Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

No names known for 1510-23


1536(not known)
1539(not known)
18 Feb. 1544RICHARD WELSCHE vice Christopher Trenchard, deceased
1553 (Mar.)(not known)

Main Article

An ancient royal borough and the shire town of Dorset, Dorchester possessed charters dating back to at least the early 14th century and had returned Members of Parliament since 1295. In 1485 it received additional privileges, including freedom from admiralty jurisdiction and from interference by royal household officials. The charter of 1610, which granted incorporation, probably did little more than formalize the existing constitution. This was in the hands of two bailiffs, two constables, a recorder and a common council of 15 capital burgesses. The bailiffs were elected annually on the Monday after Michaelmas; in the early 15th century ‘24 lawful men’ of the town had carried out this election, but by 1610 it was the responsibility of the council. In 1535 Sir Thomas Trenchard was high steward; he had perhaps succeeded Sir William Martin, who died in 1504, and he presumably kept the office until his own death in 1550.4

The mainstay of the town appears to have been the cloth trade. Little seems to be known about its economic fortunes under the early Tudors, but it was one of the places mentioned in the Act of 1540 for the re-edifying of towns westward (32 Hen. VIII, c.19). Five years earlier, following local complaints that justices had taken to holding sessions of gaol delivery at Shaftesbury and elsewhere, ‘to the great hindrance of the county town of Dorchester’, the central government had banned this innovation, but its revival under Edward VI made necessary a further patent to Dorchester.5

Nothing has come to light about the method of parliamentary election. A by-election indenture for February 1544 lists the names of 15 burgesses, including the bailiffs, as having elected Richard Welshe ‘in the full county of Dorset holden at Dorchester’, but this may be simply a notification to the sheriff at the county court of an election carried out earlier in the borough. The 15 names are presumably those of the councilmen, and there is no mention of the commonalty or freemen. Yet it would be unsafe to conclude that elections rested with the common council alone: other surviving returns for this period—Latin or English indentures between the sheriff and the bailiffs, with the addition, in 1555, of the burgesses—claim the ‘assent and consent of all the burgesses’.6

Unusually for the time, the trend at Dorchester was towards electoral independence. Apart from Christopher Hole, no townsman is known to have been returned before the accession of Mary, but her reign saw only two outsiders elected, Robert Robotham and (possibly) Ralph Perne. Most, if not all, of those elected earlier can be associated with Trenchard. Jasper Fyloll was his kinsman and the Cornishman William Nanfan might have claimed his support through his brother-in-law Sir Giles Strangways I, one of the knights for the shire in 1529 and a relative of the receiver-general of the duchy of Cornwall who agreed with Nanfan’s proposal to reform the duchy, although duchy influence based upon its own possessions nearby was probably sufficient for Nanfan. The Strangways-Trenchard combination may also have operated in favour of Richard Randall, a friend and colleague at the Inner Temple of Robert Keilway II, named with Trenchard as overseer of Strangways’s will in 1546. Christopher and Richard Trenchard were the high steward’s sons and Christopher’s replacement Richard Welsche, although not certainly identified, perhaps another kinsman. Richard More, also an obscure figure, was presumably related to the Francis More of Dorchester who was a beneficiary under Trenchard’s will, and Hole himself, who held land in Trenchard’s manor of South Tawton, Devon, could have been introduced to Dorchester, where he became recorder, by the high steward. Hole is the only Member known to have been returned more than once for Dorchester during the period and Robotham the only one to be found sitting for another borough, Reigate in the spring of 1553. William Holman, the ex-bailiff returned with Hole to Mary’s first Parliament, was later to settle in the Dorset village of Berwick, where he leased land from Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford. The earl had property in Dorchester and in the following reign he was to be an important patron there; his interest, exercised during his absence abroad by Sir William Cecil, probably accounts for the return of Robotham in 1555 and perhaps also of Perne, whose identity is uncertain. This may have been the only Parliament between 1545 and 1558 in which Hole did not sit.

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. C219/18B/22.
  • 2. Hatfield 207.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. C. H. Mayo, Recs. Dorchester, pp. xxviii, 56, 318, 320, 443; Hutchins, Dorset, ii. 362-4.
  • 5. Hutchins, ii. 338; LP Hen. VIII, viii. g. 634(2); CPR, 1558-60, p. 109.
  • 6. C219/18B/23, 18C/36, 21/53, 23/49, 24/58, 25/37.