufficient by Sir Edward Coke who, in 1624, proposed that the privileges committee should be composed entirely of county Members.57
Despite the belief that all Members were equal, the knighthood of the shire carried with it a social cachet that mere borough representation never could. Those who aspired to the leadership of their counties looked to be returned as shire knights, and many were so sensitive of their honour that they would settle for nothing less than the senior seat. In 1604 Sir John Fortescue, expecting to be returned as the senior knight for Buckinghamshire, famously declined to accept the junior position, and in 1626 Sir Robert Harley, a knight of the Bath, declared himself unwilling to play second fiddle to Sir Walter Pye, who was only a knight bachelor.58 In 1614 Sir Oliver St. John, the senior knight for Bedfordshire in 1601 and 1604-10, apparently preferred to stand aside rather than cede precedence to Sir Oliver Luke. Under Elizabeth at least, members of the Privy Council wishing to sit in the Commons regarded anything other than the knighthood of the shire as incompatible with their rank and status.59
During the first half of the sixteenth century it was not unusual for borough Members to ‘trade up’ to a county seat whenever there was a vacancy.60 This practice was less common under Elizabeth, and under James it died out entirely after Sir Thomas Thynne unsuccessfully attempted to exchange his borough seat at Hindon for the knighthood of the shire for Wiltshire in 1605. However, as late as October 1597 Charles Howard, serving for Bletchingley, became knight for Surrey at a by-election after his elder brother Sir William stepped down.
Although the knighthood of the shire carried greater prestige than a mere burgess-ship, at a practical level the differences between borough and county Members were largely unimportant. What mattered most was not whether a man served for a borough or a county but whether he was represented his constituents and performed well in debate.61 Some of the House’s most capable and prominent Members, such as Edward Alford, William Hakewill, Christopher Wandesford and Henry Sherfield, never served as knights of the shire, and those that did, like Sir Edward Coke and Sir Edwin Sandys, were respected and admired whether they sat for a borough or a county. When John Carvile referred to ‘the best Members of the House’ in December 1621, he was assuredly not speaking of the knights of the shire.62
Rules of Membership
By the end of the sixteenth century a number of general rules prohibiting certain sorts of men from serving in the Commons had emerged. A few were imposed by statute but most were the result of convention. Foreigners were excluded, on the grounds that ‘persons not equally obliged to, or interested in, the state of this kingdom should be admitted to the secret and great council of the same’.63 So too were convicted felons and women, although the prohibition of the latter was so taken for granted that it was never made explicit.64 To avoid dual representation, members of the House of Lords and Convocation were also barred, as were the clergy in general. Catholics too were deemed incapable of membership since, by an Act of 1563, every Member was required to take the Oath of Supremacy. Indeed, anyone who refused to do so was to be treated ‘as if he had never been returned or elected’.65 All Members were required to serve in person rather than by proxy. At the beginning of the 1581 Parliament session of the 1572 Parliament proxies had been permitted to supply the places of those who were absent through sickness or on an embassy, but at the end of that assembly this decision was reversed and the returns of those chosen as substitutes were declared invalid.66
Sheriffs, who submitted election returns to Chancery, and mayors (or their equivalents), who presided over borough elections, were prohibited from returning themselves. However, there was no such prohibition in respect of under-sheriffs, who were capable of presiding over county elections. John Sparke, for instance, sat for Mitchell unchallenged in 1628 even though the House knew he was under-sheriff of Cornwall.67
In both county and borough elections medieval law required that only residents were to stand.68 Boroughs, moreover, were to return only freemen, and only such as were free when the election writs were issued. Bankrupts were equally ineligible, at least in theory, for otherwise, as James remarked in November 1620, the Commons would be filled with ‘necessitous persons that may desire long parliaments for their private protection’.69 Prisoners were generally unwelcome unless, like Sir Thomas Shirley in 1604, they had been arrested after their election. In 1626 an exception was made in respect of Arthur Bassett, whose election for Fowey was deemed valid despite his imprisonment because he had not been convicted of any offence.70 As well as these general requirements, no Member was permitted to hold more than one seat. Anyone returned for two or more constituencies was required to decide which seat he would represent so that a by-election could be ordered.
Those whose returns were questioned as irregular were not normally permitted to sit until the matter had been settled. In February 1621 John Anketill was told to ‘forbear the House’ until the return for Hindon had been determined.71 Three months later Sir Edward Villiers caused fury when he disregarded the advice of his half-brother, the marquess of Buckingham, by entering the Commons before he had been formally cleared of misconduct prejudicial to his membership. His presumption led to calls for him to be expelled.72
Members who lost the right to sit after they were elected were expected to leave immediately, although when Thomas, Lord Clinton was called to the Lords in February 1610 he lingered even after the election of his replacement, and only relinquished his seat in late May or early June, when his successor was sworn.73 It was in order to get around this problem that the grant of a peerage to Sir Fulke Greville in January 1621 was delayed for six months to allow its recipient to sit in the Commons. In April 1614 Sir Francis Bacon was allowed to retain his seat for the duration of the Parliament despite a ruling that his office as attorney-general disqualified him from serving. This dispensation, never repeated, was granted to save the king’s blushes: James had recently imprisoned those who had refused to accept Ireland’s attorney-general as Speaker of the Dublin Parliament, and if it now transpired that England’s attorney-general was incapable of sitting in the English House of Commons he would be made to look foolish.74
Some of the Commons’ rules of membership were so complex that they were not always clearly understood. Those governing the holders of courtesy titles were particularly baffling. The eldest sons of peers were entitled to sit in the Commons if they wished, but the monarch was equally entitled to summon them to the Lords, in which case they were required to surrender their Commons’ seats. For this reason the eldest sons of the earls of Lincoln and Suffolk were obliged to relinquish their places in the lower House in 1610. However, in October 1597 the newly created earl of Nottingham mistakenly assumed that his eldest son, having automatically become Lord Howard of Effingham, was no longer capable of sitting in the Commons, to which he had been elected five weeks earlier.75
Lack of understanding was compounded by the fact that in some cases the rules had not yet been fully worked out. One unresolved area concerned the eligibility of men, like the Common Law judges, summoned to the Lords as legal assistants. In June 1604 the Commons veteran Sir Edward Hoby demanded to know whether Members summoned to the Lords as legal assistants ‘ought to have place in the higher House or sit here’. 76 In other words, when a man with a Commons’ seat was called to the Lords by a writ of summons, was he obliged to surrender his place in the lower House or was he bound to remain? One possible answer to this question, not considered by Hoby, was ‘neither’. On receiving a writ of assistance in 1576 the Sussex Member and queen’s serjeant John Jeffrey inquired of the House whether he should ‘retain his place here and attend at such time as he might be spared with them’, whereupon he was told that there was no need for him to stand down as his status as a legal assistant did not permit him to participate in Lords’ debates. He subsequently went on to be appointed to six committees.77 However, although the possibility that a man might hold dual membership of both Houses was seriously entertained by the anonymous author of a treatise written shortly after 1604,78 it failed to gain widespread acceptance.
Since dual membership was never regarded as a serious option, the Commons had either to eject those of its Members who had received writs of assistance or to demand that they be permitted to remain. However, this was a much more complicated matter than at first appeared, as the precedents in such cases were often inconsistent and Members frequently disagreed among themselves. Not surprisingly therefore, when Hoby put his question to the House there was ‘no resolution or further speech in it at that time’.
To make matters even more complicated, it was unclear which royal officers were not permitted, by virtue of their office, to serve in the Commons. It was certainly clear that a Member appointed as a judge in one of the Common Law courts was incapable of remaining in the Commons, as his presence was needed in the Lords to help reverse writs of error. 79 It was equally clear that the judges of the civil law courts were capable of serving in the Commons, as successive judges of the High Court of Admiralty with seats in the Commons were never required to attend the upper House. No such clarity, however, existed in respect of the judges of the equity courts or the two principal Crown law officers, the solicitor general and the attorney-general. Take the case of the master of the Rolls, whose office made him the second-most senior judge in Chancery. In 1584 the Commons refused to allow Sir Gilbert Gerard to sit even though his predecessor as master of the Rolls, Sir William Cordell, had sat three times while in office, once as Speaker, despite having received a writ of assistance on each occasion. During the early seventeenth century the master’s position remained unresolved. In 1614 Sir James Whitelocke declared that Cordell’s membership of the Commons had been irregular, and in the second half of the 1620s the master of the Rolls certainly served as a legal assistant to the Lords.80 However, Sir Julius Caesar, master from 1614 until his death in 1636, sat in the Commons for Maldon in 1621 without challenge.
