Great Yarmouth


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


27 Jan. 1533 or 26 Jan. 1534PHILIP BERNARD vice Ladde, deceased
1536(not known)
1539(not known)
1553 (Oct.)ROBERT EYRE I
1554 (Nov.)THOMAS HUNT

Main Article

Henry III’s charter to Yarmouth of 1272 underwent later revision and the version of 1494 was confirmed in 1518 and 1554. Although not incorporated, the borough was governed by two bailiffs assisted by an inner council (the Twenty-Four), a common council (the Forty-Eight) and several municipal officers. The two councils made up the assembly, of whose proceedings the town clerk kept a minute book which partially survives for the early 16th century, with other borough records. The borough appointed a high steward, the office being filled in succession during the period by Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley, the Duke of Northumberland and the 3rd and 4th Dukes of Norfolk.4

On the receipt of a precept from the sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk, parliamentary elections were held in the town’s common hall under the direction of the two bailiffs. The franchise was vested in the assembly. Returns written in Latin survive for elections to seven of the 16 Parliaments during the period and for the by-election to replace John Ladde in the Parliament of 1529. Five of these are indentures between the sheriff and bailiffs, but those for the Parliaments of 1542, 1545 and 1547 are in the form of deeds recording that the bailiffs ‘with the common assent and consent of all the burgesses’ had chosen two Members. The names of almost the entire assembly are listed on the deed of 1542. In February 1553 John Echard and Sir William Woodhouse were elected by the agreement of ‘the whole assembly’, but that election was rescinded and an indirect method of voting adopted by which a 12-strong committee chose Woodhouse and Nicholas Firmage. In the autumn of 1554, when the death of the 3rd Duke of Norfolk had almost certainly left the borough without a high steward, the 2nd Earl of Sussex called for the election of the townsman John Millicent, but Thomas Hunt and William Mayhew were chosen. It was otherwise in 1558, when Willis Barker, secretary to the 4th Duke of Norfolk, was elected and the town asked Sir Thomas Woodhouse so to inform the duke. It is not known whether Humphrey Wingfield exchanged his seat for a knighthood of the shire on his election as Speaker in 1533, for no evidence of a by-election survives.5

Of the 16 Members sitting during the Early Tudor period 12 were townsmen, almost all of them merchants with municipal experience. Only Philip Bernard and Robert Eyre had not served as bailiff when first returned to Parliament and both were to do so later; their election thus early in their local careers may reflect external support, from the crown for Bernard as a minor officer in the Household and from the lord treasurer for Eyre as customer of the port. Humphrey Wingfield of Brantham in Suffolk was a lawyer whose counsel was retained by the town and a relative of the Duke of Suffolk. The brothers Sir William and Sir Thomas Woodhouse were of local origin, but they probably owed their election to their official positions. It is noteworthy that only Members of such standing are known to have been returned more than once for the borough.

From the meagre evidence of the town books it appears that Yarmouth paid the statutory 2s. a day as wages, at least to townsmen-Members, adding gifts of fish if a merchant lost his profits at the time of herring fishing through absence at Parliament. Even so great a man as Sir William Woodhouse may have been paid: he received £5 for an unspecified purpose in June 1553, and six months later was granted 50 ling ‘for certain money due to him for burgess-ship’. Wages, together with expenses of borough lawsuits and other extraordinary charges, were often met by a special ‘sessment’ of the inhabitants.

On account of financial difficulties Yarmouth was exempted from payment towards several subsidies early in Henry VIII’s reign (3 Hen. VIII, c.3; 4 Hen. VIII, c.19; 7 Hen. VIII, c.9 and 28 Hen. VIII, c.19). In 1523, 1529, 1534 and 1536 it joined with Lynn in obtaining Acts (14 and 15 Hen. VIII, c. 3; 21 Hen. VIII, c. 21; 26 Hen. VIII, c. 16 and 28 Hen. VIII, 8) regulating the production of worsted. A bill controlling the sale of herrings at Yarmouth failed after its delivery from the Commons to the Lords during the Parliament of 1555.6

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. The torn deed of return (C219/18B/55) has only 'Humfridus Wy ...' and 'Willielmus ...' left of the Members names. William Burgh's surname is known from a published reference from a lost assembly book, Norf. Rec. Soc. xxxix. 50.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Gt. Yarmouth ass. bk. A. f. 121v; Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs.
  • 4. H. Swinden, Gt. Yarmouth, passim; C. J. Palmer, Gt. Yarmouth, passim; H Manship, Gt. Yarmouth, passim; Gt. Yarmouth ass. bk. A, B; rolls; HMC 9thRep. pt. i. 299-324.
  • 5. C219/18A/8, 9, 18B/55, 18C/80, 19/66, 20/85, 21/106, 23/90, 24/109, 25/79.
  • 6. CJ, i. 43-45.