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 1510-12


 (not known)
1523(not known)
1536(not known)
1545(not known)
 (aft. Aug. 1551 not known)

Main Article

Centrally situated so that it was but two days’ journey from London, and traversed by two navigable rivers in the Welland and the Nene, Northamptonshire was a fertile county suitable for both arable and pasture farming. The report of Wolsey’s commission in 1517 showed at least 9,000 acres already enclosed, 7,000 of them for pasture, the abbeys of Peterborough and Crowland were accused of depopulating villages on their estates. In 1549 the shire was one of those affected by the risings against enclosure, but the scale of the problem was apparently not large; early in the 18th century Northamptonshire was still mainly unenclosed. One of the chief industries before and during the early part of the Tudor period was the quarrying of limestone and slate to be shipped by barge as far as Stourbridge, where one of the streets of booths was named Northampton.4

Until the Dissolution much of the shire was under the control of wealthy monasteries, notably the Benedictine abbey of Peterborough which was made the seat of a new diocese in 1541. Contemporary writers also stressed the many ruined castles which gave evidence of the shire’s earlier feudal strength. Their main emphasis, however, was on the waterways and fertile soil as important factors in Northamptonshire’s development into a county of ‘spires and squires’. Two of the knights of the shire in the period were ennobled, Sir Nicholas Vaux (taken to have sat for his native shire in 1515 and perhaps earlier) in 1523 and his stepson Sir William Parr 20 years later, and a third, Parr’s son-in-law Sir Thomas Tresham, acquired a seat in the Lords on his appointment to the grand priorship of the Order of St. John in 1557. In 1549 Parr’s nephew and namesake the Marquess of Northampton, Catherine Parr’s brother, became lord lieutenant of Northamptonshire. Other peers with Northamptonshire estates, William Fitzwilliam Earl of Southampton, and the lords Zouche of Harringworth, exercised relatively little influence, at least over parliamentary elections, and Edward Stanley, 3rd Earl of Derby, did so only in his own borough of Brackley.5

In contrast to the parliamentary scene under Elizabeth, when at least one resident Privy Councillor could always expect a knighthood of the shire, before 1558 both seats were open to local gentlemen. It is likely that what was to be described in 1624 as ‘the ancient course’ of choosing one Member from the western and one from the eastern part of the county was already in operation: it was certainly true of five out of ten known elections, and since Rushton, the seat of Sir Thomas Tresham, was almost central only one election—that of March 1553, when both knights came from the eastern zone—did not conform to this pattern. Most of the parliamentary families lived in the south of the shire, only Tresham and (Sir) Walter Mildmay having their main seats in the northern hundreds; but Tresham’s repeated re-election gave the north a representative in half of the Parliaments for which the names are known. The knights formed a close-knit community and only Mildmay, a crown servant of Essex origin, appears to have been unrelated to his fellows.6

Of the 13 knights (including Vaux) whose names are known, eight were on the Northamptonshire bench before their first election and four more were appointed later, Sir John Fermor by 1556 and (Sir) Nicholas Throckmorton, Robert Lane and Mildmay under Elizabeth; only the young Henry Williams, who died during the Parliament of 1547, was never a justice of the peace. Williams cannot have been more than 23 at his election and several others were unusually young: Lane (who may have replaced Williams in the Parliament of 1547) was only 26 in 1553 and Sir John Spencer 30 in 1554. Spencer was none the less one of six knights who had served as sheriff of Northamptonshire before their first election and three more were to do so afterwards. Only Parr and Vaux as leading government servants and Throckmorton, a gentleman of the privy chamber, were holding regular office outside the county when elected. Even Mildmay was in January 1558 employed only on temporary commissions and so was probably able to spend more time than usual on his country estates.

Six Latin indentures of election at the county court held at Northampton castle survive. They give the names of 15 to 27 electors, in 1553 (twice) and 1555 headed by Richard Wake. In 1547 Sir John Williams and Sir Humphrey Stafford were present at the election of Williams’s eldest son and early in 1553 John Fermor attended that of his kinsmen Throckmorton and Lane. The majority of the electors are given no style and were probably freeholders below the rank of gentleman: the mayor of Northampton was listed among them in 1547 and October 1554. On several indentures the names of Members and even of electors have been inserted in a different ink, but apparently in the same hand as the rest of the document; the clerk presumably drew up the document earlier, leaving the names to be filled in at the county court. In 1547 and October 1554 the county indenture includes the names of the borough Members. For other Parliaments (1547, October 1553 and 1555) the sheriff appended a separate schedule of all those chosen within the shire: in 1547 each of the eight Members has two different sureties, but the names of these, which include William Roe, are probably fictitious.7

Provision for the building of a new county gaol was made in the Act of 1532 (23 Hen. VIII, c.2), renewed in 1536, 1545 and 1553.

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. LJ, i. 46.
  • 2. E159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2].
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. VCH Northants. ii. 289, 298, 303, 318, 332; Northants. Past and Present, i(2), 20-22; M. E. Finch, Five Northants. Fams. (Northants. Rec. Soc. xix), pp. xiv, xv, 2, 165.
  • 5. Northants. Past and Present, i(1), 1-4; Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, i. 3-13.
  • 6. HMC Buccleuch, i. 258-9.
  • 7. C219/18B/59, 60, 19/70, 71, 20/87, 21/108-10, 23/92, 93, 24/114, 116.