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


by 23 Jan. 1552JOHN CAMPANETT vice Carew, deceased1
1553 (Mar.)(not known)
1554 (Apr.)GILES ISHAM
1554 (Nov.)GILBERT BULL 2

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Medieval Peterborough was controlled by its Benedictine abbey and in 1493 Henry VII granted to the abbot’s bailiff all such rights as elsewhere pertained to the sheriff. The original ‘burgesses’ or burgage tenants of the ‘vill of Burgh’, the capital of the abbot’s demesne, were doubtless craft workers and tradesmen supplying the needs of the monastery or attracted by the market where, as in the abbey fairs, the abbot’s tenants had trading privileges. Since the abbot received all tolls there was no scope for a merchant guild and it was virtually only through a number of religious fraternities, which flourished until 1547, that the townspeople exercised self-government, as aldermen and bailiffs of the guilds or churchwardens of the parish church of St. John the Baptist. In 1518 the Star Chamber heard a case between Abbot Robert Kirton or Kirkton and some leading burgesses who, on the ground that they had formerly elected the town constables and various minor officials, had tried to prevent the abbot’s deputy steward from appointing them; the outcome of the suit is unknown. At this time Peterborough was a quiet but apparently prosperous market town, divided for administrative purposes into five wards. Its main sources of income were the wool and leather trades, shoemaking being perhaps already prominent. There was good river communication with Northampton, and the town kept its useful position as ‘inland port for the fen’, while successive abbots were powerful enough to prevent any neighbouring rival centres of trade from developing.3

After the abbey’s surrender in November 1539 Abbot John Chambers remained as ‘warden’ of the temporalities until in September 1541 he became the first bishop of the new diocese. Raised to the status of a city, Peterborough came under the control of the dean and chapter, who received a large share of the monastic endowments. The first dean, Francis Alree or Abree alias Leycester, had been the last prior of St. Andrew’s, Northampton; he held office for less than two years and was followed in turn by Gerard Carleton, the royal chaplain, James Courthope of Christ Church, Oxford, and the secretary and Privy Councillor John Boxall, the last being instituted in 1557. From 1541 the dean’s status as equivalent to the mayoralty elsewhere was reflected in his being frequently called ‘right worshipful’ instead of ‘very reverend’. The former abbatial courts, namely, the view of frankpledge or court baron sitting at Easter and Michaelmas, the manorial court leet, the weekly court of common pleas and the market court, were continued, and the new authorities seem to have viewed most offices as investments, often leasing them for terms of 21 years. The former high stewardship of the abbey survived as a civic office but became honorary, being held down to 1558 by a succession of magnates, Thomas Manners, 1st Earl of Rutland (the abbey’s last high steward) and Sir John Russell and his son Francis, 1st and and Earls of Bedford. There was also a deputy steward (often styled ‘steward’) who presided at the court leet and court baron, and a high bailiff of the city, whose duties included many of those of the sheriff elsewhere. The Duke of Somerset’s confiscation of the lands of the religious guilds, and much of the property of the parish church, reduced still further the scope for any authority other than that of the dean and chapter.4

Precepts for parliamentary elections went to the bailiff, who acted as returning officer for the dean and chapter. Since no instrument granting Peterborough the right to return Members is known, and the earliest election indentures are lost, it cannot be said in which Parliament the city was first represented. The new bishop received a writ of summons to the House of Lords in November 1541, but this may not have been accompanied by enfranchisement: the seats of other new dioceses founded at this time—Bristol, Chester, Gloucester and Oxford—were already self-governing boroughs with, save at Chester, long-standing parliamentary representation. If Peterborough did return Members before 1547 it is likely to have been at the petition of the high steward, either Rutland for the Parliament of 1542 or (probably) Russell three years later. If enfranchisement came only in 1547 the Protector Somerset may have taken the initiative, especially as one of the men returned, Richard Pallady, was perhaps already in his service. Yet both Pallady and his partner Sir Wymond Carew were known to Russell and had local connexions. That matters did not go altogether smoothly is shown by the insertion of Carew’s name on the county return and the sheriff’s schedule in place of Ralph Reynor’s; although Reynor is an obscure figure he seems to have been of local origin, so that his supersession may mean that the sheriff, Thomas Cave, overrode the city’s choice in favour of Carew, to whom Cave was related.5

Only the election indentures for the Parliaments of October 1553 and 1555 survive, both in Latin and the first in poor condition. The contracting parties are the sheriff of Northamptonshire and (in 1555) the cives civitatis de burgo Sancti Petri, without mention of the dean and chapter or their bailiff. The franchise, later exercised by all freemen paying scot and lot, was probably confined at this time to the ‘minstermen’, those living in free tenements within the parish of Minster Precincts, who had other privileges within the city and whom an early 18th-century bishop was to describe as the former qualified electors.6

With the possible exception of John Gamlin, all the known Members who followed Carew and Pallady were associated with the bishop, the dean and chapter or the high steward. The first of them, John Campanett, who was by-elected on Carew’s death, acquired the stewardship of the Northamptonshire lands of the dean and chapter in 1553 but was also in the service of Edward Montagu, chief justice of the common pleas and a native of the shire. Several Members had more than one local connexion, notably Sir William Fitzwilliam: a godson of Bishop Chambers, a tenant of the dean and chapter and a kinsman of the Russells, Fitzwilliam was himself to wield patronage in the city in the reign of Elizabeth. He and his partner (Sir) Walter Mildmay, who was probably a nominee of the fist Earl of Bedford, opposed the initial steps towards the restoration of Catholicism taken in that Parliament. Maurice Tyrrell’s opposition to one of the government’s bills in 1555 likewise suggests that he was more beholden to the 2nd Earl than to his kinsman among the prebendaries.

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs. supplies the christian name missing from the indenture, C219/23/93.
  • 3. VCH Northants. ii. 423-9; Northants. Rec. Soc. ix, pp. xviii-xix, xxi, xxxiii-xxxiv, xlix; xii, pp. xv-xvi, lxxxiii; xviii, p. xxiii.
  • 4. Northants. Rec. Soc. ix, p. xlix; xii, pp. xlvii seq.; xiii, pp. xxvi-xxix; xviii, pp. xxx-xl; Statutes Peterborough Cathedral, trans. Butler, 3-35 passim.
  • 5. Northants. Rec. Soc. xii, pp. xxvi, 55; xiii. 40; xviii, pp. xxv, 173 n. 1.
  • 6. C219/21/112, 24/118; Northants. Rec. Soc. xiii, pp. lxvi, 63; CJ, ix. 17.