Although the Commons failed to sort out the position of the master of the Rolls, rather more progress was made in respect of those Members called to serve as judges in the Exchequer. In November 1605 the Commons learned that Sir Thomas Fleming and Sir George Snygge had been summoned to assist the Lords, having appointed barons in the Exchequer. Some Members, perhaps remembering that in 1566 the solicitor general, Richard Onslow, had been restored to the House despite having received a writ of assistance, thought that that both men should be recalled to their duties in the Commons. However, the chairman of the committee for privileges, Sir George More, persuaded the House that both men should be required to surrender their places.81 The principle was thereby established that judges in the Exchequer, like their brethren in King’s Bench and Common Pleas, were incapable of Commons’ membership.82
The Commons failed to show similar resolution in respect of the attorney-general, whose right to sit was questioned following the appointment to that office of Sir Henry Hobart, one of the knights for Norfolk, in 1606. On the face of it the evidence was clear-cut, as previously the attorney had always assisted the Lords and there was no evidence that Hobart’s predecessors had ever sat. Nevertheless some Members of the House argued that Hobart should be recalled. Unfortunately the House then proved incapable of agreeing the correct procedure for deciding the issue, with the result that Hobart became the first man since John Jeffrey to be left free to serve both Houses simultaneously.83 Not until 1614 was it finally ruled that the office of attorney-general was incompatible with membership of the Commons, and even then a dispensation was granted to the then incumbent, Sir Francis Bacon, for the duration of the Parliament.
Although the Commons found it difficult to resolve the problems associated with writs of assistance, the issue receded into the background after 1614. This was not because these writs were no longer issued to certain Members of the Commons but because many of their recipients failed to act upon them. In May 1614 Lord Chief Justice Coke, noticing that the King’s Serjeant Sir Henry Montagu continued to occupy a seat in the lower House, complained to the Lords: ‘Here is none of the King’s Counsel who ought to be all here. They are misplaced there. They have their writs to be here’.84 In 1624 Solicitor General Heath, Secretary Conway and Secretary Calvert all received writs of assistance. All three chose to ignore them, as did Secretary Coke and Sir Thomas Crewe, the Speaker of the Commons, in 1625.85 Had any of these officers attempted to act upon their writs of assistance an angry confrontation between the Commons on the one hand and the king and the Lords on the other would almost certainly have resulted and the team of royal spokesmen in the Commons might have been seriously weakened. Quite why Chancery issued writs of assistance to men who had no use for them is something of a mystery, though in the case of the secretaries of state the answer evidently lies in a statute of 1539.However, for particular individuals these writs were probably regarded as a form of insurance policy: if a senior royal official failed to secure a seat in the Commons he was always assured of a place in the Lords.86
If some of the Commons’ rules of membership were not yet fully worked out, others were subject to alteration. In 1614 the Commons significantly reinterpreted the rules regarding the admission of sheriffs by refusing to allow Sir George Selby, the sheriff of County Durham, permission to sit for Northumberland. Hitherto it had been accepted that a sheriff of one bailiwick was entitled to serve in Parliament for another. As Sir Edwin Sandys observed, it was generally understood that the words of the election writ were not intended to restrain the election of sheriffs but to prevent them from returning themselves. However, Sir Henry Montagu was adamant that ‘no sheriff can, by the law, be chosen’, as an Ordinance of 1372 required them to be permanently resident within their shrievalty. An addition to the election writs, introduced in 1373 and known as the nolumus clause, made this crystal clear.87 As a result the sheriff responsible for returning Selby was arraigned at the bar of the House for doing no more than others had done ever since the late fifteenth century.
Just as it developed old rules, so the House occasionally created new ones. One of the principal additions concerned Catholics. Although barred from sitting, Catholics – even avowed Catholics – sometimes obtained election.88 Ever since 1563, when all Members were required to swear the Oath of Supremacy before taking their seats, the task of keeping Catholics from the House had fallen to deputies appointed by the lord steward. In view of the size of the House’s membership these deputies, chosen from among the Commons’ own Members, were obliged to swear their colleagues in batches, with predictable results. In 1601 the deputies appointed by the lord steward ‘sware all the lower House confusedly’, and in 1621 Lord Cavendish complained that it was ‘hard to discern at the swearing who truly took the Oath, and who not’. Under the cover of such confusion, it was easy to see how Catholics might enter the House unnoticed.89
Following the assassination of the French king Henri IV at the hands of a Catholic fanatic in 1610, fear of domestic Catholicism grew, and with it the realization that the House’s defences against Catholic penetration of its membership were inadequate. In addition to the Oath of Supremacy, Members were now required by statute to take the new Oath of Allegiance or risk expulsion. This was no idle threat, as Sir John Leedes discovered to his cost in 1621,90 when steps were also taken to ensure that Members had truly taken both oaths. All Members had now to certify in writing that they had sworn, and if any doubts were raised those concerned were to take the oaths again. In addition, latecomers were sworn in full view of the House at the clerk’s table.91
The Oath of Allegiance was not the only addition to the rules designed to fend off the Catholic threat. In 1614 the puritan Sir James Perrot persuaded his parliamentary colleagues to hold a communion service ‘to keep the Trojan horse out of the House’.92 Thereafter a collective communion was held at the beginning of every Parliament to confirm each Member’s Protestant credentials. Absentees were not exempted, and in February 1621 any man not attending was required to produce a certificate showing that he had recently received communion before he could be admitted. In the case of two Members who were sick, a special deputation was dispatched to ensure that they took communion in front of witnesses.93 In 1624, when fear of popery was at its height, the House went further, threatening to sequester any of its Members with Catholic servants.94 Only once did the House relax its rules. The case concerned Sir Robert Crane who, having been absent from the collective communion in 1624 owing to his wife’s illness, was permitted to enter the House after he promised to communicate on the following Sunday.95 How far these additional measures helped keep the Catholic wolf at bay is unclear, but by the end of the decade the number of Members who might reasonably have been suspected of popish leanings had certainly diminished considerably.96
Not all of the proposed additions and amendments to the Commons’ rules were endorsed. In 1571 Francis Alford, arguing that it was a ‘great disorder that very young men not experienced for learning sake were oft chosen’, failed to convince his colleagues to raise the age of entry from 21 to 30.97 In 1606 Christopher Brooke introduced a bill to reduce the influence of the Lords over the Commons by preventing the return of noblemen’s household servants and retainers, but this suggestion excited so little interest that the measure received only a single reading98 In 1621 a proposal to allow only men worth £100 or more per annum to serve as knights of the shire was torpedoed by Sir Edward Coke, who pointed out that those concerned would inevitably find their subsidy rating set at £100.99 One of the more sensible suggestions rejected by the Commons was prompted by the selection of the Heytesbury Member Sir Thomas Thynne as sheriff of Gloucestershire in 1621. Although sheriffs were not permitted to return themselves, there was nothing to prevent a Member who had already been elected to Parliament from serving as a sheriff. Indeed, during the first Jacobean Parliament no less than five Members were nominated to fill this office. Since sheriffs were supposed to remain in their shrievalty throughout their term of office this was clearly unsatisfactory, and hence Sir George More suggested that in future no sheriff should be admitted. Though not adopted, More’s proposal foreshadowed an arrangement that was to be reached later in the century.100
One of the most radical amendments to the rules suggested during this period was proposed in April 1614, during the debate on the right of the attorney-general to sit. Sir Roger Owen, claiming ‘that anciently none so much as wore the king’s livery, or had any pension from the king, could have been admitted [to] the House’, argued that neither privy councillors nor the Crown’s law officers were entitled to sit in the Commons, where they were ‘out of their proper place’. Their presence, he said, merely served to overawe other Members. Under normal circumstances it would have been almost unthinkable to suggest that the king’s servants should be barred from membership, but in 1614 it was widely believed that the king had attempted to pack the House with his supporters and that there was a secret undertaking to manage the Commons. At the last moment, however, the House refrained from putting Owen’s ‘violent’ motion to the question despite the widespread sense of anger, and instead appointed a committee to investigate, which never reported.101 Nevertheless, three days later it was resolved that the attorney-general would henceforward be considered ineligible, even though Secretary Winwood protested that James could not see why there was one rule for the attorney but another for the solicitor general and the king’s serjeant.102
Members of the Commons were not alone in trying to lay down new entry requirements. Shortly before the first Jacobean Parliament met, Lord Chancellor Ellesmere, fearful that the Elizabethan debates on reform of the church and the decisions reached at the Hampton Court Conference were about to be revisited, argued for the exclusion of ‘sectaries or men of turbulent faction … or disputers of the ecclesiastical governance and charge of the church’.103 In November 1620 the king, fed up with a Commons dominated by members of the legal profession whose criticisms had sabotaged the Union and undermined the legal basis of impositions, prohibited the return of ‘wrangling lawyers’.104 However, his ban had no noticeable effect other than to help the Commons justify the expulsion of Thomas Sheppard,105 whose virulent condemnation of puritanism earned him widespread condemnation.
