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)
1542(not known)
 (aft. 26 Feb. 1552 not known)
1553 (Oct.)(SIR) JOHN HERCY

Main Article

Mainly a farming county, where Leland remarked on the land around Southwell ‘very fruitful of corn’ adding ‘I never saw fairer meadows there’ on ‘both ripes of Trent’, Nottinghamshire played little part in national politics during the first half of the 16th century. There was coal on the Derbyshire border, and Sherwood forest and the parks of various magnates (notably the Earl of Shrewsbury’s at Worksop) took up a considerable amount of land, but much of the shire was still under open-field agriculture; the survey of 1517-18 gave under 5,000 acres, less than one per cent of the total area, as arable enclosed for pasture since the first years of Henry VIII’s reign. The gentry seem to have prospered, and many of the knights of the shire profited from the dissolution of the 13 Nottinghamshire monasteries, Newstead abbey being eventually bought by Sir John Byron, Anthony Neville acquiring Mattersey and Michael Stanhope most of the Shelford property, Gervase Clifton leasing Blythe and the site of Welbeck going to Richard Whalley. After the rising of 1536 the 5th Earl of Shrewsbury received 25 former monastic manors in the shire, and a royal grant of 1541 to the 1st Earl of Rutland included land there from the same source. Among others who profited from the suppression were Archbishop Cranmer, to whom the crown sold the sites of Kirkstall abbey and Artlington priory, George Pierrepont, a large speculator in monastic lands especially around Welbeck, and Hugh Thornhill.3

The most important liberty remaining in the county was the archbishop of York’s at Southwell and Scrooby, although a small part of the shire fell within the duchy of Lancaster honors of Tutbury and Tickhill; Sir Richard Manners became duchy feodary for Nottinghamshire in 1536, to be succeeded in 1551 by (Sir) Francis Leke. The Dissolution did not affect jurisdiction at Southwell, where the archbishops continued to appoint some of the officials for 20 of the scattered townships of the liberty. Sir Thomas Heneage, who had been appointed receiver in 1517, made Sir John Markham his deputy, and in 1550 (following the temporary suppression of the liberty) these two were granted the office in survivorship, although by 1552 Markham appears to have been holding it alone. After the Act (27 Hen. VIII, c.24) of 1536 bringing all liberties under direct royal authority, separate commissions of the peace were still issued for Southwell but the justices were appointed by the crown instead of the archbishop. Since the duchy of Lancaster administration covered only one wapentake, Bassetlaw, neither of the Nottinghamshire liberties was significant for the county’s representation in Parliament, except perhaps Southwell negatively in 1529. The earls of Shrewsbury, despite their large estates in Nottinghamshire after 1537, were not nearly so influential there as in Derbyshire, while the future dominance of the earls of Rutland was only beginning to show itself before 1558.4

In 1525 Henry VIII’s son Henry Fitzroy was created Earl of Nottingham as well as Duke of Richmond, but neither he nor any other royal personage is known to have entered the shire between 1509 and 1558; Wolsey as archbishop of York made what appears to have been his only visit to Southwell in 1530. Six years later, when the Lincolnshire rising broke out, Shrewsbury called the leading gentlemen of the shire to meet him in Sherwood forest, Rutland prepared to defend Nottingham castle and Newark was reinforced. Byron, Sir John Markham and Stanhope rallied to Shrewsbury’s support, and Byron, Anthony Neville and Gervase Clifton followed him into Yorkshire. In 1542 Byron, Neville and John Hercy were listed as captains for the Scottish campaign, and two years later several of the knights of the shire took part in the Earl of Hertford’s expedition to Scotland.5

The majority of known Members between 1529 and 1558 were leading gentlemen, and only five of the 14 had served at court or in central government when first elected for the shire. At least half of them came from long-established Nottinghamshire families and all but one (Anthony Forster) were officials in the shire before their return to Parliament. Several were connected with the earls of Rutland, Sir Anthony Neville served as paymaster to the 4th Earl of Shrewsbury, and others may have had support from the Seymours or Archbishops Cranmer and Lee. Seven are known to have seen military service, mainly during Henry VIII’s reign. Although their residences were scattered throughout the county, there is no trace of a geographical basis in their choice. Nor is any religious pattern discernible, although at least five Members, Hercy, Lascelles, Sir John Markham, Mering and Whalley, had Protestant sympathies.

