St. Albans


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



Main Article

St. Albans grew up under the protection of the Benedictine abbey and remained under the lordship of the abbot until the abbey was surrendered in 1539. A borough in the Domesday survey, the town was hampered in its constitutional development by the insistence of successive abbots on the servile status of the inhabitants. It returned Members to at least ten Parliaments between 1310 and 1337, but the concessions extracted from a weak abbot in 1327 were revoked by his successor.2

From 1376, when Hertford returned for the last time, until 1553 Hertfordshire was the only English county, apart from the undersized Rutland and the county palatine of Durham, without a parliamentary borough. Although St. Albans had not been the earliest, the latest or the most often represented of the earlier ones, it was the largest and most prosperous Hertfordshire town long before 1553: a total of 65 persons were assessed for subsidy there in 1545 compared with 19 at Hertford, a duchy of Lancaster borough which had been incorporated in 1345. The enfranchisement and incorporation of St. Albans on 12 May 1553 thus answered to its position in the shire and need not have called for the intervention of a patron, but if support was required there were those capable of giving it. Although neither of the two Hertfordshire Privy Councillors, Sir Ralph Sadler and John Cock II, seems to have had any special interest in St. Albans, two men who had served with them as knights of the shire, Sir Richard Lee and Sir Ralph Rowlett, lived and competed for leadership there. Both were interested in the refounding of the town’s grammar school. In 1549 the last abbot, Richard Boreman alias Stevenage, had secured a private Act (2 and 3 Edw. VI, no. 53) authorizing him to erect a school there or elsewhere in the realm and in 1551 the Privy Council ordered a grant to him of the abbey’s lady chapel ‘for a free school in consideration of £100, parcel of £400 payable by those inhabitants for the said church, paid to Sir Richard Lee by the appointment of the Council’. This transaction was distinct from Boreman’s later purchase from Lee of the abbey site and lands then in Lee’s possession by grant of March 1550; it was this property which Boreman conveyed to the Queen in December 1556, presumably in expectation of the restoration of the abbey. In his promotion of the school Boreman seems to have been acting on behalf of the town, and its erection was to be reaffirmed in the charter of 1553. Another likely patron, later particularly concerned with the school, was Nicholas Bacon, already a lawyer of some standing in 1553 and the owner of the neighbouring manor of Gorhambury since 1550: he and Rowlett both married daughters of Sir Anthony Cooke.3

The charter vested the municipal government in a mayor and ten principal burgesses, who were empowered to nominate an unspecified number of assistants. The earliest court book dates from 1586, but according to a petition entered in it in the following year a common council of 24 had been in existence since the charter, if not before. The charter also named a chamberlain and a steward. The mayor was to be elected by the whole community annually in September from two principal burgesses nominated by their brethren. The first named of the principal burgesses, Thomas Johnson, was elected mayor eight days after his return to the Parliament of October 1553 and the charter was confirmed by the Queen during his mayoralty. His fellow-Member John Maynard had been named steward for life in the charter: Maynard was a brother-in-law of Rowlett and had served as Lee’s deputy as hundreder or bailiff of the liberty of St. Alban’s before becoming bailiff himself. Election indentures, all in Latin and several in poor condition, survive for all five Marian Parliaments. The contracting parties are the sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire and the mayor and burgesses of St. Albans, of whom generally about 20 are named, although in October 1554 there are 32 and in 1558 seemingly about 40.4

It was only on the first occasion that both Members were townsmen. The senior Member in the Parliament of April 1554 was the royal physician Thomas Wendy, who besides his professional standing and his friendship with William, Lord Paget, enjoyed a local connexion through his ownership of the manor of Kingsbury, the timber and wood from which he later leased to Maynard. His fellow-Member Oliver Starkey was to enter the order of St. John, and since the future prior, Sir Thomas Tresham, also sat in the two Parliaments to which Starkey was elected for St. Albans both may have owed their return to the crown as patron of the order. John Astley was a servant of Princess Elizabeth, then spending much of her time at Hatfield, as well as being a friend of the Denny family of Cheshunt; Robert Stepneth, a local man, was a client of Sir Francis Jobson. Henry Heydon had been receiver of the abbey’s lands and Francis Southwell, of the East Anglian family, had settled in Hertfordshire and had been one of its knights in Mary’s second Parliament.

Author: D. F. Coros


  • 1. Only the christian name and the first letter of the surname remains on a damaged indenture, C219/21/75; full name supplied from Bodl. e Museo 17.
  • 2. M. Beresford, New Towns in the Middle Ages, 326; VCH Herts. iv. 173-4, 180, 198-201; Clutterbuck, Herts. i. 26-27, 47-48.
  • 3. E179/121/177-8; VCH Herts. ii. 56-58; APC, iii. 247-8; CPR, 1550-3, pp. 5-6.
  • 4. Clutterbuck, i. App. 23-31; CPR, 1553, p. 33; St. Albans ct. bk. f. 6; A. E. Gibbs, St. Albans Recs. 5, 17; C219/21/75, 22/33, 23/58, 24/78, 25/57.