During the middle years of his reign, James’s well-known distaste for the Commons may have encouraged some outside observers to present schemes for altering its composition. In 1622 one anonymous writer advised the king to create a new honour, that of ‘vidom’, which would be sold to two gentlemen in every shire, whose rights would include automatic membership of the Commons.106 This mischievous idea, had it been adopted, would have deprived the Commons of its exclusive right to determine its own membership and so created a partly nominated assembly. Another proposal, no less drastic than the vidom scheme, was presented to the king sometime between 1610 and 1623. Its author, William Swaddon, archdeacon of Worcester, complained that it was unreasonable for clergymen to be excluded from the Commons as they had been permitted to sit under Henry I. Other interest groups, such as merchants, were well represented, he argued, so either the clergy should have their right of membership restored or they should be compensated with additional seats in the Lords.107 Swaddon’s belief that representatives of the lower clergy had previously sat in the Commons was well founded, for until 1340 at least the church had been entitled to twice as many seats as the county representatives. However, Swaddon was perhaps unaware that the clerics had not been expelled from the Commons, as he implied, but had left of their own volition after Convocation had developed its own grant-making powers.108
Swaddon was by no means alone in drawing attention to the church’s lost representation, for in 1607 the civil lawyer Dr John Cowell argued that the absence of seats in the Commons had made the Church ‘weaker and weaker’.109 However, there was never the remotest possibility that the Commons would restore the clergy to their ancient rights of membership, despite the fact that in the 1620s the House eagerly restored to the franchise a number of boroughs whose parliamentary representation had lapsed in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Commons was so accustomed to being populated exclusively by laymen that the only clergymen ever admitted to its ranks seem to have concealed their true identity.110
Just as there were rules to exclude certain sorts of people from membership, so there were others that determined whether those elected were ever entitled to step down. There were no circumstances in which a man who had been properly elected was permitted to refuse to serve. In May 1614 William Hakewill, discussing the Stockbridge election, announced that ‘a man cannot waive’ unless he were ‘chosen in another shire than where resident’. Ten years later the Commons declared ‘that a man, after he is duly chosen, cannot relinquish’.111 Even where an election was legally improper the Commons might be unwilling to allow a man to waive. When Sir Edwin Sandys asked the Commons to quash his return for Sandwich in February 1621 he was refused permission, as the House did not wish to forgo the services of one of its ablest Members. Those who succeeded in waiving their seats, like Sir Anthony Aucher in 1614, James Thurbarne in 1620/1 or John Legard in 1625, did so because the Commons never got to hear of it.
If waiving was not permitted, resignation was almost impossible, as Members were normally expected to continue serving until Parliament was dissolved or they themselves died. When the corporation of Dorchester petitioned the Speaker in June 1604 to allow one of its parliamentary representatives to resign due to poor health it was ignored.112 In 1605 the Lyme Regis Member John Hassard, claiming to be suffering from gout, asked to be discharged but was refused.113 Only those at death’s door were permitted to step down. The number of such cases inevitably increased the longer a Parliament sat: four of the five men permitted to resign on grounds of ill health between 1604 and 1629 did so in 1610, at the end of a long Parliament.114
Members sent overseas by the king sometimes asked to surrender their seats, and in such cases the Commons distinguished between permanent appointments and those that were merely transitory. Diplomats were never permitted to surrender, as ambassadors could be recalled ‘when the king shall please’; consequently in 1605 and 1606 Sir Thomas Edmondes, Sir George Carew and Sir Charles Cornwallis were not permitted to step down. However, appointments to the Irish administration were viewed differently, as patents were made for life and as such precluded membership of the Commons.115
Many Members had business interests that might suffer if they served in the Commons, and it is not surprising, particularly during the six-year long opening Parliament of James’s reign, that occasionally there were some who wanted to step down. In 1605 Thomas Provis wrote to the 1st earl of Salisbury expressing a desire to quit his Penryn seat because ‘my trade and adventures do necessarily require myself in person’, and in 1607 Joseph Field, recently returned for Hull, proved unwilling to serve because of his ‘private affairs in trade of merchandise’.116 However, Members were never allowed to relinquish their seats to pursue their business interests. When Sandys tried to waive his seat in 1621 in order to concentrate on running the Virginia Company, he was told that ‘Virginia [is] not to keep him from England’.117 This attitude, while understandable, undoubtedly served to exacerbate the problem of absenteeism,118 for those not permitted to step down formally may have stayed away regardless. Though Sandys attended the Commons regularly in 1621, there is no evidence that Provis, who died in 1609, took part in either the 1605/6 or 1606/7 sessions, nor did Field leave any trace on the records of the sessions of which he was a Member.
While some men who wanted to leave the Commons were denied the right to do so, others who preferred to stay were thrown out. Before the middle of Elizabeth’s reign Members could only be unseated if their circumstances had changed and they were no longer eligible to serve. However, in 1581 the Grantham Member Arthur Hall was expelled for publishing a document considered derogatory to the authority of the House. In 1607 the Commons, under pressure from the king, went one stage further and established the principle that a Member could also be expelled for misconduct in the House. The case involved the Buckinghamshire Member Sir Christopher Pigott, who was accused of slandering the Scots. Some said he should be sent to the Tower but retain his seat, while others argued that he should be ejected. During the ensuing debate some Members, forgetting the precedent established in Hall’s case, maintained ‘that the House could go no further in their punishment than committing him to the Tower’ as its power ‘was to sequester not to dismiss’. A division was narrowly avoided, and it was left to Speaker Phelips, always anxious to please James, to order that Pigott be expelled as well as imprisoned.119
Pigott’s case necessarily established a precedent for the future. In 1621 Thomas Sheppard was ejected for his intemperate outburst against puritans, and in 1628 Sir Edmund Sawyer was not only expelled but declared ‘unworthy ever to serve as a Member of this House’ again after he advised a witness to conceal vital information from a Commons’ committee.120 In 1626 Christopher Wandesford recommended that John More be expelled for announcing in the chamber that if the king wanted to preserve his throne he should preserve the liberties of his subjects.121 In the event More was suspended for just four days, but interestingly nobody in the Commons suggested that Wandesford had proposed a punishment that was inherently unsuitable.
Just as James’s reign saw the Commons establish the principle that a Member could be expelled for misconduct inside the chamber, so too it saw the House decide that wrong-doing outside Parliament could serve as a bar to membership. The first movement in this direction occurred in 1604, when the Wallingford Member Griffith Payne was threatened with loss of his seat, ostensibly for being a mayor but actually for being a purveyor. In the event Payne was merely suspended.122 Edward Alford nudged the House further in the same direction in June 1607, when he ‘desired satisfaction touching a precedent tempore H.6. vouched this Parliament that one of the king’s servants was put out of the House for revealing unto the king matters in debate.’123 However, it was not until March 1621, when Sir Giles Mompesson and Sir Robert Lloyd lost their seats for being monopolists and projectors, that anyone was expelled for offences committed outside the House.124
The expulsion of Mompesson and Lloyd represented a dramatic departure from earlier practice. In 1601, when Sir Walter Ralegh had been forced to defend his tin-mining patent, there had been no question of expelling monopolist-Members.125 What was it that had led the House to harden its attitude? The answer almost certainly lies in the Commons’ increasing fears for its own survival. From 1610 James was increasingly frustrated and angered by the English Parliament and tried to govern without it. He did so by resorting to alternative methods of raising revenue, among them grants of monopoly, which increased both in number and unpopularity. As a result monopolies inevitably came to be seen as devices which threatened the survival of Parliament. By 1621 it was difficult to see how membership of the Commons could be regarded as compatible with involvement in grants of monopoly. Indeed, following the expulsion of Mompesson and Lloyd, William Mallory, supported by Sir William Spencer, proposed that any Member found to be ‘a projector or protector of any patent condemned here’ should be deprived of his seat. However, not everyone was then willing to endorse such a radical suggestion, particularly as it was obvious that the real purpose of this motion was to embarrass the royal favourite, the marquess of Buckingham, whose half-brother Sir Edward Villiers was then sitting in the Commons and was a principal beneficiary of the silk thread monopoly. Consequently, when the solicitor general declared that he was opposed to ‘any such general order’ the matter was not pressed further.126 It was not until November 1640, following Charles I’s Personal Rule, that the House finally saw the sense in Mallory’s suggestion, and disabled all monopolists from serving.127
Although it was not until 1640 that the House was prepared to make a clean sweep of all monopolists, the principle that a Member might be unseated for misconduct outside the Commons was now firmly established. Shortly after the ejection of Mompesson and Lloyd, the ecclesiastical judge Sir John Bennet was expelled for corruption. In 1626 Sir John Suckling and Sir Henry Marten were suspended from membership on the grounds that, as members of High Commission, they had infringed the parliamentary privilege of Sir Robert Howard. Marten subsequently tendered an apology and was readmitted to the House, but Suckling never resumed his seat, pleading sickness. In 1628 Christopher Sherland tried to have John Baber expelled for following orders to billet soldiers which, as a lawyer, he knew to be illegal. He was seconded by Selden, who argued that the Commons was no place for men who were not prepared to speak freely, as ‘he that for fear in the country will do that which he ought not, may fear to do what is fit here’.128
Enforcement of the rules
The Commons’ ability to enforce its rules depended to some extent on knowing that they had been broken. When it was argued in 1624 that Walter Steward, an unnaturalized Scot, should be granted admission because two unnaturalized foreigners, Levinus Munck and Sir Horatio Palavicino, had previously sat, Sir Edward Coke retorted that Munck and Palavicino had only been admitted because their true status had not been known at the time.129 Where a Member held an office incompatible with his membership it was often all too easy to conceal the fact. Certainly there is no evidence that the Commons was ever made aware that Edwin Sandys was prebendary of Wetwang and thus a member of the northern Convocation in both 1589 and 1593; or that Lawrence Washington, who represented Maidstone between 1604 and 1610, was rector of Stotesbury, in Northamptonshire.130 Had Richard Gay not revealed in February 1626 that he was mayor of Bath, and thus incapable of serving, the Commons would almost certainly never have known it.131
Although ignorance of a Member’s true status helps to explain why the rules were often inconsistently applied, the Commons sometimes failed to act despite being made aware of the facts. After Francis Tate observed in June 1604 that ‘some of this House be of the Convocation’, Speaker Phelips did nothing except to declare that those concerned ‘ought not to be here’.132 Close enquiry would have revealed that Wareham’s Francis James was one of the culprits. Others may have included the Hythe Member Christopher Toldervey, prebendary of Leighton Buzzard, and the Morpeth Member Christopher Parkins, dean of Carlisle. Why action was not taken against these individuals when in 1587 a Member (Augustine Nowell) had been expelled for this very offence is unclear. However it is probably significant that Convocation was then in the process of formulating articles of subscription for parish clergy that many puritan Members found objectionable.133 Expelling those Members who were uniquely well placed to report on Convocation’s activities at this critical juncture would probably have been considered unwise, to say the least.