The seven indentures of election which survive from the Parliaments of 1542 to 1558 record in Latin an agreement between the sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire and a group of named electors varying in number from four to 33; the last total, almost double the usual one, dates from January 1545, when Derbyshire also had an inflated number. The Nottinghamshire election concerned differed from all others known for this period in being held at Southwell instead of Nottingham; there is no obvious reason for this. In most indentures each elector is styled esquire or gentleman, with a phrase such as et multos alios liberos homines added after their names. The return of 1542 is badly torn; the names of the knights of the shire have disappeared and those of nearly 20 electors headed by Sir John Byron may be incomplete. In 1547 nine electors were named, for the two Parliaments of 1553 four and five respectively, in October 1554 ten and in 1555 (on a very faded indenture) an unreadable number: an unusual feature of this last return is that four electors are styled knight.6

In 1529 the King ordered that the writs for Nottinghamshire should be despatched through the 3rd Duke of Norfolk: although Norfolk had received considerable estates in the county after Flodden, the decision was probably due less to his personal standing there than to the wish to circumvent any move by Wolsey to use his position at Southwell. In the event both knights were men who could have expected to be chosen. The two probably sat again in 1536, when the crown recommended reelection, but in 1539 Sir John Markham as sheriff could not return himself, and sat for Nottingham, which had its own sheriff. The senior knight, Gervase Clifton, was exceptionally young for the honour and may have been a royal favourite; a former ward of Wolsey and of Sir John Neville, he had been knighted and granted substantial monastic property when barely of age. He sat with John Hercy, a wealthy member of an old local family.7

In 1545, the next Parliament for which names survive, the senior knight was Sir Anthony Neville, who had been knighted in Scotland in the previous year and was a kinsman of Queen Catherine Parr and a friend of Cranmer. His colleague Michael Stanhope was a brother-in-law of the Earl of Hertford, who may have intervened in the election. In 1547, at the height of Hertford’s, now Duke of Somerset’s power, Stanhope was re-elected with his close associate Sir John Markham, also a kinsman of the Protector; both were related to the sheriff, Sir Gervase Clifton. No by-election is known after the execution of Stanhope in February 1552. In March 1553 the first seat went to a much less prominent figure, William Mering; although head of one of the oldest families in the shire, he had apparently held no office there beyond that of subsidy collector, and no direct connexion appears between him and the new political leader, the Duke of Northumberland. His fellow-Member and relative George Lascelles, a considerably older man and a county official, served the 2nd Earl of Rutland, an associate of Northumberland and by this time lord lieutenant of Nottinghamshire.8

Hercy returned as senior knight in the first Marian House, where he opposed the government on religion and perhaps for this reason was not re-elected. Sir William Holles of Haughton, who took the second seat, was apparently a Catholic; his background was unlike that of most of the Nottinghamshire knights in that his father, a wealthy merchant stapler who rose to be lord mayor of London, had bought land in the county. The Members in April 1554 were Sir John Constable, sitting in his only known Parliament towards the end of a long career as a soldier and local official, and Ellis Markham, who could add to his pedigree his service with Edward Lee, archbishop of York, with Queen Catherine Parr, and perhaps with Princess Elizabeth. Markham kept his seat in the following House but yielded precedence to Richard Whalley, a former comptroller to the 1st Earl of Rutland and chamberlain to Protector Somerset. The only knight for Nottinghamshire in this period known to have sat for constituencies outside the shire, Whalley had already represented Scarborough and East Grinstead; by 1554 he owned considerable property at Kirton, Sibthorpe and Welbeck. Re-elected in 1555, Whalley was joined by Anthony Forster, a wealthy sheep and cattle farmer who was bailiff of Newark and a kinsman of the 2nd Earl of Rutland. To Mary’s last Parliament Nottinghamshire again returned Sir John Markham, together with the practising lawyer Hugh Thornhill, a wealthy gentleman with large estates in the north of the county who may have died before the end of the session, although no by-election is known.

Provision for the building of a new county gaol was made under the Act of 1532 (23 Hen. VIII, c.2) which was renewed three times in the next 20-odd years. Until 1540 lands in the soke of Oswaldbeck were partible, but an Act of that year (32 Hen. VIII, c.29) ended this anomaly by making the descent of property there as at common law.

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. E159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2].
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. This survey rests on C. J. Black ‘Admin. and parlty. rep. Notts. and Derbys. 1529-58’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1966); Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, iv. 15-18; Thoroton, Notts. ed. Throsby, i. 1; Wood, Notts. 132-5, 150-1; T. Bailey, Annals Notts. 409-30 passim.
  • 4. Somerville, Duchy, i. 547 n.1, 564, 584-5.
  • 5. Bailey, 377; Wood, 127-9; LP Hen. VIII, xvii. 812.
  • 6. C193/32/1, 2; 219/18B/61, 18C/84, 85, 19/72, 73, 20/90, 91, 21/118, 119, 23/97, 24/123, 124.
  • 7. LP Hen. VIII, iv. 5993; Bailey, 373.
  • 8. CP, xi. 256.