Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
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In 1506 Henry VII granted Chester a charter of incorporation and the status of a county in itself: except for the castle no part of the city remained within the jurisdiction of the chamberlain of the county palatine. The governing body consisted of a mayor, 24 aldermen and 40 common councilmen, who were elected annually. The recorder was ex officio an alderman. One of the sheriffs was chosen by the mayor, aldermen and the retiring pair of sheriffs, the other by the commonalty. Minutes of the proceedings of the governing body were kept, as were copies of its orders, and the various courts and officials maintained separate records. Until 1541 Cheshire formed part of the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield but in that year a new see was established at Chester: its cathedral was the church of the ex-abbey of St. Werburgh, not the college of St. John the Baptist which had been a cathedral under the Norman kings.3

In 1283 Chester had received a special summons to send two Members to the Parliament at Shrewsbury which passed sentence on David of Wales, but as part of a county palatine with a parliamentum of its own until the early 16th century Chester received no further summons until enfranchised by the Act of 1543. Although the names of its Members are not known before 1547, the city had presumably been represented in the Parliament of two years before, when an Act for the maintenance of highways leading there (37 Hen. VIII, c.37) was passed. The writs for the elections were delivered by the chamberlain of the county palatine’s lieutenant to the sheriffs who acted as returning officers. The elections held in county court were attended by about 60 electors, whose names were listed on the election indentures. The description of the electors as the mayor, aldermen and citizens, and the total involved on each occasion, leave little doubt that the franchise was limited to the governing body. Four indentures written in Latin survive for the period before 1558. Neither the bishop nor the chamberlain’s lieutenant is known to have intervened in elections.4

During the reigns of Edward VI and Mary only six men filled the 14 seats available. Two of them, Richard Sneyd and William Gerard, were probably recorders when first elected, the remainder prominent citizens, all except Thomas Massey with known interests in trade; Sir Lawrence Smith’s Membership followed an earlier return for the shire and coincided with one of his mayoralties. It is not surprising that such Members were active on the city’s behalf. In the Parliament of 1547 two Acts of local interest were passed, one for the taking of recognizances (2 and 3 Edw. VI, c.31) and the other for removing weirs in the river Dee (3 and 4 Edw. VI, no.26); two further bills failed, but a proviso in favour of Chester was added to the Act for the relief of the poor (5 and 6 Edw. VI, c.2). The number of taverns was limited to four under the Act controlling the sale of wine (7 Edw. VI, c.5). The city also used its Members to transact other business in London, as when towards the end of 1554 the mayor asked Sneyd and Massey to represent to the chancellor the abuses arising from the incorporation of the merchant adventurers there. Provision was made for the payment of wages when the city was enfranchised, but whether this was implemented is not known. In 1552 William Aldersey sued out a writ de expensis which, he claimed, the sheriffs acted upon, using fiscal methods dating from before the Conquest, yet without paying him the money. His complaint to the chancellor may have been a collusive one to obtain a ruling, and the precedent he cited perhaps related to the payment of the city’s representatives at the local parliamentum.5

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. A. M. Johnson, ‘Some aspects of the political, constitutional, social and economic history of the city of Chester 1550-1662’ (Oxf. Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1971); Ormerod, Cheshire, i. 202; Chester RO, ass. bk., ass. orders, sheriffs’ bks. mayors’ bks, treasurers’ accts., letters.
  • 4. M. McKisack, Parlty Rep. Eng. Bors. during the Middle Ages, 7, 8; C219/20/19, 21/189, 23/159, 24/111.
  • 5. CJ, i. 1-4, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 23.