The Commons’ decision to turn a blind eye to those of its Members with seats in Convocation illustrates that enforcement of the rules sometimes took second place to wider political considerations. Indeed, it is clear that the rules were sometimes seen as little more than a convenient stick with which to beat an unpopular Member. Take, for instance, the case of Griffith Payne, the mayor of Wallingford who was suspended in 1604 for having presided over his own election. Although Payne was clearly at fault, so too were five other Members, none of whom were subjected to similar punishment.134 Aware that his colleagues were operating a double standard, Sir Edward Hoby protested that the House should not ‘exempt some and admit some’.135 However his plea for equal treatment was disregarded, for as we have seen, Payne’s real offence was not that he had returned himself but that he was a purveyor. Double-standards continued to operate with respect to mayors thereafter. In 1621 the Commons ejected Richard Foxton, the mayor of Cambridge, for having returned himself,136 and yet in 1626 Richard Gay retained his seat despite revealing that he was guilty of the same offence. The leniency shown to Gay was never explained, but the reason was almost certainly political: in 1626 the Commons could only have expelled Gay had it been willing to condemn Sir Edward Coke, whose return for Norfolk while serving as sheriff of Buckinghamshire made him just as guilty of breaching the rules as Gay, and this it was simply not prepared to do.
One of the clearest instances of the manipulation of the rules for political reasons concerns the Commons’ attitude towards the Scots. Although foreign nationals were prohibited from serving in the Commons, the same was not true of foreigners who had been naturalized by Act of Parliament. Following James’s accession the eligibility of foreign nationals who had been naturalized became a highly sensitive issue. In the Commons it was widely feared that unless care was taken, naturalized Scots would soon seek election for English constituencies. Consequently, when the bill to naturalize the Scotsman David Foulis was reported in April 1606, Nicholas Fuller, one of the Commons’ most violently anti-Scottish Members, ‘offereth a proviso to exclude him from the Parliament’ which passed without difficulty.137 Eight months later the question resurfaced, when a bill to naturalize Peter Baro and his wife was read. Baro was a Frenchman rather than a Scot, but since the measure concerned had clear implications for the question of Scottish membership of the English Parliament Sir Henry Poole proposed ‘that it might be entered for a general order that none naturalized should be capable of place in Parliament’. A clause to that effect was accordingly added, but by the time the bill was enacted the following year the proviso had been dropped.138
Hostility to Scottish membership of the Commons remained equally acute in 1614. When a bill to naturalize two Scotsmen was given a second reading Sir Robert Phelips revived Poole’s earlier proposal by suggesting that the bill committee should consider ‘of some course that neither these, nor any other of that nation that shall be naturalized hereafter, may be of this House’. Fuller, too, ‘desired to have a question put whether in passing bills of that nature there may not be a proviso that in the first naturalizing of any they should not be Parliament men’. However, this was deemed undesirable, not because it would antagonize the king but because it might imply ‘that those that are naturalized already might be of the Parliament’.139 Fear of a Scottish takeover of the Commons persisted as late as 1621. During the debate on whether to admit Henry Carey, Viscount Falkland, an Englishman whose Scottish title precluded his membership of the Lords, Sir Edward Montagu, a veteran of the Union debates, observed that to admit Carey would be ‘to open a way to all noblemen of Scotland naturalized to sit here and thrust us out’.140 No such qualms were ever expressed about admitting to the Commons the holders of Irish peerages.141
It was not until the latter part of James’s reign, when anti-Scottish feeling had subsided, that the Commons set aside its prejudices against Scots. The first Scot to sit was John Murray, who had been naturalized in 1610. His election for Guildford in December 1620 is chiefly remarkable for the fact that it entirely failed to elicit adverse comment in the Commons. Five other naturalized Scots subsequently went on to sit unchallenged at Westminster during the 1620s: Sir Robert Kerr and Sir James Fullerton in 1625; William Carr and William Murray in 1626; and Sir Francis Stewart, who sat in both 1626 and 1628. The only Scotsmen to be denied entry were Walter Stewart in 1624 and George Kirke in 1626. However, the reason they were barred was not that they were Scottish but that they had not been naturalized.142
The Commons’ initial unwillingness to admit Scots, and if necessary to invent new rules to exclude them, provides a striking illustration of the fact that the Commons was not always prepared to uphold its existing rules. Indeed, some rules were so unpopular or held to be so inconvenient that they were broken with great regularity. When, in April 1604, the former Member Arthur Hall inspected a copy of the list of the names of those who had recently been returned to Parliament, he was so struck by the number of ‘misbegotten Members’ that it contained that he advised the king to dissolve Parliament and issue fresh writs.143
One of the most widely disregarded rules was the convention barring minors from sitting. Under Elizabeth there were hardly any parliaments in which no under-age Members were returned,144 and during the early Stuart period there were none. Though only one was returned in 1604,145 six minors secured seats in 1614,146 eight were returned in 1621,147 nine were elected in 1624, and ten were chosen in 1625.148 Thereafter the numbers decreased, but even so six under-age individuals gained membership of the House in both 1626 and 1628/9.149 Some of these youthful Members, like Henry Pierrepont and Oliver St. John II, were within striking distance of their twenty-first birthdays when they were elected, but others, like the fifteen-year-old James, Lord Wriothesley (1621) and Sir Montagu Bertie (1624), were most certainly not.
Few seem to have treated the presence of minors seriously. Indeed, as Sir Edward Coke observed in 1624, ‘many under the age of 21 years sit here by connivancy’.150 Many older Members had themselves first entered the Commons while they were still minors, and evidently regarded under-age admission as a badge of achievement. Two months after the teenage Sir John Harington was returned for Coventry in March 1610, Sir Francis Bacon boasted that ‘I was a Parliament man when I was but seventeen years old’.151 Other leading Members, like Sir Edwin Sandys, who made his parliamentary debut in 1589 at precisely the same age as Bacon, probably shared Bacon’s pride in youthful membership of the House. The only Member sufficiently vexed by the presence of minors to offer to do something about it was Lichfield’s Richard Weston, who in November 1621 proposed adding a clause to the elections bill barring all minors on the grounds that it was unfit for anyone to make laws who was not yet old enough to ‘dispose of his own estate’.152
The number of minors elected at any one time was small by comparison with those who, by medieval law, should have been barred as non-residents. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries borough seats were much sought after by members of the gentry, and by the end of Elizabeth’s reign only a handful of enfranchised towns regularly returned residents. Many parliamentary boroughs welcomed this development, or at least saw the necessity, as non-residents invariably served without wages.153 They also recognized that it was not necessary to be resident for a Member to serve his constituency well.154
By the early seventeenth century the habit of returning non-residents was so ingrained that Thomas Scott of Canterbury claimed that over two hundred Members of the 1626 House of Commons were legally incapable of representing their constituents.155 Given the scale of this problem, the Commons was naturally reluctant to face up to its law-breaking. Indeed, when Sir Edward Hoby observed that most of the knights of the shire sitting in 1601 were not ‘lawfully chosen’, one diarist noted that ‘not one word was answered and that clause [was] shut up’.156 However, it proved impossible to avoid the subject indefinitely, for during the 1620s the issue of non-residence was a central feature of both the Leicestershire election dispute of 1621 and the controverted election at Coventry in 1628.
One possible solution to the problem was to replace the inconvenient medieval statutes. To that end, in 1571 a bill ‘for the validity of burgesses not resident’ was laid before the Commons, but though popular it failed to command universal support.157 Another remedy was suggested in 1621 by counsel for Sir George Hastings, the Leicestershire gentleman whose non-resident status meant that he was barred by the sheriff from sitting. Hastings’ counsel argued, somewhat inventively, that residence did not necessarily mean ‘corporeal abiding’. Provided a man owned land in a county then he ‘may be said to be resident’ whether he lived there or not.158 Later that same Parliament an elections bill which favoured just such a loose definition of residence received a single reading.159 However, Sir Edward Coke, a former lord chief justice whose words in matters of law carried more weight than most, saw no need to comply with the medieval statutes at all, which he memorably described as ‘not worth 3d.’ Indeed, he even challenged his colleagues to unseat him, for despite dwelling in Buckinghamshire he represented the Cornish borough of Liskeard, which he had never so much as visited. With typical aplomb, Coke pointed out that it was not, as many presumed, unlawful to elect non-residents, since the law prescribed that any non-resident elected to Parliament should forfeit his right to parliamentary wages. Coke’s confidence, coupled with a renewed warning that if non-residents were excluded the legitimacy of a large section of the House would be undermined, helped persuade the Commons to find in Hastings’ favour. 160 Coke proved no less influential during the debate on the Coventry election in 1628, when he argued that it was entirely up to a borough to return non-residents if it wished, ‘for any man may break a law that is made in his benefit, and that is so for the corporations’.161
Just as the Commons was unwilling to observe the medieval requirement that its Members reside in the constituencies they represented, so too it proved reluctant to uphold the medieval law requiring borough Members to be freemen of the town for which they served at the time the election writs were issued. Many gentry Members represented boroughs which either disregarded the law altogether or swore in its parliamentary representatives as freemen at around the time of the election. The Commons refused to take seriously the suggestion that a man might be disabled from serving because he had not been free at the time of his election. When Sir Edwin Sandys tried to have his return for Sandwich quashed in 1621 on the grounds that he was not a freeman of the borough the House simply ignored him.162 However, it was not until 1628 that the Commons found a way round the legal impediment. Speaking during the debate on the Coventry election, Sir Edward Coke argued that it did not matter if a man were not free at the time of his election as the decision to choose him ‘makes him free, ipso facto, for his service in the Parliament’.163 In other words, election automatically turned borough Members into freemen and this, according to Coke, was sufficient to achieve compliance with the law. This ingenious, if entirely specious, assertion appears to have settled the matter once and for all.
The Commons’ unwillingness to uphold medieval law was mirrored by its reluctance to exclude from its ranks those who had been outlawed for debt. On the face of it this was extraordinary, for if the Commons became a refuge for debtors its reputation would be tarnished. Besides, according to the Crown’s lawyers, in 1456/7 the judges had ruled ‘that matter of outlawry was a sufficient cause of dismission of any Member out of the House’.164 However, the Commons had consistently refused to expel outlaws. In 1460 the House had, on petition, obtained the release of Walter Clerk, one of the Members for Chippenham, who had been incarcerated in the Fleet for debt.165 Nearly a century later, in 1559, the Commons had ruled that John Smith, though outlawed, ‘should still continue a Member of the House’.166 Finally, in 1593 the Commons had refused to unseat Thomas Fitzherbert, even though he had twenty-two judgments against him for debt, after Speaker Coke declared that it was beyond ‘all doubt’ that Fitzherbert was ‘a lawful burgess’.167
In 1604 the right of outlaws to sit was put to the test after Sir Francis Goodwin was returned for Buckinghamshire in spite of a royal proclamation forbidding the election of outlaws. As a result of this case the Commons came close to reversing its earlier position. In order to mollify the king, who was aggrieved that it had chosen to side with Goodwin against the privy councillor Sir John Fortescue, the Commons offered to pass legislation to prevent outlaws from sitting in future. However, the lower House never made good this promise, for a bill to bar outlaws was later thrown out of the House without a single dissenting voice. A further bill ‘for disabling of recusants, persons attainted of forgery and perjury, outlawry and condemners of the law, to be of the Parliament’, subsequently received two readings before it disappeared.168
The Commons never explained this change of heart, but it seems likely that its Members were influenced by the same considerations that were voiced twenty years later in the case of Ferdinand Huddleston, who was returned for Cumberland despite there being twenty-four outlawries against him. In the ensuing debates on Huddleston’s right to sit it was observed that ‘outlawries … are for the most part gotten behind men’s backs and without their privity’. This fear that a Member might discover only belatedly that he had been outlawed was certainly present in 1604, as a bill to prohibit ‘lurking and secret outlawries’ was twice read in April.169 During the debates on Huddleston it was also said that outlawry could befall even ‘the best man in a county’ and that ‘it was no little prejudice to the commonwealth so to be deprived of the possibility to be served by the worthiest persons’.170 Added to these considerations there was the risk that if outlaws were barred the composition of the Commons might, to some extent, be determined by creditors rather than electors.171 During the early seventeenth century the only debtors to whom the Commons denied admission were Sir William Cope, who was elected for Banbury in 1625 despite having been put in execution for debt, and Sir Thomas Monck, who was returned for Camelford in 1626 while in prison.172
The Buckinghamshire election dispute of 1604 not only put to the test the right of the Commons to admit outlaws; it also raised the wider question of whether the Commons was entitled to determine its own rules of membership. For much of the sixteenth century the authority to determine disputed elections had ultimately rested with Chancery rather than with the Commons. Such elections often involved men whose right to sit was questionable even if they were not guilty of electoral malpractice. However, in 1593 the lower House took a major step towards claiming the right to settle controverted elections itself by placing its election committee on a firm footing.173 In so doing it evidently irritated Sir Thomas Egerton, who became lord keeper three years later. In 1597 three Members who had been outlawed for debt were prevented from taking their seats, apparently at the behest of Chancery, since the Commons appointed a committee to investigate.174 Before the Commons could complete its inquiries, however, the Parliament was dissolved. In the short term conflict between the lord keeper and the Commons was avoided, but under the surface tension remained, especially after the Commons gained formal control in 1601 of the clerk of the Crown in Chancery, the officer who had custody of the election returns.175
As is well known, the Commons triumphed over Egerton, now Lord Chancellor Ellesmere, in the ensuing Buckinghamshire election dispute, as the new king reluctantly recognized that the Commons had as much right to determine the validity of returns as Chancery.176 Ellesmere, who may have helped to foment the dispute by encouraging the king to issue his Proclamation requiring that no ‘persons bankrupt or outlawed’ be returned,177 was outraged. Ignoring the clerk of the Crown’s recent subordination to the Commons, he continued to argue as late as 1611 that the lower House was incapable of determining the outcome of disputed elections on the grounds that its Members did not have custody of ‘the record of any writs or returns ... whereupon they may judge’.178 What seems to have swung events decisively in the Commons’ favour in 1604, however, was James’s fear that unless he capitulated the Commons would not endorse the Union.179
After 1604 Chancery ceased to pose a serious obstacle to the Commons’ right to determine its own membership. Even so, the Commons was forced to remain vigilant. In 1624 the House refused to admit as evidence witness statements drafted the masters in Chancery in case they were used at some future date to justify a revival of Chancery’s claim to be able to judge election returns.180 Moreover, in 1628 it proved necessary to question the clerk of the Crown after he declined to record any of the candidates elected at Newport in Cornwall as having been duly elected, despite receiving a return from the sheriff.181
Although Chancery no longer posed a threat this did not mean that the lower House’s monopoly over the right to determine the suitability of its Members was now secure. Many returning officers thought that it was their duty rather than that of the Commons to exclude ineligible candidates. In 1566, for instance, the sheriff of Hampshire refused to return Sir William Paulet on the grounds that Paulet’s residence was in Dorset, and in 1621 Leicestershire’s sheriff declined to return Sir George Hastings for a similar reason. This was entirely understandable, for under Elizabeth sheriffs were sometimes encouraged by the Crown to use their powers as returning officers to prevent unsuitable men from being returned. In August 1597, for instance, the Council sent out a circular to all sheriffs declaring that the queen required them to ensure that no ‘unmeet’ men were chosen to serve for the boroughs. Any borough found to be ‘evil supplied’ was to be made the subject of an official inquiry.182 However, under James sheriffs received no such encouragement, and indeed in 1604 the king declared that ‘the parliaments of England [were] not to be bound by a sheriff’s return’.183 Nevertheless, many sheriffs not only continued to believe that it was their duty to prevent unfit individuals from standing for election, but also to fear that they might be punished if they failed to do so. It was this fear that led the corporation of Hull in 1624 to undertake ‘that Mr. Sheriff should be kept harmless’ for returning a non-freeman.184 By 1628 the Commons had begun to lose patience with the interference of returning officers. During the debate on the Coventry election Sir Edward Coke condemned the sheriff’s refusal to return two non-residents as unacceptable: ‘the sheriff is not judge. He is to return according to the major number, and the House is to judge of it’.185
Returning officers were not alone in posing a threat to the Commons’ right to determine its own membership. In February 1626 the House admitted Sir Robert Howard even though he had been excommunicated by the ecclesiastical commissioners as it had no wish to allow High Commission to determine the right of one of its Members to sit.186 However, after 1604 perhaps the most serious threat to the Commons’ right to determine its own membership came not from High Commission but from the king.
Prior to 1603 the monarch had refrained from making public pronouncements on the type of men entitled to serve in the Commons except – as in the case of a Council circular of 1597 – in the vaguest of terms. However, James twice issued proclamations concerning the sorts of men who should be permitted to sit in the Commons. In the first, dated January 1604, he prohibited religious extremists as well as bankrupts and outlaws, and in his second, dated November 1620, he not only excluded troublesome lawyers but also granted boroughs the power to dispense with the legal requirement to choose residents if none were suitable.187 However, on neither occasion did the Commons challenge the king’s right to interfere. Indeed, the only individual known to have been offended at James’s involvement was Thomas Scott of Canterbury, who in 1620 privately expressed outrage at the king’s temerity in setting aside election law.188
It was not until the reign of Charles I that the king’s attempts to exclude certain sorts of individuals from the Commons became contentious. Ahead of the 1626 Parliament Charles hit upon two schemes to alter the composition of the Commons. The first was to require that the widely disregarded medieval laws barring the return of non-residents be observed, in the hope that many gentlemen opposed to voting adequate supply would be unable to find seats. 189 However, the proclamation in which this was contained was never issued, presumably because the moderates on the Council persuaded Charles that any attempt to manipulate the membership of the Commons on such a grand scale at a time when the Crown badly needed supply was bound to prove counter-productive. Besides, many of the king’s own supporters, including members of the Privy Council, would have found it hard to secure election themselves. The second of Charles’s schemes for influencing the make-up of the Commons was less ambitious but highly controversial. In the autumn of 1625, Charles selected as sheriffs eight of the most troublesome Members of the previous Parliament, thereby preventing them from sitting when a fresh Parliament met the following year.190 How Charles came by this idea is unclear, but in December 1623 his father had also considered excluding two named individuals from the forthcoming Parliament – Sir Edward Coke and Sir Edwin Sandys – by appointing them commissioners for the survey of Ireland. In the event the Council had persuaded James to abandon this plan, as it would only have enraged the Commons and wrecked his hopes for a smooth Parliament.191
Charles’s attempt to exclude eight particular individuals – among them Sir Thomas Wentworth and Sir Robert Phelips – proved wholly successful. The only one of the eight to seek to defy the ban was Sir Edward Coke who, having been pricked as sheriff of Buckinghamshire, got himself returned for his native Norfolk. Coke’s act of defiance played right into Charles’s hands, as it provided the king with a golden opportunity to embarrass the Commons. Either the House would be forced to undergo the humiliation of ejecting Coke, one of the Commons’ most prized former Members, or it would seek to defend him, in which case the weight of precedent was so firmly behind Charles that the Commons would suffer an embarrassing defeat.
On learning that Coke had got himself elected, Charles sent a message to the Commons in which he declared that he hoped the House would ‘do him that right’ as to order the issue of a new writ. The Commons was thereupon thrown into disarray, for it was perfectly clear from the exclusion of Sir George Selby in 1614 that even if a sheriff was not guilty of returning himself he had no right to sit. However, it was equally clear to the Commons that the king was cynically using the rules of membership as a weapon to deprive the Commons of one of its most effective spokesmen. Charles’s interference not only struck at the House’s right to determine its own membership but also at its very independence. As Thomas Meautys observed, if Charles prevailed ‘we shall have a tame House’ and ‘the king will master his own ends without much ado’. To make matters worse, the previous day the House had declared that attorney-general Heath was disabled from sitting by virtue of his office. Since the Commons had excluded Heath, how could it now admit Coke, especially as in both cases the question of eligibility was clear from rulings made in 1614? Records were ‘looked up and brought into the House’, and for the first time it was asked whether the 1372 Ordinance which forbade the election of sheriffs was ‘equal to an Act of Parliament’. However, the Commons could find no plausible way to acknowledge Coke as a Member. Rather than rule against him the House did the only sensible thing remaining to it – it quietly let the matter drop.192
By leaving the issue of Coke’s membership unresolved the Commons ensured that Charles was deprived of complete victory. Charles, however, did not give up, and in 1628 the issue resurfaced, as Walter Long was elected for Bath despite having been pricked as sheriff of Wiltshire. This time the Commons refused to acknowledge that there was a problem, and permitted Long to take his seat. Unable to compel the House to observe the legal requirement that no sheriff should return himself, Charles was forced to resort to Star Chamber, where Long was charged with desertion of his shrievalty.193 By 1640 the Commons’ attitude had hardened to such an extent that when the sheriff of Suffolk, Sir Simonds D’Ewes, returned himself for Sudbury no one at Westminster batted an eyelid.194 Far from forcing the Commons to observe the law Charles, by transparently attempting to manipulate the rules of membership, had merely succeeded in persuading its Members to ignore it entirely.
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Andrew Thrush
- 1. C. Russell, ‘Monarchies, Wars and Estates in Eng., France and Spain, c.1580-c.1640’, Legislative Studies Quarterly, vii. 216-17.
- 2. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 140; M.A.R. Graves, The Parls. of Early Modern Europe, 165.
- 3. J. Jedruch, Constitutions, Elections and Legislatures of Poland, 1493-1993, p. 57; Parl. and Estates in Scot. 1567-1707 ed. K.M. Brown and A.J. Mann (Hist. of Scottish Parl. II), 11, and n.41. In 1614 France’s Estates-General contained 474 deputies. At the same date there were 471 seats in the Commons (a figure which excludes the two seats for Minehead, which was temporarily disfranchised). J.M. Hayden, France and the Estates-General of 1614, p. 80.
- 4. On the size of the Castilian Cortes, see Graves, 165.
- 5. HP Commons 1509-58 ed. S.T. Bindoff, i. 4.
- 6. Bedfordshire; Cambridgeshire; Cheshire; Cumberland; Derbyshire; Hertfordshire; Huntingdonshire; Leicestershire; Monmouthshire and Westmorland.
- 7. Essex; Herefordshire; Middlesex; Nottinghamshire; Warwickshire and Worcestershire.
- 8. However, in 1610 the clerk of the Commons, Ralph Ewens, was blissfully unaware of the fact, despite having been in post for seven years. On 27 Mar. he recorded in the Journal that the knights and burgesses of York, Durham and Northumberland were appointed to the committee for the bill on moor burning: CJ, i. 415a.
- 9. HP Commons 1509-58, i. 264.
- 10. The five English single-Member constituencies were Abingdon, Banbury, Bewdley, Higham Ferrers and Monmouth Boroughs.
- 11. A.J. Fletcher, ‘Sir Thomas Wentworth and the Restoration of Pontefract as a Parliamentary Bor.’, NH, vi. 89.
- 12. P. Clark, ‘Thomas Scott and the Growth of Urban Opposition to the Early Stuart Regime’, HJ, xxi. 16. However, Scott severely understated the number of Kent’s existing enfranchised boroughs, as he failed to mention not only his own city of Canterbury (possibly because it was a county in its own right) but also Maidstone, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich.
- 13. HMC Rutland, i. 117; HP Commons 1558-1603 ed. P. Hasler, i. 54.
- 14. Harwich, Bewdley (which was granted only a single Member), Evesham and Tewkesbury.
- 15. OR, 13-14.
- 16. CJ, i. 152a; ‘Docs. Relating to the Town of Harlech’ ed. W.W.E. Wynne, in Arch. Cambrensis, i. 254.
- 17. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 235; A.W. Foster, ‘The Struggle for Parliamentary Representation for Durham, c.1600-41’, in The Last Principality: Pols., Religion and Soc. in the Bishopric of Durham 1494-1660 ed. D. Marcombe, 177-8.
- 18. CJ, i. 429a, 502b; Foster, 184.
- 19. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 105.
- 20. Narrative of the Spanish Marriage Treaty ed. S.R. Gardiner (Cam. Soc. ci), 288.
- 21. CD 1621, iv. 192, 360.
- 22. CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 266; Stuart Royal Proclamations I, 68; SP14/6/99.
- 23. In 1620/1 Sir Thomas Wentworth and Sir Henry Savile, for purely selfish reasons, contemplated calling for the franchise to be transferred from Aldborough to Wakefield, Leeds or Doncaster: Fletcher, 90-1.
- 24. Procs. 1626, iv. 326.
- 25. HMC Buccleuch, iii. 81.
- 26. Bowyer Diary, 278n. For a discussion of the size of the Commons’ chamber, see Chapter 7.
- 27. CJ, i. 553a.
- 28. Ibid.
- 29. ‘Holland 1624’, ii. f. 76.
- 30. E. de Villiers, ‘Parliamentary Boroughs Restored by the House of Commons 1624-41’, EHR, lxvii. 182.
- 31. CJ, i. 539b, 572b, 573a. On the gallery, see Chapter 7.
- 32. Add. 64883, f. 60.
- 33. Ilchester; Pontefract; Hertford; Wendover; Amersham; Great Marlow; Milborne Port; and Weobley.
- 34. CJ, i. 643b; CD 1621, iv. 360. Normal Ball’s assertion that the Commons’ restoration of former parliamentary boroughs met ‘without apparent royal opposition’ is untenable: N. Ball, ‘Representation in the English House of Commons: the New Boroughs 1485-1640’, PER, xv. 118-19.
- 35. Eg. 2423, f. 104; Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), p. 88.
- 36. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), p. 96.
- 37. For examples of the use of the term ‘citizen’ during debate, see CJ, i. 514a, 533a.
- 38. Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 322.
- 39. CJ, i. 189b, 202b.
- 40. For a discussion of proposals to reform the method of appointing Members to committees, see Chapter 11.
- 41. For this form of classification, see the surviving lists prepared by Chancery (known as the ‘Parliament Pawns’) in C218/1. For a discussion of Chancery’s issue of writs of election see Chapter 4.
- 42. The 17 county boroughs were: London, York, Norwich, Lincoln, Coventry, Gloucester, Bristol, Canterbury, Exeter, Lichfield, Kingston-upon-Hull, Southampton, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Nottingham, Poole, Carmarthen (from June 1604) and Haverfordwest. Of these, only seven – Kingston-upon-Hull, Poole, Southampton, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Nottingham and Haverfordwest – were mere towns.
- 43. Chamber Accts. of the 16th Century ed. B.R. Masters (London Rec. Soc. xx), 39-40.
- 44. Glos. RO, GBR B3/1, ff. 479-8v; D326/Z1. For the details see the Gloucester constituency article.
- 45. Hooker’s Order and Usage, 132, 164.
- 46. CD 1628, iii. 354, 358. It is not known how this question was resolved.
- 47. CJ, i. 348a; Bowyer Diary, 213. See also HMC Hatfield, xviii. 456.
- 48. CJ, i. 226a, 980b.
- 49. CD 1621, iii. 376.
- 50. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 479.
- 51. Hooker’s Order and Usage, 164.
- 52. SR, iv. 1110; SP46/62, f. 1; Stowe 150, f. 200; St. Alban Corp. ms 152. This right dated back to at least the fifteenth century: HP Commons 1386-1421 ed. Roskell, i. 147.
- 53. CJ, i. 815b, 870b.
- 54. Ibid. 998a.
- 55. HP Commons 1558-1603 ed. P. Hasler, i. 40-1.
- 56. The proportion is higher if the London Member Sir Henry Montagu is considered a knight of the shire.
- 57. ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 4v.
- 58. Procs. 1626, iv. 239.
- 59. The only possible exception to this rule concerns William Davison, but his appointment to the Privy Council in September 1586 probably post-dated his election for Knaresborough. The privy councillors Thomas Wilson, Member for Lincoln 1572-81, and Sir John Perrot, Member for Haverfordwest 1589, were admitted to the Council only after they were elected to Parliament.
- 60. For the details, see Alasdair Hawkyard’s forthcoming Introductory Survey to the History of Parliament’s 1509-58 volumes.
- 61. For a fuller discussion of these points, see Chapters 10 and 14.
- 62. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 309.
- 63. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), p. 122.
- 64. For the rule against convicted felons, established in 1581, see CJ, i. 118a, 118b.
- 65. E. Coke, The Third Part of the Institutes of the Laws of Eng. (4th edn. 1669), 154. The deputies took the Oath themselves before the lord steward. For further discussion of the Commons’ attempts to deny Catholics the right of admission, see below.
- 66. HP Commons 1558-1603, i. pp. xi-xii; CJ, i. 117a, 135a, 135b.
- 67. Sparke testified to the Commons on 28 Mar. regarding the part he had played in returning the indenture for Newport. CD 1628, ii. 168; iii. 511.
- 68. HP Commons 1399-1421 ed. J.S. Roskell, i. 67; SR, ii. 340-2.
- 69. Stuart Royal Proclamations I, 494.
- 70. Procs. 1625, pp. 348-9, 353-4.
- 71. CJ, i. 516b.
- 72. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 2-3.
- 73. CJ, i. 429a; Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, i. 94-5.
- 74. Wentworth Pprs. ed. J.P. Cooper (Cam. Soc. 4th ser. xii), 65-6.
- 75. HP Commons, 1558-1603, ii. 348.
- 76. CJ, i. 248b
- 77. HP Commons 1558-1603, i. 658; ii. 375.
- 78. I. Temple, Petyt 538/13, f. 80r-v.
- 79. CJ, i. 460b.
- 80. Ibid. 460a; Soc. Antiq. ms 26, ff. 3, 18.
- 81. CJ, i. 257a.
- 82. See for instance CJ, i. 640b.
- 83. CJ, i. 323b, 324b; Bowyer Diary, 188-9.
- 84. Cat. of the MSS in the Lib. of the I. Temple ed. J. Conway Davies, ii. 685. Coke more or less repeated this complaint at a meeting of the Privy Council in September 1615, when he argued that ‘none of the King’s learned counsel should be of the lower House, for two respects: one, that their presence was not well taken; the other, that there was great use of them above in the higher House’: Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, v. 200.
- 85. C218/1/17, 18.
- 86. SR, iii. 729-30. The only published work on writs of assistance is silent on this question: E.R. Adair and F.M. Greir Evans, ‘Writs of Assistance, 1558-1700’, EHR, xxxvi. I am grateful to Sir John Sainty for drawing this article to my attention.
- 87. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 39-40. Fourteen sheriffs were returned for bailiwicks other than their own between 1386 and 1421: HP Commons 1399-1421, i. 179. Similar cases can be found in the period 1509-58, for which see Alasdair Hawkyard’s forthcoming Introductory Survey for the History of Parliament. On the 1372 Ordinance, see SR, i. 394.
- 88. For a discussion of the extent of this problem, see Chapter 5.
- 89. HP Commons 1558-1603, i. 28-9; CJ, i. 514b.
- 90. SR, iv. 1162; CJ, i. 516b-17a; CD 1621, vi. 343.
- 91. CJ, i. 515b, 532b.
- 92. CJ, i. 457b.
- 93. CD 1621, ii. 103; iv. 75; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 59-60.
- 94. CJ, i. 674a.
- 95. Holles 1624, p. 18.
- 96. For a discussion, see Chapter 5.
- 97. Procs. in Parls. of Eliz. I, i. 230. Alford’s suggestion clearly refutes the claim made by Hasler that, under Elizabeth, ‘it was not a requirement’ that Membersshould have reached the age of 21: HP Commons 1558-1603, i. 11.
- 98. CJ, i. 291, 293a; Bowyer Diary, 100.
- 99. CJ, i. 649b.
- 100. Ibid. 640b, 649b; H. Hulme, ‘The Sheriff as Member of the House of Commons from Elizabeth to Cromwell’, JMH, i. 374. The five Members of the first Jacobean Parliament chosen to serve as sheriffs were Sir John Peyton, Alban Stepneth, Sir John Townshend, Sir William Bulstrode and Sir Gamaliel Capell.
- 101. Wentworth Pprs. 65. Wentworth did not identify the author of the proposal, but cf. the account of Owen’s speech in CJ, i. 456a.
- 102. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 52.
- 103. Stuart Royal Proclamations I, 68n.
- 104. Ibid. 494.
- 105. Sir George Chaworth described Shepperd as ‘one of the busy young lawyers in the Proclamation’ who ‘ought not to have been elected’: CJ, i. 524b.
- 106. SP14/63/61. The scheme is undated, but see Chamberlain Letters, ii. 460.
- 107. BL, Royal ms 18 C.V, ff. 51r-v, 54-5. I owe this reference to the kindness of Ken Fincham. Swaddon, a kinsman of William Swaddon, Member for Calne, was appointed archdeacon of Worcester in 1610 and died in 1623: Al. Ox.; PROB 11/142, ff. 345-6.
- 108. J.H. Denton, ‘The Clergy and Parl. in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries’, in The English Parl. in the Middle Ages ed. R.L. Davies and J.H. Denton, 92; A.K. McHardy, ‘Henry IV: The Clergy in Parl.’, in The Reign of Henry IV: Rebellion and Survival, 1403-13 ed. G. Dodd and D. Biggs, 136-61. I am grateful to Linda Clark for these references, and for a valuable discussion of this subject.
- 109. J.P. Sommerville, Royalists and Patriots: Pols. and Ideology in Eng.1603-40 (2nd edn.), 114.
- 110. James Bisse, Member for Wells 1584-5, was almost certainly an ordained clergyman. Sir Miles Sandys, bt., who sat three times in the early 17th century, had been ordained in his youth but was without cure.
- 111. CJ, i. 480b, 724b.
- 112. Bodl., Willis 48, f. 229.
- 113. CJ, i. 256a, 257a.
- 114. They included John Hassard. The others were Sir Edward Littleton (Staffordshire); Robert White (Weymouth and Melcombe Regis); and John Rogerson (Coventry). William Swaddon (Calne) was permitted to resign in November 1605.
- 115. For this reason Sir James Ley, Sir Oliver St. John, Sir Thomas Ridgeway and Sir Humphrey Winch were all permitted to resign their seats: CJ, i. 323b, 324a; Bowyer Diary, 188.
- 116. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 461; Hatfield House, Cecil Pprs. 115, f.137.
- 117. CJ, i. 510b.
- 118. For a detailed discussion of this subject, see Chapter 9.
- 119. CJ, i. 335b, 336a.
- 120. Ibid. 524a, 917a.
- 121. Procs. 1626, iii. 354.
- 122. CJ, i. 162b, 942a, 406b.
- 123. Bowyer Diary, 340.
- 124. CJ, i. 536b, 567a. In addition Giles Bridges was suspended. In his case expulsion was considered too harsh as the Commons was uncertain how to interpret the use of his name on two of Mompesson’s patents. He was readmitted on 21 Nov. after it was found that he was not directly involved in the patents himself: ibid. 566b, 641b; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 182.
- 125. Procs. in Parls. of Eliz. I, iii. 375-6. Sir Henry Neville, Sir Jerome Bowes and Michael Stanhope were among the other monopolist-Members in 1601: ibid. 389-90.
- 126. CJ, i. 603a; CD 1621, iii. 130-1.
- 127. Procs. in the Opening Session of the Long Parl.: House of Commons, I: 3 Nov.-19 Dec. 1640 ed. M. Jansson, 61.
- 128. Procs. 1628, vi. 183; CD 1628, ii. 378.
- 129. ‘Spring 1624’, p. 98. Munck sat in 1601 but was not naturalized until 1610. Palavicino is not known to have served at all.
- 130. Stotesbury was a living without church, village, or duties.
- 131. CJ, i. 821a-b.
- 132. Ibid. 989a.
- 133. For further discussion of this subject, see Chapter 1.
- 134. Thomas Barfoot (Weymouth and Melcombe Regis); John Bogans (Helston); Richard Ashton (Newton); Richard Lyffe (Hastings); Richard Benson (Ludlow). Sir Thomas Holcroft was also a mayor (of Wigan) in 1604, but since he sat for Cheshire he could not be said to have returned himself.
- 135. CJ, i. 997b.
- 136. Ibid. 569a.
- 137. Ibid. 301a.
- 138. Ibid. 328a; HLRO, HL/PO/PB/1/1606/4JIN.30.
- 139. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 319, 325. Phelips’ motion incurred the wrath of his father, who had served as Speaker in the first Jacobean Parliament: Som. RO, DD/PH 224/80.
- 140. CJ, i. 512b, 513a.
- 141. CD 1621, vi. 193. Sir John Vaughan was permitted to retain his seat in 1621 despite becoming the recipient of an Irish barony, and Charles, 2nd Lord Lambart was admitted to the Commons in 1626 and 1628 without demur.
- 142. On Stewart, see ‘Spring 1624’, p. 98; Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), p. 122; CJ, i. 681b; ‘Nicholas 1624’, ff. 240v-1. For Kirke, see Procs. 1626, ii. 68.
- 143. SP14/7/82.
- 144. HP Commons 1558-1603, i. 11.
- 145. Sir John Pulteney.
- 146. Henry Ley (19); Robert Needham (c.19); Sir Edward Bayntun (20); Clement Coke (19); Sir Richard Molyneux II (20); and Sir Robert Sidney (18).
- 147. Spencer Compton (20); Mildmay Fane (19); Robert Jermyn (20); Sir John Scudamore (19, but 20 when he sat); Christopher Wray (19); James, Lord Wriothesley (15); Robert Wallop (20); Sir Thomas Walmesley (19).
- 148. 1624: Sir Montagu Bertie (15); James, Lord Wriothesley (19); Thomas Jermyn (19, but 20 when he sat); Edmund Waller (c.18); Edmund Dunch (20, but 21 when he sat); Oliver St. John II (20, but 21 when he sat); Poynings More (17); Francis Downes (17); Christopher Hatton (19, but never sat, being elected in anticipation of a second session which never met); 1625: Ralph Assheton (19); Thomas Coventry (19); Christopher Hatton (19); Sir Hugh Portman (17, but 18 when he sat); Henry Sandys (c.18); Henry Stanhope (c.17); Thomas Wise (c.20); Richard Aldburghe (c.18); Francis Downes (18); James Stanley, Lord Strange (about 17).
- 149. 1626: Richard Aldburghe (c.19); Ralph Assheton (20); John Chudleigh (19); Francis Godolphin (20); Sir William Morley (19); Sir Robert Stanley (c.18). 1628/9: Piers Edgcumbe (c.18); Sidney Godolphin (18); Henry Pierrepoint (20, but 21 when he sat); Walter Pye II (17); Sir Alexander Radcliffe (20); Thomas Smyth (19).
- 150. CJ, i. 681b.
- 151. Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 111. The point is not altered by the fact that Bacon was actually 20 when he was first returned in 1581.
- 152. CJ, i. 650a; CD 1621, vi. 205.
- 153. J.E. Neale, Elizabethan House of Commons, 139-41, 155.
- 154. N. Jones, ‘Parl. and the Political Soc. of Elizabethan Eng.’, in Tudor Political Culture ed. D. Hoak, 226. For a discussion of this point, see Chapter 14.
- 155. P. Clark, ‘Urban Opposition’, 16.
- 156. Procs. in Parls. of Eliz. I, iii. 315.
- 157. Ibid. i. 228; Jones, 266. For a fuller discussion of this bill, see Neale, 151-4. A similar measure was introduced in 1606, but failed to receive a third reading: Bowyer Diary, 88; CJ, i. 288a, 293a, 306b. For a discussion of this point, see Chapter 14.
- 158. CD 1621, iv. 35.
- 159. CJ, i. 641a; CD 1621, vi. 193.
- 160. CJ, i. 516a; CD 1621, ii. 51.
- 161. CD 1628, ii. 390.
- 162. CJ, i. 513a.
- 163. CD 1628, ii. 390. See also ibid. 377.
- 164. CJ, i. 158b. The judges’ ruling has not been traced. I am grateful to Linda Clark for advice on this subject.
- 165. Rot. Parl. v. 374-5. I am grateful to Linda Clark for this reference.
- 166. HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 398.
- 167. R.C. Munden, ‘Growth of Mutual Distrust’, in Faction and Parl. ed. Sharpe, 54, n.20.
- 168. CJ, i. 170b, 176a, 945b, 949a.
- 169. Ibid. 952a, 959a.
- 170. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), pp. 124-6.
- 171. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 239v.
- 172. Procs. 1625, p. 233; Procs. 1626, ii. 356.
- 173. For the emergence of the committee for privileges and returns, see HP Commons 1558-1603, i. 91-2.
- 174. Thrush, ‘Commons v. Chancery’, 302-3.
- 175. Ibid. 303-4. For the Commons’ relationship with the clerk of the Crown in Chancery, see Chapter 8.
- 176. CJ, i. 168a.
- 177. Stuart Royal Proclamations I, 68.
- 178. Knafla, 256.
- 179. Thrush, ‘Commons v. Chancery’, 307.
- 180. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), p. 85.
- 181. CD 1628, ii. 54.
- 182. APC, 1597, pp. 361-2.
- 183. CJ, i. 168a.
- 184. Hull RO, Bench Bk. 5, f. 60v.
- 185. CD 1628, ii. 377.
- 186. Procs. 1626, ii. 68.
- 187. Stuart Royal Proclamations I, 494.
- 188. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, U66, ff. 46-7.
- 189. SP16/19/95. See also SP16/19/96, copied extracts in the hand of Buckingham’s admiralty secretary, Edward Nicholas, of statutes requiring Members to be resident in their constituencies at the time the writs of summons were issued.
- 190. For a recent study of this episode, see M.C. Noonkester, ‘Chas. I and Shrieval Selections, 1625-6’, HR, lxiv. 305-11.
- 191. CSP Ven. 1623-5, pp. 182-3; T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 4, p. 90.
- 192. Procs. 1626, ii. 134-5; iv. 294, 313, 317.
- 193. HEHL, EL6017; H. Hulme, ‘The Sheriff as a Member of the House of Commons from Eliz. to Cromwell’, JMH, i. 370-1. During the ensuing lawsuit, Long refused to make the desertion of his post the central issue, focusing instead on the Commons’ right to determine its own membership and challenging the right of Star Chamber to stand in judgment over him.
- 194. Hulme, 373-4.